When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired reliever Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals near the trade deadline, they envisioned a late-inning weapon to help the navigate through the ‘fat’ part of opposing teams’ lineups.
After all, Hand has been an excellent reliever during his 11-year MLB tenure, with a 3.70 ERA as a whole, and some excellent years in the bullpen for the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians.
Between 2016 and 2018, Hand was a relief ace, with lots of strikeouts and three consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons.
Not Your Ideal Late-Inning Reliever
Despite a 2.05 ERA in 2020, he started to give away some signs of decline, and was lousy in the Wild Card series against the New York Yankees.
In 2021, the 31-year-old left-hander has been very inconsistent.
For the season, he has a 4.21 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in 51.1 frames, which are not the numbers you want in a late-inning reliever.
He had an immaculate ERA in April, with a 0.00 mark in nine innings pitched with seven punchouts.
However, his May was lousy (6.75 ERA in 9.1 frames) and his June was good again (1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings).
July was rough for him, with a 7.00 ERA, and he was traded to Toronto.
In August, things got out of hand, so to speak, as the lefty finished the month with an 8.22 ERA.
With the Blue Jays, Hand allowed 10 runs (seven earned) in just 8.2 frames.
On August 26, the Blue Jays placed Hand on the bereavement list after his grandfather died.
Five days later, Toronto reinstated him from the bereavement list and designated him for assignment.
He spent exactly a month in Toronto.
The #BlueJays have designated Brad Hand for assignment one month after acquiring him at the Trade Deadline.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) August 31, 2021
With the move, Toronto removes Hand from their 40-man roster, and now Hand will likely latch on with another organization.
By cutting ties with him after only a month of acquiring him, the Blue Jays basically admit they made a mistake.
They surrendered Riley Adams and gave him to a Nats organization looking for young, controllable talent, but in exchange, they didn’t get the reliever they thought would neutralize tough lineups in the late innings.
It didn’t happen.
Brad Hand since being traded to the Blue Jays: 7.27 ERA in 11 games
Riley Adams since being traded to the Nationals: 1.010 OPS in 19 games https://t.co/sHyZVkSi3G
— Matt Weyrich (@ByMattWeyrich) August 31, 2021
A Declining Asset
To be fair, Hand was giving signs of decline for some time now; the inconsistent performance month to month was a huge sign.
Between May 8 and May 21, he allowed runs on five out of six outings, seven in 5.1 frames.
Between July 21 and July 26, Hand conceded six runs in a three-outing stretch, covering only 2.2 frames.
That happened right before the trade deadline, yet the Blue Jays chose to ignore the facts and go ahead with the trade anyway, knowing that they needed a shutdown reliever and Hand could be available.
It’s true that Hand’s fastball velocity has rebounded somewhat (93.3 mph on average, after checking in at around 91 and 92 the past two years), but his command and control have taken a step back.
He is handing out 3.68 walks per nine innings, his highest mark since moving to the bullpen permanently.
The most worrying aspect of his season has been his dip in strikeouts.
He is striking out 8.24 hitters per nine innings, but since he functions as a full-time reliever, he has never had a K/9 below 11.00.
The signs were there, and it’s pretty clear now that Toronto made a mistake.