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Numbers Game: Jays trade outfielders for relief help

Scott Cullen
7/31/2012 11:22:06 AM
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The Toronto Blue Jays traded a couple of outfielders for a couple of relievers in two separate deals.

Numbers Game looks at the deals sending Travis Snider to Pittsburgh and Eric Thames to Seattle.

The Blue Jays Get: RHP Brad Lincoln and RHP Steve Delabar.

Lincoln, 27, was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft and, prior to this season, struggled to establish himself as a starter for the Pirates, starting in 17 of 23 appearances.

This year, primarily working out of the bullpen, he has been very effective in a setup role. While Lincoln has a 2.79 ERA in 28 games in 2012, there is a dramatic split between starting and relief results. In five spot starts, Lincoln had a 6.08 ERA in 23 2/3 innings, while allowing a total of two earned runs (both home runs) in 35 2/3 innings.

He has been fortunate, leaving 85.8% of his base-runners stranded (his career mark is 69.9%, according to www.fangraphs.com), but moving full-time to the bullpen has allowed Lincoln to pare down his pitch repertoire and thrive in short spurts with his best stuff.

Lincoln's average fastball is 93.2 MPH (per www.fangraphs.com) and he mixes that with a curve ball that he throws more frequently out of the 'pen. When Lincoln was starting, he also tried to include a change-up, which he has effectively abandoned this year, replacing it with a rarely-thrown splitter which he throws just 3.7% of the time. In Lincoln's last 10 appearances, all in relief, he has averaged 22.3 pitches which, at that rate, means he would throw less than one split-fingered fastball per appearance.

It's possible that the Blue Jays could give Lincoln another chance to start, but given his relative success as a reliever, it probably makes more sense to increase his responsibility in the bullpen, perhaps into a setup role.

Delabar is a 29-year-old power pitcher who couldn't cut it as a starter, so he only reached the major leagues last September, but he's had moments in low leverage bullpen use for the Mariners.

Where Delabar has run into problems is with the long ball. He throws hard (more than 90% of his pitches are fastballs or split-finger fastballs) and while Delabar has struck out 46 in 36 2/3 innings, posting a 0.93 WHIP, he has a 4.17 ERA because he has surrendered nine home runs. His 2.21 HR/9 is the sixth-worst rate among pitchers that have at least 20 innings this season.

Both Delabar and Lincoln are inexpensive upgrades for a Blue Jays bullpen that has been depleted by trades and injuries. Neither one is likely to make a major difference in the team's fortunes, but should help a Blue Jays relief corps that has a 4.30 ERA, worst in the American League, this season.

The Pirates Get: LF Travis Snider.

Snider is a 24-year-old who was once a top prospect, but was bumped down the organizational depth chart this year. Snider didn't make the club out of spring training, despite a .965 OPS in 17 games and then the Blue Jays turned to other options before Snider when they needed to call up a bat, even though Snider was hitting .335 with a 1.021 OPS (13 HR and 56 RBI) in 56 games at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Offensive numbers do get inflated in Vegas, but Snider's production is enough to think that he still has a chance to make it as a major league regular. In 10 games since getting promoted to the Blue Jays, Snider has three home runs, eight RBI and is hitting .250 with an .856 OPS.

Though Snider is swinging at more pitches out of the zone in the short time that he's been back in the major leagues, he is generally showing more patience at the plate, seeing a career-high 4.15 pitches per plate appearance. As a result, he has fewer walks (3) and more strikeouts (14) than might be expected, but this is still very much a small sample size.

However, if Snider is ever going to stick as a major league regular, he needs to improve on his career .306 on-base percentage. In Pittsburgh, Snider will challenge for time in a corner outfield spot, battling Alex Presley, Jose Tabata (currently in the minors), Garrett Jones and recent call-up Starling Marte for playing time.

The Mariners Get: LF Eric Thames.

25-year-old Eric Thames had a chance to play as the Blue Jays' starting left fielder for the first two months of the season, hitting .243 with a .652 OPS (3 HR, 11 RBI) in 46 games before getting sent down to Triple-A.

In 54 games with Las Vegas, Thames did hit .330 with a .935 OPS, so he probably deserves another chance at the big league level and the Mariners aren't exactly overrun by quality hitting outfielders.

Like Snider, Thames will battle for playing time (Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero and Mike Carp are among contenders for corner outfield spots in Seattle) with his new team but, if he hits, Thames has a chance to stick.

The Blue Jays are taking some risk with these deals because if either Snider or Thames becomes a regular major league outfielder, they will provide more value than the middle relievers they added in return but, given Toronto's struggling bullpen and their long-term hopes for top prospect Anthony Gose in the outfield, the moves are understandable.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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