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MLB trade deadline 2017: Pat Neshek a big boost to Rockies relief corps

Analyzing the trade for an elite reliever

Late Wednesday night, the Rockies made their first (and hopefully not last) trade deadline move of the season, picking up much needed help for the back end of the bullpen, in the form of Philadelphia side-armer Pat Neshek. With Adam Ottavino’s struggles, Greg Holland and Jake McGee have been the only reliable late-inning relievers on the team. Neshek should be able to slide right into a role as a shutdown setup man. Take a peek at his numbers with the Phillies this year:

Pat Neshek Quick Hits

Pat Neshek 30.4 3.4 37.0 1.12 1.93 3.14
MLB Average 21.5 8.5 44.3 4.34 4.34 4.34

What stands out most is Neshek’s dominance of the strike zone: his K-BB% (strikeout-minus-walk percentage) of 27 percent ranks 13th among major league relievers in 2017. Alongside Holland and McGee, the Rockies now have three of the top 40 relievers by this metric. Neshek’s excellent strikeout rate might seem strange for a guy who averages just 90 MPH, but his whiffing ways are backed up by his 13.4 percent swinging-strike rate, 44th among relievers.

Neshek’s command this year has been stellar: he’s walked just five batters all season (coincidentally the same number of batters that Rockies relievers walked in just one game in the 10-5 loss to the Cardinals). His 3.4 percent walk rate ranks 4th among major league relievers.

Taking his fastball velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate into one package, an interesting comp for Neshek shows up among former Rockies relievers: Rafael Betancourt. From 2009-2011, Betancourt put up a 31.3 percent strikeout rate, a 5.1 percent walk rate, all while throwing “just” 92 MPH. Like Neshek, Betancourt was a deadline acquisition, during the last season in which the Rockies made the playoffs.

Like many side-armers, Neshek has strange batted-ball profile: his groundball rate is below average, yet he’s not really a flyball pitcher either, since a rather extreme 16.7 percent of his flyballs are actually popups. Since popouts are the batted-ball equivalent of a strikeout, Neshek has coaxed 35.1 percent of opposing batters into a “free out” this season. Once you take exit velocity into account, Neshek stands out as one of the truly elite relievers in baseball. Consider how he ranks in expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA; think OPS, but adjusted for exit velocity and launch angle):

MLB xwOBA Leaders

Rank Name xwOBA
Rank Name xwOBA
1 Kenley Jansen 0.193
2 Pat Neshek 0.207
3 Roberto Osuna 0.208
4 Craig Kimbrel 0.214
5 Felipe Rivero 0.218
6 Andrew Miller 0.223
7 Tommy Kahnle 0.224
Baseball Savant

For reference, Carl Crawford put up a .208 wOBA last year by hitting .185/.230/.235. Pat Neshek has turned opposing hitters into sub-Mendoza line scrubs, with no extra-base power or on-base ability.

As far as his pitch mix, Neshek sticks with his 90 mph sinking fastball and an 84 mph slider, using his fastball 49 percent of the time and his slider 48 percent of the time. The remaining three percent goes to his changeup. His fastball is his best pitch, inducing a swinging strike at a rate 1.4 standard deviations better than the average MLB reliever. Interestingly enough, the pitch has been equally effective against both right- and left-handed hitters.

Neshek is only under contract through the end of the year, so the Rockies indeed made a move for a rental player. While the Rockies would have likely preferred getting a reliever with multiple years of control, Neshek’s price was certainly much lower due to his upcoming free agency. Indeed, that ended up being reflected in the Rockies’ end of the deal, as just one of the three players headed to Philadelphia ranked in the top 30 of the Rockies’ system, both according to MLB Pipeline and our own PuRP rankings.

The Rockies traded away SS Jose Gomez (Asheville), RP JD Hammer (Lancaster), and RP Alejandro Requena (Asheville). For the analysis, we turn to our in-house prospect hound Sage Farron:

The more I look at the value allotment of the assets traded here, the more I love this. Given that Hammer was outperforming and Requena was a wild card, with Gomez' ceiling as a utility infielder already behind Garrett Hampson, the worst that was given up here is Pat Valaika's second in line replacement three seasons from now. Excellent maximization of trade value vs. value to team, while simultaneously not taking away any obvious player with a direct pathway onto the team. Even if this is an overpay, it's the right kind; an overpay in less important value than more important value.

Of the three prospects, I will miss JD Hammer the most, even if only for the fact that his face is the same as the Asheville Tourists logo. That said, it seems pretty clear that the Rockies made a deal that is a significant net benefit to the team: nobody they lost profiles as a significant MLB contributor. Given the Rockies’ need for an elite reliever, and their position in the standings, this trade seems to be a clear win for Colorado.