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Should Roy Oswalt approve a trade to the Phillies?

Throughout Roy Oswalt's non-request-trade-request debacle, Roy has let it be known that his desire to don another team's uniform is not so much about the dismal state that the Astros franchise finds itself in, but more about the desire to pitch in the World Series (how these two differ is up to you to discern). This is an understandable enough request for a pitcher who has been one of the greatest of his generation, but the most obscure as well. No ring. No Cy-Young. Just a sterling career that has been overshadowed by the likes of Halladay, Carpenter, Sabathia, etc.

In the last week that trade rumors surrounding Oswat's name have heated up, rumors have swirled about whether Roy would require less preferred teams to pick up his 2012 option for $16 million exercise his option, amongst other such stonewalling demands. Oswalt denies he has intentionally used his demands and ability to veto a trade to force Ed Wade to strike a deal with a particular team, but I am not so sure there hasn't been a little bit of that going on behind the scenes. He has to have a preference as to where he would go.

With Mark Berman reporting that the deal between the Astros and the Phillies finalized down to the dollars, cents, and players, the ball is now in Roy's court. All we have left to do is wait and see if Roy will approve the trade or not. 

What we cannot know are what variables will go into forming his preference. We simply know that he wants to play for a contender and that he would love to get a World Series ring on his finger. We don't know what city he thinks is the best fit for his family, has the best Chinese food, etc., or how much weight Oswalt is giving to business vs. personal considerations.

My guess is that Roy Oswalt is not thumbing through the various models of postseason odds littered throughout the internet. I, however, am. The caveat that I want to keep in mind is that there is still much baseball to be played in 2010, and I imagine Oswalt, as a member of teams who have oft added credence to this caveat, is keeping this in mind too. Thus, the models should be taken with a grain of salt. The models, and their odds, I will be presenting attempt to utilize the know variable we have (the standings) and then simulate the rest of season weighting various factors. They are not perfect, but they are beneficial.

What these models also do not tell us, is what happens once the postseason picture is solidified. We do, however, know that there are certain facets of baseball teams that portend to playoff success, and therefore increase the probability of Oswalt getting a coveted World Series ring. Again, I don't know if Roy has thought of his possible destinations in this manner, but maybe he'll stumble across this and gain some insight.

Without further ado, then, let's sort through the numbers and see if Roy Oswalt should want to pitch in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Odds

We'll start in the obvious place: postseason odds. I am choosing to only look at the two teams who still seem relevant in the trade talks: the Cardinals and the Phillies. The Phillies are a place that Roy Oswalt has to make a decision on in the next 48 hours, but I want to compare what they offer to the Cardinals because they consistently were rumored to be his preferred destination and serve as a hypothetical foil to the Phillies. Moreover, the comparison allows us better draw out the ability of the Phillies to meet Oswalt's two confirmed desires: postseason action and a World Series ring in concrete relation to another still possibly possible trade. 

In reality it appears that Roy might have to chose between the Phillies now or some other team in the off-season, but with the Cardinals and Phillies having hogged the headlines the most, I feel that Oswalt has probably been mulling a decision between the two respective locales for sometime. Thus, in someway Oswalt has likely already formed an opinion about Philly, but perhaps he'll peruse this with his morning coffee and be instructive.

St. Louis
Model Divisional Odds* Wild Card Odds*
Bpro 58.0% 8.7%
Bpro Sched Adj 57.5 6.7%
Bpro PECOTA 61.9% 7.1%
Cool Standings 46.6% 10.1%
SCS 50/50** 53.7%
SCS Weighted** 67.2%
Model Divisional Odds* Wild Card Odds*
Bpro 19.1% 13.5%
Bpro Sched Adj 25.4% 14.8%
Bpro PECOTA 19.0% 14.3%
Cool Standings 17.0% 10.1%
SCS 50/50** 32.8%
SCS Weighted** 24.4%

*These odds are through 07/27 due to the constraints imposed by the time some of the models updating and the time this is publishing. You can click the links to see their current statuses, which probably isn't a bad idea given the magnitude of day-to-day changes I've observed over the last three days of working on this.
**SCS does not break up their odds into Division vs. Wilcard. Thus, the odds reported are each team's odds of making the postseason through either avenue.

These models are all projecting a season in which each team finishes without Roy Oswalt on their roster. So while instructive, perhaps the better way of viewing each team's odds is to consider their current positions and then the marginal change Oswalt could have on them.

In that vein, Oswalt would have the largest impact on the Phillies rotation, which currently consists of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and a few near replacement level scrubs. The Cardinals, on the other hand, already have Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia dealing for them, with Brad Penny performing admirably. The addition of Oswalt doesn't provide the same size shift for the Cardinals that he does for the Phillies.

Considering the tight Central race that is developing between the Cardinals and the Reds, Oswalt's lesser impact to the quality of the rotation could be the difference maker for the Cardinals run up to the pennant. On the other hand, Oswalt could also be the savior of Philly, who is already well positioned to make a late surge once Utley returns from the DL and is itself embroiled in a tight race for the Wild Card and well within striking distance of the Braves. So perhaps Oswalt could boil his options down which story line he would like to write: one of being the slight difference in the Cardinals story, or one of potentially being the game changer if the Phillies make the postseason. The converse, of course, is that Oswalt has more to lose if things don't pan out in Philly than if he went to St. Louis.

Still, in terms of raw odds, the Cardinals would be Oswalt's favored destination. The Phillies have the disadvantage of trailing the Braves by a few games in their division and the Reds and Gaints in the Wild Card, too. But Roy Oswalt also seems to be the kind of guy who likes to have the weight of a club on his shoulders, and Philly seems to provide more opportunity to build his mythology up on the national stage. To me, this seems like a wash from his perspective (or rather my assumption of what Roy Oswalt's perspective is), but the numbers still point him to the Cardinals in our hypothetical scenario.

The path to a World Series ring

While making the playoffs is obviously a necessary requirement for a team to win the World Series, there are several other factors that go into propelling a team to World Series victory (aside from luck). In Baseball Prospectus' seminal sabermetrics primer, Baseball Between the Numbers, Nate Silver penned a chapter that evaluated what facets of a team incline them to have success in the postseason. Through multivariate regression analysis, he concluded that closer WRXL (Win Expectation above Replacement, lineup adjusted), pitchers' strikeout rates, and FRAA (team defense) where the three most important factors in playoff success.

WRXL essentially measures whether they are holding leads in close situations, or not? While it is an indirect measure of a closer's skill, it does provide us with plenty of information. I, personally, feel that it doesn't quite give us enough information and can be supplemented with something like xFIP and attention to other skill components. This is because WRXL can be as much a function of a pitcher's skill, tenacity, clutchness, etc. as it can be his managers predilections or his teams offensive prowess. Thus, let's compare Ryan Franklin and Brad Lidge:

Reliever WXRL xFIP
Franklin 3.173 4.37
Lidge 1.101 4.14

Franklin leads in WRXL, which is to expected giving that he has more than doubled Lidge's IP, but he still is out pacing Lidge on a per inning basis, too. Their stats, however, muddy the waters. Due a low K-rate, above average—but not outstanding—ground ball numbers, and well below career norms HR/FB percentage Franklin's xFIP is nothing to write home about. Lidge's xFIP to ERA differential reflects his unlucky HR/FB rate, but also his damning BB/9 of nearly 6.

Basically, Oswalt could take his pick between an effective, but slightly lucy Franklin, or an unlucky and therefore less effective Lidge. The regession analysis obviously favored WRXL because it demonstrated what was working, and because the sample sizes we are dealing with when I talk about luck and skill are small, etc. I'll credit the Cardinals here. (In a FWIW caveat, the xFIP of the Phillies bullpen and the Cardinals bullpen were identical as of 7/27)

Overall K-rate for a team goes to the Cardinals, by a margin of .05, which creates an interesting proposition Oswalt. Obviously his addition to the Cardinals only increases their K-rate, but his addition to the Phillies would push them above the Cardinals who could potentially be his opponent in the NLCS. The Cardinals get the nod in this category, again, but the opportunity for Oswalt to make a bigger splash in Philly continues to present itself.

The final variable of importance is team defense. The theme of all the variables that increase the odds of success in the postseason is run prevention. Closers with solid WRXL's don't allow runs, no runs can score on a strikeout (unless there's a wild pitch swung at with a runner on third...but that's a rare event), and teams with better defense are better positioned to prevent hits and walks from turning into runs scored. The most fascinating result of Nate Silver's research is that offense actually has no correlation with postseason success. Run prevention is king, and if DIPS theory tells us anything it is that team defense is the straw that stirs the proverbial drink.

Cardinals 40 0.811 304 -0.03
Phillies 29 0.827 251 -1.1

While Colin Wyers has now made me all too skeptical of any of the defensive metrics that are currently available, the conclusion we can draw from them is that Cardinals have the edge defensively. The only statistic that the Phillies lead in is RZR, but I imagine the Cardinals 48 out of zone play advantage his to eat into the Phillies lead there. My unease with interpreting anything more for the numbers aside, they indicate that Roy, and any pitcher for that matter, should feel more confident with the Cardinals' gloves behind him than the Phillies'.

So does he like the Phillies or not?

What has all of the above analysis actually given us? Well, it has pretty much indicated that by just about every measure we looked at the Cardinals would be a better bet to get Roy Oswalt to the World Series. Although the Cardinals have the advantage in both current odds and the factors that lead to postseason success, it is important to note that their margin of victory over the Phillies is in no way dominant in most of the individual categories. In many of the areas we have examined, margins of error could account for any differentiation observed. Also of note is the fact that the Cardinals don't have a deal in place with the Astros (that we know of).

What comparing the two teams has drawn out is this: Oswalt could be a huge factor in a Philly run to the World Series. Just imagine what pitching well on East Coast team, in the midst of a late-second half surge could do for Oswalt's legacy—not to mention Oswalt's competitive spirit. There is certainly more risk in Phillies chances of fulfilling Roy Oswalt's desires in 2010, but the opportunity to imprint himself on the national consciousness is great. Not to mention that at this point it is between staying in Houston to break Joe Niekro's record or assuredly pitching for a team that is likely to be in contention both in the present and in 2011 as well.

As I said at the outset, I am not privy to Roy Oswalt's thought process, but even without the odds and acronymed stats, it has to be fairly easy to see the writing on the wall. Perhaps Roy Oswalt, who likely has had at least some influence on where he could end up, has been mulling a decision not so much about where the best place to live for nine months a year may be or his $16 million option for 2012. Instead, he may just be contemplating which narrative he would like to have the chance to author in the twilight of his career (or my preference that he accept a to the Phillies has totally skewed my analysis of evidence that clearly suggest he should actually probably be slightly leery of a trade to the Phillies).

**As we await word on who the players moving in the deal are, be sure to check out Orem's evaluation of the potential pieces coming to us from the Phillies**