The Toronto Blue Jays have a number of trade chips this summer and Ryan Tepera is a good one.
The Blue Jays are sellers in this season’s trade market. Fortunately, the team is loaded with useful pieces to move in exchange for youthful players who can help the team contend in the medium-term. One particular Jay that is getting more and more attention is Ryan Tepera.
Tepera took a little while to stick as a big-leaguer, with 2017 his first season spent exclusively in the majors (at age 29). Over the last year and a half, he has quietly established himself as a very useful reliever, more than capable of eating innings as the team’s setup man—he ranks sixth in the majors in relief innings pitched (114.1) and has produced a comfortably above-average ERA, FIP and xwOBA.
In this post, I have three goals. First, to compare Tepera to other relievers available this season, in order to gauge where Tep fits in the current market. Second, to compare him to Joe Smith, a reliever the Jays traded for a couple of decent prospects at last year’s trade deadline. And, finally, to compare him to the recently traded Kelvin Herrera.
A couple of recent articles on MLB.com and Sportsnet highlighted a variety of relief options that may be available on the trade market this summer. Curiously, Tepera wasn’t included in either. Leaving open the possibility that this was my Jays-bias at work, I compared Tepera’s 2018 stats with the pitchers mentioned in the articles. As extra evidence of my Jays-bias, I included Seung Hwan Oh and John Axford.
Below, is 2018 data for all of those pitchers (my apologies for the numerical overload). I’ve included a few overarching stats (ERA, FIP and xwOBA) and three stats that break down pitcher performance, in terms of striking batters out (K%), avoiding walks (BB%) and generating weak contact (xwOBA on batted balls). My love for xwOBA led me to rank this group by that metric. I focused on 2018, given that reliever performance is so fickle—just look at how well Clippard, Oh and Axford have done after down seasons.
Ryan Tepera fits in very well with this group of pitchers. His xwOBA is much better-than-average and his ERA is strong. His FIP is lacking because he’s given up more dingers than average. Both his strikeout and walk rates are better-than-average, but his true strength is generating weak contact—he owns the best xwOBA on batted balls among this group of relievers.
Only a couple members of this group are clearly pitching better than Tep this year. Oakland’s Blake Treinen, most definitely. He seems like the jewel of this year’s relief trade market. But, it’s not clear whether or not the A’s intend to move him. San Diego’s Craig Stammen is another reliever having an excellent season. Both come with some affordable team control going forward.
Guys like Darren O’Day, Jeurys Familia, Seung Hwan Oh, Shane Greene and Sergio Romo all have an average or better strikeout rate, walk rate and xwOBA on batted balls, but are probably slightly behind Tep overall this season. That said, they’re also more known quantities.
Obviously, a firing-on-all-cylinders Zach Britton would be at the very top of the list, but he’s just returned from injury. Brad Hand is another excellent reliever and has struck out a third of batters. But he’s also walked his fair share of batters and given up a lot of good contact this season.
Clearly, buyers have plenty of relief options. But, just as clearly, Ryan Tepera represents one of the best of these options, especially for a team that wants the relative certainty of a guy who’s performing well this season. As an added bonus he is under team control for another three affordable years. In fairness, as a 31 year old reliever, three years of team control is not quite as valuable as it would be for a younger player in any other positions.
A direct comparison of Tepera and Joe Smith also helps highlight Tep’s quality and gives some indication of his potential return. While Blue Jay Smith has a clear edge over Tepera in terms of strikeouts and walks, Tep has a clear edge in contact quality allowed. Put that all together and you have two very similar pitchers, in terms of overall xwOBA. Getting a return of a couple of MLB Pipeline-45 FV/FanGraphs 40 FV players (like Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor) for Tepera would work for me.
Kelvin Herrera was just traded to the Nationals for that, plus a lottery ticket. FanGraphs thought that haul was a touch light. Herrera is a helluva pitcher, but Tepera has out xwOBA’d him each of the last two seasons. Over the last season and a half, Tep has produced an only slightly worse ERA and a slightly better FIP than Herrera. Tepera even has the edge in strikeouts. Herrera’s exceptional ERA this year is certainly eye-catching. But it runs ahead of his FIP and way ahead of his xwOBA. The main reason seems to be a super-unsustainable LOB% of 98.9%.
So, while we have no idea if the Jays will even move Tepera this summer, he will certainly be a guy that other GMs will call about. When they do, the Jays will have some clear things to point to when asking those GMs for more and more in return. Ryan Tepera is having a better 2018 than virtually every other available reliever, one that looks very similar to his breakout 2017 performance. He not only produces quality performances, he produces in terms of quantity as well. And, as a bonus, he’s got three arbitration years remaining, which will be very affordable given that he hasn’t accumulated many saves.
While I’m not pushing the guy out the door, given his arb years, he is a guy who can net a meaningful return for a team looking to further bolster an already bright future.
I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.