Transaction Reaction

Evaluating the R.A. Dickey Trade

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Photo Courtesy of Cristine Maybourne via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Cristine Maybourne via Flickr

As Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star wrote on Monday, the Blue Jays reached an extension with R.A. Dickey that is reportedly worth $25 million for 2 years with a team option for $12 million in 2016. The extension was the final piece of the puzzle and it completed the Jays/Mets trade that was reportedly agreed upon in principle days before. In total the Blue Jays traded away Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, and Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mike Nickeas.

Prior to the trade, d’Arnaud and Syndergaard were the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the Blue Jays farm system. In return the Jays are getting R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, but a pitcher without a long track record of elite success. FanGraphs defines elite or ‘All Star level’ as a player with between 4 and 5 wins above replacement in a single season. Solely using fWAR, Dickey would qualify for just one all star level season in his career (2012), but if you look to RA9-Wins as Dave Cameron exclaimed yesterday, it opines that Dickey has had 2 seasons worth 4+ wins above replacement (2010, 2012) coming to a total of 14.8 wins over the last three years. Only six other pitchers in baseball have had higher fWAR totals in that same time period.

The reason for the difference in value is that RA9-Wins uses runs allowed as opposed to FIP for the calculation of WAR. In the calculation of WAR, FIP is adjusted to a normalized BABIP, but runs allowed keeps the BABIP as is. This means that in calculating Dickey’s WAR, the FIP version severely undervalues him because Dickey consistently produces lower BABIPs than what would otherwise be expected.

As Dave Cameron described

You shouldn’t just use RA9-wins for any pitcher who outperforms his FIP, as often times, that’s simply the product of good teammates or some good luck, but you should also know that FIP doesn’t work for every pitcher…Knuckleball pitchers induce weak contact that leads to consistently lower than average rates of hits on balls in play

While this may be a better way of valuing R.A. Dickey, this comparison in a way represents the sense of unknown that we still have with knuckleball pitchers. Perhaps with Dickey, the unknown is even further amplified as last season he did things that only a few knuckleball pitchers ever have and at velocities that no knuckleballers have ever reached.

With all that in mind, going forward R.A. Dickey is an interesting projection case. In his most recent article ($) Dan Szymborski showed off the ZiPS projections for the newest Jay, which valued Dickey as a 4 WAR pitcher in 2013 and a 10.6 WAR pitcher over the next three years.

Is that enough to push the Blue Jays over the top in 2013? Maybe…?

As it stands ZiPS projects the Blue Jays to win 93 games in 2013, which also projects to be the top win total in the American League East.

Even then giving up the two top prospects in any farm system, yet alone one that previously ranked among the top in the league, for a pitcher who still has questions about his value doesn’t always end too favourably. In the aftermath of the trade some have pointed to the fact that the Jays are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot and every additional win is worth more. While that may be true, I’m not a big fan of using it as justification for a single trade because it assumes that there is no other way to achieve additional wins. In this case I find it hard to believe that R.A. Dickey was the only option and that giving up two elite prospects was all that could be done to improve the team. Perhaps I’m wrong…perhaps certain free agents didn’t want to sign in Toronto, perhaps Dickey was the only trade option, perhaps the Jays have maxed out their budget. There is a lot of variables in the trade that as outsiders, we aren’t privy to.

With that said, regardless of my opinion on the trade, R.A. Dickey is one of the most exciting pitchers to watch in the MLB, he makes the team better in 2013, and he’s an all around great person. I’m overjoyed (as any fan should be) to have Dickey on the Jays, but still apprehensive about what the cost ended up being. Nonetheless, Dickey the best.

The Night that Anthopoulos Acquired the Marlins

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The collective sigh that Blue Jays fans began the 2012/2013 offseason with has assuredly subsided as the Jays completed what may be the biggest trade in their history. In the transaction, the Blue Jays got Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and $4 million (maybe more?) from the Marlins in return for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, and Anthony DeSclafani. Jon Morosi first reported the rumblings of the deal and summed it up pretty nicely too.

Despite the intended sarcasm, Jon Morosi was right, the Blue Jays acquired $163.75 million of total salary from the Marlins and before arbitration the Marlins are left with $32 million committed to their 2013 payroll. That figure comes just one year after their $101 million payroll and the opening of their new publicly funded ballpark. The trade resulted in reactions ranging from “HAHAHA F U Loria” to “OMG OMG OMG”, but on the whole it produced a state of excitement in Blue Jays fans unparalleled by anything in quite a long while.

Simply on a player for player basis, the Blue Jays gained roughly 10-12 wins in their acquisitions, but nothing comes without a catch. In the process of the deal the Blue Jays increased their 2012 payroll by roughly $30 million to a total of $108 million for 2013. That $108 million figure is by no means exact, it is a prediction, but it does include all payroll obligations plus MLBTR’s projected arbitration numbers. Nonetheless that projected figure would mark the highest Blue Jays payroll in…well…ever. The previous high came in 2008 when the Blue Jays ran on a payroll of $97 million dollars.

Furthermore, while it is amazing that the Jays managed to keep Travis d’Arnaud in the deal, they still traded away their No. 3 and No. 5 prospects in Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. Since the trade has happened there have been quotes from scouts who’ve shown hesitancy towards predicting Marisnick with as bright a future as Marlins fans might hope, but nonetheless both he and Nicolino are Top 100 prospects.

In return for their prospects, their players, and their money the Blue Jays got an improved starting SS in Reyes as well as two pitchers to plug into the top half of their starting rotation in Johnson and Buhrle. In Reyes the Jays are getting an additional 3 or 4 wins over what Yunel Escobar provided for them in 2012. In Buehrle the Blue Jays are getting a consistent pitcher who can and should give them 200 innings in 2013, a change of pace from what we saw with the rotation in 2012. Lastly in Johnson the Jays are getting a guy who has been among the Top 15 pitchers in baseball over the past four years, in terms of WAR, which if he’s healthy should mean a 3-5 win upgrade on whatever back end of the rotation starter the Jays would have otherwise used.

Then along with the big three, the Jays acquired 32 year old J.P. Arencibia (aka John Buck) and a better Mike McCoy (aka Emilio Bonifacio), two players who are likely to be used in backup and utility roles. Bonifacio missed significant time last year due to injury, but he can and has played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF while also being one of the best base runners in baseball.

The only curiosity I had with the trade was the fact that the Blue Jays acquired two players who were free agents during the previous offseason, Reyes and Buehrle. Whether this means that the Blue Jays didn’t have enough funds until attendance increased, that they’re more hard set on their “No Contracts Longer than 5 Years” rule than we thought, that they simply couldn’t convince either of Reyes or Buehrle to come to Toronto, or for some other unknown reason it is speculation that peaks curiosity, but speculation nonetheless. Of course all of this is easy to say in hindsight, but it would still be interesting to see how things would have played out both this season and this offseason had the Jays signed the two players they traded for.

With that said, in the Land of Blue Jays fans, where apparently anything is possible (yes Kevin Garnett you were right) this megadeal has amounted to proclamations of the Jays being the best team in the AL East, in the American League, and from the mouths of a few Twitterers, the best team in baseball. While the trade represents a significant upgrade, the injury ridden Blue Jays acquired two more injury ridden players. While that isn’t the end of the world, creating a team with plenty of injury prone players could very easily hamper the 2013 record.

Even then, whether or not this team is even a playoff contender is still a legitimate question, but one that can be answered another day. For today we can revel in the benefits of an increased payroll, hopes for contention, and the excitement of seemingly limitless possibilities as we await both the rest of the offseason and the beginning of Spring Training.

PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Getting to Know Brad Lincoln

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Photo Courtesy of Getty Images via Daylife

12:23 AM: Travis Snider pulled mid game and replaced with Yan Gomes

12:25 AM: Travis Snider hugging teammates and coaches as he leaves the field

12:30 AM: No one has a clue where Snider is going…many speculate it to be for Matt Garza

12:32 AM: Shi Davidi tweets Blue Jays trade Travis Snider to Pirates for Brad Lincoln

12:33 AM: Twitter goes wild

Now that we have chronicled what amounted to a hectic ten minutes lets talk about it. My initial reaction to the trade like many others was something akin to confusion and a state of dumbfoundedness. Mostly because for one “the Blue Jays frickin’ traded Travis Snider!” and for another I simply didn’t know enough about Brad Lincoln.

Here’s a primer on Mr. Lincoln.

Brad Lincoln was drafted 4th overall in the 2006 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Going in to the 2007 season Baseball America ranked Lincoln as the No. 67 prospect on their Top 100 Prospects List. That same year Baseball America gave Brad Lincoln the prestigious title of having both the Best Fastball and the Best Curveball in the Pirates farm system. All of this praise was despite Lincoln missing significant time in 2006 due to an oblique injury.

Going in to the 2007 season Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said that in a perfect world Lincoln would be a No. 3 and potentially even a No. 2 starter. Kevin also noted that the Pirates expected Lincoln to move quickly potentially even reaching AA by the end of the 2007 season.

Both Lincoln’s and the Pirates’ plans were derailed in April 2007 when Lincoln went under the knife and got the now infamous Tommy John surgery. That surgery would force Lincoln to miss the entire 2007 minor league season.

In 2008 and 2009 Lincoln would go on to produce uninspiring results for the Pirates hiA, AA, and AAA affiliates, but would still receive a call up in the latter portion of the season. In his short time in the majors Lincoln would produce (if you can even call it that) a K/BB rate among the leagues worst and an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all above 5.00. In 2011 a similar situation would come to fruition. this time Brad Lincoln showed himself to be much more of a ground ball pitcher, but the results he produced were not much better with an ERA, FIP, and xFIP above 4.00.

Getting towards the present, Brad Lincoln began the 2012 season as a seemingly washed out 27-year-old pitcher in AAA. After a short stint in AAA Indianapolis Lincoln was once again called up to the big leagues, but this time in a relief role.

Lincoln has started 5 games this year, but has excelled out of the pen. In totality Lincoln has produced a 25.1 K% and 5.9 BB%, but in relief the K% jumps up to 29.9%, which ranks 21st in the league and the BB% changes to 6.0%. Lincoln’s relief K/BB ratio sits at an even 5.00, which ranks 16th in the league.

Some of this newfound success comes from the fact that Lincoln has posted a ridiculous 99.3 LOB% in relief this year, but keep in mind that relievers generally have higher and flukier left on base rates. Moreover Lincoln has added a couple of MPH on his fastball and it appears that the added MPH are not just a relief mirage because in his 5 starts this year Lincoln has maintained a similar velocity to that of what he has produced out of the bullpen.

As well, being that he has been in the bullpen Lincoln has been able to amplify his two best pitches, his fastball and his curveball, using both at rates ranking at career highs.

All of this has amounted to quite an interesting reliever…one who leads all qualified relievers with a 0.50 ERA on the year, has a 2.31 FIP that ranks 8th among qualified relievers and a 2.78 xFIP that ranks 14th among qualified relievers.

It hurts to give up Travis Snider, it really does. I was among those who believed in Snider’s potential and those who pleaded for his inclusion on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the year. However in Brad Lincoln the Blue Jays are getting an extremely valuable late inning reliever that could become one of those Vinnie Pestano/Sergio Romo types.

The creator of Meats Don’t Clash Mondays will truly be missed, but the return that the Blue Jays got for him is not as bad as initially believed. I didn’t like the trade at first, but as I went deeper and deeper into Lincoln’s stats and scouting reports I became more and more acclimated to the idea of the trade. Brad Lincoln isn’t Matt Garza, but he isn’t that bad and he is under team control until 2018.

This is an official farewell to Travis Snider, best of wishes in Pittsburgh.

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