Inexpensive and controllable talent that actually performs well is the desire of virtually every front office in major league baseball. David Stearns and Company came to Milwaukee almost professing that philosophy as the Brewers’ mission statement. With the need for relief help a seeming issue, there are not many other options that fit that profile better than Seattle Mariners left-handed closer Roenis Elias.
Roenis Elias is a failed starter that recreated himself as a viable bullpen option over the past two seasons. The soon to be 31 year old reliever is controllable until 2021, and he is making just $910K this season. The team that traded for him would only have to eat what remained of that salary for 2019.
While Elias’ statistics don’t jump off the page, he has been a solid reliever for the Seattle Mariners over the past two seasons. With Jerry Dipoto at the helm in Seattle, you know that their current closer is going to be available. Other teams know that too and are calling Dipoto about his availability.
So far this season, Elias has pitched in 42 innings, converting 11 saves. He possesses a 4.07 ERA and a 4.54 FIP, both of which are just okay. Interestingly, Elias splits are reversed. He is exceptional against right-handed hitters (slash line: .181/.244/.336 over 32 innings of work) and struggles against left-handers (slash line: .326/.415/.543 over 10 innings of work).
Elias uses four pitches: four seamer (47.2%), change (29.5%). curve (13%), and two seamer (10.2%).
Interestingly, the pitch that Elias throws the most (four seam fastball) gives him the most trouble. If traded to Milwaukee, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that he throw more breaking stuff as the curve looks like it really plays up, but is just not utilized as much as it could be. That might keep hitters off that fastball a bit more too, although four seamer location looks as if it might be an issue too.
I also wonder if there is a pitch that he could use more to neutralize lefties. He has a slider in his repertoire, but has thrown only one this season, and it did not have much bite. He increases his two seam, sinker usage against left-handers. Left-handed hitters do not really hit that pitch, but Elias is not really getting them out. The curve seems to be a pitch that works well against lefties as well as righties. Increasing curveball usage might be a reasonable option period, but maybe even more important against left-handed hitters. It is a really nice pitch for him.
There may be a “buyer beware” issue with Elias. He is on a bit of a rough patch. Since June 26, he has given up 5 earned runs and 3 home runs across just 5 innings pitched. Could there be an injury there? It might just be small sample size at work, and he is just going through a tough patch. Nonetheless, due diligence is in order.
What David Stearns might like about him is his spin rate on the fastball and the curve. Elias’ curve is in the 77th percentile in MLB. His fastball spin rate is in the 91st percentile. As we know, spin rate isn’t everything (witnessed by Corbin Burnes 93rd percentile curve and 100th percentile fastball spin rates). What spin rate does suggest is a pitcher with really good stuff, and unlike Burnes, he has pitched most of this season effectively.
What is also encouraging is that even with his lack of performance over the past couple of weeks, his hart hit rate is still in the 72nd percentile in MLB. Roenis Elias is a left handed pitcher that averages 94 mph on his fastball, which is very good for a lefty. All of this suggests that whatever ails Elias currently is fixable, and with those spin rates, he might be even better than his performance suggests.
If the Brewers were to acquire Elias, they would be getting a left handed option out of the bullpen that could work late innings as well as throw multiple innings. He does have reverse splits against lefties and righties. Those splits are more pronounced this season than in years past indicating that the 10 innings thrown against left-handed hitters so far in 2019 might be a bit of a mirage in terms of what we should expect.
The Brewers have struggled in the bullpen. David Stearns has historically shored up that part of his team at trade deadline time. Generally, Stearns adds solid, not spectacular arms. Elias fits that profile to a 'T'.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant