The Royals executed a deadline trade today, giving Kyle Smith, a pitching prospect in High A ball, to the Houston Astros in exchange for Justin Maxwell, an outfielder. The reaction on Twitter was swift, fierce, and scathing. I am going to try to give some perspective on the trade, and perhaps a more calm reaction.
First, let’s look at what the Royals gave up. Kyle Smith was taken in the 4th round of the 2011 draft out of high school. In 2012, in low A ball he threw 67 and 1/3 innings in 13 starts and had a K% of 31.1% and a BB% of 7.1%. His ERA was 2.94 and his FIP was 2.13. In 2013, in high A ball, he threw 104 and 1/3 innings in 19 starts with a K% of 22.2% and a BB% of 6.7%. For a 20 year old, those stats are fairly good, but high A ball for the Royals favors pitchers. So, the Royals had a fairly decent pitching prospect in Kyle Smith. However, pitching prospects are subject to randomness like nothing else in baseball. Talents can erode without notice and injuries can occur. While Smith was a good pitching prospect, he was far from a sure thing.
Now, let’s look at what the Royals got in return. Justin Maxwell is a 29 year old outfielder with contact problems. His career contact% is 67.2%. Because he is a low contact guy, he must rely on walks and power to contribute to the offense. In 763 plate appearances, Maxwell owns a 10.7% BB% and 29 home runs. So, he has a bit of power and walks a bit more than most Royals players. However, his career 31.5% K% is…high. Very high. Because he strikes out so much, he has to have an above average BABIP to go along with his power and BB%. His career BABIP of .296 doesn’t quite cut it.
Is that all there is to it? No, not quite. Small sample size alert here, but if you look at his numbers against right handed pitchers and against left handed pitchers, there is a drastic difference. Against RHP, his batting line is .203/.272/.397. Against LHP, his batting line is .253/.370/.455. While the sample size is small, the difference is so large that it very well could be significant. In addition, Justin Maxwell’s defensive reputation is generally good from what I gleaned off Twitter.
The Royals traded for a platoon player. Justin Maxwell should be playing against only LHP and could be a pinch hitter in games where a RHP started and a LH reliever is being used. If utilized correctly, Justin Maxwell will provide the Royals with some value this year and in future years because he is under team control until 2017.
Here is where the trade falls apart. The Royals outfield is already crowded. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and David Lough have provided solid but unspectacular value in the outfield on offense and spectacular value on defense. Justin Maxwell figures to be solid if used only against LHP and provide good defense. The Royals gave up something to get an asset for which they had very little use or space. This situation led many to speculate the Cain is about to journey to the DL for his groin, which is possible. Another possibility is that the Royals send Lough to AAA, as he has struggled offensively in July.
In the grand scheme of things, this trade means very little. The Royals gave up a risky asset with a higher ceiling in Smith for a more known asset with a lower ceiling in Maxwell. They traded risk for certainty in a position without a need. Maxwell is not the player that will push the Royals into the playoffs.