Author Archive

Michael Brantley Is Good and on the Astros Now

Last year, in all of baseball, the lowest team strikeout rate was 18.7%, and it belonged to the Indians. This is considering only non-pitchers, so as to put the National League on the same level as the American League. Projections, as you know, are by their very nature conservative. And now the 2019 Astros project for a team strikeout rate of 18.4%.

Last year, in all of baseball, the highest team wRC+ was 118, and it belonged to the Dodgers. The second-highest team wRC+ was 111, and it belonged to three different ballclubs. This is considering only non-pitchers, so as to put the NL on the same level as the AL. Projections, as you know, are by their very nature conservative. And now the 2019 Astros project for a team wRC+ of 115.

This is where the Astros stand after having come to a two-year agreement with free-agent Michael Brantley, worth $32 million. It’s not yet official-official, and I guess there’s some chance it all blows up, but I wouldn’t count on that happening. Brantley is good, and he’ll be the Astros’ newest regular.

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The Pirates Just Picked Up a Good Little Bargain

The Pirates have made official a move that first popped up last week. I’d wanted to write something about their low-cost pickup of free-agent Jordan Lyles, but it was a low priority, and it got lost in the chaos of being in attendance at the winter meetings. This post, then, is a little delayed, but something that’s happened in the meanwhile is that the Dodgers signed Joe Kelly for three years and $25 million. The Pirates signed Lyles for one year and $2.05 million. This seems like a good job by the Pirates.

Based on some early indications, the free-agent market hasn’t cratered, and it might even be a bit healthier than it was a year ago. Kelly got paid over three years. Jeurys Familia got paid over three years. Andrew McCutchen got paid over three years. Lance Lynn got paid over three years. There’s money out there, and there’s interest in pitchers, and that’s the context in which the Pirates made this Lyles acquisition. I know that Lyles isn’t likely to win the Cy Young, and I know the Pirates aren’t likely to win the World Series, but I’d at least like to dedicate a few paragraphs to Lyles’ quiet emergence in 2018. This is a guy who’s still only 28 years old.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 12/14/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06

Lunar verLander: Do you consider Die Hard a Christmas movie?

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: I don’t care

9:06

Robbie: Who plays 1B for the Rays next year? Everything I’ve seen points to Yandy Diaz being better at 3B and Ji-Man Choi being a butcher in the field

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: I think there’s still a decent chance the answer isn’t yet in the organization

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Winter Meetings End With a Three-Way Trade From the Hospital

One of the jokes floating around the winter meetings this week in Las Vegas has been that activity has been low because Jerry Dipoto has been sick. As it turns out, the Mariners went so far as to take Dipoto to a local hospital for observation. That means the Mariners have understandably been operating at less than 100%. But that still didn’t preclude a meetings-closing three-way swap, which Dipoto at least partially engineered from his hospital bed. It is only ever so barely a three-way trade, as opposed to being two separate trades, but allow me to put this together for you.

Mariners

Indians

Rays

  • GET:
    • Yandy Diaz
    • Cole Sulser
  • LOSE:
    • Jake Bauers
    • $5 million

As noted, this is almost just two independent trades, both involving the Indians. The only thing that really links them together is the $5 million the Rays are paying, which is ending up with the Mariners. This is half a bad-contract swap, and half an interesting-young-player swap. But since it’s all pushed together as one, we can look at this on a team-by-team basis. Might as well start with the Mariners.

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The Rays Made an Actual Free-Agent Splash

Last year, the Rays began with an opening-day payroll of around $76 million, which was among the lowest in baseball. That’s hardly unusual for the organization, but then the Rays went and won 90 games, which was the tenth-highest total. They finished with the 11th-best Pythagorean record, and they finished with the fifth-best BaseRuns record. The A’s won more games, and they had the lower initial payroll, but the Rays were a massive overachiever. And this is just the half of it.

After the season, the Rays lost Carlos Gomez and Sergio Romo to free agency. They designated C.J. Cron for assignment, and they swapped Mallex Smith (and more) for Mike Zunino (and more). Waking up this morning, the Rays had everyone they needed to field a young and competitive ballclub, and according to Cot’s, they had a projected opening-day payroll of…around $36 million. That’s lower than the Expos’ opening-day payroll in 2004. A team not spending isn’t a good thing, by any means, but it’s incredible the Rays have gotten to this point, considering what other teams do with more money. You could’ve fit the Giants’ entire payroll between the Rays’ projected payroll and the competitive-balance-tax threshold.

The Rays haven’t been content to stay as they were. Rather, this put them in the unusual position of being able to make a splash or two in the market. They were reportedly in the mix for Paul Goldschmidt. They seemed like a fit for Josh Donaldson. They’ve been connected to Nelson Cruz. And on Wednesday, they’ve signed Charlie Morton. They’ve given Charlie Morton two years, and $30 million. The Rays don’t often get to do this, but they found themselves surprisingly flexible, as they try to mount a push for the playoffs.

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Andrew McCutchen Boosts a Lackluster Outfield

Around this time last December, the Phillies reached a three-year agreement with free agent Carlos Santana. The contract included a fourth-year club option, and it was worth a total of $60 million. Santana was headed into his age-32 season, and between the ages of 29 and 31, he’d been worth 8.2 WAR, with a wRC+ of 117. Because of the qualifying offer Santana had attached, the Phillies lost their second-round draft pick, along with half a million dollars in international bonus-pool money. The Phillies thought it was a great deal at the time. Santana turned into a salary dump.

Now, this time this December, the Phillies have reached a three-year agreement with free agent Andrew McCutchen. The contract includes a fourth-year club option, and it’s worth a total of $50 million. McCutchen is headed into his age-32 season, and between the ages of 29-31, he’s been worth 7.4 WAR, with a wRC+ of 116. There is no qualifying-offer penalty to consider here, as McCutchen was traded last summer. The Phillies presumably think this is a great deal at the time.

The parallels are spelled out right there. If you feel like being negative, you could accuse the Phillies of making the same mistake two years in a row. Yet for a variety of little reasons, McCutchen seems like a more suitable get. This isn’t a bargain — McCutchen’s getting paid real money. But how this can work out is more clear, as McCutchen returns to Pennsylvania.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 12/7/18

9:03

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:03

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:04

Jeff Sullivan: Been a busy week! Going to be a busy week!

9:04

aw: Hey Jeff, what are your thoughts on DRC+?

9:04

Jeff Sullivan: Seems initially promising but I haven’t had the time this week to actually dig in. Probably going to be airplane reading tomorrow

9:05

Jeff Sullivan: Don’t otherwise have anything substantive to say. Not sure I agree with the park factors but I also can’t say that and mean it without yet fully understanding the methodology

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Nathan Eovaldi Will Stay Where He Was

Some of the weakest bonds in existence are those between fans and their favorite teams’ players. Those relationships are much like the concept of momentum in sports: valid and real, until the next event. Fans love players until they dislike them, and fans hate players until they can cheer them. Everything is superficial. Teams only like fans because of their money. Fans only like players because of their success. Rare is the fan who’s willing to be patient; affection lasts only right up to a slump.

Nathan Eovaldi is a hero in Boston. He’s a hero because of what he did in the playoffs, and he was so sensational he’s remembered most fondly for how he pitched in a loss. Now, granted, the World Series is permanent, so it can never be taken away. Eovaldi was a part of that winning roster. But as the future goes, nothing’s forever. Red Sox fans could turn on Eovaldi. Any fans could turn on anyone. That’s just a part of the experience. So much of how we feel about sports carries an unwritten “for now.”

But for the next few months, there are no games. There are no opportunities for performance to slide. After the World Series, Eovaldi became a free agent, pursued by at least half the league. On Thursday, Eovaldi has agreed to re-sign with the Red Sox, for four years and $67.5 million. In so doing, Eovaldi only further lifted his local status. He was already considered a hero. Now he’s a hero who didn’t want to leave. What will happen in 2019 is very much up in the air, yet 2018 is what dreams are made of.

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Banning the Shift Is a Solution in Search of a Problem

One of the first things Rob Manfred did after becoming MLB commissioner was talk about his idea of limiting or outright banning the shift. The shift has only become increasingly popular! Here is one proxy measure, courtesy of our own leaderboards. This shows the percentage of time there was some kind of shifted alignment in the field when a batted ball was hit in play:

Defenders move around all the time. Defenders move around more than ever. Different places categorize different alignments differently, and it’s not clear where you draw the line between shift and no shift, but the exact definition doesn’t really matter. Shifts are way up, compared to ten years ago. Shifts are way up, compared to five years ago. It’s impossible to watch baseball and not notice, unless you’ve only started watching baseball very recently.

Back then, killing the shift was only an idea. Ideas, for the most part, are harmless. There’s nothing wrong with a thought exercise. But now this is all back in the news. I’ll excerpt a section from an article just written by Jayson Stark:

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The Indians Are in a Bad but Enviable Position

The Indians are one of the best teams in baseball. The Indians have also been one of the best teams in baseball. Last year, they won their division. The year before that, they won their division. The year before that, they won their division, and they nearly won the World Series. The Indians possess an incredible core of star-level players, and they don’t really need to do anything in order to look like a title contender in the season ahead. It’s a good time to be a baseball fan in Cleveland.

Yet the Indians recently unloaded Yan Gomes. As a result, they could use another catcher. And far more significantly, for the past month or so, there’s been talk of the Indians trading one of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco. Nothing has actually happened, of course, but the rumors haven’t gone away, and a trade seems fairly likely. Such a trade would be atypical, to say the least. A first-place team selling would be nearly without precedent. There’s no easy way to look that up, but just about all of the time, good teams buy, and bad teams sell. That is the nature of things.

The Indians being who they are, they’re trying to think about payroll, and they’re trying to think about their window. No one’s ever happy to trade an ace-level starter. At the same time, as much as that kind of trade would suck, the Indians also have a unique opportunity. The Indians are a smaller-budget operation. And they’re the envy of other smaller-budget operations.

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The Phillies Were Jean Segura’s Entire Market

Most of the time, we’re just hoping to look one trade into the future. This weekend, we had the rare opportunity to look two trades into the future. We knew that, barring catastrophe, the Mariners were going to finalize a big trade with the Mets. And then word got out that, after that, the Mariners were going to finalize another big trade with the Phillies. That Mets trade is complete, as the Mariners have lost their second baseman and their closer. Now that Phillies trade is also complete, as the Mariners have lost their shortstop.

Phillies get:

Mariners get:

On the Mariners’ end, it feels light. It feels like there should be some kind of young third piece. Segura is 28 years old and affordably under contract another four years, and since 2016 he’s had about the same WAR as Carlos Correa. You’d think that, from a value perspective, Segura would be more comfortably in the black, and traded accordingly. But for one thing, Segura is dogged by an unflattering reputation. For another thing, Crawford is an intriguing unknown. And for a third thing, take a look at the shortstop market out there. There wouldn’t have been many buyers.

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Mariners, Mets Choose Opposite Paths

You probably don’t need me to remind you of this, but, in the 2018 season, the Mariners won a dozen more games than the Mets. The Mariners, for some time, felt ticketed for the playoffs, and they topped out at 24 games over .500. The Mets were 10 games over .500 in the middle of April, but they were under by the first day of June. By early August they were 46-65. The Mets started strong, and they finished strong, but everything in the middle was a catastrophe, and the overall season was bad. The Mariners won. The Mets didn’t. Those are the facts.

Of course, the Mariners did overachieve. According to BaseRuns, the Mariners were only four games better, by underlying performance. The early offseason projections put both these clubs right around average. And yet, despite that similarity, the organizations are veering away from one another. As of a short while ago, the worst-kept secret in baseball is reportedly official. No more hurdles. The Mariners and Mets have agreed to a blockbuster, with the Mets setting their sights on winning in 2019 while the Mariners continue to tear down.

Mets get:

Mariners get:

As has been talked about elsewhere, it’s helpful to think of this as two big trades in one. We’ll get to that a little later. What’s immediately clear is that the Mariners are doing more than just “re-imagining” their roster. Moving Diaz puts them in rebuild territory. The Mets, meanwhile, are making a statement acquisition, declaring their intent to win right away under new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. Cano provides short-term help in the infield. Diaz is one of the best closers on the planet. Name value aside, Diaz is the prize in this one, and how he goes will determine how the Mets — and baseball — feel about this decision down the road.

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Madison Bumgarner Won’t Fetch the Giants That Much

For all the reasons that made running the Giants appealing to Farhan Zaidi, there’s one major, unavoidable negative: The roster is in pretty bad shape. That’s the roster of the big-league team, and, really, that’s the overall organizational depth chart. It’s an expensive and mediocre club with few reinforcements on the way, and while Zaidi obviously knows all this, that doesn’t change the fact he’ll be doing hard work, requiring hard decisions. Navigating this kind of situation is always unpleasant, when there exists a fan base rather accustomed to winning, so you can understand why Zaidi hasn’t yet said much about trading Madison Bumgarner. It’s something the Giants will have to confront, but it’s a troublesome concept to voice.

Still, the Giants are reportedly open to it. They don’t want to frighten the public, but they also don’t want to close themselves off to potential opportunities. It’s time for the Giants to change their direction, and Bumgarner is one of few players on the roster with trade value. According to the linked article, the Giants are likely to target “at least one high-end pitching prospect.” Bumgarner’s under contract only one more year, at a $12-million salary.

James Paxton has already been traded. Noah Syndergaard, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber have all been the subject of rumors. Patrick Corbin is a free agent. Dallas Keuchel is a free agent. Yusei Kikuchi is going to be posted. You can add Bumgarner to the list of available starting pitchers. However, if Bumgarner is to be dealt, you shouldn’t expect the Giants to get a massive haul back. There’s a considerable gap between the perception of Bumgarner and the reality.

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The Hidden Upside of a Normal Free Agent

For the most part, the baseball industry shuts down over Thanksgiving break, but everyone’s back now, and the Braves have signed Josh Donaldson, to say nothing of Brian McCann. The Mariners are reportedly trying to figure out a way to trade Robinson Cano. The Diamondbacks are reportedly more interested than ever in trading Paul Goldschmidt. Bryce Harper’s on the market! Manny Machado’s on the market! Let’s spend a few minutes talking about DJ LeMahieu.

As a veteran player, LeMahieu profiles as a fairly ordinary free agent. He’s a second baseman who turned 30 in July, and last year he posted a wRC+ of 86. The year before, he posted a wRC+ of 94. The Rockies declined to extend to LeMahieu a qualifying offer, which would’ve been worth $17.9 million, and MLB Trade Rumors thinks LeMahieu will eventually sign somewhere for $18 million over two years. Kiley McDaniel thinks he’ll sign somewhere for $22 million over two years, and the median FanGraphs crowd estimate put him at $36 million over three years. Pretty good money, all things considered, and LeMahieu is going to be a regular. But let me shine a brighter light on his skillset. I want to show you something that might well influence LeMahieu’s ceiling.

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C.J. Cron Got Dickersoned

In 2017, Corey Dickerson was 28 years old, playing for the Rays. He spent a lot of his time at DH, but still, he was a solidly above-average hitter, and he finished as a 2+ win player. He had another two years of team control, and he was due for a raise in his second year of arbitration. During the offseason, though, the Rays designated Dickerson for assignment. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to the Pirates for a modest return. Part of the Rays’ thinking at the time was that they could easily replace Dickerson with C.J. Cron.

In 2018, Cron was 28 years old, playing for the Rays. He spent a lot of his time at DH, but still, he was a solidly above-average hitter, and he finished as a 2+ win player. He has another two years of team control, and he’s due for a raise in his second year of arbitration. On Tuesday, though, the Rays designated Cron for assignment. He might be traded or claimed any day. If the Rays receive anything, it will be a modest return.

It doesn’t look good when one of baseball’s cheapest franchises cuts ties with a player who’s due for a raise. It doesn’t look good when anyone cuts ties with a player coming off a legitimately productive full season. Cron’s projected salary for next year is only a little north of $5 million. By the numbers, he was worth more than that last season. Yet, as is usually the case, it’s not hard to figure out what’s happening, when you take a closer look. A variety of factors have come together to make Cron almost freely available.

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The Next Starting Pitcher To Come From Japan

For what felt like quite a while, the chatter last offseason was dominated by the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. Yusei Kikuchi isn’t Shohei Ohtani. For one thing, Kikuchi is a few years older. For a second thing, Kikuchi doesn’t routinely throw his fastball in the upper 90s. And for a third thing, no one has ever referred to Kikuchi as the Japanese Babe Ruth. I don’t know much about Kikuchi as a hitter, but I can assume that he is a bad hitter, because he is a pitcher who hasn’t made waves with his hitting. Kikuchi appears to have three career hits, now that I check. One of them was a double.

Shohei Ohtani was, and is, a sensation. The Kikuchi hype couldn’t possibly get close to that level, because Kikuchi won’t be trying to do something no one else has done in a lifetime. But somewhere in the next week or two, Kikuchi will be posted by the Seibu Lions, as the 27-year-old southpaw wants to make his mark in the bigs. He’ll be free to negotiate with any and every team, and he’s been rather heavily scouted. It’s time we talk about who Kikuchi is as a pitcher. It just so happens we’ve been given two fairly reasonable comps.

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The Yankees Now Have a Second Ace

The free-agent market includes names like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. There’s been chatter the Mets might be willing to trade Noah Syndergaard. There’s been chatter the Indians might be willing to trade Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber. But when the Mariners signaled their intent to take a step back this offseason, James Paxton became an obvious trade candidate, and quite possibly the best pitcher available. At least, the best pitcher available under realistic circumstances, since I don’t even know what it would take to pry Kluber away. Paxton rumors circulated for a couple of weeks, and now we’ve arrived at a conclusion, since Jerry Dipoto is hardly opposed to making moves in November. Paxton will be on his way to New York, where he’ll share a rotation with Luis Severino.

Yankees get:

  • James Paxton

Mariners get:

Before too long, Paxton’s presence will be taken for granted, and attention will turn to the Yankees’ pursuit of still another starter in free agency. We’re seemingly always focused on what’s just in front of us, and what might be in front of Yankees fans soon is Corbin, or Keuchel, or somebody else. They seem likely to make another impact move to bolster the starting rotation. But for this moment, getting Paxton is a move to be celebrated. For a variety of reasons, Paxton has flown somewhat under the radar, but he’s a No. 1 starter, added to a team with a No. 1 starter.

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Nathan Eovaldi Is a Unicorn

From everything I’ve read, and from everyone I’ve talked to, just about every single baseball team is interested in free-agent Nathan Eovaldi. Very good teams are interested in Eovaldi. Very mediocre teams are interested in Eovaldi. Very bad teams are interested in Eovaldi. There are degrees of interest, sure, and before too long, certain would-be suitors are going to be removed from the hunt. As always, it’ll come down to a limited pool of finalists. But, why is Eovaldi so popular? I guess you don’t have to think back very far.

Eovaldi pitched six times for the Red Sox in the playoffs. He started, he relieved, and one time he relieved with a starter’s workload. Eovaldi wound up getting tagged with the loss in that game, but I want to quickly revisit the final out Eovaldi recorded. With two down in the bottom of the 17th inning of Game 3 of the World Series, Eovaldi struck out Justin Turner on three pitches. They were his 88th, 89th, and 90th pitches of the evening. He had already pitched in Game 1 and Game 2.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 11/16/18

9:03

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:03

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:04

Matt : Bartolo Colon is objectively better than Nathan Eovaldi change my mind

9:04

Jeff Sullivan: I neither want to nor have to

9:04

AJ Preller: Have you figured out how I can get Syndergaard yet?

9:05

Jeff Sullivan: Well, you have the most valuable farm system in baseball

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I Voted for Justin Verlander

I submitted my American League Cy Young Award ballot at the very beginning of October. The results were just released yesterday, almost smack in the middle of November. A funny thing happens between the beginning of October and the middle of November: A lot of time passes, time that includes the entirety of the MLB playoffs. As I focused on other events, I mostly forgot about my selections. I was reminded yesterday that my own ballot read:

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Blake Snell
  3. Gerrit Cole
  4. Blake Treinen
  5. Corey Kluber

I was one of 13 voters to put Verlander in first. The other 17 voters, though, put Snell in first, and as such, Snell won, and Verlander was, once again, the runner-up. Clearly, it was a close race, and I think it should have been a close race. I don’t think that Verlander got robbed, and I don’t think that Snell is an undeserving winner or anything. But one of the perks of being an award voter is that voting grants you automatic editorial content. So on the off chance you care about my own thought process, allow me to quickly explain why Verlander was my first-place pick.

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