In part two, Beerleaguer looks at how Mike Cameron's career stacks up against Paul Konerko. Did the Sox actually lose the trade? (read part one here)
Both Mike Cameron and Paul Konerko had fantastic seasons with their new teams in 1999. Cameron hit .256/.357/.469 with impeccable defense, leading to his highest single-season WAR of his career (5.6, which interestingly enough came a season after his worst WAR season of his career). And Konerko had the offensive breakout the Dodgers and Reds had expected, hitting 24 home runs with a .294/.352/.511 slash line. In fact, Konerko's .372 wOBA (explained here) tells us Konerko's first season with the Sox was his fifth-best offensively.
But whereas Cameron excelled defensively, Konerko lagged. The 1999 season wasn't a defensive outlier, either—it was the beginning of a career of being rated average-to-below-average defensively for Konerko. For Cameron, 1999 was just another season of elite defense. And it's defensively where these two players diverged the greatest in terms of value.
It's unfair to directly compare these two players in terms of defense, though. Cameron, being an outfielder, gets more chances to save runs with his defense than Konerko at first base. Thus, Cameron's defensive impact was always going to be higher than that of Konerko. And thus, his value was always going to be higher than that of Konerko.
In 1,887 career games, Cameron has racked up +99 runs saved as rated by total zone. Konerko? He's at -28 runs in 1,589 career games at first base. UZR and DRS roughly agree with those valuations, although the data only goes back to 2002. The numbers tell us what we already knew—Cameron is an elite defender, Konerko below average.
The offensive numbers reveal something we may not have realized, though: while Konerko is the superior offensive player, it's not as wide a gap as us White Sox fans may have expected.
Click the image (via FanGraphs) for full size. Cameron is the orange line, Konerko green. Blue is MLB average.
While Konerko has hit about 100 more home runs than Cameron in his career, consider the positions. Konerko's 365 career home runs are the 17th-most of any first baseman; Cameron's 269 home runs are 15th-most among center fielders.
That's not to say the positional difference negates Konerko's offensive advantage. Konerko is better. But the question is this: would you rather have an above-average offensive center fielder or a good offensive first baseman?
And that's leaving defense out of the discussion, too. When defense is factored in, we get this:
Click the image (via FanGraphs) for full size. Cameron is the orange line, Konerko green. The graph shows each player's single-season WAR arranged from highest to lowest seasons. Bonus points go to Mechanical Turk for prophesying the appearance of this graph.
The raw data doesn't help Konerko. Since the trade, FanGraphs says Konerko has been worth 29.5 fWAR while Cameron 44.9 fWAR. If you're into Baseball-Reference WAR, Konerko has been worth 26.5 bWAR while Cameron 41.9 bWAR.
A roughly 15.0 gulf in WAR between the two players is pretty significant. So did the White Sox actually lose in trading Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko?
That's going a little too far. Actually, way too far. Cincinnati certainly didn't win the deal, as the Reds dealt Cameron to Seattle along with three other players for Ken Griffey Jr. following the 1999 season. Cameron stayed in Seattle for four years and then bounced between the Mets, Padres and Brewers before landing in Boston, where he currently plays.
Konerko has played every season since 1999 on the South Side. It's hardly Cameron's fault he's bounced around so much—he's been unlucky in being dealt three times—so Konerko's longevity with the White Sox isn't necessarily a point in his favor against Cameron. But it certainly helps Konerko's case.
Pulling the "knowing what we already know" card is usually a bad idea, but here goes: the White Sox won a World Series with Paul Konerko. His grand slam off Chad Qualls in Game 2 was one of the most incredible moments we've seen as White Sox fans (of course, it wasn't the most incredible home run of that game). He's been the team captain since 2006, serving as a steady hand through good times (2006 and 2008, despite his non-metaphorical hand issues in '08) and bad times (2007).
That's not to say Cameron couldn't have done the same thing. Cameron is the more valuable baseball player, according to the numbers. But the White Sox hardly lost this trade—nobody in their right mind would say that. The Sox came away winners with Konerko, just like any team (well, except the 2010 Red Sox) that has employed Cameron has come away a winner.
In trading away a talented center fielder, Ron Schueler acquired the last player to wear No. 14 for the White Sox organization. Konerko's mug and number will find itself to left-center field at U.S. Cellular Field, right between Luis Aparicio (or Ozzie Guillen, perhaps) and Ted Lyons.
Maybe Cameron would've been on the road to have his number retired. But there's absolutely no reason to pine for an altering of the past in the face of the history Konerko has made with the White Sox despite what the numbers may say.