It’s no secret to those who read my work, particularly trade analyses like this one, that I use lots of statistics in my arguments. That doesn’t mean I think stats are infallible, or anything; I just trust them more than “intangibles.”
Consider this analysis a rare deviation from that. For once, I’m going to go with my gut here rather than relying on the numbers. Not that the numbers necessarily disagree with my gut; in fact, I don’t think they do, but the overwhelming reaction I got from this deal came not from any extensive research, but from my “man, isn’t this just damn typical” gut feeling.
The Oakland A’s are the team I’m invested in. They’ve been my favorite team since August of 1999, and I don’t see that changing, even though I live on the other side of the country. It follows, then, that I’ve been rooting for Vince Mazzaro and Justin Marks to succeed for the past two years.
Before we look at what Mazzaro and Marks are, let’s look at what they’re supposed to be.
Mazzaro was a hyped draft pick out of high school half a decade ago, who could throw a 95-mph sinker and a good slider for strikes, expected to be a groundballing middle-of-the-rotation starter. Marks was a high pick in 2009 with four nice pitches who was expected to tear through the low minors en route to being a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Since both Mazzaro and Marks still have their stuff intact, what they’re supposed to be is still largely…what they’re supposed to be. The A’s drafted Mazzaro and Marks to turn into #3 and #4 starters, respectively; the Royals are trading for them still expecting them to attain that value.
Such pitchers are a reasonable return for an average-if-unexceptional left fielder in David DeJesus, especially given that Mazzaro’s comes with 35 MLB starts under his belt. After all, the Royals have had all sorts of trouble finding good pitching, and with Aaron Crow and Tim Melville taking steps back in 2010, even the minor league depth isn’t as good as it was supposed to be.
The problem here, from Kansas City’s perspective, is that Mazzaro and Marks show none of the consistency required to attain their potential.
Both seasons of Mazzaro’s major league career have seen him get off to quick starts before falling apart after a month. The guy was sent down in September of 2010; how often do you see that?
Stuff-wise, he hasn’t developed as hoped; his supposedly plus sinker has failed to give him even average groundball rates, and it lost nearly 2 mph in 2010. He’s completely failed to establish it in the majors, which is troubling for a pitcher who throws his heater as much as Mazzaro. To his credit, Mazzaro has established both his slider and curve as solid major league pitches, but they aren’t good enough to make up for the fastball, and his changeup isn’t much either.
To some degree, that’s all well and good, though: the guy’s just 24, after all. But I can’t help but thinking there’s something more going on here. After all, Mazzaro never pitched well in A-ball, and his career was on the verge of collapse before a big 2008 in Double-A turned it around. That 2008 is his only professional season in which he’s pitched well with any consistency, and the unusual timing of his September demotion speaks volumes about Oakland’s frustration. Now, if he had absolute top-of-the-line, ace-quality stuff, perhaps you could forgive the adjustment problems and spotty track record, but this is a guy who could be a third starter with everything breaking right. With everything going like this instead? That reminds me of another Royals hurler, Kyle Davies: a guy with a good fastball and breaking ball but seemingly zero ability to pitch well for two months in a row.
Justin Marks? He had the exact same problem with consistency, which is even less excusable for a guy who was supposed to be dominating Low-A as a 22-year-old college draftee than a guy like Mazzaro who’s still in the adjustment process in the majors. His defense-independent numbers don’t look bad, but that’s largely due to a couple of big runs of great pitching, while his control would desert him far too often at other times.
I’m emphasizing the inconsistency of these two pitchers because it points to both being less than the sum of their parts. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance on a guy like that, because if they can right the ship, you just found a good player. But still, the Royals have too many of these guys lying around (Davies, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow) to keep making the same mistake. Selling David DeJesus for two pitchers fairly likely to be non-factors isn’t the sort of move the Royals can afford to make. DeJesus, of course, is more than the sum of his parts—a guy with average-across-the-board skills that tends to go unnoticed yet do enough right to be a very solid player. Billy Beane’s built his reputation collecting guys like that for guys like Mazzaro, who seem like they should be able to “get it,” but never do.
I get why the Royals made this trade, but man, it’s a risk. Marks had better come around, and KC’s pitching coach needs to work overtime to figure out how to get Mazzaro’s sinker to work in the majors for more than two starts in a season. After GM Dayton Moore had an impressive trade-deadline run, this makes me inclined to think he’s learned little except how to manipulate the few GMs with even less acumen than he—outside of drafting (which he’s been great with), Moore’s run has been very poor. The A’s get an upgrade from the recently (dubiously) traded Rajai Davis to DeJesus, while giving up two pitchers they aren’t likely to miss, particularly given Oakland’s astounding young pitching depth.