Category: Yankee Trade Targets

Yankees Trade Target: Mychal Givens

Trade talks are fluid. Sometimes, a deal materializes in a short span, but often teams are discussing potential players and terms for weeks or months. It might take years of coveting a player before one lands that elusive piece.

That’s why I’m bringing up Mychal Givens. The Yankees reportedly pursued a deal for the right-handed reliever at the deadline in 2019, so the idea that they would try to carry out a trade for him now makes some sense.

Background

Givens was a second-round pick all the way back in 2009, but the Orioles selected him as a position player, though his possessed two-way talent in high school. Baltimore and Givens tried to make it work for him as a middle infielder for three seasons before converting him to the mound. From there, it took 2 1/2 seasons to reach the Majors.

For the next three years, Givens was immediately a key cog in Buck Showalter’s bullpen. He consistently tossed 70+ innings a season and rewarded the O’s with performances only outdone by the likes of Zack Britton and Darren O’Day.

The right-hander, however, hasn’t kept up over the last two seasons. He’s gone from ERA+’s consistently above 130 to just above-average despite a mostly static pitch mix. That he still drew trade interest in a down season gives a sense of what another team or season can unlock from him.

Performance

Since the start of the 2016 season, his first full year in the bigs, he’s 18th among relievers in fWAR. His 39th of 257 qualified RPs in strikeout rate and is seventh in FanGraphs’ fastball metric, wFB, just behind Aroldis Chapman.

In that same span, he’s thrown 293 innings, only eclipsed by Yusmeiro Petit and Brad Hand. He threw over 70 innings each year from 2016-18 and still surpassed 60 in 2019. Turning 30 in May, he’s been able to absorb innings, perhaps in part due to a lack of wear and tear as a converted infielder.

Here’s a rundown of his dominant 2015-17:

  • fWAR: 3.3 (24th of 186)
  • ERA: 2.75 (28th)
  • FIP: 3.23 (41st)
  • K-Rate: 29.8% (27th)

And here’s his lesser, but still OK, 2018-19

  • fWAR: 2.4 (22nd out of 136)
  • ERA: 4.25 (101st)
  • FIP: 3.71 (60th)
  • K-Rate: 28.6% (36th)

As you can see, his ERA and FIP went from good to merely average. Already a flyball pitcher, his walks and strikeouts spiked in 2019, but the key was home runs. He posted a career-worst 1.9 HR/9 while allowing 13 in 63 innings.

Given the closer role after Britton was traded to the Bronx, Givens lost the job in 2019 after blowing too many saves, including this one to the Yankees.

Yeah, maybe don’t leave a fastball on the inner half for El Gary.

The home runs are tough to square until you look at some of the Statcast data. While his velocity remained steady, as did his high-spin while his K-rate jumped from 2018 to ’19, his exit velocity against went from 92nd to 34th percentile year to year. His batted ball numbers have fluctuated year-by-year — such is the life of a reliever — but this was a noticeable dip that was more extreme for the righty.

Some of that may be from fastball location, which I’ll get into below, but he also allowed batters to barrel up his pitches 11 percent of the time when put into play, in the bottom five percent league-wide.

His problems were amplified against left-handed batters. Givens has had a noticeable platoon split in his career, but that grew in 2019. He sported a .587 OPS against RHBs vs. a .930 OPS against lefties.

Givens also had a significant split home and away, becoming more effective away from Camden Yards. The split was larger than previous seasons, though he’s been better a suppressing power on the road in his career.

Even though he had a down year, there’s still plenty to like in his profile, whether it’s his ability to miss bats or the high-spin, high-velocity fastball that he totes.

His Arsenal

Givens’ repertoire starts and ends with his fastball. A mid-90s four-seamer, he throws the pitch over 70 percent of the time and uses it as both his get-me-over pitch and out-pitch when he wants. The spin rate on the pitch went slightly up in 2019 — from 2,372 to 2,383 rpm — though that dropped in percentile from 81st to 77th.

The issue is that he leaves the fastball over the plate. As you can see below, his fastballs are often over the plate and perhaps too much.

Right-handed batters swung and missed at his fastball more often in 2019, while lefties were able to square it up more frequently. In fact, left-handed batters had a 92.1 average exit velocity against the fastball, which he throws about two-thirds of the time against them.

Givens chooses between two offspeed offerings: A slider for right-handed batters and a changeup for southpaws. Both pitches live primarily out of the zone and sit in the mid-to-upper 80s.

The slider went down in spin rate and became a more average option but maintained similar results as his go-to pitch against righties when playing off his heater. As you would expect, he locates it almost exclusively at or just below the bottom of the strike zone.

The changeup, meanwhile, is located similarly, though often further away from lefty batters, and was one positive amid a weaker season for Givens.

The Yankees are known for working with pitchers to adopt more offspeed pitches. If they acquire Givens, the Bombers could try to sharpen up his slider and changeup in an effort to give hitters something else to adjust against when facing him. Both pitches already have 8-10 mph of difference from his fastball.

Injury History

Givens has been remarkably healthy in the Major Leagues, particularly considering his accumulation of innings over the last few seasons. He had surgery for a sprained thumb back in 2010 and missed 10 days last July around the All-Star break after a collision at home plate. He hasn’t need IL time.

Contract

Givens is under Orioles team control for another two seasons. After making $2.15 million last year in his first time through arbitration, he’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $3.2 million this time around. Between the team control and the cheaper price compared to top relievers on the free agent market, he should be in demand.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Certainly. The 2019 Yankees dominated with their bullpen and that remains largely intact for 2020 after Aroldis Chapman re-upped. However, the Bombers had planned on having Dellin Betances bolster that bullpen and he got two outs.

Adding an arm like Givens on a cheap contract would give the Bombers another workhorse arm to take the burden off their top five. Despite his down seasons, there’s plenty to work with in his profile, and the Yankees could unlock his slider as they’ve done for both Chapman and Britton.

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Yankee Trade Target: Matt Boyd

I’ve already taken a look at Madison Bumgarner and Marcus Stroman as potential trade targets for the Yankees as we approach the deadline, so check those out if you’ve missed them. There are several more coming down the pipeline, and today I’m focusing on Matt Boyd of the Detroit Tigers.

As we’ll see, Boyd has had an up-and-down career but he’s really broken out in 2019. Of course, the Tigers are absolutely awful, winning only a third of their games, and Boyd has understandably been at the center of trade rumors. He’s been linked to the Yankees, too, so this isn’t speculation. Let’s dive deep into Boyd’s profile and see if he makes sense for the Yankees and what he may cost.

Background

Boyd is a 6-foot-3, 28-year-old left-handed pitcher from Mercer Island, Washington. He was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 13th Round of the 2012 Amateur Draft, though he did not sign with them. He was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 6th Round of the 2013 Amateur Draft, signing with them. Notably, he was traded to Detroit, where he’s been ever since, along with Derek Norris and Jairo Labourt for David Price in 2015.

A few weeks before being traded, Boyd made his MLB debut on June 27, 2015, against Texas while a member of the Blue Jays. He was 24-years-old at the time, though never really a big-time prospect (he only ranked once on Baseball America’s organizational rankings, coming at 29th for Toronto before 2015). Overall, Boyd is 28-41 with a 4.84 ERA (4.56 FIP) in 567.0 IP during his career.

Performance

Prior to 2019, Boyd has never really had an above-average season as a Major League starter. His career high in innings pitched was 170.1 (2018), though he’s likely on track to meet or surpass that figure this season. If it isn’t yet obvious, 2019 has been a big leap for Boyd. Check this out:

IPERAFIPK%BB%HR/9fWAR
201557.17.536.5917.1%7.9%2.67-0.6
201697.14.534.7519.9%7.0%1.571.1
2017135.05.274.5118.2%8.8%1.202.2
2018170.14.394.4522.4%7.2%1.432.1
2019107.03.873.5632.0%4.5%1.602.8

Again, it’s really quite obvious that 2019 stands out as a true outlier in Boyd’s career. It’s already the most valuable season of his career by fWAR, and we’re only at the All-Star Break, for crying out loud. In 461 career innings prior to this year, Boyd was a below-average strikeout pitcher and walked opposing batters at a relatively average clip, trending to ever so slightly-above-average. Couple that with the fact that he surrendered 471 hits in those 461 innings, and it’s pretty clear to see why Boyd struggled.

However, this success didn’t necessarily come out of nowhere.Peel back the layers a bit, though, and you can start to see some signs in 2018 that pointed to future success. Last season was the first of his career in which Boyd surrendered fewer hits than innings pitched (146 hits in 170 IP, a career high), for instance. It was also the first year that his strikeout rate was league average (22.4%), jumping almost 3 percentage points higher than his previous career high (19.9%). These are good things that usually translate to good results.

That’s true for Boyd, too. Batters had a much more difficult time hitting Boyd last year, too. Check out the slash line against him, broken down by year:

  • 2015: .313/.367/.612 (.979 OPS)
  • 2016: .258/.316/.449 (.765 OPS)
  • 2017: .291/.354/.472 (.826 OPS)
  • 2018: .228/.294/.410 (.704 OPS)

That is quite a difference. Those are by far his lowest numbers in each category, and opposing batters were clearly stymied in a new way. So perhaps it’s not all that surprising that Boyd has found success this year…

…but while that’s true, it ignores the type of leap that Boyd made this year. Even with those underlying peripherals, Boyd’s jump has been extremely significant. He’s striking out a third of all batters he faces this year (league average is 22%) and walking only 4.5% (league average is 8.5%). Miss tons of bats and walk nobody? That’s a recipe for success. Closing off the loop from above, here’s how batters fare against him:

  • 2019: .242/.283/.435 (.718 OPS)

Actually a bit worse than last year, because baseball is a weird sport, but it’s still noticeably different from his pre-2018 career. So, taking an overhead view for a moment, that’s now 1.5 seasons (270+ innings) of opposing batters rendering an OPS near .700 against Boyd. That’s really good! It sure does seem like Boyd has made a real leap. At least, the sample size is bigger than it appears at first glance.

However, it’s not all rosy for the Tigers’ lefty: he gives up a worrying amount of home runs. A lot of them. Check this out:

He’s always surrendered more home runs than you’d prefer, a trait you’d rather not see in a pitcher who may call Yankee Stadium home. More worryingly, there are discouraging trends even during his period of success. While his HR rate has risen with league standards this year, a deeper look reveals cause for concern. Check out this graph of his HR/FB%, i.e. the percentage of HR he surrenders per fly ball:

Yikes! That’s a huge jump from where he once was, going from above-average to below-average in this category. If there’s mitigating context, though, it’s this: he’s surrendering fewer fly balls overall, even as he surrenders a greater percentage of those as homers. Here it is:

Grounders are up, fly balls are down. If you want to be really optimistic about Boyd (and I don’t think that’s outrageous), then I think you could argue that his HR/FB ratio this year is an outlier to his career figure and should normalize itself. And, if you believe that he’s going to continue to induce more grounders, well, that’s a good combination, isn’t it?

Current Stuff

When a pitcher makes a big leap in production as we’ve seen from Boyd, I always like to see an adjustment to the arsenal or some other tangible change. It helps explain why a pitcher might have made that leap and gives credence to the idea that it might be sustainable over the long-term. We see just that with Boyd. Check out his career usage rates, broken down by year:

As you can see, Boyd was a different pitcher from 2015-17. He relied heavily on his four-seam fastball and sinker, which accounted for about 50-60% of his usage during that period, while he mixed in a change, curve, and slider to round it out.

Last year, though, he started using his slider more. A lot more, actually. It jumped from a pitch that had maxed out at 16% usage (2015) and hovered at 10% in 2016 and 17 to a pitch he used more than 31% of the time in 2018. That’s a huge difference, and it’s happened for good reason: his slider is a good pitch. Check this out, which is the opposing batting average, slugging percentage, and whiff-per-swing rate in his career:

  • 2015: .158 BAA, .237 SLG, 29.41% whiffs-per-swing rate
  • 2016: .204 BAA, .333 SLG, 25.00% whiffs-per-swing rate
  • 2017: .379 BAA, .500 SLG, 28.99% whiffs-per-swing rate
  • 2018: .172 BAA, .285 SLG, 33.03% whiffs-per-swing rate
  • 2019: .185 BAA, .308 SLG, 39.66% whiffs-per-swing rate

So, in other words, Boyd’s slider has been a great pitch for him in every year of his career with the notable exception of 2017. I’m pretty comfortable calling that an outlier, though, and even in that year he generated a ton of whiffs-per-swing. It is good to see Boyd use this pitch more. It’s a good one.

The other notable change for him is that he’s back to using his four-seamer heavily again and has all but abandoned his sinker. As he’s dropped that sinker, using it less than 4% of the time, he’s relying on his straight fastball more than at any point since his rookie season. (I do think it’s interesting that his GB% has increased as he’s dropped the sinker. This is a weird sport.)

His fastball is less effective than his slider, both historically and this season, though he’s generating a career-high 25% whiffs-per-swing on the pitch this season. (It’s also worth noting the pitch is high-spin, which could point to additional life on the pitch or help make this success sustainable.) All told, he’s using the slider and fastball more than 85% of the time in 2019 (!), which may or may not be sustainable in the long run, but we can say this for sure: it’s working.

Finally, Boyd doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, sitting around 92 with his four-seamer and about 80 mph on the slider. Here is his complete velocity data:

FourseamSinkerChangeSliderCurve
201591.69N/A79.2280.4471.47
201692.0391.4979.8684.9674.34
201792.8291.4281.3886.6175.02
201891.2289.8678.9581.0772.69
201992.3289.9379.5980.1172.47

It’s worth noting the difference in slider velocity. It looks like Boyd may have made some adjustments to the pitch after 2017, when his slider was hammered. While there has been somewhat of a velocity drop overall after that season, the slider drop-off was precipitous. Huh. I wonder if that was intentional. Anyway, this is all very interesting to me. In summary, though, we’ve seen Boyd adjust his arsenal in a way that may explain his performance jump. That’s exciting for sure, and it does make him a more attractive trade candidate.

Injury History

Boyd has never struggled with injuries. He’s never been on the DL/IL. That’s good! He comes with a good bill of health, which will probably raise his value. A healthy pitcher is a valuable pitcher, even as an innings-eater. Teams love durability, as they should.

However, that does mean that his limited innings pitched per season is because he’s mostly split time between MLB and MiLB, though, which is less than ideal. (Although, if you want to be positive, the lack of innings overall could be a sign that his arm is even “younger” than it should be.) Even still, though, it’s more than 260 innings over the last 1.5 seasons for Boyd with no injury concerns.

What’s He Going to Cost?

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Boyd is going to cost a lot. There are a two primary reasons why. Let’s go through them:

  1. He’s under team control for a while: first, and this is obvious, but Boyd is cheap and under team control for the foreseeable future. He only just became arbitration eligible (he’s earning $2.6 million this season as a Super 2), and the earliest he can be a free agent is after the 2023 season. He’s not a rental by any means, and he’ll be relatively cost-controlled throughout that period. This all matters quite a lot to teams these days, as we all know.
  2. Detroit doesn’t need to trade him right now: Of course, this also means that Detroit does not need to trade him, at least not right now. There’s no urgency whatsoever, as Boyd isn’t imminently leaving Detroit as a free agent and he’s not about to become more expensive. In fact, if the Tigers believe in his recent success and believe he can keep it up, there’s no reason to trade him at all. They will need good players when they’re trying to win. But even more to the point, assuming they do move him, they can afford wait for that package they really want. Teams may be skeptical of him right now, so maybe it makes more sense for Detroit to hold on to him through the season or for next year’s deadline.

Add all this up and what you get is a team in Detroit which has an asset teams want (controllable pitching) without the pressing urgency to move that asset. Pretty clear that they’re going to demand a whole lot. I would if I were them, wouldn’t you?

In fact, our most recent Boyd update underscores this point. According to Jon Heyman, “the Tigers’ asking price on lefty Matthew Boyd continues to be an impediment for interested teams” and that multiple GMs have said his price is “over-the-top.”

What does that mean, for the Yankees, exactly? Well, folks, it means that the Tigers have reportedly asked for Gleyber Torres in negotiations with the Yankees. Who can blame them? You can’t get what you don’t ask for, I suppose, but there’s a zero percent chance the Yanks would surrender Torres for Boyd. I’m confident in saying this, and I’m sure Detroit knows it. Nevertheless, if this is where negotiations are started, it’s going to take more than some young arm in the lower minors to get this done, so just forget that now.

Of course, all of this could just be posturing on Detroit’s end, but I highly doubt it. They might not get (or expect) Torres, but acquiring Boyd will require a hefty package. Probably the biggest package of all of the available targets, if we’re being honest with ourselves. It just doesn’t make sense for Detroit otherwise.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Yes and no. He makes sense from a “he is a pitcher who is good and the Yankees need one of those” perspective, for sure. I also think he makes sense from a “is he legit” perspective, because I do believe that there is enough here to think that he can be an above-average pitcher in the league for a few seasons. His new success is buttressed by a changed arsenal and method of attack, so it’s not like this is completely unfounded success. You can’t ignore it.

That said, I also think that there’s a lot to suggest this isn’t sustainable or that he’ll revert so being a league-average pitcher. To begin with, I am skeptical that Boyd will continue to have this much success while throwing only a fastball and a slider 90% of the time. That isn’t to say that he can’t continue to make adjustments, but I do think it’s a red flag. And secondly, the home runs really concern me. I don’t like bringing a guy like that into Yankee Stadium. It feels like a recipe for disaster, though who’s to say?

Add this up, and I’m not sure he’s going to be worth the cost. Detroit is understandably going to want a complete package for him, and if I were the Yankees, I’d need to see more–a lot more–from Boyd before giving that package.

Yankees Trade Target: Marcus Stroman

The Yankees have more work to do, and acquiring another starting pitcher is at the top of the list. Several are available, including Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays. He grew up a Yankees fan, though that’s irrelevant to anything. He’s said he’d be a good fit with the Yankees, and the Yanks have spoken with the Jays about him.

So, let’s not waste any more time–let’s get right into who Stroman is as a pitcher with an in-depth profile to determine if he’s a fit for the Yanks.

Background

Stroman is a 5-foot-7, 28-year-old right-handed pitcher from Medford, New York. He was originally drafted in the 18th round of the 2009 Amateur Draft but opted instead to attend Duke. In 2012, Stroman was selected with the 22nd pick. Stroman made his Major League debut 3 days after his 23rd birthday and has been in the bigs ever since.

He owns a 3.80 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 765.2 innings pitched in his career. In his career, he’s won a Gold Glove in 2017, which was also the only season in which he’s placed in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting. He has twice pitched in the postseason with Toronto, reaching the ALCS both times. He’s spent his entire career in the AL East.

Performance

Stroman, who was ranked FanGraphs’ 56th best prospect, threw 130 innings as a rookie in 2014 and only 27 in 2015 (more on that in a moment). After that, he went on to throw 200 innings in both 2016 (204 IP) and 2017 (201 IP). He really struggled in 2018, pitching to a 5.54 ERA in 100 innings. This year, he’s having perhaps the best season of his career and is on track to throw over 200 innings once more.

Stroman’s inconsistent career is on full display from even a cursory look at his data. Check this out:

IPERAFIPK%GB%bWAR
2014130.23.652.8420.8%53.8%1.9
201527.01.673.5417.5%64.1%1.3
2016204.04.373.7119.4%60.1%1.4
2017201.03.093.9019.7%62.1%5.3
2018102.15.543.9117.2%62.1%0.2
2019104.23.183.8118.6%57.5%2.5

As is immediately clear, Stroman has had a bit of an odd career–bookended by frustrating campaigns, the Jays’ righty had a truly dominating 2017. It’s also pretty clear that this year is a return to form for Stroman in terms of performance.

I want to point out that I purposefully chose to highlight Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR for Stroman in the above table because it is calculated in such a way that means it is more reflective of what actually happened rather than what should have happened. Why did I do that? Well, FanGraphs’ WAR is better for the latter, and check out this discrepancy, with fWAR in parentheses:

  • 2014: 1.9 (3.4)
  • 2015: 1.3 (0.4)
  • 2016: 1.4 (3.4)
  • 2017: 5.3 (3.2)
  • 2018: 0.2 (1.4)
  • 2019: 2.5 (2.0)

That’s a pretty clear-cut difference right there, and I do think that it’s worth delving a little deeper into exactly why this might be the case–and what it might say about Stroman.

Stroman is a bit of an odd pitcher in the current velocity and strikeout-obsessed big leagues, because he really doesn’t miss all that many bats. He’s never even really approached 9 K/9 (his closest year was 2017, when he reached 7.34), with a career 7.21 K/9 figure. He does limit walks, as he’s usually a percentage point or so below league average. While this certainly isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s also not really what we expect from a frontline starter in today’s MLB.

So without serious strikeout numbers, how has Stroman found success? Well, it’s pretty clear: Stroman is a master of inducing ground balls and limiting home runs. 60 pitchers have thrown at least 700 innings since 2014. Here are the top 5 among that group, sorted by GB%:

  1. Dallas Keuchel: 60.0%
  2. Marcus Stroman: 59.7%
  3. Sonny Gray: 53.3%
  4. Carlos Martinez: 53.5%
  5. Charlie Morton: 53.2%

And here are the FB% among that same group, ranked by those inducing the fewest fly balls:

  1. Dallas Keuchel: 21.3%
  2. Marcus Stroman: 22.1%
  3. Charlie Morton: 25.9%
  4. Kyle Gibson: 27.1%
  5. Mike Leake: 27.4%

On ground balls, Stroman and Keuchel are essentially equal, and then there’s a sizable gap (about 9% or so) between then and the 3rd highest, Sonny Gray. There’s also a tiny gap between Stroman and Keuchel and gap of more than 10% to the next closest in GB%. That’s a big difference. It really is. There’s no denying it. Stroman has an elite skill here, and he’s done it over a long time. Check it out compared to league average:

Even with a slight decline from 2018-19, it’s pretty clear that Stroman is able to keep the ball on the ground in a way that is unique. That’s a real skill, and it is a valuable one. Here’s the FB%:

Finally, and as a result of the constant ground balls, Stroman is able to keep the ball in the yard. Of those same 60 pitchers who’ve thrown 700 innings since 2014, Stroman ranks 8th by HR/9 (0.82). His 13% HR/FB rate isn’t quite as appealing, but hey, he keeps the ball on the ground so much that it doesn’t even matter. Again, it’s clear in graph form what an elite skill this is:

Interesting to see his numbers adjust with the league, isn’t it? A good lesson here. We’ve seen his HR/9 jump this year, but it’s not concerning when compared to the league. Analytics!

To close the loop here, this explains the discrepancy between his bWAR/fWAR. Here’s why: Check out his year-by-year ERA with his FIP in parentheses:

  • 2014: 3.65 (2.84) in 130.2 IP
  • 2015: 1.67 (3.54) in 27.0 IP
  • 2016: 4.37 (3.71) in 204.0 IP
  • 2017: 3.09 (3.90) in 201.0 IP
  • 2018: 5.54 (3.91) in 102.1 IP
  • 2019: 3.04 (3.71) in 100.2 IP

fWAR is very dependent on FIP, and FIP loves pitchers who beat the ball into the ground, miss bats, and limit HR. It means their results “should” be good based on their contact profile, and while Stroman’s actual performance hasn’t quite matched up, there’s clearly the profile of a pitcher who has and is capable of serious success. Keeping the ball on the ground is a great trait (and an impressive one in the launch angle era) and it’s the second-best skill a pitcher can have behind making batters swing-and-miss. Stroman’s got it.

Current Stuff

Stroman relies heavily on his sinker, cutter, and slider, occasionally mixing in a changeup and four-seam fastball. He once also threw a curveball, but he’s all but abandoned that in recent years. Here’s his usage chart, via Brooks Baseball:

Pretty interesting stuff. His sinker usage is down this year, which is also true of his GB%, and his slider usage is up. Huh. For what it’s worth, his slider is more effective this year (35% whiffs-per-swing rate) compared to last (32% whiffs-per-swing rate), which could help explain this, and batters are only hitting .178 off the pitch this year. Go with what works, obviously, and the slider is working.

To that end, it’s interesting to see Stroman all but abandon the four-seam. It makes sense as to why. Check out the BA against his pitches:

The fastball is getting hit hard this year, with batters are hitting .500 off it. It makes sense to cut it back significantly, which Stroman has done, and it’s encouraging to see him find success with this effort. A pitcher who can make adjustments successfully is the type of pitcher you want, and his usage/performance rates show that Stroman has significantly changed his look over his career.

Stroman sits around 93 mph on his FB and sinker, around 86 mph on his change (a solid difference of about 7-8 mph), around 85 on his slider, and 91 on his cutter. Pretty good variance (though his velocity has slightly declined over the years) in terms of pitch speed. Here it is in graph form, for the visually-inclined:

Slight declines across the board, but overall fairly steady throughout his career. Stroman’s not really losing any stuff, as you’d expect for a 28-year-old. He relies on his slider and changeup for swings-and-misses and his sinker as a high-contact, beat-it-into-the-ground option. No surprises there. Again, in graph form, tracking whiffs-per-swing:

Finally, let’s take a look at his contact profile. Surprisingly, for a sinkerballer, Stroman induces a lot of weak contact. His 2019 soft contact percentage (22%) is significantly better than league average (17%) as has been true for his entire career.

He is inducing less hard contact (34%) than the average pitcher (38%), though the relationship here isn’t quite as clear over his career. He’s closer to league average in this department. Regardless, for a pitcher with heavy ground ball rates and minuscule fly-ball rates, hard-hit balls aren’t as dangerous. It’s the Zack Britton approach: throw strikes and let the opponent beat the ball into the ground.

All told, this is a solid profile. His stuff has stayed fairly consistent in terms of velocity and whiffs-per-swing (though he’s ever-so-slightly trending in the wrong direction) and his contact profile is strong.

Injury History

Stroman injured his ACL in 2014, requiring surgery. He missed much of 2015 as a result, though he returned in late 2015 and pitched in the playoffs for Toronto. He hasn’t appeared to suffer any negative consequences from this injury, though, so it’s not worth worrying about at this point.

Stroman has also repeatedly struggled with blisters on his throwing hand, which has forced him to miss starts in the past. That’s going to happen. Whatever.

Finally, and much more worthy of concern, is his shoulder. Last year, Stroman went on the then-DL with “shoulder fatigue” that caused him to make a minor league rehab stint and miss some MLB time. And just on Saturday, Stroman exited his game against Kansas City with a “cramp” in his shoulder. Hopefully, it’s not that serious and is precautionary by Toronto, who surely want to keep their top trade chip healthy. Still, this is something worth monitoring.

What’s He Going to Cost?

This is the most difficult part of these profiles for me, because I’ve really internalized the old “Your Trade Proposal Sucks” motto. It’s true. If you or I knew this stuff, we’d be working in a front office. That said, you gotta think that Toronto would start by asking for Clint Frazier.

A few weeks ago, I would have said that Frazier is a bit too much to give up here, but you know what? I’m not so sure anymore. The Yanks’ refusal to bring him to London (I don’t care about their defense explanation) and the general vibe they’re sending out with Clint recently lead me to believe that they value him less than I do. Not to mention, they’ve said that Frazier won’t move for a rental…and Stroman is not a rental. He’d be in New York next year, too.

The more I think about this, the more it seems like any potential matchup with Toronto is going to require Frazier. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Inter-Divisional Trade: Yes, Toronto and New York have traded recently, and while there’s no evidence that Toronto will charge a premium (if he’s even a premium), they very well might. This is their best pitcher, after all.
  2. Marcus Stroman is Good, Actually: It should be clear by now that Stroman is good. He’s also under team control through 2020, and he comes at only a $7.1m salary. He’s affordable and about 10% better than league average (111 ERA+) in 700+ innings in his career. That’s valuable for a lot of reasons. Most of all, because…
  3. New York Is Desperate: This weekend’s Luis Severino news (are the Yankees the Mets now?) just goes to demonstrate how desperate the Yanks really are for another pitcher. At this point, you can’t really bank on Severino returning, no matter what they say. The Yanks will need another pitcher capable of front-line work, and while Stroman isn’t Severino, he might be the closet the Yanks can get.

So, yeah. A 28-year-old with a history of success, under team control, and in the midst of one of his best career years is going to cost something. Just accept that now. That may very well be Clint Frazier. Time Will Tell.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Yes, yes, and yes, as Jonny covered here. He absolutely does. Stroman has struggled in Yankee Stadium in his career (2-5, 6.37 ERA in 41 IP), but here’s the thing: he’s been facing the Yankees in all of those starts. While the Yanks haven’t exactly set the world on fire against him (.230/.306/.376/.682), he has faced some tough power hitting lineups in Yankee Stadium. On the Yankees, he’d be facing Not The Yankees. That matters.

That said, I think it’s pretty clear that a smart, energetic pitcher with elite ground-ball skills and a propensity to limit HR is a natural fit for the Yanks. Not to mention, he is a high-spin guy, and the Yankees are also known for loving high spin rates. Seems like a good enough fit.

But more importantly, the Yankees need a pitcher, and Stroman is a good one. In fact, he might be the best one available this year–and yes, he is not Max Scherzer, but who is? He is a good pitcher, and the Yankees are a serious contender for the World Series. Fans cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and I think it’s pretty clear that Marcus Stroman would better position the Yankees to win the World Series this year and next. That is the point, isn’t it?

Yankees Trade Target: Madison Bumgarner

This is the first of a series of posts in which I’ll examine potential trade targets for the Yankees as we approach the trade deadline, providing an overview of their profile and their background. If you have suggestions for pitchers you’d like to see profiled or any questions, please reach out to us on Twitter or Gmail, both of which are available on our sidebar.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Yankees need a pitcher. Brian Cashman himself said so after trading for Edwin Encarnación the other day, telling reporters that he’s “got more work to do.” That invariably means another starting pitcher, and there should be a few available on the market in the next few weeks.

One of those that will almost certainly be made available is Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants. MadBum, who was recently involved in a spat with the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, has one of baseball’s most recognizable names due to his heroic postseason performances. He was most recently in the World Series five years ago, though. A lot has changed since then.

Let’s take a deep dive into the big-name starter’s background, performance, stuff, and injury history to determine if he’s a suitable trade candidate for the Yankees.

Background

Bumgarner is a 6-foot-4, 29-year-old left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. He was drafted 10th overall by the Giants in the 2007 Amateur Draft. He made his debut at age 20, which made him the second-youngest pitcher in Giants history, all the way back in 2009. If it feels like Bumgarner has been around forever and should be older than 29, that’s why. The dude has been around in very visible situations for a long time.

He owns a 3.08 ERA (3.29 FIP) in 1731.1 career innings pitched. He’s a 4-time All-Star and a 3-time World Series winner with an earned reputation for delivering in October. He finished in the top-10 of the NL Cy Young voting in each year from 2013-2016, though he’s never won the award. If you want name value, Bumgarner’s got it.

Performance

MadBum’s first real year in the bigs took place in 2010, when he threw 111 innings of 3.00 ERA (3.66 FIP) ball, but it wasn’t until the following year when he became the guy we all remember. Including 2011, Bumgarner would pitch at least 200 innings in 6 consecutive seasons, keeping his ERA under 3.00 in 4 of those 6 years. The dude was legit. He wasn’t quite Clayton Kershaw good over that period (who is?) but he was undeniably a frontline pitcher. One of the best.

An injury in 2017 (more on that in a moment) put a stop to that streak, and also seemed to denote the end of his peak. In 2017 and 2018, there were some real signs of decline. Take a look at this:

IPERAFIPK%BB%GB%FB%Hard Hit%
2011-20161387.23.003.1124.4%5.7%44.4%36.0%27.4%
2017111.03.323.9522.4%4.4%40.8%41.1%35.0%
2018129.23.263.9919.8%7.8%42.7%35.0%41.6%
201993.03.873.9723.6%5.2%36.3%38.2%46.4%

There’s a lot to break down here. First, 2017 really does mark a difference for Bumgarner, and it’s not just because he was hurt. Most of his rate stats declined: he struck out fewer batters, induced fewer grounders and more fly balls, and batters generated much harder contact against him.

That’s also evidenced by the fact that batters are performing much, much better against him. Check out the opposition’s triple-slash line against Bumgarner, broken up by the two different “eras” of his career, if you will:

  • 2011-2016: .229/.278/.356 (.634 OPS), 2.3% HR%
  • 2017-2019: .243/.294/.412 (.706 OPS), 3.3% HR%

Noticeably different! Batters have a different experience hitting against Bumgarner now, and they are clearly able to drive the ball more. He’s notably surrendering more home runs and is more susceptible to fly balls, as we’ve seen above. Harder contact and elevated contact is going to lead to more home runs, so no surprises there.

Now, this is not to say that the new Bumgarner is a bad pitcher. In fact, he very clearly is not that: he’s still quite effective and averaging 6.2 innings per start. That has real value. Not to mention, he is still comfortably above average. Not that FIP is the end-all, be-all (it very much is not that), but this is a good illustration:

Clearly, even though those two lines have converged a bit in recent years, he’s still above-average. And, if you want to be optimistic, they’ve actually started to split again in 2019.

Current Stuff

Bumgarner is primarily a four-pitch pitcher, relying on your usual combination of hard stuff (four-seam fastball and cutter) and off-speed stuff (curveball and changeup). He uses his fastball (43% usage) and cutter (37%) heavily, relying on them in total about 80% of the time. His cutter is his best pitch.

He also mixes in his curve (12%) and change (6%, though there is a disparity with RHB/LHB here) to keep batters honest. Here’s his usage chart, if you want it:

Bumgarner’s fastball reliance would seem to contradict the Yankees’ ongoing anti-fastball approach, but I think we’re almost at the point where we can discount that altogether. After all, the Yanks have acquired James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Lance Lynn all within the last calendar year–and they’re each among the heaviest FB users in the game. Maybe it’s time to retire this idea.

Anyway, back to Bumgarner. Over the past few years, Bumgarner’s velocity has declined, which feels worth noting. Check this out:

Four-SeamCutterCurveballChangeup
201593.02 mph87.15 mph77.60 mph85.85 mph
201691.71 mph87.64 mph75.67 mph84.13 mph
201791.38 mph87.13 mph78.46 mph83.38 mph
201891.47 mph86.03 mph78.16 mph84.15 mph
201992.22 mph87.39 mph78.43 mph84.32 mph

There was a pretty clear downward trend right there from 2015-2018… but it seems like that’s changed so far in 2019. Back in May, Craig Edwards at FanGraphs wrote a very nice piece on Bumgarner’s velocity potentially making a comeback. You should check that out. Long story short, though, is that the uptick in velocity just might suggest that Bumgarner, who has been hurt in 2017 and 2018, might not have been operating at full capacity–and that the increased velocity is an encouraging sign.

That piece was written about six weeks ago, so I do have to say: looking at it now, it is actually encouraging. Peeling back the layers a bit further also illustrates the fact that there is some cause for optimism with Bumgarner. Check out his whiffs-per-swing over the same time period:

Four-SeamCutterCurveballChange
201522.22%29.38%36.80%8.33%
201622.75%24.64%41.29%20.00%
201716.11%22.22%36.77%6.25%
201812.94%25.00%26.67%21.88%
201919.45%28.19%32.89%7.89%

Given that he barely uses the changeup, let’s just ignore that one altogether, shall we? Good. Anyway, the rest of that data is mighty encouraging. After pretty precipitous drop off for both his curveball and fastball from 2017-2018, those figures have both rebounded significantly this year. Unsurprisingly, that correlates well to his rebounding K% that was highlighted earlier.

There’s a lot here, but I think if you look at his stuff overall, there are several signs to suggest that reports of Bumgarner’s decline–while not unwarranted, to be clear–may indeed be a bit premature. San Francisco is surely hoping he performs well over the next few weeks to make this case even stronger.

Injury

Bumgarner has dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons, though neither incident provides serious cause for concern. They were fluky.

In 2017, he injured his shoulder during a dirt biking accident on a scheduled off-day in Colorado, going on to miss several months. A poor decision, no doubt, but it’s a fluke injury that isn’t representative of a recurring problem or anything like that.

Last year, Bumgarner broke his pinky and missed several months because of this:

Can’t do much about that. The comebacker, which came in his final start of the spring no less, is just bad luck. Those are two frustrating injuries!

As I said above, it is worth wondering if he’s been truly right the last few years. But one thing is for sure: Bumgarner has been a workhorse for several years and has no significant injury concerns. They’ve all been flukes. That’s a point in his favor.

Contract

Bumgarner is in the final year of an 8-year, $58.06 million deal with San Francisco. He’ll be a free agent after the season. San Francisco is terrible and there’s no doubt in my mind at all that they’d let him walk if they don’t trade him. Better to get something of value, right? So, in other words, Bumgarner will be a rental at the deadline, and he’ll almost certainly be traded.

What’s He Going to Cost?

Gosh, I really don’t know. He’s kind of a weird case: he has name value, October pedigree and a track record of success with a limited injury history. However, there are also signs of real decline, he has thrown a lot of innings (he’s “older” than your normal 29-year-old), and he’s not controlled beyond this season.

With so few teams actually trying, I’m not sure how robust the starting pitching trade market will actually be, either. It’s weird.

Anyway, I’m not sure what it would take to get him to New York, but I’d have to imagine that Clint Frazier would be where the conversation starts. I’m high on Frazier and probably wouldn’t pull the trigger, but I don’t think I’d be outraged if the Yanks went for it here. Other names to watch include Estevan Florial and Deivi Garcia as a potential headliner, but that still feels like a lot. The Yanks system is loaded with young, high-velocity arms as well, which always make for good trade bait.

This is all to say that the Yanks definitely have the pieces to get this done, but I’m not sure which combination would do it, but hey, that’s why I write words on the Internet for fun and don’t work in a front office.

Does He Make Sense?

Yes, he does. When I started this post, I was convinced that I’d see more signs of decline than I actually do. Folks, look at what happens when you do research. You learn things and maybe even change your mind.

Anyway, there’s enough here that I think you could get a very productive pitcher for the second half of the season. His velocity is up, he’s missing more bats, and, better yet, both of those figures are climbing back up toward where he was at his peak. Those are encouraging signs, even if his ground ball rate is down and his HR rate is up. Certainly enough to take a flier on, in my opinion.

Finally, he’s durable and gives innings. As I said earlier, even in 2019, he’s averaging over 6 innings per start and could help give the Yanks that stable, steadying force in the rotation that they so lack right now.

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