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Is Blake Treinen a Fit?

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Ben Margot - AP Photo

Ben Margot – AP Photo

Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that the A’s are listening to offers on former closer, Blake Treinen. According to Rosenthal’s report, the Yankees are among the teams interested in acquiring Treinen. Does Treinen make sense for the 2020 Yankees?

The Good

Quite simply, Blake Treinen was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018. He always had good stuff, but his performance took a positive turn once he was dealt from Washington to Oakland in 2017, and Treinen got in a groove in 2018, and never slowed down. In 80.1 innings, Treinen produced the following line: 0.81 ERA, 0.834 WHIP, 31.7 K%, 6.7% BB%, 5.2 H/9, 4.76 K/BB. These numbers were by far the best of Treinen’s career to-date, and he anchored the A’s relief corp.

In 2018, Treinen’s stuff remained elite. Treinen’s arsenal was led by his bowling ball sinker, which he threw 97.3 MPH. Treinen’s second most-utilized offering was his slider, which was nearly unhittable according to Statcast, as opposing hitters were only able to produce poor contact, producing just a .151 XWOBA. Overall, hitters struggled to make quality contact against Treinen, producing just .236 XWOBA, 27.7% Hard Hit %, and an average exit velocity of 86.2 MPH.

While Treinen struggled in 2019, he still throws hard, averaging 96.5 MPH with his sinker and 97 MPH with his four-seam fastball. Treinen also continued to strikeout more than a batter per inning in 2019, still slightly better than his strikeout rates prior to being traded to Oakland.

The Bad

Everything that could go wrong for Treinen did in 2019. Let’s start with the worst news first: Treinen struggled throughout the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Treinen went on the IL in late June with a rotator cuff strain. Treinen struggled prior to landing on the IL, but rather than get better following his return from the IL, Treinen was worse:

2019 1st Half: 36.2 IP, 4.17 ERA, 1.555 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 1.61 K/BB

2019 2nd Half: 22 IP, 6.14 ERA, 1.727 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 1.57 K/BB

Unfortunately, Treinen’s 2019 season doesn’t look any better when you look at the underlying numbers: 87.1 Exit Velocity, .334 XWOBA, 22.2 K%, 13.9 BB%, 34.1% Hard Hit %, and his velocity was down on all pitches. Shoulder injuries are scary for pitchers, even “minor” strains, and they can change the way guys throw, and that clearly happened with Treinen in 2019. Below, are a couple of charts that show just how markedly different Treinen’s pitches were in 2019.

First, here is Treinen’s spin rate progression:

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Blake Treinen Spin Rates, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Blake Treinen Spin Rates, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Treinen’s horizontal movement:

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Blake Treinen Horizontal Movement, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Blake Treinen Horizontal Movement, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Treinen’s spin rates and horizontal movement are drastically different, to the point that Treinen likely had to change his pitch mix to try to find the right sequencing to attack batters. Check out the shift in Treinen’s pitch percentages in 2019:

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Blake Treinen Pitch Percentages, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Blake Treinen Pitch Percentages, Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Blake Treinen threw his sinker less than at any other time in his career, threw his four-seam fastball and cutter far more, and decreased his slider usage significantly. All of this is evidence of a guy that was struggling to figure out who he could be with an achy shoulder. It is likely that Treinen was also struggling with his mechanics due to the fact that his shoulder was bothering him.

To sum up: the recent data on Treinen is very, very bad.

Treinen also has just one more year of arbitration eligibility, prior to entering Free Agency following the 2020 season, so a team trading for Treinen’s services will not have them for long.

Silver Lining

Plenty of observers might be willing to bet on the fact that Treinen can spend the off-season getting healthy, and return to the mechanics, pitch sequencing, and stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2018. If Treinen’s health returns in 2020, he may return to form.

Even if Treinen doesn’t get all the way back to his 2018 performance, the 2017 version of Treinen in an Oakland uniform was still an asset: 2.13 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 1.158 WHIP, 3.5 K/BB.

A team buying Treinen would also be buying low on a guy who is a rental based on his contract status. Treinen could be a steal for the right price.

Final Thoughts

Blake Treinen would be a very risky move, but one that could be worth it for the right price. Obviously, the Yankees have plenty of needs elsewhere, so the acquisition of Treinen would be a luxury, rather than a move that fills a need.

That said, I am beginning to view Oakland as the type of team that could take on JA Happ’s contract if the Yankees included cash and a prospect. Would JA Happ, cash, and a guy like Thairo Estrada get the job done? If so, I can see the argument for a deal.

In my opinion though, I see Treinen as a risk that the Yankees don’t need to take. If the Yankees want to bet on a reliever that was once one of the best in baseball, I’d rather see the Yanks re-sign Betances – all he’ll cost is money. Treinen may be a fit, but I’d pass.


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