Those dang baseball expectations

Brad Lidge3.jpgpettitte12.jpgPeople who follow baseball love to talk about possible trades of players, particularly when the hometown club isn’t doing well, as is the case with the Stros this season. That’s certainly been the case in Houston over the past couple of weeks as almost anyone with even a passing interest in the Stros has been talking about who the club should jettison to jump-start the team for another pennant drive. Fans’ emotions regarding those trade talks were not helped when former star-turned-human reliever Brad Lidge blew another save over the weekend, traumatizing Chronicle sports columnist John Lopez, among others.
Then, Chronicle sports columnist Richard Justice wrote yesterday that an unnamed baseball executive told him that Stros owner Drayton McLane had directed Stros GM Tim Purpura to get anything he could in trade for Lidge after the latest blown save. That rumor was quickly followed by an ever more troubling one that the Stros had supposedly even offered star pitcher Roy Oswalt in trade talks. And, then — presto! — in the end, the trade deadline passes and the Stros stand pat and don’t do anything. I doubt that McLane ever said such a thing about Lidge to Purpura or that Roy O was ever seriously a subject of trade talks, but the gossip nevertheless got people’s juices flowing.
Beyond how this type of social interaction binds a community and is one of the reasons that a Major League Baseball club can be a positive force for a city, what’s particularly interesting about these discussions is how they reveal people’s expectations about their baseball club. As I noted in this post from several weeks ago, those expectations are a funny thing given that they color our view toward the club regardless of whether the expectations are based in fact. That’s one of the reasons why I tend to rely on statistical analysis of players’ performance a great deal. Going through that analytical process helps me avoid relying on player myths or dubious generalities about teams. My sense is that Stros GM Purpura does the same thing, which comforts me.
The recent controversy over Lidge is a case in point. Lidge is having a miserable season — his earned run average currently stands at 5.77 and his runs saved against average (“RSAA,” defined here) is an atrocious -7, meaning that he has pitched well-below an average National League pitcher so far this season (a precisely average NL pitcher’s RSAA would be zero). To make matters worse, Lidge has given up seven home runs — usually at a key point in the game — in a little over 48 innings after giving up only five in almost 71 innings last season and eight in over 94 innings in the 2004 season. And yes, people have not forgotten the emotional trauma of that whole Pujols affair in the playoffs last post-season. After the two straight seasons in which Lidge had a total of 40 RSAA (26 in 2004 and 14 in 2005), Lidge has fallen so far that I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most Stros fans wouldn’t have minded McLane and Purpura exiling him to, say, Kansas City, regardless of what crumbs could be recovered in trade.
Meanwhile, in the hand-wringing over what to do about Lidge, virtually nothing has been said about Stros lefthanded starter, Andy Pettitte, who has been much worse than Lidge this season. After having arguably the best season of his career last season, Pettitte has really stunk it up this season, currently meandering along at a 5.18 ERA and a -12 RSAA. He has given up an astounding 21 home runs in just over 139 innings after giving up only 17 in over 222 innings last season, and he has saved over 40 fewer runs for the club this season than he did at the same stage of last season (Lidge, in comparison, has saved only about 17 fewer runs this season than at the same stage last season). And just to punctuate how bad Pettitte has been, the Stros are paying him almost $16.5 million smackeroos for stinking up Minute Maid Park, while the Stros pay Lidge a relatively modest $3.975 million.
My point? While it’s clear than Pettitte has been a much bigger reason for the Stros’ troubles this season than Lidge, nary a word was mentioned over the past several weeks about trading Pettitte. Now, maybe Pettitte’s performance and contract made him untradeable, but he is coming off the best season of his career in 2005 and it’s not unreasonable to think that a veteran lefthanded starter could still help a potential championship club such as the Mets in the post-season. And certainly the Stros were incentivized to unload some of Pettitte’s enormous salary, so you would think that a deal would not have been beyond the realm of possibility. We probably won’t ever know whether Pettitte’s name came up in trade negotiations before this season’s trading deadline, but it’s clear that he wasn’t even on the radar screen of the fans’ discussions about trades — Lidge was almost the total focus.
So, the Stros fans clearly preferred to trade the cheaper, younger pitcher with more upside potential who has pitched better over the past three seasons and not dropped off this season as much as the aging veteran who is being paid far in excess of what his performance this season justifies. Let’s just say that I’m glad Drayton McLane and Tim Purpura are making these decisions and not the fans.
By the way, as noted in this previous post, Stros management was prudent to stand pat. The Stros have a boatload of payroll coming off the books after this season, which allows the club to address needs in attempting to re-sign Oswalt and bringing in some additional hitters, which has been a chronic weakness that this club has had trouble addressing ever since the club gave Bagwell and Hidalgo the big contracts around 2000. Now that the club will finally be in a financial position to address those needs after this season, it would not have made sense to make a trade at this juncture that might have decreased the club’s flexibility this coming off-season.
Lidge and Pettitte’s career and season statistics are below, and the abbreviations for the stats are here:

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One thought on “Those dang baseball expectations

  1. Good analysis Tom. While no one could have reasonably expected Pettitte to dupilcate his 2005 stats, certainly we could have expected him to have a season in line with his career stats.
    Also, Ensberg and Lidge have been shredded by the fans and the press, but Pettitte’s been worse and he’s making twice as much money as Lidge and Ensberg combined.

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