Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Baek for Wells

This is precisely why this forum exists!

I've gotten a number of questions/comments about this trade already, so I'll provide a quick view into our thinking.

Cha Seung Baek is a 6'4", 225 lb, 28-year old (turns 29 tomorrow) RHP from Pusan, Korea. Over the past three seasons in the Majors Baek has made 30 appearances, 19 starts, and compiled a 4.84 ERA: 137.2 innings, 141 hits, 40 walks, and 87 strikeouts. Over that same period in AAA, Baek pitched in 30 games, all starts, compiling a 3.03 ERA: 178 innings, 166 hits, 47 walks, and 121 strikeouts.

We've been keeping tabs on Baek dating back to late last year, as we do with all players who will be out of minor league options in the coming season. In this particular case, we also knew (as did everyone) that the Mariners had a very deep pitching staff, and that Baek would be fighting for a spot on the team. When the Mariners acquired Bedard, we inquired about Baek again, but the Mariners really wanted to keep him. Fortunately, we saw a lot of Baek during spring training (we share a spring training complex with the Mariners in Peoria, AZ), and our scout, Bill Bryk, really liked him and recommended that we continue our attempts to acquire him. Nevertheless, we couldn't work out a deal, and Baek opened the season on Seattle's roster.

We believe Baek is a very good strike-thrower with all of his pitches (Fastball, Curveball, Slider, and Change), which keeps hitters off balance and makes him effective. Our scouts also believe that he pitched a little better than his ERA would indicate from last year. According to the FIP statistic, a defense-independant statistic developed by Tom Tango and utilized by The Hardball Times, Baek had been getting better in each of his past three ML seasons (2004-2007), which goes hand-in-hand with our scouting evaluations.

Jared Wells is a 6'4", 200 lb 26-year old RHP from Texas whom the Padres drafted in the 31st round in 2002. Jared made his first Major League appearance just this past week for the Padres. After moving up through the minors as a starting pitcher, Jared made the transition to the bullpen in the middle of the 2007 season while at AAA. Jared pitched well in that role, particularly against right-handed hitters.

Jared will be out of options next season, meaning that he has to be on the Major League roster for the entire year or be placed on outright waivers. Though we like Jared quite a bit, there were three elements in play: 1) given our current injuries, the need for immediate help at the Major League level, 2) the impending lack of roster flexibility with Jared, and 3) our other internal bullpen options going forward. Those three elements combined helped us to make this deal. It's not as though we don't think Jared Wells is a good pitcher - we do. Remember, when you make trades, you have to give up something of value - you don't get something for nothing.

In comparing Baek and Wells, though, we believe Baek has the chance to be a starting pitcher. That was the separator for us and made us willing to accept his immediate lack of roster flexibility. Will he be a starter for us? I guess we'll all find out together. The bottom line is that there is a chance ("So you're telling me there's a chance..."). Even if he isn't, we expect him to be a solid contributor for the Padres starting now.

One last word as it relates to "designated for assignment". One of the comments stated that this indicated a team's willingness to dump a player for virtually nothing. It's actually the opposite. When a team places a player on outright waivers, any club can claim that player for a mere $20,000. However, when a club believes that a player has more value than that, they will designate him assignment. This designation gives the club roughly a week to trade the player and get something in return that is better than the $20k. If there are no takers, the club will then place the player on outright waivers.


scottpriest said...

Paul this was really interesting. One question: You mention that Jared's upcoming lack of flexibility made you want to trade him, but does Baek also have the same lack of flexibility? Or is the distinction in your (and the organization's) mind that since Baek is more major-league ready, flexibility isn't as important when it comes to him? Great post as always.

Andy said...

i acutally had the same exact question come to mind. Would you mind addressing it? Thanks so much for all of your time and thoughtfulness.

Emiliano Peseta said...

What a wonderful blog. As a long time Mariner fan I hated to see Baek go, especially with our starting pitching being as awful as it has been for some time now. He's never going to be anyones 1 or 2, but with a solid defense behind him and some run support the Padres should have an opportunity to win most games he starts. If there were not so many other reasons to curse the Mariner front office right now this deal would be a bit tougher to swallow. That's the result of being force fed deals like Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez, Jose Vidro, and ugh don't get me get started.

Great blog, post and use of critical analysis when making a deal. I suspect the Padres will right their ship much sooner than the M's if this is the kind of thinking going on behind closed doors.

Go Baek!

Go Padres!

go m's. sigh.

p.s. Know of anywhere in Sand Diego where I can find some South Pacific Lager?

tad swifty said...

This kind of post is exactly why I bookmarked this blog.

Your organization recently dfa'd Justin Germano. What is it about Baek's scouting info or numbers that your organization thinks sets him apart from Germano in the 5'th starter role?

If another injury strikes, Esteban Loaiza was waived by the dodgers a little whiles ago. :)


marc w said...

Great move by the Pads...
I've been one of Cha Baek's biggest fans (and, for many years there, ONLY fans) as I got to see him pitch dozens of times in AAA Tacoma.

It's great to see FIP or xFIP utilized to find bargains like this: a guy whose ERA last year didn't match his excellent peripherals.

As a fly-baller, he'll be fine in SD - a great match for the park.

Incidentally, did your scouts or player development folks have an explanation for why his walk rate spiked up this year? I wondered if it was just not being used to his new role (long reliever), but it could be mechanical. Any thoughts on that?

Paul DePodesta said...

fatherscott and andy,

You're exactly right. Given the fact that Baek has more Major League experience combined with our immediate need at the ML level made it easier for us to absorb his lack of roster flexibility.

WAU Cardinals said...

You referenced FIP here, and you're obviously a stat-oriented guy, which I suppose is well-known.

My question is: Are all other organizations utilizing these advanced statistics? I can't imagine that there are some that are ignoring things like FIP, BABIP, ISOP, etc., when they provide so much explanation behind the appearances of less-inclusive statistics (such as AVG, ERA, etc.)

Without giving any names, are there front office guys out there that are just completely ignorant to new-age stats?

Ryan Swanzey said...

Awesome post. This kind of inside analysis is priceless and much more interesting than the second-hand information I still enjoy at other sites. Still think this is such a cool idea and hope it catches on with others in the game.

Paul DePodesta said...

There have already been a few comments regarding our analysis versus the Mariners, and they're not exactly fair to the M's. There were reasons for both of these teams to do this deal, which is how deals get done. I've already given you part of our analysis.

On the Mariner side, they were caught in a bind that happens to all of us once in a while, and there's really nothing you can do about it. They had back-to-back days early last week when their starters weren't able to go deep into the game (2.1 ip and 4 ip). They used Baek in both of those games for a total of five innings, and then the bullpen needed a fresh arm the following day just in case something happened to the starter again. RA Dickey was called up, and Baek was the odd man out. It's not as though we knew something the M's didn't. They simply ran into a tough stretch, which has happened to us a few times this year as well.

David Harris said...

I like Wells a lot, but I think this was a great move, albeit a small one. Baek is a good fit and I think can be a great middle reliever or back of the rotation guy. I think this helps us now and provides the M's with a decent return.

Thanks for the insight and any post that can work in a Dumb and Dumber reference is a great post.

Paul DePodesta said...


There is no doubt that virtually every organization looks at a lot of analysis. Though I referenced FIP in this post, it served more as a confirmation of what our scouts were telling us.

SABR Matt said...

Mr. DePodesta...

I have a great deal of respect for your decision to be this forthcoming about your decision-making process with the baseball community. As a long-suffering Mariners fan and someone who aspires to one day work in baseball, I have often wondered why more men in your position have not chosen to be courageous and come forward in this way. It speaks volumes about your character.

On Baek, I have spent most of 2008 pulling for the Mariners to designate him for assignment because I strongly believe that given an opportunity, R.A. Dickey will make an outstanding starter at the major league level with his developing assortment of knuckleballs and above average fastballs (for a knuckleballer, that is) and Baek was standing in his way. That having been said, given a top notch defense like the one the Padres field every day, Baek will definitely keep you in games and be among your most consistent starters. He was never going to succeed in Seattle. Our defense is among the worst in baseball and it kills guys like Baek who put the ball in play a lot, but he's got a real shot to help you for many of the reasons you observed in your column.

Hats off to you for a good trade and for your willingness to discuss it with the world. I will be pulling for better things from both our respective clubs in the coming weeks and keeping tabs on this blog from this point on.

T. Rancel said...

Excellent insight to the inter workings of a trade.

Richard Bennett said...

Interesting post. Now what would you give for Rich Harden?

Tanzi said...

Paul, is the front office worried at all about the complete lack of a backup shortstop to spell Khalil? If we had a good defensive shortstop who could start about 20 games a year I think it would really help Khalil, especially when he gets in one of his slumps.

Kyle Nelson said...

Paul let me start by saying I think this is a wonderful thing you are doing for the fans of the San Diego Padres. I am a season ticket holder and honestly am tired of people complaining about the FO and them not caring about their fans. My question for you which has nothing to do with the trade is I am reading moneyball and came across the chapter where it talks about being able to take stats and determine/guesstimate how many games a team will win. I was wondering what you're guesstimate was for the Padres this year. Im not too concerned with where we stand right now Im just curious to know what you thought at the begining of the year. Also if you could show how you came to that conclusion that would be awesome. I really appreciate you doing this for the fans of San Diego.

Josh Kalk said...


Thanks for that insight. Baek sure is a very unique pitcher throwing a huge percentage of off speed pitches. You could argue whether that cluster of pitches I am calling a slider is actually a cut fastball, as is generally reported, but because he throws it in the mid 80's I call it a slider. Whatever you call it, it is clearly off speed from his four seam fastball which he throws in the low 90's. Are you concerned about the lack of four seam fastballs if he is to become a starter?

His change looks like it could be a real weapon against lefties as it appears he is hiding it quite well but I am surprised at how little movement he is getting with his curve. For an over the top pitcher like Baek is you would expect a lot more vertical movement.

Jason said...

And I was this close to dropping Baek from my fantasy team. (It's a deep, multi-year league, and I signed him to a two-year deal last season.) I can't wait to see how the Padres use him. If nothing else, pitching in Petco should be a boon to his numbers :)

Emiliano Peseta said...

Nice San Diego debut for Baek last night. What made it even sweeter was watching The M's Silva last 2/3 of an inning.