Friday, June 20, 2008

Trade Reflection Part Two - The Jury is Out?

Post #101!

So apparently it is a done deal. Under two months into the major league season it is a no-brainer. With between 3 and 6 years left to determine the value of a trade, the Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Rangers made the right choice in trading Volquez for Hamilton. Really? Already? It is official that Hamilton has outperformed Volquez to this point and will do so for the duration of the players respective careers within their current organizations?

Obviously we are talking about an article written by an author in Dallas, which is essentially the home town paper of the Rangers (Yes, I know the Rangers are located in Arlington). Sherrington first compares Hamilton and his tools to Alex Rodirguez. Clearly Hamilton deserves that praise as he was once referred to as,
a once-in-a-generation talent with a golden left arm (as a schoolboy pitcher he consistently hit 96mph) and a vicious home run swing (his bat speed was once clocked at a ridiculous 110mph). He was a true five-tool wonder... (SI, June 2, 2008)
However, even with that said, it is difficult to compare Hamilton to Rodriguez. Consider ARod has a 40/40 crown to his name. Consider ARod has multiple gold gloves at a very demanding position. Possibly Sherrington simply forgot how incredible the tools that a 21 year old Rodriguez possessed.

All of that is besides the point. Nobody can disagree that Hamilton is an incredible ball player. He is exceeding the expectations that were placed upon him as a prospect. In fact, in 2005, John Sickels of Minor League Ball reflected upon his 2000 prospect rankings where Hamilton ranked as the #32 prospect in baseball. However, this past february Sickels reflected upon both his 2000 and 2001 (where Hamilton was #6) rankings and concluded that Hamilton was 'still developing'.

While Hamilton has always been a top rated prospect with tools that made scouts drool, Volquez, with an electric arm, always had scouts saying 'what if'? What if he could harness his control? What if he was in an organization that was better at grooming starting pitchers? What if?

Well, that 'what if' has come full circle and Volquez is making major league hitters look more foolish then the minor league hitters he was facing the previous five seasons. That is, his current 10.67 k/9 is 1.46 higher then his minor league line.

As a prospect, Sickels rated Volquez as high as a B+ in 2006. However this grade fell to a B in 2007. While a B grade for a starting pitcher is no knock on the kid, this would rate him in the same range as the Red Sox Justin Masterson and the Indians Adam Miller. In other words, he would rate as a top 50 pitching prospect if he qualified.

All that being said, let's now try and figure out if the jury should really be out on this trade. And, if they are, if they would agree with Sherrington.

First, Sherrington attempts to scoff at the idea of comparing a position player to a hitter. He does a nice job in luring stat heads in with his Win Shares reference, however he does so wrongfully. That is, while admitting it is difficult to compare a an everyday player to that of a starter who takes the field once every five days, why would the author utilize a statistic that relies heavily on the accumulation of statistics?

Utilizing Win Shares Percentage, Sherrington manages to adequately compare Hamilton and Volquez, however he does so only briefly. That is, Sherrington goes out of his way in citing where Hamilton sits in reference to the rest of the league in total Win Shares, however ignores the fact that Volquez leads the league in Win Share Percentage when compared with 'qualified' hitters and pitchers.

Sherrington continues reflecting upon the old adage, you don't trade good pitching for hitting:

Good pitching is generally considered more valuable because it's so hard to come by, a point the Rangers patented. An ace is the most difficult acquisition of all. Besides winning games and stopping losing streaks and eating up innings, the ripple effect he creates – making the back end of the rotation better, saving wear and tear on the bullpen, improving team morale – is incalculable.

Volquez's mid-90s fastball and excellent changeup, both delivered from the same three-quarter arm slot the Rangers tried to change, have been the talk of the NL. The consistency he lacked as the Rangers rushed him along has emerged in Cincinnati, where he draws comparisons to his idol, Pedro Martinez.

Bottom line: Though highly regarded by the Rangers, Volquez is pitching at a level that surpasses anything anyone projected.

Yes, Volquez is far surpassing anything anyone projected for him. It probably take an individual half a second to realize that a starting pitching is surpassing projections with an ERA below 2.00. But the thing is, Volquez was always a prospect to watch. It was just a matter of gathering his control and providing some consistency.

Well, Volquez is throwing a tonne of strikes and is forcing a lot of swing and misses. Is it unreasonable to think Volquez will continue to pitch at a sub 2.00 level? Definitely! Is it, however, unreasonable to think that the 24 year old Volquez harnessed his control? DOUBTFUL! Remember, he is all of 24 years old! Thus, while projection systems may not have projected a breakout season, it was far from a foregone conclusion that Volquez would never harness his control.

Alas, the homerism comes out,
And Hamilton? Even as he becomes the fastest player in AL history to 50 runs batted in or hits a 10th-inning, two-strike, opposite-field home run on the road or covers grass faster than any 6-4, 235-pound man should be allowed, his success is no surprise, really.
"His success is no surprise, really." REALLY!?!

I went over how highly regarded Hamilton was as a youngster, ranking as high as #6 on Sickels' prospect list. I went over how as a high schooler, Hamilton was referred to as a 'once in a generation' player. But really, his success should come as no surprise?

We are talking about a 27 year old whom is just reaching a full season's worth of ML games and at bats. As if that is not enough, the 27 year old has a total of 1100 minor league at bats, or just under 3 full seasons worth of games.

As if that were not enough, coming into this season, Hamilton had all of 418 at bats above high A ball. And even more telling, even fewer as an individual who could legally drink.

All that is to say, the book is hardly out on Hamilton. Scouting reports are just being made on the guy. Teams are still uncertain where his hot and cold zones are.

Furthermore, Hamilton has really never gone through the 'dog days of summer'. He has never had to battle with a serious prolonged slump, nor has he been involved in games that actually matter.

While the Rangers are not a true contender, it is obvious that Hamilton is playing in games that are far more meaningful and stressful then anything he has gone through in his previous playing days.

Thus, while Hamilton was once regarded as this type of mythic talent, to assert that his current production is not a 'surprise' is a joke! Furthermore, what is to say that Hamilton will not have another injury? He essentially had what, one healthy professional season when his body was youthful and limber and without 3+ years of drug and alcohol abuse. Yes, the odds are definitely in favor of him continuing this success!

At least, that is what Sherrington believes,

Given the incredible caliber of play that Volquez and Hamilton have delivered so far this season, maybe the real question should be: Who can keep it up?

If both, the debate lingers. Otherwise, discounting prospects of injury and, in one case, the possibility of relapse, bet on the guy who was supposed to be this good. At least you're sure Hamilton isn't in over his head, anyway.

None of what I had to say was to debate the fact that Hamilton is indeed a legitimate talent. In fact, in December, I reflected upon the Reds-Rangers trade and asserted that the Rangers had come out on top, concluding,
I guess as you can see, I'm definitely favoring the Rangers side of this deal, but not by much. The team was going to have a hole either way you look at it and I suppose getting a nearly certain everyday player for an uncertain pitching prospect is not a terrible trade off. Even though the team could have had Hamilton for nothing - that fact, is what makes this deal close, in that the Reds essentially acquired a top pitching prospect by allowing Hamilton to make the big league roster last April.
However, where is the real debate here? Both players are having outstanding starts to their career and subsequently the 2008 season. But the fact remains that one player is at a position which is at the very top of every team's wish list.

Keep in mind, this is not to say that every team would not love to have Hamilton in the heart of their order. Rather, this is simply suggesting that most franchises would throw the farm at Johan Santana before an equal salaried Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols.

That is, consider when Manny Ramirez was placed on waivers two or three years ago. Teams opted to stay away from him claiming the headache, cost, and likelihood of a breakdown. Conversely, when Johan Santana and his expiring contract was placed on the trade block this past offseason, teams were lining up to send in their top prospects.

Thus, at this point, I will have to disagree with Sherrington. I will have to go against my previous conclusion. At this point, it is the Reds whom have won on this deal, and not the Rangers. It is the Reds, not the Rangers, whom have put together a nice rotation that will be taking care of the National League for years to come.

Meanwhile, the Rangers will have a potent lineup with Hamilton a regular at the All Star game. However, without pitching, the Ranger will never be a serious contender. They may a strong push and will add pressure to the rest of the American League West, but without starting pitching, the Rangers will struggle to maintain a record above .500. Furthermore, the team will continue to search for that franchise arm which has led to the club overspending on mediocre free agents.

BallHype: hype it up!

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