Effectively Wild Episode 1726: Hit, Stand, or Surrender

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the one-for-one A’s-Marlins swap involving Starling Marte and Jesús Luzardo, Marte’s underrated career, and Miami’s enviable pitching stockpile, then discuss the circumstances surrounding a potential trade of Max Scherzer. After that (35:21), they talk to FiveThirtyEight senior writer Neil Paine about the factors that affect whether teams add or subtract at the trade deadline, Neil’s “Doyle Number” metric for assessing trade-season incentives, how this year’s unusual playoff picture has created unusual deadline conditions, and specific teams that should or shouldn’t be motivated to make moves.

Audio intro: Guided By Voices, "Bellicose Starling"
Audio interstitial: Modest Mouse, "Bankrupt on Selling"
Audio outro: Arthur Brown, "Come and Buy"

Link to Marte WAR comparison
Link to Zach Kram on trading top prospects
Link to Ken Rosenthal on the Scherzer talks
Link to Jay Jaffe on the Nationals
Link to story on Scherzer’s contract
Link to “Doyle Number” articles
Link to Jayson Stark on execs at the deadline
Link to 2021 “Doyle Number” data
Link to Rob Arthur on the playoff picture
Link to Neil’s “Hall of Good” series
Link to FiveThirtyEight’s forecast history
Link to Neil’s research on true talent
Link to Hot Takedown podcast

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FanGraphs Live: Prospect Film Session, Thursday 1:30 PM ET

Join me tomorrow at 1:30 PM ET/10:30 AM PT for my latest Prospect Film Session in which I screen, discuss, and analyze my recently shot prospect video live on the FanGraphs Twitch channel. This episode, we’ll be looking at my trip to the Futures Game, recent travel to the Mid-Atlantic, and the Arizona Complex League.

We’ll watch a number of very famous prospects and also study some guys who viewers will be wholly unfamiliar with, emerging from the obscurity of the desert backfields. The show can be found live on the FanGraphs homepage as well as on Twitch. Join me tomorrow for a quiet, lo-fi stream with focus on largely unedited footage.

How Sergio Romo Uses His Sinker To Set Up His World-Class Slider

With the help of an endearing smile and wipeout slider, Sergio Romo has become a favorite of many a fanbase throughout his long and successful career. Currently with the Oakland A’s, Romo is in his 14th season. At age 38, you would expect any pitcher to be a shell of their former self, yet Romo continues to get hitters out in mostly the same way he always has: sliders, sliders and more sliders. He even has a new wrinkle that might be making his slider even better.

Of course, this season hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Romo got off to quite a rough start; through April he had a 9.35 ERA and 5.70 FIP. He wasn’t getting strikeouts at his usual level (13.3% K-rate) and his dominant slider was uncharacteristically hittable (.370 wOBA). Given his age and the way his 2020 ended (he had a 5.59 FIP in September), you had to wonder whether Romo’s time in the big leagues was drawing to a close. Come May however, he had righted the ship in a big way and since then he’s been the A’s most dominant reliever, posting a 1.88 ERA and 1.83 FIP. Most importantly for fans of his slider, the pitch is back to doing this:

That location off the plate is where Romo likes to live with his slider but he wasn’t able to execute there when he was struggling in April. Take a look at his slider heat maps to righties:

Read the rest of this entry »

Second Time’s the Charm for a Tyler Anderson Trade

Tuesday night, the Mariners continued what had already been a busy day, following up the Kendall Graveman trade by acquiring pitcher Tyler Anderson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Carter Bins and pitcher Joaquin Tejada. Anderson’s had a solid, but unspectacular, season as Pittsburgh’s ace-by-process-of-elimination, putting up a 4.35 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 103 1/3 innings over 18 starts, good for 1.3 WAR.

Anderson’s unlikely to be the best pitcher acquired this week, but he ought to be a solid back-of-rotation pickup by the Mariners, who woke up Wednesday morning just a game behind Oakland for the second Wild Card spot. Anderson was originally set to become the number-three starter for the Phillies instead, but once that trade fell apart, the Mariners swooped in to close a deal themselves.

Given Seattle’s present proximity to the playoffs, it makes sense to shore up one of the team’s weaker areas, especially when it doesn’t involve giving up significant pieces of the future. Two of the rotation’s expected key contributors, Marco Gonzales and Justus Sheffield, have struggled in 2021, and with Sheffield and Justin Dunn currently out with injuries, there’s less in the larder than the M’s would like. There are better pitchers available; bringing in Max Scherzer would be way more fun than incrementally shoring up the starters. But while the M’s aren’t trying to tank, I think the Graveman-Abraham Toro trade — one the team’s players are quite unhappy with — is a strong indication that the team isn’t willing to throw all their chips into the pot to chase this playoff spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Trades Aren’t the Only Way to Upgrade: Injured Players Who Could Have an Impact in the AL

The trade deadline is upon us, but as I was thinking about the deals that could get done between now and Friday, I kept looking at the Baseball Prospectus Injury Ledger, since quite a few contenders have some very good players waiting in the wings. So today I wanted to take a look at the most impactful players who are currently on, or just off, the injured list for AL contenders as the trade deadline looms; I’ll follow it up with a look at NL contenders later this week.

There are players on these lists who could make or break their teams’ ability to make it to the postseason, and there are players who may not make it off the IL in time to help, which leads me to some important caveats. First, injuries are not all created equal, and players have setbacks all the time. These are projections that can and will shift.

Second, I don’t have a crystal ball; I used our playoff projections and only included teams that had at least a 30% chance of making the playoffs. That means the Blue Jays, who were in the first draft of this piece, ultimately just missed; our odds currently have them at 27.5% chance to make the playoffs. For any Blue Jays fans who are annoyed by this, I get it. That said, they were both borderline in terms of playoff odds and in terms of the most impactful players returning; only Danny Jansen and Alek Manoah would have pinged on this list.

Finally, having a 30% shot at the playoffs doesn’t mean you have players sitting on the IL who can push you over the top. Chad Pinder isn’t going to be the hero of Oakland’s season, which is no shade to either. But if the A’s are going to compete in the second half, they probably need to focus on the trade market, like they did Monday night in adding Andrew Chafin to their bullpen. Read the rest of this entry »

Reds and Yankees Agree to Unexpected But Necessary Exchange

It was a hectic day on the trade market. First, news broke that the Pirates had traded Tyler Anderson to the Phillies. Shortly after, the Mariners provided extra heat to the stove by sending relievers Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero to the Astros in exchange for Abraham Toro and Joe Smith. They didn’t stop there, swooping in to nab Anderson and taking advantage of an issue that surfaced with one of the two Phillies prospects originally headed to Pittsburgh.

The number of tweets dwindled as the night rolled in, signaling an end to the frenzy. We would have to wait until tomorrow for more deadline shenanigans, but I suppose a bonus transaction couldn’t hurt, because out of the blue, the Yankees’ Twitter account dropped this bit of news:

A trade announcement at 12:35 AM Eastern Time? Sure, why not. Let’s break this one down.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nationals’ Skid Opens Up Possibility of Scherzer, Turner Trades

With a 6–16 July dropping their record to 46–54, it’s increasingly clear that 2021 is not the Nationals’ year. Even with the Mets refusing to run away with the NL East, Washington is 7 1/2 games out of first place entering Wednesday and an even more daunting 11 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race, with cumulative playoff odds of 1.0%. The team appears likely to be sellers at the deadline, and short of trading Juan Soto, just about every player might be available, including ace Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner — though there’s no guarantee either gets moved.

“I think if we turn into definite sellers, everything will be on the table,” said general manager Mike Rizzo on July 20 when asked about his deadline approach. At the time, the Nationals were 44–49, but Rizzo said that they were taking a dual approach, talking to teams about potential acquisitions if they escaped from their tailspin. Two wins and five losses later, it’s clear that the needle points to selling, particularly with the Nationals no longer able to look to the return of Stephen Strasburg, whom the team announced will undergo season-ending surgery to alleviate neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Washington is also still without Kyle Schwarber, who may not be available for another week or two as he recovers from the right hamstring strain that has sidelined him since July 3.

The most obvious prize if the Nationals are selling is Scherzer, whose seven-year, $210 million contact expires at the end of this season. Scherzer, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Tuesday, has been worth every penny and more of that deal, helping the Nationals to their first championship in 2019, winning two Cy Young awards, and making a very strong case for a spot in Cooperstown. He’s in the midst of another solid campaign, pitching to a 2.83 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 105 innings and striking out 35.1% of hitters, matching his career-high. He’s also 74 strikeouts away from becoming the 19th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, a milestone he projects to attain by the end of this season.

Trading for Scherzer isn’t as simple as just offering up a couple of quality prospects. The biggest issue is his 10-and-5 rights (at least 10 years of major league service, the last five with the same team), which allow him to reject a trade to any team. In late June, agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports that to agree to a trade, “The reality of it is it’s going to have to lead to something.” That was taken to mean a contract extension, but Boras later clarified, saying. “When players are traded, and you refer to contract amendments, it does not necessarily mean an extension. It could be any amendment that gives him a reason to exercise his rights. That’s up to the player at the time. Max and I have never discussed the subject.”

Scherzer could use his no-trade protection to direct himself toward a team, and reportedly, he’s said to prefer the West Coast. In the epic NL West race between the upstart Giants, defending champion Dodgers, and lagging but aggressive Padres, any one of those teams could view him as the difference between a division title or playing in the Wild Card game. And for as strong as each of those contenders are, the fronts of their rotations are showing some wear and tear. The Dodgers are without Clayton Kershaw, who’s working his way back from a bout of forearm inflammation that has sidelined him since early July; he threw a three-inning simulated game earlier this week. They’re also without Trevor Bauer, whose administrative leave has been extended through at least Aug. 6 as both the Pasadena Police Department and Major League Baseball conduct separate assault investigations; a longer suspension remains possible. The Padres’ rotation has a 5.60 ERA and 4.81 FIP this month, with Yu Darvish particularly struggling (7.32 ERA, 5.95 FIP). For the Giants, neither Kevin Gausman (4.87 ERA, 4.63 FIP) nor Johnny Cueto (5.57 ERA, 4.67 FIP) have fared well in July.

Those three teams are hardly alone. Via The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, at least eight others are known to be in pursuit:

SNY’s Andy Martino was even more definitive regarding the Mets, reporting, “Scherzer does not want to play in New York… even if he did, the Nationals wouldn’t want to do that.”

Beyond Scherzer’s 10–5 rights is the money factor, which is both considerable and complicated. Here’s MLB Trade Rumors, with input from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

The roughly $11.8MM remaining of Scherzer’s $35MM salary for 2021 is entirely deferred until 2028, so a new team wouldn’t have to pay that money out for seven years. However, Scherzer’s luxury tax number would also be around the $11.8MM mark, which is certainly a factor for teams trying to avoid a tax payment. Scherzer has another $7.5MM in signing bonus money due this September, but Rosenthal notes that this bonus payment “is solely the Nationals’ obligation.”

Right now, the Dodgers are the only team over the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, but the Red Sox, Astros, and Padres would all cross it if they acquired Scherzer without subtracting elsewhere, as would the two New York teams.

As if all of that weren’t daunting enough, Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday due to inflammation in his right triceps, which he believes is related to swinging a bat in the wake of his mid-June stint on the IL for groin inflammation. The good news is that he underwent an MRI last Friday, which revealed no strain or other structural damage.

As for what Scherzer could bring back in trade, two years ago Baseball America‘s Cameron Levy evaluated the previous four deadlines worth of deals (2015–18), which included the rentals of David Price (traded from the Tigers to the Blue Jays in ’15) and Darvish (traded from the Rangers to the Dodgers in ’17). Levy concluded, “As far as pitchers on expiring deals, frontline starters set to become free agents at the end of the season generally bring back one Top 100 Prospect and a top-30 player from the other team’s system.” In the Price deal, the top-ranked prospect, Daniel Norris, entered the season 18th on BA‘s list, though Matthew Boyd, 29th on the Blue Jays’ list at the outset of the season, has had more success in the majors. The Darvish return was headlined by Willie Calhoun, who was 92nd on BA‘s preseason list but vaulted to 36th the next year. The Astros’ August 31, 2017 acquisition of Justin Verlander, who wasn’t included in the study because of the different deadline and less time remaining, was headlined by Franklin Pérez, who entered the season 54th on BA’s list and climbed to 35th the next spring.

Still, it’s clear the market for Scherzer’s services is a busy one. Per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, there’s a belief that a deal could happen as early as Wednesday night.

Beyond the availability of Scherzer, the biggest question regarding the Nationals is whether they’ll trade Turner. He didn’t appear to be available until MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported on Tuesday that Nationals ownership doesn’t plan to extend the 28-year-old shortstop, who can become a free agent after the 2022 season:

The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes reported that Turner is drawing heavy interest from teams “but would need to be presented with a total no-brainer of a deal.”

Turner is in the midst of a stellar campaign, hitting .320/.368/.519 (136 wRC+) with 18 homers and 4.2 WAR, a mark that ranks third in the league behind Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. Including last year’s shortened season, he’s hit .327/.378/.546 with 30 homers, 33 steals, a 145 wRC+ and 7.0 WAR in 155 games; among shortstops, only Tatis has a higher wRC+ or WAR, and only Tatis and Marcus Semien have more homers. As Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story look to their big free-agent paydays this winter with Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million deal as a yardstick, it’s clear that Turner is in line for a major deal. The fact that he’ll be heading into his age-30 season, though, and that injuries and bad timing have limited him to just two seasons of 100 or more games (this will be the third) during his seven-year career, probably leaves him short of a Lindor-sized haul.

While players with a year of club control remaining bring back bigger hauls than rentals, Turner fell off our Trade Value Top 50 list last year, then played his way back to Honorable Mention this year. As an impact player, he might net a couple of Top 100 prospects, perhaps with a 60 FV type in the mix, though it’s unknown if that would be enough to compel the Nationals to deal him. The chances of them doing so anyway were lowered on Tuesday, when he left their game against the Phillies after the top of the first inning because of a positive COVID-19 test. If he’s not vaccinated — manager Dave Martinez declined to comment on whether he was but noted that vaccinated players, coaches and staffers don’t get tested regularly (ahem) — he’ll miss a minimum of 10 days.

Even if the Nationals choose to hold onto Scherzer and Turner, they have several other players likely to be dealt; the possibility of bundling any of them into a package with one of the aforementioned names could create a more impressive return. Most notable among the trade candidates are pending free agents Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes, and Josh Harrison. Every contender is looking for bullpen help, and the Nationals can offer both a lefty and a righty with closing experience, which isn’t to say that they don’t come with dings. After a stellar 2020 with Cleveland, during which he led the AL with 16 saves and posted a 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP, Hand was solid through this season’s first half, converting 19 of 21 save chances with a 2.43 ERA (but a 3.91 FIP). After going 12 days between appearances due to the All-Star break, however, he’s been scored upon in four out of five outings, taking losses in three straight games over a six-day span and blowing three saves within a nine-day span; his ERA has risen to 3.67, his FIP to 4.40. Hudson, after a disastrous 2020 as closer (6.10 ERA, 6.29 FIP, 10-for-15 in saves), has pitched to a 2.20 ERA and 2.45 FIP in a setup role, but he missed nearly four weeks in June and July due to inflammation in his right elbow.

Gomes is currently on the IL for an oblique strain, though he’s believed to be nearing the point where he can go out on a rehab assignment. The 34-year-old backstop is hitting .266/.320/.439 (101 wRC+), though his pitch framing, which from 2013 to ’18 was 19.3 runs above average, has declined to -4.7 runs this year, his third straight below-average season. Still, he might have great appeal to a contender getting replacement-level work out of its catchers, as the Astros, Padres, and soon-to-be Guardians are. Harrison is hitting .282/.358/.406 (109 wRC+) while making 59 starts at second, 12 in left, seven at third, two in center, and one in right. After spending the first half as the team’s regular second baseman, he covered left in the final week before the All-Star break once Schwarber went down, then moved over to third when Starlin Castro was placed on administrative leave in connection with a domestic violence investigation.

As for Schwarber, whom the Nationals signed to a one-year, $10 million deal after he was non-tendered by the Cubs, the 28-year-old slugger has hit .253/.340/.570 (137 wRC+). Though he hasn’t played since July 2, his 25 homers still rank second in the NL, that after an incredible 18-game binge during which he hit 16 homers from June 12 to 29. There’s no timetable for his return, but as of July 23, he had resumed jogging and taking batting practice, with Martinez noting on July 26 that while he was making good progress, he had yet to run the bases. Thus, a team trading for Schwarber would not get an immediately available player (a situation that could actually work in its favor if it has a post-deadline roster crunch) but would have to finish overseeing his rehab. Plenty of teams could use the power boost that he would provide if healthy, even if that’s not until the second or third week of August; whoever gets him will inherit the $11.5 million mutual option and $3 million buyout in his contract.

While there are other Nationals who could be dealt, they’re less immediately enticing; Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester have both been dreadful this year, for example. Still, en route to a second straight sub-.500 season following their World Series win, the Nationals appear headed for a shakeup. We’ll soon see just how major it is.

40-Man Crunch Situations: American League

The trade deadline is nearly here and once again, team behavior will be driven, at least in part, by 40-man roster dynamics. Teams with an especially high number of both rostered players under contract for 2022 and prospects who would need to be added to the 40-man in the offseason have what is often called a “40-man crunch,” “spillover,” or “churn,” meaning that the team has incentive to clear their overflow of players by trading for something they can keep — pool space, comp picks, or, more typically, younger players whose 40-man clocks are further from midnight — rather than do nothing, and later lose players to waivers or in the Rule 5 draft. In an effort to see whose depth might augment trade behavior, I enjoy assessing clubs’ 40-man futures every year. This exercise is done by using the RosterResource Depth Chart pages to examine current 40-man occupancy, subtracting pending free agents (on the Team Payroll tab), and then weighing the December 2021 Rule 5 eligible prospects to see who has the biggest crunch coming and might behave differently in the trade market because of it.

Some quick rules about 40-man rosters. Almost none of them contain exactly 40 players in-season because teams can add a player to the 40 to replace a player who’s on the 60-day Injured List. In the offseason, teams don’t get extra spots for injured players and have to get down to 40, so if they want to keep some of the injury fill-ins, they have to cut someone from the 40-man to make room.

In November, clubs have to add prospects to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. RosterResource is the most accessible resource for tracking the prospect timelines. Most teams add a handful of players every offseason, while some add just one, and others may add as many as 10. Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros and Mariners Made a Weird Trade

Most deadline trades follow a familiar coda. A team with fading hopes and eyes full of prospects gets rid of an overperforming reliever, or perhaps a soon-to-depart slugger. A contender who needs more pitching (so, all of them) gives up on its prospect-hugging ways long enough for a few to slip through its grasp. Wham-o! It’s a trade. This one is … well, it’s not that:

Kendall Graveman is definitely the aforementioned overperforming reliever. He’s been incredible this year, one of the best closers in the game. No longer a middling starter, he converted to relief in 2020, added velocity and started dominating. His 0.82 ERA is better than he’s actually been — shocker, that — but he’s cooked up an enviable mix of strikeouts and grounders, and he’s done it when it counts; he’s recorded 18 shutdowns this year (adding at least 6% of win probability) and only three meltdowns (losing 6%).

Rafael Montero? He hasn’t been that. He has 12 of those fancy shutdowns, but 12 meltdowns to match. The Mariners are 23–8 in one-run games, but it’s been because of Graveman, not Montero. In fact, they’ve swapped roles; Graveman now finishes games, and Montero sets him up. He, too, is a capable pitcher. But he’s been dicey this year, even at the underlying metric level, and that 7.27 ERA — ew!

Anyway, neither of them are Mariners anymore. The Astros snapped them both up, and they’ll fold them into their middle-of-the-road relief corps; they’ve been only 16th in baseball in park-adjusted ERA and 20th in park-adjusted FIP. Ryan Pressly has been great, but he’s a man, not an entire bullpen. Houston could certainly use the help.
Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1725: Jerry Built

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Padres trading for Adam Frazier and other pre-deadline activity, Joey Votto’s offensive resurgence, Shohei Ohtani’s dirty uniform, and more, then react in real time to the Mariners surprisingly trading Kendall Graveman to the Astros for Abraham Toro. They also answer listener emails about adding a pitcher/DH position, bringing back unlimited two-strike foul bunts to combat the shift, trading catchers at the deadline, the possibility of pitchers, not catchers, calling pitches, and enjoying baseball via stats alone. After that, they do a “Meet a Major Leaguer” on two rookies recently traded to the Pirates, Hoy Park and Tucupita Marcano, and share a Stat Blast on Merrill Kelly and the longest team streaks in which the only wins were in starts by one pitcher (plus postscripts on trades, “pulling the goalie,” cycles, and more).

Audio intro: The Pretty Things, "Joey"
Audio outro: Lana Del Rey, "Mariners Apartment Complex"

Link to Dan Szymborski on the Frazier trade
Link to latest Ohtani two-way outing
Link to story on the “phantom DH”
Link to story on electronic pitch-calling
Link to The Hidden Language of Baseball
Link to story on Maddux pitch-calling
Link to Gallo shift before two strikes
Link to Gallo shift with two strikes
Link to story on the two-strike-bunt rule
Link to Travis Sawchik on foul balls
Link to story on Marcano
Link to Stat Blast data
Link to Ryan Divish on the Mariners’ reaction
Link to story on Piniella’s “cycle”
Link to tweet about Kepler
Link to Facebook thread on cycles and no-nos
Link to Mary Shane podcast

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