Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Relief Candidates

First of all, buy the book, the majority of our thoughts are accumulated into that periodical that will undoubtedly bring you great pleasure as the COUNTDOWN TO THE TRADE DEADLINE clock winds down to zero. 
Third, let's breakdown some of these potential trade "targets": 
Mike Wuertz | RHRP | Oakland A's 
Drafted by the Cubs in the 11th round in 1997, Wuertz ascended the Chicago ladder like most premium relievers: as a starter in the minors.  Armed with a youthful trio of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano in the rotation in 2003, the Cubs moved Wuertz to the Iowa bullpen.  Wuertz flourished in his new role and soon found himself in Wrigleyville assuming filler work in the early part of 2004 but earned a taste of high leverage situations in September for a playoff contending team.
Wuertz would work 262 inning in a Cubs uniform, striking out 270 and walking 128 (2.10 K/BB ratio).  In February 2009, the Cubs flipped Wuertz to Oakland for two pedestrian AA prospects after agreeing to a one-year, $1.1 million contract with Chicago on January 20th.  What the Cubs saw was a strikeout rate that declined from 9.83 K/9 in 2007 to 6.04 K/9 in 2008 as opponents' line drive rate swelled from 15.2 percent to 25 percent. 
The 30-year-old Austin, MN native had also changed his repertoire as well in his final years with the Cubs.  Equipped with a good slider, Wuertz began favoring the pitch more and then wound up throwing in over 60 percent of the time in 2008.  This year, he's thrown it 62.8 percent of the time and has seen his out-of-zone swing percentage jump to 38 percent (well above the league average of 25) and his strikeout rate rebound to 11.79 K/9 and a career-best 4.77 K/BB.  Wuertz's low walk rate appears to be a product of him being able to get empty swings as his contact rate went fro 72 percent in 2008 to a lowly 56 in 2009.
To race to acquire Wuertz is crowded, as there are more drooly suitors here than in the Bachelorette, which probably makes Billy Beane aroused.   FoxSports reported that because Wuertz is under club control for 2011 and has been one of the best set-up men in 2009, the A's will be looking for a kingly sum for the righty.  The upside is that he would remain with the Twins for the 2011 season and would make an excellent insurance policy if Neshek is unable to fully rebound from Tommy John surgery.  The downside is that hitters are bound to adjust - he's not consistently hitting the strike zone so eventually opposing batters will make him throw a strike - so the K/9 and strikeouts-to-walk ratio, while attractive now, are probably in line to correct. 
Sean White | RHRP | Seattle Mariners

White's career took a roundabout path to get to the Majors.  After being drafted by the Orioles in 1999, the Expos in 2002 White finally signed with the Braves after being selected in the 8th round in 2003.  The righty meandered through the Braves organization, alternative between a starter and reliever, never emerging as a legitimate pitching prospect and began to grow old on the vine.  In 2006, the Pirates selected him in the Rule 5 and he was purchased from Pittsburgh by Seattle the same day to bring him back to his native state. 

The Mariners were infatuated with his big frame (6'3"), velocity (93) and newly found changeup but after a sampling of 15 unimpressive games in 2007, White was option back to AAA following spring training in 2008.  Looking for inexpensive bullpen help under new management, the Mariners took the 28-year-old White to Seattle in 2009.  He posted a 1.75 ERA in his first two months of the season, a number not entirely reflective of his iffy 11/12 K/BB ratio and beginning in June, his luck began to catch up with him as he posted a 4.64 ERA and a 10/8 K/BB over the course of 21.1 innings. 
Because this will be just his second year of MLB service, the Twins would have White under control for another year under indentured servitude before arbitration starts.  The question is, would the Twins really want him?   La Velle reported that the Twins have interest in him, noting that his biggest trait is his groundball tendency. As it stands, they have the exact same guy in Bobby Keppel.  If the Twins were serious they would be inquiring about bullpen-mate in closer David Aardsma rather than White. 

John Grabow | LHRP | Pittsburgh Pirates
A 3rd round draft choice by the Pirates in 1997, the 30-year-old left-hander has notched a pretty consistent career in the Pittsburgh bullpen.  In his first five seasons at the major league level, Grabow never really produced any eye-popping numbers, sitting at an ERA+ of 94 while working in 271 games and averaging a very good K/9 of 8.4 with a moderate 3.4 BB/9. 
In those seasons, Grabow worked 0.88 innings per appearances partially because he was reserved for innings to retire same-sided batters. It's hard for left-handers to breakaway from the preconceived notions that they should be relegated to retiring the same-sided batters but Grabow's platoon splits shows that he handles lefties and righties equally well (career OPS .723 vs LHB, .748 vs RHB). Following the 2007 season, the kiddie gloves were removed and Grabow was given the opportunity to face both handed hitters after he became the Pirates dedicated "8th Inning Guy" in 2008. 
There are two things that you will notice about Grabow's pitch repertoire is that he began throwing his changeup more often starting in 2007.  This increase is correlated with the rising number of right-handed bats faced.  Even with his higher leverage situations and unfavorable platoon match-ups, Grabow made his ERA dip (ERA+ 132) while his peripherals went a little south.  His strikeout rate dropped to 7.5 K/9 while his walks rose to 4.8 BB/9 as did his fastball's velocity. 
Grabow is owed $2.2 million on his one-year deal which was signed to avoid his final year of arbitration.  Unless the Twins decide to extend him, Grabow will wind up a free agent at the conclusion of the 2009 season.  Preliminary Elias Rankings suggest Grabow could be labeled a Type A free agent giving the Twins an additional draft pick if signed by another team, given the fact the Pirates are in constant rebuilding mode, they would probably request compensation for losing that pick as well.
Jason Frasor | RHRP | Toronto Blue Jays
Drafted originally by the Detroit Tigers, Frasor was involved in two trades before he ever got above AA ball.  After striking out 50 in 36.2 innings and a 2.95 ERA while with the Dodgers' AA affiliate in Jacksonville, the Blue Jays traded Jayson Werth for the right-handed reliever.  Toronto summoned the 26-year-old to close out 17 games that season and then used him liberally in the bullpen for the next few seasons. From 2004 to 2008, Frasor went 12-20 with a 4.03 ERA in 297.1 innings, notching 268 strikeouts and walking 136.
You could consider Frasor the type of pitcher that evolves.  After right-handed batters slugged .410 off of him in 2006, Frasor developed a slider and saw his RHB slugging against drop to .300 the follow season.  When lefties tagged him for a .422 slugging percentage in 2008, he worked on a split-finger which has decreased that to .348 in 2009.  This combination of hard fastballs, sliders and splitters has been death-from-above to right-handed batters thus far in 2009.  In 70 match-ups, Frasor has held RHB to a .194 batting average and has allowed just one extra base hit. 
Frasor has transformed into an extreme flyball-oriented pitcher, getting elevated on 48 percent of balls put in play, yet the right-hander has remained unscathed as just one of those aerial assults have wandered over the fence.  As we've seen with Scott Baker, flyball tendencies can sneak over the fence in bunches so there is a strong chance that his HR/FB rate inflates in the second-half. 
Due $1.45 million and is in his final arbitration year, Frasor has the probability of being labeled a Type B free agent depending on the remainder of the season.