Trade: TBD | In Shorter Line 4 the Win

TBD sends: 3B Yoan Moncada ($1), SP Michael Kopech (minors), SP Cal Quantrill (minors), two 2018 1st Round Picks
In Shorter Line 4 the Win sends: SP Noah Syndergaard ($82)

Andrew’s thoughts: This trade occurred on April 26 and immediately became a disaster for TBD.

Syndergaard was supposed to take the mound on the day this trade was processed, but that start got pushed to the next day. On the 27th, he was scratched from a start due to “biceps tendinitis.” Then, he started on Sunday, April 30. In that start, he promptly got knocked around by the Nationals — five hits and two walks in 1.1 IP — before injuring himself on a pitch to Bryce Harper. He came out of the game having scored -4.5 fantasy points. Turns out, he has a partial tear in his lat. He’ll be on the shelf for three months or so. Just horrible, horrible luck for TBD. Like… if Syndergaard misses the year, which seems well within the range of possible outcomes here, how do you keep him at $82 next year? Or if he comes back but is rusty and struggles, or re-injures himself, or displays any sign of long-term volatility, how do you not send him back to auction? It’s totally possible that TBD spent three very good prospects and two premium draft picks to get -4.5 fantasy points.

Hindsight here is 20/20 but man, this just sucks for TBD. Ultimately, because they dealt picks and prospects, their already very good team is mostly unaffected. But they’re now down a lot of trade chips.

Before the injury though, I thought this swap was okay for both squads. I would rather have healthy Syndergaard than all the stuff IL4W got, but I understand why, if your team isn’t scoring points and is sitting at the bottom of the standings, you’d do this. Pitchers are time bombs. Obviously. So Aaron and his cohorts at IL4W mitigated some risk, took on a bunch of young, cheap talent with upside, and gave themselves a few more paths to being good down the road. Even if only two of the five pieces they got become useful, they’ll be useful and cheap. But pitchers are also a big part of winning games in this league (especially in 2017 when all the pitchers stink) and Syndergaard has essentially been Clayton Kershaw Lite since last year. To me, Kershaw is the type of talent you empty the chambers for. Syndergaard is that same type of talent.

If I’m TBD, I pull this trigger too. Not now, of course. But at the time they did it. Clearly they couldn’t have predicted the injury. And yeah, they surrendered Corey Kluber and Dellin Bettances in the midst of a pennant race just last year for Moncada alone. But trade markets aren’t static and, again, that was a late season deal. You pay more earlier. Go look at last year’s trade log, you’ll see. I don’t have a huge problem with the seemingly faulty logic of trading an ace for a prospect, then later on trading that prospect plus a bunch of other prospects for a different ace. Stuff changes. I also think if you get the opportunity to land a transcendent talent and really want to take it, well, take it, even if it means forking over a bunch of your best lottery tickets.

As arguably the best team in the league with or without Syndergaard, I really like the killer instinct and the aggressiveness it takes to get a deal like this done. And hey, it’s conceivable that TBD gets Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner back in time for the playoffs. I’d argue the potential of that is worth the same, if not more, than the potential that Moncada becomes a dirt cheap version of 2016 Jonathan Villar*.

* So… we realize Moncada’s clock started last year and so he’s in his $1 season, in which IL4W seems unlikely to compete, right? Next year he’s $3 minimum, more if his projections are good. Three bucks is nothing if he becomes 2016 Villar or even Anthony Rendon or whoever. But the point is, the two most valuable years of a player’s cost control status are the year they’re first promoted ($0) and their sophomore season ($1). IL4W is effectively getting zero tangible benefit from those two years from Moncada. If Moncada kills it for them in his $1 season, that’s cool and all, but IL4W still probably isn’t making headway as a team and the better his stats are this year, the better his projections will be next year, and the higher that salary will jump. This certainly isn’t a huge knock to Moncada’s future value, but is something to keep in mind, I think.

Speaking to Moncada specifically though, I do wonder just how amazing he can be here. He strikes out a ton, which I don’t think will matter, because when he makes contact it’s really, really good contact. But the stolen bases aren’t big factors in our scoring like they are in a 5×5 and if he’s whiffing more than 30% of the time against Triple-A pitchers, what happens when he steps into an American League with Sale, Verlander, Carrasco, Kluber, Darvish, Keuchel, etc? It’s not like he’ll get to tee off against Mike Fiers every day, y’know?

For IL4W though, I can speak from experience that the decision to start selling sucks. It means your team is poop emoji. But aside from the super lucky timing, I like that they recognized not just a poor win/loss record, but also a deep deficit in points, and went ahead and made that call early. By doing so, they didn’t have to compete with any other teams, could set their own market, and could come away with the assets they wanted. And I actually think they still have a decent roster and can win some weeks this year, even if their playoff odds aren’t particularly good.

Another look at stolen bases and their value…

Almost a year ago to the day, Jordan wrote a post exploring Billy Hamilton‘s value in our league. To sum his piece up: Hamilton doesn’t have much value because his only offensive skill is stealing bases, and our scoring system does not reward those much (and in fact, penalizes caught stealings more heavily than it rewards the steals themselves).

So the first question then is: why aren’t SBs worth much here?

The short answer to that is, our scoring system uses linear weights, which tries to match how points are awarded to how valuable real life events are. I suggest pausing this post, reading this explanation of linear weights, and then coming back. It does a better job explaining it than I would, and the explanation is already written. So go do that, then come back.

OK, got it?

Now that you’ve read that and understand the philosophy behind our scoring mechanisms, let’s ask this question: what, then, are SBs worth? We do give points for them, so they aren’t worth nothing.

Of hitters with 1,000 plate appearances between 2014 and 2016 (235 qualified hitters), Hamilton ranks 219th in on-base percentage, 192nd in batting average, 217th in home runs, 232nd in slugging percentage, and 234th in wOBA. Objectively speaking, these numbers define Hamilton as one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball over the last three seasons.

Of course, he ranks first of that same group in stolen bases with 171. Dee Gordon comes in second with 152.

These two players are actually very interesting, because Gordon has proven valuable in our scoring while Hamilton has not. It’s not like Gordon has any pop at all. They have very similar infield hit and line drive percentages, but the dramatic difference is a whopping 14.8% disparity in ground ball percentage and fly ball percentage. Basically, by putting the ball on the ground more, Gordon avoids easy outs, gets singles instead, and ratchets up his points totals little by little.

(To be fair to Hamilton, he’s a tremendous defender. I guess ideally defense would be rolled into our scoring, but there’s just not a good way of doing that just yet.)

Anyway, in a category (4×4, 5×5, whatever) league where stolen bases count, Hamilton goes from being one of the worst offensive players in baseball to being a weapon that can singlehandedly win you a category. Current NFBC ADP data has him as the 12th outfielder off the board and the 54th overall player off the board. But we’ve already established that he has only one offensive skill, that that particular offensive skill is not particularly valuable to real life run scoring, and that literally every other component of his offensive profile ranks at or near the bottom of leaderboards over an ample three year period. So you see the flaw here? Like, it’s very, very clear, right?

Through the lens of our league’s scoring, let’s look at Hamilton over the last three years with (top) and without (bottom) stolen bases:

In 2014, Hamilton got caught stealing a bunch of times. Getting caught stealing a base is one of the worst things a baseball player can do on the offensive side of the ball, and so doing it 23 times in a year will wipe away most of the value provided by those successful steals. Even still, he added over 70 points in 2014 from his baserunning abilities. He’s been more efficient in the two seasons since.

Without the steals, Hamilton is just kinda… bad? He would have scored 288.2 points in 2015 and 417.1 points in 2016. Even with the steals, he’s not worth much. But in 2015 he gained 118.5 points from steals and in 2016 his totals were bumped up by 122. That’s a lot! His steals are essentially adding almost six per week to his totals. It seems small, but in 2016, the difference between being worth 418.1 points and 539.1 points might be rosterability. The former might not even warrant a spot. The latter seems like a useful bench piece.

The other problem with Hamilton specifically is that, because he’s such a horrible hitter, he lends himself to being used as a pinch runner. This means that he likely isn’t in the Reds’ lineup on a particular day, thus he’s not in your fantasy lineup that day, and maybe he pinch runs and steals a base or two. So he’s accruing those points, but your team isn’t. That matters.

But this isn’t about Hamilton. It’s about stolen bases. So let’s look at a couple guys near the top of the SB leaderboard in 2016…

Last year, Jonathan Villar led baseball with 62 stolen bases. But of qualified hitters, he also ranked 23rd in OBP and 42nd in wOBA. So SBs aside, he had quite a good season hitting the baseball. With SB and CS included, he scored 1,042.2 points last year. Without them, he scored 941.2. But while he led the league in steals, he also led the league in times caught stealing, so he sort of cannibalized some of the value of his stolen bases. Still though, what he did on the base paths added more than 100 points to his total. That’s significant.

One of the most efficient base stealers last year was, surprisingly, Paul Goldschmidt. He swiped 32 bags and only got caught 5 times. With those factored in, he amassed 1,197.1 points and without them he would’ve accrued 65 fewer. So that’s 6.5 points per week which, again, is quite a lot even if it doesn’t seem like much.

My take away from this is that stolen bases actually are valuable in our league, but the offensive profile that goes with them must be sound. It’s not really a new revelation, rather confirmation of an existing one. Being fast and fast alone does not (and I’d argue should not) morph you into a valuable player, but being a quality hitter that is also fast can provide a nice opportunity to grab some extra points along the way.