In Search of a TORP

Over the next few days, leading up to Monday’s August 1st non-waiver trade deadline, the Texas Rangers are going to acquire a starting pitcher. When expectations were lower I wrote about Matt Moore (especially), Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Andrew Cashner (who was traded to the Marlins a couple days ago).

Then the buzz was that Texas was going after Chris Sale, so I wrote about him, too. 

Now the starting pitcher of interest is Phillies righty Vince Velasquez and, according the CSN Philadelphia, the two teams are “in pretty deep” in trade talks.

Velasquez, 24, was the centerpiece of a six-player trade last offseason — from Houston — to ascertain closer Ken Giles, in a move so universally one-sided that Joe Sheehan wrote this about it:

This is exactly what you should do with relievers. Pretending for the moment that Ken Giles will repeat his first 111 innings twice more, he’s still not that valuable relative to the market. You can make more Ken Gileses — the baseball industry is basically one big factory churning out one-inning relievers who throw hard and miss bats. If the Phillies want, they can probably take Mark Appel and turn him into an approximation of Giles in two years. Velasquez, though, is a valuable property, a starting pitcher, controllable for six more years, who combined velocity and command and has shown himself able to pitch in the majors. Giles for Velasquez, by itself, would have been a win for the Phillies. The rest of the trade is gravy. Not the canned stuff, though; the good stuff you make from drippings on holidays.

Closers have long been the most overrated property around major league baseball, guys who throw 65 or 75 innings in a given year and, even if dominant, are not nearly as valuable as an average starter — who absorb three times as many innings.

At worst Velasquez probably provides the floor of #3 starter, given his ability to strike hitters out in bunches, with a high-#2 ceiling. In reality the Astros should have received Ken Giles and then some just for Velasquez, but given the opposing directions on the win curve of Philadelphia and Houston, the Astros were the team that paid the premium.

In 2016 — Vince’s first MLB season as a full-time starter — he has impressed. In 17 starts and just a shade over 90 IP, he sits with a 3.34 ERA (3.78 xFIP) and a daunting 27.2% strikeout rate, which ranks 9th in the National League for all starters who’ve thrown at least 90 IP.

Like Chris Sale, whom the Rangers also covet, Velasquez’s prowess of punching hitters out is his most attractive quality. Particularly since it’s the one glaring weakness of Texas’s pitching staff, which ranks dead last in MLB in strikeout rate (17.2%), and next-to-last in starter’s strikeout rate (16.8%).

Texas is desperate for swing-and-miss pitching, because if we have realized anything over the last month, it’s that pitching to contact doesn’t work as effectively in the summer months where the ball carries better. The more contact you eliminate, the less balls are put in play, thus the less runs the opposing team has the opportunity of scoring.

The fact that Vince Velasquez is only 24, and under team control through 2021, makes him extremely valuable on an increasingly thin trade market. The same names on the table for Chris Sale pertain to Velasquez, meaning some combination of Joey Gallo or Jurickson Profar or Lewis Brinson or Luis Ortiz or Yohander Mendez are worthy chips for being flipped.

Because of Velasquez’s youth there is an assumed innings limit on his arm in 2016, which could sap some of his immediate trade value to the Rangers, who are vying for a World Series run this season. If, for argument’s sake, Vince has an innings limit of 150 IP, that leaves Texas with around 65 innings to play with between now and the end of the year.

In theory, that would mean they could only get 8-10 starts out of him before possibly considering a role as a multi-inning reliever down the stretch, which could prove useful assuming the Rangers make it to the postseason. If you take Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, and utilize some combination of A.J. Griffin and Colby Lewis and Derek Holland and Martin Perez for the last two rotation slots, then Velasquez could be the bridge to the back-end of the bullpen.

It all sounds good in theory, but the Rangers would no doubt have to pay a steep price to get Velasquez. Because it wouldn’t only be for this year. We’re also talking 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Like I’ve mentioned before with Chris Sale and Matt Moore, it only make sense for the Rangers to trade for a starter if it’s going to directly impact their chances of the World Series this year. Under such a scenario, it behooves them to go for the best talent they can, not just some league-average starter to soak up innings between now and October.

To that end, Velasquez is a worthwhile target. His strength — namely strikeouts — is the Rangers weakness. Vince would instantly transition into Texas’s 3rd-best starter, and be an upgrade of roughly two Wins compared to the current scrapheap of back-of-the-rotation starters the Rangers currently possess.

At this stage of the season, teams pay dearly for those extra two Wins. It could be the difference between a division crown and a Wild Card berth, where you’ve basically got coin-flip odds of advancing to the next round.

Vince Velasquez is exactly the type of pitcher the Rangers should be interested in.

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