Analysis: Cespedes and Simon Improve the Club

After news broke of the Tigers moves Thursday morning, reaction from most fans was mixed – with many excited for the addition of Yoenis Cespedes but not thrilled about the loss of Rick Porcello. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Alfredo Simon from Cincinnati was rather underwhelming when compared to Porcello. Just how do these moves stack up in total?

First off, a general caveat. This analysis will be looking at things from a purely objective fashion – fan favorites or being drafted and developed by the organization isn’t being taken into account. It’s simply focusing on the productivity the club will receive from the players on the field.

Ultimately, the Tigers added a power hitting All-Star outfielder in Yoenis Cespedes, a middle reliever in Alex Wilson, and right-hander Alfredo Simon. They also added minor league lefty Gabe Speier, but he’s still years away from contributing.

Conversely, the Tigers gave up righty starter Rick Porcello, as well as shortstop Eugenio Suarez and minor league right-hand Jonathon Crawford.

The key pieces of the deal are obviously Cespedes and Porcello, with Cespedes filling a hole in the middle of the Tigers order, along with providing a substantial defensive upgrade in left field (with J.D. Martinez expected to shift to right field). The acquisition of Cespedes also means that the Tigers can utilize Rajai Davis in center fielder, sharing time with Anthony Gose, as opposed to him being the full-time starter, a role it’s unlikely he’s ready for.

Cespedes has been roughly a three win player in each of his first three seasons in MLB, and given his age is right in the heart of what should be his peak years, as well as early 2015 projections indicating him to be in that range again, it would appear to be a safe bet to get about three wins out of Cespedes. That might not actually be All-Star caliber, even if he was an All-Star last season, but it’s still the production of a very good corner outfielder.

In addition, the Tigers will get to platoon Davis and Gose, optimizing the matchups between the two. Both Gose and Davis were projected to be worth about one win apiece – Gose entirely because of his very good defense, and Davis mostly because of average offense. But much of that is through the utilization of proper matchups, and just holding their own in more challenging matchups. So using Gose for his defense, Davis for his better hitting and both for their base running, it’s entirely possible that combined they can be a two win player.

That’s a net of an additional three wins thanks to the changes in the outfield.

In the bullpen, the hope will be that Wilson provides another reliable middle reliever to the group. There’s of course no telling how Wilson will do, and a limited usage reliever usually doesn’t have much of an impact as far as wins are concerned. With so much uncertainty still with that group, there’s simply no way to know what he’ll provide, even if there’s reason to be optimistic he’ll be a benefit.

Conversely, giving up Suarez is not a huge loss for the club. Yes, Suarez filled in adequately for Jose Iglesias as the most-days shortstop throughout the summer and into the fall. But with Iglesias slated to return, Suarez was likely destined for the bench, or Toledo. And like Wilson, in limited use as a potential utility infielder, it’s hard to see him making a substantial contribution. In addition, the Tigers still have Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez, who can give them similar production. Basically, the Tigers trading Suarez costs them nothing as far as on-field production in 2015.

So, that brings us to the rotation, where the equation is a balance between Porcello and Simon, as they are essentially being swapped out of the rotation for each other (barring an unforeseen or unplanned move by the Tigers to go out and sign Max Scherzer, which if that were to happen, would likely result in Simon heading to the bullpen, or competing with Shane Greene for the final rotation spot).

When it comes to Porcello, by many accounts, he made a leap last season – his ERA dropped from being in the mid-4’s down nearly a full point to the mid-3’s, he eclipsed 200 innings for the first time in his career and became a 4-win pitcher, according to bWAR (which utilizes ERA for calculating pitcher value).

On the other hand, when one references FanGraphs and Porcello’s fWAR, he remained relatively stable compared to the past few years, roughly a three win pitcher. What changed was that while in previous years it appeared as if Porcello was being negatively impacted by poor defense, which was no longer a factor. His FIP when comparing to 2013 actually went up slightly. Many have hypothesized that Porcello benefited from the better infield defense on the right side of the field from Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera, a substantial upgrade from Prince Fielder and Omar Infante.

2015 projections are not yet out in full, but those more statistically inclined are likely to project that Porcello will continue to be a roughly three win pitcher, attributing his 2014 success more to a reversal in fortunes rather than a dramatic leap in performance, especially when his strikeout rate fell by more than one strikeout for every nine innings, and his K:BB ratio actually fell. On the other hand, many scouts felt as if Porcello made some clear strides in his effectiveness last year, and his success was more attributable to that.

But, even conservatively, the Tigers lost three wins from their rotation. And are looking to replace it with Simon. The Reds pitcher came out of relative obscurity last season after being used by Cincinnati in middle relief the prior two years. He had an outstanding first half of the season, with a 12-3 record and a 2.70 ERA, leading to an All-Star game invite. However, that success wasn’t sustainable – his ERA for the second half jumped to 4.52, his K:BB ratio fell below two. Overall, it resulted in a pitcher that was worth two wins according to bWAR (almost entirely from the first half), and one win according to fWAR.

So, the spread between these two could be wide, or could be narrow, depending on your point of view. A four win Porcello vs a zero win Simon is a net negative, a three win Porcello vs. a two win Simon is a net positive for the Tigers.

If the Tigers gave up on a budding star in Porcello as someone like TigsTown senior Analyst Neil Weinberg has asserted earlier in 2014, it could spell trouble for the end results. If Porcello remains a four win or better pitcher, and Simon is only a one win starter, that basically negates the entire gain the club got by adding Cespedes.

On the other hand, if Porcello reverts to his FIP-expected performance, so long as Simon is above a replacement level pitcher, the Tigers should come out with a net gain from all of this. How much will depend on exactly how much success Simon has.

Ultimately, the Tigers made a decision that they’d rather have the certainty in the outfield while adding a bit of a question mark to the rotation. If you take the average expected outcome between Porcello and Simon, the Tigers probably just got a win better based on this trade. Plus three wins in the outfield, compared to a two-win loss in the rotation (average of 3-4 and average of 1-2). That’s a reasonable upgrade, though not a home run, unless you believe the Tigers’ scouting department will have unearthed another undervalued player (something they’ve done frequently over the years).

But either way, unless you’re emotionally attached to Porcello, or are still holding a grudge over the Doug Fister trade from a year ago, this wasn’t a bad day for the Tigers.

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