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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Keri: MLB Trade Value Rankings, Part 1

Expos yourself to the latest long form Keri.

Welcome to the second edition of Grantland’s MLB Trade Value Rankings, where we’ll try to make sense of it all by addressing the question that fuels so many bar-room debates: Would you trade this guy for that guy? Answering that requires engaging in a thought experiment. We must first assume that every team has made every player available via trade. Then, we must take contracts into account. Baseball players tend to peak in their mid-to-late twenties, but that’s also when they start to get expensive. That means baseball’s ideal commodity is either a player who’s already performing like a star in his early twenties, or a player who has signed a long-term deal that locks him up through his arbitration years plus a few years of would-be free agency, saving his team money and pledging his prime seasons to that same club. Or better yet, both.

...Jered Weaver (no. 50 last year) won 20 games in 2012, but looked like a prime regression candidate in 2013 due to injury concerns and a diminishing fastball, and did indeed decline … Wade Miley (49) nearly won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2012; he pitched pretty well in 2013, but not well enough to remain ranked … Chase Headley (48) took a big step back in 2013, and now has just one year left before free agency … Matt Holliday (47) is still one of the best hitters in the game, but he’s also entering his age-34 season and makes a lot of money, and thus falls a smidge short of making this year’s list … Elvis Andrus (46) signed a $120 million contract extension, then suddenly became one of the worst hitters in the league; he’s only 25, so there’s plenty of time for a rebound, but he’s not top-50 material right now.

Meanwhile, it’s time to retire Keith Law’s brilliant “Sliced bread is actually the best thing since Matt Wieters” (41) meme … Desmond Jennings (39) improved his power, batting eye, and contact skills in 2013 and offers four more years of team control, so leaving him off this (stacked) list could wind up looking really stupid … Justin Upton (38) might have already delivered his best season, and his brother was the worst outfielder in the NL last season, ruining another excellent meme … Austin Jackson (37) is a perfectly fine ballplayer who’s just two years away from free agency … Adam Jones (36) cracked 30 home runs in each of the past two seasons, which is why he’s won two straight Gold Gloves that he absolutely did not deserve; he’s a very good player, but his shaky defense and too-frequent outmaking — combined with a loaded field this year — knocked him off the list … Alex Gordon (34) is yet another twentysomething outfielder knocked out of the top 50, in this case largely due to some major regression on balls in play.

Mike Moustakas (32) needed a big jump in his second-half numbers just to end up at .233/.287/.364 in 2013 … Ben Zobrist (30) has just two option years left on the deal he signed with the Rays while under the influence of Andrew Friedman’s mind control; Zobrist will continue to haunt those who hate the WAR stat until the end of days … Johnny Cueto (28) got hurt … Jose Bautista (25) did too, again; he could still hit a zillion home runs if he could stay upright for 150 games, though … Starlin Castro (24) started hitting like Rey Ordonez, but at least he decapitated fewer people with throws into the third row … Matt Kemp (22) went in the span of two years from being the best player in the league to someone the Dodgers would give away for a discounted price; effing injuries, man … Brett Lawrie (21) and Dylan Bundy (20) are Exhibits A and B for why we shouldn’t overrate prospects until they actually start producing; and yes, I’m a terrible, Canadian-loving homer … Aroldis Chapman (17) crushed statheads’ collective dreams by remaining in the bullpen; even the best relief pitchers aren’t as valuable as the best starting pitchers or position players (shout-out to angry Craig Kimbrel fans; love you guys!) … Jason Heyward (10) still looks capable of becoming a star, but with just two years left until free agency, that might happen after he’s left the Braves.

Repoz Posted: December 04, 2013 at 02:40 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mlb

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   1. madvillain Posted: December 04, 2013 at 05:37 PM (#4610736)
How in the world was Heyward #10 last year? I just read the first 500 or so words and it seems like dart throwing. If you're going to drop and raise guys so dramatically on one year's performance then that's not really trade value because nobody in their right mind bases trade value on a sample that small.
   2. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: December 04, 2013 at 07:26 PM (#4610804)
Except that GMs routinely do?
   3. Nasty Nate Posted: December 04, 2013 at 07:31 PM (#4610807)
If you're going to drop and raise guys so dramatically on one year's performance then that's not really trade value because nobody in their right mind bases trade value on a sample that small.


It's not only the year's performance that changes things. Heyward - as a trade asset last year - had a year of control at $3.6 million which he does not have anymore.
   4. madvillain Posted: December 04, 2013 at 07:43 PM (#4610814)
Heyward - as a trade asset last year - had a year of control at $3.6 million which he does not have anymore.


True, my quibble though is that even with that changing, what in the world convinced anyone he was the #10 trade asset in all of MLB last year? Good player, not a top 10 asset IMO. Oh well, people on the Internet, they're always making lists.
   5. Brian White Posted: December 04, 2013 at 10:52 PM (#4610890)
True, my quibble though is that even with that changing, what in the world convinced anyone he was the #10 trade asset in all of MLB last year?


He was a 22 year old with 3 years of team control who just put up a season worth nearly six wins. Even if you don't believe the defensive numbers (and you should at least buy into them a little, since he's universally regarded as a plus defender), it really wasn't hard to be bullish on an incredibly toolsy outfielder with a terrific prospect pedigree, who is starting to come into his prime, and coming off a very good season. Yes, this stance does require some selective ignoring of what happened in 2011, and his injury risk, but still.
   6. billyshears Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:32 AM (#4610939)
I've come to think that prospect pedigree is the most overvalued (at least by fans) commodity in baseball. People will disregard 1000 mediocre MLB ABs because a dude raked in 300 AA ABs four years ago.
   7. Barnaby Jones Posted: December 05, 2013 at 03:16 AM (#4610951)
I find Heyward falling off this list completely much more perplexing than his inclusion at 10 last year. Last year he was a 22 year old coming off a ~6 rWAR season, considered to have the potential for more, and under control for 3 years. That's a pretty good recipe the move up these trade value lists.

In 2013, the first half of the season was ruined trying to comeback from appendix surgery, and he lost a big chunk later in the season from having his face destroyed; but he still managed to put up 3.6 rWAR in 2/3 of a "lost" season.

In 2014, he'll be a 24 year-old toolshed with 18+ rWAR already under his belt, who projects for 5+ WAR (per Steamer), and who is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to have the potential to get even better. Any of the arguments made in the article for, say, Ian Desmond could just as easily have been made for Heyward, and probably much more strongly at that.
   8. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: December 05, 2013 at 07:42 AM (#4610960)
I think it's fair to say that neither one made much sense. Heyward's "6 WAR" season was built largely on implausible defensive numbers; his fall from grace is an overreaction to an injury year.
   9. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 05, 2013 at 10:21 AM (#4611005)
I'm a bit mystifyed as to why Moustakas was #32 last year. He had a pretty severe slump in the second half and has never been a very good OBA guy. I guess Jonah bought into the defensive numbers.
   10. Barnaby Jones Posted: December 05, 2013 at 11:29 AM (#4611059)
Heyward's "6 WAR" season was built largely on implausible defensive numbers


Why do you say they were implausible? Heyward has some of the most consistent DRS numbers I've ever seen.
   11. Sean Forman Posted: December 05, 2013 at 12:51 PM (#4611146)
Because "everyone knows" defensive performance occurs only along a very narrow band of performance unlike every other aspect of mlb performance. That and players are always defensively consistent year to year.
   12. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4611169)
Because "everyone knows" defensive performance occurs only along a very narrow band of performance unlike every other aspect of mlb performance. That and players are always defensively consistent year to year.


I don't know what everyone knows, but I find the idea that defense wouldn't trend on a narrower band of performance compared to offensive numbers to be completely implausible. We know, for instance, that there is no uniform level of variability in athletic endeavors (basketball is more predictable than baseball, for instance), so why on earth would we expect there to be a uniform band within the sport itself?

Hitting involves numerous variables: the pitcher is actively trying to get the batter out; the defense can position itself differently, or a batter may face better defenses from one year to the next; the umpires are going to call balls that may be strikes and strikes that may be balls. All of these are going to factor into how one performs at the plate.

There's almost none of that on the defensive side. Once the ball has left the bat, it's just the defender and the ball. The pitcher no longer matters. Nor, really, does the batter. The baserunner does a little bit, but not much. The ball is hit, and the defender attempts to make a play. So it seems inescapable that true talent level should manifest on the defensive side far more consistently than it does on the offensive side. Yes, you're going to get movement, either by injury or positioning or just plain luck. But in terms of what we should expect year to year, then I fail to see how we wouldn't expect defensive performance not to trend within a narrower band than what you'd see on the offensive side.

Whether the numbers we have right now are capable of capturing that is another matter, but we should expect defensive performance to be more consistent than offensive.


   13. Russ Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:19 PM (#4611172)
Whether the numbers we have right now are capable of capturing that is another matter, but we should expect defensive performance to be more consistent than offensive.


I think what this shows is that you don't understand how defensive performance is measured.

EDIT: Actually, that's a bit mean-spirited and unfair. What it means is that you're confusing defensive performance (which is likely consistent) with defensive value (which is not very consistent and what all advanced defensive metrics actually are measuring).
   14. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:21 PM (#4611174)
   15. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:31 PM (#4611180)
Keri did link to an impressive collection of Andrelton Simmons awesomeness, so next time you have 25 minutes free, check it out.
   16. Russ Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:35 PM (#4611182)
From Part 2:


That's been enough to make Molina a six-win player in each of the past two seasons, with the understanding that he's significantly better than that when factoring in all the other knowns and unknowns. He's owed an average of $14.5 million per year over the next four seasons; if that figure were $25 million per, he'd still be a steal.


I'm not sure that there is enough circumstantial evidence for the bolded statement to even qualify as hyperbole.

   17. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:39 PM (#4611185)
Because "everyone knows" defensive performance occurs only along a very narrow band of performance unlike every other aspect of mlb performance. That and players are always defensively consistent year to year.


Sure. That's what it is. I'm a luddite because non-proprietary defensive numbers are about as useful as hitting a golf ball with a sledgehammer.
   18. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: December 05, 2013 at 01:45 PM (#4611189)
I think what this shows is that you don't understand how defensive performance is measured.

EDIT: Actually, that's a bit mean-spirited and unfair. What it means is that you're confusing defensive performance (which is likely consistent) with defensive value (which is not very consistent and what all advanced defensive metrics actually are measuring).


I believe it's also wrong (or at the very least, inconsistent with what we're terming offensive value). We shouldn't expect defensive value to fluctuate more than offensive value. It should trend on a smaller band than offensive value because there is less getting in the way of turning one's true talent level into performance on the defensive side of the ball. If we're not seeing that, then it's likely our inability to perfectly capture defensive value through available data collection and metrics, not because there's truly equal levels of variability.

   19. Ron J2 Posted: December 05, 2013 at 02:46 PM (#4611226)
#11 For the record I just finished a mini study of every player with 500+ PAs in consecutive years from 1955 to 2012(using the war_daily_bat.csv file you supplied a year ago -- I'd love to have an updated version).

Year to year correlation: (4535 players in the study)

WAR: .52
dWAR: .64
oWAR: .55

The standard deviation:

WAR: 2.2
dWAR: 1.3
oWAR: 2.0

All that to say that I think it's reasonable to say that the defensive component to WAR passes the logical consistency test.

   20. Sean Forman Posted: December 05, 2013 at 03:15 PM (#4611239)
#19, thanks
   21. Ron J2 Posted: December 05, 2013 at 03:34 PM (#4611254)
Further to #19. Thought I'd look at just 2002 on (which is when DRS starts, though I'm not sure whether the dWAR in the file is based on DRS or totalzone).

Standard deviation in dWAR is up trivially (.007 wins). Interestingly the standard deviation on the offensive side is down .014

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