27 July 2018

Kevin Gausman is Sonny Gray

Last winter, I was talking to an executive from another team.  I was noting that maybe Kevin Gausman, with his fastball/breaking ball mix, was better suited for the role of a closer.  I thought that perhaps his days starting should end and just emphasize what he really does well.  The executive chuckled and asked whether what I was saying was done without looking at what Gausman has actually done.  After a pause, he continued.  He said I was Wieters-ing Gausman.

What does it mean to Wieters someone?  It means that the expectations you have for someone are so great that when the player fails to meet those expectations, you are unable to appreciate what they have actually accomplished.  For those not all that long in the tooth on the local Orioles scene, you will remember the fierce debate over whether or not Matt Wieters was a bust.  The debate was frustrating because Matt Wieters had the third best bWAR in Orioles history as a catcher with 18.  Rick Dempsey and Chris Hoiles come in front of him with 21.2 and 23.5, respectively, but played slightly long than Wieters in an Orioles uniform.  So, yeah, perhaps he was not the best catcher in Orioles history, but he was quite good.

Gausman will not reach the third most bWAR for an Oriole starting pitcher, but it is actually possible.  The current third highet bWAR belongs to Dave McNally at 25.5.  Gausman sits at 10.3.  If you look at what he can do over the remaining 2.5 years of control, you are looking at something in the neighborhood of seven or eight more WAR, which would put him around 8th.  If he wound up signing long term with the Orioles, he probably would pass Dave McNally.  To consider such a pitcher a failure is downright foolish.

Of course, the Orioles are in a tailspin and it makes one wonder if Gausman should really be on the team any longer or if he should be dealt and his value turned into prospects.  What exactly would the prospect haul be.  Matt Perez visited this a few days ago, but I want to dive into this a bit more.

What kind of surplus value does Gausman have?
We are going to take a conservative route.  We will ignore the scarcity of talent on the starting pitching front at this deadline.  That scarcity probably would help a seller.  Additionally, we will ignore that many teams view the Orioles as poorly helping their pitchers and think that Gausman has a couple extra gears.  Instead, we will only look at what he has done and what that suggests for his future.

If you project Gausman forward, you can expect him to tack on about 1.2 bWar the rest of this year, 3.1 bWAR in 2019, and 2.8 bWAR (these projections are simply looking at past performance and how things look moving forward).  That is a total of 7.1 bWAR, which has a value of around 71.7 MM at 10.1 MM a win.  He has about 2.5 MM left in salary and is expected to see 8 MM in 2019 and 11 MM in 2020 for a total of 21.5 MM.  Split the difference and you see Gausman's surplus value at 50.2 MM, which is about what the Machado package was worth.

The Machado package include one strong prospect in Diaz and then a collection of interesting prospects of different values.  However, what if we concentrated that value into three players.  Based on historical value of prospects, that would be equal to one position prospect in the 75-100 range of baseball's top 100 prospects in addition to two pitchers in that range.  The total value of those players would come to 50.4 MM.

Now, if you follow my Twitter account, you know I mentioned this value the other day.  You will also probably know that people were astounded.  Gausman for three top 100 prospects seems extreme especially for a pitcher who often is compared with the struggles of Jake Arrieta (0.1 bWAR in his 3.5 years of service time for the Orioles) or Bud Norris (4.3 bWAR in his 3.5 years of service time for the Astros).  Remember, Gausman currently has 10.3 bWAR over those 3.5 years of service time.

Now, have we seen a pitcher of this level traded at the deadline recently?  Why, yes, of course. Last year, Sonny Grey was dealt to the Yankees.  You might be confused about that.  Sonny Gray is an elite starting pitcher and Kevin Gausman has his troubles.  Well, let us take a look.
3.5 yrs
As you can see, Gausman and Gray rate out fairly evenly.  Gray may have had one shining year early in his career, but by and large he has been a bit underwhelming.  Gausman on the other hand has been fairly consistently good.  This is true for bWAR (which says the pitcher is responsible for a lot of his runs), fWAR (which says the pitcher depends on his defense a lot), and WARP (which uses DRA to provide one of the more sophisticated ways to assess value in a pitcher).

How about near term value?
1.5 yrs
Gausman looks much stronger than Gray here.  It should be noted that Gausman has a 4.22 DRA this year, which is good for 1.4 WARP.  Gray, when he was traded, held a 4.26 DRA and a 1.4 WARP.  DRA tends to be the best measure of performance moving forward with a small sample size.  Anyway, we get very similar numbers for the immediate season, one and a half seasons, and for their entire first 3.5 years of control.  You may feel Gray is elite and you may feel Gausman is a struggling pitcher, but the numbers think you should re-explore your feelings.

So what did the Athletics get for Gray?
The Athletics got two position players and a pitcher.  In James Kaprielian, the Athletics got a pitcher who had begun 2017 as a top 100 prospect (87th Baseball America, 58th MLB Pipeline, 58th Baseball Prospectus), but who required Tommy John surgery before the trade.  That disrupted his value and caused him to fall off the top 100 list.  In a way, you could say this compares to someone like Hunter Harvey.  The Athletics also received Jorge Mateo who was a 2017 top 100 prospect (85th Baseball America, 47th MLB Pipeline, 43rd Baseball Prospectus) and a 2018 top 100 prospect (64th Baseball America, 72nd MLB Pipeline, 79th Baseball Prospectus) and an injured Dustin Fowler who was rising on prospect lists and made two top 100 lists in 2018 (88th Baseball America, 98th Baseball Prospectus).  The prospect value for someone like Kaprielian would be around 10 MM, Mateo would be 24 MM, and Fowler came in around, conservatively, at 15 MM.  That is a 49 MM deal for Sonny Gray.

Now that we have established Gausman's value and brought up a recent historical comparison for a trade that is also in agreement with a purely numerical evaluation of value, what kind of packages would be similar gets from other clubs?  For this, I will focus on three teams who have been most attached to Kevin Gausman: the Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, and the Atlanta Braves.  If a player is a fringe top 100 prospect, I simply considered them a back end top 100, which inflates their value a bit.  In other words, this is a conservative estimate on the take.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a club that has checked in on all of the starting pitchers around the league that may be available, including Gausman.  They also have the prospects to acquire him without completely gutting their system.  Headlining the deal would be Corbin Burnes.  MLB Pipeline considers him to be the 53rd overall prospect in baseball which carries a 19.7 MM estimate value.  He has struggled this year at AAA and has done well in a few relief appearances for the MLB squad.  Burnes is the Brewers #2 prospect.  Behind him would be a choice between Corey Ray, an outfielder and fourth overall prospect, and Lucas Erceg, a thirdbaseman and sixth overall prospect.  Both players are fringe top 100 talents.  Ray has a bit of helium attached to him, but would crowd a currently crowded part of the Orioles minor league system.  Erceg makes a little more sense, but his competition comes from Ryan Mountcastle within the Orioles system. Erceg has also had his struggles this year, which has caused his perceived value to slip a bit.  As a backend top 100 talent (again they are not listed), they would represent 20.2 MM.  Finishing out the package is Luis Ortiz, a right handed pitcher who is Milwaukee's 7th best prospect, who before this season was a top 100 prospect, but whose struggles last year lost some of that shine.  Again, he is not in the top 100, but let us just assume back end value of 15.1 MM.  In his second trip through AA, he has gotten a little bit of hope back into his ceiling.  All in all, this package comes in around 55 MM.  Again, though, I think that is probably a shade too high, but lets go with that instead of what I think is more realistic (~45 MM).  The Brewers deal would provide the Orioles with a new number one prospect, dethroning Yusniel Diaz by a shade.  Corey Ray or Lucas Erceg would tussle with Austin Hays for fifth overall.  Luis Ortiz would be found around Grayson Rodriguez and Dillon Tate around seventh or eighth overall.

The Colorado Rockies have long been interested in Gausman.  Their people adore him and have coveted him since his amateur days.  The package here comes in at 50.4 MM.  Peter Lambert, RHSP, is the prize.  He is the Rockies' second best prospect and sits a bit further behind Burnes at 89th overall, which provides a value of 15.1 MM.  I would pair him with one of the darlings of Jeff Passan's the Arm, Riley Pint.  The right handed starting pitcher what the fourth overall selection in 2016, but has suffered a variety of arm and core injuries.  He has a top of the rotation ceiling, but high variability of what he actually becomes.  Pint is the Rockies fifth overall prospect and is a strong comparison to Hunter Harvey and James Kaprielien.  As a fringe top 100 talent, I assigned him a 15.1 MM value.  This package would be topped off with middle infielder Garrett Hampson who is the Rockies fourth overall prospect and is a fringe top 100 talent, so we will assume a 20.2 MM value.  This deal would give the Orioles a new number three in Lambert.  Pint and Hampson would be found around five or six in competition with Austin Hays.

The Atlanta Braves have the right pieces to make a strong deal.  The Orioles could take in several strong prospects without even touching the Braves' top five prospects.  Standing as the prize of the package is the kind of big bodied pitcher that the Orioles have been targeting in many of their low minors acquisitions.  In this case, the pitcher has a few uneasy MLB innings.  Luiz Gohara is a left handed pitcher with a strong fastball/slider mix.  He is the 63rd prospect in baseball (with a 19.7 value) and is the Braves 6th overall prospect.  Touki Toussaint, a right handed starting pitcher has often been more about expectations than actual performance as he learns how to pitch.  He is the 78th best prospect in baseball and worth 15.1 MM.  Finally, also coming in at 15.1 MM in value is left handed started pitcher Kolby Allard, who is the 93rd overall prospect and the 8th prospect in the Braves system.  He too like the other two is in AAA and doing fine.  The final total package value is 49.9 MM.  Unlike the other two deals, the values are direct values and not hedge ups.  This group would be a major improvement in the Orioles' pitching.  Gohara would become the Orioles second best prospect.  Toussaint and Allard would fall in behind Mountcastle to be the fourth and fifth best prospects in the organization.

One clear take away is that none of these deals depletes any of these systems.  The Brewers would lose their 2nd, 4th, and 6th prospects.  The Rockies would lose their 2nd, 4th, and 5th prospects.  The Braves would lose their 6th, 7th, and 8th.  Meanwhile, these deals would vastly improve the Orioles system with prospects who should be able to prove themselves soon.  Yes, backend top 100 prospects fail and fail often.  It is probable that any of these packages will not produce a starting pitcher as valuable as Gausman has been, but they delay the clock and give the Orioles more cheap, controllable talent that may be of consequence when the club finally rights itself.

Again, maybe this is all too much.  Maybe the Yankees, one of the most statistically inclined organizations in baseball, somehow got stars in their eyes and overpaid for Sonny Gray.  Maybe Sonny Gray's dominating year in his youth when he threw 3 mph harder means something.  Regardless, I think it is an apt comparison between Gray, the package he was dealt for, and Gausman.  Gausman and Gray had similar careers of similar worth at the same point in time.  And maybe New York thought they could unlock Gray again just like a lot of teams think they can reach a new level for Gausman by de-Oriole-ing him.


william wisner-carlson said...

Man it was pretty mindblowing to see you get roasted by every fan base on twitter. Your rationale seems pretty airtight to me.
The only counterpoint I could see is the perspective that the Yankees dramatically overpaid for Sonny Gray. However, that's not supported by the monetary valuations you use...so really isn't a great counterpoint.

Just generally a bunch of people saying Gausman is trash which I suppose is the nature of twitter sometimes.

What do you see as a potential Astros package? I think that it would make a lot of sense to trade Gausman as a versatile, late-inning playoff reliever for 2018 and Charlie Morton's 2019 rotation heir apparent. I recall Gausman being very effective in the 2014 playoffs in both the DT and KC series. For 2019 and beyond, the Astros could dream on Gausman's potential. Perhaps encouraging more elevated fastballs and a higher volume of changeups? As Orioles fans, we've all seen him dial in and scrape 98, 99. I bet out of the pen he'd have something like a 75 FB and a 65 CH. Compare that to 2016 AS Alex Colome who was...what...60 FB 60 CH? I digress...

For me a speculative package would be:
Yordan Alvarez (30-60 range top 100)
Cionel Perez (100-125)
JB Bukauskas (150-200)

Do you have any thoughts on that?

william wisner-carlson said...

For your recollection:

K's on 98 MPH FB (SW), 98 MPH FB (SW), 98 MPH FB (SW), 88 MPH CH (SW), 97 MPH FB (SW)

99 MPH FB (LK) (And I'll add with wicked movement)