As of today, we're winning The Big Trade: Why the Reds are better off with Volquez than with Hamilton

When the Reds traded Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers in December, it was hardly a blockbuster deal. Hamilton was a reformed addict with fewer than 300 major league at-bats, and Volquez was an erratic young flamethrower with a 3-11 career record. A trade of potential, sure, but certainly not a trade of stars.

Hamil_medium    Volq_medium
Tony Gutierrez/AP (Hamilton), Getty Images (Volquez)

Now that Hamilton is the leading candidate for AL MVP and Volquez is the leading candidate for NL Cy Young, it looks like the biggest trade of the past year. Conventional wisdom says that both teams profited from the swap, and given the great luck both guys have had, I agree with that. But curiosity is probably leading many of you to wonder if the Reds made the right move; indeed, I've read several comments pondering what the team would look like if we still had Hobbs.

So I set out to learn how good the Reds would be had The Big Trade never happened. What I found, if you'll indulge me after the jump, is that we're better off with the stud we have than the stud we had. Part of the reason is, as The Hardball Times says, "A run saved is not equal to a run scored." The other part of the reason is the pitchers we have to replace Volquez wouldn't be doing a lot of run-saving. Meet me after the jump...

First, know that this is my best shot, but it's just a layman's try. If I were Slyde, I'd use some gussied-up spreadsheets and calculate my own statistics, but I'm not Slyde and I have to steal stuff. With permission, of course.

I'm operating under a few assumptions:

  1. Hamilton and Volquez would have had the exact same seasons they had up to this point for their original clubs. This is a totally unreasonable assumption, but it's the only way to compare them.
  2. The Reds would not have called up Jay Bruce and would not have signed Corey Patterson. The latter is the most pleasant aspect of the scenario.
  3. Volquez's innings would have been absorbed by Homer Bailey and Josh Fogg. This causes some problems, which I'll discuss in a second.

What you know: Volquez leads the majors in ERA (1.71) and strikeouts (110) and is second in the NL in wins (10). Hamilton leads the world in RBIs (76) and is first in the AL in home runs (19).

But I wanted to use more substantial (and comparable) statistics. I decided on TV (total value) for the position players and RAR (runs above replacement) for pitchers, as calculated by Justin Inaz (JinAZ of On Baseball and the Reds). Justin also helped me out with some commentary. TV takes into account fielding and hitting and is park-adjusted. RAR is also park-adjusted. I chose not use FIPRAR, which factors in defense behind a pitcher and luck. I figure we're already discounting luck with the first assumption, and the Reds' defense is only hurting Volquez.

As far as matching up the innings, the players are fairly interchangeable. Corey Patterson and Jay Bruce have combined for 307 plate appearances, and Hamilton has been to the dish 338 times. The other 31 PAs are fairly negligible.

That's the easy part. Bruce and Patterson have combined for a TV of 5 runs (7.2 for Bruce, -2.2 for Patterson). Hamilton's TV is 27. We would likely have scored an extra 22 runs with Hobbs in our lineup this season.

PAs TV
Patterson 191 -(-2.2)
Bruce 116 -(7.2)
Hamilton 338 +26.8
Net +21.8

As I alluded to earlier, Norris Hopper (-.6) and Ryan Freel (.6) net out to exactly replacement level, so I'm not too concerned about the 31-plate-appearance difference between Hamilton and our guys. If Hamilton got his 338 cuts with the Reds, he'd be taking the last 31 from a replacement player.

The pitching is where things get dicey. Volquez has racked up an astounding 32.3 runs above average, or equal to Francisco Cordero, Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Jared Burton, Bill Bray, Daryl Thompson and Mike Lincoln combined (Nos. 2-8 in RAR, as relievers are weighted differently). I wanted to assume Volquez's innings would be transferred to a Josh Fogg-Homer Bailey platoon. The problem, I found, is that Fogg and Bailey have been so bad in such a small sample size. Here's what the breakdown would look like if they each took on another 47.5 innings:

IP RAR RAR/IP Proj. RAR
Fogg 28.3 -9.4 -.332 -15.76
Bailey 12.3 -6.2 -.504 -23.94
Volquez 95 32.3 .340 (-32.3)
Net -72

If this were the result, the Reds would have by this point scored 360 runs but allowed 465, which would amount to about 29.6 wins (.375 winning percentage). The Reds are playing about 2.5 games above their expected total, so I'll add 2.5 to any win tally. So if Homer and Fogg played the way they've played to this point in the season over Volquez's innings, using a rough pythag the Reds would be at 32-47, a full 4 games worse than their current 36-43 record.

Homer_medium
Homer Bailey has struggled this season,
making Edinson Volquez much more
valuable to the Reds. (Tony Tribble/AP)

I don't think that's a fair assumption, though. For one, Fogg and Homer would have to eventually at least regress (progress?) toward the mean (replacement-level). Even if they wouldn't, there's no way management would let them pitch at those ridiculous levels, and they would soon be replaced with someone who can offer replacement-level numbers (Thompson, Maloney, Affeldt, a FA signing, etc.)

Of course, there's always the possibility that Daryl Thompson would have won the Reds' fifth spot and succeeded, but we can't glean anything statistically from one major league start.

If I sub in a net-zero player -- essentially eliminating the 40 negative runs Fogg and Bailey would have offered -- we would allow only 425 runs, or 32 more than actual. That would equate to only half a win less than actual, or 35-36 wins.

But that's probably an unfair assumption, too. Harang (8.8 RAR) and Cueto (5.1) have pitched above replacement, but Arroyo (-3.2) and Belisle (-4.9) have not. Belisle would probably be the third option and might provide some mitigation. His -4.9 RAR have come in 29.7 innings, or -.165 RAR/IP -- considerably bad, but only half as bad as Fogg and a quarter as bad as Bailey. If I pro-rate Belisle's season to cover Volquez's innings, the Reds allow 441 runs, which would make a 34-45 record (.400 WP). (Remember, the Reds are outplaying their expected win-loss total by about 2.5 games, so that number is added to all projected win totals.)

RS RA (Proj.) wins
2008 Reds (actual) 338 393 36
2008 Reds (Bailey, Fogg) 360 465 32
2008 Reds (Belisle) 360 341 34
2008 Reds (Replacement-level) 360 425 35.5

So even though their value numbers are similar (32 RAR for Volquez, 27 TV for Hamilton), there is a growing disparity between their real values for the Reds. And that's not all that abnormal. It has something to do with the number zero: A great pitcher can only allow about five runs a game less than average, but a lineup can score an infinite number of runs. Put another way, the difference between a terrible hitter and a great hitter is much less than the difference between a terrible pitcher and a great pitcher. Or, according to this 2006 article in The Hardball Times,

Let’s say a team allows one run per game while scoring five. How often are they expected to win? About 93.4% of the time, actually. See how quickly I came up with that answer? It just inspires confidence, doesn’t it? Okay, so here’s the follow-up: How many runs would a team that allows five runs a game need to score to win 93.4% of the time? The answer is about 15.4.

And here’s the point of that: A run saved is not equal to a run scored. Keep that in mind, because it’s important.

::snip::

The thing is, as shown in the example above, that baseline isn’t really the same thing. A pitcher who allows one run per game is exactly as valuable as a lineup that scores 15.4, but if we looked at runs above average (assuming that an average team scores/allows five runs a game), the pitcher would only be four Runs Above Average, while the lineup would be 9.4 RAA. The offense comes out looking 235% better, despite actually having an equivalent output. Obviously, that’s a problem.

There's also a pesky fact that hasn't been discussed much: Josh Hamilton hasn't been quite as good as his RBI total suggests. Queue Justin Inaz:

Hamilton's having a great year, but I think his performance has been overhyped a bit because of his amazing/lucky/team-based RBI totals.  A 0.946 OPS is really good, but it's not mind-blowing, especially in Texas' ballpark.  He also hasn't been very good in the field by "my" ratings (ZR and RZR) or by mgl's UZR.  The latter might be a small sample size issue, but even last year we knew that he was clearly better suited for RF than CF.

Dunn's been more or less Hamilton's equal offensively once you consider park and league differences.  And Milton Bradley's having a better year at the plate than Josh (in fewer PA's), but because his RBIs are lower, few are noticing.

Hamilton's doing it with the stats that get you MVP votes, but his rawer numbers aren't other-worldly. This isn't a criticism of him; he's still one of my favorite players, and he's having a terrific year. But he wouldn't be en route to 150 RBIs in an average lineup with an average number of RBI opportunities.

Notes: This is only an analysis of this season, which inherently means I'm not dealing with large sample sizes. This post is not intended to evaluate their career paths or determine who is the better player. Also, Daniel Ray Herrera was included in the deal and has pitched 3 innings for the Reds. I ignored him, even though he accounted for a -1 RAR. And thanks again to Justin for all his help. His Web site is an amazing place if you like to be absorbed in real Reds information.

[Note by Rick House, 06/26/08 4:12 PM EDT ]: Thanks to C. Trent, John Fay and Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors for linking to the post.

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