The Chris Archer trade is considered by many to be among the worst in MLB history. The Tampa Bay Rays traded former All-Star pitcher Chris Archer for an assortment of young players to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Archer was coming off a couple league-average years, but the Pirates needed a starting pitcher to push them over the edge. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Let’s see how Archer performed in Pittsburgh.
4.92 ERA over 172 innings pitched. The Pirates granted him free agency after he missed the entirety of the 2020 season, so he signed with a different team… the Tampa Bay Rays.
So, it didn’t work out for Archer in Pittsburgh. It happens. Hopefully the pieces they sent to Tampa didn’t work out either.
Tyler Glasnow has a 3.10 ERA with the Rays since leaving Pittsburgh where he had a 5.79 ERA. He would’ve been a Cy Young candidate if he didn’t need Tommy John surgery that cut his season short.
Austin Meadows made the all-star team in 2019, which is also the year he hit 33 home runs. He owns a 127 OPS+ since his departure.
The player to be named later to complete the trade ended up being Shane Baz, who has a 1.80 ERA in AAA this season.
This is just one example of numerous trades in which Tampa Bay has completely finessed their trading partner. They managed to pry postseason sensation Randy Arozarena from St. Louis for almost nothing. They picked up Tommy Pham from St. Louis when he appeared to be in decline. He posted a 135 OPS+ in Tampa before they flipped him for prospects to San Diego. Since then, he’s had just a 100 OPS+.
Just this past offseason, the Rays traded former Cy Young winner Blake Snell to the Padres. He’s having the worst season of his career with a 4.31 ERA while leading the majors in walks.
Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, Tampa Bay managed to position themselves two wins away from a world series last year through this method. Emphasizing analytics and a deep, elite bullpen with starting pitching to match pushed them all the way to the Fall Classic and currently a large lead in the AL East. This led the league to understand Tampa Bay as the analytical kings of baseball.
However, one team has managed to dethrone the king.
The Milwaukee Brewers.
Willy Adames had some good times in Tampa Bay. The shortstop had a 127 OPS+ in 2020, but after a dreadful postseason and slow start to 2021, Tampa Bay moved him to Milwaukee. Top prospect shortstop Wander Franco was about to make his debut and replace Adames, so it didn’t really matter for the Rays.
Since the move up north, Adames has slashed .291/.375/.536 for a .911 OPS and a 143 OPS+. His strikeout rate has plummeted, and he has now muscled up 17 home runs in 83 games. He’s accumulated 4.0 WAR, and should receive some down-ballot MVP votes.
Sure, former Milwaukee pitchers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen have performed admirably in Tampa since the trade, but nothing in the realm of Adames’ onslaught.
Milwaukee finally managed to outthink Tampa Bay.
Not only that, but Milwaukee has mimicked Tampa Bay’s style of play. Neither team has an offense with stars. Sure, Milwaukee has 2018 MVP Christian Yelich, but he’s been hugely disappointing this year, with only a .395 slugging percentage. The two teams play matchups by the book, maximizing the production of guys like Kolten Wong, Avisail Garcia, Yandy Diaz and Joey Wendle. None of these guys are household names, yet both teams win.
The two greatest strengths of these teams are their bullpens.
Nicknamed “the stable” in 2020, Tampa Bay’s bullpen has been just as good in 2021. This year, Andrew Kittredge (who?!?) has led the team in bullpen innings while pitching to a 1.32 ERA. Colin McHugh has been just as terrific with a 1.40 mark. Diego Castillo had a 2.72 ERA before being sent to Seattle (where his ERA has gone up an entire run and his strikeout rate has plummeted from 12.1 K/9 to 7.7).
Milwaukee’s ‘pen might be even better.
The Brewers’ bullpen is headlined by closer Josh Hader, who has 28 saves, a 1.51 ERA, and is striking out an insane 15.3 batters per nine innings. Next up is Devin Williams, who, after winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award last year, is currently sitting at an ERA of 2.01.
Brent Suter has a 3.15 ERA in 65.2 innings. Brad Boxberger has a 2.25 ERA in 56. Somehow the Brewers have managed to revive the career of Hunter Strickland, who has a 1.40 ERA in 25.2 innings.
Where Milwaukee manages to separate themselves is the starting pitching. They have three starters with an ERA below 2.50: Brandon Woodruff (2.35), Corbin Burnes (2.27), and Freddy Peralta (2.45). They all do what modern analytical pitchers do: strike everybody out and let nobody on base.
The Milwaukee pitching staff leads all of baseball with 1,334 strikeouts. They are tied for the most shutouts with 15.
As both of these teams sit comfortably atop their division standings (Milwaukee has a 10 game lead, Tampa an 8 game lead) it’s fairly inevitable that they will both make the playoffs.
In Major League Baseball, success is accompanied by imitation. Teams in the 1980s tried to emulate the St. Louis Cardinals’ style of bunts, defense and steals. Players looked to hit like Babe Ruth, and not Ty Cobb, when Ruth won 7 World Series and Cobb won none.
Therefore, the Rays and Brewers will be the new model of MLB teams. Teams will see that money can be saved offensively. On the pitching side, big budget signings and blockbuster trades clearly aren’t the path. Instead, developing pitchers with spin rate and tunneling techniques to strike out as many batters as possible will win ball games.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Tampa Bay and Milwaukee met in the World Series this year. But it’s only a matter of time before some other team finds a way to play baseball better.
Featured Photo: @brewers