It is not often you see two pitchers of ace pedigree, both the right side of 30 with affordable multi-year contracts shopped on the trade market at the same time. But that is exactly the situation we are seeing develop as the Reds and Rays are listening to offers on Luis Castillo and Blake Snell, respectively. This morning, my colleague Joshua Diemert dissected Castillo as a Yankees target so I thought I’d tackle Snell.
Since Castillo’s debut season in 2017, the two pitchers have mirrored each other in a variety of ways. Both are in the top 30 in strikeout rate, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR. And on the contract side, both are 28, with three years of inexpensive control remaining. Snell specifically has three years and $39 million left on his deal, and when you consider that is the same as MLB Trade Rumors’ predicted contracts for Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi, Snell could be the bargain of the winter.
What’s particularly intriguing is that Snell has been so dominant without possessing top-of-the-line raw stuff. Year to year, the movement on all four of his pitches fluctuates between slightly above average and slightly below average. Instead, he excels by having plus-plus command on all four offerings, has the confidence to throw each in most counts, and has terrific deception at release.
He maintains a pretty similar release point across all four pitches, which when thrown out of a consistent high three-quarters arm slot creates a tunneling effect that makes it nearly impossible to diagnose the pitch out of Snell’s hand. Additionally, Snell mixes his pitches to great effect. The batter cannot sit on a fastball when getting ahead in the count, and conversely, the batter has to keep the fastball in the back of his mind even when Snell drives the count to two-strikes.
If you’re not convinced, listen to the Rob Friedman, aka the PitchingNinja — a man far more knowledgable about the art of pitching than I — describe what made Snell so dominant in the World Series. Notice how he brings up pitch sequencing, the shared starting plane of his pitches, and the way his pitches track closely together for much of their path toward the plate.
Snell is by no means a perfect pitcher. He can occasionally lose the zone, and has been subject to high walk rates in several seasons, never placing higher than the 46th percentile in walk rate. Then there is the much talked about, though distorted criticism of his ability to make it more than twice through a batting order.
I’m not saying that Snell does not encounter issues when facing batters for a third time, but rather bring it up to highlight that diminished performance the third time through the order is not a Blake Snell-specific problem. Practically every MLB starter experiences decreased effectiveness when facing hitters for the third time. It was just a narrative that got magnified for Snell in the playoffs because of Kevin Cash’s inflexible adherence to an analytics-driven policy.
While it does appear that Snell experiences a sharper fall-off in effectiveness the third time through, this is in large part due to how much better than average he is the first two times through the order. He drops off from an elite pitcher to a league average pitcher once the lineup has turned over twice, which refutes the notion that he is unplayable the third time through.
So despite writing all that to show the allure of pursuing Snell, I’m here to tell you that such a deal has effectively zero percent chance of happening. The initial acquisition cost would almost certainly scare the Yankees away, as talks would surely start with Jasson Dominguez. Add on top the additional surcharge of dealing an impact player to a division rival, and even a king’s ransom might not be enough to entice the Rays. And so it appears this proposed trade is dead on arrival.
As Yankees fans, it must be infuriating to see potentially franchise-altering players available on the market, knowing full well that the team will balk at the opportunity to acquire them. Make no mistake, the Yankees have the pieces, both in the minors and on the major league roster, to pull off a trade for the likes of Snell and Castillo. It would certainly sting, would eliminate any notion of operating on a budget, and would very likely mortgage the team’s future success. But sometimes that’s what it takes to assemble a championship-caliber roster for the near-to-mid future. Oh well, a man can dream.