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Oakland A’s claim pitcher T.J. McFarland off waivers

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The left-hander spent the last three seasons with the D’Backs.

Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made their first addition of the offseason on Monday, announcing that they claimed left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 30-year-old McFarland has spent the last seven seasons in the majors, four for the Orioles and the last three for the D’Backs. His career numbers are roughly average overall, but he enjoyed his best season by far in 2018, when he posted a 2.00 ERA (and 3.63 FIP) over 72 innings. He doesn’t strike anyone out, but he keeps the ball on the ground and in the park.

McFarland, career: 4.07 ERA, 380⅓ ip, 231 Ks, 128 BB, 30 HR, 4.03 FIP

After his career year in ‘18, he was more mediocre last year in Arizona, though he did manage to convert a personal-best nine holds without blowing any leads.

McFarland, 2019: 4.82 ERA, 56 ip, 35 Ks, 20 BB, 6 HR, 4.48 FIP

The key stat is his career 63% ground ball rate, which is an enormous mark. It’s the third-highest in the majors since his debut in 2013 (min 250 innings), behind only Zach Britton and Brad Ziegler, and tied with Sam Dyson. That barrage of grounders fits well in Oakland, where he’ll pitch in front of the best corner infield defense in the sport, featuring back-to-back Gold Glove and Fielding Bible winners Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, plus back-to-back Gold Glove finalist shortstop Marcus Semien.

McFarland is a soft-tosser who works with a three-pitch arsenal. His sinker averages 89 mph and he threw it around two-thirds of the time in 2019, while his change (82 mph) and slider (81 mph) were both excellent at generating swings and misses last year.

The southpaw does demonstrate notable platoon splits for his career. Righties hit him for an extra 160 points of OPS, but more importantly he averages a walk per strikeout against them, which is both bad and the most meaningful section of those splits (against lefty hitters he’s at nearly 4 Ks per BB). In 2020, MLB will add a rule that pitchers must face at least three batters unless they finish the inning first, so the LOOGY role is gone and there will not be as many pure lefty-lefty matchup opportunities to be had — in other words, he’s gonna have to be exposed to some righties at some point.

For what it’s worth, though, he was a starter in the minors before reaching the bigs and moving to the bullpen. Last year he tossed 2+ innings in nine of his appearances, and the year before that (when he was awesome) that number was 16 times, including four instances of 4+ innings. He doesn’t just have to be a one-batter guy.

Analysis: Great pickup. The A’s needed a new lefty after cutting Jake Diekman, and they found one for free on waivers, after Arizona declined McFarland’s $1.85 million option. He’s not a star (more of a middle/mopup man), and he’s out of options so he doesn’t bring taxi-squad roster flexibility, but he’s been generally effective over his career and he’s exactly the kind of grounder specialist the A’s should be targeting to capitalize on the strength of their elite infield defense.

More food for thought: At a moment when the LOOGY is going away, you have to wonder if lefty relievers with notable splits are about to become an undervalued commodity. We have our first data point to that end, as the A’s just landed a solid and affordable one off the scrap heap. I’m honestly not sure why no one else wanted this guy.

40-man roster

The A’s had one open spot on their 40-man roster, so no corresponding move was needed to add McFarland. However, the 40-man is now full for the moment, so someone will have to go the next time they pick up another player.

That said, at least a couple of the arbitration-eligible players will presumably be non-tendered; players with asterisks** are arby-eligible. Players in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)**
Sean Manaea (L)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Blake Treinen (R)**
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)**
T.J. McFarland (L)**
A.J. Puk (L)
Jharel Cotton (R)**
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Josh Phegley (R)**
Jonah Heim (S)

Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Jurickson Profar (S)**
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Franklin Barreto (R)
--Jorge Mateo (R)

Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)**
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)**
Chad Pinder (R)**
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)

Welcome to Oakland, T.J.!