Fourth of July, the HR Derby, the craziness of NBA free agency, grilling season, kid’s finishing school – the key landmarks that summer is finally here. But is summer really summer without the trade deadline? The big circle in the middle of all 30 MLB teams calendar whereby they make a decision from two options. Do we trade away and build for tomorrow? Or do we trade tomorrow in the hope of glory of today.
The relievers market is an interesting proposition when looking at it. At the very top of the table are guys like Shaun Greene (Tigers), Will Smith (Giants), Kirby Yates (Padres), Felipe Vasquez (Pirates) and Brad Hand (Indians) who will all likely command a king’s ransom. However the players at the table aren’t necessarily the ones with either enough finance, prospects or in some cases, both to likely make a move for one of the elite names. Yet the teams with either and/or both sets of trade chips are more inclined to be players within the starting pitcher than bullpen one like the Astros, Yankees and Braves.
Consequently the relief pitching market is almost left in flux with the shop window out of budget for the large percentage of the prospective buyers (Rays, Athletics, Twins and Brewers).
So, what happens now?
The teams looking for relief pitching may be forced to look outside of the box. Rather than looking at the elite of the elite, teams maybe forced to look at some low risk, high reward relief pitching. Instead of a one-year rental who is free to test the open market at the years end, why not look at someone who has an extra year of team control? When looking at the free agents for the winter of 2020/21, I managed to whittle the options down to a handful of options. These were:
· Aaron Loup (San Diego Padres)
· Justin Wilson (New York Mates)
· Jesse Chavez (Texas Rangers)
· Wily Peralta (Kansas City Royals)
· Adam Warren (San Diego Padres)
And of course, the subject of this article- T.J McFarland (Arizona Diamondbacks) who stuck out like a sore thumb.
Who is he?
TJ McFarland has been somewhat of a journey man since being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 4th round of the 2007 amateur draft. He would later be redrafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the December2012 Rule 5 draft after the Indians deemed him not valuable enough to protect by placing him on the 40 man roster. From there he would be optioned to the Orioles AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides a staggering 13 times. Over his 4 years with Baltimore, McFarland’s innings would fall year on year with the Major League club having registered 74.2 (2013), 58.2 (2014), 40.1 (2015) and 24.2 (2016) largely due to his 3.1 BB/9 rate. McFarland’s leash in Baltimore may have been a little longer if he had been able to rediscover his punch out pitch.
Having touched 93mph as an amateur (Baseball America), McFarland was touted by the Indians as having a ‘plus power breaking ball with a two-plane break’- something like a slider, but not a slider. With the Orioles the number of walks he gave up only became a problem because his K/9 fell from 7.00 in 2013, 5.2 (2014), 5.8 (2015) and finally a lowly 2.6 in 2016. Walking batters regularly and failing to punch out isn’t really a recipe for success in AAA, let alone the Major Leagues.
Following his release from the Orioles in Spring Training of 2017, McFarland was signed by his current team, the Arizona Diamondbacks and assigned to their AAA affiliate, the Reno Aces. After 3 weeks in Reno, McFarland was called up to Chase Field and hasn’t since been back to AAA outside of a rehab assignment in April 2019 following some inflammation in his shoulder.
Why should my team trade for him?
Having pitched in two of the least pitcher friendly parks in the Majors in Chase Field & Camden Yards, McFarland’s numbers are an obviously a little uninspiring to the untrained eye. In 106IP in Baltimore he amassed a 4.84ERA with a 1.689 WHIP with a 3.77ERA at Chase Field with a 1.323 WHIP in just over 76 IP. With that said, his numbers away from his 2 unfortunate homes have been somewhat different. He has posted a 2.50 ERA in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium, 1.50 ERA at Nationals Park (10IP), 1.64 ERA at Miller Park (10IP), 0.00 ERA at Kauffman Stadium (0.00) and 1.29 ERA at both Dodgers Stadium & Nationals Park in 7IP.
So, what, it’s a small sample size. Very valid point.
But Chase Stadium and Camden Yards are both hitter friendly parks which are a home run haven for fly ball hitters. McFarland doesn’t fit that mould. He isn’t a blow it by you fastballer who will get pop ups and swing and misses. Instead he’s a bread and butter ground out machine who lets his middle infield do the work.
At the time of writing (17.07.2019), McFarland posts the 14th best groundball to fly ball rate and 15th best groundball rate with names such as Zack Britton, Joe Kelly, Jordan Kicks, Tyler Chatwood and Mark Melancon ahead of him across all relievers within the Major Leagues.
He has turned himself from a guy who throw heat as an amateur, to someone who is phenomenally good inducing both weak contact and a negative launch angle (down into the ground). In the example below we see McFarland pitching too Kevin Pillar of the San Francisco Giants, with 2 on and 2 out, McFarland has a free pass in how he pitches goes too Pillar. Quite often you would see a guy keep the ball up in the hope of a pop or fly out, should he keep the ball down he risks a base hit and plating the runner at second- but not McFarland, he sticks with what he knows, ground balls.
McFarland throws an off speed change up at 82mph.
At the very last second the ball begins to lose velocity and instead of staying up as a hanging off speed pitch which would likely be crushed, instead falls to knee height. Pillar is fooled, we can see his front hip is well out In front of his hands and his back knee drops to compensate.
All he can do from here is ground out to the third baseman. Another groundout for McFarland.
Again, look at the slider below, we referenced it earlier when the Indians referred to it as a two-plane slider, but look how late it not only breaks- but falls to the second plane out of the zone. The hitter Vogt thinks it going to hang for a strike, he is lured in but at the last moment the string is pulled, and it finishes out of the zone for a strikeout.
McFarland certainly won’t be the most glamorous name traded at this year’s deadline, heck he may not and probably wont be traded at all. But with a groundball pitch as good as any in the game and on the hook for $1.4m in 2018 and a further $1.85m in 2019, McFarland seems the perfect buy low huge reward guy who may just be available at the deadline.