Should the Rangers have traded for Andrew Bailey?


Update: The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey this afternoon, sending a young major leaguer, Josh Reddick, along with a couple of decent prospects that are nowhere near major-league ready. What follows is the article I had intended to post today, concluding the Rangers should avoid trading for Bailey given the likely prospect cost and the possibility Bailey might not adjust well to Rangers Ballpark. The prospect cost was certainly much lower than I expected, and I suspect the Rangers could probably have afforded to acquire him. However, the concerns about his adjustment to RBiA remain. I imagine that this means Koji Uehara will not in fact be dealt, as some had speculated at the beginning of the season.

As recently as last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports claimed that the Rangers are still in on Andrew Bailey, the Athletics closer. As MLBTradeRumors highlights, the Rangers have been in on Bailey since the start of the offseason. At this point, it looks like the primary competitor in the pursuit of Bailey is the Red Sox, who were involved in intense negotiations with the Athletics for a “mega-trade” that would have sent both Gio Gonzalez and Bailey to the Red Sox in exchange for an unprecedented haul of prospects.

A trade for Bailey would be the latest move in a series of transactions aimed at turning what was the Rangers’s greatest weakness into a source of strength. It began with 2011’s deadline deals for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara,  continued with reassigning Scott Feldman to the bullpen for the playoffs and slotting Neftali Feliz in the rotation for the 2012 season, and most recently includes signing former elite closer Joe Nathan.

Trading for Bailey won’t be easy. Billy Beane, the Athletics GM, has carried out two major trades this offseason. He sent Trevor Cahill, a young, soft-tossing groundballer, to the Diamondbacks for Jarrod Parker, a top-10 pitching prospect, and two other well-regarded prospects. He also sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for a massive haul: 3 of the Nationals’s top ten prospects, and Tom Milone, who is no longer a prospect, but is pretty great anyway. He hit a home run in his first at bat…and he’s a pitcher. To top it off, the Rangers no doubt have to overpay to make an inter-divisional trade.

So what kind of a pitcher would Bailey be with the Rangers?

Bailey’s career so far has been fascinating. His first season, in 2009, he was the second most valuable reliever in the league, maintaining a 1.84 ERA, striking out more than a batter per inning, limiting his walks, and pitching a workman-like 83.1 innings. However, a .217 BABIP made him a prime regression candidate.  In 2010, his BABIP did in fact move north to .237, but more worryingly his K rate dropped down to 7.71, and he only pitched 50 innings. In 2011, his strikeout rate recovered all the way to 8.86/9, but pitching just 41.2 innings and having a .272 BABIP with a 67 LOB% (career LOB is around 85-90) prevented him from being among the league’s most dominant relievers.

Assuming his BABIP and LOB% next season are more closely correlated with his career norms, Bailey should be a substantially better pitcher next year. However, Bailey has benefited from playing in Oakland’s pitcher-friendly park. His HR/FB rate, as you would expect, goes up by about 50%, but even away it remains at a very manageable 6.2%. However, his strikeout rate falls from 10.45 at home to 7.40 away, and his walk rate nearly doubles from 1.87 to 3.27. While this could simply be due to a pitcher naturally feeling more comfortable in his home stadium without the hassle of travel, it could also be that Bailey feels less confident away from the spacious confines of the Athletics park, and “nibbles” to avoid home runs. If Bailey were to call Rangers Ballpark in Arlington home, his skillset could deteriorate significantly. Additionally, Bailey’s GB% has fallen for three consecutive seasons, to 37.1%. Were the Rangers to acquire Bailey, I suspect that Mike Maddux would have a plan to change his approach somewhat to induce more ground balls the way he was earlier in his career.

Overall, I think Bailey is probably not worth the prospect investment, unless the Rangers deal Uehara and suddenly have a need for right-handed relief.