Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Last week, we looked at the hitters trade market and how it applies to the Dodgers. Since that time, the offense has woken up and the team is on a roll.
This week, we’ll explore the relief pitching market.
While the bullpen is viewed as a flaw, statistics refute that assertion. L.A.’s 3.00 ERA is best in the National League, and second in MLB to the monster that is Kansas City. The bullpen is No. 16 in total innings pitched (231) which is a bit surprising considering the Dodgers starters’ (save Kershaw) inability to consistently go past the fifth or sixth inning. Opponents are batting .201 against Dodger relievers, which is the best mark in baseball.
Yet the group is still regarded as a weakness. Timing is everything.
Viewing Fangraph’s clutch metric, Los Angeles is ranked No. 30. To be fair, not all of that can be attributed solely to the relievers. Inherited runners have put them in tight spots and Dave Roberts has had a number of questionable management decisions. But no matter how it’s sliced, the bullpen hasn’t come through when it matters most.
Pedro Baez has a 3.44 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Had it not been for a miraculous ninth inning play (error), he would’ve cost L.A. a sweep of the Nationals. That’s not the first time Baez has hurt the team in crunch time. Those numbers don’t reflect his true performance.
Chris Hatcher’s, on the other-hand, do. His 4.66 ERA in 28 appearances is a fair summary of his efforts. Baez and Hatcher should not have a major role on a team with World Series aspirations; or even playoff aspirations.
With that, we’ll examine the relievers market. There have been a handful of names left off, so I’m going to address that beforehand.
Aroldis Chapman: It’s interesting to see the dynamics of fans regarding red flags. Some of the same people who refuse to consider Ryan Braun would welcome Chapman. Their flaws are two separate worlds. The Dodgers already made their stance on Chapman clear once, and it’s hard to anticipate that changing. Chapman is a free agent after the season, and he’ll still get his pay day, but it’s doubtful he’ll be in Dodger blue.
As this piece is being written, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times said “The baseball operations department has yet to receive clearance from ownership to pursue” Chapman. That is another hurdle decreasing the likelihood of a partnership.
Huston Street: This was a personal favorite until recently. Street is showing signs of decline. Paired with the Angels’ probable asking price, it isn’t worth it.
Tyler Clippard: Arizona isn’t out of it yet, and even if they started to slip, don’t bank on them helped the Dodgers.
Ryan Madson: Oakland would be happy to shed Madson’s contract. Los Angeles won’t be happy to take it.
David Hernandez: It’s been a strong season for Hernandez overall, but he’s showing flashes of regression lately. The last thing L.A. needs is another Jim Johnson.
As was the case with the batters, the focus is on players who won’t cost a Julio Urias or Jose De Leon. Fortunately, relievers normally don’t require such a price. Unfortunately, finding fair value for relievers is a challenge.
5) Fernando Rodney, San Diego
Stats: 0-1, 0.33 ERA and 16 saves in 27.2 IP
Rodney might be the best reliever in baseball right now. The Padres don’t win many games, but when they’re ahead in the ninth, Rodney has been spectacular.
Jacob Rhame would appeal to San Diego for future relief help, but the franchise could justify demanding more. Rodney is 39 years old, but if the goal is to add immediate help, he’s perfect.
It’s fair to expect regression as well. Rodney is vastly exceeding his recent production to this point. It’s not the deal you make to contend in 2018, but it could be the difference in the 2016 National League wildcard race.
Because of Rodney’s limited overall impact, I wouldn’t expect the Dodgers to heavily pursue him. If the alternatives are too expensive, however, he is worth serious consideration.
4) Fernando Abad, Minnesota
Stats: 1-1, 2.16 ERA in 25 IP
The Dodgers have had success with Fernando’s before, so why not explore two more?
The Twins have crashed after an 83-win 2015. They’ll be sellers, and among the most likely to be traded is Abad.
Abad is a solid reliever – nothing more. Minnesota will expect an average prospect in return. With the glut of talent in L.A.’s farm, he will be easily affordable.
Picking up his first save Wednesday, the Twins may be moving Abad into a permanent closer role. If he succeeds it will increase the demand. For now, it won’t cost the Dodgers more than a mid-level prospect. A player like Willie Calhoun would make sense for Minnesota as it continues to collect young bats. Of course, Calhoun’s recent success may make Los Angeles think twice.
3) Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee
Stats: 1-2, 2.84 ERA and 19 saves in 31.2 IP
Jeffress could be higher on this list if it wasn’t for cost. He is one of the three best relievers who could be moved, though the Brewers won’t be pressed to do so. The 28-year-old is under contract through 2019.
May saw Jeffress accumulate a 1.80 ERA and he’s maintained a high level of play since. More strikeouts would be preferable, but Jeffress has found his footing and flourished over the last two seasons. He has 19 saves in 20 attempts in his first campaign as a full-time closer. Last season he was one of the best eighth inning pitchers in the league, bridging the path to Francisco Rodriguez. In Los Angeles, he’d have the same role setting up for Kenley Jansen.
Jeffress is young enough to contribute to the next good Brewers team. He’s cheap (arbitration) so shedding salary isn’t a motive. He has enough value that the Brewers probably wouldn’t package him in another deal with a Jonathan Lucroy or Braun.
“I haven’t really thought that much about it,” Jeffress said of trade rumors during Milwaukee’s series in Chavez Ravine. “ … We don’t know who might go where or still be here at the end of the year. We’re worrying about here and right now. We know we’re rebuilding the team. We’re hoping we see it through. But baseball is a business.”
The business end may result in an exodus of Brewers, with many of interest to the Dodgers. The issue with Jeffress will be price. Milwaukee will request a Grant Holmes or Walker Buehler-type. Cody Bellinger would be of particular interest, but L.A. won’t move him for a reliever. The value is too tough to gauge to imagine a deal between the parties. At the 2014 trade deadline, Baltimore surrendered its No. 3 prospect in Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston for bullpen ace Andrew Miller. If the Dodgers are equaling that payment, they can add a better player (pitcher or otherwise) than Jeffress.
2) Sean Doolittle, Oakland
Stats: 2-2, 3.03 ERA and 4 saves in 29.2 IP
When healthy, Doolittle has proven himself as an upper-tier lefty reliever.
Doolittle followed his All-Star 2014 with an injury ridden 2015. He got roughed up a bit early, but has re-established his place as one of the best bridge pitchers in baseball.
Unlike Jeffress, Doolittle’s game relies on strikeouts. Oakland gave him a five-year extension with two club options in 2014, which spoke to his value to the franchise. It also provides an easy out if the flamethrower loses his touch.
Alex Verdugo fits the A’s, but he could headline a package for a better player. Omar Estevez and Josh Sborz would also give Oakland a solid prospect with big upside. A deal between the two parties would make sense, and each has the pieces the other desires. Not necessarily just for Doolittle, but watch for trade talks with these two California organizations. I’d view this level of deal as most likely.
1) Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
Stats: 4-0, 1.14 ERA and 7 saves in 31.2 IP
I’m giving credit to our own Hunter Thompson (@Officialism27) for opening me up to this idea. Initially I felt the financial and prospect price of adding Miller wouldn’t fit L.A., but more research has altered my stance. Miller is the best bang for your buck reliever on the market.
Arguably the top late-inning arm in the sport, Miller is enjoying another dominant season. The lowly Yankees (strange to write) have little use for an elite reliever, so Miller’s name is tossed into trade rumors.
As mentioned before, the Orioles gave up their third ranked prospect to acquire Miller in 2014. The Yankees will demand more given Miller is signed through 2018 at $9M per and has improved every season since 2011. He’ll be courted by the Nationals, Giants and other competitors, so New York holds all the cards. The Yankees boast perhaps the best trio of relievers in baseball and they aren’t accustomed to selling. In short: It’ll take an overpay.
Barring the bidding getting completely out of control, Miller is the only reliever L.A. should pay a premium to get. As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs discovered, Miller actually produces more swings on pitches out of the zone than in it. Sullivan goes as far as to say “Statistically speaking, Miller shouldn’t exist.”
Recognize the value in that. Hitters will rarely make solid contact. Many of those inherited runners that scored on Baez or Hatcher would be left stranded by Miller. He is exactly the piece the Dodgers (and all teams) need. After watching the Royals in the last two postseasons, it’s hard not to appreciate an excellent bullpen.
Don’t forget Jansen’s impending free agency. If he walks, Miller would easily fill the closer void. He fits Los Angeles in any capacity. If the team wants to drastically improve its bullpen and postseason chances, it won’t find a better possibility.
Comparing this deal to Baltimore’s, the aforementioned Holmes (No. 3 prospect) is a starting point. Add two more years of control at a reasonable price, along with Miller’s improvement, and it’s going to take more to finalize a deal.
Holmes, Starling Heredia and Julian Leon might make New York answer the phone. That’s three of the Dodgers top 28 prospects, according to MLB.com. It gives the Yankees a rotation piece, a potential starting outfielder with pop and a catcher who can eventually replace Brian McCann.
It’s expensive for a reliever, but understand Miller’s impact and it’s doable. In reality, multiple suitors may force the Dodgers to up the ante or bow out. Paying such a price may prevent Los Angeles from acquiring an impact bat, if you’re looking at the glass half empty. If that’s a reason not to do a deal, I can’t blame the Dodgers. Offense is the priority unless the recent showings are more than a flash in the pan.
A more optimistic approach is to believe the offense is finally coming into its own and reinforcements don’t have to be enormous. Adding Miller locks down the eighth and ninth innings, as well as providing the situational help the team lacks. If starters can make it through seven, L.A.’s win probability is extremely high.
Of course, the starters haven’t pitched deep into games, but more on that next week.