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The Game-Changing Ace Trade That Could Win Yankees the World Series

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 9, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 25: Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Tropicana Field on June 25, 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The New York Yankees are hunting for an ace who can help them win their 28th World Series championship. Per numerous reports, they've stalked just about every big name in the wild.

Then there's the not-so-big-name ace who's also just the guy the Yankees need: Blake Snell.

The first thing to know about Snell is that he's a 25-year-old left-hander who's under the employ of the Tampa Bay Rays.

A second thing to know about him is that he's in the midst of a breakout that, mainly by way of his American League-best 2.09 ERA, should have earned him his first All-Star nod Sunday.

A third thing is that Snell is indeed among the aces on the Yankees' radar. This according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, who wrote, "The Yankees have expressed interest in both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard of the crosstown Mets as well as the Rays' best two starters in Blake Snell and Chris Archer, but the asking price for any of the four is exorbitant."

Of these four, deGrom certainly looks like the best pitcher right now. Syndergaard (finger) and Archer (abdomen) are on the disabled list. And as amazing as Snell has been this season, deGrom is the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star who leads everyone with a 1.79 ERA.

Ah, but there's this: Snell is five years younger than deGrom.

And also this: Snell is under club control through 2022, whereas deGrom's club control is up in 2020.

And lastly, this: The difference in quality between the two pitchers is not huge, if not altogether null.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Consider how each has stifled the OPS of opposing hitters. Snell has permitted just a .585 OPS this season. That ranks eighth among qualified starters, just 25 points behind deGrom's .560 (fourth).

And whereas deGrom has the advantage of pitching in the NL, Snell has to conduct his business in the AL East. Among pitchers who've logged at least 75 innings in 2018, the average OPS of Snell's opponents is the highest in Major League Baseball.

To be sure, Snell was in a much different place than deGrom not too long ago.

The lefty was considered one of baseball's best pitching prospects before he debuted with a solid 3.54 ERA in 19 starts as a rookie in 2016. However, he also walked 5.2 batters per nine innings. His control trouble continued with a 5.4 BB/9 through his first eight outings of 2017.

The Rays banished him back to the minors, yet it was more of the same for Snell (nine walks in 10 innings) in his first two starts back in the bigs on June 28 and July 5.

But in the fateful 33 starts he's made since then, he's averaged only 3.2 walks per nine innings. Throw in 9.6 strikeouts and 0.9 home runs per nine innings, and his dominance has been well-rounded.

It feels like there should be some kind of elaborate story—e.g., he spent months working out in the Russian wilderness to the tune of "Hearts on Fire"—about how Snell got his groove back. In reality, he made a simple mechanical change and adhered to a strict offseason workout regimen.

"I would say everything got more consistent moving to the left [side of the rubber]," he told Michael Baumann of The Ringer. "The reason my stuff got better was probably just the way I approached the offseason. I stayed consistent with my running and working out—that's what I'd attribute my velo staying up a couple ticks to."

Snell's release point is more consistent now than it was in his first two seasons. That's been good for his efficiency, hence his walk rate improvement and his average of 6.1 innings per start.

Meanwhile, Snell is evading contact (69.8 Contact%) at the same rate as deGrom. That speaks to his stuff, which is downright filthy.

Officially, Statcast tracks Snell's four-seam fastball at an average of 95.4 mph. Because of the extension he gets out of his 6'4", 200-pound frame, its perceived velocity is even higher: 95.9 mph.

The combination of these traits is rare among left-handed pitchers, as seen in this oldie but goodie of a graph:

Data courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com

Among southpaws, the king of getting a fastball on hitters quickly is still Aroldis Chapman. But sandwiched in between him and Josh Hader, who's perhaps the most dominant relief pitcher in history, is Snell.

And that's just one pitch. Snell has three others in his changeup, slider and curveball, each of which features more movement this season than it did in 2017.

Snell also achieves trickery with how he presents his pitches to hitters. According to Baseball Prospectus' "tunnel" metrics, he's quite good at making his pitches travel the same path through the point where batters have to decide whether to swing. Then his extreme late movement kicks in.

Courtesy of Rob Friedman, Twitter's resident pitch GIF master, this method can cause even reigning MVPs like Giancarlo Stanton to lose all dignity with a single swing:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Blake Snell, 95mph Fastball and Curveball/Dirt, Overlay. Why would Stanton swing at that curveball in the Dirt? 👇🏼 https://t.co/3dGotrQMZG

To be fair to Stanton, he has gotten Snell for a home run this year. That's one of four homers the Yankees have hit off him en route to nine runs in just 8.1 innings.

Pretty much every other team, however, has fallen under Snell's sword. That includes the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros, who've mustered only four runs in 33.1 innings against him.

There are few better pitchers the Yankees can hope to pair with Luis Severino atop their starting rotation for the here and now. And the bonus would be one hell of a bonus: Severino and Snell would stay paired together for four more years after 2018.

The catch, of course, is what the Yankees would have to give up to get Snell.

It will take nothing less than a Chris Sale-like trade package to convince the Rays to strip him from a roster that's produced a respectable 45-44 record. But if they take such a package from the Yankees, they could use it to haunt the Bombers in future AL East races.

And yet, the Yankees are exactly the kind of team that can and should take a risk like this.

All the key pieces from Bleacher Report's No. 3 farm system going into spring training are still around, and that's not even counting well-regarded outfielder Clint Frazier. As much as the Yankees may not want to break up that collection of talent, the potential reward is not one but several World Series titles.

So, go ahead. Make the Rays an offer they can't refuse.

   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Savant.

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