The Dodgers, as they have for the last three seasons, made a trade in August. This time, they acquired right-handed reliever Ryan Madson from the Washington Nationals for reliever prospect Andrew Istler. Left-handed reliever Adam Liberatore was designated for assignment to make room for Madson on the 40-man roster.
Madson, coming off a 1.83 ERA/1.99 FIP season in 2017, regressed mightily in 2018. He owns a 5.28 ERA, 4.35 FIP and has been worse than replacement level (-0.1 fWAR). That doesn’t mean we can’t like some things about this trade.
First, he’s still throwing hard. He’s averaging 95.8 MPH on his fastball, which he throws almost 65 percent of the time. Second, he has a near-elite whiff rate on his changeup, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think the usage (currently at 19.1 percent) could increase. He also just came back from the disabled list after getting over lumbar irritation. So, perhaps some of his struggles could be chalked up to (in part) that.
The alarming issues are numerous. His curveball (14 percent usage) has been the 2nd-worst in terms of pitch value among all qualified relievers this season. And while his swinging strike rate is down just slightly (12.4 percent, down from 12.8 last season), his chase rate has dipped almost 8 percent from last season (29.4 percent, down from 37 percent last season). Also, his fastball, despite throwing it the hardest he has ever thrown it in his career, has been a slightly below-average pitch in terms of value. This is just a season after his fastball was the best among all qualified relievers in baseball.
For an Aug. 31 deal, this is about the best kind of player the Dodgers could expect to acquire, especially since they weren’t in the position to take on a ton of salary (by their own decree). Having said that, the Dodgers are taking on the remaining $1.2 million of his salary. Don’t worry, they’re going to be fine in terms of the luxury tax — because I know that’s what you all really care about.
Ryan Madson just returned from the DL with the Nationals after missing 2 weeks with "lumbar nerve root irritation" in his back.
Has struck out 10 since his last walk (July 24), but has also hit 3 batters, allowed 3 HR and 7 runs in 8⅔ innings during that time
— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) August 31, 2018
One last thing: Madson missed four seasons and Royals honk Andy McCullough chronicled his return to the majors back in 2015. It’s a great read.
Honestly have no recollection of writing this story, but it is about Ryan Madson's comeback in baseball. https://t.co/sDHVqpWV26
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) August 31, 2018
The Dodgers gave up Istler, 25, who was the Dodgers’ 23rd-round draft pick in 2015 out of Duke University.
David Hood of True Blue LA got a look at him in June.
Andrew Istler is an interesting reliever. Small, but lightning quick arm. Up to 93mph, and low 80’s BB is tight with deceptive horizontal life
— David Hood (@davidchood) June 23, 2018
And again last night.
I saw Andrew Istler pitch again last night, aggressive approach and up to 94 mph with tailing FB. Curve a solid swing and miss pitch. Very small and lean but makes most of size with overhand delivery. Solid bullpen gamble.
— David Hood (@davidchood) August 31, 2018
Sounds like a lot of guys in the system, honestly.
He was also a Driveline Baseball guy over the winter.
Here's @Andrew_Istler during the Driveline-Dodgers program. He strained his groin on a running throw and had to modify his throwing. After he hurt his groin, @buehlersdayoff turned to me and said: "This kid is gonna make it out of the program."
Istler gained 6 MPH in 8+ weeks. pic.twitter.com/i4GH9sS1wT
— Kyle Boddy (@drivelinebases) January 28, 2018
Not a big loss for LA, but a potentially fungible reliever-type for the Nationals going forward.
The Dodgers had to do something. Hopefully getting an established reliever with a previously solid track record helps stabilize things. A healthy, pre-2018 version of Madson could be quite the addition to the bullpen. He’s a long way from that level of production, though.