Takeaways from the Baseball Winter Meetings
The Baseball Winter Meetings are over in Nashville. I’ve been to the last two in Orlando and San Diego and it’s basically a big baseball convention where executives meet and managers have lunch with the media. Deals have been made and the paradigm has experienced a minor shift.
The Arizona Diamondbacks made the biggest trade of the winter meetings by acquiring starting pitcher Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Ender Inciarte, No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson and another prospect. Derek Hall is not messing around anymore. Miller posted a career high 3.02 ERA and 205⅓ innings pitched in his only season in Atlanta.
The Diamondbacks were one of the better hitting teams in the National League but their starters have averaged just over five innings per start and posted a collective 4.37 ERA in 2015. They made major additions to their rotation with the Miller acquisition and the Zack Greinke signing.
Inciarte was a solid offensive outfielder and was the fifth-toughest hitter to strike out in the National League last season. He’s an even better fielder. His 29 defensive runs saved is second in baseball last season while playing all three outfield positions.
Inciarte was a tough loss for the Diamondbacks, but a necessary one. Left fielder David Peralta is better and the trade leaves a spot open for Yasmany Tomas, who the Diamondbacks signed to a six-year, $68.5M contract last offseason.
The Chicago Cubs have upgraded in second base by signing Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal. Zobrist is coming off a World Series championship with the Kansas City Royals and is one of four players (along with Carlos Santana, Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen) to have a .350 on-base percentage in each of the past five seasons.
Meanwhile, Cubs second basemen, mainly Starlin Castro and Tommy LaSella, ranked in the bottom half of the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season.
But Castro will do just fine for his new team, the New York Yankees, The Cubs traded Castro to the Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren. The Yankees used six different players at second base last season and all they got out of it was a collective .223 batting average and minus-12 Defensive Runs Saved, both stats in the bottom fifth in baseball.
Warren can start or relieve for the Cubs and be effective. He finished last season with a 2.29 ERA in 35⅓ innings out of the bullpen and a 3.66 ERA in 17 starts for the Yankees. Warren was also very effective in preventing home runs. In the past two seasons, Warren’s home run rate was 0.6 per 9 innings, which ranks just outside the top 10.
The Houston Astros also made a big boost to their bullpen by trading acquiring Ken Giles, who ranked third among relievers in ERA over the last two seasons at 1.56 and third in strikeouts per 9 innings at 11.8. That’s because he’s sixth in average fastball velocity (96.7 MPH)
Only one Houston reliever ranked fifth in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, closer Luke Gregerson. He only averaged 8.7.
Giles was a setup man with the Philadelphia Phillies last season but should be the closer for the Astros. Gregerson could move into a setup role and be good at it. After all, his 71 holds from 2012 to 2014 ranked fourth in the majors.
The Astros also re-signed former Diamondbacks reliever Tony Sipp to a three-year deal. He was great against both lefties and righties and held right-handed hitters to a .190 batting average in 2015, which is the third-lowest among lefty pitchers.
Bullpen trades was the theme of the winter meetings. The Boston Red Sox traded former Diamondback Wade Miley (who we know is hot garbage) to the Seattle Mariners in a deal that got them Carson Smith, who had the third-lowest hard-hit rate in baseball last season at 7.1 percent. Only Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman (5.8) and Baltimore Orioles reliever Zach Britton (6.7) ranked higher in baseball. Smith also ranked fifth in the majors with a 66 percent ground-ball rate.
The Detroit Tigers completely changed their bullpen by trading for Justin Wilson, signing Mark Lowe and acquiring closer Francisco Rodriguez.Wilson will be the key lefty on a team whose lefty relievers allowed a .357 on-base percentage last season, which was fifth-worst in the majors. But the real big move was Lowe. who averaged 95.4 mph with his fastball, his best average radar reading since 2011 (96.7) and his strikeout rate of 10.0 per nine innings was also a career high.
Hell, even the Dodgers were trying to Chapman with incumbent closer Kenley Jansen, and shut down the final two innings of the game in spectacular fashion by having the two highest strikeout pitchers ever in their bullpen.
Chapman has struck out 15.4 batters per nine innings pitched in his career — the highest strikeout rate in Major League Baseball history (100 innings pitched minimum) — Jansen strikeouts 14.0 batter per nine innings pitched, which is third on the all-time list.
Diamondback fans wouldn’t want that. Last season, the Dodgers bullpen ranked second in MLB in strikeout percentage at 26 percent. Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Chapman led all pitcher with a strikeout rate of 42 percent. The crazy thing is that 2015 was a down season by Chapman’s standards. 42 percent was actually his lowest strikeout rate since 2011.
Watching Chapman strikeout the side in the All-Star Game made the entire trip to Cincinnati worth it. That, and Reds third baseman Todd Fraizer winning the most exciting home run derby in history in front of the hometown fans. The reason why Chapman is so dominant and spectacular is his fastball and how it breaks the radar gun. Of the 573 pitches thrown by pitchers last season that reached 100 miles per hour or more, 337 of them came from the long cannon of Chapman. Opposing batters have managed to hit only .121 against Chapman in at-bats that ended with a fastball that reached 100 miles per hour.
As a testament to how dominant Champman is, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera has 34 strikeouts on pitches that hit triple digits, good for the second highest total in baseball since 2010, Chapman’s debut season. Chapman has the most by 202.
Since 2010, Chapman ranks sixth in saves (146) and ninth in WHIP (1.02). His WHIP is his WHIP but the saves total are impressive considering he played on a team that reached the postseason half the time. Being on the Dodgers, who have reached the postseason in each of the last three seasons, had a bullpen ERA of 3.87 in 2015, which was good for 11th in the National League but the highest among NL postseason qualifiers.
They are still trying to add Chapman and if they do, the Dodgers will be very hard to make a comeback on next year.
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