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Mr. Phamtastic

The Rays made a bet based on Pham’s exit velocity and the early returns have been fantastic.

Cleveland Indians v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

On the morning of July 31, 2018 the baseball world was in the midst of trade deadline frenzy, with a potential Chris Archer trade garnering a lot of attention. The St. Louis Cardinals were considered a possible Archer landing spot.

Early in the day the news broke. The Rays completed a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. But Archer was not part of it. The Rays acquired outfielder Tommy Pham and $500k in International Free Agent spending pool money for outfielder Justin Williams, left handed pitcher Genesis Cabrera, and right handed pitcher Roel Ramirez.

Later in the day the Rays did complete a trade for Archer, but it’s looking like the Rays received the best team controlled MLB player on the day with the acquisition of Pham.

Last season Pham had a breakout season with the Cardinals. Over 530 plate appearances he hit .306/.411/.520 and put up a 148 wRC+. He hit 23 homers. It was Pham’s first extended run in the majors getting over 200 plate appearances in a season.

After a slow, injury-riddled trek through the minors, Pham was entering his age 30 season coming off a 6.1 fWAR year. Things were looking up, but there was reported to be some friction between him and the Cardinals front office. Pham wanted a long term deal, but due to his age, track record, and service time situation it wasn’t likely going to be something that both sides could agree upon. Mark Saxon reports that he wanted an expensive piece of exercise equipment, but the team wouldn’t foot the bill, which increased the tension.

The first half of 2018 hadn’t gone as well for Pham as his 2017 breakout season. Through 396 plate appearances he was hitting .248/.331/.399 line and putting up a 101 wRC+. It’s not a bad year, but nothing close to his great 2017.

The results weren’t there, but under the hood he was doing everything he could to replicate his 2017 season.

Through July 31 Pham was in the top 10 of top exit velocities in the game (minimum 200 plate appearances). Pham was tied for eighth in the majors with Christian Yelich, Kendrys Morales, and Matt Chapman with an average exit velocity of 92.7 mph. He only trailed Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz, Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Olson, JD Martinez, and Khris Davis.

This is a group that includes most of the biggest sluggers in the game. Pham was crushing the baseball, but not getting the results.

And once he put on a Rays uniform, Pham began getting the results those numbers deserve.

After a two homer day yesterday Pham is hitting .327/.419/.570 and putting up a 173 wRC+ for the Rays in 124 plate appearances. That is tied for the ninth most productive hitter in baseball since the trade deadline ahead of guys like JD Martinez (170 wRC+) and Bryce Harper (166 wRC+).

With the Rays he’s continued to scorch baseballs. Since August 1, Tommy Pham has an exit velocity of 93.5 mph on balls put in play. That is third in the majors (minimum 100 PA) behind only Giancarlo Stanton (94.0 mph) and Shohei Ohtani (93.9 mph).

In the first half he was running into some bad luck, but still was a solid major league regular. Now he’s getting the results that more closely match his batted ball data (.420 wOBA compared to .407 xwOBA).

The Rays showed they believe in Pham (although we don’t know whether they bought him that exercise equipment). The Rays were going to have a hole in the outfield that they would prefer to be a right handed hitter and they would like to improve upon Carlos Gomez. Even if he didn’t improve from this year’s numbers with St. Louis Pham likely would be an upgrade going into next year with three years of arbitration remaining.

So while the Tommy Pham trade got overshadowed on the day by the Chris Archer deal, the Rays might have pulled of a deal for the best player moved at the deadline.

The Rays packaged a guy already on the 40 man roster but not MLB ready (Justin Williams), a guy that was going to have to be protected from the rule 5 draft this winter (Genesis Cabrera), and a AA reliever who is rule 5 eligible this winter (Roel Ramirez) for an impact bat with three years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

The Rays might have gotten the steal of the deadline.