Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects
Every year, especially at the trade deadline, an out of contention team deals an expensive, star player for a few top prospects. It makes sense – if your team is going nowhere anytime soon, there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to a star player when you can can get young, cheap talent in return and give yourself a brighter future. Fans are sad to see their guy go while at the same time getting excited for a couple top prospects and what they could mean for the future.
The Ringer just kinda blew that apart. They cataloged every prospect ranked in the Top-50 by Baseball America from 1990 through 2011 and analyze that player’s total WAR (wins above replacement) over the player’s first six years in the majors (after which they become free agents). The results are a bit surprising.
In all, there were 697 players in the list. Many of them were busts: over half of them accumulated less than 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Even narrowing it down, more than one third of top-10 ranked players, failed to reach the 6 WAR threshold over their first six seasons.
But things get even worse if the player was traded: of the 697 players, 103 were traded as prospects. On average, the non-traded prospects accrued 27% more WAR than the traded prospects. 28% of the traded prospects accumulated zero or negative WAR over their first six seasons. Another 29% accumulated between zero and 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Less than three percent of the traded prospects produced 24 WAR over their first six seasons, which amounts to an All Star level player. The non-traded prospects reached that threshold more than three times as often.
Perhaps, you’re thinking, the discrepancy is because the most highly ranked prospects are not traded as often as those closer to 50th. Nope. The average ranking of the traded prospects was 27.8, and the non-traded prospects was 25.
So why the gap? The Ringer’s explanation makes sense: there’s an information gap. An organization, that has raised a prospect since they were a teenager knows much more about its players – work ethic, mental makeup, lifestyle habits – than other teams can possibly know. If a team is willing to deal a top prospect, perhaps they value that player less than outsiders do. If the Red Sox thought Yoan Moncada was a power hitting, All-Star second baseman, they might not have included him in the deal for Chris Sale. As it is, Moncada has not yet developed into a star with the White Sox. Other factors hurt the traded prospects, too. Sometimes a player who has come up in a certain system and has done well is unable to adjust to a new environment with unfamiliar coaches, philosophies, and teammates.
So what should teams do? One suggestion is that while in decades past prospects were dealt too easily, the pendulum has swung the other way and they are now overvalued:
In decades past, teams might have undervalued youth and made excessive win-now trades that discarded future considerations. But, “you can even make the argument now that it’s gone so far in the other direction,” Paternostro says, “that it’s a bit of an untapped market inefficiency: trading your best prospect, as silly as that is to say. Just because it’s the only way you can get a return of that level.”
In other words: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Deal your prospects, who might pan out, in order to get quality major league talent that you know will help your team win.
I do have one complaint about this analysis, though. Limiting the analysis to the first six years of the prospect’s career is odd, or perhaps expecting an average of 4 WAR per year (4 WAR is an All Star) over those 6 years is too much. Here’s a screenshot of the top 25 traded prospects by their 6 year WAR:
Aside from the top 3, none made the 24 WAR threshold, but many of them were fantastic players later. I will acknowledge, though, that of the players on that list that I think should be included as very good players, very few of them made a huge mark on the team they were traded to as prospects. For example, Adrian Gonzalez didn’t make his mark with Florida, but with San Diego; Carlos Gonzalez didn’t impact Oakland; etc. Still, it’s worth noting. -TOB
Source: “Why Trading for Top Prospects Is Less of a Win Than MLB Teams Seem to Think”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (12/10/2018)
PAL: Good week for The Ringer with two great reads. Organizations don’t trade prospects they love, especially when they are years away from free agency. That much should be obvious, but it’s not, in part because we need to justify that our team got the better end of the deal. I think most fans have gone through a period when their team is in the “prospects cycle”. After a certain amount of years you get tired of being sold on the next great prospect acquired in a trade of yet another solid big leaguer before he hits free agency.
A Lesson For a New NBA Head Coach
When Fred Hoiberg was fired as the head coach for the Chicago Bulls last week, Jim Boylen was named the interim head coach. Things have not gone well! On Saturday, they lost at home to the Celtics by 56 points, a franchise record, and an NBA record for a home loss. Boylen tried to schedule a practice for the next morning, after the team had played games in back to back days Friday and Saturday. This did not go over well, and he nearly had a mutiny.
Now, as the TNT crew said this week, if you lose by 56 points, you should want to practice the next day. But Boylen tried to justify the Sunday practice by noting that he had yanked all five starters twice during the game, including three minutes into the third quarter, after which no starter re-entered the game. Players were not happy about that, either. Starter Zach LaVine noted, “It sucks to know you can help, sitting there watching the score go up and up.” Boylen’s response is classic:
Boylen downplayed his substitution pattern after the game by saying he simply felt it was best for the team. He reminded the media that he worked as an assistant for two seasons under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has “subbed five guys a ton of times and nobody says a word to him about it.”
That may be true, Jim. But let this be a lesson to you and every other neophyte coach: he’s Gregg Popovich, and you’re not. -TOB
Source: “How the Bulls Narrowly Avoided a Full-Blown Mutiny in Jim Boylen’s First Week as Head Coach”, Darnell Mayberry, The Athletic (12/09/2018)
Fox Was Built On Football
December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.
At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.
Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.
The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”
When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.
Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.
It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story. – PAL
Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)
TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.
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