Looking for the Right Relief at the Trade Deadline

Kevin Gausman pitching at home for the Orioles

Kevin Gausman pitching at home for the Orioles

The Orioles were one of the first teams to move on the trade market by acquiring Scott Feldman from the Cubs for some international spending privileges, eternally promising Jake Arrieta, and frequently confounding Pedro Strop.  Feldman shored up the rotation by providing a solid backend rotation arm that is certainly more dependable than maintaining the hope that Zach Britton, Jair Jurrjens, or Kevin Gausman would provide useful innings.  Feldman may not have been a pretty acquisition, but may be a big player if the Orioles make the playoffs by a game or two (that is about what he is worth to the team over the five slot options available to the team–he is not really a 5.79 ERA pitcher as his three starts to date state).

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

The team could certainly use more starting pitching, but the play now would have to be for an elite arm as any addition would mean the demotion of Jason Hammel or Scott Feldman to the bullpen.  I think we can be rest assured, assuming no injuries to the starting rotation, that we will not see any further starting rotation additions.  However, there does seem to be some room in the bullpen.  Right now, the team is getting good performance out of their three lefties (i.e., Troy Patton, Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland) and their three main righties (i.e., Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter).  The problem is though that in the middle innings they have been light on right handed pitching.  Johnson is swallowed up in the 9th and O’Day is the setup man.  This leaves Hunter and a right-handed revolving door available for the middle innings.  With the starting rotation’s knack for handing the ball over in the 6th or 7th innings, a right handed answer not named Jairo Asencio would be a good thing to have.

Perhaps the rumored Chris Dickerson deal will wind up with the Orioles finding a right handed relief arm.

So who is likely available?

Right Handed Relievers
Name Team ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 GB% vFB
David Aardsma Mets 2.33 4.24 9.31 2.79 33.3 91.3
Matt Albers Indians 3.21 4.15 6.15 4.81 64.2 93.1
Scott Atchison Mets 4.42 3.98 3.44 2.95 50.0 90.5
John Axford Brewers 3.63 4.31 9.30 3.86 41.6 95.1
Burke Badenhop Brewers 4.14 3.51 6.53 1.96 51.6 88.8
Matt Belisle Rockies 4.37 3.10 6.65 2.09 53.2 90.2
Jared Burton Twins 3.59 3.62 8.23 3.8 43.5 91.6
Jesse Crain White Sox 0.74 1.53 11.29 2.7 34.8 94.5
Chad Gaudin Giants 2.15 3.03 7.99 2.92 39.2 91.3
Luke Gregerson Padres 2.93 2.98 8.10 1.80 46.4 87.8
Kevin Gregg Cubs 2.88 3.75 9.17 3.67 36.7 91.0
Matt Lindstrom White Sox 2.82 3.00 6.57 4.23 54.1 95.0
Brandon Lyon Mets 4.98 3.99 6.03 3.41 38.7 88.0
Francisco Rodriguez Brewers 1.14 2.97 9.89 3.04 29.8 91.0
Joe Smith Indians 2.92 4.22 7.30 3.65 47.6 89.5
Tim Stauffer Padres 4.38 3.62 7.78 2.68 47.6 90.9
Chad Qualls Marlins 2.89 3.83 6.75 2.17 66.4 93.9
Jose Veras Astros 3.20 3.54 9.61 3.2 44.8 93.3

Those are typically the numbers I look at on a reliever when I am trying to make quick decisions.  I like to see the interplay between ERA and FIP with a secondary assessment looking at career differences to see if said player is one of those who is not well represented by FIP.  It can give a general indication if the player is over or under performing.  I like outs where the ball is not in play, so strikeouts are great.  I also like few baserunners, so walks are great to look at.  I prefer groundballs as flyballs have an affinity for the bleachers at Camden Yards.  Finally, I check on fastball velocity.  The less time the ball is in the strikezone usually means the pitcher will be harder to hit in the long term (of course, a plethora of caveats on that statement).  Anyway, these are the rough numbers I seek first.

The 95 MPH Club

If I was in a front office, then you would probably see my club accumulating lots of lots of pitchers who throw harder than 95 mph.  Of course, 95 mph means little when a pitcher has no movement on the ball (read: Jim Hoey), but it is a solid starting point when finding fringe players or looking for someone who has more standing power when they display good performance at the MLB level.  The group of players who fit this subset above include John Axford and Matt Lindstrom.  Of these two, I believe in Lindstrom.

Why does the ex-closer John Axford concern me?  Well, a few things emerge that make me question whether he can continue performing at a 3.63 ERA level.  Career-wise, his ERA tracks his FIP pretty closely, so I think he is bound for a regression to his career line.  Adding to that red flag, is a decrease in his K rate from a career line of 11.1 to 9.3 while reducing his first pitch strikes by about 12%.  He also has benefited from being able to leave his baserunners on base at a career best mark.  The final red flag for me is that he has reducing his fastball usage by about 18% and is much more heavily reliant on his curve ball.  An additional concern is that he has two more years of team control after this year, so he may be seen as more valuable for some teams.  If he is cheap, excellent.  If he is going to cost me a decent prospect, then I have no interest at all.

I like Matt Lindstrom.  He is not the prettiest of pitchers.  He has some red flags with a slight decrease in strikeouts and a big increase in walks.  Lindstrom’s value may be bloated due to his excellent ERA (he has been exceptionally lucky to not give up a single home run this year), which may make his value somewhat prohibitive for what he is.  That said…he performs.  He is a bit of a journeyman pitcher who tends to do well, but is shuttled off to somewhere else the following year (see Octavio Dotel).  He is not someone who I would peg as a setup man, but he has performed at that role well in the past.  I think he will come cheaper than Axford as Lindstrom is not considered much as a former closer.

The Rest

As you can probably tell, I am not really sold on any of the above.  I think with this group of relievers that I would be looking more at dealing a C level prospect, nothing more.  My focus would likely be on the following pitchers:

1. Chad Qualls

2. Chad Gaudin

3. Joe Smith

4. Matt Albers

5. Matt Lindstrom

Qualls is a solid pitcher with a good track record and a club, the Marlins, who are eager to deal him.  The Marlins tend to gravitate to more athletic players in their trades and have matched up their interests well with the Orioles in the past.  It seems that the Orioles second and third tier prospects that former Marlin Joe Jordan built up still matches well to what the Marlins see as good buys on the second and third tier trade market.  With Qualls on the club, Hunter would probably find himself dropped to the 6th inning bridge.  Qualls has benefited from an exceptional ground ball rate and stranded baserunners, so some might find him more valuable than I think him to be.

Chad Gaudin is having his first good year in about eight seasons.  His place in the past has been that of a spot starter, garbage time pitcher.  This year, he has been pretty lights out for the Giants.  With that team sliding backwards, it probably is a good idea for them to get what they can from Gaudin before he likely departs in free agency.  Then again, the Giants tend to fall hard for their veteran players, so a two year deal would not be entirely unexpected as well.  Anyway, Gaudin has found a way to get batters to really chase his slider this year.  I am not sure why, but it has been exceptionally useful.  Regression is a concern, but it might be useful to have him spell the 6th and provide another arm capable of filling in for a double header or if someone goes down.

Joe Smith and Matt Albers are two pitchers who might be difficult to pry.  Why?  Well, the Indians are a game and a half out of the division lead.  I keep expecting them to fall apart, but as long as they don’t…they are unlikely to change hands.  This is especially true when one considers that the Indians are also in need of relief pitching.  Jake Arrieta probably could have been used to acquire one of them if the Indians believed in him, but I am not sure there is much of a match.  They both are guys though I would kick the tires on and see how the Indians would react.

Matt Lindstrom was covered before, but this is where I would place him.  He has shown an ability to be competitive in the American League.  He throws hard and batters miss (though not as much as they should with a fastball that hard).  Lindstrom mainly gets by when he is able to induce poor contact.  The dependence might be a reason why he jumps so much even though he is a decent performer.  His stuff simply looks like it should be better than it actually winds up being.

That said, if those five are cost prohibitive or simply not available, I would then troll for the bottom level players who still might be useful (this level is where a Chris Dickerson might begin to make sense for a team).  This would include players like Burton, Badenhop, Gregerson, and Stauffer.  All of these players have the ability to perform well enough as a sixth inning man and are certainly guys I would trust more in that position than the arms that have been recently tried out there.  Kevin Gausman is really the only internal option I find interesting at the moment and he simply is not ready.  He will be soon, probably next year.

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About the author

Jon Shepherd  

Jon Shepherd founded the Baltimore Orioles blog Camden Depot in 2007. In addition to Baltimore Orioles analysis, the blog also focuses on qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessing baseball in general as well as providing mainstream reviews and commentary on substances alleged to performance enhancing. Dr. Shepherd’s writing has been featured on ESPN, and his blog has been part of the ESPN Sweetspot Network since May 2011. He has made radio and podcast appearances for Orioles’ centered programs.

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4 Responses to Looking for the Right Relief at the Trade Deadline

  1. M T says:

    The grass is not greener elsewhere, if these guys could really help the O’s they will not be available!
    Not sure what you mean when you indicate Gausman is not ready? After a couple shaky starts he was excellent against Boston and Detroit. (Both are near the top in batting average). He was outstanding out of the bullpen, a win against Yankees and Sabathhia (he had an average night against the Rangers (again near the top in hitting). His long term development can only be enhanced by his presence in a pennant race. AND his is making the league minimum. He seems to meet every Oriole criteria!

  2. Jon Shepherd says:

    1. “If these guys could really help the O’s they will not be available.”
    Response: That does not make sense to me.

    2. “Gausman is not ready?”
    Response: Needs better command from his fastball and changeup (or at least more consistency) or his breaking ball to take another step forward. As it is now, he is an iffy reliever who will look promising one inning and will get smacked in another outing. The team is probably best served with someone who is a better fit for the middle innings and let Gausman develop in AAA where he can get his pitches in and work on his repertoire.

    3. “Long term development can only be enhanced by his presence in a pennant race.”
    Response: Talent will rise no matter whether he experiences a pennant race or not. Players are generally not so fragile that these things will greatly impact their careers. A promotion for him will result in a not very effective reliever and accelerate his arbitration time where the team will have to pay more earlier, so, eh.

  3. M T says:

    1) If they are any good, their team will not let them go at a price the O’s will pay.

    2)Please do your research, Gausman gave up two runs in nine innings of relief spread out over four appearances. Your statement “promising one inning…smacked in another” was not the case in the bullpen.

    3) Players benefit from being around mature better players. Any player would gain from a pennant race and the strategies involved. Arbitration?? The “window” of winning can change from year to year. If arbitration is your only rationale it makes no sense…unless it is YOUR money.

  4. Jon Shepherd says:

    1. Maybe.

    2. Numbers and performance are not always the same thing. We see that quite a bit. You can question the scouting angle. I figure the team might been on a similar page I was on as I did not see an impressive pitcher. I saw a pitcher who could be impressive in flashes, but nothing consistent enough for him to be reliable inning in and inning out.

    3. I don’t think it is necessarily true that players learn more being around mature better players. I would saying the coaching quality at the MLB level is a bit more important when looking at reasons for having guys get up there. That certainly is the conventional wisdom with fielding, at least. Eh, I think it is clear it is not my only rationale as I don’t think he is ready and could use time learning in Norfolk as opposed to Baltimore. Finally, arbitration has nothing really to do whether or not it is my money, but through the understanding that money issues do exist and wind up impacting future squads. I don’t think we can immediately just pretend money does not matter as it clearly does.

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