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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Belated Transactions: Mat Latos swapped for DeSclafani and Wallach

Mat Latos was outstanding for the Reds
Photo Credit: SD Dirk
In my continuing (and intermittent) efforts to catch up the Reds' offseason, here's a discussion of their biggest-profile trade.

The Reds' acquisition of Mat Latos was arguably the biggest move of GM Walt Jocketty's tenure with the Reds.  In exchange for two top-tier prospects, a relief prospect, and a struggling big-league pitcher, the Reds acquired an established, young, big league starter with high upside and many years of control left on his contract.  It was a huge trade, and one that paid immediate dividends for the Reds.  Latos had two excellent seasons for the Reds before last year's injury-limited season, and was a major part of the Reds' 2012 division champion team.

The 2012-2013 Latos is still the guy that I think about when I hear his name.  As a result, it was with a sense of dread when I heard he was traded.  I knew the issue: he had one year left on his contract, and there was little indication that the Reds would be able to re-sign him.  Nevertheless, it seemed like a major blow to the team.  

Here's the thing: Mat Latos might not be the same pitcher that he was in 2012-2013.  As I wrote last year, there was reason to be concerned about his health.  Here is his FanGraphs line:

Lato's strikeout rate took a big hit last year.  So did his ground ball rate.  And Steamer seems to have noticed, projecting him for what would easily be the worst season of his career.  Now, one might be surprised to see a projection system react so strongly to one bad year.  Steamer, however, uses fastball velocity in its projections, and Latos was throwing 2 mph lower last season compared to the previous years of his career.

Steamer is worried, and probably for good reason.  Latos might bounce back, of course, and would be a terrific asset for the Marlins as they try to compete with the uber-rotation Nationals.  He had a number of relatively minor injuries last year that prevented him from having a normal spring training and might have sapped his strength and flexibility in a temporary fashion.  But it could also be that he won't return to form, in which case he is suddenly a back-end starter.

Despite all of that uncertainty, the Reds flipped his last year of control for a pair of players who have some promise.  Let's take a look!

Anthony DeSclafani, 24-year old RHP

DeSclafani (which I am struggling mightily to spell correctly) was a 6th-round selection out of the University of Florida, and Miami acquired him in the Jose Reyes/Mark Buerhle trade prior to the 2013 season.  He has never been a top-tier prospect, but he has steadily advanced through the Marlins' system, and split time between AA, AAA, and MLB last year.  He's shown a decent strikeout rate, (usually) excellent walk rates, and acceptable home run rates throughout his career.  

He only threw 33 innings last year in the majors, but so I'm not at all concerned about the ugly ERA.  I'm actually quite encouraged by the strong walk rate and the effective strikeout rate, though I am arching my eyebrow a bit at his ground ball rate.  The main caveat I have is that a chunk of those innings came in relief, which might inflate those rates.  Still, as a toe-dip in the majors, one can do a lot worse.

We didn't get a write-up on DeSclafini with Kiley McDaniel's prospect work this offseason, but he gave us this quick line in a comment:

That contrasts a bit with the stat line in my view.  His control, based on bb/9, has been superb most of the time, save for his stint in AAA last year.  I'm surprised to see his stuff rated so highly (league-average, maybe a tick above), so that's encouraging.  Here are his Brooks Baseball scattercharts:
We have a clear separation between his four-seam fastball and his sinker, which both sat at the high end of where Kiley had him velocity-wise.  Nothing here was identified as a curve, although it's possible that some of the "sliders" above could be a hard curve ball, while the cutters could be what McDaniel described as a slider.  If the slider is his best breaking pitch, however, that would be surprising, because he threw the "cutter" fewer times than the "slider."  So, we have some inconsistency.  We'll just have to wait and see!

At the minimum, it looks like the Reds acquired a mlb-ready #5 starter.  Hopefully he can be more of a #3 or #4.  Given the risk and short term control inherent in Latos, that strikes me as a pretty nice return.  

But wait, there's more!

Chad Wallach, 23-year old RHB Catcher

Wallach was a 5th-round selection out of California State-Fullerton.  While 5th round is nothing to sneeze at, he hasn't highlighted a lot of top-prospect lists that I've seen. Nevertheless, he had a really nice season last year, largely at the Marlin's low-A affiliate.  I'm particularly excited by the fact that he showed both superb walk rates and superb strikeout rates, walking far more often than he struck out.  That's really good performance.  He didn't show a ton of power, but a catcher with good on-base skills can be mighty valuable if he can field his position well.  As throw-ins go, from a stathead perspective at least, he's a good one.

Summary Opinion

This isn't the clear steal that the Alfredo Simon trade seemed to be.  But given the high risk that Latos presents as he enters the season, I doubt the Reds could have done much better.  Latos suffered a big drop in his apparent stuff last season, and is coming off of injuries to both his throwing arm and his legs.  That, combined with his impending free agency unquestionably hurts his value quite a bit.  With this trade, the Reds cleared up some payroll, replaced Latos in the rotation, and gained years of low-cost control.  If DeSclafani is a serviceable cog at the back of the Reds' rotation for the next few season, the Reds did well in this deal.  

...And that's not even bringing up the argument that they also rid themselves with a problem in the clubhouse in the process (<-fwiw argument="" both="" div="" guessing="" i="" is="" m="" of="" sides="" that="" their="" to="" truth="">

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Reds sign Burke Badenhop

Yesterday, the Reds signed their first "big" free agent of the offseason in right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop.  Badenhop, who turned 32 years old today, has been a member of five different organizations since being drafted in the 19th round by the Tigers in 2005.  The signed a 1-year deal with the Reds for a total of $2.5 million guaranteed, with a mutual option for 2016 that can bring the total value of the deal to $5 million.  That's paying for something shy of 1 WAR spread over two years, even assuming the Reds pick up his option.  Seems like a nice deal to me.


Badenhop seemed to make an adjustment in approach with the Rays in 2012, decreasing both his strikeout and walk rates substantially.  This trend has continued in the years since, with an even larger drop in strikeout rate last season with the Reds Sox.  In addition to his superb control, however, what has made him successful is his excellent ground ball rates, which climbed all the way to 61% last season with the Red Sox.  Low walks and lots of ground balls should work well with the Reds' strong infield defense, so I like the signing a lot.

When I posted as much on twitter (albeit with a typo in Badenhop's name!), RJ Anderson sent me the following tweet:
Cool, right? Since he looks at Brooks Baseball lets do that too!  First, his pitches (2012-2014):
He throws a sinker, change, and slider.  There are a grand total of 7 fourseam fastballs on his record in the past three years, and you can see they do cluster away from his sinkers in spin axis.  Here is his actual pitch usage:

So, we're looking at 75% sinkers, with a small number of sliders and change-ups mixed in.  He seemed to experiment with adding more sliders in 2013, and then seemed to almost abandon it in favor of his change-up last year.  As you'd expect, he throws more change-ups against lefties, and last year almost threw as many change-ups to lefties as his sinker!
Finally, one last thing.  As expected, given the decrease in his walk rates, we're seeing a general increase in his tendency to locate pitches in the strike zone over the past three years compared to the years before:

Summary Opinion 

While it's great when you can have strikeouts, I think ground ball, low walk rate pitchers should be a good match for the Reds' defense and park.  Badenhop looks like a great pitcher to come in against a right-hander with a man on first to induce a double play.  He's immediately in the running for second-best Reds' reliever, and should be a nice setup guy for us this season.  I'd think he's a good bet to be worth ~1 WAR per season in value, which is a lot less than the Reds are paying him.  Even at 32 years old, I like this signing a lot.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Belated Transactions: Reds trade Simon for Much More Than Bag of Balls

Just before I departed France to return to the States, the Reds made two major trades representing (as Scott put it on a recent Red Reporter podcast) 40% of their starting rotation.  Things were too crazy in my life to write about it at the time, but I wanted to comment a little bit on these two moves.  We'll take Simon tonight, and save Latos for another day.

Alfredo Simon was acquired as a last-minute waiver-wire pickup in 2012 just before opening day, forcing Todd Frazier back to the minors for a week or so to make room on the 25-man roster.  While he'd bounced between the rotation and bullpen, with unimpressive results, for the Orioles in prior seasons, the Reds put him squarely into a bullpen role and got surprisingly good results.  Stats:
In this two seasons in the bullpen, Simon was steady and solid.  He didn't put up peripherals that were completely out of character for his history, but it was as if he figured out how to pull together his best strikeout, walk, and ground ball rate numbers together.

In 2014, missing Mat Latos to start the season, the Reds turned to Simon as their #5 starter.  Surprisingly, he put together an extremely good first-half, albeit one that seemed highly unlikely to continue.  Predictably, he started to regress in the second half, and while he still posted solid enough season totals, I saw little reason to think he was likely to be anything like a solid starter in 2015.  Really, just about all of the warning signs are there.  ERA estimators worse than ERA?  Check.  Below-career average BABIP?  Check.  Declining strikeout rate?  Check.  Entering mid-30's?  Check.  Much, much higher inning totals than prior season or ever before?  Check.  Bad second half?  Check.  Awful projections?  Check: Steamer says 4.92 ERA next year.  

I'd hoped the Reds would trade him at the all-star break, and figured that any value he might have built in the first half would have vanished.  On top of all that, there are off-field rape accusations.  While I tried to stay neutral to that while the legal process played out, I honestly got squeamish every time I saw him take the mound last year...and I know I'm not the only one.

And yet, somehow, the Reds managed to trade him to the Detroit Tigers for a pair of players who have both have some legitimate value: Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford.  Wow.

Eugenio Suarez, 23-year old RHB SS

Suarez got just shy of half of the Tigers' starts at shortstop last year, and acquitted himself pretty well in his rookie season.  The wrap on him coming up was that he was a good defender with some range limitation, and a decent bat except that he was prone to striking out.  That matches up well to his numbers: UZR, DRS, and the Fan Scouting Report all rate him around average or a tad below-average at shortstop.  He didn't hit a lot, but walked at a decent enough clip to get on base at about a league-average rate.  Overall, he earned 0.7 WAR, which extrapolates out to around 1.5 WAR in a full season of work.  His Steamer projection isn't quite so rosy for this season, but if nothing else he looks like a solid utility infielder who can handle all of the infield positions.

As soon as he was acquired, questions started rumbling about whether Zack Cozart was on his way out the door.  After all, he's just reaching arbitration for the first time ($2.35 M in 2015), and wOBA'd a pathetic 0.254 last season thanks, at least in part, to his absolute refusal to walk (4.6 BB% for his career) and evaporating power (0.079 ISO last year).  It sounds like the job is still Cozart's, but I don't have a problem with Suarez giving him some competition in spring training.

Jonathon Crawford, 23-year old RHP

Crawford was the Tigers' 2013 first-round draft pick, so last year was his first full season of play.  It wasn't a great campaign, but wasn't a complete disaster either.  Certainly, his strikeout rates and walk rates both leave a bit to be desired (and see Doug's comments here).  Furthermore, from what I've gathered, the scouting community wasn't particularly impressed with him either.  And yet, he nevertheless held his own in full-season High-A ball.  He's reportedly something of a ground-ball specialist, which makes one hope that there's something to his superb 2014 home run rate.  In 2013, he was throwing 93-96 mph, though Doug reported low-90's.  And he has pedigree: recent first-rounder, and ranked as the #4 Tigers prospect entering last season at FanGraphs.  One thing that I've learned time and time again is to never discount the ability of talented players to make major strides forward when given the opportunity.

Honestly, getting either of these guys for Simon would seem like a good deal to me.  Neither is top-shelf talent (though Crawford arguably was recently), but each has some value.  And I'm honestly not sure that Simon will be much better than replacement this year.  That the Reds were able to turn him into these two prospects seems like a major coup to me.  This was easily the Reds' best deal of the offseason.