Red Sox: Evaluating potential trade target Pat Neshek

MIAMI, FL - JULY 11: Pat Neshek
MIAMI, FL - JULY 11: Pat Neshek /

Pat Neshek is having a career year at 36 and is rumored to be of serious interest to the Boston Red Sox.

Pat Neshek is an interesting pitcher, and not just from the Red Sox perspective. Yes, he would undoubtedly lengthen the back of the bullpen and probably won’t cost too much in the way of prospects. But there’s more to him as a player.

For one, he has as unorthodox a delivery as you’ll see in the big leagues. Beginning with a far from smooth wind up, Neshek drops down like a submarine pitcher, but right before his delivery rises again to throw from essentially a half-slot. There’s no real justification for why this is so interesting other than that it’s different. It’s also reminiscent of Brad Ziegler‘s arm slot, who was stellar during his brief stint with the Red Sox last season.

Still, there’s something to be said about adding diversity to a bullpen. Especially one as uniform as the Red Sox. Between Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, and Matt Barnes, the team already has three right-handed arms capable of pushing it in the high-90s. In Pat Neshek, they could have something completely different.

Similar to the idea of bringing in a hard-throwing reliever after seven innings of a knuckleballer, Neshek has the ability to add an intangible element to the Red Sox bullpen. From an opposing hitter’s perspective, it’s going to be awfully hard to adjust to Kimbrel’s fastball-curveball combo after seeing 90 mph sinkers from Neshek’s arm-slot.

But there is a lot more to Neshek than his unorthodox delivery. A quick look at his FanGraphs page will show you that, since 2014, he’s been a more than effective reliever on a couple of good teams (minus the 2017 Phillies). Despite this being his age-36 season, he’s on pace to eclipse a career high in WAR, FIP, ERA, innings pitched, and strikeouts.

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While the Red Sox bullpen has been heralded as one of the elite staffs in baseball this season, the reality is that they’ve been more or less held together by Kimbrel’s dominance. Of those that have spent significant time in relief (i.e. more than five innings), only Kimbrel possesses an FIP (0.78) below 3.00 and a WAR (2.3) above 0.6. For the sake of comparison, Neshek’s 2.27 FIP and 1.2 WAR would make him the second best reliever in the Red Sox bullpen.

What I’m really interested in, is seeing what makes Neshek such an effective pitcher, despite his age and odd delivery.

His delivery doesn’t really matter that much, it’s just something I can’t get past. 

Per Baseball Savant, he possesses four pitches, but really only works a sinker-slider combo. His two main pitches are used almost interchangeably, accounting for roughly 50% of his total pitches each. Moving to a two-pitch repertoire is new for Neshek, who has incorporated a changeup at least 7% of the time over the past three seasons.

Ditching his changeup hasn’t really prevented Neshek from changing speeds either. His sinker has averaged 90.4 mph this season, according to FanGraphs, while his slider sits at 83.5 mph. A 7 mph drop isn’t as extreme as the 90.4 mph to 67.9 mph drop we see with his changeup, but it’s been effective nonetheless.

What the increased reliance on his primary pitches has allowed Neshek to do, is pound the strike zone. His 3.8 walk percentage is the second-lowest of his career and lowest since he walked just 3.5% of batters faced in 2014. Without a high-90s fastball to blow hitters away, he’s always had to be a control pitcher, he’s just doing it as well as he ever has this season. And despite being a pitcher that will rarely hurt you by allowing a free pass, he’s still struck out 36 batters in 35.1 innings pitched this year.

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What makes Neshek most intriguing though, and why he really would fit in the Red Sox bullpen, are his lefty-righty splits.

The left-handed pitchers the Red Sox currently have in the bullpen are Robby Scott and Fernando Abad, neither of whom have established themselves as dependable pitchers. Scott started the season well, and looked to be quickly inserting himself inside John Farrell‘s ‘circle of trust,’ but that luster has long-faded. As for Abad, he’s never really been a dependable pitcher since joining the club, and while he’s throwing better than he did last season, his 4.01 FIP and 4.81 xFIP leave a lot to be desired.

Whatever Dave Dombrowski decides to do on the trade front, it will be important that one of Scott or Abad establish themselves before October. The club needs to have a pitcher capable of shutting down left-handed hitters, and preferably more than one. Which is where Neshek comes in.

The righty actually has reverse splits, which would make him an even more valuable addition. Lefties are batting .188/.231/.313 against him, while righties are hitting a marginally better .234/.253/.286. In the case that just one, or even none, of the current lefties in the bullpen can be trusted, Neshek would represent a valuable insurance policy.

There’s not much more of a case to be made in favor of Neshek’s addition. He’s value is undeniable, despite being 36, which is exactly why he’s been drawing interest from contenders around baseball.

What really matters, is how much it will cost to acquire him. The Yankees, Royals, and Red Sox are all rumored to be at the very least, interested in Neshek’s services. The involvement of multiple contending teams will drive his price, but how high can it reasonably be to acquire a 36-year-old reliever? Go back to the deal for Brad Ziegler last summer for a comparable offer. One mid-level prospect of interest with one or two D-level prospects to add some extra value could be what it takes. He’s also a rental, which means it may not even take that much to get him.

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As we move on to the second half of the season and trade rumors really begin to fly, Neshek’s name is sure to come up again. He’s an obvious fit for a team that has an obvious interest in winning, as the Red Sox do. It’s not in Dave Dombrowski’s DNA to stay put at the deadline, which has been a blessing and a curse since coming to Boston. In that sense, we can be sure that the Sox will at the very least entertain the idea of making a push for Neshek.