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?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.
Jeff Zrebiec: I don't think so Karl. I certainly haven't heard anybody from the organization express second thoughts.
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%Quick: without looking it up, tell me which was Bedard's 2005 season (without Benson) and which was Bedard's 2006 season (with Benson)?
200x 3.94 7.61 3.08 12.10 2.47 61%
200y 4.00 7.94 3.62 12.45 2.19 58%
(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."