By the Numbers: When it comes to VOD, Rays are right on the money

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

All it needs is a catchy acronym.

With the world of baseball statistics being populated these days by VORP and WAR and WHIP, it seems the key to creating an interesting statistical category is the initials.

So let’s call this one VOD, or Value On the Dollar. And let’s look at the surprises it unveils.

For example, did you know that the most valuable position player in baseball last year was a 21-year-old outfielder who batted .262 with 34 homers and 87 RBI? Did you know that he since has changed his name and changed his team? Sort of.

Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins — who went by Mike Stanton while playing his first two seasons with the Florida Marlins — also had 79 runs, 30 doubles, and 70 walks in 2011. Valuable numbers, sure, but not enough to typically land a player in the MVP discussion.

Unless you’re talking about VOD.

Stanton, according to the numbers-crunchers at baseball-reference.com, contributed 5.7 Wins Above Replacement to his team in 2011.

Wins Above Replacement compares a player to a hypothetical replacement player — basically somebody a team could pick up out of the minor leagues or off the bench.

Stanton’s WAR of 5.7 ranked seventh in the National League, and that’s where it gets interesting. When you factor in his salary last season of $416,000, he was good for 13.7 WAR per million dollars. That’s a high VOD — the best for any position player in the game.

Overall, the best value in baseball came from pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who cost the Dodgers $500,000 while racking up 7.0 WAR and winning the Cy Young Award. Kershaw also landed a new two-year contract worth $19 million, which tends to happen with pitchers who go 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA.

But Kershaw will regret that contract this year when he fails to repeat as the major-league VOD champion, don’t you think?

Not that VOD is really that important. But it can reveal some players who otherwise would be well-kept secrets.

Typically, the league leaders are young stars who are making at or near the minimum salary on their way to mega-contracts. But the numbers also can highlight a front office’s ability to find effective complimentary players — the kind of guys who can be productive while earning $1 million or less.

It’s no coincidence that Tampa Bay had four of the top 21 position players in the American League in terms of VOD last year.

For example, Sam Fuld was picked up in a trade prior to the 2011 season after appearing in 98 games over three seasons with the Cubs. He played in 105 games for the Rays, batting .240 with 20 stolen bases and a few walks while playing outstanding defense in left field -- not All-Star numbers, but well worth the $418,300 he was being paid.

And what about the world champions? The Cardinals may have had Albert Pujols, but they also got productive seasons at bargain prices from Allen Craig, David Freese, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and Nick Punto.

All six of them ranked among the top 39 NL position players in terms of VOD.

Seattle, meanwhile, had two players among the top 72 among American League position players in terms of VOD — Brendan Ryan at No. 23, and Justin Smoak at No. 30. It’s not that Smoak was productive; it’s that he was a full-time first baseman making about 5 percent as much as the typical starting first baseman.

For 27 major-league teams — save for the bottomless pockets of the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox — the ability to maximize production on a budget is the difference between being an also-ran and a contender.

And while fans like to lament that those teams “buy” championships, the fact is that the Rays have one of the best records in baseball over the past couple years, and they ranked 29th in payroll in 2011.

So when it comes to getting a bang for their buck, you could say the Rays are the Kings of VOD. And that kind of has a catchy ring to it.

By the Numbers appears each Saturday during baseball season. If you have questions or suggestions, contact Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531 or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne