Fantasy Baseball Trade Analyzer: Should you deal away the top closer in MLB?

After looking primarily at hitters in recent editions of this fantasy column, this week’s entry will take a deeper look at pitchers who could be part of many May trades. Even more so than hitters, pitchers tend to have uneven stats in the initial weeks of the season, given that they don’t appear in most games. A few excellent or poor outings will significantly alter a pitcher’s numbers, but that shouldn’t change how they are viewed on the trade market.

As always, gauging the market for these hurlers can easily be done by putting their names into the Yahoo Trade Market page, which will show you their recent returns in other leagues.

Players to acquire

Kevin Gausman (SP, Toronto Blue Jays)

For the second straight season, Gausman has shown incredible skills (27.6% K-BB rate) while dealing with terrible luck (.327 BABIP, 68.8% strand rate). His ratios are good (3.14 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), but there is a scenario in which his luck evens out in the coming months and he enjoys a stretch in which he is as successful as any pitcher in baseball. I would be happy to trade the likes of Gerrit Cole or Spencer Strider for Gausman and a second player who fills a need on my roster.

Joe Musgrove (SP, San Diego Padres)

Rostering Musgrove has been an exercise in frustration this year. The right-hander opened the season on the injured list due to a sore toe and has posted a 6.75 ERA and 1.58 WHIP since returning to action. Musgrove looks much better when looking at expected stats on Statcast (4.36 xERA, .230 xBA). There is a good chance that he will experience a luck correction in the next few weeks, and he has the ceiling of a borderline ace.

Devin Williams (RP, Milwaukee Brewers)

Through no fault of his own, Williams ranks 17th in baseball with seven saves. The right-hander has been excellent when called upon (0.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP), but he has been the victim of bad luck by virtue of having received just seven save chances from a division-leading team. My suggested move is to offer a closer who has a worse skill set but a significantly higher saves total. Speaking of which ...

Players to trade away

Emmanuel Clase (RP, Cleveland Guardians)

Getting a king’s ransom for Clase should be easy, as he was the first closer off the board in most 2023 drafts and has thus far accumulated three more saves than any other reliever. But the underlying numbers show some reason for concern. Clase’s strikeout rate has taken a dramatic year-over-year downturn to 15.8%, which coincides with a drop of more than 1 mph on his average fastball velocity.

He leads the majors with five blown saves and will be an average closer from this point forward if he doesn’t reclaim his lost velocity. I would be happy to trade Clase for the aforementioned Williams and a second player who fills a need for my team.

Sonny Gray (SP, Minnesota Twins)

Gray is perhaps the most obvious sell candidate among starting pitchers right now. He is off to a spectacular start this year, leading the majors in ERA (1.82) and earning that mark by posting an impressive 66:21 K:BB ratio. But Gray doesn’t have a great track record in terms of durability, and his career 3.50 ERA shows that he is likely pitching over his head right now. Those who can trade him for an ace-level return should have the guts to make the move.

Shane Bieber (SP, Cleveland Guardians)

On the surface, Bieber still looks like the low-end ace he was projected to be this season; low-3.00s ERA, more than six innings per start. But looking beyond those numbers reveals some concerning trends. His strikeout rate (17.8%) is noticeably down, and his WHIP is up (1.21). Most of the ERA metrics put Bieber's expected mark between 4.00 and 5.00. Late May could be the last chance to deal Bieber for an ace-level return.

Jon Gray (SP, Texas Rangers)

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to trade Gray, but I’m also not opposed to the move if another manager is eager to acquire him. The right-hander is on a heater right now, having allowed two runs over 20 innings across his past three starts. But Gray has outperformed his skills overall this year, benefiting from an 84.3% strand rate while logging a poor 18.4% strikeout rate. Each of the popular ERA indicators assigns him a mark close to 5.00.

Tyler Wells (SP, Baltimore Orioles)

I have trouble putting Wells in this article, as he is the type of pitcher I often gravitate toward when rounding out my staff. The right-hander issues few walks, which keeps his WHIP down, and he works in a pitcher-friendly park, which should limit the overall damage of the many fly balls he allows. Still, I must acknowledge that no starter has enjoyed Wells’ combined level of luck in BABIP (.163) and strand rate (89.3%) this year. Those who can deal him for a more stable asset should consider doing so.