Jays From the Couch breaks down the Blue Jays recent 40 man roster decisions and says that Waguespack shouldn’t really be a surprise
Tuesday night, the Blue Jays announced their last additions to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 deadline. On the list were five pitchers: Hector Perez, Trent Thornton, Patrick Murphy, Yennsy Diaz and Jacob Waguespack.
As I see it, there are three key questions to ask after the Rule 5 deadline:
1) Are these players worth adding to the 40-man roster?
2) Are there any glaring omissions who seem capable of sticking on an MLB roster for the entire 2019 season?
3) Are there any holdovers from 2018 that should’ve been cut to open up further roster space?
Are these additions worth adding to the 40-man roster?
I had Perez, Murphy and Diaz on my list, as did pretty much everyone else.
Thornton was just added to the system, but is a no-brainer. He was solid as a AAA starting pitcher—last season, he struck out 23.6% of the batters he faced (81st percentile among AAA pitchers with 10+ starts), walked only 6% of them (also 81st percentile) and gave up a modest 0.94 homers per nine innings (48th percentile), which drove his strong 4.01 FIP (67th percentile). That home run rate looks even better with context—Thornton’s team (Fresno Grizzlies) played in the Pacific Conference of the Pacific Coast League, which had the highest HR/G (2.11) of any conference in AAA. The other four had HR/G that ranged from 1.58 to 1.65. He followed his strong season with some impressive outings as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League, highlighted by an 11.5 K/9 (86th percentile) and 2.3 BB/9 (90th percentile). Plus, he’s ranked 22nd on Pipeline’s top Blue Jays prospect list.
Waguespack is the addition most people are questioning, which is fair. In my Rule 5 post, I left him off my list as I felt he was someone that wouldn’t survive on a 25-man roster for the entirety of 2019. After writing that post, I dug a little deeper and liked what I saw enough to add him to my “posts I gotta write” list. In lieu of that post, let me defend the addition of Waguespack here.
Last season, 177 pitchers made at least ten starts at the AAA level. Waguespack made 14 starts, which puts him near the middle of the pack. Now, the first thing a fan is likely to do tonight is look at his 5.05 ERA at the level and shake their head. I urge them to keep looking. What they’ll find is a .333 BABIP and a 59.3% LOB%, two metrics that scream bad luck.
Shift over to his underlying stats and there’s a lot to like. He produced a 3.60 FIP (82nd percentile) that was driven by average strikeout (20.2%, 55th percentile) and walk rates (7.5%, 48th percentile) combining with a solid home run rate (76th percentile). He’s not a bat-misser—his 9.6% whiff rate put him in the 41st percentile—but he has shown an ability to generate weak contact—batters hit tons of grounders off him (52.1% GB rate, 92nd percentile), but struggled to produce liners (17.3% LD rate, 88th percentile) and flies (30.6% FB rate, 85th percentile). Last season, it just seems like those grounders found holes, which resulted in the sixth highest ERA-FIP gap at AAA.
Are there any glaring omissions who seem capable of sticking on an MLB roster for the entire 2019 season?
I don’t think so, but we’ll see.
Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen were the two players I incorrectly thought would be added to the 40-man, but I don’t know that they are glaring omissions. While I understand why many thought Romano was more deserving than Waguespack, when the two are compared directly, Waguespack does seem to have the statistical edge. That said, Romano seems to have shown enough as a AA starter that a team should take him and try to stow him in the bullpen for 2019.
Bergen is a tough case. He performed exceptionally well in 2018, but has such a limited track record (85.1 professional innings pitched) that teams might not be interested in taking him. I certainly hope they don’t.
Beyond these two, I don’t view the other omissions highlighted in the Sportsnet article as needing Rule 5 protection. As I mentioned in my Rule 5 post, “through 250+ IP at Double-A, [Jon Harris] has struck out only 17.4% of batters and given up 1.32 HR/9.” Reliever Corey Copping struck out a bunch of AA batters (29.2%) and limited homers very well (0.30 HR/9), but probably walked too many batters (12.8%) to attract other teams’ attention. Finally, position players are very rarely picked in the Rule 5 Draft, so Max Pentecost, Forrest Wall and Kevin Vicuna should be safe. Even if they are taken, I very highly doubt they could stick in the majors all season.
One last omission worth discussing is Jackson McClelland. I rate him highly as a relief prospect, as do most prospect watchers. But, leaving him off the 40-man right now seems justified, given his limited experience above High-A. If he had dominated the AFL, things might be different. But his 7.6 BB/9 there didn’t assuage concerns that he still has work to do with his command. That said, I’ll be very happy/relieved to see the Rule 5 end with him remaining in the Blue Jays system.
Are there any holdovers from 2018 that should’ve been cut to open up further roster space?
When I wrote about how I thought the Blue Jays might navigate these roster decisions, my guess was that Rhiner Cruz, Jake Petricka, Jon Berti, Tyler Clippard, Marco Estrada, Mark Leiter Jr., Yangervis Solarte and Dalton Pompey would be gone by now. While I was right about the first five, the latter three remain on the Blue Jays 40-man. I’m not really sure why.
Like all Jays fans, I’ve long been hopeful that Pompey would be a regular major-leaguer in Toronto, but injury and underperformance has prevented that from ever happening. Back in September, Pompey was the only player on the 40-man not to be called up to Toronto. I think most of us figured that it had something to do with his altercation with Bobby Meacham (his Buffalo Bisons manager) and that it signalled the end of his Blue Jays career. Yet, he remains.
Solarte is another strange case. The team declined his $5.5 million option for 2019, paying him the $800,000 buyout. However, he is still arbitration-eligible, with MLB Trade Rumours projecting his award at $5.9 million. So, it seems like, if they intend to keep him, the club option would have been the cheaper choice (by about $1.2 million). More importantly, I’m not sure there is a good reason to keep him. He was a -1.3 fWAR player in 2018, with a base running effort above replacement of -∞. Plus, the Jays are bursting at the seams with infielders, with even more nearly ready in the upper minors.
Leiter Jr. was a late-season waiver pickup, so fans have zero attachment to him. That said, that doesn’t seem to be the main reason we figured he’d be cut by now. The main reason is that there is nothing to really point to that suggests he has been or will become a useful MLB pitcher. Not in the traditional stats or the regular advanced stats or the Statcast data. I mean, If they really want to keep him, I’m pretty sure they can DFA him, watch him clear waivers and sign him to a minor-league deal.
While I agree that the five players protected today were the five most in need of protection, I think that Solarte and Leiter Jr. should have been removed to make space for Romano and Bergen. I’m fine with giving Pompey one last shot in 2019, but I also think the alternate move of cutting him and rostering McClelland is very defensible.
Importantly, I’d like to add the caveat that I’m working on less information than the front office. It’s very possible that there are good reasons why they made the choices they did. In general, I agree with them completely, with the exceptions I highlighted above. The obvious guy were added to the 40-man, with a couple of guys with good arguments to have been added ultimately left off. As always, we’ll all be feeling better once the draft comes and goes with our system intact. That said, it’s comforting to remember that tough Rule 5 decisions are the hallmark of any strong system.
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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.