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  1. Excellent, nuanced thinking here, Cameron. While, in terms of pure performance, it almost never makes sense to spend more than you have to (i.e. paying Iwamura to do what a younger/cheaper player might do almost as well), that line of thought disregards the opinion of a major revenue source. I never thought of it like this, but if you own the Pirates, you have to deal with the reality of the situation: many fans won’t come to/watch games if you surrender the division before the first pitch of the season is thrown.

    Short of inoculating an entire fanbase with sabermetric thought, it seems like you have to throw them a veteran every once in a while.

    Comment by Carson Cistulli — November 3, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  2. I would’ve commented on this deal making no sense for the Pirates. Now I’m rethinking. God, this site provides good analysis.

    Comment by Logan — November 3, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  3. I think there are several other considerations as well.

    First, when a team is really bad there are ample options to upgrade – as long as you’re halfway smart you can find low cost of free players who are better than what you currently have. That is the situation the Mariners were in last year.

    For teams in those situations it makes sense to acquire some of those players at reasonable short term contracts where those acquisitions don’t block development of younger players. The contrasts between Seattle and Kansas City are good examples of how and how not to do it.

    Second, because those players are simply filling roster space they may have trade value next season to help bring back some players who have potential to help the team longer. Essentially, done properly, these types of acquisitions create a few more opportunities to add talent.

    These deals can also be attractive for the players involved, as the player will know that they will likely be getting more playing time than if they were with a contencting team. That maximizes the players opportunity to have a good year and set themselves up for a better contract.

    Comment by Basil Ganglia — November 3, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  4. You forgot one thing, Dave:

    The Pirates might be planning on trading him next season at the trading deadline for Madison Bumgarner.

    Comment by devil_fingers — November 3, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  5. Good analysis, Dave. Adding talent at a good price is always the right move. Iwamura at 4.25 million will most likely outperform his contract. And Jesse Chavez (the rumored return) has been below replacement level for the Pirates the past two seasons. The Pirates could capitalize, and flip Iwamura for prospects at the deadline as well.

    Comment by Justin — November 3, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

  6. Going beyond this analysis, there’s plenty of scope to repackage Iwamura down the road at the trade deadline. Imagine if a playoff contender like the Phillies lost Chase Utley. They don’t have anything in the system that approximates replacement level to back up 2nd base so adding Aki’s 1ish WAR at the deadline actually would represent a larger gain. The Phillies might be willing to pay quite a premium to fill a black hole. Of course such a scenario might be unlikely, but it never hurts to put yourself in a position of strength if the price is right.

    Of course, we’ll see what the Bucs actually gave up before praising them on keeping their options open.

    Comment by The A Team — November 3, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

  7. This is a well reasoned article. I like that it goes beyond the knee jerk reaction we so often see in the sabermetric community.

    Comment by CJ — November 3, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  8. Jesse Chavez is a replacement reliever (at best). Akinori Iwamura was a game or so better than replacement, despite his injuries, and league average (or better), if healthy.

    Given a now above average rotation, and several sluggers in Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit, and Andy McCutchen, the Pirates could be a winning team if all other players are “league average or better.”

    Comment by Tom Au — November 3, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

  9. Umm… no. Just… no.

    “Given a now above average rotation,”


    “…and several sluggers in Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit, and Andy McCutchen….”

    Right, Lastings Milledge of the .319 wOBA, and Ryan Doumit (.306). I wouldn’t call them “sluggers”. And while McCutchen projects as a five tool potential star, even he isn’t a “slugger”. He’s valuable, but “slugger” is the wrong categorization.

    “…the Pirates could be a winning team if all other players are ‘league average or better’.”

    And if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. League average is about a 2 win player. The Pirates are filled with replacement level players. They are a far, far cry from a winning team.

    Comment by Logan — November 3, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  10. Quantify it. Any of it.

    Seriously, an argument without any support _at all_ and everyone is applauding it simply because it goes against a rather common sabermetric argument?

    Comment by cpebbles — November 3, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  11. I like the idea of Aki being flipped at the deadline. Maybe a switch to the NL inflates his numbers, too.

    Luis Cruz clearly isn’t ready to be handed an opening-day 2b job yet and perhaps with one more year in AAA he will be.

    Plus, Neal Huntington has shown that he is desirous to establish footholds in scouting and development outside North America. Adding a very recognizable Japanese player couldn’t hurt.

    Comment by Jacob Jackson — November 3, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  12. I appreciate your sentiment but I don’t really think the burden is on him to quantify it; I think part of his point is that some it is unquantifiable.

    Although I think we could look at attendance figures for long-languishing teams in mid-to-small markets – the Pirates included – and find evidence that wins #65-80 in a season do indeed matter, both for current-season attendance and perhaps even for the following year’s season-ticket sales.

    Comment by Jacob Jackson — November 3, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  13. What is really the downside of this deal for the Pirates? They lose 4 million dollars that wouldn’t have gone anywhere else? They lose a replacement level reliever?

    Comment by Justin — November 3, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  14. Then do that, if you’re going to write an article arguing that. Seriously, if Cameron or anyone else wrote an article about, say, how underappreciated Martin Prado is, and didn’t even bother to back his point up with a shred of actual evidence, this site would have a dozen posts now about what a lousy article it was.

    Comment by cpebbles — November 3, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

  15. “Luis Cruz clearly isn’t ready to be handed an opening-day 2b job yet and perhaps with one more year in AAA he will be.”

    No, he’s never going to cut it as a starter or even good utility player IMO.

    Comment by Adam Reynolds — November 3, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  16. Another example of temporary upgrades gone wrong: the 2009 As. Giambi and Garciaparra created a 1B log jam that prevented young players from taking the field on a consistent basis, and by filling the DH spot they pushed Jack Cust into the outfield to woeful results. Can’t blame either for their poor seasons, but the idea was flawed from the start. The point about filling a position that doesn’t cost you in development of up and coming players is right on. Looks like management learned a lesson, though, and 2010, uh, I mean 2011, shows a lot of promise here in Oakland!

    Comment by paris7 — November 3, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

  17. According to the WAR numbers on this site Iwamura is roughly equal to Freddy Sanchez over the last 3 seasons. Sanchez was able to land a pretty nice prospect at the deadline.

    Also interesting that the Pirates tried to re-up Sanchez on a short term deal before the trade deadline, but Sanchez allegedly wanted more years on the deal. The Pirates managed to get a similar player without committing beyond a first year.

    Comment by Bill — November 3, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  18. Yes, but the A’s had a reasonable shot of making the playoffs this season (PECOTA had them as the favorites; most projections put them as second), but nobody expected them to be that bad. So Beane was playing to win; hindsight, though, is 20/20.

    Comment by Andy S. — November 3, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  19. Ouch. Just, ouch.

    Comment by GiantsFan — November 3, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  20. You’re welcome to go find an article on how winning affects attendance (especially the W-L record from the previous season on attendance in the current season). They’re out there. No need for everyone to do a research paper on every single aspect of an article they write if the research already exists…

    I google’d: winning attendance baseball

    That’s the first thing I found. It really isn’t that hard.

    Comment by B — November 3, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

  21. You seemed to have missed the line where he said he’d leave the actual analysis to RJ

    Comment by The A Team — November 3, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  22. The A’s also had a prospect or two that could reasonably have been used. Who do you want the Pirates to use Delwyn Young?

    Comment by The A Team — November 3, 2009 @ 9:47 pm

  23. They are not a far cry from a 75 win team. Good luck could win them 82.

    Comment by Nats Fan — November 3, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  24. Above average rotation… no, but average is certainly possible. They enter 2010 with a better group than 2009.
    Here are the 2009 FIPS:
    Maholm 3.83
    Duke 4.24
    Morton 4.15
    Ohlendorf 4.72
    Karstens 4.88

    That is not a bad rotation, not great, but not bad. Maholm and Duke are probably as good as they will get, but the other three could easily get better, and if they each did some, then I think your looking at an average rotation.

    Comment by PhD Brian — November 3, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  25. heck if they do something like sign Ben Sheets and get 30 typical starts out of him, then they could be a very good rotation.

    Comment by PhD Brian — November 3, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  26. The As have a shot in 2010. They finished 2009 with the lowest FIP in the AL. Get some serious hitting and the As could easily contend.

    Comment by PhD Brian — November 3, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

  27. If you look at team FIP, the NL has all the top pitching staffs in baseball. Why would switching to the NL inflate his stats?

    Comment by PhD Brian — November 3, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  28. Does the fact that NL pitchers get to pitch to NL pitchers that have to bat deflate NL FIP when compared to AL FIP because AL Pitchers don’t get to pitch to AL pitchers that have to bat?

    Comment by knox — November 3, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  29. Yes, if a lot of successive, conditional probabilities happen, the Pirates could be half-way decent. But the overall likelihood? Not good. Especially in a relative context. It’s even acknowledged in the article that they’re not a 2010 contender.

    Comment by Logan — November 3, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  30. If you’re writing an article that makes the point that winning 70 games instead of 69 affects attendance, you had better damned well support it somehow instead of just assuming that anyone who wants some substance with your article is going to go Google that proof (Incidentally, the study linked below makes that case very poorly). Otherwise what is the purpose of the article?

    Comment by cpebbles — November 3, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  31. I won’t argue with that, the AL West should be a very strong division next year and pretty evenly matched. A lot of things would have to go right for the A’s I think. Their players would all need to progress nicely and be blessed from injury. A strong contribution from Brett Wallace would go a long way towards helping.

    Comment by The A Team — November 3, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

  32. Something which occurred to me along these lines at the time of the nyjer morgan trade was that morgan could provide excellent D behind some still-developing prospect pitchers. Having morgan in CF rather than milledge meant those young pitchers wouldn’t get buried on errors and missed plays. Having decent pitching prospects who haven’t yet put it all together with one of the worst defenses behind them seemed like a recipe for disaster.

    Same thing goes here to a lesser extent – losing sanchez and wilson left the IF defense in bad shape. Iwamura helped shore that up. The pitching staff will have cause to thank him.

    While I’m not an acolyte of the human factor theory of baseball, it’s not hard to imagine it could be hard to develop real talent surrounded by replacement grade teammates.

    Comment by tom s. — November 4, 2009 @ 2:28 am

  33. I peg both Morton and Ohlendorf’s (orward-going) ERA’s as closer to 3.00 than 4.00, based on late season adjustments. And Morton’s numbers go way down, if you throw out his 1 inning, 10 run, 90 ERA “start” against the Cubs. (So does everyone else’s if you throw out their worst start, but not to the same degree).

    Maholm’s FIPS have come down .020 points or so each year; I can see him troughing at 3.50-3.60. Duke “averages” 4.20-4.25. Karstens may be only a little better than 4.88, but I’m looking for ONE of three possible fifth starters, Karstens, Hart, or McCutchen to beat that number.

    On my assumptions, you have a (moderately) above average rotation.

    Put another way, I see Ohlendorf as being +2 wins above league average, Morton as +1, Duke-Maholm +1 between them, and the back ender, -2, for a total of +2 or +1.

    Comment by Tom Au — November 4, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  34. I proposed that the Pirates acquire Ben Sheets on the Bleacher Report.

    Comment by Tom Au — November 4, 2009 @ 11:28 am

  35. Yes, knox, it does. FIP is modeled on walks, HR’s and K’s, and NL pitchers, when they bat, hit HR’s less often, walk less often, and k more often than other hitters. So NL pitchers, when they pitch, get to improve those numbers, and thus their FIP.

    Comment by B — November 4, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

  36. Thanks B. I appreciate the response.

    Comment by knox — November 4, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  37. No sense for the Pirates? They gave up very little to put a decent player on the field, and if things go bad, and Iwamura plays as well as expected, they can certainly get more back at the deadline, see DeRosa; Indians.

    Comment by Chip — November 4, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  38. I’m not arguing against the signing of Branyan… but didn’t his signing retard the development of Jeff Clement and Mike Carp as much as signing Ken Griffey, who arguably had a bigger effect on their bottom line? If the Mariners don’t retain Branyan’s services for 2010 (or beyond?) couldn’t you look at BOTH Russell “the Muscle” and Griffey’s signings as losers? Nobody can really argue attendance because I was there for two games in September and SafeCo Field was practically dead. Sure, maybe it would have died more had Griffey not came back and Branyan not helped the Mariners win significantly more games, but I was rather unimpressed with the fan base here for a team which made such a rebound. And when they were out of it by mid-August, I lamented they made the Pirates trade for a mediocre pitcher and an injured shortstop, hadn’t really figured out what they had in Saunders, Carp, Tuiasosopo, etc., and gave up on a potential impact DH bat in Clement, along with the young pitching.

    Comment by james — November 4, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  39. “Nobody can really argue attendance because I was there for two games in September and SafeCo Field was practically dead”

    No offense, but this statement is kind of meaningless. A few things about attendance – first, there’s a large lag effect here, a lot of the relationship between winning and attendance is actually in the following year, so we won’t even see a lot of the effect of winning this season on attendance until next season. Some of the reasons for this have to do with season ticket sales and the fanbases preseason expectations.

    Second, and this one is important, is it’s all relative. It doesn’t matter that it was dead. It matters how much less dead it was because the M’s were winning more. That’s what we mean when we talk about the marginal value of a win – the change in attendance each extra win causes. Attendance might be poor no matter what, but if there’s more attendance because their record is a bit better, that’s additional revenue the win(s) provided.

    Finally, it may be that the attendance boost, if there was one, in that season came earlier in the season when the Mariners were more in the playoff race. By September it could be the attendance boost had disappeared, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t present earlier in the season. This is actually an interesting thought to me, and it may be that this has a different effect on the marginal value of a win depending on how successful the team is, because the longer you stay in the playoff race the greater the effect that win is on attendance in the present year (and winning more means you’re in the playoff race longer).

    Comment by B — November 4, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

  40. Branyan (or Griffey for that matter) did not block anyone. Coming into the year Carp had not played above AA and Clement was hurt and had never played 1B.

    Comment by Grizz — November 4, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

  41. Just as important, it’s not like there’s some sort of established powerhouse in the NL Central. If the Pirates can make the necessary improvements to get to a 78-81 win team on true talent, good luck and a down year by the multiple imperfect teams in the division could get them into contention in what has been the most unpredictable division in baseball in recent years.

    The Pirates have a lot of flaws coming into next year, but there’s upside there as well. McCutchen looks like a bona fide star, Garrett Jones came out of nowhere to give them a .396 wOBA last year, and Milledge, Alvarez, and Andy LaRoche all have at least some breakout potential.

    Neither Jones maintaining his ’09 performance or breakouts from any of the 3 guys I mentioned are particularly likely (Milledge and Laroche are perpetual disappointments and Alvarez will start the year in the minors), but there’s a non-zero chance for the stars to align and result in a pretty good offense for the Pirates next year. I don’t expect it to happen, but a good GM looking at a volatile core like the Pirates, which has both significant tank potential and some real upside, and surrounds those guys with solid players acquired at bargain prices on the off chance that absolutely everything goes right.

    That’s the key difference between what Huntington did in the Iwamura trade and the kind of worthless spending Dayton Moore did with the Royals last offseason.

    Comment by JH — November 4, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  42. Right. So, understanding that, the GM should be looking to make good, low-cost moves instead of mortgaging the future. That way, if everything goes right, he’s acquired one more piece that could add a win or two and improve the odds of contention that much more. If it doesn’t, he paid a guy about what he was worth to make his team marginally better than it would have been otherwise, and sacrificed nothing in the future except maybe a 1-2 slot difference in draft position.

    Nobody’s arguing the Pirates are a likely contender next year. That doesn’t mean that a GM should make absolutely no effort to improve the 2010 version. Iwamura helps the 2010 team without hindering the organization’s long-term plans in any way.

    Comment by JH — November 4, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

  43. If Dave was writing a Masters’ thesis, you’d have a point. This is a blog post, and he writes two per day that we get to read for free. The worst teams in the league routinely have very poor attendance. Teams that contend draw more fans. If Dave was trying to say that the precise cost of the contract will result in a precise increase in profitability, we would expect him to come at the discussion with concrete data. All he’s saying is that a team that decides it won’t be a contender shouldn’t let good value acquisitions pass them by and accept yet another 60-win season.

    Anyone who’s sat through a weekend series at PNC park knows that a decade of losing hurts attendance and demoralizes a fan base, even if they can’t put it into exact numbers.

    Comment by JH — November 4, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

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