Many baseball statheads are addicted to a complicated productivity -measurement system known as VORP — Value Over Replacement Player. I got to thinking about VORP on Monday (Nov. 13) night as I was watching TV and saw a couple very familiar faces.
Both The Class and What About Brian featured guest appearances by feisty Life on a Stick redhead Rachelle Lefevre, who has also been spotted on Veronica Mars earlier this season. That trifecta ties Lefevre with Keri Lynn Pratt, who has done guest duties on Bones, Brothers & Sisters and in that same episode of Veronica Mars.
But neither actress can compete with Jose Zuniga, an actor you’re sure to recognize, but probably wouldn’t know from what. Zuniga popped up on Monday’s Prison Break as the crime lord responsible for getting Michael Scofield his plane to Panama. Already this season, Zuniga has appeared in two episodes of Dexter and in the Chevy Chase episode of Law & Order. But stick around, because on Thursday, Zuniga pops up on The O.C. in a surprisingly benign role as one of Sandy Cohen’s public defender colleagues.
That brings me back to VORP — helpfully defined by Baseball Prospectus as "The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances." I could explain VORP to you — it involves the assumption that you have to make a choice between the player in question and the unbearable, below-average scrubs otherwise available — but then I’d have to kill myself.
Instead, I’ll raise the new statistical category of VORG — Value Over Replacement Guest. The category doesn’t apply to the former TV or film stars likely to get a "Special Guest Star" credit during a sweeps period, so Rob Lowe on Brothers & Sisters doesn’t apply, nor would Treat Williams on the same show. And the category doesn’t even necessarily apply to veteran character actors. I’m talking about people like Tracy Middendorf, who you might know as "That cute blonde actress who’s played abused wives on several dozen shows."
There must be a reason why Lefevre and Pratt and Zuniga have been chosen repeatedly by casting directors this year, reasons why they’d rather those three go head-to-head with themselves than hire one of the hundreds of other replacement thespians who also must have auditioned.
As with VORP, the first assumption of VORG has to be that the typical replacement thespian is either young and unknown or not very good, otherwise they’d be a regular on another show in our 1000-channel universe. The assumption has to be that if you were just about to shoot with Pratt or Lefevre and they got sick, you’d have to recast them with, say, Tara Reid or the producer’s daughter.
Although she’s 27, Pratt brings the ability to play young, which is why she was a teen on Stacked last year and a college student on Veronica Mars. She can also play stupid, but as suggested on B&S, she can be dumb with an under-current of brains. Oh and she was born in New Hampshire, so she’s got that going for her. As for Lefevre, she’s a survivor — she survived Life on a Stick and that Butch & Sundance telefilm that never aired. She’s also disarmingly funny for a woman so beautiful.
In VORP, though, value is associated with position-based scarcity. A second baseman capable of giving you 15 home runs is vastly more valuable than a first baseman with the same power numbers, simply because of the performative norms of the position (Marcus Giles over Lyle Overbay, if you will). That’s why as much as you may like Lefevre and Pratt, they have to have lower VORGs than Zuniga. Ingenues in this town are much more plentiful than multi-faceted ethnic performers.
Zuniga has proven over the years that he can play drug dealers and mobsters and cops of any Latin origin. Heck, if the IMDB is to be trusted, Zuniga’s Law & Order appearance was his fourth, each time as a different character. That’s versatility and value.
That’s why one of the actors with the highest imaginable VORGs is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. The Japanese actor has mostly concentrated on features, but he’s done regular or guest stints on shows like Cybill, Nash Bridges and, most recently, Hawaii. In his career, Tagawa has played Japanese, Chinese, Korean and native Hawaiian characters, taking advantage of the fact that most casual Americans can’t tell the differences between different Asian nationalities. As a rule, Hollywood’s failures when it comes to racial diversity hurts actors outside of the loop, but it can mean a healthy living for actors within the loop.
To expand on the baseball analogy, Zuniga and Tagawa are like a Chone Figgins or a Frank Catalanotto or a Pedro Feliz — mere statistics can’t capture their value, which is increased by their versatility, even if it’s a versatility within a limited range. Plus, I’m sure Zuniga plays better defense than Figgins.
I have no idea how to expand this theory into statistics, but I’ll leave that to a smart agent.
What actors do you think would have the highest VORGs?