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December 20, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The Mariners Acquire the Angels' Logjam

by Sam Miller

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquire LHP Jason Vargas from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Kendrys Morales. [12/19]

So here is the second phase of the Josh Hamilton signing, the part where Jerry Dipoto trades from his new surplus to fill the hole he needed filled all along. On the one hand, he traded the least desirable of his extras; compared to Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo, Morales is the oldest, most expensive, least defensively utile, least reliable health-wise, and, with free agency just a year away, the least part of their future plans. On the other, Jason Vargas is the return. Not that there’s anything wrong with Jason Vargas, but he’s not the typical Mr. Right, either.

What Vargas provides is stability and innings. He’s one of 29 pitchers to make at least 30 starts in each of the past three seasons, and one of 19 to toss at least 200 innings in each of the past two. In four seasons with the Mariners, his strikeout rate per nine innings has never started with a number higher or lower than “five”, and his walk rates—2.3, 2.4, 2.5 and 2.6, jumbled up—show the same consistency. Same with his groundball rates: 36, 36, 36, 40. He’s at the mercy of the home run ball— 26 on the road in 2012—and BABIP. His have fluctuated between low for a pitcher and very low for a pitcher. The Angels would prefer very low for a pitcher.

They might get it. The Angels are the perfect team for a pitcher like Vargas, providing both the ballpark and the defense to support good outcomes on contact. (The Mariners, it has been noted, were also the perfect team for a pitcher like Vargas.) Not to put too much into a comparison which I readily admit is comical to the extreme, but, at the most basic level, these two guys aren't all that far off: 

Pitcher K/9 BB/9 GB rate
Vargas 5.8 2.3 40%
Jered Weaver 6.8 2.1 36%

Again: That’s not what I’m saying, not at all. All I’m saying is that Anaheim’s real swell for flyball pitchers who don't strike out or walk many. You can snowboard in the morning and surf the same afternoon!

You can’t rule anything out when talking about a Los Angeles team’s ownership, but this probably completes the Angels’ rotation building. Garrett Richards is the odd man out, but, compared to the high-profile quintet that pitched for the Angels down the stretch last year, there are now three odd men in. Tommy Hanson has post-hype upside, Joe Blanton has some positive defense-independent indicators, and Vargas is safe. Ben asked me during Episode 106 of Effectively Wild whether this group represents an upgrade over the results that the Angels got from their bottom three last year. I hemmed and hawed and gave an answer I was so uncommitted to that, literally 20 minutes later as I write this, I can’t remember what I said. Going by FRA and PECOTA, the answer is a less ambivalent “yes.”

  • 2012 Greinke, Haren, Santana: 444 innings, 5.19 FRA
  • 2013 Hanson, Vargas, Blanton: 465 projected innings, 4.24 projected FRA

PECOTA doesn’t know the extent of Hanson’s arm injuries, and it doesn’t know his velocity trend, so I’m willing to give some of that difference back. But the three, behind C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver, might be enough to get the Angels to the postseason. It’s not clear which is qualified to start a postseason game, so expect the Angels to plunder their farm system once more in July to try to pick up a name for the no. 3 slot. Is there a farm system to plunder? Not really. There’s Kaleb Cowart, maybe a few three-star guys, and a handful of deep sleepers. It’s not a great system, and it’s not a great rotation. But the Angels are still patching holes from the Reagins era, and the holes are mostly patched now.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquire DH-S Kendrys Morales from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for Jason Vargas. [12/19]

There’s an opening in this world for a pretty good Twitter account that just tweets factoids about how funny and terrible the Mariners’ offense is. For instance: The Mariners’ second-best OBP in 2012 was .316. That’s among all batters with at least 10 plate appearances, of whom there were 20.

Part of the problem with the Mariners’ hitters is undoubtedly the Mariners’ hitters, who are awful. They had the worst TAv in baseball in 2012, and TAv is park-adjusted. But part of the problem might also be that park, no matter how much adjusting you do. Once the Mariners hit the road, they were about average: fifth in the AL in scoring, sixth in home runs, eighth in OPS. The Mariners’ offense is still terrible, but it scored 106 more runs than the 2010 team's did, and 63 more than the 2011 squad. Whether the new park dimensions make a difference or not, Morales will.

After missing most of 2010 and all of 2011, Morales returned as a full-time DH in 2012. He couldn’t repeat his near-MVP breakout in 2009, but he was never going to do that; those numbers were wildly out of line with his previous history. What he did do was nearly repeat what he had been doing in 2010 before he was injured celebrating a grand slam. And he not only topped his 2012 PECOTA projection, he topped his pre-injury 2010 PECOTA projection. That is to say, he hit as well as he ever could have been expected to hit, and he showed he’s probably not much affected by any lingering damage from that 2010 injury. (I did talk to scouts who disagreed, and who, as late as July, thought the injury was limiting the power he was generating from the left side.) He also started 28 games at first base, answering that question. He doesn’t run nearly as well as he used to, though, and outfield isn’t likely to be an option ever again.

So that leaves the Mariners with Morales, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak to play two positions: first base and DH. That’s not including John Jaso, who got most of his starts at DH in 2012; but it’s also not including catcher, which folks continue to hope will absorb some of Montero’s future. Morales is probably the best hitter in the bunch, so even if his arrival creates a logjam every bit as jammed as the Angels had, it’s an offensive upgrade. But something has to give: in an ideal alignment, Jaso and Montero catch nearly all the games and aren’t horror shows doing it. In a less ideal alignment, Smoak continues to be terrible and is gone by June. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Angels,  Kendrys Morales,  Mariners,  Jason Vargas

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