JFtC offers up some reflections on the flurry of trades by the Toronto Blue Jays at this year’s Trade Deadline
In the days and hours prior to the big Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and Cal Stevenson for Derek Fisher trade, the Blue Jays made four trades that saw veterans leave in return for young talent.
Marcus Stroman for Simeon Woods Richardson and Anthony Kay
Three weeks ago, I discussed the potential trade return of a handful of Blue Jay veterans, including Stroman. Using FanGraphs’ surplus value approach as a guide, I estimated that “the Jays could expect to receive as much as a 50 FV pitcher, if they opted for a single prospect in return…or, they could opt for two or three 45+ FV prospects”.
Ultimately, the Jays received two pitchers, one (Woods Richardson) to whom FanGraphs currently gives a 45+ grade and another (Kay) rated as a 45 FV prospect. That return is slightly light relative to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, but I think the gap can be bridged by accounting for the Blue Jays particularly positive view of Woods Richardson.
That enthusiasm for Woods Richardson seems well placed, in my opinion. Nick Hill and Brendon Kuhn each captured my feelings well: Woods Richardson has performed very well at a level where few pitchers his age have done so.
At Class A, the single-most predictive stat for pitchers is K-BB%, as large differences between home parks can drive differences in home run rates and large differences in defensive quality (plus luck) can result in difference in BABIP. Among the 2,625 pitchers to crack 70 innings pitched in one Class A season since 2006, Woods Richardson owns the 24th-highest K-BB% (24.6%). Moreover, only one fellow 18 year old posted a superior mark: Madison Bumgarner (26.1%).
Kay is likely to get a chance with Toronto sooner rather than later. In his second pro season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in his draft year, Kay has already progressed to Triple-A. Prior to the promotion, he was one of the most effective pitchers at Double-A, posting a strong FIP (2.73) on the back of an above-average K-BB% (17.9%) and one of the level’s best HR/9 (0.27). Since his promotion, his main issue has been the longball, but between the small sample size, the fact that none were particularly well-hit and his limited experience with the more homer-friendly MLB ball, it’s nothing to get worried about just yet.
Eric Sogard for two players to be named later
This is one of the most intriguing trades at the deadline, in the most literal way possible. Apparently, the Rays and Jays have agreed to a list of four players, from which the Jays will eventually pick two. For a bit of fun, I intend to take a stab at guessing who these four players are in an upcoming post. My back-of-the-envelope calculations estimated that Sogard was “worth a position player prospect with a future value around 40/40+ or a pitcher with a future value around 40+/45”, so I’d guess the two are lottery ticket-types in the 35+/40 FV range.
David Phelps for Thomas Hatch
David Phelps, we hardly knew ye. I overlooked Phelps in my pre-deadline post because I figured that his 2019 track record was too limited for him to be traded. Maybe the team would let him finish out the season, rebuild his value and then move him and his affordable 2020 team option in the off-season. Instead, they moved him for Double-A pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Hatch is a good enough prospect to be given a 40 FV rating by FanGraphs, which isn’t nothing. Statistically, the key numbers don’t really scream future MLB starting pitcher—his strikeout rate (21.5%) is slightly below-average, his walk rate is slightly above-average (8.6%) and he gives up homers (1.17 HR/9) much more often than most at his level. One stat that is interesting is his swinging strike rate (13.2%), which is above-average. A pitcher’s swinging strike rate is fairly well correlated to his strikeout rate, so there might be some room for improvement there for Hatch going forward.
Daniel Hudson for Kyle Johnston
Daniel Hudson was another reliever I overlooked in my pre-deadline post. Like Phelps, his return seems about right to me. Kyle Johnston is a High-A pitcher in his second season at the level (after spending the second half of 2018 there). Positively, he’s made improvements across the board this season, posting better strikeout, walk and home run rates, lower ERA, FIP and xFIP marks, a better mix of line drives, grounders and flies and a higher swinging strike rate. Pitching out of the Carolina League, Johnston owns the league’s highest strikeout and swinging strike rates among qualified pitchers.
Each of these four trades seem like fair value moves to me. The Hudson and Phelps trades were each pretty straightforward trades, in which a veteran reliever is moved for a prospect who might stick as a starting pitcher but is more likely to develop into something like the veteran they were traded for. The Sogard move is obviously tough to evaluate until we know which players are coming back in return. Given his performance this season, some fans likely wanted more than players to be named later. However, it seems like a fair return for a rental projected to produce 0.3 WAR over the next two months.
Obviously, the Stroman trade was a bit more controversial. He’s a talented pitcher with an extra year of control, so expectations were a bit high. I think he’s the kind of pitcher whom fans might value significantly more than the market does, partly because the market loves height, velocity and strikeouts and partly because fans always value the homegrown star.
Another important factor is where Stroman fits among MLB starting pitchers in terms of talent level. Below is a graph of all starting pitchers who have accumulated 200+ IP since 2016, ordered by their FIP. Marcus Stroman’s 3.77 FIP is a little less than one standard deviation better than the average starting pitcher. FanGraphs’ guide to FIP describes a mark that’s about a standard deviation better-than-average as “above-average”.
The problem, it seems, with merely being above-average is that you are only incrementally better than the next-best pitchers. Pitchers who are between one standard deviation better and worse than average (highlighted by the straight line) each find themselves in such a situation. So, while Stroman is amongst the best pitchers in this large group, he is nevertheless in this group.
In contrast, those pitchers who are at least a little more than one standard deviation better than average—roughly the top twenty or so starters, marked by Zach Greinke in the graph and referred to by FanGraphs as great and excellent—are in a different group. Each successive pitcher in this group tends to be more-than-incrementally better than the one before him. Put another way, while there are only nine pitchers within half-a-run of Noah Syndergaard’s 2.71 FIP, there are forty-nine pitchers within half-a-run of Stroman’s 3.77 FIP.
If Stroman’s perception of his true talent level puts him in this group, while the Jays’ perception of his talent level puts him around where his FIP suggests it should be, there would be such a large gap between their valuations that an extension would be impossible. If this analysis is somewhat accurate, I would think that the Jays are also confident that the MLB basically agrees with them, evidenced in the offers they received for Stroman. If so, there might be a decent chance that Stroman will need to patiently wait for a contract in the 2020-21 off-season.
I would have been happy to see him extended, but I’m also not surprised to hear that there was a wide gap between the two sides’ valuation of Stroman. If Stroman wasn’t to be extended, I was hoping (like many others) that I’d be blown away by the return the team got for him. While that didn’t happen, there’s a big difference between not being blow away and being fleeced. The Jays were far from fleeced, as Kay looks like a potential #4/#5 pitcher in the near future, while Woods Richardson looks like the kind of prospect who will pop up on MLB Pipeline’s Twitter account on a regular basis, alongside the fire emoji.
With these trades in the books, the Blue Jays have set up waves of pitching talent that could support the big league rotation for years to come.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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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.