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The Gauntlet 1.2; A Complete Breakdown of the Top Relief Arms

Posted by Sabir Aden , 29 July 2019 · 1,554 views

R-E-L-A-X.

Some words of wisdom I’m recycling, and it’d probably be best I don’t reveal the source of such resonating words of prudence, humility and humbleness.

After some gut wrenching loses on the last homestand, and now a complete phase shift to an assertive series win (super hard to believe at this point), we’re back at a medium of limbo once again. Just ahead of the trade deadline, this stretch sandwiched in between the AS break and the trade deadline proves as pivotal as ever, now newly the sole universal trade deadline with the waiver deadline in August eradicated. This is only a boon for the MLB, serving as the backdrop for the most ultimate and frenetic trade deadline ever. Or at least we thought.

But ... the trade deadline offers the most boom or the most bust, just ahead of the most visionary moment of the year. Make the right move and press the right buttons, and catapult yourself into the hoisting a world championship. Make the wrong move, short-circuit your postseason hopes, and even worse navigate a direct path into a course of demolition taking years to recover from. Yes, headsy moves like the esteemed Justin Verlander trade can pay vast dividends in the short term and long terms, but they don’t just appear out of thin air. The ramifications can unquestionably postpone a team’s contention window for years to come, which is one reason why it’s so important to straddle the lines of immediate and future consequences of parting away with prospects in the future, for major league help in the present, especially if the chances of even making the cut aren’t guaranteed.

So to fulfill the appetites of those of you who can’t wait for the Twins to stop flirting with on the block chips (or Sergio Romo), to actually pulling the trigger on blockbuster trade deals, we’ll please your craving with fruitful speculation to rest your itches just until the action begins unfolding.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW
With the bullpen by far being the most indisputable area of improvement, it wouldn't be sensible to include both hitters and pitchers together on the same list, especially for an area of need so dire and existential. Just because Edwin Encarnacion is so much better on every level than Jake Diekman, the desperation meter for the Twins greatly supersedes any above and beyond difference maker that could conceivably add any added production offensively. That’s why the list is exclusive to difference making relievers, when the position group is so bamboozled in their own mannerisms. I’ll even add my patented likelihood meter and my hypothetical trade proposal infusions with twins prospects to add a little authenticity. It wouldn’t hurt to foster a little jockeying for trade value validity would it?

So without any more small talk, let me present to you the first annual edition of The Ultimate Trade Deadline Special. Let the games begin!


Capital C Closers

1. Ken Giles
W/L Record; 1-2
1.64 ERA, 14/15 Saves
33.0 innings & 57 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2020 Season (1 ½ Years of Control)


The Toronto Blue Jays certainly have an encouraging young core with cornerstone young stars, namely Vladimir Guerro, and other projectable, consistent, sneaky good prospects in Bichette, Biggio, and Danny Jansen that give the front office of Ross Atkins a very good preliminary sketch to the core of this team in the not so distant competitive future. With that said though, the Blue Jays possess many young, controllable, team friendly affordable, problematic stars that assuredly would be jettisoned in the short term.

Ken Giles, formerly of the Houston Astros comes into the fray as the most dominant reliever of the trade block crop. After a brutal season where Giles was relinquished the Astros closer role and soon traded for a reliever in the plight of a domestic assault scandal, you’d assume rock bottom was hit.

GB 36.9% FB 21.5% LD 30.8%
Hard Hit 33.8% Barrel 7.7%

Giles, has improved on a fastball that was absolutely torched in his 2018 campaign, and paired it with an omnipotent breaking ball, that at it’s best can be one of the most effective pitches in baseball. His slider isn’t an artificially overthrown and loopy-like, frisbee slider but more of a fall of the table type that has held left handed to a redundantly anemic triple slash of .034/.034/.034.

Giles should demand a buyer's haul, given that he’s assumed his former dominance as a top-flight, and at times unhittable closer. Of his 135 pitcher versus batter appearances that end up with a result, he’s induced balls in play fewer times than outs at the plate (strikeouts & walks). Therein lies the sheer dominance of Giles, as he’s afforded a 42% strikeout rate, the highest in the major leagues. But Giles isn’t doing it with an approach of nickel and diming the zone, a core principle of this bullpen staff that has come under scrutiny, and even more exacerbated by this mid-season funk.

Given that Giles is under control for another season, he should require some blue chip prospects to convince the Blue Jays front office to ship Giles in a deal. Giles is at peak value, but given that the trade block market is so broad and robust with relievers that are equally as good or better than Giles, that should be enough to humble Tornoto’s brass from a lucrative offer.

TRADE PROPOSAL; Ken Giles for Jake Cave + Willians Astudillo + Prospect Lewis Thorpe (#11)

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 85%

2. Kirby Yates
W/L Record; 0-2
1.02 ERA, 31/33 Saves
44.0 innings & 72 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2020 Season (1 ½
Years of Control)

An unheralded and most unexpected star to blossom as maybe the most desirable relief arm to take center stage in this trade deadline, Kirby Yates is a true impact arm to feel for the market. Probably one of the brightest spots of the 2019 MLB season, has been the profound and overwhelming emergence of Kirby Yates. Besides being named one of my most favorite and iconic childhood fictional characters, he has sliced and diced in a Padres uniform that’s quickly on an upswing with an even more loaded prospect class, ranked arguably top of the game. En Route to leading the league in saves with 31/33 saves (arbitrary statistic, but notable stat for a once journeyman pitcher). Number 2 on that list? Brad Hand, predecessor of Yates having his own season, and the primary contender to a Twins division crown.

GB 48.8% FB 30.2% LD 16.3%
Hard Hit 34.9% Barrel 4.7%

So what’s made Yates put the league on notice? Your guess is as good as mine.

So, is it a dead red fastball that’s made hitters plainly look foolish? Wrong. Is it a senile breaking crafted from hell? Wrong again. Could it be a fluke season, were he’s benefited from stats that just don’t line up with the subliminal metrics?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Kirby Yates is carving up the big leagues with an arsenal that isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of hitters. It isn’t a breaking pitch or fastball that’s a conventional bread and butter, either. Nor is it a pitch that is sexy or @pitchingninja gif worthy as pitchers like Chapman and Jansen.

It’s the splitter that’s been both tremendously effective and swing and miss worthy, along with a fastball that has held hitters to a sub .200 BA. Both pitches have been especially susceptible to strikeouts, and the surface level statistics match the peripherals as Yates owns the best wOBA and the best xwOBA in the league.

So because Kirby Yates is simply legit, what’s the price is the real question. San Diego should request a haul for Yates, but this does come with it’s pros and cons.

It was only a season ago when the LA Dodgers traded a large package for the rental of Manny Macado, for 5 other prospects. Only one of which was in MLB top 100, and the 4 others were tried and true depth pieces for a barren Orioles minor league pipeline. When the Padres traded AS Closer Brad Hand and promising sidearmer Adam Cimber, they received one prospect in the now destined preeminent catcher of the future Fransico Mejia.

You’ve got to believe the Padres would ask for prospects on the fastrack to the bigs, but the Twins don’t have any high profile prospects knocking on the door. This would lead you to believe that the only feasible option would be overpaying for 1.5 years of Yates, and that wouldn’t be the most sensible transaction.

TRADE PROPOSAL; Kirby Yates for Prospects Brusdar Graterol (#2) + Brent Rooker (#8) + Jhoan Duran (#9)

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 65%

3. Will Smith
W/L Record; 3-0
2.37 ERA, 26/28 Saves
46.1 innings & 66 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2019 Season ( ½ Years of Control)


Of the relievers that have been on the spotlight to be sold at the trade deadline, the one reliever I’ve heard the most chatter about is Will Smith. This is ironic, because it might be that the Giants (currently 2.0 GB of the 2nd WC) at no indication would abandon ship. It seems even storybook, in the final season of the Bouchy tenure to make some waves in the postseason picture.

The problem with Smith is that he is the only legitimate left-handed closer on the market, that for his benefit is equally as dominant against lefties or righties. I might be the biggest believer of this, but I’ve adamantly believed relievers always have their faults and warts, but accentuating those positive attributes to there fullest is what makes a reliever great. And Will Smith has done just that.

GB 46.8% FB 23.4% LD 22.3%
Hard Hit 42.6% Barrel 3.2%

Will Smith has the stuff to be a truly impact arm in postseason. But what should be noted is that Will Smith’s ceiling isn’t anywhere near the capabilities of Yates or Giles.

In a season full of positives, it’s easy to pasteurize the negatives. A career high strikeout rate masks the scent of a career high hard hit rate. A career low walk rate and top 2% expected wOBA, hids the fact that he’s afforded a mildly pedestrian average exit velocity.

Will Smith is striking batters at wildly remarkable rates, but when he’s been hit it’s been hard. And lately he’s been hit hard just as well as he has been striking out batters.

Will Smith throws his fastball at 93mph on average, and relies heavily on the breaking stuff to offset the straight fastball. Because Will Smith got off to such a great start to begin the season and since has faded a bit, I’ve decided to split his seasons into two parts.

From the beginning of the season to the end of May Smith threw 43% fastball paling in comparison to 56.9% of the breaking pitch offerings (changeup-light, slider-heavy, curveball-heavy). That fastball mitigated a .235 BA, and the breaking stuff an even better .100 BA. That was the gameplan, plant the fastball to set up the killshot breaking ball and it showed as the breaking ball consummated 60% of the two strike pitches he’s thrown, and 65% of the 3-2 offerings he’s thrown. That’s a red flag that the breaking stuff owns priority over the fastball.

So since we covered the fact that the bread and butter relationship between the breaking stuff and the fastball is symbiotic, and breaking stuff is option #1, why is it that Smith is #3 on this list? One thing that shouldn’t be discounted is the fact that the fastball velocity is fluky. Velocity of pitches is always the measuring stick for the performance bar to how a pitcher can succeed. Average velocity can usually be bridged by the complementary attributes, but when the offspeed is so overwhelming the star to the platter it can become such a predictable serving.

I say this because both Yates and Giles profess fastballs that at times can be dominant, and the matter of those pitches and not the deception can bear the results. Not to mention, Smith owns one of baseball's best BABIP, an indicator of what of the defense (or dimensions of the ballpark) might be inhibiting, or perhaps producing in distorting ERA. Smith granted is a beyond stellar reliever, but in my wishlist he just doesn’t cut top priority.

TRADE PROPOSAL; Will Smith for Trevor Larnach (#5) + Blane Enlow (#12)

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 49%

4. Ian Kennedy
W/L Record; 0-2
3.40 ERA, 19/22 Saves
42.1 innings & 52 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2020 Season (1 ½
Years of Control)

If you haven’t been tabs on Ian Kennedy lately, you’d probably be quite shocked to know Ian Kennedy hasn’t been pitching as a starter. That’s the main backstory with Kennedy, a solid, reliable mid-rotation starter with flashes of #1 starter and somes flashes of #5 starter. It’s the inverse of the classic Michael Pineda scenario, where the stuff and the peripherals were vastly outperformed by the actual on the field performance, reinforced by a 2 seam/4 seam with a higher than average spin rate.

So what’s made a pitcher, once below average and egregiously overpaid a suddenly hot trade deadline candidate? Well for starters, an unleashed fastball brought upon by a conversion from the starters slab into the pen, has enkindled a higher average velocity and better conviction.

GB 47.0% FB 25.9% LD 20.%
Hard Hit 33.3% Barrel 6.1%

The most intriguing and savorful thing about Kennedy is the fact that he’s owed 33 million over the next two years, and for many of us inclined to be a wee bit clingy to the prospects that are the fuel to these midseason trades, could assume rights to control without eviction. It’s pretty simple. Swallow the contract, pay a marked down price and keep the prospect that so dearly are vital to sustained success, every GM’s favorite buzzword.

I really do think Kennedy’s promise is substantial and his newfound approach is real. The fastball has always played, and he’s showing the signs necessary of taking the groundbreaking measures of change, given that he’s tinkered with a new cutter, a pitch he’s introduced into his repertoire only a year ago and is throwing at a 15.1% clip.

From a pitching analysis point of view, what concerns me is that the knuckle-curve isn’t being optimized. If there was one point of improvement, it’s that in 2 strike counts Kennedy is using his curveball only 23% of the time. It’s a curveball that ranks 15th in baseball with 58 inches of vertical drop, 11% above average. This metric is calibrated to determine pitches thrown at the same speed and release point, and of pitches thrown at that velocity Kennedy’s has the 15th best rate of drop to velocity.

Kennedy began the season during the month of April throwing his curveball 24% of the time, but has since dwindled it to around 8% as of recently. Why you might ask? Well hitters are hitting .378 on the pitch, when by Expected Batting Average (xBA) a metric that assigns an expected hitting percentage to when all variable such as positioning, defensive efficiency and luck has hitters hitting just .201 (which is weird given that I thought the royals were going all speed this season). As far as the 2 strike curveballs, and Kennedy isn’t getting any luckier with a .320 BA, when by expected BA assigns it a .130 BA, a .190 point discrepancy.

It’s pretty understandable why Kennedy has feared from using the pitch, because the curveball has played some function or role in all 3 of his blown saves and 2 of his worst outings of the season.

I’d be very happy, in fact even jubilant with Kennedy being the headline crown jewel for the Twins trade deadline bonanza. I’ve seen plenty on Kennedy not having the chops to be a legitimate closer, but the stuff and the peripherals tell me that the actual performance should at minimum match the underlying metrics.

TRADE PROPOSAL; (Swallowing the remainder of the contract) for Kohl Stewart + late-round draft pick

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 95%

5. Felipe Vazquez
W/L Record; 2-1
1.87 ERA, 21/22 Saves
43.1 innings & 68 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2023 Season (4 ½ Years of Control)


It’s hard to not imagine in this day of the 3 true outcomes, when I allude to shutdown closer, you not think of someone blowing triple digit gas. I’m not gonna recollect like everybody else does when they mention 100mph stuff being an endangered thing, but Felipe Vazquez certainly fits the bill as being the shutdown, at times truly invincible closer.

GB 47.0% FB 25.9% LD 20.%
Hard Hit 33.3% Barrel 6.1%

I’m not questioning the stuff. It’s certainly there. But this may be more of a problem with the situation than the actual substance of the transaction. With the NL being the most enticing narration of keeping up with the K’s, it’s hard to speculate what the Pirates could given that the NL is so evenly matched.

The con to this is that Vazquez is running on a very affordable deal, that runs through 2023. That makes his baggage season also a part of the price, and given that he’s under control for more season that just perfectly coincides with his peak, makes his deal and the workings to pry him out a challenging, and perhaps future-jeopardizing endeavor with the haul he’ll receive in return.

Vazquez is a top-notch closer make no mistake about it. But I’ll pass if the Pirates are asking for the sun, moon and galaxy for only a handful of years of an injury hampered closer with an ascending career hard hit rate.

TRADE PROPOSAL; Felipe Vazquez and Michael Feliz for Tyler Duffey + Trevor Larnach (#4) + Jhoan Duran (#8) + Nick Gordon (#11)

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 60%

6. Shane Greene
W/L Record; 0-2
1.22 ERA, 22/25 Saves
37.0 innings & 41 strikeouts
Controlled Through; End of 2020 Season (1 ½ Years of Control)


You can count me with the group of people who didn’t not in the least suspect Shane Greene to be trade bait during the deadline. But here we are, you reading a persuasive article on Shane Greene and I wracking my brain on how to write something juicy enough, for you to somehow want a Shane Greene. Weird world, isn’t it?

Shane Greene might be the most shopped reliever, and he certainly should be. Which such an antithesis to the overwhelmingly successful season Shane Greene is having.

Shane Greene has improved in every possible way a reliever can transition from good to great. Strikeout a lot of batters (highest rate of his career 28%), don’t give up hard hits, and when you do keep it on the ground (career-high groundball rate). The total package for most relievers………...on first glance.

Yes, Shane Greene might be having a career year of substance, but the underlying metrics say this shouldn’t and won’t continue to be as cherry as it is.

Shane Greene is pitching by far his best season in the majors. A sub 2 ERA, and a major league 6th best .223 wOBA, the most all-encompassing offensive statistic in baseball. But the peripherals suggest regression, not only to the mean but perhaps even worse.

GB 55.3% FB 23.4% LD 13.8%
Hard Hit 37.6% Barrel 9.6%

Just because Greene is having an absolute wonderstruck ERA, that is undoubtedly influenced by luck, has no indications of carrying over to Target Field. Speaking of fields, Greene is the unknown, or probably well known to Greene himself, beneficiary of pitching at the most pitch friendly by dimensions in baseball.

Shane Greene has given up a hard hit rate of 37.6% the highest of career, yet owns the lowest BABIP of his career. Pitch repertoire has no notable change, meaning the results are the only things that must be changing.

At some point you’ve got to parse the good with the bad, and the only plus pitch of Greene’s might be the slider. It may be very straight vertically (combatted that with using cutters to lefts, sliders to rights) but the horizontal movements is truly remarkable. That horizontal moving slider is 12th in the league in right to left movement which might be a really good paring to the cutter once refined.

One thing that I would love to see Greene tinker with is a cutter that could slice his his sinker usage in half. He’s certainly got a knack for the cutter and slider horizontal movement, (cutter 4th, slider 12th) and his sinker is an outdated pitch that when hit should be hit hard (xSLG .444). So cutter’s better than sinker, so flipping the ratios into 50-50 would be ideal.

Even though Shane is benefiting from amazing expected statistics, a metric enumerated by exit velocity and launch angle doesn’t mean those numbers hold any water. Shane Greene plays in a very pitcher friendly ballpark by the dimensions (not lately though) but still very pitcher friendly field. Expected statistics play in a virtual reality, meaning the area/field the expected statistics take place are virtual and the averaged dimensions of every MLB park. So the expected statistics underplay the actual expected statistics, because Comerica’s space between fielders is larger than anyone else's, Greene is worse than even the discrepancy of his wOBA to expected wOBA difference.

Shane Greene might be having a good season, but at face value (ignoring the fact he’s a rental) he shouldn’t cost much more than a top 7-10 prospect and nothing more.

TRADE PROPOSAL; Shane Greene for Travis Blankenhorn (#24) + Gabriel Maciel (#28)

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; 80%

7. Sean Doolittle

Yeah, he’s not getting traded.

TRADE PROPOSAL; NOPE

TRADE LIKELIHOOD; -100%

Please follow and direct all inquires at @Sabir_Aden on Twitter. Till my next pen.




Giles and Greene cannot become a Free Agents until 2021. Arbitration eligible now.

Giles and Greene cannot become a Free Agents until 2021. Arbitration eligible now.


Thanks! Screwed up some Spotrac. Correction made. Now I’m gonna change the prospect value.