There is a theme pulsing though the internets this morning, with multiple writers pointing out that the Atlanta Braves new center fielder Michael Bourn is more valuable than the Philadelphia Phillies new right fielder Hunter Pence. Apparently there are some writers who think that distinction needs to be made abundantly clear. And as a Braves fan I can't help but agree.
First, from SB Nation's Rob Neyer (feels good to say that), comes this comparison:
What's perpetually amusing to me is how much lip service gets paid -- by old baseball men and old baseball writers, mostly -- to baserunning and defense, but when the rubber hits the road, who's going to defend the notion that Michael Bourn is a more valuable baseball player than Hunter Pence?
Which he probably is. Because of his massive edges in defense and baserunning, Bourn's got more Wins Above Replacement, these last three seasons, than Pence; 13-10. Okay, so maybe you don't trust FanGraphs version of WAR (fWar). I do, but you don't have to. Maybe you prefer Baseball-Reference.com's version (rWar).
According to rWAR, Bourn's lead is significantly larger: 11.8 to 6.4.
The simple truth is that if you do consider defense and baserunning with any sort of rigor, you're going to conclude that Michael Bourn is, in fact, better than Hunter Pence. In fact, if you believe fWAR, Bourn has actually been the second-best outfielder in the National League since 2009.
Meanwhile, David Schoenfield at ESPN references the same WAR spreads that Neyer uses, and comes to a similar conclusion:
Look, this doesn't mean Bourn is a better hitter than Pence. It means he's similar to others for his position. If you factor in just hitting and baserunning, B-R says Bourn has been about 82 runs better than a replacement-level center fielder over the past three seasons; Pence about 73 runs better than a replacement-level right fielder. Factor in Bourn's defense and he's the more valuable player.
Paul Swydan from FanGraphs makes a similar point, but says that the way each new player will be used will go a long way in determining their remaining value this year. The money quote:
The same can not be said due north in Philadelphia, where instead of allowing Hunter Pence to replace the warm-congealed-chunks-of-milk version of Raul Ibanez, they have once more partaken in tradition-is-best hijinks and sent down Domonic Brown instead. The difference between Bourn and Schafer is roughly three wins, very similar to the difference between Pence and Ibanez, but Brown narrows that gap significantly, and would likely have continued to narrow it in August, unfamiliarity with left field be damned. If the Braves do mount a comeback charge for the National League East crown, that will certainly be a decision the Phillies regret.
Every baseball writer from their mother's basement to the press box will be keeping an eye on how much Pence helps the Phillies versus how much Bourn helps the Braves. The conventional wisdom at this point seems to point to the latter acquisition being a bigger boon to the acquiring team. Braves fans hope that prediction comes to fruition.