Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Juan Gone

OK, it hurts. Juan Uribe has left the building, and to jam the salt even deeper into the wound, he's signed with the Dodgers. Eew.

Of course, he'll be missed. Uribe's larger-than-life clubhouse presence is a very real thing, even though it can't be measured with the statistical precision baseball so dearly loves.

Uribe had a flair for the dramatic. The photo shows a typical Uribe pose--unloading the bat as if it's scalding his hands after torching another late-game home run. As long as Giants fans talk about the magical 2010 season, they'll tell the story of his game-ending sacrifice fly in Game 4 of the NLCS--maybe the most thrilling game ever played at AT&T Park.

But let's all take a deep breath here. The guy the Giants did re-sign, Aubrey Huff, is really the heart and soul of the Giants offense. He's a gritty, funny, hard-working SOB, and he's back for at least 2 years (with a team option for a third). The team remains deep in leaders: Huff, Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Andres Torres...the list goes on.

"But," you say. "Uribe's numbers are going to be impossible to replace." True, he did hit 24 homers and drive in 85 runs last year (to say nothing of his postseason heroics). But dig a little deeper, and you find Juan Uribe to be a little less than spectacular.

Stat-heads toss around terms like WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) and oWAR (Offensive Wins Above Replacement Player). These stats attempt to measure a player's worth versus a mythical average replacement (the WAR stat factors in defense; the oWAR looks only at offense).

When you look at Uribe through this lens, he becomes a little more, well, ordinary. In 2010, despite career highs in HR's and RBI's, Uribe's oWAR was 1.8 and his WAR 2.0. That makes him better than the average player, true. But not an awful lot better.

By comparison: Pat Burrell's 2010 season produced an oWAR of 1.9 and a WAR of 3.0, both better than Uribe's figures. Nobody's offering Burrell a $21 million 3-year deal. And comparing Uribe to Huff produces an even more glaring disparity: Huff's oWAR in 2010 was 4.4 and his WAR 5.9. That 5.9 is All-Star quality, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

The Giants will certainly miss Uribe. His infectious personality and late-inning heroics are true losses. But like many mythical figures, the perception may be greater than the reality. Did the Dodgers overpay? Who knows? We'll have to wait until April to start finding out.

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