Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ 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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Atlanta Braves Extend Ronald Acuna for Eight Years at $100 Million

April 2, 2019

In the latest of the year’s big contract extensions, the Braves extended 21 year old phenom Ronald Acuna for a minimum of eight years at a guarantee of $100M.  The contract could be (and probably will be) worth $124M over ten seasons.  The contract is almost certainly a record for a player with less than a full year’s major league service time.

The contract is high risk and high reward for the Braves and all about safety for Acuna.  I don’t think it will be the last such extension we’ll see in the near future for the current crop of very young budding stars.

Acuna has guaranteed himself what constitute enormous riches for a poor kid from Venezuela who didn’t get a seven figure bonus to sign his first pro contract.  Nonetheless, it’s entirely possible Acuna is surrendering $150M in future income to get this security.  Still, I don’t see how you could consider this a bad deal for Acuna.  How much money do you really need to live extremely well?  $124M over ten years should cover it, even after the big tax hit (probably close to 50%) that comes with all the money being earned as salary.

Obviously, the Braves have to hope and pray that Acuna stays healthy and develops into his potential.  Regardless, this is a risk all but the wealthiest 12 teams will be actively seeking to take going forward, at least with respect to the few players of Acuna’s age and demonstrated talent level.

The Nationals’ Juan Soto is represented by Scott Boras and he received a $1.5M signing bonus when he signed with the Nats as a 16 year old amateur, so it’s safe to say that Soto won’t be signing an extension like this before he becomes arbitration eligible, at the earliest.  Boras stridently advises any player with Soto’s talent to become a free agent and get the ginormous contract that comes with it.  Just ask Bryce Harper.

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.

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.

 

Philadelphia Phillies to Sign Bryce Harper for $330 Million

February 28, 2019

Now I feel like I know why it took so long for Bryce Harper to sign a deal.  It was a obvious that Harper and Scott Boras were determined to top the $325 million guarantee that Giancarlo Stanton got no matter what, but it didn’t happen until the Phillies were able to spread it out over a 13 year period.

I had been expecting that Harper would get an 11 year, $330M contract — in other words, the same deal that Manny Machado got with an extra year at $30M tacked on at the end.  The reports had been so fixated on a ten-year contract length, that I hadn’t expected this fairly obvious final outcome — Harper gets the same 13 years as Stanton for $5M more, which allows Harper and Boras to claim victory while the Phillies at least get to spread the money out over two or three more seasons.

Harper also reportedly will receive a full no-trade clause with no opt-outs in the deal.  If Phillies’ fans don’t take to Harper and vice versa if could be a long 13 years.  Of course, no trade clauses are made to be bought out if the player and team are both no longer happy with the arrangement.

Meanwhile, the Giants are s@#$ out of luck.  The Phillies now have at least one too many major league outfielders, and I imagine that even with the sorry state of the Giants’ farm system, a cheap trade could be worked out for 28 year old Aaron Altherr.

Nick Williams would be a better trade chip for the Phillies, not least because Williams sure isn’t going to be happy about being relegated to a back-up role, but he might be too costly in terms of the prospects that the Giants would have to surrender to acquire him.  I would expect the Phils to hold onto Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn, as giving them the strongest outfield as the Phillies obviously try to win their division.

P.S.  The latest reports are that the Giants offered Harper $310M over 12 years, but that due to the difference in state taxes between California and Pennsylvania (and no doubt taking into account that the Phillies play in a much better hitters’ park), the Giants would have to beat the Phillies’ final offer by $20M.

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.