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.