Red Sox and Rays Both Bet on Results by Jeff Sullivan July 25, 2018 The Astros have it relatively easy: They’re a super-team lacking meaningful divisional competition. The Indians have it even easier: They should resemble a super-team as well, playing in one of the very worst divisions in modern baseball history. This isn’t what it’s like for the Yankees or the Red Sox. While both teams are almost certainly going to the playoffs, one of them will have to survive the wild-card game, which brings an abrupt end to one competitive team’s season. Even though either team would be favored in this year’s matchup, neither is excited by the prospect, so they’re working to try to finish in first. Late Tuesday, the Yankees got better by fetching help in the bullpen. Early Wednesday, the Red Sox responded by fetching help in the rotation. Red Sox get: Nathan Eovaldi Rays get: Jalen Beeks It’s a clean trade — a one-for-one between a team in the hunt and a team watching it from the outside. In general, it looks how these trades usually look. The good team is getting a veteran rental, and the worse team is getting a longer-term prospect. Indeed, you could say this is a normal trade for the teams to make. But even normal trades are interesting! And for both sides, this is a bet on the numbers. It’s a bet on the new Eovaldi, and on the new Beeks. Both have been pitchers in transition. The Red Sox are ahead of the Yankees by five games in the standings. That’s a comfortable margin, especially given that Gary Sanchez is now back on the disabled list. Furthermore, the Red Sox already have Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price, and Drew Pomeranz. The hope is that, before too terribly long, Eduardo Rodriguez will also recover from his injury. Just taking a glance, this might not seem like the perfect fit. The Red Sox will probably win their division, and Eovaldi might be their fourth- or fifth-best starter. Teams don’t often trade very much for a rental fourth starter. For one thing, the Yankees remain incredibly dangerous. Boston’s divisional odds are strong without being overwhelming. For another thing, Eovaldi is pitching insurance — insurance in case someone gets hurt, insurance in case Rodriguez doesn’t come back. For a third thing, this could and should alter the playoff bullpen, whether that means Eovaldi becomes a reliever, or someone else does. And finally, Eovaldi appears to be the best he’s ever been. Maybe I should have noted that first. I wrote about Eovaldi as an intriguing pitcher on July 9. Since then, he’s had one awful start, and one great one. Nothing has really changed over the two weeks. Eovaldi throws hard, still, and he’s a strike-zone pounder. Among the adjustments he’s made: He’s throwing more cutters and fewer fastballs, he’s elevating his fastball more, and he’s tunneling his cutter better. His fastball and cutter work well as a pair, giving Eovaldi some of the results it’s always felt like he should have had. For now, his home-run rate is elevated, but that’s a noisy statistic, and his xFIP- is right around guys like Chris Archer and Aaron Nola. Eovaldi misses bats, and he seldom grants a free pass. That’s a good skillset to bank on. The risk might be the home runs — perhaps Eovaldi throws too many strikes. He’s also someone who’s no stranger to elbow problems, and every team in baseball is aware that makes him a durability gamble. The Red Sox are just hoping Eovaldi can keep it together for another few months. That sounds cold and impersonal, but they don’t have to worry about Eovaldi’s long-term outlook. He’s a free agent in November. He’s an effective pitcher now. Boston’s decision is that Eovaldi is ready to help, while Beeks is and was not. So now, if you look at this from Tampa Bay’s side, they’ve lost a rental, but they were always going to trade him. In return, they get a young lefty who hasn’t looked good in a very small sample of big-league exposure. Jalen Beeks presumably isn’t a finished product. But there’s reason to believe he’s close. He doesn’t rate that highly in terms of raw stuff or command, but you should see how he’s done in Triple-A. Beeks is 24, and this year he’s made 16 starts in the International League. Here’s a very simple plot: walk rate against strikeout rate, for everyone in Triple-A who’s thrown at least 50 innings. Beeks is the point in yellow. By K-BB%, Beeks ranks second out of 161 pitchers. He’s sandwiched between Josh James and Freddy Peralta. Beeks looks a little worse in terms of whiff rate and strike rate: Still, the swinging-strike rate ranks 13th. Again, by whiffs and strikes, Beeks looks like Peralta. He looks better than, say, Michael Kopech. These numbers aren’t everything, but they’re probably the most important numbers for a minor-league pitcher to generate. The Rays are betting that Beeks’ strikeouts and walks reflect a true ability to retire high-level competition. It would be easy to believe that Beeks isn’t anything much, given how bad he’s looked in his brief time in the bigs. The Rays apparently don’t care, similar to how they didn’t care about the same concern regarding Wilmer Font. Beeks does get his fastball well into the 90s. He also elevates it — sometimes too much. The high fastball is something the Rays and Red Sox both teach, so it’s not like this is something the Rays will have to try to coach into him. Here, also, is a fun clip of a good curveball: Beeks throws a four-seamer, a changeup, a curve, and a cutter. That cutter has apparently been the difference for him in 2018, and the Rays certainly aren’t going to take it away. There’s a four-pitch repertoire, then, that’s worked well at the next-highest level. It remains unclear how well this can work at the actual highest level, and look at Beeks’ arm action, one is reminded a little bit of Ubaldo Jimenez. Beeks might never throw that many consistent strikes, and perhaps he’s just a long-term reliever. Perhaps he’s not even that. But he’s been good in Triple-A, he’s cost-controlled, and he’s ready right about now. Remember, though the Rays are 19 actual games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, they’re only six games worse by BaseRuns. This is a team that’s been stockpiling talent, and free agency isn’t going to deal too much of a blow, with Wilson Ramos being the most significant upcoming loss. The Rays believe they can compete in 2019 — if not for the division, then at least for the wild card. And these last few months alone, the organization has added Beeks, Font, Andrew Moore, and Anthony Banda. There’s been an attempt to acquire high-minors starters who would be under club control for a while. They’re certainly not all going to work, but this is how the Rays have to operate, and this trade makes their outlook a little more rosy. A few months of a starting pitcher for more than six years of a potential starting pitcher. Maybe the Rays aren’t even going to care about traditional starting pitching, but in that case, you could say it’s a few months of a starting pitcher for more than six years of a potential multi-inning opener or reliever. Beeks might not be good enough. His Triple-A performance is compelling evidence that he is, or will be. For now, the Rays are stepping back, as the Red Sox participate in the AL East arms race. The Red Sox just made themselves better and deeper, bolstering their odds of winning the division and winning the pennant. The Rays are biding their time and building up. They can sense their opportunity is coming.