25 June 2004

Carlos Beltran Trade Analysis

I don't pretend to know everything about baseball.

OK, yes I do, but nobody really believes it, including me, so often times I have to go look stuff up. Despite all of the ridiculously useless baseball minutiae I have crammed into my head, probably in the slots where remembering to bring home dinner ought to be, I still have to use the internet to find out who the hell Brad Halsey is. (He's the AAA quasi-prospect who got his first major league win for the Yankees last Saturday at Chavez Ravine, and who will probably get his first major league ass-whipping against the Mets tonight, but that's another story.)

Or more germane to the current topic, I had to look up the qualifications of all three minor leaguers involved in the Carlos Beltran Trade. Before today, I had never heard of Mike Wood or Mark Teahen, and my only familiarity with John Buck was when I read his one-paragraph blurb in Baseball Prospectus 2004.

In March.

On the toilet.

So, you know, I kinda just forgot about him.

But now I gotta know, because this is important, right? So I read what the AP says about these guys. I read what Jayson Stark says about them. I look up his stats at the Baseball Cube. And since Lee Sinins was kind enough to point it out, I read what Aaron Gleeman has to say about him. And after I finished this Gleemanic article, and shaving off the 5 O'clock shadow that grew whilst reading it, do you know what I can't figure out?

Who the heck has Aaron been talking to?

Well, nobody, of course. If you spend as much time writing as Aaron does, you probably don't have much time left for conversation. But mnore precisely, where's he getting his information? Because it doesn't seem to jive with what I've read from other sources.


Mark Teahen is a former "Moneyball" pick who hit .335/.419/.543 in 53 games at Double-A to start this season, and has hit .275/.383/.391 in 20 games since being promoted to Triple-A. He's a third baseman who is going to get on base a lot, but he hasn't shown a ton of power. His good hitting this year has boosted his stock quite a bit, but he wasn't really thought of as an elite prospect coming into the season.

Hasn't shown a ton of power? How about hasn't shown any power? The guy has exactly ten minor league home runs in his three-year, 1000+ at-bat career. He hit only 10 homers in nearly 600 at-bats in college, where they hit with aluminum bats! Not only wasn't he thought of as an "elite" prospect, he wasn't even though of as enough of a prospect to bother listing him in Baseball Prospectus 2004, which has over 1600 players in it. A third baseman with no speed who cannot hit better than .300 or slug .400 at Class A is not a prospect, elite or otherwise.

This year he hit well, as Aaron mentions above, while at AA, but everybody hits well in the Texas League. There are currently 18 players with more than 100 at-bats hitting .300 or better in the AA-Texas League, and most of them won't have notable big-league careers, so that's not so special. To his credit, he's fairly patient at the plate, but in the major leagues, recognizing a strike and being able to hit one some place other than right at the shortstop are two very different skills. And right now Teahen's numbers at AAA, in the hitter-friendly PCL no less, are uninspiring: No homers and twice as many strikeouts as walks, albeit in fewer than 60 at-bats.

It remains to be seen whether Teahen will become George Brett without the "power" ... or Dave Magadan without the "average". For me, I'm obviously not convinced that 200 at-bats to start this season say more about his skills than the other 800 in his profesisonal career. Kudos to Billy Beane for capitalizing on his two good months and getting rid of an overrated player at a position they didn't need to fill while his stock was high.

Mike Wood, the other guy from the A's, is a RHP who doesn't strike out a lot of battters. Here's Aaron again:

Wood has posted extremely good ERAs in the minors, going 14-6 with a 3.27 ERA between Single-A and Double-A in 2002 and then 9-3 with a 3.05 ERA at Triple-A last season. So far this year, he is 11-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 90 innings at Triple-A. It's tough to argue with those numbers, and I do think Wood has a nice future ahead of him, but he doesn't strike me as a future star. He just doesn't get as many strikeouts as I'd like to see, with just 125 Ks in 181 career Triple-A innings and 63 in 105 innings at Double-A. Still, he is 24 years old and, like Baird said, will join the Kansas City rotation immediately.

Sorry, Aaron, I don't see extremely good ERAs. I see nice win-loss records, but those are circumstantial. His ERAs are certainly decent, maybe even good considering their compilation in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, both of which are freindlier to hitters than pitchers, as I mentioned. But extremely good? Rich Harden was extremely good. Mark Prior was extremely good. Mike Wood's just good, especially when you consider that he doesn't strike many batters out. Jayson Stark, who probably has better connections than Aaron does when it comes to this sort of thing, said:

The third player the Royals got, 24-year-old right-hander Mike Wood, is going to be a useful back-of-the-rotation, middle-relief type guy. For now, the Royals will plug him right into the rotation as their No. 5 starter. Eventually, he'll probably be a ground-ball specialist out of their bullpen.

That doesn't bode well. Wood started that paragraph as a #3 starter and ended it as a ROOGY. That's got to be the fastest a prospect has fallen out of favor in history, and he hasn't even made it to the majors yet! Baseball Prospectus said he's been underestimated, and could have a long career as a starter or a swingman, but it looks like his upside is probably Mike Morgan or Bob Tewksbury. You could do worse.

The third prospect is a catcher named John Buck, who came out of the Astros system. Again, Gleeman and the "experts" seem to disagree:

The third prospect the Royals got came from the Astros. John Buck is a 24-year-old catcher who is hitting .300/.368/.507 this year at Triple-A. Those numbers are outstanding, particularly for a catcher who is considered a good defender, but they are also quite a bit above Buck's previous offensive levels.

Aaron doesn't say it explicitly, but that first sentence seems to imply that Buck is considered a good defender. He's not.

Buck, meanwhile, was once regarded as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. His star has fallen in the last year, but he will catch in the big leagues. And if Tony Pena can't iron out his release issues, nobody can.

Buck's build (6-foot-3, 210) reminds scouts of a young Carlton Fisk. His game, however, is a little short of that, though he will hit some home runs. And if he quickens his release, he will throw out some runners. And again, given Baird's options, he could have done worse.

There aren't many catchers with long, successful careers who match that physical description, especially ones who can't throw. It's a pretty big undertaking to get a guy that big, who's already 23, to learn different footwork and throwing habits. Not impossible, but difficult. The easier route, if he proves he can hit in the majors, is to move him to a different position, say, first base. Heck, you hardly ever have to throw there. Just ask Steve Garvey. But a catcher with throwing issues? Major leaguers will run rough-shod over him.

Buck was, however, a pretty good hitter, considered one of the best prospects in the game before injuring his wrist last year. That .300/.368/.507 line he put up in New Orleans means he's back as a prospect, but he'll probably follow the Piazza/Fisk/Torre route to first base a lot sooner than they did, which diminishes his value considerably.

So we see that the Royals got three guys, but none of them are really worth writing home to tell Mom about, at least not yet. All could be useful major leaguers, but none are likely to become stars. What we don't know is what the market was offering. BP's Joe Sheehan thinks that the Royals got fleeced, or at least...

The Royals may have added two players who will be contributors, but they haven't added players with star potential, and that's what they needed to do in this trade. The Royals have been treading water for a decade, and adding two guys who will probably never make an All-Star team isn't the way to change that.

Determining early in the process that they wanted a third baseman and a catcher for Beltran may have blinded the Royals to better options. Certainly, those two positions are important, but they settled for players who fit those slots when they might have been able to get more value by looking elsewhere.

It's not clear to me whether Sheehan is just dismissing Wood or Teahen as being "contributors" at all, and therefore only mentions two players, or if "two" is just a typo he never got around to fixing after he learned that there was an additional player in the deal, and he really means "three". He's kinda down on all three of these guys for one reason or another, so I just don't know, but it's clear that Sheehan's not as impressed with Royals GM Allard Baird's haul as Stark was. Neither am I.

Unlike Aaron, though, I don't think the Oaklands got the best of this deal. They got an excellent player, as Octavio "Don't Ask" Dotel is one of the best relievers in the business, but as a reliever his ability to contribute is fairly limited. They also got some cash, though, and they only gave up guys who were probably overrated and for whom they had no use, so they essentially gave up nothing. And, as Sheehan points out, they kept the Yankees, Red Sox and other AL competition from getting Beltran, which is certianly worth something. Give them credit.

And Houston picks up one of the best players in the game, even if it is for only three months. They got him early enough to let him help a lot, both on offense and defense. Craig Biggio was one of the best players in the majors at one point, but that point was about six years ago, and now he's been hurting the Astros with his bat and his glove for about two and a half years. Hopefully he'll do a little less damage at both in left field than he was doing in center.

Ironically, there's another factor here, one that really has nothing to do with the trade. Current luck in landing Beltran aside, the Astros have been one of the unluckiest teams in the majors, winning three fewer games than you'd expect based on their Pythagorean Projection from Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed.

Team        ExW-L ActW-L Difference
Detroit 36-35 32-39 -4
Houston 41-31 38-34 -3
Chicago Sox 40-29 37-32 -3
Chicago Cubs 43-29 40-32 -3
Toronto 33-39 31-41 -2
Seattle 31-39 29-41 -2
Pittsburgh 29-40 27-42 -2
NY Mets 37-34 35-36 -2
Montreal 26-44 24-46 -2
Colorado 29-42 27-44 -2
Atlanta 35-36 33-38 -2

Only Detroit has had a bigger problem winning the "expected" games than Houston has. And nobody really cares about Detroit. But if Houston's luck, which may have been about to turn around anyway, actually reverts to the norm, or even becomes good, this trade will look even better to baseball fans and historians. Not that it should look better, but it will.

If the Astros' luck (and/or relief pitching) improves, and they end up winning a few more games than expected in the second half, taking their division or the Wild Card in the process, Beltran will have been a big part of that process. And of course, Beltran and Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker will be heroes. Remember last year, when the Twinkies' trade for Shannon Stewart coincided almost exactly with Minnesota's run to the division title? People like Jayson Stark, who is smart enough to know better, touted Stewart for the MVP, even though he didn't really play much better after the trade than he had before, and even though the Twins' offense was exactly as good beofre the trade as after. Coincidence was enough, for some people, to imply causality, when really it was the Twins' pitchers who deserved the credit for that turn-around.

And if Cincinatti's mirage success goes away, and the Astros' rotation happens to get healthy (Pettitte) and pitch the way we expected them to all along (Oswalt, Redding), well, Houston could really win this thing, and then we'll have to fight off a rash of

"Beltran for NL MVP!"


In the meantime, let's just see what happens.

Stumble Upon Toolbar