Tyler Thornburg's Trade Vlue | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Rumors circulated last week that the Brewers’ negotiations with the Mets stalled when New York requested Tyler Thornburg in exchange for first baseman Ike Davis. Many fans and internet commenters balked at the idea of trading Thornburg for the underperforming Davis, many suggesting that the six years of control for Thornburg was too valuable to trade for three expensive years of an uninspiring solution for the hole at first.

Thornburg will get a chance in the rotation in 2014

But are six years of control for Thornburg really that valuable?

Entering the 2013 season, Thornburg was rated the second best prospect in the Brewers Farm System by Baseball Prospectus.  He has a solid three pitch repertoire with a slightly above average fastball, but his 5’ 11” frame makes it unlikely that he’ll be able to handle a heavy workload as a starter. He’s a potential 4th starter and should at least stick in the bullpen.

It’s important to remember that “potential” doesn’t mean that he’ll reach that as his ceiling. Thornburg has the stuff to pitch in Milwaukee and his debut last season was encouraging. In 66.2 innings, he posted an ERA just over 2.00 and a 1.185 WHIP, though factors like his 6.5 k/9 contribute to a FIP a little over 3.00.

Throwing 66.2 major league innings (140+ combined) is still a long way from carrying a 180 inning starting workload. Thornburg’s consistent string of starts came in September when it gets a little trickier to judge success against September call-ups and teams with a solid position in the standings. Thornburg should get his chance in the rotation in 2014, but I think it’s more likely that he’ll end up in the bullpen where the workload will be manageable for his frame and his fastball will play up.

That’s where the value of six club control years comes into question. Relief pitchers throw a limited number of innings and tend to have a lot of volatility from season to season because a poor run heavily skews stats with less opportunity to get it straightened out on the mound.

Take John Axford for example. He started off with a strong performance with the Brewers in 2010-2011, assuming the closing duties from a past-his-prime Trevor Hoffman.  Axford maintained a stellar 11.1 k/9 before his walk rate and HR/9 spiked in 2012 and he was eventually a marginalized part of the bullpen before he was traded to St. Louis in August of 2013.

Axford was lights out and there was a discussion of a long-term deal before he reached arbitration, but he quickly became an overpaid relief pitcher in his first year of arbitration and was non-tendered by the Cardinals after the 2013 season, even though he threw a solid 10 innings in the regular season and only gave up one run in the post season.

The bottom falls off the value of a relief pitcher extremely quickly once they’re eligible to make money, and that salary spike happens after three seasons. So if Tyler Thornburg is likely a relief pitcher, even a very good reliever, should the Brewers really count on years four through six as being a valuable commodity for the price they’re likely to pay? That seems like a shaky bet.

Maybe Ike Davis isn’t the best offer the Brewers could field for Thornburg. Even though Davis has had his moments for the Mets, there is no guarantee that he’s even a replacement level player (though close to replacement is an improvement over the production the Brewers got out of first base in 2013). By holding onto Thornburg and hoping that he can stick in the rotation, Milwaukee’s front office risks missing an opportunity to cash in on the idea of Thornburg as a starter before his value takes a hit when he needs to be moved to the bullpen.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. SecondHandStore says: December 18, 2013

    It’s also important to put his value in context of the Brewers and their farm system. They’ve had endless problems developing starting pitching. Jimmy Nelson might be the only pitcher they’ll promote in the next 2 years(Years in which we could see the departures of Gallardo, Lohse, and Estrada). Johnny Hellweg and Taylor Jungmann are options too, but they both have their own huge issues.

    Ike Davis and Tyler Thornburg are both risks, but the Brewers have Juan Francisco and Hunter Morris who could each prove to be as valuable (or worthless) as Davis. There’s also Halton and Rogers, but I’m not too keen on either. Honestly I think together the 4 of them form 2 sets of solid but unspectacular 1B platoons, but that’s another discussion. Seems to me in that context the pitcher is more valuable.

    • 43WCovington says: December 20, 2013

      Agree totally. I see a little Lincecum in Thornburgh’s delivery and think he learned the Card’s pitching philosophy from Lohse last year. He has a very high ceiling. Plus he’s a very good athlete who can tinker with his mechanics to stay strong and improve. He hits, fields, competes hard and learns. Like Braun at 1B and Choo in RF. Choo is Ricky Henderson reborn. Like Molitor these guys are igniters and win wherever they go.

      • HighSteve says: December 22, 2013

        Can you give us the address of your crackhouse? I need some of whatever you are smoking.

  2. dbug says: December 18, 2013

    The fact that the Brewers don’t produce many pitching prospects shouldn’t be allowed to color the type of prospect Thornburg really is. He is going to be a relief pitcher eventually, he’s just too small and his fastball too flat to stick in the role of a starter. Looks to me like the classic case of overvaluing your own prospects. His trade value is as high as it will probably ever be, so it would be wise to just go ahead and move him now.

  3. Chris says: December 18, 2013

    Something you’re not looking by comparing Thornburg’s Bullpen roll to Axford’s overprice in Arb and then non-tender.
    Axford was a closer. Closers get paid. But what of Setup men? How much do they honestly get paid in arb? And how about the rest?
    Let’s go ahead and compare this to a guy Milwaukee had who is very comparable to Thornburg’s situation.
    Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva didn’t make over 3mil in any Arb season. And now is making 5million holding down a roll that looks every bit what Thornburg will possess.
    I fully believe Thornburg will be better overall than Villanueva but Carlos was good (worth 3.3WAR) his first 3 seasons spent mixed between Swing Starter and the bullpen. Yet that didn’t amount to him being worth Axford type money.
    Axford type money comes to those who close. And unless Thornburg steps in to that roll I don’t see him becoming overly expensive as a bullpen-swing starter guy in 3 years.

    That’s why they can’t deal him away for Davis because Davis is already in Arb money 3.5mil this year. If we get the best out of him guess what? He’ll be 6mil or more next season. and 8-10mil that 3rd year. And if we don’t? We miss out on Thornburg’s under 1mil as a solid bullpen-Swing pitcher over those 3 years meanwhile still having to find a 1b!

    The concern of what Thornburg will make in 3 years while ignoring what Davis will make or the fact that if Davis fails, we lost a cheap guy who filled a hole on the roster while not replacing the hole we have today.
    Thornburg under 3mil next 3seasons> than 1year of Davis at 3.5mil.

    • Steve Garczynski says: December 19, 2013

      I’m not sold that Davis is worth very much and Thornburg may still be too valuable to move for someone as risky as Davis. That being said, he’s has had some major league success and is entering his age-27 season. If the guy is going to break out and really show that he’s good ballplayer, it’s going to be in the next season or two.

      Thronburg would probably make an excellent swing man in the pen. I’d like to see a guy that they could use to take over some higher leverage middle innings when a game is close, but the starter gets chased before the 6th inning. I’m not sure Roenicke will ever use his bullpen that way, though. His ideal bullpen seems to be the model he had in 2011 when there was a shutdown 8th and 9th inning guy and the bullpen managed itself. If Thornburg really is that good he’ll get moved to those late innings and position himself to make some money. He’s short, but he can throw some gas and has a mix of pitches which could profile as a closer type.

  4. Jeff says: December 18, 2013

    This post seems to make assumptions about how the size of the pitcher’s frame correlates to their starting pitcher value. Are there definitive statistics to back this assumption? There may be… I just haven’t seen it and am interested in hearing more if you have them. I did a quick internet search and this is the first thing I stumbled upon which argues that there isn’t that much of a correlation.


    The second one I looked at suggested the same:


    • Steve Garczynski says: December 19, 2013

      The size of the pitcher correlates more to durability. If you look at the list of pitchers in that BP article, most of the tall and normal sized pitchers are durable guys, and the list of short pitchers is littered with names like Ben Sheets, Shaun Marcum, Johan Santana and Edinson Volquez. Those guys are also all listed at 6′-6′ 1″ and Thornburg is a gernous 5′ 11″. I’m not arguing against his ability to be effective (though with his fly ball tendincies, I wouldn’t count on it), just that he’s not a good long-term bet to soak innings.

      There are always outliers, but it’s a dangerous game to start betting that your guys are above average bets to buck the trends.

      • Bob M says: December 19, 2013

        The list of tall pitchers is also littered with names of guys who just couldn’t handle the workload of a starting pitcher. While I can see why being taller would be an advantage on the mound, I don’t see how that specific trait makes someone more durable. When looking at pitcher durability specifically, I would think solid mechanics and a repeatable delivery are both more important to consider.

        • Nathan K says: December 20, 2013

          I completely agree. I don’t remember Greg Maddux being more than 6′, and Pedro pitched at a high level for years. It can be broken down to mechanics and core stability. When these components are altered pitch location and velocity are affected which leads to compensations and overuse injuries seen with rotator cuff injuries and UCL tears. Size and weight can be a factor most definitely. Typically, that leads to less effort with maintained elevated velocities. However, I find size and body build to be typically over analyzed. This was very consist with pitchers I treated that had “prototypical” size but could never stay health. Pitchers need to be addressed on an individualized basis. Plus if he reaches our hopes and we are afraid of his body breaking down we would have had six years of cost controlled salary and the ability to either let him walk in free agency, or use him as a trading chip in the future. I would write him off just yet. Its a risk either way.

  5. c says: December 20, 2013

    It’s about the ability to hit your pitches…ie paint the corners. Command and control. If Thornburg does that and is a student of the game…or has a manager that is…ie knows situational pitching and the hitters… that is the most important thing. If he gets guys out (so far he’s done that successfully) he gets them out and a quality 3rd starter is valuable.
    -Greg Maddux


Websites mentioned my entry.

  1. Daybreak Doppler: About That Face Of The Brewers Thing | PocketDoppler.com
  2. Thornburg Makes Brewers out of Spring Training | Brewers Bar

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