I can show that over the course of his career, Nick Swisher, a journeyman player, was more-valuable to his teams than perennial All-Star and future Hall of Fame member Ichiro Suzuki was to his — that where it counts the most in baseball, Swisher was an undervalued asset and Suzuki grossly overrated.
That certainly goes against what passes for the conventional wisdom.
Suzuki has all the shiny stats on the back of his baseball card: a career .311 batting average, over 3,000 hits, more than 500 career stolen bases, a Most Valuable Player Award.
Swisher, in contrast, never lead his league in any category (except, in 2013, for most errors committed by a first baseman) and he made only one All-Star team.
But Swisher was still more valuable than Suzuki.
The most-important attribute of a non-pitcher is his ability to produce runs. (For a pitcher, it's the converse, to not allow runs.) Batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage — none of these traditional measurements demonstrate a player's value to his team as well as his ability to produce runs.
To win, a team has to outscore its opponents.
Neither Suzuki nor Swisher were equal to the best players in run production; over the course of his career, Suzuki produced runs at a rate of 21 per 100 at-bats, while Swisher produced 24 runs per 100 at-bats. (Babe Ruth produced 44 runs per 100 at-bats. Of course, he was The Babe.)
Suzuki was paid an annual average salary of $9.3 million during his career.
Despite being better at what counts the most in baseball, Swisher averaged only $6.4 million per season.
Some baseball fans might say Suzuki's defense has to be considered when valuing his worth; he won multiple Gold Gloves during his career.
I would counter that, especially over the last 20 years with the increased use of data-driven positioning and shifts, an individual player's defensive prowess has become less of a factor — and like batting average is overrated in evaluating a player's worth.
Swisher (I'm not why I picked on Swisher) was over the course of his career a better investment than Suzuki: he produced runs at a faster rate and did so for less money.
And Swisher, in his 12 seasons, played in 47 post-season games; Suzuki over his 18 year career, played in only 19 post-season games.
It's not just in baseball that value is misjudged, that dollars get spent on the shiny things at the expense of the greater value to be found elsewhere, in pursuits less flamboyant yet more essential to success.
Unfortunately, a good deal of tax money gets misspent on flash rather than substance.
It happens locally, with taxpayer money spent on vanity projects which, in the end, won't yield the degree of benefit initially promised, almost always with expansive fanfare.
Tax dollars get siphoned away on parking lots, subsidies for developers, and get invested in business theaters/education centers — with the promise such spending will aid the community in competing for jobs.
There is celebration when an investment in some vanity project is completed: speeches, photographs, the obligatory ribbon cutting photo, perhaps even some award from the state.
But tax dollars spent on brick-and-mortar buildings ultimately provide only a limited return — if any return at all. Then nothing remains but despair — and a colossal wreck, boundless and bare.
Those who really know something about development and economic growth hold that the best, long-term investment a community can make is in its human capital, specifically spending on public education, investing in the minds of young people by creating better schools.
I think that's true.
The argument I hear from public officials against making such an investment is that the schools have their money, we have ours, and we'll spend ours the way we want — on parking lots, I guess.
It is an argument reminiscent of the school playground at recess.
Such arguments are always shortsighted.
Schools are what young parents look for when deciding where to live. So better schools not only produce more home-grown talent, but also attract talent — human capital — to a community.
And it's talent that will win out in the end.
Really, nothing beats good schools when it comes to positioning a community to prosper.
Public officials can continue to invest tax dollars in shiny things and even win — once in awhile.
Investing in public education, in substance instead of the vanity, will instead lead to regular victories and success for us all.
Gayle R. Robbins writes for the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.