Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Revisiting the Dexter Fowler Trade*

* - The one that brought Fowler to Houston, not the one that sent him to Chicago.

On December 3, 2013, the Astros sent Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes to Colorado in exchange for Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL.  The PTBNL was later revealed to be 25k in cash, so it is fair to say that this represented a very minor part of the trade only.  I seem to recall rumblings around the time of the trade that the PTBNL would be a "significant" piece, but in the end it amounted to only a negligible amount of money, at least in terms of the monetary amounts that we talk about in baseball.

The recent Fowler trade has essentially altered the equation to something more like:

Jordan Lyles + Brandon Barnes for 116 games from Fowler + Luis Valbeuna, Dan Straily and 25k

I recently wrote a little about the pieces coming back to Houston, and I won't revisit those guys at all.  I remain happy with second Fowler the trade, especially because of the Astros' depth in CF in the Majors (Marisnick, Rasmus, Presley and perhaps Springer), as well as the minors, which includes some good prospects (Brett Phillips, Jason Martin), some potentially good prospects (Teoscar Hernandez), some guys potentially returning from the wasteland of Arlington (Delino DeShields), and some guys that may simply need to be given a chance but aren't going to excite many pundits in the process (Andrew Aplin).  I can't think of another position where the Astros have as many possible candidates.  No one here is a sure thing, but the chances of someone emerging from this pack on occupying CF in MMP until 2021 are high.

But with the Astros 5th - and probably 4th - starting pitching slots open for auditions, it seems reasonable to review the Fowler trade, especially with regards to the progress of Jordan Lyles.  He could have looked pretty good on the SP depth chart about now.  Plus, it is often kind of fun to see how ex-Astros have fared after leaving the organisation, because really, the Astros can't afford to leak much talent if they want to contend.

Let's deal with Barnes first.  He became the starting CF on a miserable 2013 Astros team, and gained some admiration for his all-out style of play.  He carries an above-average glove in CF, and has occasional pop from the right side.  He has not walked much (career rate 4.8%) and has struck out waaaay too much (just shy of 30%).  Sarcasm alert... he would fit nicely on the 2015 K-stros!

Barnes appeared in 132 games for the Rockies, earning 313 plate appearances.  His 2014 triple-slash was .257/.293/.425 for an overall wRC+ of 83.  Note that wRC+ is park adjusted, so this factors in his Coors Field splits, which were significant.  Barnes hit .299/.338/.552 in 142 PA's at Coors, and .222/.255/.316 in 171 PA's away.  So perhaps worth keeping around, especially given the need to rotate players for extended home series because of the altitude and associated longer recovery times.

But Barnes was never going to be the main piece of the trade for Colorado.  The Rockies were most interested in Jordan Lyles, who ended to season with 126 and two-thirds innings thrown in the bigs in 2014.  He broke his left (non-pitching) hand in a home-plate collision with then-Arizona's Martin Prado in early June.  As a result, he missed the next two months, returning in early August.

Lyles started the season well, as noted by the odd fantasy baseball article (ignore the title).  His first appearance of the season was on the road against Miami, and it wasn't great (4ER in 5IP).  After that, he was pretty much nails for the next six weeks: 1ER in 6.2IP (home), 3ER in 5IP, 0ER in 7IP (home), 2ER in 7IP, 1ER in 6IP, 2ER in 8IP (home) and 2ER in 6IP.  Then he got beaten up by the San Diego offensive juggernaut (6ER in 3.1), but rebounded, giving up 2ER in each of the next three, throwing 4, 5 and 6 innings in the three games.  The 4 inning game was the game in which he broke his hand.

Lyles was not quite as strong after the injury, giving up three or less earned runs in six of the remaining 10 starts.  He did not manage a scoreless outing in that time - in fact, didn't throw one all season (the 0ER in 7IP outing listed above had an unearned run credited).  He finished the season with an ERA of 4.62, and an FIP of 4.30.  He was valued by Fangraphs as having a 1.3 WAR on the season.

Lyles continued to exhibit a poor strikeout rate (6.39 K/9) and middling walk rate (3.27 BB/9), so the major peripherals remain uninspiring.  He restricted home-runs well (0.85/9), and did relatively well keeping the ball on the ground (just over 50%).  He doubtless benefitted from human-vacuum-cleaners Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki on the left side of the infield, both who are rated as premium defenders.  

But really, there is nothing that would have indicated that Lyles took a giant step forward, or would have demanded a place in the Astros' 2015 rotation.  The Astros have a number of other intriguing options, and being one or who pitchers short of a rotation isn't the worst thing in the world for a month or two.  It gives someone the chance to step up, like McHugh and Keuchel did last year.  Plus, Appel or another of the Astros' interesting arms could have a rotation spot come the second half of 2015.

Now all we need is for Brandon Beachy to sign with the Astros as an NRI, and go nuts as the fifth starter.  That would complete a fascinating Astros offseason, and assist greatly in achieving a record above .500.