Friday, July 30, 2010

Wilson Ramos and Matt Capps

To hear almost everyone tell it on Twitter yesterday, the Twins got hosed and the Nationals got a steal when the Twins dealt Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa to the Nats for Matt Capps.

Aaron Gleeman summed it up well in his column yesterday:
I'm not convinced that Ramos will become a star, but the possibility certainly exists and at the very least he looks capable of developing into a starting-caliber catcher for many years. Joe Mauer's presence meant Ramos had little shot to be that starting-caliber catcher in Minnesota, but that doesn't mean the Twins needed to deal him immediately or when his value was at an all-time low or for an underwhelming return like Capps.

I have no problem with trading Ramos or trading for bullpen help, and in the Twins' minds they just traded him for an "All-Star closer." In reality they traded Ramos for a setup-caliber reliever who accumulated saves on bad teams and is thus overrated and soon overpaid. Among the 93 pitchers who've logged 150-plus relief innings in the past three calendar years, Capps ranks 38th in xFIP, 49th in FIP, 50th in ERA, 61st in strikeout rate, and 85th in opponents' average.
There are three reasons I disagree with Gleeman.

I'm not a huge Capps fan, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time defending him. I agree with Gleeman's point that Capps isn't a big time reliever, isn't much better than Jon Rauch, and isn't worthy of a solid prospect in trade.

Lumping the last three years together, though, means that you believe that Capps' 2009 was indicative of his ability and not a fluke. I look at 2009, see the 370 BABIP and the 13.5% HR/FB and think that while Capps wasn't good he was also moderately unlucky, at a minimum. His xFIP of 4.37 is more indicative of his 2009: not a good season by any means but not the disaster the traditional numbers tell us it was.

Here is where Gleeman - along with most of the baseball community - and I - part ways. Ramos was a Grade B prospect in John Sickels' 2010 book. Sickels noted that while Ramos' defense was "above average" his "pitch selection needs work and his walk rate is quite low."

I know he's young, but Ramos' Age 22 season hasn't just been subpar, it's been downright awful and seems to be playing up to all of the fears of his detractors. He has a 625 OPS. No, that's not the MLE of his OPS, that's the raw number. The BB/AB and BB/SO ratios are awful and the power isn't making up for it. Twenty-two isn't 24; Ramos has time to turn things around, but I view his ceiling less as "future star" and more as "decent regular." His floor is a back-up Major League catcher who hangs around for a long time due to defense but doesn't play every day because of offense.

Would I rather have Joakim Soria if I were the Twins? Well, sure, but he never truly seemed available. Of the relievers who have been bandied about in trade rumors this past month, only Kyle Farnsworth ranks ahead of Capps in Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement metric. Scott Downs is close, but the rumors are that the Blue Jays are asking an arm and a leg for him.

Do the Twins need Capps? Maybe not, but their bullpen isn't as tremendous as some would have you believe. While there have been a number of above average performances, not a single current Twins reliever ranks in the Top 50 in WAR. Capps, in fact, is their best reliever using this metric.

The wheels also seem to be coming off for a couple of their key parts. Matt Guerrier has a 9.39 ERA and 2.09 WHIP this month. Rauch himself has a 5.40 ERA and a 2.28 WHIP. The Twins had to do something to stop the bleeding, and while I don't necessarily think Capps is the answer all by himself, he's not going to hurt.

Should the Twins have made this trade? That to me is a different question, and maybe the answer is no. Matt Capps may not push them to a pennant. I don't believe, though, that giving up Wilson Ramos was the terrible move that many believe it was.

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