Do Big-Name Trades Have an Impact on the Division?

I can’t remember if it was in a podcast or over the radio but when the trade deadline was approaching, there was talk about the effects of how a team trading away their stars would affect the playoff picture. Not in the way where a team has a hole in their rotation so they trade for a solid starter. No, this piece was talking about how trading a great player would make it easier for teams in that division to get ahead and how the newly-acquired player would make his new division harder to play in.

My first thought was there’s no way a player’s performance can impact a division so heavily, right? Baseball is a team sport and while affecting their own roster is one thing, affecting the outcome of four other teams in the process seems like a stretch. So I did a little bit of digging and here’s what I found.

For this study, I’ve included players that had a WAR of 2 or greater before being traded from 2007-2016. Additionally, I gathered data from the day they were traded of their old team’s winning percentage, new team’s winning percentage, old division’s winning percentage, and new division’s winning percentage. I also took the difference of their WAR per games played before and after the trade as a percentage.

 

Player Year Hitter/Pitcher New Team Old Team WAR/G Dif New Team Win% Change Old Team Win% Change New Div Win% Change Old Div Win% Change Playoffs
Drew Pomeranz 2016 P Red Sox Padres -75.7% 0.53% -1.64% 0.25% -3.96% ALDS
Carlos Beltran 2016 H Rangers Yankees -91.3% 0.17% 2.77% 0.21% 0.29% ALDS
Jonathan Lucroy 2016 H Rangers Brewers 18.5% 0.17% -0.22% 0.21% 1.12% ALDS
Alex Wood 2015 P Dodgers Braves -50.0% 1.61% -9.01% -3.53% 3.05% NLDS
David Price 2015 P Blue Jays Tigers 39.3% 13.66% -6.12% 0.55% -0.67% ALCS
Scott Kazmir 2015 P Astors Athletics -100.0% -4.67% -7.49% -0.10% 0.29% ALDS
Cole Hamels 2015 P Rangers Phillies -22.6% 10.82% 1.04% -1.87% 0.79% ALDS
Johnny Cueto 2015 P Royals Reds -46.4% -3.62% -11.83% -1.02% 2.56% Won
Austin Jackson 2015 H Cubs Mariners -64.9% 5.27% 1.52% -2.95% 1.41% NLCS
Yoenis Cespedes 2015 H Mets Tigers 20.8% 7.96% -5.15% -1.24% -0.19% World Series
Jeff Samardzija 2014 P Athletics Cubs 6.3% -11.85% -0.22% 1.33% -4.29% Wild Card
David Price 2014 P Tigers Rays 26.6% 0.72% -3.26% 0.88% -0.10% ALDS
John Lester 2014 P Athletics Red Sox -28.4% -11.99% -1.35% 3.60% -0.57% Wild Card
Yoenis Cespedes 2014 H Red Sox Athletics -1.0% -1.35% -11.99% -0.57% 3.60% No
John Lackey 2014 P Cardinals Red Sox -47.5% 4.32% -1.35% -1.50% -0.57% NLCS
Marlon Byrd 2013 H Pirates Mets -42.6% 0.00% 0.66% 0.25% 0.98% NLDS
Shane Victorino 2012 H Dodgers Phillies -4.7% -0.38% 11.86% 5.71% -1.90% No
Adrian Gonzalez 2012 H Dodgers Red Sox -2.4% -2.21% -9.75% 1.04% 2.12% No
Anibal Sanchez 2012 P Tigers Marlins -2.0% 0.18% -9.17% -3.91% 3.78% World Series
Omar Infante 2012 H Tigers Marlins -51.7% 0.18% -9.17% -3.91% 3.78% World Series
Zack Greinke 2012 P Angels Brewers -47.6% 0.73% 13.78% 2.15% -4.67% No
Ubaldo Jimenez 2011 P Indians Rockies -18.2% -3.14% -5.45% -0.26% 3.37% No
Edwin Jackson 2011 P Cardinals White Sox -63.5% 5.10% -1.41% 1.94% -0.83% Won
Michael Bourn 2011 H Braves Astros -19.3% -5.02% 6.79% -3.17% 1.74% No
Doug Fister 2011 P Tigers Mariners 44.8% 12.05% -2.59% -4.44% 1.35% ALCS
Hunter Pence 2011 H Phillies Astros 122.2% -0.94% 6.79% -4.38% 1.74% NLDS
Carlos Beltran 2011 H Giants Mets -25.8% -8.61% -7.59% 4.32% -2.12% No
Roy Oswalt 2010 P Phillies Astros 12.4% 9.11% 12.74% -2.23% 0.34% NLCS
Alex Gonzalez 2010 H Braves Blue Jays -75.4% -4.91% 6.28% 0.35% -1.16% NLDS
Dan Haren 2010 P Angels Diamondbacks 35.0% -4.08% 7.22% -3.83% 3.40% No
Cliff Lee 2010 P Rangers Mariners -31.1% -4.30% -4.56% -1.65% -1.90% World Series
Victor Martinez 2009 H Red Sox Indians 43.1% -0.34% -3.84% -1.95% 0.98% NLDS
Scott Rolen 2009 H Reds Blue Jays -29.0% 3.63% -2.73% -3.39% -1.34% No
Cliff Lee 2009 P Phillies Indians 12.8% -1.71% -3.84% 2.42% 0.98% World Series
Matt Holliday 2009 H Cardinals Athletics 37.1% 5.05% 9.98% -4.89% -2.01% NLDS
Xavier Nady 2008 H Yankees Pirates -47.5% -1.79% -11.16% -0.37% 1.48% No
Manny Ramirez 2008 H Dodgers Red Sox 88.7% 3.80% 4.64% 2.05% -0.71% NLCS
CC Sabathia 2008 P Brewers Indians 87.3% 0.91% 19.05% -0.55% -3.51% NLDS
Mark Teixeira 2008 H Angels Braves 96.4% -1.44% -3.06% -4.11% 2.19% ALDS
Kyle Lohse 2007 P Reds Phillies -30.8% 3.00% 4.47% -1.06% 0.25% NLDS
Mark Teixeira 2007 H Braves Rangers 99.8% -0.76% 4.51% 0.20% -1.06% No
Kenny Lofton 2007 H Indians Rangers -66.3% 1.72% 3.58% -4.23% -0.81% ALCS

First things first, let’s see if a great player can really impact a divisional outcome. Out of the 42 players in this study, only six (14.3%) had a positive WAR/G difference, a positive difference in winning percentage of their old division, and a negative difference in winning percentage of their new division:

Victor Martinez – 2009

Doug Fister – 2011

Hunter Pence – 2011

Mark Teixeira – 2008

Roy Oswalt – 2010

CC Sabathia – 2008

For Fister, Oswalt, and Sabathia, their new teams’ win percentage improved. For Martinez, Pence, and Teixeira, the win percentage decreased. All teams made the playoffs, however, with Fister and Oswalt making in to their respective league championship games. It’s interesting to see that the three players whose teams’ win percentage also improved are all pitchers, while the other three were all hitters.

The split between hitters and pitchers in the study was right down the middle, with 21 pitchers and 21 hitters. After their respective trades, 16 out of the 42 players had a positive WAR/G differential. Again, the results were right down the middle, with eight pitchers and eight hitters posting the positive WAR/G difference. Looking at the 26 players that had a negative WAR/G differential after the trade, you could’ve guessed it; half (13) were pitchers and the other half were hitters. I’m not 100% sure what that could mean, but I found it as a fascinating observation.

Out of the 42 teams that made trades in this study, three were under .500 when they made the trade; Reds for Scott Rolen (missed the playoffs), Red Sox for Cespedes (missed the playoffs), and Rangers for Hamels (ALDS). Let’s see how the rest of the teams that were .500 or better fared with their new trade pieces:

No Playoffs – 9 (23%)

Wild Card – 2 (5.1%)

DS – 14 (35.9%)

CS – 7 (17.9%)

WS – 5 (12.8%)

Won – 2 (5.1%)

It should be noted that the WAR/G differential doesn’t include playoff statistics. This is important to note while looking at players in this study that went to or won the World Series. For example, in 2015 the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto from the Reds. Looking at the data alone, Cueto had a -46.4% WAR/G differential and the Royals’ winning percentage dropped by 3.62% after the trade. Looks like a bad trade so far. Fast-forward to the ALCS where Cueto gives up eight earned runs in two innings against the Blue Jays. This trade looks like a disaster. Until Cueto takes the mound against the Mets in Game 2, allowing one run on two hits for the complete-game victory, edging the Royals closer to a World Series title. If given the opportunity again, do the Royals make the trade? Absolutely.

On the other side of the spectrum is Edwin Jackson, the only other player in this study to win the World Series. He as well sported a -63.5% WAR/G differential after the trade. The next question would be, would the Cardinals make the trade again? With a 5.76 ERA that postseason, my guess would be no.

The main question in this study is, “Does an impact player have so much influence in the game around them that they can shift the outcomes of a division?” The quick answer, and one that I’m sure everyone already knew, is not really. There is no correlation between the new division winning percentage change and the old division winning percentage change. A lot of the outcomes of divisional win percent changes seem to be circumstantial. Just because the new team’s division has gotten worse and the old division has gotten better doesn’t always mean that it’s the result of the player. It does seem apparent that a pitcher may have more of an influence than a hitter in these terms however (see Sabathia, Oswalt, and Fister above).

The biggest takeaway for me is that teams seem to be reluctant to overpay and make the smaller, longer-term deals as opposed to big-name rentals as seen at the deadline this year. It’s become apparent that just because you make the trade for the big-name player doesn’t guarantee a World Series victory, trip, or even a spot in the playoffs. Speaking of those big pieces, it will also be interesting to see how Quintana and Darvish affect the data after the season is over. Additionally, I would love to see the implications of a Harper or Trout trade to see if a hitter can ever truly be able to affect a divisional outcome. We can only dream.



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