The Giants have added two hard-throwing right-handed pitchers over the past eighteen hours, so let’s talk about them.
Yesterday, Jose Lopez was claimed off waivers from the Reds, who had designated him for assignment after they had signed Zach Duke to a 1-year deal. This morning, the team traded for Trevor Gott from the Washington Nationals for cash considerations.
These are really nice depth moves that should be pretty familiar to us by now. They wouldn’t have been uncommon in the Brian Sabean era and the only reason why they’ve registered to me as a mild surprise at the beginning of Farhan Zaidi’s tenure is because neither of them are speedy outfielders with a high minor league on base percentage.
Consider this: Farhan Zaidi has kept a lot of the same people in the organization (for at least this season), which means that a lot of scouting reports and scouting input that got us the Sam Dysons of the world — maybe even stretching back to the utility of Tim Worrell-types — are still hanging around. Pair that institutional memory and organizational knack at finding “scrap heap” arms who can contribute to the major league team with Farhan’s nimbleness on the waiver wire and, hum baby, that’s a nice combination.
Just to show how much perception skews reality — it seems like the general perception has been that outside of Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers haven’t had a great track record with their bullpen. Not so! Since 2015, when Zaidi became their GM, the Dodgers’ ‘pen has had the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball (3.57), third-best K/9 (9.87), third-best BB/9 (3.01), third-best Left On Base rate (76%), and third-best fWAR (21.5). They’ve been the third-best bullpen in baseball (behind the Yankees and Astros).
The Giants have been in the bottom-third of baseball.
So, maybe my perception of the Giants’ ability to find big value with relief pitching lottery tickets is what’s wrong here and the pitching magic long ago left them or was always a mirage. Regardless of perception, the reality is that the Giants just added two really interesting arms into the mix.
Jose Lopez never appeared on the Reds list for MLB Pipeline, but last January, FanGraphs had him as the 20th best prospect in Cincinnati’s system.
[...] he averages about 92 mph on a fastball that touches 95 and features enough life that it’s capable of missing bats up in the zone. His violent, somewhat concerning delivery makes him deceptive, and Lopez is able to throw strikes with all four of his pitches despite all this mechanical noise.
He relies heavily on two breaking balls — a two-plane slider and 12-6 curveball — which are both average.
He has 474 strikeouts in 491 minor league innings, good for a strikeout rate of 23%, which is good. You can’t draw a straight line from minor league performance to major league performance, but just for the sake of reference, Derek Holland had a 23.3% strikeout rate last season, which placed him in MLB’s top 30. Lopez’s minor league walk rate of 7.3% is pretty good, too. Again, for context, Dylan Bundy’s was 7.2% in 2018, which placed him in MLB’s top 30. And just for extended comparison’s sake, Dereck Rodriguez’s minor league rates were 20.7% strikeout / 6.5% walk and Andrew Suarez’s were 21.1% and 5.6%.
Lopez gives the Giants some needed starting pitching depth, in particular, pitching with some strikeout stuff. The only other pitcher waiting in the wings was Shaun Anderson.
To make room on the 40-man, Josh Osich was designated for assignment. Osich’s 2018 Spring Training created the illusion that he was ready to make a leap forward in performance. It wasn’t meant to be, to the tune of an 8.25 ERA in just 12 innings. There’s a decent chance he clears waivers and goes back to the minor leagues, but he’s also thirty years old and wouldn’t figure to be in the team’s short-term or long-term plans.
Meanwhile, Trevor Gott has a 96 mph sinker that has led to a 67% groundball rate in the minor leagues. He turned 26 this past August and has pitched a little over 300 professional innings. He made his debut with the Angels in 2015 (after being drafted by and traded from the Padres) and did so well in 47.2 innings that he wound up being traded from the Angels to the Nationals that offseason in exchange for Yunel Escobar.
But wait — let’s go back. He’s one of those anonymous Padres relievers. I should’ve known. That name is vaguely lacrosse player-sounding. Or the name of someone who owns a boat. Every Padre reliever shares these characters. They also tend to profile as solid two-pitch pitchers, usually fastball-slider guys. Here’s a sinker-curveballer, who can also throw a four-seamer. Last spring, he reported that he had been working on a slider, too, but Statcast hasn’t recorded him throwing such a pitch in the big leagues.
To that point, as hard as Gott throws — averaging 95-96 with the sinker and 93-94 with the fastball — his spin rates all show to be just a bit below the major league averages, and Statcast’s expected stats based on the quality of contact batters have made against his stuff suggests that he has a little ways to go in terms of mastering his stuff.
Still, on the surface, it looks like the Giants acquired a younger, raw-er version of Sam Dyson, which to this cynic suggests that the team figures to move him as soon as it makes sense, given that they have a potential replacement. To make room for Gott on the 40-man, Johnny Cueto was moved to the 60-day injured list.
These are both moves for the margins, but they’re also clear upgrades to the roster. Both players have quality track records and intriguing stuff that makes it easy to imagine strong success at the major league level if they can gain command and control. Betting on coaching, reps, and Matt Daniels’ Driveline Baseball-style upgrades the organization’s development system to give such players the best possible opportunity to succeed and hit their 80th percentile and beyond projections is bold and confident and absolutely what a front office that’s bold and confident in its new approach should be doing as Spring Training begins.