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    The So What? deGrom and Happ (7/18/18)

    By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank

    MLB So What? Potential Landing Spots for Jacob deGrom and J.A. Happ

    Starting pitching is always one of the hottest commodities surrounding the trade deadline, and 2018 should be no different. Teams pursuing a playoff run can always use more starting pitching (unless you're the 2018 Astros), and an A-list starter will always require top-end prospects to be on the move in return, making the deals awfully exciting. Jacob deGrom is the likeliest ace to get traded at this point, as his agent has made it clear deGrom either wants a long-term deal with the Mets or for them to explore trade options. deGrom would fetch a hefty return if put up for grabs, as the 30-year old is third among all pitchers with 4.4 wins above replacement, and his 1.68 ERA makes him the only starter with a sub-2.00 mark. While the right-hander would certainly be the cream of the crop, a southpaw from Toronto is likely the next best option on the market. J.A. Happ has seen his skills progress with age, racking up his three best seasons from ages 32-34, and is currently on track to add his age-35 season to the top four. Happ is certainly a step down from the aforementioned deGrom, but he would be an excellent option as a second or third starter down the stretch and into the postseason. Left-handed starting pitching is still a rare asset in the league, so adding his versatility could be another benefit outside of his veteran leadership and on-field performance. While there are undoubtedly several teams that could use starting pitching help, we're examining the five teams we think are most likely to make a move for a high-end arm. We've selected the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, and Washington Nationals as the five most likely teams to land either starter, as they're all in the playoff race and are rumored to be on the hunt for starting pitching. Let's take a look at the results.

    The Phillies already have the best starting staff out of these five teams, currently owning the sixth-best starters ERA at 3.72 and the third-best overall WAR at 11.3. Over a third of that comes from Aaron Nola, however, who has become a bona fide ace in his fourth MLB season. Adding deGrom to the mix would add 0.9 wins to their total and make them 7.4% more likely to reach the playoffs. The improvement on their World Series chances isn't quite as impressive, bumping up by just 0.6% and keeping them less than 3% likely to win it all this season. Acquiring deGrom from a division rival might make discussions more difficult, as the Mets would need a sweet deal to explain to their fans why they just traded arguably their most valuable asset to a hated in-division organization.

    The easier and more affordable option would be to pursue J.A. Happ. The 35-year old left hander would add a different look to a rotation currently made up of five right-handers, four of whom are between the ages of 24-26. Happ would improve the product on the field as well, adding 0.4 wins and 4% to their playoff chances, and 0.3% to their World Series hopes. The southpaw was actually on the last two Philly teams to reach the World Series, winning it all in 2008 and falling short against the Yankees in 2009. If the Phillies are just looking for an arm to add to this year's postseason run, Happ may be the best option. He adds about half the value of deGrom on paper, but would certainly cost much less and be seen as a shorter-term investment while adding more variety to the current staff.

    Seattle has seen good performances from James Paxton and Marco Gonzalez at the top end of their rotation, but Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, and Wade LeBlanc have combined for just 2.2 WAR, less than Paxton's mark of 2.9 and Gonzalez's 2.5 WAR. Adding deGrom to the mix would be an enormous boost, exhibited by the extra 1.8 wins and nearly 15% he adds to their playoff chances. The 30-year old would also more than double their chances of winning the World Series, although that number still sits below 1% with deGrom in the mix. He would certainly be a valuable add, and could be an incredible one-two punch with James Paxton for several years if they could sign him long term.

    J.A. Happ would add 0.9 wins and 8.6% in playoff chances if acquired by Seattle. His 4.02 FIP and 9.99 K/9 are both better than any numbers posted by Leake, Hernandez, and LeBlanc, and would make the top three arms in the rotation all lefties. Happ wouldn't really move the needle much when it comes to World Series chances, however, adding just 0.2% to their total. The goal in Seattle may be different than other teams just searching for a championship, however, as the Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and have never advanced past the ALCS. Adding Happ would give them a nearly two-thirds shot at reaching the postseason, so he could certainly be a valuable piece to the organization down the stretch.

    While the Brewers' rotation may not look great on paper, they've outperformed expectations and managed the 10th-best starters' ERA in the first half. Freddy Peralta has been a great call-up for them, posting 1.1 WAR in just seven starts while boasting a 2.69 FIP and 12.05 K/9. 2017 ace Jimmy Nelson is expected to return sometime in September as well, so it will be interesting if the front office continues to ride out their current group, or looks to make a move for outside help. If the Brewers landed Jacob deGrom, he would add 0.7 wins and 7.5% to their playoff chances, while barely bumping their WS chances up to 1.5%. Perhaps the bigger factor in his addition would be to give them a true #1 option to trot out there if they were in a one-game Wild Card playoff, considering their most reliable arms are all in the bullpen at this point. That point could be muted if Peralta continues his excellence and Nelson is able to quickly round into form upon his return from injury, but they might want more assurance considering they've reached the playoffs just once since 2009.

    Happ may end up being a better value for the Brewers based on the projections above. He would add 0.4 wins and 4.3% to their playoff chances, but more importantly would match deGrom's addition of 0.2% to their World Series chances. Happ could replace the struggling Chase Anderson, who has a team-high 5.27 FIP through 104.1 innings pitched. His left-handed power pitching would also be a new look for the Brewers, as the only lefty on the staff is the crafty Brent Suter, whose fastball is over 5 mph slower than Happ's on average. The slim difference between deGrom and Happ in these projections make it seem like Happ is the better fit for Milwaukee, so it'll be interesting to see if they want the allure of a top-end arm or rely on their home-grown talent.

    The only weakness on the Yankees this season has been the starting rotation, which has Luis Severino at the top with 4.0 WAR while the other four starters combine for 3.5 WAR. At this point New York is essentially locked into the playoffs, but are still gunning for the division title to avoid a one-game playoff and an easier path to the World Series. Adding deGrom to the staff would result in 0.8 more wins and a 5% greater chance to win the AL East, as well as a 1.8% increase in their World Series chances. We know the Yankees like to do it big, so going after a big fish like deGrom to create a vicious one-two punch with Severino probably sounds pretty ideal to Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone.

    To be honest, I don't think there's much chance of Happ landing on the Yankees after looking at these projections. We know all they're after is a World Series title, and it doesn't look like Happ would contribute much to that quest. The 35-year old does have over five full seasons of experience in the AL East, but he would add just 0.6% to their division and World Series chances, which likely wouldn't move the needle for the Yankees' front office. He would also just land in the mix of decent starters in New York, as his 1.7 WAR are just 0.6 more than Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia. At the end of the day, Happ doesn't make their chances of winning a World Series that much more likely, so I expect the Yankees to look elsewhere for help.

    The Nationals are the last team we'll take a look at, and despite having the names to make up a star-studded rotation, it's still Max Scherzer at the top with the remaining starters lagging well behind. Mad Max has posted 4.1 wins above replacement through the first half, while the other four starters are all between 0.7-1.3 WAR. deGrom has spent most of his career as Scherzer's counterpart, but the two would make a dynamic duo if teamed up. He would add 0.8 wins to Washington's total, which would result in a near 50% chance to make the playoffs and an improvement of 0.7% on their World Series chances. Although 2.8% seems awfully low, it would put them in a near tie with Arizona for the third-best chance to win out of NL teams.

    Adding Happ to the rotation would provide much less intrigue compared to deGrom. We'd expect the southpaw to add just 0.2 wins and 0.5% on their playoff and World Series chances. Despite having a higher WAR, Happ falls behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jeremy Hellickson in terms of FIP and ERA. All signs point to Happ not being much of an improvement, so I'd expect the Nats to shoot high for deGrom or add help elsewhere. With this being Bryce Harper's last year under contract as well, it makes sense for them to go all in for this season in hopes of advancing past the NLDS for the first time in Nationals history.

    It's no surprise that Jacob deGrom grades out as a better trade option no matter what scenario we create, but teams will be looking at the value added based on what they have to give up. With J.A. Happ being the second-best arm on the market, teams can look to target him and accomplish their season goals without giving up a big chunk of their future by shipping off a package of top-end prospects. Time to gear up for another exciting deadline.
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    NFL GameChangers: Divisional Playoff Edition (1/14/18)

    In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from 2018 Divisional playoff matchups.

    EXW% = expected win percentage

    The Situation

    What-if Stefon Diggs was tackled at the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds left?

    The Take

    Unfortunately, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams won't be remembered for picking off Case Keenum late in the third quarter - a turnover that led to a Saints touchdown - but rather whiffing on a tackle of Diggs, which resulted in the Vikes receiver scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

    However, had Williams made the tackle, Diggs would have been down around the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds remaining and the Vikings would have burned their final timeout.

    Trailing 24-23, Minnesota would call on Kai Forbath to attempt the game-winning field goal. When we run that scenario through our NFL engine tens of thousands of times, the Saints' EXW% is 48.2%.

    It was a hell of a catch by Diggs. It was a hell of a game by both teams. This one isn't solely on Williams.

    The Situations

    The Steelers' pair of failed 4th-down play calls.

    The Take

    Pittsburgh converted 4-of-6 fourth downs against the Jaguars. However, it was the missing two that really cost them.

    Trailing 14-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers faced 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 21-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% before the fourth-down play call was 31% (assumed field goal attempt), but after they failed to pick up the one yard, it dipped to 23.6% - a win expectancy swing of 7.4%.

    The NFL gurus of Twitter believe Ben Roethlisberger should have used his size to pick up the measly one yard. Had he done that and picked up the first down, Pittsburgh's EXW% would remain 31%.

    Fast forward, Jaguars now lead 28-21 with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers now face 4th-and-1 from Jaguars' 39-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% is 24.4% right before Roethlisberger THROWS an incomplete pass *thud* EXW% dips to 16.7%.

    Now, if Ben snuck for the first down at this point in the game, the Steelers' EXW% jumps to 30.4% - a difference of nearly 16%.

    Bonus: a lot of chatter on social media regarding Pittsburgh's decision to onside kick down 42-35 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game. After the onside (and penalty), the Steelers' EXW% was 7.8% versus 8.1% had they kicked off normally.

    The Situation

    With the Patriots pinned back and in punt formation, a questionable neutral zone penalty on Tennessee.

    The Take

    In case you missed it, the penalty was originally a false start against the Patriots, but changed to a Titans' neutral zone infraction. Watch …

    So, to recap, instead of the Patriots leading 14-7 and about to punt from their own end zone, the neutral zone infraction handed New England a first down, which they parlayed into a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.

    Before the punt, the Titans' EXW% was 16.6%. Had they received the punt – with presumed great field position – their odds improved to 21.8%.

    After the Patriots scored their third touchdown of the first half, Tennessee's EXW% dipped to 5.9% - a swing of 15.9% - and the momentum they enjoyed early on was gone.

    The Situation

    Instant replay reversed a “running into Atlanta's kicker penalty” on Philadelphia before halftime.

    The Take

    To review, with Atlanta leading 10-6 and under a minute remaining in the first half, Falcons' punter Matt Bosher punted the ball to the Eagles. Philadelphia was called for roughing the kicker, which should have resulted in an Atlanta first down, but instant replay indicated that the Eagles got a finger tip on the ball and, thus, no roughing the kicker infraction applied.

    The punt counted and it was 1st-and-10 Eagles from their own 28-yard line and Atlanta's EXW% is 56.7%. Nick Foles and Co. picked up 37 yards in a jiffy and Josh Elliott booted a 53-yard field goal as the 2nd-quarter clock hit triple zeroes. With the Falcons up 10-9 at the break, Atlanta's EXW% fell to 50.5%.

    What-if the roughing the kicker counted and the Falcons picked up a first down at the Eagles 45-yard line with 55 seconds before halftime?

    Their EXW% would have soared 10% to 66.8%.

    Now imagine if the roughing the kicker counted and the Eagles would NOT have kicked the last-second field goal to end the first half. The Falcons would have trailed 13-10, instead of 15-10, on their final drive.

    For as bad as that shovel pass play call to Terron Ward was, if Atlanta had the option to attempt a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 2-yard line instead of roll Matt Ryan right and try to jam it into Julio Jones for the game-winner, Atlanta's EXW% would have improved by more than 20% (EXW% 46.0% down 13-10 vs. 25.7% down 15-10 on 4th-and-2).

    It's one of those cases where replay did its part, corrected the call on the field and the benefiting team wound up with improved odds before ultimately winning the game.

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