Will the Pirates See Any Drop Off Going From Travis Snider to Andrew Lambo?

About two and a half years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Travis Snider in a move that wasn’t received well by a lot of Pirates fans. Earlier this week the Pirates traded Snider away, in another move that wasn’t very popular. This wasn’t the first time that the Pirates have received criticism both when they’ve added a player, and when they’ve lost a player. But the fact that a lot of Pirates fans hated both Snider trades got me thinking about other similarities between the two deals.

First of all, each deal saw the Pirates trade away a former top prospect who had struggled to live up to expectations in the majors, but then found success over the span of about half a season in a reserve role. In the original trade, that player was Brad Lincoln, who was looking great as a relief pitcher for three months before the deal. In the recent trade, that player was Snider, who looked like he finally might be breaking out by putting together some strong numbers off the bench in the second half of the 2014 season.

The fact that Lincoln struggled after the trade doesn’t necessarily mean that Snider will do the same. In each trade, the Pirates sold when the player had a high value, all while possibly buying low on their return (I say possibly, because we don’t really know if they’re buying low on Tarpley, although he has been described as a sleeper prospect by John Sickels).

Then there’s the return in each deal. When the Pirates traded for Snider, fans were upset because they didn’t go for Hunter Pence (and the cost at the time would have been Starling Marte). The Pirates had a specific focus at the 2012 trade deadline, adding guys who could not only help them the final two months of that season, but also help them in future years. It was that blend of keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future that was probably most upsetting to Pirates fans.

As it turned out, the lack of an exclusive focus on the present really didn’t matter. Hunter Pence was worth 0.5 WAR in the final two months of the season. Snider was worth 0.3 WAR. They ended up slightly worse in a surprising fashion. I don’t think there would have been many people who would have guessed that the unproven Snider would have been close to the production of Pence, who had the numbers to back up the idea that he would continue to be successful. Of course, even if they would have added Pence, that wouldn’t have stopped the “epic collapse” in the final two months of the season.

The Pirates also had a focus on the present and future years with the recent Snider trade. They’re obviously focused on 2015, as seen by the off-season additions of Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jung Ho Kang, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, Antonio Bastardo, and others. But they also happened to deal Snider away when his value was high, and help strengthen the future. As Charlie pointed out the other day, this isn’t uncommon these days, as teams like the Athletics, Nationals, and Braves have all made moves both aimed at the current season and aimed at future seasons. Teams aren’t just adding players or rebuilding exclusively anymore.

But what about the result from the last trade? Is that another parallel? The Pirates didn’t go the preferred and comfortable route with the original Snider trade, and the result was that they saw a meaningless decline in production in the short-term, while strengthening the team in the long-term. That situation might exist in the recent trade.

First, let’s look at the Steamer600 projections, where each player’s 2015 Steamer projections are extrapolated out to 600 plate appearances.

Travis Snider – .253/.322/.411, 1.6 WAR

Andrew Lambo – .249/.304/.429, 1.1 WAR

There’s not much difference in the stat lines, with Snider getting on base more, and Lambo hitting for more power. Snider is worth half a win more, although the reality is that each player would be seeing about 300 plate appearances as a bench player, meaning the difference here is about 0.25 WAR. That’s basically the same.

Or there are the PECOTA projections, which had the Pirates at 80-82 before the trade, and have them at 81-81 after the trade. That’s more than just swapping out Snider for Lambo, as I believe Corey Hart also saw an increase in his playing time. But Snider had a projected 0.6 WARP before the trade, and Lambo has a projected 0.8 WARP after the trade. By those standards, the Pirates are better off with Lambo over Snider.

I pointed out last night that there are things that any projection system will miss. In this case, the projections could be missing the recent surge by Snider. As I said above, there’s no guarantee that he will decline going forward. That’s the risk the Pirates are taking with this move. They’re also taking a risk with Lambo, as I don’t think any projection system would have issues translating Lambo’s numbers from Triple-A over to the majors with good accuracy. That’s not saying it can’t be done. There’s just more room for error.

This ignores the fact that the Pirates have options beyond Lambo. This move will make it possible for Sean Rodriguez to get more playing time. Steamer600 had him at a 1.3 WAR, which in half of the plate appearances would be an 0.15 WAR difference from Snider. The same projections had Corey Hart and Jaff Decker at an 0.8 WAR, which is an 0.4 WAR difference from Snider in 300 plate appearances. PECOTA has Hart at a 1.0 WARP and Rodriguez at an 0.4 WARP, just 0.2 behind Snider.

It’s possible that the projections might be wrong about Lambo. But will they be wrong about every option beyond Snider? Extremely unlikely. Then there’s the projection systems the Pirates have. You’ve got to think that they made this deal with the thought that they could improve in the long-run, while not losing anything in the short-term. That might look risky right now, because Snider is proven and Lambo is not, but considering their track record, they deserve some trust with their projections and moves like these.

We still don’t know whether this move will work out. But right now every projection says that there isn’t much of a difference between Snider and Lambo, or any of the other replacement options. And you have to think that the Pirates agree with that if they were willing to make this trade.

  • I think, given the notion that it is entirely possible that Lambo, or for that matter any other candidate could easily replicate the numbers Snider has put up, this trade makes sense.

    I think the Pirates had to ask themselves some self-evaluation questions. Did NH and the Pirates front office foresee a scenario where Snider could take over any of the three outfield spots or for that matter another position, even as part of a platoon such as 1B? I think McCutchen and Marte have established themselves as two of the three starting outfielders. That leaves RF, which is currently held by Gregory Polanco. As far as RF, is it possible that Snider could have outperformed Polanco in 2015? I would say it is possible but at the same time, I don’t think the Pirates want to give up prematurely on Polanco, knowing all the tools he has. To me that only leaves 1B, which is currently held by a platoon of Pedro Alvarez (against RHP) and Corey Hart (against LHP). I think the Pirates need to hope Alvarez can stay healthy and rebound from his 2014 numbers and revert closer to or improve on his 2012-2013 numbers. If Snider were still around and possibly contending for playing time at 1B against Alvarez to face RHP, that would severely impact Alvarez’s numbers and hamper any trade value Alvarez might bring, especially considering 2016, at the latest, will be Alvarez’s last season as a Pirate, with the more likely scenario being that he would be traded in the off-season following the 2015 season.

    The Snider trade to Baltimore also opens the possibility of creating trade value for Jose Tabata. I seriously doubt the Pirates will continue to pay Tabata the escalating salary his contract stipulates as each year passes, just to be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Eventually, the Tabata contract will become an albatross around the Pirates neck, much like the Wandy Rodriguez contract during the 2014 season. There are other outfielders coming up through the minors that could just as easily replicate the numbers Tabata has put up at the MLB level, such as Mel Rojas Jr.

    This Snider to Baltimore for prospects trade makes sense on so many levels. It’s possible that Snider could go to Baltimore and put up some very nice seasons either there or elsewhere, but as a Pirate fan I don’t think you can lose too much sleep over what might have been. The trade, as of right now, makes sense both short term and long term.

  • I feel like in 2015, we’re a worse team without Snider off the bench. Hope the guys we got are projectable MLB pitchers.

  • Snider will have more home runs then Polanco for 2015.. and more assists

    • NO Chance on the assists my friend. Polanco has the Howitzer… elite defender (GP) compared to an average defender (TS) at best.
      HR’s… possibly Camden is a bandbox, but is that relevant in any way to success? I want Polanco to be a .300 plus hitter and a .400 obp guy which he has shown he has the skills to be. Speed, defense, and disruption – that should be his game in 2015.

  • pirates4life.
    January 30, 2015 5:33 pm

    You guys are forgetting about Mel Rojas jr..he doesn’t have the experience in the big leagues yet..but can be a great 4th outfielder..can’t be any worse than tabata.

    • Yes, in fact, he could be far worse. Tabata is not that bad. He is overpaid, but he is not a bad depth option in the outfield.

  • I’ve been looking at the splits for Snider since he was traded to the Pirates in 2012 and I’m not so sure if he really “broke out” last season. The reason I say that and why I was interested in his splits from the last 3 seasons is because I recall Snider supposedly “breaking out” a few times over the last years. Sure enough, that is what I found in his splits.
    .
    In his first full month with the Pirates in 2012, Snider had a slash line of .289/.368/.410/.778 (which is where most of that .3 WAR that Tim mentions in this article comes from). In September though, Snider fell off a cliff hitting only .171 with a .393 OPS.
    .
    Starting off in 2013, Snider looked like he was “breaking out” again with a pretty good March/April, hitting .300/.382/.417/.799. Then he got hurt, was out for a few weeks and the rest of his 2013 was terrible.
    .
    In 2014, Snider started off pretty poorly in April and May, then started doing a bit better in June until he “broke out” again in July/August/September. Although I do have to admit his 2nd half stats were very good with a slash line of .288/.356/.524/.880. However, those 2nd half stats are a bit inflated by video game numbers in July, his August and September numbers were closer to his other “break outs”.
    .
    In conclusion I kind of feel like Snider goes through cold and hot streaks and he has been fairly inconsistent. I very well could be wrong and maybe he’s found a way to be more consistent as he’s gotten older but I could be right and he could go into extended cold streaks again with a month or two of “break out” play. For what it’s worth, Baseball-reference.com lists Dominic Brown as the most similar player (through age 26) to Snider and that seems to me like a fair comparison as Brown has bounced between .600 and .800 OPS through out his career.

    • The argument to that thought would be that the first two “breakouts” were derailed by injury – hamstring in 2013, big toe or whatever in 2013 – and I suppose the continuation of that argument would be those injuries were flukes rather than a habitual problem.

      Yeah, I suppose that’s what we’re expected to believe if we believed in a Travis Snider breakout.

      • True. I guess we’ll have to wait and see as Neal Huntington is at the helm (which so far has been pretty good).

  • You know the pirates have a really good team when all we have to argue about is fourth outfielders and role players.

  • If you buy into the Lambo projection, then you should buy into him replacing Pedro. The projected OPS is better than Pedro’s 2014 and only .009 less than Pedro’s career OPS. As soon as any team nibbles at the hook, jettison Pedro and save the $6M.

  • Seems like after every move the Pirates make the “What If” game starts. The Pirates were not shopping Snider, meaning he was in their plans for this year, but I believe with the acquisition of Kang everything changed, he is the wild card in all of this.
    I also believe the Pirates would have had to cut Snider loose after the season and gotten nothing for him, much like they did with Sanchez, could they have done this same move with Sanchez last year? Probably so, if they had a deal like they just got for Snider. I hope Snider does well in Baltimore, but that will have no reflection on the Pirates. What he does in Baltimore has a lot to do with the manager and how much he plays him, the ball park itself and the American League.

  • How many times has Marte been rumored to be part of a trade?

    As someone pointed out there is probably a much greater range on Lambo’s projection. I think the comparison highlights not that Lambo is going to step in and be effective but that Snider was being over-valued based on his most recent plate appearances. Personally I have my doubts about Lambo, swing has always looked stiff, I wonder about his bat control.

    • Lambo’s always reminded me of Garrett Jones in the regard. Grooved swing.

    • How many times has Marte been rumored to be part of a trade?

      _________________________________________
      A lot. I was playing Monopoly and I was offered Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Ave.’s for Marte and Water Works.

  • The combined off-season trades:
    Major Leaguers: IN: Cervelli, S. Rodriguez, Bastardo OUT: Wilson, Snider- Bastardo, even though he’s a FA next yr, is an upgrade over Wilson in the short term. Rodriguez gives the Pirates more defensive flexibility and Cervelli fills an obvious hole.

    Prospects: IN: Tarpley, PTBNL OUT: J. Rodriguez, Borden – Tarpley is the better prospect than Joely (who took a step back this yr). I would think that the PTBNL is at least as valuable as Borden.
    Overall I think the trades improved the 2015 team as well as the prospect pool.

    • Don’t forget in addition to all the prospects, we also got Gorky’s back. I don’t discount him at all as he is an ELITE defender and as a back-up he can flat out get it. His bat isn’t the worst either, he can play a bit.

  • Ok,
    I think many of our concerns center on what happens if one of our starting outfielders gets hurt (and it seems that its bound to happen). Who is the next man up?
    Can Lambo be an everyday outfielder? Is Rojas ready? What about Hernandez? He brings mlb experience and seems to have had a great winter. What is Harrison or Hart’s role if this situation occurs?

    I hope people don’t mind me speaking for others, but I think this is our biggest concern.

    • What happens if our SPs start getting hurt?

      THAT is more of a concern to me. But it isn’t really a concern, because you can’t predict injuries.

      We’ll be okay.

    • What happens if an outfielder gets hurt is Harrison, Hart, Rodriguez, or Lambo will play the outfield. Having 4 options on the major league roster that can fill in for an injured player is not a concern.

      • Not to mention, Tabata acts as a 41st man on the 40 man roster. Plus there is Rojas and Decker in AAA.

    • That is why I initially had some trouble with the trade. Even though we have the options everyone brings up is does take one level of insurance out of the equation.

    • ” what happens if one of our starting outfielders gets hurt (and it seems that its bound to happen). Who is the next man up?”

      Jose Tabata

  • clearly an upgrade

    • not sure I agree with the ‘clearly’, but I do think Lambo can be as good or better than Snider. At worse, he is Snider of the first half?

      • because Lambo can hit right handed and left handed pitching

        • bmc: Lambo certainly did hit RHP’s and LHP’s well at AAA in 2014, but let’s not forget Snider hit .381 against LHP’s in 2014 at the ML level – probably in a very small sample size. In Lambo’s previous years in the minors, he did not hit LHP’s very well at all.

          • but let’s not forget Snider hit .381 against LHP’s in 2014 at the ML level – probably in a very small sample size.

            _________________________________________
            Yep. 47 AB’s or something. I think the team was limiting his exposure to lefties. However, his good performance in that small sample size dragged up his overall offensive numbers; his splits against RHP in 2014 weren’t real far above his career average.

          • Snider didn’t really do great against RHP’s though.as he only hit .246 last year with a .711 OPS.

        • That’s funny. He had his share of problems with LH pitching in AA.

  • I not worried about a drop off from Snider to Lambo. My concern with the trade is the depth. If just one of the outfielders spends time on the DL that would mean we are down to Tabata. I’m feeling better about the trade because with the flexibility that NH talked about the Pirates could trade for a decent 4th OF. I would be interested to see the affects this would have if Tabata has to fill in for an extended time. Also is a 4th outfielder more expensive to acquire mid season.

    • Regardless, Jay Hay can play RF, and Kang can go to 3b. Sean Rod can play RF/3b too. Plus there’s the chance that Josh Bell is ready by the end of the year. Plus Jaff Decker has Lambo-Snider-like ability. plus tabata really isn’t that bad..

      There is no shortage of options.

      • Jaff Decker doesn’t even have Alex Presley abilities. I hope he’s DFA’d at the end of ST.

        • I would racall Tabata before Jaff Decker, the only reason Tabata isn’t on the 40 is because he can clear waivers

        • Pretty harsh isn’t it? What do you care if Dacker manages to cling to a roster spot?

          It ain’t like the team is passing on the next Babe Ruth because Dacker is taking up his spot on the 40-man or anything.

          • Decker gets ripped on too much. He is what he is. He takes a lot of pitches, has gap to a little better power, and plays ok in the field. You at least know if he is an emer callup he can give you professional abs for a few days.

        • martinez > dacker

      • I forgot about Romero. I thought that was a great depth signing at the time, and it may prove to be one of the moves which most helps us account for the loss of Snider in the case of an injury. We have a lot of depth, and a lot of our players can play all over the field. We should be fine even without Snider.

      • I wouldn’t count on Bell until 2016…but stranger things have happened.

    • ddo: I am not worried about a drop-off from Snider to Lambo if we get the Andrew Lambo who wants to hit his way into the majors, and not the guy we saw in ST last year. However, the guy who I see as coming on strong is Mel Rojas, Jr. who hit .277 at AAA in 200+ AB’s, is 2 years younger than Lambo, and is a switchhitter who can play all 3 OF positions. I see no problem with giving Lambo another chance, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that he is entering his age 27 season with only 60+ MLB AB’s. Rojas will benefit from some AB’s in ST and some full time swings at AAA, but I think he is the future 4th OF.

      • That another good thing it does free up the log jam and allow players like Rojas to develop. I’m not sure they would rush Rojas to the Majors this year.

      • yes i agree rojas will be good.

      • Lambo seems like Garrett Jones to me – he is getting better with a little more seasoning. I really think he will be a valuable part of the team this year. He may even eventually take over – by performance – the 1b position. I think he’s a better fit there than K-dro.

        • Brian: Remember, Jones started his career as a 1B and only changed to OF late in his career because the Twins had Morneau ahead of him at 1B, and they wanted Jones’s bat in the lineup. Lambo is not a 1B, and the fact that the Pirates did not keep him working at 1B exclusively in AAA in 2014 tells me it was too late and too much to learn. Regardless of who plays 1B in 2015, they will be a placeholder at best – my thought is Hanson at 2B and Neil Walker at 1B possibly even during 2015 if they decide to move Pedro early. Josh Bell could be up by mid-2016, but the Pirates will have to see how he does in a full year at 1B at AA/AAA.

          • Lambo played first in high school and was considered the second best defensive first baseman in high school baseball in the state and was drafted as a first baseman by the Dodgers. While that is not a ticket to the HOF defensively he obviously was a first baseman before an outfielder.

          • I think that the earliest we see Bell in Pittsburgh is mid-2017.

  • I may be overthinking this but I can’t help but to think this deal Is just the first part of some other move(s)

    • Based on whar Rob Biertempfel says, he thinks it may happen also, or at least give them some more in season flexibility to make trades. They have 2 million more to spend and also have more prospects to trade from.

  • than there is bob walk 1500 at bat rule , after 1500 ab’s you are what you are. I think snider is a below average major league player, who had a solid second half last year. lambo could be the same or worse or even much better, also he could play some first if pedro starts throwing the ball into left field.

    • How soon we’ve forgotten Tabata’s similar 2 month ‘explosion’ a couple of seasons ago.

      • William Wallace
        January 30, 2015 12:58 pm

        LFY—Yes we forget about Tabata. I believe that with the dollars tied up in him and he is a serviceable 4th OF I really think this trade makes sense. We have the luxury of spare OF’s. If the two minor leaguers add depth then it would give us more chips to make a move to enhance the team in a playoff run. The fan base complained about the first trade and now this trade. If it was noted that in two years we would have Lincoln back then who would have complained?

        • Yes, this is definitely a situation where a lot of variables are in play: The hope that Polanco takes it over outright, the hope that Lambo, Decker, Tabata can cover Snider’s production, and the fact you still have the versatile J-Hay & S-Rod around to cover a total disaster. All this together makes me feel better about the deal. Adding a really nice PTBNL would really tip my feelings…unless Snider goes Steve Pearce all over the AL. I said it before but the biggest issue I losing Snider is that he is a really good pinch hitter. I know that can vary from year to year because it is a small sample thing, but as anything some guys are better than others at specific skills.

          • A Steve Pearce / Travis Snider platoon could be formidable.

            • I don’t think Pearce is gonna be doing much platooning. He’s too good on defense if he keeps hitting to sit very much.

              • Ralph Johnson
                February 6, 2015 1:16 am

                …Eldred could’ve played outfield with Chris Duffy.

                • I just realized Eldred was playing in Japan. After two years as a bench player he broke out and hit 37 HR last year. He struck out 169 times in 118 g though. A horrific every 2.68 AB!

      • Can’t totally forget because we are stuck with him. Although he still is ok insurance. I just keep wondering if and when they will squeeze him into a deal. By midseason 2015 he will still be owed around 6.5 mil + the 250K buyout so he could be on the bus a lot from Indy to Pitt until mid 2016 when the Pirates can either squeeze him into a deal or just decide to eat the last couple mil…or in some freak occurrence he wins a spot at some point.

        • He really cut his strikeout while mostly maintaining his peripherals in 2014. It didn’t immensely pay off in numbers but I think if he maintains what he did last year he will put up nice numbers at Indy this year. He’s only 25.

    • LOL Do you mean the rest of the infield will need face masks when they take the field before each defensive inning?

    • This is a pretty good rule of thumb but I have also heard a few people say for power hitters it takes up to 2000 AB to become what you are. We have seen this with guys like Derek Lee and David Ortiz…although these are roid era players.

      • But it makes sense: First year in league, then league adjusts, then you adjust back and become an established player. Unless you are Pedro…then this process goes on and on forever in an excruciating episode of peaks and valleys..

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