It's Not That Kevin Slowey Is "Available", It's What He's "Available" For

If you believe the rumors that were flying around yesterday, you’d think the Twins were ready to shift a starting pitcher for relief help. Of course this already starts us off on a bad foot, because the last time the Twins dealt for relief help it involved a Major League starting shortstop and two minor league arms. I know, I know, the Twins have had some success in trading for relief arms over the last couple of seasons: Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes have all played significant roles in the bullpen over the last two seasons. But while all of them have been acquired for varying costs between virtually nothing and a highly-touted but possibly over-rated catching prospect, none of them have been picked up in exchange for a Major League starting pitcher.

I hate to lean on an interview that’s now a month old, but Rob Antony said it himself:

"I don't think we'd trade away one of our starting pitchers for a middle reliever or something."

As far as I’m concerned, his "or something" means "a relief pitcher in general". Feel free to follow the link to judge context for yourself.

If that reliever ended up being Joakim Soria, okay, I might temper my disbelief. But right now I can’t possibly buy the idea of the Twins dealing Kevin Slowey, a talented if slightly under-achieving (partially due to health reasons) starter for a "late inning relief help". If there’s a team in baseball who is both:

A) looking for Major League-experienced starting pitching desperately, and

B) has such a dearth of relief pitching that they’re willing to send us their quality set-up man if not their closer,

…I can’t find them.

But honestly, for me this is less about finding a realistic scenario that lands us a good reliever, and more about what this rumor implies in terms of a lack of creativity and vision.

The general rule about relief pitchers is that they’re pitchers who weren’t good enough to be starters. It’s not always true of course, but it’s definitely easier to be successful when you’re only exposing yourself to a few batters in each appearance. Indeed, as our own Jon Kammerer pointed out the last time I brought up the Slowey trade rumors, you can go by the rule of 17. Which means a starter can expect…

  • A 17% jump in strikeout rate

  • A 17% decrease in rate of home runs allowed

  • A 17 point drop in BABIP

…and around one run off their earned run average. Here’s how that all works out for Kevin Slowey.

Stat

Career

Rule of 17

K/9

6.9

8.1

HR/9

1.4

1.2

BABIP

.307

.290

ERA

4.45

3.45

The truth is, if you base those numbers off projections for Slowey in 2011, the numbers generally look even a little better. But for the sake of argument let’s just say that Slowey doesn’t out-perform those realistic numbers or even meet them. Let’s say he’s slightly worse than the "Rule of 17" and produces a 7.9 K/9, a .300 BABIP against and a 3.75 ERA. Even in that scenario he’s still one of the best right-handed arms in the bullpen not named Joe Nathan. I might trust him now more than I trust Matt Capps. His value per dollar will certainly be better than Capps’.

There are worse things than having a control pitcher who will miss some bats in the bullpen. And when considering the unknowns not just in the rest of the arms filling out the Major League bullpen, but the unknowns in regards to the arms who would then be trusted to be the sixth starter (Anthony Swarzak, Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins and with an even larger "unknown" factor in Kyle Gibson), there isn’t a lot that I like in this rumor.

With the situation where the Twins are in, where their biggest weakness is the bullpen, the starting lineup is pretty much set and there are plenty of options the organization likes internally for bench players, this is a rumor that leaves me a little unsettled. Not because they’re open to dealing Slowey, but because of what they’re apparently open to dealing him for.

I believe that in a vast majority of cases starting pitchers are better than relief pitchers, and that therefore the production you can get from that starter in a bullpen role will increase proportionally. And the difference between the kind of bullpen arm Slowey could be, and the quality of bullpen arms that will be available for Slowey…it’s not good enough.

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