Early this afternoon, Ken Rosenthal announced on Twitter that the Mets and Padres struck a deal. In Alex Torres, New York lands that coveted lefty reliever they so desperately need. San Diego deepens a now-barren system by adding the hard-throwing Cory Mazzoni to the mix.
At least on the surface, this trade seems like a win-win. But after examining the talent and advance statistics of both players, one team emerges as a very clear winner.
Newest Met: Alex Torres
The owner a career 2.55 major league ERA, Alex Torres seems to be the solution to the Mets’ left-handed reliever problem. However, last year Torres actually exhibited reverse platoon splits, walking more lefties than he struck out and allowing same-sided batters to post a 115 wRC+. against him. Facing righties, Torres worked to a 3.5 SO/W ratios and held batters to a minuscule .209 batting average.
Torres did pitch slightly better against lefties than he did versus righties during his sensational 2013 season. He racked up 31 strikeouts agains only five walks in specialist situations, while allowing 15 free passes with the same amount of K’s against right-handers.
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Given the incredible disparity between Torres’ statistics from the past two years, it might be best to consider Alex’s major league BABiP and minor league output when trying to assess his current value.
A quick glance at Torres’ 2014 BABIP make it seem like he was incredibly unlucky against lefty batters during the 2014 regular season. They batted 50 points better on balls in play than righties (.324) despite netting fewer extra base hits. But notice that even during his best season, 2013, lefties hit .286 on balls in play, 100 points better than hitters of the opposite side.
Clearly, lefties hit the ball harder off Torres and that’s not just mere speculation. During his career, lefty batters have hit over 6% more line drives than righties. What kept these hitters in check in ’13 was a tremendous 6.20 SO/W ratio. Torres has never come close to repeating that mark against lefty batters in a normal sample size.
Over seven years and more than 700 minor league innings, Torres owns a career 1.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That varies only .15 from the mark he posted in 70 games with the Rays last season. And even during his dominant 2013 season, Torres SO/W fell more than a full point in the second half of the year, while his BABIP rose over 150 points to .279, eerily similar to the .295 mark batters put up against him last year.
Torres has never come close to repeating that 6.20 SO/W ratio of 2013
I believe, given the statistical analysis, that we can consider Torres’ miraculous 2013 season an anomaly. That does not mean he won’t prove useful to the Mets come the regular season. But it does mean that he is nothing more than the league-average reliever he was for the Padres last season.
Alex’s control is the main obstacle holding him back from reaching dominant reliever status. He has consistently walked nearly 5.0 batter per nine in his professional career. Sometimes small sample size produces better walk rates than normal, but you cannot count on Torres to keep batters off the base paths on a consistent basis.
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Now that we have assessed Torres’ value as an average major league reliever, we can attempt to project Mazzoni’s career outlook and see which team won the trade.
Newest Padre: Cory Mazzoni
Mazzoni has endured an up-and-down career ever since the Mets selected him in the second round of the 2011 amateur draft. New York has yet to move him from a starting role, but scouts predict that’s where he will end up unless his splitter develops into a legitimate third pitch.
The pitches he has established, however, are quite good. His fastball sits in the mid-90s but would likely reach the upper 90s if granted a role in the pen. His slider also grades out as an above-average offering, according to multiple scouting reports.
Mazzoni also owns strong peripherals, which would help him succeed as a starter. He owns a career 3.47 K/BB ratio, 2.3 BB/9, and an impressive 0.7 HR/9.
Injuries, however, may prevent Mazzoni from reaching his high ceiling and weakened the Mets internal evaluation of the North Carolina native. The 6-1 righty has missed an extended amount of time in each of the past two seasons, totaling only 66 and 76 innings, respectively.
All told, however, a strong minor league performance and a strong pitching arsenal led me to rank Mazzoni the Mets 17th best prospect, just outside the Top 15 list I released to Grading on the Curve.
Who Won the Trade?
Considering that Mazzoni has outperformed Torres in nearly every major stat during each players’ professional careers, and he may have a future as a starter, the Padres easily win this late-spring trade. I understand the rationale for Alderson and co. to pull the trigger on Torres. But when you look past that one great season, he looks very much like your typical run of the mill bullpen arm and is not even exceptional against lefties.
Torres fills a need, will not reach arbitration until 2017, and the Mets have a deep crop of young pitchers, but Sean Gilmartin, who held Double-A lefties to a .178 batting average in 2014, should still be a better lefty specialist than Torres. Further, Mazzoni would have also been a cost-effective relief option at the very least, not to mention his starter potential.
In fact, I would rather have Mazzoni and Gilmartin in my bullpen than Torres and the Rule 5 pick right now.
The Mets do not have the ability to sign quality relievers like other teams, so it makes sense to acquire a cheap decent arm from another squad. However, Cory Mazzoni will add exciting depth to San Diego’s ballclub. He is likely slated to begin the year in Triple-A, but should an injury arise or his play merits a call-up, the Mets will be forced to sit back and watch an unremarkable arm that should not have a cost a legitimate talent.