August 3, 2017
My Trade Deadline
Buoyed by the long, winding collective stroll through the charred aftermath of the fantasy landscape one day after the trade deadline, I figure I’ll use the pretense to talk about some of the players I acquired and fired in my own home league, in hopes that those of you playing in leagues with slightly later deadlines will be able to benefit from some insights on a few difficult-to-evaluate players. Let’s take a look at five on the move from one of my rosters.
Masahiro Tanaka (SP)—NYY: Tanaka is having one of the stranger seasons around, with all kinds of strange splits and, underlying everything, an insane home-run rate. His whiff and walk numbers are delicious, and he gets grounders at a good clip to boot. But, much like his fallen comrade Michael Pineda, the contact he does yield is hard contact. And that is, of course, particularly true in the air this year, where his average exit velocity rests around the 20th percentile and is home-run rate has pretty much single-handedly driven his avert-your-eyes ERA.
In one of the more fun social engineering experiments of the year, he’s dialed way back on his fastball deployment lately in favor of sliders and splitters. Throwing your best pitches more often strikes me as a non-terrible idea in general, and doubly so when your four-seamer’s getting rocked to the tune of a .414/.552 line and your two-seamer rolled at .359/.717. The 1.4 run gap between his DRA and ERA is the second largest of any pitcher to log at least 60 innings, and especially as an expiring contract acquisition (which this was) for a supporting (read: 5/6 starter) role, I don’t see a ton of downside in making a play for him on the cheap if he’s there. So far, so good, as yesterday’s outing against Detroit was one of his best.
Jon Lester (LHP)—Cubs: Look, it hasn’t been a great year for Lester. On the heels of logging a ninth-consecutive season of 190-plus regular-season innings (plus another 35 playoff-stressful frames in October) his velocity’s been down a bit all year, and he’s lost some of the life and late movement on his pitches.
And yet the jump in home-run rate he’s suffered doesn’t particularly jive with the contact he’s allowing. Out of 143 starting pitchers with at least 190 batted balls tracked by Statcast, Lester’s average exit velocity is fourth lowest on line drives and fly balls. He’s given up a lower percentage of hard-hit (95-plus mile-an-hour) contact than all but nine others among that sample. The curveball has been the biggest culprit, both in lost movement and effectiveness, so it should surprise no one that he has moved away from it rather dramatically of late in favor of more cutters.
Truth be told, I acquired him with an eye towards spinning him off, but I’m not exactly crying in my beer after that didn’t happen. For those with an eye toward head-to-head playoffs in September, the Cubs face a big ol’ slate of mediocrity, with the Braves (17th in team TAv), Pirates (18th), Brewers (12th), Mets (fifth, somehow, but also a train wreck), and Cardinals (13th) all on tap. He’s not a rush-out-and-acquire guy, by any means, but it’s entirely possible there’s a discount to be had for his services, given the downtick in performance to date. And given his reliability as an arm with as much experience as anybody at closing out a 200-inning campaign in a pennant race, it’s really not a bad time to inquire.