Practically every major trade in baseball fits into the same mold. Why isn't there more variety?
By all accounts we just wrapped up a thrilling trade deadline. The volume, the drama, the last minute-ness, the quality of players—both major and minor leaguers—was more than those looking to be entertained could have hoped for. Those (if such a population exists) looking for variety in trades, though, were likely disappointed. Sure, we got a good, redundant major leaguer for another, somewhat redundant, major leaguer trade in the Matt (Duffy and Moore) swap, and a salary dump (Liriano to the Blue Jays), but every other trade was minor leaguers for major leaguers (usually on contracts expiring at this or next season’s end). There are tons of variations within this type of trade, but it is all the same kind of trade. This type of trade, of course, makes sense—teams that have a chance to win this year value certain players more than teams that do not have such a chance; and when two teams value a player a differently, there is always an opportunity for a trade.
But, why then, do certain players that should be valued differently (such as Jeremy Hellickson) not get traded? Also, how is it possible that over the past 10 years, no two teams have said, “I like your third baseman more than my third baseman and you like my third baseman more than your third baseman” and just swapped them? Or how has this not happened for any other position? We see this once in a while with sixth starters and inconsequential relievers, but we never see this with any primetime players. Why don’t we see this? I believe there are several contributing factors that I will discuss below. I also believe there are several (or more) contributing factors I have not thought of and, thus, will not discuss below.
I’m a Retrosheet volunteer. If you don’t know it, Retrosheet—the website is retrosheet.org—is a fantastic site. It’s an online source of box scores and play-by-play data, and its archive is growing. And it’s 100 percent free to baseball researchers. It’s so prominent in research circles that when you use the Play Index at Baseball-Reference, one of the default timeframe choices is “Retrosheet (1913-2016).” It’s a source for some of the statistics here at BP and has launched a constellation of R scripts. (If you want to get involved with Retrosheet, hit the email icon at the top of this and I’ll send you information.)
The good, the bad and the Utley from Tuesday's action.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Most games have one definitive narrative that emerges after a period of time. Sometimes it’s a brilliant pitching duel, or yeoman’s work by a bullpen that’s forced into action early. Sometimes it’s a multi-home run game from one player.
Two weeks ago, I posted an article about average hitter stat lines and how they’ve changed over time. Furthering my suspicion that I have no idea what’s likely to be popular and what isn’t, it was my most-commented-upon piece yet. Notably, one of the commenters asked if I’d be doing a similar thing for pitchers. At the time, I actually hadn’t intended to—I’m inclined to think the triple slash line lends itself to being mis-remembered/mis-assumed much more than any other stats—but I also appreciate conceptual symmetry, so here we are: How have common, public-knowledge-type stats changed over the years for pitchers?
Picking stats to include here was harder than it was for hitters, and the route I chose was the inclusion of stats that the general baseball audience might have a subconscious feel for, even if they couldn’t name the average line off the top of their heads like they may have been able to for hitters.
All the good hitters are young. This is not true of the other half of the league's players.
I recently moved back to where I grew up, in the Philadelphia area, or if you want to be specific, just north of that Delaware Valley we know and love. Moving back home has meant moving back to a lot of familiar people and places, and that’s been a real joy; perhaps not chief among these joys, but among them, has been a return to Philadelphia sports radio. When I lived in Chicago, I’d dabble in the ocean of sports radio there, but the pessimism and anger there just wasn’t the same as my pessimism and anger, so it never quite clicked. Now that I’m back, I can listen to the angry men yell on the AM radio for as long as I can stand, which is usually 15-20 minutes.
And while there is increasingly more decent sports radio—the immortal Chris Mueller and John Barchard have helped with this—the angry, reactionary takes far outweigh the reasoned ones. And so I started listening more carefully for germs of sense in the reactive talk. Obviously we know what isn’t true—the Phillies can’t trade for Mike Trout; no one will be selling the team; ownership will not “reward” the fans for their loyalty. But in the premises of some of the call-in segments and rants, there are legitimate questions, and on the rare occasion those questions devolve on baseball in August in a city where there’s no hope of the postseason, there are some compelling threads to pull out. For instance: Where are all the really good, kind of old veterans?
When I heard the question, I initially scoffed because, of course there are good older veterans. This was just a case of confirmation bias and a young, fun, and bad Phillies team featuring Ryan Howard’s terribly aging corpse distorting perspectives.
Well, as it happens, give a point to sports talk radio. As has likely been discussed in the pages of this site many times, the top 10 in rWAR this year, according to Baseball Reference, are all 33 or under. Take out the outliers of Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson and Clayton Kershaw (RIP) from the list, and that number plummets to 26. (Jose Altuve, you are now an elder statesman.) Now, 33 isn’t exactly young in baseball years, but Cano isn’t in the same geriatric ballpark as A-Rod or Beltran, let alone 39-year-old Barry Bonds, who had led the league in rWAR back in 2004. So what the heck? Where art thou, 32-40-year-old stars? Is Robinson Cano all that’s left?
Scanning a list of WAR leaders, the answer is kind of “yes and no.” Miguel Cabrera remains in the top 30 thanks to his bat if not his glove, but despite seeming like he’s been around forever, he’s only 33. Same with Evan Longoria, who, while transcendent in his way, is only 30. Daniel Murphy’s 31-year-old season continues to be a revelation, and Justin Turner is still hitting. Ian Kinsler is the oldest within spitting distance, at 34 years old, and we’d be wrong to not mention the prejudices of WAR when it comes to analyzing designated hitters, as David Ortiz is having a historically good 40-year-old season. But I think we at least have to wonder—where are the late-career stars?
One answer, looking back at previous Top-10 rWAR lists, seems to be that many of our best stars from 2004-2010 burned out pretty much around the same time. The bright and quick peaks of players like Chase Utley; the steady decline of players like Ben Zobrist or Albert Pujols; the retirements of Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodriguez. All of these contribute to what seems like a barren landscape of truly elite older position players. Add on to this that some of the best older position players still at it are not as flamboyant as your Manny Ramirezes gone by, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the older star had vanished. There are 66 position players over 30 playing in the majors this year, and very few of them are what you’d, subjectively, call bona fide stars. Raise the age to 33, and you’re left with 28. Above 35? Only 14. Which is sobering not in terms of numbers—only 11 players were over 35 in 2006—but in terms of names. No Jim Thomes or Frank Thomases on the list in 2016 to be sure.
The 1992 set of Pinnacle had a series called SIDELINES, in which major-league players' hobbies were photographed and written up. You know these players well; can you match the player to his hobby? Your choices for each are:
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The Yankees get a superb performance from a rookie starter, and more from Monday's games.
The Monday Takeaway
Yankees right-hander Chad Green entered play Monday with splits wide enough to make Simone Biles jealous.
He’d been dominant with the platoon advantage at hand, holding like-handed foes to a .236/.271/.382 slash line with 17 strikeouts in 59 at-bats, but vulnerable without it, suffering a .327/.407/.731 fate at the hands of enemy lefties. As a result, he’d thrived in relief duty, limiting the opposition to a .194/.257/.194 output, and scuffled as a starter to the tune of a .316/.373/.697 allowance that included eight homers in just 18 innings of work.
There’s a board game that’s out of print now, called The Traders of Genoa, one of those German board games with a 12-page rulebook and a million little painted wooden cubes. Players take turns navigating the streets of a marketplace, employing various tradesmen to take cubes (black: pepper, brown: copper, turquoise: silk) and then convert those raw goods into finished products (points). It’s a pretty standard European resource management game; the winner is the one who best manages his “production line,” getting the goods they need and spending them as wisely as possible.