Koji Uehara To Texas and To Close?

Today, the Rangers traded Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for setup man Koji Uehara. Some might balk at the asking price, but it’s become obvious that neither Hunter nor Davis were going to figure in to the Rangers’ future plans. And Uehara might end up at the cheapest way for the Rangers to upgrade their late-inning relief.

It’s true that there are a lot of years of control left on the young players that the Orioles acquired. Both can be free agents in 2016 at the earliest. But it’s also true that both players had muted upside.

Despite his high curves, which have led to more contact and less power than the average curve, Hunter doesn’t profile as a top-of-the-rotation starter. His career swinging strike percentage (6.6%) and ground-ball percentage (40.1%) are both marginal. Perhaps by relying on his strong control (2.5 BB/9 career), he could become a useful innings-eater. There’s little hope for more.

Davis has more upside, but is less likely to reach it. Really, he should spell his name with a ‘K,’ because his career strikeout rate (31.7%) would rank among the league leaders every year if he qualified for the batting title. He’s been trying to cut down that number with limited success, but really he should be focusing on his walk rate. Players like Russell Branyan have shown us that a bad strikeout rate, paired with a strong walk rate and gobs of power, can make for a useful (if winding) major league career. At this point, he’s a flier taken by a team looking to acquire young talent.

On the other side of the ledger, the Rangers have to be happy with their new reliever. Uehara has been as least as good, if not better, as Mike Adams and Heath Bell, the other two relievers strongly rumored to be headed to Texas. Uehara has a 2.31 xFIP, Bell a 3.88, and Adams a 2.68. The only problem might be ground-ball rate, as Uehara lives on the edge with a 29.7% ground-ball rate. And yet he hasn’t had a bad home run rate, even in a park that encourages home runs by more than 20%. Given that Texas is actually friendlier in terms of home run rates, Uehara should be happy about the move.

Will he close in his new uniform? Neftali Feliz has been bad all year. His swinging strike rate is still above average (10.3%), but that’s turned into a poor strikeout rate for a reliever this year (6.28 K/9), and he’s lost all of his control (4.66 BB/9). Given that he’s not a ground-ball pitcher himself (36.3% ground balls), there’s not really a single statistic in which Feliz trumps Uehara save one.

Yes, Feliz has Uehara beat in saves. But given that his FIP and xFIP are in the mid-to-high fours, and that his team has been rumored to be in on every reliever in baseball, Feliz would be right to be nervous about his job security. There have been no indications from the Rangers about Uehara’s use just yet, but fantasy owners would be correct to go get the Japanese challenger if they were searching for saves.

A new closer in Texas might only be worth a win or two over the rest of the year at most. And yet, that win might be very important, to say nothing of the postseason. When the cost was two players that have not shown major league success despite repeated chances, it might not matter how young they are.

Baltimore is in the position to give those struggling youngsters a longer chance over the rest of the year and was right to pounce. And Texas was right choose the cheapest, best option on the reliever market. Well done to both parties.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

15 Responses to “Koji Uehara To Texas and To Close?”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    I wonder if this means that PIT has sweetened the deal in discussions about Derrek Lee?

    Wow, in our previous discussions of whether Feliz should remain a lights out closer or become a very good starter, I didn;t think the answer was “neither”.

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  2. TexasTiger70 says:

    As a Ranger’s fan

    I absolutely love this deal. Obviously the Rangers desperately needed bullpen help and I was dreading having to give up a top tier prospect to get it. Sure, we lost two major league ready players, but they were both expendable.

    Chris Davis has tremendous upside given his power, but he has continually disappointed in the majors. There was just no way he was going to get ample playing time with this Texas lineup to reach his potential. He has maxed out in AAA.

    Tommy Hunter has been a solid pitcher for the Rangers and I hate to see him go, but he is very near his ceiling, and its a ceiling that with the current Rangers rotation doesn’t have a place. He’s quite hittable and lacks a real dominant out pitch, but he’s a “fighter” and can soak up innings.

    Without watching much (read, any) O’s baseball, I would have to assume it’s a good deal for both teams. The O’s get one huge upside but huge risk of bust in Davis, and one proven, young starter who will soak up innings during the rebuild. The Rangers get a great bullpen piece to hopefully push them over the edge and capitalize on their current window, without giving up prospects.

    Great deal.

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  3. Jay says:

    Rangers wont get very far without a seasoned ACE ahead of C.J. Wilson. I’m just glad they didnt raid the farm in this deal. Save some cash and prospects for the off season and try for a better starter then.

    At least Tateyama will have someone to talk to now.

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  4. korakoko says:

    Tateyama & Uehara are both from the same high school and same hometown.

    They probably know each other already.

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  5. YP says:

    I don’t like the deal due to Davis. I’m pretty sure he is better than Moreland (who’s just OK without much upside). Uehara is old (which I never like trading for and the rangers have enough old relievers) and is only under control for one more year. I don’t mind trading Hunter because he kinda sucks. I expect Davis to go the way of Hafner, A-Gon and Pena to go on to have a pretty productive career somewhere else. I just don’t know how a player can slug over 800 in AAA and not cut it in the majors. He has looked better at the plate as of late. I do hope this move at least hastens Feliz to the rotation next year.

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  6. Adam says:

    If you are concerned about Uehara’s age, why would you want more than 1 year of team control? And how can you be sure that Davis is better than Moreland when Mitch has so clearly outplayed Chris?

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    • YP says:

      You mean Moreland’s 300+ more ABs to amass a whole .6 more WAR? Davis has more power and plays much better defense. Moreland has better plate discipline. And if we’re giving up Davis and Hunter, it better not be for a rental, plus we need a reliever BAD. I can’t change that he’s old, so since we got him, might as well get the most use out of him.

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      • anon says:

        Erm, that’d be Davis’ 400 more PAs for 1.6 less WAR.

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      • YP says:

        I was talking about this season. I’m talking about Davis now, who is a better player than Davis was last season. There is no doubt that Moreland has a much higher floor than Davis, but Davis’ ceiling is so much more enticing.

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