So, yes, we can write about how things are so hard to know, but the other perspective is that, yes, we do know things. In the extreme, yes, we do know that Cal Ripken Jr. is not able to go out next season, suit up for the Orioles, and break Barry Bonds' home run record. We actually know that. The chance of it happening is so infinitesimal that it is facetious to say otherwise. Perhaps more apt, within the realm of possibility, we know Brian Matusz will not provide front end of the rotation performance. The projection models, even with their inaccuracies, help provide some basis for items like this often more so than simple judgement. However, this post is not exactly about those models. It is about another model.
One of the more brilliant ways to define prospect value was determined by Victor Wang back in the day. It suggests that by evaluating where prospects were ranked or rated in the past by Baseball America and John Sickels results in certain probabilities for success. In other words, as these two entities appreciate the value of a prospect's future, it is actually correlated to an increase in performance. Yes, two thirds of the prospects on Baseball America's top 100 list will bust out and never be a meaningful contributor to a big league club, but you can put a performance value on where a player stands. If you can measure performance, you can put that into runs. If you can put that into runs (or wins), then you can convert that into money as suggested by the free agent market. This does not exactly mean that a specific player is worth 15 MM, but that historical performance of players like him suggest that his value is roughly 15 MM. I hope all of that makes sense because this post largely depends on your understanding of my explanation here.
One of the topics getting the most attention for us over the past week has been the allegedly discussions between the Orioles and Cardinals that touched on J.J. Hardy and Shelby Miller as well as our response here to those rumors. Perhaps four out of five responses regarded the following suggestions as absurd:
If you could have Shelby Miller for JJ Hardy, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Jonathan Schoop...would you do it? #OriolesThis was not exactly a blind stab into the dark. It was the result of a quick conversation with a talent evaluator. Anyway, Orioles fandom was not happy and here is an example of that:
— Camden Depot (@CamdenDepot) November 13, 2013
@CamdenDepot God no. That's WAY too much for Miller. Miller (unproven) and Freese for Hardy (solid and extendable) sounds fair.This made me think that this might be a good moment to provide context to prospect and player value.
— David Precht (@DavidPrecht) November 13, 2013
What is Shelby Miller worth?
Coming into the 2013 season, Miller was rated as the third best pitching prospect in baseball as considered by Baseball America behind the Orioles' Dylan Bundy and the Marlins' Jose Fernandez. Bundy and Fernandez had leap frogged Shelby due to the formers' solid 2012 minor league campaigns and Miller's homer prone venture in the Pacific Coast League. Even with his issues in AAA, Miller advanced from 8th best prospect overall in 2012 to the 6th best prospect overall. In other words, it is what Bundy and Fernandez did as opposed to what Miller did not. Miller still profiled as a top of the rotation arm.
At the age of 22, Miller entered into the Cardinals rotation and proceeded to show why everyone had so much faith in him. He excelled the National League with the exception of a few starts in August. It was not the kind of domination that Jose Fernandez enjoyed in that Fernandez right out of the gates has shown himself to be a top of the rotation arm. Fernandez was so impressive that he finished third in Cy Young voting even though he threw only 172.2 innings. Miller also performed better than Dylan Bundy who began Spring Training injured and eventually had reconstructive surgery. Some may wish to waive off Tommy John surgery, but it certainly is something that can result in a weakened arm and at best simply has resulted in the loss of a year in development. With Miller, he had a full year in the MLB and showed that he could performed as a middle of the rotation arm on a first division team as such a young age.
Of course, when you trade for someone you do not trade for who they were, but who they will become. His age, based on historical performance of others like him, would suggest that he will perform his best in his late 20s. That is, Miller would be expected to improve upon these numbers and perform at a higher level. Ignore the numbers and go with the qualitative scouting, you will find that there is a popular opinion among baseball folks that Miller will improve. However, those perspective might not move you and we will take a slightly more conservative perspective in our evaluation of Miller.
In this post, we will assume that Miller will do worse than either fWAR or bWAR had him this past season. We will call him a 2 WAR pitcher per year. With that in mind, we will project him as a 2 WAR pitcher each year from 2014 through his last controlled year (2018). We will consider his value as surplus value compared to what a pitcher of his performance would likely earn on the free agent market. This past season saw the cost per win at about 5 MM. This off season has been suggested to increase that mark to 6.5 or 7 MM due to new media money coming into play locally and nationally. However, we'll be conservative and suggest an increase of 10% per year over the course of Miller's controlled years. As we will be keeping this value constant for all parties involved in this potential deal the amount of money we assign per win is somewhat arbitrary and simply scaled up only for the numbers to make more sense.
Here is what we get:
If we expect Miller to be a 2 WAR pitcher, an average starter, then we expect him to provide 37.3 MM in surplus value to the team. That means that over the course of the next five years, the Orioles would be able to devout that money to help acquire or maintain players. That also means that the Cardinals should be interested in trying to acquire pieces back from the Orioles that come close to that surplus value as well as positionally making sense for the organization.
WAR $ / Win Market Control Surplus 2014 2 5.5 11 0.5 10.5 2015 2 6.1 12.1 2.4 9.7 2016 2 6.7 13.3 5.3 8.0 2017 2 7.3 14.6 8.9 5.9 2018 2 8.1 16.1 12.9 3.2 67.1 30 37.3
How much is J.J. Hardy worth?
Hardy has hardware, winning the gold glove twice. His offense leans heavy toward home runs and little else. That is not a bad thing. There certainly is a cult of on base percentage, but OBP is not all. It certainly is very important, but that does not negate the importance of things like home runs which Hardy has. Still, it is not a special bat. It is an average bat paired with an above average glove, which gives you a player who is a fringe first division shortstop according to fWAR (10th overall at SS in 2012, 9th in 2013). That is a valuable player.
What makes Hardy valuable in another way is that McPhail signed him to a three year extension that is now in its final season with his salary pegged at 7 MM. That is a great underpay based on his performance over the past several seasons. How did the Orioles sign him to such a cheap deal back then? He had a couple rough seasons at the plate and had gotten significantly injured in the three seasons prior to signing the deal.
We will use an optimistic projection and declare that we expect Hardy to play 150 games and earn 3.5 WAR. At 5.5 MM per win, his value would be 19.3 MM. With a 7 MM salary, his surplus value comes to 12.3 MM. A trade of Miller straight up for Hardy would be 25 MM in the Orioles' favor and would constitute a highly unfair trade. If I were the Cardinals general manager, I would look to Jhonny Peralta, Brendan Ryan, or someone else freely available. I may want a shortstop badly, but I do not wish to fritter away valuable pieces for a shortstop in his 30s who is probably going to look for a big payday after the 2014 season and is not an elite shortstop. Luckily, the Orioles have some pieces in the minors that could be of some use.
What is Eduardo Rodriguez worth?
Rodriguez is a prospect. He is a good prospect, but he is not exceptional. He was one of the youngest players in AA when he was promoted mid-season and struggled. Not greatly, but he performed at a level that was below average using ERA. Mind you at this age, Miller had already established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Rodriguez is likely to see his age 20 season in Bowie with perhaps an advancement to Norfolk if he performs well. It is not a given and there are some split opinions on him (some envision him as a setup man). Rodriguez has never been found on a top 100 list. Roughly two thirds of all prospects who make a top 100 list never yield a significant contribution to their team. If you wish, you can call that a bust rate. It really illustrates how difficult it is to make that climb from the minors to the majors.
Remember Victor Wang, well, using his methodology and updating for changes in the price per win we can attribute a surplus value amount on Rodriguez. This value considers performance probability of pitchers similar to him in terms of grading. If we use his 2013 ranking as a B level prospect by John Sickels, but not a top 100 prospect, then his value is 8.9 MM. However, if you wish to predict that he will be a 75-100 prospect on Baseball America's list then his value would be 12.0 MM. Again, these numbers may seem arbitrary, but they are based on the historical population of players ranked as such and then taking that performance and converting it to a dollar sign.
Our low end deal of Miller for Hardy and a low projection Rodriguez would result in the Orioles seeing surplus value of 16.1 MM. The high end deal would have a surplus of 13.0 MM for the Orioles. In both scenarios, it seems that the Orioles would need to add to the package in order to acquire Miller.
What is Jonathan Schoop worth?
Before the 2012 season, Jonathan Schoop enjoyed a Baseball America ranking of 82nd. As one of the youngest players in Bowie, he struggled to make contact and did not make adjustments. That lead to a souring on him that knocked him out of the top 100 list before this past season. 2013 saw him struggling to make contact, struggling with his mechanics, and suffering from injuries. Although he had a sip of coffee in the Majors, he is not expected to play any meaningful role with the team. This was further emphasized as he struggled at the plate through much of his time in the Arizona Fall League. He is still quite young and perhaps could regain that shine.
If we use the same methodology as we used for Rodriguez, we can project him as he was before the 2013 season (a B level prospect) or optimisitically as 75th to 100th Baseball America prospect. On the low end, his surplus value is worth 6.7 MM. On the high end, his value is 15.3 MM.
The low estimate for the deal with Schoop included would be a 9.4 MM surplus for the Orioles. The high estimate would be a 2.3 MM loss for the Orioles.
I hope this article brings home just how long the road is for Schoop and Rodriguez to becoming useful players for the Orioles. It may seem exciting and convenient to pencil in Schoop as the second baseman next year or Rodriguez as in the rotation in 2015, but this is an incredibly optimistic envisioning of success. Miller's value should also be a silver lining for Kevin Gausman if he manages to successfully perform as a starter or Dylan Bundy if he can get back to where he was before his injury. Neither are givens, but they do provide hope for the Orioles being successful and being free to dedicate money elsewhere.
In my opinion, I think a Miller for Hardy/Rodriguez/Schoop deal is incredibly fair. Though, if the Cardinals have something against Rodriguez or Schoop, I could see the deal going nowhere. This may be a difficult thing to hear, but it is possible.
Some may scoff at this valuation and note that no pitcher in recent history has been dealt for so much. This is true, but no pitcher has been dealt with only one year of service time and with such a high degree of favor as Shelby Miller. Miller was seen at a top of the rotation arm and did nothing to suggest otherwise during his age 22 MLB season.
Some may contend that the Orioles are robbing SS or 3B to pay SP. That perhaps counting on Manny after a significant knee injury to play SS reasonably well is foolhardy. I would counter on the latter point first in that as knee injuries go that this is not an incredibly troubling one and that it would be just as troublesome for Manny as a 3B. Second, the team should not be constructed to win April because by planning for that month it probably means you only win that month. Finally, Miller means more to the long term health of this organization than anyone else in this deal in terms of performance and likelihood to continue to perform. Hardy is not a great extension candidate and might well be a fringe qualifying offer candidate given his full career history.
I would also contend that the increase in performance with Miller in the rotation is probably equivalent to the difference between Hardy and whoever the team could easily field at shortstop or third base. The Orioles should consider players like Brendan Ryan, Jamey Carroll, Juan Uribe, and Jhonny Peralta to help Machado out on that side.
Anyway, to get good quality, you tend to have to give up good quality in baseball. Cheap deals are not always plentiful. It can make these things hard to swallow especially when we have invested so much of our time growing up with these prospects developing in the Orioles' system.