ZiPS Trade-Deadline Roundup, National League

Yesterday, we cranked the ZiPS projection system through the American League standings in the wake of the trade deadline, churning out new AL playoff odds from the gears and turbines. Now, it’s the National League’s turn — and, this year at least, the best has been saved for second. The methodology is the same as for the American League yesterday. For those who purposely ignored that piece, regarding baseball’s junior circuit as a bunch of filthy upstarts, allow me to repeat it here.

To arrive at the standings forecasts below, I first began with the updated ZiPS projections as of the morning of August 1st, which includes my spin on the new depth charts. There’s some variation from the FanGraphs Depth Charts, but they tend to be in the same neighborhood given that the disagreements between playing-time predictions typically involve mostly fringe-type players; it’s not like one of us thinks Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers and the other things they’ll release him or something.

After that, I “undid” every transaction made since June 15th, both reshuffling the depth charts as if the trades never happened and removing or adding the fractional wins that players have added to their new teams since those trades. Then… ZiPS-zap-zippity-zoop… out came the new projections and a bottom line of the changes in playoff odds.

ZiPS Trade Deadline Improvements, Percentage Points
Team Playoff+
Los Angeles Dodgers 7.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 6.6%
Philadelphia Phillies 4.5%
Atlanta Braves 3.1%
Milwaukee Brewers 1.4%
New York Mets 0.0%
Miami Marlins 0.0%
Cincinnati Reds 0.0%
San Diego Padres 0.0%
Chicago Cubs -0.1%
Pittsburgh Pirates -2.4%
San Francisco Giants -3.1%
St. Louis Cardinals -3.3%
Washington Nationals -6.3%
Colorado Rockies -7.4%

Hey, stuff happened! Unlike the American League, where nine of the 15 teams are just hanging around and waiting for the inevitable end, we have significant races going on the Senior Circuit. We have three legitimate divisional races going on and a total of 11 teams within six games of a playoff berth. Today’s MLB is nearly a mirror image of a few years ago, when most of the American League’s clubs entered August within striking distance of a Wild Card spot and the NL featured some real snoozers. So I can only assume this is Rand McNally and we’re going to be eaten by hamburgers.

ZiPS Projections, NL East, 8/2/18
Philadelphia Phillies 88 74 .543 52.5% 12.8% 65.4% 46.6% 58.8%
Atlanta Braves 87 75 1 .537 38.2% 14.6% 52.8% 39.1% 51.7%
Washington Nationals 84 78 4 .519 9.3% 6.7% 15.9% 14.3% 22.3%
New York Mets 71 91 17 .438 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Miami Marlins 67 95 21 .414 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

My theory on Atlanta and Philadelphia at that trade deadline was that each would behave reactively, opting to pursue a big move only if the other one did. Both teams arrived at the end of July in a similar situation, having finished off well-executed rebuilds and set to contend for the remainder of the year. Both teams also possessed enough prospect depth to make a trade, if that’s what they wanted. It was, effectively, deterrence theory in action, each club wanting to launch all their missiles only if the other guys were doing it, too.

In the end, both teams made real, marginal improvements, but neither gave up their most prized prospects to make these improvements. (Which makes sense: I’ve always suspected that, if an NL East team were going to destroy the planet, it would probably be the Mets.) I’m not crazy about the idea of Asdrubal Cabrera playing middle infield for the Phillies, but Scott Kingery’s defied his projections in the bad direction while J.P. Crawford’s season has been interrupted repeatedly due to injuries, including an elbow strain and a broken hand. They had resorted to finding Trevor Plouffe, who I forgot was still in organized baseball when he popped up with the Phillies. At age 32, Cabrera’s having the best offensive season of his career, with an OPS over .800 and an outside chance of reaching 30 homers for the season — and the Phillies do have offensive needs, ranking 11th in the NL in runs scored. And in Wilson Ramos, they also get a short-term upgrade at catcher… when he returns from injury.

Atlanta improved their bullpen depth by taking Baltimore’s (Brad Brach, Darren O’Day) while also bringing in Kevin Gausman. I’m on the record as being a big Gausman fan, but even I’ll admit that, right now, he’s a mid-rotation starter who’s merely helpful; the really interesting part of that trade is his upside in 2019 and 2020.

Washington didn’t do much, but with other teams improving, that was enough to lose playoff ground. By the time the club suddenly announced that they weren’t going to trade Bryce Harper, the math for trading Bryce Harper had improved considerably from when they were actually dipping their toes into the Harper market. It’s too bad, really, as a Harper trade would have transmogrified an excellent trade deadline into a magical one. The big hope for Washington may be that ZiPS is wrong and the FanGraphs Depth Charts are right, most notably in their season-long disagreement on the Braves.

The Mets were, well, the Mets. In Cabrera and Jeurys Familia, they traded the players who were obvious trade chips — and, after being shocked that the world wasn’t beating a path to their door to snag Jose Bautista or Devin Mesoraco, they shut down the shop and enjoyed the long weekend. The possible drama from a Jacob DeGrom or Noah Syndergaard deal never really developed outside of the swirling rumors for the month. If recent history is any indication, it’s unlikely that the Wilpons will invest a lot in this year’s interesting free-agent market.

Outside of Cameron Maybin and Brad Ziegler, Miami asked a lot for their prizes. With no one club prepared to offer their 10 best prospects for J.T. Realmuto, they joined the Mets in kicking back and taking a load off. I’m not sure they’ll ever get a better package offered than the Victor Robles-led one they allegedly turned down; Realmuto is an excellent player and has a great deal of value, but there are limits.

ZiPS Projections, NL Central, 8/2/18
Chicago Cubs 93 69 .574 60.8% 32.3% 93.1% 62.0% 93.2%
Milwaukee Brewers 92 70 1 .568 38.4% 48.8% 87.1% 36.5% 85.8%
Pittsburgh Pirates 83 79 10 .512 0.6% 8.8% 9.4% 1.0% 11.9%
St. Louis Cardinals 82 80 11 .506 0.2% 4.4% 4.7% 0.5% 8.0%
Cincinnati Reds 72 90 21 .444 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The Cubs had a relatively quiet trade deadline, picking up Cole Hamels, Brandon Kintzler, and Jesse Chavez, just enough for ZiPS to place them effectively in the “neutral” category. Hamels is still a familiar name, but he’s not the pitcher he was just a few years ago and his main lure is being a better option than Tyler Chatwood. Either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard would have been a fun Cub-blockbuster, but some of their giant trades in the past have whittled down the top end of their minor leagues. There’s nobody in the system at whom I look and say “Yeah, that’s a top-100 guy” — and my colleagues Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel agree, ranking the top Cub 104th overall in their June update.

ZiPS is a big fan of the Brewers’ deadline moves, even if the club failed to add a starting pitcher. The defense may be a little iffy, but the projection system has been a fan both of Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop — and, contrary to what everyone’s knee-jerk opinion of the Brewers may be, the offense has been the team’s main problem, not the starting pitching. I think the difference between the Brewers’ and Cubs’ deadlines is a bit tighter than the projections say and personally consider them about equivalent overall.

The most surprising result among these updated projections is probably the Pirates’ place relative to the other two contenders in the NL Central. While Chris Archer has ace-like stuff, he hasn’t stood out this year, and the Pirates have already had a rotation full of decent-but-not-spectacular pitchers. Keone Kela continues to make any control issues a memory and has a FIP below three, but the Pirates bullpen wasn’t really the problem, either (and Glasnow had a 3.63 FIP!). I think these were good moves by the Pirates, but not necessarily best for 2019, as they didn’t seem to address the team’s largest short-term holes.

Also, the math is daunting: not only are the Pirates significantly behind both the Brewers and Cubs for the division, but also seven other teams and the Brewers/Cub loser for two Wild Card spots. It would actually be preferable, in that case, to be situated six games behind just a lone team in the Wild Card, like Oakland was a few weeks ago. What makes this an exciting trade is the next few years: Chris Archer possesses team options through 2021, while Kela also won’t hit free agency until that year. I like both Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows despite their flaws (especially present in the latter), but at some point, the Pirates have to commit to the near future instead of the far one.

No deal surprised me as much as the Cardinals’ trade of Tommy Pham. I literally heard nothing about a possible Pham trade until it was actually announced. In hindsight, there’s some logic to it: the clubs wasn’t going to move Marcell Ozuna and probably couldn’t move Dexter Fowler right now. So if they wanted to give any playing time to Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, Pham was the one who had to go. I don’t expect a big August for the team, outside of a possible trade of Bud Norris. The only other real name of note heading to free agency is Adam Wainwright, but the time for that has likely passed at the moment.

The Reds traded Adam Duvall two years too late, but they did get more than I expected in the end. Preston Tucker and Matt Wisler have use as role players and I still like Lucas Sims long-term as a reliever. I still expect them to move Matt Harvey, whose salary should allow him to pass through waivers without a problem. One could make the argument that the Reds would have been better off if the season hadn’t turned around once Jim Riggleman took over as the manager; if they felt they were a little farther away, maybe they’re more willing to move Scooter Gennett or Billy Hamilton or Raisel Iglesias.

ZiPS Projections, NL West, 8/2/18
Los Angeles Dodgers 91 71 .562 58.9% 20.3% 79.2% 52.2% 72.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 88 74 3 .543 27.0% 28.2% 55.2% 25.3% 48.6%
Colorado Rockies 86 76 5 .531 13.1% 20.0% 33.0% 20.1% 40.5%
San Francisco Giants 82 80 9 .506 1.0% 3.1% 4.1% 2.4% 7.2%
San Diego Padres 63 99 28 .389 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

There was no way the Dodgers weren’t going to have a big number in the gained column after picking up Manny Machado. John Axford doesn’t move any needles, and while Brian Dozier is a big name, he’s not as compelling an addition as he would have been in the past. Also, his ABs will likely come at the expense of a slumping Cody Bellinger’s expense, a player on whom I’m still bullish. As with the examples in past years of Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, however, reduced playing time in Los Angeles doesn’t mean an ouster is imminent.

The D-backs’ additions weren’t as newsworthy as the Dodgers’, but ZiPS thinks they’re nearly as good. Why? Put simply, Arizona had deeper flaws than the Dodgers did. The team’s offense has been a wreck, while the bullpen has probably overachieved, so players like Eduardo Escobar and Jon Jay and Jake Diekman and Brad Ziegler represent larger improvements than they would be on many teams. Arizona did try to get Manny Machado, so it would be hard to accuse them of lack of ambition.

The Rockies added to their bullpen depth before the deadline, picking up Seung Hwan Oh from the Toronto Blue Jays. Unfortunately, The Final Boss was also The Final Transaction for the Colorado Rockies, a club either blissfully unaware that their offense has been a significant problem in 2018 or simply way too reliant on the Last Six Weeks Projection System. While their NL West opponents addressed their team weaknesses, the Colorado Rockies made the brave choice to boldly do nothing. As a consequence, the Rockies saw their projection playoff probability lose more percentage points than any team in baseball.

Somehow, the San Francisco Giants managed to do even less than the Colorado Rockies, losing fewer points of playoff probability only because their position was significantly worse than Colorado’s to begin with. The Giants are no better or worse in 2018, 2019, or 2020 than they were a month ago. Makes me wonder if someone in the front office shot an albatross.

The Padres didn’t do much, but what they did, moving Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to bring in the game’s top catching prospect, Francisco Mejia, is enough to get a thumbs-up from me. I may grumble about the Eric Hosmer signing, both for the money involved and the roster shifts that ended up with Wil Myers in the outfield, but the team still looks to have a bright future despite a few blunders last winter.

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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I think Dan is right about most everything here, but especially the Marlins and Mets. The Mets’ position would be much more defensible if they decided to go hard after Grandal and Machado (or even Elvis Andrus) in the winter, but they won’t. The Marlins are never going to get a better package than one headed by Victor Robles, and the fact that they turned down the Nationals is a fireable offense.

The one area I disagree on Dan was with the Brewers. The Brewers have exactly five starters available to last the rest of the season, since Nelson and Davies look broken, and their fifth (Wade Miley) has been pretty nicked up. There’s a real question about whether any of the guys are going to be good enough to start a play-in game. That said, aside from Archer and the Mets starters, it’s not clear they could have gotten someone to upgrade that. They’re probably the best candidate to bullpen a wild-card game I’ve seen in a while.