Contributing to the Ernesto Frieri Conversation

By now you’ve surely heard that the Rays have DFA’s Sean Rodriguez to make room for the newly signed Ernesto Frieri on an incentive-laden deal with a base of $800K. Dude’s coming off a rough one as Ian Malinowski very capably showed but all might not be lost according to industry stalwart R.J. Anderson. Seriously, go read those guys first because I couldn’t agree more with their takes so there is little value in rehashing what they said. Kudos, lads.

What I would like to dig into is something that was spurred by published author nomo.red.evil, a poster at DRaysBay:

So we swapped an old flyball/homer-prone pitcher for a newer model?

Of course, he’s referring to the recently traded Joel Peralta and at first blush it seems like a pretty solid comparison. Does it hold up to further scrutiny? I took a look at all relievers over the last three years that threw at least 40 innings in a season across a broad swath of categories that highlight each pitchers strengths and weaknesses. I established a weighted average for each year and calculated the standard deviation so that we could establish Z-scores for each pitcher across each category and then rank their performance compared to all 497 peers. Here’s how these two compare to each other:

The left hand portion of the table (color-scaled) shows their z-score for each category with green being better and the right-hand portion shows their rank amongst those 497 peers. For instance, in 2012 Joel Peralta had the highest Outfield Fly Ball% (OFFB%) among all relievers over the three-year period with a z-score of 2.5. If you find it helpful, here’s a link to their raw figures for each of the years. Please note that OFFB% is FB% minus IFFB%.

They both give up a ton of fly balls to the outfield. This has always manifested in higher than league average HR/FB rates for Frieri while Peralta’s figures were more subdued and actually better than average in 2013 by a good amount. While Frieri always had an issue, it became a severe problem in 2014 as he put up one of the worst z-scores across this term at +2.1 ranking 483rd which led to his next to last 496th ranked HR/9 in 2014 with a z-score of 3.9!!! That alone should scream regression even if it’s only back to the merely bad 1.0 and 1.6 that he put up in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

So that’s the obvious flaw, but as R.J. pointed out you can live with this issue when he’s also putting up K% figures in the 90th percentile, which went away in 2014 turning him into a human piñata. Peralta was always better than average, but his best year (2012) merely approaches Frieri’s 2013 and the other years aren’t close. Of course that comes with the trade off of walks where Peralta paired pretty good strikeout rates with usually pretty good walk rates. No such luck for Frieri, though he did a lot better in 2014 and maybe that’s part of the problem. Effectively wild may or may not be merely cliché, but hittable pitches getting whacked is no myth. You’d love to see him maintain the walk decline and improve the other areas, but given the choice I’d rather see an elevated walk rate and fewer homers. Live with the small frustration over the facepalm.

Moving on to the plate discipline stats we see that Frieri wasn’t as good at getting batters to swing out of the zone in 2014, which was a huge strength for Peralta this past season. Additionally, Peralta induced more jelly leg and frozen bats within the zone which may speak to his guile or deeper pitch mix. With Frieri you kind of know what you’re going to get, but can you muscle up while Peralta will leave you guessing and chasing. Despite those relatively high levels of zone swings for Frieri he did a tremendous job (99th percentile) of turning those swings into no contact. Both pitchers fared worse at this in 2014, but Frieri went from zone contact being his carrying tool to league average while Peralta merely showed more natural progression.

This stuff carries over to swing strike rate for Frieri as his 2014 is just so far removed from what he was doing at an incredible rate prior to his implosion. Peralta oscillated from good to meh and back again, and while their worst years are pretty close, Peralta can’t hold a candle to Frieri’s best years.

So while these guys are pretty similar, in that, they induce fly balls and live by the strikeout there are some subtle differences. Frieri is going to walk more guys and he’s going to give up slightly more homers per game and per fly ball. Those are real weaknesses, but if he can get back to what made him an elite, and I don’t use that word lightly, strikeout ace from 2012 – 13 then you’re looking at a guy that you can bring in when you absolutely need a strikeout and maybe the walk doesn’t kill you all that much. The downside is very real, and it will manifest often enough to draw ire from fans, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Rays spun straw into gold. Get him back to what he did well and you’re looking at a suitable replacement for similar money. If getting back to more crossfire leads to an injury or he just never comes back, well, you rolled the dice, saved $1.8M, and you flush him down the J. C. Oviedo tube. The risk is relatively small, but the reward could be tremendous. Silverman sure learned a lot from his dearly departed predecessor.

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Regressed Split Leaders & the Rays 2015 Outfield

It’s probably a small thing, but it always irks me when so-and-so writer or scout says something along the lines of, “(Lefty batter) looks like a really good hitter against righties, but it looks like he’s never going to hit lefties.” The reason I find this so bothersome is that MOST lefties can’t hit lefties. Why take the time to point it out. To show this we can use the matchup tool to look at regressed platoon splits for all batters that received 100 PA or more in 2014. Recall that we’re using these regressed splits to project how a batter will handle the average lefty or righty based on his 2015 Steamer wOBA projection (big ups to that crew, BTW). We’re able to project the matchup based on who the pitcher is, as well, but that won’t be necessary for this exercise.

This is my first time using a linked spreadsheet on this site and it does many things I like and a couple I don’t, but I think this is a big step up from hosted images of spreadsheets. I have sorted the below data by largest to smallest regressed split and you’ll find the batter projected wOBA/wRC+ against the AVERAGE lefty or righty. There’s many takeaways here, but it’s always interesting to see who the names at the top and the bottom are.

I’ll admit, what brought this inquiry on was seeing folks rehash for the 69th time that Jason Heyward probably can’t hit lefties. The thing is, he’s not alone! His tremendous glove keeping him in the lineup aside, he’s in a group of other very good hitters that struggle mightily against lefties. You’ll find him with the 13th largest split amongst lefties sandwiched between Lucas Duda and Seth Smith two guys that should, and are, platooned on a fairly regular basis. If those guys could play defense half as well as Heyward they would be out there everyday, but they can’t, and that’s the point. People get so caught up in what a guy can’t do that they can often miss a guy’s strengths.

Jason Heyward has a fairly obvious weakness that is somewhat easily exploited, but EVERY player has a weakness. Steamer portends a breakout for the lithe outfielder which perhaps is inflating his broken out projections here, but wide splits didn’t stop Shin-Soo Choo from breaking the bank last year despite being a worse fielder with an even bigger split. Good on the Cardinals for getting themselves a real gamer, but I probably would hold off buying the jersey, because this young man is going to hit free agency at the age of 25! next year (How do you do all caps for numbers?) as an elite defender that can absolutely mash righties. Until the majority of starters are left-handed this is the exact type of player teams should be targeting. Let him play everyday where the glove gives value even when the bat doesn’t and throw a platoon at some other position.

On to the Rays hook. Tampa Bay has a veritable wealth of good, but not great outfielders. Once you resign yourself to the fact that the potential return for Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist necessitates them being traded you realize that there are still a ton of moving parts. Take those two off the table and you’re still looking at David DeJesus, Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Wil Myers as guys that could be everyday players on a different team. Let’s pluck their wRC+ projections out of the above sheet and also take a look at their defensive value:

Batter/vRHP/vLHP/DEF*

DeJesus/101/88/-10.3

Guyer/96/102/-0.7

Jennings/96/104/0.0

Kiermaier/100/88/6.1

Myers/103/107/-7.7

* I’m using Steamer’s DEF rating which incorporates both the quality of defense provided incorporated with the positional adjustment. An above-average corner outfielder might be an average or worse centerfielder while an average centerfielder is almost certainly an above-average guy in the corners. An example, if they think Jennings contributes 0.0 DEF runs then they think he’s going to be worth -2.5 runs worth of defense while playing strictly CF. On the other hand, Kiermaier would be around +13.5 runs worth of defense in a corner or around +3.5 runs in centerfield. It’s a tricky concept, but once you realize what you’re looking at I think it makes sense to all.

Back to the story at hand. The Rays have a finite number of spots that they can pencil into the lineup everyday with more players than spots available. Specifically five guys for four spots, but we can use our knowledge of the opposition starter’s handedness, in conjunction with the numbers above, to estimate some ideal playing time roles. Clearly, given the choice, David DeJesus would never play in the outfield, but you’d love to have him face righties. You’d like to avoid Wil Myers in the field if possible, but his bat is so good that you’d also like to find a way to get him in the lineup everyday. Kiermaier is a different animal where he’s going to struggle against lefties, but his glove is so freaking good that you’d like him out there as often as possible. It’s a good problem to have. So what might an optimal situation look like?

Let’s assume each position gets 650 PA with roughly 70% of that coming against a righty- starter. Note that I have split out the DEF ratings above in to their components of Fielding value and the Position played. We’re ignoring baserunning here, but feel free to add or subtract these small number of runs where you see fit. That’s cool, but let’s look at the totals to get a better idea:

So across these four positions/five guys we’re talking close to 7 WAR. The bright spot is Kiermaier in RF as his defense offsets his poor bat against lefties and the weak spot is DH where DDJ and Myers combine for just under a win. The outfield is basically average across the board when taking into account hitting and defense, which isn’t great, but it could be worse. Setting aside the other eight slots and four positions that need to be covered what looks like something that you’d like to see on your wish list?

These guys cover each other’s weaknesses pretty well, but it sure would be nice to have an upgrade on DeJesus. If you’re going to be all stick then you better bring something tougher than balsa. I think we’re actually pretty good, defensively. Guyer looks like an above-average defender in a corner, Myers is closer to average out there, and Jennings gives you close to average defense in CF. Maybe there’s an avenue there to move him to LF where his range would play up even more, and you can hide his arm a bit. Kiermaier’s projections and the eye test tell me he could probably be a plus defender in CF and his arm certainly plays better, but if you’re looking to flip Jennings in a year or two would you rather sell him as a nearly average bat/glove in CF or an underwhelming bat/plus glove in LF? Alas, this is just another iteration of the difficulty of playing for both today and tomorrow. Often folks talk about trading wins today for tomorrow when talking about trading veterans for prospects, but this also manifests itself when having to make less than ideal choices today in order to satisfy some bigger payout tomorrow. These five make for an interesting group, but it certainly feels like, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, we’re about a bat short out there.

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Hellickson Rumors: An Addendum

The last piece was getting pretty long so I ended up glossing over a couple of key points that I’d like to flesh out more fully here. The first issue I would like to address is my hand-waving of not being able to get Evan Gattis with our package of Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Joyce. My basis for this thought process is that Gattis has four years of control including one year of league minimum salary and the fact that he’s already an established player capable of providing a ton of production. Additionally, he should be able to fake it at catcher from time to time which is going to amp up his WAR value, though the rest of the time he would be a bad LF or passable 1B. Let’s start with what Steamer thinks before breaking it down into components:

Steamer is projecting Gattis to put up 2.9 WAR next year and if we knock off half a win a year for age progression and uncertainty he would still be a formidable player with his tenure representing a huge win for value per dollar. If Gattis is putting up close to 9 wins over the next four seasons then there’s no way the Braves would think that these two are enough for the player, BUT how much stock can we put in this projection? Luckily Steamer breaks it all down for us.

They project him to put up a .322 wOBA in 585 PA which works out to around +4 runs of offense. They also think that he will cost just shy of a run (-0.7) running the bases and we can use the PA to get his replacement runs (20/600*PA) which comes out to around 19.5. Now we get to the sticky wicket of defense. They think he’ll put up +6.7 runs of defense which takes into account both where you play and how good you defend there compared to your peers. Catchers are going to receive +15 runs for the position which scales up or down depending on competence. You’ll also see that they give Gattis a fielding value of -4 runs so simple subtraction tells us they give him +10.7 runs for his position. Clearly they have him spending time at multiple positions so let’s float some ideas.

When he broke into the league two years ago he showed above average ability to throw out runners and was around average in the blocking and framing portions of the job. This past year, in more than double the work, he proceeded to fall apart so maybe his poor season was due to overuse behind the plate. We have no idea of knowing whether it’s that or the prior season was a fluke or he was battling an injury. We don’t know, but let’s say that we think dialing back his innings there and using him in other places will help him be a better defensive catcher at the cost of our positional runs. What would some scenarios look like:

The power of the catcher positional adjustment is so strong that Gattis could be even a bad defender there and it would still be the best option for him. Basically whatever you can do to keep him out of LF, and even 1B to a lesser extent, is a good thing. So let’s re-run the numbers using his best case where we see him catching a ton, poorly, but overall contributing the most.

Offense: +4.1 runs

Fielding: -9.0 runs

Position: +8.5 runs

BSR: -0.7 runs

Replacement: +19.5 runs

Total RAR: 22.4

Total WAR: 2.2

And let’s plug back into our contract table:

Even if we knock 2/3 of a win off of his Steamer projection you can see that Gattis would still be a really strong get for the Rays. If the Braves are really sour on his defense, or having too many righties, or his inability to play well defensively anywhere it would probably still take another decent player to make up that $13M shortfall in value that the Rays would be sending to acquire the guy. From the Rays perspective, it’s nice to know that if they did ante up what was necessary to acquire the guy that he would still be around a 2 WAR player even if he spent most of his time at DH and him playing LF would be a non-factor with all of their options. I’ll leave optimization to the bigger nerds than even I, but giving Loney some days off against lefties and sliding this guy to 1B with some DH duties and starting him enough at C to avoid having to carry a third guy would probably be pretty good for all parties interested. Before moving on to the second thing I want to talk about here’s his splits with those that would be his competition:

Gattis would instantly become our best option against lefties of this group and he would still be playable against all, but the very best righties. It’s not hard to see that he could find a role on this team.

R/A to one of the nicer people I’ve read on the web, Nathaniel Stoltz

The other player I casually mentioned towards the end of the previous article was Jose Peraza. I pointed out that Keith Law had him ranked 39th in his mid-season rankings as part of a Pirate sandwich between Jameson Taillon and Austin Meadows. KLaw is known for being more aggressive with younger guys preferring to be wrong more often to be right when one of these players turns into an absolute stud. This should be the thought process for Rays fans if you think the organization is able to continuously identify 1-2 WAR players on the cheap so that you don’t need to grow your own, but I have no issue with people that prefer higher floor. I mention all of this because nobody else that I’m finding had Peraza in their mid-season top-50.

I gave you a couple of scouting reports in the last read and I’d really like to see what Kiley McDaniel thinks, probably my favorite prospect hound, but we must wait, somewhat patiently. To rehash, you’re looking at a guy that would be a plus defender at SS with good hands and feet, but the arm holds him back from being incredible. Merely good must suffice. At the dish he’s an aggressive hitter swinging often, walking rarely, and showing little pop. Word on the street is that he’s a prototypical leadoff guy that isn’t afraid to bunt for a base hit even though he’s right-handed. He sounds like a player that knows what he is and is not afraid to leverage his 70 speed going base to base or in the field. He is likely to stay at SS in an organization that doesn’t feature one of the best defenders of the last 30 years at the position, alas, the Braves will have to move him to 2B.

The alternative theory is that they should trade from their strength, especially if it allows them to fill their weakness today while they have a very strong team that will have some hard choices following this season. Having good players under contract for a long time is a good thing, but saying goodbye to two great players in Justin Upton and Jason Heyward would be a tough pill for any franchise to swallow. With a new GM in place and a manager who should be feeling the heat there’s some pressure for this team to go for broke this year to avoid the regrets of what if… Only the Braves can know what they will do, but what if they got the 2B of their dreams this year to solidify a very strong infield backed by an even better outfield?

If we throw Zobrist into this deal the Braves are now adding something like 7-8 wins this year at the cost of Evan Gattis and a good prospect. Zobrist and Gattis are probably a wash from a surplus angle, but it’s difficult to quantify just how important adding a perennial 5-win player would be to a team in the Braves place on the win curve. When you add in how his flexibility would allow the players players around him to play even better you’re talking about a major coup for the Braves.

Don’t get too hung up on that surplus value for Peraza. This is somewhat of a rosy scenario where the Rays avoid service time in 2016 and call him up forever in 2017 with Peraza going on to become a better than league average player over the rest of his tenure. I’d say his actual surplus is somewhere between a third ($20M) and a half ($30M) once you account for risk with all of that coming down the road when wins may or may not be of as much importance to the Rays. It’s a gamble that the player will become an everyday guy and it’s a further gamble that it will even matter by the time he hypothetically gets there.

If I’m the Rays I’m ecstatic to get a deal like this because in the end you’re getting the better side, but there is a ton of risk involved. You get a little better today by adding Gattis to DH/1B and occasionally catch, you get full value for the trade chips you have that need to be cashed in, you clear close to $17M in payroll for this year, and whatever Hellickson gets paid in 2016, and you add another dynamic positional prospect that looks like he will be able to play up the middle while adding a speed dynamic that is mostly lacking at all levels of the organization. The Rays would go from being a pretty solid contender to more of a fringe one in the short term, but the newfound payroll flexibility may change that. Once you drop the emotional, embrace the rational and come to terms with the idea that we have GOT to recoup value for Ben Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Joyce in order to continue to stoke the furnace. The sooner you do the sooner you realize that this is a tremendous return.

It’s a lot to give up for the Braves, but it takes them from a solid contender to one of the favorites in the National League giving them all the ammunition they need to wage war against one of the other prohibitive favorites who happen to reside in their division in the Washington Nationals. Additionally, with the Mets and Marlins showing some success last year with plenty of good players on the way it may not be long before the tourniquet kills the leg and the Braves find themselves with some good players, some good prospects, and no chance of winning a world series any time soon. What are you playing for if not a ring?

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The Hellickson Rumors

Watch enough police procedural dramas in a lifetime and you’ll have drilled into you that it takes three things to commit a crime. Means, motive, and opportunity. Find the person that meets all three criteria and you’re likely to have found your burglar or murderer or whatever. The same works for trading assets in baseball. Find the partner that provides all three criteria and you’ll find the team that matches up well. Before we put the cart in front of the horse, why would the Rays look to trade the former Rookie of the Year?

The track record of the Rays is to move their starting pitchers once they get a year or two from free agency. This marks a nice balance of recouping talent for players while they are cheap and still getting something in return before the player bolts for nothing. This has happened with Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields and David Price. Hellickson makes sense as the next in line, especially with Alex Colome out of options and Matt Moore returning at some point in 2015 (please God). With Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly also looking like mid-rotation starters and a plethora of back end options in Durham the saga continues of the next man stepping up to replace our next dearly departed starter.

Have little doubt that Hellickson possesses less value than any of those previous starters:

Even Jackson had a live fastball that left many salivating at the thought of what he could someday become if he figured out how to use it. Hellickson has been a notch below Garza from a production standpoint and he carries one less year of control forming a double whammy of value-killing poison, but this does not mean that he is worthless.

Due to the strength of his change up (1.07 runs per 100 pitches better than average in career) and ability to throw it in any count he has done a remarkable job of keeping his splits well below the norm. Hellickson is good against righties (projected 97 wRC+) and won’t get brutalized by lefties (102 wRC+) either. Put him in a situation where he has a good defense behind him and/or in a bigger park and I think he’ll put up the numbers of a mid-rotation starter. Additionally, there are several non-performance based things that help give him value.

After getting some bone chips removed from his elbow prior to the 2014 season he wasn’t able to make his first appearance until the All Star Break. Missing Spring Training and working to get back in shape while facing Major League hitters is a daunting task for anyone. I think this lends credence to the idea that he’s due to have a bit of a bounceback as 2015 will allow him to not only workout in the spring, but to also build strength all winter. Something he couldn’t do last year. Additionally, that down year means that his arbitration award should be kept down a bit, relative to others in his situation. MLBTR pegs him to receive around $3.9M and that comes with control through 2016 as mentioned previously. Here’s a look at the surplus value with even a conservative outlook towards his production:

Continue reading

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Starting Logan Forsythe

To say that Logan Forsythe underwhelmed in 2014 is probably a gross understatement with the emphasis on gross. If you clicked the link you saw that Fangraphs had him as a sub-replacement player last year putting up a 90 wRC+ with below average defense. From watching him I thought he was pretty much average with the glove, maybe a touch better showing some inconsistency where one day he would make a really nice play and then not get to that ball the next day. There’s two things about that last sentence that may be important. The first is that he didn’t really “play the next” day all that often because of how he was used and perhaps that led to the second thing, his inconsistency.

Shifting over to the bat I think most folks are aware of the pinch-hit penalty, and are becoming more alert of the times through the order penalty. It’s really tough being a pinch-hitter. You’re coming off the bench with no adrenaline flowing facing a guy that’s most likely been down in the pen throwing his guts out for 5-10 minutes to get his own blood flow coursing. You haven’t seen the guy, because you haven’t seen anyone all game, and you’re asked to come in to what’s usually a high leverage situation and do something positive. It’s really freaking tough, hence the PH penalty. Add in that future playing time may be dependent on these individual plate appearances and it’s not hard to see how the pressure can resemble a starfish on a clamshell.

I bring all this stuff up because there was one stretch during this season where Forsythe  swung one of the hottest bats on the team. He approached his ceiling as a tough at bat that can spray the ball and hit with a little power, see if you can find it:

A few things going on here. If you’re familiar with my work you probably recognize that the blue line is basically a projection. This projection uses regressed platoon splits for both the batter and the pitcher, which have been scaled for park, and then the Log5 method outlined by Chris Teeter is used to incorporate the interaction of both players true talent vs. that handedness. If it seems like a mouthful keep in mind that this is something that Ian Malinowski of DRaysBay and myself have been working on for probably about three years now. I have tweaked the matchup tool for this instance to not only show the PH-penalty, but also to incorporate the Times Through The Order Penalty as quantified by MGL.

With the baseline out of the way you’ll see that the red line shows his park-adjusted wOBA with both lines being 50-PA trends over the course of the year. The tool projects that Forsythe would have put up a .298 wOBA while his park-adjusted wOBA was .286 so he disappointed a little bit, but how about that spike in the middle? Even bad hitters get hot for a stretch if given enough plate appearances, but is this something that might stick around next year or just variation over a small sample?

To answer that question I’ve incorporated the green line which corresponds with the secondary axis. What that line shows is the % of PA that were NOT as a pinch-hitter over these 50-PA samples. So this includes when he started and when he got multiple looks off of the bench. Green and red seem to track, especially during his best portion of the year. Now there’s two explanations for this. Either the fact that he wasn’t asked to come off the bench as often led to increased offensive production, or because he was hitting well he was being inserted into the starting lineup more often. Correlation does not equal causation, c’est la vie, but it’s interesting that there does seem to be a relationship here, until the end of the season when increased starting did not help him out of a funk. Let’s take a look at this at the game level through some different component metrics:

Here we’re looking at 10-game trends for BB% and K% and our introduced idea of Start%. Pretty tough to take anything away from that, but BB% seemed to track more closely as evidenced by the 0.45 correlation between that and Start%. K% was not as strong at only 0.14 with Start%. Let’s move on to the triple slash:

Again, difficult to discern signal from noise, but it’s interesting that during the times when he was starting more his power showed a very nice spike, and seemed to do so over the entirety of the season. Here the correlations were much stronger with Start%:

BA: 0.37

OBP: 0.60

SLG: 0.48

Iso: 0.55

wOBA: 0.55

Differentiating the why is beyond the scope of this (meager) analysis, but I’d like to hypothesize that starting more often leads to increased walk rate and more power as compared to being asked to PH often. Perhaps it’s a mental thing where the batter is more relaxed knowing that his playing time is independent of the outcome of this lone PA. Perhaps it’s physical. Seeing more pitches leads to being able to correctly estimate balls and strikes at a higher rate and leads to a better ability to square up a ball. As usual it’s probably a little bit of both, and there’s always the likelihood that there’s nothing here and I’m just matching patterns that have nothing to do with one another. They’re all options, and please feel free to assign your own probabilities to each, but I think that folks are going to judge Logan Forsythe’s 2014 a bit more harshly than they should because they’re not going to incorporate the tough task that was assigned to him.

If/when Ben Zobrist gets traded it is going to lead to more playing time at 2B and I’d expect a dogfight from a number of capable players, each with their own flaws. I’d like to see Logan Forsythe claim that role for his own as a patient hitter with a little pop and nice hands/feet in the field. Now go out and earn it.

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So Long, Cesar

Of the four players that came over in the Jason Bartlett trade following 2010’s team Tampa Bay team of destiny, Cesar Ramos has proven to have the most staying power. Brandon Gomes has rode the shuttle, Adam Russell rode the last bus out of town, and Cole Figueroa looks like a high-IQ player that doesn’t have the physical abilities to be much more than an injury fill-in. Damning with faint praise, fa sho, but Ramos was an adequate player here with a low ceiling and niche role as a swingman. They’re necessary, but nobody is breaking the bank for one.

Which is why it makes sense for the Rays to get something of value for him as he enters his second year arbitration with one more to follow. Matt Swartz of MLBTR thinks he’ll get $1.3M this year which should push him closer to $2M for 2016. Used almost exclusively as a long reliever/mop up/spot starter guy he rarely saw high leverage (0.56 in his career, 1.00 is a “normal” situation). While Ramos is obviously a lefty, this nugget gives me pause on the idea that he would profile as a LOOGY, or a lefty one out guy that generally comes in to ultra high leverage to either turn a batter around or exploit his weakness. Furthermore, Ramos has been better against lefties (see below), but he doesn’t feature the huge split that usually differentiates these guys from pitchers that you can use against both types of batters.

So the Angels are getting a guy that features some useful versatility, and the ceiling is pretty low for both production and price. The Rays aren’t just giving this guy away, though. In addition to saving close to a million dollars they also clear a spot on both the 25- and 40-man rosters. They also will be getting a fringe prospect in return which is more than they would have gotten for Ramos at the end of the year. I would love to go into the details on Mark Sappington a little more, but I think Ron Shah and Kiley McDaniel have put together a very nice scouting report that includes video. Far more information than I could hope to give you so take a few minutes and check that out.

Long story short, we’re talking about a big hoss that throws hard and might someday either find the strike zone or develop a solid-average slider. Do one of those things and maybe he’s a right-handed Ramos that should only face righties. Do both and he’s a very useful reliever with a total of six years of control with most of those being either for league min or not much more. This is an upside play for a piece that is imminently replaceable in the short term without really denting the 2015 outlook. Kudos to Mr. Silverman on his first trade as this looks like a nice low-risk get. Couple this acquisition with the Michael Kohn signing and Silverman is showing just what he thinks of last year’s bullpen. Useful pieces like this rarely are the difference makers by themselves in a season, but adding guys that bring something to the table on low cost deals is a great way to build a pen. Surely can’t be any worse than his predecessor signing a guy for two years and $12M and then skeetering out the backdoor before anyone could notice.

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