It was Tuesday afternoon, and I was driving to cottage, for a much needed weekend away to re-charge my batteries. As I listened to whatever the automated voice on Google Directions was telling me the final directions to my destination were, I caught a peak of my phone and the updates from both Twitter moguls and friends noting that Jake Burger had been traded to the Marlins. I was honestly not prepared for the White Sox to make a trade of a player controllable for future years. There were whispers of interest in Tim Anderson and tons of public discussion about the merits of trading Dylan Cease, but little around Jake Burger.
One person who did actually write about potentially trading Burger was Jordan Lazowski. I spoke with him the day before about Burger’s trade value and the potential for him and other right handed bat only White Sox players to improve. You can watch that video below. This particular discussion starts at approximately the 12:15 mark…
Why Would The White Sox Do This?
As someone who assumed that White Sox would only deal players they were forced to by contract pressures, why make this deal? I think the most obvious reason to deal from the controllable roster is to help clear up the White Sox obvious problem of having too many bat-only right handed hitters. This was the problem that was supposed to clear up when Jose Abreu opted for free agency and left for the Astros on a 3 year deal.
That was going to allow Andrew Vaughn to man his rightful position at 1st base and Eloy Jimenez could slide comfortably over to DH permanently. Of course Eloy has been hurt basically on and off all year and Andrew Vaughn has been barely above replacement level. With only the surprise emergence of Burger buoying the bevy of right handed sluggers. I’ve written about Jake a bit this year, you can read those blogs HERE and HERE, if that interests you.
But unlocking the roster and changing direction seems like a reasonable approach, especially for a White Sox team in the position they are in. If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said I thought Eloy Jimenez might be the most likely candidate for this sort of treatment as I think his bat has the highest upside of the 3. Tom Fornelli and I discussed this very point, among other points in a recent episode of The Au Jus. So why Burger? What gives?
Let’s Make One Thing Clear
We are not going to talk about the Jake Burger story. Nor are we going to discuss leadership, playing the right way, or your personal feelings about a player that ostensibly looks like he could be sitting in Section 108 crushing beers with the rest of us. This is going to be a cold estimation (made by me, don’t try this at home) of what I see as the potential outcomes of the trade, not taking into account any personal feelings of the player. Mind you, those things do matter in a venture that is about entertainment and selling tickets or getting people to buy products, so it does matter, but just not for this particular analysis. Okay. Now we are ready….almost.
What about the return in this trade?
The White Sox received back pitcher Jake Eder in the deal from the Marlins. He was a 4th round pick by the Marlins in the 2020 draft (that was the weird short year draft). He’s rated as a 45 FV prospect on Fangraphs (after being a pre-season top 100 prospect, the velo dip has dragged the ranking). Check out this article by Eric Longenhagen with his grades from the trade deadline….then check out a fuller description by him (be sure to combine the two for maximum knowingage). He’s a 6’4″, lefty, with terrific stuff and a rough understanding of the strike zone. This feels like the Dylan Cease playbook, which the White Sox have executed. Build up the innings base, get the control to at least passable and let the stuff play. That would be a huge win. There’s a bunch of reliever risk here too, so his potential outcomes are varied. That’s not the focus of my blog per se, I want to discuss Burger. But Eder’s outcomes vary from top of the rotation starter who you can’t wait to go to the ballpark to watch to power reliever that gives you the bubble guts due to his wildness.
A couple of interesting “thoughts in the shower” I had about this return. First, the Marlins turn pitching prospects into pitchers like few other orgs. THEY ARE ELITE. They’ll even take Jesus Luzardo off your hands when he sucks and make him back into a reliable starter. But this is the guy they would part with for Jake Burger (put a pin in this thought, as I want to get back to it). Take that for what it’s worth. Conversely, Jake Eder isn’t really ready to pitch for the big league club, due to injury (he is coming off of Tommy John surgery), but he is due for 40 man protection from the Rule 5 draft in December 2023. Some of the White Sox EV in the trade could be just that they can afford a 40 man spot for him in 2024 to take his time to develop where the Marlins maybe feel they don’t.
Back to the pin. I have seen way too much of this thought out in the interwebs…
I get the idea of “sell high” but the thought process is a little flawed, as it assumes that not only does the other GM / org not understand the risks inherent in the player, but that the market overall doesn’t understand them. That can happen, these markets, especially without lots of similar transactions aren’t perfectly efficient (no markets really are), but we’ll assume for this exercise and all future similar ones that the trade that was made is basically even. Fair value if you will. This deal seems to include two potentially volatile players, so I think it tracks. Anywho, let’s move on to Jake.
What if Jake Stays Basically the Same as NOW?
As of this post, Jake is top 20 in hitters with 300 Plate Appearances or more in slugging, he’s got 26 home runs and despite his lack of defensive prowess at any position, his decent base running (propped up by a 70th percentile sprint speed) and power have him at 1.5 fWAR for the season. Below is his heat chart from Baseball Savant.
That’s a wild chart, which is why we’ll take a good look at both Jake collapsing and improving in a moment. I took a quick look to see where I think Jake might be getting lucky or unlucky so far in his 2023 performance. He does have the 2nd highest HR / FB rate in MLB right below Shohei Ohtani at 30.1%. That seems incredibly lucky, although his xSLG on baseball savant is .513, where as his actual slugging is .523, so no material difference.
One place where he seems to be a bit unlucky is he has a ghastly .225 BABIP (league average is generally around .300). Now normally this could be washed away by the fact that he’s chubby, but he runs pretty well. He also hits the ball hard, which should help his BABIP, the one main tenet of poor BABIP behavior he displays is he hits too many infield fly balls. Let’s assume that some combination of the BABIP improving and the HR / FB rate decreasing a bit leave him right back where he is right now. That seems reasonable.
We’ll just go ahead and project him on average for about 1.5-2.0 fWAR per season. Jake is controllable through 2028, which would have him racking up 7.5 to 10 fWAR for the Marlins cumulatively through his tenure with the team. That sort of output would require Jake Eder to become either a fairly durable back end starter or Josh Hader to match it.
What if Jake Burger Collapses?
We have been here before. If Jake Burger collapses, which seems like the sentiment many feel is the reason for this being a smart deal, then it will be hard for the White Sox to lose the deal. OBVIOUSLY.
It’s reasonable to be concerned about this sort of thing, but I don’t think they are apples to apples. Burger was the 11th overall pick, while Palka was a 3rd rounder. Burger has good speed and is a decent base runner, while Palka was slow. Burger can play defense (below average) on the dirt, Palka didn’t have a position. Where they are similar is that both of these dudes are charismatic and deserving of your attention when they make content off the field. They also both hit the daylights out of the ball when they make contact.
Burger definitely has collapse risk and if he does in fact collapse Eder won’t need to be much more than better than Jose Ruiz to see the White Sox win the deal. Still LOVE Daniel Palka and I don’t think the White Sox could’ve gotten Jake Eder back in a trade for him.
What if Jake Burger Improves?
If Jake Burger improves, it will likely be in patience at the plate. Above is a tweet tracking his walks by month, which went from non-existent the first 3+ months of the season to 11 in 91 Plate Appearances in July. That’s a small sample, it might not be real, but what if it is, then we got something. We’ll get to that shortly. Just to put a magnifying glass on Jake’s problem, let’s look at his plate discipline on Fangraphs.
Let’s just focus in on the O-Swing% and O-Contact% for the 2023 season. Now horny WST might think of this as something else, but really it’s the % of time he swings at pitches outside of the zone and the % of time he makes contact with those pitches. League average for O-Swing% is ~32%, as you can see, ole Jake be swinging at those pitches at almost a 42% clip (that bad) and the league average for O-Contact% is around 62%, ole Jake is only making contact around 51% (that also bad). If Jake is going to IMPROVE- IMPROVE, then he’s going to need to stop swinging at every damn thing. You already knew that just from watching him, but I figured bringing in some numbers on this would help everyone visualize.
But let’s say Jake does go from a 7% walk rate guy, which he is in 2023, to a 10% walk rate guy like he was in AAA in 2022. Then let’s say his BABIP improves from .225 to something closer to normal, like .300. What might those numbers look like?
YMMV on these calcs, I did them kinda ham fisted after #108ing for a week straight, so feel free to play with them yourselves, but on balance the 3% increase in walk rate and normalized BABIP could turn a decently adequate corner bat into a goddamn monster. At this moment, there are roughly 7-10 qualified hitters with an OPS in the .900 or above range. That’s pretty terrific and plays even if you are one of the more miserly evaluators of Jake’s defense.
Maybe he only gets to half of this OPS potential and has to play 1b because he’s too stinky at 3b. An .850-.860 OPS in today’s game would place him 3rd out of qualified 1b. That’s pretty spiffy. Does he make that leap, I have no idea, but this is the upside potential. This also assumes he gives up no gains in power due to any of these changes, which isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it’s fun to dream.
Obviously in this scenario Jake is cranking out 3-4 fWAR seasons each year and well, the White Sox are likely to lose this trade in devastating fashion. I feel like this scenario, though not the most likely one, might occur a few more times than I am personally comfortable with.
The White Sox brain trust picked a path here and for that I commend them. They needed to break loose a bit of a log jam if you will and likely chose the guy that could command the most back in trade at this point in time. Too many times over the last decade the White Sox have chosen a “safer” path and not really addressed obvious roster construction issues. At least this is an attempt at solving their own self induced ailment. I’m scared of the potential outcomes, but given all the times this meme has been wrong in actuality, maybe it will happen again for someone we traded and it won’t hurt so bad.
About The Author
Low information White Sox Fan.
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2019 Opening Day #SoxMath WINNAR