Friday, July 30, 2010

8 Things I HATE About the Capps-Ramos Trade

Intro, shmintro. I’m tired, and now I feel sick. Let’s count the eight little balls of hate I’ll be counting as I try to fall asleep tonight.

8. I hate that the Twins apparently didn’t value Wilson Ramos.


And I say that as a guy who argued that most of us are overvaluing Ramos’ trade value just a couple of weeks ago. But he was worth a lot more than this.

I get it – Ramos is expendable because Joe Mauer is signed for $23 million for the next eight years. But that doesn’t make Ramos worthless, and it really doesn’t mean the Twins needed to trade him RIGHT NOW. Ramos doesn’t run out of options until 2012, and he’s just 22. He could spend the next year and a half improving on his .241 batting average, and still just be 24 years old when he needs to start playing in the bigs. And then he could start slowly there, being used as a backup catcher. Or, they could try something a little more creative….

7. I hate that the Twins traded Ramos away just when we figured out that Mauer might need some rest.

If there is one message that that Ron Gardenhire has driven home over the last month, both by his words and his actions, it is that everyone seems to understand that Mauer is much more effective when he isn’t catching every game. This month, he’s resting and he’s hitting. For instance, Mauer has hit three home runs this month and all of them happened the day after he rested or was the designated hitter.

And so Ramos could be viewed as the perfect compliment for Mauer – a catcher and right-handed power bat that can help the lineup even when Mauer is resting or playing designated hitter. And perhaps they could even keep Ramos’ big right-handed bat in the lineup when Mauer was catching. Plus, Ramos would be under the Twins control for almost the entirety of Mauer’s contract.

Or we could just watch Drew Butera and his .214 career minor league batting average. Read those last five words again. And softly weep.

6. I hate that the Twins traded for a position in which they have minor league options.

If there is ONE position that the Twins have plenty of internal options, it’s that of right-handed reliever. We’ve been waiting for Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop and Rob Delaney to show what they can or can’t do for months, but the excuse has been that they couldn’t be added to the 40-man roster.

And that excuse was B.S.

The Twins could’ve place Clay Condrey on the 60-day dl back at the beginning of June, but waited until mid-July. And there were a handful of other fringe prospects that the Twins could’ve removed, but they would’ve risked losing them. And they certainly could have made room on the 25-man roster, such as sending down Jose Mijares, if they weren’t so concerned about burning one of his options.

Instead they traded away one of their better prospects for pennies on the dollar. You tell me which is more valuable. The roster moves for the Twins have been pennywise and pound-foolish all season, and the pound came due today.

By now, the Twins should know whether they really needed to trade for another reliever. Instead, we’ve seen Slama up for about a week, making about two appearances. We have no idea how Waldrop or Delaney’s stuff plays.

(And let’s not forget that Pat Neshek is still trying to find his way back up here too.)

5. I hate Matt Capps contract status.

There is a reason that Capps was signed last year as a free agent by the Nationals, instead of being retained by the Pirates, even though he was two years short of free agency.

It’s because the Pirates couldn’t afford to offer him arbitration. That’s because offering arbitration to a closer, especially a mediocre closer with a lot of saves, is a dangerous proposition. Capps has 27 saves for the Pirates last year, and will likely end up with the high 30s this year. That’s 60+ saves over the last two years that he can carry into an arbitration hearing, along with five years of MLB experience under his belt.

I can’t crunch all those numbers, but if the Twins offer Capps arbitration next year, it’ll likely at least double his $3.5M salary this year. And the next year, when he’s a Type A free agent, offering him arbitration could results in a payout approaching eight figures, so there is no guarantee the Twins will want to take that chance. Which means they may not get back those two top draft picks for Capps if he walks.

4. I hate that we are trying to portray Capps as a valuable bullpen arm.

We all know that saves stats are worthless. And even little kids can tell you why ERA is a silly statistic for relievers, so let’s not get too caught up in Capps’ 2.80 mark.

If you want a really basic stat that is fairly useful for relievers, go with Walks plus Hits compared to Innings Pitched or WHIP. It’s often listed, easily figured out, and if you list the relievers for a team in the order of their WHIP, you get pretty close to who is the best and worst are. For instance, here are the Twins relievers (with at least 10 IP) and their WHIPs:

Brian Duensing 1.05
Jesse Crain 1.15
Matt Guerrier 1.17
Ron Mahay 1.19
Jose Mijares 1.27
Jon Rauch 1.36
Alex Burnett 1.51

That’s about right. Duensing has done the heavy lifting. Crain and Guerrier have both been a step below that, but still very good. I’m a little surprised to see Mahay that high, but when you only face one left-handed batter a game, I guess that helps. I’m a little surprised to see Rauch that low, though he’s been hit pretty hard lately. And Burnett’s number got bad enough that he’s back in AAA.

Capps, by the way, has a WHIP of 1.33, which means he’s about the same as Rauch, and not one of the top relievers on this staff.

You can use more advanced metrics, and you find the same thing. I talked a few months back about how valuable Joe Nathan was by introducing Adjusted Runs Prevented (http://twinsgeek.blogspot.com/2009/10/theres-stat-for-that-adjusted-runs.html). Those stats will tell you the same thing – and it’s something you already know: Matt Capps is a slightly above average reliever who happens to have fallen into a “closer” role.

But even if you want to argue that he’s better than Rauch, that doesn’t mean much. The Twins already have several guys who are better than Rauch. And that’s not particularly hard to find, provided you don’t get carried away with saves.

3. I hate that the Twins seem to really value the title of “closer.”

I have tried for years to defend the practice of giving guys in the bullpen certain roles. I can confidently state that about 75% of the criticism leveled towards that practice is unfair and knee-jerk. And I’ve consistently defended Ron Gardenhire and the Twins for that practice for several years, because it’s worked.

But there is no defending this. It appears that the ONLY reason the Twins made this trade was because Capps was a “closer.” And not even a closer that anyone can reasonably claim has felt any real urgency, given that he’s been working in the pressure cookers of PNC Park and Nationals Park.

2. I hate the $500,000.

Why? Why would the Twins ask for $500,000 back in this deal? They’re going to need to pay Capps about $1.2M for the rest of the year, so it doesn’t cover the whole salary. They supposedly had money from Nathan’s insurance to help cover additional salary. Why does this matter exactly? What is being paid for? Are the Twins really that cash strapped?

Of course, I’m not sure it matters, because….

1. I hate that this looks like THE move.

The Twins just traded their best trade chip to add the fifth best reliever to their bullpen. What’s more, two weeks ago it appeared that the Twins could’ve had Cliff Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks – and now the Twins have Matt Capps and Aaron Hicks. Plus, it appears our hope that the Twins have money to spend at the trade deadline might have been misplaced. And, of course, there are only 36 hours until the trade deadline.

There are only five words that give me any hope at all about this trade: Shannon Stewart and Bobby Kielty. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before about trades, and that’s the best example. Plus, I generally trust the Twins scouts, as they proved again last year with Carl Pavano.

You can try and talk me down in the comments below. Or, add your own reasons you hate it. I'll likely add to it throughout the day.

21 comments:

Fenam said...

WHIP is barely a more concrete statistic than ERA. While it is important, they should both be taken into consideration. If you're looking for the "new hip" stat it's FIP or xFIP. Fielding Independent Pitching.
Player FIP
Capps 3.51
Crain 3.28
Neshek 3.34
Rauch 3.43
Duens 3.74
Guerr 3.83
Mahay 3.89

Capps career FIP: 3.8
Rauch career FIP: 3.97
Crain career FIP: 4.06
Nathan career FIP: 3.43

Overall over their careers Capps is the better reliever. And, I really wish Nathan was still with us.

T said...

Hey Twin Geek,

Unfortunately, your use of the term "burning an option" shows that you don't understand how they work.

Options are NOT based on how many times a player is sent down to the minors, but rather on the passage of time from when he is placed on the 40-man roster.

Here is the full description from Baseball America: (http://www.baseballamerica.com/help/faq.html#opt)

How do options work?

When a player is added to a 40-man roster for the first time, the major league team is permitted three optional assignments of his contract, or three "option years." This gives them the option to assign that player to the minor leagues without requiring him to clear waivers. For each season thereafter in which the player is assigned to a minor league team, one option is used up.

When a player is out of options, he can still be assigned to the minor leagues, but first he must clear waivers.

A player can receive a fourth option if he has less than five seasons of pro experience. Draftees who immediately sign a major league contract will qualify unless they reach the majors quickly and stick there. Otherwise, they'll have their three options exhausted after their first three years in pro ball. A season is defined as any year in which the player spends 90 days on the active list. Short-season and Rookie leagues don't last 90 calendar days, so a player assigned to those leagues for an entire year won't accrue a season of pro experience. Also if a player has a long-term injury, he usually won't be credited for a season that year. (The exception is if he goes on the disabled list after spending 60 days on an active list, in which case the DL time counts as service time.)

Anonymous said...

I looked up the blog after hearing the guys on KFAN talking about it.
Thanks for staying awake last night and writing the Capps trade analysis Twins Geek.
Plus, I appreciate your admission that you may be wrong at the end, obv. we all hope you are wrong. -SB

John said...

T, I get options. Sending Mijares down at all this year would burn an option year. The only time he's been in the minors is for rehab assignments. Those don't count as options.

John said...

Fenam,

I'm quite familiar with FIP. It is something that I find useful for starters, not so much for relievers. That's especially true when you're relying on it for a half year of a relief pitching instead of something more substantial, like their career FIP. But either way, it says the same thing that I"m saying - Capps just isn't that good a reliever.

John said...

Here's #9.

The Twins made basically the same acquisition last year when they acquired Jon Rauch - a mediocre reliever who happened to have some closing experience. Except in that case:

1) they were able to get him for Kelvin Mulvey, a fringe (at best) prospect
2) they were able to do it after the trade deadline and
3) Rauch had a much better contract.

Dr. Truth said...

This is why I was in favor of Ramos and Hicks for Lee. Ramos was basically dead to the organization the minute the ink dried on the Mauer deal, so regardless of the actual trade Ramos was going somewhere.

All the bloggers who were outraged by the mere mention of those 2 names in the same trade package are probably wishing we had a mulligan on that one eh?

Anonymous said...

Do you think the other 24 players on the Twins roster thinks Capps is a "mediocre reliever"? This is a signal from the front office to the players that "we are going for it." And you can't measure that with xFIPs and WHIPs.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I just want to know that you wouldn't have written some sort of "The front office can't get it done" column on Monday if Ramos was still in Rochester.

BeefMaster said...

Question for you, John: Why don't you value FIP for relievers? Do you think they have more control over their BABIP than starters do, or do you not think FIP is good for smaller samples sizes, or is it something else?

I assume Fenam's objection to WHIP was that it's heavily affected by BABIP and thus might have a high luck component.

walter hanson said...

Hey Doctor:

We're in agreement on this! When I heard that Seattle wanted Ramos for Lee my reaction and I think I typed was okay what else do you want Seattle?

If we were going to trade him than lets trade him for a player that could help not only get us to the playoffs, but win.

A rotation of Lee, Pavone, and Liranio (maybe Baker as a fourth starter) would've been great for a World Series run. Remember last year the rotation was used up to get to the Yankees with Mannship as the starter.

Furthermore I'll add reason #10. There wasn't a need to trade for a closer. Rauch hasn't been lights out, but he has been doing the job. Part of the problem Rauch has had for about a month the starters left him out of work. I think there were something like four save chances while the White Sox's were winning over twenty games. And even if you didn't want Rauch Crain or Guerr could've been put in just as easily.

This trade only shows that Smith doesn't know what he is doing!

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Ed Bast said...

Anon,

To say "We are going for it" would have been to get an ace to compete with the Sabbathia/Pettit/Hughes frontline of the team we are fated to play in the plasyoffs(should we get there). Matt Capps isn't going to do you much good when the Yanks torch Scott Baker for 9 runs in 2 innings.

This deal says, "Well, we don't have a use for Ramos, and fans expect us to make a move, and here comes the deadline, so let's go do something quick that will marginally improve an already decent group."

Buddy Grant said...

Great post John. This is a weak display of GM abilities for the Twins. I am concerned teams will consider him the next Dayton Moore of GM's.

Capps is not crap, but he is over valued now and plays the one position the Twins could help themselves from within. This feels like a gut punch.

Abe said...

Your point #9 is pretty weak. To say picking up Capps was the same acquisition as Rauch is stretching it, considering a couple of things.

1. Capps is 5 years younger.

2. The Twins had Joe Nathan when they picked up Rauch.

Any other weak attempts to marginalize this trade?

Luke Dornbush said...

"What’s more, two weeks ago it appeared that the Twins could’ve had Cliff Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks – and now the Twins have Matt Capps and Aaron Hicks."

Yes, and you know what happened? We actually offered that and the combination of Ramos and Hicks, probably our best prospects, was good enough for AT BEST 3rd in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. And that was for just half a season of Lee.

Trevor said...

A few issues with the analysis.

While Im all about sabermetrics and thinks they are vastly underused. When you completely leave out the scouting reports & what your staff thinks it can do with a player. Your leaving out a loarge part of the equation. This staff has done a good job of signaling out pitchers in particular they think they can work with to improve.

Also Ramos has good hitting potential, but for a catcher. He does not have near the offensive abilty to be worth DH'ing on a regular basis.

With Ramos struggling at the plate this season they did sell a bit low, however this team is trying to put together a legite run in the playoffs & a deep dependable bullpen is vital to that. Midseason deals are about filling a need when your team has a real chance at greatness. You find the best deal possible that wont hurt your organization as a whole.

8th inning guy said...

A few thoughts.
1) I know capps has been somewhat hitable during his career but this is the kind of depth that we need. Seriously Twins Geek, do you really want to rely on rookies in a playoff push? At least with capps you know what you got. Now we have a stable of slightly above average arms in the pen.

2) Isn't it obvious that the Twins and or the league's talent evaluators do not over value Ramos? We've seen him take a handful of AB's the Twins/opposing scouts hundred's of AB's. Something's evidently not there because at face value Ramos wasn't worth what other's prospects are worth.

3) The X factor. Capps has never sniffed a pennant run past the 3rd week of April. How will this change him? Rejuvinate him? It's not like his arm is horse shit. How big can he come up? The past is not always indicative of the future.. At least if we have any chance in the playoffs, (if we get there) we better hope so.

Anonymous said...

You can go by stastics all day long. Sometimes, with baseball, you need to go on instinct. The Twins have a tendancy to get players to overperform--consider several players that have been let go in free agency that were never quite as good again. I think that Rauch falls into this caegory. Sure, he was performing fairly well, but did you get the feeling that if we're playing in game 1 of the playoffs that Rauch could get the big outs in the 9th. Capps throws harder and has more experience. He makes our bullpen deeper--in fact, one of the best in the AL. The recipe for success in the playoffs is clear--try at get your starting through six inning and then use the bullpen to close the door. With Capps, I am much more confident that this can happen.

TT said...

1) Capps is younger than Brian Duensing. At 26 his best years are still ahead of him. This makes analysis on the basis of his distant past highly suspect. The fact is this past month he gave up one run and had a WHIP under 1.

2) Capps throws in the mid-90's with good movement. He throws over the plate. Those are both good signs. Capps is clearly more valuable than Rauch.

3) The difference between Mulvey and Ramos in terms of their major league value is marginal. Minor league players are like lotto tickets, you are going to get nothing back most of the time.

One way to think of it is that you value minor league players in cents, major league players in dollars. So a 90 cent prospect(Ramos) is 50 cents better than a 40 cent prospect (Mulvey). But a $6 major league player (Capps) is 50 cents better than a $5.50 player (Rauch).

4) The price differences as you move up the the talent scale get greater. Rauch did fine, but he does not have closer tools. Capps does. You are going to pay a premium for that.

5) FIP is a lie. It is not independent of fielding. In fact, it is highly dependent on it.

T said...

I read here that sometimes you've got forget stats and go on your instinct with guys. Like the Twins did with David Ortiz, right?

TT said...

With Ortiz the Twins did both. They went with instinct, instead of stats, when they grabbed him from Seattle. They went with stats, instead of instinct, when they let him go. Which just demonstrates no approach is foolproof.