Relievers: Lefthanded Trade Targets for the Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays have a bullpen with few relievers who can reasonably be described as swing-and-miss, none of whom are lefthanded. Who are some potential bullpen trade targets for the Jays?


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Tim Mayza is Toronto’s best-lefthanded reliever; he has pitched very well for the Blue Jays this season. Mayza has posted a 2.60 FIP and 0.60 WPA; those marks rank first and second-best among Blue Jays’ relievers with a minimum of 50 total batters faced (“TBF”). However, concerning Whiff%, he is in the 38th percentile among all pitchers with a minimum of 50 TBF. Unfortunately, Mayza was placed on the Injured List on May 16 with left forearm inflammation. The good news is that an MRI did not reveal structural damage, and he is set to begin a throwing program shortly.

 

So far in 2022, southpaw excellence from the bullpen ranks is limited to Mayza.  Ryan Borucki, who was designated for assignment on May 31, recorded a 7.56 FIP in 11 appearances, and Andrew Vasquez’s FIP mark is 6.34 in six outings.

 

Regarding the Jays’ bullpen, one area of concern is that there is not a lot of swing and miss capability (Whiff%). Only Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards have Whiff% rates better than the median; they rank 92nd and 94th percentile. In contrast, the Yankees have eight relievers with Whiff% percentile rankings better than the median. Michael King (97th percentile) and Clay Holmes (89th) are the two best Yankees. The Whiff% percentile rankings of Aroldis Chapman and Wandy Peralta, both lefthanded, are 75th and 83rd, respectively. Toronto should up their bullpen Whiff% game.

 

Accordingly, I have complied a trade-target list of lefthanded relievers with a 2022 Whiff%, K%, and xERA better than the median. Also, the pitcher must have pitched a minimum of 50 innings at the MLB level. Furthermore, because Toronto has a current need to address the lefthanded bullpen arm matter, the trade target should play for a team that, as of May 31, is unlikely to make the postseason. In other words, the targeted player’s team may be willing to execute a transaction well before the August 2 trade deadline.

 

Three left-handed relievers met the noted criteria: Amir Garrett, Daniel Norris, and Joe Mantiply. I have used four tables to analyze the candidacy of the noted pitchers.

  • Table 1 – Key metrics when facing all hitters
  • Table 2 – The percentile rankings of critical metrics against all hitters, including xERA and Whiff%
  • Table 3 – A replication of Table 1 except versus lefthanded batters
  • Table 4 – The same metrics as Table 1 but limited to the results when facing right-handed hitters

 

Unless expressly noted, all data references include the results against both lefthanded and righthanded batters.

Analysis

Garrett is a top-quartile reliever in terms of K% and ranks even better when xOPS, xERA and Whiff% are factored in. The red flag is his BB% score, the worst among all qualified relievers. Garrett’s BB% is so poor that his K%-BB% is 25th percentile.

 

However, a few matters to note concerning Garrett’s elevated BB%. First, as with all relievers two months into the season, the sample size is small. One or two poor appearances will significantly impact a reliever’s record. Garrett had one outing with three walks and another with two bases on balls; the total TBF was 7. Therefore, Garrett’s BB% would be 12.5% absent those two outings, almost identical to his career 12.6 BB% mark as a reliever, and his K%-BB% would rank in the 58th percentile. Another element to consider is that despite the relatively high BB%, Garret’s WHIP is 65th percentile.

 

Garrett’s 3.43 FIP is in the 55th percentile among all relievers. The elevated BB% has hurt his relative-FIP standing, but the FIP would be worse if he had surrendered a home run this season. This latter stat may surprise some observers, given that Garrett’s HR/9 is tied for 127th out of 162 relievers who pitched a minimum of 120 innings from the start of the 2018 season until May 30, 2022. How concerned should Toronto’s Management be regarding Garrett’s home runs allowed history?

 

Well, there are FanGraphs’ park factors to consider. Garrett played for the Reds before joining the Royals before this campaign. In 2021, Cincinnati’s home run park factor was 112, meaning that the Reds ballpark produces homers at a rate that is 24% higher than the average MLB park. The Royals’ home run park factor was 92 (home runs hit 16% below the average park). The most recent 81-game home schedule at the Rogers Centre was 2019; Ted’s home had a 103 home run park factor that campaign. I believe that the home run environment in Cincinnati played a role in Garrett’s high HR/9 rate.

 

Per Statcast, during the 2018-2021 period when Garrett was a reliever for the Reds, the number of homers allowed by Garrett exceeded the expected home runs by five. When I adjusted Garrett’s HR/9 for the five-homer excess, his HR/9 ranked right in the middle of the 162 relievers in the noted sample. Therefore, my view is that Garrett’s HR/9 should not be a significant concern.

 

A final argument in favour of Garrett is that his xOPS splits are excellent. Hence, there should be less apprehension regarding Garrett facing a righthanded batter than if Mayza was on the mound.

 

Norris, who was mentioned in a recent JFtC article, has pitched well for the Cubs. His K%, K%-BB%, xERA and Whiff% rank, at worst, in the 90th percentile. His xOPS is also very good (88th percentile). The issue to address is Norris’s 5.43 FIP, which ranks in the 8th percentile. Not good.

 

Norris’s FIP, like his xOPS, is a tale of two sides. Norris has yielded one home run and produced a 3.62 FIP in 8.1 innings when facing left-handed batters. Against right-handed hitters, Norris has a 7.64 FIP and allowed three home runs in 8.2 innings.

 

The addition of Norris should improve Toronto’s bullpen. However, he is more of a specialist to be brought in to face left-handed batters because his lefty-righty splits are so pronounced.

 

I should note that Mantiply should not have made it through my initial screen because his K% is below-median. However, because he is the best in not issuing walks, his K%-BB% is 78th percentile. Also, his xOPS and xERA rank in the 98th percentile; his 1.41 FIP is 96th. Although Mantiply’s Whiff% is better than Mayza’s, his Whiff% ranking trails the other trade targets.

 

Another cautionary note is that Mantiply did not have a secure spot on an MLB roster until 2021, his age-30 season. Notably, 88% of his career innings have occurred during the 2021-2022 period. His FIP over the 2021-2022 time frame is 2.49, which is very good. However, his BB% is 7.1% during the same period, suggesting that his 2022 1.4% BB% could regress to a higher rate.

 

There are two other aspects of Mantiply’s 2022 performance worthy of comment. First, similar to Garrett, Mantiply’s xOPS lefty-righty splits are attractive. Unlike Norris and Mayza, Charlie Montoyo should not hesitate to have Mantiply face right-handed batters. Also, his 0.85 WPA is well above average and ranks 21st of 273 relievers with a minimum of 10 innings pitched. Garrett’s WPA is 0.37, tied for 64th of the 273 bullpen arms.

Cost of Acquisition

Garrett is a free agent after the 2023 season, and Norris hits the free-agency market after the 2022 campaign. Mantiply, who has over a year of MLB service time, is not eligible to become a free agent until 2027.

 

According to Baseball Trade Values, the trade value of each of these three pitchers does not exceed USD 300,000. The BTV estimates are just that, estimates. Indeed, the acquisition cost should rise when demand for bullpen arms increases as we proceed to the August 2 trade deadline. However, the critical takeaway is that the acquisition cost for Garret, Norris or Mantiply should not be high. Think in terms of Adam Kloffenstein (BTV of USD 1 million) or Rikelbin de Castro (BTV USD 1.8 million) and not Jordan Groshans (BTV USD 14 million), Orelvis Martinez (BTV USD 34.4 million) or Gabriel Moreno (BTV USD 67.1 million).

Conclusion

One item to note is that on May 26, the Royals placed Garrett on the Injured List.  The Royals did not state what injury Garrett has suffered, but the assumption is that his absence is COVID-19 related. This may or may not mean that Garrett is not vaccinated. If he is not vaccinated, then a trade to a Canadian team is moot.

 

In my view, I would rate the targets (from highest to lowest) as follows: Garrett, Mantiply and Norris.

  • Garrett is the most experienced reliever of the three, he has the desired K% and Whiff% profile, and his lefty-righty xOPS splits would provide some game-situation flexibility for Montoyo.
  • Mantiply edges out Norris because Mantiply’s xOPS lefty-righty splits are better than Norris’s. Also, although Mantiply’s K% and Whiff% rates trail Norris, his Whiff% is better than the median and Mayza.
  • Norris has almost 100 appearances out of the bullpen, but that is only slightly more than Mantiply. Although Norris has more MLB experience than Mantiply, the number of innings pitched in the reliever role is close (Norris – 127; Mantiply – 67). The xOPS against righthanded batters moves Norris behind Garrett and Mantiply on my target list.

The Last Word

The Blue Jays need to bolster their bullpen. Adding a left-handed bullpen arm is number two on my priority list. I prefer adding a Romano 2.0 to split the role with Romano 1.0, given Toronto’s apparent belief that Original Romano performs best when he does not appear on consecutive days. Hence, having Romano 1.0 or Romano 2.0 available for all games would improve the bullpen. Romano 2.0 would have the desired high percentile K% and Whiff% characteristics, like Craig Kimbrel, who I wrote about in a previous article.

 

If Romano 2.0 cannot be added to the roster, then a left-handed reliever with relatively high K% and Whiff% rates should be Management’s focus. Such a pitcher would better balance the bullpen in the number of lefthanders and move the Blue Jays’ strikeout and swing and miss metrics closer to the Yankees.

 

 

 

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