Grading out the Starting Pitching Market

It is no secret that the Houston Astros need starting pitching. That being said, finding teams willing to trade that pitching and then meeting the Astros needs to not only compete this year but into the future can be a bit tricky. So, we will go through the list of teams that might be sellers and identify candidates the Astros might be interested in.

 

Atlanta Braves—Julio Teheran

 

Age: 26.164

Contract: 2019 (team option 2020)

Key Stats: 7-6, 4.79 ERA, 103.1 INN, 1.384 WHIP, 75 SO

FIP: 5.49

xFIP: 5.25

DRA: 5.44

GB%: 40%

BABIP: .269

 

This doesn’t look good from any conceivable angle statistically as he is putting up mediocre numbers and outperforming the peripherals. That’s an ugly combination. Teheran has two things going for him though. First, he is young enough to grow as a pitcher if he goes to the right pitching coach. Secondly, he is under club control for another two seasons (20 million combined) at a fairly, affordable rate. The upshot is that he will give you innings now (on pace for around 180) and could possibly be a playoff starter in the interim.

 

Chicago White Sox—Jose Quintana

 

Age: 28.167

Contract: 2018 (team options for 2019 and 2020)

Key Stats: 4-8, 4.49 ERA, 104.1 INN, 1.323 WHIP, 109 SO

FIP: 4.01

xFIP: 4.13

DRA: 3.96

GB% 45%

BABIP: .301

 

Quintana is in a unique situation. He is pitching for a team that is definitely not trying to win now. In fact, they may sell more pieces than any team at the deadline. It is impossible to know how that affectes someone psychologically. He could feel added pressure knowing he is auditioning for a half dozen teams every night. He could be a little off his game because these games just don’t matter in the standings. Either way, other teams like the Astros will be betting that his focus will improve when he becomes a part of a pennant chase. The numbers all indicate he will get better when he has a better team behind him.

Detroit Tigers—Justin Verlander

 

Age: 34.140

Contract: 2019 (2020 vesting option)

Key Stats: 5-6, 4.73 ERA, 104.2 INN, 1.519 WHIP, 98 SO

FIP: 4.28

xFIP: 5.03

DRA: 4.04

GB%: 35%

BABIP: .316

 

Handicapping a Verlander move is rough. There are too many factors to consider. The first is the financial end of it. Since he is at a different stage in his career, he has already been paid for great performance. So, do the Tigers eat part of the contract or not? He is also at the age where we are not sure how much he has left in the tank. He could end up like the last two pitchers where a change of scenery produces a return to brilliance. He could also be in the beginning stages of decline. The numbers are also a mixed bag. His strikeouts are down and walks are up. That’s bad. Yet the FIP and DRA (popular ERA estimators) are both considerably better than what he is currently doing.

 

Oakland Athletics—Sonny Gray

 

Age: 27.245

Contract: 2019 (arbitration)

Key Stats: 4-4, 4.00 ERA, 78.2 INN, 1.208 WHIP, 74 SO

FIP: 3.58

xFIP: 3.41

DRA: 3.10

GB%: 57%

BABIP: .287

 

When you consider all of the relevant factors, he is probably the best choice for the Astros. His numbers indicate he is pitching better than what he is performing, he is still pretty young, and under club control for a couple more seasons. The best factor though is the groundball rate. Jeff Luhnow loves groundball pitchers and Gray is the best of the bunch. When you consider the advanced shifts the Astros love to employ and the better fielders they have over Oakland, it is easy to see Gray being really good if he puts on an Astros uniform.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates—Gerrit Cole

 

Age: 26.305

Contract: 2019 (arbitration)

Key Stats: 7-7, 4.43 ERA, 107.2 INN, 1.300 WHIP, 94 SO

FIP: 4.48

xFIP: 3.94

DRA: 3.81

GB%: 48%

BABIP: .298

 

Welcome to the high stakes game of chicken. The Pirates are in no hurry to deal Cole because they believe they can be competitive in 2018. They have him through 2019, so they can be patient. That means you have to treat him like an ace in terms of the package you give up. Does he warrant that kind of package? Well, that depends on whether you think he will pitch better for your team or if he is the guy you see here. The ERA estimators all say he is a little better than what he is doing, but even if he produces those numbers he might not quite be the ace you are looking for.

 

San Francisco Giants—Johnny Cueto

 

Age: 31.145

Contract: 2021 (Player Opt Out)

Key Stats: 6-7, 4.51 ERA, 111.2 INN, 1.370 WHIP, 98 SO

FIP: 4.73

xFIP: 4.41

DRA: 5.22

GB%: 42%

BABIP: .295

 

We can sense a general theme here as Cueto represents a group of pitchers with better pedigrees than the numbers indicate. Do we believe the pedigree or the numbers. What makes it harder is that he can opt out of his deal following the season. So, you either get a guy for up to five seasons or you get a rental. There is always the chance that he Is pitching down to the level of his team for one reason or another. There is also the chance that he could be one of those pitchers that peaked early and is now on the downward spiral. He is definitely the ultimate risk/reward candidate.

 

Tampa Bay Rays—Chris Archer

 

Age: 28.287

Contract: 2019 (club options for 2020 and 2021)

Key Stats: 7-5, 3.95 ERA, 123 INN, 1.252 WHIP, 147 SO

FIP: 3.16

xFIP: 3.44

DRA: 2.53

GB%: 43%

BABIP: .329

 

Why did I go with Sonny Gray as the perfect candidate? Obviously when you look at Archer’s performance, contract, and age he would be ideal. The Rays also know that and won’t give him up without a king’s ransom. Everything in his performance points to him being a lot better when he leaves Tampa. So, from both ends you get the question of how much a staff ace is worth? He’s very affordable through 2021, so there is really no pressing need for the Rays to deal him. They simply can wait until someone forces the issue. So, three top prospects? Four? It’s really hard to say at this point.

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