On Saturday evening as I caught a few minutes of Baseball Tonight my attention was piqued when former Mets GM Steve Phillips started pontificating about the plethora of teams that needed to make deals before the July 31st trading deadline in order to have a hope of making the post season. The list seemed even longer than usual and so it especially irked me, hence this post.
The reason I was irked is that the question of whether and how much these trade deadline deals impact pennant races was nicely handled by Dayn Perry in his excellent book Winners which I reviewed for THT back in March. Perry has a nice chapter there, an overview of which was included in the review and reproduced here.
The Art of the Deal
The Deadline Game (or, Why It's Hard to Win a Pennant in Two Months) was perhaps my favorite chapter, as it looked at in-season trades that approached the trade deadline for the 124 teams in the study.
What interested me, and what I had suspected, was that of the 108 teams that made such deals the average team realized only 2.2% of their total VORP from the trades, largely due to the fact that the season is two thirds over at the trade deadline and the remaining two months offer a sample size that can be heavily influenced by luck.
That said, Perry then goes on to discuss the teams that benefited the most from these deals, with the 1987 Giants and GM Al Rosen far surpassing the rest (15.5% of VORP), by snagging Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts, Kevin Mitchell, Rick Reuschel, and Don Robinson. Mitchell, Dravecky, and Lefferts were acquired almost a month before the trade deadline, a lesson that other GMs should note.
He also takes some time to credit Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty for making a series of excellent deals in both 2000 and 2002, and lauds his performance by saying that “whatever your standard for evaluation, Jocketty is peerless among modern GMs in making impact deals for his organization, deadline or otherwise”.
The end result is that for all the talk (and I understand it heightens interet in the game and is a good tool for ESPN to use to increase viewership), most of these deals most of the time aren't what the prognosticators crack them up to be. The reason so many people think they will be however, is probably due to our need to simplify complex outcomes into single factors (player x made the difference).