Jake Odorizzi and the 2014 Value of the Trade

When the Royals and Rays matched up on the big James Shields/Wil Myers (and others) trade in the winter of 2012-13, the judgement from the baseball community was swift and decisive. It wasn’t necessarily that you couldn’t trade a budding star like Myers away under any circumstances; after all, plenty of people liked the Jeff Samardzija / Jason Hammel trade for Oakland even though it cost them Addison Russell. It was that the 2013 Royals, unlike the 2014 A’s, didn’t appear to be close enough to success to make a “win-now” move at that price. It was that the Royals already had a Jeff Francoeur-sized hole in right field and could have made a similar overall improvement by just putting Myers out there instead.

It seemed that Dayton Moore was trading the future for the present, even though the present wasn’t likely to work out, and so far, that’s been the case. The 2013 Royals won 86 games, a huge 14-game improvement over the 72-win 2012 team, but didn’t come close to the playoffs. The 2014 Royals are two games over .500, and our latest playoff odds give them just a 14.7 percent chance of making it to October. Recent reports that they’re looking for a right-handed right fielder have led to some pretty easy snark considering who they gave away. Dave wrote last week that they should trade Shields now, since he’s an impending free agent; I argued that they were the team most likely to mistakenly “go for it” before the deadline.

If the Shields trade was made on the premise that they needed to get to the playoffs for it to be a success, then it certainly looks like it’s going to be a failure, just as most predicted the day it was made. Needless to say, nearly two years later, the trade still looks bad for Kansas City… but maybe not exactly in the way that we might have thought.

* * *

Shields has been pretty much everything the Royals could have hoped for as the ace of their staff. Depending on how you look at it, you can argue that he’s been one of the 15 best starters in baseball over the last two seasons. Wade Davis, failed 2013 starter, has become Wade Davis, dominant 2014 reliever. Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year award in a half-season debut for Tampa Bay last year, but was off to a slow start this year before fracturing his wrist, which has cost him the last two months of play. If those are the three principals of the trade, and you pretended that the world was going to end the day after the 2014 season, you could maybe tilt this a little more towards the Royals. Shields has been as expected, Davis has given more, Myers has given less.

Of course, those three weren’t the only ones involved in the trade. Patrick Leonard is hitting well in Single-A for the Rays; Mike Montgomery is in Triple-A still trying to turn his career around. And Jake Odorizzi, well..

James Shields 22 143.1 7.53 1.82 1.00 0.316 45.8% 10.9% 3.58 3.69 3.53 2.3
Jake Odorizzi 21 113.2 10.21 3.33 0.95 0.307 33.7% 8.7% 3.80 3.40 3.56 1.9

I’m not ready to say Odorizzi is better than Shields right now, today. Obviously, the 30 additional innings that Shields has pitched carry value, and since they’ve started a similar amount of games, that means Shields is working deeper, taking stress off the bullpen behind him. That’s worth something, and considering his extensive track record, both Steamer and ZiPS have him projected to be more valuable for the remainder of the season. Perhaps that’s how it will play out, but you look at those stat lines, and it’s hard to to come to a conclusion other than that these two pitchers have been very similar in overall value this year.

That carries even more weight if you realize that after a tough first month, Odorizzi has been absolutely outstanding since the end of April. In 90 innings over 16 starts since losing to the White Sox on April 28, Odorizzi has a 107/30 K/BB, with a 3.00 ERA backed by a 3.12 FIP. He’s not the only reason the previously moribund Rays have made a massive turnaround, but he’s a huge part of it, having allowed more than two earned runs just once in his last nine starts. Meanwhile, Shields was getting progressively worse each month of the season (FIP from 3.29 to 4.35 to 5.02 from April to June, before a stellar July) as the Royals struggle to keep even a winning record.

For Odorizzi, the turnaround isn’t all that hard to see. He’s not really throwing harder than he did before, and he’s not even showing better control. (His 8.7 BB% is up from last year’s 6.6; his Zone rate is down from 49.6 to 47.0.) What he’s doing is pitching differently, and missing a ton more bats because of it. Last year, and granted that we’re dealing with small samples because Odorizzi was in the bigs for only 29.2 innings, he was primarily a fastball pitcher, mixing in a slider, change and curve, but using the four-seamer more and more.

That was a problem, because while his fastball is fine, it’s hardly elite. His change was okay, but not exactly a weapon. (Hitters only offered at it half the time, and half of those times, they fouled it off.) The curve and slider were rarely used, and somewhat unremarkable. Odorizzi’s fastball had a 17.1 percent K rate last year, which again is fine, but hardly outstanding.

Now? Well, it’s just a bit different:


That’s a splitter — more accurately, probably, a split-change — taught to Odorizzi by teammate Alex Cobb, which is now referred to as “The Thing.” He’s thrown it 485 times, and though it’s not unhittable (a .260 batting average on it, which is 32 singles and seven extra-base hits), it’s become a real out pitch, on which he’s collected 44 strikeouts.

But just as importantly, and thanks to pal and Rays fan R.J. Anderson for the tip on this one, the new pitch has also allowed him to lessen the usage of his less-effective secondary offerings and served to amplify the effectiveness of his fastball. Last year, his fastball had that 17.1 percent K rate and a 115 wRC+ against. This year, the strikeout rate is up to 29.5 percent, and the wRC+ is down to 102. As you can see from the Baseball Savant charts below, he’s keeping batters off guard by giving them something to think about at multiple eye levels. At left, the swinging strikes on the splitter; at right, the swinging strikes on the fastball. It’s not hard to see the difference:


A great way to take a decent fastball and make it look like a special one is to have hitters not be able to sit on it, and have to worry about a different pitch in a different part of the zone. Odorizzi didn’t really have that last year, and now he does. But really, we’re somewhat off track here. Others far more qualified than I can do a better job of the deep dive into the pitching strategy of Odorizzi. The point here is that a talented young pitcher, thought of highly enough not only to be a first-round pick in 2008 but to be a big part of two different trades for an ace (he went from Milwaukee to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal), has made it to the majors, made necessary adjustments in order to improve his game, and has turned himself into a very successful pitcher — one currently pitching essentially as well as the pitcher he was traded for.

There’s certainly a bit of “let’s see if he can keep this up” with Odorizzi. Maybe hitters adjust to his new approach, and he can’t adjust back, while Shields is more of a known quantity. But Odorizzi is also not even going to be 25 until March, and can’t be a free agent until after the 2019 season. Shields is going to be 33 in December, and is almost certainly leaving Kansas City this winter. Over the long term, this was always going to be a lousy deal for Kansas City, and maybe if Odorizzi had stayed there, he would have never met Cobb and never learned the pitch that has changed his career.

Viewed through that lens, perhaps it’s unfair to say that had the Royals kept Odorizzi, they’d have received the same value this year that they are getting from Shields. But it’s easy to look at the return for Tampa Bay and think that this is now an even better deal than it looked like back in 2012. Not only did they get Myers, still only 23, but all it really cost them was Davis and a 2013 of not having the value that Shields would have given them. For 2014, they’ve made up what they lost. For every year afterwards, when Shields was almost definitely going to be pitching in Boston or New York or wherever else anyway, they’re looking likely to come out massively ahead, even moreso than we originally thought. (If not for the fact that the AL has a ton of great rookies this year, from Jose Abreu and Dellin Betances to Masahiro Tanaka and George Springer, Tampa Bay might have had two consecutive Rookie of the Year awards out of this trade.) And the Royals, who most likely aren’t making the playoffs with Shields on their roster, now have a future to look forward to without Shields or Myers or Odorizzi.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

41 Responses to “Jake Odorizzi and the 2014 Value of the Trade”

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  1. Mr Baseball says:

    Good work. I will point out however that on FG there were a few people that said Odorizzi was pitching over his head two months ago. Turns out they were wrong.

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    • C'mon Man says:

      Turns out most writers here at FG are unafraid to admit when they were wrong.

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      • AK7007 says:

        Or unafraid to look closer for a cause when performance doesn’t fit with the projection.

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      • Dayn Perry's Throbbing Member says:

        There’s a difference between being wrong because you reasoned poorly and being wrong because something unexpected happened. Dave gets asked 1000 times a week ‘is x player who is having a good month breaking out?’ and he usually says no because 90% of these players actually are playing over their heads. When the rare player comes along who sustains that success people get mad at Dave for not repenting and admitting what an idiot he is. Except usually he was justified in not being bullish on a guy in the first place. the ‘Dave never admits he’s wrong’ people live in the world of selection bias and are basically angry that Dave doesn’t analyze their favorite team and players with a fan’s irrational optimism.

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        • My echo and bunnymen says:

          *slow clap*

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        • Joe says:

          Except FIP. FIP’s Rsquared is too terrible in too many contexts (it’s good within certain parameters, but those parameters are too close to ideosyncratic for my liking- in essence, it’s wrong more than it’s right in predicting performance).

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  2. LHPSU says:

    It’s worth pointing out, though, that Wil Myers has not been healthy or effective this season.

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    • rogue_actuary says:

      Isn’t the point of the article that the Rays made out really well on this deal even though Myers isn’t currently providing a ton of value?

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      • Scot says:

        If the the point is the Rays have made out really well, then the claim is clearly false. The difference between the success of the Rays and Royals in 2013 falls into the noise range. As in 2013, the Royals are getting more value out of the trade than the Rays are.

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        • ValueArb says:

          Yes, if you ignore the fact that Shields and Wade Davis are gone after this year (Davis too expensive to keep under existing contract), and that Tampa still has 5+ years of cheap control of Odorizzi & Shields, AND Montgomery (pitching so well in AAA that he can’t be too far from a call up) & Leonard.

          So imagine that Montgomery blows his arm out and never recovers & Leonard quits baseball to become a traveling musician. And Will Meyers only turns out to be an average player, and Odorizzi a mediocre back end starter, and the Rays only get 3 WAR a year between them. That’s akin to KC sending Tampa Bay a check for $15M every year for the next 5 seasons.

          And if Myers becomes a star and Odorizzi an average starter, & Montgomery a back end starter or decent reliever, the check should be closer to $30M a year.

          So yea, KC took every penny of the value they got from this trade, crammed it into 2013 & 2014, and still barely got more value than Tampa did in those years, and still missed the playoffs, and cost themselves a very large amount of value over the next 5 years to do it.

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        • ValueArb says:

          And you forgot that KC spent $30M in extra payroll the last two years to get Shields/Davis, which could have been used on a decent free agent starter, and keep Odorizzi & Myers, and they would have been just as good, if not a playoff team (if the FA pitcher had been Anibel Sanchez who signed a back loaded deal with the Tigers that pays him less than $25M over those seasons)

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        • Scott says:

          Shields will be gone after this year, but he will almost certainly net the Royals a comp pick to go on their side of the ledger. If Davis is gone, it will be via trade, which should net them at least one if not 2 prospects equal in value to what Odorizzi was at the time of the trade, also going to the Royals side of the ledger. (I used the 2 month rental of Andrew Miller for Eduardo Rodriguez trade as a comp) If the Royals are creative, they could garner even more value from the trade by moving Greg Holland this winter and moving Davis to the closer role. Holland should command a healthy return while the Royals could get similar performance from Davis at $15M over the next 2 years, which will likely be less than Holland gets in arbitration. The Royals could maximize their return by then flipping Davis prior to his last year at $10M. Either way Davis has significant value with 3 years of control, but no guaranteed money, at somewhere around or below market value depending on his role.

          The Royals could end up with 2, 3, 4, or 5 prospects the equal of Odorizzi, plus 2 years of Shields, plus 2 years of Davis in the deal. Maybe the Royals don’t trade Davis or Holland. Maybe Davis blows out his arm this month and the Royals decline his option. Either way, the Royals total “value” of this trade won’t be evident for several years down the road.

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  3. deezy333 says:

    The high fastball has also a big part of Odorizzi’s success.

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  4. hittfamily says:

    It was Shields who taught Cobb and Chris Archer the changeup. It’s the same pitch Shields throws. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shields teaching that devastating change up to other youngsters in the Royals org. Point taken about the trade, but Odorizzi likely copies the master if he’s there right now, and not the valet key.

    “Cobb has been part of what has become a Rays pitching tradition since he first got to the big leagues in 2011, a tradition that Joe Maddon has long traced to James Shields. Cobb’s first day on the road, his phone rang. Shields calling, asking what Cobb was doing. “Relaxing,” the rookie replied. “Nope, we’re going,” Shields told him, and took Cobb to the park to work out, throw and work on his changeup. “What Shields and Price pass on is invaluable,” says Andrew Friedman.”

    “The Rangers noticed that Jake Odorizzi threw more than a dozen killer split/changes against them. “I asked Jim Hickey how they all learn to throw that pitch,” said Maddux. “He said, ‘it started with Shields, now it starts with Cobb.”


    I wonder if teams know this, and will pay extra for Shields this offseason. He took a rather unremarkable Alex Cobb, and turned him into a perennial All Star candidate. Same with Archer, who really wasn’t that much in the minors. He always had the fastball, but his secondary pitch is what makes him special. The Mariners and have Braves have some excellent young arms. Is it worth an extra 5 mil a year to have them taught a James Shields/Alex Cobb/ChrisArcher/Jake Odorizzi change up?

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    • LukeNalooshe says:

      Chris Archer’s change up is fringe average at best. Archer’s best secondary is his wipe-out slider, not his change up.

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      • unclefrank says:

        He almost didn’t have a change up in the minors. It was his 4th pitch, and he used it very seldom. In spring training, he started working more with Cobb on the new change up. :

        -In spring training, Chris Archer said “I think the biggest change I’m now making is using the changeup. Alex Cobb has worked with me, helped me develop it and convinced me to be convicted in throwing it.”

        What one rival scout said in spring training:
        “Best young pitcher I saw all spring,” said another scout. “Unhittable. And his delivery is so clean, it’s scary. His fastball was 96-97 [miles per hour] with (perfect) command. And an 88 [mph] slider, and plus changeup. Very, very impressive.” http://espn.go.com/mlb/preview14/story/_/id/10684387/picking-tampa-bay-rays-win-world-series

        A MLB scout said he has a plus change up. He still isn’t throwing it much, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In fact, fangraphs did a write up on it this offseason.

        He only throws it 4% of the time. I don’t know why. Last year he didn’t throw the Shields/Cobb change. His change was worth -3 runs according to PirchF/X. Now after learning the new change, it’s worth +2 runs. It’s a far superior pitch than it used to be, and in future years, with more confidence in it, he may use it more. He’s a 2 pitch pitcher, with 3 above average pitchers.

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    • KCDaveInLA says:

      Helping future competition get better while not quite living up to his trade value.

      Dammit, James.

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  5. Ruin Tomorrow, Jr. says:

    Odorizzi has been pretty good but look at that GB% (33%), hard to see him doing too well in the future unless he is able to keep his HR/FB% way down. Also, wasn’t sure where to ask this, but can you investigate how Huston Street has been able to have a 99.5% LOB% last year and 100% this year? It’s fascinating to me that he’s been able to keep this up.

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    • unclefrank says:

      With a K% as high as his is, and a run suppressing home field like the Trop, the high FB% isn’t really that big of a deal. One that high is, but I’d expect that to come down a few percentage points.

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      • Ruin Tomorrow, Jr. says:

        Yea the K% definitely helps along with the park good point

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        • Paulie says:

          Good point about the Trop.

          Odorizzi 2014
          Home 69.2 IP, .52 HR/9, 2.59 FIP, 3.20 xFIP
          Away 44.0 IP, 1.64 HR/9, 4.68 FIP, 4.13 xFIP

          Shields 2014
          Home 54.1 IP, .66 HR/9, 3.15 FIP, 3.45 xFIP
          Away 89.0 IP, 1.21 HR/9, 4.01 FIP, 3.58 xFIP

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    • #KeepNotGraphs says:

      One thing I’ve seen kicked around on the internets is the Rays may be shying away from ground ball pitchers in favor of high-frequency fly ball pitchers due to the turf in the Trop turning more groundballs into hits than in parks with natural grass infields. Also, the Trop has (I think) the 2nd or 3rd most foul ground in the majors, which would help turn more foul fly balls into outs.

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  6. dtpollitt says:

    Goddamnit Dayton Moore.

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  7. Pumpsie Green says:

    KC needed to find some way to escape mediocrity. Some teams find a way to boost payroll, others do it like this. I truly can’t fault the Royals for doing something – anything – to be relevant. And, doesn’t it feel like the window on Myers in TB is already closing? He’s arbitration eligible after next year, and before we know it they’ll be looking to recycle HIM into the Next Big Thing.

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    • hittfamily says:

      This is his first year of team control. Last year, he was down in the minors long enough to not count as a year. His first arb season is 2017. And no, the window on Wil Myers is still wide open. He had a +131 wRC+ as a 22 year old. He had 200 PA of 93 wRC+ this year. He dominated all levels of the minors, then dominated the MLB. 200 PA this year is far too few to say he won’t be successful, or that “his window is closing”.

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  8. Rauce says:

    In all the analysis of The Trade one thing that gets glossed over quite a bit is what the author kind of glosses over as “all it really cost them was Davis and a 2013 of not having the value that Shields would have given them.”
    All it really cost them? In a year when they were an obvious playoff team? A bonafide World Series contender?
    Trading an elite starting pitcher and an elite reliever (which is how the Rays would have used Davis) probably cost them ~5 WAR. That could have been the difference between them winning the AL East and -forcing- Boston to play in the one game playoff. They might have had home field advantage. The subtraction of those two pitchers from the Rays roster could have changed the whole dynamic of the AL postseason last year.
    The Trade was clearly the right move for TBR in the long-term, but they also certainly sacrificed the here and now (2013). To what extent I don’t know, but where was that preseason debate (or post-mortem) on “Did the Rays blow a chance to be the World Series favorites?”

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      You’re ignoring Myers’ 2.5 WAR in that calculation, though.

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      • Rauce says:

        Very good point, although they were getting decent production from Joyce up until Myers was promoted and seem like the kind of club that would have settled Joyce as the LHB in a platoon with Kelly Johnson or somebody else.
        But yes you’re correct, Myers was almost surely worth a win or two more than any combination of backups.
        My point still stands though: Set aside 2014 and onward for a moment, TBR gave up 270 or so innings of elite pitching (imagine wiping away the Roberto Hernandez experiment plus no Cesar Ramos or Kyle Farnsworth) for 373 (albeit pretty damn productive) PAs of Wil Myers in a year in which they had legitimate WS aspirations. Why hasn’t that been a bigger part of the debate?

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    • hittfamily says:

      Chris Archer was ready to pitch in the MLB. They had Price, Shields, Cobb, Moore, and Hellickson. Shields made the most sense to trade.

      Davis served as long relief for them. They had McGee, Rodney, and Peralta for the late innings, so Davis was expendable. Wil Myers replaced Luke Scott. Scott was DHing. They moved Joyce to DH, put Myers in right,and Myers put up 2.5 fWAR. Scott put up .3 WAR, so Myers netted them + 2.3 WAR.

      Chris Archer(Shields’ replacement) posted a 1.3 WAR, and Myers increased theirDH spot by 2.2 fWAR. That is 3.5 fWAR compared to the 5 fWAR that they traded away. They had a net loss of about 1 win, but if they had given Myers a full year, rather than only 88 games, it likely would have been a wash at least, and it’s definitely possible that the Rays upgraded their 2013 squad by adding Myers and Archer, and losing Shields and Davis.

      6 more years of Odorizzi and 6 more years of Myers (plus Montgomery is sharp in AAA) makes this a massive heist by Friedman. The Rays realized that they could massively help their long term plans, by barely hurting their current squad. It’s the reason the Rays have been so successful for so long.

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      • Rauce says:

        But Archer didn’t get Shields innings, at least not most of them. Roberto Hernandez replaced him, Archer took Hellickson’s place when he went on the DL.
        And I reject the idea that 3 good/great relievers negates the added value of a 4th good/great reliever. There’s plenty of relief innings to go around.
        But you make a good point about Myers taking PAs away from Scott in addition to Joyce, though it’s not right to say Joyce moved to DH – he DH’d in 19 games -all year-.

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      • Rauce says:

        And on “barely hurting their current squad” – say it was only 1 WAR difference (which I would dispute), doesn’t that mean something more to the Rays going into 2013 than, say, the Royals? Don’t we talk frequently – especially now in the midst of the silly season/trade deadline – about the win curve and how 1 or 2 WAR can make a significant difference to a team that profiles in the neighborhood of 90 wins? Doesn’t that principle apply at the beginning of the season?

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      • Scot says:

        The difference to calculate is between Shields production and that of the worst pitcher on the staff – Hernandez. The Davis calculation is similar. And you must perform the same calculation for the Royals. How much did Shields+Davis add to the club compared to the worst pitcher on the staff which can be approximated as essentially replacement level.

        Hence count fWAR and it hasn’t even been close – the Royals received far more value out of the trade in 2013 than the Rays. 2014 may not be as severe, but it is being based on too small of a sample size. I’ve been a Rays fan since Joe Maddon was hired and value evidence based baseball. But I don’t drink the kool-aid.

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    • ValueArb says:

      You are ignoring the $13M in extra payroll Shields/Davis cost last year alone, forget about the $17M extra they cost this year.

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  9. MLip says:

    In all fairness, the Rays are incredibly talented at developing pitching. The Royals, not so much… Which is precisely why they felt the need to trade for an established pitcher like Shields, because they could not develop their own.

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  10. Mr Baseball says:

    Odorizzi is pitching a bit like Jared Weaver when JW was getting guys to swing at low pitches and popping up low pitches. JO is a good player, won’t be 10.50/k for much longer but he’s going to be very useful as a solid #3-4.

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  11. Josh B says:

    So, apparently the Angels read FanGraphs….

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  12. Matthew says:

    Funny. I agree with almost everything Mike had to write, but the outcomes of this world have a funny way of throwing it all back in our faces.

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  13. ABHawk says:

    It now appears that the trade is highly in Kansas City’s favor. Davis has become the greatest set up reliever in baseball and Shields is likely leading the Royals to a World Series appearance. Kansas City doesn’t make WS, or the playoffs for that matter, without BOTH Shields and Davis. Should the Royals get to the WS (88% chance), they will most likely be able to increase their payroll next season by 10 million+. So, even losing Shields next year, they will have the money to go get another quality starter to replace Shields – $10 million increase in payroll + $23.5 million from not signing Shields, Butler, and Aoki.

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  14. William says:

    This article did have some good points. However, your conclusion of ordorizzi being at the same talent level as shields was very shortsighted as you ignored what the projections said at the rest of the year.

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