Author Archive

Brutal Trade-Deadline Travels

In terms of the baseball news cycle, the trade deadline — which passed less than a week ago, you might recall — is officially old news. But, as Wilmer Flores and the New York Mets very accidentally and very effectively reminded us, the trade deadline always has been and always will be a group of real-live human beings subjected to a gauntlet of some of the most mundane and anxiety-producing ordeals of the modern age: pursuit of a new residence, extensive travel, nagging doubts about one’s job performance.

While their trades are old news, more than a few of the players who were moved at the deadline no doubt have their heads still spinning from the unexpectedly grueling calendar that befell them. If their performance has faltered, may they have our sympathy — and if it has not, may they have our further admiration:

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Recent History’s Biggest Trades Within the Division

Here’s one of baseball’s ol’ conundrums: to trade within the division or not. On the one hand, every team, in theory, participates in a trade only because they believe their team will ultimately reap the greater bounty. So who better than to reap great bounties from, then, if not one’s divisional foe?

But then again, if one is positioned as the “seller” in the trade, receiving future prospective talent in exchange for future veteran experience, aren’t you boosting your rival’s odds of making the playoffs? Which thus raises your rival’s odds at reaping the previously unavailable bounties, i.e.: increased revenues the following season, attainment of status as a desirable free-agent destination, glorious championship booty?

But then again, if you are truly reaping the greater trade bounty, won’t these additional spoils be, in due time, gloriously available to you?

I will not attempt to answer any of these questions. Instead, with some notable shifting around within their division during this most manic of weeks — Scott Kazmir, Jonathan Papelbon, Juan Uribe — I wanted to know which intra-division deal (completed before the July 31 non-waiver deadline) of the last decade saw the most WAR changing hands in that season. I’m looking at the most impactful trade within each division, and without considering value from the trades that came in future seasons or transactions. (Also: I’m using Baseball-Reference WAR here, as B-R splits up WAR by team played for within the same season.) Ordered by the divisions that saw the least to most WAR shifting hands:

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How Many GMs See Their Amateur Free Agents to the Bigs?

Last week at Grantland, two friends of the show in Jonah Keri and Nick Piecoro had a wonderful discussion about all things Arizona Diamondbacks, including the Touki Toussaint trade that caused many a skeptical eyebrow to be raised in the Diamondbacks’ direction. While Keri and Piecoro by no means endorsed the Diamondbacks’ recent moves, they brought up an interesting perspective on Arizona’s willingness to spend big on Cuban players Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez — and thus easily eclipsing their allotted international bonuses — without spending much on international free agents from other countries. The idea: there’s a relatively slim chance that Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart — or any other general manager for any other team — would still be working in their current position when today’s 16-year-old reaches the majors. While the fan no doubt cringes at the thought of a general manager romping around the front office with nary a concern for the franchise’s sustained success, one can definitely empathize with the human instinct for self-preservation.

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The Division-Deciding Match-Ups

If you look at the MLB’s gigantic 162-game gauntlet from a certain perspective, the landscape of every division is dictated by intra-divisional match-ups. For instance, in the spread-out NL Central, the Chicago Cubs (47-40 and eight games back of the St. Louis Cardinals) are serious contenders for a playoff spot, while the Cincinnati Reds (39-47, 15.5 games back) have been presumed for the whole season to be trade deadline sellers, with a close-to-hopeless chance of making the playoffs.

The shape of the NL Central looks very different if the season series between the Cubs and the Reds wasn’t played. The Cubs lead 7-2, with ten more games scheduled after the All-Star Break. Take this one match-up out of the two teams’ records and the Cubs are 40-38, and the Reds are 37-40, suddenly a weekend series away from matching each other in the standings. Read the rest of this entry »

A Case for Darren O’Day’s All-Stardom

As Craig Calcaterra correctly points out at Hardball Talk, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost has somewhat joylessly brought ultra-utility types aboard the American League All-Star roster instead of selecting players with bigger reputations.

But can ya blame Yost? You might recall that he got wicked close to winning a World Series just nine months ago. In a Game 7 where every last doggone base was weighted with incomprehensible leverage, playing that game at home nudged forward the Royals’ chances at winning by precious, precious percentage points. With this year’s Royals actually plausible World Series contestants — as opposed to their then-implausible candidacy at this time last year — Yost has unique motivation to play the All-Star Game to win.

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A Brief History of Non-Star All-Stars

Let the record show that I am all about Omar Infante starting the All-Star Game. As Grantland’s Bill Barnwell recently stated at the beginning of his fantastic article regarding below-replacement players who’d received MVP votes: “Baseball has a rich historical tapestry of stupidity.” May anarchy reign. Whatever.

Inspired by Barnwell’s spirit of inquiry, I wanted to discover which All-Stars finished their season with negative WAR — a destiny, it should be noted, that neither Steamer nor ZiPS project Infante to fulfill (barely). Read the rest of this entry »

Luhnow’s First Astros Draft Class Has Arrived

At a time not very long ago — actually, just a single month and a few days ago — viscount of the internet Rob Neyer wrote at Just A Bit Outside about how the Houston Astros, then as now a first-place team, had been winning games with negligible contribution from any players drafted by General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Quoth Neyer:

The 2012 draft has, so far, produced two major leaguers: pitcher Lance McCullers and hitter Preston Tucker. McCullers and Tucker have combined for zero wins and one home run (granted, the homer was a big one Thursday). The 2013 and 2014 drafts haven’t produced any major leaguers.

The final sentence of Neyer’s paragraph remains, as of this writing, true. But, in a testament to how rapidly things are changing down in Houston, the first two sentences of Neyer’s paragraph have already become dramatically obsolete. Please recall that Neyer’s post is barely one month old.

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The Braves’ NBA-Style Rebuild

Keith Law did not like this week’s trade (ESPN Insider article) that saw Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo go from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Atlanta Braves. It’s not that Law didn’t like the trade from the perspective of one team or the other. It’s that he didn’t like the spirit of the trade, period: it was, indisputably, a swap of contracts instead of an even exchange of on-field talent.

What does a league look like where plenty, if not most, trades are motivated by their financial implications? Well, it’s not the end of the world: this is what the NBA has been about for years. The NBA combines baseball’s almost entirely guaranteed salaries with a soft cap, like baseball, that, unlike baseball, is restrictive enough that even mid-market teams can unwittingly bump up against it. “Expiring” contracts — or, inefficient deals with less than a year remaining on them — have been a long-coveted NBA asset: salary albatrosses are willingly taken on precisely because they will end quickly enough for the team to have an even more valuable asset — space and flexibility underneath the cap — in time for the offseason free-agent market.

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Eliminating Teams Using the Thome Corollary

In the first chapter of his (excellent!) Big Data Baseball, Travis Sawchick describes how now-Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington used an interesting bit of historical analysis to help inform a controversial roster move. Writes Sawchick:

Using the software [DiamondView], the Indians made key decisions, such as when they elected not to sign aging star Jim Thome to an extension after the 2002 season, in part because of the database, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. […] Huntington noted that the Indians found in a payroll analysis that no major league club, dating back to 1985, had won a World Series when committing 15 percent or more of its payroll to one player.

Let’s call that 15% rule The Thome Corollary.

Has The Thome Corollary held up in the years since 2002, when price tags for choice free agents and franchise cornerstones has escalated at a rate far greater than your journeyman’s/rookie’s salary? The answer is: “No, The Thome Corollary has not held up,” or, “Yes, it sure has, with some small tweaks.”

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The Astros’ Enviable Draft Position

For me, there’s been something about seeing the first fruits of the Houston Astros’ years-long rebuilding project that really gets the imagination going. This is a team that is unquestionably built for the vague future that is even more unquestionably winning a lot in the concrete now. Let’s forget, for the length of this article, that the 2015 major-league team — alternately composed of beefy sluggers and finesse worm-burner-inducers — is favored by our projections to win the American League West and is tied for the seventh-best odds to win this year’s World Series. Let’s focus, for now, on the Astros’ draft picks in next week’s draft.

And I don’t mean the specific prospects that the Astros may or may not pick, a subject that has already been discussed in impressive depth by Kiley McDaniel. I mean the team’s early draft slots: 2, 5, 37, 46. The Astros are rich, and they stand to get much richer.

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