It’s quite easy, at the moment, to appreciate Brewers GM David Stearns by heaping praise on the young front office executive’s trades. After all, the slinging one has seen a few of the Brewers’ prized veterans collapse or experience injuries after their departure from Milwaukee (perhaps Jonathan Lucroy and Tyler Thornburg most notable). Some of this is silly, as Thornburg’s injury has much more to do with the Boston Red Sox workout regimen than it does with a David Stearns trade curse. But it’s still fun to talk about at a surface level because it’s nice to see trades where the old veterans fall off while the newfound prospects prosper, making an ascent to the MLB all the more likely through one lens (no one looks at the Leonys Martin comps for Lewis Brinson, obviously, well at least not Brewers fans). Of course, digging deeper, it’s also clear that some of Stearns’s ex-Brewers trade assets have played quite well away from Milwaukee. Martin Maldonado might be the most interesting case, as the defensive genius is getting the chance to play regularly in Anaheim that Milwaukee was not ready to provide the veteran backup. Maldonado is thriving thus far, posting a solid Total Average (TAv) of .250 along with his Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) of 6.4. It’s difficult to say whether Maldonado’s full-time success is more surprising than Jett Bandy’s breakout in Milwaukee, as Bandy is using a less balanced profile than Maldonado (.283 TAv, -0.2 FRAA) to drive his 2017 MLB success.
|Brewers Traded||Surplus (Day Of)||Brewers Received||Surplus (Day Of)||Difference|
|M. Maldonado / D. Gagnon (45)||$9.6M||J. Bandy||$5.7M||-$3.9M|
Perhaps this trade is most interesting because two months into the season, the principal assets in the deal are substantially equal at the MLB level: Bandy claims 0.7 WARP entering play Wednesday evening, Maldonado a cool 1.0. This might be surprising to some, as there was reason to question the trade for Milwaukee at the time of the deal.
I took this line between the Baseball Prospectus Transaction Analysis and roster analysis at BPMilwaukee. For the TA, I pitched Maldonado as a potentially serviceable gamble for a starting catching job: “Last season across MLB there were 108 catchers and that group produced median marks of 146 plate appearances, a .237 True Average, and -0.3 Fielding Runs Above Average. By those standards, Maldonado looks like an intriguing gamble for the vacant starting position in Anaheim, thanks to his 3.9 FRAA and .245 TAv marks in Milwaukee.” On Bandy, I basically punted: “It’s easy to shake this one off as an inconsequential deal at the margins of the roster, and there are some arguments to be made that the Brewers could have maximized their catching value with Susac and Maldonado. However, if Milwaukee consistently makes these types of value plays in each area of the roster they’ll maximize the odds of eventually contending.” Despite this narrative, when I designed roster surplus analysis for the Brewers rebuilding and counterbuilding trades, there was little question that the Brewers failed to maximize Maldonado’s surplus (see table above), and the loyal readership has remembered:
I remember when @BPMilwaukee said what a bad trade that was for the Brewers. Another nice move by Stearns.
— craigneu (@craigneu) May 27, 2017
Since that point in time, Bandy has become a sensation and fan favorite especially thanks to his dynamic duo sensibilities created with Manny Pina (see Colin Anderle at BPMilwaukee: Manny and The Jett). Compared to Maldonado, Bandy still has much less of a track record, but he also provides the Brewers with a clearer sense of his present production value and the club has reserve and arbitration rights through 2021. So, I’m not making this up, using depreciated surplus to account for 2017 production value thus far and remaining future value, the only aspect separating Maldonado and Bandy (besides Drew Gagnon) in terms of surplus value is Maldonado’s small $1.7M contract; extracting cash from the situation makes Bandy and Maldonado perfectly even:
|What Happened? (Traded)||Total Surplus||What Happened? (Received)||Total Surplus||Balance|
|Maldonado 2018 / Maldonado 1.0 WARP;Gagnon (40-45 OFP)||$14.9M||Bandy 2018-2021 / Bandy 0.7 WARP||$16.3||-$1.4M|
Since the day of the trade, in terms of pure WARP, Maldonado has delivered approximately 72 percent of that initial surplus to Anaheim, while Bandy has already materialized 86 percent of his surplus in Milwaukee; basically, Maldonado’s final arbitration year with the Angels will turn into a boon for that organization, and Bandy’s contract reserve years look less like a mundane fact and more like an organizational asset. For both teams, this deal is already a smashing success in terms of overall return and immediate return (this is important: great immediate return maximizes odds that either club could trade either player in the near future, as well as reassess bullish or bearish predictions of future performance). Both catchers would be worth approximately one 50 OFP (Overall Future Potential) prospect grade at the deadline.
What’s fascinating about sifting through the elements of Bandy’s and Maldonado’s respective performances is that they are almost completely different players. Bandy is a near-three true outcomes bat-first catcher, although it is worth mentioning that his defensive performance has stabilized behind the plate since the beginning of the season. Maldonado is a batting average heavy player at the plate, but the Angels arguably tolerate his shortcomings in the plate discipline department thanks to his exceptional framing and solid throwing performances. Maldonado has also faced significantly tougher opposition than Bandy thus far in 2017.
Zach Crizer featured the value of Maldonado’s framing performance for the Angels pitching staff at Baseball Prospectus a couple of weeks ago, concluding, “Obviously, the Angels would love to have both a good-framing catcher and a staff full of pitchers who can produce without walking a called-strike tightrope. But they don’t have those pitchers. They have a bunch of hurlers inordinately better off staying further from the middle of the plate, and a catcher who can help enact that strategy more successfully than just about anyone, apparently. This wasn’t an accident, either. You’ll recall the Angels went out of their way to trade Jett Bandy, a not-bad-but-not-great defensive catcher with more team control and more offensive upside, for Maldonado over the offseason. Call me crazy, but that sounds like they’re using pitch framing to their distinct advantage. And I bet it doesn’t end there.”
|2017||K% / BB% / HR%||TAv||Park / OpposingOPS||FRAA||Framing Runs||Throwing Runs|
|Bandy||20.9 / 7.8 / 5.2||.283||103 / .767||-0.2||-0.6||-0.4|
|Maldonado||22.9 / 3.8 / 2.5||.250||102 / .718||6.4||6.1||0.2|
It’s a fool’s errand to be concerned about “winning trades.” One trade can take many different forms over many different years, and it’s pointless to simply stop with the day-of analysis or the post hoc analysis. Digging into game theory or welfare economics, one could even question the ideal of seeking equilibrium in trade analysis, using linear time assumptions for both parties, or assuming equal bargaining positions for both parties. Setting that aside: Right now, this moment in time, it’s fascinating to look at the Bandy-Maldonado swap because they basically offer almost perfectly similar surplus despite their contractual scenarios and game profiles. This should be a helpful demonstration about what makes one WARP: no single Win Above Replacement need be created equal, in fact it need not even be a family resemblance.
Milwaukee turned a $5.7M surplus gamble (and a potential half-a-win surplus hit) into approximately two future wins for the organization, while Anaheim turned what might have been one certain win into nearly two future wins. In terms of trade value, Bandy and Maldonado are matching punch for punch, which will only leave Brewers fans questioning whether they would rather have that supreme thump in the bottom of the batting order, or that beautiful strike zone framing for this upstart pitching staff. Returning to my original transaction analysis, finding an additional Win Above Replacement in each marginal roster deal is indeed what will help propel the Brewers to sustained contending seasons; both the Angels and the Brewers prove this is why you don’t slack off at the margins of the roster.