Tampa Bay Rays Trade Three for Sergio Romo Replacement | The Process Report

Tampa Bay Rays Trade Three for Sergio Romo Replacement

According to Jeff Passan, the Tampa Bay Rays are all set to assume the reins on relief hoss Emilio Pagan and his remaining five years of control. It cost the team a pretty penny to acquire the under-the-radar, but quite good reliever as it took LHPs Brock Burke and Kyle Bird and RHP Yoel Espinal. All are near ready, but profile as relief arms more than starters, though Burke made the case that he should be going at least twice through in a dominant season that saw him take home the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the year belt. We will mourn the losses another day, because a lot of this is a byproduct of a frozen forty-man that was going to see good prospects turned into present talent. You can have a cry about these names, but if it weren’t these it would be others that you like or have grown attached to. Today, is for (the) Pagan(s).

After emerging as a useful reliever in Seattle, his second season would be played with the Oakland Athletics following last offseason’s trade. With 32 of his 89 appearances seeing him face six or more batters Pagan is the kind of reliever that can be trusted to go more than an inning if needed. There are some warts that make that less appealing in leverage, such as struggles with lefties or a preponderance of flyballs, but he reminds this analyst of one of the few Rays players from last year that will not be coming back.

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While Sergio Romo was one of the few that needs to be replaced, he was also quite good during his Rays tenure as a guy that could do whatever was asked and do it often. While we can see above that the last four years saw Romo as fairly competent versus lefties, it was his incredible slider(s) that allowed him to utterly dominate righties. Even during his rougher patches he could still be counted upon to get those guys out. So it should be with Pagan who shows a much wider split. One that will likely draw strange glances when he has to face a lefty, but that wideness also means he’s even better against righties. The thing both do exceptionally well is garner strikeouts without walking hardly anybody. Altogether they have been remarkably, and similarly, effective in the 113 – 114 xwRC+ range.

Looking at production over time you can see that Romo has had more time to showcase his ability since 2015, but the amplitudes are of much greater importance here. You can see peaks that are fairly similar with Pagan’s a little higher, but also less ordinary, where Romo would have longer stretches of looking fairly normal. The troughs are the delectable delight here as both show how incredibly good they can be when going well. Pagan’s true production looks very close to what Romo has done in his year-plus in St. Pete, and it looks like Pagan has done a decent job of getting away from some early underperformance on his balls in play, which is likely a byproduct of better keeping the ball in the yard, of late. More on that in a bit.

With so many balls in play the spray chart gets a bit convoluted, but you can see that Romo does a better job of keeping the ball on the ground, especially at weaker velocities that often are routine outs. While Pagan does a great job of inducing pop ups, it looks like Romo was no slouch in that area, either. Of course, you can also see Romo gave up his fair share of harder hit pokes in the nitro zone, but each has been a bit susceptible to the big fly.

Getting into the non-ball in play events you can see how where they really match up well. Both can go out and get it when they need it, and hardly walk batters outside of some spikes that look more blip than trend. Pagan has traditionally struck out north of 25% of batters and sustained that rate for long stretches at closer to 30%, as well. This lines up very well with the bands within which Romo worked well.

Turning our sights to strictly balls in play you can see that each does a good job of limiting hard contact, though Pagan spent most of the last year getting into the area where Romo lived for much of his time with Tampa Bay. Those gains need to be maintained. Where they differ is just how extreme of a flyballer Emilio Pagan has been. We saw that a lot of these are manifesting as pop ups that are almost always outs, but those at higher exit velocities can tend to be a problem. Seeing that exit velocity improvement is doubly nice, then, as higher launch angle matters less and less the weaker the ball is hit. Romo saw a fairly steady uptick here, but so has Pagan. Those that focus solely on launch angle will think this is a major issue, but not all high angles lead to good outcomes so for Pagan it will be about limiting the harder contact when he’s not punching guys out, and then the angle will only lead to easier outs.

Isolating Pagan’s spray data shows what I mean here. While there are definitely some shots in the 20-40 degree area and over 100 MPH exit velocity that often go for extra bases, much more of his contact is at higher angles that are relatively harmless. It’s a dangerous line to walk, and coming into a division filled with mashers and parks that make them look even better that will be his challenge, but as we’ve seen he could probably stand to walk a guy here or there without giving up the ghost.

Flipping over to production only on contact (no walks, hit by pitch or strikeouts) you can see each arriving at a similar destination despite taking different routes to get there. While Romo has mostly mixed under and over performance on his contact, you can see that Pagan has mostly underperformed (actual higher than expected), which will be something to monitor going forward. It’s possible he is merely a darling on the sheets that gets rolled in public and that will continue, but virtually all players see synchronicity between these two perspectives over a long enough timeline. If those balls in play fall in line with expectations you’re looking at the kind of buy-low that will always be a box to check for the Rays.

You can see an awful lot of better than average production expected, and paired with the strikeouts would give the team yet another competent reliever that can get extra outs with some rest or go back to back as needed. The fact that he retains five years of control and still maintains two options means the team can shuttle him down to Durham if they think he’s getting overworked or needs to gain some confidence after a couple of shaky outings, and they’re well fortified down there with Ian Gibaut and Colin Poche ready to jump into one of the game’s best bullpens at a moments notice. More is better than less, always. I’m sure many will scoff at the price paid for someone most have spent little time thinking about, but I’m not most and it’s no secret Pagan has been someone I have coveted since last year. It’s likely the team was going to have to move some of the farm at some point in the near future. It’s a dark day for the prospect huggers, but the Rays just went out and got the final piece of their pen to replace a guy had been outstanding in his short tenure.



One Comment

  1. rb3 wrote:

    What I like about Pagan is that (like Romo, or even better than Romo, hopefully) he can open quite effectively in the AL East, because he’s so good against all those righties…but he should also be more comfortable than Romo coming in for 1+ inn. after the opener on other days, too, further enhancing the versatility of the already versatile Rays pen.

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