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Did The Braves Wait Too Long To Trade Pitching For Hitting?

Both at the Major League level and on most lists of top prospects, the Braves are strong in the pitching department and weak in terms of position players. We all wish that we could distribute mass on our bodies, like from bellies to pectorals. Likewise, we probably also want the Braves to use their glut of quality pitchers to acquire a left-fielder who can hit homers and a shortstop who is an upgrade over the team's current options.

In a strong article describing the Braves' historical success at scouting and the developing pitching talent, R.J. Anderson writes that the Braves might have waited to long to reconfigure their body ($):

What Jurrjens is and what the Braves seem to value him as is a good, but not irreplaceable, starter. If the offseason reports are true, Atlanta attempted to trade Jurrjens and Prado to Kansas City for outfielders Wil Myers and Lorenzo Cain. While the Braves and Royals never consummated the deal, the rumored swap hints at Atlanta’s willingness to move its starters if the right trade presents itself. But here is another foil: Did the Braves wait too long to become proactive?

While Atlanta shopped Jurrjens, the rest of the league talked about and acquired the likes of Michael Pineda, Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill. The returns varied, but there is no denying that the trade market for young starting pitchers this winter was the flushest it had been for a while. Those market dynamics can work in the Braves’ favor by giving them readymade trade templates, but they can work against them, too—particularly if quality young starters continue to flood the market.

I am conditioned to believe that teams are always looking for pitching, so there will be a market as the season progresses and the Braves will be able to smooth out their talent distribution. But what if I am not accounting for the fact that pitching isn't as scarce as it once was? In a more defensive environment with run-scoring down and teams more likely to play good-field, no-hit players, it seems quite possible that pitching prospects are not as valuable as they used to be. Thus, the Braves have a collection of assets that would have brought a bigger return ten years ago than they would this summer.

I also wonder whether the Sabrmetric idea that "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect" has become more commonly employed by general managers. I was amused by the reaction to Moneyball not winning any Oscars, as it led to the same tired "it didn't win anything, just like the A's!" jokes, but on an intellectual level, Billy Beane won. The market recognized that it was undervaluing certain skills and overvaluing others. Once the inefficiencies were eliminated and the big market teams started employing the same techniques that Beane developed, his competitive advantage was gone. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Beane is the prom king of GMs.

If the market has adopted most or all of what the Baseball Prospectus/Bill James crowd emphasized in the Aughts, then one would expect the value of pitching prospects to go down because GMs now realize that the success rates for prospects is not high. It's more important to have a quantity of pitching prospects than it is to have one or two that are very highly rated. Assuming that the market has reacted in that manner, then the Braves will have a harder time getting value for their collection of pitching prospects and it's not a bad thing that Frank Wren will have to hold on to them.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.