01 August 2014

Orioles Give Up Too Much for Andrew Miller

One of the more active non-waiver trade deadlines in recent memory has now come and gone.  There were several surprising deals that transpired throughout the day, with a flurry of last minute deals that kept the excitement high right up to the 4:00 deadline.  The Boston Red Sox were extremely active, sending off Jon Lester  and Jonny Gomes to Oakland, John Lackey to St. Louis, and Andrew Miller to the Orioles, which brings us to the point of this piece.

Along with closer Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and T.J. McFarland, the acquisition of Miller gives Baltimore 4 left handed options in their bullpen.  The table below shows how each pitcher has fared during the 2014 season.

As you can see, Miller has been outstanding this season.  He’s accumulated the 11th most wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs) of all relievers in baseball.  He’s posting career bests in his strikeout rate, walk rate, and it’s not even particularly close.  There is no doubt that his addition improves an already steady (yet unspectacular bullpen), as the Orioles now have another option they can feel very comfortable bringing into the game during high leverage situations.
New Oriole Andrew Miller (photo via Keith Allison)

Adding Miller to the bullpen probably means that at least one of the other three lefties in the bullpen will have to go.    Britton, who has been reborn as the team’s closer this season, isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Matusz or McFarland.  Both have options remaining, so either one of them (or both) could be stashed in the minor leagues if necessary to become frequent riders of the Norfolk/Baltimore shuttle.  My guess is that McFarland (who has already been optioned this year) will be the one to be sent down.  However, the beauty of the Miller deal is that the Orioles don’t HAVE to make room for him by moving Matusz or McFarland to the minors.  Miller isn’t your typical left handed reliever, as he has been extremely effective against both left and right handed batters, holding them in 2014 to a .194 wOBA and .243 wOBA, respectively.  This can allow the team to transition Matusz permanently into the LOOGY role.  This is a good move for both Matusz and the team, as right handers have hit him very hard this year, to a tune of .304/.389/.507 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

For the privilege of having Andrew Miller pitch approximately 20 innings in the Orioles bullpen (Miller will be a free agent after the season), Eduardo Rodriguez goes to the Red Sox.   Baseball Prospectus ranked Rodriguez as the 4th best prospect in the Orioles system prior to the start of the season, and No. 61 in their overall Top 101.  At the time, his ceiling was that of a No. 3 starter.  He has struggled this year pitching in AA (4.79 ERA) and spent over a month on the disabled list.  So while he may still hold that ceiling, it doesn’t look quite as likely that he’ll reach it, as it did before the season.  I don’t believe the Orioles will necessarily be “haunted” by Rodriguez potentially pitching for a division rival over the next 6-8 years, but make no mistake, the Orioles gave up a good prospect in this trade.

If the Orioles were a team with fewer glaring holes (like the Nationals, pre-Ryan Zimmerman injury), this trade would make a lot more sense.  In other words, Baltimore is not a team that was one bullpen piece away from being the prohibitive AL East favorites.  I don’t believe that Rodriguez should have been untouchable, but I do think his value could have been leveraged in a more productive way.  Yes, the bullpen needed an improvement, but there was a greater need to provide an upgrade to the rotation or at second base (topics we’ve discussed this month on several occasions).  Using Rodriguez as a centerpiece in a trade and building a package around him for either of those spots would have been more productive.  To illustrate my point, the following table shows the number of wins above replacement (according to the ZiPS projection system) each of the three players will be worth the rest of the season.

In the best-case scenario, Miller replaces McFarland, and the Orioles gain 0.4 wins the rest of the year.  That is not insignificant, but it’s not exactly the difference maker you’d hope to get for a top 100 prospect.