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David DeJesus is the Newest Oakland Athletic

Well this was unexpected. I didn’t think DeJesus would finish the 2010 season with the Royals. I was only about 50/50 on him actually starting the season with the Royals. I figured he’d celebrate Thanksgiving as a Royal, though. The longest tenured Royal is gone and to a surprise suitor in the Oakland Athletics. I thought I’d break down this trade in two sections. The first is my initial thought, the gut reaction that you get when you hear news. I think it’s interesting how right that first reaction often is. And then I’ll get into my thoughts on the trade after I’d had a chance to do a little research.

Initial Thoughts:
I was driving home when I heard this on the radio. My first thought was disbelief* before my mind started working. My second thought was just anger at Dayton Moore as this return seemed underwhelming. Then I started thinking. It’s funny because I heard two names, Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks, but really focused on just one, Mazzaro. It wasn’t until I got home and got on the internet that I was able to even remember the prospect’s name. Anyway, I was racking my brain to try to figure out if I had remembered seeing him pitch and I recalled a game in the summer (it was hot, could’ve been July) and he pitched really well against the Royals. I remembered a sinking fastball that just looked heavy. A heavy fastball is a pitch that is extremely valuable to have.

*Think about Royals players in the past who you would have been just absolutely shocked to hear their names in trades. I remember when I was younger and the Royals traded Saberhagen and Pecota to the Mets, I was just so surprised that it didn’t make any sense. The trade of Dye was a bit of a shock, but that was probably more for who he netted. I can’t really recall a moment where I was driving down the road and I didn’t really believe the news I had heard about a player being traded. I’m not sure if that says more for DeJesus or for the peril of being a Royals fan for the past 25 years. Either way, as a player, I think it’d be cool to be that much a part of someone’s lives that when you’re traded it causes the fan to go almost in the five stages of grief.

It’s always interesting to me what the perception of fans of a given team are of a player who dominates them, but performs poorly against other teams. Well, without really knowing a ton about Mazzaro, I sort of assumed that he was one of those guys. I recall him having a strong performance of the Royals so my opinion of him is WAY higher than fans of other teams. I remember reading something by Rob Neyer about the A’s young pitchers and how Mazzaro shouldn’t really be included in there because he’s nothing special.

As is the case with anything, as I thought more and more, the trade evened out more and more in my mind. Ultimately I did not like the trade, but I was becoming more rational about it. The fact of the matter is that David DeJesus was probably not going to be a Royal beyond 2011. Vin Mazzaro is going to be a Royal for at least two or three more years and hopefully more. While David DeJesus was a fantastic player for the Royals, paying for two wins when you’re looking down the barrel of a 67 win season isn’t the most fiscally responsible thing someone can do. So ultimately, while this was an underwhelming return, I can see the rationale behind it.

After some time for reflection:
I’m still not a fan of the trade, but I hate it less. I wouldn’t say I like it more, but I definitely hate it less. Vin Mazzaro has been underwhelming at the big league level, but there is some serious potential there. He did indeed have an excellent start against the Royals in July.

I’ve discussed on this blog a little bit about peripheral stats and their importance in evaluating both pitchers and hitters at the minor league level. Sometimes the traditional statistics don’t come around for a player in the minor leagues so quickly, for whatever reason. The things I look at first in a minor league pitcher is strikeout rate, walk rate and hits allowed per inning pitched. I think those three things are really strong indicators of future success. Theoretically, a player who is on the road to superstardom will post better minor league numbers than they do in the majors for the sheer reason of weaker competition.

So I took a look first at Mazzaro’s statistics in the minors. In 2006 and 2007 he was very young for his leagues and struggled some, but also appeared to hold his own a little. He broke out as a prospect in 2008 when he split time between AA and AAA. He posted a 15-6 record with a 2.74 ERA. It’s important not to be fooled by those shiny numbers, though. He still struck out less than seven per nine innings, but he lowered his walk rate to 2.4/nine innings. One other key stat to look at is strikeout to walk ratio. Above two is good, around three is very good and above that is excellent. Mazzaro’s 2008 K:BB ratio was 2.91 and it actually improved in AAA in spite of his traditional statistics going down.

After that season, Mazzaro has split time between AAA and the majors with varying success in the majors and excellent seasons in AAA. Last year, his strikeout rate finally cracked nine in AAA, though it was accompanied by more walks. Without having seen much of Mazzaro, all I can base things off of here are his statistics and it looks to me like he’s a pitcher who needs to learn to control his pitches better. Doing that will result in both a higher K rate and a lower BB rate. So far in the majors, he has a deadly combination of walking too many hitters, not striking out enough and giving up too many hits. The other odd thing about Mazzaro is that throughout the minors he had a strong sinker that was able to get him a ton of grounders, but in 2010 in the majors, he actually had a below average groundball percentage. If he can regain his sinker, walk a few less and strike out a few more, I think he has a chance to be a legitimate #3 starter. If David DeJesus’s skills translated to pitcher, he’d be a #3 starter.

The wild card in the trade is the prospect acquired, Justin Marks. Marks is 22 years old and finished the season at high A in the Oakland system. Shockingly, Marks is left-handed, which the Royals are sorely needing in their pipeline (you can laugh, it’s okay). So far in his minor league career, he’s sort of the anti-Mazzaro. His statistics have been fairly pedestrian, but a closer look shows that he strikes out a ton of batters and has an acceptable walk rate…for now. If it stays at close to four through his career, he’ll probably find himself in some trouble, but based on the numbers he has a pretty good ability to miss some bats. After the 2010 season, I trust the Royals minor league system and I trust Dayton Moore and his men as minor league talent evaluators.

Ultimately, I don’t like this trade and I probably won’t unless Mazzaro becomes a #3 workhorse type starter. His ERA will rise in Kansas City without improving his peripherals. For now, though, he’s a cheap pitcher who can provide innings for a team sorely in need of someone to provide innings. Justin Marks is the wild card in all of this. Hopefully, he can get working with the Royals people and harness his ability and become yet another lefty prospect.

Next week, I’ll get into what this means for the Royals in this off-season and moving into next season. For now, it’s really tough to see a guy like DeJesus go. On a team full of a lot of also rans, it was nice to see DDJ in the lineup, playing hard, hitting line drives and just generally giving fans the experience of seeing a Major League ballplayer. He’s a fantastic player, but not a star, and it’s tough to forget that because he’s been the star in Kansas City for quite awhile.

DeJesus leaves behind a bit of an interesting legacy in Kansas City. He was a part of an awful lot of losing, but nobody ever really blamed him. He was often criticized for what he was not while being overlooked for what he was as a baseball player. Now that he’s no longer with the organization, I have a feeling that people will begin to miss what he brought to the table. I know I will, though I feel like I had a pretty good grasp of what that was the whole time. DDJ will be missed, but life will go on for the Royals.

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