Rangers Land Potential Relief Ace

An afternoon trade went down between the Rangers and the Braves. One very much legitimate way of thinking about it: Lucas Harrell isn’t very good, but the back of the Rangers’ rotation lately has been terrible, and this just goes to show how the market for any half-decent starting pitcher right now is inflated. While Travis Demeritte isn’t a top-10 prospect or anything, he is a former first-rounder having a breakthrough season in High-A. Not a lot of available 21-year-olds with that sort of power. Good get for the Braves, considering they just added Harrell for practically nothing a couple months ago.

Another very much legitimate way of thinking about it: The Rangers didn’t want to pay the high price for an established relief arm, so they found an alternative route, landing in Dario Alvarez a potential front-line lefty bullpen weapon. Harrell gets attention as the starter with experience, and Demeritte gets attention as the prospect stepping forward, but Alvarez might be a hell of a pitcher, considering you might not have ever heard of him.

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Luck Has Not Been Jason Heyward’s Problem

The worst hitter on the Cubs has also been their most expensive. For Jason Heyward, there are two silver linings. One, he’s impossibly rich, and he can provide for himself and his family without ever feeling a great deal of concern. He’s living and shall live a privileged existence. Two, the Cubs are so good Heyward hasn’t yet been the focus. People have noticed his numbers, sure, and everyone would prefer him to be more successful, but there isn’t that angst. Heyward has mostly avoided the spotlight, which is something, given the contract he signed.

That was a controversial contract, you’ll remember. One totally justified by WAR, but one that needed for WAR to be accurate, defensive metrics and all. The attack on Heyward was that he wasn’t a good enough hitter, and only excellent hitters should get that kind of money. I can say this: Even the Heyward skeptics wouldn’t have expected him to be this bad. He’s hit like an infield backup. Last year’s wRC+ was 121.

What’s the matter with the Cubs’ Gold Glove outfielder? If you listen to them tell it, a big component has been straight-up bad luck. It can happen — the public always underestimates the importance of luck. I don’t think Jason Heyward has gotten much of any good luck. But there has been a bigger issue.

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Projecting Royals Call-Up Raul Mondesi

Raul Mondesi’s calling card has always been his shortstop defense, while his hitting — or lack thereof — left something to be desired. He hit .243/.279/.372 in his age-19 season at Double-A last year, and was similarly underwhelming in the lower levels of the minor leagues. In fairness to Mondesi, he was always exceptionally young for his level. But still: sub-.300 OBPs are never good.

Despite his paltry batting lines, scouts always maintained that Mondesi’s tools suggested some offensive upside. Here in 2016, he’s finally begun to tap into that upside. He slashed an encouraging .259/.331/.448 in Double-A around a 50-game PED suspension, and followed it up with a .304/.328/.536 mark in two weeks at Triple-A. Read the rest of this entry »


The Post That Ryan Schimpf Made Necessary

Twenty-eight year old rookies on non-contending teams tend not to generate a great deal of attention. Maybe free agents from Japan who are technically rookies might get some publicity, but guys like Ryan Schimpf? Not so much.

Nevertheless, the San Diego Padres second baseman has had a debut worth noticing. Schimpf has recorded just 115 plate appearances as a major leaguer, but has already produced nine homers and .371 isolated-slugging mark — or, about 40 points higher than David Ortiz‘s league-leading number right now. Will it continue? Of course not. But it could be an interesting exercise to figure out exactly how Schimpf got here.

In 2009, Schimpf was on a Louisiana State University team that won the College World Series. That team included future major leaguers Louis Coleman and DJ LeMahieu — as well as first-round picks Mikie Mahtook, Jared Mitchell, and Anthony Ranaudo. Schimpf was taken in the fifth round by the Blue Jays in 2009 and given a low-six-figure bonus. He hit pretty well in the New York-Penn league.

At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Schimpf, a 5-foot-9 second baseman with some power, drew a Dustin Pedroia comp from Baseball America, who ranked him as the Blue Jays’ 16th-best prospect in the organization:

He has a short stroke and surprising power for a guy his size. He projects to hit lots of doubles, and the Jays think he could produce 15 or more homers per season. He should also steal 15 or more bases annually with his tick above-average speed. Schimpf is reliable if not spectacular at second base. He has a fringy arm and needs to get a better feel for the position, starting with turning double plays. He could open his first full pro season in high Class A.

That was the last time Schimpf ever appeared in Baseball America’s organizational rankings. He started the next season in Low-A and didn’t really distinguish himself, recording a .240/.332/.418 line over 395 plate appearances. He walked a lot (10% BB rate), but also struck out a lot (24% K rate), and when he did receive a promotion to High-A that August, he struck out in 27 of 74 plate appearances. This left him off the radar as a 23-year-old in High-A and, radar-wise, that’s basically where he has been the last half-decade.

To recap his seasons briefly:

2011
Started the season on the disabled list and, in 228 plate appearances at High-A, hit a lot of homers (10), walked a lot (10%), and struck out a lot (23%).

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Scouting Newly Acquired Padres Prospect Hansel Rodriguez

San Diego’s sole return for Melvin Upton Jr. is 19-year old Dominican righty, Hansel Rodriguez. This trade’s roots run back to 2013, when the Blue Jays selected LHP Brian Moran in the 2013 Rule 5 draft and immediately flipped him to the Angels for $240,000 worth of international pool money, which was added to the yet-to-be-spent $127,000 they had remaining from that year’s original pool amount. Early in 2014, Toronto signed Rodriguez for $330,000. Moran is currently pitching in Indy ball.

Rodriguez spent the early portion of 2016 in extended spring training before moving on to Toronto’s Appalachian League affiliate in Bluefield, where he had thrown 32.1 innings over six starts. He allowed 25 hits and 11 walks while striking out 26 hitters during that span, sporting a 3.06 ERA.

The strikeout totals aren’t mind-blowing because Rodriguez’s stuff simply isn’t very good yet. Instead, this is San Diego betting on a body and delivery. Rodriguez has a solid pitcher’s frame at 6-foot-2 and a listed 170 pounds. He’ll likely fill out a bit more — at least enough to counterbalance the increased workload he’ll undertake as his pro career moves forward. He has a loose, quick arm and incorporates his hips into his delivery, though he can fly open a little too hard at times and loose some command. It’s possible we see Rodriguez makes some changes to become more direct to the plate and create better extension, but his arm speed is impressive.

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The J.A. Happ from Last Season’s Second Half Has Returned

Although I’m a hardened cynic at heart thanks to my upbringing in the world of Philadelphia sports, even I can freely admit it’s always more fun to talk about a player who is doing well than one who is struggling. It’s even more fun to talk about a player who’s doing well and made a noticeable change prior to a stretch of success. Today, the player that fits that bill is Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ.

When Happ signed his three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays this past winter, it raised a few eyebrows. You’d think we’d understand now that any player who can provide even moderate utility on a major-league roster is able to pull in spectacular amounts of money on the free-agent market. That said, the prospect of a 33-year-old pitcher who has rarely been more than a #4 during his career signing a multi-year deal of this magnitude still might require some getting used to. Any reflexive shock at all those zeros next to Happ’s name wore off pretty quickly, though. He was coming off a phenomenal second half with Pittsburgh and was exactly the sort of rotation stabilizer the Blue Jays needed.

Through the first three months of the season, Happ prevented runs at a reasonably efficient rate (3.70 ERA, 86 ERA-) but his peripherals depicted him as a more middling pitcher. His 16.9 strikeout and 7.6 walk rate — combined with a .270 BABIP — resulted in a slightly below league average 4.47 FIP (104 FIP-). It was difficult to find much optimism that Happ would be able to build upon his superficial success. But then something changed when the calendar flipped to July. Before we get to what’s different, let’s take a look at his numbers over his four starts this month:

J.A. Happ July 2016
Starts IP ERA K% BB% WHIP BABIP FIP
4 24.1 1.48 32.6% 6.3% 0.95 .286 1.99

That’ll do. It’s worth noting that these four starts weren’t against woefully inept offenses. His opponents were Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, and Seattle. Oakland is clearly the weakest of those four and, for whatever it’s worth, he didn’t pad his numbers when he faced them. In fact, his outing against Oakland was his worst over this stretch by far.

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Players’ View: What It’s Like to Get Traded

Trade-deadline hysteria can lead to a dehumanization of players. In our effort to feverishly re-imagine our favorite team’s roster, all of us can be guilty of rooting to exchange this piece for that piece without considering all of the havoc that a trade can create for the people concerned.

I don’t mean to be a wet blanket. It’s fun to dream on that big acquisition that will put our teams over the top, and let’s please continue to do so.

But! We can also appreciate how difficult it must be to weather the constant speculation about your status, and then, if the trade is consummated, to then figure out how to move your life to another city — quickly.

So David Laurila and I set out to ask players about the experience. How did they find out? What were the conversations with the family like? What was the emotional roller coaster like? Thanks to the players that opened up, we can get a better sense of the human side of the trade deadline.

*****

Jeff Samardzija, Giants starting pitcher: “The first time, I watched all the rumors, and it ended up being Oakland, which wasn’t even on the radar, anywhere. The second time around I just ignored it all, and then I almost went to the White Sox and it fell through, and then a few days later it actually happened. Following for entertainment purposes is kinda fun.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 7/27/16

12:03
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. We’re a few days away from the trade deadline, so I imagine most of the questions will revolve around whether we’ll see any interesting deals in the next few days.
12:03
Guest: Do the giants still make a bullpen move in your view in light of rising prices for relievers?
12:04
Dave Cameron: Yep. I don’t know that they’ll land a closer, necessarily, but I think they’ll get someone. Maybe Will Smith?
12:04
EC: So do Nats need a RP? Good case that Shawn Kelly should be better used, and maybe Reynaldo moved to the pen for the rest of the year. Outside of that, worth raiding the farm?
12:05
Dave Cameron: I think trusting Baker to use Kelley/Lopez correctly is probably too much to ask. So if they can get another good arm at a reasonable price, it’s worth doing. I can see why they didn’t think the price for Chapman was reasonable, though.
12:05
CamdenWarehouse: Javy Baez is outhitting Montero, Russell and Heyward, but usually is hitting behind them when he plays. Any idea on Maddon’s thought process there?

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Washington at Cleveland | 12:10 ET
Strasburg (120.2 IP, 74 xFIP-) vs. Carrasco (85.2 IP, 84 xFIP-)
As noted by August Fagerstrom less than a half-hour ago, Washington has lost each of its last two games by way of a Jonathan Papelbon blown save. Over his last two appearances, the Nationals’ closer has recorded just 0.2 innings while also facing 12 batters, producing merely a single strikeout during that interval. He’s also compiled a -1.34 win probability added (WPA) — which, when on considers that a club needs only to compile a 0.5 WPA to win a game, suggests that Papelbon has lost nearly three games by himself in just two appearances. Paradox? Yes. But also: no. Which, this is another fitting illustration of how truth or whatever doesn’t exist.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Washington Radio.

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The Most Simple Fix for the Nationals Bullpen

Jonathan Papelbon walked off the mound in Cleveland on Tuesday night with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and no outs. That’s not what you want from your closer. Papelbon put the game in jeopardy by walking Jose Ramirez and giving up a double to Tyler Naquin to begin the inning, which led to a comedy of errors that tied the score and forced a pitching change. Papelbon then watched from the bench as Francisco Lindor beat a ground ball through the right side of the infield against Oliver Perez, completing the second ninth-inning meltdown by the Nationals bullpen in as many games, each initiated by Papelbon.

On the heels of a fruitless pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and amidst continued trade rumors targeting a high-profile relief pitcher, Jon Heyman tweeted the following after Tuesday night’s blowup:

And, yeah. Papelbon probably isn’t the greatest high-leverage relief option for a contending team. Among the 32 relievers who’ve recorded at least 10 save opportunities this season, Papelbon’s ERA- ranks 28th, and while that figure did look fine just a few days ago, we can’t pretend that these last two games didn’t happen, and we can’t pretend like the red flags don’t exist either. Papelbon’s lost another half-tick off his velocity from last year, and is now down to averaging under 91 mph on his fastball. The walk rate is higher than it’s been in five years. He’s posting the worst K-BB% of his career and his lowest ground-ball rate since his early days in Boston. More and more of Papelbon’s age is showing, and he now projects as something like the fifth-best reliever on his own team moving forward.

Papelbon projects as something like Washington’s fifth-best reliever, and he’s pitched as something like Washington’s fifth-best reliever, and yet he’s also pitched Washington’s most important innings. Hence, the Nationals looking for outside help regarding their closer role. But, do they really need to go outside the organization? Don’t they already have an elite closer, worthy of trusting in high-leverage innings down the stretch and into the postseason? Don’t they already have Shawn Kelley?

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Michael Fulmer on Turning a Corner with the Change

I was at Progressive Field when Michael Fulmer made the second start of his big-league career on May 5. He wasn’t very good. The Detroit Tigers right-hander gave up a four spot in the first inning and ultimately left having allowed 10 hits and five runs in five innings.

The game in Cleveland exemplified his early outings. In his first four starts, the 23-year-old rookie surrendered 14 earned runs over 19.1 innings. Then he discovered a changeup. Or, perhaps it could be said, the changeup found him.

To say Fulmer has since found success would be an understatement. Over his last 11 starts, the former Mets prospect — Detroit acquired him at last year’s trade-deadline for Yoenis Cespedes — has allowed a grand total of 11 runs over 70 innings. On the season, he has a record of 9-2 to go with a 2.41 ERA.

Fulmer talked about his ascent — including the changeup that seemingly fell from the sky — prior to last night’s game. The pitch will be on display this afternoon when he takes the mound at Fenway Park.

———

Fulmer on his development: “There’s hesitation when you first start out. When you’re 18 years old and going into pro ball, you don’t know what to expect. You see big-league guys playing on TV and you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s going to be so cool. Then you get to the Gulf Coast League and you’re playing at noon. It’s hot and it rains every day. That’s not what I was expecting. I’ve had to learn how it all worked, step by step, at every level along the way.

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The Catcher Who Suddenly Stopped Catching

I’m going to let you in on a little writer secret. We don’t just write exclusively for traffic, but without traffic, there’s no FanGraphs. So we do want more clicks instead of fewer clicks, and when you’re composing a post about Chris Iannetta, it can be beneficial to disguise the subject. You might not be interested in reading about Iannetta, if you knew that’s what you’d be doing. But now you’re in, see. And you’re probably going to see this whole thing through, because the brain doesn’t want to acknowledge being teased. Now that I think about it, this isn’t a writer secret at all. This is just the Internet. Well anyway, there is something crazy here, so let’s get to that.

Jerry Dipoto didn’t set expectations too high for the Mariners, saying the goal was to build a team that could win 85 games or so. As part of that construction, Dipoto targeted bounceback candidates, and one of them was Chris Iannetta, who was coming off a down year at the plate. At the very least, Iannetta would improve upon the Mariners’ miserable catching baseline from 2015. But there was something even more promising in there: In 2015, Iannetta learned how to frame. He became one of the better catchers with regard to stealing or keeping strikes, and the story all made sense. It was easy to buy into Iannetta as a solid receiver. That, in turn, made it easy to buy into him as a solid regular catcher.

You know what they say about buying into things. Don’t ever bother buying anything. Iannetta’s bat hasn’t bounced back. But, far weirder, the receiving has completely deteriorated.

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FanGraphs Audio: The Insubordinate Dave Cameron

Episode 671
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio, he discusses Chris Sale‘s recent experiments with civil disobedience, the perpetually fraught topic of Aroldis Chapman, and rational markets for irrational goods.

This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 50 min play time.)

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Play

FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 7/26/16

9:01
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:01
Paul Swydan: I think you’re stuck with just me tonight. Jeff is out with his better half.
9:01
BK: Given that the cost of Upton was 1.5 years/$5M and a ~30th ranked prospect, why wouldn’t more teams be in on that?
9:02
Paul Swydan: Maybe they were but the Padres just like the Blue Jays prospect better.
9:02
Paul Swydan: I mean, we definitely heard that Cleveland was in on Upton. Baltimore too.
9:02
Orioles Fan: It’s not dark yet…are you in Europe?

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Scouting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

When he was selected 15th overall in the 2013 draft, Braden Shipley became the highest-drafted athlete in the University of Nevada’s history, purloining that mantle from former NBA guard Kirk Snyder (RIP). Shipley spent his freshman season at Nevada playing all but two of his games at shortstop, hitting .344 in conference play and successfully completing 80% of his stolen-base attempts. He took to the mound as a sophomore, partly just because Nevada needed extra arms, and he was terrific, leading the WAC in ERA. That summer, as a rising junior, Shipley pitched in relief in the Alaskan Summer League, was touching 97, and struck out 22 hitters in just 13 innings. He was up to 99 as a junior, impressing scouts with his athleticism, arm acceleration and the changeup projection those two attributes allow.

As is the case with many conversion arms, Shipley’s athleticism has played a huge role in his minor-league development and has allowed him to make adjustments. Most notably, Shipley’s reined in his fastball. Gone is the occasional upper-90s heat in deference to a sinking fastball in the 89-92 range that touches 94. The pitch will flatten out at times, usually when Shipley — who’s only 6-foot-1 — tries to work up in the zone with it, but dialing things back has allowed Shipley to cut his walk rate in half this season. The pitch is most effective when Shipley is locating it to his glove side, allowing the pitch to run back onto the corner.

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Projecting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

The Diamondbacks called upon top pitching prospect Braden Shipley to make yesterday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers. Though it marked his big-league debut, the 24-year-old has been on the prospect scene for a while now. The Diamondbacks originally drafted him 15th overall out of college back in 2013, and he’s been a fixture on top-100 lists ever since. Last month, Baseball America ranked him 63rd on their midseason list.

Despite his prospect pedigree, Shipley’s minor-league numbers have never quite lived up to his raw stuff. He spent the entirety of the 2015 season at the Double-A level, where he pitched to a 3.50 ERA — though peripherals suggest he wasn’t quite that good. The D-backs bumped him up to Triple-A this year, where he was equally underwhelming.

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Melvin Upton Jr. Heads to Toronto, Continuing Preller Purge

It could be argued that, when Atlanta sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to San Diego last April, it was neither Matt Wisler nor Jordan Paroubeck nor the draft choice they received from the Padres which represented the greatest benefit of the deal for the Braves, but rather the relief from Upton Jr.’s salary. At the time, Atlanta owed more than $45 million to Upton Jr. through the 2017 season. Getting out from under the contract made sense for a club that appeared unlikely to contend anytime soon. Upton Jr., who possessed negative trade value, was nevertheless traded.

Quite a bit has changed in the meantime, it seems. Since arriving in San Diego, Upton Jr.’s on-field performance has improved as the total remaining cost of his contract has decreased. Once a liability, Upton Jr. became a hypothetically tradeable asset — one who was actually traded today, to the Blue Jays, for right-handed prospect Hansel Rodriguez.

There is, of course, some cost to the Padres, who will pay $17 million of the $22 million still owed to Upton Jr. through next season, per Jon Heyman. But that’s not entirely surprising: the trade market currently features a great number of outfielders, something that was true last summer and carried over into the free-agent market last winter. The cost to acquire outfielders simply isn’t very high, and Toronto is benefiting from that glut.

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What If the Rockies Aren’t Sellers?

On Sunday, news broke that the Rockies were ready to call up top prospect David Dahl following his 2016 minor-league stints at both Double-A and Triple-A, both of which were incredibly successful. For a prospect who looked to be thrown off his fast track last year thanks to a spleen injury, the news is joyous for Rockies fans. The high-school standout reaches the majors in his fifth professional season, which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really that far off course.

While plenty of players from his draft class have already found success in the majors — Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager and Marcus Stroman, and Michael Wacha are other 2012 first rounders who have done well — some still haven’t debuted at all. That list includes three players taken ahead of him — Kyle Zimmer, Max Fried and Mark Appel — and Albert Almora, taken four picks ahead of Dahl, was only just recently promoted.

I think Dahl will be a monster, but don’t take my word for it: read what Eric and Chris have to say about him. As cool as Dahl’s promotion is for the Rockies, it wasn’t his actual promotion that was the most interesting tidbit to come out of his news report. The Rockies, 7-3 since the All-Star break at the time of his call-up (and now 7-4 following a loss last night), suddenly are not yet ready to give up on 2016. Per Thomas Harding of MLB.com:

The callup comes with the Rockies challenging themselves to become a contender. They are 47-51, six games back in the National League Wild Card race.

The Rockies wake up this morning in sixth place for a National League wild-card berth, behind the Dodgers, Mets, Marlins, Cardinals and Pirates, whom they trail by 4.5 games. The Rockies are sort of floating in their own tier, as they have a bit of separation between themselves and the next team in the queue (the Phillies at 8.0 games back).

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Valuing Relievers: Correction or Bubble?

Yesterday, the Cubs acquired the final couple of months of Aroldis Chapman‘s contract, adding the flamethrowing lefty to their bullpen for the stretch drive, but paying a high cost to win the bidding; shortstop Gleyber Torres is considered a top #25-#50 prospect in baseball, the kind of asset that is worth something like $40 million right now, and they had to throw in some sweeteners on top of that, including a big league pitcher was was worth +2 WAR just last year. Overall, the package of talent the Yankees received was probably worth around $50 million; that’s a staggering price for a rental.

In fact, I think it’s probably correct to say that the Cubs paid more for two months of Chapman than the Red Sox did for 2.5 years of Drew Pomeranz. And while this deal might prove to be an outlier in terms of deadline prices — the Cubs are somewhat uniquely positioned to overpay for relief help, given the strength of the rest of their roster, and how difficult it would have been for them to upgrade at another position — it also looks like a continuation of rising prices for relief pitchers.

Last winter, the Red Sox gave up a significant prospect package to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, and the Astros put together a five player combination for Ken Giles that the Phillies simply couldn’t turn down. Even the mid-tier relievers benefited, with seemingly every bullpen pitcher with a pulse landing a multi-year contract, and three year deals becoming standard for arms coming off strong seasons. With the game trending more towards shorter outings from starting pitchers and the Royals showing you can win a World Series with lousy starting pitching, teams have begun to alter their calculations on what relievers were worth.

But is this increasing emphasis on specialists an acknowledgment of the growing importance of bullpens, or simply an overreaction to the Royals winning the 2015 World Series on the backs of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Ryan Madson?

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The Recent History of High-Profile Reliever Acquisitions

The Chicago Cubs paid one hell of a price to acquire Aroldis Chapman yesterday. Maybe the highest we’ve ever seen for a reliever; certainly the highest for a half-season rental. What this post won’t do is answer whether the Cubs paid too much, not enough, or just a little for Chapman’s services. What it won’t do is give you any kind of added indication of how Chapman might perform down the stretch; Chapman’s not only his own person, but he’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. To be honest, this isn’t going to answer much of anything, really, but I’m interested in checking on how similar reliever acquisitions have gone recently. Or, more importantly, seeing if we can even answer that question at all.

I used MLBTradeRumors’ Transaction Tracker to span the last few years for reliever trades and free-agent signings by contenders. The names I picked were subjective, but I hope you all can trust me enough to correctly identify the big ones. Once I had my names, I decided to look for… something.

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