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Should the Rays claim Anthony Varvaro off waivers?

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Varvaro might help a shaky bullpen, but he might also just add a little more shake.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox designated right handed reliever Anthony Varvaro for assignment this afternoon. Boston had acquired the out-of-options reliever from Atlanta in December, and he has been one of their strongest players in an otherwise pretty awful bullpen (4.49 FIP, the 4th highest in MLB).

Now he's available, and given his performance last season, he might be worth a look. Here's what MLB Trade Rumors wrote about Varvaro at the time of the off-season trade:

He produced an attractive 2.63 ERA over 54 2/3 frames last year on the back of 8.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and a 49.7% groundball rate. ERA estimators generally viewed him as an above-average arm, with FIP (3.21), xFIP (3.15), and SIERA (2.86) all coming in above his ERA but at solid rates.

Vavaro's 4.09 ERA and 3.32 FIP adjust to 97 ERA- and a 85 FIP-. Steamer projects a 4.15 FIP and ZiPS projects a 3.88 FIP through the remainder of the season. If we add him into the FanGraphs Rest of Season (RoS) Depth Charts projections (which are 50/50 Steamer/ZiPS), he slots in about halfway up:

Name ERA GS G IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Jake McGee 2.50 57 57 11.06 2.80 2.72 1.3
Brad Boxberger 2.69 57 57 12.28 3.64 2.89 1.3
Kevin Jepsen 3.30 48 48 9.31 3.28 3.35 0.6
Matt Moore 3.96 7 7 40 8.03 3.80 4.12 0.4
Matt Andriese 4.23 7 16 50 6.36 2.74 4.27 0.3
Kirby Yates 3.71 48 48 9.45 4.25 3.93 0.2
Jeff Beliveau 3.57 35 35 9.29 4.07 3.82 0.1
Alex Colome 4.06 3 16 29 7.47 3.33 4.10 0.1
Ernesto Frieri 3.98 39 39 10.33 3.85 4.21 0.0
Anthony Varvaro 4.03 39 39 6.86 3.58 4.01 0.0
Brandon Gomes 3.98 30 30 8.16 3.14 4.13 0.0
Adam Liberatore 3.08 22 22 9.32 2.94 3.21 0.0
Grant Balfour 4.02 22 22 8.18 4.56 4.25 0.0
Burch Smith 3.50 9 9 8.69 2.93 3.66 0.0
Jose Dominguez 3.70 9 9 9.43 4.55 3.75 0.0
Grayson Garvin 3.68 9 9 7.37 2.86 3.84 0.0
Enny Romero 3.76 9 9 8.03 3.84 3.90 0.0
C.J. Riefenhauser 4.40 9 9 6.66 3.98 4.51 0.0

Of course, it's worth noting they still have Balfour in the Depth Charts, but still, his tidy 0.0 WAR fits neatly into the crowd of relievers in the bottom half.

What merits serious attention, though, is not necessarily Varvaro's projection, but his past. He has a career 86 ERA-, he has pitched okay with the Red Sox (though his last three appearances were all very bad), and he appears to be a victim of BABIP fluctuations (.378 BABIP in his 2015 numbers).


Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

But Boston has a smart front office, and they do not take roster transactions lightly. Especially given they have other guys playing worse -- fellow reliever Edward Mujica most notably -- Boston's decision to DFA Varvaro indicates they have lost faith in his ability to recover from this early swoon. Can we see what they're seeing?

His velocity is definitely down:

And it coincides with his late-season swoon in 2014, a period marked by his lowest K-rate of the season. But there doesn't seem to be much more than velocity changing in his pitches. His curveball seems to have a bit more horizontal movement to it -- slurving a bit more than usual -- and that might be affecting his ability to hit the zone (he's at a career-low 46% Zone-rate).

His contact rate (Contact%) is still around where it was in his time with Atlanta. It's possible his early season swoon is just that. But he's basically showing the same things Grant Balfour did, except without the track record of reliability Balfour had, and the Rays released Balfour.

I'd be intrigued if the Rays managed to get Varvaro on the waiver wire or as a minor league free agent, but I'm not confident he makes for a great upgrade over Gomes or Yates. I'd be willing to be convinced, though.