The Best and Worst Teams of the Trade: Revistedby Dave Studeman
February 14, 2005
Last Thursday, Mike Carminati and I introduced the beginning of a series of articles reviewing the history of major league trades, and I specifically introduced something called the Major League Trading Balance Sheet. Well, it turns out that I didn't get it quite right.
Several commenters at Mike's site noticed that some of the most lopsided trades of all time, such as Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell or John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, weren't on the list. Oy! Yes, for all of my double and triple checking, I missed a simple thing: my spreadsheets didn't pick up players who were minor leaguers at the time they were traded. Talk about embarrassing...
As you can imagine, this is a big deal. Jeff Bagwell has accumulated 339 Win Shares since being traded; Andersen went on to create 24. Smoltz has 222 career Win Shares so far; Alexander racked up 29 after the trade. All I can say is, thank goodness for the Internet and vigilant readers. It's like built-in peer review.
So I've gone back and re-run all the numbers. And I've quadruple-checked them and put them under the microscope, and I think they're sort of okay now. And yes, adding minor leaguers into the equation makes a big impact -- so big that some teams moved several rankings on the Trading Balance Sheet. Particularly the one that traded away Jeff Bagwell.
Here is the new and (hopefully) correct Win Shares Trading Balance Sheet, measured by Win Shares Above Baseline (WSAB) traded from each team and to each team from 1961 through 2002:
Team WSAB To WSAB From Diff CHA 2641 1944 697 KCA 1507 1081 426 TOR 1384 1067 317 SDN 2464 2162 302 BAL 2015 1770 245 MIN 1369 1174 195 NYA 2736 2549 187 MIL 1390 1227 163 TEX 2543 2412 131 SLN 3053 2937 116 ARI 238 140 98 CHN 2709 2636 73 HOU 2262 2189 73 PHI 2402 2360 42 MON 2139 2099 40 ANA 1681 1655 26 CLE 3277 3274 3 COL 279 299 -20 DET 1204 1296 -92 OAK 2048 2141 -93 CIN 2452 2579 -127 FLO 731 882 -151 TBA 33 189 -156 LAN 2291 2494 -203 SEA 1110 1331 -221 PIT 2041 2288 -247 ATL 1653 1919 -266 SFN 1895 2172 -277 NYN 2197 2760 -563 BOS 1339 1945 -606
When looking at this list, you have to wonder which team is more cursed; the one that has the worst trading record or the one that has the best. The Chicago White Sox have the best forty-year trading differential by a very good margin, but they have no World Series ring to show for it. The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, have an abysmal trading record yet made the postseason several times during these forty years and even won it all last year.
There were several very good discussions of these results on the Web, as well as a slew of great e-mails. Over at Baseball Think Factory, it was noted that there seems to be little correlation on this list between the best trading teams and the winningest teams. One hypothesis was that winning teams might be more willing to trade away good young talent in order maintain their winning edge -- and that certainly makes some sense. It will be interesting to investigate that angle as Mike and I look at the trades in more detail.
There were also a number of excellent points in the e-mails I received as a result of the first article:
- Several readers asked if we can examine specific GM's in our analysis. And the answer is yes, Mike and I plan to do that.
- Some other readers asked if we can focus on more current trades, to make the analysis more relevant. The problem is that these totals are based on a player's career, and most trades since the late 1990's are not yet "complete." So Mike and I may find a way to focus on more current trades, but any conclusions we reach will be tentative at best.
- Many readers wrote to point out that it isn't really fair to downgrade a team (e.g., the Kansas City Royals) for trading a player about to hit free agency (e.g., Carlos Beltran) when they realistically wouldn't be able to afford that player in the future. My reply is that that is a great point, but I don't know any easy way to correct for it.
- Another reader felt that we shouldn't really be including many of the most one-sided trades, such as the Bagwell or Smoltz deals, because they were known risks at the time, and they just didn't happen to work out. Perhaps, but they did happen, and I'm interested in documenting what truly happened. As Mike and I look at specific teams, we will do our best to cover these nuances.
At the very least, we intend to explore the territory a little bit, starting with the trading data. We hope you'll find it an interesting and informative exploration along the way.
And in case you're wondering if one league has managed to best the other one in inter-league deals, well, since 1961 the National League has traded 12,501 WSAB to the American League, while the American has sent 11,306 to the NL. Score one for the Junior League.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.
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