So, Astros, what up? You should be getting mentioned in the same breath as the Diamondbacks for that insane trade you just pulled, but you aren't. You can thank several factors for that. But, yeah, that was crazy.
The Ken Giles trade proves that, in the minds of most media and baseball people, potential is worth more than actual performance. I've yet to see someone slam the Astros in the way the Diamondbacks have been, despite the fact that Shelby Miller is basically a proven commodity while Ken Giles is a guy with just over 100 innings and a grand total of 16 saves. But let's compare the trades, and then, at the end, I'll theorize why the Astros get a pass.
The Astros get Ken Giles, the Diamondbacks Shelby Miller. There's several ways to look at comparing the two. One is to look at projections, but both are young, and particularly Giles doesn't have a lot to go on. So let's look at what the teams apparently think they are. The Diamondbacks gave up a package that should have gotten an ace, but no one thinks Miller is an ace. Instead, he's a #2 guy when he's on, and that's what the Diamondbacks are hoping. The Astros, meanwhile, are clearly hoping that Giles is the best closer in baseball. So let's assume both of those things work out. Giles is great, and Miller is a solid #2 starter.
From 2006-Present, there have been 101 seasons by starting pitchers with 5 fWAR or more. Of that 101, I'd say about 11 were by pitchers that weren't top of the rotation talent, with two from guys like Aaron Harang and Dan Haren who were a lot like Miller; able on their day to be unhittable, but far from the top guys. So the chances of Miller reaching that level are slim. He's most likely to be around 3 fWAR, which is a level he surpassed last year. That's not spectacular, but it is solid, and working behind a bona fide ace in Greinke could help him reach another level. Basically, the Diamondbacks are hoping he can become a 5 WAR pitcher. It could happen, but not likely. Over the past 10 seasons there have been 600 guys in the #2 or #3 spots in the rotation, and ~11 of them have reached that level. That's less than a 2% chance.
But Giles has even less of a chance to deliver on expectation. Since 2006, there have been zero seasons by a relief pitcher of 4 fWAR, let alone 5. Extend it to the entire divisional era, and only Bruce Sutter's 1977 season (5.2 fWAR) does. The most recent to reach even 4 fWAR was Eric Gagne in 2003, and only four relievers since 1990 have surpassed 4 fWAR. Even Mariano Rivera only did so once, in 1996, when he wasn't even a closer. Analytics people are supposed to know that a closer isn't necessarily the most valuable bullpen role. Rivera (the best closer ever, mind you) passed 3 fWAR only three times in his entire career. Basically, the ceiling for Giles is a consistent 2.5 WAR player.
Of course, Giles has more control than does Miller. Six years to three, although if Giles is putting up those numbers he's going to get very expensive. Still, at 2.5 WAR a season (which would be near-historic) Giles is worth 15 WAR over the next six years. If Miller is what the Diamondbacks hope (that 1.5% chance) he'll also be worth 15 WAR.
Result: Push. Closers just aren't worth as much as people think they are. And analytics people (like the Astros front office) should know this.
The Throw-in Prospects
Each trade had a throw in prospect. The Astros threw in outfielder Derek Fisher to help seal the deal. Fisher tore up the Midwest League last year and wasn't terrible in the California League. He also posted a .821 OPS in the Arizona Fall League. He's not terrible, but isn't highly regarded. Gabe Speier is notable for having been traded repeatedly, but did pitch well out of the bullpen in the Midwest League last year. But what is notable? The Braves threw in Speier, while the Astros threw in Fisher. Thus, four players were given for one, Giles, and three players were given for two: Miller and a lottery ticket. Fisher also looks to be better than Speier at this point, but it's way to early to tell.
Result: Much better for the Diamondbacks. They got an extra prospect who is a LHP and shows some promise, while the Astros gave up an extra prospect with a halfway decent bat, who becomes the #9 prospect in the Phillies organization.
The Major League Player
Technically, the Astros had two major league players in the deal, but only Brett Oberholzer has much in the way of experience. In 42 career starts, he's accumulated 3.9 fWAR, which is more than acceptable. He's a solid back-of-the-rotation arm with the ability to be a bit more, and he slots right into the Phillies rotation. Steamer projects him to be worth 0.7 fWAR in 2016, but in only 11 starts. Even with diminishing returns (and he's already topped 200 innings, so he shouldn't fall off too much) he looks like he could be a 2 WAR player for the Phillies in 2016, provided he sticks in their rotation all year.
I'm high on Ender Inciarte. I think he is the Braves' All Star representative. But analytics isn't nearly as high on him as I am. A lot of that has to do with his defense; DRS loves Inciarte, UZR not so much. So he was a 5 WAR player last year by B-ref, and not by Fangraphs. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.3 fWAR in 2016. I think he'll do better than that, but expecting him to surpass his 3.3 fWAR 2015 might be a bit much.
Result: Personally, I think Inciarte is the better player. But Steamer disagrees, and might even give a slight edge to Oberholzer when extrapolated over a full season. So I'll call this a wash.
The Top-100 Prospect
Both teams also gave up a player that was a top-100 prospect heading into 2015. Aaron Blair was 59th on Fangraphs' Top-200, and Vince Velasquez was 75th. More importantly, both were in the same tier. Basically, Fangraphs, an analytic site if there ever was one, regards these two players as being on basically the same level.
Aaron Blair's ratings: Fastball 50/55, Curveball 45/50+, Changeup 50/55, Command 45/50+.
Vince Velasquez: Fastball 55/60, Curveball 45/50+, Changeup 55/60, Command 45/50+
Velasquez has better stuff, but has an injury history. His stuff is TOR stuff. Plus, he has major league experience, appearing in 19 games (7 starts) with the Astros last year. If he stays healthy, he's a possible TOR fixture for the Phillies.
Result: Push. Velasquez has better stuff, Blair has better health, both will instantly slot into the rotation for their new teams.
The Recent Draft Pick
The ridicule the Diamondbacks have taken largely comes from trading Dansby Swanson, the top pick in the draft. We know a lot about him, so I won't summarize him here. Suffice to say none of us are happy about it. He was the #2 prospect entering the draft, enough said.
But Thomas Eshelman was the #98 prospect entering the draft. He's a pitcher, which is instantly a more valuable commodity than a position player. And he profiles as a back of the rotation starter who will be ready soon, as he already has excellent command of four good, if unspectacular, pitches.
Result: Swanson clearly the better prospect, but Eshelman could be a useful major league starter as soon as 2017. The difference isn't as vast as people think it is.
The Diamondbacks got more for what looks like a basically equal package. Giles will have to be hall-of-fame level for six years to equal what Miller could do in three, if Miller lives up to what the D-backs think he can. The Diamondbacks only pay more if you think Fisher+Eshelman isn't worth more than Swanson-Speier, and I think those two are roughly equal, with Fisher and Eshelman likely worth more than the combination of Swanson and Speier. Both are bad trades in terms of what was given up, but I think the Phillies got a lot better deal than the Braves did, as they might well have acquired 60% of their 2017-2018 rotation in this one deal.
So why aren't people criticizing the Astros? Simple. We love analytics. We know the Astros make heavy use of data, and the Diamondbacks don't. So the media assumes that the Astros know what they are doing, and the Diamondbacks don't. Also, everyone knows who Dansby Swanson is, while almost no one knows who Thomas Eshelman and Gabe Speier are. Also, the Astros were a bullpen collapse away from reaching the LCS last year, so it makes more sense to spend for one piece to get them over that hump (never mind the fact that they won only 86 games last year, only 7 more than the Diamondbacks.) Perception is reality, and the Astros are perceived as closer than the Diamondbacks, even though that is almost certainly not true after the D-backs acquired Greinke.
But in what universe is it a better deal to trade for potential than to trade for a proven commodity? Shelby Miller has proven that he can be a successful middle of the rotation starter while occasionally flashing more. If those flashes become consistent, the Diamondbacks made the better deal going away. Giles has proven...? He's been a closer for all of two months. He's been a great reliever, to be sure, but great relievers simply aren't worth as much as middle of the rotation starters.
Anything can happen, of course. Miller could fall on his face, the prospects the Astros lost could turn into nothing, and the Diamondbacks could be remembered for one of the worst trades ever. But if the trade works out as the teams that made the trade hope, the Diamondbacks will have made the better trade. And it's also possible that Giles flops as full-time closer, and the Astros wind up with egg on their faces.
Astros got fleeced worse than the Diamondbacks, y'all. And no one wants to talk about it.