First, I tip my hat to DBacksEurope for sparking my curiosity to find relievers the Diamondbacks should attempt to acquire. The spark was his AZ Snake Pit article on free agent closers that the Diamondbacks could acquire.
Methodology for Finding Relievers to Acquire.
With an imperative to eschew stars past their prime (which has rarely worked for the Diamondbacks), and eschew top-level stars (which are unaffordable for the Diamondbacks), my search approach was to focus in the high middle. My six criteria follow:
- Must be a power pitcher whose average fastball velocity is at least above average (I decided 94 MPH is good enough) with a strikeout/walk ratio of at least 3.
- Must be age 30 or younger (Baseball Reference age). Younger pitchers are more likely to pitch multiple seasons. The Diamondbacks contention window may open soon and it will last several seasons.
- Starters command higher (unaffordable) salaries. Pitchers who started games in 2022 were not considered.
- Desirable candidates will improve next season. My approach was to look at relievers who pitched for three teams with poor or below-average defense: The Nationals, the Red Sox, and the Pirates. That has an additional advantage of a possible win-win trade because the Diamondbacks could offer players with above-average defensive abilities.
- Desirable candidates have a poor save percentage.
- Must have pitched to at least 100 batters in 2022. Less than that greatly increases the risk of a bad acquisition. Albeit that all acquisitions are risky.
My search found five acquisition candidates. One is a free agent, and four are trade candidates. Let’s look at the free agent.
Matt Strahm, left-handed pitcher, formerly Red Sox, current free agent.
He met my criteria to be an acquisition candidate.
His fastball’s average velocity was 94.2 MPH.
His Strikeout to walk ratio was 3.25 (not counting his intentional walk on 7 September).
His Baseball Reference age was 30.
In the last three season, he was exclusively a reliever.
This season his 44% save percentage was poor (4 saves in 9 opportunities).
He faced 193 batters.
His ability to pitch in a wide variety of roles is valuable. Last season, he pitched in a wide variety of situations. The following tables show:
- Except for the first three innings, he has pitched in every inning, with his best outs per batter in the fifth and sixth innings.
- In May through June, he pitched less than 1 inning in half his appearances. That changed in September, then he pitched exactly 1 inning in 9 of his 12 appearances.
He overcame injuries.
He injured his wrist and did not pitch from July 13 to 18 August. The following table shows that when he returned:
- His 27% strikeouts per PA was the same.
- His 6% walks per PA increased to 12% (a concern).
- His wOBA slipped from .289 to .307 (but still above average).
- His BABIP improved from .329 to .211.
He wants to be a starter. 2019 was the last season that Matt Strahm started games. In his last 5 starts of that season (ignoring his 2-inning opener) his 10.65 ERA and his 4.2 HRs per 9 innings tell me that his best role is a reliever.
Despite the 2019 season, he wants to be in a rotation. Knee injuries limited his pitching in 2020 and 2021. Now that those injuries are not limiting, he wants to start games.
His pitching was above average. Although I’m counting on Brent Strom to improve Matt Strahm’s pitching, let’s look at how well he pitched in 2022.
He pitched 44.2 innings with an ERA+ of 110 (above average). His 26.9% strikeouts and 8.8% walks were encouraging statistics. Data from Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.
He has five pitches. For a reliever, that is unusual, and in my view it shows a flexible arsenal that can be adapted to gain advantage against specific batters, especially when the team has excellent defenders.
It is extraordinary that except for his changeup, his other pitches (4-seam fastball, curveball, sinker, and slider) all have a negative run value per 100 pitches. This season his RV/100 improved for his 4-seam fastball (+3.2 to negative 1.4) and slider (+0.2 to negative 0.7). Explaining part of his improvement was large improvement in whiff % for these two pitches.
Note that run values are from the batter’s point-of-view, so that from the pitcher’s view, negative values are good. The run values for specific pitch types as provided in Baseball Savant are built on the foundation of RE-24 (description of which is beyond the scope of this article).
With the Diamondbacks he could improve. As partial confirmation that better defense could improve his results was that his expected ERA was better than his actual ERA (3.34 vs 3.83). Also, his expected wOBA was better than his actual wOBA (.285 vs .296). Data from Baseball Savant.
Matt Strahm knows who he is and his attacking mindset will contribute to his continuous improvement. He likes tacos, and there is no better place for tacos than Arizona!
My methodology found four additional trade candidates. See the following table.
Perhaps you will see trade possibilities that include these additional four candidates in future articles. In my experience Diamondbacks’ trades often emerge rapidly and unexpectedly.
A methodology found five candidates who could be acquired by the Diamondbacks.
Matt Strahm is a free agent worth pursuing because his results will likely improve if the Diamondbacks acquire him. And he likes tacos!
Four additional candidates to acquire via trade are John Schreiber, David Bednar, Hunter Harvey, and Victor Arano.