|IN THIS ISSUE|
|BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
|Return to Top|
If you were casually watching the playoffs–had it on in the background while cooking dinner, fighting with your kids about homework, or waiting on hold with the Canadian embassy–you still probably picked out the most salient takeaway: relievers are important. The newish, more gutsy Red Sox front office, led by Dave Dombrowski and, four empty rungs down, probably some other people, noticed this too. We know because Dombrowski doesn’t do deceit, but we also know because he just traded for Thornburg.
Thornburg is the eighth-inning piece the Red Sox thought they had traded for last season when they got right-hander Carson Smith from the Mariners. Then Smith needed Tommy John surgery and the Red Sox were right back where they were before the deal. They pieced things together last season, but when the offseason began Dombrowski stated the team needed to get an eighth-inning reliever. Remember I said Dombrowski doesn’t do deceit? This is that reliever.
So, is Thornburg worthy of that? Based on last season, heck yes. In 2016, Thornburg struck out 34.2 percent of the batters he faced, good for 11th-best in baseball among relievers. Just behind him was Cody Allen, and ahead of him a few slots were Craig Kimbrel, Michael Feliz, and Shawn Kelley. This is where you want to be as a pitcher. Strikeouts are good. But that’s the interesting thing about Thornburg: before last season he wasn’t striking guys out like this.
Brooks Baseball tells us that his fastball was around 95 mph in 2016, which is very good but not vastly different than it had been in his career previously. His arm comes straight over the top, which helps make his curve a true 12-to-6 pitch. Last season the curve came in faster than it ever had in his career, at a tick below 80 mph. What’s more, he was able to spot it more consistently below the zone, where the possible outcomes are far less damaging. Overall, his three-pitch mix played up last season, as you’d expect from a guy with that kind of strikeout rate.
This isn’t without risk on Boston’s end, even excluding the prospects they had to give up. Thornburg had an elbow injury in 2014. The Red Sox know about this, as do other teams, so certainly there's some danger in acquiring a pitcher with previous arm problems. As has been stated here before, the biggest indicator of future arm injuries is previous arm injuries. The 2016 season saw Thornburg healthy, and healthy pitchers throw harder and are more effective than injured pitchers. This is hard hitting analysis, I know.
Thornburg is a promising addition to a bullpen that needed a promising addition, but he's not one without warts. The previous arm injury is scary and the fact that his high-end value comes almost exclusively from one season’s worth of work are both complicating factors on Boston’s end. On the other hand, the most recent work was outstanding and no pitcher, even one with no injury history, is a sure and safe bet. As is the case with just about every Dombrowski move, this is about next season, and next season the Red Sox's bullpen is probably much better with Thornburg than without him. —Matthew Kory
Barring injury, Thornburg won’t supplant Craig Kimbrel as the closer in Boston anytime soon. After finishing last season as the closer in Milwaukee, this deal drops the big righty’s expected save total from around 30 to merely a handful. The move from the NL Central to the AL East won’t help his rate stats, either. That said, Thornburg should be able to provide value to fantasy owners in leagues where non-closing relievers are valuable assets. Those strikeouts will play, even without the saves. —Scooter Hotz
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
|Return to Top|
Acquired IF-L Travis Shaw, IF-R Mauricio Dubon, and RHP Josh Pennington from Boston Red Sox in exchange for RHP Tyler Thornburg. [12/6]
The Brewers seem to have a thing for failed Red Sox third basemen. Red Sox fans' happy place will henceforth feature Pablo Sandoval in Brewers pinstripes. But until then, Milwaukee will have to be happy, or some other lesser emotion, with Shaw. If you had to sum up Shaw in one short sentence, you could accurately he's many things he isn’t. He's a third baseman, but he really isn’t. He’s a prospect, but he really isn’t. He’s young, but he really isn’t. He’s coming off a good season, but he really isn’t.
Buying Shaw depends on how much value you put into things like splits and arbitrary endpoints. He's a walking arbitrary endpoint. From the beginning of last season through May 25, Shaw hit .306/.372/.529. After that, his next 342 plate appearances saw him hit .206/.269/.361. Shaw wasn’t even on Boston’s radar going into the 2015 season, but things went so badly they ended up trading Mike Napoli at the deadline and Shaw, hitting just .249/.318/.356 at Triple-A, came up because he was on the roster and had a beating heart. He spent the next 65 games hitting .270/.327/.487. This bought him a shot in 2016.
It’s possible to see something mechanical in Shaw’s later 2016 performance that needs to be fixed. It’s possible that thing can be fixed and the middle-of-the-order hitter we all saw in April and May can be rediscovered. If not, Shaw is a platoon first baseman with recent performance issues in the majors and minors. For the Brewers, Shaw is the ultimate buy-low player. Work with him, coach him up, and hopefully the guy from late 2015 and early 2016 emerges, scruffy beard intact. If that guy is still there, this is a fantastic trade for Milwaukee. If he isn’t, well you got two other guys to pin this trade’s hopes on. —Matthew Kory
Dubon is actually a couple weeks older than the Brewers' incumbent shortstop, Orlando Arcia. Fortunately for Dubon, he has experience all over the dirt, and that should continue in an organization that doesn’t lack for young, interesting infield options at the moment (and also Eric Thames). Dubon is a slash-and-dash hitter, with enough feel and foot speed to make the offensive profile work. He flashed some surprising power in a brief Portland stint, but he’d need a fair bit of it to stick around in order to start elsewhere than at the 6. He’s a solid hand at shortstop, but the defensive tools are closer to average than to plus. He profiles as a potential second-division starter up the middle—and the Brewers look like they’ll be second-division team for a while—but could settle in as a very useful utility man. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Pennington didn’t make our Red Sox top-10 list, but he wasn’t that far off and would have slotted in somewhere in the next 10. Boston popped him for $90,000 in the 29th round of the 2014 draft, knowing the New Jersey prep arm needed Tommy John surgery. Last year was his first full season back on the mound—although he spent half of it in extended spring training—and the velocity that was in the low 90s as an amateur is now in the upper 90s. There’s a potentially above-average curveball here too. He’s also a short righty with effort in the delivery, so it’s likely the bullpen is in his medium-term future. Pennington’s a long way from the majors, and riskier even than your average prep pitcher, but he’s also better than your standard third-guy-in-a-deal short-season flyer. —Jeffrey Paternostro
It didn’t look like Shaw had much of a spot in the Red Sox's lineup heading into 2017. In Milwaukee, he should start the season as the everyday third baseman, which would give him more opportunity to rack up counting stats. His profile remains the same: a good utility player with decent pop who strikes out a lot. The extra plate appearances he’ll get with the Brewers will let that profile accumulate more R, RBI, and potentially more HR. —Scooter Hotz
Due to his thin frame, Dubon’s power comes mainly in the form of doubles as opposed to homers, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t interesting to roto players, especially in deep leagues. He might be a little less blocked in Milwaukee than he was in Boston, but considering that he's only played 62 games above High-A, thinking about his spot in the majors is premature. Those things tend to work themselves out with this much lead time. —Scooter Hotz
Pennington is a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher who's thrown 78.2 innings between rookie-all and Low-A since being drafted in the 29th round in 2014. His future could have gone a million different ways with Boston, and it can go a million different ways with Milwaukee. —Scooter Hotz
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now