Days of Future Bats

On Wednesday, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs answered a question in a chat from someone creatively called “Red Sox fan.” The question was which duo of players will finish with more WAR over the next five seasons: Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers of the Red Sox, or Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees? That’s an intriguing question on the face of it. Two sets of great young players on two of the preeminent franchises in baseball. Who is better? Who would you rather have?

Cameron picked Judge and Sanchez and he’s pretty clearly right. He’s right for a few reasons, but primarily because this question is a loaded one because the next five years include far more prime seasons from the Yankee duo than the Red Sox one. Judge is 25 now so his next five years include pretty much the exact seasons you’d want to have from a given player’s career. Sanchez is a year younger than Judge so he’s in almost exactly the same boat. Benintendi is 22 this season so his next five seasons barely reach his peak year of 27. Devers is 20 now so his next five don’t even get that far. All things being equal you take the guys in there prime years over the guys in their pre-prime years.

So you can see this question isn’t exactly fair. A better question might ask which set will be the most valuable over the course of their career or between the ages of 25 and 35. But that wasn’t the question asked and it wasn’t the one I ran by my editor. So let’s stick to the script and see what we can do with what we have.

To start with, this season Judge and Sanchez have combined for 12.3 WAR (FanGraphs version). That’s a baseball-leading 7.8 by Judge and the remainder, 4.5, from Sanchez. That’s FanGraphs WAR since this was a FanGraphs chat question. But for the record, by our WARP, Judge and Sanchez have totaled 12.5, so same difference. In comparison, Benintendi and Devers have totaled 3.1 by FanGraphs and 4.0 using our metrics. Devers has only been up for 50 games so he’s on pace for about a three win season, give or take. Still, you’re talking about the two Red Sox players totaling about half the value of the Yankees players. Also, we’re comparing a left fielder and a third baseman to a right fielder and a catcher. It’s much more difficult to find a good hitting catcher than a good hitting left fielder or third baseman, and the positional adjustment of WAR reflects that.

Given that Devers has been on a three-win pace as a 20 year old, you have to think he’s got some four or five win seasons coming in the near future. He may reach higher than that in his peak seasons.

Still though, the Red Sox have two very good young players on their hands. What would a good estimation of their value be over the next five seasons? Given that Devers has been on a three-win pace as a 20 year old, you have to think he’s got some four or five win seasons coming in the near future. He may reach higher than that in his peak seasons, but again, those aren’t covered under this question. Benintendi would have more value if he was in center field rather than left, so what the Red Sox do with Jackie Bradley over the next five seasons will have an impact here as well. Benintendi, like his pre-draft biography, is a high floor, lower ceiling player in that he’s not likely to fall off a cliff (he’ll get at least three wins a year reliably), but his lack of size likely limits his power output and thus ultimately his ceiling. Still, projecting four wins out of Benintendi annually seems fair. He could go higher, but let’s be conservative.

Putting all that together puts the two Sox over the next five seasons somewhere between 40 and 50 WAR. That, by the way, would be excellent production from two pre-prime players. As for the Yankees, Sanchez’s bat has fallen off this season in that he’s not hit at an Aaron Judge-ian pace all season long like he did for his abbreviated 2016 season. Aaron Judge, though, has. After all this, the big question seems to be how good is Aaron Judge? We have a pretty good idea that Sanchez should be worth four to five wins a year with maybe some fudging up or down depending on his health (he is a catcher after all) and peak seasons. Judge is a bit different. He’s a 25 year old with a .622 slugging percentage who slugged .345 in Triple-A last season. This is a guy who has made maybe the most dramatic of leaps one can imagine. That’s not to say he can’t continue to keep his production up. He’s clearly showed he has the ability to do it once so that’s a good indicator he can do it again. Will he though? Young players can struggle, as we’ve seen from Judge himself later this season before finding himself later in September. We’ve seen that from Mookie Betts as well and Xander Bogaerts before him. Eight wins a season is just really high and Judge basically put together an eight win season in about four months.

If Judge is an eight-win guy going forward, the two Red Sox are going to have trouble catching the two Yankees. Anyone would have trouble catching the two Yankees in that scenario as Judge and Sanchez would represent two of perhaps the most valuable players in baseball. Take the two best players on any team and you’ll have trouble topping Judge and Sanchez, and that includes Mike Trout and whomever else you take from the Angels.

So for the Red Sox to “win” this, Judge has to not be the MVP every damn season because that means one of Benintendi or Devers has to be a serious perennial MVP candidate. It’s possible, but that’s a tough thing to project unless a player has already shown the ability to play at that level. In other words, you’d be better off projecting Mookie Betts to win an MVP than Devers, not because Devers couldn’t win one, but because Mookie has played at that level.

So the answer, likely sadly, is that Judge and Sanchez are very likely to be more valuable. Now, alter that question a bit and the result could be different. For example, why did the questioner pick Benintendi and not Betts? Betts and Xander would be a more comparable group and you could maybe make a stronger argument for them. In fact, that would be pretty close. So in essence, this is the Yankees varsity group against the Red Sox JV. And likely the results are going to show that.

Now watch Devers win the MVP next season.

Photo by David Kohl – USA TODAY Sports

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