How Wave of Top Reliever Trades Will Shake Up MLB Playoff Races

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 How Wave of Top Reliever Trades Will Shake Up MLB Playoff Races
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Jose Veras makes Detroit better, but not by much.

Although many of the best available MLB batters and starting pitchers aren't necessarily going to move prior to the July 31 trade deadline, impact relievers have been rapidly changing uniforms.

Monday's flurry of transactions obviously shakes up the playoff races.

The following exchanges were recently finalized. We're going to lump the Francisco Rodriguez deal from July 23 into the same conversation, if you don't mind (links to MLB Trade Rumors):

RHP Jose Veras to the Detroit Tigers for OF Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later.

LHP Scott Downs to the Atlanta Braves for RHP Cory Rasmus.

RHP Jesse Crain to the Tampa Bay Rays for future considerations.

RHP Francisco Rodriguez to the Baltimore Orioles for 3B Nick Delmonico.

Thanks to FanGraphs, we can do a quick statistical comparison with this reputable quartet. The middle column shows their 2013 performances, while the right column takes a larger, more meaningful sample size that dates back to 2010:

Name ERA, FIP, K/9, WAR (2013 Season) ERA, FIP, K/9, WAR (2010-2013 Seasons)
Jesse Crain 0.74 ERA, 1.51 FIP, 11.3 K/9, 2.0 WAR 2.39 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.5 WAR
Scott Downs 1.84 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 0.4 WAR 2.27 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.3 WAR
Francisco Rodriguez 1.35 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 9.1 K/9, 0.3 WAR 2.93 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.3 WAR
Jose Veras 2.93 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 0.6 WAR 3.59 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 10.1 K/9, 1.6 WAR

*Stats updated prior to the July 29 games.

Let's go alphabetically.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Crain was considered the top bullpen arm on the market through the end of June. Although he hasn't pitched this month because of a shoulder strain, the Rays were willing to spend their precious time hashing out a trade.

The right-hander's strikeout ability and aversion of home runs—both this summer and prior to it—makes him a great addition, even to a deep bullpen like Tampa Bay's. Should Crain be activated from the disabled list by mid-August, he'll make the team a clear favorite to win the AL East title, not to mention a nightmare matchup in October.

Downs has been similarly consistent through the years, but only against left-handed opposition. His expiring three-year, $15 million contract was conceived when he was a traditional setup man who didn't fear anybody.

Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Downs was beaten badly by switch-hitting Mark Teixeira last year.

Nonetheless, the Louisville, Kentucky native bolsters Atlanta's pitching staff. Southpaws Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters suffered elbow injuries months ago and won't be coming back until 2014.

The Braves will run away with their division if the Washington Nationals don't make a big splash of their own by Wednesday afternoon.

At age 31, K-Rod is very different from who he used to be with the Los Angeles Angels. His fastball once regularly reached the mid-90s, whereas now, his typical four-seamer clocks in at 91.1 mph.

The discrepancy between his ERA and FIP this season is because of a .231 BABIP. That being significantly lower than both the league average and his career average suggests Rodriguez will be less effective for the O's than he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. He's not going to have Carlos Gomez behind him anymore.

As presently assembled, Baltimore doesn't have an edge over the Rays or Boston Red Sox, and even the Tigers seem to be in a more comfortable position.

Which leads us to Veras, the weak link of this group. He has more ninth-inning experience and total innings in 2013 than any of the above relievers, but his walk rate is suspiciously superior to his lifetime rate.

There's precedent for this kind of abrupt improvement from a veteran. Just look at Fernando Rodney, who dominated the sport last summer from start to finish (1.8 BB/9 in 2012, 4.9 BB/9 from 2002-2011).

However, Rodney should be viewed as the exception to the norm.

Thanks to superb starting pitching, Detroit should easily qualify for the postseason. The rival Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals lack the available finances to leapfrog them with a blockbuster deadline acquisition.

Of course, that's hardly viewed as an accomplishment for the defending AL champs.

Their chance at closing out the Fall Classic hinges on Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly sustaining their outstanding work.

 

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