On the evening of July 14th, the Boston Red Sox acquired lefty Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres in exchange for their top pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza. The evening of the deal, I tweeted that after some research, I was sold on the trade, as I could not find much evidence pointing to Pomeranz’s 2016 success as a fluke. I also wrote briefly about my opinion on my blog’s MLB 2016 Trade Deadline Tracker page. Now, however, I would like to discuss, in more detail, why I am so high on the 27-year old pitcher named Drew Pomeranz.
Red Sox fans who dislike this deal will be quick to point out that the Red Sox traded arguably the most promising pitching prospect in the game. Baseball America recently ranked Espinoza as the 15th best prospect in the league at the midway point in the season, and Keith Law of ESPN similarly ranked him 14th overall (subscription required). Therefore, I am not going to sit here and argue that Espinoza isn’t as talented as people think he is, because that would make me wrong. Instead, I would like to point out just how young Espinoza is and how much development he still has to go through before he can become the next Pedro Martinez. I would also like to note that Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals was once compared to Pedro as well. For every Martinez, there are dozens of prospects who never come close to reaching their potential. Sure, Espinoza is already featuring three average-to-above average offerings, all while maintaining good control, but he is also only 18. Scouts expect a 2018 Major League debut at the earliest, and Espinoza will have to prove himself at three more minor league levels before he gets that opportunity.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently discussed pitching prospect volatility as it applies to Espinoza. Without going too in-depth, Cameron found that pitching prospects who ranked in the 11-25 range, on average, produced an 8.3 WAR in the MLB. For reference, Pomeranz has accumulated 5.3 WAR in his career, and has a 2.4 WAR in 2016 entering play on Wednesday (as of me writing this, I have not yet gotten to see Pomeranz in a Red Sox uniform). Within Cameron’s study, however, he also finds that of 43-man sample size, 44% of pitching prospects in the same range fail to produce more than 3 WAR, and 28% actually provide zero WAR or less. With Espinoza still being so far away from the majors, the risk involved in his projections become even greater. Thus, it is far to conclude that there is at best a 50-50 chance of Espinoza ever even accumulating the same WAR in his career that Pomeranz has already been worth this season.
This brings me to Drew Pomeranz. Initially, like many baseball fans, I was skeptical about moving a prospect of Espinoza’s status in exchange for someone as unproven as Pomeranz; but, after plenty of research and reading, I quickly changed my mind on the matter. First off, it is not as if Pomeranz has just started to find success in the big leagues as some have been lead to believe. His first three seasons as a starter were a bit of a disaster, but he was playing in Colorado where just about every pitcher is a disaster. Pomeranz then went to Oakland, where he put up a 3.08 ERA in 155.0 innings over the course of two seasons. This past offseason, Pomeranz was finally trade to the Padres, where he subsequently learned a cutter and talked his way into the starting rotation. Thanks to the addition of an effective third pitch, Pomeranz pitched to the tune of a 2.47 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 102.0 IP, also appearing in his first career All-Star game.
The addition of a cutter at the start of the season cannot be understated in my opinion. Prior to 2016, Pomeranz was essentially a two-pitch pitcher. His four-seam fastball, according to Brooks Baseball, averages right around 92 mph, while his knucklecurve, the best of his offerings, averages 80 mph with plus break. This pitch mix was suitable for a reliever, but without a third pitch to add to the mix, Pomeranz was much too predictable to last multiple times through a lineup. Enter an 87 mph cutter, and Pomeranz is now a 6’5″ lefty who can throw three different pitches for strikes at three different speeds.
There is also the argument that perhaps Pomeranz has been pitching above his capabilities through the first three months of the season. To this argument I would say you are not wrong; however, Pomeranz does not need to maintain a 2.47 ERA to make this deal a worthwhile one. Looking at some of his numbers, it is noticeable that Pomeranz has a .240 BABIP and an 80.8% LOB% this season, both being better than league average. To account for this good fortune, I look to FIP, which for Pomeranz is at 3.15 entering his start on Wednesday evening. This means that even by removing most of the luck factor,he will still be pitching significantly better than league average.
If that’s not enough to prove Pomeranz’s worth, then lets take a look at the National League versus American League argument. This season, Pomeranz has a 2.64 ERA in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. On the road, he has a 2.32 ERA, better than his home split. Similarly, Pomeranz has a 3.94 career ERA in the NL, while posting a career 3.35 ERA in AL ballparks, again favoring the move to Boston (where he individually has a 2.25 ERA). Still, lets assume that Pomeranz’s HR/FB in the AL East moves from 8.8% in 2016 back towards his career rate of 10.7% (including Coors Field, Colorado), since home run numbers are where AL East ballparks would have the greatest impact. According to xFIP, Pomeranz’s ERA would rise to 3.66 this season if his HR/FB rates were normalized at 10.5%. Only with this adjustment would it finally look like Pomeranz is more like a number three starter than a top-of-the-rotation arm. A number three type starter roughly translates to 2-3 WAR per season. The Red Sox will have Pomeranz for 2 more months of 2016, as well as for the following two seasons. Therefore, Boston can expect somewhere between 4.6 and 7 WAR of production through 2018. Recall that Cameron’s Espinoza comparisons gave him an average worth of 8.3 WAR, but also a 50-50 chance of accumulating less than 3 WAR and greater than a quarter of a chance of accumulating no WAR at all. In a nutshell, the two players are nearly equal based on projections, and that is discounting the extreme risk that is attached to Espinoza, swaying the scale in favor of Pomeranz.
There you have it Red Sox fans, whether you agree with the logic or not, there is ample evidence supporting Dave Dombrowski’s decision to trade a consensus top-20 prospect for pitching help in the form of Drew Pomeranz. For a team that is looking to get the most out of David Ortiz in his final season, and looking to utilize its young core before they reach free agency in 3-4 years, last Friday’s deal was well worth it.
Read why Johnnie Teng of MTJAG favors the Padres’s side of this deal by clicking on this link!>>>
Header photo courtesy of Mighty1090.com.