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Reviewing Astros Trades 2014-2018: Part II, The Gomez Trade. (w/ 2015 comment thread)

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Second part in the what if series on the history of recent Astros trades. Today the 2015 trade with the Brewers for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers.

Introduction

This is Part II of a continuing series on the history and analysis of recent Astros trades.

Part I is here, which includes a discussion of methodology and caveats. Mainly the grading is based on how the trades actually turned out, realizing that trades are based on the best information available at the time of the trade, that trades are based on probable outcomes, but like all gambles the hoped for outcomes do not always occur.

Today we discuss with the infamous Carlos Gomez trade.

The Trade

July 30, 2015

RP Josh Hader, RP Adrian Houser, OF Brett Phillips, OF Domingo Santana to Milwaukee for SP Mike Fiers and OF Carlos Gomez

Breakdown:

This is painful to Astros fans, but ........

Of the four players traded to Milwaukee only one had played in the majors before the trade, Domingo Santana, and only briefly. The other three have all made appearances, and All Star Josh Hader has emerged as perhaps the best multi-purpose relief pitcher in baseball right now.

The following chart shows their career WAR, age, and year each enters free agency. The Depth Chart column shows each player’s projected WAR for 2019.

WAR, age and year of free agency of players traded by Astros in Gomez trade

Player fWAR bWAR Depth Chart age Free agency
Player fWAR bWAR Depth Chart age Free agency
Josh Hader 3.8 4 1.8 24 2024
Adrian Houser 0.1 0.2 0.3 25 2025
Brett Phillips 1.6 2.4 0.3 24 2025
Domingo Santana 4.3 3.8 1.6 26 2022

Domingo Santana has been limited by injuries since breaking into the majors in 2014, but in the one complete season he has played, in 2017, he slashed .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs and a 127 wRC+. This would have been better than George Springer in his 2016 and 2018 seasons. At age 26 he should just be entering his prime.

Brett Phillips was once considered one of the jewels of the Astros farm system, but at age 24 he has had only about 250 PA’s and only a 72 career wRC+. If he were an Astro this would be considered disappointing but at age 24 it is still too soon to say he won’t blossom into a successful major leaguer.

Houser looks like a fringe major league reliever but Josh Hader, to many a sleeper in the trade, is one of the most feared pitchers in baseball and only 24. He struck out 46.7% of batters faced and held opposing hitters to a .131 BA in 2018. If he averages two WAR for the rest of his time of team control he will add 10 WAR to his current total of 3.8 fWAR. By that time he will be only 29.

Below are highlights of 2018 Josh Hader. Be warned. If you can’t stand the sight of humiliated batters, don’t watch.

For this haul of four major league players, one who became an All Star, another who has already become a proven slugger, the Astros got two time All Star Carlos Gomez and BOR pitcher Mike Fiers.

Astros fans are all too aware of the performance of Gomez. In the pennant race of 2015 he did manage 0.8 bWAR in 163 PA’s, with an OPS of .670 and OPS+ of 85. His at bats came at the expense of Jake Marisnick, whose OPS was .665 and his OPS+ 84 in 2015. Considering that Marisnick had a significantly higher defensive rating than Gomez it seems that Gomez added no value to the team in its first championship run in 10 years.

Of course Gomez became a team cancer in 2016 and was released outright at mid season after posting a 65 OPS+ and -0.7 bWAR.

To be fair, he did hit a home run in the 2015 Wild Card game.

Here are some Carlos Gomez “highlights.”

Some fans believe that Mike Fiers redeemed this trade. Before we decide let’s look at the Fiers contribution to the playoff era Astros.

Mike Fiers stats with Astros

Year bWAR fWAR ERA ERA+ FIP W/L Starts/IP
Year bWAR fWAR ERA ERA+ FIP W/L Starts/IP
2015 0.9 0.8* 3.32 115 4.39 2/1 9/62.1
2016 0.2 1.7 4.48 88 4.43 11/8 30/168.2
2017 -0.5 0.1 5.22 78 5.43 8/10 28/153

*Fangraphs does not break down WAR for each team after a mid-season trade. The fWAR given is an approximation of the Astros part of his season total.

The fangraphs fWAR and Baseball Reference bWAR ratings give us wildly divergent valuations for Fiers as an Astro. fWAR claims he added 2.6 wins in his 2.4 seasons with the Astros. By bWAR he only added 0.6 wins. By bWAR he was basically just a replacement level pitcher, by fWAR he added one win per season.

Either way, Fiers’ contribution does not come close to compensating for the what was lost to get him and Gomez, who was a net detractor.

But...

Fiers added about one WAR in his first and best (short) season with the Astros, including a no-hitter. As we noted in the last installment, the Astros got into the Wild Card game by edging out the Angels by one game. Fiers started nine games, the Astros won four of those, including a 5-3 victory over the Angels in 7 innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were held to one hit in eight AB’s in that game.

Here’s his no-hitter.

Considering that without Fiers the fifth starter for the Astros the rest of that year would have been Roberto Hernandez (bWAR .1) or Brett Oberholzer (bWAR .1) or perhaps the 23 year old rookie Vince Velasquez (bWAR .2), I don’t think it is too outlandish to suggest that without Fiers the Astros might not have made the playoffs in 2015.

Some give him credit for saving the staff in 2017 when most of the starting rotation, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove and/or Lance McCullers were injured at one time or another during mid-season. Indeed Fiers came on to save the day. From May 20th through July 21st he was 6-3 in 12 games with a 2.51 ERA.

Still, how bad must he have been in the rest of the season with a 5.43 ERA if for these twelve games he pitched like an All Star? This bad: bWAR -0.5, fWAR 0.1. Those are season numbers with the hot streak. Overall he was a worse than replacement pitcher. Even if the record of his replacement had been 3-6 during the time of troubles, instead of 6-3, the Astros would still have won their division by 18 games. Fiers was not on the play off roster and gets no credit for helping the 2017 Astros win the World Series.

Grade: D-

It would be fun to speculate just how high this trade ranks in the history of bad trades. Near the top if Josh Hader just keeps being Hader, Domingo Santana can reproduce his 2017 season with consistency in the future and if Brett Phillips becomes an everyday outfielder.

By the way, closer and third outfielder have been persistent problems for the Astros since this trade.

Gomez and Fiers together added 0.1 bWAR in their time under Astros control. So far the four prospects traded away have produced 10.9 bWAR, Santana having three more years of team control, Phillips six, and Hader with five.

But...

Wins now are worth more than wins later, especially if they get you the excitement and experience of the playoffs. The one win Fiers gave they Astros in 2015 probably got the Astros into the playoffs and saves this trade from being a straight F. And despite how unexpectedly bad Carlos Gomez turned out, getting the team into the playoffs was why this trade was made, and in that narrow sense, it may have worked. So if you close your eyes and think really hard, you can imagine that maybe, just maybe, Mike Fiers just barely redeemed this trade.

Nah.

Standard caveat: I am not judging the wisdom of this trade at the time it was made, although many knowledgeable TCBer’s at the time did. But based on what was known at the time the total collapse of Carlos Gomez would have been assigned a very low probability, and likewise the dominance of Josh Hader. Very few people could have predicted that this trade would have turned out this badly.

Just as likely, one could have predicted that Carlos Gomez would lead the Astros deep into the 2015 playoffs, and to a World Championship in 2016. And then we would all say what a great trade it was regardless of the cost.

But that’s not how it turned out, and by all accounts, the Astros have learned to value their prospects more because of the outcome of this trade.

2015 thread here.