The Best and Worst Teams of the Trade: Revisted

Last Thursday, Mike Carminati and I introduced the beginning of a series of articles reviewing the history of major league trades, and I specifically introduced something called the Major League Trading Balance Sheet. Well, it turns out that I didn’t get it quite right.

Several commenters at Mike’s site noticed that some of the most lopsided trades of all time, such as Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell or John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, weren’t on the list. Oy! Yes, for all of my double and triple checking, I missed a simple thing: my spreadsheets didn’t pick up players who were minor leaguers at the time they were traded. Talk about embarrassing…

As you can imagine, this is a big deal. Jeff Bagwell has accumulated 339 Win Shares since being traded; Andersen went on to create 24. Smoltz has 222 career Win Shares so far; Alexander racked up 29 after the trade. All I can say is, thank goodness for the Internet and vigilant readers. It’s like built-in peer review.

So I’ve gone back and re-run all the numbers. And I’ve quadruple-checked them and put them under the microscope, and I think they’re sort of okay now. And yes, adding minor leaguers into the equation makes a big impact — so big that some teams moved several rankings on the Trading Balance Sheet. Particularly the one that traded away Jeff Bagwell.

Here is the new and (hopefully) correct Win Shares Trading Balance Sheet, measured by Win Shares Above Baseline (WSAB) traded from each team and to each team from 1961 through 2002:

Team        WSAB To      WSAB From      Diff
CHA            2641           1944       697
KCA            1507           1081       426
TOR            1384           1067       317
SDN            2464           2162       302
BAL            2015           1770       245
MIN            1369           1174       195
NYA            2736           2549       187
MIL            1390           1227       163
TEX            2543           2412       131
SLN            3053           2937       116
ARI             238            140        98
CHN            2709           2636        73
HOU            2262           2189        73
PHI            2402           2360        42
MON            2139           2099        40
ANA            1681           1655        26
CLE            3277           3274         3
COL             279            299       -20
DET            1204           1296       -92
OAK            2048           2141       -93
CIN            2452           2579      -127
FLO             731            882      -151
TBA              33            189      -156
LAN            2291           2494      -203
SEA            1110           1331      -221
PIT            2041           2288      -247
ATL            1653           1919      -266
SFN            1895           2172      -277
NYN            2197           2760      -563
BOS            1339           1945      -606

When looking at this list, you have to wonder which team is more cursed; the one that has the worst trading record or the one that has the best. The Chicago White Sox have the best forty-year trading differential by a very good margin, but they have no World Series ring to show for it. The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, have an abysmal trading record yet made the postseason several times during these forty years and even won it all last year.

There were several very good discussions of these results on the Web, as well as a slew of great e-mails. Over at Baseball Think Factory, it was noted that there seems to be little correlation on this list between the best trading teams and the winningest teams. One hypothesis was that winning teams might be more willing to trade away good young talent in order maintain their winning edge — and that certainly makes some sense. It will be interesting to investigate that angle as Mike and I look at the trades in more detail.

There were also a number of excellent points in the e-mails I received as a result of the first article:

  • Several readers asked if we can examine specific GM’s in our analysis. And the answer is yes, Mike and I plan to do that.
  • Some other readers asked if we can focus on more current trades, to make the analysis more relevant. The problem is that these totals are based on a player’s career, and most trades since the late 1990’s are not yet “complete.” So Mike and I may find a way to focus on more current trades, but any conclusions we reach will be tentative at best.
  • Many readers wrote to point out that it isn’t really fair to downgrade a team (e.g., the Kansas City Royals) for trading a player about to hit free agency (e.g., Carlos Beltran) when they realistically wouldn’t be able to afford that player in the future. My reply is that that is a great point, but I don’t know any easy way to correct for it.
  • Another reader felt that we shouldn’t really be including many of the most one-sided trades, such as the Bagwell or Smoltz deals, because they were known risks at the time, and they just didn’t happen to work out. Perhaps, but they did happen, and I’m interested in documenting what truly happened. As Mike and I look at specific teams, we will do our best to cover these nuances.

I really should say that this balance sheet isn’t a pure measure of a General Manager, despite my previous scathing remarks about the Mets’ trading record. Really, it’s a crude tool that is just a starting point. Mike and I have talked about ways to evaluate free agency transactions, waiver deals and the like, and we may eventually come up with a Total General Manager Scorecard.

At the very least, we intend to explore the territory a little bit, starting with the trading data. We hope you’ll find it an interesting and informative exploration along the way.

And in case you’re wondering if one league has managed to best the other one in inter-league deals, well, since 1961 the National League has traded 12,501 WSAB to the American League, while the American has sent 11,306 to the NL. Score one for the Junior League.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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