As Spring Training is going on, Bleacher Report asked all the community leaders for Major League Baseball teams to write an article debating a certain question against another community leader. Here is my side of the debate, which has to do with the Braves and Nationals.
The Topic of Debate
Two teams that underwent rotation construction this offseason were the Braves and Nationals. The Nationals added Scott Olsen from the Marlins and signed Daniel Cabrera away from Baltimore, while the Braves signed Derek Lowe away from the Dodgers and traded for Javier Vazquez. Which traded pitcher will have more success in his new location, Vazquez with the Braves, or Olsen with the Nationals?
The Braves acquired Javier Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan in a trade with the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a group of prospects that included catcher Tyler Flowers.
The Nationals acquired Scott Olsen from the Marlins in a trade that also involved Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Willingham.
The 2008 Season
Javier Vazquez: 12-16, 200 K, 4.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Scott Olsen: 8-11, 113 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Vazquez struggled through the 2008 season, posting good peripheral numbers but failing to translate them into a good record or ERA. His 2007 season was much better, and ongoing criticism from manager Ozzie Guillen may have helped contribute some to his numbers getting worse in 2008. Vazquez also suffered from a low LOB percentage (68.3) and an incredibly high BABIP (.328) in 2008. Even if he had remained in Chicago, Vazquez likely would have improved simply by having both of those stats regress toward the league average.
Olsen was the opposite of Vazquez in 2008. He struggled mightily in 2007, and his season last year was a great improvement. However, he also had an insanely high BABIP in 2007 (.350) and a crazy low BABIP (.266) in 2008. Assuming that his numbers regress toward the mean (which they typically do), Olsen will likely perform somewhere in between his performance from the two seasons.
The Trade Intangibles
Already it seems as if Vazquez is headed for improvement while Olsen is headed for regression in 2009. When you look at the intangibles in each trade, that fact becomes even more apparent.
Vazquez moves back to the NL, where he performed some of his finest work while with the Nationals' predecessor, the Montreal Expos. Pitchers tend to perform better in the NL, with an average ERA decrease of anywhere from .5-.75 runs (depending on what years you look at).
Vazquez will also benefit from changing ballparks. While US Cellular Field in Chicago had a park factor for runs of 1.122 in 2008, Turner Field had a park factor of 1.063.
Another way in which Vazquez stands to benefit in the 2009 season is the switch from the loud, critical, and controversial Ozzie Guillen to the well-respected, future Hall of Famer in Bobby Cox as manager.
Being that he didn't have a very good relationship with Guillen, this move can only benefit Vazquez.
Olsen once again is the opposite of Vazquez. Although he isn’t switching leagues (which would hurt him), he is moving to a worse team in the same division.
The Nationals are likely to give him less run support, which will eventually lead to fewer wins than he would have earned with the Marlins. He also won’t have the opportunities to face the punch-less Nationals lineup, which ranked 27th in batting average and 28th in runs last year.
Olsen will also have to deal with a move to a stadium that is more hitter friendly than Dolphin Stadium (which he has called home his entire Major League career). Dolphin Stadium had a park factor of .954 for runs in 2008 (favoring pitchers), while Nationals Park had a factor of 1.038 (favoring hitters).
I will give both “expert” projections and my projections for the 2009 season for both players. The expert projections are the average of the mlb.com, espn.com, Bill James, CHONE, and ZiPS projections.
Javier Vazquez: 14-10, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 202 K
Scott Olsen: 9-12, 4.69 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 126 K
Javier Vazquez: 15-9, 3.65 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 210 K
Scott Olsen: 8-14, 4.65, 1.40 WHIP, 120 K
Even without a trade, Vazquez likely would have improved this year while Olsen would have regressed.
With the trade intangibles factored in, Vazquez is looking at being in a better situation with a different manager and playing in a better pitcher's park for 2009. He also moves to the NL, which is a huge benefit. Olsen moves to a worse team and a worse park for pitchers, while not getting the multiple yearly opportunities that he used to get against one of baseball’s most pathetic offenses.
The projections all favor Vazquez, and I agree that he will no doubt produce a better season with the Braves than Olsen will with the Nationals this year.
In conclusion, I think that Vazquez will help turn the Braves into contenders, while Olsen will make the Nationals...the Nationals.