Thursday, January 26, 2017

Little-O and more bad trades

I got to thinking about bad trades in baseball again after reading an article by Craig Edwards today on the baseball site FanGraphs. The piece is titled Omar Vizquel and the Worst Hitters in the Hall of Fame,” and takes a look ahead to Little-O’s first appearance on the Hall ballot next year.

Omar Vizquel
They love to crunch their numbers over at FanGraphs, and you can probably guess from the title of the piece where Edwards is going. He concludes that Vizquel was the seventh-best defensive player in major league baseball history (based on a metric called defensive runs saved) but that his bat was so bad that he could arguably be called the worst hitter in the Hall (exclusive of pitchers, I presume) were he to be elected.

I reckon that SOMEBODY has to be the worst hitter in the Hall of Fame. Edwards figures it's either Bill Mazeroski or Rabbit Maranville right now. Edwards wouldn’t vote for Vizquel for the Hall and, while he was a favorite of mine while with the Mariners—it was a treat to watch him play shortstop—I probably wouldn’t either. That’s even considering his fantastic play to finish Chris Bosio’s no-hitter in 1993. (Lovebird note: My Sweetie, the Official Scorer, and I saw Bosio pitch for the M’s against the Orioles in Baltimore on our honeymoon later that year.)

Little-O probably WOULD be a legit Hall of Fame candidate if Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the Official Scorer, had attended more games. As it was, we would get a 20-game package back in the day when it was affordable to do so, and, as my Sweetie, the Official Scorer by definition keeps score at all games, we knew that Vizquel hit about .395 when we were there. Dave Valle also hit very well when we were at the park; we must be inspirational for hitters whose names begin with the letter V.

But, as we noted in our post last March, bad trades are part of baseball, and while it wasn’t mentioned in that post, the deal that sent Vizquel to Cleveland in December of 1993 has to rank right up there with the worst the M’s have made. Seattle general manager Woody Woodward, whose fingerprints are all over quite of few of the M’s worst trades ever, dealt a young shortstop who would one day be worthy of at least some Hall of Fame discussion for Felix Fermin, Reggie Jefferson, and cash.

The idea, as memory serves, was that Fermin would “replace” Vizquel as the shortstop until Alex Rodriguez was ready and that Jefferson, a switch hitter who hit righthanders far better than he did lefties, would bring some lefty options to first base and designated hitter for manager Lou Piniella.

Felix Fermin
The two new M’s weren’t exactly horrible in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Fermin hit .317 in 101 games, but had only one home run, four steals in eight tries, and his OPS was .718. A sub-par defender, he played shortstop until the Mariners called up Rodriquez in early July, and then moved over to second base, which had mostly been played by Luis Sojo (everybody scores!) and Rich Amaral to that point. Fermin’s WAR for 1994: 0.4. Jefferson played only 63 games in 1994 but was effective when he was in there. He batted .327 and hit eight home runs, leading to a nice OPS of .935. With limited playing time, his WAR was 1.1. Meanwhile in Cleveland Vizquel hit .273 in his first year with the Tribe—a career best to that point—won a Gold Glove and amassed a WAR of 0.8.

So, for 1994 anyway, you could argue that the Mariners came out slightly ahead on the deal. From there on it went south. Way far south.

Reggie Jefferson
Jefferson became a free agent after the season and signed with Boston, so the 63 games were all the M's got on that part of the bargain. He played five years for the Red Sox and contributed 3.7 WAR. Fermin had a dismal 1995 for the M’s, batting just .195. He was released the following spring, played 11 games for the Cubs in ’96, and was out of the majors. After the trade his WAR was -1.6. He's managing a club in the Mexican League these days.

Vizquel, on the other hand, played in parts of 19 seasons after the trade. During those years he made the All-Star team three times, won ten of his 11 gold gloves, and piled up 34.9 WAR. His best year was 1999, when he had 6.0 WAR, hit .333, had 42 steals, an OPS of .833, and finished 16th in the MVP voting. That year was a bit of an outlier, as he never batted .300 or better in any other season, though he finished in the .290s four times.

Doing the math, then, Woodward traded 34.9 future wins above replacement for 2.1 WAR. That’s a bad trade, unless the cash part of the deal was really, really high. Even with Rodriguez (career WAR 117.7) coming up, there was no need to dump a brilliant shortstop for close to zip.

I keep threatening to evaluate all the M's trades and determine the all-time worst, and the crummiest general manager. Stay tuned!