If he doesn’t make that trade, we may not finish over .500. I’m serious. We were hurting.

- Tony LaRussa

On July 27th, the day that the St. Louis Cardinals traded center fielder Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters to the Toronto Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson, the eventual winner of the National League Wild Card was six games above .500, half a game back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central and 5.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves for the Wild Card.

After acquiring Jackson, Dotel, Rzepczynski and Patterson, the Cardinals played better than .600 baseball in the final 58 games of the regular season, largely because of a remarkable 18-8 record in September. They went on to overtake the slumping Braves on the final day by beating the Houston Astros as Atlanta fell to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals’ improbable run continued through the playoffs. First, they beat the heavily favoured Phillies in the NLDS, and then the team conquered the Central Division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers, bringing them to the 2011 World Series.

There’s an old joke about causation that goes something like this:

A scientist has a frog that is capable of jumping whenever it hears a voice command telling it to do so. The scientist is rather intrigued by this, so he decides to experiment a little bit. First, he slices off the frog’s hind leg and says, “Jump!” Sure enough, despite the missing appendage, the frog jumps. The scientist then slices off another limb, and commands it to jump. The frog does so again. Then, the scientist cuts off another extremity, says “Jump!” and once again, the frog complies. Finally, the scientist slices off the frog’s last leg and requests that it jump one more time. When the frog is unresponsive, the scientist concludes that removing the limbs of a frog causes it to go deaf.

You see, just because the results indicate that the team played better after new players arrived, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those players caused a transformation. Let’s take a deeper look at the specific impact of each player that came over in the deal for Colby Rasmus.

We can start by looking at their contributions in terms of playing time and wins above replacement according to FanGraphs after arriving in St. Louis.

  • Edwin Jackson: 12 GS, 77 IP, 0.7 fWAR
  • Marc Rzepczynski: 28 GP, 22.2 IP, 0.4 fWAR
  • Octavio Dotel: 29 GP, 24.2 IP, 0.9 fWAR
  • Corey Patterson: 44 GP, 56 PA, -0.3 fWAR

We could also look at where each player ranks on the team in terms of fWAR during the final month of the season. For instance, out of position players with 10 or more plate appearances in September, Patterson ranked 16th out of 17. Out of pitchers with more than one start in the month, Jackson ranked fourth out of five. And out of relievers who made more than a single appearance in September, Dotel ranks first and Rzepczynski ranks fourth out of seven.

Aside from Dotel, it appears that the additions all had an average or below average contribution, and this is perhaps best reflected in the total win probability that each player added during his time in St. Louis.

  • Octavio Dotel: +0.21
  • Edwin Jackson: -0.23
  • Marc Rzepczynski: -0.42
  • Corey Patterson: -0.49

This means that three of the four players acquired from Toronto did more to decrease the probability of St. Louis losing than winning. Going even further, we see that of the 31 games that Patterson made an impact in his team’s WPA, it was negative 24 times and positive seven times. Over his 12 starts, Jackson had a positive WPA impact on the six times and a negative one six times as well. Meanwhile, Rzepczynski’s appearances resulted in one neutral, 17 positive and 10 negative WPAs. However, when he was called in with the highest leverage situations, Rzepczynski was ultimately disappointing collecting four shutdowns, but also five meltdowns for the Cardinals.

For more on shutdowns and meltdowns, read here.

Once again, the only clearly positive contribution was from Dotel who in addition to collecting seven shutdowns to four meltdowns, had 21 positive WPA outings to only six negatives (and two neutrals). Anyone who followed the Toronto Blue Jays in the second half of the season probably doesn’t have to look up the numbers to know how Dotel’s contribution compares with Colby Rasmus. It’s not pretty. The center fielder struggled after coming to Toronto, which isn’t to say that we know this outcome would be the same if he were to have spent the entire season in St. Louis.

Considering that three of the four players acquired by the Cardinals in the trade will either be free agents this off season or at least would have been had they not been traded (Dotel has a team option for 2012 with a 40% pay increase), and the one who is under team control will in all likelihood end up a reliever, it’s difficult to see them winning this deal in the long term.

However, this was done for the sake of the short term. The Cardinals, perhaps enjoying the last year of Albert Pujols on their team, went for an all or nothing approach. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that acquiring Dotel led to more wins for the team than if they had hung on to Rasmus. The pre deadline deal becomes a bit of a win-win for both teams involved, right?

Not quite. If Octavio Dotel is the difference maker in the trade, it becomes difficult to overlook the fact that any team in baseball could have acquired the veteran reliever this past off season without risking the loss of a player who could potentially be one of the top young center fielders in the game. Praising Cardinals GM John Mozeliak for his trade deadline dealing is to undervalue foresight and completely dismiss what other teams were doing around the same time.

Consider that general manager Jon Daniels acquired Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez and the surprisingly disappointing Koji Uehara for Chris Davis (stalled prospect), Tommy Hunter (future bullpen arm at best), Robbie Erlin (a legitimate prospect) and Joe Wieland (low ceiling prospect). The difference between Daniels’ dealings and Mozeliak’s become even more lopsided when you consider that Adams and Uehara are both under team control next year.

And this is what I see as the major difference between the two clubs squaring off in the baseball finals. One is a smartly built, dynamic and well rounded team that boasts a superior rotation, bullpen, lineup and bench. The other has gotten to where they are by luck, while being praised for their ultimately faulty design.

Comments (29)

  1. You failed to consider the Cardinal’s options if they didn’t make the trade. In other words, what if they stuck with Kyle McClellan in the rotation and had PJ Walters/Tallet/Miller. Average production from the four players received was a marked improvement what the team had before the trade.

    • That’s partly the point, isn’t it? The Cards were/are a pretty bad team, poorly constructed, and lucky to be where they are (it can be chalked up mostly to a weak division and Fredi Gonzalez having no clue how to run a bullpen.) Why should they be applauded for filling massive holes (holes which don’t exist on good teams that deep into a season, and holes which bury teams in the AL East, AL West, or NL East) with mediocre to poor solutions, and then getting hot for 2 weeks in the playoffs? Enjoy the outcome if you want, but don’t fool yourself into believing the process is sound.

  2. Seems like LaRussa still isn’t finished fucking around with Rasmus’s head.

  3. Why do I have the strange feeling that Colby Rasmus is going to be a fuckin beast next year?

    keep lighting that fire. we heard it all from braves fans about escobar..

    funny how Gonzalez posted a 1.1 WAR this year, Escobar was 4.3.. and the braves missed the playoffs by one game.

    doh.

    • I’ll bet it’s because he’s only 25, and already has a season of .860 ops under his belt while playing elite defense at a premium position. Generally, guys who do that are called “studs,” and “studs” generally give you “boners” for years and years.

  4. He isn’t refuting whether or not the team is better or worse before or after the trade. He’s pointing out that the players from the Blue Jays aren’t the cause for the Cardinals winning.

  5. I think you have to factor in Jon Jay’s numbers too or at least the opportunity that was given to other outfielders with Rasmus’ departure.

    You can get technical all day, but the fact is that the cards are going to the dance.

    • As Josh says, you have to factor in Jon Jay’s numbers compared to what Rasmus would have done and like Brian K said above, you also have to factor in the upgrade of E-Jax, R-Zep and Dotel over McLellan, Walters and Tallet. It’s not just the WAR the 3 pitchers accumulated, it’s the difference in performance over who they replaced and the difference between Jay and Rasmus this year.

      Was this trade expensive for the Cards? Sure it was, but realistically, this is probably the Cards last chance to go for the WS for the next few years. Who knows if Pujols comes back, Berkman and Carpenter are pretty old. Holliday is a year older and had some injury trouble this year. Who knows if Wainwright comes back fully healed next year.

      This is a team that probably needs a full overhaul after this season and the draft picks they will get from Jackson and Dotel leaving helps. So the price for Rasmus was the upgrades from the pitchers and the upgrade of Jay over Rasmus this year and draft picks from the departing free agents.

      • But the additions aren’t the reason why the team played well in September. It’s because Molina caught fire and Pujols was Pujols once again.

      • I suppose you can look at this way: if theoretically the players that arrived from the Jays had a cumulative WAR of 5 (for example), maybe the combination of departing players would have had a WAR of 2. There’s all kinds of factors here, but I think that the problem coming up is that many Jays fans are buying into the speculation that this was a win for the Cards and a loss for the Jays. It isn’t. If this trade “helps” the Cards win the WS, whether statistically or speculatively, that’s fine, but don’t discount the fact that the Jays received, by far, the best out of the 11 players moved in this deal. If Rasmus reaches his full potential, he’ll be a middle of the order power bat hitting from the left side while playing above-average defense at a premium position, something the Jays sorely need. We shouldn’t lose sight of that (though unfortunately, many Jays fans already have).

    • Patterson got at least SOME of the playing time gained by Rasmus’ departure.

      Jay put up similar numbers to Rasmus after the trade, no? And Rasmus is better defensively.

    • Rasmus was traded on what, the 27th of July? Here’s Jay’s slash line from the 27th till the end of the season:

      277/319/405. Or pretty much what you’d expect for a guy with no power and no ability to walk who gets a full time gig thrust on him. He’s also got a 596 OPS in the playoffs.

      Now, Rasmus wasn’t doing GREAT with the Cards, but before he was traded he still hit 246/332/420. In other words, despite hitting significantly lower in BA, he still got on base more, hit for more power, and I’m betting he played better defense.

      So hey, they got below average production from Rzep/Patterson/Jon Jay, a league average production from Jackson, and above average production from Dotel. But hey, they got rid of that problem guy in CF who hit and fielded better than Jay and had significantly more upside!

      As a side note, I don’t agree that Wieland has a low ceiling. A starter with an 8.3 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 is fairly impressive. I don’t know his velocity, but I’d have to think he’d have some pretty decent potential just based on that.

  6. @Brian k. Colby Rasmus is an awful high price to pay just to do a bit of addition by subtraction. The fact is the Cards were very fortunate that this trade worked out as well as it did because it ultimately took a massive collapse by the Braves, something completely out of their control, for them to just barely make the playoffs.

    • It has yet to be seen if it is truly a high price to pay. As for needing the Braves to collapse, I don’t think the Cardinals have to apologize for that. They beat the two best teams in the NL in the playoffs, back-to-back. When the Jays finish playing in the sand and are ready to make their push for the playoffs, they had better hope at least one AL East team has a fall like the Braves.

  7. Yeah, I’m not saying that the team didn’t improve itself over available options, just that those improvements don’t deserve credit for saving the team. In fact, they didn’t make much of a difference outside of Dotel, and as King_Cat says, Rasmus is an awfully high price to pay for eight weeks of Octavio Dotel, even at his absolute best.

    Good emphasis on the Braves as well.

    • Except, with just one more loss, the Cards don’t make the playoffs. You don’t think McLellan, Tallet and Walters or whatever other garbage that Jackson, Dotel and Rzep replaced wouldn’t have lost a game for the Cards in that period? The trade isn’t the only reason they made the playoffs, but it helped. Why can’t it be a combination of the Braves’ collapse, the resurgence of Pujols et al. and the trade?

  8. I’m glad that teams think they did well in trades against us – it just means that the silent assassin will have more dancing partners next time he wants to fleece an organization of emerging young talent for a bunch of nothing.

  9. I agree with LaRussa in that without this trade, they don’t make the playoffs (of course that’s assuming that no other trade options were available.

    St. Louis finished 1 game ahead of Atlanta, and I’m fairly confident that the players they acquired for Rasmus contributed at the very least one additional win over the players they replaced.

    Therefore if the Cardinals go onto win the World Series was trading Rasmus worth it? I would have to think so, I definitely wouldn’t give back the Jays 92 World Series Championship for undoing the Jeff Kent trade.

    • Yes, but it doesn’t make it a good trade. They didn’t have to trade Rasmus to get what they got, especially when Rasmus’ value is at a fraction of what it should/most likely will be. Look at what Texas paid (above) for their 3 relievers, 2 of whom are way better than Rzep and Dotel.

  10. That quote has to make you wonder, just what the hell did Rasmus do to make TLR hate him so damn much?

  11. I love detailed analysis and the new stats like WAR. But I still think there needs to be more work on them, especially looking at these types of situations. We don’t know how the rest of Cards roster played after the trade vs. before, we don’t know what other deals or even players were available at the deadline vs. the offseason (other than those who moved of course). Perhaps the Cards felt the ‘pen would have been stronger and plans changed when it wasn’t. There is the intangable factor of sending a message to the team when deals are made. There are too many variables involved to just look at the players they acquired and how they performed. All that said I still love the trade as a Jays fan and I enjoyed this post and the discussion above.

  12. I think you guys are trying a bit too hard to prove how great the Rasmus trade was for the Jays. I think you have to accept the possibility that this trade could have made a difference, even if the numbers needed to measure it don’t exist. It could have been a shot in the arm to the players on the team that the general manager was giving up a possible stud player in the future, for players that could help them win now. Its a vote of confidence to those players that were there which could help them perform better. Its also possible that personality changes in the clubhouse could have contributed to their winning as well.

    Additionally I still think its a bit early to call this a great trade. Lets wait until Rasmus is actually a great player to call this a great trade. If Rasmus turns out to be a bust, or gets hurt and can’t play anymore (knock on wood) the Cards win this trade, because they are in the World Series right now.

    Just on a hypothetical level if the Card win the World Series, and Rasmus turns out to be great for the Jays for 5 years, but the Jays never get to the World Series, who wins the trade then?

  13. @ Jeremy I’d say it’s a win-win.

  14. Zep and Dotel sure helped the Cards tonight. I agree with Jeremy that certain Jays fans are trying way too hard to downplay the positive impact of the trade for St. Louis. Advanced metrics are great, but keep one foot in the real world and watch the games for yourself, the two don’t always completely add up.

  15. Dustin always likes to cherry pick his stats to “prove” that he’s right. fwar and war is all crap. It doesn’t prove anything. The only proof is in the actual results. The fact is that zep gave up runs 6 times in his 28 games. In those 6 games the cards went 1-5. In the other 22 games the cards went 17-5. So whether he pitched well or not directly impacted the result of the game. And the vast majority of the time he pitched well, so yes he did have an impact of their winning. How much of an impact we’ll never know but it’s ridiculous to say he had no impact.

  16. I just read this article. I don’t have much to add (I think the Rasmus trade was good for both sides). I just want to point out the author is off base in his final assessment that Texas is/was a clearly superior team.

    Stl led the NL in runs scored, in a park that favors pitching. Although its rotation arguably lacked the depth of the Rangers, StL had the best of the bunch in Carpenter (and with a healthy Wainwright would have the best rotation b/w the teams hands down). Although I would give the edge to the Rangers in the bullpen, I think Stl had the edge in bench strength. For example, Texas’ lack of a right handed bench bat was magnified in the World Series. And don’t get me started on the managers.

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