Royals acquired Vin Mazzaro for the stuff, not the stats

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Last night the Royals traded veteran outfielder David DeJesus to the A’s for 24-year-old starter Vin Mazzaro and pitching prospect Justin Marks.

Marks is a former third-round pick and a solid prospect, but the key to the deal from Kansas City’s point of view was clearly Mazzaro, as general manager Dayton Moore called him “a big, strong guy who our scouts feel can be a solid rotation pitcher for a number of years.”

In his article about the trade Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes that Mazzaro “generally draws raves from scouts for his stuff, particularly a sinking fastball.” Similarly, “a scout” told Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse that “Mazzaro’s stuff was second only to Trevor Cahill on the A’s.”

I could quote some other examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Mazzaro is 6-foot-2 and 24 years old, scouts love his raw stuff, and the Royals think he can be an impact starter for years to come. And here’s where it gets interesting: Mazzaro’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive at all.

First and foremost he’s 10-17 with a 4.72 ERA in 214 career innings, allowing opponents to bat .290 with a .360 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage against him. Among the 139 pitchers who’ve thrown 200 or more innings in the past two seasons, his .812 OPS against ranks 127th.

Delving a little deeper, Mazzaro has managed just 138 strikeouts in 214 innings, which works out to 5.8 whiffs per nine innings. Among those same 139 pitchers with 200-plus innings since 2009 that ranks 94th. And for all the talk about his “sinking fastball” Mazzaro has induced fewer ground balls than the average pitcher at 41.3 percent, which ranks 97th in that group of 139. His walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings ranks 115 out of 139.

So his ERA is 4.72 despite calling a pitchers’ ballpark home, he’s allowed opponents to bat .290 with an .813 OPS, he hasn’t racked up many strikeouts or induced many ground balls, and his control has been poor. In other words, Mazzaro has struggled in basically every key area of performance and even his numbers in the minors showed similar flaws.

What he has on his side is youth and the fact that at least some scouts still think his raw stuff is very good. Moore and the Royals have already established themselves as an organization that doesn’t rely on statistical analysis and in acquiring Mazzaro as the centerpiece of a trade for one of their best players they’re definitely trusting scouts and stuff rather than numbers.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.