Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stay Calm and Carry On, Trade Deadline Edition

Yes, it’s hard to watch the Braves abortive attempts to score runs.  Yes, I have a hard time looking at the batting averages of the position players and processing the fact that the local baseball collective has the third-most wins in baseball.  Yes, I would like Frank Wren to acquire a centerfielder who can hit.  Yes, a friend forwarded me Buster Olney's tweet:

Observation from an NL official about the Braves' interest in Hunter Pence: "They don't value on-base percentage as much as other teams do."

And I nearly lost my lunch.  (Further grist for the mill that the Braves’ sterling patience at the plate last year that led to the best on-base percentage in the NL was a big accident like the discovery of penicillin.) 

All that said, the Braves should not mortgage the team’s future to add a bat.  If the Phillies want to give up their two best prospects for two years and change of Hunter Pence, the more power to them.  Almost every member of that team’s core is at or over the age of 30, so they are in a win-now mode.  The Braves have a wealth of young pitchers, as well as Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado.  The future of the franchise is bright.  It would be nice to win the World Series this year, but it would be just as good to win it in 2015 and that goal is significantly more realistic for the Braves than it is for the Phillies.  That’s why Frank Wren’s seeming conservatism makes sense.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here is Jayson Stark explaining the Braves’ reasoning:

So an official of one team who spoke with the Braves said he was told, "We've only got to weather the storm for 14 days, until [Brian] McCann gets back." By then, they hope Chipper Jones will be healthy; Peter Moylan will be back in their bullpen; and they will feel like the urgency to DO SOMETHING will have lessened. If not, there's always August.

After all, what month was it last year in which the team that won it all picked up its World Series cleanup hitter (Cody Ross)? It wasn't July. It was August -- on a waiver claim. And how'd that work out?

It’s possible that the Braves made the statement about simply needing to wait for August as a negotiating posture.  After all, it’s easier to get a good price when you are not desperate.  That said, if Stark is right that the Astros’ asking price from the Braves was two of Teheran, Vizcaino, Delgado, and Minor, then Wren would have been nuts to pull the trigger. 

And here is Mark Bradley also advocating for patience:

Wren wants to win a World Series, same as you, but there’s no assurance a big-ticket hiree makes you a champ. Fred McGriff panned out. Teixeira didn’t. B.J. Surhoff, acquired by the Braves at the 2000 deadline, didn’t. Denny Neagle, acquired in 1996, didn’t. (Though he would win 36 games in 1997 and ‘98.) But Mike Devereaux, who arrived in an afterthought trade for the minor-leaguer Andre King in August 1995, became the most valuable player of the NLCS en route to the Braves’ only World Series title.

This touches on something that has seemed odd to me about all of the trade deadline hysteria.  The Braves are very likely to make the playoffs as the wild card team.  Baseball Prospectus has the Braves at 85% likely to play in October.  If an outfield bat were the difference between making the playoffs and watching them on TV, then it would be important to get a bat.  However, with the Braves in great position to make the playoffs, the new bat would be relevant for as few as three games and as many as 19.  The baseball playoffs are a lottery.  Some teams have better odds than others, but in the end, there is a high degree of chance involved.  Making the team better at one position is nothing more than buying a slightly better lottery ticket.  With the small sample size involved, there’s no telling who is going to be Mike Devereaux and who is going to be B.J. Surhoff.

Update: Baseball Prospectus crunches the numbers on deadline deals and finds that the vast majority do not make a difference in whether a team makes the playoffs ($):

Looking at deadline deals since the introduction of the wild card in 1995, we see a bevy of moves. By rough count, looking at the past-season WARP of the players acquired versus the players given away, we can see that 180 of those deals were ones in which a team was buying talent as opposed to selling, or moves in which little talent was moving in either direction. (In this instance, the buyer is the team that acquired the player with the highest same-season WARP.) But how many of those deals had a significant impact on the division race? Reviewing the record, there are just 10 teams that made "impact" deals…

Finding one or two players who can combine for significant value is difficult, and getting those players to have a hot streak on cue is harder still. Most teams get into a position to acquire talent at the deadline by having a roster stocked with talented players, and how those players perform down the stretch is generally far more important than the work of one or two players brought in to bolster a squad.

That last sentence is a perfect description of why deadline deals are typically overblown.     


Caelus said...

Thankfully the Braves done good yesterday picking up a top notch leadoff batter and defensive centerfielder and did not give much up.

Eleanor said...

It can't really have success, I feel so.

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