Archive for December, 2016

What Will Bryce Harper Really Be Worth in 2018?

It was recently reported that the Nationals would not meet the hefty demands of Bryce Harper. These reports come from Bob Nightingale of USA Today and consist of a demand of $400 million for 10 years or more. This is beside the point though. After the report, I was browsing around on Facebook when I saw someone point out that because of Harper’s defense, he isn’t even worth $300 million. This got me thinking, what is Bryce Harper really worth?

At first glance, I believe that Harper is worth at least $300 million. As a matter in fact, I won’t even make a final decision until the end of this article. I’m discovering his value with you. We’ll first look at his defense, since that is the claim against Harper. For continuity and consistency, I will use FanGraphs’ version of defensive, offensive, and base-running values.

When it comes to Harper’s defense, his values have been up and down for his career. Last year they were up. And down. But up, since I’m using FanGraphs stats, and thus UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) will be used for my determination. The person from Facebook was likely using DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) because that was -3 while UZR was 8.7 for 2016.

Obviously defensive metrics like these are taken with a grain of salt because they have yet to be perfected. An 8.7 UZR is good. It isn’t top-tier, but it is definitely good. Plus the fact that right field isn’t the most inconsequential position. To make an impact in right field, a good arm is usually needed, and Harper had that in 2016. Yet 2015 was different, though, as both his arm rating and UZR were in the negative. Other than his 2014 UZR, everything else has been positive. His career totals are 17.4 for UZR and 16.3 for his arm. Like I said before, neither is is necessarily Gold Glove caliber, but he is definitely no scrub in the outfield. Even DRS, the metric I presume the Facebook man was using, has a total of 24 defensive runs saved for Harper on his career. So 2016 was his only year in the negative, and that was only -3.

Since I don’t want to only look at UZR and FanGraphs’ Arm ratings, I’ll also take a look at his Inside Edge fielding. All that does is show how often Harper executes on plays considered routine, likely, even, unlikely, remote, and impossible in descending order of probability. Except for routine plays, the rest have relatively small sample sizes on a season-wide basis for Harper. Each category has at least 30 samples for his career though, so the minimum number of samples to accurately represent the population is met. For routine plays, Harper performed as one would expect. He converted 99.6% of the plays in 2016 and 99.1% for his career, easily within the range of 90%-100% for the category. The next category, likely, has a range of 60%-90%. Harper was smack dab in the middle at 75% in 2016, but there were only 16 instances. Of the 70 in his career, he made 78.6% of the plays, well above the minimum expected of 60%. He performed even better in the even and unlikely categories. Remote plays were his only downside as he hasn’t made any of those plays in his career, but given the 39 instances it is hardly representative of his defensive play as a whole. He isn’t known as a burner and has been told by his coaches to tamp down the aggressiveness.

As a whole, his defense isn’t in question. Is it elite? No. He isn’t Jason Heyward or Mookie Betts in right field, but he was still fourth in the MLB in UZR for right fielders, so I don’t think his fielding is holding back his earning potential. If anything it may even be boosting it. Who wouldn’t want one of the premier hitting threats who can play a solid right field?

Because I want to save the more debatable part of Harper for last, we’re going to look at his base-running ability now. FanGraphs has the BsR (Base-Running Runs above average) stat, which sums up a player’s runs above average in terms of stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken on hits, and double plays hit into. That gets boiled down to how many wins a player adds on the base paths. Harper’s BsR in 2016 stood at 2.4, or 2.4 runs added above the average player. He has 11.2 on his career.

To break it down, we will look at Harper’s wSB (weighted stolen bases), UBR (Ultimate Base Running), and wGDP (weighted ground into double plays). The wSB stat basically calculates how much a player helps by successfully advancing a base or hurts by being caught stealing. The Book gives success rates necessary for a base-stealer to add positive value in different situations. wSB simply adds together all the successes and failures and their weighted values (after all, a caught stealing is more costly than a stolen base is rewarding). In Harper’s case, he stole 21 bases in 2016, his highest total. He was also caught stealing 10 times. In all, he cost his team -0.3 runs trying to steal bases last year. It is an inconsequential amount, but for his career it is at -1.0. That is still too small to matter, but he is probably better off staying put unless he is sure he can make it to the next base. UBR and wGDP are higher on Harper. They are 5.5 and 6.7 for his career, respectively. Overall, Harper is a good base-runner. Still not elite, but he isn’t costing his team when running.

So far, Harper has graded well in both fielding and base running. In neither aspect of the game is Harper an elite player (though he’s arguably pretty close in the field). For Harper, and pretty much every player that makes big money in the MLB that isn’t a pitcher, the hitting is what will make and break him. The last two years have shown both sides of the spectrum of what Harper may turn out to be. In 2015, he was one of the two best players in baseball. Okay, he was the best. He flat-out outperformed Mike Trout (the true 2015 AL MVP, but that’s a debate for another time). Harper dominated in every form at the plate two years ago. If it weren’t for his negative defensive grade for the year, he would have broken the 10 fWAR barrier that only Trout has broken since 2004. He hit 42 home runs with 118 runs score and 99 RBI. If you don’t like those raw stats, he went and hit a batting line of .330/.460/.649. If you prefer metric stats, he went out and led in every iteration of runs created as well as wOBA. That stat line alone is worth $400 million.

But, we aren’t looking at one year of production. His 9.5 fWAR of 2015 is an anomaly so far. His second-highest is 4.6 in his rookie year. Last year it was 3.5. A 3.5-win player is not worth $400 million. A 4.6-win player is not worth $400 million. A 9.5-win player is. So, what is Harper really worth? Some (most) point to a reported injury that Harper had this past year that he played through anyway. This injury would have held him back. How much, though, we don’t know. We also don’t know if he will rebound to the 2015 version of him. Was that year a breakout year put on pause or was it in fact an anomaly?

To answer those questions, we need to dig a bit deeper than just his metric stats. In terms of exit velocity, Harper took a large step back from 91.4 mph to 89.5 mph in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In terms of home runs, Harper hit 19 in 2015 off of fastballs while regressing to eight last year. If it is a matter of catching up to fastballs, an injury definitely makes sense. 23-year-olds don’t suddenly lose their bat speed. That begins to happen at 33. When it comes to Harper’s batted balls, he increased the number of fly balls he hit and decreased in line drives. That usually translates to more home runs, but a drop in exit velocity answers that. Harper did hit more infield flies that in 2015. It was only a 3.1% change, but it does suggest he was just missing a bit more than the year prior.

Looking at the differences between the two years and what changed, I’m going to believe that he was injured. When reading online, most analysts believe that, and Harper even said he was injured. Only the Nationals said he wasn’t. With an injury, I have to believe that Harper was hampered by that rather than just a complete regression in skill. Harper has his hitting, and with the offseason to rest and heal he should come back and mash again.

One more tidbit about Harper’s hitting before we’re done here, though. His batting average of balls in play (BABIP) sat at a measly .264. That is well below the average of .300. One could look at Harper’s diminished exit velocity and how often he hit the ball soft, medium, and hard. Well, his average exit velocity is right around league average. He also was under league average for soft hits and above in hard hits. So that should translate to a bit above a .300 BABIP. Because of this, I’m going to factor in that Harper was pretty unlucky last year and his stats would look better if more balls fell into play like they should have.

Unfortunately, we aren’t quite done in determining Harper’s value. Since I’m going to believe that Harper was injured last year, that just adds to a pretty lengthy injury history. Lengthy injury histories aren’t something that teams like, but most of his have come from his aggressiveness on defense in his first few years. He took the pedal off the metal in 2015 and it translated to on-field success. If he continues to do that, I think he should be able to stay on the field.

Harper will also be 26 years old when he hits the open market in the 2018-2019 offseason. That is quite a bit younger than most free agents and it gives enough time for teams to lower their payrolls in time for a bidding war of great magnitude if they so choose (looking at you, Yankees). He will still have about six more years in his prime after he signs his potential mega-deal.

In prior years, teams have spent about $8 million per win above replacement. Obviously some players produce more than what they are being compensated for. No one is going to pay Mike Trout $80 million for one year. But, $40 million for a year isn’t out of the question, especially for someone of Trout’s caliber. This isn’t about Trout though, this is about Harper and what teams will pay him. He is said to be demanding $400 million for 10+ years. Is it conceivable that a team will pay him $40 million per year for 10 years if they expect similar success to 2015? Yes. He outperformed Trout and I think we can agree teams would hand him that amount of money in a pinch. It’s just a matter of whether or not it will happen.

Because I think Harper had an injury that didn’t allow him to play to his standard last year and he was unlucky with his hits, I do believe he can again reach his 2015 production. And because I believe he can get there again, I then have to believe a team will pay him at least $40 million for at least 10 years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a contract similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s in terms of length — 13 years. For 13 years, Harper would only have to reach an annual average of $30 million, which is much, much easier to come by. So yes, when Bryce Harper reaches free agency where teams can bid as much as they can, some team will pay him that much. Of course, Harper can underperform again this coming season, and it would be hard for him to command that kind of contract. I don’t think that will happen. Based on what he showed in 2015 and why he didn’t do as well last year, he is more than likely to ramp up production in 2017.

Don’t Worry About Joe Panik

The 2016 season was a frustrating one for the promising 26-year-old San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik. After posting 4.1 fWAR in only 100 games in 2015, Panik posted 2.1 fWAR in 127 games in 2016. A solid season, especially in limited playing time, but there was definitely more to be desired for Panik. This would most likely be a career year for someone like his fellow infield mate Kelby Tomlinson, but Panik is capable of much more than this. Taking a few looks at Panik’s number line and Statcast profile shows that he is an excellent candidate for a bounce-back 2017 season.

At first glance, I don’t think Joe Panik’s 2015 season was as appreciated as it should have been. He didn’t even qualify for the batting title (432 PAs) and yet finished 38th among position players in fWAR. He was the 27th-best hitter according to wRC+ among those with over 300 PAs. Keep in mind that 2015 was Panik’s first full season in the major leagues and he is one of the best, if not THE best, fielding second basemen in the league. It seems like Panik has been around forever after his postseason heroics on the 2014 Giants squad, but it is easy to forget he got his first start of his career in late June of 2014. A 6-fWAR pace in his first full season in the big leagues in nothing to scoff at.

Unfortunately, injuries are what has held him back early in his career. Lower-back inflammation limited his playing time in 2015 and a nasty concussion and groin issues plagued him throughout the 2016 season. Some wonder whether those back issues carried over into the 2016 season. Even if they didn’t, suffering a concussion is enough to warrant that Panik was nowhere close to 100% in 2016.

Even without taking account for the injuries, there are reasons to believe 2017 is going to be different. Panik’s elite plate discipline is what is going to keep him at least mildly successful for years to come. He was one of three players to have a BB/K ratio over 1, sandwiched between plate discipline aficionados Ben Zobrist and Carlos Santana. Yes, he was ahead of even the likes of his teammate Buster Posey and Joey Votto. He doesn’t walk much, but he keeps the strikeouts down. Both rates were right around 9%. That leaves room for an incredible amount of balls in play.

Panik has run a decently high BABIP throughout his professional career. For his minor-league career it stayed mostly around .320-.330. In his 73 major-league games in 2014 it was .343. And in 2015 it was .330. All numbers that would indicate he is a line-drive-type hitter who run a better-than-average BABIP. But something changed in 2016. His BABIP fell to .245, second-worst among qualified hitters. Low BABIPs are reserved for power hitters such as Jose Bautista and Todd Frazier who don’t rely on balls in play but rather balls over the fence, not for contact hitters such as Joe Panik. A BABIP that low is concerning but there are of course explanations.

Joe Panik would not have made it this far if he were always running a BABIP as low as he did in 2016. Panik was one of the most unlucky hitters in 2016. There is no way Panik can be expected to run a BABIP as low as he did, and I would even venture to guess that it creeps up back over .300. His Statcast numbers suggest he was hitting the ball about as hard in 2015. The real difference is the angle at which he was hitting the ball. Panik traded line drives for many more ground balls in 2016. Bad luck and a change in launch angle combined contributed to the down season from Joe Panik.

My guess is that a weird injury-plagued season is what led to his disappointing 2016 campaign. There is too much evidence in Panik’s history that suggests 2016 is not the real Joe Panik, and we can expect a return to being the elite contact hitter he is capable of being in 2017.

Jacob Lindgren Gets a New, Better Opportunity

The Atlanta Braves recently signed pitcher Jacob Lindgren. Drafted as a relief by the Yankees out of Mississippi State in 2014, he was thought to be a candidate to ascend through the minor leagues quickly and join the major-league club within a year. That he did, as he dominated his way through the minors, albeit in short stints. His longest look came in AAA in 2015 where he held great numbers. He made his debut that year too.

Though Lindgren found his way onto the Yankees roster quickly, it was all for naught, as he sustained an injury to end the 2015 season and only pitched seven innings this past year. His performance with the Yankees two years ago was subpar, which led to a demotion before his injury. He also struggled in spring training before sustaining his second injury.

Though he was a starting pitcher for a year with Mississippi State, his short 5’11 stature meant he was all but destined for a career in the bullpen. He dominated in college which led to the Yankees’ belief in his ability to reach the majors. He has a good fastball-slider combination that he can use to strike out batters. His fastball doesn’t jump at batter like some, but the low- to mid-90s heat can still be utilized successfully in this league. The combination of his two best pitches can lead to success as long as he can further develop his command and sequencing.

Lindgren was the Yankees’ seventh-ranked prospect in 2015 according to, but his injuries led to him falling of that board. Still just 23 years old, he can regain that prospect stature he had before with a successful run with the Braves. A rebuilding team, Atlanta may even give him the opportunity to complete his development in the MLB bullpen rather than in the minors. He proved what he can do in AAA, so all that’s really left is for him to pitch successfully in the majors.

The reason that Lindgren is even on the Braves is due to the fact that the Yankees ran out of room on their 40-man roster. Facing heavy competition from other relief pitchers in New York, especially with Jonathan Holder (who FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan deemed the most dominant relief pitcher in the minor leagues), Lindgren didn’t really have a spot with the Yankees this coming year. Rather than waste his time in New York, they cut him loose to give him a shot elsewhere.

The Cardinals’ Potential Diamond in the Huff

Last month, the St. Louis Cardinals made one of their signature under-the-radar moves that has characterized their organization in the 21st century. They signed 31-year-old outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman to a minor-league contract. Huffman played for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo in 2016. He was the best hitter in the International League and it wasn’t particularly close. He was tops in the league in OPS and wRC+, and led the league in wRAA by almost 10 runs. However you look at it, he dominated. It’s hard to figure out why Huffman didn’t get any kind of shot at the big leagues in 2016.

A former second-round pick by the San Diego Padres way back in 2006, Huffman was actually quite successful in his first go-round through the minor-league system. He was the Padres’ sixth-ranked prospect after the 2006 season and remained in their top 25 throughout his tenure there. His solid plate-discipline skills and non-sexy but decent power numbers most likely held him back from being ranked in the top 20 where he belonged. Huffman looked like he was on his way to getting a real shot in the big leagues.

His career took a turn in April of 2010 when the New York Yankees claimed him off waivers. His numbers in Triple-A took a step backwards and when he finally did get his shot in the major leagues, he failed to take advantage of it. His 2010 with the Yankees was his one and only time in the majors. He spent time in Triple-A with the Indians in 2011-12 and with the Cardinals in 2013, posting numbers very similar to his early minor-league days. Once again, it seems as though Huffman was deserving of some kind of shot in these years. He posted an OBP over .350 in each season and never had a wRC+ under 112. Somehow, a real shot continued to evade him.

Rather than rot away in Triple-A, Huffman took off for Caracas, and then Japan a year later. He actually posted worse numbers overseas, but something must have changed outside of the States because he came back an even better hitter than before. Most recently, 2016 was a career year for Huffman, if one is allowed to call a year in Triple-A a career year. If he were not blocked by the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton, he would’ve been on the Detroit Tigers roster at some point. It is hard to imagine any other team Huffman wouldn’t have seen the light of day on. Up to this point, it seems as though the 31-year-old has been incredibly unlucky. So 2017 might be the year he gets his chance to shine in his second stint in the Cardinals organization.

As of right now, Mr. Huffman is on the Cardinals 40-man roster. With the subtractions over the last two offseasons of Matt Holliday and Jason Heyward, the Cardinals are in need of a new fourth outfielder and maybe even a starter depending on their confidence in Tommy Pham. Matt Carpenter is penciled in as the starting first baseman but there is no doubt he won’t be spending all his time there, being the third baseman by trade that he is. In that case, Matt Adams would become the starting first baseman, leaving them in need of a backup. Barring more offseason additions to the roster, it seems as though Huffman has a clear shot at a roster spot. Once you start taking into account how injury-prone the likes of Carpenter, Adams, and Pham are, and taking into account any other injuries that may play out, Huffman must be feeling pretty good about the situation he finds himself in.

What other organization would a no-name minor leaguer rather find himself in? the Cardinals have built one of the most successful professional sports organizations of the 21st century on guys like Huffman. Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Jeremy Hazelbaker — the Cardinals churn these types of players out like no other. Chad Huffman is the next name in the long line of St. Louis Cardinals who came out of nowhere.

Finding the Real Eric Thames

On Tuesday (11/29), the Brewers signed former failed prospect Eric Thames to a three-year, $16-million contract. In doing so, they also DFA’d the co-leader for home runs in the National League, Chris Carter. Now, there has been some speculation that the Brewers made this move to save money, but regardless of what you think the motives behind the move may be, it certainly is an interesting one that deserves a closer look.

Thames came up with the Blue Jays after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 draft. He showed good power in the minors, belting 27 homers at AA to the tune of a .238 ISO in 2010. He continued this surge into 2011 and did a decent job with the Jays at the major-league level, but struggled to hit lefties. Then, in 2012, it fell apart. His ISO dropped nearly 30 points from the year before, and his strikeout rate increased to an even 30% from 22%. After bouncing around in the minors in 2013, he then went overseas to the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) and signed with the NC Dinos, where he almost immediately ascended to god status, hitting 124 home runs in 388 games with a .371 ISO in three years. Not only that, but he won a Gold Glove in Korea and stole 40 bases in 2015.

Now, of course, it’s never that easy. You don’t get a 40/40 guy with decent defense in the MLB for $5 million a year. The KBO is notorious for being a hitter’s paradise, as the skill level isn’t nearly that of the MLB. Think of the KBO as essentially being AA, where any major-league-caliber player will thrive, just like Thames did. But does that mean Thames has actually improved? If you look at some former KBO stars like Jung-Ho Kang and Hyun-Soo Kim, you can see that both have had success in the majors, even though they haven’t come close to matching their numbers in Korea. Thames’ Davenport translations (per Eno Sarris) suggest he’ll be a beast, slashing .333/.389/.628. Looking at those numbers, you could easily argue that Thames would be a bargain for the Brewers, essentially matching Carter’s output while even adding more value on the base paths and in the field.

That being said, Thames is a rare case. We have his stats from when he flopped in the big leagues, and we also have his stats from when he tore up the KBO. Barring some sort of complete technical and mental overhaul, one could also easily argue that Thames’ weaknesses the first time around will be his downfall the second time around. Let’s take a look at some stats from the KBO and compare them to his time in the MLB.

As stated before, one of the issues Thames had was that when he made contact, the balls didn’t go anywhere worthwhile (like the stands). He slugged .431 with a .182 ISO from 2011-2012, which does not look good if you’re a major-league first baseman. In the KBO, he put that issue to rest, where he slugged .718 with a .371 ISO, which is essentially unheard of in the MLB. Let’s check that problem with power off the list. However, there still stands the issue of his strikeouts and walks. He struck out 26% of the time during his time in the bigs while walking only 6% of the time, which is a recipe for disaster. In Korea, he struck out 18% of the time and walked a whopping 14% of the time. Other KBO imports have shown that both strikeout and walk rates regress when moving from Korea to the majors. So, Thames solved that second problem, although based on available data, we can assume he’ll regress in both categories. Thames improved in both areas that he needed to, but was this only because he was facing lesser pitching in a hitter’s paradise, or did he make technical changes to his swing in addition to improving his plate discipline?

Below are two screen shots: the top is Thames getting ready to take Ryan Dempster yard in 2013, the bottom is Thames hitting one of his 47 home runs in 2015.



















Look at the hands. In the top picture, Thames keeps his hands roughly around his ears right before his swing, while in Korea, he appears to load his swing lower, near his shoulders. This allows Thames to stay in the zone with his bat longer and have a bit of an upswing, which leads to higher exit velocity and an improved launch angle. Both of these qualities translate into more power and more strikeouts. Ted Williams first pioneered this idea, saying that a slight upswing leads to extended contact on the ball, while a level swing leads to a smaller impact zone.










This is a change many players have made, such as Josh Donaldson, Jake Lamb, and Ryon Healy. Eno Sarris wrote an excellent article on the changes Ryon Healy made to his swing. It looks like this is something Thames is trying to emulate and will hopefully carry over to the MLB.

It looks like Thames has made the adjustments that he has needed to become a successful player. Trying to project what player he’ll be is a bit difficult. Personally, I look at the Davenport projections and I’m a little hesitant to say Thames will hit .333 and slug .628, seeing as how his strikeout rate will almost certainly regress to levels close to his former major-league self. I don’t see his walk rate regressing down to that level, mainly because plate discipline is a skill that accrues over time, and pitchers will have to be more careful with Thames and his new approach at the plate.

Let’s look at his slash line from his time in the MLB — in 633 at-bats, Thames hit .250/.296/.431 with 21 homers and a walk rate of 6% and a strikeout rate of 26%. Assuming regression from Korea, let’s keep the strikeouts at 25%, up from 18% in Korea, and let’s up the walk rate to account for added patience and power to 10%. With the technical changes in his swing, we can also assume his batted balls will go further and get hit harder, so let’s bump the slugging up to .500, which translates into something like 30-35 HR. This puts his ISO right at .250, a step up from what we saw earlier in his career. We’re now looking at a slash line of roughly .250/.350/.500 with an above-average glove at first and 10 steals (the Brewers love to let their players run). That’s good. In fact, that’s better than Chris Carter, and the Brewers are getting this at half the price of what Chris Carter would cost. I think there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Eric Thames in 2017.

Finding the Giants a Bat

Bobby Evans, the San Francisco Giants general manager, has said on numerous occasions that he’s comfortable with Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker as the starting left fielder in 2017. That’s hard to believe.

In all likelihood, Evans said that so other teams and representatives of free agents don’t think they need to make a move for a left fielder. It’s a matter of leverage.

The Giants have, however, publicly stated that they’re targeting top relief pitchers. That need is so obvious they’d be foolish to deny it.

Despite what the Giants say publicly, they’re probably in the market for a left fielder and/or a third baseman in addition to an ace reliever.

Evans has stated that Eduardo Nuñez will be the starting third baseman, and that he’s comfortable with that reality. However, he’s lied about third base — or at least gone back on his word — before.

It happened just four months ago. Nuñez was acquired on July 28 in a move that surprised fans and analysts alike. Matt Duffy was just two days away from beginning a rehab assignment on his way back from an Achilles injury. Evans said he spoke with Duffy and assured him he wasn’t being replaced, and insisted that Nuñez was added as depth. Four days later, Duffy was traded to Tampa Bay.

So teams lie. They “change their minds.”

There’s no doubt the Giants could use some help in the lineup. While they weren’t a bad offensive team by any stretch, their lack of power in 2016 was severe, and the departure of Angel Pagan leaves a vacancy in left field. While Parker or Williamson may be capable of filling that void, it’s hard to imagine an otherwise complete team (once the bullpen is addressed) relying on two unproven players at a premium offensive position. Especially if they’re going to stand pat with Nuñez — an average hitter at best — as the starting third baseman, another premium offensive position. The Giants have a great starting rotation and several quality, cornerstone position players. Including the bullpen, they’re just two or three pieces away from looking like one of the best teams in the league. For all those reasons, it would be shocking if they didn’t acquire a left fielder.

One name that’s been mentioned is Ian Desmond. He’s capable of playing center field and shortstop (and therefore pretty much any other outfield or infield position) and he provides solid value on the base paths and at the plate. However, Desmond’s offense is a bit overrated. He’s put up just a 101 wRC+ in his career, and his bat has been known to disappear for long stretches.

Another problem with Desmond is that he’s a free-agent hitter. Free-agent hitters don’t like to sign with the Giants. It makes sense, when you think about it. What hitter in their right mind would want to play in San Francisco, given otherwise comparable alternatives, when it’s cold, windy, and the ballpark is enormous? Sure, the fans are great, the park is picturesque, and of course there’s the whole winning thing. But let’s be real: free-agent hitters would much rather go to Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, or just about anywhere other than AT&T if given the choice.

That’s why the Giants like to make the choice for them. Most of San Francisco’s impact hitters came to the team via the draft or a trade. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, and Brandon Crawford are homegrown. Nuñez, Pagan, and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades. They traded for Melky Cabrera, Pagan, and Casey McGehee in recent off-seasons. They got Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Beltran, Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Nuñez in mid-season trades.

That was a really long way of saying that I expect the Giants to trade for a hitter, and I expect that hitter to be a left fielder. Just the other day, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez as possible trade targets:

The problem with Bruce is that he’s bad. A lot of Giants fans probably love with Jay Bruce. They shouldn’t. Defense actually matters, and a player’s home ballpark can have a massive impact on his offensive output. Bruce’s defense is terrible, and the offense we’re used to seeing from him is a mirage, because for essentially his entire career he’s played half his games at the Great American Smallpark (eye roll) in Cincinnati.

Forget about Jay Bruce. J.D. Martinez is much more intriguing. Over the last three seasons, Martinez has posted wRC+s of 154, 137, and 142. To put it bluntly, the man can flat out hit. He put up +4.0 fWAR in 2014, +5.0 in 2015, and just +1.8 in 2016. The reason for the big drop in 2016 is that he allegedly “forgot how to play defense.” He put up decent enough defensive numbers in 2014 and ’15 that betting on a rebound is probably worth the risk. His stock might never be lower, which means that now is the time to buy, especially because the Tigers are selling.

Martinez is an impact bat. He’s under team control for one more season and costs just $11.8M. He’s 29 years old. He would immediately become the Giants’ biggest power threat. His righty bat would fit in nicely among a lineup of mostly left-handed hitters. Manager Bruce Bochy could use Parker and Williamson to give Pence, Span, and Martinez days off, meanwhile evaluating if they’re capable of having a bigger role in 2018. Or, the Giants could fall in love with Martinez and do their best to re-sign him after 2017, as they’ve had success doing with players they’ve acquired in trades.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Martinez would be a big splash and a massive upgrade (assuming, which we probably shouldn’t, that he remembers how to defense), but there are other intriguing trade targets to discuss.

Jorge Soler is one of them. He has big upside. He’s entering his age-25 season. He still flashes the tremendous raw power and athleticism that had people so hyped on him after his spectacular, albeit brief, 2014 debut in which he slashed .292/.330/.573 in 97 plate appearances.

Despite the hot start, Soler has managed a pedestrian .258/.328/.434 line in 765 career PA. He’s no longer a starter for the loaded Chicago Cubs. Kyle Schwarber’s return from a knee injury makes playing time even more unfathomable for Soler. He’s likely expendable if the price is right.

He’s signed for the next four years for a total of just $15M, but he can opt into arbitration eligibility if he feels that will earn him more money. It’s worth noting that Soler’s defense does not rate particularly well, although it’s also worth noting that he’s not as bad as Jay Bruce.

Another intriguing name is Marcell Ozuna, who would probably be a better ‘get’ than Soler. He’s put up a solid 103 wRC+ in his young career. He’s only 26 and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. He’s capable of scintillating hot streaks at the plate and plays very good outfield defense. He would be an excellent addition to the Giants, and, like Desmond, he can play center field. The Marlins are reportedly interested in acquiring starting pitchers after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. The Giants could theoretically offer a package centered around their young, promising minor-league pitcher Tyler Beede.

So there you have it. Everybody knows that the Giants need serious help in the bullpen. It’s so obvious, the team is willing to shout it from the rooftops. What’s less obvious is their need for for an upgrade in either the outfield or at third base. (Of course, it’s entirely possible they’ll upgrade at both positions.) Since Nuñez is an established veteran, and Parker and Williamson are not, it seems more likely that the Giants will target a left fielder than a third baseman if they decide to only address one of those positions.

Baseball’s winter meetings are right around the corner (editor’s note: now underway! Mark Melancon!). Look for the Giants to be right in the thick of things. They’ve been heavily involved at the meetings these last few years, as constructing a roster that wins championships has become a realistic annual goal. Despite the front office saying that they’re comfortable with their current group of position players, the acquisition of a left fielder in addition to an ace bullpen arm seems imminently likely in the coming days or weeks. It’s just a matter of when, and whom.

The Yankees Can Become a Contender, and Spend Less

With the new MLB CBA being agreed upon, details of the agreement are trickling in to the baseball news outlets. One of the major agreements is a new luxury-tax threshold for the upcoming 2017 season and beyond. The threshold will increase to $195 million for the 2017 season, an increase of $6 million. It will continue to increase over the four following seasons as well. This is good news for the Yankees.

For years, the Yankees have been over the luxury-tax line since its incorporation in the 2003 season. With incremental increases in taxes from being above the line, the Yankees have paid in excess of $276 million over the past 14 seasons, far more than any other team. Because of the funds that the Steinbrenners have had to issue out as an extra tax, Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he wants to go under the tax and reset the penalties against them.

As it stands, the Yankees have a payroll of approximately $136.2 million, albeit with only seven major leaguers signed to contracts. Their payroll includes the $21 million paid to Alex Rodriguez and $5.5 million of Brian McCann’s salary that they share with the Astros. With that said, they have seven players that they are likely to retain through arbitration, which adds approximately $22.1 million to their payroll according to After that, their payroll stands at about $158 million. To complete their 25-man roster, 11 MLB minimum contracts need to be added. At the new amount of $535,000, the total then stands at $164 million.

As their roster stands, the Yankees will be well under the tax threshold if they don’t sign a single MLB free agent. After a year of doing that already though, that is very, very unlikely. The team is already highly involved in negotiations with most of the top remaining free agents. Three of the players they are involved with include Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Encarnacion, and Rich Hill. Most of all, the Yankees are involved with Chapman and have long been thought to be the ultimate landing spot for him by several sources.

According to FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron, Chapman projects to receive in the realm of $18.5 million as an annual average. He follows with an annual average of $21 million for Encarnacion. For the sake of this article and the point of the Yankees spending less (and my own belief of salary projection), I will use MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes’ salary projection for Rich Hill. He puts it at $16.7 million on average compared to Cameron’s $24-million average. The difference comes down to the third year, yet at a cheaper rate.

With these salaries, as with many large MLB contracts, there is an expectation of back-loading the deal, or having higher averages at the end of the contract. Because of this, a projection of first-year salaries close to $16 million for Chapman, $17 million for Encarnacion, and $13 million for Rich Hill are obtainable. For those values, the deals would have to be fairly back-loaded, which would sting a bit in the long-term. However, it is good to keep in mind that back-loaded deals wouldn’t hurt too much since two major salaries in C.C. Sabathia and Rodriguez will no longer have to be paid.

For the first-year salaries above, the Yankees could conceivable sign one of Chapman or Encarnacion and Rich Hill while staying below the luxury-tax threshold. They wouldn’t be far off if they decided to sign both Chapman and Encarnacion (a net $32 million added after factoring in league-minimum deals for two players sent to AAA).

All of this doesn’t even factor in the possibility of the Yankees trading Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley. Trading both would give them the ability to add two of the above plus potentially Justin Turner while giving young players like Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin the opportunity to play.

Considering these possibilities, the Yankees would be able to creep just under the luxury-tax threshold heading into the season. This would reset their penalties with a year to spare before an expected spending spree during the 2018-2019 offseason thanks to the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and many others that may be available that winter. All of this is very speculative, but it shows that one of the premier teams in terms of spending has the potential to become much better than last year while spending much less. The Yankees having more money to spend is dangerous for the rest of the league and gives them the ability to cut bait and buy players if their top prospects don’t work out.

Maple Leaf Mystery

Canadians! They walk among us, only revealing themselves when they say something like “out” or “sorry” or “I killed and field-dressed my first moose when I was six.” But we don’t get to hear baseball players talk that often, so how can we tell if a baseball player is Canadian? Generally there are three warning signs:

  1. They have a vaguely French-sounding last name
  2. They have been pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays1
  3. They bat left-handed and throw right-handed

1 I honestly thought Travis d’Arnaud was Canadian until just now

Wait, hold on. What’s up with that third one? This merits a bit of investigation.
Read the rest of this entry »

What Reducing the DL from 15 to 10 Days Could Mean

Wednesday night in the 11th hour, MLB owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will cover five seasons through 2021.  While many of the items eventually agreed upon were tweaks and not major overhauls, one of the items that was of interest to me was the reduction of the disabled list from 15 days to 10 days.  On the surface, this could look like a win-win for both the players and the owners.  After all, players get to come off the DL and back on to the playing field five days sooner than they would have in past seasons, and owners can save coaches and fans from having to watch replacement-level players play while a most likely better player is on the shelf.

Using DL data compiled by, I took a look at length of stay on the DL by all players who landed on the list from 2010-2016.  Since 2010, 319 players have spent exactly 15 days  on the DL.  In total, this is 4785 days spent on the DL in seven seasons.  Now, for fun, let’s assume those same 319 players were ready to go after the new minimum of 10 days on the DL.  Simple math here will tell you those players spent 3190 days on the DL.  So in theory, over the course of seven seasons, reducing the DL to 10 days could save players 1595 days on the DL and owners the same number of days using most likely replacement-level players.  On a per-team average basis, reducing the DL by five days could actually save a team 7.6 days of DL time.

Seems like a win-win, right?  Again, players come back sooner, GMs don’t have to call up as many players from the minors and burn options, and owners save money by not having as many extra players come up from the minors accumulating MLB service time.  Not so fast.  In the same seven-season stretch, 3324 players spent 15 days or more on the DL and only 319 came off after 15 days.  So only 9% of all players on the DL spent the minimum amount of time out of action.  Why would this be?  Well, the obvious answer is if a player is hurt, they are hurt.  No one knows a player’s body better than the players themselves and they will return to action when they feel they are ready.

But the other answer is it pays to be on the DL in the majors.  There is protection.  Players still earn their salary and collect service time, so why rush back from an injury?  In the minors it is a different story. If you get hurt it becomes the next man up for a promotion to the big leagues.  There’s a reason there is a saying in the minors: “you can’t make a club in the tub.”  Now, just because there is protection doesn’t mean players want to spend time on the DL.  If they could, they would spend no time on the DL, as time away from the playing field can hurt future earning potential. Injuries are an inevitable part of the game but most seem to prevent players from feeling they are healthy enough to come back sooner than 15 days to compete at their best.  By reducing the DL to 10 days, I can see increased pressure from fans and media to come back quicker.  What we have to remember is this is the new minimum.  Players will return when they and the medical staff feel they’re ready.  I wouldn’t give your hopes up to see players return from the DL sooner than they have in the past.

Oakland A’s Give Cesar Valdez a Shot

On November 19, the Oakland A’s signed Cesar Valdez to a minor-league contract. His last appearance in the major leagues was way back in 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Almost seven years ago. Since then, Valdez has been jumping from organization to organization, toiling as a journeyman reliever/starter in Triple-A. Not even a tweet by the organization is needed for these types of transactions. Just a normal organizational move. But this is not just any organizational move. A closer look at Valdez’ player page shows there is much more going on here than just adding organizational depth.

It needs to be noted that Valdez is already heading into his age-32 season. Whatever value the A’s pull out of him needs to be extracted quickly because father time is right on his tail. The A’s don’t expect him to be a long-term asset. They probably don’t really even expect him to make it the big leagues. His high-level numbers over the last two years suggest he should be a major-leaguer again.

In 2016, Valdez posted a 3.24 FIP in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League playing for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, good for third-best in the league. One could look at this and say ‘okay, so what, he had a good 140 innings in the minor leagues.’ What jumps out of the page is how Valdez was even better pitching in the Mexican League in 2015, another offense-happy environment. He led the league in FIP and it really was not even close. He had the second highest K/9 and on top of it all he led the league in innings. He absolutely dominated the Mexican League and followed that up with another showing of dominance in the PCL.

Valdez’ walks per nine fell from 1.57 in 2015 to 0.85 in 2016. That was the lowest BB/9 in the PCL by almost one whole walk. There was reason to doubt Valdez following his 2015 season. It was dominant, but it also could be seen as fluky. He posted an outstanding 9.02/1.57/0.50 line. One could ask how he gave up so few home runs, and maybe that walk rate was bound to shoot up against stiffer competition. Valdez earns credibility with his 2016 campaign. His strikeout rate dipped a bit, although it was still strong, but his walk rate almost halved and he kept that outstanding home-run rate. He sustained most of his gains even against more advanced competition.

Remember the name Cesar Valdez. He will be up at some point with the Oakland A’s. There is no way to predict outcomes such as Corey Kluber and Junior Guerra but Mr. Valdez is as good a bet as any to follow in their footsteps.