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July 22, 2009

Transaction Retrospectus

Rising to the Occasion?

by Baseball Prospectus

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By Christina Kahrl with Clay Davenport

The trading deadline is almost upon us, and while rumors swirl around Roy Halladay more than any other player, it's worth remembering that a great part of the excitement is fueled by last year's remarkable post-trade performances from the two biggest big-name ballplayers. Manny Ramirez's exploding in the National League after getting swapped to Los Angeles-hitting .396/.489/.743-has only added to a legend that didn't seem as if it could become any more compelling after his Fenway days. CC Sabathia, dealt from the flagging Indians to the pitching-needy Brewers, gave Milwaukee 17 starts-including his last two on short rest-14 quality starts (not counting two blown after the first six innings), seven complete games, and three shutouts, almost single-handedly manhandling his new club into its first October action in decades. Both stars wound up in the playoffs, both far exceeded any reasonable expectation of what they might do for their new clubs-and both were performing much like so many other players dealt at the deadline.

That might seem like an extraordinary claim, but however much Manny and Sabathia blew up after their deals, their exceeding their previous standards of performance is actually somewhat typical of what many veterans dealt at the deadline do. Consider the performances of some of the major players dealt around mid-season in the last three campaigns:

                     PreT   Exp1   Exp2  PostT
Player               WARP   WARP   WARP  WARP
Bobby Abreu    2006   4.3    2.5    2.6   3.6
Greg Maddux    2006   2.5    1.4    1.4   3.1
Carlos Lee     2006   2.3    1.3    1.8   2.0
Aubrey Huff    2006   1.4    1.1    1.4   0.0
Julio Lugo     2006   2.2    1.2    1.6  -0.5
Mark Teixeira  2007   2.4    1.2    2.0   3.8
Milton Bradley 2007   0.7    0.7    1.4   3.0
Luis Castillo  2007   1.6    0.9    1.1   0.9
CC Sabathia    2008   3.5    2.9    3.1   6.8
Manny Ramirez  2008   3.9    1.9    1.5   5.0
Mark Teixeira  2008   5.6    3.0    2.2   4.3
Rich Harden    2008   3.1    2.5    1.0   3.4
Casey Blake    2008   2.1    1.2    1.2   1.6
Randy Wolf     2008   1.1    0.7    0.6   1.5
Joe Blanton    2008   0.8    0.6    1.3   1.1
Xavier Nady    2008   4.4    2.5    1.0   1.1
Jason Bay      2008   1.2    0.6    1.3   0.6

This admittedly subjective review of the biggest names moved at or around the trading deadlines of the last three years produces some interesting results. To review, 'PreT WARP' a player's pre-trade Wins Above Replacement, and 'PostT WARP' is what the teams that added these players for the stretch drive, again in terms of WARP. Since we've ranked these players within the three seasons by the WARP they delivered to their new clubs after getting dealt, you can easily see that what Sabathia, Manny, and Tex gave their new clubs were the biggest post-trade performances in terms of impact in any of these three seasons.

Where things get interesting is in the middle columns; 'Exp1 WARP' is the amount of value the acquiring teams should have expected to receive if the player had simply continued to perform at the same clip he'd already been producing at in that specific season. However, consider what that means for players like the oft-absent Milton Bradley in '07-when he had yet again been dealing with various injuries with the A's before being acquired by the Padres-or a pitcher like Joe Blanton, picked up by the Phillies after a disappointing first half with Oakland. The expected contributions in terms of WARP would understate their ability to contribute, and teams are generally picking up players with a wider view of what they've been able to do in more than the previous couple of months. That's where 'Exp2 WARP' comes in-it reflects the player's expected rate of performance in the balance of the season based on their performance levels of the previous two seasons as well as that specific season's action.

Take Bobby Abreu's expected value in 2006, before the Yankees acquired him. He'd contributed 4.3 WARP to the 2006 Phillies before Pat Gillick decided to fold up his team's tent (prematurely, as it turned out). On the basis of his 2006 performance, the Yankees could have expected they'd get a 2.5 WARP performance from Abreu over the remainder of the season; widen the scope in the Exp2 column, and take his 2004 and 2005 performances into account as well, and the Yankees could have expected him to chip in 2.6 WARP. As it turned out, Abreu exceeded both expectations, rising to the challenge of playing in the better league and in its best division by dialing it up to a surprising 3.6 WARP. The Yankees didn't just have to feel good about getting Abreu for next to nothing in terms of talent ditched with the Phils, they got better-than-expected performance from the veteran outfielder.

Some players deliver exactly what you'd expect given relative expectations generated by their longer-term track record. Take Blanton with the Phillies last season-he improved relative to his first-half work with Oakland, but only performed at a level very much in keeping with his multi-year track record. Contrast that with Xavier Nady; he was having a career half-season with the Pirates before getting dealt to the Yankees, and while he naturally cooled off, as the multi-year Exp2 column reflects, he gave the Bombers right about what they should have expected in the first place. Mark Teixeira's interesting in how much he's stepped up his game in both of his post-deadline deal performances, while Milton Bradley's inspired run with the Padres in '07 (before getting hurt yet again) is part of what got him his opportunity in Texas and, later, his huge deal with the Cubs.

Now, to repeat, the group wasn't selected all that scientifically, and was instead picked with an eye towards whoever seemed buzz-worthy at the time. Greg Maddux in 2006 not only still had something left in the tank when he was picked up by the Dodgers from the Cubs, he took his performance up more than a few notches, helping to propel his new team into the playoffs. Greg Maddux in 2008, however, had lost too much to age, and he wasn't nearly as valuable. But it is interesting that most of them (12 of 17) did better than you'd expect based on their long-term track records, and only three-Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo in '06, and Jason Bay last season-underperformed relative to their Exp2 column by as much as a half-win or more.

What does this mean going forward? Well, a team that adds Halladay is going to have to work around the logistics of trying to get as many starts from the man between now and the end of the season. Take the Angels-they have 70 games left to play in 75 days, including today's game. Even if they don't jigger their rotation around too much or have to resort to the same sort of desperation as the Brewers did last season with Sabathia, you're talking about 15 starts or so that they might get from the Blue Jays ace if they pulled off the trade. Compress that much value into so few games, and you'd expect a bump. But if Halladay responds as it seems so many veterans dealt at the deadline, they might get that extra bit more than you might expect.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

8 comments have been left for this article.

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