I find the Red Sox as the most interesting team entering the 2015 season. They failed to re-sign 2013 playoff hero Jon Lester this offseason, but spent big signing Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract, and Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million contract. They added rotation depth when they acquired Rick Porcello from the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes. They also traded for Wade Miley and signed Justin Masterson to a one-year contract. Oh, and let's not forget the signing that blew up everyone's Twitter this week, Yoan Moncada.
The Red Sox have a plethora of bats in their organization. However, my main fear is that they don't have an ace going into 2015. Rumors have been spreading in the Twittersphere that the Red Sox are one of the main teams in contention for acquiring lefty Cole Hamels from the Phillies. Originally on his no-trade list, Hamels has now stated that he would welcome a trade to the Red Sox. The 31-year-old has four years and $96 million remaining on his contract with an option for 2019 that could bring his total value to $110 million. However, the asking price is pretty high for the talented lefty. Rumor has it the Phillies originally asked for a package including both Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart. Wait, Hamels for Allen Craig isn't good enough? He used to be really good. Jokes aside, the new rumor is the Phillies will likely take a package with Betts OR Swihart in it. The Red Sox still aren't jumping.
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The Red Sox don't have the best track record of late when dealing prospects. The Sox traded away a pair of top prospects who you can say turned out "all right." They shipped away highly regarded prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Padres in 2010. They also traded Hanley Ramirez in 2005 to the Marlins. But hey, they did get him back--on the wrong side of 30. They turned out decent, don't you think? It would make sense that the Red Sox are tending to err on the side of caution when dealing prospects. Let's not forget that the Hanley Ramirez trade landed them ace Josh Beckett who led the Red Sox to their 2007 World Series championship. Could Hamels be the next Josh Beckett and lead the Red Sox to a World Series this season?
Why should the Red Sox feel comfortable this time trading their highly regarded prospect?
They already have a pretty good player behind the plate in Christian Vazquez. Let's take a look at how Swihart's 2014 Double-A stats compare to Vazquez' 2013 Double-A stats. I'm using their Double-A stats because they played roughly the same amount of games at the Double-A level.
Swihart has a tremendous bat, and is undoubtedly the better offensively of the two. However, Vazquez provides tremendous value defensively behind the plate, and the numbers support it. Baseball Prospectus recently released a new mixed model to measure catcher framing. If you'd like to learn more and be completely overwhelmed by the statistics, click on the link to read more. It moves away from the old RPM "With or Without You" (WOWY) method to a new mixed model called "CSAA"- "Called Strikes Above Average."
RPM also suffered from two limitations. First, because PITCHf/x data was not publicly available before 2008, RPM could only measure catcher framing from recent seasons. Second, it relied primarily on a piecemeal approach to identifying the individual contributions of pitchers, umpires and catchers.
This new model allows simultaneous consideration of pitcher, catcher, batter, umpire, PITCHf/x, and other data for each taken pitch over the course of a season, and by controlling for each of their respective contributions will predict how many called strikes above (or below) average each such participant was worth during a particular season.
Pitch framing is a recent development in quantifying catcher defensive metrics, an art that for many years was undervalued. Vazquez' sample size is rather small with only 55 games played and a sample size of 3,973 pitches, but he was extremely impressive. According to the new CSAA model, if Vazquez had a sample size of 7,000 pitches, he would have saved the Red Sox an impressive 31 runs which was good for third best in the majors behind only Hank Conger's 37 and Rene Rivera's 35.
If you're not aware of StatCorner, it has a large amount of data on catcher framing statistics. It has data on zBall% (the percentage of pitches caught in the strike zone, but called a ball) and oStr% (percentage of pitches caught outside the strike zone, called a strike). By using these two stats we can find +calls (amount of strikes a catcher has added or lost for pitchers). Here's a look at his stats according to StatCorner.
He has a smaller sample size among the top catchers, but he still finished ninth-best in the big leagues with 92 +calls. I set the minimum sample size at 1,000 to see where he finished in oStr% and zBall%. His 9.9 oStr% was tied with David Ross for the best in baseball. His 11.2 zBall% was good for 15th-best in baseball. Let's not forget that Vazquez also threw out 15 of 29 on stolen base attempts. However, can Vazquez' bat be sufficient enough to keep him in the lineup?
RE24 is an excellent tool that tells us how a player's offensive effectiveness affects the run expectancy for his club throughout the season. RE24 is context-dependent, so there is a higher value placed on at-bats with runners on base than with the bases empty. League average RE24 is 0, so any positive numbers means that the player is producing more runs for his team than an average big leaguer put in the same situations.
Vazquez produced a 0.58 RE24 meaning that he was slightly above-average in his opportunities at the plate and his effectiveness in raising his teams run expectancy. For what it's worth, Vazquez had a higher RE24 than everyone on the Red Sox with 100 plate appearances except David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, and Yoenis Cespedes. Meaning, he had a better RE24 in 2014 than Dustin Pedroia and Allen Craig. Quite a bit better than you would have guessed from a rookie who hit .240, huh?
As I stated, Swihart is the better hitting prospect, but that's exactly what he is--a prospect. Here's a very interesting piece on how well Baseball America's top 100 prospects fair at the Major League level. I highly suggest you read it for yourself. Summed up, roughly 70 percent of Baseball America's top 100 prospects fail or can be considered busts. (Sorry Sox fans, the success of Hanley and Rizzo must sting a little worse right now.) Also, position players ranked 11-20 (Swihart is ranked 17th) bust 40 percent of the time. That's quite the risk to turn down a proven Hamels with Swihart being the main piece in the deal.
Hamels will bring postseason experience to an inexperienced rotation.
Hamels is a winner in the postseason. During the Phillies 2008 World Series title run, Hamels racked up 35 innings over five starts and won four games in route to a World Series MVP. Should the Red Sox make the playoffs, and assuming they have the same rotation they currently have, Red Sox fans have a reason for concern. Hamels has 13 starts in the postseason alone. Buchholz, Kelly, Miley, Porcello, and Masterson combined have 11 starts. Take note that Hamels had an awful (yes, that is an understatement) 2009 postseason in which he allowed 7 HR in 19 innings with a HR/FB% of 26.9 percent. Definitely a forgettable postseason. That is why I used xFIP for the comparisons as xFIP replaces a pitcher's home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed based on the number of fly balls they they surrendered assuming a league average home run to fly ball ratio. Home run rates are unstable over time and Hamels' 26.9% HR/FB% in 2009 is an excellent example.
Hamels has accumulated 81.2 innings in the postseason. The current Red Sox rotation has 83 innings combined. Take note that Wade Miley has yet to make an appearance in the postseason.
I feel that this trade (opportunity) can be the difference to get the Red Sox over the top and win the World Series. I believe the Red Sox should take the risk of dealing Swihart for a proven ace like Hamels. It's not certain that Swihart will even pan out at the Major League level, and the Red Sox already have a fairly good player in Vazquez behind the plate. The addition of Hamels adds an ace to the front-end of the rotation and valuable postseason experience that the Red Sox need.
All data courtesy of Fangraphs, Statcorner, and Baseball Prospectus.
Brandon Decker is a contributor at Beyond The Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @bdeck02.