Tanner Roark Heads to Oakland

The A’s, who have about a 25% chance of pulling down a Wild Card spot and still haven’t won a World Series title for Billy Beane, continued their efforts to shore up a beleaguered rotation by acquiring Tanner Roark from the Reds Wednesday afternoon in exchange for High-A outfielder Jameson Hannah. Roark, 32, will join Homer Bailey as a newcomer to the Oakland rotation and will work to build on what has been a solid if uninspiring season for Cincinnati thus far.

Luckily for Roark, solid but uninspiring will work just fine for the A’s. Oakland’s bullpen has been top-five in the game by FIP (4.03), and its offense top 10 by wRC+ (102), but the rotation — missing Sean Manea, Marco Estrada, and Frankie Montas to injury or suspension — has stumbled to a 4.60 FIP that ranks 14th league-wide. 12 pitchers have made starts for the A’s this year, and seven of them have season FIPs above that 4.60 average. Roark’s 4.20 will, presumably, help.

So too will his durability. Roark has made at least 30 starts in each of the last three years and in four of the last five. Since 2016, only six starters have taken the mound more often, and only nine have thrown more innings. There could be no neater fit than the one between the team that needs reliable innings and a starter who can provide those innings at a modest price. Roark will be a free agent at season’s end, meaning that his acquisition changes Oakland’s future plans not one iota, and as Susan Slusser reports that the Reds will pick up $2.1 million of the remaining $3 million or so of Roark’s salary, the financial downside here is minimal to the point of absence.

Roark is basically having the same season he’s had for each of the last three years, which involves striking out about 20% of the batters he faces, walking about 8%, and throwing between five and six innings each time he goes out there. If you’re the worrying type, you could look at his career-high line drive rate (which has jumped to 28% thus far in 2019 after never clearing 22% in any of the previous five years) and also-career-high hard-hit rate (35.6%) and see Roark starting to show some signs of age or potenial ineffectiveness, but I wouldn’t bet on those warnings turning into anything all that serious in the two months — three if everything goes as envisioned — he’ll play in Oakland.

The deal makes sense for Cincinnati, too. The Reds started the year with an outside shot at dethroning the Cubs and Cardinals in the National League Central (we gave them a 7.6% chance to win the division coming into the year), but those odds have dwindled to near-zero in light of strong performances from the teams above them and underperformance and poor luck across the Cincinnati roster. 2019 is about 2020 now, and with Alex Wood returning from injury last week and Trevor Bauer arriving from Cleveland, there simply wasn’t space for Roark in the Reds’ rotation. If Oakland wanted to save the Reds a million or so by taking him on and were willing to throw in a prospect, too, there was no reason not to bite.

That prospect, Jameson Hannah, is a 21-year-old lefty outfielder busy putting up a .283/.341/.381 line in High-A. In ranking Hannah sixth in the A’s system coming into the year, Eric and Kiley praised his timing, bat control, and speed, but saw little power to speak of and acknowledged that “his most likely path to a sizable everyday role involves … out-hitting what we currently have projected for his bat.” That hasn’t really happened so far this season (Hannah has two home runs in 414 plate appearances), and the A’s were apparently ready to let him work to develop his bat further with Cincinnati, who were happy to take that shot for a few million dollars and a half-season of Tanner Roark.

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Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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RunRickeyRun
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RunRickeyRun

Saying the A’s have a 25% chance of making the playoffs when they currently hold that 2nd spot once again points out the problem with Fangraphs projections not correctly weighing recent performance vs. historical performance. The same thing happened last year with the A’s odds.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I think there are reasonable critiques to make here of the projections but if you’re arguing that because they made a run last year they’re going to do it again this year…I do not agree at all.

RunRickeyRun
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RunRickeyRun

Not at all saying that. Just saying that Fangraphs seems to stick with their pre-season evaluations to determine playoff odds for the entire year while other projection sites seem to weigh heavier on what any team is doing this year and not what they did in 2016, 2017 or 2018.