Jon Shepherd: How to review the Miller deal

As a writer for a fairly large blog, we do tend to get a decent amount of criticism regarding our analysis. Criticism is good because it challenges our process. We are fairly confident that we have a decent handle on these deals based on a couple of our review pieces on our thoughts on the trades from 2012 and 2013. When the Andrew Miller was traded Eduardo Rodriguez, we discussed it in length at Camden Depot, which faintly mirrored our thoughts on the Francisco Rodriguez deal from the previous season. Briefly, we thought the likely impact of Miller was minimal while the value associated with Rodriguez was worth a great deal. In other words, we found this move to be an overly expensive comfort move. This column will be an attempt to succinctly explain how we tend to go about reviewing a trade, using this one in particular.

First, try to figure out what exactly the team acquired. One very simple thing to do is to go to Fangraphs and look at the ZiPS remaining performance forecast. The projection there is 0.2 wins above a replacement level player (read: T.J. McFarland or whoever you consider to be a very good Triple-A player) or a value improvement of about 1.2 MM. That might seem a bit startling to you, but keep in mind a few things: 1), Miller is having his best season ever and players tend to regress in-season, 2) relievers have very little opportunity to impact games as Miller has maybe 15 innings left this year to pitch, 3) the difference between a great and replacement level pitcher over 15 innings at most is three runs, and 4) setup men typically only pitch in high leverage situations half the time. What this boils down to is that a setup man is a very useful part of a bullpen, but the overall contribution of a setup man to a team should not move the needle much during a season.

Second, figure out what was given up. In this case, it was a left hander who has struggled with injuries this year and whose counting numbers are unimpressive. However, Rodriguez is four years younger than his competition at Double-A Bowie, has good peripheral statistics suggesting future success, and was a top 100 prospect before the season began for Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com. Previous work we did on projecting value based on Baseball America’s prospect rankings suggest that Rodriguez is worth about 20 MM. Some of our more recent work indicates that ranked prospects who are traded tend to underperform those average values. A team knows more about its players than the industry does in general. The end result is that a player dealt out is usually worth about a quarter less than his expected worth, so Rodriguez might be worth about 15 MM.

Why would a team trade a piece worth 15 MM for a piece worth 1.2 MM? Well, playoff team wins are worth more because getting into the playoffs brings back more value than what the average team gets for an added fraction of a win. That probably pushes Miller’s value to 2 MM. Miller’s presence also is highly directed toward the postseason where the Orioles currently stand a 54 percent chance to win the division and a 19 percent chance for a Wild Card, as of August 4th. Backend bullpen arms increase in value during the postseason because they do not rest their arms as much as they do during the long season. Playoff events have considerably higher leverage associated with them. Without going into the math, I think you could argue the value being about 3-5 MM.

Compare that value against Rodriguez’ which is an average value spread out over the length of his cost controlled years and you can see how it might make sense to make the deal. Our disagreement though on this deal lies with two main points: 1) the deal does not push the needle much for in-season success where playoffs are not yet a given and 2) Rodriguez is a valuable piece that could have been used in combination with other prospects to bring in a more meaningful piece, such as Asdrubal Cabrera. However, maybe Miller was the best deal that could be had and maybe this is a window you have to push as hard as you can with Boston and New York floundering.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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