Today I continue my trek of searching for flukes - lucky performance - or nuke - disaster of a performance - I covered Scott Dohmann on DRB last night, today I'll stay within the Rays' bullpen and head to another player acquired in order to bolster the relief staff, Dan Wheeler. There are a lot of things to consider in Wheeler's case; did we give up too much for him? Should we attempt to re-sign him? Is he a 5.5 ERA pitcher in the American League?
Let's begin with the trade; July 28th prior to a Red Sox game Ty Wigginton is seen leaving the clubhouse with his gear - rumors fly of him heading to Minnesota or the Yankees, but news breaks that the deal is to Houston for the Astros' set-up man, Wheeler. On the surface the Rays traded a defensive liability with pop for an ace reliever, let's compare their stat lines:
On paper it appears the Astros won the deal, and last year they likely did, as we see below Wheeler accounted for -10 runs above average, Wigginton for +16 batting runs above average, but -8 fielding runs above average, and since the designated hitter rule doesn't apply to the league he's playing in FRAA means a lot more than it did for the Rays and Wiggy.
Now, let's discuss Wheeler himself, trend wise it appears last year was just pure unlucky. In fact he raised his K/9 rate to the highest since his 1999 season, his walks were the second lowest, his HR/9 wasn't even in the top three, his BABIP was a bit high but nothing that he hasn't overcame before. The thing that caught my eye was his low LOB% compared to past seasons, 61.5 doesn't really match up to his career 74.1%.
His body of numbers suggests that he'll return to his signature ERA status - not that ERA is the way to judge since as we see otherwise he did well across the board, but we know that most people will point to an ERA above 5 and assume the player was bad - of around 2.5 or so. If that's the case, he'll enter free agency with three of four seasons where he appears to be dominating, how much will he cost the Rays to keep? Let's compare him to the four years 19 million dollar man Scott Linebrink and see how they stack up per the past three seasons.
Wheeler actually stacks up better than Linebrink which is very encouraging when you consider two of those seasons were spent in Houston while Linebrink spent two in PETCO. If I were the Rays I'd consider offering Wheeler a four year contract this off-season, which would in effect make it a three year free agent deal, slant next year closer to what he's likely to get in arbitration (I'd guess around 3 million) then progress to the point where he'd make around 15 million total with incentives to make 19 or 20 million.