The Colorado Rockies have acquired right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom from the Houston Astros for a pair of minor league pitchers, Wes Musick and Jonnathan Aristil. Lindstrom, swapped from the Florida Marlins to Houston last December, will join Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Franklin Morales and others in a Colorado bullpen that placed third in the National League in reliever xFIP in 2010.
Turning 31 next month, Lindstrom’s ERA has jumped significantly since he made his debut with the Fish in 2007. He had a 3.09 ERA in ’07 and a 3.14 mark in 2008, but that figure rose to 5.89 in 2009 and 4.39 this past season. However, his underlying performance hasn’t degraded that much — he’s not as bad as those past two totals suggest, but he was never really a relief ace in the first place.
Whiffing 7.48 batters per nine innings, walking 3.64 per nine and posting a 47 percent ground ball rate during his major league career, Lindstrom hasn’t seen a radical change in his peripherals recently. His xFIPs were 3.89 in ’07, 4.24 in ’08, 4.65 in ’09 and 4.05 in 2010. A major reason for the ERA fluctuation is his home run per fly ball rate. It was an unfathomably low 2.9 percent in ’07 and 2 percent in ’08, but regressed to 9.3 percent in ’09 and 8.8 percent this past year.
Another cause for Lindstrom underperforming the past two years is his BABIP. Lindstrom had a .335 BABIP in ’07 and a .321 mark in ’08. In 2009, his BABIP increased to .342, and it was .370 last season.
Lindstrom has given up far more hits on balls put in play than most throughout his career, but it’s still hard to say whether that trend will persist next season. That might sound like an unsatisfactory conclusion. However, even with four years of data, the sample size involved with relievers means we’re still only talking about what amounts to one full season’s worth of pitching from a workhorse starter — Lindstrom has 225 career innings pitched. His career BABIP is around .340. Let’s say three fewer hits fell against Lindstrom per season — one every other month, basically. Now, his career BABIP is closer to .320. Still fairly high, but not astronomical. Within the course of one season, the potential for a few extra balls evading leather and skewing a reliever’s BABIP is obviously even greater. At the very least, we can say that Lindstrom’s highly unlikely to post a BABIP closer to .400 than .300 next year.
In parting with Lindstrom, the Astros picked up two lukewarm prospects/organizational soldiers. Musick, who turns 24 in a few days, is a 2009 ninth-round draft pick out of Houston. He pitched well in the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2010, with about 8 Ks per nine innings and a walk rate under two per nine, but he was also quite old for the level, has durability concerns and is short on stuff. According to Baseball America, Musick tore his ACL and had Tommy John in college. And while scouts like his curve and changeup, he’s lucky to crack 90 MPH on the radar gun.
Aristil looks like an even longer shot. The converted infielder spent most of his season in the High-A California League and the Double-A Texas League, with a cameo in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Tossing 71.2 combined innings, mostly in relief, he had nearly a strikeout per inning but also dished out 5.1 BB/9. Noting that their scouting report on Aristil “isn’t terribly impressive,” BA says the 24-year-old sits mostly in the high-80s with his fastball while adding in a solid changeup and poor breaking ball.
Houston didn’t get much for Lindstrom, but that doesn’t mean they got fleeced either. Save totals aside, Lindstrom has the skill-set of a low-fours ERA reliever. Injuries have been a problem the past two seasons, as he was placed on the DL in 2009 with a sprained elbow and had another stint for back spasms in 2010. As a second-year arbitration eligible player, Lindstrom figures to see his salary increase from $1.625 million to over $2 million. If you project Lindstrom as a 0.5 to 0.75 win reliever in 2011 (that might be kind, given his ZiPS projection), then he doesn’t really have much surplus value. He’s basically being paid what he’s worth, and he might be slightly overpaid given that he topped 20 saves in 2010.
There’s no real harm in Colorado adding Lindstrom as a depth-minded move. But he might only be the club’s third or fourth-best bullpen arm, and arguments can be made for Felipe Paulino and Esmil Rogers over Lindstrom, too, if they don’t crack the rotation. He shouldn’t be pitching lots of high-leverage innings as Huston Street‘s set-up man.