Friday, June 15, 2007

Vlad the Impaler vs. A-Rod

While golfing with some buddies yesterday the topic of who is better between Vladimir Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez came up. Apparently, there was a discussion about this on ESPN a few days ago. I was not privy to the discussion so I am going to have to break this down on my own. In the spirit of full disclosure I think Guerrero is the best player in the game and I hate all Yankees. I will do my best to keep these biases out of the comparison. Let's start with three basic statistical breakdowns of the two: career, full-season averages and current season numbers as of June 15.


Full-Season Averages*

*Guerrero has played 9 full seasons and Rodriguez 11 full seasons.

2007 Season

Due to the fact that A-Rod has been a full-time major leaguer for two more seasons a lot of his cumulative numbers are significantly greater than Vlad. For this reason I thought it was appropriate to include a 'Full-Season Averages' table on the major categories. Just glancing at the numbers shows these two to be very comparable.
  • Both play nearly every day. Vlad had one season in which he only played 112 games (2003).
  • Both have over 180 hits per season. Vlad has 4, 200-hit seasons and A-Rod 3.
  • HR and RBI are relatively close with A-Rod with holding a slight edge.

There are however a couple of areas where they differ.
  • A-Rod scores 20 more runs per season.
  • Vlad bats 20 points higher and strikes out far less.
Now we have a general feel for their numbers so an analysis of these numbers is in order. The above numbers are the extent of the numbers that I know. I don't know too much about the stats that require calculus to figure out. Maybe a couple of those types of stats make the argument clearer but I will use some of my general thoughts on baseball to determine who is better.

The one category where A-Rod clearly has an advantage over Vlad is runs. Given that hits, HR and RBI are similar I believe this difference is a reflection of their teammates. Anyone that has heard my argument on why Derek Jeter is way overrated has heard this before. In the categories where Vlad and A-Rod have direct control over whether they score a run (hits and HR) they are nearly identical. This may be an oversimplification of the way baseball is played but I believe the teammates each plays with is greatly reflected in the runs differential. A-Rod does steal more bases (23 per season) than Vlad (19), which may explain some of the difference.

Vlad is significantly better than A-Rod in terms of BA and SO. I'm not sure what to say here in terms of deep analysis but the numbers do not lie. I don't think one can say Vlad is a more disciplined hitter. He is famous for hitting pitches nowhere near the strike zone. Given that his BA is 20 points higher and his SO are nearly half that of A-Rod, the only conclusion is that Vlad is an absolute genius with the bat. I don't have the patience to try and find such things as longest hitless streak but it seems to me that A-Rod goes through frequent droughts. I do not hear about Vlad going a week without a hit. This may be explained by the frequency of A-Rod's stats and performances being the lead story on SportsCenter. Given Vlad's high batting average, I have a hunch it is more than a media driven thought on my part. As a matter of wrapping up hitting let's look at the Silver Slugger Award, which is given to the best hitter at each postition in each league. Vlad has won 6 and A-Rod has won 8.

We have given the hitting numbers a fairly exhaustive look so it's time to factor in defense and intangibles I suppose. Vlad and A-Rod play two different positions. In fact, A-Rod doesn't play his best position so he gets credit for that. Anyone with half a brain knows he is the best shortstop on his team, yet he moved over to the hot corner so that someone with far less range, a weaker arm and a propensity to boot routine grounders can play there. With Ichiro now playing center it is a no-brainer to call Vlad the best rightfielder. He does not have a gazelle's stride out there but he flat out makes plays and has the strongest outfield arm in baseball.

In terms of Gold Gloves, A-Rod has 2 (shortstop) and much to my surprise Guerrero does not have any. This is likely me trying to defend Guerrero but if Jeter has 3 Gold Gloves how representative of actual talent can a Gold Glove really be? Is it only a coincidence that Jeter has won all of his after A-Rod came to the squad? I am convinced it is a media conspiracy to give the Gold Glove to Jeter so people continue to incorrectly assume he is an adequate shortstop. Yes, I know that coaches and managers are the actual voters. There have been some stories in the past about managers voting for guys they know will not win so their own player wins the award but that has nothing to do with this comparison.

Back to Vlad and A-Rod. After the hitting and defense analyses the numbers show a tie as far as I'm concerned. Vlad wins overall hitting and A-Rod defense. My understanding of defensive stats outside of Gold Gloves and errors is limited. Maybe one of the fancy stats shows otherwise but extra credit must be given to A-Rod for being a respectable 3rd baseman and perhaps the best shortstop.

Everyone's favorite category, intangibles will have to break the tie. I myself am not a huge fan of intangibles because it can be defined in any way. Some players are considered the greatest ever solely on intangibles (see Jeter, Derek). But again, how in the hell do you define intangibles? I will give it my best.

Oddly enough I think this is the area where the comparison isn't even close. First and foremost, let's look at World Series rings. Vlad has 1, A-Rod has 0. The best part about this is that anyone can name the teammates A-Rod has had in his career. A-Rod has played with the greatest players of this generation aside from the 3 years in Texas. Naming the players around Vlad is quite another story. The Angels won the World Series only a couple of years ago and I think you would be surprised to find out who was on that team. Not exactly a who's who of perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. While Vlad has A-Rod beaten in World Series rings, A-Rod does have one more MVP award than Vlad with 2.

Now the infamous teammate argument. I have long held that looking at an entire batting lineup around a certain player must be taken into account when considering his true place in history. At this point in time there are about 7 legitimately dangerous hitters in the Yankees lineup. The opposing team must take their pick at who to pitch to. Pitching around one player just isn't an option. With the Angels there is only one player you need to worry about. Vlad is the only player that strikes fear into anyone. Opposing teams can afford to pitch very carefully to Vlad because if he is walked you have to take your chances against Gary Matthews, Jr. and Casey Kotchman. Seriously, take a look at the Angels lineup. I knew it wasn't impressive but I didn't think it was that bad. On the other hand, A-Rod has more protection in his lineup than any player in baseball. How else do you explain him getting a steady diet of fastballs even when he is at his hottest? With Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui to follow, you just might like your chances against the free-swinging A-Rod. Every major league manager seems to have that line of thinking. Vlad has been walked 41 times this season (12th in MLB) and even with his amazing start A-Rod has only walked 35 times this season (24th in MLB). Case closed.

Let's imagine both players spending two months in the other's lineup. For the record we know Vlad would never do that because he is not a sellout. This is pure conjecture but something tells me the free swinger will have difficulty without any protection in the lineup, and the guy with phenomenal numbers in a pathetic lineup may be granted automatic enshrinement into the Hall of Fame at the end of the 2 months. In fact, if Vlad were a part of the Yankees, Roger Clemens would be rubbing his plaque in the outfield before every start and not Babe Ruth's.

As the last part of the intangibles section really ask yourself who you would want on your team. Do you want the guy that has the dirtiest helmet in baseball, does not wear batting gloves and never finds himself in controversy? Or do you want the guy who's uniform is cleaner than an operating room, wears military armor while batting, nearly wets himself after hitting home runs in April and annually finds a way to be bush league?

In conclusion, both Vlad and A-Rod are amazing players who will be in Cooperstown exactly 5-years after they retire. Having either player on your team only makes you better. After giving the two a very close look I would prefer Vladimir Guerrero but if I were stuck with Alex Rodriguez life would be okay.

(Photo of Vlad from Julie Jacobson/AP and A-Rod from Kathy Willens/AP.)


shmobin yo momma said...

Joel you forgot to mention the penis nickname ability of each player. While everyone has "A-Rod" not everyone is equiped with a "Vlad the Impaler" like myself. I mean come on, using the word Impaler is just so much more threatening and manly than "rod."

J M Smith said...

I wanted the comparison to be somewhat fair. If penis nickname potential was used in the analysis it would not have been close enough to bother.

Anonymous said...

Although, Dmitri Young still has the best; The Meathook

Anonymous said...

Found this blog by accident...

"The Angels won the World Series only a couple of years ago and I think you would be surprised to find out who was on that team."

I think you would be surprised to find out who was NOT on that team. Vlad, for instance. He was signed in 2004 - 2 years after the title team.

J M Smith said...

I doubt Anonymous will come back to this blog. Thanks to him/her for making me look like a moron. Vlad was not on the Angels, which blows a significant portion of my argument, and credibility for that matter, out of the water. That's slightly embarassing. Okay, really embarassing.