Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisHouston AstrosMLB

Astros Finally Add Bullpen Arms as James Click Makes a Pair of Trades

Kendall Graveman gives an emotional first interview as an Astro shortly after being traded mid-series by the Mariners

A House Divided

Sporting yet another historically potent offense (T-17th all time by wRC+), an extremely underrated rotation that ranks in the top 7 of every traditional and advanced metric, the 19th ranked bullpen by FanGraphs was the obvious target for trade deadline acquisitions. The night after surrendering 5ER in 3 1/3 IP to a surging Mariners squad capped off by an 8th inning go-ahead grand slam by Dylan Moore, the Astros completed a rare intradivision trade among possible playoff contenders. The Astros sent UT Abraham Toro and RP Joe Smith to Seattle for RHPs Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero, adding much-needed support to the Astros’ only suspect unit as a team.

Adding what is essentially a second closer in Graveman not only gives Dusty Baker some flexibility in utilizing his All-Star closer Ryan Pressly but also has downstream effects by allowing current 8th inning set-up man Ryne Stanek the option to appear in higher leverage situations earlier in games or to have more off days. Graveman has been elite this year with a 28.2 K% and a .198 wOBA. His underlying metrics may give some pause with an xERA of 3.47 and an xWOBA of .288, but Houston and pitching coach Brent Stromm have a good track record of improving pitchers new to the space city.

Graveman is a sinker/changeup artist that thrives at the bottom of the zone with dissapearing stuff a la Lance McCullers Jr. His slider and 2SFB are noteworthy as well, even earning him some Pitching Ninja acclaim. Looking at where he generates swings and misses, its easy to see why he only throws ~55% of his pitches in the zone

Heat maps of Graveman’s 2021 swings and misses by pitch type

Astros fans should also take comfort in the kind of person that Graveman is, as his departure from the Mariners fomented a small revolt in the Seattle clubhouse as his teammates shed tears over his departure. Creating bullpen flexibility, avoiding the CBT, saving the farm system, and crippling a division rivals clubhouse in one move? Not bad James Click, not bad at all.

Rafael Montero rounds out the second half of this trade and is the underperforming xSTATS yin to Graveman’s over performing yang. His 7.38 ERA caused some fans to balk (pun intended) when the trade was announced, but his 3.73 xERA and average barrel rate shows he has plenty of room for positive regression to the mean. Take into account his 88th %ile average EV allowed (86.7mph) and this is a classic buy low project. Given James Click’s history with trade aficionados Tampa Bay, picking up an arm like Montero is hardly surprising. He already sports the classic Astros’ pitch mix of high 4SFB and low-away slider as his money pitch (.175xBA against). He also throws a sinker and changeup which is consistent with his career 45.2% ground ball rate and platry 18% K rate. He’s a goundball machine much like new teammate Framber Valdez.

A Quick Fishing Trip

Just over 24 hours after raiding the docks of the fisherman in Seattle for 2 bullpen arms, Click took a dip in the ocean by Miami and acquired RHP Yimi García from the Marlins. In return the Marlins received Astuin Pruitt, he of 2.2 IP for the Astros and AAA outfielder Bryan De La Cruz. This was a very sustainable trade for a farm system yielding some bare cabinets after multiple years of deadline buying since 2017, as Pruitt had recently been DFA’d and De La Cruz is blocked by Tucker, McCormick and Straw. Click spoke about García as a player the front office identified early as a cost effective swing and miss pitcher. García is yet another 4SFB/SL combo guy that carries decent K/9 numbers, which is clearly the Astros’ type.

Yimi Garcia’s pitch distribution and results

His stuff is electric with high spin rates and monster velocity across the board, but is well below league average in major categories like barrel rate, xSLG, xERA, and average exit velocity. The Houston front office must have a plan for unleashing the potential of his arsenal and achieving much better results than the Marlins were able to manifest.

He Arrives Precisely When He Means To…

In non-trade news, RHP Pedro Baez has completed 2 rehab starts for AAA Sugar Land and is set to make his first MLB appearance of the 2021 season sometime in early August. Baez signed a 2-year deal with the Astros after completing his first six seasons (2014-2020) with the Dodgers. Baez also features a 4SFB, CH, SL combo, though his best pitch is the change-up with -12 and -4 run value in 2019 and 2020 respectively. A hidden blessing to Baez’ dealyed start to the 2021 season is that he will have had plenty of time to acclimate to a world without sticky stuff, which should prevent any major fluctuations in his stuff.

But What About “Insert Trade I Saw On Twitter

That will be the next article about final trade deadline hypotheticals, due out tomorrow morning. Any major deals for big name bullpen arms are highly unlikely and borderline impractical after adding four new arms already.

Jacob Hubbard

Jake is a lifelong baseball fan and grew up watching the Round Rock Express MiLB games. He played baseball from ages 2-19, but a 20 graded power tool forced him to retire. Now he spends his days yelling at Fangraphs and Baseball Savant. You can find him on Twitter @FeelSurgical