Book: Indians at top of trading game

Book: Tribe top of trading game

CLEVELAND -- The Indians, as you might have noticed, made their fair share of trades in 2009.

If history is any guide -- and the Indians certainly hope that's the case -- the odds are in favor of those trades working out in the Tribe's favor.

At least, that's the contention of author and statistical consultant Doug Decatur in his new book, "Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History." It is Decatur's contention, based on his objective statistical analysis, that the Indians were the best trading team of the 20th century.

Now, at first glance, that's probably a tough pill to swallow for Tribe fans who still, to this day, bemoan the April 17, 1960, trade that sent the popular Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn.

But in Decatur's analysis, the infamous trade that supposedly sent the franchise into a decades-long tailspin doesn't even rank as one of the five worst lopsided trades of the century for the Indians.

Decatur's book is based on "win shares," a statistic initially developed by famed sabermetrician Bill James. Win shares aim to determine how many wins a player contributes to his team.

A win share represents one-third of a team win, so, if a team wins 100 games in a season, its players share 300 win shares. James' formula for determining which players get which shares is complicated, but the intent is essentially to reward hitters for runs created and pitchers and defenders for runs prevented. If a player amasses, say, 30 win shares (and, in effect, is directly responsible for 10 of his team's wins), that is considered an MVP-level performance.

With this statistical basis, Decatur analyzed trades made in the 20th century and aimed to rank the 306 most lopsided deals. He defines a lopsided trade as one in which the trade produced a net value of 111 future win shares, or 37 wins, by the players involved after the trade was made.

These are the five trades Decatur determined to be the most lopsided in the Tribe's favor in that time period:

1. -- Dec. 6, 1959: Norm Cash, Bubba Phillips and Johnny Romano acquired from the White Sox for Minnie Minoso, Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese and Jake Striker. This is a strange inclusion in the list, as Cash was soon after flipped to the Tigers in a trade that Decatur would rank as one of the worst lopsided trades for the Tribe. But Decatur determined the Indians netted 124 future win shares out of this deal.

2. -- Oct. 21, 1983: Brett Butler acquired from the Braves to complete an earlier deal in which Len Barker was sent to Atlanta. Barker, two years removed from his perfect game, was on the down slope of his career, while Butler was on his way up. Decatur determined this trade netted the Tribe 119 future win shares.

3. -- July 30, 1910: "Shoeless" Joe Jackson acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics to complete an earlier deal in which the A's received Bris Lord from the Cleveland Naps. Jackson preceded his "Black Sox" fame by putting together four stellar seasons for Cleveland, netting his new club 106 net win shares in the process, according to Decatur.

4. -- Dec. 14, 1948: Early Wynn and Mickey Vernon acquired from the Washington Senators for Joe Haynes, Ed Klieman and Eddie Robinson. Wynn went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Indians, who amassed 102 win shares out of this deal.

5. -- July 29, 1996: Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino acquired from the Mets for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. This is another deal in which the principal acquired player, Kent, was later moved in a trade that would come back to bite the Tribe. But Decatur gives it 102 win shares in the Indians' favor.

Decatur determined that the Indians made 29 positive trades and only 16 negative trades in the century. Here are his rankings of the five most negative deals by the Tribe in that timeframe:

1. -- Jan. 20, 1965: Rocky Colavito acquired from the Royals and Cam Carreon acquired from the White Sox as part of a three-team trade in which the Indians sent Tommie Agee, Tommy John and Johnny Romano to the White Sox. If you thought the trade that got rid of Colavito was bad, the one that brought him back to Cleveland might have been worse. Decatur determined this one left the Indians with a net loss of 126 future win shares.

2. -- Nov. 13, 1996: Matt Williams and Trenidad Hubbard acquired from the Giants for Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino and Joe Roa. The loss of Kent, in particular, helped the Indians lose 106 future win shares in this trade.

3. -- April 12, 1960: Steve Demeter acquired from the Tigers for Cash. Cash went on to hit 373 homers for the Tigers, while Demeter appeared in exactly four more games in his career. Advantage: Detroit, by a 104 win share count.

4. -- April 30, 1951: Lou Brissie acquired in three-team trade that sent Minoso to the White Sox and Ray Murray and Sam Zoldak to the Philadelphia A's. Decatur claims this trade cost the Tribe 98 future win shares.

5. -- May 25, 1913: Jack Lelivelt and Bill Stumpf acquired from the Yankees for Roger Peckinpaugh. You can be forgiven for not remembering this one, as it involved the Naps, not the Indians. But Peckinpaugh, a shortstop, went on to a solid career, including an MVP honor in 1925 with the Senators. The net loss to Cleveland was 87 future win shares, according to Decatur.

"Traded" not only ranks the best and worst trades for each team but also identifies 13 red flags to look out for when evaluating future trades that could indicate a lopsided deal is about to take place.

It will be years before the Indians' slew of 2009 trades can be examined to this extent. But for now, Decatur's book summarizes a century's worth of wheeling and dealing.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.