Bill James on the Red Sox / Dodgers Trade
Sure, why wouldn't a club VP analyze a deal for the fans?


We're constantly hounding you guys to add classical education to your resumes :- ) but this one was unreal.  James, as a member of the Boston front office, participated as part of the committee in constructing the biggest ($$-wise) transaction in baseball history.  Don't underestimate James' role in the Boston front office.  He's not the GM, but he's at the Big Table as org consensus is built.

One of his readers, preposterously, asked him to remark on the deal and, even more preposterously, he replied.

My guess, based on past experience, is that reading the popular reaction to the deal and viewing it as obvious nonsense, he just couldn't quite contain himself.


Are you allowed to comment on THE trade?
Asked by: 3for3
Answered: 8/27/2012
Well. . . "allowed".   Nobody tells me I can't comment on the trade, but as a practical matter I'm pretty limited in this case.    I'll say two things:
1)  I am amazed at the extent to which large numbers of people who have commented on the trade are 20 feet off base and leaning the wrong way, and
2)  What I would say to them is, "You're over-thinking it."   It's not that hard.


Receiving these two comments are along the lines of receiving two comments from Richard Nixon about the Watergate scandal, or receiving two things from President Obama about what's in Area 51.  Immediately you would see dozens, maybe hundreds, of books developed around this information...


I/O Statement 2):  It's pretty clear, we think, what James means here.  Boston had to clean house, the Dodgers wanted a groundswell up into a mega TV contract, and each franchise represented 50% of the only game in town.  I'm guessing that you don't argue much with your local power company.  You buy electricity or you don't.

Boston's Entitled Vets had gotten way out of hand.  Last August and September, there was a bunch of media complaining about Beckett playing golf, players skipping optional batting practice, etc etc.  Most sabermetricians blew this off.  SSI didn't.  This was a case of "where there's smoke there's fire," and rich players can get complacent.  You know, we're putting on a Show, what more do you want.

The Boston owners fired a warning shot over the bow.  Youkilis is gone, we're bringing in The Warden (Bobby Valentine) and it's time to get your game faces on.

Beckett, Pedroia, AGone etc. responded by telling management what they could do with their warden.  Faced with two simple choices, John Henry's organization chose not to blink.  And out went all of the Over-Entitled Vets.


I/O Statement 1)  This one is harder to decipher, and Dr. D would enjoy hearing some interpretation from the bleachers.  The consensus is wrong, is it?  "Amazingly" wrong.  And "leaning the wrong way."

The only consensus we know of, is the idea that the Dodgers paid $20 for a gallon of milk.   SSI didn't view the trade this way -- Josh Beckett could be worth more than $13M per year in the Ravine.  AGone likely will be worth more than 4 WAR in the National League.  Carl Crawford was racking up 6-7 WAR per year just very recently.  

Crawford is the big dice roll, no doubts there, but it's hardly a clear-cut overpay in terms of free agent salary.  Crawford is exactly one rebound year away from commanding more than 5/$100 on the market.  The Dodgers expect that year; that's on their talent evaluators.  I'm very skeptical, but there is a difference between (1) my judgment and (2) known facts.

Is James speaking for the Boston steering committee, and for Los Angeles', saying that AGone, Beckett and Crawford are anything but overpaid deadwood?  That they are still viewed, inside baseball, as premium talent, and that this is why the Dodgers sent quality prospects to the Red Sox?


Dr D



Going both ways, as a matter of fact.
Boston: They established whose turf the clubhouse was, freed up a ton of FA cash for the next few years, and in a hyper-critical market, had the guts to say, "This isn't working. We're going a new direction." That's a brave statement this early in the AGon era. I like what they did.
Los Angeles: They kept p with the Jones' next door (the Angels) by jumping in the swap/FA market with a splash. They said to their beleaguered fans, "We're fighting for this year!" And, btw, they didn't acquire corned beef.
Look at it this way: For the next two years they Angels pay PUjols not quite $40M. For the next two years, the Dodgers pay the new three about $58M. Can they get 1.5 times more WAR from those three than the Angels do from Pujols? That's a fair bet, even if Beckett now has a noodle arm. Heck, it's a decent bet that next year the Dodgers can get more from AGon than the Angels due from Pujols. That leave any Crawford rebound (and there will be some) as gravy.
After '14, the Dodgers have 3 years of $42M, because Beckett is gone. Angels are paying $25M per. Dodgers could still get more return for their investment.
This could work out for both teams. James is right, it isn't that hard to understand.
And, to editorialize, the house clearing is what the M's should have done instead of drop kicking Wak.


AGON career WAR compared to Teixeira:
Ag - WR - TEX
24 - 2.8 -- 4.3
25 - 2.3 -- 7.0
26 - 3.3 -- 4.2
27 - 6.6 -- 4.4
28 - 4.1 -- 7.5
29 - 6.7 -- 5.1
30 - 2.9 -- 3.9 (when traded - war 2.4 ... pace of 2.9)
31 - ??? - 3.0
32 - ??? - 3.5
AGON a nice spike right in the heart of peak performance land (age 27-29).
His 6.6 season was driven by an impossibly high 119 walks, (does Chone Figgins ring any bells?). He had lost ALL of that additional eye and was back to his "normal" 75 walks by age 29.
His age 29 spike was driven by a .338 BA ... with a BABIP of .380. His career average is .323. Just fyi, his BABIP this season in Boston was .329 ... pretty much dead career average.
So ... what is AGON's WAR "really?" Is it 5? Is it 6? Is it 4?
Because he's 30 ... whatever his WAR may be this instant ... IT IS GOING *DOWN*. He will never ever be getting better as a player again. The fact that he's dropped off so much this year "might" be a little flukish ... but that doesn't mean he's not 30. But, take a look at his bbref WAR. His CAREER dWAR is -4.1. Over 9 full seasons, his aggregate defensive value is LESS than replacement level. Is that likely to improve now that he's 30?
Me? I see a guy who was a solid 4+ WAR player *IN HIS PRIME*, who happened to have a couple of very flukey career years in the middle of his peak. Doc, you of all people know about age arcs and how the shape of the bell is heavily influenced by how soon you hit peak. The sooner you peak, the longer your peak. The LATER you peak, the shorter your peak.
AGON didn't peak until age 27 ... following 3 years of 3-ish WAR. He had 3 exceptional years. A symetrical career pattern would have him running about 3 years of 3-WAR ... followed by 3 years of ... well, we probably don't want to think about what those last three years will be like, if he's getting $21 million.
I remember your support for Teixeira, (available at age 29 for multiple years). I argued that he was already at his peak, and his swoon would come *BY* age 32 at the latest. Well ... it came earlier than I thought. But, consider the AGON and TEX parallels. Just so you'll have it, I provided the comps to Tex.
If AGON is *only* a 3.5 WAR player TODAY, that makes him worth about $16 million. Yes, he *could* recover to meet his salary ... but 3 years from now ... if he takes another dip ... what then?
AROD ... who was a 9 WAR player at the age of 20 made it all the way to age 32 before he became a sub 4-WAR player. The steroid era has severely skewed people's perceptions of aging. Boston has figured it out. They didn't just dump salary. With the emergence of guys like Mauro Gomez, Middlebrooks, Salty ... they have positioned themselves to potentially be a BETTER team ... *AND* have an extra 70-80 million to spend.
The Dodgers bought a shot at a title this season, (which they already had a shot at), and *at best*, maybe a shot next year. The 5 years beyond that ... the Dodgers will be looking up at San Diego.


But it's a good point:  they flushed Wak for ... Figgins, Griffey and Saunders, right?  And Saunders coulda had his leash yanked if the other two were flushed.
But Jay-Z presumably figured, I don't like the skill set shown here.  On Wak's part.


(1) Why do you chisel him back to 4 WAR at his peak, when his actual 3-year average was 5.8 WAR?   You could as easily argue he was better than that, as that he was worse.  What he WAS, was 5.8 per year.
(2) Have you never seen AGone historical profiles who had a down year or two around age 30, and rebounded to 30 WAR from ages 31-35?  - Lou Whitaker, Rafael Palmeiro, Robin Yount, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, etc etc etc?  And it's not like AGone had an Adam Dunn or Mark McGwire disappearance here.
(3)  Why is he being compared to Mark Teixeira?  
(4) Why no consideration of the shift back to the NL?
(5) etc etc.
It's certainly possible that AGone will fade early.   Our original article noted the comps of Morneau, Clark, etc.  And very possible that the trade will backfire for LA, no doubts there.  I'm sure that James is referring to opinions, like yours, that it is obvious that the trade will backfire on LA.  It is no such thing.
Considering that AGone posts 1 WAR defensively, it's awfully tough to rule out his producing an overall 4 WAR in coming seasons.


bref has him at MINUS 4.1 for his career.
But seriously, Doc? You're going to invoke Raffy and Big Mac? You're making my argument for me.
As for Raines ... a no power speedster ... (terrible comp) ... but even HE makes my point.
3-season peak of 151, 145, 149 from age 25-27. (nice peak)
28 - 120
29 - 132
30 - 117
31 - 98
32 - 122
Mind you ... his entire 30s are also in the steroid era.
But steroids or not ... he had one (partial) career year left in him at age 33.
I am NOT saying it is impossible for a player to have an up YEAR after age 30. I'm saying it is impossible to have an up CAREER when comparing age 30+ to the normal 25-29 area peak.
Imagine after his age 27 season, (not even age 29), after 3 straight fantastic seasons by OPS (5 great WAR seasons ranging from 5.3 to 7.3). You signing Raines at age 28 to a ... 6 year contract as a 5.0 WAR guy? Because what he DID produce after that age 27 season was:
If you had paid Raines ... the guy YOU picked ... as a paltry little 4.0 WAR guy ... you would have overpaid for him in 5 of the 6 seasons.
Bill James taught me in 1987 that age 27 was standard peak production. But that was just before the steroid era put the whammy on age arcs. I'm not bringing anything new. I'm just trying to wake people up to the simple fact that humans age ... and MLB players are humans, too.
Yes, there are exceptions. You will find a RARE case like Ryan or Moyer. But the standard ... the bet you will win 90% of the time is that players decline ... and they typically show a first significant drop around age 30. My rule is "by" age 32. Then, if still around, a 2nd tier drop at age 36.
No matter how it feels ... a 120 OPS+ is NOT a 150 OPS+. It is not a slow, steady, noticeable decline. It is typically drastic, quick and followed by random spurts, (which in THIS generation have to all be considered suspect). But, the MAJORITY of years post-30 are a significant downgrade over the pre-30 years for the vast majority of players.

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