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Giants grab Nick Vincent on a minor league deal

It’s a surprising move because there’s no logical reason why this quality arm was still unsigned.

Miami Marlins v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Something’s amiss in Baseball if a reliever like Nick Vincent is still available after pitchers and catchers have reported and can only get a minor league deal. The 7-season veteran entered his final year of arbitration this offseason and became a victim of Seattle’s sudden rebuild plan. He made $2.75 million last year as the Mariners’ 7th inning guy and he was good enough that Jerry DiPoto didn’t want to pay him. Their unforced error is the Giants’ gain, because Nick Vincent is a really strong arm.

I say that something’s amiss because teams always need pitching and you’d think reliable arms would always have value. We don’t yet know the terms of the deal, but it’s fair to assume Vincent will earn far less than last year’s $2.75 million salary should he make the team. Of course, there’s no guarantee that he makes the team out of Spring Training, and that’s because he might be good enough that Farhan Zaidi simply trades him to another team before Opening Day.

How good is Nick Vincent? He’s no Blake Treinen or Edwin Diaz, of course, but just going off of strikeout rate, his 23.8% put him 87th in baseball, a tenth of a percent behind Joe Kelly who signed a 3-year $25 million deal with the Dodgers this offseason. He was ahead of Pedro Strop, Ryan Madson, and Adam Warren — really good plus-stuff relievers. His strikeouts per 9 of 9.1 would’ve been fourth-best on the team, just behind Tony Watson. Vincent has struck out 332 batters in 332 career innings and sports a career FIP of 3.09.

He has been a solidly above average reliever for his entire career. But what flaws kept him from getting a major league contract? Well, for one thing, he didn’t have a great 2018 relative to the rest of his career.

He was an 18th round draft pick of the Padres in 2008 and debuted with them in 2012. In his four seasons there, he struck out 161 in 150.2 IP with a 2.63 ERA / 2.53 FIP, 1.062 WHIP and walked only 39 batters (6.5% of batters faced). By FanGraphs’ SIERA, his 2.74 was 21st best over that four-year span. Beyond excellent.

Then the Padres traded him to the Mariners at the end of Spring Training in 2016. Over the next two seasons in a tougher league, he struck out 115 in 125 IP with a 3.46 ERA / 3.46 FIP, 1.144 WHIP, and walked 38 batters (7.4% of batters faced). His 3.74 SIERA was 40th, just 11 spots behind the aforementioned Blake Treinen. So, still solid and above average.

But in 2018, he struck out 56 in 56 IP with a 3.99 ERA / 3.75 FIP, 1.154 WHIP, and walked 15 (7.9% of batters faced). His 3.65 SIERA was only 83rd best, but wait, hold on — still above average. What’s going on here? He was still a pretty darned good pitcher — 0.7 fWAR!

Hmm... his home runs per 9 jumped from 0.4 in 2017 to 1.1 in 2018. That’s not great. But it was 1.6 in his first season with the Mariners (it was 0.5 in his time with San Diego). His Left On Base rate of 67.6% is also not a great look. That’s worse than Ty Blach (69%) and just a little bit better than Chris Stratton (66.9%) and 124th in baseball. But! Still only just behind Joe Kelly (67.9%) and Zach Duke (67.8%), who both signed major league deals this offseason. That figure was also ahead of David Robertson (67.5%) who signed a big deal with the Phillies.

Let’s remove Zach Duke from this comparison, though. He’s 35, sure, but he’s also left-handed, and there will always be a need for left-handed pitching. But there will also always be a need for solid righty relievers.

Free Agent RHP comps 2019

Joe Kelly 30 65.2 23.9% 11.2% 1.36 67.9% 4.39 3.57 3.92 3 years, $25 million
David Robertson 33 69.2 32.2% 9.2% 1.03 67.5% 3.23 2.97 2.88 2 years, $23 million
Nick Vincent 31 56.1 23.8% 6.1% 1.16 67.6% 4.14 3.75 3.65 minor league deal

Hmmm, maybe it has something to do with velocity? Aha! There it is. Vincent is a two-pitch pitcher, like most relievers, only his two pitches are a four-seam fastball and a cut fastball and he averages just 89.4 mph with the fastball and 87.4 with the cutter (which is his primary pitch). That fastball average has dipped a bit — it was solidly a 90 mph average through the previous six seasons — so maybe that’s why? Teams just assumed he was about to have a career-threatening injury?

No! He has elite spin rates on his primary pitches. 2,424 rpm on a cutter is well above the MLB average (2,185) and his four seamer spins at 2,345 rpm (the MLB average is 2,226 rpm). Combined that with the strikeout and walk rates and factor in even age-based decline and — he’s still a solidly above average major league pitcher.

Nick Vincent should’ve signed a nice major league deal. In the meantime, the Giants might’ve just landed a tremendous bargain who would make the departure of any of current bullpen arms absolutely painless.