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DeJesus Rental: Was It Worth It?

October 5, 2011

Last November 10th, the A’s and Kansas City Royals made a trade, the A’s sent RHP Vin Mazzaro and LHP Justin Marks Kansas City-bound in exchange for OF David DeJesus. At the time of the trade this blog didn’t yet exist, but I would’ve liked the deal. I always liked DeJesus, thought he was an above-average defender and a decent solid stick, if not a spectacular one though his power was limited for a corner outfielder (and something that was then and still is now, a need for the A’s). At the time of the trade,  the sabermetrically inclined  Beyond the Box Score said of the deal,

“This is how trades are supposed to work, even swaps in which both parties benefit. By my estimates this is both a fair trade and one that makes sense. Though DeJesus is a better player than Mazzaro, he’s only under contract for the 2011 season, a season in which the Royals have no hope of contending. The A’s could conceivably challenge the Rangers for the division title in 2011, so upgrading one of their corner OF spots makes sense. “

The interesting thing was at this time the A’s were being discussed as having a pitching surplus because they had won the bidding rights to Hisashi Iwakuma, though it turns out they’d have even more pitching surplus by the time the season began. Mazzaro was the key piece going to Missouri, though he looked as though he might compete for the fifth starter job he had an uneven year with the A’s posting 0.0 WAR in 2010 with a 5.13 FIP and an underwhelming 5.8 K/9 (remarkably consistent with the A’s as in 2009 he had an identical 5.81 K/9), 3.7 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9 in 122 1/3 innings of 4.27 ERA ball. Marks meanwhile was projected to be at best a #3 starter or at worst a left-handed reliever sometime in the future (both of which are valuable baseball commodities). The A’s of course received David DeJesus who looked to be the big deadline deal prize in 2010 only to be scuttled after he broke his thumb missing the remainder of the campaign. The Royals were smart to realize despite that DeJesus had a lot of value and picked up the $6M option they had on him prior to dealing him.

The A’s went into this trade looking to compete in 2011, alas it didn’t work out that way, so the one-year rental made sense in that respect. It seemed a good amount of talent was headed to Kansas City in the deal, but DeJesus wasn’t a bad talent to have for Oakland and he seemingly fit in well with the club’s needs. All the best laid plans however can easily go to waste and in many respects this deal has for the A’s.

The Royals in acquiring Mazzaro, didn’t get a fifth starter for their club, Mazzaro didn’t pitch much for Kansas City at all in 2011 failing to make a strong push in spring training for that fifth starter role and being unimpressive in Omaha. On the year he posted a 8.26 ERA with a 5.85 FIP spread across 28 1/3 innings of work (four of his seven outings being starts). He also featured terrible peripherals: 3.2 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9 – and became best known perhaps for having arguably the worst pitching outing of any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. That outing, coming against Cleveland on May 16th saw Mazzaro pitch two and a third innings, allowing eleven hits (one a home run), fourteen runs (all earned), while striking out two and walking three, though interestingly his 10.74 FIP was lower than that of starter Kyle Davies who managed a 30.03 FIP in the same game (a 19-1 loss for Kansas City). Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated said of Mazzaro’s fateful outing,

“No reliever since World War II had allowed 14 runs in a game… Heck, no STARTING PITCHER has allowed 14 runs in a game since 1998, when Mike Oquist did the deed, and it has now only happened three times in the last 60 years.

What’s more amazing is that nobody in baseball history had ever allowed 14 earned runs in fewer than three innings pitched until Mazzaro did it. True, you could argue that Lefty O’Doul’s outing in 1923, when he allowed 16 runs in three innings was worse … except that THIRTEEN of those runs were unearned (That’s right: 13 were unearned). It seems pretty clear. Vin Mazzaro — through a combination of bad luck, bad pitching and bad timing — had the worst pitching performance in baseball history.”

If you take that outing out of the equation, his ERA falls to 4.15, his FIP however remains relatively unchanged (the nature of his outing being a whole series of “defensively independent” hits not an extreme lack of control or home-run allowing) at 5.41. Justin Marks meanwhile spent the year with the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League, making 22 starts (in 28 overall appearances) posting a 3.60 FIP with 8.7 K/9. Therefore the total WAR contribution to the Kansas City Royals in 2011 from this trade was an exact: 0.0. But that is the problem of Royals fans, what about what this trade meant to Oakland.

DeJesus had a down year. It has been talked about extensively here and in many other places. While DeJesus put up 2.2 WAR, a significant part of that came from his above average glove as he skipped to a .240/.323/.376 slash line featuring a pretty abysmal .309 wOBA, and 95 wRC+. He did managed double digit home runs for the A’s (10), something that may not have been expected since he was leaving the relatively lefty-friendly Kaufman Stadium for the decidedly less friendly confines of the then Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Much of DeJesus’ struggles can be attributed to his complete outlier of a line versus left-handed pitchers against whom he hit .174/.227/.231 with a .209 wOBA and 27 wRC+. For his career he has hit .264/.328/.362 with a .308 wOBA and 83 wRC+ which while not astounding, certainly would’ve had a positive impact on his 2011 overall numbers given that he faced left-handed pitchers in 26.2% of his at bats. Furthermore, he was afflicted by a terrible .274 BABIP (a career low) which was an even worse .220 versus left-handed pitchers, so luck may have played part of a role in these struggles despite the fact he put the ball in the air more often than usual, with lower rates of ground balls and line drives.

While I would like to see DeJesus offered an extension that seems incredibly unlikely and in all likelihood the A’s will offer the Type-B free-agent arbitration which he will not accept semi-closing the books on this trade. Currently, the A’s are “winning” the trade 2.2 WAR to 0.0 but as we all know a year is not the best judge as to who “wins” or “loses” a trade. The trade still has value on the A’s side, that supplemental draft pick that the A’s will get once DeJesus declines arbitration (it is hard to see a scenario where he’d accept it – even at 2.2 WAR he was worth $10M more than he’d get via arbitration it’d seem) is where that value is currently positioned. As per this great article by Sky Andrecheck at Baseball Analysts we can assume whomever this guy ends up being will have a lifetime WAR between 2.0 and 3.6 (of course there are outliers like Mike Piazza but this looks at their worth as an average) now while not all of that would come with the A’s, let’s assume at least half does come before he can file for free-agency. The A’s are looking at the 2.2 WAR banked from DeJesus’ one year with a projected future value of 1.0 to 1.8 WAR coming back in the future for a total worth of 3.2 to 4.0 WAR. If Mazzaro and Marks beat that the Royals will win the trade but for now that isn’t looking likely. It’ll like be another four years before we can accurately gauge this trade for the A’s statistically. But here is the rub, the A’s got a poor performance from a player – whether it be due to luck, a decline in skills, etc is really irrelevant – and failed to contend when expected to do so. The guys they gave up may not end up being great so it may not be a huge loss on that end but this trade meant with the idea that it would help the A’s contend in 2011 missed its mark. We are now trying to recoup value through a supplemental draft pick so in some respects this trade currently is a loss.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Genaro permalink
    October 6, 2011 7:15 pm

    I don’t think it was worth it because at the time I didn’t think it was worth trading a number 4 starter and prospect for 1 season of an injured player who played in a hitter’s park. The increase in his strikeout rate with a decrease in his away slugging pct. is too much for me to quibble away on luck since the only thing he did was move to a different division.

    • October 7, 2011 1:37 am

      Genaro –

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think a lot of one’s view on this trade is what you expect out of Vin Mazzaro. You value him much more highly than I do. While he has value as a potential #4 starter, the A’s depth made that an area of strength for them to trade from. If we look at Kaufmann Stadium from 2007 to the present, it has typically played very middle of the road with exceptions being 2008 where it really suppressed runs, and 2009 where it was very hitter friendly. Those two outliers even off to even (though for what its worth DeJesus’ numbers blipped at the same time in a similar fashion), so I don’t think his numbers were that inflated, but it is debatable as to whether he was the best use of resources.

      I do however think that luck played a significant role in DeJesus’ season. The K% is surely up and his responsibility and fault, but the BABIP drop is significant and his sudden inability to hit off left-handed pitching with an accompanying significant BABIP drop there is also something that I think is partially attributable to luck. Poor performance coupled with poor luck and also playing in an unfavorable park is what I think DeJesus experienced in 2011, I don’t see him as a player is declining significantly and dramatically all at once.

      To me ultimately this move is decided by the value of the supplemental pick. I don’t expect very much from Mazzaro long-term who has had pedestrian K/9 rates in the minors (7.0) that have translated to unimpressive K/9 rates in the majors (5.5). He is a soft-tosser who not suprisingly doesn’t miss bats, but also I think he has psychological issues. I am not saying that he is crazy, but I am saying I think he is a headcase who had worn out his welcome in Oakland (as evidenced by his demotion in September of 2010). So while this trade may go down as a lose-lose. Justin Marks, you never know, could give Kansas City a lot of value down the road. Only time will tell!

      • Genaro permalink
        October 7, 2011 3:38 am

        Well the thing is that I didn’t think Mazzaro was a worthwhile prospect but that his perceived value as a number 4 starter, something that the Royals GM mentioned at the time he acquired Mazzaro, meant that the A’s should have more with him and Marks than DeJesus or put him in a package for a better player.

        I will have to look deeper into the numbers with respect to DeJesus as I ultimately believe it was more of an issue with DeJesus the player than luck. Perhaps the lower BABIP is due to the placement of outfielders in the Coliseum instead of Kauffman, as the jutting angles are not found in KC’s uniform arc, thereby allowing outfielders to play shallow and steal away what otherwise would be hits. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if his thumb injury was still an issue even though he has said it was not. I just don’t understand how a player can fall so far without it being an issue with his own performance.

      • October 7, 2011 12:52 pm

        I think there are two things at play there. If you are Dayton Moore, you are going to say that Mazzaro has as much upside as possible. DeJesus was, I believe the longest-tenured Royal at the time, and just a year previous the subject of intense trade rumors. So Moore’s saying Mazzaro could be a #4 starter doesn’t necessarily reflect what the entire league may have seen. I think we also value DeJesus differently. I think DeJesus is a valuable guy who at $6M was worth well less than what he could’ve taken on the open market ($10-15) as a 2-3 WAR player. Whereas you don’t view him as valuably.

        I think it is a combination of factors with DeJesus and I wouldn’t be surprised if the thumb was not 100%. I think luck did play a significant (not necessarily a majority role) in his pathetic 2011 campaign. Those BABIP numbers reflect a lot, though one can fairly argue that is the result of a higher fly ball %.

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