Reflecting on the trade deadlineby Jeffrey Gross
August 05, 2010
Though the 2010 trade deadline had its share of relatively big names on the move, the immediate impact of those moves will be minimal compared to years past.
The trade deadline is usually used by a team to solidify its position down the stretch. Teams tend to use the offseason to make their long-term deals. The biggest deal of the deadline however, the Dan Haren acquisition, seems to be one such long-term deal, as the Angels are a comfortable nine games out of place. I am sure the Angels are by no means throwing in the towel for 2010, but they seem to be positioning themselves more for the 2011 and 2012 seasons than making a Hail Mary play at a 2010 season with less than 60 games to play.
Another example of why the immediate impact of the 2010 trade deadline will be relatively quiet is that the best offensive player on the move in 2010, Lance Berkman, headed to the team that already had the best offense in baseball—the Yankees. I think this move is a waste of marginal resources, but Yankees' payroll is economy-proof. Besides, Berkman does make the Yankees' DH situation better (assuming Jorge Posada’s old knees let him keep on catching games). That said...
Which team did the most to improve its present situation?
The Twins and Rays, with relief pitcher acquisitions.
On the surface, the Twins' trade for Matt Capps seems moot. The Twins bullpen had the second best ERA heading into the trade deadline with a 3.14 mark. Further, their incumbent closer, Jon Rauch, had a 3.03 ERA and 21 handshakes. Hence, it would seem as though the acquisition of Capps (2.74 ERA, 27 saves) was a waste of marginal resources. However, Capps is an immediate upgrade for the Twins.
Despite the shiny ERA, Twins relievers collectively own a 4.39 xFIP, the eighth worst mark in baseball. Rauch has not pitched any better, despite the nice ERA, as evidenced by a 4.47 xFIP. You can blame the major leagues' worst strikeout-inducing, fifth most walking and sixth lowest groundball-inducing relief corps for the collective xFIP. Now xFIP and FIP are by no means the best measure of a single reliever’s ability, given variable leverage usage and limited sample sizes (in terms of both innings pitched and IP/appearance). However, when one analyzes a team’s relievers in tandem, we can start drawing conclusions, since leverage variability is smoothed out and sample sizes are collectively expanded.
Simply put, despite the first half results that say otherwise, the loss of Joe Nathan (career 3.11 xFIP) left a glaring hole in the Twins' lineup. That is where Capps comes in. On the heels of a 38:9 K/BB ratio over 47 IP for the Nationals and a career-best 48.7 percent groundball rate, Capps’ peripherals are worth a solid 3.53 xFIP/3.46 FIP. Those numbers are solid and Capps’ groundballs and strikeouts should be a godsend for the Twins bullpen.
Ignore what the Twins had to pay to get Capps; barring a complete dropoff, Wilson Ramos (ranked the 58th best minor league prospect heading into the 2010 season) is likely too much to pay for a middle reliever. However, Capps solidifies the Twins' bullpen and late game position and perhaps will be the necessary piece the Twins need to finally defeat the Yankees in the postseason.
Likewise, the Rays also solidified their already good bullpen (3.88 collective xFIP) with a great buy-low acquisition of Chad Qualls (3.84 xFIP). A team, especially in the AL East, can never have too many good late-game relievers.
Which teams feel asleep at the wheel?
Two teams, both in Chicago: the White Sox and Cubs.
The White Sox wanted Adam Dunn more than any other player and even acquired Edwin Jackson, who Washington's Mike Rizzo was reportedly enamored with, to get him. However, Williams pulled the trigger on the first part of a prospective three-way deal without first confirming the back end of the trade. As a result, Chicago is now struck with Jackson for the rest of 2010 and all of 2011.
Now, Jackson is by no means Daniel Cabrera and I suppose you could do worse with your fifth starter, but Jackson, who has a fourth starter ceiling, is too little a return for your top pitching prospect, Daniel Hudson, who has six years of major league control past this season and No. 2/No. 3 starter upside. Jackson’s flyball Atkins diet this year is nice (50.5 percent groundball rate), but his groundball rate as a full time starter in 2008 and 2009 was below 40 percent. Further, Jackson’s heavy heater (94 mph) and snake-biting slider (+0.56 runs prevented per 100 times thrown) still have not translated into strikeouts (16.3 percent K/BF career, 17.7 percent in 2010, 18.2 percent major league average).
Put the 5.16 ERA out of your mind. Jackson is by no means that bad, as evidenced by a 4.28 xFIP/4.27 FIP. However, those peripherals are based on playing in the National League and facing the pitcher. Derek Carty has previously noted that while walk rates remain relatively stable as a pitcher changes leagues, an NL to AL move usually results in the loss of 0.57 strikeouts per nine innings from a pitcher’s in-season rates. That would not bode well for Jackson, whose 6.97 K/9 and 4.27 xFIP on the season are already below major league average marks (7.03 and 4.15, respectively).
The Cubs also dozed before the trade deadline. Despite the overwhelming interest many teams had in Ted Lilly (see MLB Trade Rumors), the best the Cubs were able to get for arguably the majors' best available lefty (and useless SS/2B Ryan Theriot) was Blake DeWitt and a pair of nobody prospects. I realize that Lilly’s strikeouts on the season were down and that he was giving up more flyballs this year (think Kevin Slowey), but his 2007-2009 record surely had to be worth more than just DeWitt to other teams. Maybe Haren’s below-market deal and the “give me average MLB-ready players for Oswalt” trade caused Lilly’s trade value to drop. Maybe teams were afraid of the 1 mph dropoff in Lilly’s velocity this season. Whatever it was, Lilly was likely worth more to the Cubs as a Type A free agent than Blake DeWitt.
Trades that caught me off guard
The Yankees’ acquisition of both Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns. I do not understand where Kearns (.343 wOBA) figures into a Yankees outfield that is collectively posting a .357 wOBA among Nick Swisher (.396), Brett Gardner (.374), Curtis Granderson (.328), and Marcus Thames (.374). Clearly the Yanks are not going to bench Granderson’s struggling, but average bat and golden glove in favor of Kearns. Further, Kearns (career .342 wOBA) does not seem to be much of an upgrade over Thames (career .338 wOBA). This, combined with the fact that I saw little if anything linking Kearns to the Yankees prior to the trade, made it completely unexpected.
Likewise, the Yankees' acquisition of Wood (5.04 xFIP/5.21 FIP in 2010, very injury prone) seems to make very little sense for a team with the sixth lowest bullpen xFIP (4.16) in baseball and only three pitchers (Chad Gaudin, Damasao Marte and Alfredo Aceves) on the roster with worse xFIPs than Wood.
Juiciest rumor that didn't happen
As a Cubs fan, the alleged Theriot for Kelly Johnson swap. I’ve been a huge fan of Johnson for four years running and I lobbied hard for the Cubs to sign the non-tendered Johnson the offseason. Alas, all the Cubs have to show for both Lilly and Theriot is DeWitt.
My two cents on the “big” three-way trade of the deadline (Ludwick/Westbrook)
The Cardinals trading Ryan Luckwick was both unexpected and baffling. The former A’s prospect is by no means the player he was in 2008 (.406 wOBA), but he is still a quality hitter (career .356 wOBA, .354 wOBA in 2010) with ample pop (career .219 ISO). In 2010, Luckwick has been 23 percent better than the average major league hitter. The Cardinals, as a team, are posting a .326 wOBA and scoring only 4.46 runs per game with the Albert Pujols/Matt Holliday machine. It seems strange that they would ship off their third most offensively productive player to acquire a pitcher, Jake Westbrook, who has a 4.65 ERA/4.41 xFIP on the season and is injury-prone when they have fragile Chris Carpenter on their roster and a starting rotation xFIP of 3.93, the best mark in baseball. Perhaps the Cardinals are enamored with Westbrook’s career 4.04 xFIP.
Did any moves change who I am picking to make the playoffs?
Not particularly, though I think the Padres’ acquisition of Ludwick solidifies their postseason probability and prospective longevity once October rolls around.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also writes about craft beer as part of a side project blog titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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