Some teams have an instantly identifiable “type.” You know what I’m talking about: the Cardinals and scrappy-but-under-tooled infielders, the Cubs with pitchers who don’t crack 90 mph, and the Rays with platoon-ish hitters who would be stretched as everyday players. Today, the Rays got their man again — Jordan Luplow, who is exactly the kind of hitter that always seems to be lurking on Tampa Bay’s bench, waiting to ruin some poor lefty reliever’s day.
The Rays are heavier on lefties than they’d probably like this year; Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, and Brett Phillips have all gotten plenty of run in the outfield, and only Meadows is someone I’d like to run out there against same-handed pitching. In all, Kiermaier and Phillips have 152 plate appearances against lefties, where they’ve put up a combined 27 wRC+. Not great, Bob.
In 334 career plate appearances against lefties, Luplow is hitting .251/.371/.556, good for a 143 wRC+. You can’t take platoon splits at face value with such a small sample, but he truly looks like a lefty masher; he walks nearly twice as often against lefties as compared to righties, strikes out less, and hits for a ton of power, with an enviable 11.5% barrel rate against southpaws (7.9% against righties). He also smashes four-seam fastballs, and there are lefty fastballs worth smashing in the AL playoff chase.
The Rays also picked up DJ Johnson, a 31-year-old reliever with a mid-90s four-seamer and a low-80s curveball. Johnson is a model darling; he’s put up excellent strikeout numbers in the minors without a disqualifying number of walks, but he has been wretched in 33 major league innings, walking 14% of the batters he faces. He has the stuff to miss bats, it’s just a matter of throwing strikes without sending the opposing team pipe shots. He’s not a slam dunk member of the Rays’ pen but they’ve proven adept at getting the most out of inconsistent relievers, and given their huge injury backlog, a fresh arm will certainly be welcome.
To secure these two bit-part players, the Rays sent a promising pitcher to the Guardians. We thought Peyton Battenfield was likely to be relief-only when the Rays traded for him, but he’s added a plus cutter to his fastball/curveball/changeup arsenal and has put up solid numbers across two minor league levels this year. He’s done it as a starter, too; 12 of his 14 appearances have been starts, and the other two were bulk outings of four innings each. With mid-90s velocity and three secondaries we like, he has some helium; we list him at the Rays’ 43rd-best prospect, which sounds bad, but he’s improving and the system is deep.
In all, I think this trade is a win for the Guardians. It’s a solid return for a platoon outfielder and minor league arm, particularly given their aversion to paying arbitration salaries. Luplow will reach arbitration for the first time this year, and while he’s missed a ton of time due to an ankle injury, he’s still due a raise. I think Cleveland might have non-tendered him rather than pay the freight, and it would likely be a close decision for them either way. Particularly with Myles Straw coming to town, there just wasn’t room — and now they have a shiny pitching prospect instead.
Tampa Bay didn’t mortgage the farm — Battenfield’s 2022 Rule 5 eligibility meant he was right on the border of being a roster casualty before long given the Rays’ preposterously deep system — and Cleveland will feel good about getting an interesting pitcher for some pieces they couldn’t particularly use.
Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.
Pat Benatar was right: Luplow is a Battenfield.