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Which is worse: Shawn Green or Russ Ortiz?

Ok, the big news today is, of course, the signing of Drew, and I'll get to that later. However, somewhat inspired by Levski's comment yesterday, let's start with a discussion of the above topic - not least because if we don't, the stats I've harvested on the topic will be out of date. And I'm just not going to let that happen, dammit! :-) So...

The Diamondbacks made two long-term acquisitions over the close season, hitter Shawn Green and pitcher Russ Ortiz. To say these two have not lived up to expectations, is like describing 9/11 as an unfortunate misunderstanding that should have been cleared up over a nice cup of tea. But which will be worse? While both contracts have the look of being an albatross round the neck of Arizona for years to come, which albatross has been chewing on lead shot?

Let's start with the raw data. Here are the stats for both Ortiz and Green, along with the NL averages, for RF and pitchers respectively:

              BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
Avg NL RF:  .267  .351  .462  .813
Shawn Green .258  .322  .392  .714

            ERA    H/9  BB/9  SO/9  HR/9  WHIP 
NL avg     4.29   9.08  3.41  6.49  1.03  1.39  
Russ Ortiz 5.68  11.81  5.52  3.99  1.23  1.93

Looking at the raw stats, the edge has to go to Green: his OPS is only about 12% worse than league-average, where Ortiz's ERA and WHIP are both 30% or more above average.

This is reflected, though the gap is smaller than you might think, in the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player); the number of runs a player contributes (or saves, for pitchers) over an average AAA callup. So far, Green's VORP is 1.7, which is pretty pathetic. Indeed, it's so pathetic, that Russ Ortiz's VORP as a hitter in the Diamondbacks' lineup is 1.5 - he's almost as valuable as Shawn Green at the plate!

On the mound, however, Ortiz has been so bad, he has a negative VORP [-0.9, to be exact] - basically, we'd have been better off with a randomly-selected Tucson starter. Although, there are still worse starters out there, whose teams are also paying them lots of long-term cash. Here are the VORPS for a few who haven't lived up to their salary this year:
Russ Ortiz, 4-year $33m contract, -1.5
Carl Pavano, 4-year $40m, -1.7
Sidney Ponson, 3-year $22.5m, -3.4
Joel Pineiro, 3-year $14.5m, -4.9
Eric Milton, 3-year $25.5m, -14.0

Currently, there are 15 NL right-fielders with 100 or more plate appearances. Green ranks 11th in BA, OBP, SLG, and 12th in OPS. It's interesting to compare his line to the guy we almost signed, Jeromy Burnitz:
Green: .258/.322/.392/.714
Burnitz: .266/.312/.468/.780

Burnitz has hit twice as many homers as Green so far (8-4), and the evaporation of Green's power - he's currently on pace for only 13 HR, and has only one in 106 AB's since April 26 - is perhaps the most surprising feature of his performance this year. He's never had much of an actual cold streak; only once has he gone more than two games without a hit, and the longest gap between multi-hit games is eight days. But there's been an awful lot of 0-for-4 and 1-for-5 games.

Breaking it down situationally, his weakness against left-handers is striking: a .159 average. 42 at-bats is a small sample size, but does mirror his overall problem with lefties - since 2002, he's hit .251 against them. He and Troy Glaus are the biggest failures so far with runners in scoring position: Green is hitting .176, with just nine hits in 51 at-bats. Again, this mirrors his performance since 2002, which is 24 points lower with RISP than overall.

Curiously, in fifteen at-bats with men on first and second this year, Green has no hits and only one walk. For whatever reason, he does not like hitting with a man on second base in general. Looking at his three-year splits with runners on:
1B: .303 2B: .226 3B: .275
1B+2B: .237 1B+3B: .292 2B+3B: .143
Go figure.

Looking at Ortiz's splits, left-handed hitters have been teeing off on him, hitting .372. Phoenix is not his friend either; even with a start in Coors, hitters at BOB bat 98 points better than on the road, leading to an ERA at home of 7.31. However, he has been effective at bearing down and getting out of trouble. Here's how opponents hit against him:
None on: .352
Runners on: .288
RISP: .243
This doesn't appear to particularly mirror a long-term ability, so I suspect he'll have to stop putting the damn runners on to begin with, or things could get very nasty.

There is one factor working in Ortiz's favour, however; the lack of Diamondback pitching prospects. Truth is, there's not much in the farm system which is being held back by Ortiz. Edgar Gonzalez is on fire at Tucson (6-1, 3.04 ERA), but his stint in the majors last year was equally incendiary, just for all the wrong reasons.

Further down, the Tennessee Smokies have the other E.Gonzalez, Enrique, who has a remarkably similar line (5-1, 3.08 ERA) to his namesake. But the only two pitchers to make Baseball America's top ten prospects list, Matt Chico and Tony Pena (the player formerly known as Adrian Rosario), are a combined 1-11, with ERAs of 5.98 and 7.43 respectively.

Thus, while Ortiz may have been worse than Green, you could say that the long-term potential for damage may be less, since there's no immediate alternative [though you could argue there's plenty of cheaper, better pitchers on the free agent market].

This is not the case for Green. Conor Jackson (.385) and Carlos Quentin (.327) have "almost ready for prime time" hovering over their heads in letters of fire at Tucson. Both will be on the roster next season, and the argument for them getting playing time is going to be perilously hard to ignore. Quentin is a natural right fielder, and Jackson also played the outfield before moving to first base this year.

The potential for disaster here doesn't really need mentioning. But I will, anyway. :-) Quentin ends up getting traded because Green has the RF job locked in, and it'd cause too much loss of face to dump the high-priced veteran. Our prospect goes on to a Hall of Fame career, while the pitcher received in trade, blows out his elbow and never wins a game for us. That's the kind of thing that makes me wake up, screaming, and is why, overall, I still reckon the Green contract will be the bigger bust.

However, your opinion may vary, and I've set up a poll on the topic. Feel free to vent...