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Oliverator: Quick and Dirty Simba Swap Edition

This might shock you, but the quality of the trade hinges on the effectiveness of Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis on a going forward basis.

Simmons and Olivera... now in the Oliverator for all time.
Simmons and Olivera... now in the Oliverator for all time.
Elsa/Getty Images

A few months ago, the Braves traded Alex Wood, Jose Peraza, and some other players for Hector Olivera, whose future performance in MLB was (and remains) difficult to forecast effectively. To come to grips with possible outcomes for the players and teams involved in the swap, I threw together the Oliverator, which people had fun playing with, I guess.

The latest blockbuster in which the Braves find themselves embroiled has fewer moving parts, but involves the departure of Andrelton Simmons, who most of us have come to love dearly. In some ways, the overall topology of the trade is less difficult to figure out: if the two pitching prospects the Braves acquire "pan out" in a reasonable expectation of the word, the Braves look like surefire winners; but if they don't, or if Simmons finds another batting gear beyond the 80-90 wRC+ he's hovered around to date, the Braves may, in retrospect, appear to have made a major mistake.

As with the Olivera swap, where people come down in terms of their opinion really depends on their assessment of player values going forward. So, without further ado, have fun playing with the below, which is a very barebones version of the original Oliverator. A lot fewer moving parts and pieces (partly because it's almost 11:00 pm and I have a full day of work tomorrow on top of all this insanity), but hopefully it still gets the job done.

With that said, a few notes about inputs and outputs:

  • You're free to use whatever you want, but I think it makes perfect sense to use something around 3 WAR per season for Simmons. Early-Steamer has him at 3.1 fWAR next season, and he put up 3.2 fWAR in 2015. I'm also using 3.1 as a default. 2 WAR is probably his floor for the foreseeable future, and while he could reasonably ceiling at 7 WAR, that would require another extraordinary defensive season and a batting line slightly above average.
  • Simmons' surplus value tails off at the end of his extension, as he starts making eight figures. Can't do much about that, and if the Braves are really now focusing on, say, 2018-2022 or 2019-2013 as their most likely window, then Simmons' highest remaining surplus value years are somewhat wasted. While this may be an impetus for the trade, the thought that bugs me here is that even if the trade is justified this way, that's circular reasoning as there's no reason for the Braves to specifically target a later window rather than an earlier one, unless they think the later window is the only one they can reasonably achieve.
  • Sean Newcomb is probably the real linchpin here. He had a 55 FV from Kiley McDaniel before the 2015 season started, and I'm not sure his 2015 performance did much to change that opinion. I've seen some FV grades as high as 60 for him, too. But on the other hand, he's also a pitcher, and we know what happens to pitching prospects.
  • Projecting pitchers is hard because pitchers are rarely effective and durable for long stretches. As a fairly conservative projection for a potential 55 FV workhorse starter, let's say we think Newcomb will put up 2.5 WAR. Is that 2.5 WAR every year, including his rookie year? If so, that's 15 WAR over his team control years. However, did you know that there have only been 33 starters to put up a combined 15 WAR over the last six seasons? Is Newcomb really going to be a top-30-ish pitcher in MLB over his team control years? Well, maybe. But if you are saying he'll amass 15 WAR in that stretch, that's the type of company you're putting him in.
  • For comparison, 2 WAR per season for six seasons would yield 12 WAR, something achieved by 52 pitchers. In my mind, Top 30 is a #1 starter, Top 60 is a #2 starter, and so on. So a guy averaging 2.5 WAR for 6 years would basically be in the top tier of longevity and productivity over a period, whereas 2 WAR would be closer to a #2ish. I've seen descriptions of Newcomb as #2 or #3ish, which suggests maybe 1.6 to 2.1 WAR on average over those six years. Under those assumptions, he provides less excess value than Simmons, despite the added year of team control.
  • Chris Ellis is just as hard to peg down. I've seen 45 FV, I've seen 50 FV, I've read that he could be a #4, or maybe a solid-ish #5, or maybe he'll be relegated to the bullpen due to hittability concerns. Who knows. Anyway, this is your spreadsheet as much as mine, feel free to do what you want. Just be aware that league minimum is so cheap, and $/WAR so high (you can adjust this too), that pretty much any productive player for any definition of the word "productive" is going to reap some decent surplus value. Basically, even assuming he averages sub-1 WAR for his six team control years, there's still some neat excess value there.
  • Erick Aybar is the forgotten guy here, and one assumption is that he'll be spun somewhere for prospects. Still, he's probably worth some surplus value himself. For simplicity, it might be easier to just assume the Braves get fair value for him in terms of prospects, so just add his excess value onto the Braves side of the ledger for now. If he is expected to have a 2-ish WAR season in 2016, that's not a bad way for a team to stretch their salary a bit. Then again, he's been a bit erratic over the past three seasons (two poor seasons, one great one, both defensively and offensively), so who knows?
  • Under fairly conservative assumptions for Simmons, Newcomb, and Ellis, it looks like the Braves probably come out ahead over the long haul. Does that accord with your thoughts? Or do you severely discount the value provided by Newcomb and Ellis in the future?
But wait, there's a bit more...

Reading the above, and perhaps playing with it, you might be surprised that the Oliverator gives you such a rosy outlook, value-wise, for the Braves. I know I was. There's a reason for that, though. If you want an acronym, TINSTAAPP is a pretty decent one. If you want a more mathy explanation, consider the following instead.

The reality is that pitching prospects are super volatile. Basically, you should just read this article, and then come back here. In case you hate clicking interesting links, though:

  • Pitching prospects ranked #11-#25 overall generated just 8.1 WAR, on average, over their team control years, and resulted in just $24.5M of excess value. I'm not sure if that's discounted or not, what the $/WAR figures are, and so on (though I'm sure those answers are available), but in any case, the discounting and $/WAR disagreements don't move the needle that much. If Sean Newcomb is somewhere in this range, that $24.5M over six years of surplus value is wayyyy lower (about half!) of the $51M in surplus value you'd estimate he accrued by plugging in 1.9 WAR per season for him. (Basically, it's something like him averaging 1 WAR over 6 years instead of 1.9 WAR over 6 years to get down to $24M-ish of surplus value.)
  • Ellis isn't even ranked, I don't think, so per the above, he should generate less than $10M of excess value. Taking that in combination with the $10M (maybe?) from Aybar and the $24M from Newcomb's tranche of prospect, and the Braves actually look like solid losers in this deal, sending away about $60M in surplus value and getting back less than $35M.
The discrepancy between these two methods, is, of course, due to injury and bust rates. Nearly half of all pitchers ranked #11-#25 in the aforementioned study put up less than 3 WAR over their team control years, and nearly a third put up 0 WAR. The average is skewed by those prospects that panned out and were solidly successful, as well as those guys who never quite materialized at the major league level.

Which types of guys will Newcomb and Ellis be? I have no idea. But what I do know is that the Braves front office has got to feel mighty sure of itself in making this move, because the downside is fairly immense. The upside is also pretty substantial, but they've exchanged a fairly constant commodity for two very risky ones. Time will tell, of course, but that kind of risk exchange is probably driving a fair bit of the general consternation from the Braves fan side of the aisle.

As a coda, here are some Baseball America top 10-30ish pitching prospects from 2010, and their team control careers:

  • Jeremy Hellickson: 6 fWAR, never hit 2 fWAR in a single season
  • Martin Perez: 4 fWAR, but has two years of team control left, could reasonably hit 10 fWAR or so if he pitches as well as he's shown in the last two years
  • Madison Bumgarner: 22.5 fWAR, is generally awesome
  • Tyler Matzek: very good in a half-season for the Rockies in 2014, but didn't exactly fast-track it to the majors or stick around
  • Casey Kelly: 40 innings in the majors of no particular note so far
  • Kyle Drabek: you don't wanna know
  • Jacob Turner: 0.6 WAR over 300 innings
You can see the wide range of outcomes right there, and that's just a tiny sample from six years ago. I'll be hoping for the Bumgarner, but if you fear the Kyle Drabek outcome, that's perfectly legitimate as well.

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