The 2012 Trade Value List, in Retrospect

Next week, I’m rolling out the latest version of our annual trade value series. Before we get into this year’s list, though, I think it’s instructive to look back at where players were ranked a year ago, and see if there are any lessons to be learned from the placement of various players. I would rather learn from history than repeat it.

Let’s just start with the list itself.

Ranking Player Position Team
1 Mike Trout OF Angels
2 Bryce Harper OF Nationals
3 Andrew McCutchen OF Pirates
4 Evan Longoria 3B Rays
5 Giancarlo Stanton OF Marlins
6 Ryan Braun OF Brewers
7 Matt Kemp OF Dodgers
8 Stephen Strasburg SP Nationals
9 Jason Heyward OF Braves
10 Jose Bautista OF Blue Jays
11 Troy Tulowitzki SS Rockies
12 Buster Posey C Giants
13 Jered Weaver SP Angels
14 Justin Verlander SP Tigers
15 Brett Lawrie 3B Blue Jays
16 Clayton Kershaw SP Dodgers
17 Felix Hernandez SP Mariners
18 Miguel Cabrera 3B Tigers
19 Madison Bumgarner SP Giants
20 David Price SP Rays
21 Gio Gonzalez SP Nationals
22 Mike Moustakas 3B Royals
23 Justin Upton OF Diamondbacks
24 Matt Moore SP Rays
25 Jason Kipnis 2B Indians
26 Joey Votto 1B Reds
27 Carlos Gonzalez OF Rockies
28 Jurickson Profar SS Rangers
29 Dylan Bundy SP Orioles
30 Ian Kinsler 2B Rangers
31 Chris Sale SP White Sox
32 Mark Trumbo 1B/OF Angels
33 Austin Jackson OF Tigers
34 Dustin Pedroia 2B Red Sox
35 Pablo Sandoval 3B Giants
36 Jay Bruce OF Reds
37 Wil Myers OF Royals
38 Matt Wieters C Orioles
39 Alex Gordon OF Royals
40 Johnny Cueto SP Reds
41 Starlin Castro SS Cubs
42 Yu Darvish SP Rangers
43 Adam Jones OF Orioles
44 Matt Holliday OF Cardinals
45 Ben Zobrist 2B/OF Rays
46 Robinson Cano 2B Yankees
47 Alcides Escobar SS Royals
48 Matt Cain SP Giants
49 Yovani Gallardo SP Brewers
50 Elvis Andrus SS Rangers

Players Whose Stock Has Fallen Significantly

Braun (#6), Kemp (#7), Weaver (#13), Lawrie (#15), Moustakas (#22), Upton (#23), Bundy (#29), Kinsler (#30), Trumbo (#32), Wieters (#38), Cueto (#40), Castro (#41), Escobar (#47), Gallardo (#49), Andrus (#50)

There are basically two types of players on that list (with Braun and Kinsler being the notable outliers): pitchers who got injured or have seen their stuff decline and young players who just haven’t hit much since the list was published.

Pitcher injuries are a fact of life, and short of just leaving out every hurler, I’m not sure there’s much to be learned from there. Jered Weaver’s contract probably got too much weight in pushing him ahead of younger pitchers with better stuff, but Weaver had been terrific in the first half of the year, and there’s only so much we can do to forecast future pitcher health.

The young hitters, though, might tell us something. In pretty much each case — Trumbo excepted — they are guys who could be terrific players as long as they hit at even an average level. They played up the middle positions or were terrific corner defenders, and they were almost universally elite prospects who showed real offensive potential in the minors. They were at a point in their aging curve where improvement could be expected, and they were already good players who looked like they could become great ones if the bat took a step forward.

Instead, the bats have either stagnated or gone backwards, and this group is a reminder that young players don’t all improve at the same rates, and a league average hitter in his early 20s is a league average hitter because he’s showing some kind of offensive deficiency, which may or may not improve. There’s a reason that hitters are the hardest things to scout, because there are a lot of things about hitting that aren’t physical, and only become apparent with experience.

This year, I’m probably going to grade players of this type a little more conservatively. The best players in the game are those who can play premium positions while also hitting, but it also can be difficult to look at young players at premium positions and figure out just which ones are indeed going to hit.

Players Whose Stock Has Risen Significantly

Posey (#12), Hernandez (#17), Gonzalez (#27), Sale (#31), Darvish (#42)

This is inherently a much shorter list, because time erodes a player’s trade value by taking away a year of team control — which is often at a well below market salary — and moves the player closer to free agency. Most players on the list are going to lose trade value every season unless they show real improvement over the past year, or sign a new contract that is far enough below the market price that it improves their value as an asset.

Posey and Hernandez both signed long term deals that bought out a bunch of free agent years, and while both extensions were pricey, they’re now elite players under team control for many seasons, with free agency no longer looming as a potential escape route. Sale signed a much cheaper extension, since he wasn’t anywhere near free agency, but also continues to dominate. Gonzalez, at age-27, is having his best season yet, while Darvish has shown better command and has pitched more like the #1 starter Texas expected than he did in the first half of last year.

Beyond that, though, the big jumps come from guys who didn’t make the list last year. We’ll talk more about those guys next week.

Overall Takeaway

While you’ll always look back and wonder why you missed something that seems obvious in retrospect, overall, I’m fairly happy with last year’s list. The most significant change in the evaluation process was to penalize star players on big contracts much less than I had in previous versions — all the money flowing into the game has made these players much more valuable — and in general, I think those guys have held their value pretty well. With most Major League teams now having access to decent sized revenue streams and the rise of the long term extension for elite players, it’s no longer so easy to purchase high quality talent in free agency, so trading for an impact player with long term control — even at high salaries — is more appealing than it used to be.

Of course, guys like Matt Kemp show the downside of this kind of player. A year ago, he looked like one of the game’s very best players, signed to a below market deal that covered most of the seasons which he should be expected to produce at a high level. A year later, he’s costing the Dodgers $20 million per year to play like the replacement level outfielder when he’s not on the DL. Kemp’s value has plunged over the last calendar year, to the point where a guy who almost made the top five last year is on the bubble for this year’s list.

Basically, there is no such thing as as a risk free asset. Everyone gets hurt, and even great players can stop playing like great players with little or no warning. When evaluating a player’s trade value, teams have to make the best bets they can, but the failure rate of even the best assets reminds us how unpredictable baseball really is.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Froglegs Jackson
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Froglegs Jackson

I’m surprised Chris Sale didn’t fall into the ‘Players Whose Stock Has Risen Significantly’ category. He signed a team friendly contract before the year started, and he’s also performing better than he did last season.

Balthazar
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Balthazar

The conceptual adjustments for selection criteria seem good.

The reduction of the Pricey Contract Penalty seems particularly in order. The rationales for this in recent years’ commentary were valid, but with increasing media revenue streams it has never looked easier to move Big Long deals if they guy is producing at a needed position.

With young guys, I can’t say I’ve been too much of a fan in overvaluing the potential to improve. Hitting in the majors is _hard_. Present performance really matters more than minor league numbers and athleticism (not that those _don’t_ matter). If a guys batted ball results, especially LD rate and, yes, BABIP, seem to be significantly low relative to gaudy discipline and contact numbers, there probably needs to be a bigger discount in projection than at present. That particularly matters in trade value; a guy’s initial org may be able to wait out the learning curve but an acquiring team needs more certainty because they’re giving up more than just playing time to make the bet. To me Heyward has always been ‘overvalued,’ and by that same token Profar really should be several ranks lower than his minor results. Somebody like Nick Franklin comes up a few notches to me because, while he may not stay that good, performance DOES matter, and his results line up with his demonstrated minor league disciplin, contact, and punch. Profar’s ceiling may be higher, but Franklin’s reality is likely surer, and that’s what I’d be looking for in trade.

Wobatus
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Wobatus

Hey ward had a 134 wRC+ in the majors for a full season at age 20. Franklin’s done 123 for a quarter season at age 22. Last year Heyward did a full season at 120 wRC+ at 22. I think you are using 20/20 hindsight here. Sure, it’s feasible Franklin will be better now that heyward has had a relatively mediocreseason at 21 and in the midst of a mediocre (for him) half season at 23, but I’m not sure why you always thought he was overrated. His career wRC+ coming into this season and through age 22 was around where Franklin is at the same age but with a much smaller body of work. You might have said the same thing about Dustin Ackley being better than Heyward in 2011.

Wobatus
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Wobatus

And I may have misread you. You were comparing Franklin to Profar, not Heyward necessarily.

Balthazar
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Balthazar

So Wobatus, I was _not_ specifically comparing the two players, no. That said, using a single stat, particularly a composite one like wRC+ as a way of judging a player’s value does not get at issues like projection, and furthermore is a particularly poor way of comparing different players’ projections. How did the guy get that number? How did that pattern compare to his results in the minors, and what was expected? Where are the holes in his bat an his game? Those are the issues.

Heyward’s annointment as a superstar impending really is only leveraged off just under 200 ABs in the second half of 09 in AA. Yes, Heyward was a very good prospect and an excellent athlete before that, but that was the first time he really translated his tools into impact batting that selected elite level. His performance once he hit the bigs raised multiple flags, not necessarily that he would struggle to the extent that he has but that his projection as a elite guy had some issues. Heyward’s excellent BB%’s held up, and have been the best part about his game; they proved out as real ability. However, his K% took a big jump. His LD% was disappointing for a supposedly elite bat. He was heavily a groundball hitter who made use of his speed, and would have to really retool his swing for high-end to project him as a high ISO guy; certainly he wasn’t elite at the start. Despite GB swing and speed, Heyward didn’t kill it for BA; that 20%K rate got in the way among other things. In short, Heyward’s superhigh contact and mucho sock in AA didn’t really make the jump _and_ those no-shows fit HOW he was batting: it wasn’t luck or anything like that.

Sure, Heyward was _far_ from a bust in 2010. My point is that projecting him to take a big step forward from his rookie season rested on somewhat shaky ground. Heyward has retooled his swing, and turned himself into a flyball guy; he’s a good enough athlete and batsman, and that’s to his credit. . . . But the outcomes just aren’t elite. His doubles totals are disappointing for a guy with his speed. He’s had one good year with some HR pop out of it, in between two pretty poor years. He’s never hit for that great of an average, and as a flyball hitter who doesn’t consistently reach the seats it’s hard to see that he will, either. Yes, he hasn’t reached his physical peak. Yes, he’s an elite corner defender. No, his he’s not a good base stealer and evidently has abandoned that part of his game. What we really see is that Jason Heyward 2013-forward looks a lot more like what we would project out of his numbers in the low minors rather than his half-season of minor eliteness.

BTW Franklin’s LD% and HR/FB ratios _did_ make the jump out of the minors: he squares the pellet up. That’s something that speaks to _his_ projectibilty as the league adjusts. Franklin also had a demonstrated history in the minors of being over-aggressive upon promotion—but then adjusting to the level’s adjustments. That history of adaptability is something to factor in trying to figure out ‘what he’s really worth.’

I’m not going through this to pick on Heyward. The point in hindsight, though, is to go a _re-analysis of the numbers_ to see what their pattern was, not what his single aggregates were. There were some questions to answer, and Heyward’s meagre 2011 was a significant, partial answer to them. He didn’t strike me as likely to reach the high end of projections which would be required to be the 9th most valuable trade asset in the game. YMMV of course. Projecting the hit tool is tough to do, no question.

Wobatus
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Wobatus

Thanks Balthasar. I see where you are getting at. Although line drive rate tends to be a but fluctuating. But I can see where one might think tha Franklin is showing better ability to square the ball the Heyward. Heyward’s overall package still seems promising to me for potential growth.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm

As Heyward’s FB% has risen, so has his HR total. Anyone that strong will hit the ball out a significant amount as long as they get it in the air. 2011 was injury plaged. 2013 is injury plagued. It is a bit disappointing to have to put off true assessments because we haven’t seen a consistent showing of his true talent. But I agree that his outlook is much better than his current results. He needs to hit LHP better, and he needs to cut down on the K’s. I’m not ready to say he’s abandoned base stealing, but so far, it looks like 2012 was the aberration in that regard. His defense will always keep him useful. But I agree that he was pegged for much greater than “useful”.

Baltar
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Baltar

Though it’s early yet, I would think Wil Myers’ value would be up due to actually playing well in the majors, though in a SSS.

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