Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ category

Good to See MLB Teams Spending Some Money

December 5, 2019

The Phillies have reportedly reached a deal with Zack Wheeler that will pay the player $118 over five seasons; and the Braves have inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal for a cool $18M.

Wheeler’s deal beats mlbtraderumors.com’s prediction by $18M and is good news for the other top-tier free agent pitchers.  Obviously, Stephen Strasburg and Geritt Cole are going to top $118M by a bunch, and it’s likely that Madison Bumgarner will do considerably better than the $72M guarantee mlbtraderumors predicted.  It’s also a big commitment from the Phils for a pitcher who has a reasonable shot of blowing out his elbow tendon a second time in the next five years.

While Hamels’ deal is only for one season, it’s still a big commitment for a player entering his age 36 season, who pitched less than 150 innings in 2019 and failed to reach 150 IP in two of the last three seasons.  Again, this deal can’t hurt other free agent starters going forward.  There are lot of free agent starters still on the market, but they have an advantage over position players in that every team could use at least one more good starter.

In completely unrelated news, the Doosan Bears have agreed to post outfielder Kim Jae-Hwan.  Kim was great from 2016 through 2018, but his .796 OPS was only 30th best in the KBO and he’s going into his age 31 season.  I doubt MLB teams will have much interest, but you never know.

Are Qualifying Offers Negotiable?

November 28, 2019

I saw on mlbtraderumors a few minutes ago that the Orioles are putting middle infielder Jonathan Villar on outright waivers because the O’s don’t want to pay him the $10.1 million he’s projected to get through arbitration, and they couldn’t find a trade partner for him.  As MLBTR points, it seems like kind of a crazy move by the team, as baseball reference ranks Villar as the team’s best position player in 2019, fangraphs says he was worth $31.7M last year, and the O’s 2020 payroll will be low with or without Villar.  It does tend to show why the O’s have been so awful in recent years.

Anyhoo, it made me wonder if O’s could have tried to get Villar to sign at the 2020 price the team wanted, say $7M or $8M (assuming the team valued Villar at that much), and tried to sweeten the deal by releasing any ability the team might have to give him a qualifying offer next off-season.

For certain players, a release of any ability by the team to later give the player a qualifying offer in the future would be well worth a much lower salary to the player now.  There are certain teams, the tightwads particularly, who would also likely be willing to trade away the right to make a Qualifying Offer for the ability to save money during the player’s six years of control.

One issue would be whether a team could permanently waive the QO even if the player is traded to another team later.  Frankly, I don’t see any good reason why not, because any later acquiring team would go in knowing that they they also couldn’t make a qualifying offer and would price that fact in to any trade they make for the player.

A real good example would be Christian Yelich earlier in his career.  The cash-strapped and just plain cheap Marlins might readily have been willing to sell the QO for a smaller salary when they gave Yelich a seven year deal before the 2015 season.  Teams like the Marlins know they are going to lose their best players sooner or later, and maybe selling the QO would have made it possible for the Marlins to hold onto Yelich longer

Meanwhile, had the Marlins sold the QO, the Brewers could have factored this in when traded for Yelich before the 2018 season.  In fact, it would likely not have changed Yelich’s worth at all, because the Brewers would be receiving the same player owed less future salary under Yelich’s long-term deal because Yelich had purchased the QO from the Marlins.

One has to remember that the Qualifying Offer regime is ultimately about holding down player salaries, and I very strongly suspect that teams are intentionally overvaluing what little they actually lose by signing a free agent tied to a QO because there is more sophisticated collusion going on than the old in-your-face collusion the owners got burned on in arbitration back in the 1980’s.

Still, like using opt-out clauses to obtain lower guarantees on long-term contracts, there is no reason why Qualifying Offers should not be negotiable also.  If it does not require further bargaining between the players and owners, it may only be a matter of a crafty player agent like Scott Boras or a crafty team executive to put the QO on the bargaining table as a bargaining chip,  In the case of a young superstar like a Ronald Acuna or Juan Soto, there might be real value to both player and team if the QO is on the table as a subject of discussion.

Yomiuri Giants Sign Veteran Outfielder Gerardo Parra

November 20, 2019

NPB’s Yomiuri Giants today announced the signing of Gerardo Parra for a guaranteed $2 million in 2020, plus $500,000 in performance incentives and a vesting option for a $3M contract for 2021.  The deal is a no-brainer for Parra, who was looking at a minor league contract from any MLB organization in 2020.  It’s a little less clear why Yomiuri is willing to make this significant a commitment to a player about to enter his age 33 season.

This signing definitely feels like a throw-back to 30 or 40 years ago, when NPB teams frequently signed successful MLB veterans at the ends of their careers, hoping they could squeeze another productive season or two out of them in Japan.  In recent years, however, we have seen fewer and fewer or these kinds of signings, as NPB teams now almost always sign players who will be 31 or younger in their first NPB seasons.  NPB teams are fully aware that the foreign players available to them are almost all on the steep decline starting with their age 32 seasons.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles brought in Andruw Jones in 2013 for his age 36 season and Kevin Youkilis in 2014 for his age 35 season, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.  The Yomiuri Giants got two strong seasons from Casey McGehee, starting with his age 34 season in 2017, but McGehee had already proven his NPB chops with a strong season for Rakuten at age 30 before returning to MLB for three seasons.

Parra has been a below MLB replacement level offensive player in three of the last four seasons.  He’ll add some power in Japan, at least if he’s fully healthy, but it is as yet unknown just how much.  His outfield defense is still good, but he’s going to be expected to hit to hold a job in NPB, particularly where teams like Yomiuri maintain a surplus of foreign players good enough to play regularly in the NPB majors just in case someone holding one of the four foreign player major league roster spots gets hurt or struggles to perform well.

NPB Signings, Rumors and Speculations

November 3, 2019

We are in the phase of the MLB post-season, where teams are mainly designating marginal players for assignment and players and teams are deciding whether to exercise their option rights.  It’s not a tremendously exciting time for anyone but the individual players involved and the real hot stove league die-hards.

Aroldis Chapman exercised his opt-out right to squeeze another season (2022) and $18 million out of the New York Yankees, which seems entirely reasonable for the parties concerned.  It’s hard to imagine a Cuban player like Chapman wanting to leave NYC.

Stephen Strasburg has also opted out of the last four years and $100M with the Nats.  My guess is that he could well command six years at $150M going into his age 31 season.  We’ll see if the Nats are willing to pay that, or if another team steps in and ponies up the bucks.

The most recent two signings of former MLBers by Japanese teams are the Yakult Swallows signing former Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar for a reported $800,000 for 2020 and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp signing former Padres and Phillies 2Bman Jose Pirela for a reported $600,000 plus another $250,000 in performance incentives.

Escobar spent most of 2019 at AAA Charlotte in the White Sox organization, until he was released on August 2nd, probably because Escobar was frustrated the Sox had’t promoted him to Chi as he had expected.  Escobar will 33 in 2020, which is old for a foreign player signing a first contract with an NPB team, but Escobar has a record of staying healthy and playing every day.  He posted a .787 OPS in the suddenly hitter-friendly International League in 2019, which seems in line with his past MLB performance.

The most interesting thing about the Escobar signing is whether it means the Swallows are more likely to post 2Bman Tetsuto Yamada this off-season.  Escobar will presumably play SS for the Swallows in 2020, because that’s where is value (mostly defense) is greatest.  The Swallows’ main shortstop in 2019 was Taishi Hirooka, who batted a feeble .203  and struck out an awful lot.  However, Hirooka was willing to take a walk and hit 10 home runs, resulting in a .710 OPS, which isn’t bad for a 22 year old middle infielder.

I don’t really see the point in signing Escobar, unless the Swallows plan to post Yamada and move Hirooka, who is still worth trying to develop into an NPB star, to 2B.  With Yamada going into his age 27 season in 2020, he should bring the Swallows a pretty penny if posted to MLB teams.  We’ll see soon enough.

Pirela is no spring chicken either, going into his age 30 season.  He also mostly played at AAA in 2019.

Rumors have it that Seibu Lions’ star outfielder Shogo Akiyama wants to play in MLB in 2020 now that he’s earned his international free agents rights.  However, he suffered a broken toe on a HBP on November 1st while playing in a post-season exhibition game.  An untimely injury makes it at least a little more likely he remains in Japan.

The Hanshin Tigers reportedly offered 2019 break-out relief pitcher Pierce Johnson a two year contract for 2020-2021.  However, Johnson’s wife just had a baby, leading to speculation he’ll want to return to the U.S. if he can get a major league contract offer from an MLB team.

Rumors also have it that the Hanshin Tigers are targeting Adam Duvall and Tyler Austin this off-season.  I would expect Duvall to get a major league contract offer from an MLB team after his strong late-season performance with the Braves, although the Tigers could certainly offer him more money than an MLB team might guarantee.  Tyler Austin is now a free agent after being outrighted off the Brewers’ 40-man roster.  Going into his age 28 season, Austin looks like a prime candidate for NPB, as does former Brewer and Padre Corey Spangenberg, who turns 29 next March and was also just outrighted by Milwaukee.

Other news out of Japan is that Scott Mathieson, who had by and large eight very successful seasons pitching out of the bullpen for the Yomiuri Giants, announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 Nippon Series, in which the SoftBank Hawks swept the Giants in four games. He won’t be well remembered in MLB circles, but he’s unlikely to be forgotten any time soon by Japanese baseball fans.  And, of course, he made a pile of money playing in Asia.

I haven’t seen anything yet on signings of new foreign players by KBO teams, which usually all take place by the end of November.  Most likely the signings will start once all MLB teams get closer to making their final 40-man roster cut-downs going into the free agent signing period, which starts tomorrow.

The Houston Astros Are Making a Mistake If They Start Justin Verlander in Game 2

October 20, 2019

Looking at the first two games of the 2019 World Series, I was surprised to see the Astros intend to start Justin Verlander in Game 2.  If I were managing the Astros, I would start Zack Greinke in Game 2 and start Verlander in Game 3.  It seems to me to be a case of a manager making the “safe” move, i.e., overworking his best players in the post-season.

Greinke last started on October 17 and Verlander on the 18th.  Verlander has already been worked hard this post-season and could use the extra two day’s rest, including the travel day to Washington.  The whole purpose of getting Greinke at the trade deadline was to have a third ace for the post-season.  Even if Verlander pitches Game 3, he’s still going to be available to make a second start in the Series at Game 7.

It’s a relatively small matter, but I’d rather have the best Verlander possible start Game 3 on October 25th than have a possibly tired Verlander start Game 2 on October 23rd.  I’m highly doubtful the Series is going to come down to Zack Greinke making the Game 6 start, rather than Justin Verlander.

The Nats’ three aces are going to be better rested for this series after the Nats’ four game sweep of the Cardinals.  The Astros are the heavy favorites in this series, but anything can happen in a short series, particularly when the Nats’ starters are better rested.

Is It Worth Tanking to Improve Your MLB Draft Position?

September 25, 2019

My team, the SF Giants, are currently in line to get either the 13th or 14th pick in the 2020 June Draft.  Gints fans will remember that the team made deals at the trade deadline, but they were kind of push.  The team sold on a couple of relievers, but also made trades designed to help the team going forward in 2019.  The Gints still had an outside shot at making the play-offs at the trade deadline, and they play in a market large enough to make total rebuilds relatively expensive.

Is it worth tanking, at least once the team has realized it has no reasonable chance of making the post-season, in order to get a higher selection in the next MLB draft?

I looked at the first twelve draft picks from the June drafts starting with 1987 (the first year the June draft was the only MLB amateur draft conducted for the year) through 2009 (which is long enough ago that we should now know whether the players drafted were major league success stories).  Suffice it say, with the first 12 draft picks of each June draft, the team imagines it has drafted a future major league star in compensation for sucking ass the previous season.

In order to keep things simple, I used baseball reference’s career WAR totals to determine whether each drafted player was a major league success.  Not precise, I’ll admit, since what drafting teams really care about is the first six-plus major league seasons of control.  However, I don’t know how to create a computer program to figure out the years-of-control WAR for each drafted player, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to do so even if I knew how.  Career WAR seems a close enough approximation.

Also, for purposes of my study, no player is considered to have lower than a 0 career WAR — you cannot convince me that a drafted player who never reaches the majors is worth more than a drafted player who played in the majors but had a negative career WAR.  A player reaches and plays in the majors 9 times out of 10 because he is the best player available at that moment to take the available roster spot.  The tenth time, he is worth trying to develop as a major league player because of his potential upside.

As a result, I did not bother with averages.  Instead, I looked at median performances (i.e., for the 23 players picked at each of the first 12 draft slots during the relevant period, 11 players had a higher career WAR and 11 players had a lower career WAR than the median player.

Also, if a player was drafted more than once in the top 12, because he didn’t sign the first time drafted, I still counted him as his career WAR for each time he was drafted.

Here we go:

1st Overall Pick.  Median player:  Ben McDonald (1989, 20.8 Career WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez (1993, 117.8 career WAR); Chipper Jones (1990, 85.3 WAR); Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987, 83.8 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 61%.  [Examples of 15+ WAR players are Mike Lieberthal (15.3 WAR); Gavin Floyd (15.6 WAR); Eric Hosmer (15.7+ WAR); and Phil Nevin (15.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 65%.  [Examples of 10+ WAR players are Rocco Baldelli (10.2 WAR); Shawn Estes (10.4 WAR); Todd Walker (10.5 WAR)  ; and Doug Glanville (10.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.  [Examples of 5+ WAR players are John Patterson (5.0 WAR); Mike Pelfrey (5.3 WAR); Billy Koch (5.4 WAR); and Sean Burroughs (5.5 WAR).]

2nd Overall Pick.  Median player: Dustin Ackley (2009, 8.1 WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 2 pick: Justin Verlander (2004, 70.8+ WAR); J.D. Drew (1997, 44.9 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 35%.  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 43%.  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.

3rd Overall Pick.  Median player:  Philip Humber (2004, 0.9 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 3: Evan Longoria (2006, 54.2+ WAR); Troy Glaus (1997, 38.0 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 22%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 43%.

4th Overall Pick.  Median player: Tim Stauffer (2003, 3.8 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman (2005, 37.7+ WAR); Alex Fernandez (1990, 28.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 17%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

5th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 5: Mark Teixeira (2001, 51.8 WAR); Ryan Braun (2005, 47.7+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 39%.

6th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 6: Derek Jeter (1992, 72.6 WAR); Zack Greinke (2002, 71.3+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 9%10+ WAR player = 13%5+ WAR player = 26%.

7th Overall Pick.  Median player: Calvin Murray (1992, 2.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 7: Frank Thomas (1989, 73.9 WAR); Clayton Kershaw (2006, 67.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

8th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 8: Todd Helton (1995, 61.2 WAR); Jim Abbott (1988, 19.6 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

9th Overall Pick.  Median player: Aaron Crow (2008, 2.6 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 9:  Kevin Appier (1987, 54.5 WAR); Barry Zito (1999, 31.9 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 48%.

10th Overall Pick.  Median player: Michael Tucker (1992, 8.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 10: Robin Ventura (1988, 56.1 WAR); Eric Chavez (1996, 37.5 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 39%10+ WAR player = 48%5+ WAR player = 52%.

11th Overall Pick.  Median player: Lee Tinsley (1987, 1.7 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 11: Max Scherzer (2006, 60.5+ WAR); Andrew McCutchen (2005, 43.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 17%5+ WAR player = 22%.

12th Overall Pick.  Median player: Bobby Seay (1996, 3.0 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 12: Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 44.2 WAR); Jared Weaver (2004, 34.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

What do I conclude from all of the above number-crunching and name-dropping (and my cursory review of the Nos. 13-15 draft picks during the relevant period)?  It’s worth tanking to get the first or second pick in the June Draft or to get one of the top ten picks.  Since teams bad enough at the trade deadline to have a reasonable shot to get the No. 1 or 2 picks will be tanking no matter what, the only real lesson is that teams that have the 11th to 15th worst record in MLB approaching the trade deadline and realize they have no reasonable shot to make the post-season should SELL, SELL, SELL in order to get one of the top ten draft picks the next June.

The second lesson I take from my study is that teams should ALWAYS draft the player they think to be the best available/remaining if they have a top 12 or 15 draft pick and PAY what it takes to sign the player, unless the potential draftee has made it clear he will not sign with the team under any circumstances.  After the two best players in any given draft, there is too much uncertainty for teams not to draft the player they think is the best available.  Drafting a player the team thinks is a lesser player in order to save $2 million to throw at a high school player drafted in the 11th round is going to be a bad decision in most cases, particularly in the current regime where teams get a finite budget to sign their first ten draft picks, and the draftees know the cap amounts.

I see no obvious difference in the results for the third through tenth rounds, because, I assume, after the first two consensus best players in any given draft, teams have different opinions about the merits of the next, larger group of potential draftees, to the point where it more or less becomes a crap shoot.  After the first two rounds, and with the notable exception of the 10th round, the median player drafted with the third through 12th pick isn’t really worth a damn, and the odds of selecting a 15+ WAR player, a true star, are considerably less than one in three.

As a final note, I don’t like the fact that post-trade-deadline waiver deals can no longer be made.  I don’t see the downside in allowing losing teams to dump their over-paid veterans after the trade deadline (but before the Sept. 1st play-off eligibility deadline) in exchange for some, usually limited, salary relief and prospects, while play-off bound teams get to add veterans so they can put the best possible team on the field come play-off time.  I hope MLB can find a way for these deals to resume in the future.

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.