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One Marcell Ozuna for Sale

by Jeff Sullivan - 11/25/2015 - Comments (33)

People tend to make too much of leverage. If you’re looking to trade a player, and you announce a list of the player’s weaknesses, weaknesses no one else knew about yet, sure, that would be bad for negotiations. That also doesn’t happen. What does happen, sometimes, is that a team gets tired of a player, and expresses a willingness to trade him, and the negative opinion doesn’t matter, because what matters is the market’s demand, and the market just wants to know if a player is good or not. All you need are for two or three teams to agree that a player’s pretty neat. Talks’ll take off from there, no matter what.

This is where the Marlins seem to be with Marcell Ozuna. They grew frustrated with Ozuna — and with his agent — in 2015, and when that hoax recording came out, it was still entirely believable. Based on all the chatter, Ozuna now finds himself on the block, as the Marlins want to turn him into something else. But the Marlins souring on Ozuna isn’t going to diminish his price, because teams everywhere have called them, and those teams aren’t competing against the Marlins; they’re competing against one another. Tuesday night, reports emerged that the Mariners were heavily involved in talks, and though nothing appears to be imminent, there’s enough smoke to suggest Ozuna could be headed elsewhere within a couple weeks.

It’s not often you get to observe a situation like this. When that’s the case, it makes sense the Marlins would be in the middle of it.

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Two Versions of Jed Lowrie

by Jeff Sullivan - 11/25/2015 - Comments (25)

Major League Baseball interrupts this Thanksgiving holiday week to announce that Jed Lowrie has been traded from the Astros to the A’s in exchange for minor-league reliever Brendan McCurry. Perhaps it’s a move you find a little strange — Lowrie is in his 30s, and he’s due real money for at least another couple years. He’s going from one team with a very low payroll to another, and last year, the team adding Lowrie won 18 fewer games than the team shedding Lowrie. Typically you see trades like this in the other direction, but for the Astros, Lowrie was no longer a necessary piece. And the A’s are forever on the bubble, trying to avoid any kind of major tear-down. The A’s want to try to contend again. Having Liam Hendriks and a hopefully healthy Sean Doolittle addresses what last year was a catastrophic problem.

That’s the whole idea, in short. The Astros didn’t need Lowrie, and they’ll take the financial flexibility and the interesting young reliever. McCurry could have a real future, and he could have it soon. The A’s, meanwhile, are happy to have Lowrie back at a modest cost, and they like his flexibility. From one perspective, he gives them depth; from another perspective, he gives them trade options. A healthier A’s team could be a .500 ballclub, and a .500 ballclub is always close to the hunt. Okay, everything checks out.

The thing I find most interesting isn’t the Astros’ position, nor is it the A’s position. It isn’t McCurry, either. It’s Lowrie himself. Just how good is Jed Lowrie, really? There’s room for very reasonable disagreement.

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Wei-Yin Chen and the Art of Changing Speeds

by August Fagerstrom - 11/25/2015 - Comments (9)

On Tuesday, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports published a short column suggesting Wei-Yin Chen could be among the first free agent pitchers to sign. The column also included that agent Scott Boras is prepared to make the case that Chen is worth a higher AAV than what Rick Porcello earned last offseason, putting his yearly price tag north of $20 million.

When Morosi sent out a tweet that read “Is Wei-Yin Chen a $20 million-per-year pitcher? Or more? My column:” it was met with a frenzied response from The People of the Internet. Now, $20 million annually does seem a bit aggressive. But our crowdsourcing project pegged him for $13 million AAV, Dave Cameron thinks it will be closer to $16 million, and Cameron also named Chen as one of the five bargain buys of the offseason at that price. All it takes is a few teams to agree with Cameron’s assessment, and Chen’s price tag could be driven up near Boras’ demands.

The response to Morosi’s column shouldn’t be too surprising, for several reasons. For one, you should know that The People of the Internet are notoriously reactionary and easily agitated. Two, people almost always think players should earn less than what they actually end up making. And three, Wei-Yin Chen is probably better than most people think. He doesn’t blow people away, so he’s not a sexy pitcher, but he’s ran 3.44 ERA over the last couple years, and he’s done so in a hitter’s park in the AL East. His ERA- over that time is one point better than Chris Archer‘s, the same as Stephen Strasburg‘s, and one point worse than Madison Bumgarner‘s.

I’m certainly not suggesting Chen is on, or even near, the level of an Archer, Strasburg, or Bumgarner, but he’s been about as durable as they come the last couple years with the results to boot. I’m not here to put a price tag on Wei-Yin Chen — I’ll let the market decide that — but Morosi’s column got me thinking about Chen, and thinking about Chen got me thinking about something else.

You’ll notice a couple paragraphs above that I only used ERA to evaluate Chen. Usually, we like to look at both ERA and FIP, and more information is always better, but Chen’s one of those tricky guys who seems to have proven himself as a FIP-beater, having outperformed his fielding independent numbers by nearly half a run since entering the league. Oftentimes, these FIP-beaters are guys who can consistently generate soft contact, and those kind of guys are among my favorite in baseball to think about right now.

On a related note, I explored how Dallas Keuchel goes about getting his soft contact last week. There’s plenty of ways to go about doing it, which makes it so fun to investigate. One of Keuchel’s methods is repeatedly pounding the first-base edge of the plate with two-seamers and changeups that tail away from the strike zone, hitting off the end of the bat against righties and jamming lefties.

That’s Keuchel’s method. Chen ranked sixth in the league in soft contact percentage this season, just three spots behind Keuchel. Chen’s got a method too.

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How Much Should Teams Spend on Kenta Maeda?

by Eno Sarris - 11/25/2015 - Comments (24)

Reports indicate that Japanese righty Kenta Maeda met with the Hiroshima Carp this week and requested to be posted. He hasn’t been posted yet, but when things like this get public, there can be a growing pressure on the team to fulfill their star’s wishes. We’ve already looked for a comp for Maeda, but how can we use that data to answer the next question on the checklist: how much should teams shell out for him?

The way posting now works, there’s a max bid — $20 million — and any team that reaches that max bid is able to negotiate with the player. Those rules make it a worse deal for Japanese teams, who have their income capped, and for the American teams, who have to outbid the other teams with deep pockets and can no longer suppress the yearly salary much beyond the $20 million in posting they had to spend to get to the table.

It’s better for the player, because he can get a deal more like a free agent deal, and because he also gets to choose where he’ll play. And since that’s true, it’s probably less likely that the whole process gets egg on its face the way it did when Hisashi Iwakuma failed to sign with the Athletics that one year.

In any case, we’re talking about $20 million to get to the table, and then a slightly more limited open market. And the teams would probably like to bake in some of the risk they face in signing a player who hasn’t yet played in the major leagues.

When we took a look at comps, we got a Young Kenshin Kawakami or an Older Aaron Nola, and neither pitcher actually exists right now. Projecting Nola out five years based on 77 major league innings in order to price Maeda seems like a bad deal. Zeroing in too much on what a 34-year-old Kawakami did in America also seems like the wrong direction.

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Alex Gordon a Value Buy in Free Agency

by Craig Edwards - 11/25/2015 - Comments (15)

Alex Gordon has been a really good, perhaps slightly underrated, player over the last five seasons for the Kansas City Royals. An untimely injury limited his role during this most recent regular season, but he was a big part of the club’s playoff runs each of the past two seasons and played a major role in Kansas City’s first World Series title in 30 years. Thanks to a team-friendly contract extension after his breakout 2011 season, the Royals have paid him just $37.5 million over the last four years, including two potential years of free agency. Although Gordon, heading into his age-32 season, is not reaching free agency at an ideal age, given his production he is still likely to receive a deal totaling around $100 million. The question for the Royals and the rest of the league is, will he be worth that kind of money into his mid-30s?

Gordon has hardly gone unnoticed as one of the best, if not the best, player on the two-time American League champion and reigning World Series titleholder. However, due to the way he’s produced his value — including above-average defense in an outfield corner — it’s possible that Gordon is slightly underrated heading into free agency. Over the last five seasons, he has been one of the very best players in baseball, as evidenced by the WAR leader chart below.

Position Player WAR Leaders, 2011-2015
Mike Trout 2877 38.5
Andrew McCutchen 3358 33.4
Miguel Cabrera 3233 29.9
Adrian Beltre 3102 27.3
Joey Votto 2887 26.5
Jose Bautista 2921 26.1
Robinson Cano 3398 25.9
Buster Posey 2618 25.6
Alex Gordon 3176 25.1
Ben Zobrist 3229 24.7

The next five players on that list are Josh Donaldson, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Heyward, Evan Longoria, and Giancarlo Stanton. Gordon has put up a well-above average 123 wRC+ during that time after struggling from 2007 to 2010 as he adjusted to major league pitching following just one full season in the minors. Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward’s name have come up together this offseason as similar players for good reason.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat - 11/25/15

by Dave Cameron - 11/25/2015 - Comments (42)

Win a Free Copy of THT 2016!

by Paul Swydan - 11/25/2015 - Comments (51)

Have you heard? The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2016 is now available for sale. You can check out the table of contents and read some excerpts from the book. When you finish that you can purchase it from our independent publishing platform, Createspace, in print form, or from Amazon in print form, and also digitally on Amazon for the Kindle.

But wait, there’s more! Because we’re giving folk, and since it’s the beginning of the holiday season and all, we want to give you a chance to win yourself a free copy of the book. So today and tomorrow (and yesterday), we’ll be running a trivia contest based on one of the articles in the book. The first person to post the correct answer in the comments will win a free physical copy of the book (sorry, no free Kindle version). It’s just that simple!

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A Primer on a New and Improved KATOH

by Chris Mitchell - 11/25/2015 - Comments (30)

My role here at FanGraphs is to write about minor league players. Nearly all of my articles focus on the output from my KATOH projection system, which produces long-term forecasts for players who are still in the minor league phase of their careers. Today, I’m unveiling some updates to my model that will be reflected in my analysis from this point forward.

I’ve been meaning to work these updates into KATOH for quite some time now, but haven’t had the chance to finish up until now. Some pieces of this took a bit longer than expected, and day job stuff along with this year’s onslaught of prospect debuts pushed things to the backseat a bit. But I’m all caught up now and ready to unveil my new and improved KATOH. Here we go!

Rather than just putting out a straight leaderboard, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to explain some of the inner workings of KATOH. I wanted to say something more insightful than “These are the best prospects because math.” That’s why this piece runs 2,000+ words without reference to a single baseball player. If you’re just interested in the output rather than the nitty-gritty, check back after Thanksgiving for KATOH’s top 100 list. I just wanted to get all of this background stuff down in one place, rather than cluttering future pieces with extra information.


Obligatory Technical Details

The general framework of my model is largely the same as it’s always been. As I did in the past, I deployed a series of probit regressions to see what factors are most predictive of major league performance. For each player, I generated probabilities that he would achieve certain benchmarks through his age-28 season: play in the major leagues, earn at least 1 WAR, earn at least 2 WAR, etc. These percentages gave me a probabilistic outlook for each player, and enabled me calculate an “expected value” for his WAR through age 28.

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Unlocking James Paxton

by Jeff Sullivan - 11/25/2015 - Comments (2)

Theory: the Mariners want to be good soon. I haven’t talked about that with anyone in the industry, so I might be way off, but it’s the assumption I’m going to work with. Another assumption follows: if the Mariners want to be good soon, they probably figure James Paxton could and should be a part of it. The Mariners, probably, want Paxton to become a major contributor as soon as the season ahead. Toward that end, Paxton needs to stay healthy, and the healthy version of Paxton needs to do better.

There’s nothing worth saying about Paxton’s health. Hopefully he doesn’t get hurt. I don’t know why he gets hurt, and I don’t know how he can stop. You cross your fingers. But as far as being better is concerned? Most everything comes down to mechanical repetition. And health, of course, plays some role in that. Out of more consistent mechanics, the Mariners would like Paxton to improve his location. They’d like him to improve his changeup. And there’s another idea, which I already wrote about once some months ago.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Analyzes a Warm Stove

by Carson Cistulli - 11/25/2015 - Comments (3)

Episode 612
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he discusses the very near future of Aroldis Chapman, Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, and the logic behind his assertion that Jason Heyward is the offseason’s best free-agent bargain.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 35 min play time.)

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat - 11/24/15

by Paul Swydan - 11/24/2015 - Comments (1)

Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! We’re baaaaaack. Join Jeff and myself tonight at 9 pm ET and we can talk some baseball. Or we can talk about The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2016, on sale now! Or whatever else you want to talk about.
Paul Swydan: Hi everyone, let’s get started. It’s good to be back.
Jeff Zimmerman: Good evening everyone.
Comment From Scott
Does Neil Walker get traded?
Jeff Zimmerman: Maybe, I don’t see the rush
Paul Swydan: I think they’re in a tough spot with Walker. They can’t afford to trade him for prospects. If they deal him, they’ll have to get a major league ready piece back. And that may be tough to procure.

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The Season's Biggest Upset

by Jeff Sullivan - 11/24/2015 - Comments (23)

Before every game, we publish estimated game odds. The odds consider the identities of the starting pitchers, and as the first pitch draws closer, the odds update to factor in the actual starting lineups. I’m not saying it’s an infallible system or anything, but it’s a neat little feature we have, even if it doesn’t get all that much use. And though this is by no means a rigorous test, consider the top 100 most seemingly lopsided games from the season past. Based on the calculated odds, the favorites in those games should’ve won 70 times. The favorites actually won 71 times. So things check out.

The favorite won the game with the single most lopsided odds. Max Scherzer and the Nationals were projected to have 78% odds against Sean O’Sullivan and the Phillies. The favorite also won the next-most lopsided game, and the next-most lopsided game, and the next-most lopsided game, and the next-most lopsided game. The five games with the most imbalanced odds all went to the team expected to win. We find our first upset in sixth. Which would then qualify this as the season’s greatest upset, taking into consideration only pre-game odds. It was an upset when the Royals rallied past the Astros in the playoffs, but that wasn’t a lopsided game at the start. It only became that way later. The biggest upset, considering pre-game outlook? We rewind to June 17, and we go to Los Angeles.

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FanGraphs Audio: Jeff Sullivan's Monthly Appearance

by Carson Cistulli - 11/24/2015 - Comments (8)

Episode 611
Jeff Sullivan is a senior editor at FanGraphs. He’s also the periodic guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 23 min play time.)

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Seeking Clarity on Gerardo Parra's Defense

by August Fagerstrom - 11/24/2015 - Comments (16)

Gerardo Parra‘s out there right now as a free agent and soon, a team will sign him to play somewhere in the outfield. Plenty of teams have been linked to Parra, and understandably so. He’s entering just his age-29 season, he’s something like a league average hitter who started to lift the ball to the pull field and hit for some power last year, he’s played all three outfield positions in the past and, at times, he’s played them exceptionally well! He won’t kill you on the bases, and he should come reasonably cheap, especially considering his lack of draft pick compensation. Most everyone can afford Parra, and most everyone would have a spot for him on a roster.

The first team to emerge as a potential landing spot for Parra were the Nationals, who made a push to acquire him at the deadline. Lately the talk has shifted toward the Cubs and Mets being interested in Parra’s services. Between these three teams, a common thread exists in the outfield.

The Nationals’ only outfield opening is in center field. The Cubs’ only outfield opening is in center. The Mets’ only outfield opening is in center. The Cubs have been vocal about prioritizing their outfield defense, and we saw in the World Series that the Mets could benefit from a defensive upgrade at just about any position. So the question becomes: would signing Gerardo Parra to predominately play center field help a defense, or hurt it?

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Mike Trout, Four Years In

by Blengino - 11/24/2015 - Comments (40)

We are living in a golden age of youthful, historic talent, especially among position players. This was the case even before 2015, when the likes of Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor — all 23 years old or younger — joined the party. Previously, the Cubs had run out a slew of young stud position players on a daily basis, and Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have been around enough to truly be called veterans at this point. All of these greats all reside in the shadow of the best young player of them all, however: some guy named Mike Trout.

With a little luck, or perhaps some better judgment among voters, Trout could very well be celebrating an unprecedented fourth consecutive MVP award right about now. He’s got one of those on the mantle, along with three relatively controversial second place finishes. While I did predict in an ESPN Insider article this past March that Josh Donaldson would win the 2015 AL MVP, there is no doubt that, if I had a ballot, I would have slotted the Blue Jay third sacker on the second line, behind the Angel center fielder.

How great is Trout, and where might all of this be headed? Let’s take a somewhat unorthodox look at his first four seasons relative to some of the game’s all-time inner-circle superstars, and see where he fits in.

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Win a Free Copy of THT 2016!

by Paul Swydan - 11/24/2015 - Comments (212)

Have you heard? The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2016 is now available for sale. You can check out the table of contents and read some excerpts from the book. When you finish that you can purchase it from our independent publishing platform, Createspace, in print form, or from Amazon in print form (the Kindle version should be available later this week).

But wait, there’s more! Because we’re giving folk, and since it’s the beginning of the holiday season and all, we want to give you a chance to win yourself a free copy of the book. So today and tomorrow (and yesterday), we’ll be running a trivia contest based on one of the articles in the book. The first person to post the correct answer in the comments will win a free physical copy of the book (sorry, no free Kindle version). It’s just that simple!

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the Next Bargain Relievers

by Eno Sarris - 11/24/2015 - Comments (16)

Scan the leaderboard for the best relievers this past season, and sure, there are plenty of homegrown young studs with triple digit fastballs. For clubs in the market for bullpen assistance, however, they’ll take a decent prospect or two to pry loose from their current teams.

But there are also players like Darren O’Day, Hector Rondon, and Luke Gregerson — guys who, in the recent past, have been available at a lesser cost.

One was claimed off of waivers, one was a Rule 5 pickup, and the other took $19 million over three years to snatch up. How can your favorite team find one of those guys?

It’s all a sliding scale, obviously. The signs that point to a good three-year deal have to be stronger than the ones that point to a good camp invite. That said, let’s find the relievers who are most compelling relative to their likely cost.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat - 11/24/15

by August Fagerstrom - 11/24/2015 - Comments (0)

August Fagerstrom: hello, people!

August Fagerstrom: start getting those questions in. i’ll be back in ~15 to get things started

August Fagerstrom: today’s chat soundtrack: Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030

August Fagerstrom: ok!

Comment From Cam
Del the Funky Homosapien is 100x better with Dan the Automator.

August Fagerstrom: all things are better with Dan the Automator. really wish the Damon Albarn/Dan the Automator collab would make a return for a Gorillaz album. nothing tops that first record

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Addressing the White Sox' Defensive Problem

by mattymatty2000 - 11/24/2015 - Comments (25)

Simplicity can be a good goal to have, but often the real world won’t allow it. Life creates uncertainty and complexity and this can be a problem when attempting to determine the proper path to take. For example, should I put down the computer right now and find out what my son is repeatedly slamming into the wall, or should I try to finish this thought? The answer, in this case: probably just finish this thought while simultaneously hoping not to see a hammer on its way through the living room sheetrock. It might not ultimately be the optimal decision, but it’s the best one at which I can arrive given the information at my disposal.

The White Sox are in a similar situation. Fortunately for them, it has nothing to do either with my feral child nor the hammers he’s always carrying, but rather their major league roster — and, specifically, whether to rebuild or restock it (which can, in some ways, be even more daunting). As things currently stand, they don’t know what to do this offseason. Are they rebuilding? Adding on? What does Ken Williams think about the definitive direction of the team?

Thanks, Scott Merkin! That sure was timely. I’m not here to argue that the White Sox should blow things up or stand pat. They could go either way, but regardless of whether they take the We-Want-to-Win-Now direction or the We-Want-to-Win-Later direction, they’re going to have to do something about their defense.

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JABO: The Rarity of Josh Donaldson's Late Ascension

by Owen Watson - 11/24/2015 - Comments (30)

In some seasons, the Most Valuable Player award is a close race between a few worthy position players with a pitcher thrown into the mix if the circumstances align. This year, in the National League, the voting was unanimous for the MVP, and for good reason. In the American League, there were only really two serious candidates for the award, with one fact underlining that point: in MVP voting, each voter ranks players from one to ten, and this year in the AL, every ballot except for one had either Mike Trout or Josh Donaldson in first or second place.

Given that there were only two serious candidates in the AL, there was a fair amount of discussion about who was the worthier of the two players. We could say this was a battle of statistics versus context: a better statistical season (Trout) versus the offensive lifeblood of a playoff-bound Toronto team (Donaldson). Defensively, Donaldson had a better season, but Trout was clearly superior on the offensive side of the ball. Take a look at their full stats side-by-side (wRC+ uses 100 as league average, while UZR is how many runs better the player was than a league average defender):

2015 AL MVP Race
wRC+ (Offense) UZR/150 (Defense) WAR
Mike Trout 172 0.3 9.0
Josh Donaldson 154 9.8 8.7
SOURCE: FanGraphs

In the end, the context that is often added to the MVP award won out: Donaldson led his Toronto team to the playoffs after the city had endured a 21-year postseason drought, compiling an incredible offensive and defensive campaign in the process. As is so often the case, there was no true right or wrong answer on who should have won the award; it was close enough to where both players could have deserved it, and it was a matter of opinion that separated them. When all is said and done, baseball is about winning games, however, and Donaldson benefitted from being a key piece of a team that won more games than Trout’s Anaheim Angels.

Discussing the worthiness of each player winning the AL MVP has already been covered at length. If you’ve paid attention to this award season, you probably know the arguments for and against both Trout and Donaldson: we’ve even recapped a few of them here. What is well-known is who Donaldson currently is. What is less-known is who he Donaldson was, and where he now stands among historical MVPs. In context, who he was is a huge part of the story, and we’ll see that it’s pretty rare that he turned into who he is.

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WAR: Batters
Bryce Harper9.5
Mike Trout9.0
Josh Donaldson8.7
Paul Goldschmidt7.4
Joey Votto7.4
WAR: Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw8.6
Jake Arrieta7.3
David Price6.4
Max Scherzer6.4
Chris Sale6.2
WPA: Batters
Anthony Rizzo7.57
Kris Bryant6.36
Bryce Harper6.25
Joey Votto6.11
Paul Goldschmidt5.94
Zack Greinke6.72
Jake Arrieta5.42
Clayton Kershaw4.81
Dallas Keuchel3.85
David Price3.60
Mark Melancon5.19
Dellin Betances4.24
Andrew Miller4.22
Wade Davis4.22
Tony Watson4.13
Fastball (mph): SP
Noah Syndergaard97.1
Juan Nicasio96.9
Nathan Eovaldi96.7
Yordano Ventura96.3
Bryan Mitchell96.3