Chase Headley Is More Valuable Than…

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Chase Headley is an affordable and versatile switch hitter. He can run, has some power and plays good defense whether it’s at third base or the outfield. He can probably play first base relatively well. He’s not a free agent until after the 2014 season so any team that has him will have him for the foreseeable future at a very reasonable price.

He’s a nice player. He’s a pretty good player.

But this posting on MLB Trade Rumors implies, based on Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), that he’s something more than a pretty good player. It says specifically that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball.

This exemplifies a problem with WAR. It gives information that may or may not be accurate, relevant or in the proper context.

Does value equal worth?

In other words, it may be accurate that Headley is that good in this framework, but is it true? Is it fair?

Based on fWAR, yes Headley was the 13th “most valuable” player in baseball. (He’s dropped since the posting.)

But salary aside, would you rather have Headley instead of some of the players currently behind him in the list? Headley instead of Carlos Beltran? Instead of Brett Lawrie? Mark Trumbo? Jose Bautista? Joe Mauer?

Headley might hit for more power if he was in a friendlier home park, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph from what he is—10-12 homers a year—into Asdrubal Cabrera and have a wondrous jump in power to 25 homers.

Looking at other Padres’ players who’ve gone on to play in fairer parks—Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mike Cameron—their power numbers have been the same or worse.

When in PetCo Park, the pitchers are aware of how difficult it is to hit a home run; that Headley hits a lot of balls up the middle which make it harder for him to hit home runs. They’re more likely to feed him pitches they wouldn’t if he were playing in a smaller park.

The dimensions of the park are static; the pitching strategy is variable.

Not unlike the oft-repeated and woefully inaccurate lament that if X player wasn’t caught stealing prior to Y player’s home run they would’ve had 2 runs rather than 1, it’s not taking into account that the entire pitching sequence would’ve been different and might’ve yielded an entirely different result.

It’s indicative of a lack of in-the-trenches knowledge to take fWAR—or any stat for that matter—at face value. Similar to those who said they’d stay away from Yu Darvish or Aroldis Chapman because of prior failures with Japanese and Cuban free agents; or the concept that because a tall catcher like Mauer has never made it as a star player then he’s not going to be a star player; or the Moneyball farce that college pitchers are a better option than high school pitchers, it’s a false “proof” based on floating principles that remove experience and baseball sense from the decisionmaking process.

Stats are important but not the final word. If you take seriously the idea that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball and judge him on that, quite bluntly, you don’t know anything about baseball and need to learn before putting your opinion out there as final. And if you knowingly twist the facts, that makes it worse because instead of full disclosure—statistical and otherwise—in spite of the possibility of them watering down your argument, you’re spiritually altering them to “prove” a nonexistent point. That’s not honesty. It’s agenda-driven and self-interested at the expense of the truth.

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Carlos Quentin is a Good Risk For the Padres

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Say this about Padres GM Josh Byrnes: he follows through on what he believes strategically; trusts the people he trusts; and doesn’t care about perception when he makes his moves.

The Mat Latos trade came out of nowhere and Byrnes got a metric ton of young talent for a similarly young, talented pitcher still under team control for four years; he’s listening to offers for top prospect Anthony Rizzo; and he acquired an MVP-quality and injury-prone bat in Carlos Quentin for two minor leaguers.

As GM of the Diamondbacks, Byrnes proved he was willing to do anything and everything based on what he believed; sometimes it worked out as in the trade for Dan Haren; others it didn’t when he fired manager Bob Melvin and replaced him with the inexperienced A.J. Hinch and saddled him with the implication that he was a puppet of the front office by referencing the bizarrely phrased and cryptic term “organizational advocacy”.

In short, Byrnes’s philosophy isn’t about ego or positive press; it’s “this is what I’m doing, like it or not.”

Let’s look at the trade.

For the Padres:

It’s obvious now that Rizzo’s going to get traded and if they deal him for Matt Garza, the Padres will have had an understated and successful off-season.

Quentin’s big issue is staying healthy. When he’s healthy, he’s a middle-of-the-order, impact bat. The notion that he’s the product of friendly home parks is nonsense—he’s hit well on the road and when he’s struggled, his BAbip has been atrocious; he’s hit in bad luck. Quentin is an up-the-middle hitter; that tells me that he—in an Albert Pujols like fashion—sees the ball very well and hits it squarely on a regular basis. He’s a huge man (6’2”, 235) and has the power to get the ball out of Petco Park.

He’s had injuries to his knee, wrist, heel and shoulder; he might miss substantial time with maladies—he’s never played more than 131 games and his fractured wrist in 2008 likely cost him the American League MVP.

Quentin went to Stanford and knows what’s at stake in 2012: he’s playing for his contract and if he stays on the field and puts up big numbers playing in a pitchers’ park, he’s going to be an inviting free agent target for all the big money clubs in baseball.

It’s no risk and massive reward for the Padres since the young players they surrendered—LHP Pedro Hernandez and RHP Simon Castro—pitched poorly in Triple A and the Padres have pitching to spare. They needed a bat.

If they’re contending, they’ll have a power bat who will be the reason they’re contending; if they’re not and Quentin’s hitting well, they can trade him for a greater return than they gave up; if he gets hurt, he gets hurt.

For the White Sox:

Quentin was out of the lineup as much as he was in it, they weren’t going to keep him after next season and needed to slash payroll somewhere.

As negatively rated as the two young pitchers are, you never know with pitchers and White Sox GM Ken Williams is the same man who was in love with Gavin Floyd when no one else was and, in spite of atrocious numbers, traded for him and watched him become a top-tier starter.

The White Sox aren’t doing a full-scale teardown as Williams implied after Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle left and he announced they were open for business for anyone on the roster; they signed John Danks to an extension and have yet to make any significant trades of players who would bring back name prospects. They cleared the Quentin salary, got two pitchers and will have a look at Dayan Viciedo as an everyday player.

Because the AL Central is so up-for-grabs, the White Sox can still compete; it makes no sense to do anything too drastic right now.

The trade makes sense for both sides and was crafted by two GMs who don’t let public reaction influence what they do one way or the other.

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