10 under-the-radar adds paying off big in ’21

Detroit Tigers

George Springer‘s barely played for the Blue Jays. Blake Snell‘s off to a snail-like start for the Padres. And the number of imaginary rats/raccoons/possums at Citi Field nearly mirrors Francisco Lindor‘s home run total.

It’s way too soon to call these offseason moves busts, and it’s way too soon to call the ones that have worked out brilliant. But once again this year, we’ve seen some subtle transactions reap early rewards for clubs.

Here are 10 players whose change of team didn’t garner a ton of attention and who have exceeded expectations so far.

Irvin had a 6.75 ERA and didn’t miss many bats in 45 2/3 big league innings for the Phillies the last two seasons. When the A’s acquired him in a cash transaction, he seemed a depth piece, at best. Instead, thanks to Mike Fiers’ injury absence at the start of the season, he’s been a rotation piece — and a good one. In seven starts, the 27-year-old Irvin has a 3.29 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, and his 6.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio is in the top 10 among qualified pitchers in the Majors. Finds like this are how the A’s keep on keepin’ on.

The six-player trade between Texas and Tampa Bay that brought Lowe to the Rangers was far from the most seismic swap of the offseason. Lowe was the only player involved with Major League service time, and while his .251/.322/.447 slash line in 71 games with the Rays in 2019-20 was solid, he wasn’t able to crack the regular lineup. With the Rangers, he’s had that opportunity and seized it. Lowe has a .287/.374/.478 slash line in 36 games. At 25 years old, he’s emerged as a potential fixture on a Texas team trying to put the pieces together.

Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Giants

If you’re wondering how the Giants — not the Dodgers or Padres — are on top in the NL West at this stage of the season, this is one element of the answer. DeSclafani had a disappointing 2020 with the Reds (7.22 ERA in 33 2/3 innings), but he has a 2.40 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven starts and 41 1/3 innings for San Francisco. He’s held right-handed hitters to a .428 OPS.

Naquin finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting while with Cleveland in 2016, but he dealt with a preposterous number of injuries over the next four seasons. The Reds picked him up off the scrap heap and, ironically, it was Naquin who helped them manage the early injury absences of others. In 27 games, he’s produced a .271/.364/.541 slash line. His seven home runs are already half as many as he hit in that promising ’16 campaign.

Marisnick just suffered a right hamstring strain that will likely land him on the injured list, and that’s a bigger loss than one could have envisioned at the start of the year. In 27 games and 60 plate appearances, the 30-year-old Marisnick, who has been a below-average hitter (84 OPS+, or 16% worse than league average) in his career, had a .350 on-base percentage and .623 slugging percentage. Prior to the injury, Marisnick had drawn raves from manager David Ross for the way his all-out play and attitude had lifted the Cubs.

Though Cron landed on the 10-day IL Monday due to lower back tightness, he has a .359/.446/.625 slash line with five homers in his past 20 games. Yes, Coors Field is baked into those results, but Cron’s ballpark- and league-adjusted 134 OPS+ is 22 points higher than his career norm. This is really an extension of a strong start he had for the Tigers in the shortened 2020 season before a left knee injury that required surgery.

Matt Harvey, RHP, Orioles

When Harvey signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles — a team that FanGraphs’ calculations famously gave a 0.0% chance of reaching the playoffs — it was a sad commentary on how far his star had fallen. But the 32-year-old Harvey has been solid for the O’s, with a 3.60 ERA and 119 ERA+ in seven starts. Some of this success might be smoke and mirrors (Harvey doesn’t throw as hard as he once did, and his hard-hit and strikeout rates suggest his ERA is likely to regress), but he might be turning himself into a viable trade chip.

Tyler Anderson, LHP, Pirates

Non-tendered by the Giants, Anderson landed with the Pirates on a one-year deal and he has been effective in their rotation. Through seven starts, he has a 3.05 ERA, 135 ERA+ and 1.04 WHIP in 41 1/3 innings. Anderson doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and his opponents’ hard-hit rate (37.4%) is actually higher than it was last season, when he yielded a 4.37 ERA. But his strikeout rate has jumped from 15.8% to 22.6%, and that’s made all the difference.

José Ureña, RHP, Tigers

Ureña was once considered an important building block for the Marlins, but he got hit hard in 2019, missed most of ’20 while in COVID-19 protocol and came to Detroit looking to put himself back together under the tutelage of his former pitching coach Juan Nieves. It’s worked out well so far. Ureña’s given the Tigers a 2.68 ERA over 37 innings in his past six starts. This is another example of the advanced metrics not aligning with the surface-level stats (Ureña’s expected ERA is 4.70), but so far he’s been a bright spot in a mostly dreary season for Detroit.

Tyler Chatwood, RHP, Blue Jays

We could fill out this entire list with unexpectedly good relievers. That’s the nature of the business. The Phillies have a nice find in Sam Coonrod, Hunter Strickland has had a resurgence with the Rays, Ian Kennedy is a surprising AL saves leader with the Rangers — the list goes on and on. But we’ll highlight Chatwood here. He had a rough three years with the Cubs (4.70 ERA in 67 appearances, including 30 starts), but he has thrived in a full-time relief role with Toronto, to date, with just one run allowed and 15 strikeouts against three walks in 11 1/3 innings. He’s greatly improved his command and could start seeing save opportunities.

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