The Billpen Ponders The Moves That Made October

MLB Network (which should be on every American television regardless of cable subscription or time of year) promoted their 2016 Trade Deadline coverage this past summer with the phrase “the moves made in July pay off in October” with video clips of 2015 trades Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Gomez, and Joakim Soria on their new teams en route to playoff success. It’s an incredibly truthful and creative way to portray the deadline, and the two final teams standing are beneficiaries of some of the biggest and loudest moves of the summer, so I wanted to analyze some of the more marquee moves in a little more depth. There were plenty to go around this year, and with a thin free agent market on the horizon, these moves have just a little more weight to them, but I won’t get into contract details because it’s confusing and I’d make a fool of myself. Note: not every move from the trade deadline is included.

The Moves That Broke October

Jay Bruce

Mike Stobe, Getty Images

The market was all about Jay Bruce this summer, despite some glaring holes in his recent performances. His start to 2016 was a huge improvement from ghost of Jay Bruce past; he was on pace to set a career high in slugging and OPS, and his 25 home runs through 97 games with the Reds flirting with the top of the league. The Mets came swooping in, swapping two extremely young prospects (2015 3rd rounder Max Wotell and 21-year old Dilson Herrera) for a slugger whose recent success was (unfortunately) the exception rather than the rule. His defense has never been excellent despite a cannon of an arm (-11 DRS in 2016 between both teams), and there was much concern over how Jay Bruce would perform in a cavernous Citi Field after muscling out of a tiny Great American Ballpark. I’m never one to agree with Brian Kenny, overlord of advanced metrics and leader of the angry mob of killing most pedestrian statistics, but I’m with him here:

The Mets were barely treading water at the time. Their pitchers were dropping like flies to a point where Bartolo Colon was their #1 starter, their offense in high leverage situations went anemic (largely because Cespedes was injured for close to a month), and they were outside of a playoff position. Bruce’s performance with the Mets was not great, despite the Mets getting into the postseason as the first Wild Card: .219/.294/.391/.685 with 8 home runs and 19 RBI in 50 games. For the advanced stats fans: .172 ISO (compared to .295 in 97 games with the Reds), 81 wRC+ (compared to 124), and an uptick in K% (20.6% with Cincinnati to 23% with New York). In the Wild Card game, he went 0-3 with a strikeout. Even though it was against Madison Bumgarner, the one strikeout came with a man on second and no outs in the 5th, a great chance to give the Mets the lead. As hard as I’m being on Jay Bruce, you can’t put the Mets’ early postseason exit all on his shoulders – but that doesn’t make this decision any less head-scratching.

Drew Pomeranz

A change of scenery was not good for Pomeranz. After being selected to his first All-Star Game with the Padres, the Red Sox kicked off trade season by snagging him two weeks before the deadline in return for their top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza (textbook Dombrowski move). In 17 starts with the Padres, Pomeranz had posted a 1.059 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 (both on pace for a career high), but when things went haywire after the trade. In 13 starts for Boston, Pomeranz allowed roughly twice as many home runs in roughly 2/3 the innings (park factor alert!), his FIP jumped by about a run and a half, and his WHIP jumped to 1.369. The Red Sox went 7-8 in games he pitched, and things got worse in the playoffs. The Red Sox drew the eventual AL Champion Indians in the ALDS, and this matchup wasn’t even close. In 2 games in the ALDS, Pomeranz allowed 2 runs in 3.2 innings (and allowed an inherited runner to score on the 2nd pitch he threw in Game 1). In Game 3, though, Pomeranz came on with the Sox down 2-1 in an elimination game. His first inning went smoothly, sending the Indians down 1-2-3 with 2 K’s, but allowed a 2-run dinger the next inning to effectively win the game and the series for the Indians. To give up the franchise’s top pitching prospect for a pitcher who has had one really good half-season seemed was high-risk, high-reward, and the Sox were not rewarded. FanGraphs boss Dave Cameron pretty much called this one right after it happened.

The Moves That Really Didn’t Have That Much Bearing On October, I Guess

Matt Moore

Matt Moore has shown flashes of dominance on the mound, making him an under-the-radar move when the Giants

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

swapped third baseman and fellow ‘Matthew’ Matt Duffy to bolster the starting pitching down the stretch. The Giants scuffled and faltered their way into the postseason, winning on the final day of the season to keep the Cardinals out. At 57-33 entering the All-Star break, the Giants looked like world beaters and the even year crap was bound to continue yet again, but only went 30-42 in the 2nd half. Matt Moore was a nice addition, producing almost the exact same numbers as he did in Tampa in the first half, but if it weren’t for his near no-hitter against the Dodgers in August, I think most casual baseball fans would have forgotten that he was traded. He pitched well enough for the Giants to get them into the postseason, but the rest of the team played only well enough to not get overtaken; they had such a big lead on the rest of the field that they had a big enough cushion to play so poorly down the stretch. Moore was excellent in the playoffs, allowing one run and striking out 10 over 8 innings in Game 4 of the NLDS. Despite his start, the Cubs put up a 4-spot on 5 Giants pitchers in the top of the 9th, eliminating them from the playoffs and ending the even-year dynasty. Other than those two starts, Matt Moore wasn’t electric, but he was solid, and it wasn’t his fault the Giants were watching from home.

Jonathan Lucroy

Let me begin this subsection by saying Lucroy did not veto the trade to the Indians “just because its the Indians”. Between Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes, the Indians are deep at catcher (albeit not with Lucroy-level talent), and a trade for Lucroy made sense at the time because Gomes was on the DL with a separated shoulder. With a 2017 team option, the Indians could have still traded for Lucroy and picked up the option and kept him for cheap the following year, but he wouldn’t be guaranteed playing time nor a big paycheck. By going to Texas, he is their unquestioned #1 starter and is in good position to get paid when he becomes a free agent, whether it is this off-season or next. So when you see someone chide Lucroy for “ruining his chances at a ring”, keep in mind that he’s looking at a salary possibly 4 to 5 times of what it is now. I’d veto that trade, too. Rant over.

The Rangers were my preseason pick to win it all. They were my postseason pick to win it all. And the Jays decimated them in the ALDS. Regardless of who was catching at any point for the Rangers, I think they were good enough to make the playoffs and regardless of who was catching the ALDS for the Rangers, the Jays still light up the Rangers’ pitching staff. Lucroy hit for more power and struck out at a lower rate in Texas, which is encouraging for next October, but for right now, I can’t put Lucroy in any of the other categories because the Rangers got tossed around in the ALDS, and that would have happened no matter who was catching.

The Moves That Definitely Made October Entertaining, Competitive, and Wonderful

You’re probably expecting Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman here, and for good reason. Since coming to Cleveland, Miller has been Francona’s swiss army knife out of the bullpen, being used for saves, single batters, longer stints, or just good old high leverage situations. He was the AL’s 2nd best reliever this year (behind Zach Britton) and was certainly the best in the playoffs (until the World Series): 17 IP, 4 walks, 29 K’s, 1 run, ALCS MVP. No one expected the Indians to make such a splash at the trade deadline, but this one has been worth every penny. Aroldis Chapman was just as valuable to the Cubs, who were lacking a shutdown lefty in the pen (they also got Mike Montgomery, who has been equally difficult to hit out of the pen in the playoffs) and was crucial to the World Series cause.

Brandon Guyer

MLB Stat of the Day

Brandon Guyer was another Indians trade that paid huge dividends. Aside from getting hit by roughly every third pitch he sees, Guyer wasn’t a very remarkable player. Hitting .241/.347/.406 with a low walk rate in the first two thirds of the season with Tampa Bay, Guyer was sent north to Cleveland for a few prospects as an extra outfielder once Michael Brantley was officially ruled out the for the duration of the season. In only 33 games in an Indians uniform, Guyer hit .333 and slugged .469, only striking out 13 times, and was the spark off the bench exactly what the Indians had hoped for in the playoffs. He played sparingly in the DS and CS levels, but appeared in all 7 games of the World Series, getting on base more than half of the time (2 HBP, of course) and lacing a double in the bottom of the 9th against the aforementioned Aroldis Chapman to set up an Indians rally. He’s set to be a free agent in this offseason and will likely find a spot fairly easily, especially after his strong showing with Cleveland.

Mark Melancon

Melancon went relatively unnoticed at the trade deadline, despite his specific deal being one of the more sensible and louder trades of July. An All-Star 3 of the last 4 seasons with Pittsburgh, Melancon was off to another fantastic start in 2016 even though the Pirates were out of playoff contention out of the gate (everyone in the NL Central was). With a 1.51 ERA and .960 WHIP en route to 30 saves in the first half, Melancon was sent to the Nationals in return for two bullpen arms. Like Guyer, Melancon was only a rental for Washington, but they sure got their money’s worth in the 30 games he pitched. After the Mets’ rotation collectively got hurt and relinquished the NL East lead, the Nationals loaded the back end of their bullpen with the NL’s best closer not named Kenley Jansen. In 30 games (only 29.2 innings), Melancon saved 17 ballgames, walking 3 and striking out 27. He was even harder to hit than he was in a Pirates uniform, lowering his WHIP from .960 to .809 (even despite the small sample size). In the postseason, he joined the parade of closers being used in really un-closer-like conditions, pitching in 4 of the 5 games against the Dodgers, and he continued to be unhittable: 4.1 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 walks, 0 runs.

If you are a Cubs fan or just a fan of chaotic and unscripted drama, then you probably loved the World Series. I think one of the reasons that I enjoyed it so much, aside from the high leverage situations, the emotion involved, and the history relentlessly attached to every moment, was that because the two teams involved were undoubtedly the two best teams in Major League Baseball. You hear cliches in baseball circles that teams get hot at the right time or were built to finish the marathon instead of the sprint, etc., etc. But the Indians and Cubs were both the best. They were the pace leaders in the marathon of the regular season but their All-Star Break pit stop and July acquisition tuneups groomed and vetted them perfectly for the sprint of October. Nothing after the regular season would have been the same if it weren’t for a busy trade deadline.

Thanks for reading.

 

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