Aces Wild: The Trade Market for Bumgarner, Greinke, and Kluber
by Teegan Leader
Aces are being shopped as the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Indians are reportedly listening to offers on their stud pitchers. Madison Bumgarner is headed into the final year of a 5-year, $35 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Zack Greinke is only halfway through his 6-year, $206 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. As for Corey Kluber, he still has 3 years left on his 5-year, $38.5 million contract he signed with the Cleveland Indians. These three teams are all in unique positions in terms of competitiveness.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
The Giants went all out last offseason, bringing in veteran talent like Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, only to see that experiment fail as they finished second to last in the National League West division with a mark of 73-89. They may be settling for a rebuild and realize trading a top of the rotation guy like Madison Bumgarner can bring back a hull of prospects to build toward the future. However, with Bumgarner comes some baggage. A freak motorcycle accident resulted in a lengthy stay on the DL throughout 2017 and 2018. He hasn’t gone over 200 innings since 2016 and when he finally came back from the disabled list, his numbers weren’t the same. His ERA was respectable during his injury riddled 2017 and 2018, but his K% has seen a significant drop off since 2016 falling from 27.5% to 22.6%, and then settling at 19.9% in 2018. Another stat to monitor is his BB% as it has seen a significant increase from 3.8 in 2017 to 7.3 in 2018. Hitters have gradually been barreling him up, as his barrel % against has risen in each season from 2015 to 2018. The MLB average was 6.1 barrels and Bumgarner saw a career high of 8.4% barrels in 2018. All of this can be attributed to an extreme drop off of velocity since 2015 on all his pitch groups. Fastballs have seen an average drop-off of -1.53mph, off-speed pitches dropped off -.53mph, and breaking pitches fell -2mph on average each season.
Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
As for the Diamondbacks, they may be regretting giving Zack Greinke the amount of money they did. Since joining the D-Backs, Greinke has been about an average pitcher. His hard-hit percentage has increased in every season since 2015 and he isn’t getting any younger. Greinke’s average miles per hour on his fastball has seen an average drop of 1mph each season since 2015. He’s also gotten the lowest swing and miss percentage against his slider in 2018 at 32.9, a pitch that was once his highest swing and miss percentage pitch, and an 11.6% drop from 2017. Since 2014, there’s been a 2% average increase in the amount of fly balls Greinke’s given up, resulting in an increase of home runs in every season against him since 2014. It’s going to be tough to move someone like Greinke with the amount of money he’s left to be paid and his age, but if he can return to Cy Young form in the first half of the 2019 season it definitely isn’t impossible.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Kluber is the second oldest and owed the second most amount of money compared to Bumgarner and Greinke. However, he has also been the most durable and the most effective. Klubot has seen a significant improvement on his ERA dating back to the 2015 season. He's eclipsed 200 innings in every season since 2015, proving that he's durable and not injury prone. Kluber also lives around the strike zone, walking only 4% of batters in 2018 and not eclipsing more than the 6.6% he did in 2016. In fact, his K%, BB%, Swing%, and Chase% are all significantly better than the MLB average. While the majority of his numbers are dominant amongst the majority of major league pitching, they are also consistent within himself. His WHIP, Ks, BBs, and Hard Hit% have all fluctuated year by year, but have remained close within his totals of the season prior.
Not too long ago, these three pitchers were among the most dominant pitchers in the MLB. Now, there’s only one among these three. From standard statistics, to big data, to the injury history, it shows that Corey Kluber has more left in the tank over the next two to three years. He has been the most consistent over the last four seasons and shows no signs of dropping off. He’s 32 years of age, but when compared to other aces who have received contracts at age 30 or older, he can be included in the same sentence as Kershaw, Scherzer, and Greinke. In fact, Greinke was 32 when he signed his 6-year, $206 million contract. As for Bumgarner, 2011-2015 he was as dominant as they come. He was top 5 in ERA during 2013 and 2016, while being top 10 in 2011 and 2015. He was quite durable as well and if he hadn't suffered an injury to his shoulder in a dirt bike accident, the trends may lean toward Madison Bumgarner having more left in the tank than Corey Kluber. He was top 5 in innings thrown from 2014 to 2016 with a minimum of 217.1 innings being thrown in that span. With those innings also came strikeouts as he was top 5 during those years, averaging 234.7 strikeouts in those three seasons. Like Greinke, if Bumgarner can revert back to Cy Young form then the Giants may have a valuable trade chip in him come the 2019 Trade Deadline. Right now, Kluber can return the most value this offseason because of his consistency, health, and age.