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The Real Justin Upton Trade

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On Thursday, the Atlanta Braves traded for Chris Johnson and Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who received Martin Prado, Zeke Spruill, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury.  It seemed like the mass reaction to the real Upton trade is that the Diamondbacks were somewhat fleeced, or did not get enough back from the Braves. Just looking at the names, it seems pretty clear that the Braves did not give up as much as the Mariners were going to give up for Upton.

Dan Symborski did post the ZIPs projections on all the players in the trade (except Drury) and has Atlanta getting 3.6 WAR for 2012, while the Diamondbacks get 5.7 WAR for 2012 in the trade, if you assume that Delgado and Spruill get around 140 innings each and Nick Ahmed playing everyday. It is doubtful that Delgado and Spruill will get a combined 280 innings, and Nick Ahmed has never even played in AA, making it doubtful he will even reach the Majors in 2013. ZIPs also has some serious problems when it comes to projecting rookie pitchers as well. With these qualifications aside, it still seems like it is hard to argue that the Diamondbacks were absolutely robbed in the trade. So we will break the trade down the trade by player, with some notes on each and then, at the end, compare it to the package the Mariners were willing to give up to get Upton before he declined the trade.

If you look at those ZIPs projections, you notice that Martin Prado is actually projected to be better than Justin Upton, and many have pointed out that he had a better rWAR in 2012 than Upton. Over the past 3 seasons, Prado has averaged a 2.3 WAA and 4.03 rWAR, which is quite impressive. He has had over 1 defensive win above average over the last 3 years as well, according to DRS. UZR likes him, but less, especially in 2010-2011 (before he was rated as 1.78 wins). If you replace DRS with UZR and add the “runs created above average” (RBAT according to BR), he still was worth 1 and a half wins above average (!) over those 3 years. One can discount defensive metrics, as they do have their problems (if you look at just the brute number of balls he is turning into outs, or range factor, he has been below average in left field over the last 2 years), but he does provide some positional flexibility. He can play 3rd, which is good considering Arizona had problems with that position last year and have traded away both Ryan Wheeler and Chris Johnson now, along with left-field and has even subbed in at shortstop and 1st base on occasion over the last two years. Even if he isn’t a great fielder, if he can hold his own at several different positions, like say a Zobrist or a Bonafacio, he provides quite a bit of value. With that said, one of the reasons the Diamondbacks made this trade was because of a created logjam in the outfield. So Prado probably won’t play much left field, and the Diamondbacks did sign Eric Chavez. Chavez is unreliable thanks to platoon and injury issues, but he is a decent player. The Diamondbacks could see him as more of a pinch hitter, which should help Chavez stay healthy. With the bat, he simply isn’t as good as Upton, and he is 4 years older, but this isn’t a 1 for 1 trade. I don’t think Prado is actually better than Upton, but that is why the Diamondbacks received some minor league players as well.

Randall Delgado was nearly a Cub in the middle of the season, before Ryan Dempster declined a trade. A 22 year old (will turn 23 before Spring Training begins), Delgado has been given 24 big league starts (127.2 innings) and hasn’t been spectacular (or even quite average, with a negative WAA and 113 FIP -), but he has held his own. The lack of strikeouts could be a little concerning, but he is getting ground-balls. He has a good fastball, averaging 92.5 MPH, actually throwing many moving fastballs (not surprising when you look at the ground-ball rate) reaching up to about 97 MPH. Many seemed surprised that the Diamondbacks didn’t get Julio Teheran in the trade, as he is the better prospect with perhaps a better fastball (averaging 92.8 MPH, reaching 96 MPH), but Teheran really struggled in 2012. Delgado also throws a healthy amount of changeups and curveballs, both reasonably hard with the changeup being the big strikeout pitch for Delgado. Since 2007, out of the 286 pitchers that have thrown at least 200 changeups, Delgado gets the 13th most whiffs out of swings on his changeup (Blake Beavan is last, King Felix is 39th). So he clearly has a good fastball and a big strikeout pitch, but his curve is lacking, as his curve is 202th in whiffs/swings since 2007, between Jo Jo Reyes and Randy Wolf. Delgado’s ability to develop a 3rd pitch, whether it is the curve or something else, will determine whether or not he becomes more than an averagish starter. But for now, the Diamondbacks get an okay cheap young starter with the potential to get better.

randall_delgado_braves

I wrote about Zeke Spruill here, so there is no reason to repeat myself when it comes to him. He seems to be pretty close to the Majors, but he doesn’t have great stuff, so his ceiling will be very low. While he may be able to keep himself in the Majors for a while, he isn’t going to be an impact pitcher. Despite some decent numbers in the minors, I wasn’t impressed with his breaking stuff, so a pessimist might say he becomes a long man/low leverage reliever/swingman. He will get some ground-balls, but he won’t strikeout a lot of hitters.

According to the data I collected here, Nick Ahmed, a former 2nd round pick who will turn 23 in Spring Training, was the best minor league shortstop according to FRAA in 2012 and he was the 2nd best (out of 116) according to Range Factor. He is also a good baserunner, as he was 19th best according to Speed Score and stole 40 bases. The question is the bat, as StatCorner rated his power as below average and he had a 104 wOBA +, which is above league average, but not overly impressive when he hasn’t even reached AA yet. He played in a slightly pitcher friendly park, but not extreme. He isn’t quite highly as rated as Nick Franklin is (more on that later), but there is a lot to like about his profile, and he doesn’t have to become a great hitter, he just needs to be adequate.

Brandon Drury is a 20 year old right-handed infielder that has mainly played 3rd base since being drafted in the 13th round in 2010 by the Braves. Defensively, he is clearly below average and may have to move to first long term (he has already played significant time there). This may be bad news for Drury, as though he was young for the level, he was considerably worse than league average offensively, not hitting for much power or average (nor walking very much). There aren’t a lot of reasons to expect Drury to amount to much.

So how does this deal compare to the one the Mariners and Diamondbacks concocted? The first thing you notice is the lack of big league players. The Mariners were going to give up Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Nick Franklin, and Taijuan Walker. All of these players were at least in AA in 2012, unlike the Braves trade. I was not a fan of this trade for the Mariners. While Pryor and Furbush are relievers, they are both good relievers, and the Mariners were giving up their 2nd best position player prospect, and their best pitching prospect (who is a top 20 and perhaps top 10 prospect in all of baseball). The Braves weren’t giving up this. Ahmed is further from the Majors than Franklin, and why there are less questions about positional certainty and the glove, there are more offensive questions. Drury appears to be nothing, while Spruill looks like a back of the rotation pitcher. While Delgado comes with a little less risk than Walker and is further along in his development, Walker has a better fastball and curveball and clearly has the higher ceiling. Even if the Braves had given Teheran instead of Delgado, that still doesn’t equal Walker in my opinion. I don’t think Martin Prado, as solid of a player he is, makes the difference of the upgrades of each player (especially when you factor in Chris Johnson, who seems like a serviceable player at 3rd, ideally not a starter, but provides some offensive value at the corners). The Mariners were willing to give up more than the Braves. I don’t think the Diamondbacks necessarily got embarrassed, and depending on how you value Prado, but they didn’t get the value they thought they were going to get from the Mariners.

Hultzen pitches, Tacoma loses to Nashville

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The Mariners have recently been putting an innings limit on Danny Hultzen and he has been skipped in the rotation the last couple of times. On Tuesday, he returned, on a pitch count.

Hultzen’s first couple of pitchers were way outside to a right-handed hitter but he was able to get it back over the plate to get a couple of strikes before an inside fastball was pulled to the warning track. He was getting some late fouls on his fastball. He was throwing 91-93 MPH pretty consistently early on. He was able to get his slider to drift from left to right and catch the corner against lefties. He was throwing a lot of them to lefties, along with the changeup. They had good movement on them and he could bury them (especially the change) in the dirt. After a pitch was hit hard up the middle, he started locating his fastball low and got a strikeout swinging followed by a foul fly-out. The 2nd was a quick inning littered with weak contact. He did have a little bit of a problem putting away hitters, giving up some fouls. The 3rd started with a good low fastball that was hit pretty well anyway, a pulled line drive single for a right-handed batter. He struck out the next right-handed hitter with a quality change low and away. His control was actually much better than it has been in most of his AAA outings, despite the long lay-off. He did hit the next batter with a bouncing off-speed pitch. He got a couple of whiffs in the next at-bat though, finally get a strikeout on a high outside fastball to a lefty hitter. A one pitch fly-out ended the inning. Hultzen started the 4th with the bullpen working, and quickly got a couple of strikes, almost struck out the lefty (only for the batter to barely foul it off), and got him to chase and fly-out to shortstop. His velocity tapered off a little bit though, falling to 89-91 MPH. After Hultzen’s first walk (to put him at 55 pitches), he fell behind the next hitter but got him to fly-out on a low fastball. He was taken out after a 6 pitch walk, after 64 pitches.

Nick Franklin pulled a weak grounder in his first at-bat, but hit a hard ball the other way (left-handed) to the wall. He was also able to pull a ball left-handed for a line drive single. Darren Ford flew out in his first couple of at-bats. When he reached in his 3rd at-bat, he was caught stealing at 2nd. Despite his very good speed, he has been caught stealing way too much this season. Alex Liddi took inside fastball to strikeout. Then  his next at-bat ended when he chased a breaking ball to weakly ground-out. He did take a few breaking balls in his next at-bat on a full count and walked. He also got a huge jump on the pitcher and got a rare steal. He would later fly out to the warning track in center. Luis Jimenez ripped the first pitch he saw, which was low, to deep right-field for an out. He was being shifted on, but got a single going the other way. He drew a walk in his 2nd at-bat after taking some breaking pitches, fouled off a fastball that caught a lot of the plate, but then took another breaking pitch to walk. Carlos Peguero got absolutely fooled and got a bloop hit anyway. In case you were wondering, he hasn’t changed, swinging and missing at just about anything. It is still April and May in Vinnie Catricala’s world. He is, still, getting chewed up by breaking balls. When he got a fastball, he was able to shoot it the other way. Carlos Triunfel had an awful day at the plate. There really isn’t much to say other than he can’t lay off breaking balls. Brandon Bantz was ahead of changeups and couldn’t stay off breaking balls.

Steven Hensley just missed giving up an extra base hit to Edwin Maysonet but it just went foul. Maysonet then hit a ball the other way all the way to the warning track but Peguero came up with it. Charlie Furbush came into pitched the 5th, still on rehab assignment. He threw 2 innings, even after the 2nd hitter bounced a ground-ball off of him (the trainers came out but Furbush quickly waved them off). He only struck out 1 hitter, but he only gave up 1 hit and immediately got him out on a double play. David Pauley started with a rare strikeout (of the looking variety) before giving up 3 soft hits. He limited the damage by getting a ground-out and a strikeout swinging with a breaking ball. The 8th started with a sinker below the zone that was driven over the center-field wall by Khris Davis in an impressive display of power. Bobby Lafromboise came in and got a quick fly-ball to the infield on a low breaking ball. He then had to face a right-handed batter but struck him out. He was doing a good job locating his fastball outside to lefties and inside to righties. He used a good sweeping breaking ball to get swings and misses after setting up hitters with the fastball. A bloop hit on a good pitch was canceled out by a ground-ball to get out of the inning. In the 9th, he gave up a drive to the warning track to end the game.

Charlie Furbush Should Start

Charlie Furbush

Over the offseason the Mariners signed George Sherrill to serve as the bullpen’s go-to left-hander. I wrote about this a few weeks ago because I have a bad habit of writing about the Mariners bullpen, and caring about the Mariners bullpen. Bullpens are so much less of a big deal than any other part of a baseball team. But really, seriously. Have you ever thought about how easy it is to scrap together a bullpen? Teams do this all the time. The 2010 Diamondbacks had one of the worst bullpens of all time, then shortly thereafter had a good bullpen. The Rays had a fantastic bullpen in 2010, then had a completely different bullpen the next year that was perfectly passable. As well as being easily replaceable, relief pitchers are amongst earth’s most volatile, inconsistent creatures. A great reliever can become a terrible reliever just as quickly as a terrible left fielder can become a great reliever. Bullpens shouldn’t be of particular interest to anyone, but I guess I’m special.

Charlie Furbush is also special, in that he is (currently) a very good relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. This year’s bullpen has featured no shortage of interesting arms, thanks in large part to the early flameouts of Sherrill and fellow aging southpaw Hong-Shi Kuo. The Mariners had a lot of lefties in the mix during the early-going, but quickly were rid of those two veterans due to one’s injury and the other’s ineffectiveness. Regardless, the team quickly found itself carrying Charlie Furbush, LHP and Lucas Luetge, LHP. At the time, Oliver Perez was still a forgotten minor-league punchline but now, all of a sudden, Oliver Perez is a major leaguer again. A major leaguer with renewed velocity and the apparent potential for immediate success. Oliver Perez is also a left-hander, which brings us back to Furbush.

As far as names go, Fister-for-Furbush was the trade of the century. Fister-for-Furbush, of course, was the swap of a young starter for a package that included a young reliever who was immediately inserted into the starting rotation in Seattle. Furbush and Casper Wells were the immediate major league returns from the Doug Fister swap, and both were moderately effective over stretches in 2011. Just for stretches, however, and certainly not for the whole season. Furbush-as-a-starter was a replacement level baseball player who yielded a fairly ridiculous 1.82 HR/9, almost all of which were pulled. To be fair he did post a BABIP of .333, but that came far from excusing his 5.15 FIP. At the start of this season he was a reliever in AAA and nobody seemed to mind. Charlie Furbush, ladies and gentlemen. Now you remember.

Fast forward to the present day and Charlie Furbush is still a lefty and still a reliever, but now he’s amazing. Furbush has been in the majors ever since George Sherrill went down early on and has worked exclusively out of the pen. A few weeks ago I noted his fantastic rate stats but cautioned that the sample size was still small. That sample has more than doubled since then, and Furbush has only improved. After striking out the side while walking two last night, Furbush’s K/BB is an even 6.00. Six. Not only is that Furbush’s K/BB ratio, it’s the number of relievers in MLB who have bested him in that regard so far this year. In 32.1 innings this year, Furbush has posted 0.9 WAR. Furbush has provided as much value this year as Tom Wilhelmsen. Furbush has been infinitely more valuable than Erasmo Ramirez + Jason Vargas + Hector Noesi + Blake Beavan, since those four have combined to be worth nothing.

So in short, Oliver Perez and Lucas Luetge look like perfectly competent bullpen lefty relievers while Charlie Furbush simply looks like one of the best lefty relievers in baseball. Most of the rotation has been awful, and Furbush used to be a starter. See where this is going?

There are a couple of reasons to think the team might be better off keeping Furbush in the bullpen. First of all, he’s already a lights-out reliever. While obviously a good starter is more valuable than a good reliever, or even a great reliever, there’s no guarantee that Furbush would thrive in the rotation. Of course there’s also no guarantee he’ll continue to thrive in the bullpen, since nothing in this world is to be taken for granted. You know how the sky is blue? Tomorrow that could change. Nothing, I tell you. Nothing.

Also, Furbush has been a starter before, and as a starter, he was bad. Then again he was a bad reliever last year too, and like I said earlier, pitchers are all over the place in terms of maintaining their performance levels. Even if the team wanted to give him a rotation trial, he’d have to be stretched out. Furbush has gone multiple innings many a time this year, but that’s not enough to prepare for a spot in the five-man rotation. Stretching a pitcher out takes time, and even in a season like this [READ: a losing season], it might not make sense to disrupt a guy in a groove. Right now, King Charles Furbush is most definitely a guy in a groove.

But oh, the reasons to start him. He’s redundant in the bullpen. A lot of people view him as a starter currently forced into relief work. He throws hard. He throws accurate. He’s left-handed. The rotation is awful, and Kevin Millwood hurt himself as I was typing this, no, literally, he really did. The rotation might have an immediate opening, and unless the Mariners all of a sudden fall in love with Hisashi Iwakuma or decide that Blake Beavan isn’t bad [note: Blake Beavan is bad], Furbush would seem like the obvious choice for a rotation spot. He certainly deserves it, given how he’s pitched in 2012.

Charlie Furbush has been one of the highlights of a dismal Mariners pitching staff this season despite working out of the bullpen. He’s been a complete revelation, and has earned an opportunity to contribute even more. Hector Noesi is on thin ice and Kevin Millwood is a constant injury risk, so one’d think that Furbush will soon get his shot. Here’s to hoping that it actually happens.

George Sherrill’s Season-Ending Injury Opens, Closes Doors for Luetge, Furbush

Charlie Furbush
You are important now

You are important now

The Mariners didn’t used to be a team that carried a lot of lefty relievers. In 2011 there was Aaron Laffey, who was a bad Mariner and then a released Mariner. After discarding Laffey the team didn’t bother looking for another lefty reliever. Cesar Jimenez provided 6.1 unspectacular September innings of left-handed relief, and that was pretty much it. The 2010 Mariners featured Garrett Olson, who was bad, and Chris Seddon, who was bad and not a Mariner for very long, and Luke French, who threw mostly as a starter but managed to sneak in a couple bad bullpen frames while nobody was looking. The 2009 Mariners bullpen was overwhelmingly right-handed, relying on the left arm of Garrett Olson, and Garrett Olson alone, for a whopping 27.2 innings. The 2008 Mariners were a mirage and thankfully did not actually exist, but that team-concept-thing didn’t have any meaningful bullpen lefties either, in theory. The point of this: the Mariners of recent years have avoided left-handed relievers to a pretty remarkable degree.

Then, 2012. George Sherrill was signed in the offseason, and George Sherrill is a LOOGY to the stars. The M’s signed Hong-Chi Kuo, who was once a standard-setter for lefty relievers. They selected Lucas Luetge in the rule 5 draft. They overstuffed their rotation, implying a shift to relief for lefty Charlie Furbush. All of a sudden, the Mariners were brimming with qualified left-handed relief options. Oh, they also signed Oliver Perez, but we’re only talking about good pitchers or at least pitchers who at some recent point seemed like they could be good, a definition which does not extend to include Oliver Perez. The team was shifting their ideology about bullpen use, it appeared. Even after releasing Kuo and demoting Furbush there were two lefties making the big-league team out of spring, both poised to rack up innings. Things felt weird.

Then Sherrill had to go and do that typical old pitcher thing (pitcher thing?) where you take a perfectly good elbow and explode it to death and need surgery to contain the death explosion. That is to say, he hurt his elbow and needs season-ending surgery. In isolation, this is a blow. It’s a huge blow to Sherrill, who has been more-or-less fantastic the last few years and would have played an interesting role as a LOOGY on the Mariners, a job that simply doesn’t exist most years. It’s a blow to the Mariners, who have lost a good-and-sometimes-great reliever to a pesky operation. But it could’ve been more of a blow if it weren’t for the presence of Lucas Luetge and Charlie Furbush, both of whom now appear poised to claim important roles in the Mariners bullpen.

Lucas Luetge, being a rule 5 guy, was not expected to get much of an opportunity. Last year’s rule 5 guy, Jesus Flores, did not get an opportunity, at all. The year before that Kanekoa Texiera got a little tiny opportunity, but was returned practically the moment he turned in a below-subpar outing. Luetge, many of us assumed, would be forced to ride the pine, but the Sherrill injury ensured that he didn’t. Then Furbush came up, and the team still managed to find innings for Luetge. Luetge even found himself in a high-leverage situation during the Detroit series, prompting Marc at USSM to write a post about rule 5 guys and leverage, which in turn may or may not (but probably “may”) prompted ROOT to show a leverage index graphic when Luetge came in. In short, Luetge’s being used, and not just for mop-up duties. He’s coming in to face lefties, essentially assuming the role that Sherrill was signed for. Luetge’s a LOOGY in the major leagues, on the Mariners, and so far he has excelled. In 5.1 innings Luetge has 8 strikeouts. He’ll need to cut back on the walks, having issued three free passes (and an IBB, but I don’t like to count those). But with a 12.71 K/9, he’s created a nice little margin for error. So far, Lucas Luetge seems like the surprise pitcher pick-up of the season.

Meanwhile, Charlie Furbush is putting up nifty numbers himself. Furbush has 7 punchouts in 5.1 innings of his own, but sweetens the deal by only having walked one guy. He has allowed a homer already, a reminder that Furbush gets pulled and allows hard contact. He still has to work on that, whether he starts of relieves. Furbush was supposed to be the long guy, but so far he has been treated more or less like a normal reliever. He’s been coming in to face tough lefties and is then allowed to finish off frames. Charlie Furbush has been saved from mop-up relegation by the (rumored) presence of Hisashi Iwakuma, and his effectiveness to date has given the Mariners two lefty bullpen guys who so far have been terrific.

Of course, standard small sample size caveat. Each of these guys has thrown 5.1 innings, and it’s April, and we can’t just look at a handful of appearances and determine that the Mariners have two shiny new left-handed relief aces. I mean we can do that if we want to, but then we’re being stupid. So let’s not do that! Instead let’s applaud Eric Wedge for better utilizing two bullpen pieces who in the past would have probably had lesser roles. Or maybe the M’s never used their few lefty relievers because they always had awful lefty relievers. We may never know.

We also may never know whether Charlie Furbush can reach his ceiling as a high-strikeout middle of the rotation starter, in no small part due to the Sherrill injury. Furbush seemed like a guy who deserved a shot at starting. He got slapped around last year but came up as a starter and seemed perfectly capable at times. He didn’t miss many bats, but that’s a skill pitchers can work on and sometimes even improve at. The rotation is set currently, but there’s no reason to think Kevin Millwood legs it out all season. There’s no reason to think that Hisashi Iwakuma won’t start at some point, but there’s reason to think that the Mariners might decide that the bullpen is a perfect place for Furbush and his skillset. This is a bummer to those of us who still see Furbush as a guy who could capitalize on a big opportunity. If they’re willing to let Hector Noesi sink or swim in the rotation, why can’t Furbush get the same treatment?

The Mariners’ shift towards actually using their lefty relievers, and the newfound tendency of those relievers not to suck, opens a door for two young pitchers looking to solidify their claim as major leaguers. It also signifies a closing door for Charlie Furbush, who is now needed in the pen and will probably not get a chance to start games any time soon. Were George Sherrill around the team wouldn’t need Furbush in the pen, and he’d be starting in Tacoma until a need arose on the big team. But with Furbush and Luetge currently teaming up as the bullpen’s two-headed lefty-killing monster, perhaps the best thing for us to do is tip our caps and wish them continued success.

An Early Look Back at the Doug Fister Trade

Doug Fister

Today I’d like to do an early check in on the Doug Fister trade. (Maybe someday this will be known as the Charlie Furbush trade, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) For starters, what did the Mariners give up? Doug Fister was until the trade having his best season, going a brutal 3-12, but with a sparkling 3.33 ERA. Even adjusting for Safeco’s aid to pitchers, he add an ERA+ of 113, meaning he was 13 percent better than league average, even when adjusting for park effects. He was giving up less than a hit per inning, and he averaged roughly 3 strikeouts for every walk. Then he went to Detroit. The sample size is minuscule, as he has only pitched 3 games, but they have been brutal games. He is averaging less than 5 innings a start, going 1-1. He has given up 24 hits in only 14.2 innings, with an ERA of 6.14. That works out to an ERA+ of 65, 35 percent worse than league average. So far, this resembles the Jarrod Washburn trade of 2009, when Washburn went from a 2.64 ERA with the Mariners to a 7.33 ERA with the Tigers and helped the Tigers miss the playoffs after losing a one-game tiebreaker.

David Pauley tells the same story. After a 2.15 ERA in 39 games with the Mariners, while giving u only about 6 hits per 9 innings, he has collapsed in Detroit. In 5 games, after throwing a bit over 5 innings, he has posted an ERA of 4.76, and he is giving up nearly 16 hits per 9 innings. His ERA+ has dropped from an astounding 176 to a painful 87. The sample size for Pauley is even smaller than for Fister, but so far the numbers are brutal.

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