Deadline deals: In hindsight, much ado about … not much

I’€™ve been thinking about deadline deals a lot lately. I just wrote about Yoenis Cespedes, and C. J. Nitkowski just wrote about the Astros’€™ disappointing acquisitions, and Alex Wood pitched a gem for the Dodgers on Wednesday night.

It’€™s not surprising, though, because a lot of players get traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. How many? On any given day in late July, there are 750 players on active major-league rosters, and maybe 500 of those players have some real value to one contending team or another. Well, my rough count shows 36 significant players traded between the 15th and 31st of July. Which seems like a lot.

As C. J. pointed out, it takes years to fully analyze these trades, because of course they often involve multiple prospects who will take years to pan out (or not). What we can do, though, is look at the short-term impact of the players acquired by contenders, since (with just a few exceptions; we’€™re looking at you, Cole Hamels) these guys will only be around for the short term.

So again, we’€™re talking about 36 players. How many of them have made a real difference in the standings? Just to check myself, I averaged their and FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. Which is actually sort of pointless for nearly all the hitters, because the values are nearly the same for most players. There are significant differences with some pitchers, because doesn’€™t care much about fielding-independent pitching stats and FanGraphs does. Fortunately, it’€™s not many pitchers, and it’€™s really not many who seem particularly interesting.

Anyway, here are the five players with the best averaged WARs since being traded:

2.6 Yoenis Cespedes (Mets)

2.0 David Price (Blue Jays)

1.6 Ben Zobrist (Royals)

1.5 J.A. Happ (Pirates)

1.2 Troy Tulowitzki (Blue Jays)

… and here are the five with the lowest:

-0.4 Shane Victorino (Angels)

-0.4 Aramis Ramirez (Pirates)

-0.6 David DeJesus (Angels)

-0.7 Gerardo Parra (Orioles)

-1.0 Jim Johnson (Dodgers)

In fact, those five up top are the only five with WARs higher than one.

I’€™d like you to reflect upon that for a moment. The season’€™s almost over, and so many electrons were spilled over all the deadline deals … and 30 of the players dealt have been worth fewer than 1 Win Above Replacement and more than negative-1. At the moment, not a single playoff race is closer than 1 ½ games.

Caveat: WAR doesn’€™t measure everything, and in particular it doesn’€™t make any allowances for clutch hitting. If you trade for a guy and he bats .220 but also hits a couple of walk-off homers, you’€™re thrilled to have him. But of course that cuts both ways; you might have a guy hitting .350, but doing most of his damage in blowouts. I could have looked at WPA for everybody, but didn’€™t. WAR is a fair representation of a player’€™s performance, and a useful way to compare that performance to what his team expected when it traded for him. I’€™ll bet the Dodgers expected more from Jim Johnson, the Angels from David DeJesus.

And since we’€™re talking about those teams, man did the Dodgers and the Angels get hosed at the deadline!

The Angels seemingly had one goal: bolster the outfield. Well, the three guys they got –€“ DeJesus and Victorino, plus David Murphy –€“ all have negative WAR since joining the club. The Angels would almost certainly be in a better position right now if they’€™d done absolutely nothing. Just a total wipeout for them.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers traded for Johnson, Mat Latos and Wood. Latos still hasn’€™t won a game, and Wood had pitched poorly before Wednesday night. Johnson’€™s been a disaster.

Oh, and the Dodgers are 7 ½ games ahead of the Giants.

Their big moves didn’€™t work at all, and all they’€™ve done is run away and hide.

Which should be the real takeaway here.

The Mets would have a big lead without Cespedes, the Royals without Zobrist; granted, both teams will probably be thrilled to have their prizes next month, not that either player is guaranteed to continue his surge for another few weeks.

Of all those 36 players, it seems to me that only three have made a real difference so far: Price and Tulowitzki with the Blue Jays, and maybe Happ with the Pirates. Without Happ, the Pirates’€™ lead over the Cubs in the wild-card standings might have vanished by now. Without Price and Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays probably wouldn’€™t own a semi-comfortable lead over the Yankees.

But that’€™s really about it.

Again, with few exceptions we’€™re not seeing difference-makers among all those players, upon whom we reported so breathlessly. And yes, the specifics might change before season’s end. But not the generality. Which is why I won’€™t be repeating this exercise until after the World Series, at which point we might find that a playoff spot or two was determined by deadline deals, and maybe a postseason series or two as well. So far, though, I’€™m just not feeling Brandon Moss.