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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thome / Rowand deal: Preliminary Thoughts 

With the season one-third complete I thought now might be a good time to examine the Phillies big off-season transaction: their decision to deal Jim Thome to the White Sox for Aaron Rowand. (Apparently I wasn't alone with the thought. Jim Salisbury wrote a column in the Inquirer Sunday on the very same subject. Read it here.) Was the decision to deal their star player a good one? Who benefited?

Let me start by noting that Jim Thome is having a monster of a season for the White Sox. As I write this his GPA is a whopping .359 and his ISO numbers are .366 … In just 52 games Thome has 51.2 Runs Created and creates 10.36 runs per 27 outs. The man homers once every nine At-Bats. Those are fearsome numbers.

What the stats mean:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)

Offensively, Aaron Rowand is having a pretty good season: .285 GPA / .210 ISO. Those numbers are above his career averages of .266 & .171 … So far this season Rowand has 25.7 Runs Created, for a 6.14 RC per 27 outs. That’s pretty good and makes him a potent hitter next to players like Abreu and Howard and Utley. He’s probably contributed more punch to the Phillies lineup than expected … Impressively he isn’t a “Citizens Bank” hitter: his road GPA is actually higher than his home GPA (.326 vs. .261)

If there is a phase of the game at the plate that Rowand conspicuously fails at, it is in drawing walks. Simply put, he’s terrible at it: .030 BB / PA, better than just Mike Lieberthal (.013) and by far the worst on the team. Rowand’s problem is that he doesn’t work the count: he sees just 3.23 pitches per plate appearance, worst on the team. Even Jimmy Rollins, a player that I complain never works the count is better than Rowand: 3.43 pitches-per, .074 BB / PA.

Defensively Rowand has been a major disappointment: he’s made some nice plays and his catch that broke his nose was the most talked about play in baseball that day. However, the numbers don’t support the idea that Rowand is living up to his reputation as a defensive wizard. As I write this, he has a Zone Rating of .860, ranking him tenth of eleven NL centerfielders. Even Steve Finley, a player whose defensive skills are in a marked decline has a better ZR than Rowand. Rowand also ranks just eighth in Range Factor.

Confused about what I’m talking about?:
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Range Factor (RF): (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.

Thome, never known of his glove, has been relegated to DH duty. So far the deal has been a mild disappointment: Rowand hasn’t been the defensive presence he was expected to be and while he had contributed with his bat, he hasn’t been that great offensively. True, Thome is having a great season for the White Sox, however, Ryan Howard is also having a great season and his progress should be a factor in this analysis. Howard has just one home run fewer than Thome (19) and has 41.4 Runs Created with a .315 GPA and a .316 ISO. Simply put, the downgrade from replacing Howard with Thome is virtually nil. Oh, and Ryan Howard is nine years younger than Jim Thome.

So the Thome – Rowand deal, in the long term, will probably still benefit the Phillies (Thome was actually quoted in the Inquirer as saying that the deal benefitted both he and Ryan Howard), though at the current time you’d have to say that it was a wash. Rowand is probably doing better offensively than Jason Michaels- our likely CF in 2006 had the Rowand deal gone undone -would, though Michaels would probably be a stronger defender based on what we've seen. The difference between Howard and Thome is nil. The Phillies advantage lays with the fact that they went much younger in their lineup and got players whose upsides are impressive.

-Phils won 4-3 against the D-backs in an impressive game where they drove Brandon Webb off the mound without a win. Tonight Cole Hamels goes for the Phils. Notice the struggles facing the Atlanta Braves: their loss to the Nats last night drops them 7 back of the Mets and two and a half back of the Phils for second. The Braves are in serious danger of falling to fourth place.

You say the Rowand deal is a mild dissapointment and go on to explain why you think so. Did you forget we got Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haigwood in the trade also?

Rowand might be slightly dissapointing defensively. I am confident, though, he'll pick it up.

Rowand brings FIRE to an underachieving ball club. Something Thome never really did despite his amazing leadership qualities.
Good post and well thought out. A few additional thoughts:

1) Thome had a monster April, and a great, but not monster, May. Howard had a poor April and a great May. I'd hazard to guess that Howard will outperform, or at least match, Thome over the rest of the year.

2) Thome is super awesome against righties, but below average against lefties, which only exacerbated the Phillies' general woes against lefties. Rowand helps alleviate that.

3) Most of Thome's extra value lies in the fact that he's a lot better than Howard at drawing walks. Hopefully Howard will improve in this skill.

4) I believe that Rowand will improve in his defense over the remainder of the season. He lead the Majors in ZR over the past 2 years in CF, and I don't think the first month plus is indicative of his overall ability. At any rate, he's better than Lofton was.
I also believe Rowand should improve as he becomes more familiar with the NL hitters and CBP.

One more point about Thome: He was frequently injured playing 1B every day. In fact, he's currently listed as day-to-day with a groin pull. One could assume that his body would be unable to withstand the rigors of playing defense on a daily basis. In that respect, trading Jim was the best option both for Thome and for the Phillies.
I don't really buy the idea that Rowand is slumping defensively, and I'm not just saying that because he takes on walls. There is much better objective evidence than what you cite here.

On the one hand, we have three years of play-by-play data from The Fielding Bible plus/minus system and David Pinto's PMR that tell us he is one of the best, if not THE best, and then on the other hand we have less than half a season's worth of zone rating – an inferior measure compared to the first two [underestimates range, overestimates hands].

I'm surprised you brought up range factor at all, as it is a very poor measure of defense. It is completely dependent on opportunity. You can be an awful centerfielder, but if your pitchers give up fly ball after fly ball to centerfield, you'll end up with a nice range factor. On the other end of the spectrum, Willie Mays would have a poor range factor if he played behind high strikeout pitchers.
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