If I were Joe and Jeff….June 22nd, 2010 by Eric Kesselman in Trade Analysis
I'd like to talk about the recent trade of Jeff Erickson and Joe Sheehan's: giving Josh Beckett and Mark Teahen for Jake Arrieta and Jake Westbrook.
While I do think they lost quite a bit of performance value on this trade, I don't want to start the practice of picking apart trades for bad value. We've had a fair bit of trading in the Cardrunners League, and personally I think there have been clear winners in most of the deals. We could obviously spend a lot of time arguing dollar valuations, and thats not what I want to do. What I do find particularly interesting about this trade is I feel they violated nearly every tenet of trading practice that I consider essential to obtaining a good deal. So while I'm hesitant to heap criticism upon them (and I cannot resist a comparison to the Jack Nicholson bomb "The Two Jakes"), these guys are such renowned experts that I'm sure they can take a little abuse, and I think a lot can be learned from looking at where I think they made procedural errors.
1) Trading for value is about gaps in perceived value-
You need to care not just about a player's actual value (which you could also call your personal perceived value of a player's worth) you also need to know how other people perceive his value. When there are large gaps between owners' perceived value of a player, good trading opportunities exist. If I think a guy is worth $7 and you think he's worth $11, I can sell him to you at $9 and we both come away thinking we got the best of it.
This seems fairly obvious, but I often see people with thought processes of "I think this player is worth $7, so I'm going to sell him for $7 without actively checking in to see if anyone in the trade market had a higher opinion. This is particularly important when you are dealing with an uncertain commodity where opinions may vary widely. An injured Josh Beckett is going to see a far wider range of prices than a healthy Cuddyer type. You only need to find one buyer with a higher opinion to make it worth the search!
The only way to keep tabs on people's perceived value is by constantly talking to other owners about players. If you don't do this, you risk selling your guys too cheap compared to what you could have gotten, regardless of whether you're right about their actual performance value.
Jeff told me after the deal went down "We were lower on Teahen than you were because of the nature of his injury- guys often don't come back well from that kind of hand injury." He may very well be right, and I learned something in that conversation, but this is exactly the kind of discrepency in perceived value that they should take advantage of by trading Teahen to me.
I saw Teahen as a $5 player, likely to play most of the remaining time, with reasonable upside. I later managed to get him from Chris for 30 claim dollars, and was very happy with the purchase. The point is that Joe and Jeff decided he was nearly worthless and didn't make a thorough and proactive effort to find someone who disagreed. The same is largely true of Beckett.
2) Be active, not passive-
This is really a corollary to point 1. You need to be constantly reaching out to people and initiating conversations. As I touched on in my earlier article on trading, people tend to be extremely passive. Rarely do they come to you, especially at the right time. Even when you post an On the Block, don't expect everyone with potential interest to come knocking on your door. You need to look at people's rosters, and find good fits for what you want to do. Contact them and explain why your ideas are a good fit for them. I guarantee you drum up interest (or even strike up profitable conversations that lead elsewhere) that won't happen if you wait for people to come to you. It'd be great if everyone came to you with offers, ideas, or even 'hey talk to me before you deal him' emails when you write 'Beckett on the Block'. From experience, it just doesn't happen with many people, experts and amateurs alike. If you don't go to them, you are missing opportunities.
3) Have a plan-
It's rarely bad to add value in an abstract sense, especially in very liquid trade markets. However, If the trade market is illiquid, or you tend to be an inactive trader yourself, you really need a clear game plan.
Look at the standings, and spend a little time figuring out where it makes sense to push and where it makes sense to add risk or tank entirely.
Looking at the standings today (admittedly a week after the actual trade), I have a hard time figuring out why Joe and Jeff decided to trade Beckett for starting pitching in the one trade they've made this season. Despite some brutal luck this season, they're actually pretty competetive nearly everywhere but the Starting Pitching categories.
Let's take a quick run through:
Batting Avg- They sit in 3rd place, with no team above them in easy reach, and only one team reasonably below them.
HRs- Last place (10th), but only 4 Hr's away from 8th place, and about 20 HR's away from joining a huge six team dogfight for 2nd thru 7th.
Runs- tied for 3rd place, and about 15 runs away from both the team above and team below with a sizeable gap other than that in both directions.
RBI- 9th place, but only 20 RBI from 7th place, and 55 RBI away from 4th place.
SBs- 3rd place, but only 6 away from 2nd and more importantly only 6 SBS away from 7th place.
Let's look at their pitching:
ERA- They are last with a 4.72 ERA, although two other teams are above the 4.55 mark.
Ks- Last with 346 k's, but about 60 from moving into a tie with 7th.
Saves- 5th place with 22 saves, but 6th has 21 saves, and the teams above them have 24 25 30 33 and 47 saves.
Wins- Last with only 20 wins. 9th has 27 wins, but beyond that the next closest team has 34.
WHIP- Last with 1.434. Two teams have whips in the 1.40 range and one team has a 1.38. Beyond that prospects are dim to improve for them.
Without going through an in depth analysis, I pretty quickly can conclude that If I were them I'd try hard to add on in Homers, RBIs, and Saves while trying to make sure I didn't slip in SBs. That might not be an easy thing to accomplish, but it's certainly doable. Saves in particular should be an easy buy, as you just need one closer from anyone. Jason Grey has three, and is way ahead of the pack and is likely to be interested in selling one.
While they may not be stone dead in ERA and WHIP, if I go this route I certainly don't want Jake Westbrook on my team. The best contributions he can make here are getting traded to the NL. Arrieta is a talented young pitcher, but i can't imagine he's going to make much difference to me here- especially when partnered with a shiny new Westrbrook.
As far as wins goes, both pitchers are on terrible teams which makes piling up wins rather tricky. Even if they do, this is the one category where Joe/Jeff really seem light years behind the pack. Particularly when looking at their other pitchers (Bailey Bard Cahill Chen Morrow Saunders Wood) I don't see any way they make up this massive gap.
I don't hate trying to add on in strikeouts, and maybe they add a few strikeouts here over a dead Beckett, but if that's really what they were after I'm sure they could find a Max Scherzer type for their Beckett. Also if this is the plan, it seems you'd want to load up on Brandon Morrow types and sell Cahill types.
With the deal they wound up making for Arrieta and Westbrook, I'm forced to conclude they failed to strategically consider the category standings. Also if the plan really was to improve in ERA WHIP or Wins and K's, I have to seriously consider if even a remote chance of a Beckett return and an extra slot is more likely to help me than Arrieta and Westbrook. That brings me to my last point.
4) Have an idea how much volatility you want-
Given their position in the standings, Joe and Jeff need to get lucky in some spots to dig out of it. Even if Beckett's successful return is estimated at 20% by them, that upside might be worth far more to them than a certain Westbrook and Arrieta. Let's say Beckett has even a 20% chance of returning to a 20$ pitcher- putting his value at 4$ with a wide distribution of returns. Even if you think Westbrook and Arrieta are worth 8$, given the pitching categories I don't think that extra value is going to take them anywhere. They may have to get lucky on a Beckett type gamble to move anywhere in pitching. So even though they might be adding value in an absolute sense (and again personally I don't think they really are), they might be snatching certain failure out of the jaws of an unlikely success. If Wins, ERA, and WHIP are the place they've decided to attack they simply have to have more volatility than Arrieta, and certainly more than provided for by Westbrook.
But if I were them I'd still be looking for power and saves.