The Jose Contreras Acquisition: Why this trade is better than it looks

Last night, the Rockies traded AAA starter Brandon Hynick to the White Sox for Cash and Jose Contreras.

At first glance, this trade looks pretty rough. Trading a 24-year-old starter who was close to hitting the majors for a 37-year-old headcase who even Ozzie Guillen, the embodiment of patience with players, had given up on.

So let's analyze the trade.

There are a couple of ways to look at this trade. We can look at the numbers, or what it means to the organization.

So let's look at the latter first. The Rockies' MO is build an organization through drafting, prospects, you get the idea. Sure, we broke a few eggs and a made a late-inning omelet in the form of Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel. The eggs weren't anything mindblowing, I'll admit, but the point is we dealt from a position of strength and fortified a position of weakness in the competing Major League club.

But for Jose Contreras? What a joke! The guy is like 80 and has an ERA of 5.42 and a 5-13 record! What a bum!

Well, W-L records are fun, and pretty much meaningless anyhow, so let's toss that out just for the time being. His ERA isn't great, but we've brought up other metrics by which we can judge pitching performances, so let's look at those.

Contreras is carrying a 1.98 K/BB at the moment. It's a shade below AL average, but that's a good start. He's striking out 6.99 batters per 9 innings, just a shade above average. That's good. He's getting a 48.3% GB% - not great, but better than DLR and Hammel.

Contreras may have an ERA of 5.42, but that's not where the story ends for him. The White Sox aren't a team really known for their defense (unless of course Mark Buerhle is pitching) and Contreras isn't Tim Lincecum. In fact, Contreras' high-ish ERA is being countered with a FIP of 4.12 - just a shade above the Rockies' team line of 4.00 (good for 5th in the majors, I might add), suggesting that there's a lot going wrong for Contreras this season, in the form of bad defense, unlucky spots, wind, the sun, birds, Zeus, you get the idea. This idea is further reinforced by tRA, which puts Contreras at a 3.81 with 15.7 pRAA - or a win-and-a-half added by his lonesome. While that tRA is unadjusted, it is better in its raw form than DLR, Hammel, Cook, and Marquis. If you need a refresher on pitching metrics, we ran one last week.

Now I don't mean to paint this all daisies and roses. Contreras IS old and is hardly the pitcher he was in yesteryears. Much as I'd like to hang my hat on Contreras' FIP and tRA, the high ERA is still a bit disconcerting. For those comfortable with BABIP and LOB%, he's giving up a BABIP 20 points higher than his career number, and he's stranding 10% fewer baserunners than his career expectations. Combine that with 3 below-average pitches and one above-average slider, and it looks a bit dangerous.

But we need to remember that we have a pretty stellar defense here in Colorado, and while Contreras may not have the most dangerous stuff in the NL West, the fact that he even has a splitter will help him with our groundball-friendly defense. A steady mix of Fastball-Splitter complemented with a positive Slider sounds like a good range of pitches for Apodaca to at least try and get a quick spitshine on before October.

But Hynick would've contributed in 2009, right? He'd have filled Cook's shoes and been able to provide some major league stability until Cook returned, right?

 

Join us after the jump and we'll try and answer those questions.

Hynick's strength was his excellent command of the strike zone. His career BB9 in the minors was a sub-2.00 up until this season, where he was posting a 2.79 BB9 in AAA Colorado Springs. But walk prevention obviously isn't everything, and Hynick's other peripherals didn't do much to help his case. A 5.34 K9 in Colorado Springs was definitely not very exciting, and while his 0.99 HR9 in the thinner air of AAA looked promising, Hynick was allowing a relatively small BABIP (suggesting that he'd eventually become pretty hittable) and his 41.6% GB% wasn't going to make him a stud in Coors Field.

But what about the majors? Well, his performance in the Springs wasn't bad at all, but it doesn't translate too favorably to the majors. Walks go up, strikeouts go down, Home Runs go up, and FIP follows them both. Much as I love the guy with a AAA FIP of 4.48 and a Major League Equivalent FIP of 5.33, I think we could do better than watch him shake off the jitters after losing his first 3 starts allowing a million runs in like 10 innings.

Finally, tRA. Statcorner covers tRA for all levels of the minors, which is pretty darn cool. Their evaluation of Hynick gives him a passable 5.11 tRA, and 1.9 pRAA. That basically means that Hynick pitched well enough for a 5.11 ERA (a far cry from his 3.83 ERA) and prevented 2 runs above what an average AAA pitcher would have provided.

Essentially, Hynick wasn't that terribly special. Sure, he's a farmhand, so he'd have been a nice feelgood kind of pitcher to watch, but how crowded is the 2010 rotation competition going to be as it is?

The last numbers we should take into consideration about with these 2 guys is their respective WAR. Contreras, so far, has provided 2.3 Wins above Replacement this season, basically saying he's already given the White Sox the value of his contract (2.3 WAR is about ~$10M, give or take). They're sending money. Awesome. Now, I don't have the WAR numbers for Brandon Hynick, but I can say that just comparing Contreras to Aaron Cook's 1.9 Wins above Replacement, it looks like we're getting some added value.

The X-Factor with this will obviously be how Hynick handles the Windy City, and how well Contreras handles the switch to the NL - usually this benefits AL pitchers heading to the Senior Circuit. Add in the fact that we have to face offensive powerhouses such as San Diego and Cincinnati, I think we might get the benefit of the doubt here.

So we're basically contesting whether a pitcher who has positive peripherals and positive advanced numbers along with VETERAN PRESENCE and arguably still has some gas in the tank will provide more for the Rockies organization as a whole than would Hynick, who would more than likely get pushed into Josh Fogg duty sooner than later. There's also the fact that Hynick would be cost controlled for 6 years, as compared to 1 month of Contreras, but what is the price tag on a playoff push?

Contreras is the embodiment of having to look farther than the surface to find value, but it's there, I'm sure of it. Hynick is a great example of a franchise feel good who really just isn't that great of a pitcher.

I honestly and truly believe that Jose Contreras will help us more down the stretch than Brandon Hynick would.

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