First Pitch: Is the Trade Deadline Overrated?

Wandy Rodriguez Pirates

Wandy Rodriguez was only worth half a win for the Pirates down the stretch last year. That low value is more common than you think. (Photo by: David Hague)

There’s one thing I’ve never understood about the trade deadline. A team contends for the majority of the season. They hold their own against other contending teams, and beat the weaker teams. You get a situation where a team has the best record in the majors on July 31st.

Then everyone says they need to make a trade.

As if everything they’ve done in the first four months is meaningless, and the only way they can continue to win is to add that big bat or that big arm.

We know so much about the values of players. We know that a star player is probably just bringing 5-7 wins above a replacement level player. We know that someone like Nate Schierholtz is worth 1.5 wins. And if we look over the last third of the season, we can see that someone like Schierholtz would upgrade the Pirates by half a win. Even a guy like Alex Rios, who you could consider a 3.0 WAR hitter, might only add one extra win in the final two months.

That’s not even a guarantee. Mike Petriello wrote an article on ESPN, analyzing the last two years of deadline moves. Petriello noted that of the 40 trades made over the last two years, only 11 players have provided a 1.0 WAR for their new team over the remainder of the season. Only two players have provided a 2.0 WAR. So if you’re expecting a guy to come in and make a huge impact, it’s probably not going to happen.

That makes sense. A guy putting up a 2.0 WAR in the final two months would be a 6.0 WAR player. That’s Andrew McCutchen level, and there’s no one on the current market like that. There are guys who could be 3.0 WAR players, but that just means you’re adding one extra win in the final two months.

So why the need? The Pirates are currently two games up for the first Wild Card spot. They are 7.5 games up from the closest team to the second wild card. The third team is 11.5 games behind the Pirates. It’s not like the Pirates are neck and neck here with other teams. Adding one extra win might not make any impact. The arguments for adding that extra win are usually:

1. What if they collapse?

The argument the last two years is that the Pirates didn’t do their part at the deadline, and the team collapsed. That’s just not true. Even if they added the two guys who provided a 2.0 WAR, they wouldn’t have prevented a collapse. That was a team effort.

2. What if they miss the playoffs by one game?

Every year teams miss the playoffs. Every year there are some teams who miss the playoffs by 1-2 games. You can look at all of those teams and ask “what would have happened if they traded for (insert player here)?” Or “what if they didn’t blow that game back in April?” You can take that approach with any team, no matter what moves they made.

Petriello’s article points out two of the things I dislike the most about the deadline. One is the feeling that teams need to make a move to contend. The value that teams are adding at the deadline isn’t going to seal them as contenders. They are already contenders.

The other point is the lack of value with rentals. Petriello argues that guys with multiple years of control are more valuable than rentals, as they can provide value beyond the final two months of the current season. That all makes sense. A guy like Schierholtz is only going to be worth half a win this year, but he’s going to be worth 1.5 wins next year.

Still, that argues against adding for the deadline. The Pirates were criticized last year because their key additions (Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez) looked like they would help more in the future rather than the present. And that was inevitable. One year of a player is always going to be worth more than the two months you got in the previous years. The idea was that there were players out there who could have provided this huge value over Rodriguez, Snider, and Sanchez. As I pointed out earlier this week, the Pirates got similar value as other teams, without giving up top prospects. Petriello’s article shows why. The Pirates found value that was equal to other teams, but the reason they didn’t add that huge impact player is because that huge impact player didn’t really exist.

Don’t expect that huge impact player to show up this year either. We certainly haven’t seen any rumors talking about guys who have a strong chance of providing more than a win in value in the final two months of the year. That’s not saying the Pirates shouldn’t try to find an upgrade. But if they do upgrade, they might want to find someone who can also help next year, since that will do far more than whatever help they’d get in the final two months of the season.

Links and Notes

**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast: P3 Episode 14: Previewing the Trade Deadline For the Pirates.

**Please Welcome New Beat Writer Nate Barnes to the Pirates Prospects Staff.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Another No-Hitter, Dickerson Drives In Eight Runs.

**Minor League Schedule: Billy Roth Makes Pro Debut.

Pirates

**Afternoon Notes: Jason Grilli update, Giancarlo Stanton news (sort of).

**Locke’s Control and a Weak Bench Are Two Concerns From Tonights Loss.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Thank you for the facts related to thinking that a quick fix at the trade deadline is going to make a big difference. I think it is overrated and I liked what the Pirates did last year by adding a guy like Gaby Sanchez who has continued to add value in 2013, and the team strengthened a position that had weakness. All the deadline means is that whoever you pick up prior to Aug 1 can be used in the post season. If we wait until mid-August when more teams have given up on the 2013 season it is very possible the pool of players available will be larger and teams could be more anxious to make a trade. And, teams will want to clear the players they do not plan to bring back the following year, salvage any kind of money savings they can and get ready to look at the future with the players coming up in September – we Pirates fans know this routine very well.

    • jch5001

      August 1 is not the postseason deadline. That would be aug 31st. All july 31st means is non- waiver.

  • joe g.

    I posted this question under a previous article and now have a second question:

    How many projected wins to date would the Pirates have if they averaged 4 to 4.2 runs per game?

    If the Pirates added a player, is there a way to project how many additional runs per game he would add to the team?

    • axc201

      @Joe G. This can be a tricky question to answer.

      At 4.0 runs per game they would score 404 runs compared to the actual 342 they gave up. This translates to a pythag win total of 59 through 101 games (actually less than they have because they are overachieving according to this model) OVer 162 games this is 94 wins.

      At 4.2 runs per game they would score 424 runs through these first 101 games. That comes out to 61 wins now and 98 for the season.

      Obviously, as we have more wins than one of these projections has us getting, this isn’t completely helpful. (For comparison that model we would have 57 wins right now.)

      However, this model does do a pretty good job projecting forward. Our current pace has on pace for an unweighted pythag projection of 34-27 finish in the last 61 games. 4 runs a game and the same pitching has us finishing 35-26 and 4,2 is 37-24.

      IMO, the pitching will falter some, so you can tweak the numbers as you estimate. I am pretty sure they will put an innings cap on Cole, so we better hope Wandy is back by then. Still, even 32-29 should be enough for the second wild card, which is more than I would have dreamed of at the start with a rotation that had sanchez and an unproven locke at the start,

      PS. I was using Runs scored squared/(Runs scored squared+Runs against squared)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I’m with you 100% Tim. Unless we can get a guy like Bill Madlock in 1979, I don’t see the sense. And the Marlins have already said they ain’t dealing him.

    Foo

  • IC Bob

    I will say it again WAR is overrated. It values a two run base hit in a 10-0 game the same as a two run base hit in a 2-1 game. Cody Ross a couple years back for the Giants had countless huge hits to help them get to the series and win it. I think he ended up with a 1/2 WAR but he was way more valuable then that. Bottom line is the Bucs need a RF. The Cubs set the market so the cost should not be that great unless the Bucs are looking long term. I will be disappointed if we don’t add some pop to this line up at the deadline. We have plenty of rated outfielders all through out the system that will never find a spot in Pittsburgh so lets use that talent. to get us what we need.

    I do agree though if we do not get a player at the deadline it should not be hard to get one through FA.

    • Y2JGQ2

      IC Bob- I completely agree. WAR is good to show the overall value of a player long term, however in short term, WAR isn’t a useful tool. You have to delve into the numbers on a more short term situational basis to derive their value. Basically, what is the value of the player vs. the current player in that position for the role they are intending to fill. OPS and splits are way better for what the pirates need. If we have say Walker who is perhaps a -1 war player vs. lefties the rest of the year and replace him with someone who can give us a +1 vs. lefties then since only 1/3 of the ab’s would be versus lefties that provides a more concentrated help. I know that Tim doesnt believe in clutch and thinks everything is random, but a CONTACT hitter off the bench who we can count on to put the bat on the ball with runners on third with less than 2 outs would be a huge win as well, especially if he has good splits vs. lefties. Find a first baseman who has decent splits and add in a bench player who can make solid contact, and we’re in business. Role players help you win championships

      • Y2JGQ2

        and to take that argument farther Bob- when you get a player who can outperform by even a 1 WAR over the existing player, it allows the other players to go down a spot and play to their strengths which has a rippling effect on their WAR across the board. For example if Garrett Jones were playing against righties and lefties and was a 1.5 WAR player, with 2 WAR vs righties and -.5 vs lefties. Taking away his playing time and replacing it with someone with .5 WAR against lefties is a 1 WAR overall shift. Then his presence on the bench to come in for a righty pitcher or rather than have mckenry hitting in a clutch situation increases that bench production .2 WAR as you can easily see the effect it has way greater than JUST the war of the player being traded for. Its the overall effect on the team itself. I think sometimes Tim doesn’t quite dive into things far enough to see a whole picture when he is writing articles to prove a point he wants to drive home. I guess it’s our job to provide dissenting views. To me its the exact same reason why you should draft premier positions before depth positions and how when you are drafting in the first round you take the 17th player ranked on the board at 10 if he’s a shortstop, third baseman, or catcher unless there is huge dropoff in talent from whats available. Its about adding the most VALUE above what you have and what you can get. If the cost of getting a 2.5 WAR shortstop on the trade market is the same as getting a 5.0 WAR outfielder, then at some point unless the outfielder is twice as good as the shortstop, you need to take the shortstop

  • Ron Zorn

    Tim, I read the same article and felt the same. Article seemed to convey exactly what NH espoused last year, all players were a nice addition, Wandy, Gaby and Snider, but he emphasized the “years of control”. As to helping the team, Sabathia to Milwaukee, Greinke to Angels, didn’t even produce the playoffs, no matter a world series title. Can’t remember what happened after Randy Johnson got traded to the Astros, but he was ridiculous and I still don’t think they even made the playoffs (can’t remember). The teams don’t benefit as much from the actual players they trade for, as baseball does overall in the rise in the interest level.

    And now baseball does it twice, once the end of July. And also the end of August, which has become exciting as well, as the big stars with the big contracts become available and the intrigue builds.

    I believe you wrote an article yourself that the busiest time on your site is around the trade deadlines? Not a criticism, good for you, and I love the site, visit every day. Point is, trade deadline is a bigger benefit to sites like your’s and the overall interest it spurs in baseball in general than the value of the player’s performance on the field.

    Lastly, some would say this is a conspiracy theory but it is actually just good business. Part of the conversation regarding acquiring a player has to (or should) involve, What will our spike in attendance be? How much does all this talk increase the ratings for our pre and post game shows? (Thereby the ability to negotiate bigger TV contracts). If I own a business and can splke these things (and many more I didn’t list), I would be crazy NOT to want to drive this kind of talk and supposition.

    Besides, it’s just fun!!!!!!!!!!!!! Haha

    Another great article as usual.

  • CalipariFan506

    IC Bob, that Soriano trade has nothing to do with the market. It’s like us getting AJ. A salary dump. Plus with the no trade clause the Cubs hands were really tied with Soriano. For all we know he told them the Yankees were the ONLY team he would accept a trade to.

    NH could have offered Polanco for Soriano and if he said no, they’d have to take the lesser Yankees deal.

    • IC Bob

      I understand Soriano had a no trade clause and has used it however the Cubs are paying 80% of his salary and got nothing in return. The deal does still reflect the market. We always hear rumors about this team wants this stud or that stud only to get some middle of the road prospect or two. what teams want and what teams get are always two different things. Guys this is not a sellers market its no different from years past. Their are really good players out their if Pittsburgh is willing to pay ALL of the salary this year. Additionally we can get really good players for cheap if we are willing to trade way good prospects that likely have no chance of playing in the Burgh in the next 4 years (anyone at single A). For those who are “we should never trade any one ever for rental” my question to you is what are you going to think when the guys we don’t trade are taken in the rule 5 draft in tow or three years? We can only protect 40 so a bunch of these guys are not ever going to see Pittsburgh. Its a numbers game and this is a time to go get it. Additionally when Nutting and Huntington came on board they said they would make the moves when it was prudent. I think its more prudent now then ever.

      Just a thought but it would be pretty neat if we added Stanton. The Bucs would be must see TV every night with the bash brothers and Marte and Cutch. Holly cow that would be something.

      • buster09

        IC BOB : do you really thing getting Stanton is going to help Marte’ ? How so ? Unless he changes his discipline and approach to hitting,then or is moved down the lineup,even a hitter like Stanton isn’t going to help him,or a Tabata,Snider and McKenry.

        • IC Bob

          I don’t think Stanton helps Marte but I think it makes for an exciting team with Him and Alveraz joined by Cutch and Marte. I think you missed what I meant

        • csnumber23

          Marte doesn’t need help, he is going to be a stud. He is in his first full year in case you forgot, he is just in a slump right now.

  • CalipariFan506

    Bob we need to deal in reality.

    1. Stanton is unavailable.
    2. The teams that should be selling say they are not. Phillies, Angels, Mariners, Blue Jays, Royals, Rockies and Nationals aren’t contenders. They aren’t selling either.
    3. Soriano to the Cubs was AJ to the Yankees.
    4. Not one Pirate of importance is leaving until 2016 Alvarez.

    What you propose is what the Brewers do.

    • Y2JGQ2

      If the Phillies are putting Cliff Lee on the market as reporting on ESPN, that makes them sellers

    • IC Bob

      Didn’t say Stanton was available. just saying it would be must see baseball for 3 years if it went down.

  • pirateradio

    No, the trading deadline isn’t overrated. This is a great time for sellers to mop up on panicking GMs. It’s an awful time to be a buyer, though, and I wonder what % of trades work out better for the buyers. Must be pretty low

    • IC Bob

      Lets go back a few years to our own Bucs. We got Ludwick and Lee at the deadline. Did it work out ? We got a productive player in Lee and a lousy Ludwick. What did we give up? Absolutely nothing. Neither player we traded became anything more then minor league depth. Remember most minor league players are minor leaguers for a reason. Potential is exciting to think about but sometimes it doesn’t work out (see Chad Hermenson and many others from Pirates past),.

  • keithconto

    Tim

    Your argument is paper thin at best, at worst it belongs in the shredder.

    Here’s why, and I’ll use RF as an example since most people think that’s what needs fixing. First, basing your opinion on WAR alone only works on the Nintendo. WAR doesn’t take into account what having a better player does for the rest of the lineup. say you plug in a generic .280 hitter with average power. It makes your lineup more flexible, it creates more scoring chances, it makes the opposing pitcher throw pitches in more pressure situations. That leads to more runs overall, and that is what wins the games.

    It also allows you, if you choose, to carry an offensive liability (think Barmes) at a position where defense is important.

    Your piece doesn’t account for the difference between the players WAR that’s being replace as opposed to the one you acquired. If, for example, your replacing a guy with a minus WAR then the difference is more dramatic.
    Most people aren’t talking about replacing a decent offensive player with a superstar. They’re talking about replacing an offensive black hole with something that’s ML acceptable.

    • csnumber23

      Exactly! This basing everything on WAR doesn’t fly for me. We need and everyday RF or 1B that can produce in the middle of the order. It is quite clear to me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

      There is a large margin people who view baseball as a numbers game, hat’s what they see it for, they break down every possible stats and use it to support sometime pointless arguments . This is another product of people in America trying to perfect everything,which takes away from the genuine American way that all our ancestor’s used to make this great country what it is. These people are called Liberals. Controlling what kids eat at school ,taking away the pledge of allegiance ,giving trophy’s to all he kids on the team. And with baseball instant replay, Soon the whole game will be umpired by a computer, ball,strikes everything. This is why are country is crumbling. Liberals like Obama trying to change everything that was ever good about this country and the main reson why we are the greatest country in the world. These advanced metric stats like WAR and UZR forget to but into account all the maion ingredients, like the game situation, like pressure, it also does not measure a player’s heart or lack there of. I’ve come to find most of these “fans ” who go all out with these advanced metric stats, were the ones who never stepped foot on the field or sat the bench and they are now trying to make up for it

      • piraterican21

        Chris, you are an idiot, this is Pirates Prospects talk, not Fox News scary tactic nonsense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nate.rose2 Nate Rose

    It’s all about relative gains and losses. Simply put, contending teams make trades at the deadline because the teams they’re competing against are making trades and improving. If they *don’t* make a trade and improve, even though they’re the exact same team, they’ve gotten weaker relative to the competition post-deadline.

    So, for example, say the Cardinals make a move and acquire a player to replace Jon Jay or Pete Kozma, both of whom are struggling this season. Now, odds are, they won’t do this as those two are both players with solid futures, but for the sake of argument, assume they do. The Cardinals will have improved their team, adding another win or so down the stretch. If the Pirates don’t make a move, they don’t improve, making them worse relative to the Cardinals, even though they’re the same team that had to this point been keeping pace with them all season.

    None of that takes into account things like players returning from injuries for the Pirates, players getting injured for the Cardinals, players being called up, etc. but the point stands: The trade deadline is a way to improve the team mid-season, and if the Pirates don’t improve as well either via a trade, a promotion or somebody coming back from an injury, it has the same functional effect as getting worse.