Nyjer Morgan = Adam Dunn (?)


How good is Nyjer Morgan? Dave Cameron thinks you might be really surprised ...

    When the Nationals signed Adam Dunn over the winter to a 2 year, $20 million contract, the reaction from the sabermetric community was almost unanimously positive towards the move for Washington. For a fraction of his original asking price, they got the guy who had become something of a poster boy for the kind of player that statistical analysts have been claiming is undervalued for years. The walks and power skillset produces a lot of runs, and Dunn has a master's degree in the walks and power skillset.
    When the Nationals acquired Nyjer Morgan yesterday, the reaction from the sabermetric community was almost unanimously negative towards the move for Washington. He was routinely called a no-power fourth outfielder, easily replaceable, and a 29-year-old with no upside. The Nationals were destroyed for giving up on a "talent” like Lastings Milledge to acquire Morgan. Analysts I have quite a bit of respect for, like Keith Law, Dan Szymborski, and our own R.J. Anderson, hailed this as an easy win for the Pirates, as none of them see much value in Morgan.

    Here's the problem. Nyjer Morgan and Adam Dunn are nearly equals in value, and the polar reactions from the sabermetric crowd puts the blindspots that have been developed over the last 10-15 years on full display.

Since I know you're all pressed for time, I'll summarize the next few grafs, thusly: 1) Dunn is 45 runs better with the bat; Morgan is 5 runs better on the bases; and Morgan is 35 runs better with the glove. Ergo, Dunn is a whole five runs better than Morgan. Or roughly speaking, one-half of one win. For this, Dunn is paid $10 million and Morgan $411,500.
Cameron's big finish:

    There's just no way around the real conclusion -- the sabermetric community, for the most part, has a blindspot when it comes to players with defensive skills at the extremes of the spectrum. Given the cost differences, Morgan is clearly a more valuable asset than Dunn, yet his acquisition is mocked while Dunn's is celebrated.
    Baseball is not just about who can hit the ball further. It's time we stopped evaluating players on their offensive worth alone.

Cameron's done as much as anyone in recent years to awaken the sabermetric community -- and by extension, anyone else who's interesting in being awake -- to the relative values of hitting and defense. We all owe him our gratitude for his hard work and unflagging enthusiasm. But I think he's firing his barbs at a straw man here. Was he not around last winter when everyone was explaining why Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu were forced to take pay cuts?
OK, so we may have given short shrift to Morgan yesterday, but that's not because we don't understand that a run saved is just as valuable as a run scored. It's because Morgan's never been a regular before this season, so it's not easy to get a handle on just how great he is, defensively. Certainly, Morgan doesn't have any sort of reputation yet. Also, it's because Morgan's just about as good as he's ever going to be, while Lastings Milledge -- who, after all, was actually a part of the trade; Dunn was not -- is still considered by some to have a legitimate shot at becoming a super player.

I'm not particularly optimistic about Milledge. It's true that members of the "sabermetric community" -- which I suppose might include me -- can become a tad overenthusiastic about young players. But that's a whole different blindspot. Maybe we don't completely get the value of defense yet. But trust me, Dave Cameron: we're getting there, and we're getting there quickly.