Free-swinging Trade Analysis

(Photo by Keith Allison/flickr)

Here’s probably my favorite thing about this trade, not in a “good trade” way but in a “baseball, maaaannn” way:

Nate Schierholtz, AAA 2007: .333/.365/.560, .393 wOBA
Hunter Pence, AAA 2007: .326/.387/.558, .409 wOBA

One of them got called up, played daily, and developed into a middle-of-the-order force that has two years in a row been traded for at least one of a contending team’s top prospects. The other one got called up, demoted, called back up, benched, injured, given a starting job, benched, given another starting job, benched again, injured again, asked to pick up a quarter that had been superglued to the locker-room floor, and finally given a leadoff spot for some reason before being traded. He’s basically a fourth outfielder.

And yet when you look at them this year, and adjust for park effects, they’re very similar hitters. Fangraphs has Schierholtz 2% better than the average hitter for his position, and Pence 11% better than the average. Are they really that close? Probably not. Pence has a much better and more consistent history, no matter which stats you look at. But you have to think that part of that consistency has to do with the chances he was given, not just his ability to seize them.

Anyway. This trade happened. Nate was part of it, and that’s sad, because Nate has been part of some very exciting recent Giants history. He’s a hometown kid playing for his hometown team. He won a World Series with ‘em, even if he didn’t do much in it. The fascinating thing is that when he was a prospect, Hunter Pence was basically his upside – a low-walk, high-contact corner outfielder who could hit 20-some dingers and steal enough bases to make pitchers nervous. We wanted Nate to turn into a player like Pence. Now he has.

Tommy Joseph is the centerpiece. I am not a prospects expert, but Joseph has a .260/.313/.391 line in double-A, which seems underwhelming until you realize he’s like two years younger than everyone around him. He has as good a shot as any 21 year-old of being a major league starter some day, but he plays catcher in an org with Buster Posey. He was a great trade chip, and now he has been placed. The final piece is Seth Rosin, whose upside is probably “Good reliever.” I’m annoyed at the idea that Rosin was included to save cash (the Phils picked up some of Pence’s remaining $3.5 million), but not overwhelmingly so.

And what do the Giants get for this? Hunter Pence, freaky-looking free-swinging right-fielder. He runs, throws, and hits like he’s being controlled by a Wiimote and that Wiimote is being used by something with mandibles and extra limbs. There is no way he won’t be incredibly fun to watch, and that’s worth something. As a way of actually improving the team? It’s a gamble. Pence has never been a below-average hitter, but only a couple times has he been seriously awesome.

This year, as mentioned above, he’s not hitting all that much better than Nate. Part of that is random variation, and part of it, I think, is having to be the middle-of-the-order guy in a Phillies lineup sans Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and the part of Shane Victorino that can understand right-handed pitching. Pence isn’t The Guy. Like Jayson Werth, who he was traded for to replace (weird, huh?), he’s badly exposed as a cleanup hitter leading the team to victory. What he can be is one of The Guys. Hitting somewhere in the middle of the order, preferably behind a more patient hitter, keeping the line moving. Playing decent defense, stealing 10-15 bases with his weird galloping gait and probably sliding into second base upside-down. An extremely useful cog in the machine.

The ineffable Mr. Brisbee already discussed the unquantifiable parts of this trade; I agree that trading for a well-regarded player like Pence probably has a heartening effect on a currently moribund lineup (and it also gets Angel Pagan out of it for a couple games while he figures out what the hell he’s doing up there). But all that Value Over Replacement Grit and HEART+ isn’t going to be much use if he doesn’t hit. He’ll hit. It’s up to the rest of the lineup to make sure he’s not spitting into the ocean, because he’s not the kind of guy who can do it all himself.

So, for the second year in a row, the Giants have made big noise at the trade deadline. I hope it works out better than the last time. Have fun in Philly, Nate, and thanks for everything.. Hit a ton of dingers because lefties can do that there. You hit some too, Tommy. And you don’t allow any, Seth. Good luck.

Final thought: soon (hopefully tonight) the Giants will win a game, and Hunter Pence, the weirdest man in baseball, will have to do the synchronized outfield jump. And it’s going to be frigging hysterical. He’ll probably take a few seconds to get there, come in backwards, lose track of what’s going on, jump late, and then spring 15 feet vertically into the air without even trying. I’m so excited.

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