With the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looming, please allow me to welcome you to what will most likely be the second (of two) installments of a “Very Luhnow” look at trade targets for this season. If you missed the first installment that I published back on May 30th, please feel free to glance back at it...several names are still here in this piece, as they have continued to perform well throughout the season.
It remains true, with regard to the Astros, that they have very few weaknesses. They really are the best team in baseball, and that’s not just a “homer” statement - regardless of won-loss records (which are an indication of how successful a team is, not how good it is) the fact that the Astros are very nearly lapping the majority of the field in Run Differential speaks volumes about the True Talent Level of this team. In addition, the upper levels of the minors are chock full of reinforcements on both sides of the baseball. Some have been feeling impatient with Kyle Tucker’s transition to the Major Leagues, but he’s been showing a good, patient approach at the plate and has been hitting the ball squarely quite often - he just needs the same kind of playing time that Alex Bregman received upon his promotion to the big leagues and subsequent well-documented struggles. So moving for another outfielder, while somewhat attractive in an abstract way, is probably not as desirable long-term from this writer’s perspective as it might be to some other fans of the team. Otherwise, Martin “Machete” Maldonado provides a nice stabilizing presence behind the plate, the best rotation in the sport still needs nothing, and the bullpen, which is at least a top five unit overall across baseball, is probably fine as well - especially once Ken Giles works out his emotional foibles and returns to the team.
Even left-handed relievers are probably not a real “need” area anymore, with the resurgence of Tony Sipp and the emergence of Cionel Perez as a potential Major League relief arm in the near term...but as there are few right handed relief options available that make any real sense (Raisel Iglesias, for instance, is a non-starter of a trade target, probably) here are some deeper-dive left-handed relief options that might fit...assuming the price is right.
I followed a fairly similar methodology to last time, though I arbitrarily lowered the BABIP threshold to .270 this time around in an effort to capture any borderline pitchers in that regard. I also expanded a little bit in fairly arbitrary but defensible, I think, ways...here’s the total criteria:
- Left-handed pitcher
- At least 19 innings pitched in relief
- BABIP against of at least .270
- K/9 greater than or equal to 7.5
- BB/9 less than or equal to 3.2
(see this piece at FanGraphs for a brush-up on what BABIP is and why it matters)
And then I exported the resulting data to fiddle with it some in Excel, once again filtering out names from any teams that still appear to be contenders (or, at least, unlikely to be willing to throw the towel on the season by July 31) as needed.
(Once again, here’s a primer on FIP from FanGraphs, if you aren’t familiar - essentially, it endeavors to strip pitcher performance down to things pitchers can control directly - walks, home runs, and strike outs - in an effort to more accurately discern a pitcher’s actual ability level)
As before, my light pre-work left us with a list of names. I’ll include that list of names in tabular form here, and expound on my favorites in more detail below.
Left-Handed Relievers Worthy Of Trade Consideration
So, a couple of things about this list. First, it includes Giants pitchers - I believe that they are likely to at least be amenable to listening to trade offers, though I consider their relievers on this list to be a bit more of a long-shot than others. And, as mentioned before, there are a few repeat names on this list from my article back in May. I’m not going to re-write the repertoires of those pitchers here, or make another pitch for them. I will say, however, that while Aaron Bummer remains my personal favorite target on this list, he is not currently in the Major Leagues, and this White Sox fan believes him to be more or less off limits...or at least, as off limits as a reliever can be:
Aaron bummer is in AAA bc they had a few guys in the minors that the sox wanted to test to see if they had value for trades so they sent him down he’s sort of untouchable since he’s a part of the rebuild— . (@beigeishsox) July 26, 2018
Untouchables the wrong word. He would just cost too much bc he is a part of the future for the sox— . (@beigeishsox) July 26, 2018
Take from that what you will - after all, that is (as far as I know) just a fan like any of us. I would personally be surprised if a reliever on a rebuilding team is actually untouchable, but perhaps he’s more expensive than would make sense. Either way, I won’t be dedicating further time breaking down he or Aaron Loup, who also remains a strong trade option despite climbing FIP/xFIP numbers. Also, I left off Luis Avilan - his numbers look pretty good overall, but his 34.62% ground ball percentage (as a lefty...who will often have to face righties...in Minute Maid Park...) scares me a bit, seems just a tad low.
So, with those names excluded from this article...here’s who is left!
Tony Watson (San Francisco Giants)
Watson is a name that Astros fans know pretty well, between oft-circulating speculation about his potential to join the team before in recent years and facing him as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year in the World Series. Considering that most fans are already familiar with his repertoire, more or less, I won’t dive off into the pitcher list gifs or anything for him. He primarily lives dies off a fastball that averages 92 or so miles per hour and that he throws only about 53% of the time - this is about 12% lower than his previous career-low for fastball usage, which has increased how interesting his profile is to this writer when considering how much the Astros love to pitch backwards (or at least, pitch off the secondary pitch/pitches) with their relievers.
His primary secondary pitches are a change up (28.8% usage so far this year - by far the most he’s thrown the pitch in his career) and a slider, which he’s throwing about 18% of the time (the highest usage mark this pitch has seen from him since 2013) so far this year.
While Watson seems primed for some regression upon a casual glance at his (.283) BABIP, his career BABIP is .263 (over almost 500 innings pitched, spanning 8 Major League seasons) so perhaps his BABIP is pretty close to in-line. His strikeouts per nine are well up from where they’ve been (mid-sevens each of the past three years) and his walks per nine are down relative to the past three years while he’s signed remarkably affordably through 2019, so all things here are adding up to a guy who’s fairly interesting...assuming he’s available. And that depends on the Giants. Which brings us to the next name on our list...
Will Smith (San Francisco Giants)
Watson’s current teammate (and former Brewer) Will Smith is also likely to be available, assuming the Giants do indeed move some pieces. He probably won’t be actively shopped much, but...he’ll be available. Again, assuming the Giants sell.
Earlier in the season, he was excluded from my list because the Giants were still ostensibly a contender at that point (4-6 in their last ten though, and they’re 5.5 games out of first with three teams ahead of them) and also because he was sporting a BABIP around .200 - making him seem to me a prime candidate for regression. It was easy to write off the gaudy traditional metrics he was posting at that time.
Now, his BABIP has steadily climbed and is sitting at a more tenable .275 (though still well below his career .320 mark) and his peripherals (1.13 FIP, 2.45 xFIP) are starting to look slightly more real...and still spectacular. Intuition is telling me that it’s a mirage and that trading for him is going to backfire, but my goodness...he pitches away games in Dodger Stadium, Coors Field, and in Arizona (though, yes, humidor) when he isn’t pitching in San Francisco. His K/9 mark is over 12, his K% is a gaudy 35.6%, and he’s limiting walks at an excellent (2.03 BB/9) clip as well. He’s even a free agent at season’s end, which increases the likelihood that a) he’d get moved, and b) he’d be available for a somewhat reasonable price. There’s a lot to like here.
Taylor Rogers (Minnesota Twins)
The Twins have fallen seven games back of the Cleveland Indians, but let’s be real. The only reason it’s been that close has been because Cleveland has under-performed to this point. The Twins bullpen has collectively not been great (4.25 bullpen FIP/3.98 bullpen xFIP) but one spot that has shone like a quiet beacon has been Taylor Rogers, a 27-year-old third year southpaw who is in the death throes of his rookie contract and about to enter his arbitration eligibility. Considering the ever-present budgetary concerns for the ever-frugal Twins, and considering their lack of contention prospects for this season, the Twins are likely to consider moving Rogers for a different kind of prospect...which the Astros have in spades.
As for his stuff, Rogers features a fastball that he throws 56.5% of the time and which averages 93.2 miles per hour. It also features significant sink, and he induces ground balls on the pitch around 47% of the time.
When it comes to secondary pitches, Rogers primarily (32.3% usage) relies on a sweeping curveball at around 78 miles per hour which looks just like a prototypical left-handed curveball does in this writer’s mind:
He follows that up incredibly rarely (about 1.3% of the time) with a change up that would pass my eye test, were I dumb enough to pay attention to the eye test:
As far as his splits, he definitely seems a pure LOOGY to mine eyes, though he doesn’t appear helpless against right-handed batters. To date in 2018:
Versus Left-Handed Batters: 10.31 K/9, 1.96 BB/9, 1.53 FIP, 2.33 xFIP, 31.3% K%
Versus Right-Handed Batters: 8.18 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 3.94 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 21.3% K%
His left-on-left splits have been fairly consistent throughout his career, but he’s actually improving some against right-handed pitching. This seems an important caveat to note in a pitcher we’d ostensibly like to roster for several more years.
Matt Grace (Washington Nationals)
Matt Grace is actually exceedingly similar to Taylor Rogers as far as his repertoire, but he’s a year further away from arbitration and two years older, so the calculus involved in his acquisition price is likely different. He also has been less effective, overall, than other pitchers on this list (3.59 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, .276 BABIP, and a soft contact percentage that’s gotten worse each of the past three seasons and is down to just 16.5% this year) and as such doesn’t seem like a serious option when lain bare next to the other names on this list...however, he IS on this list, so if the Nats decide to sell, it’s useful to know his name and his stuff.
Here’s his fastball, which sinks a lot (like Rogers) and averages about 90 miles per hour:
His secondary pitches include a slurvy slider that is his primary out pitch...
...as well as a change up that he only throws about 5% of the time despite solid arm-side run:
His stuff will play and he’d be a solid fall-back option if the team suffers an injury or three and is in need of an arm in a pinch, but more likely the Astros will be more interested in another Nationals lefty...if they decide to sell, that is.
First and foremost, Tanner Scott of the Baltimore Orioles is a name I identified in May as a kind of left-handed Ken Giles and, while he’s fallen off the list thanks to his BB/9 being particularly high (again - similar to Ken Giles, at least coming into this season) he remains an interesting, attractive piece to this writer’s eye thanks largely to his team control, his K/9 that’s over 13, and peripherals (3.64 FIP/2.82 xFIP) that couple with a .417 BABIP to belie his otherwise uninspiring results.
But for the true honorable mention in this piece, let’s instead return to the DC area and talk about Matt Grace’s teammate...
Sean Doolittle (Washington Nationals)
And that lefty teammate of Grace’s is Sean Doolittle, a name Astros fans know well from his time in Oakland. Doolittle didn’t make the cut for this list thanks to his extremely lopsided (.187) BABIP, but his peripherals are so good (1.98 FIP, 2.79 xFIP, 11.81 K/9, microscopic 0.72 BB/9) that he could stand some regression and still be an outstanding left-handed option. As long as he’d accept a role that involved more leverage situations and matchups (rather than “a hurdy durdy doo ahmma pish duh ninef inning”) he could be a premium addition for the Astros...again, if the Nationals sell, which is apparently dependent on their series versus Miami this weekend.