So Far, the Braves Are Winning the Shelby Miller-Jason Heyward Trade
No team wants to fleece another team in a trade. After all, the business of baseball, like any business, is all about relationships. The best deals are the ones that work out for both sides. When it does, it allows teams to work together in the future more easily.
No one wants to work with an organization that continually takes them for a ride.
It's still early and there is a lot of baseball left to be played. But so far, a month and a half into the 2015 season, it appears the Atlanta Braves have won their trade this offseason with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Last November, the Braves sent outfielder Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and a pitching prospect. The deal made sense for both sides. The Braves were rebuilding, and Heyward was entering the final year of his contract. So they flipped him to the Cardinals in exchange for a young starting pitcher who was cheap and could not become a free agent until 2019.
The Cardinals had no problem flipping Miller as they were already flush with pitching and took the opportunity to acquire Heyward, a superb defender and decent, if not spectacular, hitter to its outfield, likely with the thought of possibly extending him at some point this season.
On Sunday, Miller came within one out of a no-hitter against the Marlins before eventually finishing with a two-hit shutout. That pushed his record to 5-1 in eight starts with a 1.33 ERA. The 24-year-old is off to the best start of his career, which had been a pretty good one already, with a 3.06 ERA in 31 starts in 2013, and a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts last year, both for St. Louis.
Heyward, on the other hand, is off to a slow start, hitting just .244/.301/.370 with a weighted runs created (wRC+) of just 84 and an fWAR of 0.3. And the advanced metrics on his defense, which enabled him to generate a 5.2 fWAR last year despite middling offensive numbers, has shown him to be a barely below-average right fielder so far this season.
Now of course, there is still lots of season left, and both players could turn in the opposite direction, making this article look ridiculously stupid in a matter of weeks or months. But for right now, Atlanta has been on the winning end of this deal.
Shelby has been dominant despite not having huge strikeout numbers. In his near no-hitter Sunday, he only struck out four batters but walked just one. His 20.9% strikeout rate is only 25th among all qualified National League starters, and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.28 is 14th. His Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) of 3.77 indicates the advanced metrics don't see him keeping up this rate of success the whole season.
One thing Miller has done very well so far this year is limit hard-hit balls against him, with just 23.5% of everything hit off him considered a "hard-hit ball." Only Julio Teheran, Jeff Locke, Jake Arrieta and Cole Hamels have had fewer hard-hit balls hit off them this season.
As for Heyward, there are a couple troubling indicators that show further regression at the plate. He's still not hitting for power, although his Isolated Power (ISO) of .126 is slightly better than the puny .113 he put up last season. Most alarming is that his walk rate (BB%) is down, from 10.3% last year to 6.8% this year, while his strikeout rate (K%) is up, from 15.1% last year to 19.9% this year.
In a lineup as potent as the Cardinals, it's disheartening to see he has yet to take advantage of it, with just three home runs and 10 RBIs in 146 plate appearances, although he does have 21 runs scored.
Perhaps most discouraging is the fall-off in his defense. Last year, he led all right fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and it wasn't even close, with 32. Marlon Byrd was next closest with 6. This year, he has been worth just 1 DRS, 9th among 14 qualified National League right fielders.
For a guy looking at free agency next year, his poor start could be costing him a bit of money.
What has helped make the trade a bit better for the Cardinals, other than their Major League best 25-12 start, is the pitching of Walden, who has a minuscule 0.87 ERA in 12 appearances (10 1/3 innings pitched). Walden is striking out 28.6% of batters and walking just 9.5%, making him one of St. Louis' most effective arms out of the 'pen.
At the end of the day, trades are not won and lost based solely on the results of the first six weeks of the regular season. In the land of small sample sizes, the rush to judgment is king.
Still, it's hard not to give the nod to Atlanta, who jettisoned a player they were disappointed in and were going to lose to free agency anyway, in exchange for a young, cheap pitcher with upside and years of team control. Even if the statistics didn't look the way they did, the Braves probably would have gotten the better end of this deal anyway.