A Rule Five Review: Introduction and Deolis Guerra

Let’s take a look at how the lesser-known of the MLB drafts has impacted teams this year.

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The amateur draft in baseball doesn’t grab too many headlines. Most casual baseball fans don’t even know when it happens. Bigger fans know that it happens in June every year, but few tune in. This is probably because in baseball, being drafted in the first round doesn’t guarantee that you’ll even make it out of the minors. Not even two-thirds of first rounders make the show, and that figure drops to fewer than half for second rounders. So, only the hardest of hardcore baseball fans know that there is actually a second draft, the Rule 5 Draft, which occurs every year during the Winter Meetings. This draft actually has a more immediate impact, as all players picked in the MLB phase must be placed on the new team’s 25-man and 40-man rosters (i.e., called up to the majors) as soon as they are picked, and must remain on those rosters for the entire season, or else they’ll be returned to their old team. The pool of eligible players consists of those who aren’t on their team’s 40-man roster and have played a certain amount of time in affiliated ball (the amount of time depends on their age). There have been a number of successful players who were Rule 5 picks, most notably: Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, and Shane Victorino. In fact, Victorino was a Rule 5 pick twice!

That being said, let’s take a look at last year’s crop of players selected.

Pick New Team Player Pos Old Team Current Status
1 Philadelphia Phillies Tyler Goeddel OF Tampa Bay Rays  Playing poorly
2 Cincinnati Reds Jake Cave OF New York Yankees Returned
3 Atlanta Braves Evan Rutckyj LHP New York Yankees Returned
4 Colorado Rockies Luis Perdomo RHP St. Louis Cardinals Traded to the San Diego Padres
5 Milwaukee Brewers Colin Walsh 2B Oakland Athletics Returned
6 Oakland Athletics Jabari Blash OF Seattle Mariners Traded to the San Diego Padres
7 San Diego Padres Josh Martin RHP Cleveland Indians  Returned
8 Baltimore Orioles Joey Rickard OF Tampa Bay Rays  Playing poorly, injured
9 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Deolis Guerra RHP Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching well in relief
10 Toronto Blue Jays Joe Biagini RHP San Francisco Giants  Pitching well in relief
11 St. Louis Cardinals Matthew Bowman RHP New York Mets  Pitching well in relief
12 Philadelphia Phillies Daniel Stumpf LHP Kansas City Royals Returned
13 Cincinnati Reds Chris O’Grady LHP Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Returned
14 Milwaukee Brewers Zack Jones RHP Minnesota Twins Returned
15 San Diego Padres Blake Smith RHP Chicago White Sox Returned
16 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Ji-Man Choi 1B Baltimore Orioles Playing poorly

Clearly, some of these picks haven’t turned out too well, including those that haven’t been returned. Take a look at the two most utilized picks from this year’s crop: Tyler Goeddel has a 45 wRC+ for the Phillies in 220 PAs this year with a -1.3 WAR, and Joey Rickard has accumulated -0.7 WAR in 282 PAs. However, there is a trio of relievers who were picked that have fared well this year. Here are their stats:

Player ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WAR
Deolis Guerra 2.76 3.46 3.76 3.57 0.4
Matt Bowman 3.92 3.64 3.78 3.67 0.4
Joe Biagini 2.51 2.59 3.68 3.45 1.2

Can these guys stick around? Let’s take a deeper dive. Today, I’ll be looking at Deolis Guerra.

Deolis Guerra

Background: When he was 16 years old (11 years ago), Guerra signed with the Mets as an undrafted free agent. He lasted in the Mets system as a starter for three largely uninspiring seasons (never had a K/9 above 7.05 in A/A+), and then was traded to the Twins in the Johan Santana deal. The next five years he also spent as a starter, and his lowest full season ERA was 4.69. Yikes. He pitched mostly out of the AA bullpen in 2011, and that’s where his strikeouts finally jumped, from a previous high of 7.05 K/9 to 9.0. The next year, he became a full time reliever in the minors. He signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent before the 2015 season and saw his first taste of the majors that year, where he posted a poor ERA but a solid 3.05 SIERA in 16.2 innings. Thereafter, he was picked up by the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft.

Evaluation: Although he’s put up a nice 2.76 ERA this year, that mark is largely fueled by a .243 BABIP. Although he has a high Soft% (12th out of the 344 pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched this year), Statcast doesn’t really back him up. He’s only been decent at suppressing exit velocity (allows 88.2 MPH on average, average for pitchers with at least 500 pitches thrown this year is 89). He has a slightly above average popup rate (10.6%, league average this year is 9.7%). I don’t think that’s enough to keep a low BABIP, since he’s barely above average in both marks.

A few other things that don’t bode well for future success: Guerra is an extreme flyball pitcher (only a 38.6% groundball rate). He’s also put up a poor 6.50 K’s per nine with a whiff rate (9.5%) below the league average (10%), and his O-Swing% is down 3.1% from last year.

From looking at his pitches, I see that he has a nice changeup that he uses about as often as his fastball, and a curveball that he rarely uses. The changeup has a good 16.72% whiff rate this year, but the whiffs on his fastball are down from 8.45% last year to 3.81% this year.

Bottom Line: Unless I see an uptick in strikeouts, Guerra seems to me like a Quad-A fringe reliever. He has a good changeup with good velocity separation from his fastball, but then again, he doesn’t throw particularly hard (90.2 MPH on average for his fastball), and his fastball doesn’t have enough movement to make up for it. He’ll need to rely on his improved command to stand a chance.

Data from FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant. Picture courtesy of MLB.com. Stats are as of morning 9/5/16.

Thanks for reading!

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