Friday, July 18, 2008

Trading Weapon X

I will admit that I'm often baffled by what to do with columns like this one that ran in the Post-Gazette a couple of days ago. After doing this blogging thing for three years, I've learned that getting worked up by little thing that's written about the Pirates in the media only leads to high blood pressure. Still, I can tell that this particular column by Smizik has lead to a lot of consternation among fans and I feel like ignoring it gives the impression that I agree with it. I don't agree with it. Signing Xavier Nady to an extension is one of the five worst ideas I've heard this year, and that's not limiting things to the Pirates. If the Pirates sign Xavier Nady to an extension, I'll probably quit this blog entirely and I'm not even close to kidding.

There's a number of reasons for that, but we can start at the top. Nady is 29 years old and having a career year. That's because that's what happens when players are 28 or 29; they peak. I'm slow to make this comparison because I've seen it made in about ten different places, but on a local level Kevin Young is a great example of what happens to a middle of the lineup guy with moderate power and on-base skills that are mostly tied up in batting average. The extension he signed was for his age 30-33 years. Oops. If we keep the comparison going, Nady's top comps by age on Baseball Reference are Leon Roberts, Craig Monroe, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Hal McRae. McRae kept hitting well deep into his 30s, but Roberts, Monroe, and Hammonds combined for one season with an OPS+ of above 100 after their 30th birthdays. Roberts was out of the league at 33, Monroe's struggling to hold on at 31, and Hammonds was done at 34. Players like Nady just don't have long, productive careers.

On top of that, it's easy to see where Nady's production this year is coming from. In the big leagues, he's a career .279 hitter with a .335 on-base percentage. This year, he's hitting .321 and his OBP is .377. All of his increase in production is tied up in that raise in batting average. A quick glance at his Hardball Times page shows that his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an almost impossibly high .351. He's hit more line drives this year, which is where some of the increase in average is coming from, but thinking he's hit a sustainable peak is fooling yourself. He's a decent hitter having a good year at his peak age, because that's what decent hitters do at their peak ages.

The entire rationale behind keeping Nady this winter was to get him to try and increase his trade value. He can't possibly increase his value more than he already has. He's got one more arbitration year, but it's almost impossible that he'll be worth more at this time in 2009 than he is right now given his career arc and the peripherals around his 2008 numbers. There are a million reasons to trade the guy now and we've gone over several of them in the past couple days. The pitching staff, even with Snell and Gorzelanny healthy and pitching well, is more than one or two pitchers away from being a good staff. The offense has been good, but is also a good candidate for a second half drop-off. The main chunk of this Pirates team is built around guys that are Nady's age and that are gone after 2009. People don't like to hear this, but what we're seeing from this team right now is probably their ceiling. I know there are people that will scoff at that statement, but it's something that I absolutely believe is true. Extending Nady and hoping to cobble together a pitching staff from fairy dust and rainbows to maybe make a run at .500 is exactly how the Pirates were run under their previous front offices and it's not something that I plan on sitting through again.