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August 2, 2004

Farewell to the Big Enigma, and other trade stuff
by Larry Mahnken

I don't think I've ever seen a trade deadline with so many stupid trades. The trades of this past weekend make Boone for Claussen look absolutely brilliant (and to reiterate, that trade was bad because Boone didn't improve the team at all, and they gave up a useful prospect for the privilege -- that he was teh suck made it all the worse).

Fortunately, the Yankees didn't do anything stupid, and in my opinion, made themselves a little better.

The argument against trading Jose Contreras for Esteban Loaiza is:

1) 2003 was a fluke year for Loaiza
2) His last seven starts have sucked
3) Contreras has an insane amount of talent, and has dominated at times

Well, 2003 was undoubtedly an abberation -- though perhaps not so much a fluke as much as a guy finding it and then losing it. Loaiza did add a cutter last year, so he's certainly a different pitcher than he used to be, but of course it would be ridiculous to expect him to repeat last season.

His last seven starts have sucked, too. Loaiza has put up a tasty 7.34 ERA in his last seven starts, while Contreras has had a 5.04 ERA in that time. But what's so special about seven starts? In his last two, Loaiza has had a 5.54 ERA to Contreras's 11.25 ERA. I can cherry-pick stats, too.

Loaiza's overall ERA is 4.86, over ¾ of a run better than Contreras' 5.65. His DIPS is 4.72 to Contreras' 5.72, and under each system, Loaiza would have given up 11 runs fewer than Contreras over the same number of innings -- a full win.

Loaiza has given up 23 HRs in 141 innings in a park that increases Home Runs by 13%, Contreras has given up 22 HRs in 96 innings in Home Run Neutral park. Contreras strikes out almost 2½ more men per nine innings than Loaiza -- and walks more than 1 man per nine innngs more.

Loaiza isn't a great pitcher, but he's better than Contreras. Consider their ERAs vs. common opponents over the past two seasons:
Opponent Contreras Loaiza

Arizona 2.84 1.29
Baltimore 4.43 2.14
Boston 13.95 1.13
Detroit 1.37 1.78
Florida 5.68 1.13
Dodgers 6.00 3.86
Oakland 7.88 3.41
D-Rays 1.57 2.15
Rangers 1.50 4.85
Blue Jays 3.94 4.57

Both have done very well versus the weaker hitting teams, but for the most part, Contreras has struggled against good teams, while Loaiza has pitched well. That 1.13 ERA vs. Boston is one start last year for Loaiza, but that's one more good start against Boston than Contreras has had in his entire career.

Adressing the final point: Contreras does have a world of talent, but he's also 32 years old, and has had 27 major league starts. He has a 4.64 ERA and a 4.75 DIPS, he's just not getting the job done. He may turn it around -- I hope he does -- but the Yankees simply couldn't afford to wait on him any longer. Contreras is Jeff Weaver, who also had the stuff, showed flashes of success, but in the end couldn't keep it going. The Yankees can't afford to have Contreras pitching in the postseason this season, and maybe costing them big-time like Weaver did. They simply don't know what they're going to get.

If you look at Loaiza, and weigh the last seven starts properly -- don't ignore them, but don't focus solely on them -- it's obvious that they're better off with him right now. And that doesn't even begin to deal with the fact that he's a free agent after the season, freeing up money and roster space to accquire another starter in the offseason.

If you read the reviews of the trade deadline moves, the Yankees were listed as "losers" because they didn't get Randy Johnson. Of course, neither did anyone else who's gonna play in the postseason, so how big a loss is that? All not getting Johnson does is leave the Yankees as being less than a sure thing in the postseason... just like every other team in the history of Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile the Red Sox pointed a shotgun at their face, pulled the trigger, and said, "I think we look better now." A lot of reports list the Red Sox as trade deadline winners, which is true only in the sense that everyone who participates in the Special Olympics is a winner.

The trade of Garciaparra could be a big-time win for the Red Sox, if Cabrera and Mientkiewicz come near to last year's number -- not too much to hope for in two months. But if they play to their true level, as they are more likely to, the Red Sox have cut off their Nosemar to spite their face.

Yeah, Garciaparra was going to walk at the end of the year, but this is your best shot at a title this year, if he walks, he walks. Go for it now. Yeah, he was going to miss time in the regular season -- which makes the accquisition of Cabrera a help for the stretch drive, playing him rather than Crespo. But if Nomar did get healthy in time for the playoffs, and the Sox were able to win the Wild Card, their chances of winning the World Series are better with Nomar, bum defense or no.

This team is 8-5 versus the Yankees, they've won 3 of 4 series. They're 5-1 vs. the A's, and while they're 2-4 versus the Twins and Rangers, they can still beat these teams. Boston is, more likely than not, underplaying their projections because of bad luck, and by probably getting worse, and giving up a prospect to do it, they've panicked, something I never thought Theo Epstein would do.

Paul DePodesta wrested the Golden Boy crown from Epstein this weekend. Fabian McNally suggested to me that no trade illustrates the divide between the analytical community and the mainstream community than the Dodgers-Marlins deal, but I think it shows something else. Apart from a few writers, the mainstream sports media is clueless about young players. They're either minor leaguers or unproven rookies, no matter how good they are.

Paul Lo Duca is a quality catcher, though an aging one with flaws in his game. Guillermo Mota is a great relief pitcher. Juan Encarnacion is an outfielder. In return the Dodgers got a 26 year-old pitcher with a a 3.15 ERA and a 3.46 DIPS, and one of the best first basemen in baseball, who happens to be 25.

The mainstream media says they got an 8-8 pitcher with a 4.04 career ERA, and gave up the heart and soul of their team, as well as a great reliever. No mention of Choi. It's like the Yankees traded for Ted Lilly and Carlos Delgado -- except Delgado is young and cheap -- and everyone neglects to mention Delgado.

There are only six first basemen this season with better offensive numbers than Choi, whose offense has been supressed by Pro Player Stadium. Of course it will be supressed by Dodger Stadium even more, but everyone's is, and Choi will be, in terms of real value, better than most first basemen. And the Dodgers will have him for his prime -- and cheap.

The mainstream media has also dropped the ball on the Mets' trades. The Mets accquired two talented pitchers with mediocre results (and one with a smoking hot wife), and in return gave away a 22-year old catcher with a .421 OBP in AAA, and a 20-year old lefty with a 2.94 DIPS between Single-A and AA, and a 2.54 DIPS for his minor-leauge career.

To the mainstream media, the Mets gave up some minor leaguers for great pitchers, but all they got was a slightly better chance at making the playoffs, where they will almost certainly be eliminated in the first round or NLCS, and they're still a longshot to even make it. And they gave up a large chunk of what could have been a great Mets team in three or four years.

The mainstream media simply doesn't understand what a major league prospect looks like, and there's some people involved with the game itself that don't, either. An easily-made error is assuming that all the people on the inside must know what they're doing, and they certainly know better than the people on the outside -- otherwise they'd be on the inside. But Major League Baseball is not, the case of several teams, very well run. It's changing, but it's not there yet.