About two and a half years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Travis Snider in a move that wasn’t received well by a lot of Pirates fans. Earlier this week the Pirates traded Snider away, in another move that wasn’t very popular. This wasn’t the first time that the Pirates have received criticism both when they’ve added a player, and when they’ve lost a player. But the fact that a lot of Pirates fans hated both Snider trades got me thinking about other similarities between the two deals.
First of all, each deal saw the Pirates trade away a former top prospect who had struggled to live up to expectations in the majors, but then found success over the span of about half a season in a reserve role. In the original trade, that player was Brad Lincoln, who was looking great as a relief pitcher for three months before the deal. In the recent trade, that player was Snider, who looked like he finally might be breaking out by putting together some strong numbers off the bench in the second half of the 2014 season.
The fact that Lincoln struggled after the trade doesn’t necessarily mean that Snider will do the same. In each trade, the Pirates sold when the player had a high value, all while possibly buying low on their return (I say possibly, because we don’t really know if they’re buying low on Tarpley, although he has been described as a sleeper prospect by John Sickels).
Then there’s the return in each deal. When the Pirates traded for Snider, fans were upset because they didn’t go for Hunter Pence (and the cost at the time would have been Starling Marte). The Pirates had a specific focus at the 2012 trade deadline, adding guys who could not only help them the final two months of that season, but also help them in future years. It was that blend of keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future that was probably most upsetting to Pirates fans.
As it turned out, the lack of an exclusive focus on the present really didn’t matter. Hunter Pence was worth 0.5 WAR in the final two months of the season. Snider was worth 0.3 WAR. They ended up slightly worse in a surprising fashion. I don’t think there would have been many people who would have guessed that the unproven Snider would have been close to the production of Pence, who had the numbers to back up the idea that he would continue to be successful. Of course, even if they would have added Pence, that wouldn’t have stopped the “epic collapse” in the final two months of the season.
The Pirates also had a focus on the present and future years with the recent Snider trade. They’re obviously focused on 2015, as seen by the off-season additions of Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jung Ho Kang, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, Antonio Bastardo, and others. But they also happened to deal Snider away when his value was high, and help strengthen the future. As Charlie pointed out the other day, this isn’t uncommon these days, as teams like the Athletics, Nationals, and Braves have all made moves both aimed at the current season and aimed at future seasons. Teams aren’t just adding players or rebuilding exclusively anymore.
But what about the result from the last trade? Is that another parallel? The Pirates didn’t go the preferred and comfortable route with the original Snider trade, and the result was that they saw a meaningless decline in production in the short-term, while strengthening the team in the long-term. That situation might exist in the recent trade.
First, let’s look at the Steamer600 projections, where each player’s 2015 Steamer projections are extrapolated out to 600 plate appearances.
Travis Snider – .253/.322/.411, 1.6 WAR
Andrew Lambo – .249/.304/.429, 1.1 WAR
There’s not much difference in the stat lines, with Snider getting on base more, and Lambo hitting for more power. Snider is worth half a win more, although the reality is that each player would be seeing about 300 plate appearances as a bench player, meaning the difference here is about 0.25 WAR. That’s basically the same.
Or there are the PECOTA projections, which had the Pirates at 80-82 before the trade, and have them at 81-81 after the trade. That’s more than just swapping out Snider for Lambo, as I believe Corey Hart also saw an increase in his playing time. But Snider had a projected 0.6 WARP before the trade, and Lambo has a projected 0.8 WARP after the trade. By those standards, the Pirates are better off with Lambo over Snider.
I pointed out last night that there are things that any projection system will miss. In this case, the projections could be missing the recent surge by Snider. As I said above, there’s no guarantee that he will decline going forward. That’s the risk the Pirates are taking with this move. They’re also taking a risk with Lambo, as I don’t think any projection system would have issues translating Lambo’s numbers from Triple-A over to the majors with good accuracy. That’s not saying it can’t be done. There’s just more room for error.
This ignores the fact that the Pirates have options beyond Lambo. This move will make it possible for Sean Rodriguez to get more playing time. Steamer600 had him at a 1.3 WAR, which in half of the plate appearances would be an 0.15 WAR difference from Snider. The same projections had Corey Hart and Jaff Decker at an 0.8 WAR, which is an 0.4 WAR difference from Snider in 300 plate appearances. PECOTA has Hart at a 1.0 WARP and Rodriguez at an 0.4 WARP, just 0.2 behind Snider.
It’s possible that the projections might be wrong about Lambo. But will they be wrong about every option beyond Snider? Extremely unlikely. Then there’s the projection systems the Pirates have. You’ve got to think that they made this deal with the thought that they could improve in the long-run, while not losing anything in the short-term. That might look risky right now, because Snider is proven and Lambo is not, but considering their track record, they deserve some trust with their projections and moves like these.
We still don’t know whether this move will work out. But right now every projection says that there isn’t much of a difference between Snider and Lambo, or any of the other replacement options. And you have to think that the Pirates agree with that if they were willing to make this trade.