2014 Trading Deadline: Evaluating the Twins Roster Shuffle
By Eric Blix
The big news of the 2014 trading deadline thus far is the deal that sent Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to Oakland in exchange for Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes and a compensatory draft pick.
The Lester-for-Cespedes (etc.) trade is intriguing on a whole bunch of levels, but at Puckett’s Pond, we’re a bit more interested in the deal struck the Twins and the A’s, which has centerfielder Sam Fuld and lefty starter Tommy Milone swapping uniforms. It’s certainly a notable trade for the Twins, though not exactly on the A.J. Pierzynski for Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan level. Basically, the Twins addressed an organizational weakness by acquiring a pitcher with very limited upside. The results are no more exciting than that.
Still, it’s really hard not to enjoy this trade from the Twins’ perspective. On the surface, Milone is a relatively young (age 27) southpaw with some big league success and three remaining years of team control. These are all desirable traits in a starting pitcher, especially for a team whose starters have been historically awful over that past several seasons. (If the names Pedro Hernandez and P.J. Walters don’t cause you to break out in hives, you haven’t watched enough Twins games). These traits are doubly good in a starter when your team was able to land him more or less for free–if you’ll recall, Fuld started the year in Oakland before the Twins nabbed him off waivers.
So, the Twins undeniably upgraded their rotation depth this morning without giving up a whole lot.
But the enthusiasm for this trade should not be unbridled.
While the results of the trade essentially mean that Fuld’s tenure created a net gain in value for the Twins, he’s not exactly a scrub. In fact, he’s played to 2.3 WAR in a mere 60 games. Yoenis Cespedes–the centerpiece of the package that brought Lester to the west coast–has played in 101 games this year. His WAR? 2.3, the exact same as Fuld’s. Cespedes is obviously the much better hitter, which is actually quite a testament to Fuld’s value as a defender and a base runner. Fuld was also the only center fielder on the Twins 25 man roster. Along with Gomes, he will likely play as one half of a pretty respectable outfield platoon.
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But for a team like the Twins, who face the distinct possibility of suffering a fourth consecutive 90-loss season, Fuld’s 2.3 wins are meaningless. The point of a deal like this is to add depth, and really nothing more.
It’s worth asking, then, how much depth did Terry Ryan actually add?
In 16 starts for the A’s this year, Milone threw to a very respectable 3.55 ERA and a 0.7 WAR, which is pretty good for a fifth starter. This could very well be an instance of Billy Beane selling high, however, as Milone’s peripherals don’t look particularly encouraging.
His FIP, for instance, is at 4.42, and his xFIP is a tad higher at 4.49. In 468.2 career innings, Milone owns an ERA of 3.84 and a FIP of 4.13. In other words, he’s something of a Ricky Nolasco inverse–his peripherals suggest he is an overachiever.
This could be true.
Lots of the talk surrounding Milone has to do with his abnormally high fly ball tendencies. His career fly ball percentage is 41.3. He’s been his usual self this season, posting a 41.6 FB%. His fly ball tendencies don’t seem to be related to any command issues.
Indeed, if Tommy Milone throws a baseball near the strike zone of a Major League hitter, it has a reasonable chance of being batted in the air. Pitching in Target Field should be good for Milone, then, given its spacious outfield.
One thing that isn’t getting much attention, though, is that Milone’s fly ball rate has remained high even after dramatically increasing the use of his sinker this season.
Pitchers generally throw sinkers because it’s a pitch type that induces ground balls. This does not appear to be the case for Tommy Milone. While his ground ball rate is technically the highest of his career in 2014 (38.4%), it’s not a big enough deviation from his career mark of 36.8% to conclude that his sinker has been effective in creating ground balls.
His fly ball tendency isn’t alarming in isolation. Scott Baker was a successful fly ball pitcher for the Twins, and Phil Hughes has pitched like a true top of the rotation arm this year. However, the Twins outfield defense just became dramatically worse with the loss of Fuld. On top of that, Milone’s already unimpressive fastball velocity has shown that it might be on the decline, which would mean that more fly balls would be likely to turn into home runs over the next several years.
But then, the point of acquiring Milone was not to suddenly spring the Twins into contention, or to add a high upside arm at ridiculously low cost. He’s a depth guy who won’t strike a lot of guys out or force them into many double plays. He’s reliable back end starter, and we should expect nothing more of him. As Twins fans, we should be happy. This move was neither a pure buy nor a pure sell move. Terry Ryan managed to improve the team today while keeping his eye on the future.