Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More on Johnson and Rios

It seems like I'm the only one in the Nationals blogging community that thinks this trade is a bad idea. Of course, it is probably just a rumor without merit, but if it is true, I want to try to examine it further. Assuming either Rios or Wilkerson could play CF, we really only are comparing three players. Sledge (or Chavez) would probably round out the OF in either scenario. If that is the case, we would be comparing:

1B Johnson
LF/CF Wilkerson


1B Wilkerson
LF/CF Rios

In other words, it is a straight swap on offense between Rios and Johnson and a defensive move that slides Wilkerson to first.

These are the relevant defensive stats for Wilkerson and Johnson.

Wilkerson - RAR2(1B) - 10 in 136 games, RAR2(LF) - 28 in 264 games, RAR2(CF) - 18 in 133 games (but most of that was in 2002)
Johnson - RAR2(1B) - 18 in 226 games

It seems Wilkerson is a below average LF and CF and an average 1B. Johnson also seems to be a pretty average 1B according to RAR2. That means the defensive loss at 1B is nonexistent. Rios doesn't have an adequate body of work to assess his defense in LF, but by most accounts it is pretty good. He did play more CF in AAA, but it remains to be seen if he has a future there. Right now, people are just speculating on this point without hard data.

That means, the trade should be evaluated on offense between Johnson and Rios. This is how they measure up:

Nick, 26 years old, .255/.372/.418 career line, 2003 career high line of .284/.422/.472.
Alexis, 23 years old, .286/.338/.383 career and 2004 line.

At age 23, Nick hit .243/.347/.402

They had rather different experiences in the minors. Rios was a toolsy player that suddenly had a break out year in AAA where he showed power after putting up average performances in the lower minors. Johnson, on the other hand had an amazing year at AA and was dominant at the lower levels. After a mysterious hand injury, however, he put up less than expected numbers in AAA.

Nick, obviously has an injury history that needs to be accounted for. However, his most recent injury seems so random and unrelated that it is hard to hold it against him. Still, he is less likely to play a full season.

In the end, I'm still going with Nick as the slightly better player/value. With Rios you do have more cheap years, but I just don't know if his power numbers are ever going to come. If his AAA numbers were legit (.352/.404/.521), he is clearly the better player, but in 426 MLB AB's, he has barely shown a hint of that power. Johnson, while unlikely to breakout much more, is still young, and if he could come close to repeating his 2003 numbers, would be a solid, core player for the Nationals.

The trade is probably fair on both ends and depending upon how you assess Johnson's health and Rios's power numbers, you can reach very different results. For now, I'm sticking with Nick. That is, until this year's PECOTA numbers come out.


At 11:22 AM, Blogger Yuda said...

If it weren't for Nick's injury history, I'd agree with you completely.

But given the injuries, I think it's worth taking the risk on the younger, cheaper player -- the relevant question becomes "which one of these guys is more likely to be around and useful for the first good Nats team?"

I think the answer to that has to be Rios. But it's close.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger John said...

My 2004 BP says that Rios is clearly a plus CF, even though his stats don't show it. I've read similar reports elsewhere, and we all know how dubious defensive minor league stats can be anyway, so I'll put some credence in the scouting report. But you're right that defense isn't a big issue.

Like I said, Johnson is more of a risk. They both have upside, and Johnson may have a better shot at achieving that upside, though I haven't seen a reason to believe that. Johnson is two years closer to being over the hill, and isn't on the curve you'd want him to be on, for whatever reason, and is never expected to put up good power numbers anyway (he never has been... just good OBP). I don't mind what happens either way, but I think the trade makes sense if it's an even swap. I think it'd be silly to shed Armas as well, though.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I think that your assessment of the defensive tradeoff is not a good one. The 1B defensive replacement is neutral between Wilkerson and Johnson (despite Johnson's reputation as a glove-man). Wilkerson was a below-average CF even playing in Olympic Stadium/Puerto Rico's bandbox and doesn't have the legs to cover all of RFK even as "effectively" as he did in Montreal. Rios, however, has CF experience and was only bumped to LF in Toronto because it's a tall order to replace Vernon Wells' defense. Rios' expanding body of ML experience and superior speed probably support the conclusion that, if the 1B quality stays roughly the same, that this deal has the potential to be a significant defensive upgrade.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Washington Baseball said...

It's hard to assess the defensive aspects because Rios's defense at CF is largely an unknown. The scouting reports are pretty good, but who knows? I'm also unsure of how a 6'5" player who is putting on weight to increase his power can really be a quality CF. He may be the one, but his body type makes me think otherwise.

As for Johnson's injuries, I know it is a big potential downside. I hope I'm right on this one, but won't be surprised if he misses serious time.

I guess the primary reason I'm still skeptical on this deal is that Rios's AAA power numbers scream "fluke" to me right now. He did have almost a full season of AB's last year and his .SLG was pathetic. If I had more faith in his power, this deal would be a no-brainer. Right now, I think Rios is more likely to be Terrance Long than Brian Giles.


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