Would Felix Pie be worth Dan Uggla?

Yesterday I discussed two more potential partners for the services of one Dan Uggla. One of the more interesting partners in such a trade would be the Baltimore Orioles, if only for their depth of pitching prospects and outfield candidates. One of the things I’ve been seeing on the Orioles blogs and from comments made here or in other places (special thanks to Bret, the Orioles fan who dropped by and shared some insight on the team’s system and players) is that the team is unwilling to deal a lot of their young talent. In fact, just today Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reports that O’s president Andy McPhail is unwilling to deal young players for short-term fixes (hat tip to MLB Trade Rumors). The fact that Uggla is under arbitration control for only the next two years, combined with the fact that the Orioles do have a future option coming at third base in propsect Josh Bell, and it would seem that the Orioles would be hard-pressed to make a deal.

Still, I pondered what a deal would look like yesterday. A lot of fans have been clamoring for one of their three surplus outfielders to be dealt one-for-one for Dan Uggla. I doubt that Luke Scott would be of interest to the Marlins due to his age and arbitration status. This would leave either Nolan Reimold or Felix Pie of interest to the Marlins. Of the two, the player I am most interested in is Felix Pie.

As I mentioned yesterday, Pie came to the Orioles from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Garrett Olson and a minor leaguer. When both these players were dealt, they were both considered prospects who had more or less flopped, but Pie held the most upside. Pie was young for every level he played; the Cubs first brought him up to the big leagues at age 22. It would be rare to find any player who could handle the majors at that age. By the time he arrived in Baltimore, he had seen two very short stints in the majors and had been written off by Chicago. The Orioles got a great buy-low deal, and were decently rewarded with a solid season.

Now I’ve been thinking about whether Pie-for-Uggla straight up would be an even trade. How can we determine this? I think it’s time for projections and the trade value calculator!

First off, based on my projections for Uggla and the salary figures I’ve been hearing, let’s bump up his expected arbitration salaries to $8M and $11M for the next two years. That knocks his surplus value down to $13M.

Pie is the type of player whose value is primarily tied to his defense. This year he made great strides at the plate and rode a late-season hot streak to an average offensive season overall. Running a Marcels 5/4/3 on him, I got a projected wOBA of .313 for Pie. Nothing unusual showed regarding his 2009 numbers. He had an unspectacular .309 BABIP, so there wasn’t a problem with unsustainable amounts of singles. His power jump was a bit surprising, but that seems to be a norm in player development; the power comes last. I do not think there needs to be a big fall from his 2009 season.

Since he’s a lefty hitter, I figured it would be important to see if he was significantly platooned and, sure enough, over the course of his career, Pie had faced less than 100 of his total 568 PA against lefties. I kept the assumption that he would be platooned in Florida, pairing up with our most awesome Brett Carroll. For playing time, this means that I’ve projected Pie to receive 436 PA and 112 games on defense.

Defense was a tricky proposition for me to project. I did a 5/4/3 Marcels for his work in the outfield, but did them seperately for left and center field. Due to the regression, his work in left field turned out to be s+5 runs per 150 games. He had only 43 defensive games in left field over the course of his career, however, so that could be expected. In center field, Pie has accumulated 110 defensive games, so we have more assurance about his skill at that position (though less than a season’s worth of data is very little nonetheless). In that projection, he came out as +4 runs per 150 games in center field.

Clearly that does not mesh. From positional adjustments alone, we would expect that a center fielder would be around nine runs better in a corner outfield spot per 150 games. I took a weighted average of the left field projection and the center field projection with added positional adjustment runs and got a value of +11 runs per 150 games, seven runs better than his expected value in center field and right in line with what his UZR/150 totals have said.

Given those projections and that playing time, here’s what I would expect:

-6.1 wRAA + 0.8 baserunning + 8.3 UZR + -5.2 positional adjustment (corner OF) + 14.5 replacement adj. = 12.3 Runs Above Average, or 1.2 WAR

If you’ll recall, I had both Eric Hinske and Endy Chavez at around that value as well, so there are availabilities in the free agent market for similar production.

The key to the trade is the improvement of Pie. How much improvement could you expect from a 25-year old outfielder who finally got some decent playing time? On the one hand, he’s athletic enough by all accounts that he is not a threat to fall off the map. His improvements this year seem normal, with no monstrous BABIP’s or unusually high jumps in volatile categories. Bill James’ projections, recently released in the 2010 Bill James Handbook and available on FanGraphs, have him projected at a .330 wOBA when discounting stolen bases and caught stealing. James’ projections are usually a bit generous, but I’d be willing to bump Pie up five runs, mostly on offense, putting him at around the level he was at in 2009. For the following years, I bumped him three and two runs respectively. This is just a guess, but it makes some sense, as he’ll be hitting close to his prime age.

Pie will have likely one more season available before he begins heading into arbitration. In trying to give him a scale similar to the one I gave Uggla, I hazarded a $2M/$3.5M/$5M guess. This could be entirely wrong (we’ll get to that a bit later). Here’s what the calculator says.

PieVal

Yes, that $27.4M is a lot of a value, even from Pie. It’s worth noting that even if Pie was worth 1.2 WAR over the course of those four seasons, he would still bring around $13M in value, pretty much evening out the trade. Should the Marlins do it? Oddly enough, yes.

Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Dan Uggla, Felix Pie, Miami Marlins

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  • Bret

    Michael,

    Thanks for the acknowledgement in the last post. I think this is a really great site, wish the O’s had one like it.

    The question really is what are the O’s willing to do. After watching MacPhail for the past 3 years, he is very cautious with pitching. Plus the O’s big weakness is and has been pitching. Their ERA of 5.13 last year is the major reason they can’t compete in the AL East. Offensively, I think they are going to be outstanding next year with 3 very good outfielders, a soon to be star at catcher, Roberts at 2nd plus Josh Bell or whoever they pick up. But I don’t think MacPhail is going to give up pitching depth until he is sure Matusz can be an ace, Tillman can be solid etc. Right now, they are throwing pitchers against the wall to see who sticks. Even Guthrie who I thought was solid was terrible last year. Therefore unless a deal blows him away I don’t see him letting young pitchers go.

    Also, I read the Bill James projection for Pie the other day and I think it is underselling him. The guy has never been given a full time job and been left alone. His faults are he is a bit of a space cadet and doesn’t always know which base to throw to and makes mental mistakes but he is a potential legitimate 5 tool player. I would love having him be an everyday player on the O’s if there was a spot for him – maybe they can play 4 outfielders next year without a shortstop.

    • Michael Jong

      Bret,

      Thanks for the kind words on the site, I try my best. For great content on the O’s, I would suggest Camden Crazies; I’m a big fan of Daniel, the guy who writes over there, as he really knows what he’s talking about.

      I read that MacPhail isn’t interested in trading into his pitching depth for a short term solution, which is what Uggla probably would be. This makes a deal even harder to imagine. Still, I’m very interested to see how these discussions go.

  • http://www.sodomojo.com Harrison

    Hey Michael,

    I was just reading through old material in Fangraphs and noticed one of your comments speculating Harang’s value to the Mariners.

    Your above 3 months in front of the curve on that one as I really agree with you. Not enough to drop the ol’ricky campaign but I think he could be a sutible replacement :)

    • Michael Jong

      Harrison,

      I was? I’m impressed with myself, damn. Thanks for the find Harrison.

      And you damn well won’t get Ricky, even if I have storm down to South Florida and shake up Larry Beinfest myself.

  • http://camdencrazies.com Daniel

    Thanks very much for the kind words Michael. I’ve been going on the assumption myself that Pie wouldn’t be a complete full-time player regardless and so 1.5 WAR (and so around $15 M) is what I’d have him projected at to be a little conservative. There’s the chance he improves as you have him, but also he could be “figured out” due to his less than ideal plate discipline.

    I will say that I don’t think the O’s are really going to acquire Uggla and the Giants – who could really use the offense and are in a better position to pick up an in-his-prime player (ie, closer to contention) – might be the more likely trade partner. Quality analysis though.

  • Michael Jong

    Daniel,

    Glad to see you hop over here for the O’s-Marlins conversation, it’s been a nice few days of coverage for me (otherwise, it’d be dead time in terms of Marlins news).

    I agree with you that the O’s aren’t a likely candidate. I stick with them because I love what they have to offer, but reading that MacPhail isn’t interested in a short-term fix (and rightfully so, as that team isn’t ready to compete) makes it pretty clear that if they plug someone at the position, it’s going to be via free agency and likely on the cheap.