With the non-waiver Trade Deadline arriving next Monday, the hype over potentially available stars like Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray seems to increase exponentially. If you know anything about what's to come, it's that whatever team trades for them (or any other top name) is going to have paid dearly
With the non-waiver Trade Deadline arriving next Monday, the hype over potentially available stars like Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray seems to increase exponentially. If you know anything about what's to come, it's that whatever team trades for them (or any other top name) is going to have paid dearly to do so.
There's good reason for that, because they're top talents who can impact a playoff race. But in some sense, teams won't just be paying for on-field value, they'll be paying for name value. With all due respect to someone like Brad Hand, who is positioning the Padres to extract a huge prospect return, he simply won't excite the fanbase like a trade for Zach Britton would, and he won't cost as much either -- despite the fact that he's, right now, pitching better.
So what are you to do if you're a team that's looking for a lower-cost alternative to some of the best pitchers out there? We can help. Just as we did in the offseason, let's take some of the biggest names likely to be available this week and find some perfectly good alternatives. As we said at the time, "Who wouldn't take 80 percent of the production for 50 percent of the price?" The pitching market is deep and talented, unlike the hitter's market -- made thinner by moves for J.D. Martinez and Todd Frazier -- so inventive teams can find value. Here's how.
If you like Gray, you might like: Jeff Samardzija
You're stunned right now. "But Samardzija has a 4-11 record, and a 5.05 ERA," you're saying. "He's been terrible." Hopefully by now, we shouldn't have to convince you that pitcher win/loss record means absolutely nothing, especially since the last-place Giants (3.9 runs/game) are the second-lowest scoring team in baseball. So you can safely ignore the 4-11 record; it simply doesn't matter.
What about Samardzija's 5.05 ERA, though? We'll admit it's not great, but it's a lot better than it seems. Most importantly, the Giants have had the weakest defense in the National League, which hasn't helped any of their pitchers, but the underlying numbers show that Samardzija has been far more effective than it seems. For example, his 9.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't just the best in 2017, it's one of the five best seasons since integration in 1947.
So there's that, and there's also this: using Statcast™, we can look at the quality of contact (what usually happens based on the combination of exit velocity and launch angle) and amount of contact to look at a pitcher's true skill level. That is, just because a pitcher's outfielder robs a homer doesn't mean the pitcher didn't allow a rocket. Just because an outfielder fails to make an easy play doesn't mean the pitcher deserves to be nailed with a triple.
By this measure, Samardzija has been as effective as Stephen Strasburg, Chris Archer or Jose Quintana -- and better than Gray. We're not saying he's as good as them going forward, but so far, the quality of contact has been similar. Owed $54 million over the next three years, Samardzija is certainly more expensive than Gray, but he'd require a fraction of the prospects.
If you like Britton, Hand, or Justin Wilson, you might like: Jerry Blevins
If there's one thing this market has, it's lefty relievers. Hand is going to require a ton, because he's become a mini-Andrew Miller and he's making barely more than the minimum. You know Britton would require a haul, and Wilson's breakout season has made him an attractive piece. There's Tony Watson, too, but he's not having a great year and Pittsburgh may not sell anyway.
So if you're looking for both cost-effective and productive, you might not find anything in that group to your liking -- which makes Blevins interesting. Over the past two seasons, only six lefty relievers (minimum 50 innings) have a higher whiff rate than the nearly 31 percent Blevins has put up, and that includes names like Miller, Hand, Albertin Chapman and Sean Doolittle. Using the same quality of contact metric we mentioned for Samardzija, Blevins has been the eighth-most effective lefty reliever over the past two years and ninth this year, again behind mostly huge names.
Not a rental, Blevins has a $7 million team option for 2018, or a $1 million buyout. The Mets are becoming obvious sellers. He doesn't have the name value of a Britton, but he's better than you think.
If you like Addison Reed, you might like: Anthony Swarzak or Kirby Yates
Speaking of the Mets, Reed is going to get a lot of interest, because he's having his second straight good year for New York (combined 2.11 ERA, 138/19 K/BB), and because he's got experience both as a closer and a setup man. But what if you need a righty, yet don't want to pay the ninth-inning premium?
There are options, a few of them. For example, Swarzak has successfully transitioned from "struggling starter" to "dominating slider-heavy reliever" for the motivated sellers on Chicago's South Side, striking out 52 in 48 1/3 innings for the White Sox. Using the same quality of contact metric, he's been as effective in limiting dangerous contact as Greg Holland or Chris Devenski, and he's making the minimum. (He also nailed down the save in a 3-1 win over the Cubs on Monday.)
It's a similar story for Yates, who was picked up on waivers by the Padres in April and has done nothing but excel. Upping his velocity to 94 mph, his 37.7 percent whiff rate is No. 7 among relievers, behind some upper-echelon names (Miller, Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, etc.), and our quality of contact metric says he's been better than Chapman or Dellin Betances. Under control for three more years past this one, San Diego may not move him, but his limited track record would keep the cost low.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.