Chris Sale Finally Cashes In

Chris Sale has long been one of the top pitchers in baseball — not only for pure performance but for bang for the buck, as he’s been working under one of the game’s most team-friendly contracts since 2013, which runs through this season. After an uneven season in which he reprised his 2017 dominance until shoulder inflammation limited his availability down the stretch, before capping a rocky October by closing out the World Series-clinching Game 5 against the Dodgers, the wiry southpaw has become the latest star to lock in big money early instead of testing the free agent market next winter or the one after that, following in the footsteps of Nolan Arenado, Mike Trout, and Paul Goldschmidt, all of whom have agreed to nine-figure extensions over the past four weeks. On Friday, Sale and the Red Sox agreed to a five-year, $145 million extension that will take him through 2024, his age-35 season. The deal, which will reportedly include some deferred money, won’t be finalized until he takes a physical next week.

Sale’s new deal succeeds the five-year, $32.5 million extension he signed in March 2013, his first year of arbitration eligibility. Via the two club options tacked onto that contract, he made $12.5 million in 2018 and will make $15 million in 2019, for a total of $59 million. That’s not exactly chump change, but it’s far below what the White Sox and Red Sox would have paid on the open market for the 34.7 WAR he’s delivered so far under that deal, the third-highest total among all pitchers. The two pitchers ahead of him, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, signed seven-year contracts worth $215 million and $210 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. A similar payday for Sale has been long overdue, something the Red Sox had to know when they acquired him from the White Sox in a December 2016 blockbuster that cost the team infielder Yoan Moncada (who topped our prospect list the following spring and ranked second on that of Baseball America), pitcher Michael Kopech (21st on our list), outfielder Luis Basabe (now sixth on the White Sox list), and pitcher Victor Diaz.

Taking that initial extension, which Sale signed on the heels of a 192-inning age-23 season, wasn’t “the wrong” decision, necessarily. It was a move that guaranteed security for a pitcher whose mechanics and injury risk had already become the subject of much debate throughout the industry, and those concerns didn’t abate even after he signed his deal. Nonetheless, he’s avoided any disaster scenarios, throwing the fifth-highest total of innings in that 2013-18 span (1,196) while never dipping below 4.9 WAR even in the seasons in which he fell short of 200 frames.

In 2017, Sale’s first season with the Red Sox, he became the first AL pitcher to notch 300 strikeouts in a season since the turn of the millennium (308, all told) while leading the majors in innings (214.1), FIP (2.45), and WAR (7.5), though he faded somewhat down the stretch and finished second in the AL Cy Young voting behind Corey Kluber, whose 2.25 ERA (and 8.2 bWAR) carried the day. It was the sixth consecutive season in which Sale had earned All-Star honors and received Cy Young consideration.

Through the first four months of last season, Sale appeared to be on track to finally win the award, starting the All-Star Game for the AL and carrying a 2.04 ERA and 2.08 FIP into late July before missing two starts with shoulder inflammation. Upon returning, Sale threw five innings of one-hit shutout ball against the hapless Orioles, striking out 12 — his 11th double-digit game of the year — on just 68 pitches. But he went back on the DL before he could start again, and the Red Sox, who were running away with the AL East at the time, chose to play it safe. Sale pitched just 12 innings in four September appearances, and finished with 158 innings, four short of qualifying for the ERA title; his 2.11 mark would have ranked second in the league and his 1.98 FIP first, and even with the limited work, his 6.2 WAR ranked second. The shortfall of innings cost him the Cy Young, as Blake Snell and his 21 wins and 1.89 ERA in 180.2 innings brought home the hardware.

The Red Sox’s cautious handling of Sale extended into the postseason, as he totaled just 13.1 innings in three starts, with only his Division Series Game 1 turn against the Yankees lasting longer than four innings. He made two one-inning relief appearances, one in Game 4 of that series and the other in the ninth inning of Game 5, where he struck out the side to seal the Red Sox’s fourth championship in the past 15 seasons.

Repeatedly, Sale and the Red Sox have expressed confidence in the pitcher’s condition. In late August, Sale said that his shoulder felt “like Paul Bunyan’s ox” and in September he said he had no plans to fuss over his mechanics because his shoulder was structurally sound. “There was never any major issue with my shoulder,” he said. “This wasn’t something that happened on a single pitch or a mechanical issue or anything.” As of January, he felt “normal again. Being able to throw free and easy and feel loose … obviously is a nice feeling.”

Apparently the Red Sox are still confident enough in the condition of Sale’s shoulder to commit to him for five years beyond this one, at a salary near the top of the scale for pitchers. At this writing, there’s no word about opt-outs, options, or escalators, but Sale’s $29 million average annual value trails only those of Zack Greinke ($34.4 million), Kershaw and teammate David Price (both $31 million), and Scherzer ($30 million), though according to Craig Edwards’ recent inflation-adjusted look at the largest contracts in history, it would actually rank eighth behind the deals of Kevin Brown, Kershaw and CC Sabathia (both pre-opt out), Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Mike Hampton, and Felix Hernandez.

As with Arenado and Goldschmidt, running Sale’s numbers through our contract estimation tool using even conservative parameters ($8.0 million per WAR and just 3% average annual inflation, as opposed to $9 million or more, and 5%) yields an eye-opening valuation:

Chris Sale’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $203.3 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2020 31 5.7 $8.2 M $47.0 M
2021 32 5.2 $8.5 M $44.1 M
2022 33 4.7 $8.7 M $41.1 M
2023 34 4.2 $9.0 M $37.8 M
2024 35 3.7 $9.0 M $33.3 M
Totals 23.5 $203.3 M

Assumptions

Value: $8M/WAR with 3.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), 0 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

Where Goldschmidt’s estimate using the same parameters came in 20% higher than his actual deal, the estimate for Sale is around 40% higher. But unlike in the case of Goldschmidt, where applying estimates of $9 million per win and 5% inflation to a ZiPS projection — which is generally more conservative than this model — provided by Dan Szymborski produced a figure that more closely resembled his actual contract, sticking with $8 million per win and 3% inflation for Sale in this model overshoots the mark by even more:

Chris Sale’s 2020-24 via ZiPS
Year Age IP ERA ERA+ FIP WAR $/WAR Value
2020 31 171 2.58 171 2.40 5.6 $8.24M $46.1 M
2021 32 166.7 2.70 163 2.48 5.2 $8.49M $44.1 M
2022 33 153 2.71 163 2.50 4.8 $8.74 M $42.0 M
2023 34 143.3 2.76 160 2.59 4.4 $9.00 M $39.6 M
2024 35 132.7 2.85 155 2.60 4.0 $9.27 M $37.1 M
Totals 24 $209.0 M

Even while projecting relatively low innings totals, ZiPS sees Sale as half a win more valuable over that timespan than our contract estimation tool does. Indeed, Szymborski says that only Luis Severino and German Marquez (!) project to produce more WAR over the remainder of their careers. Dan’s computer is so sweet on the southpaw that it’s probably sending heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to his locker as I type. Remember, for both of Sale’s estimates I’ve lopped off his 2019 performance, in which he projects to deliver something around $47-$49 million of value while being paid just $15 million.

Based upon that $145 million figure, either the Red Sox are significantly underpaying Sale or expecting a lot less, performance-wise, than the projection systems (for what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system projects Sale for 22.1 WARP over the 2020-24 period). Which doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, as they’re the ones with access to his medical file, and the risk of a career-altering injury for a pitcher is ever-present. Working backwards with the ZiPS projection and our conservative $8 million and 3% parameters, a five-year forecast of 17.0 WAR produces a valuation of $147.7 million. At $9 million per win and 5% inflation, 14.0 WAR produces a valuation of $144.2 million.

Regardless of the projections, the contract adds one more hefty salary to the Red Sox payroll, which for tax purposes already has $105.5 million worth of commitments for 2020 and $106.0 million for 2021, primarily via the deals of Price (an AAV of $31 million), J.D. Martinez ($22 million), Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million), Dustin Pedroia ($13.75 million), and Christian Vazquez ($4.517 million). That’s before any extension or arbitration raise for Mookie Betts (who has just one more year of club control), and without counting the pending free agencies of Rick Porcello or Xander Bogaerts, though it’s worth noting that Martinez can opt out after this season. If the Red Sox, who already project to be about $31.6 million over this year’s Competitive Balance Tax threshold — so far over that they incur a surtax — are going to avoid progressively larger tax bills, they’ll have to make some tough choices in the near future, and find some lower-cost players to fill out their roster. Keeping Sale, alongside Price and Eovaldi, almost certainly means letting Porcello walk, and Bogaerts, too, because as a Scott Boras client, the likelihood of his agreeing to a team-friendly extension appears to be slim.

As for Sale, he doesn’t have to remain in perennial Cy Young contention to make this deal worthwhile, but the fact that he’s been able to do so is what’s made him so attractive a player in the first place. He’s earned his big payday, and while he might have received an even bigger one by going on the market, the inherent risks of pitching make this a sensible move for him as well.


FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 11

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 11
This is the 11th episode of a mostly weekly program co-hosted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel about player evaluation in all its forms. The show, which is available through the normal FanGraphs Audio feed, has a working name but barely. The show is not all prospect stuff, but there is plenty of that, as the hosts are Prospect Men.

Here are some handy timestamps to help you navigate this podcast:

0:18 – Kiley makes his most ambitious intro joke yet
1:00 – What the guys have been up to the last few weeks, mostly going to games in Phoenix and Texas
8:00 – Some musings about our plans for the coming months and tools coming soon to the site
11:32 – We endeavor to talk about big league teams in the format of an over/under projections fantasy draft of teams (it makes sense when we explain it)
13:45 – Eric kicks off the overachievers 4-team fantasy draft
23:59 – Kiley kicks off the underachievers 4-team fantasy draft
36:40 – We wrap things up

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @kileymcd or @longenhagen on Twitter or at prospects@fangraphs.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 38 min play time.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Building a Latin American Pitcher Voltron with Ramón Hernández

Killing time used to be an art for children of my generation. We didn’t have a smartphone in our hands. The internet was still some kind of sorcery unavailable in our towns, and the TV offered just four channels, where soap operas ruled the air time. Time, as you can imagine, kept taunting us as he slowly passed by outside, while we stayed indoors.

Because of that, I personally craved my parents’ permission to go out. When I was fortunate enough to receive it, my friends and I played “Quemado” (something like Pelota Vasca but where we fielded the ball and threw it to the wall) or “Pelotica de Goma” (this Baseball5 thing is flat out plagiarism for us Venezuelans). And when we got tired or lost the ball to an unfriendly neighbor, we just went ahead and bantered.

In these exchanges full of imaginary exercises, my brain decided to create a habit that still haunts me to this day. I called it the “Voltron Game,” and, as in the famous Japanese cartoon of the 80s, it consists of assembling a perfect entity using the outstanding parts of other things that were perfectly fine separately.

I did this with dinosaurs, cities, and cars. I did this with super heroes and super villains. And, of course, I did it (and still do it) with baseball.

Omar Vizquel once helped me assemble the perfect Venezuelan shortstop. Henry Blanco once helped me assemble the perfect Venezuelan pitcher. And now, because springs training for MLB and in Mexico are awfully long, I wanted to play again with Ramón Hernández, current Diablos Rojos del Mexico bench coach, as my new partner. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Chat – 3/22/19

12:01
Eric A Longenhagen: Howdy howdy, let’s chat

12:01
GPT: Have you had the opportunity to see Giants spring training yet, any standouts if so?

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: yes was there yesterday, actually. Sean Hjelle looks pretty good, certainly the fastball does. 92-94 with tough angle and some life. Gregory Santos was 93-95 yesterday, some plus sliders. Marco Luciano looks incredible but we knew that already.

12:02
David: More total future value: The three first-rounders the Padres signed in 2016 (Quantrill, Potts, Lauer), or the three future first-rounders (Rolison, Bishop, Bleday) they called but didn’t sign on day three?

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: the latter group

12:02
Edgar: Is late 2020 a feasible debut for Andrew Vaughn? Despite height, can he be a 25 HR guy?

Read the rest of this entry »


Cardinals and Goldschmidt Catch Extension Fever

Extension fever is gripping major league baseball. In the wake of deals that short-circuited the highly anticipated free agencies of veterans Nolan Arenado and Mike Trout, and delayed the onset of those of Alex Bregman, Aaron Hicks, Eloy Jimenez, Miles Mikolas, Luis Severino, Blake Snell, and others, the latest player to take himself off the market is Paul Goldschmidt. The 31-year-old Cardinals first baseman has reportedly agreed to a five-year, $130 million extension for the 2020-24 seasons, a generous-looking deal in light of the past two winters’ frosty free agent proceedings.

Three and a half months after he was traded by the Diamondbacks in exchange for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Andy Young, and a Competitive Balance B pick, it still feels weird to type “Cardinals first baseman” in connection to Goldschmidt, who over the course of his eight-year major league career had become the face of the Diamondbacks’ franchise. An eighth-round pick out of Texas State University who barely grazed prospect lists — Baseball Prospectus ranked him 10th in 2011 (a “Two-Star Prospect”), while Baseball America ranked him 11th, good enough to make their annual Prospect Handbook but not even the team top 10 published over the winter — he nonetheless made six All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, finished in the top three of the MVP voting three times, and helped the team to two playoff berths during his run in Arizona. However, the Diamondbacks couldn’t get past the Division Series either in 2011 or ’17 despite Goldschmidt homering four times and slugging .688 in eight postseason games.

Even given Arizona’s lack of postseason success, that’s the type of player most teams would try to lock up long-term. The Diamondbacks did ink Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million extension circa March 2013, and in February 2017, team CEO Derrick Hall spoke of hoping that “he’s here for the long haul,” but by January 2018, it appeared that they were gearing up for life without their star slugger. Read the rest of this entry »


Luke Weaver Is Working on a Cutter. Or Is It a Slider?

When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Luke Weaver in the deal that sent Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals, they brought on board a 25-year-old right-hander with a crisp fastball and a plus changeup. What Weaver has lacked is a quality third option to augment his go-to offerings. While he went to his hook 12.7% of the time last year, the pitch was more of a show-me than a weapon. Improving it was a primary focus over the offseason, and it has remained one this spring.

It’s not the only pitch the former first-round pick has been working on. Weaver is also hoping to reintroduce a cutter-slider to his arsenal. The extent to which that qualifies as one or two pitches — i.e. cutter and/or slider — isn’t an easy question to answer. At least, that wasn’t the case when I sat down with Weaver a few weeks ago in D-Backs camp.

———

David Laurila: It’s been a few years since we talked about your repertoire. What’s changed since that time?

Luke Weaver: “Fastball and changeup are still my primaries, but I’ve been developing a slider, and a better curveball. Both are turning into what they want to be. I’m not trying to force them into being any specific thing — I’m just seeing what the break is doing, trusting it, and going for it. With a cutter and a curveball to go with my main two, I have four legit pitches.”

Laurila: You first said ‘slider,’ but then called it a cutter. Which is it? Read the rest of this entry »


2019 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

After taking a look at center fielders and designated hitters yesterday, our positional power rankings continue with shortstop.

We’re in a golden era for shortstops. The late-1990s/early 2000s heyday of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada was not only pretty cool — at least before injuries and position changes broke up the band, and PED revelations retroactively dimmed our appreciation — but it ushered in an era of bigger, more powerful players at the position, and that trend has raised the bar for offensive production. Last year, shortstops hit a collective .259/.317/.416 for a 97 wRC+, five points higher than it had been in any other season since 2002 (as far back as our splits go), and trust me, it was worse than that previously, despite occasional concentrations of thumpers. In 2018, shortstops even outhit second basemen (93 wRC+) by a handy margin, something unseen within the narrow timeframe of our splits and constituting roughly a 10-point swing relative to the 2002-2017 period, in which second basemen outhit shortstops by a 95-89 margin according to wRC+.

It’s true that last year’s surge was helped by the inclusion of Manny Machado — who led all shortstops with a 141 wRC+, but has returned to third base as a Padre — and Javier Baez. But the top two hitters for the position from 2017, Zack Cozart (!) and Corey Seager, missed most of the season, with the former playing more third base than second base as well, and even Carlos Correa wasn’t really himself.

No, this is about the likes of Baez, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Trevor Story, Didi Gregroius, and even Jose Peraza — all of them 28 or younger, all but Gregorius 25 or younger — breaking out while offsetting the declines of Elvis Andrus and Brandon Crawford, the position’s geezers. More than ever, shortstop is a young man’s position. In 2018, nobody older than 31 (Crawford, Alcides Escobar, Jordy Mercer) made even 150 plate appearances as a shortstop. That trio all played at least 100 games at short, the lowest total of over-30 shortstops to do so since the majors expanded to 30 teams in 1998. As recently as 2016, there were six such players, and in 2014, 10; for the 1998-2017 period, the average was 7.4. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1351: Season Preview Series: Yankees and Marlins

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Mariners-A’s opening series, the emotional last game featuring Ichiro Suzuki, and the uncertain degree to which the recent rash of contract extensions reflects players’ anxiety about free agency, then preview the 2019 New York Yankees (38:17) with The Athletic’s Yankees beat writer, Lindsey Adler, and the 2019 Miami Marlins (1:14:31) with The Athletic’s Marlins beat writer, Andre Fernandez.

Audio intro: Built to Spill, "Some Things Last a Long Time"
Audio interstitial 1: The Black Angels, "Empire"
Audio interstitial 2: Animal Collective, "Derek"
Audio outro: Fairport Convention, "Farewell, Farewell"

Link to video of Ichiro leaving his last game
Link to Jeff’s post about extensions
Link to Craig Edwards on extensions
Link to Sam on Marlins trades
Link to Andre on the Marlins’ young pitching
Link to Ben’s On Baseball Writing appearance
Link to Banished To The Pen’s team preview posts
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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 Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com


Snell Trades $15,500 for $50 Million

The Tampa Bay Rays announced this afternoon that they’ve come to terms on a long-term contract extension with the team’s ace, Blake Snell. At five years and $50 million, Snell’s new deal buys out all of his arbitration years and nets the Rays, or the team he’s eventually traded to, an extra year until he hits free agency. There are no team-friendly option years tacked into the end, a common feature in pre-arbitration long-term deals such as this. The deal will take Snell through his age-30 season.

Yes, it’s less than Snell would make if he were a free agent today, but in the big picture, it’s the MLBPA’s job to negotiate a fair system of compensation with major league teams. Snell has to do what’s best for himself under the system that’s currently in place. And as these contracts go, it’s hardly a poor one for the 2018 American League Cy Young winner. The contract goes into effect immediately, crushing the $15,500 raise that Snell was assigned by the team, a situation that was primed to leave lingering bad feelings between player and team. (See Gerrit Cole and the Pirates for a situation in which fighting over a few thousand dollars led to long-term bad feelings.) Per Jeff Passan, it’s the largest deal ever given to a player with just two years of service time, surpassing those signed by Gio Gonzalez as a Super 2 (five years, $42 million) and Corey Kluber (five years, $38.5 million); both of those deals contained option years.

ZiPS Projections – Blake Snell
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2019 15 9 3.08 31 31 166.7 135 57 15 66 189 135 4.2
2020 14 8 3.14 30 30 160.7 131 56 14 65 181 132 3.9
2021 14 8 3.12 29 29 156.0 127 54 14 63 177 133 3.8
2022 13 7 3.10 27 27 145.3 118 50 13 58 165 134 3.6
2023 12 7 3.12 25 25 138.3 111 48 12 55 159 133 3.4

The ZiPS projections don’t usually get too excited about single seasons, but Snell’s emergence was stunning one. No, he’s not really the pitcher that the 1.89 ERA suggests, but then, nobody really is so it’s not part of anybody’s realistic expectations. With the downside risks in both performance and injury factored in ZiPS, the projections still see him averaging just under four WAR a year over the terms of the contract. That’s enough to rank him comfortably in the top projected starting pitchers over the next five seasons. Read the rest of this entry »


The Meaning of Ichiro

Sure, he’s won seven straight batting titles in Japan, but it’s telling that, in English, “Ichiro Suzuki” roughly translates to “Can’t hit Pedro.”

– The Utah Chronicle, March 30th, 2001

It is late afternoon in Seattle, and it is the beginning of April, and it is quite cold. The Mariners are going to play the Oakland A’s. Today, the baseball starts counting. Across the infield dirt, just behind second base, a few faint letters mark the time: 2001.

More than 45,000 people are here, the most that have ever crowded into this still-new stadium. There’s less team spirit on display than you might expect. Most of the attendees aren’t flaunting jerseys; they’re bundled up, hands tucked into coats. The fading sunlight falls over the stadium from behind the pale, high clouds, and as a few Mariners take the field, running sprints across the outfield grass, a hearty cheer rises up to greet them. The men in white stretch, pulling arms and bouncing in lunges, before trotting back to the dugout. Not much longer, now. Not much longer.

High up on a view level fence, in front of a kid and their dad, you can see a white posterboard, letters painted in amateurish block text: “WELCOME ICHIRO.”

Many of them know only what the numbers can tell them, the list of achievements that made him worth tens of millions. Seven straight batting titles and a lifetime .353 average. Some may have gone down to spring training, gathering in the Arizona heat, and seen it for themselves: 26 hits, catching batting practice fly balls behind his back, throwing runners out at third with seemingly effortless throws from deep right. The speed — the Mariners said they’d clocked his home-to-first time at 3.7 seconds. (The fastest average home-to-first time among major leaguers in 2018 was 3.86.) Read the rest of this entry »