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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer This series will attempt to identify other potential front-line starters that the Angels can possibly trade for and we will continue the series looking at the Detroit Tigers SP Matthew Boyd. Facts Contract Status - Matthew is in his first year of arbitration in 2020 and has avoided the process by signing a contract for $5.3M. If he continues to perform, as he did in 2019, he will likely make something close to $9M in 2021 and, in his last year of arbitration control, something on the order of $12M-$14M in 2022. Based on his 2019 performance those would be affordable numbers, making him a likely candidate to be kept for all three seasons of his control. Repertoire - Four-Seam Fastball (50.9%, 92.4 mph), Slider (34.8%, 80.0 mph), Change Up (6.0%, 79.5 mph), Curve Ball (5.3%, 74.2 mph), and Sinker (3.1%, 90.0 mph) Statcast Information - Boyd features a five-pitch mix but relies heavily on his four-seam fastball and slider in-game. Although he gets decent strikeouts with the former and it has above average spin rate, it is the latter that was his bread and butter out-pitch in 2019, particularly and counter-intuitively, against right-handed hitters (RHH): And versus left-handed hitters (LHH): As you can see, Matthew deals with RHH's more often using his slider, change up, and four-seam fastball, whereas against LHH's he has relied more on the use of his slider, two-seam and four-seam fastballs. Boyd's pitch frequency, velocity, and placement (horizontal and vertical break) are visualized below: As a starter that relies so heavily on two pitches, Matthew emphasizes the use of his four-seam fastball nearly 50% of the time. Between the four-seam and his slider, they account for almost 86% of his arsenal which is probably not ideal. In 2019, his change up had pretty good exit velocity (80.2 mph), creating softer contact off the bat. With his slider he ran a 41.8% K%. The two-seam fastball and curve ball were, unfortunately, quite hittable (at least against RHH's), particularly the latter. Boyd might be better served by mixing in one or more of the other three pitches in his repertoire to keep hitters on their toes. Against RHH's this might be his curve ball or, more probable, change up and versus LHH's increasing the use of the two-seam fastball could prove useful. Injury History Risk - Low (No recorded injury history) Three-Year History - As you can see, Boyd posted an excellent K/9 rate of 11.56 combined with a solid 2.43 BB/9 rate in 2019. That is solid #2 type numbers that were, unfortunately, marred by a #7 type 1.89 HR/9 rate, resulting in 39 home runs given up and a 4.56 Earned Run Average (ERA) for the season. Matthew, at least in 2019, was like the Adam Dunn of pitchers; he either struck them out, forced them to put the ball in play, or coughs up a home run. It is an interesting statistical profile insofar that he ran such a good strikeout to walk ratio, yet couldn't keep it in the park. Also here is Boyd's batted ball data: Matthew can find additional success by: 1) finding a way to keep the ball inside the park more, 2) joining a team with better defense to reduce the damage of balls put into play, and 3) selectively utilizing, based on what type of hitter (LH or RH), his secondary offerings to improve his strikeout results and reduce his Hard% and Med% contact even further. Why? The Tigers are probably not going to compete during the remaining three years of Matthew's arbitration control and, thus, likely have no real need to keep him and could, instead, flip him for young MLB players and prospects as part of a full rebuild of their roster. For the Angels, Boyd represents a player with some front-line upside (those 2019 strikeout numbers were tremendous) but at a mid-rotation price, due to his below average ERA numbers over the last three seasons. In fact it may be possible to acquire him without giving up Brandon Marsh, although it would not be shocking to hear that Detroit has made that ask. Basically, Matthew is in this grey zone right now where the Tigers could hold on to him and hope he improves further or they could cash him in now, coming off a good peripherals season, and probably get good value out of him, despite his home run and balls in play averages. Proposed Trade So the first thing we should do here is discuss Boyd's approximate surplus value. Over the last three years, Matthew has averaged approximately 2.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per season. Realistically, because he advanced in both velocity and strikeouts per 9 innings last season, there is reason to believe he has improved enough that his Depth Charts projection of 3.0 WAR and ZiPS projection of 3.1 WAR are accurate for 2020 and, probably, the subsequent two seasons. Based on a 3 WAR per season projection over the 2020-2022 time frame, and assuming $9.5M per WAR for 2020 with a 7% jump per year, Boyd's total surplus value is approximately $60M give or take a few million. Typically that number is enough to pull down a pretty good prospect. However, the mitigating factors in this assessment are Matthew's below average ERA's over the last three years and his elevated home run rate. These numbers will make any team hesitant to pay full asking price and rightfully so probably. That being said, this may be the Tigers best opportunity to sell high on Boyd. Additionally, although Detroit may demand a top prospect, they will probably be willing to spread their risk across multiple players and/or prospects, as they rebuild toward their new future. So a trade with the Angels may consist of the following players and prospects: Angels trade MIF Luis Rengifo, SS Jeremiah Jackson, SP Jose Soriano, and OF Trent Deveaux to the Tigers in exchange for SP Matthew Boyd For the Tigers, they get a controllable MLB-ready player to put in their middle infield and three longer-term plays in Jackson, Soriano, and Deveaux. All four of these players have significant upside and provide an opportunity for Detroit to hit on at least one of them moving forward. The Angels of course get three years of a MLB mid-rotation starter that has flashes of front-line ability (and flashes of back-end ability too) and has no injury history which should translate into a durable innings-eater, similar to Bundy and Teheran. Of course the Tigers could go after more MLB-ready players with long-term control such as Matt Thaiss, Jose Suarez, or Taylor Ward as well. They would probably request a mix of some sort and spread the risk out among at least three players/prospects, in order play the odds on the development side of the equation. Conclusion Matthew Boyd represents a durable left-handed starting option for a Major League team with the potential for upside based on his slightly improved velocity and strong K/BB ratio in 2019. He has three years of arbitration-control, no injury history to speak of, and can improve further through the implementation and increased use of a third effective pitch against both sides of the plate. For the Angels, if the price is right, acquiring Boyd would add a quality starter to their rotation and, if Matthew can rein some of those home runs back into the stadium and utilize the Angels excellent team defense, potentially a sub-4.00 ERA starter over the next three seasons of his control. This will be a costly acquisition but probably not a bank-breaking one, particularly because the Angels have several MLB-ready players and prospects that Detroit could use as part of their rebuild effort and so there is a potential match to be made here if the Tigers back-off of any demand for Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh in trade discussions.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer In 2020, Justin Upton will be entering his 14th professional season in Major League Baseball at the tender age of 32 years young. He is one of those guys, like Brett Anderson, that you feel like they have played forever and should be old men but they still have kick and life left in them as they progress through the seasons. Certainly, last year is one of those seasons that Justin would prefer to forget. In 2019, Upton ended a 10-year streak of playing 130 games or more each season, playing in only 63 Major League games to the tune of a weak wRC+ of 92, which also broke his streak of posting at least a wRC+ of 105 over that same time period. Uncharacteristically, Justin suffered from ailments, including a quad and knee injury, that ultimately limited his playing time and forced him to end his season early to receive treatment. The good news is that he appears to be recovering well and is projected to return to good health prior to Spring Training. This is good because the Angels really need Upton to recover to form. His offensive woes in 2019, most likely tied directly to his injuries, can be seen in his three-year hitting history, below: Justin Upton's Three-Year (2017-2019) Hitting History It should be noted that Justin has a career wRC+ of 120, so, other than last year, he has been above his own average during his tenure with the Angels. Really last year seems to be an injury-related abnormality. In that light, assuming Upton recovers well and is healthy to start the 2020 campaign, it would not be unexpected to see his numbers regress to his career mean and see a more productive season (say a wRC+ in the 115 to 125 range) out of the Angels left fielder. This brings me to one important note. Justin has been strikingly poor against LHP the last two seasons. Quite honestly when the author looked this up during mid-season 2019, it was stunning to see how bad the numbers were, as it was unexpected: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. LHP In fact, over the last five years, he has had three really bad offensive seasons (2015: wRC+ of 58 , 2018: wRC+ of 66, and 2019: wRC+ of 47) against them. On the flip side he had better years in 2016 and 2017 where he had a wRC+ of 100 and 202, respectively, both on elevated BABIP numbers (.300 and .369, individually). He has been wildly inconsistent against lefties and the trend is worrisome. To be clear poor production against LHP is not going to hurt the 2020 Angels too much. In fact, the Angels can mitigate this by simply having a back-up outfielder such as Goodwin, Hermosillo, or even Ward, pick-up some of Justin's at-bat's against them. The Angels could even acquire another bat to play 1B with some outfield experience to split time between the two positions to pick up some of the slack. One thing Upton has done well, consistently, is hit RHP: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. RHP People do not realize or want to recognize what an accomplished hitter Justin has been in his thirteen seasons in Major League Baseball. Recently, on Twitter, @MLB asked the question, "Who is the best left fielder of the 2010's?", and Upton came in last, vote-wise, which is a shame but is a by-product of his relatively low profile in baseball. Certainly Braun, Gordon, and Yelich are great players but Ryan has a PED's history, Alex was a strong defender but not nearly as good of a hitter, and Christian may go down as the best LF of all-time but he picked up the most recency bias in the voting process, perhaps deservedly so. The point is that Upton has been a durable power-hitter across his entire career and heading into his age 32 season, there is no reason to believe that 2020 will be any different for him, from an offensive perspective. Defensively, it might be the same or it might begin getting progressively worse. By both FanGraphs and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Justin has been below average, mostly via unforced errors and an imprecise throwing arm. His range has been about average as well as his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Basically as he continues to age, his defense will get worse and his tendinitis issue from last season may or may not contribute to his defensive performance moving forward, only time will tell. It is this potential for worsening defensive skills that will ultimately drive Upton to the designated hitter spot once Pujols contract expires or he retires. Basically, Brandon Marsh, one of our really good young prospects, took a huge stride forward near the end of the Minor League season in the Arizona Fall League and he will almost assuredly be ready to play in the Majors next year or the year after. So these next two seasons will be the last that the Angels place Justin in left field, based on what happens with Pujols. Once that change occurs the Angels will have an incredible outfield of Trout, Adell, and Marsh, which should be very exciting for Angels fans as all three have really dynamic tools and Mike Trout is, of course, Mike Trout. Upton is owed $72M over the next three seasons. When Eppler signed him the Angels were, in-part, paying for his durability and for the most part he has been on the field pretty consistently minus last season. This is actually a trend across many of the players that Eppler is acquiring as evidenced by the Bundy trade and the Teheran signing. Having good players produce on a regular basis is what carries teams successfully through 162-game seasons as well as having excellent team depth at every position. Justin is a good example of this quality, consistent production. Finally, if Brandon Marsh has a breakout season in 2020 or 2021, there is always a possibility that the Angels might try to trade Upton, particularly if Justin also has an excellent season and the Halos are, for some reason, out of contention. This seems really unlikely and is further complicated by the fact that Upton has a no-trade clause, perhaps making this a moot conversation, but if the player and management agree a move is best for everyone involved, it could be a long-shot possibility, but highly doubtful. The expectation should be that Justin Upton will continue to play at an above average level for the next three seasons and, when Pujols is gone, take over full-time designated hitter duties, perhaps with a touch of left field, first base, and pinch hitter appearances until he, too, leaves after the 2022 season is complete and the Angels move forward with young prospects like the aforementioned Marsh and possibly others like Jordyn Adams or Trent Deveaux for example. Next up is the Right Field article of the Primer Series.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer So if they call third base the "hot corner", should they call first base the "cold corner"? These are some of the random thoughts that pass through my head as the Primer Series progresses. However, the author suspects that Eppler would actually like to make sure that first base heats up in 2020 rather than reenact the cold spell that turned out to be a 27th placed ranking, in total WAR for the year, among all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Pujols, across 423 plate appearances (PA's) at 1B, provided some offensive productivity (wRC+ of 109) but made up for that by playing bad defense (-10.8 per FanGraphs 'Def' metric). Not Albert's fault though! He was forced there by necessity because Justin Bour was not supposed to put up a .179 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and a pitiful offensive showing (wRC+ of 70). Young prospect Jared Walsh picked up 80 of those PA's to the tune of a wRC+ of 51 as well. The latter has a lot of promise if he can convert his upper Minor League offensive numbers into similar Major League results. Jared could become a left-handed version of Mark Trumbo with better on-base ability, potentially (versus RHP in particular). However, as much as Eppler wants to place some faith in the younger players to provide needed production this year, Walsh might be better suited to start off 2020 at AAA Salt Lake City and act as a depth piece behind a free agent or trade target for one, or perhaps two, more season(s) (Walsh has two options remaining). When you consider Jared's inexperience, the departure of Bour to Japan, and the fact that Albert should spend all of his PA's in the Designated Hitter spot, this situation screams for a short-term solution either internally, in trade, or via free agency. So to start let us examine the best defensive first basemen in the Majors because, as you should know by now, Eppler values quality defense at every position: 2017-2019 Top 35 First Basemen Sorted by FanGraphs 'Def' on a Per Game Rate Basis (Def/G) Minimum 50 G's Played Looking at the choices, you begin to realize why first base is usually a source of offense rather than defense. Based on the fact that the Angels might have a contributor to play first base long-term such as Walsh, Thaiss, or Ward, a likelier solution for the Angels this off-season would be to acquire, via free agency or trade, a first baseman with short-term control, say 1-2 years, if they really believe that one of the names above is their long-term answer at the "cold corner". If this is the case, clearly some of the names above like, Muncy, Vogelbach, Olson, and Hoskins, are unavailable or not as desirable as they are valuable, long-term contributors to their current, respective teams. Players that might be attainable include Belt, McMahon, Adams, Rizzo, Moreland, Bird, Santana, Carpenter, and Mancini, among others. Some, like Belt, Rizzo, Santana, and Carpenter, might be out of Eppler's budget as they are all signed to contracts that would pay them double-digit millions in 2020 Club Payroll, but, as evidenced via the Rendon signing, money is probably not a large barrier. The rest, like McMahon, Adams, Moreland, Bird, and Mancini, would be more affordable from a payroll perspective but may cost more in prospect capital, albeit, probably, for reasonable mid and low-level type farm assets in return (except Bird who is a free agent after the Yankees designated him recently). So if the defensive bar is so low at first base, it may make sense, as part of this Primer Series, to flip the script and look at the top offensive first basemen: 2017-2019 Top 35 First Basemen Sorted by FanGraphs 'Off' on a Per Game Rate Basis (Off/G) Minimum 50 G's Played No matter how you parse it, most of the top offensive and defensive first basemen in baseball right now are likely unavailable in free agency and trade. Names like Bellinger, Muncy, Alonso, Freeman, and Goldschmidt are all locked in with their current teams. Out of that list, above, the most available names include Eric Thames, Jose Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Carpenter, Trey Mancini, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak, Matt Adams, and maybe Anthony Rizzo, Josh Bell, and Brandon Belt. Finding a complete first baseman in this current market is tough. Most of the candidates are good on only one of offense or defense. Additionally, some of those candidates have uneven splits, one way or the other, like Brandon Belt for example. However, most of the names above were at least League-average or better against both sides of the mound in 2019, making them viable additions to round out a lineup. That being said, the Angels could use improvement against both left and right-handed pitchers and the choice of which first baseman is utilized at the position will probably be driven not only by splits, but also, possibly, by positional versatility around the field. When you examine the likely positional set-up, players like Trout, Fletcher, Rendon, and Simmons have pretty even splits and above average defense or better, making them full-time candidates in CF, 2B, 3B, and SS. Beyond that the Angels may need to actually find a platoon partner for Upton who can hit lefties (Justin has struggled mightily with them in recent seasons). Goodwin will start the season, probably, in right field but shortly after the season begins, the Angels are very likely to call up young Jo Adell. Adell has run pretty even splits in the Minors but Goodwin can make a good platoon partner or day-off fill-in for our entire outfield. Catcher is less relevant as any offense you get out of the position is gravy. That leaves whatever solution Eppler comes up with at first base. Reasonably, the previous paragraph lists a lot of full-time Angels players and all of them are right-handed hitters which would normally beg the question of the need for a left-handed bat but those players have fairly even splits which mitigates the need to a large degree. This is, in part, why Tommy La Stella is more likely to stay on the roster for 2020 due to his more productive hitting versus RHP. Additionally, this is what makes Brian Goodwin such a perfect fit for next season, too, because, despite him being a left-handed hitter, he actually hits LHP better (114 wRC+ over the last three years) and he makes a fine temporary right fielder until Adell shows up and he can shift over to pick up some of Upton's at-bats against lefties as-needed. In the end, it seems reasonable that Eppler will simply try to acquire the best hitter he can find with good splits because the team's offense is, on paper, well balanced production-wise. Defense would be nice but is a secondary concern. So the Angels are probably searching for a player who can fill a lead-off role (more on-base ability) or as an additional power bat to place in the middle or back of the lineup. Likely Outcome: The Angels could run with one of Jared Walsh, Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, or even Albert Pujols but it seems very reasonable that the Halos could add one more experienced bat on either a short-term free agent contract or via trade to increase team depth even further (something the Angels have seriously lacked in previous seasons). Based on the fact that Eppler and Moreno are going all-in on 2020 it would not be at all shocking to see the Angels take an interest in a free agent like Nick Castellanos on a long-term deal or possibly Justin Smoak or Edwin Encarnacion on a short-term deal that would not extend past the 2021 season (One to two years maximum). On the trade side names like Matt Carpenter, Trey Mancini, Josh Bell, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Santana, or Yandy Diaz might hold more appeal than some of the other options in the market. Probability leans toward one of Smoak (free agent), Carpenter (two years of club control), Encarnacion (free agent), Mancini (three years of arbitration control), or, more remotely, Rizzo (two years of club control). Those are the value plays that Eppler is likely targeting if they decide to not run out one of the young guys in 2020. If the Angels do not pick up another first baseman, Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, or Taylor Ward are the more likely set of choices to start at 1B in 2020. Author's Choice: For me on the trade front, if the Angels manged to grab one of Carpenter (high dollars, low prospect cost) or Mancini (lower dollars, moderate prospect cost) that would be fantastic. On the free agent side Encarnacion or Smoak would be perfectly fine and affordable, costing only cash. Internally I think all three of Walsh, Thaiss, and Ward have the potential to break out (or get traded) but grabbing a guy like Smoak for 1-2 seasons would not only bring in an experienced MLB bat it would improve depth behind Justin, in case of injury or extended absence. Conclusion: Eppler would probably like to have more assured production at first base so finding a short-term solution while Jared Walsh, Matt Thaiss, and Taylor Ward gain more experience with high Minors pitching makes sense not only for the 2020 teams chances to win the Division but also as a depth move. Certainly he could have one or more of the young guys fight it out in Spring Training but why leave 2020 more to chance?