The Lopsided Surprise Of The Offseason

Atlanta, GA, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The who-cares trade of the offseason became the who-knew trade of the year. Was the Jason Hammel/Jeremy Guthrie swap the most lopsided of the winter?

It's really a shame what's happening to the funny teams around baseball. The Pirates are threatening to finish over .500. The Astros have a new GM and direction. The Cubs have Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and a trade deadline full of promise. Heck, even the Royals are just five games back. If all of these teams stop being so lousy, who will we turn to when we want to make cheap jokes? Who?

Yeah, probably the Royals still.

But it didn't used to be like that. You used to be able to hop around the plague-ridden franchises and spread the jokes around so you didn't feel so dirty.The Baltimore Orioles used to be perfect for that kind of stuff. And when the Orioles traded their most reliable pitcher for one coming off a down year, there were plenty of Twitter chuckles to be had. Even the big-time guys got into the act, with Jon Heyman titling his post-trade article "Making sense of a non-sensical Orioles trade." It seemed like a funny trade. And everyone had their chuckles.

Except the Orioles are good now. At least, they contain some sort of FDA-approved good-like substitute, and it sure as hell looks like the real thing. And they're good in no small part because of Jason Hammel, who has been fantastic. If you look at Hammel's ERA, it looks like this is a fluky performance spike:

Year ERA IP
2009 4.33 176.2
2010 4.81 177.2
2011 4.76 170.1
2012 2.87 81.2


But you're better than that. You know that ERA isn't the best way to predict or analyze performance. So this is the one that sticks out:

Year SO/BB
2009 3.17
2010 3.00
2011 1.38
2012 2.66


Hammel's been pretty good for a while, but it's been hard to see through the moist lens of Coors Field. The difference between a downward trend and a statistical blip is so danged obvious after three months of the next season. If we could have peeked into the future for just this one stat, the analysis of the trade would have been much, much different at the time.

If Jeremy Guthrie were doing his typical Jeremy Guthrie things, this would have been a lopsided trade. For the last three years, Guthrie was an innings-eater of the highest caliber, throwing more at least 200 innings each season with an ERA+ between 90 and 108. But he's a free agent after this year, whereas Hammel has one more season before free agency. That didn't seem so alluring at the time. Heyman:

Duquette pointed out that they could keep Hammel and Lindstrom for two years, not one, as if this was a big selling point.

Turns out that wasn't a small concern. Hammel has been superb, and the Orioles get to keep him around for another year. So even if Guthrie was Guthrie was Guthrie, it still would have looked worse in retrospect. Except Guthrie has been dreadful -- one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball, with a 7.02 ERA topped only by Nick Blackburn this year.

Now Guthrie's out of the rotation. The idea behind the trade from the Rockies' perspective -- a little rotation stability for a team that was expecting to hit -- was sound, but it flopped. The Rockies are going to turn the innings-eating over to the bullpen, going to a four-man rotation that will be on a 75-pitch limit.

So three months into the season, are we ready to name this the most lopsided trade of the last offseason? Maybe not while Melky Cabrera is one of the three outfielders leading the National League in All-Star voting and Jonathan Sanchez is walking almost seven hitters per nine innings. When Matt Lindstrom (who came over in the trade with Hammel) comes back, though, there's at least an argument that it was.

It's certainly the most surprisingly lopsided trade for how it worked out, though. Hammel wasn't supposed to be this good. The Orioles weren't supposed to be this good. Guthrie wasn't supposed to be this bad. The Rockies weren't supposed to be this bad. Hammel wouldn't have been enough to turn the Rockies around, but Guthrie would have been enough to mess with the Orioles' surprising season.

If this trade were up for a "most" anything before the season started, it would have been "most forgettable." Instead, it's kind of a big deal. The Orioles are contending, and the Rockies are playing around with a four-man rotation because of this trade. Strange days. Strange days.

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