BREAKING NEWS: Brewers Trade Josh Hader to Padres

The Milwaukee Brewers trade pitcher Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The San Diego Padres have acquired Josh Hader in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hader has dominated the late innings for the Brewers, cementing himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. Now, he’s headed to the Padres, who seem to be pushing all the chips in for a World Series run.

In return for Hader, Milwaukee received reliever Taylor Rogers, Dinelson Lamet, and prospects Robert Gasser and Esteury Ruiz, per Jeff Passan.

Why was Hader traded?

This move surprised the baseball world considering the Brewers are 57-45 and currently hold a three game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Teams in first place don’t typically sell off stars, but Milwaukee saw an opportunity to maximize his value.

Hader will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and Devin Williams is waiting in the wings to become the team’s closer. One can argue at this point, Williams has already surpassed Hader, especially given Hader’s recent struggles.

San Diego is gunning for a championship and likely isn’t done making moves. It remains possible they trade for superstar Juan Soto, considering they kept the top prospects deemed necessary for such a trade.

The rundown on Hader

Hader is unique in a multitude of ways. He has a sidearm release that helps deceive batters and boosts his fastballs viability up in the zone. However, that fastball is actually a sinker, despite his tendency to elevate it. Hader can keep it in the upper-90s and uses it to complement a wipeout slider, too.

After starting the year strong, Hader scuffled in July, inflating his ERA to 4.24. Still, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.47 and xFIP (expected FIP) of 2.41 help alleviate concerns. There’s no doubt the Padres’ trade for Hader netted them an elite late inning arm.

The return for the Josh Hader trade

A mix of big-league talent and prospects makes the Brewers intriguing beneficiaries in this deal. Rogers has also seen his share of struggles, but remains one of the top lefty arms in the sport. Now, he’ll likely be Williams’ set up man. The (also) side-arming southpaw has a 4.35 ERA and 2.35 FIP in 2022.

Lamet broke out during the 2020 season, but has struggled to perform amidst lingering injury concerns. He’s a project for one of baseball’s best coaching staffs to work on.

According to Baseball America, Ruiz and Gasser were the eighth and ninth best prospects in San Diego’s farm system, respectively. Ruiz is a toolsy outfielder who has made significant improvements in 2022. Gasser, a left-handed pitcher, will sit in the low-90s but offers impressive command and secondary offerings. He projects as a future back-end starter.

Ultimately, this deal was surprising, but not necessarily bad for either team. The Brewers were likely to lose Hader in 15 months anyway. In the Josh Hader trade, they balanced their present and future needs well. Nobody will care what San Diego gave up if they’re raising a trophy in October, and they’ve kept enough ammo to keep that dream alive with additional moves.

Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem?

Taijuan Walker might have a fastball problem. Perhaps “problem” is too strong of a word. A predicament? A quandary? At the very least, he’s managed to confuse yours truly.

Walker threw 31 heaters on Sunday as he struck out 10 Los Angeles Angels. He was able to command it consistently at the top of the zone and earned a called strike or whiff a dozen times over his six innings of work. It’s the best his fastball has looked all season, and, not-so-coincidentally, the hardest, too.

Heading into his next start, Walker may be inclined to continue his season-long quest to elevate his fastball. I’m not so sure it’s the right call.

What is Taijuan Walker trying to do with his fastball?

Major League Baseball has fully entrenched itself in the era of the high four-seam fastball, Walker included. 

Walker’s game plan on Sunday, as it’s been for much of the season, was to litter the letters with strikes. It’s helped him earn early strikes and set up the secondaries that are crucial to his game; namely, his splitter. However, he’s not generating as many whiffs (20.5%) as the guys that throw as many high fastballs as him, such as Dylan Cease or Michael Kopech.

The art of throwing up in the zone is more than just location. Velocity and spin are important, too, and among other factors, help optimize one’s Vertical Approach Angle (VAA). This determines how “flat” a pitch is. Regarding fastballs, flatter is better due to the rising illusion it facilitates. Furthermore, VAA is best utilized when adjusted for pitch height, contextualizing the metric (Vertical Approach Angle Above Average, VA AA).

Essentially, good high fastballs work because hitters are swinging under them. They swing under them because they perceive the pitch to be lower than it actually is. 

At this point, we’ve established two things. One, Taijuan Walker really likes the high fastball. Two, he probably shouldn’t.

How concerned should we be?

So far, the 2022 season has been pretty kind to Walker. He’s pitched to a 3.08 ERA and his peripherals don’t suggest significant regression. Since returning from injury, he has gone five or more innings in eight of nine starts. 

What bothers me is the vulnerable state of his heater and a waning ability to generate strikeouts. 

Fastballs up in the zone are nice when they garner swings and misses, but they come with the built-in launch angle risk. If guys aren’t swinging and missing the barrels are bound to come eventually. Out of pure caution, it may be worthwhile to lower some of those four-seamers. 

As Mike Petriello pointed out, Walker’s seen a rather sharp decline in strikeouts recently. A lack of a quality fastball has dampened his ability to put guys away, and it shows. Likewise, he’s getting virtually zero production from his breaking pitches. 

Walker has featured a slider about 20% of the time during his two-year tenure as a New York Met. Last year, its 24.4% CSW% ranked 177th in the bigs. A year later and that mark has dropped to 22.1%. In 2022, it’s been barreled up twice as often as the league average and is garnering whiffs at an incredibly poor 8.4% clip.

Additionally, there is not a remarkable curveball to fall back on. It’s used almost entirely as a “get me over” pitch early in counts. While successful (35.5% CSW%), he is yet to record a strikeout with it in 2022.

Is Walker’s splitter a saving grace?

Subsequently, Walker relies on a splitter he’s throwing 30% of the time. To his credit, it’s been phenomenal. The only two pitchers with more negative run value on splitters this year are Tony Gonsolin and Kevin Gausman, a testament to Walker’s early effectiveness. 

Yet, I find myself hesitant to buy-in. Splitters are notoriously inconsistent, even for guys that truly feature their splitter (hi, Chasen Shreve). Walker has already had four starts this year with a swinging strike rate below 12% on his splitter. Gausman is yet to have one. Gonsolin has four but has two great breaking pitches to lean on.

Thus, we have a pitcher with an uninspiring fastball, a strong splitter, and no other out pitch. The dark clouds of a tough summer schedule are rolling in, and such a repertoire may not weather the storm.

Walker’s peculiar pitch mix decisions

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Walker’s season is his choice to abandon his sinker. Now thrown a mere 6% of the time, Walker’s increased splitter usage came at a direct cost to his best pitch from 2021. 

Walker’s breakers likely pushed him towards this decision. If he could not count on them to generate whiffs, he had to double down on his splitter. But to break up with it for a fastball that I’ve spent 800 words criticizing? By CSW%, it was the 24th best sinker in baseball! He commanded it really well! At its best, it was the out pitch he needed! 

Yes, Walker’s sinker hasn’t performed as well this year in its small sample size. Still, it should see more usage than it is right now. Preferably, replacing some fastballs and sliders. There isn’t much from a spin direction standpoint to suggest it tunnels with his splitter any worse, especially to right-handed hitters. 

Filling up the inside and outside borders of the plate with sinkers feels like an easy way to mitigate some concerns. Allowing Walker to throw fewer fastballs and sliders might be the “do more good things, do less bad things” approach that rights the ship before the waters get too rocky. At the very least, we’d get the aesthetic value of a front-door sinker.

Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem? Probably. But it’s the choices that surround the pitch that will define his season.

What Should the Yankees Make of Joey Gallo?

On a New York Yankees lineup revered for its 80-grade raw power, Joey Gallo is a man of extremes. The walks. The strikeouts. The home runs. He remains the face of the, “Three True Outcomes” approach, and for good reason.

Approaching Memorial Day, Gallo is slashing .171/.287/.324. He’s posted an 85 wRC+ and has a lower fWAR than you and I. His woeful lack of production has raised a flurry of questions regarding New York’s lineup, his impending free agency, and the presence of analytics across Major League Baseball

We know who he is. But what do we make of him?

Why is Gallo struggling?

The justification for Gallo’s swing-(and miss)-heavy approach is that the power output outweighs the drop-off in batting average. Theoretically, the increase in extra-base hits and walks would generate production at a similar, if not greater, clip than an equally talented player with a more traditional plan of attack. 

That simply has not been the case this season. But, why?

At first glance, not much has changed. Gallo’s typical strikeout and walk numbers have remained consistent. His batted ball data shows an unsurprisingly high flyball rate and an uptick in line drives.

There also isn’t much to suggest that Gallo is unluckier than seasons past. Sure, he’s dealing with shifts on 94% of his plate appearances and an extra outfielder when the Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays, but Joey Gallo has always dealt with these adjustments.

The biggest change in Gallo’s game is his aggression. Before Wednesday night’s contest against the Baltimore Orioles, he swung at 48.8% of pitches thrown, a significant increase from last year (40.4%) and his career average (44.7%). What’s worse, his O-Swing% has risen to 29.3%. For most, that number is insignificant—it isn’t an outlier and doesn’t even surpass the league average. 

However, chasing more than usual spells trouble for Gallo. Pitches outside the zone are inherently worse to swing at, and for someone whose quality of contact is so important to his game, each ill-advised chop takes him farther away from the slugging benchmarks that New York expects of him. When you swing and miss at as many pitches in the zone as Gallo, limiting your free strikes (and outs) outside the zone is imperative. 

More than just an approach issue

Clearly, Gallo is in the midst of a nasty slump, and it’s a battle he’s fighting on two fronts. The former Texas Ranger has a career 108 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. This year, that mark has dropped to a near incomputable 18. 

Furthermore, while Gallo has been good (117 wRC+) against right-handers, there is still a lot of room for improvement, largely because he’s been absolutely dreadful against breaking balls.

Per Statcast, Gallo is batting .040 against breakers, with an xBA of .086. His wOBA on these pitches, .163, would easily be the worst mark of his career. Surprisingly, this isn’t a platoon issue—his lone hit came against a southpaw. His aggression is evident here, as he’s swinging at more breaking stuff out of the zone. On those swings, he’s swung and missed at an 86.4% rate.

He’s just not seeing the ball well right now. It’s manifested itself into a cycle in which he’s getting behind early, missing mistakes, and living in a perpetually vulnerable state. That’s a scary place to be in. Thankfully for Joey Gallo and the Yankees, there’s a pathway back to adequacy.

The Case for Joey Gallo

The simplest factor in favor of New York’s Sultan of Sabotage is that we’ve been here before. Everyone goes through slumps, they are just a little more pronounced when one sits atop the wrong side of the strikeout leaderboard.

By looking at Gallo’s slugging percentage over time, we can see he’s experienced brief power outages before. He’s also gone on some absolute tears. Additionally, the majority of his time is spent well over that league-average indication. Perhaps the days of 2019 Gallo are long gone, but the inevitable hot streaks are not. 

At some point, Gallo will start capitalizing on mistakes and the scorched line drives will dodge the shifted outfielders. Eventually, New York will see a three-man battalion of Judge, Stanton, and Gallo terrify opposing pitchers and the law of averages will reign supreme.

Of course, hot streaks aren’t composed solely of positive variance. It’s largely fruitless to hypothesize about the adjustments professionals make, but such a slump demands consideration.

Making the necessary adjustments

One adjustment Gallo may make is taking the first pitch against left-handed pitchers. Gallo isn’t going to cut his swing rate in half. However, an intentional tinker to his approach could go a long way.

Southpaws have thrown breaking pitches (predominantly sliders) to Gallo in 0-0 counts about 62.5% of the time. It’s not a huge sample size, but given his struggles, it’s a trend likely to continue. Many of these offerings have been out of the zone, and almost all of them would be considered pitcher’s pitches. 

By becoming more conservative in this situation, Gallo helps himself in multiple ways. We know he’s not a breaking-ball hitter. Decisively taking these pitches increases the likelihood of reaching a 1-0 count, where he’s more likely to see a fastball. Even if it does fall in for a strike, he saves himself the trouble of rolling over on a well-placed slider. Sure, he’ll miss out on some heaters, but he’s given pitchers every reason to throw a waste pitch to start the at-bat. 

Likewise, this gives him an additional cleaner look at sliders out of the hand, helping him identify and differentiate the pitch later in the at-bat. If opponents end up countering with more fastballs, Gallo has successfully earned himself a pitch to hit and can retire the approach. He’s slugging .625 on lefty-lefty heaters this year—let it rip!

The best way for Gallo to get back on track is by putting himself in advantageous situations. Getting more comfortable with same-handed breakers and earning more fastballs, all while (mostly) maintaining his aggressive style of play, may be the happy medium that best gets Gallo back on track.

What is left for Joey Gallo and the Yankees?

Another adjustment to consider may be out of his hands and in those of Aaron Boone. Gallo has long been a strong defender in the outfield, but his best seasons came in right field. There, he’s more used to the spin of the ball off the bat and the routes he has to take.

It’s clear he’s still getting used to left field, a decision that seems to stem from a prioritization of Stanton’s health. If possible, getting Gallo back in his preferred spot can both make up for his poor defensive production (-3 Outs Above Average) and mitigate the risk of offensive woes bleeding into his fielding and vice versa. 

Ultimately, Joey Gallo will find his way out of these murky waters and help the Yankees win some games. His incredible average flyball exit velocity of 98.8 mph is third across MLB, and he’s still lifting the ball with ease. Once he gets his strikeouts and O-Swing whiffs down just enough to showcase his power, it’s off to the races. At least until his next slump.

Projections for Mets starting pitchers confirm concerns

Mets starting pitcher Jacob DeGrom
Photo Credit: Brad Penner/Reuters

With winter comes the freezing of roads, lakes, and every so often, the Major League Baseball offseason. The ongoing lockout produced a flurry of moves at the crux of free agency. It also provided us with an exhausting pause, long enough to examine what is left to accomplish before games begin. For the New York Mets, that means taking a look at the current cast of starting pitchers, their projections, and the work that needs to be done.

As it currently stands, New York is set to trot out Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, and Tylor Megill. David Peterson and Trevor Williams are their first reinforcements, and it’s possible both see time in the bullpen.

Sending out the best pitcher in baseball and his potential runner-up for 40% of your starts is a wonderful place to start making championship aspirations. However, both are a hop, skip, and a jump away from their age-30 seasons, and deGrom’s health is… on the decline. Expecting them to eclipse 200 innings is setting oneself up for disappointment.

That realization only increases the importance of the back half of the rotation. Unfortunately for the Mets, each option has its own set of question marks attached.

Taijuan Walker was the worst pitcher in baseball after his appearance in the All-Star game. Carlos Carrasco only pitched in 12 games, but his 11.42 FIP — or Fielding-Independent Pitching — in the first inning certainly wasn’t fun to watch. Heading into his age-35 season, he isn’t the guy Mets fans thought of at the time of his acquisition.

The younger rotation options have some pedigree to them. Megill offers an intriguing pitch mix and has already displayed his potential — he allowed a mere three runs in the 26 July innings he pitched.

Peterson’s 2021 was as short-lived as it was bad, but he’s a former first-round selection that showed off a nice arm-side fastball, glove-side slider approach during his rookie campaign.

Both have command issues that perturb them, with Megill missing inside the zone too often and Peterson failing to finish a season with a walk rate below 10%.

Projections for the 2022 New York Mets Starting Pitchers

My attempt at cultivating projections for the Mets starting pitchers started with Tom Tango’s Marcels system, based on a 5-3-1 weighted average for the last three years of a player’s career, and then regressing to the mean.

My model also starts with a weighted average, though the weights differ from Tango’s and more weights were added for one’s career average and the league average. Throw in regression towards both (with an age adjustment) and your projections are essentially complete. 

Anyway, enough with the nerdy stuff. How did they project?

Note: projected innings are from FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections. xERA and fWAR projections are estimates that do not mirror the exact formulas. 

As we can see, there are no real surprises at the top. deGrom should continue to dominate, even if it’s to a lesser extent than we’ve grown used to. Scherzer’s gray hairs dampen his projection, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of aces.

These projections confirm the idea of the Mets back-end starting pitchers being a cause for concern. Walker and Carrasco both have bright spots in their profile and look to have fairly decent years. Still, if New York is competing in October, it’ll be necessary for somebody else to be starting the NLDS’ third game.

That somebody could very well be Megill. He’s got the highest ceiling of his depth-dwelling teammates. Of course, guaranteeing him a rotation spot runs a familiar risk: running out of pitching depth. Giving Megill every chance to prove himself is fine. Relying on him to deliver (and stay healthy) could result in yet another midsummer crash.

Thus, integration into the bullpen makes a lot of sense for New York. Carrasco has experience there; Williams is best suited for long relief. One can argue Megill’s stuff is a better fit for the bullpen, and Peterson can offer something the current bullpen cannot: left-handedness. Three of those four should either be in the bullpen or AAA by Opening Day.

Projecting Potential Free Agent Acquisitions

Say the Mets plan for Carrasco to start in the rotation, Megill to develop in the ‘pen, Williams to continue as the long-relief option, and Peterson to marinate in Syracuse. Who fills the cavity within the starting rotation?

Of the remaining free agents, these are the six I’d imagine have the most mutual interest. There aren’t many big fish left to catch in this lake, but it doesn’t mean some of them can’t contribute to a contender. The following contract projections are from Jon Becker’s (@jonbecker_) Free Agent Matrix.

The Dream

Carlos Rodón, 29, Projected Contract: 3 years, $48 mil, $16 mil AAV

A move I was bullish on heading into the offseason remains a possibility deep into the winter. Carlos Rodón was pitching at an elite level in 2021 before injuries capped him at 132.2 innings. He accumulated a 4.9 fWAR, a 12.55 K/9, and a 2.37 ERA, due in large part to a rise in fastball velocity from 93 to 95.4 mph.

This raises some important questions. Can he retain the velocity boost as he approaches 30? Will he ever stay healthy? To both of those, I lean “probably not.”

The adjustments Rodón has made clearly had the desired effect, and they didn’t add any injury risk. Hurt players stay hurt, and it has likely driven his price down. Regarding his heater, I think that the 95 mph mark is a reasonable starting point. Sadly, at 29 years old, it is only a matter of time before it falters. 

Moreover, Steve Cohen made it clear that when he goes over the luxury tax, he goes over the luxury tax. Thus, I’m not too concerned about a deal less significant than a qualifying offer scaring the Mets owner. The injury history increases the likelihood of a deal remaining short-term, too. 

There aren’t many ~3.6 ERA, 3 WAR pitchers on the open market, especially with this kind of upside. It’s a risk worth taking if New York wants a legitimate #3 without the burden of losing prospects via trade. 

Definitely Worth a Look

Danny Duffy, 33, Projected Contract: 1 year, $8.5 mil

Perhaps the best pure fit of any candidate is Danny Duffy. The ex-Royal beat the Mets in the 2015 World Series but hasn’t gotten back to the playoffs. Duffy can be the lefty New York needs and has rotation/bullpen versatility.

Duffy was weirdly good last year, and while he outperformed his peripherals, his 3.40 FIP was its first time sub-4.00 since 2017. The model didn’t totally buy in. Yet, a handful of teams would pay for an innings-eating Southpaw with an acceptable ERA. He’d make Buck Showalter’s life easier and won’t break the bank.

Zack Greinke, 38, Projected Contract: 1 year, $10.5 mil

Giving one of baseball’s beloved pitchers a retirement tour and a final chance to pitch in the playoffs would make for some memories, regardless of the result. If old age or the universal DH sends him into retirement, so be it, but for the time being, he should be on the Mets’ radar.

Greinke has managed to remain consistent and healthy with age. One could point to a 6.32 K/9 as a red flag that Father Time is looming, but the projections seem to have faith. Greinke’s projections of a 4.09 FIP and 4.04 xERA would rank third and fifth among Mets starting pitchers, respectively. 

He’s no longer an ace, but New York may find themselves in the market for more mid-level arms. You can never have too much depth, and Greinke’s playoff experience could prove fruitful. 

Michael Pineda, 33, Projected Contract: 2 years, $20 mil, $10 mil AAV

Honestly, this one was surprising. It wasn’t pretty, but Pineda fought his way to 1.4 fWAR in just over 100 innings. He also managed to retain some of the success he saw in his spectacular 2020. Pineda has been better than advertised since leaving the bright lights of the Big Apple. If he’s willing to pitch under the brightest lights once again, the Mets should consider it.

Mirroring Megill in frame and repertoire, Pineda offers a glimpse into what the sophomore may look like on the wrong side of 30: less dynamic, but equally consistent. I doubt he takes on bullpen responsibilities, but if the Mets feel Megill’s long-term development as a starter can be unlocked without a spot in the rotation, Pineda offers similar production. Like Greinke, if they aren’t making a move for a stud, they still need to add depth. Pineda fits the bill.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Tyler Anderson, 32, Projected Contract: 2 Years, $14 mil, $7 mil AAV

As much as the Mets should pursue left-handers this offseason, Anderson shouldn’t be one of them. A former first-round selection who sports incredible walk and chase rates, Anderson certainly has his fans across the league. The model, on the other hand, disagrees. 

For someone who pitches to contact as much as Anderson (7.22 K/9 last year), his ability to limit hard contact isn’t sustainable enough. A projected WHIP of 1.35 would be higher than all but five qualified starters from 2021. With Anderson’s profile, he needs to be exceptional at limiting base runners and extra-base hits. There’s a good chance that isn’t in the cards this season.

His projections aren’t inspiring and it’s doubtful he outperforms any of the Mets starting pitchers. It’d be a move simply for depth. With Anderson’s lack of upside, they are better off searching for analytics darlings at a discount. 

Yusei Kikuchi, 31, Projected Contract: 3 Years, $27 mil, $9 mil AAV

Another personal surprise, Kikuchi’s projections fell short of all but Trevor Williams. He’s long been a breakout candidate, perennially close to turning the corner. In his age-32 season, that ship may have sailed.

He’s gone through encouraging jumps in fastball velocity and pitched well in the shortened 2020 season. Yet he’s struggled to maintain success. He’s another contract that is affordable and not an overbearing commitment (three years might be a little rich, too). 

Unfortunately, in his price range there are just better options. Thankfully, there’s no cataclysmic move New York can make with this group of starters, and that includes Kikuchi. Unless the analytics department is sold on the Kikuchi breakout coming in 2022, anything more than a one-year “prove it” deal would be ill-advised.

Jahan Dotson Scouting Report

Penn State, WR, Jahan Dotson (Photo via USA Today)
Penn State, WR, Jahan Dotson (Photo via USA Today)

Penn State’s Jahan Dotson presents an intriguing blend of traits, but with his Senior Bowl status in doubt, his collegiate film has become a slightly bigger piece of his scouting report.

Dotson is one of several Nittany Lions to be projected as a top-100 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. In fact, his exceptional athleticism may render him the earliest selection of the bunch. Expect a pass-happy league to value his services with a top-50 selection.

The Penn State product’s game is headlined by truly impressive body control. That ability could see him thrive over the middle of the field, where he draws his most favorable comparisons.

Additionally, Dotson’s athleticism can lend itself to manufactured touches at or behind the line of scrimmage, paving the way for early production.

Jahan Dotson Scouting Report

Explaining the Grade

An 8/10 on the Around The Block scale represents a prospect who could start from the jump if necessary. They should not be relied upon heavily, though.

Given his ability to separate and make plays at the catch point, it is likely Dotson starts fairly early on. If he manages to play bigger than his size, it could be smooth sailing from there.

However, his size and lack of elite production may be signs of a difficult transition. Cleaning up the occasional body catch will be vital. Retaining his ability to block could be key in earning reps. The nuance is already there for Dotson. He just needs to stay afloat long enough to see it come to fruition.

Moreover, it seems my Jahan Dotson scouting report will fall below the consensus. The limitations in his profile garner a third-round grade on my personal board. Yet, the path to becoming an effective starter persists.

Elsewhere, though, he’s seen his stock balloon into the draft’s first night. With a strong pre-draft circuit, that shouldn’t be ruled out.