Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ category

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2019

April 3, 2019

Shohei Ohtani has ended any debate about the best hitting pitcher in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.  He won’t be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John surgery but is expected to return as a designated hitter in May.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be to a great hitting major league pitcher, but his prospects as a two-way player aren’t as good as they were a year ago.  The main problem for McKay is that his talents as a pitcher are developing much faster in pro ball than his talents as a hitter.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani finished the 2018 season with .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter and went 4-2 in 10 starts before hurting his elbow.  The entire baseball world is waiting for his right arm to be healthy enough to pitch again. ’nuff said.

2.  Michael Lorenzen (.247 career batting average and .767 career OPS).  Lorenzen is still short of the 100 career at-bat cut-off I’ve used in previous iterations of this post, but he had a tremendous season with the bat in 2018 and was used in a role that was specifically tailored to his ability to hit.  He managed 34 plate appearances last season, in which he batted .290 with a 1.043 OPS thanks to four home runs, despite making only three starts all season.  He was used at least nine times as a pinch hitter, and was frequently left in games to hit for himself when he pitched in relief.

I expect Lorenzen’s career averages to drop as he gets more major league plate appearances, but it’s clear at this point that he’s one of MLB’s very best hitting pitchers.

3.  Zack Greinke (.219 BA, .569 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season, and he has been remarkably consistent as a sweet-swinging pitcher since then.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Madison Bumgarner (.184, .542).  I dropped MadBum a couple of spots this year, because he hit poorly in 2018 and his career batting line isn’t particularly impressive, although park factors are probably in play in comparing MadBum to Greinke.  We’ll see if Bumgarner bounces back to being the best hitting full-time pitcher in 2019.

5.  Yovani Gallardo (.201, .563).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher is probably over, as he remains unsigned as of this writing, but he sure could hit.

6. Adam Wainwright (.202 BA, .537 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

7.  German Marquez (.230, .504).  Marquez benefits from a small sample size and playing his home games in Coors Field, but any pitcher who hits better than .220 with an OPS over .500 is great hitting pitcher in today’s game.

8.  Noah Syndergaard (.176 BA, .526 OPS).  “Hulk say Thor smash ball with hammer bat!” At least once in a while.

9.  Daniel Hudson (.222, .557).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson hasn’t had many opportunities to hit in recent years, but his career numbers get him on the list.

10.   Mike Leake (.198, .507).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

11.  Tyler Chatwood (.210, .475) and Tyson Ross (.200, .481).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable Mentions.  fangraphs.com says that aces Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were with Zack Greinke the best hitting pitchers in 2018.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchBrent Suter (.174, .530).  Unfortunately, Suter is already 29 years old and likely to miss all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery.

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San Francisco Giants Add Connor Joe (Ugh!)

March 23, 2019

I keep waiting for the Giants to do something to improve their outfield situation.  And the Giants keep bringing in guys like Connor Joe.

I have nothing against Connor Joe, but he’s an old 26 (he turns 27 in August), he’s played exactly 49 games of merely above average offensive performance in the Pacific Coast League.  He can play RF, but his 3B defense is terrible (sub .900 fielding percentage).

The Gints traded Josh Johnson and “cash considerations” (I don’t know if that means $25,000 or $100,000 or anywhere else between $10,000 and $1M, although my guestimate is the first set of numbers) for Joe.

The Giants gave up on Rule-5 pick Drew Ferguson, who returns to the Astros, and replaced him with the Reds’ Rule-5 selection of Joe.  New Giants GM Farhan Zaidi is familiar with Joe from the Dodgers’ system, and Joe’s .806 Spring Training OPS was a lot better than Ferguson’s dreadful .405.

What I don’t like about the Giants bringing on Joe is that mlbtraderumors.com speculates that he will take Pablo Sandoval’s roster spot.  Yangervis Solarte has almost certainly made the team, which leaves Sandoval as a likely odd-man out.  Joe can’t defend 3B, but Solarte can, and Joe can play RF, which Pablo can’t.  The logic seems inescapable, but I will be sad to see Pablo go, if he does.

If bringing in Connor Joe is the Giants’ last outfield move before the regular season starts, I’ll expect the Giants to be sellers at the trade deadline.

Anaheim Angels and Mike Trout in Agreement on 10-Year $360 Million Extension

March 20, 2019

The Angels and Mike Trout are reportedly in agreement on a ten-year extension for the 2021 through 2030 seasons that will pay $360M for these seasons and nearly $430M guaranteed going forward.  Mike Trout is certainly worth a record-setting deal, although I have my doubts about Trout’s ability to remain healthy during the second half of the commitment.

Some commentators think the Angels got a bargain, given that Trout has arguably been worth about twice the annual contract average since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2012.  Even so, $36M per season takes up a big chunk of budget (although the big market Angels can afford it), and Trout can’t win by himself no matter how well he plays, as evidenced by the fact that he has played in only three post-season games in his eight seasons with the Halos.

My guess is that this will be a great contract for the Angels for the next six seasons through 2024, but will become an albatross like Albert Pujols‘ deal, which still has three expensive years to run even though Prince Albert is no longer even a replacement level player.  Mike Trout is just too big (listed at 6’2″ and 235 lbs, roughly the same as Pujols) to expect that he will age gracefully once he passes the age of 32.  It could happen, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it.

In short, it is probably a fair contract that well benefits all concerned.  The Angels get to hold on to the game’s best player for all or nearly all of his major league career; Mike Trout gets a record-setting deal that well tops the deals that Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Giancarlo Stanton got; and future major league superstars and their agents get a new record to shoot for in future contract negotiations.  It’s a win-win all the way around, and, as I like to say, Mike Trout won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, even if he did leave some money on the table.

 

San Francisco Giants Back in on the Hunt for Bryce Harper

February 27, 2019

The Giants are reportedly back in on the hunt for Bryce Harper and now willing to offer him the record-setting ten year deal he has been seeking.  It is not particularly surprising that the first few games of spring training action have made the Giants worried about the apparently sorry bunch of outfielders they have on hand.  The Dodgers are also reportedly considering meeting Harper’s and Scott Boras’ ten-year contract demand, but the fact remains that the Gints sorely need Harper in their 2019 outfield a lot more than either the Phillies or the Bums do.

Even with the Giants seemingly starting to move toward true rebuild mode, a ten-year deal would keep Harper around long enough to be a part of any rebuilt team come 2022 or 2023 while Harper is still in his prime.  Even with Harper, I am doubtful that the Giants would be anything better than a .500 team in 2019, so I expect the rebuilding to begin in earnest around the 2019 trade deadline.

I think the Giants will hold onto Buster Posey (and they’re stuck with Evan Longoria), but any of Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt or Joe Panik who is playing well in the first half will get traded, unless, of course, they are all playing well and the Giants are in contention.

Harper and Boras have been holding out for at least a $330 million guarantee and it now looks like they are going to get it.  The seven year contract extension with $234 million of new money the Rockies just gave Nolan Arenado, not to mention Manny Machado‘s $300 million ten-year deal with the Padres, suggest strongly that one of the three remaining pursuers will set a new salary guarantee record with Harper.  While teams seem more reticent about signing free agents, the contract extensions of Arenado, Mile Mikolas and Aaron Hicks this past week all suggest that teams will still spend big money to hold onto their best players through their age 34 or 35 seasons.

The Mikolas four-year contract extension is particularly eye-opening, given Mikolas’ short major league track record plus the fact that it reportedly includes a complete no-trade clause in addition to the $68M guarantee.  The Hicks’ contract extension is notable more for the length (seven years) than the amount guaranteed ($70M).  However, because Hicks runs well and has improved dramatically at the plate the last two seasons, it looks like a great risk for the Bombers to take, even if Hicks can’t be expected to stick in center field for more than three or four more seasons.

Some Order Has Been Restored to the (Baseball) Universe

February 20, 2019

It’s being reported that Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres have reached agreement on a deal that will last ten years and guarantee Machado $300 million, with an opt-out after the fifth season, the money fairly evenly spread over the ten year term and a limited no trade clause.  It was a long time in coming, but it sure seems in line with the other free agent contracts already signed this off-season.

I was figuring that unless the teams were in fact colluding, Machado would get at a minimum eight years and a $250 million guarantee, because that would a bargain for the age 26 through 33 seasons for a player of Machado’s caliber.  This is, in fact, what the White Sox offered Machado, although the ChiSox offer also included a whopping $100M in performance incentives and additional years.

That Machado got an extra two years and $50M guaranteed over an eight year, $250M deal seems in line with what the best offer would be in light of the tough negotiating teams have been performing this off-season.  Still, until the deal was finally reported with Spring Training already underway, one certainly couldn’t be sure what Machado would finally get.

I agree with Justin Verlander that signing Machado or Bryce Harper to a long-term deal is actually a good move for a rebuilding team like the Padres.  Even if the Friars need another three years to put together a contender, they’ll still have Machado for another five years (barring injury) of peak or close-to-peak performance.

Paying generational players like Machado or Harper even record-setting contracts tends to be a better risk than signing most other free agents, because they reach free agency younger and their peak performance lasts longer.  Of course, there is risk, since ten years is a lot of time for a debilitating injury to occur.

Machado’s offensive numbers are going to drop playing half his games at Petco Park, but the fact that Machado is not a “Johnny Hustle” type who gets too high or too low may actually be a good thing.  I don’t see Machado losing confidence in his abilities just because his offensive numbers drop off a little.

Now we’ll see what Harper gets, most likely from the Phillies.  I’d guess at least $330M guaranteed and possibly as much as $360M guaranteed over 10 to 12 seasons.

Is Corey Kluber a Legitimate Hall of Fame Candidate?

February 12, 2019

I was looking at Corey Kluber‘s career stats the other day, and I wondered if what he has accomplished in the last five years has made him a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.  The short answer is no, not yet.

The player Kluber currently looks most like is Johan Santana.  Santana was MLB’s best pitcher for the five seasons between 2004 and 2008.  However, arm problems then ruined his career, and he finished 139-78.

Santana appeared on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, but he received only 10 votes and was dropped from the 2019 ballot.  I definitely think that in 25 or 30 years, the Hall of Fame’s Veteran’s Committee (or whatever they call it now or then) will notice that Santana’s career record looks an awful lot like Dizzy Dean‘s and maybe even Sandy Koufax‘s.  However, Santana might be hurt by pitching in the heart of the PEDs ERA.

Corey Kluber will be 33 this upcoming season, but he’s bigger than Santana, so maybe his arm will hold out better.  He’s probably only one more CY Young caliber season (i.e., on a par with four of his last five seasons) and another 55 career wins from what it would require for him to be a sure thing to reach the Hall of Fame eventually.

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.