• Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 12/5/2019

    Posted 1 day ago

    2:02
    Alan: With the news that the Wilpons are giving up majority ownership soon, what could this mean for the team this offseason?

    2:04
    Craig Edwards: I think it makes absolutely no difference this offseason. If the Wilpons actually do sell, the money they are getting right now is probably just paying down their own debts. Five years is a long time before the new owner actually takes over.

    2:04
    Trent: If Wikipedia’s net worth estimates are at all accurate, Steve Cohen is worth more than twice as much as any current MLB owners.  Should we expect the Mets to be running a significantly higher payroll sometime soon?

    2:04
    Craig Edwards: I’ll believe it when it actually happens.

    2:04
    Jerry Dipoto: Are comp picks the most undervalued asset in baseball right now?

    2:07
    Craig Edwards: I think there’s a decent argument they are overvalued. I know the draft is deep next year, but the pick the Mariners got is around 70th. By estimation, that’s worth $3M to $4M or roughly a 40+ position player or 45 pitcher. That’s a nice prospect to have but nothing special. I think teams just like having the ability to choose as opposed to getting a single player among a limited number of options.

    2:07
    Craig Edwards: Here’s the draft pick piece: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/an-update-on-how-to-value-draft-picks/

    2:07
    Craig Edwards: Here’s the one on non-top prospects: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/putting-a-dollar-value-on-prospects-outsid…

    2:08
    Stuafoo: Navarez return feels light on the Ms side (though obviously can’t say how the pick will turn out yet). Shoot from the hip thoughts?

    2:10
    Craig Edwards: It wasn’t a big haul, that’s for sure. He’s somewhat limited by his hope for a walk approach against lefties and very limited by his defense. The Brewers might be in a unique position to mitigate both of those factors with Manny Piña. To carry Narváez, you have to carry another near-starter level catcher and that limits the pool of trading partners.

    2:11
    Joe: Who fetches the highest return: Contreras, Baez, Rizzo, or Bryant (assuming he has two controllable years left)?

    2:14
    Craig Edwards: I think it would Báez 1, Bryant 1A, Rizzo, then Contreras. The first three should bring back a good return if moved but I put Báez first due to a relatively low salary and his ability at shortstop. Rizzo is slightly limited by playing first base compared to the other two. Contreras’ value is limited in a similar vein to Narváez. I think Contreras is a guy the Cubs should have locked up a couple years ago and now they are in a weird spot with him.

    2:16
    Robert: Obviously, Contreras is better, but Caratini put up a very solid 108 +wRC in 2019, in addition to being an above average fielder, being cheaper, and having another year of control. So, what does a market for him look like as the possible Cubs catcher traded vs. Contreras?

    2:18
    Craig Edwards: It’s not there as Caratini’s defense still isn’t stellar and he’s got a career 89 wRC+. Most teams have a Caratini already.

    2:18
    adambulldog: Who is the best starting pitcher the Yankees could get in exchange for Andujar plus Frazier?

    2:20
    Craig Edwards: Hard to know how teams value those guys as Andujar didn’t play while Frazier hasn’t played well and will already be eligible for arbitration in 2021. If Colorado wanted to take a chance on them, maybe Jon Gray would be a fit. I don’t know why the Yankees wouldn’t just keep them and see if they can regain what they’ve lost. They can just go out and buy pitchers. They don’t need to give up players when their value is low.

    2:21
    Dale Sveum: This question may be overly cynical but do you think owners are colluding to spend (almost stupidly, i.e. Moose) this offseason so they can call the past couple offseasons where they didn’t spend outliers going into CBA negotiations? Or is there just more market demand as teams move out of their rebuilds?

    2:24
    Craig Edwards: White Sox, Reds, and Phillies do represent the teams looking to move out of rebuilding cycles so that’s part of it. It’s possible teams are seeing the value in tickets in creating a lot of noise in the offseason. In the not too distant past, the trend was to let the top guys establish the market and have everybody else fall in line. That hasn’t worked the last couple seasons leaving many players with subpar deals. This is probably a combo of a few aggressive teams with agents doing a better job of understanding the market. We might see a slight increase in payroll for next season, but it isn’t going to be some huge course correction.

    2:24
    Craig Edwards: I wrote about teams that might be spending here: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/money-to-spend-whats-the-likely-state-of-t…

    2:24
    The lonely Oriole: What do you think of the Bundy trade, I have hind it was a win win

    2:26
    Craig Edwards: I don’t love the Orioles side of it. They just added some very low-level depth which is something they already have a decent amount of. I think given where they are, they would have done better to gamble for half a season to see if Bundy might net some real prospects at the trade deadline. The risk is getting nothing, but the team is in position to take some risks right now.

    2:26
    Angels Fan: Dylan Bundy isn’t our answer for the rotation, right?  He’s just a reliable innings eater to tide us over until Cole, right?  (Also, how crazy is it that Dylan Bundy of all people is now a reliable innings eater?)

    2:28
    Craig Edwards: He’s depth at the back end of the rotation that didn’t cost a lot in prospects. He’s a value play, but that rotation needs more than that. Cole or Strasburg make a ton of sense for the Angels.

    2:29
    Tony: Thoughts on what the Cardinals do this off-season? Hold pat, small moves, big move?

    2:30
    Craig Edwards: We might see some small moves, and they should get a starting pitcher, but they don’t seem too likely to pull off a blockbuster.

    2:30
    BenZ: Do you know when Kyle Gibson will show up on the Rangers depth charts?

    2:31
    Guest: Marisnick to Mets?

    2:32
    Craig Edwards: As long as he only plays against lefties or if desperately needed when there is a fly ball pitcher on the mound, he’ll be an average player, which is fine to have. He’s not an everyday guy, but I don’t think he’ll be used in that role, either.

    2:32
    TomBruno23: Ryu and Miley make sense for the Cardinals, correct? No QO attached, ground ball guys..I’ll hang up and listen (until my next question)

    2:34
    Craig Edwards: Ryu makes sense for just about everybody. Miley’s September raises a lot of flags, which means he seems a better bet to go someplace where he’s guaranteed a rotation spot, which wouldn’t necessarily be St. Louis.

    2:36
    I am the Walrus: What do you think a trade of Bryant brings back in prospects assuming he loses his service time case?
    Realmuto traded last yr with 2 yrs of team control.  Bryant now with 2 with team control.  Realmuto best 3 yr period was 4 WAR.   Bryant 6.  
    Miami in a trade got Sanchez #21 prospect (according to MLB.com) and Mejia #26 prospect.

    And even with only 1 yr of team control Goldschmidt was traded for Kelly #17, Weaver a controllable SP formerly #80.  And again only 1 yr of team control.  
    So what say you?

    2:37
    Craig Edwards: I think Realmuto is a good comp. At the deadline, Bryant was ranked 25th by Kiley https://blogs.fangraphs.com/2019-trade-value-21-to-30/

    2:37
    Craig Edwards: and Realmuto was 24th the year before. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/2018-trade-value-21-to-30/

    2:41
    Craig Edwards: Sanchez was a 60 at the time of the trade and he carried a lot of risk. Alfaro’s prospect shine had come off a bit so trying to put him at 26 is very aggressive. I think two top-100 prospects, one in the top 50 and one near the back end plus a flyer or two is probably reasonable. It’s also why the Cubs shouldn’t trade him if they want to compete.

    2:42
    Joe: Make sense of what the Reds do now with Senzel, Galvis, India and going for it?  What kind of package would need to be put together for Lindor or Betts?

    2:44
    Craig Edwards: I’m not sure that trade is likely, but as to the first part, they keep Senzel in center field. Galvis is the shortstop until they can find someone better and India tries to develop more game power in the minors. If that doesn’t come around, he’s not going to be able to force his way to the big leagues regardless of who is blocking him. If he hits well enough, the Reds will find a spot for him.

    2:45
    Matt: Why do people adore Kris Bryant?   I see an 88mph exit velocity(23rd percentile)
    34% Hard Hit Rate(25th percentile)
    Batted Ball Distance is trending down(204ft,196ft,186ft, 179ft this season)

    He just hasn’t been right since 2016. I’m not saying he is doomed, but I feel he is the type of guy whose a good enough hitter to cover up the signs of “decline” until things suddenly collapse(Matt Carpenter?)

    2:47
    Craig Edwards: Bryant was a five-win player last year and he projects for the same this year. That’s one of the top 20 players in baseball who has shown the ability to be more than that. He’ll still only be 28 years old next season. You might be reaching a bit.

    2:47
    TomBruno23: From 1985-1992, Andy Van Slyke was 8th in MLB fWAR behind 7 HOFers and ahead of several others. How about that?

    2:47
    Craig Edwards: He was a pretty good player.

    2:47
    John: Not sure if this has been pointed out, but the glossary page on WAR still says that pitch framing is not accounted for in catcher WAR

    2:48
    Craig Edwards: Thanks. I will pass that along.

    2:48
    Jerry Dipoto: If I ask the Cardinals, San Diego and Cleveland for their comp A pick and a prospect for haniger who agrees to trade with me?

    2:50
    Craig Edwards: Depends on the prospect but San Diego has the most of them. If you are talking about like Randy Arozarena or Daniel Johnson, then St. Louis or Cleveland would probably say yes as well.

    2:50
    Nolan: Wait…I am the Walrus said they got Mejia (Francisco?) for Realmuto, which you corrected to Alfaro, but the ranking (26th overall) is clearly Mejia and not Alfaro (who wasn’t a prospect any more)

    2:50
    Craig Edwards: well that clears up some confusion I have.

    2:50
    Matt: Could MLB institute the reverse of a luxury tax? Say a “pauper tax” on certain thresholds below league average payroll(with MAYBE some market-size adjustment).

    2:51
    Craig Edwards: That’s basically a payroll floor, which might not be likely. The easiest way to construct a floor is to raise minimum salaries and those who go through arbitration. I also think revenue sharing with incentives for winning also might help.

    2:52
    Deb: What happens to Dom Smith this offseason? Do you think the Mets move him to a team with a 1B opening?

    2:52
    Craig Edwards: I would think so, yes, though that might have made sense last year, too.

    2:52
    Brandon: When do you think Cole will sign? Will Strasburg wait to sign after Cole?

    2:54
    Craig Edwards: I’m hopeful they will both sign this month. I think the only way Strasburg goes first is if he wants to head back to Washington and they give him a huge deal. I could be wrong, but that’s what makes the most sense to me in terms of negotiating.

    2:54
    robert: With Moose to Cinnci, is Ozuna going to ChiSox, Philly or Cleveland?

    2:55
    Craig Edwards: I always thought he made a lot of sense for the White Sox, but with Castellanos and Puig also out there, Gardner as well, picking a landing spot is a bit difficult because those guys could basically play musical chairs.

    2:56
    Chris: What is the backup plan for WSN if they lose out on Rendon and Strasburg?

    2:57
    Craig Edwards: Donaldson would make a ton of sense. They could get any number of pitchers and their rotation would be fine. That’s also what I could have said last year and they signed the best free agent starter available.

    2:57
    Roy: Do you think we avoid a strike seeing as free agents are getting paid again?

    2:58
    Craig Edwards: Avoiding a strike would be nice, but I don’t think the player’s have erased the last few years from memory. We are also only about 10% of the way through the free agent signings. There’s a long way to go.

    2:58
    Grassquatch : How much of a risk do you think Ryu to be?  I love him, and wish Seattle would bid, but I get the impression Dipoto wants to save the team money and find out what the young pitchers (Kikuchi, Sheffield, Dunn, soon Gilbert).

    2:59
    Craig Edwards: Ryu is going to be 33 next year and has a pretty significant injury history. He should only be signed by a team going for it in 2020 and I don’t think that fits for Seattle.

    3:00
    J: Dan had an interesting thread the other day about how teams aren’t paying $8-9M per win, specifically for the 1st win. Is their a way to breakdown how much teams are paying per win that is staggered and not necessarily just $/WAR? Perhaps an update on wins above average?

    3:01
    Craig Edwards: The last I saw was Matt Swartz a few years ago and at that time, he found it still to be linear. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-linearity-of-cost-per-win/

    3:02
    Craig Edwards: We’ve had three seasons since then, and we are perhaps coming to a head in terms of player development and the talent level of players, particularly younger players, where that might not be true anymore.

    3:03
    I am the Walrus: Bieber was never ranked in Baseball America or MLB.com as a top 100 prospect.  They called him a 4 or 5 and the other a mid rotation guy.  So how do you explain him now being called a #1 or #2.  What happened?

    3:03
    Craig Edwards: I wrote about him early this season, but I think there were some hittability issues that were greatly helped by a change. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-best-bieber/

    3:05
    Dylan: Why don’t “rebuilding” teams take on bad contracts more often? Do owners not see the big picture, even financially?

    3:06
    Craig Edwards: Most teams with bad contracts don’t attach good prospects to them so the opportunities aren’t great. The owners like rebuilds because they are cheap. If they were expensive, they probably wouldn’t be quite as on board.

    3:06
    TomBruno23: Ryu makes sense for just about everybody? Or only for a team going for it in 2020? I agree with the latter.

    3:06
    Craig Edwards: got me.

    3:07
    GSon: @ I am the Walrus: RE: Bieber: The Indians are exploiting an untapped advantage. The Indians are taking guys who can fill up the strike zone at will w/ control and command & teaching them how to throw harder. Bieber was a low 90’s / upper 80’s nothing special SP.. Same with Aaron Civale..

    3:07
    Eric : Should the next highly desired GM/President…etc seek a deal more like CEOs in various large corporations? A long contract with incredibly substantial costs to voiding, to prevent a Dave Dombrowski-type situation.

    3:08
    Craig Edwards: I’m guessing that would take money out of the salary and the guaranteed portion of the deal, which wouldn’t be as desirable.

    3:08
    mike: Torres isn’t as good a SS as Didi. How do Yanks not resign Didi.

    3:09
    Craig Edwards: If they wanted him, they could have made him a QO. I’m guessing they think Torres is a better player and that they have enough infielders. They need starting pitching.

    3:10
    Craig Edwards: That’s going to do it for me today. Thanks for all the questions.

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  • The Brewers Found Their Grandal Replacement

    Posted 1 day ago

    On Monday, no other team non-tendered more players than the Brewers. In addition to the 10 free agents lost from their roster, the five players let go earlier this week add to the mass exodus from Milwaukee. Those 15 players accounted for 14 WAR in 2019. More than a third of those wins were accumulated by Yasmani Grandal, their All-Star catcher. The Brewers failed to bring him back on a long-term deal after he signed a four-year pact with the White Sox worth $73 million.

    With plenty of holes on their roster and division-rivals gearing up for next year, the Brewers entered this offseason with plenty of work to do. Trading for Luis Urías and Eric Lauer was the first step towards rebuilding their roster. Now they have their replacement for Grandal in hand. Early Thursday morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Mariners had struck an agreement to trade Omar Narváez to the Brewers. Greg Johns later reported the return from Milwaukee: RHP Adam Hill and the Brewers’ Competitive Balance draft pick (currently slotted in at 71 overall).

    With the catching market rife with buyers and few quality catchers to be had, a number of teams moved quickly to secure a deal with a new backstop. Grandal, Travis d’Arnaud, Tyler Flowers, Yan Gomes, and Stephen Vogt all signed new deals or re-signed with their previous club in November, leaving the free agent market rather bare. With the Mariners basically telegraphing their intent to move Narváez this offseason, the only question was which contender would partner up.

    Narváez was likely the only available catcher who could come close to replicating Grandal’s performance beside the plate. Among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances in 2019, Narváez’s 119 wRC+ ranked fourth, two points behind Grandal. This offensive outburst didn’t necessarily come out of nowhere. He did post a 122 wRC+ in 2018 while splitting time behind the dish for the White Sox. But this season, Narváez’s power output truly exploded. He launched 22 home runs in 2019, more than doubling his previous combined professional total.

    Some significant changes to his batted ball profile fueled his power breakout. He put over two-thirds of his balls in play in the air last year, a huge jump over his previous career norms. His fly-ball rate increased to over 40% and he continued to hit line drives. But despite all those lofted balls, his Statcast peripherals paint a curious picture. His average exit velocity sits in the 15th percentile and his hard hit rate is even lower. But despite his lack of hard contact, he managed to post a BABIP over .300. Like I showed with Luis Arráez earlier this year, Narváez has optimized his launch angle to make the most of his contact.

    Flares hit between 70 mph and 80 mph have an expected wOBA around .672. If you don’t have much power in your swing, these are the types of batted balls that will maximize the contact you make. Narváez thrives by hitting tons of flares that drop in the middle of no man’s land between the infield and the outfielders.

    That explains how he’s been able to post a batting average right around .275 for three years straight. But all those extra fly balls — along with the dragless ball — helped him maximize his home run per fly ball rate. Among all batters who hit at least 10 home runs in 2019, his average launch angle on his home runs sat in the 93rd percentile. When he lofted his fly balls with a little bit of oomph, they carried far enough to fly over the wall in right field.

    With a good eye at the plate and the discipline to lay off bad pitches, his offensive profile has a strong foundation even if there’s some risk that his power regresses if the ball changes again. An offensively competent catcher is a rarity, particularly nowadays. The reason why the return for Narváez seems so light is related to his struggles behind the plate. He was rated one of the worst pitch framers in the majors last year and his ability to control the running game is below average. Going from one of the best pitch framers in the game in Grandal to one of the worst in Narváez will definitely have an effect on the Brewers pitching staff.

    Catcher Framing Runs, 2019
    Player FG Framing Runs Statcast Framing Runs BP Framing Runs
    Yasmani Grandal 17.0 13.0 19.4
    Omar Narváez -10.4 -5.0 -8.2

    No matter which framing metric you prefer, going from Grandal to Narváez could cost the Brewers between 20-30 runs. Framing is a skill that can be taught, and the Mariners worked with Narváez to develop his receiving. But the improvements weren’t enough to make him even an average receiver. Now the Brewers take up that mantle, hoping to continue his development behind the plate.

    For the Mariners, an offensively minded catcher was a luxury that didn’t fit their rebuilding plan. A poor receiver behind the plate was a liability for a young pitching staff that needs all the help they can get. With Tom Murphy and Austin Nola on the roster and Cal Raleigh quickly moving through the minors, the Mariners cashed in on Narváez’s bat to add more talent to an improving system.

    In Hill, the Mariners get a former fourth-round pick who has been traded twice in the past year. The 6-foot-6 righty ranked 15th in the Brewers organization. Here’s Eric Longenhagen’s scouting report:

    Hill is 88-91 touch 93 from a lower slot, so the fastball has a lot of tailing action. He’s got some mechanical funk and it takes hitters a bit to get comfortable the first time they see him. His changeup is his best secondary, it has late diving action and is used against left and right-handed hitters. The slider is closer to average but doesn’t always play like a viable pitch because Hill doesn’t locate it consistently. He’s a below-average athlete with a softer build, he’s mechanically inconsistent and his command wavers. I don’t think he’s a traditional starter, but because of the repertoire depth and unique mechanical look he should be a suitable reliever, possibly one who can get more than three outs at a time.

    While Hill is an interesting project for the Mariners player development team, the draft pick could be more valuable. This year’s draft class appears to be rather deep and the Competitive Balance picks come with a slot value around $1 million. There is some risk since the draft pick isn’t an actualized player that can be projected, but the flexibility it gives the Mariners to choose the player they want to add to their system and the addition to their bonus pool makes up for that.

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  • The Phillies sign Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract

    Posted 1 day ago

    Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

    First blood of the offseason is drawn.

    In the past, signing free agent starting pitchers was about who you were necessarily, and not necessarily who you will or even could be. Signing David Price isn’t about turning him into a stud, it’s merely hoping he’ll be a stud for a bit longer. Signing Nathan Eovaldi for $68 million, on the other hand, was about the pitcher he was in the process of becoming and surely could be.

    I use that as example not because I think Zack Wheeler will miss all of the 2020 season, but I’m merely pointing out that with league economics turned on its head and teams still technically flush with cash, that money needs to be spent somewhere. If teams are tapped out on international signings and postings are to a relative minimum, and the big heavy-hitters like the Yankees and Dodgers seem to be all-in on Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole, there’s really no other mid-market game in town other than Wheeler.

    Wheeler, funnily enough, was trending in this direction from the start. In his original post-draft scouting report, Baseball America wrote that he had “athleticism and solid mechanics,” as well as “excellent arm speed” and a “power breaking ball… [with] late bite and depth.” On those merits alone you could say that’s the reason, per Mark Feinsand, the Phillies will sign Wheeler to a five-year, $100 million deal, but it was certainly a circuitous road to get there.

    After being drafted sixth overall by the Giants, and being subsequently flipped to the Mets for a half-season of Carlos Beltran, a surprisingly good player-for-prospect trade by New York, Wheeler made his 2013 debut after being closely monitored innings-wise all the way through 2012. By the end of his first two seasons, he had 285 13 league average innings under his belt.

    That was fine until 2015 struck, when he tore his UCL, kicking off a two-year rehab program that would end not only his 2015 season, but his 2016 season as well. He didn’t end up making another start until April of 2017, and he only lasted 86 13 innings in that year after he was shut down in July with a stress reaction in his already-much-maligned right arm.

    Then, things settled on the right track. Wheeler pitched 29 and 31 respective starts in 2018 and 2019, putting up 9 WARP in the process. He was also doing this with a largely typical repertoire of >50% fastballs. According to Ben Clemens of FanGraphs, he could be the next Gerrit Cole/Justin Verlander/insert souped-up-pitcher here:

    “Wheeler excels at the hard work of getting ahead in the count. That’s the difficult part! When he gets there, though, he too often chooses the wrong pitch… Baseball is rarely as easy as throwing more breaking pitches and fewer fastballs. But in Wheeler’s case, despite his blazing heater, it just might be.”

    Whether Larry Rothschild and Joe Girardi take advantage of that in Philadelphia is yet to be seen, but suffice it to say that Rothschild led a team in the Yankees that had an incredibly low fastball rate, and whether he agreed with that or not is an open question.

    On paper, without modifications, Wheeler instantly makes the Phillies a better squad. He essentially replaces the innings of the aggregate monster that was Jason Vargas/Drew Smyly/Nick Pivetta, so it’s an instant three-win jump on average. If that ticks the team from a projected 85 to 88 wins, that makes all the difference, even if it seems like an “overpay.” And in the days of insured contracts, there are likely monetary incentives for the Phillies to take a chance on a player that is only going to cost a quarter of his salary if he heads down the 2015 path. Yet if Wheeler makes adjustments and continues to stifle criticism with his level of play, it’ll look like a relative bargain.

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  • Braves Turn Attention to Rotation, Add Cole Hamels for 2020

    Posted 1 day ago

    Before Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves’ winter had been centered around fortifying their bullpen. That strategy made sense — Atlanta’s reliever WAR was just inside the bottom third of baseball last year, so keeping the most important pieces of that bullpen around and adding extra talent around them had to be a priority. The Braves wasted little time in signing Will Smith, arguably the best reliever on the market, to a three-year, $40-million deal, and retained midseason acquisition Chris Martin and 37-year-old Darren O’Day on short-term deals as well. Their focus on keeping the band together applied to other areas of the roster too, as they quickly re-signed catcher Tyler Flowers and outfielder Nick Markakis before bringing in another catcher in free agency by adding Travis d’Arnaud via a two-year, $16-million deal.

    An area that had gone untouched was the starting rotation, but as of Wednesday afternoon, that is no longer the case. The Braves signed 35-year-old left-hander Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18-million contract, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

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    Right away, the addition of Hamels brings to mind the upgrade the Braves made to their rotation via free agency last offseason — er, sorry, last June. That’s when Atlanta finally became the team to sign Dallas Keuchel after his extended free agency period, bringing him in on a one-year deal worth $13 million. Keuchel, like Hamels, was a low-velocity veteran southpaw, and after a somewhat rocky first couple of starts, settled in quite nicely down the stretch, earning the chance to start Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS.

    The Braves will hope for similar poise out of Hamels, who reached free agency for the very first time this winter after 14 years in the majors. Following a long and successful run in Philadelphia from 2006-15, he was traded at the deadline to Texas in a blockbuster that involved eight players, mostly prospects. He was a summer trade target again three years later, when the Cubs acquired him from Texas for three more players in July 2018. He’s been a reliable member of Chicago’s rotation ever since, making 27 starts for the organization in 2019 and holding a 3.81 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 141.2 innings. It was the 12th season of his career in which he was worth at least 2.5 WAR.

    From Atlanta’s perspective, there’s enough to like about Hamels that his age can be somewhat overlooked. Though he tied his career high in BB% (9.1) in 2019, he also maintained a healthy 23.2% strikeout rate that kept him in the 62nd percentile of all pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. Even more encouraging was the return to form he experienced with his changeup, as Devan Fink explored just a couple of weeks ago. Throughout his time in Philadelphia, Hamels possessed the greatest changeup on earth, and in 2019, it performed better than it had in years. It wasn’t quite the show-stopper it was early in the decade, but it did hold opposing hitters to a .214 wOBA and 32 wRC+, while once again acting as his best swing-and-miss offering.

    But the changeup isn’t the only intriguing aspect of Hamels’ deep arsenal. He threw five different pitches in 2019, with the most-often used being the four-seamer (35.3%) and the least-often used being the sinker (12.3%). He mixes his pitches rather evenly, with the cutter emerging in recent seasons as a sneakily excellent offering. Thrown about four ticks of velocity down from his four-seamer, Hamels used his cutter on 18.7% of pitches in 2019, and it performed better than it ever had, resulting in a .263 wOBA and 67 wRC+, thanks largely to consistently weak contact. The success of the cutter and changeup have been enormous in helping Hamels weather the results of his deteriorating four-seamer, which sat at its lowest average velocity since 2009 and allowed a 158 wRC+ to opposing hitters.

    Hamels obviously doesn’t offer the ceiling that the available top-tier free agent pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg do, but what he does offer is remarkable consistency. Now entering his 15th season in the majors, he’s never produced a WAR figure under 1.7 and has spent most of his career outperforming FIP marks that keep suggesting he’s more flawed than he appears. In 2017, at age 33, he finished a 24-start season in Texas with a 101 FIP- but an 88 ERA-. The following year, he had a 104 FIP- but an 84 FIP-. He’s proven time and time again that he is able to outperform his peripherals, and the rest of baseball has largely been willing to listen. In our list of the Top 50 Free Agents, Hamels ranked 19th, with Kiley McDaniel predicting two years and $28 million as the winning offer. Here’s what Eric Longenhagen had to say in his prognosis:

    It was still down from the Hamels that somehow sat 92-93 and touched 95 in April and May, but fluctuations in fastball velocity have plagued him for so long that in this instance it’s not a guaranteed sign of aging so much as evidence that this is Cole Hamels. He still has the ability to throw that enticing changeup in any count and to alter his fastball shape (cut, sink, ride) and offset some of what he’s lost in raw heat, and his shapely curveball is fine to dump in situationally. This is a backend starter, but a good one.

    The Braves wound up paying a little bit more on the AAV side in order to get half the commitment, but the price tag itself is telling of what Atlanta sees in him. His $18-million salary, after all, isn’t far off from the $23 million they paid to rent Josh Donaldson for a year in 2019, and he was worth nearly five wins. Dan Szymborski’s preliminary ZiPS projection for Hamels also reflects the continued optimism in his ability to prevent runs:

    Preliminary ZiPS Projection – Cole Hamels
    Year W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
    2020 9 6 3.62 25 25 141.7 128 15 49 131 119 2.9

    Hamels’ signing probably doesn’t spell good things for a possible return by Keuchel, or the signing of someone like Madison Bumgarner, but it’s not enough to rule out the addition of another starter, either. As currently constructed, our RosterResource has Hamels slotting in behind Mike Soroka at the front of the rotation and ahead of Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, and Sean Newcomb. The Braves still have lots of promising young arms like Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, and Ian Anderson, but none of them are currently beating down the door to grab a rotation spot. If they want to make the rotation a strength, another move via trade or free agency would be wise. But with Hamels in the fold, the Braves at least have enough starters to go challenge for another division title.

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  • The Phillies Get a New Set of Wheels

    Posted 2 days ago

    The indefatigable Ken “Robothal” Rosenthal reported Wednesday afternoon that Zack Wheeler had agreed with the Philadelphia Phillies on a five-year contract. Reportedly worth $118 million in guaranteed salary, Wheeler will remain in Philadelphia through the end of the 2024 season, barring a trade.

    In my Elegy for ’19 article talking about the Phillies, when discussing the future, my hope was that the team would continue pushing forward financially. While it would seem unlikely that Philadelphia would suddenly become overly thrifty, the club would be far from the first contender to suddenly get nervous about nearing the luxury tax threshold.

    Wheeler was always expected to be a top starter. A first-round pick for the Giants in 2009, he was traded to the Mets at the 2011 trade deadline straight-up for Carlos Beltran. Wheeler had little trouble adjusting to the majors, putting up FIPs of 4.17 and 3.55 in 2013 and ’14 over 49 starts for the Mets. Doesn’t it feel a bit odd that a 3.55 FIP was just a little better than league-average as recently as 2014?

    During spring training in 2015, Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn UCL, resulting in Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire season. Arm soreness during his rehab in 2016 delayed Wheeler’s comeback with the Mets until the next year. It wasn’t until 2018 that Wheeler really appeared to be picking up where he left off, throwing 182.1 innings with a 3.31 ERA/3.25 FIP, enough for 4.2 WAR. Last year featured much of the same good stuff, with Wheeler’s .311 BABIP likely being partially the fault of an unimpressive Mets defense. Perhaps most importantly, 2019 put Wheeler’s 2 1/2 lost years more comfortably in the rear-view mirror, something important for a team making a significant contract commitment.

    The Phillies will likely slot Wheeler in behind Aaron Nola, providing a significant boost for a rotation that is currently ranked 21st in baseball on our depth charts. Among teams that were serious playoff contenders in 2019, only the Twins have a worse projection for the starting rotation than the Phillies. Further complicating the starting situation in Philly is that Jake Arrieta’s elbow is still a bit of a question mark, despite the belief that he’ll be recovered from his bone spur removal in time to have a normal spring training.

    Wheeler gives the Phillies more flexibility by not needing all of Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta succeeding in 2020. Wheeler shouldn’t prevent the Phillies from going after another starting pitcher as well, with the team still having roughly $40 million in payroll room before they hit the second luxury tax threshold at $228 million. While this might make the team signing Gerrit Cole a bit of a long shot, especially given other needs, someone like Michael Pineda or Tanner Roark ought to still be a possibility.

    Preliminary ZiPS Projections – Zack Wheeler
    Year W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
    2020 10 8 3.98 29 29 178.7 172 22 51 172 109 2.9
    2021 9 7 3.89 26 26 159.7 153 19 45 153 112 2.8
    2022 9 7 4.00 26 26 157.3 153 19 45 147 109 2.5
    2023 8 7 4.00 24 24 146.3 143 18 42 137 109 2.4
    2024 8 6 4.14 22 22 137.0 135 18 40 129 105 2.0

    Even though it’s near what Steamer has for Wheeler, I find the ZiPS projection for him a little grumpy for my tastes. My colleague Ben Clemens wrote about Wheeler’s upside last month, and I have similar feelings. It does feel like with Wheeler’s deep and varied repertoire, he could be a 10-or-11-strikeouts-per-game pitcher. Projections are conservative for pitchers given the downside of injury risk, but I think Wheeler has a higher ceiling than the projection system thinks.

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    Meanwhile, losing out on Wheeler is disappointing for the White Sox. One of the things holding the team back from finally turning around that rebuilding corner is the lack of dependability in the starting rotation. The club had three significant Tommy John setbacks last offseason, and even with Lucas Giolito likely being mostly for real, the starting pitching is unlikely to be competitive with the better rotations in the league. The Indians aren’t dead yet, and while the Twins have their own rotation problems, Minnesota’s offense is solid at most positions. I’m hoping the White Sox are serious bidders for Cole or Stephen Strasburg because there are few pitchers available in free agency that are truly potential difference-makers.

    Nothing really changes for the Mets with this signing, as I don’t believe they were ever serious contenders to retain Wheeler once he hit free agency. The team’s rotation still looks strong, but a deGrom/Syndergaard/Wheeler/Stroman/Matz front five would, I feel, pretty clearly have been the best projected rotation in baseball coming into the season. The Mets now need to pay or replace Wheeler, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard in consecutive offseasons.

    This was a necessary signing for the Phillies, but probably not sufficient by itself to put the Phillies on the level with the Braves, especially considering the latter’s short-term deal with Cole Hamels on the same day.

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  • Kyle Gibson signs with the Rangers

    Posted 2 days ago

    Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

    Gibson could be a solid positive regression candidate, but the Rangers are still far from contending for a playoff spot.

    We are all waiting for the major free agents to sign, but in the meantime, there has been a flurry of activity lately concerning lesser deals.

    Among them is Kyle Gibson signing with the Rangers on a three-year, $30 million deal. He joins a Texas rotation that had two surprisingly good pitchers last year in Lance Lynn and Mike Minor, both of whom cracked 7.0 WAR last season.

    The Rangers had a surprisingly good season in 2019, surpassing their PECOTA projected 70 wins by eight wins. The aforementioned pitching duo had a lot to do with that, but so did Joey Gallo. They could have been a .500 team had he been able to play close to a full season instead of just 70 games due to injury.

    I applaud a team for actively trying to get better, but the Rangers are going to need to get MUCH better in order to contend in 2020. The second AL Wild Card slot went to a 96-win team in 2019, and the Rays and Athletics are likely still 90+-win teams. Even if we set aside the fact that Lynn, Minor, and Gallo are prime regression candidates, the Rangers will have to sign Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon to crack 90 wins. Even if they sign one of those guys and continue to make improvements around the margins, I don’t see how they make the playoffs in 2020 without lots and lots of luck.

    Gibson joins his new organization after making a career with the Twins, who drafted in him in the first round in 2009. It is hard to gauge exactly what he is right now because he has been quite inconsistent from year to year. Setting aside his disastrous 10-start debut season in 2013, he has a career 4.76 RA9 and averaged 1.7 WAR a season but with a pretty wide standard deviation. Three times he posted an RA9 over 5.00 and a WAR below one in a season. Twice he’s posted an RA9 barely over 4.00 with a +3 WAR, the best of which was in 2018. His peripherals the last couple of seasons have been roughly average.

    I thought perhaps Gibson’s DRA would be more consistent, but it absolutely is not. Interestingly enough, his 5.60 DRA in 2019 indicates that he got more or less exactly the results he should have given how he pitched.

    Last year, Gibson had a 5.57 RA9 and was barely over replacement level. However, that comes with a significant caveat. The team announced on September 1st that Gibson had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating disease that easily could have affected his performance all season long.

    Gibson is a groundball pitcher, so an improved infield defense is necessary. Elvis Andrus is still a good shortstop despite his age, but I don’t know who is going to play third base in Texas, Additionally, Rougned Odor’s glove is not any better than his bat. Ronald Guzmán is no worse than a 55-grade defender at first, but the Rangers would be much better off with a first baseman who can actually hit.

    All of this is not to say that Gibson was a bad signing. It is a fair deal. The Rangers just have a lot more work to do for this spending to be worthwhile.

    . . .

    Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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  • Top 2020 Prospects: San Francisco Giants 

    Posted 2 days ago

    Carlos Collazo of Baseball America started a Twitter thread last month with a poll meant to determine who fans thought was the team of the decade. The San Francisco Giants, winners of three World Series championships in the decade, were left off the four-team survey. Twitter did not like this and demanded an explanation, but we already know what happened. Nobody really cares about the Giants.

    That’s not fair. 

    You care about the Giants. 

    That’s why you’re reading this: you’ve got at least some level of interest in Giants prospects. Still, it fascinated me that the Astros won the poll despite having won the one World Series and having lost almost as many games as they won over the decade. The Astros have become the image of success and a preferred model for how to win at baseball, while the Giants ended the aughts in the shadows, scraping up castoffs as they transitioned to a forward-thinking front office after a dynastic run of success under Brian Sabean. Farhan Zaidi and company are in this for the long haul, and their system looks better every day. So grab some flowers for your hair and let’s go to San Francisco.

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