MLB Transaction Analysis: Luis Urias, Drew Pomeranz, Will Smith (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
The hot stove isn’t scalding hot yet, but there have been a handful of MLB transactions with fantasy baseball implications for the 2020 season that are worth analyzing.
Brewers Trade Trent Grisham (OF) and Zach Davies (SP) to Padres for Luis Urias (2B/SS) and Eric Lauer (SP)
The Brewers and Padres swapped hurlers and, more notably, exchanged a couple of young players who exhausted their rookie eligibility last year. Starting with the “B side” of the deal, Davies sees an uptick in value while Lauer sees a slide in value in their respective new homes.
As you can see on our ballpark factors page, Miller Park boosts runs (1.019) and homers (1.104) and Petco Park suppresses run scoring (0.990) and dingers (0.907). In 31 starts spanning 159.2 innings for the Brewers last year, Davies tallied a 3.55 ERA that was way out of whack with his 5.20 xFIP and 5.43 SIERA, per FanGraphs. He doesn’t miss bats frequently with just a 15.2 K% and 7.2 SwStr%, but he also avoids self-inflicted wounds via walks with only a 7.6 BB% in 2019. The profile isn’t sexy for fantasy purposes and his ERA estimators reveal he’s due for regression to a true talent level much less exciting than a mid-three ERA hurler, but his new home ballpark could help stave off some sting. Having said that, he’s entering this year as little more than a matchup-based streamer when at home.
Lauer, on the other hand, leaves a pitcher-friendly home ballpark in which he totaled a 3.08 ERA (3.94 FIP and 4.96 xFIP) in 79.0 innings last season. In 70.2 innings on the road, he was knocked around to the tune of a 5.99 ERA (4.56 FIP and 4.55 xFIP). Digging into his road ERA reveals he was badly hurt by three starts at Coors Field. In those three turns, Lauer yielded 17 earned runs in only 8.0 innings. Removing his three Coors Field disasters from his road ledger results in a 4.31 ERA in 62.2 innings in his other road starts. That’s not a strong mark by any measure, but it’s much more palatable than his 5.99 ERA including the starts in Colorado.
No longer playing in the same division as the Rockies is good for Lauer, but his 39.9 GB% isn’t an ideal batted ball profile for his new homer-friendly digs. The 24-year-old southpaw could have occasional streamer appeal in 2020, but, just like the aforementioned Davies he was traded for, he’s not a viable target in standard leagues.
While moving to Petco Park is a plus for Davies, it takes a bite out of Grisham’s homer potential. Petco Park has the fifth-lowest park factor for homers from left-handed hitters (0.831). Grisham hit six homers in 183 plate appearances for the Brewers last year after slugging 26 homers in 441 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A combined.
Grisham’s power — as well as the thump of all hitters across MLB — could take a step back depending on what balls MLB uses in 2020. Commissioner Rob Manfred has dodged transparency regarding the balls used by MLB and after they left the yard at a historic rate in the regular season, they didn’t play the same in the postseason. The hitters who lack top-notch exit velocity are the ones I’m most concerned with potentially seeing their power crater if MLB uses the postseason balls in the upcoming year. Grisham falls into that camp. Out of 478 hitters with a minimum of 50 batted ball events in 2019, Grisham’s average FB/LD exit velocity of 91.0 MPH ranks tied for 343rd, per Baseball Savant.
Power is only a part of Grisham’s game, though. While he stole only one base in 51 games for Milwaukee last year, he stole 12 in 97 games in the upper minors. He possesses wheels and his sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second ranked 42nd fastest out of 568 players, according to Baseball Savant. In 2017, Grisham stole 37 bases at the High-A level in 133 games, so he does have one gaudy stolen base total on his resume. He’s a stolen base sleeper for 2020.
In order for him to deliver on his stolen base potential, Grisham will need more than to simply turn his wheels into stolen base production. He’ll need to win regular playing time in San Diego’s crowded outfield. There’s ample time for the Padres to create space by trading from their outfield surplus, but there’s still likely to be competition for playing time in the spring.
Urias is a former highly regarded prospect who’s yet to translate his success from the minors to the majors. The 22-year-old infielder is a career .296/.398/.380 hitter in 526 plate appearances at the Double-A level and a .305/.403/.511 hitter in 887 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, per Baseball-Reference. Additionally, he showcased exquisite plate discipline with a 12.5 BB% in the upper minors and a penchant for making contact with only a 16.8 K%.
However, in 302 plate appearances in “The Show,” he’s hit just .221/.318/.331 with a 9.3 BB% and a 21.9 K%. His struggles in roughly a half-season of plate appearances are hardly grounds for panicking over. In addition to simply improving as a young player with more experience in the majors, he could also benefit from his change of scenery.
If things click, Urias profiles as a table-setter who can help fantasy rosters in runs scored (if he sits in a table-setter lineup position) and batting average (or OBP in formats using that category, given Urias’ strong walk rate). He slugged 19 homers in 339 plate appearances at the Triple-A level and four in 249 plate appearances for the Padres, but his average FB/LD exit velocity is identical to Grisham’s mark highlighted above. In other words, even in his new homer-friendly park, he’s unlikely to be an asset in homers — namely if the postseason-style balls are used in 2020.
Padres Sign Drew Pomeranz (SP/RP)
The Padres are wasting no time making roster changes. In addition to swinging the trade discussed above, they’ve also inked Pomeranz to a deal. This will be Pomeranz’s second stint with the Padres after starting 17 games for them back in 2016. He’ll be back in a reliever capacity this time.
The 31-year-old lefty opened last year in San Francisco’s rotation, but he was demoted to the bullpen in late July. The move turned out to be a great one for both the Giants and Pomeranz. He showcased enough in four relief appearances for the Giants to garner trade interest from the Brewers, and Pomeranz continued to pitch at a high level for Milwaukee after they acquired him. Pomeranz made 28 relief appearances spanning 28.2 innings last year and he whipped up a 1.88 ERA (1.67 xFIP and 1.86 SIERA), 0.84 WHIP, 7.6 BB%, 47.2 K%, 51.5 GB%, and 17.3 SwStr%, according to FanGraphs.
Last year, San Diego’s incumbent closer Kirby Yates tallied a jaw-dropping 1.19 ERA (2.25 xFIP and 2.05 SIERA) and 41 saves in 60 relief appearances totaling 60.2 innings. Pomeranz figures to slot into a high-leverage role bridging the gap to the right-handed Yates, but the lefty could vulture the occasional save. Pomeranz is one of my favorite non-closing relievers to target in 2020 drafts. He’s one of the top relief options in leagues that use holds or saves plus holds, but his strikeout ability and skills he demonstrated down the stretch last year make him a ratio helping relief option. As an added bonus for gamers in leagues that distinguish between starting and relief pitcher roster spots, Pomeranz will be eligible to use in either roster spot.
Braves sign Will Smith (RP)
Sticking to the theme of elite left-handed relievers signing with new teams, the Braves signed Smith to a multi-year pact. Smith saved 34 games for the Giants last year and he recorded a 2.76 ERA (2.73 xFIP and 2.71 SIERA), 1.03 WHIP, 8.2 BB%, 37.4 K%, and a 15.5 SwStr% in 65.1 innings.
The Braves have indicated Mark Melancon is ticketed for the closer gig presently. Although, Mark Bowman of MLB.com pointed out in the linked piece that after the Braves acquired Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin last year, manager Brian Snitker said Greene would close only to do an about-face less than a week later and hand over closer duties to Melancon.
For Melancon’s part, he’s done nothing to warrant removal from the closer role. He saved 11 games for the Braves without suffering a blown save and his 3.86 ERA was solid, if not unspectacular, and considerably worse than his ERA estimators (2.16 xFIP and 2.32 SIERA).
Smith’s talent warrants drafting universally, but it would be unwise to assume he’s going to overtake Melancon for primary closing duties. The Braves could opt to mix and match the two depending on the handedness and splits of hitters coming up in the late innings and I suspect both relievers will record some saves this season. In leagues that also include holds or saves plus holds, Smith is the more desirable fantasy option. In traditional 5×5 leagues that use only saves, Melancon currently narrowly edges out Smith as the more valuable option. This is a situation that warrants watching in the spring.