Mets Continue to Fortify Rotation, Trade for Chris Bassitt

© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Even given the lockout, the Mets have already had a banner offseason, adding three former All-Stars — Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, and Eduardo Escobar — to the roster via free agency. On Saturday, they traded for a fourth, sending pitching prospects J.T. Ginn and Adam Oller to the Athletics for 33-year-old right-hander Chris Bassitt, who made his first All-Star team in 2021, the best season of his seven-year major league career.

Originally drafted by the White Sox in 2011 and then acquired by the A’s in the December ’14 deal involving Marcus Semien and Jeff Samardzija, Bassitt is something of a late bloomer. He threw just 143.2 major league innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2016, and didn’t make it back to a major league mound until July ’18, his age-29 season. He’s been very good in parts of four seasons since then, pitching to a 3.23 ERA (76 ERA-) and 3.82 FIP (89 FIP-) in 412 innings. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, his 2.29 ERA ranked third in the American League, his 3.59 FIP 10th, and his 1.3 WAR 14th (his 2.3 bWAR was third).

Though Bassitt pitched to a 3.15 ERA and 3.34 FIP in 157.1 innings last year, his season took a terrifying turn on August 17, when a 100 mph line drive off the bat of the White Sox’s Brian Goodwin hit him on the right side of the face. He suffered facial lacerations and a displaced tripod fracture of his right cheek, the latter of which required surgery, but thankfully, he avoided a concussion or any damage to his vision. He was able to return to the A’s after missing five weeks, making two abbreviated but reassuring starts in late September.

Before the injury, Bassitt led the AL in both innings and starts, but he wound up falling 4.2 frames short of qualifying for the ERA title. Among pitchers with at least 140 innings, his 0.86 homers per nine ranked third, his ERA fourth (Robbie Ray, the only one of those top four to qualify, finished at 2.84), his FIP fifth, and his 18.8% strikeout-to-walk differential 11th. His 3.3 WAR was tied for 11th among all AL pitchers regardless of innings.

Updating some data I compiled at the time of his injury, the 6-foot-5 righty doesn’t throw tremendously hard or generate a ton of spin; via Statcast, his four-seamer’s 93.2 mph average velocity placed him in the 28th percentile, while its 2,170 rpm spin rate placed him in the 30th percentile. His 10.1% swinging strike rate and 41.8% groundball rate aren’t eye-popping, either. But as Owen McGrattan illustrated in early August, Bassitt uses a very fastball-heavy approach – four-seamer, sinker, and cutter — and offsets their comparative lack of rise and modest velocity by throwing the pitches high in the strike zone from a low release point, thus “recreat[ing] the same plane where a hitter feels like he has to adjust his hands to get his barrel where it needs to be.” The result is that Bassitt limits hard contact; his 6.5% barrel rate places him in the 68th percentile, his .287 xwOBA allowed and 87.6 mph average exit velocity both in the 76th percentile, and his 32.9% hard-hit rate in the 88th percentile.

With a rotation fronted by Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, the Mets don’t need Bassitt to be an ace, just a quality mid-rotation starter. Given that deGrom was limited to 92 innings last year due to forearm inflammation and other injuries, that Carlos Carrasco managed just 53.2 innings due to a right hamstring strain, and that Taijuan Walker has an extensive injury history as well (last year’s 159 innings was his highest total since 2015), Bassitt adds some high-quality depth. His presence bumps Tylor Megill and David Peterson — who combined for 33 starts but just 0.9 WAR last year — into supporting roles, though given the aforementioned injury histories and an abbreviated spring training, both will probably get their chances to provide innings as well.

Bassitt is in his final season before free agency. He made $4.9 million last year, and MLB Trade Rumors’ Matt Swartz estimated his 2022 salary at $8.8 million. With him and reliever Adam Ottavino — who agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with New York on Sunday — in the fold, the Mets project to have a $285.5 million payroll for Competitive Balance Tax purposes. They’ll likely reach the new, third surcharge tier that was just added in the recent CBA negotiations, and was so targeted at the Mets’ owner that it was nicknamed the Cohen Balance Tax. For first-time offenders, it taxes amounts at least $60 million above the threshold ($230 million in 2022) at an 80% rate.

On Sunday, Cohen conceded that the Mets would probably reach that tier but sounded unfazed:

On the other side of the ledger, the trade of Bassitt is just the start of the post-lockout heavy lifting for the A’s. Even prior to the work stoppage, they appeared headed for another teardown, shedding numerous free agents including Marte, Mark Canha (who also signed with the Mets), and Jake Diekman. The expectation is that even franchise cornerstones Matt Chapman and Matt Olson could be on the way out, as could starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas.

As for whom they’re receiving, Ginn, a 22-year-old righty who is listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, was taken by the Mets in the second round of the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State University for a $2.9 million bonus; two years earlier, he was chosen in the first round by the Dodgers out of a Mississippi high school. Oller, a 27-year-old righty who is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, has been knocking around since being picked in the 20th round by the Pirates out of Northwestern State in 2016. Both project as starting pitchers.

Ginn underwent Tommy John surgery shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. The Mets drafted him nonetheless, knowing he wouldn’t make his professional debut until 2021. He’s the fourth of the team’s six picks from the abbreviated 2020 draft — done under long-departed general manager Brodie Van Wagenen — to be traded, after Isaiah Greene (in the Carrasco/Francisco Lindor deal with Cleveland), Matthew Dyer (in the Rich Hill trade with Tampa Bay), and Pete Crow-Armstrong (in the Javier Báez trade with the Cubs). A fifth, Anthony Walters, was released last August, leaving righty reliever Eric Orze as the only pick from that draft still in the Mets organization.

Some notes on Ginn from Eric Longenhagen:

Ginn showed enough to hold on to his No. 4/5 starter projection, as his velocity was mostly back (he sat 90-94 mph on the year), his slider is still consistently plus, and he threw strikes at a rate befitting a starting pitching prospect, which was not always true when Ginn was an amateur.

His fastball has sinking, two-seam shape, and generates a lot of groundballs. He looks looser and more fluid on the mound than he did at Mississippi State, and this look, plus the early track record of strike-throwing in pro ball, has him looking more likely to start now than when Ginn was a draft prospect. His slider doesn’t have big spin but it’s visually plus, bottoming out right as it approaches the strike zone. Changeup development will be important here since that pitch’s movement will mimic Ginn’s two-seamer. Ginn is quite good at killing spin on it and his feel for locating it is fair, but he used it just roughly 9% of the time in 2021. That will probably need to grow to keep hitters off his fastball in the big leagues. Still a 45 FV prospect, he slots into the A’s list as their sixth-ranked prospect.

In a season split between A-level St. Lucie and High-A Brooklyn, Ginn made 18 starts totaling 92 innings, posting a 3.03 ERA while striking out 21.9% of hitters and walking 5.9%. He allowed just three homers while generating a 61.6% groundball rate, the second-highest in the entire minors among pitchers with at least 90 innings.

Where Ginn’s debut was about living up to expectations, Oller’s season was an out-of-nowhere surprise given his recent odyssey. Released by the Pirates at the end of 2018, he took a detour to the independent Frontier League — where he posted a 45-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings — then spent the rest of 2019 in the Giants’ chain before being chosen by the Mets in the minor league phase of that year’s Rule 5 draft. The Mets sent him to the Australian Baseball League before the pandemic shut things down, and that was it for his competitive pitching until 2021, when he threw 120 innings split between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 3.45 ERA and 27.7% strikeout rate, offset by a 9.4% walk rate.

The long-levered righty averaged 93 mph with his fastball, generally throwing it in the 92-95 range and touching 96. His arsenal also includes a slider, changeup, and cutter. More from Eric:

Oller hopped from the Pirates, to the Giants, to Indy Ball, to Australia, was a minor league Rule 5 pick, and is now on the 40-man roster and likely to pitch in the big leagues in 2022. His fastball isn’t especially hard, sitting just 93 mph, but its riding life makes it very difficult to hit when Oller is locating it up and to his arm-side.

The rest of his repertoire is unusually hard. His best secondary pitch is a mid-80s changeup, which sometimes has cut action that can make it look like a slider; that may have caused it to be misclassified by some clubs’ automatic pitch tagging algorithms, which show him as having a “low-spin slider.” Some of Oller’s best pitches are these cutting changeups. Oller does have a cutter/slider type of pitch that’s also in the mid-80s and has short, lateral movement. But his shapely curveball, which is also in the low-to-mid 80s area, is the better of his two breaking balls. The overlapping velocity of all these secondary pitches likely contributed to what I think is some misclassification. Watching the catcher’s signs and Oller’s grip on video reinforce this.

Oller has above-average fastball command and a secondary pitch he can lean on, as well as a way of pitching backwards off the curveball to navigate a lineup multiple times. He’s a high-probability back-of-the-rotation starter and slots in 14th on the A’s list.

Neither Ginn nor Oller are likely to front the A’s rotation, but particularly if the team deals Manaea and/or Montas, they’ll get their shot at starting sooner or later. As for the Mets, the addition of Bassitt strengthens what was already one of the strongest rotations in the game. It’s a short-term move that further underscores Cohen’s commitment to using his financial advantages in an effort to win now. Not that he hasn’t already spent bigger dollars on the likes of Lindor and Scherzer, but this is still something Mets fans and the rest of the baseball world will have to get used to.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

Under the 5-4-3-2-1 plan–whereby your #1 is projected for 5 wins, your #2 projected for 4, etc–the Mets come awfully close to reaching that ideal. Per Depth Charts:

deGrom: 5.3
Scherzer: 4.5
Bassitt: 2.5
Carrasco: 2.0
Walker: 1.3

I’d probably be skeptical of Carrasco given that he was replacement level last year, but Bassitt has been a 3+ win guy the last couple of years, and Megill (who could open the year in the rotation and stay there because of injuries) is a legitimate back end rotation guy of some kind.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

What was the last team that met this criteria? Not criticizing it’s usefulness or anything, I’m just curious how frequently this occurs

1 year ago
Reply to  fanoftheman

I’m guessing some other team has done it since, but the 2013 Tigers were:
6-6-5-4-3. lol

Last edited 1 year ago by GoodEnoughForMe
1 year ago
Reply to  fanoftheman

It’s certainly rare. The Dodgers did it last year, although perhaps in the weirdest possible way with Scherzer coming over and Bauer getting suspended. They got 5 / 5 / 3 / 2 / 1.
Also in 2021:
-The Brewers also had 7 / 4 / 3 / 1 / 1.
-The White Sox had 4 / 4 / 4 / 4 / 0.
-The Phillies had 7 / 4 / 2 / 2 / 1.

So it’s not that rare to get close. In 2019, the Nationals had 6 / 5 / 4 / 2 / 0. The Mets had 6 / 4 / 4 / 1 / 1.

The last team that I know of that did it without any asterisks was 2018, where Cleveland had 5 / 5 / 5 / 4 / 2.

In any case, I think the utility of it is not whether it’s common, but rather that it’s a team that is ready to go head-to-head with the toughest lineups in the playoffs. So it’s more of an ideal than a reality most of the time.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

How about the 2011 Philthies?

8.7 Halladay
7.1 Lee
5.2 Hamels
2.8 Oswalt
2.3 Worley