A theme with which I’m sure many of you are becoming increasingly familiar is the state of the Oakland A’s and how well they match up with the Yankees in a prospective trade scenario. Erin covered Matt Olson’s trade candidacy a few weeks back, identifying him as the most coveted prize on the Oakland roster. However, the prospect price promises to be sky-high, and the Yankees have areas of greater concern, namely the starting rotation.
Back on December 4th, Andrés suggested Frankie Montas, and yesterday, I floated the idea of Sean Manaea as a trade target. If both prove too difficult to pry from the A’s, the Yankees could turn to one of their rotationmates, who had just as impressive a 2021 campaign: Chris Bassitt.
2021 Stats: 27 games, 157.1 IP, 3.15 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.93 xFIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.3 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Entering final year of arbitration eligibility, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $8.8 million.
Just like Manaea, Bassitt compiled a career year in 2021, setting new bests in innings, strikeout rate, K-BB%, FIP, and fWAR. What’s more, he has quietly established himself as one of the top 20 starting pitchers in the game. Among starters with at least 150 innings pitched in 2021, Bassitt ranked 13th in ERA, 14th in FIP, and 15th in xERA. Since 2018, Bassitt owns the 15th-best ERA (3.23), 20th-lowest hard-hit rate (32.9 percent), 23rd-lowest average exit velocity (87.5 mph) and 24th-lowest barrel rate (5.7 percent) among qualified starters. Also of note is his ability to go deep in games. He totaled 11 starts of seven innings or more, two more such starts than Gerrit Cole (granted, this could be a function of organizational pitching philosophy, but it’s still noteworthy nonetheless).
Bassitt won’t overpower batters with a fastball that sits around 92-93, although he can dial it up to 96 when he needs. Instead, what makes the veteran righty so intriguing is the diversity of his pitch mix. Bassitt throw six pitches — sinker, four-seamer, cutter, changeup, slider, and curveball — all at least six percent of the time.
The sinker is Bassitt’s primary offering, hovering around a 35-percent usage rate. Although it doesn’t generate many whiffs, it produces a groundball on just over half of batted balls. In 2019, it graded out as the best sinker in baseball per Statcast’s Run Value metric at -19 runs. He hasn’t quite achieved the same heights with the sinker since, but it still remains an effective pitch.
Bassitt’s pair of breaking pitches are decent if not spectacular. The slider he throws almost exclusively to right-handers, while the curveball is a slow overhand looper used to disrupt hitters’ timing. Both pitches induce whiffs better than 38 percent of the time.
Similar to Manaea, the changeup is the pitch that really catches the eye, at least from a movement standpoint. While Manaea’s changeup features tremendous vertical depth, Bassitt’s is more of the laterally-fading variety. It achieved the 12th-most horizontal movement of any changeup in 2019, and has only gotten better from there. In both 2020 and 2021, Bassitt’s changeup had the sixth-most horizontal movement of any in the game.
One might point to Bassitt’s health as a major red flag, having missed time in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2021, but a deeper look reveals a less-troubling story. Yes, he missed most of 2016 and all of 2017 to Tommy John surgery, and that cannot be ignored, but the rest of his injuries resulted from freak scenarios. Bassitt has been hit by comebackers three times in his career, missing minor stints in 2014 and 2019 after getting hit in the hand and shin respectively. The most notable incident occurred this past season, when he was struck in the face by a 100.1-mph line drive off the bat of Brian Goodwin, fracturing his right cheek. He miraculously missed only 37 days, returning to make two more regular season starts.
That brings us to Bassitt’s availability. Like Manaea, he is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is due a substantial raise over the $4.9 million he earned in 2021. Oakland is reportedly more motivated to shop players with only one year of team control left before listening to offers on players with multiple years of control, so he may be the more realistic target than, say, an Olson. That Bassitt is three years older than Manaea is no small matter, and entering his age-33 season with only a pair of seasons of over 140 innings pitched, it’s reasonable to expect it will take a less costly return to acquire his services. Granted, this is a two-way street, and the Yankees have to decide whether it is worth the prospect cost for one year of a starter entering his mid-thirties.