As the trade deadline draws near, we’ve already seen two closers traded, and that may not be the last of them. Bullpen help is always in high demand come this time of year as contenders are intent on making sure that they can hold on to whatever precious leads they may be able to generate. After all, nothing stings like a blown save when the division title is on the line in late September. This is of particular interest to Diamondbacks fans as the team has made Addison Reed available as the deadline approaches. Take a look at the deals that have been completed and pay special attention to the haul that the trading teams received.
- San Diego trades Houston Street and Trevor Gott Anaheim for Taylor Lindsey (1), R.J. Alvarez (4), Bruce Rondon (8) and Elliot Morris (n/r)
- Texas tradesJoakim Soria to Detroit for Jake Thompson (4) and Corey Knebel (5)
- Numbers denote Baseball Prospectus 2014 team prospect rank
Both Street and Soria were traded for extensive prospect packages. The Angels had very few bullets to fire from their farm system and spent just about every last one of them in their deal with the Padres. Taylor Lindsey, the Halos’ top prospect, projects as an average second baseman with a strong hit tool. R.J. Alvarez is a flame-throwing relief prospect that profiles an excellent back-of-the-bullpen option in the very near future. Rondon is a young, Venezuelan shortstop who’s been turning heads in 2014 while Elliot was little more than a throw-in.
The Tigers’ case is similar to the Angels’, whereas they aren’t exactly known to have a well-stocked cupboard of minor league talent. But, with Joe Nathan’s struggles, they moved two valuable pieces to get Soria. Jake Thompson had a chance to jump to the top of their farm system rankings by the close of 2014 as the right-handed starter has had a very impressive season. He projects as something of a high-end number three starter. Knebel was the Tigers’ first round pick in the 2013 draft and the polished righty is a reliever all the way. He’s got a big time heater and nasty curveball, giving him a chance to be an eighth or ninth inning guy down the road.
The thing we see in both of these cases: Anaheim and Detroit were willing to give up significant pieces to acquire a closer. And they didn’t just want any closer, they wanted veteran guys they could trust, at least insofar as any relief pitcher can ever be trusted. Both Street and Soria have been relatively steady throughout their careers. Street did have a tough go of things last season before rebounding nicely and Soria did miss all of 2012 while rehabbing from elbow surgery, but they’ve officially earned the #provencloser title, for better or worse.
And this got me thinking: what if Addison Reed had been decent this year but the team had struggled? What might he have fetched in return if the Diamondbacks would have entertained trading him? Concievably, he could have netted the Diamondbacks something far more valuable than what he was traded for in Matt Davidson (who’s struggled mightily in AAA Charlotte this year). Unfortunately, Reed is not on Street and Soria’s level.
Judging off their current seasons alone, which obviously bear the most consideration, we can see that Reed is the worst among the group. But, he’s also the youngest, has two more years of team control remaining and has the highest strikeout rate of the trio. What’s hurt him? Well, you know the story: home runs. His 28% ground ball rate is leaving him vulnerable to getting taken deep, and while the bulk of fly balls were something we knew came along with Reed from Chicago, no one thought they’d leave the park at this rate.
Take a look at the xFIP of the three pitchers. If you’re unfamiliar, xFIP is designed to be the ERA estimator that FIP is, but xFIP arbitrarily assigns each pitcher the league average home run rate. This presumably levels the playing field between those who have been lucky in the home run department (Soria), those who have been average (Street) and those who have been unlucky (Reed). Of course, pitchers make some of their own luck, but let’s just leave that be for the moment. If we ascribed the league average home run rate to each pitcher, we come out with similar xFIPs across the board. Reed is still lagging behind, but not in a horrific way.
The other stat worth turning your attention to is WPA/LI. Win Probability Added (WPA) is a measurement of how much any player has actually improved his team’s chance of winning games. For those of you who prefer statistics rooted in purely on-field performance, this should be your go-to. Leverage Index (LI) measures how critical each situation is on the field. For example, ninth inning, bases empty, two outs, nobody on with a three-run lead is a pretty non-critical situation for a closer. He’s got a large lead and only has to get one out to seal up the victory. Ninth inning, runners on the corners, nobody out with a one-run lead is much more critical situation as a single will tie the game and a double gives up the lead. What WPA/LI measures is how well each player has contributed to his team’s chance of winning games, but it also factors in how critical of situations the player has performed in. In essence, players get bonus points for performing well in the most critical situations.
You can read more about it from our own Ryan Morrison, but put simply, WPA/LI is a key measurement of the performance of relief pitchers and, as it stands now, Addison Reed has actually been detrimental to his team. Of all relievers with 20 or more saves (there are 18 of them in baseball), Reed is the only pitcher with a negative WPA/LI. He’s been the worst full time closer in the league it’s not even really close. Sadly, this has often been the case with Reed, as he’s posted negative WPA/LI totals in three of his four major league seasons. He’s a “closer” because he pitches the ninth, not because he’s particularly good with the game on the line.
I started this post with the idea that Addison Reed could have fetched something useful if he were traded and had been decent this season. As it turns out, he’s never really been all that good. He’s just racked up saves by being handed the ball in the ninth and being an okay pitcher. So much for that idea.
It used to be that Kevin Towers made his money on flipping relievers. Addison Reed could have been the next guy in the long line of bullpen assets moved by Towers if he had performed relatively well this year. The trades for Street and Soria would allude to the fact that he could have netted Arizona something far more significant than Davidson, someone whom I was never particularly high on. If flipped, the signing of Reed, which we initially didn’t love, could have been genius. If someone were to take him off of the Diamondbacks’ hands at this point, however, it would be a sell-low move for Arizona. We’ve seen way too much of that from this franchise, and at this point, they’re probably better off seeing if he can pitch his way to an improved value, as painful as it may be to watch.
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