Last week, the Rays claimed righty reliever Mike Ekstrom off waivers from the Padres.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s odd that a contender is claiming a player waived by a bottom-dwelling, cost-cutting team. Could the San Diego front office be missing something?
The first thing that jumps out about Ekstrom’s recent performance is his 1.73 ERA in Triple-A last season. As one might expect, that was a bit lucky (.240 BABIP), but his FIP was 3.06 in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league, so he certainly was doing something right. A particularly impressive stat: He only allowed 2 homers in 62 1/3 innings in Portland.
Still, I don’t think Ekstrom is a particularly terrible loss. He only struck out 6.21 batters per nine in Portland, and righty relievers with below-average strikeout rates aren’t exactly the most valuable commodities out there. He’s allowed five homers in 28 career MLB innings (1.61 HR/9), so that groundball excellence didn’t immediately show up in the majors. Sure, it’s a small sample, but it’s not a good sign.
Ekstrom’s FIP is 5.36 in the majors. His xFIP is better, at 4.45, and his tRA is 4.87, but none of those numbers show him to be more than a trash-time-caliber reliever.
Ekstrom is going to be 27 in August, so it’s not like he has a ton of room for growth. He’s got pretty generic stuff—91-ish fastball with decent sink, sharp-breaking 84-ish slider, rarely and poorly thrown 84-ish change—so even if everything breaks right, he’ll wind up as a seventh-inning guy at best.
Given the overwhelming amount of 22-27 year old pitchers already fighting for spots on the Padres, Ekstrom wasn’t really needed. He could still be a decent nondescript righty reliever.