August 7, 2012
Measuring the Movement at This Year's Deadline
Last week, in his post at Baseball Nation about the five best moves of the trade deadline, Grant Brisbee wrote, “If you don't pick the winners or losers of the trading deadline, a man comes to your door, stuffs you in a sack, and throws you in a trunk.” I’ve been afraid to open my door ever since. We’ve written a ton about transactions lately, both before and after the non-waiver trade deadline, but we haven’t really ranked the moves. We’re still susceptible to being stuffed in a sack.
That’s a shame, because it really might make more sense not to rank trades right after they happen. Some of the deals that went down at the deadline involved players who are signed beyond this season. Most of them included prospects who won’t make it to the majors for a while. Because of those and other factors, we won’t know who “won” the deals for several seasons. So for the moment, let’s not even speculate about which teams will have gotten the most surplus value by 2016. Every team that added talent and salary over the past few weeks is interested in making the playoffs in 2012, though some have hedged for the future to a greater extent than others. What we can say with a fair degree of confidence, without waiting to see what else happens, is how each midseason trade affected a given team’s chances of making the playoffs this season. So let’s pretend playing games in October 2012 is all anyone thought about in trade talks. We’re still picking winners, but we’ve made the victory conditions more manageable.
Several Augusts ago, Nate Silver wrote an article about the midseason moves of 2006. He calculated the runs each roster gained or lost, then translated those credits and debits into changes in playoff odds.* The payoff was a list of deadline dealers in descending order of playoff probability added.
*He also mentioned a presidential election in the second sentence. Foreshadowing!
This article is a lot like that one. Using an alternate depth charts system* built by Rob McQuown and Colin Wyers, I “reversed” each trade made between 7/21 (Brett Myers) and 8/3 (Joe Blanton, Kurt Suzuki), simulating the rest of the season 5,000 times before and after, and compared the pre- and post-trade playoff percentages of each team involved. Then I took the difference between those percentages to arrive at the total added or lost. These aren’t the percentage differences as of today, they’re the percentage differences as of the day the trade was made. So if a given trade was worth, say, +3.5 percent, I mean it improved the team in question’s odds of making the playoffs by 3.5 percent (or something close to that) on the day the deal went down.
*This system allows us to calculate the impact of any in-season injury or roster move on a team’s playoff chances quickly and easily. That’s too useful a tool to waste on one article. Eventually, we hope to let you use it to come up with your own trade proposals. For now, expect to see us start incorporating these calculations into Transaction Analysis and Collateral Damage Daily.
The Angels made only one acquisition, but it was an important one, upping their playoff percentage by more than all but one other team. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the fastest way to improve a team is to target a weak point. Zack Greinke would be an upgrade over most starters on most teams. Since the opposite is true of the pitchers he’s replacing, his addition goes a long way, even over a short stretch of starts. Anaheim added the best starter available just as the Rangers were running through theirs.
Maholm and Johnson aren’t exciting. Not even a little bit. But they might be just a bit above average, which makes them better than the Braves’ alternatives.
Even after improving their playoff odds at midseason more than any other team, the Dodgers still put in a claim on Cliff Lee. LA’s ownership really wants to win.
The Giants couldn’t keep up with the nouveau riche Dodgers at the deadline, but they didn’t sit still. They were the better team to begin with, and they did just enough to stay that way. Pence was the higher-profile addition, but PECOTA prefers the Scutaro trade due to the caliber of the players replaced.
One team’s trash is another team’s temporary solution. For the A’s, dumping Suzuki was a case of addition by subtraction. For the Nats, picking him up was just plain old addition. Not with big numbers, but addition nonetheless.
Last year, the Pirates were only nominally contenders, and they made only marginal moves. This year, they’re actually in it, and they made the third-most-meaningful trade. They still might not make the playoffs, but that .500 season no one ever thought they’d see? We’re watching it.
According to PECOTA, these trades made Texas just a tiny bit worse, but the Rangers had bigger problems elsewhere on the roster. The struggles of Roy Oswalt and the losses of Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz for the season within a span of 10 days forced the Rangers to trade for a starter, and they didn’t get one as good as Greinke.
The Rays were rumored to be talking about trading most of their prominent players, but they ended up making only one minor move. Tampa Bay is two games away from a Wild Card spot, and Evan Longoria returns to the team tonight. Those are two compelling reasons not to trade prominent players.
I expected the Tiger’s big trade to be a bigger boost. And it was, if you assume that Detroit’s second baseman would have continued to be as bad as they were for the first four months of the season. PECOTA never assumes such things. In fact, PECOTA assumes that Ryan Raburn will outplay Omar Infante the rest of the way. We were all right there with you in April, PECOTA. Maybe not so much now.
The Yankees didn’t need to do anything drastic at the deadline, so they didn’t do much. PECOTA sees the Ichiro trade as a slight upgrade, which would probably disappoint both the people who weren’t aware that he’s not the same old Ichiro and the people who couldn’t wait to tell them.
If that bolt of energy exists, we can't quantify it or tell when and where it might strike. But we can glean a lot from the numbers. When Nate ran through this exercise, he didn’t have in-season PECOTA, so he combined pre-season projections with in-season stats. He weighted the latter more heavily than PECOTA does, so he ended up with slightly larger numbers than I did. But the distribution looks the same: one team with a double-digit improvement, three teams that went a little bit backwards, and a bunch of others that mostly just sat there, making a minor move or two but not moving the needle much in any direction.
Colin wrote this last season:
Deadline deals can make a big impact on a team’s chances of reaching the playoffs, but it’s important to remember that they typically don’t. Finding one or two players who can combine for a 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 baseball 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.
The odds are against any of this year’s deals being decisive during the regular season. But now we know which ones might come the closest. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait for the winners.