Archive for the ‘New York Mets’ category

It May Be Mike Yastrzemski’s Time in San Francisco

May 24, 2019

The Giants were determined to give Mac Williamson one last real shot at establishing himself as a major league player when they called him up a couple of weeks ago.  After tonight’s 0-for-5 performance, he’s slashing a brutal .128/.226/.213.  If you take out his first game this season, when he went 2-for-4 with a home run, he’s 4-for-43 with a double in his last 13 games.

I don’t see the down-side in giving Williamson a couple more games to try to get something going.  However, he’s playing so poorly, the team can’t in good conscience carry him much longer, when there are other hot bats down in AAA Sacramento.

28 year old Mike Yastrzemski is slashing .326/.424/.697 after 39 games played, giving him the Pacific Coast League’s fifth highest OPS.  He hasn’t played in the majors yet, and he deserves to get to a shot the way he’s hitting at AAA.  The 26 year old Austin Slater is slashing .331/.463/.615, giving the PCL’s 9th best OPS.  He also deserves another major league shot.

At two years younger and already on the 40-man roster, Slater’s chances of being the next outfield prospect to get a major league shot this season are significantly better than young Yaz’s.

Even Mike Gerber, who already got a major league shot this year, is currently slashing .331/.388/.586.  He’s also on the team’s 40-man roster.

The River Cats currently have a losing 22-24 record, so it seems safe to assume that Raley Field in Sacto is a particularly good place to hit in 2019, while McCovey Park in San Fran is a particularly bad place to hit this year.  At any rate, outfielders hitting a ton in Sac aren’t hitting jack in SF.

Meanwhile, the Giants have already lost Aaron Altherr off waivers to the Met.  His Giants career lasted exactly one at-bat, and it was a strike out.

After a 1-for-5 performance in today’s game, Steven Duggar is slashing .240/.286/.350, so his hold a major league roster spot can’t be good either.  However, Duggar’s defense presumably will keep him on the roster longer than a struggling Mac Williamson.

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Tim Lincecum’s and Jake Peavy’s Hall of Fame Chances

May 5, 2019

Jake Peavy officially retired today although he hadn’t actually pitched professionally since 2016.  Peavy and Tim Lincecum had very similar major league careers, and it got me thinking about their respective Hall of Fame chances.  After Lincecum’s failed comeback in the Rangers’ organization last year, it’s pretty clear Timmy’s professional career is over too.

I don’t think either has a good shot at making the Hall of Fame.  Both pitchers were the National League’s best for roughly four or five years, but were basically back-of-the-rotation starters for the second halves of their respective careers when injuries wore them down.  Peavy lasted long enough to finish with a career record of 152-126, while Lincecum finished a modest 110-89.

Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards to Peavy’s one, Lincecum pitched for three World Series winners to Peavy’s two, and Lincecum pitched two no-hitters while Peavy threw none.  But, as noted above, Peavy won 42 more games.

In my mind, pitchers with career highs of a Jake Peavy or Tim Lincecum still need to win at least 190 games in today’s MLB to be realistic Hall of Fame contenders.  Another similar, if even better short-time ace, Johan Santana (career 139-78 record), hasn’t received much love from Hall of Fame voters.  In his first and only year of HOF eligibility, Santana received so few votes (10 or 2.4%) that he was dropped from the HOF ballot the next year 2019.

Given where the game is going, I think that Santana will get more love from future Veterans’ Committees and could eventually make the HOF.  I don’t think either Lincecum or Peavy will, however.  At least both Lincecum and Peavy won a lot of awards, multiple World Series rings, and made a boatload of money.  They’ll never forget Lincecum in San Francisco or Peavy in San Diego, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for them.

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.

Jacob DeGrom’s Deferred Money

March 28, 2019

The terms of Jacob DeGrom‘s new five-year $137.5 million are being reported, revealing that a whopping $52.5M is being deferred without interest for 15 years to the period between 2035 and 2038.  As a result the current value of the deal could be as little as $109M.

The deal defers between $12M and $15M each year between 2020 and 2023, and the $30M team option for 2024 includes $15M deferred to 2039.

I am generally in favor of deferred money contracts for athletes, because it pushes back money they don’t need now to years when their careers and annual earnings are likely to be much lower.  There can be significant federal and state income tax savings by deferring money, although DeGrom’s contract doesn’t really do that, except for the fact that he may be living in state without state income tax come 2035.

If it was up to me, I would start the payments in 2028, the year DeGrom turns 40 and continue the payments until the year he turns 60 and can cash out his IRAs or the year he can get the largest possible pension benefit, assumably somewhere between age 60 and 70.  That way, the $52.M is spread out so more of it is in lower federal tax brackets and he can rely on a steady income stream throughout his life.

What gets a lot of professional athletes in trouble is that during their top earning years, they spend money like the seven figure annual earnings will go on forever.  Then, when their pro careers wind down and they very rapidly see their annual incomes plummet, it takes them several years to adjust their life styles and spending to their new incomes.  In the meantime, they burn through much of the money they did save during their peak earning years.  It’s a lot easier to adjust to a new lifestyle when you’re still making $2M+ a year than it is when you are making less than $200,000.

As I wrote back when Max Scherzer signed his big contract with the Nationals featuring significant deferred money, the irony is that the players who sign these kind of contracts are almost always the ones who least need to do so.  The big stars who are already thinking about how they are going to support themselves in their 40’s and 50’s can probably be trusted to save and prudently invest the money they are making now so their retirements will be comfortable and thus don’t really need to defer money.

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.

Ballplayers Still Getting Paid

January 12, 2019

Even with the free agent market tight and the average player salary down in 2018 for the first time since 2010, the stars are still going to get paid.  That’s the message I’m taking away from all the arbitration compromises being announced.

Nolan Arenado will set an arbitration process record with somewhere between his requested $30M and the $24M the Rockies are offering him.  All of Mookie Betts ($20M), Anthony Rendon ($18.8M), Jacob DeGrom ($17M), Khris Davis ($16.5M) and Jose Abreau ($16M) will be earning more than $15 million in 2019 through the arbitration process.  That’s at least several lifetimes’ worth of income for most Americans.

More than free agency, the owners hate arbitration because it forces them to give their young stars huge raises.  That said, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the owners, who are obviously much richer than the players and have figured out they can non-tender any player they don’t feel is worth his likely arbitration raise.

Given the competition between the rich players and the even richer owners, my sympathies are with the players, because they are the ones who put the cans in the seats.  That said, it’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy if players are making just a little less than in recent years’ past, when they are still making this kind of money.

You want to make the lives of professional players as a group — negotiate further increases in the major league minimum annual salary ($555,000 in 2019) and pay minor league players a living wage.  That’s the tide that would raise all boats.