Bourn a more valuable player than Pence

July, 31, 2011
7/31/11
11:37
PM ET

Fact: Michael Bourn is a better player than Hunter Pence.

Fact: A lot of you probably think I'm nuts.

Hunter Pence returned pitcher Jarred Cosart (Keith Law's No. 17 prospect in his midseason top 50 update) and first baseman Jonathan Singleton (Law's No. 24 prospect).

Bourn, meanwhile, got the Astros three prospects from the Braves plus weak-hitting center fielder Jordan Schafer. As Law wrote in his analysis of the trade, "The return for Houston, however, is shockingly poor -- quantity over quality, to say the least -- and can't do Ed Wade any good in extending his status as GM beyond 'lame duck.' It makes me wonder if Houston had a ranking of Atlanta's top 25 prospects but looked at it upside-down."

Pence does have an extra season before hitting free agency, which increases his value, but my assumption is Wade didn't realize Bourn is a better player, merely focusing on Pence's home runs and RBIs. My guess is Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. also believes Hunter Pence is the superior player, probably looking at his home runs and RBIs.

And, of course, if you look just at the old-school numbers, Pence is better:

Pence, 2009-2011: .291, 61 home runs, 224 RBIs
Bourn, 2009-2011: .279, 6 home runs, 101 RBIs

Now, we now that comparison is lacking a few nuances of the games. It doesn't include the most important offensive skill, getting on base (Bourn has the higher on-base percentage over the past three seasons, .348 to .342). It doesn't factor in defense (Bourn is a two-time Gold Glove center fielder while Pence is an average right fielder). It doesn't factor in baserunning (Bourn is one of the best in the majors and is leading the league for the third straight season in stolen bases). And it doesn't factor in positional adjustment, an all-important consideration when evaluating player performance. (We don't expect shortstops to hit like David Ortiz, do we?)

The easy way to compare the value of the two is by looking at the WAR statistic, shorthand for wins above replacement level. This number calculates how many wins a player generates over a theoretical Triple-A player for his position. It factors in hitting, fielding and baserunning.

FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com calculate WAR in different ways, but both rate Bourn as the more valuable player since 2009:

FanGraphs WAR, 2009-2011
Bourn: 13.3
Pence: 9.9

Baseball-Reference WAR, 2009-2011
Bourn: 11.8
Pence: 6.4

The differences in value primarily come from different methods in evaluating fielding (FanGraphs likes both players' defense better than B-R).

You don't have to agree with or even like the WAR statistic. It's just a tool -- a very good one, in my opinion -- in evaluating player performance. I think the main confusion or disagreement comes in understanding the position importance. Bourn is compared to other center fielders; Pence to other right fielders.

For example, here are Bourn's 2010 and 2011 average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage lines compared to the average National League center fielder:

Bourn 2010: .265/.341/.346
NL CF 2010: .260/.329/.406

Bourn 2011: .303/.363/.403
NL CF 2011: .267/.336/.417

And here's Pence compared to the average National League right fielder:

Pence 2010: .282/.325/.461
NL RF 2010: .264/.334/.443

Pence 2011: .307/.355/.468
NL RF 2011: .265/.338/.437

That's a bunch of numbers, but it translates to: Bourn gets on base more than the average center fielder. So despite his lack of power, he's still a productive hitter for the position (more so in 2011). Pence is hitting better this year but overall he's about league average or slightly above for his position.

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.

This isn't to knock Hunter Pence or the trade by the Phillies to get him. Considering the ages and health issues of many of their primary players, the Phillies should be in win-now mode. The fact that they didn't have to give up Domonic Brown made the trade a no-brainer for them. Pence makes them better in 2011 and 2012.

And for the Braves, they get exactly what they needed -- a leadoff hitter and center fielder. They're a better club right now than two days ago. It just appears -- for now -- that they gave a up a lot less to get their guy.

SERIES OF THE WEEK

There's so much good action this week, I have a whole list of must-watch series.

1. Arizona at San Francisco (Monday through Wednesday). Admit it: You keep waiting for the Diamondbacks to hit a skid. There's nothing fancy about Arizona, but it does rank third in the NL in runs scored (with help from their home park) and they have a bigger run differential on the season than the Giants. The D-backs are just two games back of the Giants and have won seven of their past 10 and 10 of their past 15. Justin Upton has led the way, hitting .368 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 15 games since the All-Star break. Ian Kennedy starts Monday against Matt Cain in the marquee matchup of the series.

2. St. Louis at Milwaukee (Monday through Wednesday). The NL Central leaders still have 12 games left against each other, beginning Monday. The Cardinals had a busy deadline, acquiring Edwin Jackson and Rafael Furcal, while the Brewers must move forward without Rickie Weeks. This series is in Milwaukee, where the Brewers have the best home record in baseball at 39-14.

3. Cleveland at Boston (Monday through Thursday). It's a huge week for the Indians as they travel to Boston and then Texas. Cleveland was 32-20 through May, but went 10-17 in June and 11-15 in July, getting outscored by 50 runs over those two months. The AL Central remains wide open, but a bad week could create a hole too big to dig out of. The offense needs to start producing: It's hitting .214/.284/.340 since the All-Star break. Ubaldo Jimenez would make his regular turn on Thursday, but that's Justin Masterson's scheduled day, so I assume he'll make his Cleveland debut on Wednesday (he pitched just one inning on Saturday) or Friday.

Also: Texas at Detroit (Monday-Thursday), Yankees at White (Monday-Thursday), Philadelphia at San Francisco (Thursday-Sunday), Yankees at Boston (Friday-Sunday),

PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Saturday: Cole Hamels (12-6, 2.61) vs. Matt Cain (9-6, 2.91), Phillies at Giants

Hamels is having a Cy Young-caliber season, holding opponents to a lower batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Roy Halladay. Cain and Hamels met in Game 3 of the NLCS last year when Cain allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings of a 3-0 shutout for the Giants, and then again last week when Cain again outdueled Hamels, winning 2-1.

THREE STRIKES

1. The Justin Verlander-Jered Weaver Cy Young showdown certainly lived up to the billing, with Verlander taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning. His own throwing error leading off the inning may have prevented the no-no as Maicer Izturis singled with two outs to break it up. Weaver was strong, but allowed home runs to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. Weaver still hasn't allowed more than four runs in a game all season.

2. Fun to see the Cardinals fans give new shortstop Rafael Furcal a huge ovation when he pinch-hit Sunday night against the Cubs. While the Pence and Bourn trades grabbed a lot of the attention, the upgrade from Ryan Theriot to Rafael Furcal could be the biggest of the deadline. Theriot wasn't doing much at the plate and lacks the range and arm strength to be much more than replacement-level at shortstop. Of course, Furcal hasn't hit in limited duty with the Dodgers, including just .183 since coming off the DL on July 3, but if he produces like last season (.300/.366/.460), it's a great pickup for St. Louis.

3. Derrek Lee isn't have a great season for the Orioles -- .246/.302/.404. But that's better than what the Pirates were getting from Lyle Overbay (.227/.301/.342). Lee may also hit better moving back to the NL, where he hit .260/.347/.428 a year ago. It's a no-lose risk for the Pirates, as they gave up Aaron Baker, a 23-year-old first baseman who is still in Class A. Similar to Furcal, it's not as sexy as the Pence pickup, but the production the Pirates were getting from first base was so poor that Lee has a chance to be a significant upgrade.


RANT OF THE WEEK
Remember when everyone was griping about declining attendance early in the season? According to Baseball-Reference, that difference was down to only 42 fewer fans per game compared to this time last year (entering Sunday). And that's despite the Dodgers being down more than 8,000 fans per game. Now that the NFL is back in action -- you'd have thought we actually missed an important time of the season from the reaction -- the pundits will get back to kneeing at the altar of the NFL and ripping baseball. Major League Baseball is averaging more than 30,000 fans per game. Fourteen teams -- nearly half the league -- are within five games of first place or the wild-card lead. Small-market teams like Cleveland and Pittsburgh are competing. Big-market teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets and Astros are out of it. Baseball is in trouble? Please.

Baseball is doing just fine.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Omar InfanteJosh D. Weiss/US PresswireOK, everybody stand back. I've got this under control. So, please, just step back.

David Schoenfield | email

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