September 14, 2003

Eating Crow 101 (well, sort of)

First things first, let's get the numbers out of the way.

Since joining the Minnesota Twins, Shannon Stewart is hitting .335/.386/.487. Since leaving the Minnesota Twins, Bobby Kielty is hitting .222/.331/.359.

Because of the very substantial differences in those two performances, I have been getting quite a few emails lately asking me to re-evaluate my thoughts on the mid-season trade that sent Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Stewart.

There is no doubt that, for this season, the trade has been absolutely fantastic for the Twins. Stewart has been exceptional for his new team, Kielty has struggled for his, and the Twins are doing exactly what the trade was supposed to help them do, which is make a run for the playoffs.

That said, this trade does go beyond what happens in the final 50 or 60 games of the 2003 season. While Stewart's performance down the stretch for the Twins has certainly made this trade a great one for this year and a better one than I initially thought overall, I still believe the Twins made a mistake in the long-term.

Many of you have emailed me to say something along the lines of "Stewart is hitting .335, what do you think of the trade now, you idiot?!" I just want to point out to those people that, in my original analysis of the trade, way back in the middle of July, I said the following:

"Stewart's play in the second-half of this season has nothing to do with whether or not I think it is a good trade."

I may be an idiot, but at least I am a consistent idiot.

Now, certainly, Stewart playing very well in the second-half of 2003 and Kielty playing poorly in the second-half of 2003 makes the trade a better one for the Twins than I expected. But, as I said way back in July, I still don't think it makes it a good one.

Would the Twins be tied for first-place right now if they had kept Kielty and not traded for Stewart? Probably not, but who knows? Certainly if Kielty had hit as poorly for the Twins as he has for the Blue Jays, it would have been a big drop-off from the offense Stewart has provided.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Shannon Stewart has created 38.4 "Equivalent Runs" since joining the Twins, which works out to about .152 EqR per plate appearance. Since joining the Blue Jays, Kielty has created 17.2 EqR, or .098 per plate appearance. If you give Kielty the same amount of playing time that Stewart has been given for Minnesota, he checks in with 24.8 Equivalent Runs - 13.6 few than Stewart has created.

That is obviously not a perfect way of looking at things, but it's pretty close. If Kielty had been given Stewart's plate appearances and he had performed exactly the same way that he has for Toronto, he would have cost the Twins about 13-14 runs compared to what Stewart has given them. Those 13-14 runs are certainly worth a couple of wins, which makes a gigantic difference a pennant-race.

Of course, trades are not made with the ability to look into the future. Twins GM Terry Ryan didn't know Stewart would drastically outperform his numbers with the Blue Jays and he didn't know Kielty would slump horribly after a good start with Toronto. Or maybe he did, who knows. If that's the case, he deserves a lot of credit and so does his crystal ball.

I have loved watching Shannon Stewart hit over the last few months. He's really been a hitting machine, smacking singles and doubles all over the place, while even tossing in a surprising amount of homers too. There is no one happier about how well Stewart has played for the Twins than me.

With that said, if the Twins allow Stewart to leave via free agency (and I suspect they will), they will be left with nothing, whereas the Blue Jays control Bobby Kielty for quite a few more years. Of course, if Kielty hits like he has since joining the Jays, that isn't such a good thing, but I still think he is an excellent hitter, albeit one who has shown a tendency to go into fairly long slumps.

Basically, what I am saying is that this trade looks a lot better to me in September than it did in July, but that I still feel as though it will look bad come July or September of 2005 or 2006. At that time, Kielty will have provided value to the Blue Jays for several more seasons (whether on the field or in a trade) and Stewart will have been long gone from Minnesota.

I still think it is was a bad trade. What has happened in the months since has certainly made it a whole lot harder to hold that opinion, but I still hold it, perhaps out of consistency and perhaps out of stubbornness - or maybe a little of both.

Okay, now that I've covered that topic, which is definitely the #1 baseball-related thing I have been getting emails about lately, I might as well cover the #2 email topic as well...

I have been very harsh on Twins second baseman Luis Rivas in this space, as well as on Baseball Primer (and basically anywhere else I can get people to listen to me).

I won't rehash everything I have said about him, but basically I think he is a bad offensive player and a bad defensive player, making second base a position the Twins should be looking to upgrade.

Rivas started this season horribly on offense, hitting just .194/.229/.313 in April. Then he started to turn things around, and for most of the next 3-4 months he was actually a positive contributor on offense. From the start of May until the end of August, Rivas hit .287/.340/.427.

Those numbers are definitely nothing special, but if Rivas was able to provide a .340 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage above .400 on a consistent basis, it would certainly put an end to most of my Luis Rivas-bashing.

In July and August, when Rivas was doing reasonably well, I got a ton of emails from people basically saying, "Hey Gleeman, Rivas is kicking ass, you're an idiot!"

Rivas is hitting .117 in September so far and, strangely enough, those emails have stopped coming in.

I think, in general, fans get too excited about good months and too down about bad months. With Rivas, certainly 3 or 4 months where he wasn't a complete offensive "nothing" is great news, but even during that stretch he was hitting just .287/.340/.427, so it wasn't like he had turned into Bret Boone or something.

Actually, I wrote about Luis Rivas and his "good" months a little while back, after he hit .300 in May and June. I went back through Rivas' career and found that he had quite a few good offensive months in previous seasons- September of 2000, June of 2001, July of 2001, September of 2001, October of 2001, September of 2002.

Here's a little of what I wrote about my "discovery":

"As you can see, Rivas has had several months during his career when he has been a decent hitter. The fact is, every major league hitter who gets everyday playing time for several years in a row is going to have good months, that's just the reality of small sample sizes, luck and random distribution.

Are Luis Rivas' back-to-back "good" months this season any different than any of those other months? Well, not really. In fact, if I were to put May and June of this year in with the 6 other months from earlier in his career and mix them up, you wouldn't be able to tell which was which.

My point is that Luis Rivas is having a very nice (for him, at least) period of time right now, but he and every other major league baseball player go through this same thing every season. You have good months and bad months, and they combine to make you the player that you are."

It is now a few months later and Rivas' stretch of good play extended on for a while after I wrote that, but what I said still applies. I think the most important thing to remember is that "You have good months and bad months, and they combine to make you the player that you are."

Here is the player that Luis Rivas has been in 2003:

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.261 .309 .390

Not only is that not anything close to a good offensive player, it is also almost exactly the same as his production every other year of his career.

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG

2001 .266 .319 .362
2002 .256 .305 .392
2003 .261 .309 .390

Batting averages of .266, .256 and .261. On-base percentages of .319, .305 and .309. Slugging percentages of .362, .392 and .390. If there is improvement within those numbers - and I don't think there is - it is extremely minimal.

So, for all the emails I got calling me an idiot and for all the emails I got talking about Rivas' "great months" this season, his overall numbers this year are essentially the exact same numbers he put up in 2001 and 2002, which is to say they stink. And don't get me started on his defense...

Link of the Day:

Tango on Baseball - "If Linear Weights, Run Expectancy, and Runs Created mean something to you, if you are a fan of Pete Palmer or Bill James, then you've come to the right place"

Today's picks:

Atlanta (Ramirez) +105 over Montreal (Hernandez)

Tampa Bay (Sosa) +220 over Boston (Lowe)

Total to date: + 2,885

W/L record: 234-231 (0-3 on Friday for -300, and back under 3,000.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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