Saturday, August 1, 2009

Analyzing the MLB Trade Deadline in a Nerdy, Inaccessible Fashion

The trade deadline has come and gone, with a decent amount of high profile players changing into different uniforms. However, many people are still unsure what to make of all the wheeling and dealing. If only someone would look at these deals and arbitrarily award a team a winner or a loser before any of the prospects pan out or the players play more than three games with their new teams! There is no need to fear ladies and gentlemen, it's 2 AM and I'm really bored, so I am your man. Turn off ESPN, those guys in suits don't know what they're talking about.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on some of the bigger deals:

The Padres trade Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell.

I think the Padres destroyed the Sox in this deal. Of course most people are still in "OMG JAKE PEAVY" mode and are ignoring that the White Sox gave up tons of players from their farm system, including top prospect Poreda and Richard, who is already producing in the majors.

A bigger issue I have is with Peavy, the centerpiece of the deal. For one thing he is currently on the DL and has injury problems, and is unlikely to pitch until September. The other issue is that, to put it bluntly, Peavy is just plain overrated.

Peavy has spent his entire career playing in a weak division in a weak league and in Petco Park, the best pitcher's park in baseball. In his career at home, Peavy matches his Cy Young reputation with a 2.83 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Away from Petco? Peavy has a merely solid 3.84 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. When you factor in that Peavy is going to be facing tougher hitters in a new park that favors offense, it's possible that the Sox traded all this for an average 4.00-4.20 ERA starter, and that's not even factoring in his many injury issues. Not exactly worth all those prospects, or Peavy's massive contract.

The Mariners trade Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles

This is another AL Central deal that got a lot of hype, as the Tigers added a solid starting pitcher in Washburn. Looking at Washburn's stats for this season, one would think this was a tremendous coup for the Tigers, when in reality it's not quite that good.

Washburn is so far having the best season of his career, with a superb 2.64 ERA. Unfortunately the Tigers, it looks like things are about to change. For one thing his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is a much more Washburn-like 3.75, so his ERA is already nearly certain to regress a decent amount.

Also working against Washburn is that he will no longer have the best outfield defense in the majors behind him. Much of his strong ERA was because of the great work of his team defensively, particularly Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. Moving to a team with a worse outfield defense (hello Magglio Ordonez), you can expect Washburn's ERA to drop further.

Wasburn's projection for the rest of the season is a 4.50 ERA according to the ZIPS projection system. The Tigers didn't give up that much in the deal so it's still a good trade for them, just not as good as it may look on first glance.

The Twins trade Tyler Ladendorf to the A's for Orlando Cabrera

Time for the obligatory Twins analysis. This is another in a long string of pointless moves made by the Twins, with the intention of making fans think they're busy and actually trying to improve the team.

Cabrera has historically been a decent player, but this year his defense has gone bad (this could be a small sample size, but since he's 34 it's a definite possibility) and he's continued to suck at the plate. While he hits for a decent .280 average, he never walks (a dismal .318 on base percentage) and doesn't hit for much power (.365 slugging percentage). Those are just this year's statistics though, and it's possible Cabrera rebounds to something more like his career .274/.322/.397 line. That's still not particularly good.

For the Twins, Cabrera certainly represents an upgrade over Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. Then again, so does a lamp post with a hat and a baseball glove taped to it. Punto and especially Casilla (who has no business being on an mlb roster) are two of the worst regulars in the game who will continue to receive playing time because they do the little things like bunt, run kind of fast, and slide headfirst into bases which do not require headfirst sliding.

The bigger problem is that there were better alternatives available, who likely would not have commanded a price much steeper than Cabrera. The Jays were desperately shopping their SS Marco Scutaro, who is a vastly better player than Cabrera thanks to a .389 on base percentage. His ability to draw walks and get on base would have been welcome hitting between fellow OBP machines Denard Span and Joe Mauer, right ahead of a solid line of power hitters.

Now I'm not going to pretend like I knew what the Blue Jays were asking for Scutaro, but it's hard for me to believe it was that much considering he's a free agent after this season and the Jays are out of contention. To me it looks like another case of the Twins still being cavemen when it comes to evaluating players, especially hitters. Time and time again, this team manages to pick the worse of two options, usually picking the slappy "fundamentally sound" player over the guy who is actually good at baseball. Instead of getting a legitimate option that could have put this team over the top, we got another typical Twins hitter who won't draw walks or get on base. While this isn't surprising coming from a team that let go of David Ortiz and chose Rondell White over Frank Thomas, it continues to be depressing. While the top teams in the American League are starting to embrace statistics and are evaluating players correctly, the Twins continue to fall behind by not simply looking at the "OBP" column.

Especially after getting thrashed two days in a row by the Angels, this isn't exactly a great time to be a Twins fan. Both of our division rivals upgraded their teams for the present (even if the White Sox sold out their future to do so) while the Twins once again made a minor, borderline pointless move.

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