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in praise of intangibles

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anybody sick of hearing about roy oswalt yet? meh, well, i'm still going to beat that drum.

i lined up on the anti-trade side, especially as the trade might involve shelby miller, earlier this week. my position has changed, which i'll explain in a moment, but first let's look at the trade in these terms.

my big concern was oswalt's salary relative to his value. oswalt, in the past, has had enormous value, worth 6.4, 6.1, and 5.7 WAR in 2004-06. in the past two full seasons, he's been worth 3.6 and 3.1 WAR, due to a rising FIP. he'll be paid like a 3.5-4.0 WAR pitcher for the rest of 2010, 2011, and 2012, if his option were picked up. if he's a 3.0 WAR pitcher now, that would be an unfortunate deal. it wouldn't be a huge overpay in cash, but anything substantial that we gave up on top of that money in trade (i.e., shelby miller) would be a poor expenditure.

now, granted, he's shown signs this season of some kind of recovery, and has already been worth basically as much in part of 2010 as he was in all of 2009 (2.9 WAR v. 3.1). with a pitcher who will be 33 next month, it's hard to know whether there is a trend going on, and if so, where it's headed. maybe some bad luck made a 4-5 WAR pitcher look like a 3 WAR pitcher. or maybe oswalt is on a long decline - appropriate for his age - and the season so far is just a lucky hiccup in a longer trend of aging.

a quick look at the numbers behind the numbers: oswalt's velocity is not down - his FB comes at 92.9 MPH this year (93.1 in 2009), basically consistent with his numbers from his peak. he trusts his fastball a lot less than he did, though, throwing it only 55% of the time, versus almost 70% of the time at his peak. he's been making the difference up with a slider, and this year particularly a changeup (thrown 11.8% of the time, versus a career peak of 7%).

he could probably benefit from some dave duncan clinics. his GB% has dropped from better than 50% to around 43%. his K rate is better this year than usual, at 8 k/9, versus a career average of 7.42. his bb rate is basically in keeping with career norms (during his peak, he had disgusting control, turning in a 1.79 and 1.55 bb/9 in 2005 and 2006).

the extent to which i have been worrying about the above is diminishing, given the recent developments. while i have no inside contacts, the fleeting rumors have grown into fairly pointed commentary from the gentleman in question. previous suggestions that oswalt would demand that his option be picked up by any team to which he was traded have been refuted by oswalt himself, who now says he would not make that demand and would consider restructuring his contract for a trade to a contender. rumors that oswalt preferred the cards have become direct statements in favor of a trade to the cardinals.

on wednesday, his comment regarding rumors of a trade to philadelphia was, 'Saw it on TV this morning ... Until (the Astros) come up to me, there's really nothing I can do.'"

oswalt is, in baseball-playerese, saying to ed wade: "trade me to st. louis, you bastard."

now, just because oswalt puts his thumb on the scale does not mean that we'll net him for jeff suppan, joe mather's hamate bone, and a 5% stake in ballpark village. but it certainly increases the likelihood that he'll end up here, rather than philadelphia, and for a slightly less enormous amount of money and a year less of contractual obligations. the fact that oswalt seems to be favoring us over philadelphia, when he has tremendous say over where he goes, gives us great leverage in the trade as well.

oswalt pitches tonight. i'm going to predict he makes his next one in the birds on the bat. this just seems like where he wants to be.

and now we circle around to the title of the post. a frequent saw of traditionalists is to credit intangibles and clubhouse chemistry for success on the field. usually, this seems to be a self-affirming prophecy, finding "good chemistry" on teams that win games. for all i know, the kansas city royals all throw pizza parties in their hotel rooms after games and watch scary movies and paint each others' toenails and play "light as a feather, stiff as a board." if they do, it's not helping them.

while there's no evidence one way or the other on chemistry affecting on-field play, the oswalt negotiations seem like an interesting opportunity to discuss the real-world implications of intangibles. if your team is perceived to have "good clubhouse culture" or if your manager is perceived to be a "player's manager," it may encourage guys to come to your team.

oswalt hasn't really expounded on why he's interested in coming to the cardinals, other than to say he wants to go to a contender, which we are. and he may favor the cardinals as much thinking of the shallow left field wall at citizen's bank park, or the mouthbreathers writing for the philadelphia daily news, or guys with green laser pointers projectile vomiting on him, or JESUS THAT PHANATIC THING JUST FREAKS HIM THE HELL OUT. who knows?

but i think some element of clubhouse culture in st. louis - which he's had a lot of chances to observe, working in the division - probably attracts him. a few parts tony la russa (who is probably NOT a classic "player's manager"), several parts dave duncan, and i think several parts the relationships promoted on the rotation. the bond between chris carpenter and adam wainwright seems very strong. last year, several good pieces were written up on the mutual support offered by members of the rotation. oswalt has suffered through some fairly dreadful years on the astros, and some fairly talentless fellow rotation members, with wandy rodriguez being his only regular colleague on the team.

really, this is not so different from what occurs all over the working world. people know where they will get supported, where they will work with good colleagues. and that's an asset to any organization. there's no reason to think that it works differently in baseball.

this has its limits of course. the number of pitchers who have waxed eloquent about the culture in the st. louis clubhouse is long - halladay, buerhle, etc. most of them have gone on to clubs with more money and clubhouses that reek somewhat less of chemistry. and that's fine. what's unique here is that there is a pitcher who seems willing to sacrifice some money to come work with st. louis.

if good pitchers are attracted to our team and are willing to waive monetary demands, that's a very tangible way in which clubhouse culture helps to make this team better.

[edit - effin day games on saturday. guess this is the game thread too.]