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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Konerko vs. Lee 

Who is more valuable, Paul Konerko or Carlos Lee?  It’s an interesting and important question for the White Sox because they are very similar players.  It also looks like one of them may be leaving the organization soon.  They are about the same age, both right-handed and both play positions on the right/easy end of the defensive spectrum.  This is to say a lot more is expected from them with the bat than with the glove.  The average Sox fan would say Konerko is the more valuable one.  Konerko did recently make the AL All-Star team and receive a 23 million dollar contract extension while Lee is rumored to be on the trade block.  Before making a final decision and shipping off Lee, a long look at these to players is in order.  And remember, past performance is the best predictor of future performance. 

Career numbers: 





































Their production has been almost as close as two players can be but there is one key difference between the two hitters.  Konerko walks more, and therefore gets on base more, an extraordinarily important skill.  Nonetheless both of these guys walk a little less than you would like.  Ideally a hitter will walk in at least ten percent of his plate appearances and neither of those guys reaches that mark.  Keeping this in mind lets look at both of their numbers from last season. 





































There are three big differences here.  First of all Paul Konerko had 24 more RBIs.  That’s due to Konerko hitting in the middle of the order consistently while Lee moved around in the lineup.  Konerko was not 24 runs better than Carlos Lee.  Secondly Konerko hit 40 points better than Lee.  This is a very significant difference but isn’t likely to happen again next year because their career averages are so close. 

The most significant difference between the two players is in the walks column.  Carlos Lee was one walk short of having as many walks in the 2002 season as the 2001 and 2000 seasons combined.  That’s a tremendous jump, Lee clearly made a conscious attempt to change his approach at the plate and it worked.  Lee finished the season second on the White Sox in walks behind Frank Thomas who still has one of the better batting eyes in baseball.  Lee even finished the season with more walks than strikeouts, a sign of a great batting eye. 

While Konerko certainly deserves credit for another strong season.  Lee deserves much more credit for redefining himself in the batters box while also upping his production.  To get an idea of Lee’s accomplishment and what can be expected of him next year I looked for similar players who made a jump in plate discipline.  Specifically I looked right-handed hitters age 27 and under since 1990.  I then narrowed to those who neither hit above .300 nor walked more than 40 times and in the following season improved their walk total by at least 50%. 

I found seven of these situations.  Jeff King’s 1992, Chad Curtis’ 1994, Andruw Jones, Magglio Ordonez, Raul Mondesi and Fernando Tatis in 1998 and Richie Sexsons’ 1999.  In the first year, the sub-.300 sub-40 walks year, the group combined to hit .266/.310/.449.  Decidedly sub par production for a group of infield and outfield corners.  In the second season, the breakout season, the group was much better hitting .280/.354/.479.  In the third season the group kept the production increase, hitting .279/.350/.495.  From my findings there is good reason to believe Carlos Lee will at least keep his 2002 level of production.

There is also reason to believe Carlos Lee will improve upon his 2002 season.  First of all Lee hit nearly 20 points off his career batting mark.  He should get 10-15 hits back next year and still get on base via the walk twice as much as before.  Secondly Lee was much better in the second half of last season than he was in the first.  It’s possible it took him the first half of the season to make his new patient approach work before tearing the league up in the second half.  Carlos Lee’s stock is going way up right now.

While Lee made a necessary evolution in his game, Paul Konerko is essentially the same hitter he was four years ago.  The only difference is a monster first half of 2002 which boosted his reputation and earned him an All-star selection.  In 1999 Konerko hit .294/.352/.511, last year he hit .304/.359/.498.  The years in between were very close to those totals.  Konerko’s development as a hitter has reached a plateau. 

If I had to make a call as to which one of these guys to shop and which one to give a contract extension I’d be handing Lee the payday.  From a business standpoint it makes even more sense.  Lee would be less expensive to lock up since he does not have Konerko’s reputation. 

This is pretty surprising.  A year ago Konerko looked like a better bet to turn his game up a notch.  Lee looked clueless at times due to his inability to reach base consistently.  However Carlos Lee is a completely different hitter now and Konerko is the same guy he was in 1999.  If Lee is traded this off season the taker could have a huge bargain. 

On the bright side D’Angelo Jimenez was praised by the Sox for his plate discipline.  Maybe that’s a sign the Sox brass will recognize Lee’s value in having the very same skill.  At the same time if a deal is on the table to move a right-handed hitter it would take a lot of courage to move Konerko over Lee due to Konerko’s “breakout” last year and his popularity in Chicago.

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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