The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and unlike previous years, the July 31st cut-off is the lone trade deadline this time around.
In other words, teams had one chance and one chance only to enhance their rosters for a potential playoff push, and with that, the rosters we see today are essentially the rosters teams will be rolling with moving forward.
As a result of some teams getting better and others perhaps not so much, let’s identify one team from each league whose value to win their league’s pennant increased after the deadline.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
**As of before play on 8/6/2019
- American League Pennant Odds (+800)
It’s looking increasingly likely that the Indians get into the playoffs as they are getting an 81% chance of making the postseason at FanGraphs, and at just four games back of the Minnesota Twins in the race for the AL Central, are still getting a 15.3% chance of winning the division again this season.
Look, after a puzzling winter in the Indians’ front office, I was quite bearish on the Indians to the point where I took the Twins to win the Central and even had the Indians possibly on the outside of the postseason picture looking in.
I looked pretty much spot on for the first two and a half months of the season as the Indians largely scuffled, but they got hot entering the All-Star break and have stayed hot since.
On June 15th, the Indians sat at 36-33 and 11 games back of the Twins in the Central. Since then, they have gone 30-13 and gained seven games on their rival.
Jose Ramirez, one of baseball’s biggest mystery strugglers after an MVP-caliber season in 2018, has found his stroke and is producing at MVP levels once again. The bullpen remains dynamite and the rotation has gotten healthier and should continue to do so.
However, that brings us to the trade deadline, where the much-maligned front office made one of the most unique deals in recent deadline history.
As they gained on the Twins within the division, it seemed less and less likely that the Indians would trade Trevor Bauer given a likely playoff berth in the near future. However, the Indians have had one of the most unproductive outfields in terms of offense this season, and something needed to be addressed in that department.
Enter the three-team trade that saw Trevor Bauer head to Cincinnati with the Indians receiving outfielder Yasiel Puig from the Reds, outfielder Franmil Reyes from the Padres as well as rookie left-hander Logan Allen from the Padres.
There’s a few items to dissect here:
- In trading Bauer, the Indians must believe strongly that Corey Kluber will be healthy and firing come playoff time in early October. Kluber has been out since breaking his forearm on May 1st but is going to start a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday. The subtraction of Bauer and addition of Kluber to the rotation still gives Cleveland a one-two-three punch of Kluber, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger entering the playoffs. That’s a dynamite trio considering the seasons Bieber and Clevinger are having, and that’s even before a possible return from Carlos Carrasco, although his Leukemia diagnosis largely clouds his baseball future, especially in 2019.
- Even if the Indians aren’t as strong in the rotation without Bauer, keep in mind they have the best bullpen in baseball this season, by a notable margin. Their 3.29 bullpen ERA is the best in the bigs by a country mile with the Giants’ 3.75 mark coming in at second. Bieber, Clevinger, and Kluber are still likely to provide length, but even if they don’t, Terry Francona’s bullpen has been on lockdown all season and could clean up whatever is left of a postseason game. The Brewers got within one game of the World Series using this method last season, although the Indians almost certainly won’t have to rely on their bullpen as much as Milwaukee did last season.
- Of course, the outfield improved. The Indians have largely rolled with a four-man outfield of Oscar Mercado, Jake Bauers, Tyler Naquin, and Jordan Luplow this season – the latter of which is used almost exclusively against lefties. Greg Allen has also seen some time while Leonys Martin was DFA’d earlier in the year. Now, it’s likely that Mercado remains in center field and will be flanked by Puig and Reyes on most nights. Puig sports a .217 ISO and .780 OPS on the season but also has 22 homers and 16 steals. Reyes owns a .268 ISO and .817 OPS on the season with 27 home runs. Both players’ OPS is dragged down by weak OBP numbers, but these are a couple of game-changing power bats, something the Indians did not have before the deal in their outfield.
In sum, Bauer became expendable thanks to more clarity on the Kluber situation, the game’s best bullpen and the opportunity to greatly improve a light-hitting outfield, or in other words, the team’s biggest area of need.
When you add in the growing salary of Bauer in arbitration and his 2021 free agency, the moves made sense financially for the Indians as well. Puig is a free agent at season’s end and Reyes, just 24 years old, is under club control through the 2024 season and isn’t even eligible for arbitration until the 2022 season.
Despite missing Kluber, Carrasco and even Clevinger for extended periods of time, the Indians’ rotation ranks eighth with a 3.94 ERA. Add in the 3.29 ERA from their league-leading bullpen and the Indians’ pitching staff ranks fourth with a 3.69 ERA on the season. Only the Dodgers, Rays and Astros have been better.
Bieber (3.30 ERA/3.16 FIP, 11.00 K/9), Clevinger (3.07 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 12.93 K/9) and Kluber (5.80 ERA/4.05 FIP, 9.59 K/9) are one heck of a top three. We know Kluber is better than those numbers, ones in which he posted in just seven starts before the long-term injury. Aside from the Astros, that’s probably the best top-three in the American League playoff picture.
The offense has scuffled, but the additions of Puig and Reyes along with the turnaround in Jose Ramirez’s bat, the Indians should swing it better moving forward.
- National League Pennant Odds (+1000)
The Nats looked as if they would be deadline sellers early in the season, something that even brought Max Scherzer into the rumor mill, but the Nationals weren’t about to let that happen and decided to turn things up a notch instead.
On May 31st, the Nationals sat at 24-33 and nine games back of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East race. From June 1st on, the Nationals have gone 35-20 and are now six games back of the Atlanta Braves for the top spot in the NL East. While they gained the full nine games on the Phillies (tied with identical 59-53 records), the Braves have also been among baseball’s best in that time, making it difficult to creep up towards the top of the division.
As it stands today, the Nats and Phils occupy the first and second Wild Card spots thanks to that tie, but interestingly FanGraphs is giving the Nationals a 74.8% chance to make the playoffs, including a 14.7% chance to win the division, while the Phillies sit at just 23.7% to qualify.
As soon as the Nationals wasted little time in signing left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal this winter, we knew the Nationals’ rotation was going to be among the best, if not the best in baseball. That has indeed been the case.
Nationals Rotation MLB Ranks
If you believe WAR is the best all-round quantifying stat in baseball, than the Nationals have the best rotation in baseball. Regardless, they’re clearly one of the best. Keep in mind that the Rays rank second or third in these categories, but they have had just two true starters for most of the season in Charlie Morton and Blake Snell. Most of their stats come from one or two-inning openers, which puts an asterisk beside their starting pitching stats in my opinion.
At the end of the day, you’ll have a hard time finding a better top three in baseball than the three-headed monster of Scherzer, Corbin and Stephen Strasburg.
- Scherzer: 2.41 ERA / 2.08 FIP / 12.66 K/9 / 1.67 BB/9 / 5.6 WAR
- Corbin: 3.43 ERA / 3.25 FIP / 10.42 K/9 / 2.80 BB/9 / 3.6 WAR
- Strasburg: 3.72 ERA / 3.14 FIP / 10.84 K/9 / 2.23 BB/9 / 4.0 WAR
Add in Anibal Sanchez and his 2.91 ERA since the first of May and the Nationals look awfully good on starting pitching. Remember the NLDS only requires three starting pitchers if need be while the NLDS would likely require four, so the Nationals look awfully dangerous from a starting pitching perspective in a playoff series given the numbers above.
As a side note, they’ll need to get Scherzer healthy as he resides on the IL with a back issue, however, it doesn’t appear to be a long-term injury for the elite right-hander.
The offense started off struggling but has come around since June rolled around. The Nationals now rank ninth with a .326 wOBA on the season. From June 1st through August 5th, they rank seventh with a .336 wOBA. Against left-handed pitching, the Nationals rank fourth with a .343 wOBA on the season.
Of course, the Nationals’ biggest problem all season long as been in the bullpen where they rank dead-last with a 6.05 ERA. While it’s still not a great number, their 4.84 FIP would suggest positive regression, but that regression as failed to rear its head to this point in the season and is not guaranteed to do so moving forward.
This is where the trade deadline comes in. Washington did address their bullpen need with a trio of additions:
- RHP Daniel Hudson: 2.88 ERA / 4.03 FIP / 9.18 K/9 / 4.14 BB/9 / 0.90 HR/9
- LHP Roenis Elias: 3.59 ERA / 4.60 FIP / 8.69 K/9 / 3.21 BB/9 / 1.51 HR/9
- RHP Hunter Strickland: 5.06 ERA / 4.90 FIP / 8.44 K/9 / 1.69 BB/9 / 1.69 HR/9
No, these aren’t high-profile arms that were in high demand at the deadline, aside from perhaps Hudson. However, the Nationals did what they could given their bleak minor league system to acquire much-needed bullpen help.
They still have a dynamite closer in Sean Doolittle who’s posted a 2.87 ERA/3.09 FIOP and a 10.53 K/9 clip with 24 saves in 48 appearances on the season. Perhaps Hudson can be the much-needed eighth-inning arm the Nationals need to shorten the distance from the starter to Doolittle.
It also needs to be mentioned that the Nationals aren’t going to need to rely on their bullpen as much as almost any other team in baseball come playoff time. The Nationals have received 651.2 innings from their starting pitchers this season, the second-most in baseball next to the Dodgers and their 662 frames.
In other words, the distance from the starter to Doolittle is already short, and the Nats might just be one reliable arm away from a drastic change in bullpen success. They’re looking for Hudson to be that arm.
Hey, the new additions have look mighty good so far as they’ve combined to pitch 4.2 innings of scoreless ball in six combined appearances so far while another new addition, Fernando Rodney, owns a 3.07 ERA in 16 appearances spanning 14.2 innings so far as a member of the Nationals.
The rotation is flat-out dominant. The offense is now inside of the league’s top 10. The bullpen is already looking better in a small sample, but the front office made the necessary moves given their organizational situation.