This is part seven 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.
July 31, 2017
Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays for Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez
Approaching the playoffs at the trade deadline in 2017, the only left handed relief pitcher the Astros had was Tony Sipp, who finished the season with a 5.79 ERA. Though having a down season himself, the Astros hoped that if transitioned to the bullpen Francisco Liriano could be a viable left handed relief option to Sipp.
Thinking that Derek Fisher was THE ANSWER in left field, the Astros parted with 24 year old Teoscar Hernandez and, to dump salary, threw in Nori Aoki.
Liriano’s 4.40 ERA over 14 innings was a slight improvement over Sipp but not by much, and Sipp’s xFIP in 2017 was nearly a run better than Liriano’s was with the Astros. Liriano’s bWAR with the Astros in those few innings was -0.2.
In the short run Hernandez made the Astros regret the trade, hitting 8 home runs and getting a .908 OPS in less than 100 PA’s in 2017. He started 2018 on a similar tear. Meanwhile Derek Fisher has descended into oblivion. However, by season’s end in 2018, Hernandez had regressed significantly, finishing with a 107 wRC+, but striking out 31% of the time. His bWAR was 0.2, and fWAR 0.3.
If Fisher wasn’t the answer in left field, and Hernandez was gone, plan C for the Astros was Tony Kemp. Would it have been better if the Astros had Hernandez than Kemp?
They are very different players, Kemp left handed, mainly a contact hitter, Hernandez a right handed, mainly power but high strike out hitter. Kemp had a 110 wRC+in 2018, Hernandez 107. Kemp’s fWAR in 295 PA’s was 0.9. Hernandez’ in 523 PA’s was 0.3 fWAR. Hernandez is projected by Depth charts to produce 0.5 WAR in 2019. Kemp is projected to produce 0.6.
With similar hitting production how did Kemp get triple the WAR with half the playing time? Hernandez was rated a terrible defender, much worse than the not so great Kemp. Keep in mind however that there is a small sample for both players.
So trading Hernandez didn’t hurt the production of the Astros’ outfield, thanks to somewhat surprising production from Tony Kemp, and with all the talent in the system, the Astros have difficulty finding only 40 players that belong on a 40 man roster. Sometimes the Astros have to clear space, as in the Gerrit Cole trade.
So the Astros traded a young player, a plus hitter with pop, controlled for many years, who still has upside potential, for a 33 year old rental having a bad season. As I said before though, wins now are worth more than wins later, and if a trade results in a championship it is always worth it. Did Liriano contribute greatly to the Astros’ championship in 2017?
The argument for Liriano almost always comes down to the one out he got in Game 7 of the World Series, which the Astros won 5-1. It happens about 10 seconds into the following video.
That one out, as critical as it felt to all stressed out Astros fans at the time, does not justify the trade. That out didn’t even come close to deciding the game, and chances are about as good that any other available pitcher, including Tony Sipp, could have gotten that one ground out.
The Astros again seemed to have undervalued a prospect who may yet grow into a legitimate big league starter. They basically gave away what is currently rated a half WAR player for nothing. Not a disaster, but still a loss. But of course, that value only became apparent after he left the Astros and got a chance to play.
One wonders whether the failure to make a big move at the trading deadline in 2017 made the Astros front office panic a bit and make a deal just to say they made a deal. A left handed reliever was a real need, but expecting Liriano to fill that need involved some wishful thinking.
The only reason this trade is not an F is because it is hard to see where Hernandez would fit if he were still an Astro. With Kemp, Jake Marisnick, yes Derek Fisher still, and Kyle Tucker all competing for fourth outfielder, how much value could Hernandez add?
November 20, 2017
Brandon Bailey from the Athletics for Ramon Laureano
Breakdown: Ramon Laureano was a major part of the A’s surprising success in 2018, which got them as far as the Wild Card Series against the Yankees, despite all pre-season projections. In 176 PA’s after his August call-up, Ramon hit 129 wRC+ and contributed 2.1 fWAR and bWAR. Again, in only 2 months of play. This is based not only on his hitting, but on fielding and base running skill as well.
Here are a few of his highlights.
This player is no fluke. Speed, defense, base running and arm strength like that are not the product of small sample size. He stole seven bases in his short call up and was caught only once. His speed is rated by statcast in the 92nd percentile.
It remains to be seen if he can sustain a 129 wRC+ for an entire season. He had a 148 in August, but cooled down to 116 in Sept/Oct. His BABIP was an unsustainable .388, although his hard hit % was a healthy 40%. His k% was an inflated 28%, especially high when one considers that the power game is his one area of weakness, hitting a home run only once every 35 PA’s approximately.
Although Laureano’s WOBA at .358 slightly exceeded his xWOBA at .343, the xWOBA was still good enough to rank 83rd out of 448 major leaguers. It was equal to George Springer, Charlie Blackmon, and Giancarlo Stanton. Still, the September stats from last year indicate that the league will adjust to him, as it adjusted to Hernandez, and it remains to be seen how he will adjust in return. But at 24 years old, he has plenty of time to make those adjustments.
Projections expect some regression. Still, Steamer projects 2.7 WAR for an entire season, and Fans(8) projects an All-Star like performance of 5.5 WAR.
Considering the raw skills and success of Laureano, I assumed that the Astros were making room on their 40 man roster by adding a younger prospect with high upside in Brandon Bailey. But like Laureano, Bailey is 24, and topped out last year at AA, pitching only 24.2 innings at that level with a 4.01 ERA. He is not on the Astros’ 40 man roster, nor is he listed as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
According to our resident expert Spencer Morris, Bailey, with three + pitches and average velocity, has a good chance of someday contributing as a big league multi-inning reliever .
Here is how Fangraphs rates the prospects in question. For reference purposes I will start with Top Ten prospect Kyle Tucker.
Kyle Tucker, future value grade - 60
Ramon Laureano- future grade - 50
Teoscar Hernandez, future grade-45
Brandon Bailey, future grade - 40
Basically, Laureano is rated as high above Bailey as Kyle Tucker is above Laureano.
Some would say that Laureano had to be moved by the Astros to make room on the 40 man roster. The trade for Bailey was a necessary evil. But at this time the ratings show that there were and are less valuable players on the Astros 40 man than Laureano. Reymin Guduan and Dean Deetz are both rated as 40 future grade by fangraphs just to name two, so if the Astros had to move someone, it turns out Laureano was the wrong guy.
Not an F because it is too soon to say. Bailey has shown some interesting flashes in Spring, and should contribute something at the Big League level, and Laureano could turn out to be Teoscar Hernandez in reverse, all glove, no bat. Still, based on everything we know now, the Astros bungled badly on this one.
Next week, the Astros finally get it right.