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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Konerko vs. Cameron

Konerko, Cameron.  Cameron, Konerko.  It's not quite Uma, Oprah but an interesting comparison nonetheless.  On November 10, 1998 the Sox shipped Mike Cameron to the Cincinati Reds for Paul Konerko.  Since then there has been not-quite-feverish but occasionally audible debate as to whether or not this was the best move for our favorite franchise.  Inevitably after Cameron embarrassed Sox pitchers by homering four times in one game on Thursday this debate will resurface.
Let's start with Cameron's story.  In 1997 Cameron made his first mark on the majors after coming into the season as the Sox number one prospect according to Baseball America.  Cameron had as good a 3/4 of a season as you cuold expect hitting .259/.356/.433 and playing good defense in center.  He was jobbed in the rookie of the year voting finishing sixth in a year when Deivi Cruz finished fourth with a 577 OPS. 
This can at least partially be attributed to the fact that Cameron does everything right on the diamond except hit for a high batting average in a galaxy where the first thing people look at is a hitter's batting average.  Cameron's package is heavy on secondary skills (hitting for power, drawing walks, stealing bases, pretty much everything on offense that doesn't show up in batting average) and he plays stellar defense to boot.  However at the time no one's defensive star could shine brighter than Ken Griffey Jr.'s among AL centerfielders.
However despite being underrated Cameron seemed like he'd be a mainstay in the Sox outfield for years.  Unfortunately things didn't go so smoothly, Cameron suffered from a major sophomore slump in 1998 hitting an abysmal .210/.285/.336.  Apparently at this point the Sox brass had seen enough, Cameron was off to Cincinati for Konerko.
At the time Konerko was just about where Corey Patterson was coming into this season.  Konerko was a year off being named the second best prospect in baseball but hadn't proven himself as a major league hitter just yet.  Unlike Patterson he was foolishly traded to the Reds with pitcher Dennys Reyes for closer Jeff Shaw.  Not only did this leave egg on Tommy Lasorda's face for making the deal but it also made Konerko the odd man out in Cincinati who was already playing young players at all the positions Konerko could handle.  My guess is they couldn't believe the near king's ransom Lasorda offered them for Shaw so they made the deal despite not having a spot for Konerko, the jewel coming to their side.
All Lasorda could do to defend the deal is bring up a hip condition of Konerko's that no one really saw as a problem in the first place.  However, that as they say, is a different story.  At this point we're in late 1998, the Sox have a disappointing but obviously talented young outfielder and the Reds have an extra young corner man who is probably the best offensive player in the majors without an everyday job.  So the White Sox and Reds swapped their "problems."
Before we even get to the players performances after the trade the Sox were making a mistake off the bat.  They were trading way down in the defensive spectrum.  The defensive spectrum looks like this:
[ - - 1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C - - ]
The basic premise is that positions on right end are more difficult to play than positions on the left and therefore it is tougher to find players who can play these positions well.  So the Sox were trading a good defensive player from the right side of the spectrum for a decent leather guy on the very end.  Not the best move in the world.
But you say the Sox got Konerko for his bat, so as long as he tore the cover off the ball and outhit the centerfielder Cameron it's okay.  So let's take a look at their batting stats from 1999 to the end of 2001.
Konerko 441 1619 247 277 77 146 .291 .255 .500 854 3 58 277
Cameron 451 1625 288 254 65 227 .263 .358 .462 820 96 27 292
Take a good look, despite Konerko's advantage in batting average and slugging average Cameron has created more runs for his team in the same time span.  Look at the last column, RC or Runs Created.  You might be familiar already, it's a stat created by Bill James to measure a player's total offensive contribution.  Like with runs or RBIs 100 Runs Created in a season is a good season.
Cameron's advantage over Konerko in Runs Created comes from his excellent running game compared to Konerko's lack thereof and the fact that Cameron has about 100 more plate appearances.  Giving the offensive edge to Cameron even further is that he's played in a good pitchers park while Konerko has played in Comiskey Park, a good hitters park.  So Cameron's runs were more valuable since they were created in an environment where runs are more scarce.
If you're not completely convinced, or just for fun let's take a look at this with Bill James' newest way of comparing players, Win Shares.  Win Shares is a player's total contribution to his ballclub including offense, defense and pitching.  One Win Share is equal to one third of a win, last year the Sox won 83 games so they would have 249 Win Shares to divide among their players.  Thirty Win Shares in a season will probably make you an MVP candidate, 20 and you're a good regular.  Last year Jason Giambi led the AL in Win Shares with 38.  Barry Bonds led the NL with 54 which was a tie with Walter Johnson for the third greatest season ever.  Without further ado, the Win Share totals since 1999 for Konerko and Cameron:
Konerko    46
Cameron   67
Geez, in this system that includes defensive contribution and adjusts for park effects Cameron pretty much blows Konerko away.  Not surprising to me since Cameron won a Gold Glove in 2001 and probably deserves one or two more and their offensive performances are close before adjusting for parks.  So looks like the final verdict is while this wasn't like trading away Sammy Sosa for George Bell the Sox most likely would have been better off with Mike Cameron the last few years than with Paul Konerko. 


Editor's Note:  Andrew Ritchie is known by WSI's message board crowd  as Kermitthefrog and writes about the White Sox based on statistical analysis.  Andrew like statistics because it helps cut through the bias when talking baseball.  Andrew pledges to be as objective as possible, but hey--nobody is perfect!  You can email Andrew at

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