After the recent signing of Rich Hill, the A’s had a bit of a logjam in the rotation. To clear way for some of their aspiring youngsters, it was widely assumed the A’s would trade away Jesse Chavez, who has just one year left before Free Agency. Seeing as how the A’s probably won’t contend in 2016 without some serious surprises, it made sense to move the veteran swingman who came into his own as an Athletic. The A’s made that theory a reality, acquiring Liam Hendriks from the Jays in return.
This is a fascinating trade for me, looking at the two players involved. Jesse Chavez was a reliever from 2008-2011 for the Bucs, Royals, and Jays, getting bounced to and from waivers frequently. He always pitched passably, but was consistently the low man on the totem pole when roster crunch time came. He was a depth guy. In 2012 the A’s claimed him, and he got a shot in the pen in 2013. He pitched very well, with a FIP of 3.01, as his normal home run proneness plummeted down 2 whole points of HR/9 from 2012. As a result, the A’s gave him a shot in the rotation, which he ran away with before running out of gas and being sent to the pen after the midseason 2014 acquisitions came around. The last two seasons he’s given the A’s around 150 innings of a #3/#4 starter, but questions remain about whether he’s durable enough to pitch a full season.
Hendriks, on the other hand, took the opposite career path. He started 40 games for the Twins, Jays, and Royals from 2011-2014 with rather horrible results. In the Minor Leagues, he was a control specialist that was the epitome of the Twins pitching model of pitching to contact. He just could never put it together in the big leagues, especially in Toronto, where he gave up a ton of longballs. David Laurilia of Fangraphs interviewed Hendriks, and found that he spent a winter in the Dominican Republic, and in that time, took a huge bump in velocity while learning to pitch in relief. Between 2014 and 2015, he gained about 3 MPH on all of his pitches, and learned to rely more on his Fastball and Slider primarily. The results were exceptional. In 2015, his first season in relief full-time, he had a 2.92 ERA in 64.2 innings, putting up career best numbers in K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and, summarily, FIP.
In 2014, Jesse Chavez was worth 2.3 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR, and 1.1 WARP. Conversely, Liam Hendriks was worth 1.5 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR, and 1.2 WARP. Additionally, Hendriks blows Chavez away in DRA, Baseball Prospectus’ new all-encompassing pitching metric, 3.2 to 4.4. If they continue to put up similar seasons on their new teams, you could argue that Hendriks is worth more value just in the next season alone than Chavez, though that’s probably a stretch. Chavez very well may be gaining stamina, as his 26 starts in 2015 (a 5 start increase from 2014) could put him in line for 30+ next season, though he may always be a 5-6 inning guy since he’ll turn 34 next season.
So how do we compare these two? On the one hand, we have Chavez, the struggling reliever who found new life as a starter. He’s been putting up solid mid-back of the rotation numbers, and is gaining confidence as a starter. That said, he’s on the wrong side of 30, has just one year before he hits free agency, and will almost certainly be looking to gain a big payday on the open market before he begins to deteriorate. Even if he can’t start, he can probably be counted on as a lockdown bullpen guy, as his swing-and-miss stuff has translated well to the pen in the past. Then there’s Hendriks, who got bombed as a starter before finding a magical potion of velocity in the pen. He was so dominant that there were whispers in Toronto about trying to move him back to the rotation. That said, he’s only got one year of success, and a much longer track record of awfulness than Chavez. He’s got four years of team control left, though, which could be a huge bargain.
From the A’s side of the table, I’m inclined to give this one the thumbs up. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Jesse Chavez. A’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle Susan Slusser raves about him as a person and as a teammate. That said, in 2015 his only plus pitch, according to FanGraphs pitch values, was his cutter. He also seriously struggled against lefties in 2015, especially with regard to power numbers. It’s hard to see him eclipsing more than 3 WAR at best, and then he walks to free agency. The peripherals don’t suggest Hendriks’ 2015 was a fluke, and even if he just continues to put up 1 win seasons, he’ll be worth more than Chavez over the course of his contract. Hendriks will be just 31 when he walks to free agency, too, and could contribute even if extended. It’s hard to see Chavez continuing to put up big seasons in five years, and he may not even get a qualifying offer if he can’t put himself past Ian Kennedy territory. While Hendriks had his own struggles against LHB, the peripherals suggest it was much more due to luck (.378 BABIP against LHB) than it was underlying performance (2.49 FIP, 10.8 K/9).
This trade is a great how-to in how to take smart chances as a low-budget team. The A’s sign Hill, who is a wild card, over other teams by guaranteeing him a rotation spot. They then trade Chavez, who will walk to Free Agency before 2017, and acquire a pitcher who is likely to give them more value over the course of their contracts. The A’s have stated that they’ll almost certainly use him as a high leverage reliever, according to David Forst via Susan Slusser, which will stand in stark contrast to 2015 (48/64 innings in Low Leverage Situations for Toronto). In this day and age where lights out relievers are all the rage with the Royals winning everything, it’s easier said than done to build a strong bullpen. The A’s bullpen in 2015 produced a negative fWAR, and acquiring Hendriks to help bolster that is a great example of trading from strength to fix a weakness, and they get younger while they’re at it. I’ll miss Chavez, but it’s really hard to look at this as anything but a positive.Next post: What We’re Thankful for This Year
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