Stephen Strasburg to Cleveland! [WoF vs. That Guy]

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Oct 3, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning of game one of the 2014 NLDS playoff baseball game at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

We all know “That Guy”.  He’s the typical uneducated Indians fan clamoring for that Right Handed Power Bat, petitioning to get rid of solid players after a down season, yelling at the front office for not calling up top prospects as soon as possible, and vowing that he won’t come to the stadium until the Indians start spending money on the top tier free agents.  “That Guy” can be a pain in the butt, but Wahoo’s on First is here to help keep him quiet and, better yet, educate him.

This time, That Guy wants the Indians to go after Stephen Strasburg

That Guy:  I heard that Stephen Strasburg might get traded now that the Nationals signed Max Scherzer.  He’s awesome!  Dude can throw some heat, and he whiffs batters like nobody’s business.  The Indians should go out and make a trade for him!

Wahoo’s on First:  First off, That Guy, it should be noted that while it would make some sense for the Nationals to trade Strasburg, reports of his availability have been denied.  Second, trading for Strasburg might not be as much of a no-brainer as you think.

That Guy:  No way, bro.  I’m right this time for sure.  Check it out:  your fancy WAR stat says he was worth an average of almost four wins more than a Triple-A guy over the past three years.  Plus, he’s only gonna make a little over $7 million next year!  That’s dope for a “small market” team like the Tribe.  Guess you didn’t take your smart pills this morning, dude.

Wahoo’s on First:  True, Strasburg has been a very good pitcher throughout his career, and he’s not getting paid like Justin Verlander, but we can’t overlook the fact that he’ll probably make around $10 million after arbitration in 2016, and then he’ll be a free agent after the season.  Now that certainly doesn’t mean he’s not a good trade target for a contending team like the Indians.  However, there’s a bigger issue here:  the Indians would have to give up a bunch of talent to acquire him.

That Guy:  Well duh, I figured that, but the Indians have a bunch of good players in the minors right now.  Plus, with Strasburg, they’d have a great shot at the playoffs this year.  Seems worth it to go all-in; I’m tired of the Indians not winning.

Wahoo’s on First:  Going “all-in” is seldom a good idea.  And while it’s true that Strasburg would improve their playoff chances, acquiring him is probably going to cost more than he’s worth.

That Guy:  That doesn’t make sense, dawg.  The Nats have six wicked awesome pitchers this year.  They can only have five in their rotation.  I’ll bet they’d give Strasburg up for a sweet deal since they need to get rid of a pitcher.

Wahoo’s on First:  Actually, teams don’t operate like that at all.  Remember when we talked about teams managing their assets carefully?  A player not having a clear role doesn’t mean he loses value.  It just means that the team is more likely to trade him for a fair return.  Don’t forget, one of those six pitchers is Tanner Roark, who has a minor league option.  The Nationals could also explore using Roark or Gio Gonzalez in the bullpen.  And don’t forget, pitching depth is key for any team.

Oct 7, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark throws a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning of game four of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

That Guy:  I guess I can see some logic there.  But I don’t understand why that makes him cost more than he’s worth.

Wahoo’s on First:  It has nothing to do with the pitching depth.  I’m actually talking about something that’s intangible but very often frustrating.  It’s known as name value, and it’s rearing its ugly head in the case of Strasburg.

That Guy:  You mean he’s worth more to teams just because he has a wicked cool name?  Baseball is weird, yo.  I give up.

Wahoo’s on First:  No, no, that’s not it at all.  Name value simply means that a player has a name that is very well recognized within the world of baseball, and because of this “fame”, that player is valued more highly than a less-famous player with a similar skill set.  It happens frequently in every sport, not just baseball.  Let me ask you this:  Who would you rather have playing third base for the Indians in 2015, David Wright or Nolan Arenado?

Sep 14, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets third baseman David Wright (5) watches the game against the Washington Nationals from the bench at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

That Guy:  Well that’s easy.  David Wright is a stud, I’d be pumped to have him playing for the Tribe.

Wahoo’s on First:  And I’m sure many people would say the same thing.  However, if we look closely at their stat lines, Arenado outplayed Wright last year in pretty much every aspect of the game.  His defense blew Wright’s out of the water, and his offensive stats were better than Wright’s in nearly every category (albeit playing half of his games at the homer-friendly Coors Field in Colorado).  He produced 1.2 more WAR than Wright as well, and has room to improve while David Wright may be in decline at this point in his career.  Steamer projects them both to be worth 3.8 WAR in 2015. Based on his recent injury history, I’d be willing to bet that Wright falls short of that mark, while Arenado has the youth and upside to potentially break out even further.  Despite all of this, Wright will undoubtedly garner more attention in fantasy baseball this year, and his value feels much higher than it should despite some scary factors that point to him being past his prime.

That Guy:  Gotcha.  So you’re saying that even though Strasburg is super famous, he’s not all that good?

Wahoo’s on First:  Absolutely not.  Like you said, Strasburg has been worth 12 WAR over the past three seasons.  His strikeout rate is awesome, and he has some dirty off-speed pitches to go with a good fastball velocity.  What I’m saying is that, to a certain extent, fans (and teams) treat Strasburg like the “pitcher of the ages” that everyone expected him to be after being drafted first overall in 2009.  While he’s a very good pitcher, he didn’t crack 2015’s list of the top 12 pitchers in WAR, or FIP.  In order to find him on the ERA leaderboard, you have to go all the way down to 25th place, and he allowed a whopping 23 homers, which tied for 17th most in all of baseball.  You might be surprised to learn that less-heralded pitchers such as Jose Quintana, Phil Hughes and Garrett Richards outperformed Stephen Strasburg in both ERA and FIP, but probably wouldn’t command the same price on the trade market if each had two years of team control remaining.  Over the past 3 years, Anibal Sanchez, Jon Lester and free-agent starter James Shields all produced more total WAR than Strasburg.

That Guy:  Yikes.  As good as those dudes are, I’d have assumed that Strasburg was better.

Jul 16, 2013; Hollywood, CA, USA; Clint Frazier at the 2013 Gatorade National Athlete of the Year Awards at the W Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wahoo’s on First:  Right.  And the asking price for Strasburg would probably be something like Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier, Danny Salazar and someone like Kyle Crockett or Bobby Bradley.  Essentially, we’d be paying the price for two years of Scherzer or David Price, while receiving someone who performs at a level closer to Quintana or Shields.

That Guy:  I guess that doesn’t sound too smart as a business decision, but wouldn’t it be worth it if he could help the Indians win now?

Wahoo’s on First:  What you’re talking about is a conundrum that teams face all the time: do I sacrifice future value for a chance at a title?  There are times when that’s a smart choice; winning a World Series or even making it to the ALCS/NLCS is likely to draw more fans for a team and increase revenue.  However, Strasburg would effectively replace Danny Salazar in the rotation, who Steamer projects for 2.1 WAR this year (which I think sounds reasonable).  Strasburg is only projected for about two wins more, which is a good but not overwhelming difference.  Furthermore, Salazar is cheaper and comes with 3 more years of team control than Strasburg.  Add that to six cost-controlled years of Lindor, Frazier and Crockett and we’re looking at giving up 23 years’ worth of high-ceiling talent; a VERY steep price to pay for a meager two extra wins this year and next.  If the Indians were in desperate need of a fifth starter, it might be a different story.  As it stands right now, though, they aren’t.  The rotation is deep enough that the Indians don’t have to overpay for another starter, even if he’d be a decent upgrade to the starting staff.

That Guy:  Damn.  It sounds like the Tribe would lose a whole bunch of future value in that trade.  I don’t want that to happen.  I guess I was just excited about the possibility of a big-name player finally coming to Cleveland.

Wahoo’s on First:  You’re not the only one.  But as we’ve learned here, sometimes that “big name” adds a little extra to a player’s price tag.  Because of this, trading for that player isn’t always the smartest business decision, even if it gives a team the opportunity to “win now”.  The Indians are already in good shape headed into 2015.  There’s no good reason to burn the farm system in an effort to go all-in.

Have you heard a stereotypical “That Guy” complaint lately?  We hear a lot of them, but there are plenty of unique ones we may not have caught wind of.  If you want us to write about yours, e-mail it to us at wahoosonfirst@gmail.com.

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