Sunday, July 23, 2006

Trade Analysis: Hillenbrand/Chulk for Accardo

{Addendum added 2:46PM}
Like most Giants fans, I choked on my Wheaties when I heard about this trade. Accardo? Our closer for the future? Our fireballing overachieving non-drafted free agent former SS, now golden chosen closer of the future?

After thinking about it more deeply, I realized that I overreacted the way fans do when you think everything you have is gold and everything the other team has is trash. This is similar to the Reds/Nats trade that was lambasted everywhere: trading a position player for a reliever? Madness! Also, this trade did not deplete our bullpen greatly while vastly improving 1B and the bench at the same time.

Why I Hate the Trade

There are a number of reasons why I don't like the trade. Accardo's only 23, he has closer potential, high heat, and we control him for probably another 5 years. Meanwhile, we get a 1B who walks as frequently as Feliz, don't hit 20 HR per season regularly, let alone the 30 HR standard that most Giants fans clamor for in their next 1B (the anti-Snow), plus to top it off, he's a free agent AND DFAed. Plus the reliever we got was so good that the 54-43 Blue Jays, batting to win the AL East division, barely saw any reason to use him much the past 3 months.

Why I LIke the Trade

Sabean did a masterful job of addition without making another area much weaker. In fact, he might have improved things in three areas while trading away Accardo's potential. Here's how I see all this.

First, as much as I like Accardo, he hasn't really done it the past two months or so. ERA of 7.94 in June, 5.63 in July, his stats line is a putrid 7.07 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .285 BAA the past two months, versus 3.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .204 BAA his first two months. Although his FIP is a low 2.75 plus his BABIP overly high at .328 (.300 is the overall average but that could be his average, too short career stats so far), a result of high K/9, low BB/9, high K/BB, and low HR/9, research from Ron Shandler hows that second half performance is key for a player to have success going forward and Accardo failed on two fronts. First , 2006 is worse than 2005, second, June/July is worse than April/May, showing that the league figured him out after his first go around and he was unable to adjust so far, and terribly at that so far. So while this may be a case of small sampling for a short reliever is at work here, it is not a good sign either, and the best we can say is that bad luck has been plaguing him horribly this year.

Second, as bad as Chulk's numbers look now, about as bad as Accardo's, he has really had two different seasons like Accardo, only in reverse, i.e. the better way. It was bad up front, but he has been good the last two months. In April/May, 7.61 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 0.425 BAA vs. June/July, 1.98 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 0.261 BAA. Looking deeper in his numbers, he is suffering from bad luck in two ways in 2006. One is that batters are hitting him at abnormally high rate this season (.335 BABIP) than his past two seasons (about .280 BABIP). The other is that his HR/FB is way up, at 14.8%, when the mean everyone should fall to is 10%, which is also approximately his average the previous two seasons. That's the result of small samples and a really, really bad April that he hasn't been able to dig out of because he's basically haven't been used much the past two months, about once a week. And his peripherals are nice overall, his K/9 is 6.8 (want over 6.0), his BB/9 is 1.9 (want under 3.0), his K/BB is 3.6 (want over 2.0), only his HR/9 is bad at 1.5 but as I noted, his HR/FB is way up, falling back to the mean would drop that to a tolerable HR/9 rate of 1.0 approximately (which is about his career average). In addition, he as two years of proven good experience as a reliever under his belt plus improved his second go-around in the league, achieving better stats in 2005 versus 2004. So he could potentially strengthen the bullpen for 2006 over Accardo, who had not had good results the past two months, and we still control Chulk for the next three years plus he's only 27 so it should be his prime performance years as well.

Third, Hillenbrand is a great addition the lineup. Sure, he's not 30 HR hitter but we don't need one for our lineup to produce more, we mainly need an uptick over the Niekro, Sweeney, Ishikawa trio that we had been getting at 1B. People look at his career stats but that's skewed by his poorer early seasons. He has basically been a .300 hitter during his career, with an OBP in the .340's, which is actually good, and a SLG in the .460's, which is also actually good. And while he doesn't pound the homers, his ISO is in the .160's, which is good as well. While he doesn't walk much, his high average makes up for that plus his K-rate is very good. All this from perusing his Fan Graphs charts.

In addition, he has had a sort of breakout pair of years, at age 30-31, in terms of power, his doubles are finally translating into homers, he has basically averaged 35 AB per homer previously, but this season he has boosted it up to 25 AB per homer, moving from a high teen homer average to a mid-20's homer average. That is partly a glitch because his HR/FB is high this year, but he has also boosted his FB% rate the past two seasons, so the extra power is not an illusion. Plus as a RHH, he should not lose much of this power in AT&T May Field, though his career numbers there is low on the power: .333/.403/.400/.803. In any case, during his career, his ISO has been around the league average and this year it is above average, very close to the good range.

He really improves our hitting in the 6th and 7th slot as well. Unfortunately, ESPN's stats don't provide 6th place hitting at the moment (though it can be selected), I have 2005's stats and Hillenbrand's .822 of this year would have ranked 6th last season, whereas the Giants were next to last in 2005, in 15th. With Feliz getting a lot of ABs there this year, the Giants position is probably improved anyway, but adding Hillenbrand moves Feliz to 7th, where Niekro was mainly hitting, and probably improves that a lot. Feliz has an OPS of .781, which would have ranked 5th in 2005, whereas the Giants were 13th last season, and we know that Feliz is way outhitting Niekro.

He also improves the bench at the same time. Sweeney was suppose to be our major LH bat off the bench this season but he has been starting a lot because of Niekro's various injuries and lack of performance. That plus Alou's various injuries took Finley and Sweeney off the bench, leaving Vizcaino as our major LH bat off the bench, which obviously is a big drop off from Sweeney. Now Sweeney will be on the bench as intended.

In addition, Shea Hillenbrand is a very consistent hitter. .296/.338/.466/.804 vs. LHP while .287/.325/.446/.771 vs. RHP, one of the banes of the Giants lineup over the past few years have been hitters who look good overall but cannot hit pitchers of the same hand, players like Grissom and Snow, among various others. And since he's played in Boston and Arizona as homes, his home number is skewed, so I look at his road numbers and he has .291/.334/.455/.789 as his career numbers, which is good (but not great). His monthly numbers are pretty consistent too. The main knock is that his numbers go down a lot after the All-Star break, .299/.339/.468/.807 pre, .276/.313/.427/.740 post. With Sweeney giving him rest, probably against the better RHP of the league, that should help his numbers while with the Giants.

This also helps with the need to rest the older players frequently, like Bonds and Alou. There is a drop when either is out, no knock against Finley, but there is. And it was bad when the offense then had to contend with Niekro's lack of performance as well in the lineup. Adding Hillenbrand is a major addition because before it would be, say, Winn, Vizquel, Bonds/Alou, Durham and maybe Feliz (because of his streakiness) and now Hillenbrand would be a consistent 5th source of offense, and perhaps 6th if Feliz is going OK.

In addition, Sabean said in an interview after the trade that he plans on trying to re-sign Hillenbrand for 2007. I assume that he is insurance in case Feliz does not resign. He will pursue both and if he gets at least one, then 3B is covered, and if he happen to get both, the both is covered, it is not like Ishikawa or anyone else, is ready to take 1B yet for the Giants in 2007, and either Feliz or Hillenbrand could be traded away during or after 2007 if Ishikawa or anyone else is ready to take 1B (or even 3B, though I cannot imagine whom).

In addition, Sabean noted in his interview that he is not necessarily done. This now allows Sabean to focus on pitching help after helping the offense. As much as people think that we might have overpaid for Hillenbrand, who was DFAed, both Sabean and Toronto noted that there were 5-7 teams asking for him. He could play 1B, 3B, and DH, so that makes sense that there were multiple teams asking for him, a consistent .800 OPS hitter is, while not the hottest thing to desire, a very nice part to add when you are not getting production from a part of the lineup. Chulk was the lever that got the deal done, he is a serviceable RHP reliever to help replace Accardo in the bullpen, I assume Sanchez moves up in importance as well, to setup, which he already had been lately. I assume this means that Munter and no one else is ready to move up from the minors as RHP. Sabean also noted that the pressure is not off but allows him to be creative when market loosens up, which is probably around the last week to 72 hours before the deadline, when teams give up hope, opening the possibility for a blockbuster move.

Addendum: I also like the trade for what we didn't lose. I have liked Brian Wilson more than Accardo for relief in the long run. Wilson has about as much heat as Accardo plus he has a starting pitcher's repertoise, plus he hasn't even used his curve ball yet that he was considered plus on when he was drafted. Sanchez too plus I'm still hoping he gets put back into starting in the next two years. And, for me, Valdez is more the closer of the future than Accardo, Accardo was just too built up in fans mind, to me. Plus Valdez is considered in a prospect book as a potential closer but Accardo was not, his potential was as setup man.

In addition, the old TINSTAAPP holds as well for Accardo, he has not really proven anything yet in the majors, other than he still have a lot to learn but has a plus fastball. People are too worried about another Nathan trade situation happening, when it is two different situation, Nathan actually had a superb year whereas Accardo is clearly still working out his problems. And as much as we think he might, we don't know whether he will ever reach his closer potential that we all saw, he might end up a bust, as he is severely overachieving as a non-drafted free agent.

Addendum 2: I don't think I made enough emphasis but Hillenbrand is the type of hitter we need for the 5/6/7 spot of the lineup, someone who hits for higher average to get a decent OBP plus some power, because these spots are for guys who drive in runs, and a walk at the bottom of the lineup just don't cut it for driving in guys. That is, for an average .340 OBP, I prefer there to be more hits than walks to get to .340 for a 5/6/7 hitter that Hillenbrand will probably get to bat in while with the Giants this season. And as I noted, his ISO is not that bad, it is not great and it is not quite good, but it is still better than average. And that much more than we could say we had been getting from the 1B spot for over a year now, on a regular basis. My main worry is about his late season fade, but hopefully Sweeney taking key ABs versus tough RHP will help cut that down for this season.


  1. Excellent analysis, Martin (and not just because I agree with you). I think we saw the benefit the very first time he was in the line up - hitting 6th, pushing Feliz to 7th. That is just so much better a line up. And, as you point out, it really strenghtens the bench. And when Sweeney plays against the tough RH starters, we have Hillenbrand on the bench. You didn't say, but I expect that his familiarity with the NL West will help raise his Ba and overall offensive performance.
    I also think you under value Chulk.
    Finally, I think Sabean's plan is likely to try to resign Feliz and Hillenbrand - their asking prices being reasonable, of course. That would give him a pretty solid foundation for next year, as he would have in place:
    1b, ss, 3b, cf.
    He has a shot at having these positions filled: C (Matheny, Alfonso, Green), LF (Bonds), 2b (Durham would not be a total shock; Frandsen, tho I don't think he is the answer). Even RF, w/ Linden and the other minor leaguers might make do until July 07. I think next year has suddenly become a lot less scary.

  2. Not arguing, but wanted to know where I was undervaluing Chulk, I would like to hear what you have to say on that. It's not like I really know him as a pitcher, this was my interpretation (as always) from looking at his stats plus reading my baseball books.

    Speaking of which, my BP 2006 book says that "Chulk's ERA actually underrates him, as he squashed more than his fair share of rallies by holding hitters to .230/.289/.352 with runners on base. Nevertheless, Chulk isn't that different from any number of former starters who survive in the bullpen for a little while despite mediocre peripherals and stuff." Basically, his low K/9 rate from 2005 was freaking out analysts, but he seems to have answered that with a return to his prior K/9 rate, so 2005 appears to be a fluke year, for now.

  3. I do believe that Sabean scours the retirement communities to find his players these days.

  4. I thought Accardo for Hillenbrand was a fair trade, but to get Chulk, too, who is very close to being equal to Accardo NOW, makes the trade very lopsided in our favor. In otherwords, because of Chulk, we gain without loss, as Chulk comes very close to replacing Accardo, even if not in the exact same role.
    BTW, I don't really see Accardo as a future closer. Possible yes. I saw him pitch in the ninth earlier this year and really struggle, especially with the final out. Definitely not ready (also evidenced by a nearly 5 era). He is kind of an F Rod, a pretty good 8th inning guy, which I think they should have made him, but not closer material for a few years and very iffy.



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