Remembering the Hamilton-Volquez Trade

I still wish he’d bend the bill. It just looks weird.

I’m going to steal a little from Lar’s style for this post, and I hope he doesn’t mind too much. This is a kind of a deadline deal post that isn’t about a deadline deal, but it’s one of the more important deals made in the past few years, or was it?

A few days shy of Christmas in 2007, the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds opened respective early gifts. The Reds needed an arm for the starting rotation, and Edinson Volquez was the answer. The Rangers needed an impact bat, and Josh Hamilton was the guy. Oh yeah, the Reds also got a smaller (figuratively and literally) gift in Danny Ray Herrera (you can see all the way at the bottom in the almost footnote like “The 23-year-old Herrera spent most of last season at Double-A, going 5-2 with a 3.78 ERA in 34 relief appearances”).

Over the course of the 2008 season, both Hamilton and Volquez were All-Stars (literally and figuratively). Hamilton played in 156 games with a slash line of .304/.371/.530 with 32 HR, 98 R, and 132 RBI, but he did cost the Rangers 13 runs while he meandered around center field. Luckily for Hamilton, most people only count offense, and even counting his defense, he was still worth exactly 4 WAR last season. Not bad, and that doesn’t even include all the new fans he made with that awesome Home Run Derby performance.

Volquez wasn’t too shabby, either. He made 32 starts and hurled 196 innings (almost 6.1 innings per start). In addition, Volquez netted a nifty 17-6 record with a 3.21 ERA (3.60 FIP). The positives were almost overwhelming – 206 strikeouts, 167 hits, and only 14 home runs while pitching at Great American Ballpark -, but his 93 walks were just a bit worrisome. Still, he, similar to Hamilton, garnered a healthy 4.1 WAR over the course of the 2008 season, and Volquez seemed headed to forefront of talks about the best young pitchers in the game.

All of this (especially the similar WAR values) led to such headlines such as: Josh Hamilton and Edinson Volquez: What a Great Trade and Hamilton, Volquez Create Perfect Trade. There were several of these posts that talked about what a great trade and how even the trade ended up being. Even Josh Hamilton stated, “Just tell everyone it’s a draw. Both teams are winners in the trade.” Wayne Krivsky, particularly proud of himself, tried to remember “one [trade] in recent times where it paid off so quickly for each team.” You can’t fault them for the analysis. As of 2008, it really was an even trade.

Of course, then this season happened. Josh Hamilton has made a couple trips to the disabled list, but even when he’s played, it hasn’t been particularly good. In 58 games, he has a slash line of .226/.277/.377, but his defense has been positive (+6.3 runs). All told, he’s worth 0.5 WAR. Volquez, on the other side, hasn’t been any better. He just had to undergo Tommy John surgery, and he made 2 other trips to the DL. He’s made 9 starts with 49 innings (a little over 5 innings a start) and has a 4.35 ERA. All told, he’s worth 0.2 WAR.

So, I guess it has remained an even trade, but the optimism has certainly waned considerably. Hamilton’s injury problems have reappeared, and Volquez is out at least another season with 2011 probably the soonest he could be back to Cy Young-type form.

But the point isn’t even to analyze the trade now. I’m not sure why this is, but we have this penchant for trying to analyze everything. The problem is that we have no context to go on, and there’s no way to prognosticate the results. So why do we try? Why can’t we wait for the next 4 years or so to see what the real value is? Why must we prepare the words we are going to have to eat later? As for the future of this deal, no one knows. Volquez is out for another season, but with Hamilton’s injury history, no one really knows how much he will play. And then, we have to worry about the 3 or so seasons after that, which no one can even begin to imagine

People have already judged all of this year’s deadline deals, and GMs have been raked over the coals/lauded like they’re the Messiah. How does anyone know? And if we all agree that we have no idea of knowing, why do we spend time typing out analysis that really is worth nothing? Cleveland’s deal may end up working out awesome for them, and Cliff Lee may destroy his elbow two starts from now. It’s the GM’s job to try to forecast. That’s what they’re paid to do, and they’re terrible at it. But they have to because that’s the only way to do their jobs. They have to plan for the future. Writers don’t have to. Why not spend time re-analyzing the trades from 5-6 years ago that we can actually judge? Only through history can we judge, and most of the time, we don’t do a very good job of it then even when we have all of the facts.

Oh yeah, about that footnote. Daniel Ray Herrera has thrown 44 innings with a 2.64 ERA (3.9 7 FIP) and is worth 0.3 WAR. Who thinks that by the time the next 4-6 years is up that he gives at least one of Hamilton-Volquez a run for their money in the WAR or VORP race, especially when he starts getting more high-leverage situations?

Just stop. I know it’s hard. It’s like smoking cigarrettes. It’s bad for you, you’ve been doing it for so long that you don’t know how you’ll do without it, and everyone else is still doing it, but you’ve seen the evidence that it’s bad and you know everything will be better if you just stop. So just stop.

Another fun deadline post about why we like the deadline so much, and it was written by two people (Joe Posnanski and Bill James) much smarter than I am.

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3 Responses to “Remembering the Hamilton-Volquez Trade”

  1. lar Says:

    Hey Mark, I don't mind at all. Good piece. I wish I had an answer for you, though. I guess we just like to explain things to ourselves. For that, we need some sort of structure in which to think about it, and that seems to lead to these premature analyses. I'm not sure it's possible to do anything else.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Thanks Lar. But now Jonah Keri has to go put up his own article on SI.com about looking back at the deal. I beat him to it and will nothing to show for it. So goes life.

  3. Jorge Says No! Says:

    Good piece. I enjoyed your take on the trade.

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