The trade deadline has come and gone, with Nick Krall and the Reds making a lone move by acquiring lefty reliever Sam Moll (and international cap space) from the Oakland Athletics. In return, the Reds traded away #20 prospect (per Baseball America) Joe Boyle — a right-handed pitcher with a big arm but significant control problems.
Fans who stuck with last night’s 20-9 blowout loss in Wrigley Field got an introduction to Moll, who retired four of the five batters he faced in his Reds debut. But let’s get to know the southpaw a bit better and see how he fits into the Cincinnati bullpen.
Moll, who is 31 years old, is in his fourth MLB season. The 5-foot-9 southpaw pitched for the University of Memphis and was drafted by the Rockies in the third round of the 2013 draft. After parts of four seasons in the Colorado organization, he was traded to the A’s for cash in 2016. The next year, he made his big-league debut, pitching 6.2 innings in September for a last-place Oakland team. Moll wouldn’t appear in a major-league game again until 2021. He was designated for assignment after the 2017 season and bounced around to the Pirates (waivers), Mariners (waivers), Blue Jays (waivers), Giants (Rule 5 draft), and Diamondbacks (MiLB signing) over the next three seasons.
The A’s reacquired Moll in July 2021 and he returned to the majors for eight games that season. In 2022, Moll finally got an extended look in the big leagues at age 30, pitching 53 games and 43.1 innings for Oakland. He posted a 2.91 ERA with solid peripherals (2.96 xERA, 3.80 SIERA, 4.05 xFIP). Moll’s walk rate (11.8%) left something to be desired, but his strikeout rate was above average (24.6%) and he kept the ball on the ground (50.0% groundball rate).
Moll’s 2023 Season and Fit With the Reds
While Moll’s ERA has risen to 4.38 in 2023, the underlying numbers have stayed remarkably consistent (3.03 xERA, 3.70 SIERA, 3.88 xFIP). The southpaw has raised his strikeout rate to 28.0% while dropping his walk rate ever so slightly to 10.9% and continuing to get grounders at a strong clip (51.0 GB%). Moll has been unlucky on batted balls (.343 BABIP), although that’s evened out a bit by allowing only one home run this season (3.7% HR/FB).
Moll is a true lefty specialist with rather extreme splits. Here are his season and career splits:
Moll has dominated left-handers and gets a majority of his strikeouts against them. More than one-third of the lefties Moll has faced this year have struck out. He has also demonstrated much better control against righties. While he still gets plenty of groundballs against righties (45.1% this year, 50.3% for his career), he doesn’t strike them out at the same clip and has had trouble with walks.
While Moll has an obvious flaw, his strength fills a clear need for the Reds. Alex Young has been the only lefty in the bullpen since Reiver Sanmartin injured his elbow in May. For each of the last two seasons (68 IP), Young has had reverse splits, meaning he’s gotten better results against right-handed hitters than lefties. Reiver Sanmartin was more adept at getting left-handers out, but he’s been out since May with an elbow injury and will not return this year after recently undergoing UCL surgery. Moll will not only ease the workload on Young, who has pitched in 49 games this season, but he will also give David Bell a more dependable option against tough left-handed hitters.
Of note, Moll is also under team control through the 2027 season — though that becomes a bit less important when considering he’s already 31.
Moll doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s a prototypical funky left-hander. He pitches from a low arm angle and takes a short stride toward the plate as he seems to whip the ball across his body and toward the batter. Here is Moll’s release point compared to other left-handed pitchers:
Nobody in the game gets less extension than Moll, meaning he’s much further away from home plate than the average pitcher when he releases the ball. On one hand, that gives the batter slightly more reaction time. On the other, it may give the ball more time to drop, which is beneficial for a sinker-baller like Moll.
Moll has thrown his sinker 41% of the time in 2023. The pitch averages 93.6 mph and gets groundballs two-thirds of the time it’s put into play. Compared to pitchers with similar arm angles and velocity, Moll’s sinker gets half an inch of drop above average. It gets about 5 inches of drop more than the average of all sinkers. Left-handed hitters have a .207 xwOBA against Moll’s sinker, a number bested by only three pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 sinkers.
Here’s Moll getting a weak groundout from all-star Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker recently:
Moll gets many of his swings and misses with a sweeper that sits at 82 mph and looks similar to Nick Lodolo’s curveball, getting an average of 17.5 inches of horizontal break (11th-best among all pitchers). His sweeper leads the league in spin rate (3,063 rpm) and has a 30.6% whiff rate. While the whiff rate is a tad below league average (32.5%), the sweeper boasts an above-average 34.6% whiff rate against lefties.
Here’s the sweeper getting a whiff from Bryce Harper earlier this season:
Moll has also re-introduced a four-seam fastball to his arsenal this season after barely using it in 2022, throwing it largely up and away to right-handed batters. The heater sits at 94.6 mph, a full mile per hour above his sinker, and gets 85th-percentile spin. His low arm angle doesn’t allow him to get much rise on the four-seamer, though (0.6 inches below average). But it does change a right-handed hitter’s eye level and keeps them from looking strictly low in the zone for Moll’s sinker or sweeper.
Thoughts on the Reds overall trade deadline
With the ahead-of-schedule arrival of top prospects like Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, and Andrew Abbott, the Reds found themselves as unexpected buyers at the trade deadline, trying to cement their position atop the NL Central. Ultimately, however, the team didn’t make a move aside from acquiring Moll.
The Reds’ clear needs are in the starting rotation and bullpen. General manager Nick Krall has a deep farm system and apparent cash to spend. But he determined that the acquisition cost was too high to pull the trigger on another trade.
“I just didn’t feel there was a deal to be made with what we had to give up,” Krall said, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
There are two prominent lines of thinking here:
- The Reds’ competitive window is just opening and they should be contenders for years to come. They’re playing with house money. Plus, the rotation has been better since the All-Star break. The front office stayed disciplined by opting not to overpay in prospects for short-term gain.
- The Reds are unexpectedly in postseason contention in a weak division, and we don’t know what the future will bring. They should make every effort to get into the playoffs, which the team has only reached four times in the last 27 seasons. The front office failed to give the 2023 team its best chance to win by playing it safe and being unwilling to trade from prospect depth.
There’s truth in both perspectives. Giving up Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo or Cam Collier for pitchers like Michael Lorenzen or Jack Flaherty wouldn’t have made much sense. But could the Reds have found an upgrade over Luke Weaver or Ben Lively for a middle-tier prospect like Boyle? It’s hard to think they couldn’t have.
To be fair, it was a seller’s market. More than half the teams in baseball are still in playoff contention, which left selling teams in position to raise their asking prices and wait for buyers to blink.
Most of the starting pitchers moved at the deadline were rentals with contracts expiring at the end of this season. The notable rental starters moved were Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Michael Lorenzen. Each fetched a top-nine organizational prospect in return, per MLB Pipeline rankings, although it should be noted that not all farm systems are equal in strength. Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, and Rich Hill weren’t as pricy, but all came from NL Central teams and trading with division rivals is tricky. Other potential options such as Sonny Gray and Marcus Stroman weren’t traded after their teams opted against selling.
The Mets traded two future Hall of Famers, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, although their situations were more complicated because of their enormous contracts and no-trade clauses. The only other non-rental moved was Aaron Civale, who went from the Guardians to the Rays for Kyle Manzardo, arguably the best prospect to be traded at the deadline. The other non-rental options rumored to be on the market — Dylan Cease and Eduardo Rodriguez being the primary ones — weren’t traded.
Instead, the Reds will rely on internal reinforcements, Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, to hold off the Brewers and Cubs in the NL Central and a bevy of teams in the Wild Card race. But we’re still several weeks away from their return, which means Lively and Weaver will likely get several more starts apiece. It’s a roll of the dice in a tight playoff race, although it’s true that the Reds have survived a weak starting rotation for most of the year thanks to a potent offense.
The Reds are targeting August 20 for Greene’s return and the end of the month for Lodolo. Those two will provide a significant upgrade to the rotation — perhaps one greater than the Reds could’ve fetched in the trade market. On the flip side, we don’t know how well they’ll pitch after a long layoff. There’s also the possibility of more injuries, or that Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson hit a rookie wall. Connor Phillips is another option for the Reds down the stretch. He has a 1.95 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Louisville, although his walk rate (16.4%) is concerning. More depth couldn’t hurt.
But if the Reds were content to rely on internal options to get the rotation through the rest of the season — and ideally into the playoffs — it’s a bit puzzling that they didn’t add more to the bullpen. Moll will help, to be sure. But due to a weak starting rotation, the bullpen has been heavily used this season. Reds relievers have thrown 426 innings in 2023, the seventh-highest total in baseball. Alexis Díaz, Buck Farmer, Ian Gibaut, and Alex Young have carried significant workloads. Díaz, Farmer, and Gibaut are tied for third in MLB with 50 appearances. Young has 49. Can they sustain that pace the rest of the season without wearing down? Hopefully, but it’s no sure thing.
The bullpen could also use another high-leverage reliever to help ease the workload on Diaz and Lucas Sims. Farmer, Gibaut, and even Fernando Cruz have performed admirably, but they aren’t quite in the category of “high-leverage reliever you can trust.” Frankly, even Sims may not be in that category given his high walk rate (15.6%).
The Reds are again going to rely on internal options and hope for the best. Tejay Antone just started a rehab assignment and is on target to return later this month. He’ll be a key addition if he can return to old form — but that’s far from a sure thing considering he’s coming off his second Tommy John surgery and hasn’t thrown a pitch at the MLB level in two years. Casey Legumina and Vladimir Gutierrez are also on rehab assignments, and while both carry some degree of intrigue, they’re not pitchers the Reds can necessarily trust in the middle of a playoff race. Lyon Richardson, the Reds’ second-round pick in 2018 and a borderline top-10 prospect in the organization, was also recently promoted to Triple-A. He’s on an innings limit after coming off Tommy John surgery, but he has explosive stuff that could play up out of the bullpen.
At the end of the day, we don’t know what conversations Krall had or what other teams were demanding. Maybe the asking prices were outlandish even for lower-tier starting pitchers, such as Paul Blackburn or Jose Quintana (who weren’t traded), and relievers the Reds were targeting. Maybe Krall genuinely tried to get creative in acquiring a pitcher with more team control, but other teams weren’t swayed. Maybe he was too reluctant to trade away even mid- or low-tier prospects. From an outside perspective, it’s impossible to know what conversations were had and what they entailed.
To be sure, the Reds could still make the playoffs. FanGraphs has their current odds at 38.5%. The Reds have surprised the baseball world all year long and could certainly keep doing so. The Cubs and Brewers got better at the trade deadline, but not by a huge degree. Still, while the quiet trade deadline shouldn’t dampen optimism about the Reds’ future, there’s reason to be disappointed that the team wasn’t more aggressive with the NL Central up for grabs.
Featured photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire