It seems that having a bearded, veteran, former Houston Astros righty in the rotation for 2017 was always on the minds of the Cincinnati Reds front office since the end of last season. One whose fastball topped out around 90 mph, whose career ERA sat in the mid to low 4’s, and who was projected by most avid projectors to post both an ERA and FIP right around 4.40 this upcoming season.
For most of this winter, that man was Dan Straily, he of the career 4.24 ERA and 4.78 FIP - who STEAMER projects to post a 4.42 ERA and 4.47 FIP in 2017. But after Straily was traded to the Miami Marlins for a packaged centered around hard-throwing pitching prospect Luis Castillo, Cincinnati back-filled that opening in the rotation by signing Scott Feldman.
That’s the Feldman with the 4.40 career ERA and 4.38 career FIP - who STEAMER projects to post a 4.39 ERA and 4.41 FIP in 2017.
In a way, you can consider the signing of Feldman the final piece of the Straily-to-Miami trade, since it’s certainly a move that was directly spurred by the initial trade. And regardless of what the projection systems say - which is pretty clearly that the two pitchers look to be quite similar heading into next year - the Reds have pretty well shown us all what they anticipate from the two in the 2017 season.
Straily, of course, had a wonderful season in 2016, going 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA in a career high 191.1 innings, which Baseball Reference deemed worthy of an impressive 4.3 bWAR - and it’s that bWAR number is the crux of this entire series of transactions, really.
Baseball Reference calculates their WAR values by largely valuing actual results over many significant peripherals. In other words, if a pitcher’s ERA is impressive despite low strikeout numbers, a strand rate that’s beyond the realm of reasonable expectations, and a BABIP that’s unusually low, it’s the low ERA that will carry much of the weight - not the peripherals that suggest it’s a bit fluky. FanGraphs’ WAR metric, on the other hand, generally operates in reverse fashion, focusing more on what should have been the actual numbers based on the trends found in those varied peripherals.
FanGraphs valued Straily’s ‘breakout’ season at just 1.2 fWAR, a far cry from Baseball Reference’s number, and a number that obviously the Reds’ front office seemed to concur with more. It seems the Reds, while thoroughly overjoyed with and appreciative of the actual results Straily provided for them in 2016, neither expected what he gave them last year nor were planning on those results repeating in 2017.
The Reds had a guy they expected to be about a ~1 fWAR pitcher in 2017. They were offered a prospect package that seemed to value that same guy as the ~4 bWAR pitcher from 2016. They saw a guy on the open market with limited leverage who they expected to be about a ~1 fWAR pitcher in 2017. If I’m interpreting things the right way, the Reds opted to trade the roughly $2 million in salary difference between Straily and Feldman in 2017 for Luis Castillo, Austin Brice, and Isaiah White, and still ended up with the same ~1 fWAR pitcher they already had in place.
This all reads like it’s much more about Straily than it is about Feldman, but that’s somewhat the point. When the Reds brought Straily in at the witching hour of Spring Training last year, it wasn’t because he had five years of team control as a cheap, to-be-counted-upon starting rotation cog. They brought him in to be a versatile spot starter, a guy who would likely end up in the bullpen or on waivers once the talented arsenal of young arms behind him were again healthy and ready to take over. The years of team control down the road were a bonus - a bonus they leveraged in their trade with the Marlins - but most anyone in the Cincinnati front office would probably concede that Straily’s acquisition was made with 2016 and 2016 only truly in mind.
The details on Feldman’s contract are much more clear and finite than Straily’s, and while he’s making a bit more money, it’s still a move focused solely on one year. Realistically, it’s not even focused on an entire year, since if the plan the front office has been operating under for two plus years now materializes as they hope, the likes of Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, and Castillo himself will emerge after the Super Two cutoff date and move Feldman down the pecking order - if not off the roster altogether.
For Feldman, that should come as no surprise, since it’s exactly the role he was tasked with filling for Houston just last year. He opened the season in the rotation, made 4 starts through April 24th, and then moved to the bullpen to fill in until being flipped at the trade deadline for a 19 year old pitching prospect more pertinent to Houston’s future than the then 33 year old.
The Reds will hope the starts Feldman provides them at the outset of the season will be marginally better than the 4.58 ERA he posted in his similar task in April of last year, but they probably won’t lose sleep over him simply replicating those. If anything, they’ll hope he can last longer than the 19.2 combined innings he threw in those 4 starts, since Feldman’s role appears to be more of the pocket-sized 5 minute air tank that just gets James Bond back to the surface than the full-on SCUBA tank for a complete expedition. Get the team to May, however ugly it may be on the way, at which point in time Bryan Price will get to navigate the final 140 games of 2017 with a rotation featuring Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, Reed, Garrett, and Stephenson, if the fates are willing.
And if the fates aren’t willing? Well, there’ll be another Feldman, another Straily out there for mop duty if need be.