Let the trading season and offseason player movement begin! The Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians reached a deal on Monday that sees starting pitcher Derek Lowe and cash headed to the Cleveland Indians for High-A left-handed reliever Chris Jones. The Indians receive an innings horse at the cost of, for all intents and purposes, cash as Jones is more organizational filler than prospect. The Braves save some cash, and open up a rotation spot for one of their gaggle of talented young arms.
Fantasy Baseball 365 colleague, Charlie Saponara, already wrote in depth about the impact of the trade on Lowe over at The Outside Corner. Quickly summarizing, and offering my own take, Lowe was very unlucky last year as his ERA was significantly higher than all of his advanced metric measures (xFIP, FIP, tERA and SIERA). A major culprit behind his struggles was his BABIP of .327 which was higher than league average which was .291, and his career mark of .295. Though, he did also suffer from a slide in his control. His 3.37 BB/9 was his worst rate since 2004, and the second worst of his career. Even if his luck regresses back to his and league norms, switching from the National League to the American League will not help his fantasy value. Over the summer, Derek Carty looked at the impact of pitchers changing leagues for FanDuel. His table is set up looking at pitchers jumping from the American League to the National League, so keep that in mind when reading. In short, pitchers gain more than a half strikeout-per-nine innings moving to the National League, and see their ERA drop 0.45 runs. Lowe already has a below league average K/9, shaving anything off of it would cripple his mixed league value. Suffice to say, outside of AL-only leagues, Lowe appears to be nothing more than a stream option in deep mixed leagues when his match up is favorable.
The impact on the Braves rotation, and their tantalizing young arms is of much greater interest. If everyone enters spring training healthy, the first four rotation spots will be filled by Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy. Health isn’t a given, at least for the entirety of the season for Hanson and Jurrjens who both missed all of September. Jurrjens injury was to his knee, and has thrown in instructional league, making his injury concerns less significant than Hanson. Hanson was shelved for September due to shoulder tendinitis, and more alarmingly, a partial tear of the rotator cuff. The injury didn’t require surgery, and according to an NBC sports report in August, is considered normal wear and tear for a pitcher. The fact it caused him to miss time due to discomfort is reason enough to continue to monitor how it holds up, and possibly bump him slightly down draft boards.
With the first four rotation spots locked up, that leaves the fifth spot open. Like this season, Mike Minor is a likely combatant for the role in spring training 2012. He should be the favorite to win the job, and is an intriguing fantasy option if he does. His 4.74 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 123.1 innings masks stellar his stellar underlying statistics. He has a 8.76 K/9 and 2.99 BB/9, good for a near three-to-one BB:K. His ghastly WHIP isn’t a product of poor control, but rather the ball finding holes that have resulted in an unsustainable .359 BABIP. The fly in the ointment in Minor’s game is his flyball tendencies. He has induced groundballs in just 36.4 percent of his batted balls. Because he strikes out so many batters, and issues so few free passes, his flyball heavy approach can be forgiven.
Minor’s primary competition for the number five starter spot is Julio Teheran. Teheran had both a better ERA, and a better FIP pitching in Triple-A than Minor. Working against him are a few factors. One factor is that he has had less success in the majors, albeit, in just 19.2 innings. A second factor is a sliding strikeout rate as he has moved up the professional ladder. It’s certainly no reason for long term alarm as it’s rare for a 20 year old to succeed the way Teheran has, but it does suggest further seasoning wouldn’t hurt until a starting spot opens up in the majors. Keith Law suggested in his midseason top-50 prospect list that his curveball could use some further refinement, and Kevin Goldstein described it as showing signs of being an above average pitch as well. Still, if he pitches lights out in spring training, it will be hard for the Braves to turn away their potential future ace.
Most organizations would be ecstatic just to have these two budding young arms battling for a rotation spot, but the Braves have Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino in the mix as well. Both saw big league time, with Delgado getting seven starts and Vizcaino receiving 17 relief appearances. Delgado’s tidy 2.83 ERA was heavily aided by good fortune, and he’d benefit greatly from more time in Triple-A. He threw just 21.2 innings there, and had control issues posting a 4.57 BB/9. His strikeout rate was great there, 10.38 K/9, and also very good in Double-A, 8.44 K/9, but didn’t translate to the majors, 4.63 K/9. The Braves would be wise to punch Delgado’s ticket to Triple-A, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he spent the year there until rosters expand in September. It is a whole lot murkier as to what the Braves will, and should, do with Vizcaino. He was tremendous in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A as a starter, but was transitioned to relieving late in the year in order to limit his innings and prepare him for a promotion to the majors. The 114.1 innings he threw last year were a career high for the oft injured youngster. His value would be greatest as a starter, but if the organization believes he’s not built to carry the load of a starter, or that he’d benefit from getting his feet wet further as a reliever ala the Twins handling of Johan Santana, he could spend the season in an already loaded bullpen. Coincidentally, that loaded bullpen will receive a boost from another young arm who spent time as a starter and a reliever, Kris Medlen.
It’s not out of the question that this is just one domino falling in an offseason of activity from the Braves. The offense lacked punch, and young arms are always a hot commodity and sought after around the league. Regardless, this deal alone has exciting potential fantasy repercussions. Bump both Minor and Teheran up draft sheets, and downgrade Lowe slightly.