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Are the Brewers better off chasing Jake Arrieta or Jake Odorizzi?

A test case for Jake Odorizzi’s trade market value

Tampa Bay Rays v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a recent MLBTR article, Steve Adams covers the report made by Jon Morosi that has the Brewers showing interest in free agent Jake Arrieta, as noted in the following Tweet:

This is the Jake Arrieta which MLBTR writers — including Steve Adams — had pegged going to the same Brewers with $100M over 4 years.

Meanwhile, MLBTR previously noted Jake Odorizzi will likely land $6.5M for the 2018 season, his 2nd to last arbitration eligible year. For argument’s sake, let’s say Odorizzi’s final arbitration nets him between $9M and $12M for a total of $15.5M to $18.5M over 2 years.

Jake Odorizzi, as most of you know, has been noted as being on the market for years now, with rumours of him being traded to most competitive teams that may not be able to afford top-flight pitchers, such as the Pirates in 2016.

In a more recent article from Marc Topkin from the weekend, and previously noted here by MLBTR, it’s anticipated that Odorizzi be made available to resolve some of the budget issues the Rays are facing this offseason, and he’s since been sought after by many teams.

The Brewers, who may or may not be one of those teams, are noted as having some extra manoeuvring room within their budget. This got me thinking about the following: are the Brewers chasing the wrong Jake?

To get a feel for which Jake the Brewers may want to chase most, I’ll list short and to the point cases for and against for each one in an attempt to reach a verdict.

Here we go!

League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs - Game Four Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Brewers Jake Chase: The Case for Arrieta

  • Cost of acquisition: He’s a free agent, so he won’t cost a lot in terms of prospects *see caveat in case against
  • Maturity and experience: He has thrown in 30+ games past 3 seasons, and should produce 190+ innings at the top of the rotation. As a World Series winner and 2015 Cy young winner, he brings a pedigree and noted work ethic that Odorizzi can’t match.
  • Cy Young performances: His sheer dominance, noted in this must read, of just a few years ago has many wondering if he could repeat such feats and help lead them deep into the playoffs.
  • Leading the Staff: The leadership angle was noted in this Bruce Levine article and points to how much of an impact Arrieta could have on the very young Brewers staff

Brewers Jake Chase: The Case Against Arrieta

  • *Caveat from FA - although he’s a free agent, the Brewers would forfeit their 3rd selection in the 2018 MLB draft (currently slated as the 74th overall selection), which does add to the initial assumed cost of approximately $100M/4 yrs.
  • Wear and tear: With 1161 innings under his belt without major surgery, he did have bone spurs removed in 2011 and was once he was acquired by the Cubs saw a significant increase in IP. Couple that with a significant decrease in FB velocity in 2017 (range dropped from 93-95 MPH to 91-93 MPH) which was part of what led to his highest whip since 2013 (1.218) and there is a lot to be concerned about health wise.
  • Percentage of Budget: Unlike many of the larger market teams, the Brewers can ill afford to have a pitcher with a $25M/Yr contract sitting out due to injury. If he were to go down to injury, MLW would have very little wiggle room budget wise to replace him in their rotation.
  • Better Alternatives/fits? We also have to include the opportunity loss of what other pieces could be added if another pitcher, and other pieces, were brought in instead of Arrieta. This also includes opportunities to extend players or keep them through the arbitration process.
Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Brewers Jake Chase: The Case for Odorizzi

  • Thorough Knowledge: The Brewers know Jake very well having drafted him in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2008 MLB draft
  • Youth: Odorizzi is 4 years younger than Arrieta and has 457 fewer innings on his arm
  • Paying for future, not past: Entering his age-28 season, he may not yet have peaked in terms of performance, whereas Arrieta may have already peaked
  • Hometown boy (or nearby): With Odorizzi being from Illinois, there’s a good chance that he’ll be open to an extension beyond his current two years of arbitration control
  • Performance difference minor in 2017: Odorizzi’s 1.242 whip compares very well to Arrieta’s 1.218, particularly when you take into account the fact that Odorizzi pitched in the AL. Odorizzi also produced a whip of 1.140 in the second half while Arrieta matched that and then some with a 1.090 whip in the second half (oddly enough both managed 12 starts). The biggest difference was the average against, which in Odorrizi’s case was .176 while it was .215 for Arrieta. Couple that with a slightly better OPS against in Odorizzi’s case (.644 to .675) and you start wondering if paying an older Arrieta all of that extra cash is worth the risks.
  • End of season performance, finishing strong: Over his last 5 starts of the season, Odorizzi managed a 0.722 whip on the back of 10.9 SO/9 and only allowed the following line, .116/.198/.221. His opponents over that span? The playoff chasing Twins, Yankees, Red Sox, and the Orioles on two occasions.
  • Tweaked delivery may have led to success: Many credit the dominant ending to the season (allowing more than 3 ER on 1 occasion in the second half) to how...

“Odorizzi came out of the All-Star break, throwing exclusively from the stretch in hopes of simplifying his delivery. The change paid instant dividends, as Odorizzi had his best game of the year when he started using it against Oakland: a seven-inning, one-hit gem (the lone hit being a solo shot by Khris Davis) on July 17” []

  • Few Red Flags: Unlike Arrieta, Odorizzi’s velocity is smooth as could be year-over-year and actually saw a slight uptick at the end of the 2017 season, as shown here courtesy of Brooks Baseball
  • Spread the Wealth, Strength in Numbers: Money saved (up to $84M) can be re-allocated to chase other needs and other free agents, and also the cost of prospects to acquire Odorizzi would be evident, it’s unlikely that it would be anywhere near an $84M valuation.

Brewers Jake Chase: The Case against Odorizzi

  • Needs to put it all together, no guarantees: Arrieta (per Fangraphs) managed a 2.4 WAR in 2017 and Steamer projects 2.8 for 2018 while Odorizzi managed 2.0 WAR or above from 2014 through 2016 but only managed 0.1 WAR in 2017 and Steamer projects 0.9 WAR for 2018.
  • Always seems to have issues that stop him from making 32 starts: As an example in 2017, Odorizzi suffered a freak foot injury in August. May just be unlucky, but he does have a track record of it now. Odorizzi did manage 187.1 innings on one occasion, which is fairly close, and it could be argued that Odorizzi’s arm was not the issue preventing him from managing 200 IP, which bodes well for an acquiring team.
  • Pedigree and Presence: The most glaring difference between the Jakes is the pedigree - one having been there and done that, the other hasn’t, and it’s unlikely Odorizzi would be able to take on as prominent a leadership role as a result - something that could, however, be rectified by the re-allocating of that approx $84M saved to bring in another veteran arm, something which also add the always needed depth during a long season

Summary of stats for both Jakes for 2017

  • Arrieta: 168.1 IP, 8.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 72.8% LOB, 45.1% GB%, 14% HR/FB
  • Odorizzi: 143.1 IP, 8.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 72.5% LOB, 30.6% GB%, 15.5% HR/FB
Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee Brewers
The racing sausages
Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images

Jake vs Jake: The Vedict

As we all know, prospects are known to break hearts, and money is a whole lot more a sure thing - and much more liquid a commodity - than prospects.

With that in mind, along with the flexibility it would afford the Brewers in being able to add other pieces and react to needs as the season goes along, the Odorizzi side tends to have more merit than the Arrieta side.

This isn’t to say that today Odorizzi is the better pitcher or that he would out-pitch Arrieta. It’s that his cost over the next 2 seasons (approx $16M) and minimal risk due to terms, along with additions made with savings more than make up for the prospect cost of acquiring Odorizzi and difference in performance between him and Arrieta.

If you were Brewers ownership and asked for a $100M/4 yr paycheck signature to sign a 31 yr old pitcher vice having to deal 2-3 prospects to land another similar, albeit slightly lower, performance for a cost of $16M/2 yrs, which would you sign off on considering the track record of pitchers who sign deals in their 30s (like David Price with the Red Sox)?

It’s not an easy decision overall, but operating with some caution in this case may be worthwhile. I’m not going to touch on which prospects would be headed to the Rays since it also depends on whether or not other piece(s) head to MLW, but the Brewers do have a deep system with many intriguing prospects the Rays are sure to have interest in.

Chasing the Wrong Jake

The Brewers, if the reports are correct, may be chasing the wrong Jake, and may be better off working out a deal with the Rays this offseason.

After all, if the MLBTR top 50 predictions is correct, the Brewers would be able to bring in Addison Reed ($36M), Brandon Morrow ($24M), and bring back CC Sabathia ($24M) with the money saved by foregoing the signing of Jake Arrieta.

A dominant pen and depth in rotation may be much more valuable to the Brewers than the presence of Arrieta, and it could also result in the Rays finding a landing spot for Odorizzi. With a system that includes many prominent outfielders (Brinson, Ray, Phillips, Lutz), surely a deal can be made that helps both teams get what they need to better compete in 2018.