Friday, December 18, 2009

The Halladay Trade

When we announced several weeks ago that our blog would return for the pre-2010 season, we had no idea that the timing would offer us such an interesting topic as the Roy Halladay trade.  As has been discussed widely, it's the first time in baseball history that two former Cy Young winners have been involved in the same deal.  Today, I want to make a few remarks about each of the players involved and explore how each is affected by the deal, at least as it applies to the 2010 season.

Before we get to that, I also want to briefly explain what will be different this year about this space.  In previous years, I tended to write lengthy essays, sometimes saving up questions for our "Ask BN" inbox and answering the best 10-15 or so in a mailbag format.  Back in 2007, we experimented with a more frequent but shorter blog and compared the interest in that to the more common format we used the past two years, which had occasional but lengthier essays.  We discovered there was more interest in having me post frequently, even if the entries were shorter and the approach admittedly more casual.  This enabled more timely remarks on trades, changes in player roles and so on.  So, this will be the approach I now take, at least for the next several months leading into the 2010 season and we will continue to track interest in the new format.

Another key difference is that you won't have to go to the site to find out if there's been a new blog post.  Rather, if you're an advanced user, you will be able to subscribe to our RSS feed and it will notify you when there's a new post along with a link to the latest one.  If you're such an advanced user, our RSS feed is being broadcast through the link at and some email programs like newer versions of Microsoft Outlook, for example, even have RSS readers built in.  Though we cannot possibly provide support for RSS, most email programs and RSS readers make it a snap to set up a subscription and there is plenty of info online about how to add a feed, step by step.

If you're not already a subscriber to our optional free mailing list, there are advantages to being on it.  Key special essays such as our annual multi-part "If Sleepers Existed" series, usually published in January, and some of our prospect discussions and other pieces will always go to our mailing list subscribers at least a day or two before they appear here.  Thus, if you want to have them as early as anyone else does, then please do join our free mailing list.  It doesn't cost anything and every email comes with an easy unsubscribe link at the bottom.  Not only do you get early access to these special essays but you'll also get occasional promotional announcements about sales and discounts that are sometimes made available only to those on the free mailing list.

This is an extraordinarily busy time around here, even as many readers will be preparing for the holidays.  This weekend, we will be publishing our first skill ratings for most players along with our second projection set of the pre-2010 season.  Then, by mid-January, we will publish risk ratings for all of the projections.  Starting later that month and into and throughout the February sets, we will be creating player comments for at least a few hundred players, as we have the past couple of years.  Also by that time, the rosters begin to take shape and certain players see big boosts and drops in projected playing time as roles become clearer. 

On that note, while I am not fond of "best of" approaches, we have compiled some of our favorite player comments from last year's set for those who like to look back at such things.  Most of them were published in January and February of 2009 and you can check our favorites from last year here if you're interested.  They are sorted in alphabetical order with hitters and pitchers separated and each comment dated for when it was first published at the site.  By no means should you take these as representative of the entire set - To the best of my knowledge, no one at Baseball Notebook is psychic and we've simply picked out some of the ones that are most enjoyable to look back at now more for fun than anything else.

So, without further ado and to kick off the blog for this publishing season, let's go through this week's megadeal to look at how each player's 2010 season might be impacted:

Roy Halladay to the Phillies

Here's a trivia challenge for those who know a lot about park effects:  Using information published by our primary stats provider, Baseball Info Solutions, which active current park in the majors has had the highest effect of boosting pitcher strikeouts over the past three years?  The same park is the answer to this second question: Other than San Diego, which park in the majors tied with Oakland as being the second-toughest park in the majors over that period in terms of its effect on batting average?

That I posed these questions in the context of a section about Roy Halladay might have correctly led the reader to speculate that the answer is Rogers Centre in Toronto.  Yes, surprisingly, Rogers Centre has not only become one of the toughest parks for hitters to get hits in but, related to this, it has become the best park in the majors for a pitcher to pick up strikeouts in the past few years and by a long way too.  The park effect there has been 112% or, if all else is equal, a pitcher when he pitches at this stadium should be expected to strike out hitters at a rate about 12% more often than if he were playing in a perfectly neutral stadium.  Of course, the typical pitcher still pitches half of his games on the road but even pitching half of your games in Toronto boosts strikeouts.

I'm not positive of the reason why it's become tougher to put the ball in play compared to, say, five years ago when the park effects were much more neutral.  I've been to this stadium more often than any other current park in the majors and while this is just a guess, I can tell you that when they added the bright outfield LED displays on the outfield walls several years back, when the park was renamed from SkyDome to Rogers Centre, it became harder on the eyes.  When a hitter is up, the stadium controllers do seem to tone the brightness and blinking down but they still do remain distracting.

Regardless of the reason, it's important to understand that because of the park effects and even considering that he gets to face a pitcher in the #9 slot at least a couple of times a game, as Halladay now moves to Philadelphia, I will not be forecasting Halladay to see a big boost in strikeouts.  Had he moved from a neutral AL park to a neutral NL park, yes, he would have gotten an upgrade, both in ERA and strikeouts.  But in this case, the change in league will be more than offset by the change in the park effect, in terms of the impact on runs allowed, hits allowed and strikeouts.

Also, and we said the same here a couple of years ago when Johan Santana moved from Minnesota to the Mets, the difference in the average NL hitter and AL hitter is not as wide as it was ten or fifteen years ago.  In fact, the gap in ERA last year, even with those pitchers coming to the plate so often in the NL, was just 0.26 earned runs per nine innings and a year earlier, it was just 0.06 earned runs per nine inning.

There are a couple of areas I expect to hold up and/or improve for Halladay.  First, I do believe the Phillies will allow Halladay to continue being the workhorse he has been, even as he now has to bat for himself.  Second, his projected win total will increase, though when one looks at the rounded total (16), it will look the same.  I'm prepared to boost his projected wins by about a half a win or from 15.7 in our first set to about 16.2 or so in the second set.  We have explained in our FAQ section why we don't typically forecast pitchers to win close to 20 games and with this boost, it will likely move Halladay to second in projected wins in our set behind only C.C. Sabathia.  By the way, projecting team wins, especially as it benefits the quality of individual player forecasts and particularly starting pitcher forecasts, has proven to be an art that requires more of a regression to the mean than some other categories.  I will discuss this in a future blog entry.  If the Phillies go out and win 100 games, something that just isn't a high percentage projection even if it could happen, I'll be surprised if a healthy Halladay doesn't win more than 16 games.

In short, Halladay's forecast with the Phillies, save for the slight boost in wins, will actually look pretty much the same as the one we published in our first set.  That should still be good enough to put him near the top of most NL pitcher rankings when the next edition of the ranking sheets are published but the move will not cause his projection to resemble Tim Lincecum's forecast, for example.

Cliff Lee to the Mariners

Just as Halladay's numbers don't benefit from the move to the NL as much as you might expect, this because of the offset caused by the change in parks, the reverse happens to Cliff Lee.  His move back to the AL and facing the DH would have otherwise raised some of his primary numbers but the change in park will really benefit him, more than enough to offset the move to the more difficult league for pitchers.

He goes from a park in Philadelphia which has boosted run-scoring by about 3% the past few years to Safeco Field in Seattle, which has had about a -6% effect the past three years and a park that is much tougher for right-handed hitters to homer in.  Thus, I believe Lee's ERA projection will hold up rather nicely with the move.  His strikeouts will fall and his win projection will go down a little.  Still, in this weekend's set, I'm likely to upgrade the Mariner win totals across the board for pitchers, including the number of saves I'm forecasting for David Aardsma, which I'm likely to bump up by a few saves from 28 in the first set to maybe 31 or 32 in this next set.  This isn't just because of the Lee trade but because we're now getting a clearer sense of the quality of each team, even more than we did in our late November set, and I think even without their December moves, I previously underestimated the quality of Seattle's 2010 team.

Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud, Brett Wallace to Toronto

In the actual deal involving Halladay, top outfield prospect Michael Taylor was briefly a Blue Jay but he was then immediately shipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace.  We'll talk about Taylor here a bit later.

Though the Blue Jays did pick up a couple of good prospects here, Drabek is the key to the deal.  What you have to realize is that new Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous openly said this week that his plan is not to bring any of the players up until they are ready to stay in the majors.  That means that all three are almost certainly headed for the minor leagues to start the season and it would be surprising to see Drabek in the majors before September and d'Arnaud in the majors before 2011.

Wallace is a bit more of an uncertainty in that respect as he's the only one of the three who has even played at Triple-A and if the Blue Jays were to trade Lyle Overbay, as had been rumored a month or two ago, Wallace would at least get a shot to replace him in spring training.  Should that happen, Wallace's skills at least look adequate already if he somehow cracks the roster.  Think along the lines of immediate .250-.260, 15+ home run power if he surprised and actually won a full-time job with the club in 2010.  In that unlikely event, he would qualify at third base in some fantasy leagues, though his future is as a first baseman, most say.

Drabek is on a lot of top prospect lists out there but he still hasn't pitched above Double-A and, as good as his stuff looks, his ERA at that level in 2009 was 3.64.  He allowed almost a hit per inning (92 hits in 96.1 innings) and he'll need to build on that if he's to move up rapidly.  A reasonable target for him would be to reach and perform well at Triple-A by the end of 2010 with an eye toward trying to earn a September invite later this year and/or be a rotation candidate by the spring of 2011.  In the event he makes it to the majors this year, I won't be forecasting instant success and would be forecasting an ERA around 5.00 for 2010.

As for d'Arnaud, he's another former first round pick, taken 37th overall in the 2007 draft in the supplemental first round.  He's coming off a decent season at Single-A Lakewood, where he hit .255 with 13 home runs and 71 RBI in 126 games.  He's likely two or three years from the majors, at least, and we won't be creating any sort of forecast for him for 2010.  Assuming J.P. Arencibia gets back on track after a disappointing 2009 campaign, Arencibia likely remains ahead of d'Arnaud on the depth chart for the Blue Jays if we're forecasting five years into the future.

Phillipe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies to Philadelphia

You have to hand it to the Phillies in that they basically traded Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, traded three top prospects for three good prospects and got $6 million from the Blue Jays thrown in for good measure.

Though the combination of Aumont, Ramirez and Gillies doesn't likely replace the future expected from Drabek and Michael Taylor, Aumont is considered by some to be a steal here.  Despite how good he looked in moments of last year's World Baseball Classic, he got knocked around some in his brief stop at Double-A last year(5.09 ERA in 17.2 innings) and he'll work to conquer that level this upcoming season.  He's unlikely to reach the majors before 2011.

Ramirez also struggled last year and wasn't spectacular in 2008 either whereas Gillies had the best minor league season of the three.  At High-A Clearwater, Gillies hit .341 with 9 home runs, 42 RBI, 104 runs scored, 44 stolen bases and 60 walks in 124 games.  He could move up quickly, though still not likely this year.

We'll be very surprised if any of these three make it to the majors this year and even if they do, none would be forecasted to have any sort of meaningful impact, at least not right now.

Michael Taylor to Oakland

Oakland was sort of late coming to this party but the Blue Jays wanted Brett Wallace more than they wanted Taylor.  This may surprise readers but I think Taylor is going to turn out to be one of the best prospects in this entire deal and I would not have traded Taylor straight up for Wallace.  They both are coming off strong minor league seasons and are almost the same age - Taylor turns twenty-four this weekend where Wallace will turn twenty-four in August.  However, you expect more from a first baseman and the two had arguably similar seasons in the minors last year with Taylor also showing speed that Wallace clearly will never have.

Taylor hit .320 with 20 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 48 walks in 116 games, most of which came in the Eastern League.  Wallace hit .293 with 20 home runs, 1 stolen base and 47 walks in 138 games, the majority of which came at Triple-A.  A key difference between the two, though, is Wallace's strikeouts.  Wallace struck out 116 times in 532 at bats for a rate of contact of about 78%.  Taylor struck out 70 times in 428 at bats for an 84% contact rate.

Moreover, of all of the prospects in this deal, even including consideration of Kyle Drabek, Taylor is definitely the closest to being offered an opportunity at a regular major league position.  If Taylor somehow won a full-time position with Oakland, I believe he's ready to immediately hit in the high .270s with 15-20 home run power and 15+ stolen base speed, all of which would translate to an 80 R/ 75-80 RBI type over a full season, depending on where he bats in the order.  Of course, he would have to have an excellent spring training for this to happen but if you told me I could have my pick of any prospect that changed teams in this mega-deal, at least for my 2010 fantasy team, Taylor would actually be the one I would choose by a long way.