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Giants claim reliever Kyle Barraclough

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The intriguing relief arm immediately becomes the pastry-est name in the organization.

Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It’s pronounced BEAR-claw, like the pastry. Kyle Barraclough, an alum of my alma mater St. Mary’s College of California, was the 46th-most valuable reliever in baseball from 2015-2018, amassing 2.4 fWAR with the Marlins. He was more valuable than Sam Dyson, Hunter Strickland, and Daniel Hudson. And then he was traded to the Nationals for 2019.

Not sure if this is a portent of things to come for Strickland and Hudson, who were both acquired by the Nationals this past trade deadline, but upon becoming a part of the Nationals’ bullpen, the 29-year Barraclough went from a career 3.21 ERA/3.45 FIP pitcher (122 ERA+) to a 6.66 ERA/6.57 FIP in what was a calamitous clusterpen that held the Nationals back in the early going.

The Giants just claimed him on waivers from the Nationals, and if you’re wondering why a guy who was too bad for the Nationals’ bullpen was deemed good enough for a spot on the Giants’ 40-man roster spot, look no further than Trevor Gott. Maybe there’s something in the water in Nationals Park, maybe their bullpen catcher only warms them up with negative reinforcement, we’ll never know, but the Giants seem to think he’s worth the claim.

There’s enough good in the numbers to suggest they’re on to something; but, really, after taking the Nationals’ earlier discard, Gott, and getting solid performance out of him, this would be worth the risk even if the analytics weren’t all that great. As it stands, he’s got a 10.5 K/9 this season (career 11.4) despite his struggles, and his fastball velocity has held steady into 2019 (93.4 mph).

Barraclough is a walk fiend, though. He led all relievers in walks per 9 in that same four-season period I cited above, with a 5.52 BB/9, nearly a walk greater per 9 than the second pitcher on the list (A.J. Ramos at 4.66). So, the Giants will need to tinker under the hood to straighten out this lingering issue.

There’s also the matter of that velocity. 93+ isn’t elite on the fastball, but it can still be effective. Here are two examples from this season:

But Barraclough’s velocity has declined every year...

2015 — 96.2 mph
2016 — 96.2 mph
2017 — 94.8 mph
2018 — 93.6 mph
2019 — 93.4 mph

... and the spin rate has ticked downwards, too, though not quite as much:

2015 — 2,450 rpm
2016 — 2,481 rpm
2017 — 2,465 rpm
2018 — 2,426 rpm
2019 — 2,354 rpm

So there’s a slim chance there are some underlying arm troubles or delivery problems that need to be worked out, too.

No matter what, the Giants are gambling just a 40-man roster spot and the potential of a $2-$3 million arbitration award in the offseason to see if they can grab another reliever off the scrapheap and turn him into an All-Star or a reliever they can flip at the deadline for a haul similar to what they got for Sam Dyson.