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Friday, January 13, 2012

Bill James Predicts The Lansford/Burleson/Hobson Trade Outcome

Back when I was doing the daily series about player birthdays in team history, I ran this for Rick Burleson which detailed the catastrophic trade by the Angels of Carney Lansford, Mark Clear, and Rick Miller to Boston for Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson. That deal turned out to be a catastrophe for the Angels — it was the second such horror in as many years, given the team let Nolan Ryan walk in free agency just the year prior.

But what brought this to mind was a Sports Illustrated article by Daniel Okrent (h/t Jay Jaffe on Twitter) introducing the then-unknown Bill James to a wider audience. In particular, check out this passage about that deal, freshly struck, and the far more even-handed deal that sent Fred Lynn to the Angels:

This season James relishes the textbook cases he expects will develop from the big Boston-California switches of the past winter, when players shuttled between the best hitters' park in the league (Fenway) and the third-worst (Anaheim). "One is tempted to say," he writes, "that when you put Carney Lansford in Fenway he will inherit Fred Lynn's statistics, and when you put Lynn in the Big A, he will pick up those left behind. That could very possibly happen, and I've hung myself on cruder scaffolds."

James then made the following bold declarations:

  • Lynn, over a period of years, will not even approach in California the offensive production he had in Fenway. If he hit .300 two-thirds of the time in Fenway, it might be one-third of the time in California. James admits that Lynn is unpredictable, but he estimates that in the long run he will be a .285 hitter in Anaheim, with 18 to 24 home runs a year. [In fact, he only once in four years with the Angels posted near a .300 average, in 1982 when he hit .299. — RLM]
  • Third Baseman Lansford, a .261 hitter in Anaheim with 15 homers last year, is pegged for a .310 season in Boston with 25 home runs, but, says James, "that doesn't represent the upper boundary of his ability." [Lansford went on to post two very good seasons with Boston, and then found himself traded to Angels' AL West division rival Oakland, where he finished his career.]
  • Rick Burleson, the ex-Boston short-Stop, never used Fenway to his particular advantage and should hit just as well in California. [He did — for one year — separated his shoulder in a spring training game in 1982, missed most of that year, posted solid numbers in 1983, but missed most of 1984 when he re-tore his rotator cuff lifting weights before the season.]
  • But Butch Hobson, the third baseman sent from Boston to California, is in for trouble. His home-run frequency will hold up, but his average will plummet so much that, in combination with his poor defensive play, it will make him a bad risk. The Angels will eventually bench him, since they already have an abundance of designated hitters and first basemen, and there's no other place to play Hobson. So he'll wind up hitting .230, with 15 to 22 home runs, in no more than 350 to 450 at bats. [Just so. He hit .235/.321/.336.]
  • Joe Rudi will drive in 100 runs in Boston if he's healthy and playing. "But," adds James, "if he'd been healthy, he would have done it in California." [I can't tell if Rudi was healthy, but judging from the 49 games he appeared in in 1982 for Boston, I take that as a "no".]
Pretty impressive, really.

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