First Pitch: Why I Don’t Like the Wandy Rodriguez Trade

I thought a lot about Wandy Rodriguez tonight. I really didn’t have any other choice.

I was driving down to Florida today, which is a 13 hour trip from Virginia. The main purpose of that trip is helping my parents move to Orlando tomorrow. The second part of the trip will be heading over to Bradenton to cover the GCL and the Bradenton Marauders on Thursday and Friday. One of the things I was looking forward to was talking with Colton Cain about his recent success after starting off the year with some rough numbers. Guess that’s out of the question now.

I had just crossed the Florida state line when I checked my phone and saw the messages about a Wandy Rodriguez trade. Anyone who has ever driven to Florida knows that the most frustrating thing about driving to Florida is that once you’ve crossed the state line, you still have three to five hours until you get to where you’re going. Unless you’re going to Jacksonville, but who goes there? So I had three more hours to think about the trade (with help from Kristy Robinson and Kevin Creagh, who filled me in on the details).

My initial reaction was that the Pirates were losing three players in the top 20, which was a lot in prospects, although none of them in the top six, which was good to see. If you’ve read me at all in the last month, you know I’m not high on giving up players in the top six (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, Luis Heredia, Josh Bell). Wandy Rodriguez is a pitcher I’ve liked for a while, and he’s also a guy I’ve looked at to see what he might cost the Pirates. It was to the point that I didn’t need anyone to tell me that he was under team control in 2013, and a trade made his deal a player option in 2014.

However, there’s one thing I always do with Wandy Rodriguez: assume he’s younger than he actually is. I was thinking Rodriguez was 30-31, when in fact he is 33. That means he’ll be 34 next year, and making $13 M ($8.5 M paid by the Pirates), and 35 in 2014, when he has a player option for $13 M ($7.5 M paid by the Pirates).

You might point out that A.J. Burnett is 35 this year, and is having a lot of success. But there’s a difference between a power right-hander who never saw a drop in his dominance (referring to his K/BB numbers, not his overall numbers, which were the opposite of dominant), and a left-hander who averages 89.1 MPH on his fastball. Kevin mentioned to me that soft tossing left-handers tend to decline quicker than power-right handers, and I’d have to agree.

In the last three years, we’ve seen this alarming trend:

2010: 8.2 K/9

2011: 7.8 K/9

2012: 6.1 K/9

Rodriguez’s strikeout rate has dropped each year for the last three seasons. Considering his age, the steady drop is a concern. He could still be a good pitcher, and pitching in PNC Park should be a favorable situation. But let’s look at the secondary numbers for Rodriguez this year, and compare him to another left-hander.

Rodriguez: 6.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.7% GB ratio

Other Left-Hander: 5.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.0% GB ratio

So who is that other left-hander? None other than Paul Maholm, who is three years younger than Rodriguez, and is owed much less (Maholm makes $4.25 M this year, and has a $6.5 M option next year).

The appeal for Rodriguez is probably his former numbers. In 2010 he looked like a top of the rotation starter. In 2012 he looks like a more expensive, older version of Paul Maholm. Considering his age, and the three year decline in his numbers, I’m not so sure that a return to those 2010 numbers is a guarantee.

As for his trade value, I put him at a 3.0 WAR to keep things simple. He’s on pace for about a 2.7 WAR this year, although a 3.0 is closer to his average over the last few years. If we assume his option is picked up, that gives him a trade value of $7.2 M, without factoring in the exchange of money. Houston will pick up about $12.23 M in the deal, which gives the Pirates $19.43 M in trade value for Rodriguez. This all assumes that he pitches like a 3.0 WAR pitcher through the duration of the deal, and that his player option is exercised in 2014. Without the player option, the trade value for Rodriguez is $9 M (assuming the Pirates pick up the buyout…if Houston picks up the buyout, the trade value is $14 M).

To keep things simple, we’ll go with the $19.43 M trade value for Rodriguez, assuming the 3.0 WAR each year and the player option being exercised.

As for the prospects the Pirates gave up, we can get their dollar values from Kevin Creagh’s prospect trade values. I’d put Robbie Grossman as a top 51-100 hitting prospect, which would give him a value of $10.43 M.

I’d put Rudy Owens as a Grade B pitching prospect, and Colton Cain as a Grade C pitching prospect. That would put Owens at $7.3 M in value and Cain at $2.1 M in value.

The total value for all three prospects is $19.83 M. So the returns match up very well, assuming Rodriguez can put up a 3.0 WAR consistently, and assuming he agrees to the option year. Otherwise, the Pirates over-paid.

Even though I had three boring hours to think about the trade, I didn’t really come to a conclusion until I got about mid-way through writing this. It was right around the Paul Maholm comparison that I decided I didn’t like the deal. Rodriguez is a good pitcher who is reliable and fits well with PNC Park. He will definitely help the Pirates this year. I just think the Pirates over-paid for him.

I think Rodriguez looks similar to a pitcher like Paul Maholm this year, and I think his age and his steady downward trend could point to those numbers being legit for the long term. You deal this type of package to get Wandy Rodriguez from 2010. You don’t deal this type of package to get a player who looks like he could be on the decline. The Pirates could have received similar production from…well, Paul Maholm, and for a lot less in prospects and money.

Or, they could have called up one of their three left-handers in Indianapolis. I think one of those guys could put up Paul Maholm numbers, and you wouldn’t have to deal Robbie Grossman or Colton Cain in the process. And those aren’t just throwaway guys. Grossman has been back to his 2011 form in the last two months, and could have been in the majors as a third outfielder at this time next season. Right now I only count one established long-term outfielder in Pittsburgh, and that’s Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte could get there, but that still leaves one spot.

Cain has the potential to be a 200 inning a year workhorse left-hander. He struggled to start the year, went down with a groin injury, had two rough starts in his return, and has been great ever since. He’s in high-A, and his success this year is limited to half a dozen starts, so obviously he’s more of a wild card than the other two, who are closer to the majors and more of a safer bet.

Rodriguez won’t hurt the Pirates, and should help them this year. But I feel the Pirates could have gotten similar help for much less in prospects and money, especially if Rodriguez doesn’t go back to being more like the 2010 version. And for a small market team with not a lot to spend, and a reliance on prospects, you can’t afford to make an over-payment in one of those categories, much less both.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 5-1 to the Cubs.

**Pirates Notebook: Breaking Down the Wandy Rodriguez Trade.

**Pirates Acquire Wandy Rodriguez from Astros.

**The Departed – Grossman, Owens, Cain.

**Prospect Watch: Solid Starts From Kingham, Wilson and Heredia.

**Wilson And Relievers Make Indians’ 3 Early Runs Hold Up.

**Jose Tabata Struggling in Triple-A Since Demotion.

**Pirates Considering Spot Starters in the Month of August.

**The Future Payroll Page.

**The updated 40-man roster/payroll with Rodriguez.

**Minor League Schedule: 7/25/12.


About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • schnoah

    Tim, i cant really agree with this. I understand the declining strikeout rate. But it has been reported that Rodriguez was pitching more to contact trying to go deeper into games. He is a very good improvement over Correia and will most likely sloted into his spot in the rotation. Yes, we paid a good price for him. However, Grossman is an OBP monster, but is he going to be a star or even a well above average player. I dont think so but only time will tell. Cain is on track to be nothing more than a reliever. Owens is going to be at best a number 5 in the AL West and he is going to get shelled in Houston. Especially for a FB pitcher.
    Wandy if he can keep his ERA under 4. Will be a very nice addition to the rotation. Nearly half of the HR that he has given up in Houston would have been flyouts in PNC. He helps negate the short leftfield porch at home. Maholm is an ok comp, but Maholm just cant consistenly put up the numbers that Wandy has the last couple years. For the Pirates sake i do hope that you are wrong and helps us push for the playoffs.
    A little side note with him… i loved the fact that he was so emotional with his teammates when he was leaving. He was really invested in Houston and with that team. With the team chemistry that we have formed here in Pittsburgh i hope he will fit right in and be excited to be a Bucco.

  • Halvy Buckets

    Disagree Tim. Grossman walks a lot, but he needs to be more aggressive at the plate, imo. He’s toolsy, but I see him more as a 4/5 outfielder on a good team.

    Owens is going to lefty, fly ball hell. I wish him well, but I don’t see it happening. His upside isn’t what Wandy is right now, or even as Wandy gets older.

    Keep in mind Wandy is having his lowest walk numbers of his career, so this would suggest a change in pitch strategy.

  • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

    With all do respect, I think you’re placing too much value on the prospects in this trade. Also, I don’t buy the comparison to Maholm. Yes, they are similar in style and both lefties, but Maholm lacks Wandy’s consistency, has even less velocity on his fastball, and typically fades in the latter part of the year.

    Bottom line: the Pirates get a proven, underrated pitcher without giving up their top prospects, and they are able to maintain some salary flexibility in the process.

    • krinks

      Right. Last night’s name by Maholm was typical. He can pitch a gem when he wants to, but doesn’t always want to. The rest of the time he will give up four if the club scores three.
      The better team factor should be considered also. Wandy knows by pitching a decent game he has a decent shot at a win and pitching a relevant game the rest of the year. He hasn’t pitched a relevant game in Houston for quite a while.
      It boils down to getting another AJ Burnett and JMac for free. The money they pay him next year is offset by what they won’t be paying Bedard and Corriea. The 5th starter spot can be covered by Justin Wilson or Jeff Locke who both have earned a shot on the big club. They can still flip one of them for a decent bat.

    • BarryJT

      I agree. This is not Moises Alou for Zane Smith.

      • Rick Peluso

        I agree, Grossman is the only tough loss in my opinion as Owens was clearly the least gifted of the Indy lefty trio and was expendable. Grossman even with his Youkilis like walk numbers was still facing A and AA pitching which tend to have higher walk ratios to begin with. I’d say going forward if he can maintain those numbers I start to like this trade less, but ultimately Grossman wasn’t the ideal answer for a third outfielder to fit with Marte and Cutch down the road as some still don’t even project him as a top 3 outfielder with his limited power albeit good OBP. To me Cain was a throw in for some money back in the deal and can be overlooked for the time being as he projects more as a reliever with his low starting velocity, 89-91, compared to what he’s hit in short spurts, as high as 94.

    • BlueBomber72

      You hit the nail on the head with Maholm’s lack of consistency. He puts it together for 5 or 6 starts, and then goes into a streak where he can’t get through 5 for 5 or 6 starts. Rodriguez is a quality start machine. Playing in front of the terrible defense in Houston couldn’t have been helping his numbers either ( 3rd to last in D efficiency and -35 Rtot).

  • Lee Young

    How will Wandy help the Bucs?….his numbers have also been close to what Correia gave us.

    • Thom Kay

      Wandy has been MUCH better than Correia. Higher K%, lower ERA, FIP, xFIP, and a 1.8 WAR to 0.1. Glad to have him.

      Still, I just know we’re gonna miss Grossman. Not happy to see him go one bit.

      • Lee Young

        Wandy (age 33). Last three starts — 15 IP, 12 ER
        Kevin (age 31). Last three starts — 17 IP, 8 ER

        Wandy, last six starts — 35 IP, 20 ER
        Kevin, last six starts — 33.1 IP, 15 ER

        Wandy has BEEN HORRIBLE!!! He is regressing! Grossman is a ‘gross’ overpay!

        • Lee Young

          other than that, I am somewhat neutral on this deal….lol

          I need to cool off a bit….lol

          • Lee Young

            I gave myself a minus for these comments….Bottom line is that Wandy is now a Pirate…time to root him on.

            Like someone above said…AJ turned out ok…

          • Kirk Lee

            I think it’s a decent trade, not great, not terrible. They kept hold on the top 6, got a guy who’s style fits well in PNC, improved the team right now without simply buying a rental, and gave up a non-negligible amount of talent in return. The crux of this trade (aside from, obviously, Wandy) will be Grossman. I wouldn’t list him as a 51-100 hitting prospect, seeing as how no one has ever done that in the baseball world. Even if he did crack that range, it would be at the very tail end, making him worth less than the average 51-100 prospect’s $10.43MM (probably more like $8MM). He could be an everyday starting outfielder, in which case this comes out as a bad trade for the Bucs. But he won’t turn into a superstar, and even everyday starter is far from a guarantee. I guess we’ll know in 3 years or so.
            Owens is that solid, consistent (except last year), unexciting guy who you somehow like, and feel comfortable parting with at the same time. Cain just never broke out the way we (I, at least) hoped. Time is running out for that, IMO, with him never living up to his reported velocity.
            It’s funny. These are 3 of the guys who I have followed most closely, for the longest time, and who I really liked individually as prospects. I expected the Grossman breakout last year and was a huge fan when it happened. I was always a little impatient to see Owens make it to Pittsburgh. I always liked Cain the most of the 2009 Prep Pitchers. Yet, now that they’re all gone, I find myself strangely ok with it. None of them were going to be big pieces of the Pirates core going forward. They constituted the more exciting potential role players, but with guys like Cole and Taillon in the system, it’s hard to bat an eyelash at the loss of Colton Cain. These guys could all become serviceable starters with cost control, in which case, it becomes regrettable, not devastating. But there’s also a decent chance that none of them pan out at all, or have extremely mediocre big league careers. I don’t wish that on any of them, but with that in mind, you gotta think Wandy could be great pickup if it happened.

        • Andrew Smalley

          Your use of Small Samples to make a point makes your point very difficult to take serious……

          • Lee Young

            you’re prob right….at least I HOPE you’re right about Wandy….:)

        • Rick Peluso

          Pitcher A: last three starts 15.2 IP, 15 ER
          Pitcher A: last six starts 35.1 IP, 22 ER

          With your use of small sample sizes this pitcher would be “Horrible” even worse actually than Wandy. These are in fact JMac’s numbers however and I do not think you would make the statement that he has been awful.
          The point here is that a season is not always even and has ups and downs so pointing to small samples like you have is not the appropriate way to evaluate a pitcher’s season/value.

    • Todd Smith

      Wandy Rodriguez: 3.79 ERA, 2.78 SO/BB, 3.78 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
      AJ Burnett: 3.59 ERA, 2.62 SO/BB, 3.51 FIP, 1.29 WHIP
      Kevin Correia: 4.31 ERA, 1.64 SO/BB, 4.95 FIP, 1.29 WHIP

      I’d say he’s much closer to what Burnett has given us this year, but I guess people whined and cried about that trade too.

      • Lee Young

        prob more upset about losing Grossman…I hate it when I get upset.


  • Andrew Smalley

    I like the trade primarily because we dealt from a position of depth. In other words, we dealt a near-ready (if not ready) back-of-rotation SP, but we also have two SPs with similar value w/ a little better projection in the same rotation. Additionally, we traded an OF from a position that we have several other options of arguably similar value. Cutch and Marte seem to have CF/LF set, respectively, leaving one spot for another guy. Tabata/Presley/Grossman all offer you a little bit different of a package but all of similar or comparable value. And, Cain probably projects to be a Rudy Owens type w/ a tad higher ceiling but a less likelihood to reach it. All in all: these guys are replaceable, and, better yet, we already have the guys in the system to do it.

    If we had traded a guy like Hanson – at a position of no depth at SS – then this would have been problematic both in personnel (Hanson for Wandy is not an even trade for us) and from a position standpoint (no depth at SS). In this trade, we didn’t give up a clear impact player in personnel and we did it from our two positions of depth.

    Solid trade. An addition of a bat (Victorino/Pence/etc) is what we should be focused on now.

  • Todd Smith

    This is the kind of deal I love to see the Pirates make. Give away a handful of middling, low-impact prospects for a high tier player that can not only help us in the playoff push this year, but will be here for a couple of years after that as well. I have nothing to complain about with this trade.

  • buccotime57

    Florida is great…the drive through gainesville to get to the tampa area is not…i agree that we spent to much.. i thought we could have used these chips for a hitter as opposed to getting another starting pitcher…i dont know why we dont give locke/wilson a shot…at least bring up wilson to be a lefty in the pen…watson has struggled

  • Joel Davis

    There seems to be some confusion regarding the amounts being paid by Pirates/Houston. It looks to me like Houston is paying 1.7, 8.5, 7.5. See MLBtraderumors and espn article. This makes a big difference in trade value!

    • Tim Williams

      They’ve got the amounts flipped. That’s what the Pirates are paying.

  • Eric Delp

    Tim, you are vastly overrating the prospects here, and vastly underrating Wandy. Grossman is not a top 100 prospect. Not only was he not in BA’s top 100 over the offseason, he was behind both McPherson and Sanchez, neither of whom were in the top 100 either, and he’s done nothing to raise his stock this year. I realize that KLaw and Goldstein ranked him in their top 100s, but none of the prospect value studies done have used KLaw or Goldstein’s top 100s as their data sets. The only prospect value we can really put on Grossman is the $5.5M for being a Grade B hitter according to Sickels. So roughly half the value you are giving him here.

    Furthermore, Sickels gave Owens a C+ last offseason, not a B. Owens has certainly raised his stock some, but the persistent questions about his stuff combined with his mediocre K rates probably keep him from a B grade. That makes him worth $1.5M, not $7.3M. Even if you want to split the difference, you’re giving him too much credit.

    Overall, the prospect package we gave up is worth more like $9M than $19M. Even if you want to give Grossman and Owens some extra credit (which you obviously do), I don’t think it’s accurate to literally double their value.

    Conversely, you do Wandy a disservice by comparing him to Maholm. He’s posted consistently better results in a far less favorable stadium. Even limiting ourselves to this year’s results (which is not a good analytical model), you yourself point out that Wandy is striking out more batters, walking fewer, and getting more groundballs. Sure, the margins of difference are slim, but it adds up to a 6% difference in xFIP relative to average. Which is the same as the career difference between the two pitchers in both ERA- and xFIP-. Six percent may not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty huge – roughly 0.25 runs per 9 innings. On top of that, Wandy is more durable than Maholm. He started at least 30 games and pitched at least 6 IP per start in every year from 2009-2011, and he’s on pace to do it again this season. Maholm is very durable in his own right, but he failed to make 30 starts last year and has pitched 6 IP per start in only one of the last three seasons. WAR reflects these differences: according to fangraphs, Wandy has been worth 1.4 more wins than Maholm over the past three seasons. If you use B-Ref instead, the difference improves to 2.6 wins.

    There are certainly some concerns in Wandy’s profile – his age, his declining K rate, his general lack of dominance – and those would make for an interesting discussion, but trying to compare him to Paul Maholm is not an interesting discussion. He’s clearly much better.

    In conclusion, I respectfully submit that your analysis is extremely flawed here. For reasons already mentioned, you’re obviously overrating the prospects the Pirates gave up and underrating the player they got back.

    • Tim Williams

      I appreciate your thoughts on this. It all boils down to a difference in opinion. My grades on Grossman weren’t based on pre-season, but my projection of him now. Same with Owens and Cain. So talking about what he was pre-season is irrelevant. We’d just have to agree to disagree.

      Also, I think Wandy is good. But I think he’s become a pitcher that is easier to acquire with the lower K rates. And the lower K rates, plus his age, concerns me going forward.

      • Eric Delp

        I understand that you were using your own opinion of the prospects in question. But you can’t apply prospect values based on Baseball America’s (or John Sickels’s) opinions to your own opinions. There aren’t any studies showing that top 51-100 hitting prospects on your list are worth $10.4M. (Not to mention that you’ve routinely said that you don’t follow other teams’ farm systems all that closely, making your top 100 ranking pretty arbitrary and unhelpful.) Preseason grades are relevant because we don’t have any more current information from BA or Sickels from which to derive prospect values. So it’s not just a difference of opinion here; there’s also a fundamental flaw in your analysis.

        That said, what you’re article essentially shows is that even if you’re optimistic about the prospects involved, the values on each side more or less match up. So I don’t see any reason not to like the deal. You can worry all you want about Wandy, but you should spend an equal amount of effort worrying about all of the many ways in which Grossman, Owens, and Cain might not ever become good major leaguers.

        I’m interested in your take on the deal, but I don’t see much logic to the argument you’ve presented in this article.

  • Joel Miller

    Addressing the trade and more specifically Wandy vs. Maholm using my favored simple metric for pitchers, FIP. Wandy has been the better pitcher this year with a 3.82 FIP vs. Maholm’s 3.98. Past 4 seasons? Still Wandy 3.71 vs. 3.89.More importantly, Kevin Correia has an abyssmal FIP of 4.98 after a season where he had a 4.99 FIP. Correia’s best recent FIP is 2009 at 3.76 in 33 starts.

    The rest of the rotation: McDonald: 3.60, Burnett: 3.55, Bedard 3.83, Karstens: 2.72.

    For reference, a pitcher with a 4.99 FIP with an average defense is expected to give up an average of 5.4 Runs/9 IP. Wandy should give up an average of 4.15 Runs/9 IP. Basically, I can sum up my comments as follows:
    Wandy > Maholm > Correia
    Correia has been exceptionally lucky this year with a 4.24 ERA against an expected 4.98. Bedard has been unlucky with an ERA of 4.32 vs. an expected ERA of 3.83. McDonald is probably still the best pitcher in the rotation despite a couple bad starts recently.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    Now that’s how you rebuild a team, Astros. The Astros in 2013 have NO payroll commitments to a player on their current roster. They have 500K for Snyder’s option that may not get picked up. They have the Wandy money to the Pirates. Not sure if Myers’ deal had cash.

    They scorched the earth in 1 complete year and are starting to replant the forest. They will absolutely suck for the next 2-3 years, but the talent accrual by Luhnow in the 2012 draft and in some of his trade deals has bolstered the farm.

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    I agree.

  • Lee Young

    Having traveled a lot as a Navy Civilian your comment ” Unless you’re going to Jacksonville, but who goes there?” made me laugh. The ONLY ones who go there are the ones who HAVE to go there. Ugly town, imho.

  • ElGaupo77

    If you look at the 6.13 K/9 you must have notice his K/BB actually raised to 2.78… highest he’s had in 4-5 years. Also you noticed his spike in GB% up several percent to 50.7%.

    Finally, we’re placing a lot of stock in numbers based off 131 innings. With more games against the Astros and Cubs and facing September call ups his K/9 will get over 7.

  • cocktailsfor2

    You make a reasoned argument, Tim, but comparing the current salary for Maholm is skewed in that if they’d kept Paulie, it wouldn’t have been for $4.25MM this year.

    I also think that Wandy is more of a workhorse – in general, and moreso in August – than Maholm is.

  • szielinski

    You forgot to include the fact that this trade occurred in a seller’s market.

  • st1300b

    Just to join in, the trade will play itself out like all other trades and rating it will come at a later date.
    I will however say that I think getting another proven vet, southy, SP for this season is hard to argue with – and to give him the opportunity to make a push along with this team for playoff baseball is exactly the kind of opportunity those vet’s like. I expect a real strong second half from Wandy.
    By the way, I really appreciate the fact that we don’t have to come up with a *-Rod monniker for him too!

  • Mark Ludwig

    If one buy’s into the drop in his K-rate this year, then I agree that Wandy carries some risk. However, I don’t think it’s fair to make it seem like it’s a trend that’s been going on since 2010. Do you know the difference between Wandy’s 2010 K rate and his 2011 K rate? It’s 8 strikeouts. Eight strikeouts in 30 starts and 191 innings pitched. It’s really tough to say that’s anything meaningful. This seasons drop is meaningful but since the velocity is the same and his curve still looks great, it strikes me more as a change in approach (and maybe not a good one) that leads to the change in his K rate.

  • Marcus J

    I expected given the prospect package the Bucs were giving up that the Astros would have been kicking in more than $12 million on the contract. I don’t love the deal but I don’t hate it either. My biggest concern is the opportunity cost. With Wandy and AJ Burnett costing the Bucs in excess of $16 million next season what kind of controllable position player can the Pirates afford?