Welcome, Nick Vincent
It’s not technically the final roster decision – the M’s haven’t announced the winner of the back-up catcher competition, but it’s going to be Steve Clevenger – but the M’s solidified their bullpen by trading for ex-Padres righty Nick Vincent a few days ago. The M’s and Pads had been negotiating about a few relievers, including Vincent and fellow RHP Kevin Quackenbush,* and the M’s finally pulled the trigger on a trade for Vincent, sending a PTBNL to San Diego.
There’s a lot to like in Vincent’s stat lines. In 150 innings, he’s racked up 161 against only 39 walks, and has a career ERA and FIP in the mid 2’s. That’s not bad for a late-Spring guy who was acquired for a PTBNL and was in serious danger of needing to pass through waivers (Vincent’s out of options). Why would the Padres move a cheap, effective reliever? Well, for one, Vincent’s essentially a righty specialist. Not that he’s necessarily been used that way, but few players have the kind of platoon splits that Vincent shown. There are positives and negatives there, of course – he’s struggled against lefties, with a middling K:BB ratio against them and a FIP over 4. On the other hand, he’s been really, freakishly good against righties. His career K:BB against righties is an Evan Scribner-like 113:12, and they’ve managed just 3 HRs (sure, Petco helps, but that’s still pretty amazing). If you’re going to carry a specialist, you need them to be *dominant* at their specialty, and Vincent meets that test. Besides, there’s always a chance, however slim, that a guy manages to escape ROOGY jail and become an all-around shut-down reliever – this is what Darren O’Day managed, and Vincent’s four-seam fastball has eerily similar results to O’Day’s against righties.
The other big red flag with Vincent has been health. He’s missed time with a forearm strain and, last year, shoulder pain. Neither required surgery, but they limited his IP and sound a bit worrying. The injuries sapped his effectiveness and velocity a bit, which is how a guy who’d averaged over 1 full fWAR per year in 2013-14 spent most of last year in the minor leagues. That velocity is somewhat important, because Vincent has very little margin for error. You’d think a guy throwing 90mph with shockingly bland movement would either be a ground-ball guy and/or some kind of side-arming Sean Green slider machine. That’s not Vincent, though. Vincent has a normal 3/4 release point, and essentially dead-on average movement from his four-seam fastball and his bread and butter, a hard cutter at 87-88. His best pitch, results wise, is his fastball, which he throws up in the zone, resulting in lots of fly balls. Essentially, Vincent is a relief version of Chris Young, without the freakish height or ‘rise’ on his fastball.
The sheer averageness of his fastball becomes oddly fascinating the more you really think about it. Chris Young has carved out a career defying FIP by limiting his HR/FB. It’s weird, but not THAT weird, because his fastball’s designed to get a certain kind of contact. Vincent’s got the Young-esque HR/FB (Vincent’s 5.3% is lower than Young’s career 8.1%), but also gets swings and misses, which means he settles back into good-FIP territory. One difference is that Young has to do his high-wire act against lefties and righties alike. Vincent’s line, and all of that Chris Young magic, is partly the result of his usage. Against lefties, Vincent’s HR/FB starts to look normal, and his K:BB (and FIP) edge closer to replacement level. But as I said before, that just highlights how *good* he’s been righties.
I’ve mentioned it many times in the past few years, but moving to the AL West is a real test for platoon-plagued immigrants from the National League. He may face a few more lefties than he did in his brilliant 2014 campaign, as he faces the A’s and Astros mix-and-match line-ups. That said, I wonder if we’ve reached peak platoon in the AL. Many of the great young stars entering the league – Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts, Miguel Sano – are right-handed, and the league’s best hitters include righties like Trout, Donaldson, Bautista, and Cabrera. The M’s could *use* a shut-down righty. If Vincent stays healthy, he could help the M’s in critical situations. There aren’t that many out-of-options, 90mph-fastball, sent-to-the-minors last year, injury-plagued players you can say that about.
* Hat tip to Zach Sanders, who called this on twitter. I thought Dipoto might prefer Quackenbush, whose repertoire fits the Scribner/Joel Peralta mold that the M’s seem to like – extreme vertical movement on the fastball, 12-6 curve. Quackenbush even has a Peralta-esque splitter. The M’s ended up with Vincent, though, and price may have played a big part there – Quackenbush has been healthier. Of course, Dipoto’s clearly jumped at high-fly ball rate guys coming off down years, and that may have mattered more than the pitch-fx fit – it probably made Vincent cheaper.