It doesn’t take a sabermetrician to know that home runs helps teams win games. They lead to run scoring, and teams that score more runs generally win more games. The other side of the situation, of course, involves preventing runs. A team might score five runs a game, but if its pitching staff allows 5.5, the team will probably lose more games than it wins. Even an anti-stat crowd would have a hard time refuting this.
In my first article for FanGraphs, just about a month ago, I addressed the reasons why Jermaine Dye remains unemployed. The inspiration came from a Ken Rosenthal article in which he discusses the situation with Dye’s agent, Bob Bry. Frustrated that his client hasn’t received an acceptable offer, Bry decries the emphasis on the defensive metrics. He thinks it’s overblown, and then turns around to say that Dye hits home runs, and when teams hit home runs they win more games. Specifically, teams that hit zero home runs in a game had a .332 winning percentage, which rose to .517 with one home run and .659 with two.
This comes as no surprise. The home run is a subset of the larger runs category, and teams that score more runs win more games. Earlier this off-season, Walk Like A Sabermetrician posted a chart breaking down teams’ win percentages when scoring X number of runs. Teams that scored three runs had a .337 win percentage, four runs had .523, and five runs had .629. In other words, pretty close to Bry’s home run numbers. Of course, since his client’s strength lies in his power, Bry doesn’t mention the flip side of the equation.
While Dye adds runs to a team’s total with his home runs, he also detracts with his defense. He does not get to balls that other right fielders do, which leads to more base runners. Where other right fielders might have caught a fly ball and ended an inning, Dye’s inability to field it costs his team not only the base runner, but also extends the inning. All of this allows opponents opportunities to score more runs. So, while Dye’s home runs increase his own team’s chances of winning, his futile defense boosts his opponents’ run totals, thus increasing their chances of winning.
Dye’s maximum value comes from the DH spot, but as Cameron noted, his handedness complicates this issue. Further hurting his opportunities, all AL teams currently have their DH situation under control. Some have a permanent DH, while others are carrying four starting outfielders, with the intention of rotating then in the DH spot. This leaves Dye without any viable prospects. If he wants to play the 2010 season he’ll have to wait until a team has an opening. Since he’s certainly the best remaining free agent position player, that opportunity should come eventually.
It does appear, though, that underestimating the value of defense costed Dye this off-season. His power undoubtedly helps, but if he’s costing his team a similar number of runs in the field why would anyone sign him to a multimillion dollar deal?