Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sports Project: You're Never Going To Believe All These Crazy Facts About Randy Johnson

Hello. It's TC. I mention that because I worry that people don't check the author of the posts and just email Bob with comments or complaints as if he had written all the posts that appear on this internet site. You can still comment and complain if it fits your druthers but just do so with the knowledge he did not author the following.

And what is following? I was reading something today that mentioned both Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen were part of the deal that sent Randy Johnson from Seattle to Houston in 1998 (Yes, I was just made aware of this today. I didn't follow sports as a kid, so there are bits of history that I haven't absorbed yet. Somehow this offends people.) That made me wonder, what was the exchange of wins there? Surely Garcia and Guillen were worth more than a few months of Randy Johnson. Naturally, I spent the following five hours researching the history of Randy Johnson trades and the value of the players exchanged between them. A healthy reaction to an important question.

What makes this search so fun and why it demands five hours is because of the delightful array of trades Johnson has been involved in. He has been traded for every motivation I can imagine. He was a prospect swapped for a veteran so that the trading team could win now (Motreal to Seattle for Mark Langston). He was swapped for prospects because the trading team did not think they could afford him and wanted to get something for him rather than just letting him walk at the end of the season (Seattle to Houston for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama). Then he was the veteran traded for prospects to a team looking to win now by a team looking to get younger (Arizona to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro). Finally, he was the Derek-Fisher-style veteran at the end of his career traded back to a former team for family reasons and stuff (The Yankees to Arizona for Luis Vizcaino, Ross Ohlendorf, Alberto Gonzalez and Steven Jackson). I can't think of another career that so fully covers the range of trade motivations. Just amazing stuff.

As to the original matter, of value being exchanged, we can measure that by just looking at the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of Johnson when pitching for each team in comparison to the players that team traded to acquire Johnson. WAR is a pretty easy to understand if you're not familiar with it. The stat measures the responsibility of each individual player for his team's wins. So if Randy Johnson and the rest of his teammates won 96 games, the stat takes Randy's contributions and adds them up to see how many of those 96 games were won by Randy himself.

Of the four trades Randy was involved in, two were killings and two were moderately fair deals (or at least look to be at this point. Some of the trades involve prospects who are still developing and have a chance to make more of an impact down the road). Three of the four trades favored the team trading for Randy, which says a lot about Johnson's career since he was usually traded for three or four other players.

The big winner--the team on the good side of both of the lopsided deals--is Seattle. They traded away half a season of Mark Langston, who would leave Montreal as a free agent at the end of the season, for nine and a half seasons of Big Unit, most of them cost-controlled. Montreal received about 5 wins from Langston, which is remarkable for only half a season. It pales, however, in comparison to the 37 wins Randy Johnson gave the Mariners his time there.

Once the cost became out of control, Seattle flipped Johnson to Houston and received the only package of players that posted a win total greater than Johnson would be giving to the team trading for him. Most of those wins came from Freddy Garcia (17.4), and while Carlos Guillen never was for Seattle the borderline star he has been at times in Detroit, he contributed a solid 7 wins at good prices. Then John Halama threw in 4 wins, just adding to the blowout. Johnson, like Langston before him, pitched really well (4 WAR) in his time but again half a season was just too short. So again, Seattle benefitted immensely from the entire Randy Johnson process. All told, he contributed nearly 60 wins to the Mariners, both in what he did as a player and in what he brought back in trade. It's worth noting that Johnson's performance was essential to Houston making the playoffs that year, which is of enormous value to any club. Seattle is still the overwhelming winner in this deal, but Houston might not entirely regret their decision either.

That brings us to the two Randy Johnson trades between New York and Arizona. In the first trade where Arizona sent Johnson to New York, Johnson pitched two seasons and accumulated about six wins. In return, Arizona received Javier Vazquez (who they flipped after a season for a package headlined by Chris Young), Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro (who they traded immediately as part of a package for Shawn Green). The end result was around five wins, though that number can increase dramatically if Chris Young ever becomes the player many thought he would (at least one guy thinks he can). Ultimately, the difference was about one win in favor of the Yankees.

In New York-Arizona II, the Yankees gave Johnson back to the Diamondbacks for two years (he then departed to san Francisco as a free agent), where he pitched his way to around four wins. In order to get these four wins, Arizona gave back four players, two of whom (Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson) were included in the deal to get Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates. So New York could have made out much better in this deal had Nady stayed healthy last year, though he has never been worth more than two wins in a season so it wouldn't have moved the total that much. With a lost year from Nady, New York received exactly zero wins from the trade. Also assuming a large part of the blame is the fact Ohlendorf and Alberto Gonzalez played predictably poorly as young players and were traded away before they had a chance to right it. Gonzalez was later flipped for Jhonny Nunez, who was a part of the deal that brought Nick Swisher to New York. I did not calculate that into the win totals here; it just seemed too secondary. So with small caveats, New York lost  four wins on this trade.

As a final item, I'd just like to list the players begat by trading Randy Johnson. Were I reading this, I would not find the specific names themselves to be tremendously interesting (although it is of note that Luis Vizcaino moved twice in deals related to Randy Johnson), more that the sheer number of them is in a certain way impressive.

Players Traded For Randy Johnson:
Mark Langston
Freddy Garcia
Carlos Guillen
John Halama
Javier Vazquez
Brad Halsey
Dioner Navarro
Luis Vizcaino
Ross Ohlendorf
Alberto Gonzalez
Steven Jackson

Players Traded For Players Traded For Randy Johnson:
Jeremy Reed
Miguel Olivo
Michael Morse
Miguel Ojeda
Nathaniel Mateo
Orlando Hernandez
Luis Vizcaino
Chris B. Young
Shawn Green
Evan MacLane
Xavier Nady
Damaso Marte
Jhonny Nunez


TheBoredGuy said...

I think your analysis needs to include whether or not a team trading for Johnson made the post-season. Obviously making the playoffs must be worth giving up some number of future wins.

TheBoredGuy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P1 Steven said...


That is some deep sportsy stuff! I would definately be one to argue that Houston gained alot in the trade the year they got Johnson from Seattle. Most importantly Johnson benefited! If you remember Johnson was really fighting through some tough times that year. His back was the big question mark & a major reason Seattle did not want to throw alot of money at him. (Besides the actual cost of the $$$)The first half of the year he had some real struggles including a game when Pudge had 9 RBI. The Houston trade proved 2 things. He still had it in his tank & he could pitch for a winner. Arizona gave him the richest deal in MLB history & we can all agree it was money well spent.