Jake Westbrook and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trade

It’s been a while since I posted anything.  There are a few reasons for that.  First of all, I happened to write two lengthy fictional posts about starting pitchers for the Cardinals which ended with those two pitchers getting injured.  And then those two pitchers were actually injured.  And they are still injured.  I’m not a superstitious person, but this gave me some pause.  Second, I started working on a novel and that took precedence over blogging about the Cardinals.  Third, the Cardinals just got depressing.  Even though they’re still in the playoff hunt (and thus a lot less depressing than some other teams) they’ve been playing with a sort of listlessness that makes watching the games infuriating.  I started paying attention the MLB at-bat feed rather than the actual game because there’s only so many times you can see someone swing at a Bud Norris “pitch” and miss.

But now Kyle Lohse is back to pitching again.  I’m done with my novel.  The Cardinals are playing better baseball, though they still seem befuddled by certain pitchers.  It’s time I start this back up again.  And what a time to start up, because the Cardinals have made an excruciatingly bad trade.

I ask you this: is there anyone out there that really, truly thinks it was a good idea to trade Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook?

Bernie Miklasz noted the following in his article discussing the trade:

Since the start of the 2008 season, Ludwick ranks second in RBIs, third in homers and fourth in slugging percentage among NL outfielders.
Let’s just let that sink in.  We traded this guy for Jake Westbrook.  Second in RBIS basically means nothing, Ludwick spent a lot of that time hitting behind Albert Pujols, who is on base all the time.  But third in HR?  Fourth in SLG?  An argument could be made that Ludwick is one of the top 10 outfielders in the NL.  And we traded him for Jake Westbrook.

A few Jake Westbrook facts:

Jake Westbrook has a 4.65 ERA.  This is not good. In offense-heavy years, this is hovering around average.  In 2010, this is definitely below average.  But of course, ERA doesn’t really show you the whole picture so…

Jake Westbrook has a 4.67 FIP and 4.41 xFIP.  Both of these stats take a varying amount of luck out of ERA and calculate it based on strikeout/walk/flyball/HR percentage.  While they don’t tell you how many runs a pitcher has given up over an average of 9 innings, they do a great job of telling you how many runs he will tend to give up over an average of 9 innings.  It also tells you that his ERA isn’t really predicated that much on luck or stadium effects.  He really is below average.

Jake Westbrook won’t pitch 9 innings anyway.  The few people who see a silver lining in this trade frame Westbrook as an innings-eater, a guy who the Cards needed because Garcia is going to pitch far more than he ever has, Carpenter is fragile, and the rotation needs stability.  But Westbrook is coming off Tommy John surgery, didn’t pitch last year, and probably has an innings ceiling just like Garcia.  He’s averaged only six innings a game.

Jake Westbrook isn’t signed for next year and won’t even be a Type B free agent.  In the last updated Elias rankings estimations by mlbtraderumors.com, Westbrook was nestled somewhere between Vin Mazzaro and Derek Holland.  He was far short of luminaries such as Brian Bannister and Josh Outman, who has not even pitched this year.  He gives the Cardinals nothing past this season.  Ryan Ludwick was under team control for 2011.

Basically the Cardinals traded an above average OF with one more year of arbitration for a 2 month rental of a below average starting pitcher.

In a vacuum I have no problem with either acquiring Westbrook or trading Ludwick.  Westbrook isn’t the prototypical Duncan project.  He already throws a sinker.  But he’s better than Jeff Suppan.  Ludwick was getting pushed out by Jay and was going to be expensive next year.  I get that.  But why this trade?  Certainly they could have gotten more value for Ludwick who, again, is third in the NL in home runs among OF over the last 2+ years.   Maybe they could have swung the prospects for a better pitcher.  Or a middle infielder.

And even more certainly, they could have acquired the obviously below-average and overpaid Westbrook without trading one of their best hitters.

The way the trade went down even proves the latter point.  The Cardinals sent Ludwick to San Diego, who sent Cory Kluber to the Indians.  Kluber is a 24 year old righthanded pitcher who is, like any decent 24 year old pitcher should, dominating AA batters.  He’s doing well but he’s old (24) for his level and he doesn’t have a great track record.  His career minor league ERA is 4.29 and his career minor league FIP is 4.00.  And he’s always been a little old for his league.

Did the Cards have anyone like this?  Of course they did.  Hell, PJ Walters is pretty close to Cory Kluber.  He’s a year older, but he’s followed almost exactly the same career path, succeeding in the minors as a slightly older prospect.  Walters’s career ERA/FIP are even better than Klubers  (3.66/3.75) in more innings.

Charles Fick in AA/AAA is the same age as Klubel and, again, has a similar career.  Who the hell is Charles Fick?  Yeah, I don’t really know either.  But that’s the point. Cleveland essentially took a nobody for Westbrook. A PJ Walters or Charles Fick. Why did we have to trade Ludwick?  We didn’t.  It was a stupid trade.  We could have and should have gotten Westbrook for a song.  Instead, we traded our starting RF.

That’s not a move that a contending team makes.
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