In case you missed it, last night the Cardinals traded away 4A first baseman and St. Louis resident Luke Voit to the Yankees for AAA reliever Giovanny Gallegos and major league reliever Chasen Shreve. Gallegos has already been sent to Memphis while Shreve will join the major league club. It is unusual, of course, for major league teams in the middle of pennant races to trade away relievers right before the trade deadline. It’s usually the opposite and, indeed, the Yanks’ acquisition of Zach Britton just a few days ago is what freed the team up to make this deal. So while Shreve has struggled at times this year and throughout his 4 years in the league, don’t take the fact that the Yanks got rid of him as a sign that he can’t be useful to the Cardinals. The Yankees have easily the best bullpen in baseball – one that could the key to them hanging another banner in the Bronx.
Shreve is a lefty who has struggled some this year and throughout his major league career. A cursory glance at his stats will tell you 3 things that stand out.
He strikes out a lot of dudes (27.1 % K rate in 2018; 26.6% for his career).
He walks a lot of dudes (10.6 % BB rate this year; 11.3% for his career).
He is prone to giving up the long ball (4.7% HR rate this year; 4.2% for his career).
He's sort of a 3 true outcomes pitcher. Obviously, there’s good and bad in that. The Cards were able to trade for a guy with definite swing-and-miss stuff but batters had better miss when they swing or it could end up traveling a long way.
His results this year have been kind of all over the place. He was pretty good in April and has been good again in July but was just awful in between. As it turns out, his results didn’t match what should have happened in either of the first 2 months as his Statcast numbers show he should have had pretty terrible results in April and much better results in May. Regardless, he is where he is at this point.
Shreve is basically a 2-pitch pitcher, as most relievers are, throwing his 4-seam fastball about 53% of the time and his split-finger fastball about 40% of the time. He throws a slider on about 7% of his pitches. According to Statcast, both his fastball and his splitter generate lots of whiffs. The whiff rate on his 4-seamer in 2018 has been 23.2% and his whiff rate on his splitter has been a whopping 45.2%. It’s very clear that his splitter is his best offering as his wOBA this season is just .278 which actually undersells how good this pitch is since his xwOBA on the splitter is just .252. Major league hitters this year have basically hit like Carlos Martinez hits against Shreve’s splitter.
His splitter averages about 84 mph and is such a good pitch primarily because it has such a low spin rate. Among major league pitchers who have thrown at least 100 splitters this season, Shreve has the 6th lowest spin rate. The low spin rate on this pitch gives it a lot of sink and either causes hitters to miss it entirely or pound it into the ground. Shreve has a 37.4% K rate on his splitter in 2018 and the average launch angle on splitter this year is -2 degrees. It’s a great pitch that can be effective against both righties and lefties…and it needs to be.
The reason it needs to be is that his 4-seam fastball just isn’t very good. The offering averages about 92 mph though he’s gotten it up to 94 this season. In contrast to his splitter, Shreve’s fastball has a very high spin rate – 19th highest among 205 pitchers who have thrown at least 300 4-seamers so far this season. Four-seam fastballs with high spin rates tend to generate lots of whiffs and lots of fly balls and his results bear that out. This year his whiff rate on 4-seamers is 23.2% and the average launch angle on the pitch is 22%. Batters are really pounding his fastball so far in 2018. Their wOBA is .390 which is actually quite a bit less than their xwOBA (.445). Batters are slugging .526 and their expected slugging percentage is .655 off of Shreve’s 4-seamer which means that the average batter is basically Freddie Freeman off of Shreve’s 4-seam fastball. It’s clear that Shreve has to use his fastball to get ahead of the hitter and set up his splitter – his out pitch.
So it’s evident that there is something with which to work from Shreve but, from what he’s shown so far, he’s far from being a dominant reliever. Still, for a guy who was acquired for half of Luke Voit, that’s pretty good. Though he’s a lefty, his dominant splitter will allow him to get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out so there’s no reason to believe he’ll end up being a LOOGY. The question becomes, then, where does he fit in the Cards’ new bullpen pecking order?
That’s difficult to say considering that there are so many new faces down there. For the time being, Bud Norris is obviously the closer and will remain so unless he is traded. Jordan Hicks is the setup guy who may assume the mantle of closer if Norris is traded. Mike Mayers has pretty well established himself as the 7th inning guy right now. It’s possible that Shreve could fit right before Mayers or perhaps instead of Mayers if the opponent has a very good lefty (think Votto or Rizzo) coming to the plate in the 7th. At this point, however, it’s too early to tell.
It is clear that Shreve should have more of Maddux’s and Shildt’s confidence that either Tyler Lyons or Brett Cecil did. Right now, the Cards’ pen needs good arms, regardless of which one hurls the ball toward the plate and Shreve clearly shows a lot of potential.
Thanks to baseball-reference, fangraphs, and baseball savant for all the great data and thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the great pic. That’s twice in 2 days I’ve had to ask him to find and spice up a pic of some random guy who most Cards’ fans had never heard of on pretty short notice.
Thanks to you all for reading.