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How Dellin Betances Lost $10 Million

Dellin Betances made medium-level news a week ago when he lost his arbitration case. He’d been asking for $5 million — less, for example, than Trevor Rosenthal had made in his first crack at arbitration the season before. The Yankees, meanwhile, submitted a $3 million figure. The case went to arbitration, and the Yankees won. Randy Levine then took the medium-sized news and turned into big news by acting like a fool. While the $2 million difference might not seem like a big deal for Betances when he’s still guaranteed to receive $3 million, the affect on Betances’ finances in the coming years will be significantly greater.

Arbitration isn’t exactly the simplest of systems. Teams submit blind amounts, and if the parties can’t agree on a deal beforehand, they go to hearing. The FanGraphs glossary explains the process in slightly more detail, but if the player and team go to hearing, the arbitration panel decides on either the team’s figure or the player’s figure, with no option to choose a number in between. This makes the arbitration a winner-take-all scenario. If arbitrators could choose a number in the middle, settlements would be even more likely, simplifying the process and lead to far less debate. They can’t, though, and that means that arbitration decisions have a significant impact.

Also relevant is how service time fits into the process. Players’ salaries gradually increase based on service time, rendering the previous season’s salary quite relevant, as it represents the starting point for a raise. A few different researchers have gone through and figured out exactly how much salaries increase during arbitration. (Here’s a good one, for example.) As a general rule, though, it comes to something like a 50% increase in salary every year. Small differences, especially early in the arbitration process, compound to make bigger differences over time.

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Syndergaard, Gray Top Extension Candidates Among Pitchers

Last spring, for the first time in a decade, maybe more, no pre-arbitration pitchers signed a contract extension taking away multiple free-agent seasons. There were a few decent candidates in Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray, and Carlos Martinez, the last of whom just signed a contract extension of his own earlier this winter. None of those players signed last spring, however, and it’s a possible indicator of a chilling effect on these types of extensions. The lack of deals isn’t due to a lack of candidates, though. In fact, a few of the best pitchers in baseball might be prime for long-term extensions.

When attempting to characterize the recent history of such deals, it’s difficult to say what’s a trend and what’s a random event because only two to five players sign extensions of this sort every year. The recent drought might be a product of players and agents beginning to recognize how much clubs were benefiting from signing extensions with younger players. It’s possible, on the other hand, that teams were less likely to dole out guarantees when the outcome of the CBA was in doubt. When Madison Bumgarner signed his extension right as the 2012 season was starting, he was one of five young pitchers to do so. When Chris Sale signed his ahead of the 2013 season, he was the only one. Sale and Bumgarner’s contracts have proved to be two of the bigger bargains in the majors.

When the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz, they weren’t just trading Chris Sale. The White Sox were also trading Chris Sale’s contract, which included a $12 million salary for 2017 and options for 2018 and 2019 totaling $26 million. If Sale hadn’t signed that contract, he would have been a free agent this winter and received $200 million. San Francisco has no interest in trading Madison Bumgarner — who would have also been a free agent this winter — while they’re contending, so his value to the Giants is greater as a player on the field than in a trade. His contract is similar to Sale’s and so favorable that it had some discussing whether the team should negotiate a contract extension out of fairness, which does have some precedent.

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Betts, Lindor Top Contract-Extension Candidates

Three years ago, seven major-league position players who had yet to reach salary arbitration agreed to contracts with their teams, conceding multiple free-agent seasons in the process. Most of those deals have turned into bargains: Matt Carpenter, Jason Kipnis, Starling Marte, and Mike Trout have all played at a high level since then. This came one year after Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo signed contracts that have proved to be incredibly valuable, as well.

In the last two years, however, just four players have signed similar extensions. There are quite a few potential reasons, the most likely being that players are more reluctant to sign deals that give away free agency so easily. It’s also possible that teams haven’t found as many potential candidates who are worthy of a long-term investment.

When I looked at potential extension candidates last year, I noted that there weren’t a great many players who were ideally suited for extensions. Only Gregory Polanco and Kolten Wong ultimately signed extensions, so my hypothesis seems to have been accurate. Teams have made up somewhat for lost time this winter, though, as players like Ender Inciarte, Carlos Martinez, and Wil Myers — all of whom were mentioned as candidates last year — reached extensions this offseason. The guarantees doled out by the teams — in particular, the $83 million to Wil Myers and the $51 million to Carlos Martinez — illustrate why signing players to extensions before they reach free agency is much more advantageous for the teams. While the deals for Myers and Martinez could still prove to be bargains, compare the figures they received to the deals signed by position players in the three previous offseasons.

Pre-Arbitration Contract Extensions Since 2014
Name PA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR Service Time Contract Terms*
Mike Trout 1490 .404 .544 164 21.5 2.070 6/144.5
Matt Carpenter 1076 .381 .470 137 8.3 2.012 6/52.0, 1
Christian Yelich 933 .365 .400 118 5.8 1.069 7/49.6, 1
Andrelton Simmons 840 .304 .400 94 6.6 1.125 7/58.0
Starling Marte 748 .332 .440 117 5.8 1.070 5/35.0, 2
Jason Kipnis 1480 .349 .424 115 8.7 2.075 6/52.5, 1
Yan Gomes 433 .324 .453 112 3.1 1.083 6/23.0, 2
Adam Eaton 918 .350 .390 108 3.2 2.030 5/23.5, 2
Jedd Gyorko 525 .301 .444 109 2.4 1.016 6/35.0, 1
Kolten Wong 1108 .303 .374 88 3.8 2.045 5/25.5, 1
Gregory Polanco 964 .316 .369 92 2.6 1.103 5/35, 2
Odubel Herrera 1193 .353 .419 111 7.8 2.000 5/30.5, 2
*Year/$M, Options
Note: Herrera’s was signed this winter.

All of these players signed away two — or, in some cases, three — years of free agency in exchange for a decent guaranteed contract. While a couple years might seem like just a small delay to free agency, teams generally received a 60% surplus on every dollar invested in contracts like these, and the recent extensions seem unlikely to break that pattern.

Most of these guarantees are around $30 million or so, which is significantly less than the deals for Myers and Martinez that were signed one year along in service time. Players take a significant risk by turning down money between their second year and third year in the league, as they have to play that season on a near-minimum salary. Once they hit arbitration and benefit from the security that comes along with a million-dollar contract, there’s less incentive to take a guarantee, especially with free agency just a few years away.

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Explaining the Depressed Market for Sluggers

With apologies to Pedro Alvarez, just about every decent bat in this winter’s free-agent class has signed. We heard all winter about how the market for the offense-first, defensively limited sluggers was a bad one this offseason, and we saw many players sign contracts for less than expected. This happened to those at the highest levels — like Edwin Encarnacion who took a shorter deal than anticipated — as well as at the lower end, where many players expected to receive multi-year deals had to settle for one-year contracts. There was a general lack of talent among free agents this offseason, but the glut of mediocre options likely played into a depressed market.

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Is Jeffrey Loria’s Marlins Sale the Most Profitable Ever?

Five years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were sold to new owners, both partially spurred on by messy divorces. Since that time, there’s been just one change in Major League Baseball ownership, when John Staunton took control of the Seattle Mariners last season as Nintendo stepped aside. While we don’t know for sure when the next sale will be, there are rumors that Jeffrey Loria could sell the Miami Marlins for $1.6 billion, a massive increase over the 2002 sale price of $158.5 million and more than double Forbes’ current estimate of value. Loria doesn’t have a great reputation as a baseball owner, and he is absolutely going to cash in, but where would this sale rank in MLB history?

Including a potential Marlins sale, there have been by my count, 33 major transfers in ownership over the last 30 years. In taking a look at previous sales, we can compare them to Loria’s potential sale and determine how he did. In terms of a straight profit with sale price minus purchase price, Loria’s is big, but not bigger than Frank McCourt’s when he sold the Dodgers. The graph below shows the 33 sales.

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So Much Talent in the WBC

The World Baseball Classic is scheduled to begin early next month. This will represent the fourth such tournament, Japan having won the first two, followed by a victory by the Dominican Republic the last time around. While the United States has yet to win, they bring more talent than the rest of the countries represented.

The 16 participating countries officially named their rosters last week, accounting for a total of 226 position players and 321 pitchers from 16 countries. Not all the players will necessarily play, of course. With a view to limiting workload, teams have been permitted to name pitchers who might appear in later rounds of the tournament, even if they’re absent from the first — the idea being to protect players who haven’t benefited from spring training before the start of their respective professional league. There are four Asian countries participating in the tournament, for example — China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — and a number of their players play at a fairly high professional level. Other teams like Australia, Israel, and Italy feature fewer MLB-type players on their rosters, naturally. Even so, there’s still a great deal of talent in the tournament — something which we can identify in the projections.

Of the 226 position players in the tournament, a Steamer projection is available for 133. Of those 133 players, 86 earn a forecast for replacement-level production or better in 2017. Nor does that account for the talent in the various Asian leagues. In other words: despite the presence of countries in which baseball is less popular, it’s still probably fair to estimate that close to half of the position players participating in the WBC will be of MLB caliber. In terms of the talent level for which we have available projections, the U.S. has a decent advantage.

The U.S. has a 50% advantage over the second-place Dominican Republic, with Venezuela and Puerto Rico placing not too far behind. The Netherlands — thanks to a combination of Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop, and Andrelton Simmons — also figure to bring up a decent amount of MLB value. When we account for the number of players, and factor in the likelihood that starters will receive the bulk of the playing time, the gap between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. shrinks.

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David Robertson and the Dangers of Reliever Volatility

Right-handed reliever David Robertson is earning $12 million per year on a rebuilding Chicago White Sox team that has little need for a high-priced closer. The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, might need a closer if they aren’t comfortable with internal options who, whatever their qualifications, lack proven closer experience. As a result, it isn’t surprising to find that the two teams have been discussing a trade. Robertson is owed $25 million over the next two years, a relatively reasonable fee given the cost of closers on the free-agent market. If the White Sox are looking to dump salary, Robertson might make sense for multiple teams, but if the Sox want prospects back, both Chicago and Robertson’s suitors might be better off waiting until July, even if the price for relievers is higher at that time.

From 2011 to -15, Robertson was one of the very best relievers in baseball. During that time, he averaged nearly two wins above replacement per season. The only relievers with a higher total WAR during that time frame were Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, and Craig Kimbrel. That 2015 campaign, Robertson’s first with the White Sox, was also arguably the best of his career. He struck out 34% of batters while walking just 5%. A very low 66% left-on-base percentage gave him just a 3.41 ERA (compared to his 2.52 FIP), but the results were fine nonetheless. Entering the 2016 season, Robertson was again set to be one of the very best relievers in the game, earning a 1.9-WAR projection on our Depth Charts projection. The season didn’t go as well as expected.

Robertson put together a solid season, recording a good 3.58 FIP (82 FIP-) and a similar 3.47 ERA (82 ERA-). The result: a 1.0-WAR season, making him one of just a dozen full-time closers to hit the one-win mark last year. The results were good, but they represented a decline from his elite numbers the five years prior to 2016. His strikeout rate dropped from 34% to 28%; his walk rate more than doubled, up to 12%, after having remained below 9% since the 2011 season. Last season might be an outlier. It’s possible that Robertson return to form this year. It could be a new normal for Robertson going forward, though — or, worse, it could represent a decline that could continue into this season. The problem is that nobody really knows.

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The Pitchers Hurt Most by a Higher Strike Zone

Major League Baseball has been floating a bunch of different ideas lately to help improve the game: automatic intentional walks, starting a runner on second in extra innings, and one that would likely have the most impact, raising the lower bounds of the strike zone.

If you feel like you’ve heard that last one before, it’s because you almost definitely have. Jon Roegele has been chronicling the expansion of the strike zone for years. It’s not just him, though. Just last year, there were reports that MLB planned to raise the strike zone. In response, August Fagerstrom discussed who might be affected the most. August isn’t around these parts anymore, so consider this post your update on the pitchers who might be negatively affected by a slightly higher strike zone.

First, consider the visuals below. They’re from a 2014 piece by Roegele and were reproduced by Fagerstrom last year. They documents how the strike zone has expanded downward over the last decade.

It’s pretty obvious from these graphs that pitches in the lower part of the zone were being called strikes more often in 2014 than five years earlier. But these images are from a couple seasons ago. Is it possible, given the talk last season about raising the strike zone, that umpires took it upon themselves to do it? To compensate for the lower-zone creep happening of late?

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Garber vs. MLB Lawsuit Still Bears Some Fruit for Fans

A little over a year ago, Major League Baseball settled a class-action suit against fans who contended that blackout rules violate antitrust laws. The ramifications for not settling could have been massive, as ending the current blackout rules would prevent regional sports networks (RSNs) from claiming exclusivity over territories to air baseball games. This, in turn, would have prevented them from charging cable providers large amounts of money per subscriber to place them in the basic-cable tier — amounts that cable providers still seem (mostly) willing to pay. Instead of risking that potential financial catastrophe, MLB settled. In the process, they lowered the price of MLB.TV and offered single-team solutions. In a less notable development, the deal also included stipulations regarding in-market streaming of baseball games.

As Nathaniel Grow discussed at the time of the settlement, the lawsuit provided incentives for in-market streaming.

Finally, although not mentioned in the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ statement, Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal is reporting that the settlement could also pave the way towards allowing subscribers of RSNs owned by Comcast and DirecTV to stream in-market games via MLB.TV. In particular, the settlement agreement will reportedly specify that MLB cannot raise the price of its MLB.TV service until both Comcast and DirecTV reach an in-market streaming deal with MLB for their RSN subscribers.

For a few reasons, this provision wasn’t a big deal at the time at the time of the settlement. For one, preserving blackouts was probably the most important objective the settlement accomplished for MLB. Lowering the price of MLB.TV by 15% and securing lower fees for viewing just a single club’s games was also a bigger priority. Also, MLB had already agreed at the time to in-market streaming for half of the league’s RSNs — namely, those operated by FOX. For all of last season, half the league plus the Toronto Blue Jays had access to in-market streaming. The final reason the provision wasn’t that big of a deal at the time was due to when it would actually matter — i.e. one year later. Of course, that happens to be now.

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Do the Cardinals Deserve a Competitive-Balance Pick?

If you haven’t heard the news, the St. Louis Cardinals received their punishment from Major League Baseball this week in response to the actions of former director of amateur scouting, Chris Correa. Correa hacked the database of the Houston Astros using some variation of the password Eckstein. As Jeff Sullivan explained, the Cardinals are expected both to pay the Astros $2 million and give them two draft picks, numbers 56 and 75. The consensus seems to be that the Cardinals got off light.

As Grant Brisbee noted, the second of the Cardinals’ picks has actually been given to them in the form of a competitive-balance pick, which provides convenient timing to discuss whether the Cardinals should even have that extra pick to begin with.

Per the recently established CBA, 14 teams will receive competitive-balance picks every year. Teams qualify for these picks by placing among the bottom 10 of major-league teams either by (a) revenue or (b) market size. According to Forbes, the Cardinals actually place among the top 10 of all clubs when it comes to revenue. They rank 24th, however, by market size. Therefore, they qualify for an extra pick.

While there seems to be much consternation about the Cardinals’ hacking penalty right now, wait 18 months. If the club loses Lance Lynn to free agency and then receives a better comp in addition to their own normal pick, they’ll possess three picks among the top-40 selections.

Question of the hacking scandal aside, there are questions about whether the Cards deserve any comp picks in the first place. By one definition, they certainly do: they meet the criteria agreed upon by the league.

There are plausible arguments against the characterization of the club as a “small-market” franchise, however. Most of them begin with a discussion of fanbase. Consider: here are the annual attendance averages per team over the last five years, with data collected from Baseball-Reference.

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Carlos Martinez Gets Paid, Leaves Money on Table

The St. Louis Cardinals lack stars. Sure, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are well known and remain solid even as they age. Sure, Matt Carpenter has developed into an important member of the club. In terms of big-time production, though, the Cardinals have few options upon which they can reasonably rely.

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Cardinals support this observation: per ZiPS, no position player on the St. Louis roster is likely to produce more than 3.1 WAR in 2017; only one pitcher is projected for more than 2.1 wins. That pitcher — and, incidentally, the only player on the Cardinals whom one might reasonably classify as a “star” — is Carlos Martinez.

Yesterday, the Cardinals very wisely locked that star up. Martinez and the club agreed to a five-year extension worth a guaranteed $51 million. The deal includes two options that could keep Martinez in St. Louis through 2023 and buy out four years of free agency, leading to a possible total value of $85.5 million.

A week ago, I suggested that the Wil Myers deal — for six years, $83 million guaranteed — indicated that extensions for players who possessed more than three and less than four years of service time might become a lot more expensive. This contract appears to provide evidence to the contrary.

In that post I noted that, among such position players, only five had recently reached contract extensions — and that those were either upside bets on riskier players like Michael Brantley and Josh Harrison or big-money contracts for big-time players like Freddie Freeman. The one contract in the middle involved Dee Gordon and his five-year deal for $50 million, an agreement that also includes an option. Martinez’s contract is like Gordon’s, except with an additional free-agent year surrendered by the player.

On the pitching side, meanwhile, there’s virtually no precedent for this type of deal.

Martinez’s deal breaks the record for biggest guarantee to a starting pitcher entering arbitration, a distinction which previously belonged to Corey Kluber after he was guaranteed $38.5 million heading into the 2015 season. That deal might also potentially last seven seasons. At the time, however, Kluber was a super-2 player. He was entering arbitration for the first time, but he was still four years from free agency, unlike Martinez’s three. He was also coming off a Cy Young Award and heading into his age-29 season, meaning he was four years older than Martinez is now. Kluber’s deal provided some guaranteed income, but also gave away all of his prime years: he won’t be a free agent until after his age-35 season.

That isn’t the case for Martinez, who enters just his age-25 season. Even if all of the options are exercised, Martinez will still head to free agency after his age-31 season, the same age as Zack Greinke when he signed his $206 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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The Orioles Might Have a Decision to Make

History dictates that a single month of baseball — say, 20 or 30 games — isn’t sufficient to reveal which teams are legitimate playoff contenders and which aren’t. In some cases, a club jumps out to a hot start only to fade away as the season continues. This was the case both for the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies last year. Other teams might follow an arc more like the Texas Rangers in 2015, starting off slowly only to pick up speed by the end of the season. As such, it’s generally wise to refrain from reaching any strong conclusions about the standings in early May.

That being said, I’ll be paying especially close attention to the Baltimore Orioles at the beginning of the 2017 season. The team could find themselves at a crossroads this year if contention seems unlikely, which could lead to one of the more interesting sell-offs in recent times.

An initial glance at the Orioles roster might not reveal a team that’s primed to sell. Teams with a collection of free agents (like Kansas City) or in the midst of a rebuild (like a number of teams) would seem to provide better trading partners than Baltimore. Here are the Orioles’ pending free agents at the end of the 2017 season.

Baltimore Orioles Pending Free Agents
Name Age Projected WAR 2017 Salary
Welington Castillo 30 1.7 $6.0 M
Chris Tillman 29 1.5 $10.1 M
Ubaldo Jimenez 33 1.4 $13.5 M
J.J. Hardy 34 1.3 $14.0 M
Seth Smith 34 1.3 $7.0 M
Hyun Soo Kim 29 1.1 $4.2 M
TOTAL 8.3 $54.8 M

So that’s not really a lot to sell at the deadline. We don’t see a single player even projected to provide average production over the course of next season. The best might be Welington Castillo. Given that he was just signed for $6 million, however — and holds a player option for $7 million — it wouldn’t seem that his trade value would be quite high. Hardy is a glove-first shortstop while Smith and Kim are part-time bats. Jimenez would have to undergo a pretty big rebound to have decent value. That leaves Tillman as the only real potential trade chip.

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Cleveland Is Winning the Offseason

Money still matters in major-league baseball. Sure, the small-market, low-payroll Cleveland Indians just made the World Series. And, sure, the small-market, low-budget Kansas City Royals won the World Series the year before, after making it the previous season. And while, sure, the relationship between money and wins did seem to be going down for a time, the capacity to spend has consistently helped a team’s chances — and, last season, the relationship between wins and money was quite strong. This is a generally troubling trend for a team like Cleveland. Nevertheless, the club has done very well to capitalize on the free-agent market and put themselves in good shape for next season.

While it might not be fair to say that Edwin Encarnacion fell into the team’s lap, it would be appropriate to note that, at the beginning of November, the prospect of Cleveland being able to afford Encarnacion didn’t seem realistic. Right after the World Series, I mapped Cleveland’s path back to the playoffs and presumed more modest intentions:

Cleveland doesn’t need to sign a load of free agents to contend again next season, and the expiring contracts of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher serve as a reminder of what can happen when a club gives out multi-year contracts to middling players. Many of the pieces are already in place, and a few minor additions should bolster a roster ready to compete. With the Detroit Tigers sending signals they want to rebuild, the Kansas City Royals’ run potentially closing, the Chicago White Sox mired in perpetual mediocrity, and the Minnesota Twins licking their wounds from a very tough 2016 season, the Central division will be Cleveland’s to lose — and it might not take as many wins to get to the playoffs next year.

I mentioned names like Carlos Gomez, Matt Holliday, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Adam Lind, and Mike Napoli as players Cleveland could add to good effect. Instead, Cleveland went out and signed perhaps the best free-agent hitter available and had to commit only three years to do it. While the recent signing of Austin Jackson won’t make waves, he provides more flexibility in an outfield that could be usefully mixed and matched to provide average production despite a handful of seemingly below-average players. Against a right-handed pitcher, Cleveland can send out lefties Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, and Lonnie Chisenhall, while against lefties, they can sub two of those three for Austin Jackson and Brandon Guyer, maximizing the platoon advantage.

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Omar Vizquel and the Worst Hitters in the Hall of Fame

While perhaps not universally accepted, it is generally acknowledged that Ozzie Smith is the greatest defensive player of all time. With 13 Gold Gloves at the most important defensive position that doesn’t require extra equipment, his ability to generate outs was second to none. Back when we had few defensive stats, eight times Smith led the league in assists and still has the record among shortstops with more than 8,000 in his career.

Omar Vizquel was not quite Ozzie Smith as a fielder. He did receive 11 Gold Gloves. He also played in 200 more games at shortstop than Smith, which is the record, and he’s third all-time in assists by a shortstop — around 700 behind Ozzie. Vizquel comes up on the Hall of Fame ballot a year from now, and he’s likely to be regarded as nearly, but quite, Smith’s equal as a defender.

Being nearly as good as Ozzie Smith might be enough to get Vizquel in the Hall of Fame, given just how good Smith was, but there are considerable questions regarding Vizquel’s bat.

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The Dodgers Rotation Is Risky, Expensive, and Fantastic

Anecdotally speaking, Clayton Kershaw makes any rotation look good. Empirically speaking, that also appears to be the case. Consider: according to the depth-chart projections at this site, the Dodgers currently possess the best rotation in major-league baseball. The San Diego Padres, meanwhile, have the worst. If one were to move Kershaw from LA to San Diego, the Dodgers would rank only 15th in the majors; the Padres would improve to sixth-best overall.

With Kershaw, the Dodgers have gotten a massive head start when it comes to outpacing the rest of MLB rotations. Despite contending with frequent injury problems over the last five season, the Dodgers have spent their way to one of the top-five rotations in baseball thanks to Clayton Kershaw plus a near-endless supply of arms. This season is unlikely to be any different.

Back in 2014, the Dodgers had a mostly healthy rotation, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Josh Beckett all recording at least 20 starts. The first four members of that group took the mound in 117 of the team’s games that season. Beckett added another 20, while seven other pitchers split the remaining 25 starts. That offseason, however, Beckett retired. The Dodgers paid Dan Haren to pitch for Miami, trading both him and Dee Gordon to the Marlins in a deal that ultimately netted them Howie Kendrick. To replace those two spots, the team signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year deal and took a $10 million flyer on Brett Anderson. McCarthy and Ryu got hurt, Anderson pitched quite well, and the team ended up using 16 starters — or, essentially 13 different pitchers to fill out the final two rotation spots.

The chart below illustrates how many starters each major-league team used in 2015.

Led by Kershaw and Greinke, the 17.7 WAR produced by the Dodgers rotation represented the third-highest mark in the majors — this, despite the club having been compelled to use more starters than any other team in the league. Including the $40 million the team spent to acquire Alex Wood — including the signing bonus of Hector Olivera and the money added by Mike Morse and Bronson Arroyo — as well as the 15 cents for every dollar that went to the luxury tax, the Dodgers spent roughly $150 million to record those 17.7 wins, a pretty inefficient $8.8 million per WAR.

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Scott Rolen, Ron Santo and the Third-Base Myth

In one way, Mike Schmidt is the prototypical third baseman: he was a great hitter and provided excellent defense. In another way, though, he isn’t: a prototype is a model on which subsequent reproductions are based. But no other third basemen has ever reproduced Schmidt’s accomplishments. He’s the best third baseman ever.

There’s a view that’s prevailed for some time to the effect that third basemen are just like first basemen except slightly more mobile. This was never really the case, though — and, on offense, third basemen now have a lot more in common with second basemen than their counterparts on the other corner of the diamond. This view likely cost Ron Santo the chances to enter the Hall of Fame by way of the writers’ ballot and, ultimately, prevented him from living to see his own induction.

A very similar player, Scott Rolen, will appear on the ballot for the first time in 2017. Based on the value he provided both on offense and on defense, Rolen deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Here are some mostly mainstream stats, with a few other metrics worked in, comparing Santo and Rolen:

Scott Rolen and Ron Santo
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR Gold Gloves All-Star Games Highest MVP Finish
Scott Rolen 8518 316 .281 .364 .490 .368 122 70.1 8 7 4
Ron
Santo
9397 342 .277 .362 .464 .367 126 70.9 5 9 4

That’s pretty darn close across the board. Rolen’s capacity for doubles resulted in a much higher slugging percentage. Because he played in an era defined by greater run-scoring, though, he sits slightly behind Santo in wRC+. Rolen closes the gap with superior defensive numbers, however — only Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt have more Gold Gloves than Rolen at third base, if you’re into that sort of thing — to end up with nearly identical WAR numbers.

Individual comparisons often make for a poor method for evaluating a potential Hall of Famer’s case. Going to the lowest common denominator will inevitably end up lowering standards for the Hall of Fame. (Consider what would happen if comparing every outfielder to Jim Rice, every first baseman to Orlando Cepeda, every second baseman to Red Schoendienst, etc.) That said, comparing a candidate to a clearly deserving member of the Hall can provide solid insight.

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Projecting the Hall of Fame Through 2022

Back in 1947, nine players received at least 50% of the Hall of Fame vote. That’s the last time so many players have appeared on at least half the voters’ ballots. Until this year, that is. Three players were elected this time around (Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez.) Another six received more than 50% of the vote.

Generally speaking, breaking the 50% mark is a pretty good indication that a player is going to make it at some point. Jack Morris didn’t make it, Lee Smith barely got over 50% one year and now he’s been removed from the ballot. Gil Hodges never made it. But they’re in the definite minority.

So how does the future look for the six candidates who crossed the 50% threshold but failed to reach the 75% mark? And what about players who’ll become eligible in the near future? Trying to predict the fate of those holdovers three, four, five years from now presents challenges, but we can see who will have a shot. Below, I’ve attempted to do just that.

Names of candidates through 2021 from Baseball-Reference.

*****

2018

For a more detailed look at next year’s ballot, check out my piece on it here, but the list below contains the notable new players.

2018 Hall of Fame Ballot Newcomers
HOF Points WAR HOF RATING HOF AVG HOF MEDIAN BBWAA AVG BBWAA MEDIAN JAWS JAWS Pos
Chipper Jones 62 84.6 73.3 57.3 52.6 71.9 75.3 65.8 55.1
Jim
Thome
46 68.9 57.5 59.1 57.0 66.3 57.1 57.2 54.2
Scott
Rolen
53 70.1 61.6 57.3 52.6 71.9 75.3 56.8 55.1
Andruw Jones 53 67.1 60.1 64.6 49.2 92.1 77.1 54.6 57.8
Johan Santana 30 45.4 37.7 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3 48.1 62.1
Johnny Damon 19 44.5 31.8 64.6 49.2 92.1 77.1 44.4 57.8
Omar Vizquel 16 42.6 29.3 55.0 52.5 62.0 57.8 36 54.8
Those above the median Hall of Famer at their position are highlighted in blue.

First-ballot no-doubters: Chipper Jones.

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A Look Ahead to Next Year’s Hall of Fame Ballot

While fully acknowledging the honor bestowed upon Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez yesterday evening by the voters, it’s also never too early to begin looking ahead to next year’s Hall of Fame ballot. The three who gained election this time around were certainly deserving — and will receive due recognition this summer in Cooperstown. That said, there were a lot of players worthy of the Hall who failed to earn the requisite 75% for entry — and those players will be joined by even more great players seeking induction on the next ballot.

During the eight-year period from 2006 to 2013, the writers selected just 10 players for enshrinement. Over the last four years, however, 12 players have been elected, suggesting that the voters have changed their standards a bit to compensate for a stingier time.

Unfortunately, the increase has done little to clear the backlog of worthy players. Consider: of the 12 players inducted over the last four years, eight of them were elected on their first ballot. So, while it’s nice to know that certain deserving players have been given due recognition, there actually hasn’t been as much activity as one might suspect to benefit the other players worthy of Cooperstown. The last four years have seen Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, and now Lee Smith age off the ballot, but the numbers of players who’ve exited from the ballot doesn’t compensate for the appearance of new qualified candidates.

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Wil Myers Cashes In on Rare Deal

Wil Myers was always going to be the San Diego Padres’ highest-paid player in 2017, regardless of whether he signed a new contract. In arbitration, Myers had around $4 million coming to him, which is quite a bit more than Yangervis Solarte‘s $2.1 million, the Padres’ other highest-paid player. Myers figures to provide a 25% increase on the $12 million already guaranteed to other players on the roster. This, of course, ignores the roughly roughly $35 million to be collected by Jedd Gyorko, Hector Olivera, James Shields, and Melvin Upton Jr. as they play for other teams.

Given the incredible financial flexibility the Padres have, it makes sense for the Padres to lock up their best player for the long term, and it appears they’ve done that, announcing a six-year, $83 million deal with Myers, plus an option. Players just entering arbitration like Wil Myers seldom receive contract extensions that buy out multiple free-agent years, so this one is a bit unusual and costly for San Diego.

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Relocation Less Common in MLB Than NFL, Other Leagues

In 1972, the Washington Senators packed up and moved down to Texas to become the Rangers. In the 45 years since the Senators’ departure, however, only a single other Major League Baseball franchise has relocated: the Montreal Expos (owned by MLB at the time) moved to Washington before the 2005 season and became the Nationals.

During that same 45-year period, meanwhile, the National Football League has seen the relocation of franchises on nine occasions (10 if Oakland completes their move to Las Vegas). The National Hockey League has featured nine moves of their own (including one merger); the NBA, eight.

There are quite a few reasons for MLB’s stability relative to the other leagues, including antitrust protection, willing local governments, and a little bit more patience when it comes to stadium issues. And baseball hasn’t always possessed such geographic consistency. Consider: the creation of the Rangers actually marked the end of a 20-year period that saw quite a bit of movement throughout Major League Baseball. Rarely did a move leave a city without a franchise — and for those cities left without teams, all had new teams in short order — but there was activity nonetheless. The graph below illustrates MLB’s history of relocation and expansion.

From 1903 to 1953, the league featured all the same clubs without change. In the early 50s, however, three different two-team cities lost the weaker of their clubs, as the Boston Braves, Philadelphia Athletics, and St. Louis Browns moved to towns without franchises. An even more notable exodus occurred when the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California. As populations shifted, it was only natural for baseball to move westward.

The Yankees had New York to themselves for just four seasons before MLB approved the creation of the Mets. The addition of a franchise in Houston marked the first baseball club in Texas. When Washington moved to Minnesota, the league gave the nation’s capital a new team without missing a single season. After Milwaukee moved to Atlanta, Kansas City moved to Oakland, and the brand new Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee following Bud Selig’s purchase of the team, MLB found new franchises for those cities, Seattle’s seven-year wait marking the longest.

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