Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sorry, Dodgers Fans

The Aybar deal is just awful, as far as I'm concerned. Given the current trade market, one would think the Dodgers could get something of value for Baez. Since the LA Times reports that the Dodgers are still paying Baez' salary, that means that the trade was no better than cutting him. So the only way that trading Baez helps is if you feel that Betemit is better than Aybar, and I just can't see how that's the case. Aybar is three years younger and having a season with the bat that's only a couple runs off of Betemit's pace. Betemit's 'power' is trumpeted as a big deal, but of course Aybar at a younger age has an above average ISO at the major league level and was slugging in AAA. Betemit has a slightly better projection for this year and the next, but by the time Aybar is 25-27 he's the better hitter. Of course, nothing's certain with young players, but it's not like Betemit has 'proven himself at the major league level' or anything like that, with only 294 more major league plate appearances, and Aybar has had the better numbers in the majors.

So the Dodgers give up 5+ years of Aybar, his 24-28 years, for 4+ years of Betemit at 26-29. From a talent standpoint, this trade just doesn't make sense. But what's depressing about it is that I feel that I'm correct in speculating why the Dodgers decided to act like Betemit is the better player. Betemit hits for a better batting average and hasn't been committing errors in Dodger Stadium. That's pretty much it. In the case of the former, I don't mean that the two are equal except that Betemit has the better H/AB; I mean that, of these two who are not meaningfully separated in offensive value, Betemit accomplishes the same value with more hits and fewer walks, while Aybar does the reverse. In the case of the latter, if you're going to condemn a young player on the basis of a handful of errors - let's say this player has 9 errors in 510 major league innings - it's pretty odd to be acquiring a player with 18 errors in 1060 major league innings, right? Now, while there are plenty of reasons that explain why Betemit's error total is not as bad as that side by side comparison looks, that's beside the point since nobody should be basing their evaluation of a player's defense on a handful of errors in the first place. The point is that it's not uncommon for young players to struggle with errors when they reach the major leagues, and it's particularly Freudian of the Dodgers to acquire a player who last year had roughly the same issues (though they likely weren't as publicized and pathologized). And I really don't buy that Betemit is a significantly better defender. All accounts that I recall had Aybar as a terrific fielder throughout his minor league career, and I don't think that anything has changed so much as people have revised past accounts now that they've chosen to overvalue one kind of evidence.

The other knock on Aybar is that he doesn't 'profile' at any position, being not quite defender-ish enough at 2B but not enough of a power hitter to play 3B. This is nonsense. If he is a terrible fielder at 2B, then that's one thing, but if he's merely below average there that's not a big deal since his bat more than covers that. And while not having too much power at the hot corner means he'll never get Tracy Ringolsby's hall of fame vote, it doesn't actually mean he's a bad player. The Red Sox didn't cry about Boggs, nor have they been crying too much about Kevin Youkilis, and they even moved him to first (disclaimer: I'm not arguing that Aybar is as good as Youkilis, but the similarities should be obvious). While average third basemen hit above league average, it's not by that much. And Aybar is, of course, hitting for pretty good power this season. While on the flip side, Betemit is not an actual power hitter, and I imagine that most people who look at more than 200 at bats in evaluating a player would recognize that.

It's very similar to the way Dioner Navarro was excommunicated from the organization: taking 20 games in the field to be a representative sample of defense, undervaluing a prospect because of unimpressive raw numbers in the minor leagues despite very aggressive promotion, and selling a young player at a relatively low value for an older player currently overperforming. As far as I can tell, this fails almost every benchmark for a good trade:
  • the Dodgers traded the younger of two comparable players
  • the Dodgers traded the slumping player
  • the Dodgers acquired a player whose value has been inflated with a small sample and trade-deadline buzz
  • the Dodgers didn't save any money
  • the Dodgers made a challenge trade with the Braves, the organization that arguably has Baseball's most impressive track record in choosing which talent to discard in trades
And all of that is before you take into account that the Dodgers gave up Baez - who had at least some value on the trade market - and paid his salary to make the deal happen. The 'Tomko was coming off the DL, needed the roster spot' argument is not compelling as long as Joe Beimel is on the roster (and if Tomko is to be used out of the pen, really doesn't make much sense, given that he's not, you know, actually better than Baez).

The point isn't that this move destroys the franchise, the point is that Colletti has now firmly established his modus operandi as making a series of moves that marginally hurt the team while accruing no tangible advantage, solely on the basis of a poorly-defined concept of a certain time period being more crucial. Part of the process has involved consistently evaluating talent in a way that, from my sabermetric viewpoint, looks chronically inaccurate. Of course none of these moves in a series of marginal downgrades is the one that destroys the franchise, but the cumulative value will be to hurt the team. And the consistency with which these moves have continued is enough to make me close to deciding that I can't follow the Dodgers like a fan anymore.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Ken Arneson said...

Betemit is actually only one year older than Aybar. Betemit faked his age when he was originally signed, saying he was 16 years old, when he was really only 14. (The Braves got a slap on the wrist when this news came out.)

So if you poke around, you'll see two birthdates listed for Betemit:

July 28, 1980, and
November 2, 1981

The latter one is correct. Why sites such as and ESPN still have the wrong date, is probably one of those things that just slips through the cracks.

Whether 15 months makes a difference in your analysis...up to you.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Mr. Landon said...

Tom, this is Suffering Bruin from DT. Let me belatedly say WELCOME BACK, pardon the shouting, and add that your latest post is example numero uno why you've been missed.

Your comments are damn near prescient as we have acquired Lugo from Tampa Bay and all we had to give up was Joel Guzman. We even threw in another prospect.


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