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Two Takes on the Casey Trade

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Dan Szymborski:

It's nice to see the Pirates actually acquired a player whose strength is getting on-base and Dave Williams was the most expendable starter that could fetch something with the exception of Mark Redman. Casey's not a star, but the 1-year, $6.5 million he's given by the Pirates isn't really bad. It could be bad, though, if the team gets frustrated with Craig Wilson's defense in right and benches him. Brad Eldred could use a full season at AAA - the blind squirrel swing isn't going to cut it in the majors.

This trade is awful for the Reds. Williams practically guarantees that they'll again have a rotation with all 5 pitchers that both allow more balls into play than average and allow more flyballs than average in an outfield with a tremendously awful centerfielder and pretty bad leftfielder, assuming that's where Wily Mo ends up...

Dayn Perry:

Laying aside for the moment the inexplicable decision to acquire Tony Womack, the Reds, more importantly, were able to make Sean Casey go away. As a result, the Reds can move Adam Dunn to first base and thereby relieve the outfield bottleneck. Trading Casey, who is subpar with the glove, prone to shoulder problems and no longer an adequate hitter, to Pittsburgh also means (one hopes) that GM Dan O'Brien will resist any temptation to trade Dunn, Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena. After all, those three players are infinitely more valuable to the Reds' future than was Casey. That Cincy got back a potentially league-average starting pitcher in Dave Williams (and some cash) makes this deal all the better for them.

The more I think about it, the more I think both of these guys are partly right and partly wrong (or, mostly right and partly irrelevant, depending on how you look at it).

Szymborski is right that Casey has gotten on base fairly regularly in the past. But a lot of his on-base percentage has been intertwined with his high batting average, and the ability to hit for average is a skill that often disappears quickly as a player gets older. Szymborski's projection for Casey predicts he'll have a .373 OBP next year, which would be great, but it also predicts he'll have a .313 batting average. I think a .313 average for Casey is possible, but not particularly likely, as his bat will be a year slower and he'll be playing in a tougher park for hitters. He only hit .312 last year. The trouble is that if Casey's average dips much below .300 and everything else remains the same, he won't be especially valuable.

Someone mentioned Casey's Baseball Reference comparables list in a message-board thread, and it's interesting. Let's leave out numbers eight and nine, Alvin Davis and Mark Grace. Grace and Davis don't exactly have the same skill set as Casey; both had much better plate discipline than he does. Let's consider only the other eight players, whose offensive skill sets are more obviously similar to Casey's:

  1. Bill White
  2. Mike Greenwell
  3. Cecil Cooper
  4. Wally Joyner
  5. George Kelly
  6. Shannon Stewart
  7. Bob Watson
  8. Dmitri Young
(Casey will play next year at age 31.)

White's batting average started to decline after his age 30 season; he had a good season at 31 but declined quickly thereafter as his batting average fell. (Disclaimer: White played in a completely different offensive context than the one in which Casey plays.)

Greenwell never hit .300 after his age-29 season and was only an adequate hitter until his career ended at age 33.  

Cooper continued to hit for high averages and remained a very good player well into his 30s. His slowed down as his batting average began to shrink at age 34.

Like Cooper, Joyner was good well into his 30s; he also began to decline in his mid-30s as his batting average disappeared.

Another disclaimer: Kelly played most of his career in the teens and '20s. His career path is still a warning sign, though: his batting average started shrinking at around age 30, and he was never a plus offensive player after age 30.

Stewart is a much faster player than Casey, but his offensive profile is otherwise pretty similar. He tanked badly last year at age 31 as his batting average dropped below .300 for the first time since 1998.

Young's batting average has gotten smaller as he has gotten older - he posted averages above .290 in his age-24 to age-29 seasons but has failed to do so in the two seasons since then. He remains a decent offensive player, but his last two seasons have been a far cry from his 2003 peak.

While these points of reference aren't perfect - they don't factor in these players' injury histories, for example, and Young and White strike/struck out a lot more than Casey does - the trends are clear. Casey's ability to be a plus offensive player will likely depend heavily on his ability to keep his average above or near .300. He may continue to do that next year, and he may not. Either way, that skill will likely begin to desert him sometime relatively soon. Let's hope the Pirates aren't stuck holding the bag when he does. Either way, he's not a great offensive player now, and he's nothing special with the glove and terrible on the bases, so it won't take much of a decline for him to turn into a problem for the Pirates. The Pirates need to hope that Casey has a Cooper- or Joyner-like future, and not a Greenwell- or Stewart-like one.

I generally agree with Perry's analysis - Casey is nothing special at this point, and the Reds did well to get rid of him. However, I think Dave Williams is very unlikely to continue to appear to be a league-average pitcher in his tenure with the Reds. He gives up way too many home runs to succeed in the Reds' homer-happy ballpark, and his subpar strikeout and home run rates last year indicate that he didn't really earn his decent 2005 ERA. Getting the Reds to take Williams may end up making Dave Littlefield look smart - but I don't think his acquisition of Casey and his contract will end up being a good move for the Bucs.