Monday, January 11, 2016

The Big Trade For... Ben Revere?

In what might be the last move of the offseason for the team, the Nationals traded away beleaguered reliever Drew Storen to the Blue Jays for speedy outfielder Ben Revere (there is a player to be named later and some cash involved as well, but for our purposes it’s a straight up one for one trade). The general sense from fans and the media is that this deal is a win for both sides. In the most basic sense, the Nationals needed another outfielder and picked one up and the Blue Jays needed bullpen help and picked up a reliever, so I suppose that is true. But there is clearly more to this trade than just those most basic facts.

Let’s break this trade down into pieces from the Nationals’ perspective. The Nationals had a need for another outfielder, either to play every day in center field in place of Michael A Taylor or to fill a fourth outfielder role as depth for potential regression/injuries. The team was also sporting a right handed hitting heavy lineup, even after the addition of Daniel Murphy, and was on the market for a left handed hitter. Finally, that right handed heavy lineup was missing an obvious lead off hitter, someone to set the table ahead of Bryce Harper.

From an old school perspective, Revere might fit all those holes. He’s sported a .300 or better batting average for three straight seasons with a .306 average in 2015. It’s also nearly impossible to strike Ben Revere out. In an era where the average player strikes out over 20% of the time, the highest rate Revere has ever struck out at was 10.7% back in 2013. Revere almost never even swings and misses, with a contact rate on swings close to 90%. Combined with Daniel Murphy, the Nationals can now trot out a couple guys who constantly put the ball in play and should even out a previously strike out prone lineup. On top of Revere’s penchant for putting the ball in play, he’s also an excellent base stealer. Over his career, he has an 80% stolen base success rate and offers that speed on the basepaths Dusy Baker was talking about in his introductory press conference.

Unfortunately, that’s about all the praise I can heap on Revere. Sure, he has posted impressive batting averages of late, but it’s a .300 batting average made up almost entirely of singles. He’s only hit 4 CAREER home runs (interestingly enough half of those have come against the Nationals). In over 2,600 plate appearances, Revere has only 66 doubles. He’s not much of a threat to do anything but slap a single and that means he’s actually a below average hitter. And while Revere is very good at avoiding strikeouts, he’s just about allergic to taking a walk. His highest walk rate ever was only 5.4% in 2011 and it was as low as 2% in 2014. 2%! So despite that .306 batting average last year, his OBP was only .342. For reference, that would have been only the 5th highest OBP on the Nationals last year. That’s 20 points lower than the player Revere is ostensibly replacing, Denard Span, and lower than Anthony Rendon, who hit only .264 last year. Revere might not be that table setter he’s been talked up to be.

Despite Revere’s obvious speed and his highlight reel catches, he’s not a highly rated defender in center field either. By both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), he’s a below average center fielder who costs runs, not saves runs. In left field, he is closer to an average defensive player, but still not elite. So those highlight reel catches? Plays that, with a good read off the bat, would have looked routine turned into diving catches by poor first steps.

While it looks like the Nationals just traded for a poor man’s Denard Span, it’s not like Revere can’t serve a useful role on the team. The question becomes what role Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker will carve out for Revere. He’s the polar opposite of MAT at the plate, but neither of them are ideal leadoff hitters due to lack of OBP. Taylor is a much better defender, especially in center, and the younger player of the two. Is it worth cutting into Taylor’s development by making Revere a full time player and sitting Taylor on the bench? Keep in mind that the Blue Jays traded him away because they didn’t see him as a regular player in their outfield. If Revere takes on that 4th outfielder role, playing in center field on a semi regular basis, spelling Werth in LF, becoming a super sub for late game defensive/base running situations, he will be a useful piece. But he’s not an everyday player on this Nationals team.

Revere could be an important part of the Nationals in 2016, but he didn’t come without a cost. Despite what Nationals fans may feel, Storen is a talented reliever and might even become the Blue Jays closer the second he touches down north of the border. Relievers of Storen’s caliber don’t command huge trade returns, especially considering he has only one year left on his contract, but the Nationals clearly didn’t get market value here. For comparison, the Orioles traded for Andrew Miller and had to give up elite pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez who figures to hold down one of the five starting rotation spots on the Red Sox next year. Don’t think Miller is a good comp for Storen? Well how about Tyler Clippard, the guy who used to set up for Storen. The Nationals last year traded him to the A’s for everyday player Yunel Escobar. So how did the Nationals end up trading their top reliever and getting only a 4th outfielder in return when previous deals have netted top prospects or everyday players? They have only themselves to blame.

Whatever trade value Storen would have commanded was torpedoed by the way the Nationals treated him. Twice, they looked at Storen’s dominant regular season and demoted him by trading or signing for a replacement closer. Then they backed themselves into a corner this offseason by holding onto both Papelbon and Storen, a situation that clearly could not sustain itself into the season. Instead of negotiating from a position of strength, the Nationals lost all leverage in their discussion around Storen as teams knew Rizzo had no choice but to unload one of his two closers.

The Nationals get the fourth outfielder everyone knew they needed for 2016 and presumably sorted out the back of their bullpen. They sold low on Drew Storen, though, and will now have to hope that Papelbon can keep his hands off of his teammates’ throats and be the stopper in the 9th inning the Nationals have long been searching for. It could all work out, I suppose, but it’s hard to believe that Ben Revere is really the answer to the offseason long search to complete this team.

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