How college group discovered the best Hamels trade
Maybe now we know why, despite an offseason rife with speculation, the Phillies haven't yet traded Cole Hamels. After all, it took five Arizona State grad students using two computer models and countless statistical metrics more than 60 hours over five days to devise what a panel of baseball experts judged the best possible deal for the Phillies ace.
Maybe now we know why, despite an offseason rife with speculation, the Phillies haven't yet traded Cole Hamels.
After all, it took five Arizona State grad students using two computer models and countless statistical metrics more than 60 hours over five days to devise what a panel of baseball experts judged the best possible deal for the Phillies ace.
Their winning proposal, selected from among all those formulated by 21 teams of collegians, had Boston sending Philadelphia pitchers Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriquez, plus outfielder Manuel Margot.
"[The Phillies would] add two quality arms and a promising outfielder, all of which are Baseball Prospectus Top 101 prospects," said Cody Callahan, 22, who captained the winners.
"However, the most significant reason we chose this trade is because of the value it will bring the Red Sox. . . . The Red Sox have the most to gain by adding Hamels."
The competitors in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition at March's Society for American Baseball Research Analytics Conference in Phoenix were asked to come up with as close to an ideal Hamels trade as possible.
The ASU group's second best option - and for virtually the same reasons as the Boston deal - involved sending Hamels to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Kyle Schwarber and pitchers Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood.
They also considered trades with the Toronto Blue Jays, most including prospect Daniel Norris, while runner-up Stanford offered a Phils-Yankees deal that would have brought shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and others here.
"We ended up going with the Red Sox and Cubs because the exchange of wins was equitable and the need for the Red Sox and Cubs was greater," Callahan said.
One of the helpful factors in their choice was the statistical comparisons they made between Hamels and other pitchers.
"It was a way of projecting how well Cole Hamels will play in the future. We used 13 different statistics at a certain age level to determine which players were most similar," he said.
Among those post-1969 clones the computer model spit out were Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, John Smoltz, Russ Ortiz and Mike Mussina.
So why were Hamels and the Phillies the focus of the SABR contest?
"His prominence and the fact that everyone knows he's able to be traded," said Callahan. "The contest's goal was to replicate a situation a general manager might be in and take an analytical approach to solve it."
Callahan hopes to be in that position someday.
The 22-year-old Orioles fan with roots in Bucks County already has interned as a statistical analyst with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And following his team's victory in Phoenix, he's heard from several big-league clubs interested in interviewing him after his May 14 graduation.
Judging was based on method, procedure and reasoning. As for the reasoning behind the proposed Phils-Red Sox trade, unless you are, like Callahan, a future baseball executive about to earn a master's degree in business analytics, you probably neither want to know nor are able to decipher them.
They involve such arcane measurements as PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorhythm), WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), NTI (Needy Teams Index) and Playoff and Wild Card Thresholds.
Here's just a small sample of the explanation Callahan offered in a subsequent article for BeyondTheBoxScore.Com:
"Once we identified the 30 nearest neighbors, we used their production to simulate Hamels' WARP each year from age 31 to 35," he wrote. "We then ran simulations on each age specific histogram. Each histogram contains six bins, with bin sizes dependent on the WARP of our nearest neighbors at that age. In each simulation, bins were selected through random number generation. Because WARP is uniformly distributed within bins, we randomly selected the projected WARP within the selected bin. If a player had not reached the necessary age for a specific histogram (e.g. Jon Lester), he was not considered in that histogram."
Attempting to simplify such a complex exercise can be dangerous, but basically the students solved the problem by determining the clubs most in need of an ace, devising historical comparisons for a player of Hamels' age and abilities, and establishing fair trade values.
It was the kind of dense numerical research increasingly demanded in a sport moving further away from seat-of-the-pants scouting. And by mastering it, Callahan hopes to open baseball doors.
"If you're not a former player, one of the best ways to get involved in the operations side of a baseball team is to develop analytic skills and market yourself," he said.
With the Diamondbacks, Callahan analyzed the assets and drawbacks of Japanese free agents.
"When looking at Japanese players, you have to look at their K-to-walk ratio," he said. "If you're coming from Japan and you strike out a lot relative to the amount of times you walk, that's not going to correct itself at the major-league level, especially since these players come over fully developed and in their primes."
Callahan's interest in baseball took off when he and his father, who grew up near Washington Crossing, toured several East Coast ballparks, including Veterans Stadium. From there, it wasn't a big jump for Callahan to combine that passion with his affinity for statistics.
"In a lot of ways, this competition replicated the way front offices now work," he said. "I see myself as an analyst, but those people work closely with the baseball side. It's not an adversarial relationship any more."
And maybe by the time Callahan is working in some team's front office, Hamels will have been traded.
"It's going to happen," he said. "The Phillies organization has alluded to the fact that they need to acquire younger players and maybe soften the blow of their payroll situation. The trade is inevitable. We'll probably see it this season."