Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two Grand Slams! Wow, that Was Fun! Now Trade him Already

Josh Willingham is in the midst of a career year. His trade value has been and never will be higher. There's never been a clearer example of a player that should be moved for prospects right now.

After Hammer's double-slammer, I'm reading a lot about how maybe we should keep him after all. It's an understandable reaction from fans. But it's wrong, and it's Rizzo's job to know better.

What exactly is the point of keeping him? Yes, he has two more years under team control, but he'll be playing on last place teams regardless. The Scats are at best two years from respectability, much less contention.

And, of course, he's solidly on the wrong side of 30. Forget this talk about him being a "young 30." Thirty is 30. He's having a career year this season, and usually that comes two or three years earlier, but regardless, his career is undoubtedly peaking now, and the only question is how fast and steep will he decline.

Some skill sets tend to age better than others. Willingham's (like Adam Dunn's) usually doesn't age very well.

The classic "old player skills," as defined by Bill James, are: power, walks, low average, and lack of speed. Players who exhibit these skill sets as a young player tend to age less well.

Sound familiar? Tom Brunansky is the classic young player with "old player skills." In Brunansky's age 29 season, he had an 11.3% walk rate, 22.2% K-rate, .164 ISO, and 5 SBs.

In Willingham's age 29 season, his last full season, he had a 12.0% walk rate, 23.4% K-rate, .217 ISO, and 3 SBs. He's Brunansky, except even more.

Here are Willingham's top PECOTA comps: Bubba Trammell (done at 31), Ryan Ludwick (TBD), Bill Renna (bench player at 31, retired at 34), and Leon Roberts (retired at 33).

And in case that wasn't all enough, he's blocking the second most talented player who would be on this team, Elijah Dukes.

Willingham has to be cashed in for what we can get now. Based on what Ryan Garko and Matt Holliday fetched in the last couple weeks, teams are ready to give up significant prospects for veteran help.

Baseball Prospectus speculated about a possible Dunn and Johnson for Tim Alderson deal. Presumably, if Willingham was substituted for Johnson, the package would be sweetened still further, but regardless anything withing two counties of that would be a huge win for the Nationals.

This team needs to sell high, buy low, and stockpile talent. Sitting on declining veterans playing for crummy teams until they have no value at all helps nothing.

We missed our chances to turn Nick Johnson into something premium three years ago. Ditto Chad Cordero and Felipe Lopez. Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman, and Dmitri Young all had moments when they might have returned value from a contender. Instead, we rode them to their absolute lowest value and got (or are on our way to getting) nothing for them.

We can't afford to make the same mistake again.


John O'Connor said...

Your bias (and I don't mean that negatively) is that you place about zero weight on the difference between 55 wins and 80 wins. If a player's not going to contribute to a playoff team, your view is that they should be flipped for someone younger.

While that position is defensible, so is the one that the team has to put a credible team on the field. The Nats are in a fragile position with its fan base, and the next several years probably will go a long way toward defining the Nats' plaxce in the local sports consciousness. Just as your position is defensible, so is the notion that the Nats need to make moves that will help the team win more gasmes next year and the year after, even if the team won't be particularly good.

What's all that mean? Well, Willingham certainly isn't untouchable, but I imagine the team (which is probabyl sick of being a laughingstock) would need a pretty substantial offer in order to trade away a guy who probably is a middle of the order hitter for the next two years. I'd be more willing to trade Dunn.

Roberto said...

While that position is defensible, so is the one that the team has to put a credible team on the field . . . Just as your position is defensible, so is the notion that the Nats need to make moves that will help the team win more games next year and the year after, even if the team won't be particularly good.

Agreed. Add to this the fact that scouting is, at best, an inexact "science" and that the chances of getting a younger version of Willingham (or Dunn)in exchange for the real thing aren't that good, and begins to look like change and activity for their own sake.

I agree with Steve that if the Giants offered Rizzo what they gave up for Garko, Rizzo should have taken it. But NJ is a different matter: a soon-to-be FA with an injury history and declining skills.

Tegwar said...

John O'Connor is correct.

FJB where your numbers maybe good, and baseball lends itself to stats very well in the end it is still about people. As for a contending team a .500 record this year makes you a contending team and puts a lot more people in the seats. I also do not think it is possible to have an entire team of 25 to 28 year olds. I've heard your podcasts and I think you understand the business side of baseball but you seem to discount it rather quickly. You have a good site and your positions are defensible but I find it interesting that you seem to emulate the person you most despise (trader Jim);). Also I don't think other teams give up their top prospects as easily as they once did. BTW would you have traded Nick to SF for the same package that Cleavland got?

James Bjork said...

This trade-off has come up before, and I do believe that our host here does in fact discount the value of even having a respectable, middlish team on the field, even if it can't play into October.

As with others above, I also agree that the Nationals are in an unusually vulnerable position, having just about strangled their nascent fan base in the crib. It's not like they were in the playoffs a year or two ago, and astute fans can appreciate the need to "re-tool" for the quadrennial run for the playoffs (c.f. Twins).

There is unusual value in the Nats getting to 82 wins next year that other franchises (such as with inter-generational fan bases) may not have.

That said, if Rizzo gets bowled over by an offer that includes a young, developing player that will at least be league-average next year, he should take it!

Anonymous said...

Ryan Garko?? I hope you were not seriously suggesting that Rizzo trade Willingham for a single solitary Class A pitcher, no matter how good his record is...such a trade would likely have gotten Bowden lynched!

I hope you were thinking about something between what the Indians got for Garko and the A's got for Holliday.

Harper said...

I think the problems is the comparables you mention (1) are generally lower average hitters than Josh making him a bit less suceptible to the collapses they had even before this season (2) don't account for this type of all around bust out season at this age.

Honestly I don't think his trade value right now is terribly high thanks to the Nats not starting him from the season's beginning. I personally can't shake the idea Willingham isn't a full time player - what kind of thoughts are running through the heads of GMs trying to save their jobs?

I think a full season this year and next up to the trade deadline can do nothing to harm his value and to me that's really what the issue is here. Of course the Nats have been burned so many times that it's hard not to want to get something finally for a player performing above expecations.

Steven said...

After looking at it again, Brian's probably right that the Garko package would depend on who the PTBNL was, but the #9 prospect in the Giants system before the year, a guy having a very good season, if he's the best offer you get for a declining 30 year old with old player skills? It's close. I overstated by saying I'd do it in a heartbeat.

As for Bowden, in a million years he'd never do this trade. Since he can't find Scott Barnes's baseball card anywhere in his 2004 Topps mint set, he's not interested.

John O'Connor said...

I think Harper makes a good point re comparables. Though I could be wrong, I don't remember Bill James saying that slow power hitters don't age well. My recollection is that it had more to do with body type. Willingham doesn't have the hulking, lumpy body type of a Brunansky, or Bob Horner, or Adam Dunn.

Steven said...

On the relative value of 60 wins v. 75, my position is clear, and I totally agree with John and others that I can understand those who would invest assets to build a less embarrassing last-place team. If I was an 81-game season ticket holder, I'd probably feel a little differently.

But the other question I have is... what makes you think that keeping Willingham gets us closer to respectability? We have him now, and he'll decline. Other than Zimmermann, who's really going to be better next year?

Steven said...

Batting average is subject to so many variables outside the hitter's control. Strikeout rate is a better measure of a guy's contact ability.

But regardless, Willingham's career BA isn't all that terribly much better than Brunansky's. Going into his age 30 season he was a career .266 guy. Brunansky was a career .248 guy. On the PECOTA comps, BP's track record is pretty good. I think those comps deserve some real weight.

Hammer's having a career year. Let's see where he finishes this year though before we decide he's really a .300 hitter.

On the Nick to SF question, given his contract status, Nick has less trade value than Hammer. I'm skeptical about the type B thing. I think you have to assume at this point that he doesn't get it, because it's too close to plan for.

If they are in contract talks with Johnson now and are basically about to resign him to a good deal for the team, then that's one thing.

If on the other hand they're about to just lose Nick for NOTHING, hell yes I trade him for the Garko package. Or the LaRoche package (which was even less). Or just about anything. 60 games on the worst Nats team ever has no value to me, so might as well get something.

Anonymous said...

?????? what makes you think that keeping Willingham gets us closer to respectability? We have him now, and he'll decline. Other than Zimmermann, who's really going to be better next year?

Do you even watch the games Steven? He is 30 years old....he is not 34....he is not going to drop off the face of the earth next year. He will be a Type B FA in two years and Dunn will be a Type A.

Steven Strasbourg will be better next year as will Soren. Flores will be better next year as will Stammen. The last week or two shows this team is so much better than .275 Manny had them going at.
They are going to do the Rig 75 games at about .375-.400......With the improvements above and some Rizzo planning for 2nd and SS this team would be at .450 -.500 without too much of a problem.

Your right if paid for the games and watched them as a baseball fan you would push for respectability first.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who are not concerned with prjections and numbers and care merely about seeing a team that actually wins, what is the point of trading away any decent player we might have now? The emphasis should be on building a team, and that should include keeping players like Willingham who might end up being good for the team in the long run. DC will not stand for a team full of prospects.

Steven said...

It's spelled Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and the conjunction for you are is "you're."

Thanks for playing.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you have better information, but my understanding (from MLB Trade Rumors) is that there was no PTBNL in the Garko deal--the deal was Garko for the Class A pitcher (Barnes) straight up. Two Class A prospects for Willingham...well,maybe

John O'Connor said...

I agree that the play is to get what you can for Nick. As for the possibility of Type B status, he might not make it and, maybe more fundamentally, are we 100% sure the Nats would offer arbitration?

Nick, perhaps unlike Willingham, has the quintessential body that doesn't age well, and he'd be going to arbitration after a completely healthy year, when the Nats want to pay him like a guy who is hurt all the time. If you hold Nick, you'd better be signing him to an extension or sure you'll offer arbitration.