Table of Contents

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reds send Lohse to Phils for Maloney

Today the Reds traded Kyle Lohse to the Phillies in exchange for LHP Matt Maloney.

Lohse has been an intriguing pitcher this year thanks to his Jekyll and Hyde routine, but his inconsistency actually may have resulted in him being more valuable than someone putting up comparable numbers via more consistent starts. His bad starts obviously have been near-unwinnable, but those excellent starts of his have made up for that by giving the Reds a great chance to win.

Lohse is certainly not an ace, but he's been valuable in our rotation this season and should give the Phillies an additional win or so down the stretch. Lohse's '07 VORP (9.2 runs) ranks fourth among the Phillies' starters behind Cole Hamels (29.9), Jamie Moyer (12.1), and Kyle Kendrick (11.2). With Freddy Garcia out 'til mid-August and Jon Lieber out for the season, Lohse should really solidify the back end of the Phils' rotation. Whether it will be enough to catch the Mets...who knows?

Trading Lohse does make sense for the Reds. As a Scott Boras client, he will probably get at least a Gil Meche-level deal, as he has a better track record than Meche ever did. And that kind of deal would not be an efficient use of money (though the Reds do have to find the starting talent somewhere, and if you can save one place, you can afford to overpay somewhere else if it improves the ballclub). Furthermore, I'm skeptical about whether Elias would rate Lohse among the top 40% of starting pitchers--especially given his bad numbers in the first half last year--which is what would be required for the Reds to get any kind of draft pick compensation if they let him walk.

So from that perspective, this deal makes sense. What about the guy the Reds got in exchange?

Matt Maloney, 23 yrs, LHP

Maloney was the Phillies' 3rd-round draft choice in the 2005 draft out of U-Miss. He has advanced each year since '05, and is currently having a nice season in AA. Baseball America ranked him the 9th best prospect in the Phillies' farm system this year, while John Sickels ranked him 6th (B- prospect). BPro's Kevin Goldstein also ranked him 6th this past offseason, but gave him the Philles' Pedroia/Clippard award a few months ago (awarded to players whose stats make them look better than they are likely to be), citing concerns about whether his poor command and mid-to-high 80's fastball would be enough to succeed at higher levels.

Stats:

Team Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP R/9 ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2005/PHI-A- 21 37.0 8.8 3.6 0.49 0.324 4.86 3.89 3.17 6.36 -5.8 32%
2006/PHI-A 22 168.7 9.6 3.9 0.27 0.261 2.88 2.08 2.75 5.00 17 46%
2007/PHI-AA 23 125.7 8.2 3.2 0.93 0.284 5.01 3.94 3.79 --- --- 41%
Maloney thus far has posted good strikeout numbers and excellent home run-allowed numbers in his minor league career. His walk rate has certainly been worse than average, but it has been better this year. The concern, if his stuff is not particularly good, is that his strikeout rate may decline dramatically as the quality of hitters improves. Furthermore, while not extreme, he generally seems to be a fly ball pitcher (~42% mean fly ball rate), which leads to concern that his nice homer rate may not be indicative of particular skill in keeping the ball in the park.

Still, while his numbers this season have taken a hit compared to what he did in single-A last year, he has continued to be effective. Next season, at AAA-Louisville, we'll get a much better idea of his ceiling when he faces that level of competition. If he can continue to improve his walk rate and eventually get it below 3 bb/9, he may have enough stuff to contribute in the starting rotation at the major league level. If not, he still may have some future as a reliever, given the fact that he's a lefty. Given Krivsky's apparent emphasis on scouting over stats (at least, that's my impression of his emphasis), I have to hope that they see more in Maloney's potential than Goldstein does, and that's why they went with him--Krivsky's comments certainly seem enthusiastic about the kid.

Just for comparison, here are peripherals for two other lowish-end young Reds' left-handers at A-, A, and AA levels (update: Following Fay's lead, I've added Zach Ward, given that he was who we sent to Minnesota for Lohse last July):

Phil Dumatrait
Class A - 21 yrs - 8.1 k/9, 3.5 bb/9, 0.4 hr/9
Class A+ - 22 yrs - 6.3 k/9, 5.0 bb/9, 0.4 hr/9
Class AA - 24 yrs - 7.9 k/9, 4.1 bb/9, 0.3 hr/9

Bobby Livingston
Class A- - 19 yrs - 8.5 k/9, 1.6 bb/9, 0.2 hr/9
Class A - 20 yrs - 5.3 k/9, 1.4 bb/9, 0.5 hr/9
Class AA - 22 yrs - 6.0 k/9, 2.0 bb/9, 0.5 hr/9

Zach Ward
Class A- - 22 yrs - 7.4 k/9, 3.0 bb/9, 0.2 hr/9
Class A+ - 23 yrs - 7.5 k/9, 2.1 bb/9, 0.3 hr/9

Based on these numbers, Maloney looks a fair bit better than Dumatrait (better k-rates and bb-rates). And he's a much different pitcher than Livingston, though their overall performance levels have been somewhat similar. Maloney has had much higher strikeout rates, but also much higher walk rates. In general, I prefer prospects that have higher strikeout rates, as that indicates better overall stuff. You just hope that they can learn better command.

Maloney also compares favorably to Zach Ward, who I was disappointed to see the Reds lose last season in exchange for Lohse. While Ward has the edge on walk rates and home run rates (though Ward has very good GB%'s, indicating those HR-rates may remain as he moves up), Maloney has had a consistent advantage in strikeouts--and has done it at a younger age each step along the way.

So Maloney isn't a nobody. Based on the numbers, he's a better prospect than Livingston or Dumatrait ever were, and has to be considered to have a leg up on the same-aged Ward at this point as wel,l given that Maloney is a level above him. That might not be saying much, but the point is that he's definitely worth more than a bag of balls, and might be a good back of the rotation starter for the Reds in a few years. Overall, what we have is a deal in which a rental pitcher who is probably worth a win over replacement over the last two months was exchanged for a guy who has a legit shot as a back of the rotation starter in two years. It sounds like a pretty fair exchange.

Still, I can't help feeling a bit disappointed with this return for Lohse. With someone like Linebrink bringing Will Inman and two other pitchers just last week, I thought we might be able to get a little more for him. But it's hard to know for sure what the market for Lohse was, especially with his reputation for inconsistency and being a head-case. And I probably have tended to overvalue Lohse in his time with the Reds, and I think Linebrink was probably overvalued by the Brewers in that deal. So in the end, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a pretty fair exchange--a decent return for Lohse, even though it's probably not a great return. Hopefully it'll pan out for both parties.