Dombrowski Does What He Does Best, Trades Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz

Dombrowski Does What He Does Best, Trades Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz

Yesterday, it was announced that the Boston Red Sox acquired LHP Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Anderson Espinoza. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Espinoza as the 14th best prospect in baseball in his mid-season rankings.

Red Sox President of Operations Dave Dombrowski is, in my opinion, one of the best baseball executives of my life time, and a worthy future Hall of Famer even if he were to retire right now. In his prestigious career, he has made some trades that I’ve absolutely loved. His acquisition of Miguel Cabrera is one of the all time great trades.

Dombrowski’s greatest strength is his ability to make major league teams as good as possible, especially at the trade deadline. His MO has frequently been to leverage the farm system to overpay for major league talent. Now that’s a perfectly acceptable use of a farm system, to be sure. It’s not the goal of a major league organization to have the best farm system, it’s to have the best major league team. However, this approach has its drawbacks.

Depleting your farm system makes continued success very difficult, if not impossible. This problem is exasperated when you’re not getting good value back for your trades. Tigers fans understand all of this very well. Before 2015, the Tigers had one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and even after Dombrowski replenished it a bit before leaving it’s still in the bottom third of the league. Owner Mike Illitch has kept the team competitive by continually opening his checkbook, but eventually the team will have to bite the bullet and go through what will likely be a long and painful rebuild. The Cardinals and the Giants are two examples of teams who have found continued success because of their ability to keep their farm systems stocked1.

Though Pomeranz is not a rental nor was he acquired at the trade deadline, the dirty secret of trade deadline deals is that even the best major league acquisitions barely move the needle. Part of the reason for that is how late in the season the trade deadline is. It’s difficult to improve a team by even one or two wins with just two months left to go in the season2. That doesn’t mean these trades aren’t worthwhile, especially when one or two games could make all the difference in the division, which is fair to say of the AL East. It just means that you had better make your trades carefully.

Everybody knew that Dombrowski was going to do something like this. He already had before when he grossly overpaid for Craig Kimbrel. With over two weeks left until the trade deadline, he might again. If I were a Red Sox fan, I’d be scared. The fact of the matter is that Anderson Espinoza was too high of a price to pay for Drew Pomeranz.

Espinoza is only 18 and at least two years away from the majors, though most likely three to four. It is no secret that young pitchers like Espinoza come with a high amount of variance and a fair amount of risk. That being said, he has ace potential with the ability to become a special pitcher3.

Pomeranz is enjoying a career year with a 2.65 RA9 and 28 K%. The more advanced pitching metrics over at Baseball Prospectus like him too. He has a 2.76 DRA and 84 cFIP. His 3.2 DRA-based WAR is already more than twice his career best. His success this year, especially with respect to the jump in his strikeout rate, can be attributed to his new cutter. As a result, there is at least something real to Pomeranz’s improvement.

That’s the good news. Now here comes all the problems.

This season, Pomeranz has enjoyed a .240 BABIP, and his 8.8% HR/FB is over two percentage points lower than his career rate going into 2016. He has also benefited from a 80.8% strand rate that is on the high side and will regress. Pomeranz still walks too many batters, and Fenway Park is a bad place to do that.

The biggest problem is that Pomeranz has a poor track record of health. He has just now surpassed 100 IP for the first time in his career, and this is his fifth full season in the majors. It’s great that the Red Sox have him locked up through 2018, but that’s probably going to come with lots of time on the DL. As badly as the team needs help in the starting rotation, Pomeranz can’t help if he’s injured. Given his track record, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t land on the DL some time this season. This is why the A’s used him mostly in relief last year. They had lost all faith in the ability of Pomeranz’s body to endure the rigors of starting.

As a Boston resident who is married to a Red Sox fan, I have seen plenty of the dumpster fire that is their starting rotation. They are currently 19th in the league in ERA and 21st in FIP. Pomeranz could be a 2-win upgrade if he makes the rest of his starts. If he keeps pitching like he has been, that could go up to 3 wins. That could make all the difference in the world in a heated AL East race. You cannot deny that the Red Sox desperately needed to do something with their starting rotation.

One of my criticisms of this trade is that Espinoza is worth far more than Pomeranz. He could’ve anchored a deal for a much better pitcher. The problem is who would have parted with such a pitcher? Contending teams are obviously not going to do so. The White Sox are not going to part with Chris Sale or José Quintana. The Marlins are not going to part with José Fernández. The Braves are unlikely to part with Julio Teheran for anything short of a godfather offer. He’s under control through 2019 and the Braves are likely to be competitive again by then.

Here’s a list of the best starting pitchers going by this season’s stats4. Interestingly enough, I would say that every pitcher above Pomeranz on that list is absolutely not available for trade. Masahiro Tanaka might be by the end of the month if the Yankees front office sees reason, but his elbow is a ticking time bomb and the Red Sox and Yankees would never make a significant trade with each other5.

Teams are also aware of how poor the upcoming free agent market will be. Just look at these free agent pitchers. As bad a the Sox starting rotation is, I’m not entirely sure that any of those pitchers would help much. At the very least it will cost too much to find out.

This transaction could be a sign of what the current trade market is, at least for starting pitchers. Lack of availability of impact starters in free agency and trade has the possibility of drastically driving up the amount of talent a team is going to have to give up to get any kind of starting pitching help.

Even with the loss of Espinoza, the Red Sox still have a great farm system that I’m guessing most prospect analysts would rank in the top ten. Though that’s not an excuse for giving up so much surplus value, the team was trading from a position of strength.

The reasons above help to explain why the Red Sox had to do this. That does not mean that they should have. It’s not as lopsided as their acquisition of Craig Kimbrel, but it’s still too much for what they’re getting back. You can’t even say that the Sox are in win-now mode. With the strength of their farm system, their big market, and young controllable talents of Bogaerts, Betts, and Bradley Jr., this team can remain competitive through the end of the decade. In other words, the Red Sox are likely to be competitive whenever Espinoza is ready.

Trades should only ever be evaluated based on the information available at the time of the transaction. That being said, if Espinoza comes close to reaching his ceiling, the team will end up being excoriated by their fans and the media.

I would have like to have seen Dombrowski attack the starting rotation problem more creatively. Seeing how he acquired David Price in Detroit, I know he’s capable of doing it. If I were him, I would’ve tried to get the Padres to include a prospect themselves. Maybe get Javier Guerra back? How about Hunter Renfroe or Colin Rea? Or a few lesser prospects? Just something to even out the value a little bit more. I can only speculate since I know nothing about the negotiations, but Anderson Espinoza is a heck of a bargaining chip to hang above a rebuilding team. I have a hard time believing that Padres GM A.J. Preller wouldn’t have included more if pressured to do so.

I cannot believe that Preller outGM-ed Dave Dombrowski again. Since deciding to rebuild, I’ve been very impressed with Preller’s work. Very impressed. Espinoza is an excellent return for a pitcher who will not be with the team when they are competitive again. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re only a few years away from seeing the best team the Padres have ever fielded, a team that can make multiple consecutive playoff appearances. That’s pretty special for a franchise with only five playoff appearances in its history.


  1. Excellent player development is also a factor with those two teams as well. 
  2. I do believe that trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter is especially useful come playoff time. 
  3. I’ve come across a lot of Pedro Martínez comparisons which I have a hard time taking seriously. Don’t get me wrong though, because I would love for that to come true. 
  4. That’s a poor way to evaluate talent, yes, but trades are about leverage as much as anything. In-season stats are inferior to larger samples and projections, but they carry the most leverage because front offices suffer from recency bias. 
  5. Which is stupid. If the best trade available is with an in-division rival, then you do it. If it makes your team better, who cares? 

Thoughts on Some Recent Trades: Fernando Rodney and Aaron Hill

Marlins Send a Good Prospect to San Diego for Fernando Rodney. Wait, what?

I was taken aback when I found out about this transaction. My first reaction was that this is a bad trade for the Marlins, and that was before know much about the player they sent away, RHP Chris Paddack. After looking into the prospect some more, I concluded that my initial reaction was the correct one.

Before getting sent off to Miami, Rodney had a microscopic 0.31 ERA, or more accurately, a 0.63 RA9. If the Marlins believed that his RA9 was representative of his true talent, then I’m at a loss for words. Besides the fact that such a pitcher has never existed1, that RA9 was from only 28.2 IP, and Rodney had a combined 4.00 RA9 in the three seasons prior. To say that 28.2 IP is a small sample size is an understatement. It’s noise. Not even Aroldis Chapman could achieve that low of an RA9 without a lot of good fortune working in his favor. That’s exactly what happened with Rodney.

Rodney enjoyed the benefits of a .210 BABIP, 92.6% strand rate, and 0% HR/FB. His walk rate is as high as it’s ever been. His 30.3 K% was excellent, but again, small sample size. All of that added up to a 3.27 xFIP, which to be fair is still very good. That’s not far off from his 2013-2015 xFIP of 3.52. It’s also worth mentioning that Rodney is 39 years old.

I’m sure that the Marlins sent a pro scout to evaluate Rodney before pulling the trigger on the trade. If we check Brooks Baseball, it shows that the velocity and movement on his pitches are more or less the same as last year. His usage rates haven’t changed much either. Of course, checking Brooks Baseball is not the same thing as a pro scout evaluating a player in person. Without seeing that scouting report, the best I can say is that Rodney is the same pitcher that he has always been.

ZiPS measures Rodney’s true talent at that of a 4.00 RA9 pitcher. You can get that kind of reliever for the league minimum off the waiver wire. The Marlins gave up a good starting pitching prospect for this guy.

Chris Paddack was drafted in the eighth round last year out of high school. According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, Paddack was drafted that late as a result of being 19-and-a-half and lacking a breaking ball. He is making good progress on developing a curveball, and is currently killing it in Low-A right now, though small sample size caveats apply. Both Longenhagen and Baseball Prospectus’ Chris Crawford project Paddack as a mid-rotation starter. If his curve ball improves further, his ceiling is even higher. ESPN’s Keith Law described Paddack as “legit” in one of his chats. That’s an awful lot of surplus value given away for a reliever of Rodney’s caliber.

It’s just another case of the overvaluing of relievers in baseball. Craig Kimbrel (twice), Andrew Miller, and Ken Giles are just some more examples of relievers who were acquired for way too much. I believe that Paddack was worth an elite reliever, but there’s not way that a team would agree to that. In a way, the reason why teams trade so much for relievers is because the market has set their price that high. Until teams learn how volatile and risky relievers are, that’s not going to change.

I could understand this trade better from, say, the Texas Rangers. They’re one of the best teams in baseball, but are currently suffering from a bullpen that is second to last in the majors in DRA. Overpaying for some bullpen help — though still preferably for someone better than Rodney — is more defensible. The Marlins, however, are six games back and are projected to finish ten games back according to Fangraphs. They only have a 3.3% chance at the division and a 17.2% chance at a Wild Card. Even if Rodney was the reliever that the Marlins seem to think he is, that still wouldn’t be nearly enough for the Marlins to surpass the Mets and Nationals.

The Padres continue to make excellent trades since deciding that it was best to rebuild. Paddack is a great return for a reliever that the team didn’t need and who won’t be part of their future. I understand the history of the Padres hasn’t exactly been filled with a great amount of success, but GM A.J. Preller is doing a great job of giving the team a bright future to look forward to.

Red Sox Acquire Some Depth

Last night, it was announced that the Red Sox acquired Aaron Hill in exchange for 2B Wendell Rijo and RHP Aaron Wilkerson. It basically amounts to the Sox getting some infield depth at the expense of sending the Brewers a couple of low level prospects. It’s a fair trade for both sides.

Hill was having a bounce-back year in Milwaukee. He has hit .283/.359/.421, which is good for a 107 wRC+. He’s had some BABIP luck, so he’ll likely regress a little bit, but not much. He is projected to be a league average hitter going forward. The Red Sox have been fortunate enough to get decent production from Marco Hernández and Josh Rutledge, but the organization is smart enough to know not to expect that going forward. It’s good insurance if Travis Shaw or Dustin Pedroia hit the DL. The only criticism I can levy against the Red Sox is that Hill can’t play shortstop. They’ll need to stick with Hernández or Brock Holt to back up Bogaerts. It’s not that big a deal, but in today’s short benches, it’s tough to carry a utility infielder that can’t play shortstop.

Though he’s never played there in the majors, it would be interesting to see if Hill can handle left field. His bat won’t play in left field anymore than Holt’s, even against lefties, but he would make a decent platoon candidate in left field. Yes, Holt has actually hit lefties better than righties in his career, but no hitter has true talent reverse splits2. If it were up to me, I’d have Hill bat against lefties instead of Holt. No question.

I doubt that Hill will be worth anymore than a half-win upgrade for the rest of the season. It’s still a good, inexpensive move by the Red Sox that provides some much needed depth.

The rebuilding Brewers only got a couple of lottery tickets in exchange for Hill, but it’s a fair return. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, and there’s no way the Brewers would or should re-sign him, nor is he worth a qualifying offer. Two low-probability prospects are better than losing Hill for nothing at all. Now if the Brewers can trade Jonathan Lucroy or Ryan Braun for a good haul, that would really get their rebuild going.

  1. Though I wonder if a top-of-the-rotation starter would be capable of pulling that off as a reliever. Of course, they’re better off starting. 
  2. Interestingly enough, Hill has a very small platoon split. Even if you regress it, his true talent split is probably not much bigger. 
My 2016 MLB All-Star Game Selections: American League

My 2016 MLB All-Star Game Selections: American League

For my NL picks and thoughts on the All-Star game in general, click here!

In case you landed here before checking out my NL picks, my philosophy for selecting All-Stars is that the game was always intended to be an exhibition of the league’s best talent. In other words, multiple seasons of proven track record makes a player a star, not silly 1-3 month sample sizes. The “All-Star” part of the 2016 All-Star game carries more weight than the year in which it happens to be played. I discuss this in more detail in my previous post I linked to above.

American League:

1B-Miguel Cabrera: Though not the world-destroyer he once was at the plate, Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer who is still hitting very well. However, his offense has declined sharply from last year. If he doesn’t bounce back, I’m likely to end up voting for someone else next year. Eric Hosmer is also a good choice, and is likely to be the starter. One of the best first basemen in the league who happens to play on the defending world champs sounds like a star to me.

2B-José Altuve: He has finally risen to the top second baseman in the AL, which is especially impressive given the competition. Robinson Canó, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler are all worthy All-Stars. Altuve has always been great, but I have no idea how he’s accomplishing his current season performance. Doubling your career walk rate is one thing, but adding almost 80 points of ISO from the previous season is another thing altogether. In fact, his .209 ISO is over twice his career rate going into 2015! His line drive rate and hard-hit rate are way up from last season, so this isn’t entirely a fluke. The thing is that Altuve is listed at 5’6” and 165 lbs. I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, but he doesn’t exactly have much room to add muscle. If he continues to hit this well, he’s going to be an MVP candidate.

SS-Xander Bogaerts: Last year, this was the weakest position on the ballot, so I voted for Alcides Escobar for lack of a better choice. Now it’s the complete opposite. It was incredibly difficult deciding whom to vote for between Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, all of whom are All-Star worthy. I gave Bogaerts the slight edge over Lindor and Correa because he has the longer track record and he has turned into one of the best pure hitters in the game. Between Lindor and Correa, I would’ve gone with Lindor. They’re equals offensively, but Lindor is by far the superior defender. In fact, I’ve been a little disappointed with Correa’s defense this year. If the Astros call up Alex Bregman this year, I would put him at shortstop and slide Correa over to third.

3B-Josh Donaldson: This was brutal deciding between him and Manny Machado. They’re both excellent defenders who rake. I gave the nod to Donaldson since he is the reigning AL MVP and has a slight edge in track record. Machado is one of the best players in baseball and is about to turn only 24 years old, so he’s an excellent choice as well. With Donaldson likely peaking, I expect to vote for Machado next year. If he moves to shortstop full-time, though, one or two very All-Star worthy players might get screwed out of the game.

C-Salvador Pérez: I don’t love this pick because his defense isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. His pitch-framing is so bad that it takes away a lot of the other good things he does as a catcher. It was between Salvy and Russell Martin, and Salvy is the reigning World Series MVP and has greatly improved his offense this season. Martin’s offense has gone in the complete opposite direction. I’m still not sure I made the right decision. I might be putting too much weight on in-season performance, and Martin’s excellent pitch-framing provides far more defensive value than Pérez. Then again, at only 26 years old, one could argue that Pérez’s star is rising, while that of the 33-year-old Martin is falling. (Sorry I’m rambling now. I just wanted to get both sides of the argument out there.)

DH-David Ortiz: Yeah, I don’t think anybody is going to fight me on this one. Nobody else even comes close for this spot. This will be a tougher selection next year.

OF-Mike Trout: Autofill.

OF-Mookie Betts: He is one of the best all-around players in baseball. He’s only above average offensively, but he combines that with great defense and baserunning, the latter of which has gotten even better this year. He was worth 6 WAR last year and is on pace for the same this season. I want to see him get his OBP back up, even if that means trading off some power, but he is easily worthy of starting the All-Star game.

OF-Lorenzo Cain: This was very close between him and Jackie Bradley Jr. Cain has the more established track record and is on the defending champs, so I gave my vote to him, but JBJ is a fine choice as well. Furthermore, Cain appears to be declining while JBJ has become one of the best outfielders in baseball. Since getting called back up last year, he has hit .275/.362/.534, which is good for a 135 wRC+. I don’t believe that he’s as elite defensively as he used to be, but he has improved his baserunning. JBJ has more or less turned himself into A.J. Pollock. I highly expect to give him my vote next year. Regardless, he’s way ahead of Cain in the voting, and Cain just went on the DL.

No promises, but I’m going to try not to rant about the All-Star selections this year. It’s a reaction borne of emotion more than logic. They just don’t matter that much, especially with all the problems the game has now. The only issue is that people use All-Star selections for Hall of Fame voting, which I don’t agree with at all. Popularity contests are not appropriate metrics for player performance. The fact of the matter is that All-Star appearances never make or break a Hall of Fame case.

I can already give you a general idea of what the results will be:

  • There will be some poor choices made due to ballot box stuffing.
  • The fans, while not perfect, will do a better job than the managers and players in their All-Star selections.
  • The managers and players will be guilty of terrible selections and snubs because they will go by a half season of triple crown stats, pitcher record, and saves.
  • Some deserving players will be snubbed and some undeserving players will be selected due to the silly rule that requires each team to have at least one player on the team.
  • There will be 3-4x the number of relievers that there should be. Let’s limit the number of bench players in the All-Star game, thanks.
  • Pitchers who become exempt due to pitching in the last game before the All-Star break will be replaced by sub-par choices.

Injuries and exemptions will result in unnecessarily large number of players being named All-Stars. Last year, that number was 76. That, combined with all the snubs, undeserving selections, and grossly high number of relievers has devalued what it means to be an All-Star. That’s a big reason why I’m not that into it anymore, though making selections is still fun.

I didn’t even watch the game last year, and I might not this year. Though, to be fair, I’m also afraid that watching Terry Collins manage an All-Star game will drive me insane. If you root for a competitive NL team, you should be terrified. At least Ned Yost has gotten better. I’m actually much more excited for the Futures Game.

My 2016 MLB All-Star Game Selections: National League

My 2016 MLB All-Star Game Selections: National League

For my full breakdown of the problems with the All-Star game and suggestions for fixing it, click here. Some of it is reprinted below.

The Midsummer Classic was first started in 1933. Little do people know, the original purpose of the All-Star game was to showcase its stars. That sounds stupidly obvious when you say it, doesn’t it? It’s really just supposed to be a big marketing event. Nowadays we can subscribe to and watch any player, at any time, on any device. For the first few decades of baseball, however, the only way to see stars outside of the local team was via the All-Star game.

I have no idea when it started, perhaps it’s when the fans started voting in 1947, or when the internet made player stats readily available, or something in between, but eventually fans started to vote on All-Stars based on the first three months of the season. I strongly disagree with that philosophy. Players outperform or underperform their true talent levels for long stretches all the time. As a result, going by 1-3 month sample sizes will give you an incomplete picture of the players. One month of stats is especially silly, as it is barely more than noise.

Some emphasize that it is the 2016 All-Star game, and not the lifetime achievement award, or something to that effect. My counterargument: The “All-Star” part of the name is more important than the year. Furthermore, is it really reasonable to state that 1-3 months makes a player a “star?” Especially over players who’ve been stars for years?

For example, it is really reasonable to call Wil Myers an All-Star over first basemen with proven track records like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, and Joey Votto? Myers has been hurt and ineffective the past two seasons. I’m happy for Myers’ resurgence, but he is likely to regress, specifically in the power department. If he keeps it up, he could have an argument as a back-up next year, but first base in the NL is stacked.

The best examples for this year are Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton. McCutchen has been one of the best players in baseball for three or four years now. Having struggled in 2016 should not outweigh that. Stanton’s numbers have been mediocre due to him pressing at the plate. That being said, his HR/FB ration and hard-hit rate are in line with his career numbers, so there is definitely some bad luck there. The fact of the matter is that Stanton has raked for a few years and has generational power. The All-Star game is made for players like him, current season numbers be damned.

I’ll get to it soon, but one can make the argument of Yoenis Céspedes or Gregory Polanco over Stanton. The same cannot be said about Dexter Fowler. He is having far and away the best season of his career thanks to some BABIP and HR/FB luck, but surprisingly neither of those numbers are extreme. He is hitting the ball harder than he ever has before, has increased his line drive rate, and has cut down one his infield flies. He’s even playing some of the best defense of his career, which isn’t saying much, but is still true. It appears that he has made some real improvements. I still believe that some regression is coming, though. Furthermore, I want to see him do this for another year before I start giving him All-Star consideration. He has no track record of performing like this whatsoever.

Why do fans want to take away the All-Star game from the likes of McCutchen and Stanton, players with multiple season track records of All-Star caliber performance, players who were stars for years before 2016, and instead award it to a player who might be a two-month fluke? Does that really make sense? Is that really the best use of a game designed to showcase MLB’s best talents? Especially in a game that actually counts?

The best ever example of my point happened in 2014, when Charlie Blackmon was selected as a reserve. Blackmon didn’t even have a good first half. He didn’t even have a good month. He had two great weeks at the start of the season. That’s it. In the first two weeks of 2014, Blackmon hit a Ruthian .478/.490/.696. Even adjusting for Coors Field, that was still a 215 wRC+. That was fueled by a .477 BABIP, Coors Field, and the fact that anybody can perform at any talent level over the course of two measly weeks1. From April 15th through the end of June, Blackmon hit .264/.314/.426. That added up to a below average 90 wRC+. Yep, that sounds like a star to me! He performed at the level through the end of the season, too. That 90 wRC+ was actually lower than his career 99 wRC+ going into 2014. His superhuman first two weeks kept his stats inflated throughout the All-Star voting. Again, does that sound like a star to you? Does that sound like a player that deserves to be showcased in the Midsummer Classic?

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Chicago White Sox Take a Chance on James Shields

Chicago White Sox Take a Chance on James Shields

This past weekend, the San Diego Padres traded James Shields to the Chicago White Sox  for INF Fernando Tatís Jr.1 and RHP Erik Johnson. The White Sox will pay $27 million of the $58 million still owed to him. Shields also has an opt-out after this season. Otherwise he’ll have two more seasons with a team option for 2019.

The White Sox aren’t giving up much for Shields, which is good because he might not have much to offer anymore. Since joining the Padres, he has had a 4.21 RA9, 4.44 FIP, and the highest walk rate of his career. His velocity is down 2 MPH since his time in Kansas City. He has had a 16.9% HR/FB ratio2, which would be high anywhere but is especially high in the pitchers’ haven of Petco Park. Yes, there is likely a fair amount of bad luck involved in that, but Shields has always been a high HR/FB guy. Considering that his hard-hit rate is the highest that it has been since 2010 — a season in which he was terrible, by the way — then it’s possible that his HR/FB can at least partially be attributed to him.

Last season, Shields had a horrific 136 cFIP, and here we’re seeing how predictive that stat can be. Believe it or not, that was actually dead last in the majors among pitchers with at least 70 IP. By DRA, he’s having the worst season of his career. At age 34, it’s unlikely that things are going to improve much. For sure, vintage James Shields is gone forever.

Even with all the signs pointing downward for Shields, he can still be an upgrade for this White Sox rotation. Chris Sale and José Quintana have been two of the best pitchers in the AL this season, but there is a steep drop off after that. Carlos Rodon isn’t where he was projected to be yet, though he is a league-average starter. After him the Sox have gotten no production from the back of the rotation. Don’t get me wrong, because Shields isn’t good anymore. He is, however, better than the replacement level fodder that the White Sox have been using to fill out the back of the rotation.

The projections systems don’t believe that Shields is as bad as he has performed this season, so they are projecting some positive regression for him. Assuming that those systems factor in his decline in velocity, Shields could be a 1 win upgrade for the White Sox. I’m not too optimistic about that, though. However, if anybody can get the most out of Shields, it’s their pitching coach, Don Cooper.

Given the recent struggles of Shields, there is a lot of risk behind acquiring him. I believe that the White Sox have done a good job in mitigating that risk. If he doesn’t improve, then he might not opt out after this season, but he’ll be owed only $10 million a year in 2017 and 2018. They didn’t pay much in the way of prospects either. Tatís is only 17 years old and is basically a lottery ticket right now. Erik Johnson’s ceiling is as a number five starter. Right now he’s not even that. If Shields does opt out after this season, it will likely have resulted in the White Sox having gotten good value from him, and it will only have cost them $5 million. That’s the best case scenario, and given how barren the free agent market will be for pitching this winter, he won’t have to improve much to convince himself to test free agency again.

This deal is nothing more than a salary dump for the Padres. If Shields does opt out after this season, it will work out beautifully for them. They won’t owe a dime to him and they’ll have a couple of prospects who could be major league contributors once the Padres are competitive again. If Shields does decide to stay on the White Sox, the extra money it will cost won’t be a big deal to the Padres. They have only two high-priced players on the payroll right now in Melvin Upton Jr. and Matt Kemp. Upton Jr. will be a free agent after 2017. In other words, the team only has $38.1 million in guaranteed money next year and $20.75 million the year after. They currently have the sixth lowest payroll in the majors. According to estimates at Baseball Reference, that shouldn’t change much in the next couple of years.

All in all, I’m lukewarm on the Shields trade from the Sox point of view. With Don Cooper involved, James Shields has a chance to provide some help to the White Sox. Unfortunately, they are taking on a lot of risk for what will likely be little if any reward. However, the back of the rotation has been very bad and the team has taken the appropriate measures to mitigate that risk. I’m a bigger fan of this deal for the Padres. They got to dump salary and unload a player that was not going to be a part of their future. Tatís and Johnson might not be much, but they will most likely return more future value than Shields would have.


  1. Yes, he is the son of Fernando Tatís Sr. 
  2. That includes the home run he gave up to Bartolo Colón! 

Chicago White Sox Slump is Another Example of Overreaction to Random Fluctuations

This might read pretty similar to my last post, but it’s an important point worth making again.

There are baseball writers out there who have written about the White Sox recent struggles. They are on a 7-game losing streak and have lost 15 of the last 19 games. That includes a catastrophic loss in Kansas City when the team had a 6-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

In that particular game, the White Sox win expectancy after Paulo Orlando struck out in the ninth inning was 99.9%. Even after Eric Hosmer doubled in a run with two outs to move the Royals within a run of tying, the White Sox still had a win expectancy of 85.9%. At that point they were counting on Drew Butera, a career .186/.244/.270 hitter, to drive Hosmer in or at least not make an out. He doubled him in to tie the game. That’s when the win expectancy swung in favor of the Royals.

As an aside, I generally hate intentional walks, but issuing an IBB to Paulo Orlando and Jarod Dyson was surprisingly defensible. The game winning run was already on third base, so run expectancy was meaningless. Orlando and Dyson are below average hitters, but they have the speed to beat out an infield single, and Dyson had the platoon advantage as well. I can see the argument for walking these guys to get to Brett Eibner. He’s a complete non-prospect with only 13 PA. Of course he singled in the winning run because You Can’t Predict Baseball.

What happened was an astronomical amount of bad luck. What happened to the Sox closer, David Robertson, would be incredibly unlucky even for the worst relievers in baseball. There’s nothing here to dissect or to analyze. If the White Sox are smart, and I believe that they are, then they understand that there is no meaning or explanation to this loss. It’s one game that is normally a virtual certitude to win even if I were pitching the ninth inning. Crap happens.

The same can similarly be said about the White Sox recent slump. It’s just the random fluctuations inherent to the game of baseball. The offense has been hitting a little worse lately. Their pitchers have been getting BABIP-ed to death. They had a 2.79 ERA the first 33 games of the season. That’s unsustainable. During their recent skid of losing 15 of 19, they have a 4.78 ERA. Do you really believe that the White Sox pitching staff is 2.79 ERA-good or 4.78 ERA-bad? Again, crazy stuff can happen in small sample sizes. It doesn’t mean anything.

Before the slump, the White Sox had a 23-10 record. Extrapolated over a full season, that’s 113 wins. They were a 72-win team last year by their Pythagorean W-L record. Other than the major addition of Todd Frazier1, this is more or less the same team as last year, and no player can make his team 41 wins better. At 27-25, the White Sox have a .519 win percentage. Before the season started, FanGraphs projected2 the Sox as a true-talent .500 team. Regression to the mean was bound to happen. That’s unsatisfying because it’s human nature to want a concrete, tangible reason for everything.

All these talks of slumping are really just narrative nonsense. A team’s record is a team’s record. It doesn’t matter what the sequencing of wins and losses are. Teams don’t get extra credit or extra penalties for hot and cold streaks. The relevance of such streaks exist only to give the media empty discussions for television and empty content for articles. It gets eyeballs and is a lot easier to do than real analysis.

What if, for example, the White Sox had started their season in reverse? In other words, what if they went 4-15 to start the season and then went 23-10 with a current 7-game winning streak? The narratives would all be very, very different, even though they’d still be 27-25 like they are now. They’d still have the same problems that they do now. Starting 23-10 should not have stopped the Sox from trying to fill the holes on the team.

The crux of the problem behind overreacting to hot and cold streaks is the implication that they are predictive. Let me make something perfectly clear: Going 23-10 or 4-15 or going on a 6-game winning streak or 7-game losing streak is not predictive of jack squat. The true talent of this White Sox team is the same now as it was on Opening Day. These small sample size records are not indicative or predictive of anything.

As I mentioned in my last post, if writers and fans understood that the game of baseball is exceptionally prone to random fluctuations, especially over small samples, then the quality of content out there would improve substantially. I understand the need to supply content, but there are smarter topics to discuss. In the case of the White Sox, one could go in-depth on some of the team’s weaknesses. Yes, that’s harder than discussing the meaning of a slump, but it will provide for higher quality content. Though there are plenty of fans out there who don’t understand that variance swamps everything in baseball, more and more are gaining that understanding. Those who use hot and cold streaks as a crutch for providing content are going to have a continually more difficult time getting away with it. Fans are without a doubt getting smarter.


  1. Though the losses of Alexei Ramírez and Adam LaRoche were addition by subtraction, to be fair. 
  2. Not predicted. Projected. There’s a difference. 
There is Nothing Wrong With Bryce Harper

There is Nothing Wrong With Bryce Harper

A baseball journalist recently wrote an article describing Bryce Harper’s struggles at the plates over the past 25 games. The article mentioned Harper’s frustrations, which is fair, but also that he was hitting .183 during those 25 games with a ton of walks. It did not go any further than that.

I’m not going to link to the article or mention the journalist’s name because I believe that the person sincerely tried to write a good article, but it was pretty lazy analysis. To be fair, it was written in a major newspaper, and newspapers don’t go into in-depth analysis. They cater to a wide audience, so they have to write content that will appeal to as many people as possible. Analytical writing is more of a niche, unfortunately, as most people go to sports for escapism and narratives. Objective analysis tends to ruin narratives, especially. People generally don’t like to think too much when consuming sports content. And that’s fine. That doesn’t mean sports fans are dumb, either. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy sports.

The first problem is going back 25 games. It’s a nice, round number, but it’s an arbitrary endpoint. It’s also known as cherrypicking. It’s a logical fallacy. Furthermore, 25 games is without question a small sample size. In Harper’s case it’s only 109 PA. He has had 2,331 PA in his career. Barring injury, there’s no reason to believe that it just isn’t the variance that comes with the random fluctuations in the game of baseball.

I’m reminded of this comic below from


If fans and writers understood that, the quality of sports content out there would skyrocket. We would also have a lot less of it. The truth is that humans need reasons for everything. If a baseball player is slumping or on a hot streak, people believe that there just HAS to be a reason. They will frequently go to soft factors, the effects of which are completely unprovable1, but they provide for some juicy sports content.

Baseball is the most crazy random sport there is. Variance swamps everything. There are constantly players who are performing significantly above or below their true talent for short periods of time. Heck, a player can put together an entire season that deviates greatly from his true talent. For example, look at Russell Martin’s 2014 season. His 141 wRC+ is way out of line from the rest of his career. The cause of that was a BABIP that was 50 points above that of his career. On the pitching side we can go with Ubaldo Jiménez. His 2010 season with a 2.96 RA9 and 7.5 WAR is a huge outlier in his career. Jiménez had some BABIP luck too, but the main culprit was his HR/FB ratio.  It was only 5.1% at Coors Field. Again, randomness. I could go on and on.

For argument’s sake, let’s go back to Bryce Harper’s last 25 games. This time we’ll go into it with more relevant information.

During this 25-game span, Harper has been hitting .183/.450/.282. He has walked in nearly one-third of his plate appearances, and all those outs he is not making results in him being a league-average hitter during that span with a 103 wRC+, despite not hitting for any power during his slump. The major problem is his .239 BABIP during this time period. That’s over 100 points lower than the past two seasons. His HR/FB ratio is half his career rate, even though his hard-hit rate is still pretty high. These are the kinds of extreme batted ball results that can happen in tiny 25-game samples, even if the hitter is doing nothing differently.

For the season, Harper is hitting .252/.441/.548 with 11 HR, which is good for a 153 wRC+. That’s far from his 197 wRC+ last year, but as is those numbers are only a problem if you overrate batting average. His walk rate is way up and he is striking out less. In fact, his BB/K is 1.41. In this day and age, that is incredible for somebody to be walking that much more than he is striking out. His infield fly rate is down. The only thing that jumps out at me from his batted ball rates is an increase in flyballs and decrease in line drives. If that’s a result from a change in approach, that could explain the lower batting average. Even then, his .245 BABIP is over 100 points lower than his past two seasons.

All signs are pointing towards lots of positive regression coming towards Harper. It’s hard to project another season of a 197 wRC+ and 10 WAR, but he can easily finish as an MVP candidate. He’s already at about 2 WAR, thanks to the fact that he’s playing some of the best defense of his career.

Baseball history is full of players who owe hot and cold streaks to luck. It’s the most powerful force in the game. It laughs at the plans of front offices and preparations of even the hardest working players. Sometimes there are real, tangible reasons to explain a player’s hot or cold streak. Usually, though, it’s nothing.


  1. I’m not saying that what people are feeling and experiencing cannot have any effect on their performance. They are human, after all. What I’m saying is that stating that these feelings and perceptions are having a direct effect on performance is unprovable.