The Braves Might’ve Fleeced the D-Backs Out of $225 Million

Who got the most out of the Shelby Miller trade?

At the moment, based on present values of prospects, players and wins? It’s the Braves. Based on the industry consensus? It’s the Braves. Based on which team will be better next season? Maybe still the Braves. How did Arizona get so comprehensively fleeced in this deal? There have been some great articles written on FanGraphs these past two weeks about the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Dave Stewart seems to want to do things differently from all other teams, going with his gut when building a roster. Gut decisions can work. His gut identified Shelby Miller as a good player and so wanted him on his team. But wow did this gut decision miss something. How much something? How about 225 million dollars?

That’s right, I am suggesting that, with present values of prospects, players and wins, Dave Stewart, GM, gave away $225M more value in this trade than he got back. See below for how I got to that number.

FanGraphs’ staff have been using a great contract tool recently to estimate the value of major-league free agents. It estimates that players get better each year until aged 27 then worse each year after reaching 31. I’ll be following their method, which estimates an aging curve using WAR where players improve by 0.25 WAR each year in their 18-27 age years, keep steady WAR in their 28-30 age years and get worse by 0.5 WAR each year in their 31-37 age years. It also includes an inflation increase in the market value for each WAR, starting at $8.0M in 2016 and increasing by 5% each year going forwards.  We end up with an estimated value for players over the lifespan of their contract.

I’m going to use last season’s FanGraphs WAR as the starting value for any major-league players (I’ll discuss the minor-league prospects later). I realise I could use ZiPS or many other predictors of players performance (which offer much lower WAR values), but it seems fair as both major-league players in the deal have some issues with their peripheral numbers that seem to balance out. The tool is an estimator based on current performance, so it seems fair we start with what they achieved this last year. Anyway, let’s get started.

The Major Leaguers

Shelby Miller (worth $98.48 M) – to Arizona

Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Value
2016 25 3.65 $8.0 M $29.20 M
2017 26 3.90 $8.4 M $32.76 M
2018 27 4.15 $8.8 M $36.52 M
Totals   11.7   $98.48 M

 

Ender Inciarte (worth $172.91 M) – to Atlanta

Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Value
2016 25 3.55 $8.0 M $28.40 M
2017 26 3.80 $8.4 M $31.92 M
2018 27 4.05 $8.8 M $35.64 M
2019 28 4.05 $9.3 M $37.67 M
2020 29 4.05 $9.7 M $39.29 M
Totals   11.7   $172.91 M

 

Holy cow! Not looking good for Arizona already. Shocked how much Inciarte is worth by this model? Me too. Those wins get expensive. He’ll do well to keep his performance at this level, but I’d argue that Miller has the same issue.

The Minor Leaguers

This isn’t quite as simple to work out. Minor-league players have a habit of not making it to the majors (an average 70% bust rate of ranked players not making a significant contribution to the major league team, according to this excellent article by Scott McKinney). I have used the valuations on ranked MLB prospects from Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli with a couple of modifications.

Summarised, using historical prospect rankings, they took prospects ranked between 1-100 in the top prospect rankings each year and found the average WAR produced over their first six major league seasons at different rankings. These values are in the table below:

Tier Number of Players Avg. WAR Bust % Zero WAR or less
Hitters #1-10 53 15.6 9.43%
Hitters #11-25 34 12.5 8.82%
Hitters #26-50 86 6.8 31.4%
Hitters #51-75 97 5.0 44.33%
Hitters #76-100 96 4.1 41.67%
Pitchers #1-10 18 13.1 0%
Pitchers #11-25 47 8.1 27.66%
Pitchers #26-50 77 6.3 24.68%
Pitchers #51-75 94 3.4 47.87%
Pitchers #76-100 105 3.5 44.76%

Creagh and DiMiceli were looking at surplus value produced by a prospect. I’m more interested in total value. For each ranked prospect (Blair and Swanson) I found the average WAR produced by historical players with a similar prospect ranking (potentially flawed; I’d probably prefer median WAR for each group), then used an inflation model (again 5% per year starting at $8.0M/WAR in 2016) and an assumption that 2/3 of a prospect’s value is accrued during years 4-6 in the majors to find an estimate for total value.

Finally, some minor-league prospects don’t improve enough to reach the majors (they “bust”) so they aren’t as valuable as major-league players. This reduces the value of the prospect. Lower-ranked players are more likely to bust than higher ones so they should have a greater reduction in their value. The historical likelihoods of a prospect bust are shown in the table above (Bust % Zero WAR or less) for different ranks of prospect (again from Creagh and DiMiceli).  To account for the chance of a prospect bust I reduce their value by a factor of the bust percentage, taken from the table above (% Zero WAR or less). It isn’t perfect, but seems reasonable, I’m happy to discuss in the comments.

Dansby Swanson (worth $137.2M) – to Atlanta

  • #10 prospect currently (on MLB.com)
  • Hitter
  • Worth 15.6 WAR on average in years 0-6
  • Arrives in majors in 2017
  • 33% of value in years 0-3 (at 2018 cost per WAR) – 5.2 WAR – $45.76M
  • 67% of value in years 4-6 (at 2021 cost per WAR) – 10.4 WAR – $105.04M
  • Bust chance of #10 hitting prospect – 9%
  • Estimated total value – $137.2M

Aaron Blair (worth $14.85M) – to Atlanta

  • #61 prospect currently (on MLB.com)
  • Pitcher
  • Worth 3.4 WAR on average in years 0-6
  • Arrives in majors in 2016
  • Assume only lasts 3 years in majors (due to low WAR total)
  • 100% of value in years 0-3 (at 2017 cost per WAR) – 3.4 WAR – $28.56M
  • Bust chance of #61 pitching prospect – 48%
  • Estimated total value – $14.85M

Gabe Speier (worth $negligible) – sorry Gabe – this trade wasn’t about you.

Final value totals

Arizona:

  • Shelby Miller – $98.5M

Atlanta:

  • Ender Inciarte – $172.9M
  • Aaron Blair – $14.9M
  • Dansby Swanson – $137.2M
  • TOTAL – $325M

DIFFERENCE IN VALUE – $226.5M

There are a number of obvious caveats here. Miller could be better than this, Inciarte may not be that good, Swanson may never make it, Blair may never make it. However, at this moment, these are some of the values that you could reasonably ascribe to these assets. This is a staggering loss for Arizona. In what business can you lose $225M dollars in one transaction and keep your job? By this rather flawed measure, the Braves have just increased the value of their organisation by $225M. That pays for half a new stadium. Or Jason Heyward’s recent contract. Or the next 3 years of performance of Mike Trout (Trout is seriously valuable). I realise that the money can’t be accessed like that, but still, wow. Dave Stewart might be using his gut feeling when making deals, but he’d better start listening more to his analytics department or he’s liable to get robbed again.

 

A lot of the inspiration (it wasn’t plagiarism, honest) for this article came from Craig Edwards and his piece on “Attempting to rationalise the Shelby Miller Trade”. I just took it a different way. Thanks to Craig though! You should read it – http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/attempting-to-rationalize-the-shelby-miller-trade/



Print This Post

UK based Braves fan. Obsessed with all baseball. Can also explain why cricket is excellent. Background in Physics and Medicine.

newest oldest most voted
Jeff
Guest
Jeff

This is asinine. Sorry but it just doesn’t work this way, I get what you are trying to say here but the fact of the matter is that for the braves the only way this trade works out in their favor is if any of the guys they acquired live up to all star expectatuons. I get the idea that all of the players aquired could develop into regulars, however there is a big difference between regulars and all stars. I also get that if you added up the cumulative value of 5 or 6 guys you could also match Mike Trouts war but whats the point? Aquiring impact players has an impact price. Also remember the dbacks were able to flip a former failed rule 5 pick and some unproven change for an allstar potential ace. Prospects are cool and all, but acquiring all Stars and winning playoff games and world series are much cooler.

Psy Jung
Guest
Psy Jung

your point is valid, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut…… the main problem with this trade is that Shelby Miller is Shelby Miller. He ain’t an All Star of the Universe (maybe a lil’ cluster or somethin), he certainly isn’t Mike Trout, and in fact it’s probably a coin-flip that he’s worse than Inciarte next year. this isn’t the usual prospects vs. proven players debate, this trade is nearly unprecedented.

jim
Guest
jim

You didnt point out any flaws in his methodology. Until you can make an argument that any of his inputs are invalid, leave your opinions off this website.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Ignore Jeff’s trolling.

Bill
Guest
Bill

@jim sure man, but he’s^^ entitled to his own opinion. a good discussion with a little back and forth is way more worthwhile than a singular point of view. let it flow.

also, he’s saying the methodology used above is not necessarily relevant.

evo34
Member
evo34

The (massive) flaw in his methodology is assuming that single-season defensive WAR (3/4ths of Inciarte’s total 2015 WAR) is 100% predictive of the next five years of performance. That’s a classic small-sample, noisy-stat error. The true odds of Inciarte becoming a $35MM/yr player are remote at best.

And that’s not even discussing the fact that the “$172 million man” has a .588 career OPS vs. LHP. I.e., if he is anything less than a total stud on defense, teams will likely try to platoon him.

evo34
Member
evo34

To see how much of an outlier Inciarte’s 2015 was (and to illustrate the dangers of forecasting based on a single season), look no further than his 2016 Steamer forecast, which has him as a .680 OPS, 1.3 WAR player. I.e., they project he will be worth about $10M/year.

Psy Jung
Guest
Psy Jung

Yo, peeps are allowed the disagree with the projections – Szymborski ain’t Moses spittin hot fire, and Steamer/ZiPS have a tendency to regress outstanding defensive performances very aggressively, which hurts players like Inciarte who derive much of their value from defense. If you bump him up to his career average he projects as a ~2.5 WAR player, and that’s with an offensive line worse than his career average. Anyway, point is, the projections are broad systems that work very well in general but it’s definitely possible to dive into certain players with more specificity than a linear regression.

evo34
Member
evo34

Also, lovely how the author decides to inflate his case by subtly assuming that if hitting prospects ranked in the top 10 average 15.6 WAR, there must be no difference in WAR projection between #1 and #10 ranked player. So the #10 guy is worth 15.6? Ok.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Shelby Miller is not an ace. He is a mid/back rotation stater. Yes, he was an All Star last year, due to his low ERA. However, basically single peripheral statistic indicated his first half ERA (2.83) was unsustainable, and sure enough, he had regressed to a 3.83 ERA in the second half. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.7 WAR next season. His 91 FIP- was above average. However, his xFIP- was 104, or worse than average, thanks to a incredibly low HR/FB rate. Moving from the spacious Turner Field to the hitter friendly Chase Field will probably reverse that trend.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

ZiPS is more bullish on Miller, which projects him to be worth 3.0 WAR in 2016 and 9.5 WAR over the course of his team controlled years. But, ZiPS is also bullish on Inciarte, which projects him to be worth 2.8 WAR in 2016, and 10.6 WAR over his team controlled years.

Adam S
Guest
Adam S

If you assert that Inciarte is basically as good as Miller over the next three years, then any evaluation of the trade shows highway robbery by the Braves. The Diamondbacks don’t believe this not do the Braves.

The big flaw I see is that while players generally get better from 24-27, defense peaks earlier and that’s Inciarte’s value. So he’s likely to get worse not better over the next three years.

Run this with a more realistic (or call it pessimistic) projection and I bet the Braves are way ahead just not $200M.

Adam S
Guest
Adam S

Typed the above on the train but I missed the biggest problem with this methodology.

This simply isn’t how trades work — it’s not value for value but value relative to cost that’s relevant. If Inciarte is as good as you project, the Braves will wind up paying him $70M for his arbitration years. Likewise Swanson would be paid about $50M for years 4-6. I assumed an average of 50% discount on arbitration years but you should look up the actual numbers.

Those salaries have to be deducted from the value received.

evo34
Member
evo34

“A lot of the inspiration (it wasn’t plagiarism, honest)”

How is your article any different than Edwards’? You essentially copied and pasted, and threw in bad assumptions to make your numbers more aggressive. This is Community Research gone wrong.

Phil Swift Here
Guest
Phil Swift Here

What’s with all the hate directed at the author? It’s his OPINION. Doesn’t make him more right, more wrong, smarter, or dumber than you or me or anyone else. I’ll look forward to reading YOUR full analysis of the trade some time in the next week or two. Or not.

Mark Davidson
Member
Member

I had deja vu when I read this in regards to Craig Edward’s article, but seriously, people need to calm down.

kdm628496
Member
kdm628496

since you inflated the $/WAR numbers, why didn’t you discount future values to the present to account for the time value of money? $10M 6 years from now isn’t worth the same as $10M now.