Thursday, August 3, 2017

So who was traded at the deadline (and who do they compare to in the Astros' system?)

The "fallout" from the trade deadline continued today, with a variety of opinions coming to light.  Dallas Keuchel said something, then took the loss after he gave up three ER in five innings of work.  I didn't see or listen to the game, so I can't really comment, but he needed 87 pitches to finish five frames of work, walking two while striking out the same number, and recording 8 ground balls against 5 fly balls.  He also gave up one home run.  Hardly vintage Keuchel.

Ken Rosenthal also used his extensive industry contacts to shed more light on the Astros' inactivity at the deadline.  The take home messages are that the Orioles suck to trade with, and that a second deal for a previously unmentioned high-end reliever also fell apart.  If that was the case, then that perhaps sheds some light on the kind of deadline it was for the Front Office.  Which is: about as frustrating as some of the fans and players may found it.

I recorded my thoughts on the deadline a few days ago.  I guess these were focussed mainly on the lack of acquisition for a front-line starting pitcher, and how the Dodgers operate with their awesome farm system, amazing core (with youth) and unlimited monetary resources.  The County Mountie also wrote about the Astros and their recent history at the trade deadline, and the take-home message for me is that nothing is certain at the deadline whatever you do.  Stuff can go wrong in a hurry, regardless of whether you make a move, or sit tight.

Look, I am not a Front Office apologist, but I see the sense in doing less in terms of trading prospects at this point in time, rather than more.  I also think that the prices for the teams that traded for assets are a little higher than what we realise.  Consider this: as Astros fans, we all read the awesome work at What the Heck, Bobby and Astros Future, and because of this, we know who Franklin Perez and Framber Valdez are.  We know about Garrett Stubbs and Jake Rogers battling it out to replace Brian McCann at the end of the 2018 season.  We get excited about Jason Martin coming from nowhere into prospects lists.  We can see Forrest Whitley throwing 250 innings of 3 ERA ball for much of the next decade, given his size, velocity and developing secondary pitches.

We are the most familiar with these guys.  And, because of the concentration of media on some of the other markets (looking at you, New York and Boston), we know a little bit about the prospects in some major cities too.  It is obvious for those following baseball outside the US that prospects in those cities are overhyped compared with prospects inside teams in smaller markets, mostly because multiple media outlets compete for original content, and writing a puff piece about someone who will redefine the game from their placement in AA is an easy filler story.  Then the fans read that story, and think they have the second coming of Derek Jeter on their hands.  The Astros don't have that same buzz, and therefore their is less hyping of their farm system.

But many of the guys traded on or prior to Monday we are probably less familiar with.  I am interested in comparing some of those guys to players in the farm system that we are familiar with (the Astros system).  This may allow us to more accurately put faces to names, and allow us to estimate the cost for each player using a currency that we are more familiar with.  I don't have an axe to grind here - this is a genuine Socratic piece of questioning in an effort to explore what some major pieces could have cost.

So lets look at the trades of Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Addison Reed.  We will mostly use prospect rankings from the major publicly available organisations (Baseball American most often) and Fangraphs' Future Value ranking (FV).  This uses a single number to estimate the quality of the prospects, kind of like how WAR puts a single number of a player's performance but often leaves more questions than answers in doing so.  The main problem with this technique is that we have to use the FV's from the beginning of the season for both trades, and a lot can change in that time.  Kyle Tucker, for instance, was rated as having a 55FV at the beginning of the year - he may have jumped up a grade, given his body of work at AA as a 20-year old.

According to Fangraphs, the Astros' farm system at the beginning of the year looked something like this:

60 FV: Francis Martes
55 FV: Kyle Tucker
50 FV: Franklin Perez, Forrest Whitley, Ramon Laureano, David Paulino
45 FV: Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez, Gilberto Celestino, Daz Cameron, Miguelangel Sierra
40 FV: Lionel Perez, Garrett Stubbs, Jandel Gustave, JD Davis, Ronnie Dawson, Framber Valdez, Hector Perez, Freud Nova, Jake Rogers, Lupe Chavez

Alright.  Ready??

Trade 1: Jose Quintana for Elroy Jimenez (60 FV), Dylan Cease (45 FV), Matt Rose, Bryan Flete

Elroy Jimenez is nearly universally more highly rated than Kyle Tucker.  He was ranked 5th prospect in baseball by BA and 8th by BP (Tucker was 11th and 14th respectively).  More power, but likely less value in the field as he seems confined to LF.  Some minor concerns about his strikeout rate.  Elite bat, though.  Kyle Tucker or Francis Martes comparisons are the only appropriate ones here.

Dylan Cease made the BA top-100 list (83rd), and apparently has a 70 grade fastball.  But there are some concerns, as he is 21 and playing in Low-A.  Hard to find a comparison here for Cease - Forrest Whitley is the closest placed Astro on the BA Top 100 list (58), whereas the preseason FV's suggest perhaps a Framber Valdez could be a similar pitching matchup.  Dunno.  Perhaps if we take the lesser-ranked Tucker, we need to take the higher-ranked Whitley to even it all out.

The remaining prospects seem like lottery tickets.  I am not going to estimate them, as we have a great idea of the cost, I think.

Verdict: Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, or  Francis Martes and Framber Valdez, plus perhaps a couple of other players.  Pick your poison.  That seems expensive.

Trade 2: Yu Darvish for Willie Calhoun, AJ Alex and Brendon Davis

Willie Calhoun is the prize here.  There is no simple way of putting this: he is short, stocky and can't run the bases or play the field.  The scouts don't like him, because he represents a bat without a position.  BA had him as #74, midseason.  But the more statistical prospect evaluations love him, a and Fangraphs had him as the second best prospect traded at the deadline, behind the abovementioned Jimenez.  He possesses a 55 FV, suggesting that Kyle Tucker comps are not unreasonable. He is closer to the majors, but has less value in the field and on the bases than Tucker.

AJ Alexy is 19 and is thought to have a number 4 or 5 starter upside.  45 FV, apparently.  Again the Astros have no 45 FV pitchers currently, so perhaps take your pick between a pre-PED David Paulino  and Framber Valdez.  Hard to find an exact match.

Brendan Davis is a future corner infielder with some swing-and-miss, but some projectable power.  He is only 20, and has managed to double his walk rate this year.  40 FV, apparently.  An interesting prospect, but a lot of risk it seems.  A less-advanced JD Davis may be a good comp.

Verdict: Tucker, Paulino / Valdez and Davis for two months of Yu Darvish.  Anyone?  This seems, uh, steep.

Trade 3:  Sonny Gray for James Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler and Jorge Mateo

This one is a hard trade to evaluate.  The Yankees acquired a starter whose arm could disintegrate at any moment and leave them with a valuable dust-like substance.  The A's acquired two high injury risks, and one current performance risk.  Both teams could look like bandits in a year or two here, and both could also look like they got hosed in a year or two.  Note is made that the three prospects traded by the Yankees were ranked 4, 6 and 7 in their preseason rankings.

Perhaps you should just click this link.  James Kaprielian could be a #1 power starter, or he may not return from injury as well as hoped.  He has, potentially, four plus pitches combined with above-average velocity.  He attracted a 50 FV on Fangraphs, but this was bumped down a little because of the injury risk.  Hard to rank - I am guessing that a Franklin Perez comparison would be best, as he is the furtherest from the majors (and therefore the riskiest) of the 50 FV pitchers that the Astros have.  This may be a little low.

Dustin Fowler was #89 on BA's top 100 list, and attracted a 50 FV from Fangraphs.  He famously dissected his patellar tendon on the top of a Chicago wall during his ML debut, prior to his first plate appearance.  The medical buzz is that this is a more serious knee injury than an intracapsular injury (such as an ACL tear), but I don't see it in my professional medical opinion (although I skipped most leg anatomy lectures in medical school - long story, don't ask).  Patellar tendons or the more common injury of fractured kneecaps are repaired all the time.  I can't see his knee being an ongoing issue.  The counter argument is that speed is such an important component of Fowler's game that he can't afford to lose any.  You decide.

So, 50 FV, an CF with speed, average power and plus contact.  What is not to like??  This sounds like Derek Fisher to me (although he was #54 on BA's list, so perhaps a little too high).  Don't like him?? How about Ramon Laureano (not ranked by BA, so perhaps imperfect in the opposite direction to Fisher).

Jorge Mateo is a middle infielder who is lightning quick - Billy Hamilton quick.  He is blocked to a degree because of Gleyber Torres' presence at SS.  The A's may shift him to CF to make his speed play up.  He has struggled a little with the bat this year, and some shine appears to have come off his prospect status.  Not ranked by BA, but Fangraphs has a 50 FV on him.  Miguelangel Sierra seems to be the closest Astro to him, but he has a 45 FV.  So again, an imperfect comparison.

Verdict:  Looks like Franklin Perez, Derek Fisher and Miguelangel Sierra is the best fit for Sonny Grey.  Anyone keen to bite?

Trade 4:  Addison Reed for Jamie Callahan, Stephen Nogosek and Gerson Bautista

BA, shockingly, ranks none of the prospects that the Mets received in exchange for Addison Reed in their top 100.  Fangraphs says little about them, too, ranking them all as 40 FV or below.  Gerson Bautista, prior to the season, was the Red Sox's #15 prospect (first of the "other prospects of note"), and records a 95-99 mph fastball velocity along with a PED suspension.  Nogosek also gets a pre-season honourable mention, noting that he is a "hard throwing right-on-right reliever".  Callahan is described as having an unusual action, and being a "potential relief asset".

We are digging around in the bowels of the Astros' system here.  I have no idea, but let's pretend that these three remind us of Patrick Sandoval, Dean Deetz and Riley Ferrell.  I have a hat, and I am picking names out of it, so feel free to criticise.  This is not an exact process.

Verdict: Patrick Sandoval, Dean Deetz and Riley Ferrell.  I could stomach this, but Deetz has the upside of a starter, Sandoval is a lefty, and Ferrell seemed interesting until his arm problems, which should be fixable.  I could also see this move backfiring should the Astros have made it.

Conclusion:  This is not a good way of evaluating these trades, but at the least it was an interesting exercise.  Before y'all get all apoplectic with rage, I just want to point out that the Astros that we try and value against the players given up are based on their pre-season evaluations.  So remember how Kyle Tucker and Francis Martes made you feel prior to the season??  Compare these guys to that.

And although this isn't perfect, I hope that it puts a face on the prospect cost that the Astros might have faced.  Some of these seem steep to me, aside from the Addison Reed trade, which is also the hardest to value.  I certainly am not interested in trading for Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish at those potential prices.  Jose Quintana seems a little more palatable, but pre-season Kyle Tucker was also considered a lesser prospect that Elroy Jimenez, so perhaps the Astros would have struggled to pull this one off in an manner equal to what the Cubs did.

Anyhow, this was interesting for me, at least.  So, discuss in the comments, and argue some more, Astros fans.  Thanks, again, for reading.