Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Winners and losers at the MLB trade deadline

The New York Yankees showed the baseball world once again they aren't content with just making the postseason — their focus is on winning the World Series.

The Bronx Bombers bolstered their rotation on Monday, acquiring Oakland A's ace Sonny Gray for three prospects and $1.5 million in international bonus pool money. They also acquired left-hander Jaime Garcia, relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle plus third baseman Todd Frazier, giving the Yankees one of the most well-rounded teams in the majors.

The interest in Gray was widespread, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals rumored to be in the mix for the 27-year-old right-hander who is under team control through 2019.

Gray was one of the better pitchers in baseball from 2013 to 2015, producing 8.2 wins above replacement, 15th among qualified American League pitchers during that span. He missed parts of the 2016 season with a strained right trapezius and a forearm injury but appears to be making a comeback in 2017: 6-5 with a 3.43 ERA, striking out 23.5 percent of batters faced, his highest mark since his 2013 rookie season.

A pitcher of his caliber would definitely help a Yankees rotation relying on CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, plus the newly acquired Garcia.

Gray has a few pitches in his repertoire, often utilizing two fastballs, an off-speed pitch and two breaking pitches. The latter hasn't been the same since the injury — he is hitting the strike zone just 9.5 percent of the time, almost half his zone rate from 2014 (17.2 percent) — but his sinker creates a groundball 60 percent of the time while saving 1.51 runs per 100 times it is thrown this season, making it one of the most effective sinkers this season.

Before the trade, the Yankees boasted the fourth-best winning percentage using the BaseRuns formula, which estimates how many runs a team would be expected to score (or allow) given their underlying offensive (or defensive) performance. After the trade, they are projected to have the fourth-most projected wins above replacement (16.1) over the remainder of the season, per FanGraphs, giving them a 13 percent chance of making the 2017 World Series.

Here are some other winners and losers at the MLB trade deadline.

Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

No one would blame the Dodgers if they stood pat. The team is 74-31 with a 14-game lead in the NL West and is the odds-on favorite to win the 2017 World Series.

Yet the best team in baseball, on pace to break the record for wins in a season, got much better after adding Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani to the bullpen and former Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish to the starting rotation. Assuming a healthy rotation, Los Angeles will enter the postseason with three-time Cy Young winner and 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw, Darvish, all-star Alex Wood and Rich Hill on the mound at the start of games. Not too shabby.

Darvish is 6-9 with a 4.01 ERA for the Texas Rangers, an underwhelming record for a No. 1 starter, but the Rangers supplied just 3.4 runs per nine innings pitched whereas the Dodgers provide their starters more than five runs per nine innings. If he pitched those same starts for the Dodgers, he'd be 8-7 with a 3.60 ERA.

Hitters are struggling to catch up to his pitches, swinging at 31 percent of his pitches outside of the strike zone, ninth among AL starters qualifying for the ERA title, while making contact on less than 58 percent of those pitches, 11th lowest, giving him an overall strikeout rate of 26.2 percent, seventh in the AL heading into August. Kershaw ranks second in the NL with a 31.1 percent strikeout rate with Wood (28.6 percent) and Hill (27.8 percent) well above the league average (20.6 percent).

The addition of Darvish also gives the Dodgers the highest projected wins above replacement (18.4) over the remainder of the season, with a 1-in-3 chance (35.6 percent) of making the World Series.

Loser: Houston Astros

The Astros have the NL West locked up (16-game lead entering August) with a league-high 28.7 percent chance at reaching the World Series. Yet the club acquired left-hander Francisco Liriano from the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, who manager A.J. Hinch said would pitch out of the bullpen.

Liriano is 6-5 with a 5.88 ERA in 18 starts for Toronto. The 33-year-old keeps left-handed batters off balance with his sinker and slider, but while his strikeout rate (27 percent) and walk rate (1.6 percent) in these situations are exceptional, he quickly unravels when facing a right-handed hitter (18.3 and 13.5 percent, respectively).

The same split can be seen in weighted on-base average, a metric that combines the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. Liriano limits left-handed batters to a .262 weighted on-base average but yields a .375 wOBA against right-handed hitters, roughly the difference between the best-hitting team in the majors this season (Colorado Rockies, .364 wOBA) and the worst (San Francisco Giants, .278 wOBA).

Getting a situational left-handed reliever is not bad, but Lance McCullers was placed on the disabled list on Monday and Dallas Keuchel had a rough outing in his last start (three earned runs in three innings) after pitching just two games since June, making an addition to the starting rotation a priority, not adding a one-dimensional reliever.

Loser: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are 61/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and have a 4.3 percent chance at making the playoffs yet still acquired starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, a free agent after the season, and infielder Tim Beckham at the trade deadline. Even more puzzling was their decision to hold on to left-handed closer Zach Britton and slugger Manny Machado.

Yes, Britton and Machado are having down years, but Machado is a free agent after 2018 and unlikely to re-sign with Baltimore and Britton can test the market in 2019, possibly leaving the Orioles devoid of two star assets that could have yielded pieces to rebuild.

And their farm system needs the help. According to the latest Baseball America rankings, the Orioles are 27th of 30 teams after finishing 28th and 27th in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

And you could argue the Orioles are overachieving this season, making a regression in 2018 even more likely. According to the BaseRuns formula, Baltimore has won eight more games than you would expect, the most in the majors this season, indicating there won't be much joy in Birdland anytime soon.

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