On the surface, Thursday’s trade that sent left-handed pitcher Alex Claudio from Texas to Milwaukee in exchange for a competitive balance pick seemed relatively innocuous. A rebuilding team sent a middle reliever to a competitive team that needed one in exchange for an asset — in this case, a draft pick — with a maturation timeline that better fits that of the rebuilding club. But this trade also might tell us a little more about how the Brewers think about pitching, and help us to calibrate the way we think about draft prospects, particularly advanced college relievers.
But first, let’s talk about Claudio, who is entering his first year of arbitration and will be under team control for three more. Kiley and I posited in the Brewers prospect list’s System Overview (it’s at the bottom) that Milwaukee seems drawn to pitching curiosities. This is, of course, our subjective opinion, but the list of Brewers draftees and minor leaguers who have weird deliveries or unique release points has grown to the point where it seems to be an organizational focus or, at least, an organizational experiment. And Claudio, for those who have not been lucky enough to see him pitch for Texas over the last few years, looks like this:
It’s not easy to make big league hitters look goofy under normal circumstances, let alone when you only throw 86 mph. It’s clear the bizarre nature of Claudio’s delivery plays a role in his success. For context, here’s how Claudio’s release point looks on paper when given some context. Here I’ve compared Claudio’s release point to a lefty with a pretty generic delivery.
The proliferation of Trackman at the minor league and college levels enables teams to measure things like release point, and identify players who are bizarre or unique in this regard. Extension probably factors into this, as well, and I think adding that could enable us or teams to plot release points in three dimensions, and learn even more about what helps stuff play beyond just velocity and movement.
Claudio is also effective because he’s a rare reliever with plus-plus command. He’s walked just 4.5% of hitters during each of his three years in the big leagues and, when he misses, he misses down. His ability to dump sinkers and changeups into the bottom part of the strike zone or just beneath it and almost never, ever miss up in the zone is remarkable, and it’s a huge part of why Claudio has been able to induce ground balls at a 60% clip in the big leagues.
Teams have begun to think about pitching like wine and cheese. They’re more concerned about how pitches pair together rather than just evaluating each pitch’s quality in a vacuum. A general rule of thumb is that sinking fastballs pair well with changeups because they have similarly shaped movement, sinking and running toward the pitcher’s arm side. And again, Claudio is a great example of this, with his fastball and changeup movement overlapping exactly.
We know what Claudio is at this point. He’s going to be a good middle relief option whose WAR production will likely hover around 1.0, perhaps maxing out close to the 1.7 WAR he netted in 2017. Based on how we map WAR to the 20-80 scouting scale, Milwaukee got a 40-45 FV player for the next three years. Mapping Claudio’s WAR production to the scouting scale helps us make an apples to apples comparison in situations where we otherwise would not be able to, as in this instance, where Claudio was traded, straight up, for a draft pick.
The competitive balance pick Texas received from Milwaukee is going to be close to the 40th overall selection in the draft, give or take a few spots depending on how free agent compensation picks shake out ahead of that selection. As you can see from our last several years of MLB Draft evaluations (here’s 2018), that 40th overall range is typically right about where the 45 FV and 40 FV tiers blend together, which is akin to Claudio’s value when he’s placed on the 20-80 scale. In short, based on how we think about relievers and how we expected draft prospects in the late first and early second round to pan out, this seems like a fair, logical trade for both teams.
In every draft there are a few college pitchers who seem like they could pitch in a big league relief role right away. It’s almost never a plan teams actually enact for various reasons, but this trade also gives us an idea of where that type of prospect would go in a draft. It would take a confluence of variables for such a selection to be made (a team with a relief need, a very seller-friendly or completely barren reliever trade market that forces that team to turn to the draft, and a specific type of prospect) but this part of the draft is where the drop-off in potential ceiling could lead teams to focus on other traits, like proximity and risk. In other words, the Brewers seem to have told us who they’d take in June if given the choice between this theoretical college arm and, say, a high school hitter whose career is much harder to predict.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.