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Reviewing Astros Trades, 2014-2018, Part IX. Gerrit Cole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts

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Gerrit Cole pitches his opening game for the Astros in 2019 today. Let’s take a look at the trade that brought him here.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at New York Mets Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

This is part nine of a series analyzing Astros trades from 2014-2018. For a review of the methodology and caveats go to Part I here.

This is a review of how the trades turned out, understanding that at the time the trades were made the teams involved used the best information available to maximize the chances of an advantageous transaction. But all trades are based on probabilities, and like any form of gambling, the actual outcomes may not be those desired. So this is not intended as a criticism of the trades at the time they happened, but just a review of how lady luck eventually blessed each trade in the end.

The Trade

January 13, 2018

Breakdown:

Jason Martin, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Joe Musgrove to the Pirates for Gerrit Cole.

Gerrit Cole was a Number 1 overall draft pick by the Pirates in 2011 and made the All Star team in 2015. Similar to Justin Verlander before his trade to the Astros, Cole’s effectiveness declined every year thereafter with the Pirates and in 2017 he had an ERA+ of exactly 100. (average) The transformation of Cole in Houston from average back to All Star needs no explanation on this website, but just for perspective, he more than doubled his fWAR from 3.1 to 6.3.

The headliner going to the Pirates was Joe Musgrove, who had pitched for the Astros for 1 12 years with remarkably consistent mediocrity. His xFIP for 2016 and 2017 was 4.04 and 4.03 respectively, SIERA 3.98, 4.04. With the Pirates in 2018 these numbers went down, sort of: xFIP 3.92, SIERA 3.93. Consistency. Using traditional statistics, Musgrove’s ERA from 2016-2018 was: 4.06, 4.77, 4.06 respectively. He posted 1.1 bWAR in 2018 and 2.1 fWAR.

Perhaps the Pirates expected a higher ceiling from the rookie third baseman they got, Colin Moran. A 6th overall draft pick in 2013, the Astros acquired him in the trade with the Marlins that brought Jake Marisnick and others for Jarred Cosart. He was a disappointment in the Astros minor league system, but was poised to break out when he was traded. Moran hit .747 OPS in 2018 in 465 PA’s. His bWAR was an even one and his fWAR .7

Hard throwing Michael Feliz had thrown about 120 innings with the Astros between 2015 and 2017 with a 5.13 ERA. With the Pirates he had a 5.66 ERA and a -0.9 bWAR, Because his peripherals were considerably better than his ERA, Fangraphs gave Feliz a 0.1 WAR rating.

Finally the Astros parted with minor league outfielder Jason Martin, who at age 23 reached AAA last year hitting .589 OPS in 234 PA’s. Fangraphs thinks he will taste the majors this year and gives him a future value rating of 40. He is the 24th rated prospect in the Pirates system.

Grade: A+

The Pirates gave away more than they expected, Cole doubling his WAR in 2018 over 2017. And they probably got less than they expected, with neither Michael Feliz nor Joe Musgrove showing substantial improvement despite their relative youth. With 0.7 fWAR in 2018, Colin Moran was also probably a disappointment as well. And recently it was announced that he will be a back-up in 2019.

Of course it is possible that any one of these players could have a break out, but I think it is more probable that Feliz, Musgrove and Moran will be pretty much what they are now. Steamer expects Musgrove to produce 2.4 wins in 2019. If we make that an even 2.5 he will produce 10 wins in the time he is under team control by the Pirates.

Moran is projected to produce only 0.5 wins this year. Over the five year period of team control that will total 2.5 wins. Feliz is projected to produce 0,2 wins this year and that will equal 0.6 over the next three years of team control.

This totals about 13 wins. If we credit Moran with one win per season it is a little over 15 wins.

If you credit Cole with 5 wins this year in his last year before FA and 6 last year then the Pirates win the trade slightly. But remember the caveats. Wins now are worth more than wins later. And one six WAR player is worth more than 3 two WAR players. Furthermore, the players the Astros surrendered would have produced little or nothing for the Astros if they were still in the Astros organization

It seemed unfair at the time when Pirate fans accused the management of getting fleeced at the time of the trade, but unless one of the former Astros breaks out for the Pirates the way Cole did for Houston, they may have been right.

Note: In the first installment of this series I only rated the the Astros trade with the Marlins as a C+. If I had said in that trade that the Astros got great value for Colin Moran or Daz Cameron then I would have to say they gave away great value to get Cole and Justin Verlander. So the average grade in that trade is compensated for by the A+ grades for the Cole and Verlander trades, where the Astros leveraged the hidden value in that earlier trade into real value.