Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Defense of the Lopez Deal

The Wilton Lopez deal has come under some scrutiny, questioning the return for the Astros closer. I am not a scout, and don't have a feel for how Alex White will do outside of Coors Field, but I do believe that these are the kinds of deals that the Astros have to make right now. If we have any trust in the Astros scouting and player development side, which I do, I think we have to accept that this deal has the potential to help.

The thing about relievers is they are the most fungible assets a team has. A shutdown closer is a luxury for any team, and an unnecessary one for a rebuilding team. If the Astros can turn their closer into a young starting pitcher with upside, even one with question marks, I believe they have to do it. And I don't have any doubts that White has upside. His numbers were awful last year, but he was only 23 in Coors Field. His peripherals, if not his results, were better on the road. He has consistently dominated in the minors, and was a top 50 prospect as recently as 2011. Will he pan out? I have no idea, but he is in no way a lost cause.

Looking at this another way, the Astros traded 70 innings for 150 -180 innings. That has value, even if the quality of the pitching is not equivalent. In 2011, Wilton Lopez was very good, pitching 71 innings with a 2.79 era. He accumulated .5 WAR. In 2012, Alex White was horrible, pitching 98 innings with a 5.51 era. He accumulated .5 WAR.  WAR is obviously not perfect, particularly when it comes to relievers, but it does demonstrate how much more valuable a starting pitcher is than a reliever. If we see even marginal improvement in White, combined with more innings, White can easily match the 1.4 WAR from Lopez's stellar 2012. (To put that in perspective, Bud Norris has 1.5 WAR last year. Can White match Norris' 2012? I sure hope so). None of this takes into account Lopez's health issues, which allegedly killed a previous deal, or the other Alex that came back in the deal.

At the end of the day, White might never live up to the high expectations he has had so recently, and this deal might be looked back on as an abject failure.  But I still think that this is a deal that has to be made.