Earlier this week Brian Cashman acknowledged that Joba Chamberlain hasn’t been the same since his 2008 shoulder injury, something that was pretty obvious to all. For whatever reason, that was followed by a lot of “trade him now” discussion, a logic jump I’m not quite sure I understand. Anyway, I wanted to take a stab at determining his trade value since given all the opinions out there.
We’re going to do this two ways. In this post I’ll bust out my slide rule and figure it Joba’s trade value the ol’ sabermetric way, and in another post later today I’ll dig up some similar players and see what they were traded for and use that as a comparison. Not terribly accurate, no, but that’s never stopped us before.
Last season Joba was worth 1.4 fWAR because his strong strikeout (9.67 K/9), walk (2.76 BB/9, 2.51 uIBB/9), and homerun (0.75 HR/9) rates led to a 2.98 FIP, 35th best among the 124 relievers that through at least 50 IP. Some unfortunate luck on the BABIP (.327) and strand rate (66.6%) fronts made his ERA (4.40) a lot worse than the underlying performance says it should have been.
You might disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that those strikeout, walk, and homer rates are indicative of Joba’s true talent level, or at least serve as a rough approximation of it. Even if he regresses some and is a 3.30 FIP reliever, that’s still a valuable piece. The problem going forward is that he can only be so valuable as a middle reliever, especially since Mariano Rivera will be sticking around as closer. Joba’s average Leverage Index last year was 1.22, but he was an eighth inning for half the season. With Rafael Soriano on board, Joba figures to work the six and/or seventh innings.
Going forward, I think 1.4 fWAR might be the upper bound of Joba’s value because of his reduced role. There’s also the potential for improved performance since he spent last season at just 24 years old, so 1.4 fWAR might be underselling his future worth. To be slightly conservative, I’m going to keep it constant going forward, assuming he doesn’t have a big contract push in store for 2013. Teams have gone back to paying about $5M per win this offseason, so a 1.4 fWAR reliever would theoretically fetch $7M per year on the open market. Since Joba’s under team control for the next three seasons, his total value is $21M given our assumptions.
Now we have to consider the money being paid to him, since that decreases his value. Joba will earn $1.7M in 2011 before getting raises in both 2012 and 2013, assuming he isn’t non-tendered. Arbitration salaries are typically estimated with a 40/60/80 breakdown, meaning 40% of value in year one, 60% in year two, and 80% in year three. That $1.7MM salary means Joba is starting at just 25% of expected value in year one though, so perhaps 50% in year two and 70% in year three would be more accurate. That would put his next three salaries at just $1.7M (fixed), $3.5M, and $4.9M, respectively. They sound reasonable, so let’s go with them.
All we have to do to figure out Joba’s trade value is subtract his salary from his production, so that’s…
$21M – ($1.7M + $3.5M + $4.9M) = $10.9M
Let’s call it $11M just to make it a nice round number. We’re not splitting atoms here, we can fudge a little.
According to Victor Wang’s research, Joba would be able to fetch a pitching prospect that you’d find towards the back of the top 100 list in a trade, which is someone below the Manny Banuelos/Andrew Brackman/Dellin Betances level but above the Hector Noesi/David Phelps/Adam Warren level. He could also get you a full year of Edwin Jackson, assuming Jackson sustains last year’s 3.8 fWAR pace ($10.5M surplus value). If you want to shoot for the moon, you could couple Joba with a Grade-B position player prospect ($5.5M value according to Wang) like Brandon Laird and get Dan Haren, as long as you believe Haren can maintain last year’s 4.5 fWAR pace over the last two guaranteed years of his contract. That’s a reasonable expectation, and would generate $16M in surplus value. We can play this game all day if we want, but that gives you can idea of where his value stands.
Joba’s trade value looks great in a spreadsheet, but that’s not where this stuff actually happens. That’s why were going to look at comparable trades later today, and I have a feeling that will get a little closer to reality.