The Yankees are interested in Oakland A’s sinkerball reliever Blake Treinen, reported The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal last night. Treinen is available because of the annual payroll crunch the A’s are facing, Rosenthal also reported.

Treinen is now (at least) the second reliever to whom the Yankees have been connected in the last few days along with Kansas City’s Tim Hill. The Yankees have been involved in building super bullpens for at least a decade now, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone–especially with Dellin Betances now a free agent. Anyway, let’s take a look at Treinen and see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

Background

Treinen is a 31-year-old righty from Osage City, Kansas. He was drafted by the then-Florida Marlins in the 23rd round of 2010 Amateur Draft but did not sign. The A’s drafted him a year later in the 7th round of the 2011 Draft before trading him to the Nationals in a three-team deal. He would make his MLB debut with Washington in 2014 and pitch three-and-a-half seasons in the Capitol.

The Nationals traded him back to Oakland at the 2017 Trade Deadline in a deal for current closer Sean Doolittle. Treinen has been in Oakland ever since.

Performance

Treinen has been an above-average reliever for most of his career, though he really made a name for himself in 2018 when he was truly exceptional in his first season back in Oakland. I broke down his career into five different parts: his time with the Nationals, his first half-season with Oakland, his dominant 2018, his 2019 season, and his time overall with Oakland. Check it out:

ERA-GB%K%BB%HR/9WHIPBAA
Washington8362.2%20.5%9.6%0.521.38.263
2017 2nd Half5056%26.9%7.7%0.711.16.225
20181951.9%31.8%6.7%0.220.83.157
201911042.8%22.2%13.9%1.381.62.254
Oakland5649.5%27.3%9.5%0.711.16.205

Breaking this down in such a way is illuminating because it shows that Treinen was a good reliever in Washington who immediately took a major step forward with Oakland. Looking at just his career performance with Oakland makes him look like one of the best relievers in the game, and while that’s true, the real story is a bit more nuanced.

Immediately after the trade, his strikeouts went up, his walks went down, and opponents got fewer hits off him. That much is evident from looking at his performance down the stretch with the A’s.

In 2018, though, he took that performance to another level entirely. He was baseball’s best reliever two seasons ago. All of the improvements he made in 2017’s second half were amplified: he missed more bats, missed the plate less, and was virtually unhittable. I say virtually unhittable, well, because:

That triple would have been hilarious and satisfying no matter what, but that it came off Treinen made it even better. He was that good.

Anyway, as good as Treinen was in 2018, he was bad in 2019. He took a major step back in every regard, notably with home runs. That was true of basically every pitcher in baseball in 2019, though, so I’m much more willing to write that off as a blip in the juiced ball year than perhaps I should be. That can really change a year for a pitcher.

However, what I’m not willing to write off is the declining ground ball rate. As I’ll get into in a moment, Treinen throws a power sinker. That should lend itself to ground balls. Generally, it has–look back up at the table. It’s clear that he has always generated a ton of grounders…but it’s also clear that this skill is diminishing. It wasn’t just a one year jump. Check it out:

That’s an ugly chart right there. It’s a three-season trend, so it doesn’t seem to be ball-related. It’s alarming in any context–though prior to 2019 it didn’t inhibit him–but especially when paired with a big increase in home runs. I think it’s fair to consider this a real red flag in his performance profile. His best days could be behind him.

Current Stuff

Treinen is a true four-pitch reliever, featuring a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter in addition to his trademark sinker. Here’s his usage graphs, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Even though his sinker usage is declining, he still features the pitch more than any other by a significant amount. He’s a sinkerballer through and through. What’s powered his success, and made his sinker so unique, is its velocity. Treinen is a true power pitcher. Check out his velocity chart:

His sinker comes in on average between 97-98 mph in his career, topping out at 99. I mean, just look at this:

And this:

And this:

That last one, against San Fran’s Chase d’Arnaud, is just unfair. That’s a real “I tweaked with the attributes in MLB: The Show” type pitch. For what it’s worth, all three of those sinkers clocked at 99+ mph, and each of them came in the 2018 season. That’s what you bet on when Treinen comes in.

With that said, however, there are some red flags even with this pitch. Here’s his average spin rate on the pitch in every year since 2016:

  • 2016: 2342 RPM
  • 2017: 2294 RPM
  • 2018: 2371 RPM
  • 2019: 2250 RPM

That’s still a really good spin rate for a sinker, but it’s also the lowest it’s been–a trend, for what it’s worth, that is consistent with his four-seam fastball. That’s a red flag for sure, though not a huge one.

Another slight red flag is the fact that his pitches overall were considerably less effective in 2019. Check out the whiffs-per-swing on his pitches throughout his career:

All four of his big pitches took a step backward, with his slider at its lowest rate since his rookie campaign. His cutter was much worse, his fastball more hittable, and even his slider took a step backward. His velocity, if you think back to that initial chart above, also took a step back. Couple all of this with his poor overall performance, a huge increase in home runs, a declining ground ball rate, and a declining chase rate, and you get an overall profile with some red flags.

Now, it’s only fair to note that his stuff is still very good–it’s more than enough, in fact, to be successful. But there can be no doubt that Treinen is trending in the wrong direction.

What’s He Going to Cost?

Treinen is arbitration-eligible, of course, which is why he’s on the trading block in the first place. He should make around $8 million in arbitration, per MLB Trade Rumors. He will accrue his 6th year of MLB service time in 2020, making him eligible for free agency in 2021. Given his poor 2019, declining peripherals, and Oakland’s financial situation, I think it’s fair to say that he will not command a huge return.

As for what that return will be, it’s tough to say. Maybe Chance Adams? The Yankees might be better off trying to convert him to a reliever, but his stock is certainly diminished right now. But ultimately, I have no idea.

For what it’s worth, Baseball Trade Values considers Tampa Tarpons pitcher Nick Green to be fair value for Treinen. Is that enough? I really doubt it. I know Treinen struggled last year, but yeesh, you have to think he’s more valuable than that. But who knows. Either way, I don’t think bringing Treinen on board would cost the Yankees too much. And $8m in salary isn’t too much, either, especially if they’re confident that they can revitalize some of his prior performance.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Yes and no. He makes sense in that he’s a once-dominant reliever who is just a season removed from being one of the best relievers in baseball. The Yankees clearly value their bullpen and are always looking to stockpile as much talent as possible. Not to mention, Treinen would likely be the 5th guy out of the pen on the Yankees. Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, and even Chad Green outperformed him last year. I’d imagine that he’d have to earn his way into the so-called Circle of Trust. So, in that context, Treinen absolutely fits. You could do a whole hell of a lot worse than a pitcher with his stuff as a back-end option.

Now, with that said, there are numerous signs that his best days are behind him. If the Yankees are going to take a flier on a once-dominant reliever and hope for a bounce-back season, I’d prefer they do it with Dellin Betances. But hey, on the other hand, why not both?

Ultimately, I think I would be excited if the Yankees brought Treinen on board. He has top-shelf stuff, even if it’s declining a bit, and the Yankees’ track record with relievers is impeccable. If Treinen and his power sinker come aboard, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the good times would just keep rolling in the Yankee bullpen.