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Mainely nonsense

On January 21, the Orioles traded Jorge Julio and John Maine to the Mets for veteran pitcher and Jim Duquette pet Kris Benson. I disliked the trade at the time, feeling that it was yet another example of the Orioles knee-jerkedly seeking guaranteed mediocrity rather than taking a chance on actually developing talent, and I've been following the various players in the trade ever since Maine was called up by the Mets in mid-season. I had intended to blog on this point anyway, but this Question and Answer session in the Baltimore Sun today prompted me to do so now:

Karl, Georgetown, Del.: Now that John Maine is a starting pitcher with the Mets, and considering his recent scoreless inning streak, do the O's have any second thoughts about having traded him away?

Jeff Zrebiec: I don't think so Karl. I certainly haven't heard anybody from the organization express second thoughts.

If I were the sort of person who were snarky, I'd note that having second thoughts require that a team have first thoughts, but since I'm not snarky, I won't say that.
Kris Benson, who they got for Maine and Jorge Julio, has had his moments, and everybody from Leo Mazzone to Sam Perlozzo to Jim Duquette feel like the Orioles starter should probably have about 14 or 15 wins by now if not for some bad luck and bullpen mishaps. They also give him some of the credit for helping out with Erik Bedard.
That's the sort of spin I expect from the front office; it's also the sort of lack of analytical thinking I expect from the local media, which so often uncritically parrots what the team tells it. Before I break that quotedown, though, I want to continue quoting, the part that really raised my blood pressure:
Team officials projected Maine as a No.5 starter No.4 at best. He's obviously improved dramatically. I haven't seen that much of him, but he seems to have improved his velocity and is getting more movement on his fastball. I watched him in his starts with the club last year and he was extremely hittable. Obviously, you have to give him a lot of credit, but I can't imagine that he would have the same numbers if he were pitching in the American League, specifically in the A.L. East.
Yes, and that's the whole point of having young players. They "improve dramatically." Not always, of course. But when you've got a 25-year old (Maine), he's a lot more likely to do so than a 31-year old (Benson). The Orioles never seem to realize that point, and what's worse, they never seem to care.

Anyway, on to the numbers. First, let's just directly compare the players involved:

Pitcher   IP    W-L-Sv   ERA   OAVG   K/9   BB/9  WHIP9  K/BB  IP/GS
Maine 68.0 5-3-0 3.44 .206 6.75 2.51 9.26 2.68 6.18
Benson 156.1 10-10-0 4.78 .281 4.14 2.82 12.43 1.47 6.01

Clear advantage: Maine. But wait a minute... the Orioles didn't just trade Maine; they traded Jorge Julio, too (who the Mets sent on to Arizona in mid-season). Julio hasn't been great, to be sure. But let's face it: when a team has the worst bullpen in the universe, does it matter? The Orioles have given a remarkable 364 innings to ten different pitchers whose ERAs this season are all over 6.00. Their collective ERA? 7.36. (Yes, some of those were starts, but really, is there any reason to quibble? Is there any doubt the Orioles could have used Jorge Julio in their bullpen?)

Oh, and one final statistic here: 5,481,333. That -- five and a half million -- is the difference in salary between Benson's $8,333,333 and Maine and Julio's combined $2,852,000.

But what about that excuse that Maine wouldn't be pitching as well in the AL East? Presumably, the argument is that the Orioles' AL East opponents are such better offensive teams than the Mets' NL East opponents. Right? Only one problem: it isn't true. The other four teams in the AL East have averaged 690 team runs scored; the other four teams in the NL East have averaged 680 team runs scored. (This is a crude measure, and it's true that Maine does have some advantage by pitching in the NL -- but the difference is not so big that one can just dismiss him as "He wouldn't be pitching that well." He doesn't have to pitch as well as he has to pitch better than Benson.)

I've dealt with the numbers on the players involved in the trade; what about the fact that he deserves extra credit for "helping out with Erik Bedard"? Two responses:

1) We're paying Leo Mazzone a reported half million dollars a year. Isn't it his job to be pitching coach, not Kris Benson's?

2) Helping Bedard out how?

Year  ERA   K/9   BB/9  WHIP9  K/BB  QS%
200x 3.94 7.61 3.08 12.10 2.47 61%
200y 4.00 7.94 3.62 12.45 2.19 58%
Quick: without looking it up, tell me which was Bedard's 2005 season (without Benson) and which was Bedard's 2006 season (with Benson)?

(Answer: x is 2006; y is 2005.) Unless one is prepared to argue that a 0.06 difference in ERA is significant -- and even if one is prepared to argue that -- I think this virtually defines the phrase "grasping at straws."


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Comments (4)


That trade is looking worse by the day. Most of the media portrayed it as a swap of Julio for Benson, with Maine as a wild card. How wrong they were. Maine is looking like the brightest light -- the main man, if you will -- in the transaction.

Benson used to have top-of-the-rotation talent, but his stuff hasn't been the same since his Tommy John operation five years ago. These days he gets by on guts and brains, which is admirable to an extent. But for the last five years, his performance has been the very definition of mediocre.

Dan Duquette has a bad habit of dumping prospects for washed-up veterans -- his Scott-Kazmir-for-Victor-Zambrano trade for the Mets has already gone down in infamy.

Let's see, what else is there? Corey Patterson has hit .276/.314/.420 for the O's -- basically average production for a CF. The prospect he was traded for, Nate Spears, hit .246/.323/.308 in High A ball. The other minor-leaguer in that deal, Carlos PĂ©rez, went 5-8 with a 4.80 ERA and 86 K to 56 BB in 110 IP in High A. At least Baltimore is still ahead on that one, but I'm not so confident that will still be the case five years from now.

Dan Duquette has a bad habit of dumping prospects for washed-up veterans -- his Scott-Kazmir-for-Victor-Zambrano trade for the Mets has already gone down in infamy.

Well, Dan Duquette has his proponents and detractors (I thought he was good, but he definitely wore out his welcome in Boston), but unfortunately we've got cousin Jim (yes, I know you knew this), and I've never heard a fan say one good thing about him.

The other thing I want to add, that I left out of my post, is that the Sun's implication that Maine came out of nowhere is totally false. Maine was sixth on Baseball America's top 10 Orioles prospects list for the 2005 season. To be sure, that may be damning him with faint praise, but nonetheless, it's at least one piece of evidence that his performance is not totally unexpected.

Ah, thanks for correcting my Duquette slip-up. At this point, I wouldn't be totally put off if the Orioles traded Jim for Dan, straight up. What is Dan up to nowadays, anyway?

... after Googling him: founding director of his own sports academy in Massachusetts, as well as Director of Player Development for the nascent Israel Baseball League. Looks like he's put front-office work behind him and moved on. Never mind.

Although it's been a while since this entry was posted, I couldn't help but reprint this zinger from Mr. Maine, uttered in preface to his start in tonight's NLCS Game 2:

"I've learned the game more in these three or four months here [with the Mets] than I learned in four years with Baltimore," he said. "That's just because you get put in these situations and you've got great coaches behind you and you've got great instructors, too. They help you, they teach you the game. They teach you the right things, the way to do it and the way it should be done, and that's helped me out a lot."

Ouch! But there's likely some truth that if Maine had stayed with the O's, he wouldn't have enjoyed the same amount of individual success that he's had this year. He's a flyball pitcher (0.83 G/F ratio this year), and Shea Stadium suits him better than Camden Yards in that regard. Plus, the Mets' defensive efficiency was a whopping .023 better than Baltimore's this season.


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