With a pitching staff ravaged by injuries, it isn’t any surprise that the Astros are exploring adding some hurlers at the deadline. Brittany Ghiroli and Eno Sarris of The Athletic (subscription required) report that two of Houston’s targets include Diamondbacks southpaw Robbie Ray and Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes.
Ray has been a popular figure in trade rumors for a couple of years, and the most recent round of speculation has had some teams interested in acquiring him as a relief pitcher due to his rough performance in 2020. Over seven starts, Ray has a 7.84 ERA in 31 innings, due in large part to a 2.6 HR/9 and a major loss of control — Ray has a league-leading 31 walks and six wild pitches. It’s possible Houston could be one of the teams eyeing Ray as a reliever, perhaps the team feels it can fix his control problems and again turn him into a solid starter.
Barnes has also had a tough go of it this season, and for some of the same reasons as Ray. Barnes has a 6.00 ERA over 12 IP out of Boston’s pen, with a 2.3 HR/9 and a career-worst 6.8 BB/9. As per Fangraphs, only 3.2% of Barnes’ offerings have resulted in soft contact this season, as he has a 45.2% hard-hit ball rate and 51.6% medium-hit rate.
The common element between the two pitchers is a lot of missed bats. Ray has a 12.5 K/9 this season and a 12.1 K/9 since the start of the 2017 season; in that same timeframe, Barnes has a 13.2 K/9, which includes an 11.3 K/9 in 2020. After ranking at or near the top of the league in strikeouts from 2017-19, Astros pitchers have combined for an 8.64 K/9 this season, ranked 21st of 30 teams.
Ray is a free agent after the season, while Barnes has one more year of arbitration eligibility before hitting the open market himself in the 2021-22 offseason. This extra year of control might mean Barnes could actually have a higher trade value than Ray at this point, despite Ray’s ability to start games. Astros GM James Click knows Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom well from their time together in the Rays front office, while Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen swung a very notable deal (the Zack Greinke blockbuster) with the Astros at least year’s deadline.