Matt Joyce or Matt LaPorta?

If we kept track of rosterbation targets, Matt LaPorta would probably be one of the top names over the years. LaPorta has some things going for him that make him popular. Being born in Gainesville and then playing baseball for the Florida Gators is always a way to land in the thoughts of the locals. Find yourself on a team who has a perennial all-star at first base - the only position in which you should be allowed to play - and watch the interest pique when the local team is in need of a designated hitter.

I don't really have a problem with LaPorta. He's a good hitter, of that I'm sure we all agree, but while I was toying around on the International League leaderboards, a thought came to my head: is Matt Joyce a more desirable player?  As it stood, I was only looking at Joyce and LaPorta's 2009 statistics. Thankfully Baseball-Reference includes career statistics at each minor league level, so I clicked around and found the career Triple-A lines of both. Here they are:

Joyce (720 PA): .272/.367/.504, 29 HR, 16/24 SB, 12.6% BB, 25.9% SO

LaPorta (393 PA): .299/.388/.530, 23 HR, 1/4 SB, 10.7% BB, 16.6% SO

Allow me to expand on those lines a bit, because simply listing the information is boring. Their ISO are nearly identical (Joyce actually has a one point lead) and while everyone would likely give LaPorta the edge in home run power, well, he's hit a dinger in Triple-A in 4.3% of his plate appearances; Joyce only popped one 4% of the time. These are not park-adjusted, so mind that, but also mind this: Joyce is all of five months older and plays defense.  

As it stands, LaPorta's wOBA is something like 20 points higher. Over 600 plate appearances the run differential is 10.96, or just over a full win. LaPorta has been the better hitter in Triple-A, but the question you must answer in order to solve which player is more desirable involves the degree of defensive separation. Specifically: whether Joyce is 11 runs better than LaPorta.

Honestly, I can't answer that question with anything like 99% certainty and their UZR scores are basically irrelevant in such a small sample size (~600 and ~300 innings apiece), but here's what Baseball America said about both of their defensive abilities in their latest available scouting reports:

Joyce (2008):

A well above-average right fielder, he gets great jumps and has a strong, accurate arm. He can play an adequate center field if needed.

LaPorta (2009):

Though he has some feel for the outfield, he has below-average speed and range with fringy arm strength.

I think you can paint Joyce as something like a 5 < x < 10 run defender while being conservative and LaPorta as a -10 < x < -5 outfielder, give or take a run here or there. Assuming they fall within those ranges then Joyce is the better player because you also have to account for baserunning and stealing, something we didn't do originally. Give him a few runs for that, and really LaPorta isn't a full win better offensively.

Some will ask why I limited LaPorta to the outfield only and it's simple. The perception on these two players is nothing alike. LaPorta is thought to be the prototypical slugger and the big bat from college who could lead his team in dingers within three years of being drafted. Joyce came from Florida Southern and wasn't chosen until round twelve in the draft two years prior to LaPorta's class. Everybody looks forward to Desmond Jennings - and rightfully so - but Matt Joyce looks to be a pretty useful player, even when you ignore the perceptions and focus on the realities.

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