Harden versus Gallagher

When the A’s decided yesterday to trade Rich Harden to the Cubs for a package of players that lacks a guy that you could point to as a potential star, they knew they were giving up one of the most talented arms in baseball. When Harden’s been healthy, he’s been lights out, blowing opposing hitters away and reminding the world that he’s still a force to occasionally be reckoned with.

Most of the reactions that I’ve seen so far are along the lines of “that’s it?”, expressing disappointment that the A’s dealt Harden away for what most see as a group of guys with limited upside. However, I think this deal makes a lot of sense for an A’s team that wants to continue to win in the near future while also solidifying their long term ability to compete. To show what I mean, let’s take a look at projections for Harden and Sean Gallagher going forward.

Based on his performance when healthy, and his numerous issues that have led to extended time on the DL, most of the preseason projection systems had Harden tabbed for between 50 to 100 innings pitched and a FIP of between 3.15 and 3.99. He’s already been able to throw 77 innings with a 2.70 FIP this year (even though a good part of that is an unsustainably low HR/FB rate), so if we add this new information to what we knew heading into 2008, we’d probably project Harden going forward as something like a guy who will throw 100 IP per season with a 3.25 FIP. That makes him one of the league’s best pitchers for about half a season, which sounds about right.

We knew a bit less about Gallagher, since the projections had to be built with the help of minor league data and a small sample of major league performance, but ZIPS and CHONE pegged him for a FIP between 4.9 and 5.1 over 120-140 innings while being unsure which role the Cubs would use him in. In 12 appearances this year (10 starts), he’s thrown 58 innings and posted a 3.98 FIP, so again, adding that new information and adjusting for the switch from the AL to the NL, we’d probably project Gallagher in Oakland for something like 180 innings a year with a FIP around 5.00.

Harden is obviously the better pitcher, but we have to account for the difference in durability as well, so let’s add Harden’s theoretical replacement into the equation. The A’s are one of the best organizations in baseball at finding spare parts to put up solid performances in their rotation (their defense and home park don’t hurt), so let’s assume that Amalgamation Of Harden Replacements will make up the 80 inning difference by posting a 5.50 FIP, a tick or two above league wide replacement level.

That brings the combined totals for Harden + Harden Replacements to 180 innings with a 4.25 FIP, compared to the 180 innings we were projecting from Gallagher at a 5.00 FIP. That’s a difference of three-fourths of a run per nine innings, which while significant, adds up to a grand total of about 15 runs over the course of an entire season.

Fifteen runs, or roughly 1.5 wins – that’s the entirety of downgrading from Rich Harden to Sean Gallagher, based on the assumptions I made above. If you don’t like the numbers I used, feel free to plug in your own, but unless you’re very bullish on Harden’s health, you’re going to come to the conclusion that the swap will cost the A’s at most two or three wins between now and the end of 2009, when Harden’s contract expires.

For giving up those two to three wins in the next year and a half, the A’s receive club control over Gallagher from 2010 to 2013 (his ’08-’09 years are already counted above), control over Murton from 2008 to 2011, control over Patterson from 2008 to 2014, a potentially useful prospect in Josh Donaldson, and they save approximately $8 million in salary.

The A’s sold two to three wins for four years of a guy who projects out as a league average pitcher, three years of a useful platoon outfielder, six years of a potentially useful utility player, a young catching prospect, and $8 million in cash. And they’re getting killed for it?

If Beane spends the $8 million he saved on a free agent this winter, he’ll be able to buy back at least one of the wins he surrendered in this deal, and probably closer to two, erasing almost the entire difference between Harden and Gallagher just with the financial savings. Even if Murton, Patterson, and Donaldson are all busts, the A’s are still just about as good in 2009 as they were with Harden, meaning they picked up Gallagher’s age 24 to 27 seasons for free.

I’m not a huge Sean Gallagher fan, as my rather conservative projection above shows, and after running through all this, but if I was the A’s, I still might have considered swapping Harden for Gallagher straight up. The fact that they got Murton, Patterson, and Donaldson as sweetner is just a bonus.

This deal is a win for the A’s, even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like it. They don’t take much away from their 2009 team while making the 2010 to 2013 squads potentially a lot better.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


15 Responses to “Harden versus Gallagher”

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  1. Chris says:

    You didn’t make any reference to Gaudin. How does his value play into this trade? Isn’t he a solid 4/5 starter or long reliever?

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  2. Jason says:

    The flaw in your argument is that whether or not you “win” a trade should not only take into account the values of those players to your team, but what else you could have gotten. In other words, what was Harden’s perceived value on the market and how close did Billy Beane get to maximizing that?

    Admittedly we have to fall into the speculative realm to judge this, but the fact is that Harden has been relatively healthy this year and is pitching like an ace. Compared to the CC Sabathia package and accounting for the fact that Beane’s trade partner would get 1.5 years out of Harden instead of CC’s 1/2 season rental, there’s reason to believe he could have gotten a little more.

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  3. Tom Au says:

    This analysis hit the ball out of the park (and appears to be the right way to look at things). Oakland traded half a season per year of Harden for all of Gallagher, and Gallagher isn’t that much worse than Harden plus half a season of replacements, using a VORP analysis. But Oakland saves $8 million in salary out to 2009, which they can use to “buy back” the wins that they lost in the trade. Thus, even a “straight” trade of Harden for Gallagher makes sense, given that Gallagher has several more years past 2009 before he goes free agent.

    Knowing Billy Beane, there is likely to be a “sleeper” in Murton, Donaldson or Patterson. We don’t yet know who, and the whole point is that Beane wasn’t about to tell us until it becomes obvious. (Remember how he “snookered” the other Chicago (White Sox) team out of Chad Bradford?) That is his likely “profit” from the deal. Assuming (as I do) that Beane had identified his candidate from this bunch (with other two as “straw men”), he probably didn’t want to spoil the deal by looking too greedy.

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  4. Kelly says:

    Dave, thanks for helping us A’s fans step back from the ledge… :)

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  5. Kyle says:

    The fact that the author neglected to mention the potential impact of Gaudin as either a bullpen guy or as “insurance” for Harden makes a lot of his assumptions useless. The point is that Gallagher has very limited MLB experience and could still be a bust, although he was the best player Oakland recieved in this deal. Murton was never going to fit into the Cubs OF plans with his limited power and fielding ability. Patterson is a utility player off the bench at best. Donaldson is struggling at a BA of .223 in single A. Sure, these guys fit the A’s system better than the the Cubs, but two facts make this a better deal in the short term for the Cubs: (1) the Cubs aquire a #1 pitcher than can help them advance this season in the playoffs and (2) if Harden has a setback this season, Gaudin is a more than serviceable replacement (and could be a replacement for Jason Marquis anyway). The fact that the Cubs got both of these pitchers makes this a better deal for them. You can’t compare Harden and Gallagher since Gallagher hasn’t started a grand total of 10 games at the major league level. The Cubs have been shopping all three (Murton, Gallagher, and Patterson) for months, so they obviously felt that they were not giving up anything over the top (as opposed to what the Brewers gave up for Sabathia). None of the prospects the Cubs gave up were higher than #5 in their system (Gallagher) making me believe that Beane was desparate to give away Harden now while healthy and willing to take any decent combination of players.

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  6. David Williams says:

    Plus, the author didn’t factor in all those great things Gallagher does with watermelons.

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  7. Yakker says:

    I think the analysis suffers because it doesn’t evaluate (or takes for granted) the marginal value to the A’s of 1 or 2 wins in this year’s playoff run. For a team sitting just a few games back from the division lead, this affects the analysis, if you think the A’s have any chance whatsoever of staying in the race. And if you don’t, well, you have to say that and explain your reasoning.

    Furthermore, the analysis should take into discount Gallagher’s production somewhat due to injury risk (not at Harden’s level, but not non-zero) and effectiveness.

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  8. China Brown says:

    I’ll say this. I’m glad Matt Murton is finally going to the A’s. That way, everyone who goes on and on about how he’s not given a fair chance, can enjoy seeing him ‘contribute’ hundreds upon hundreds of choppers to SS and 3B. Murton absolutely plays pepper with the left side infielders. He is creeping up on 27 and has been falling in the big leagues in both OBP and SLG every season. That his VORP is still in the + as recently as last season boggles my mind. He’s like one of those geological formations that defies gravity.

    At least all the debate will be able to stop soon on whether or not Murton is under appreciated, or just not all that great.

    To all the points about the A’s future benefits, I am inclined to agree. However, if you asked me if I would sell decent pieces of the farm if I knew it would put an outstanding team (playing below their pythag even) in a better position to win the world series this season, I would say yes. Maybe it will suck when Gallagher shoves it down my team’s throat for years to come with team controlled success, but if the Cubs were to win the series this season, it would be worth it, I believe.

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  9. Milendriel says:

    Kyle,

    Please point out something in the article where Dave says the trade was a bad idea for the Cubs or that they got the worse end of the deal. Oh look, he didn’t say those things. The article is solely examining the value TO THE A’S of what they received vs. what they gave up.

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  10. Richard G says:

    I’m sort of disappointed Gaudin wasn’t factored in, because overall it is pretty good analysis. I also agree with the above commenter that the marginal value of A’s wins needs to be taken into account. Additionally, one thing I have never understood about using “Win Analysis” in evaluating starters is that it largely ignores their value once a team reaches the playoffs. Say the A’s overcome the 1.5 wins they lose from Harden, and get to the playoffs– How do you evaluate the lack of Harden in that scenario, or if god-forbid you have to face him in the World Series?

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  11. Sal Paradise says:

    If they get to the playoffs, the loss of Harden hurts less I’d have to say. They still have a chance (albeit a smaller one) and they get the benefits of getting into the playoffs on next year’s revenues. Where the deal hurts them, and Yakker touched on it, is if the 1-2 wins that Harden could provide drops Oakland out of a shot at the playoffs. Those 1-2 wins suddenly become a lot more expensive than $8 million next year.

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  12. Calvin says:

    Decent analysis on Gallagher vs Harden, but not all pitching injuries are the same. Harden’s never had any surgeries, unlike Wood or Prior. Also, you failed to point out that the addition of Gaudin affects the replacement value for Harden if he does get hurt, or that the Cubs only gave up a pupu platter to ger Gaudin in the deal. If you look at the deal as a whole, the Cubs win hands down.

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  13. Andrew Abbott says:

    Why not mention the fact that the Cubs are set at all of the positions of the players they traded? They’ve got Theriot, Soriano, Soto and a multitude of good pitching prospects, so why keep around guys that are just going to rot in the minors for the next several years when they could trade them for a damn good pitcher in the middle of a playoff race? I think the numbers in your arguement make sense, but the overall logic is flawed in calling this a win for the A’s just yet.

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  14. chris says:

    ok thats all good we save 8 million but you dont add the factor of chad gaudin into the mix. i strongly belive that we should of made him our closer & threw houston street into the trade mix. street with good stuff & usually starts the hitters off 0-2 and then gives up a single on a 0-2 count & the panic begins to set in as he walks around the mound thinking only a 1run lead as he go’s 0-2 to the next batter & smash it’s a long deep flyball back way back gone its outta here homerun just like the save oppertunity is gone. harden we bring in to face 4-5 batters hell make it a 6 pack somenights as he would gas guys down with straight 99-103mph heat as he can throw no prob.for 1-2 inn. 15 pitches every other day or when needed which might enable him to finish a complete season or many injury free with the stress & fautige of throwing 100 pitch count through 7inn granted it was of no hit ball sometimes but thats history now i wish him & gaudin the best but now there outta here & in someone else’s rotation. so now its time to get chavez healthy along with the big hurt maybe travis buck comes to reality that he has a bobblehead & goes buck wild to get back on the squad giving us some much needed offensive stability & the PR. dept. gives blatton a bobble head day aswell boosting his confidence & ego to go 12-1 for the second half of the season pushing us past the what ever Lost Angles O Anheim for the west div. title WOOAAAAHHH “Let’s Go Oakland” cause in the end thats all that matters “Let’s Go Oakland” & 6-7″ 16yr.old pitchrs

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  15. zak says:

    Basically its a good deal for both teams. The A’s didn’t sacrifice that much in the short term while potentially gaining a lot in the long term. The Cubs didn’t sacrifice that much in the long term while potentially gaining a lot in the short term. None of the Cubs top 4-5 prospects were included in this deal.

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