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After a Bad 2018, Cody Allen Heads to Angels

After he signed with the Yankees, Adam Ottavino became the ninth reliever on our Top 50 Free Agent list to get a contract for next season. The Yankees taking Ottavino off the board meant there were just two relievers to go. One is Craig Kimbrel, who has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last half-dozen seasons. The other is Cody Allen, who was one of the better relievers in baseball in 2015, solid in 2016 and 2017, and not very good last year. His poor 2018 season showing plunged him down our rankings and left him as one of the less desirable proven-reliever types available this offseason. His track record did mean something, though, and per Ken Rosenthal, he’s landed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Angels that has the chance of being worth $11 million based on games finished.

Allen, picked in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft, moved quickly through the Cleveland system as a reliever, reaching Double-A a year after he was drafted and hitting the majors one year later. He was a good reliever in 2013 and 2014, with sub-3.00 FIPs and ERAs better than that. He took over the closer role in 2014 and had his best season the following year, striking out 35% of batters, walking 9% and giving up just two home runs all season, to go along with a 15% infield fly rate. When Cleveland acquired Andrew Miller in 2015, the club could afford to put the lefty in high leverage situations in the middle of games without worrying about the ninth because Allen was closing. He didn’t give up a run during their playoff run to the World Series and struck out 24 of the 55 batters he faced.

Allen had another solid season in 2017, though not as good as his 2015 peak due to a slight decline in strikeouts and an increase in homers. In 2018, Allen started off the first two months of the season pitching much like he had his prior two years. His strikeout rate had dipped to 25%, but his walk rate was good and he only gave up two homers on his way to a 3.54 FIP and 3.00 ERA. He wasn’t great, but he was getting the job done. From June to the end of the season, his strikeout rate was up at 29%, but his walk rate went up to 13% and his home run rate more than doubled. He had a 5.14 FIP and 5.65 ERA the last four months of the season, leading to an overall replacement-level campaign. In the playoffs, he faced nine batters and retired just three of them. Read the rest of this entry »


MLB Payroll Probably Isn’t Going Back Up in 2019

In 2018, for the first time in more than a decade, player salaries went down from the previous year. At one point, there was some thought that this offseason’s free agent class might reverse the course charted last offseason. For years, we’ve been hearing about the monster class of free agents that would sign this winter. Here’s Jeff Passan back near the beginning of the 2017 season:

For those who have yet to hear about the free-agent class of 2018-19, here’s a sampling: Bryce HarperManny MachadoClayton KershawJosh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel. There are dozens more. Teams will guarantee $3 billion to players that winter. The number could exceed $4 billion.

Two years later, that free agent class isn’t quite as good as we expected. When we put up our Top-50 free agents, along with crowdsourced contract expectations, the expected outlay to 66 potential free agents didn’t come close the $3 billion assumed; the crowd predicted a number that was just about half of $4 billion that was thought possible about 20 months ago. Our readers provided estimates for 66 players, including Joe Mauer and Adrian Beltre, who have since retired. Of the remaining 64 players, 36 have signed contracts so far. Here’s how the contract totals compare to the crowdsourced average.

Free Agent Signings and Contract Predictions
Name Signing Team Proj WAR Crowd Average Contract Total Difference
Patrick Corbin WSN 3.5 102.3 M 140 M 37.7 M
Nathan Eovaldi BOS 2.7 44.5 M 68 M 23.5 M
Andrew McCutchen PHI 2.9 43.1 M 50 M 6.9 M
Zach Britton NYY 1.1 31.8 M 39 M 7.2 M
J.A. Happ NYY 2.8 32.6 M 34 M 1.4 M
Michael Brantley HOU 2.4 42.2 M 32 M -10.2 M
Charlie Morton TBR 2.8 32 M 30 M -2 M
Jeurys Familia NYM 1.0 33 M 30 M -3 M
Lance Lynn TEX 1.6 27.3 M 30 M 2.7 M
Andrew Miller STL 1.3 26 M 25 M -1 M
Joe Kelly LAD 1.0 16.1 M 25 M 8.9 M
DJ LeMahieu NYY 2.0 41 M 24 M -17 M
Daniel Murphy COL 1.9 29.6 M 24 M -5.6 M
Josh Donaldson ATL 4.2 57.8 M 23 M -34.8 M
David Robertson PHI 1.4 26.3 M 23 M -3.3 M
Jed Lowrie NYM 2.1 26.8 M 20 M -6.8 M
Wilson Ramos NYM 2.2 35.6 M 19 M -16.6 M
Anibal Sanchez WSN 1.7 11.8 M 19 M 7.2 M
Yasmani Grandal MIL 3.2 51.6 M 18.3 M -33.3 M
Kelvin Herrera CHW 0.4 24.8 M 18 M -6.8 M
Hyun-Jin Ryu LAD 2.0 35.6 M 17.9 M -17.7 M
Garrett Richards SDP 0.0 17.4 M 15 M -2.4 M
Joakim Soria OAK 0.9 14.8 M 15 M 0.2 M
Nelson Cruz MIN 3.2 28.2 M 14.3 M -13.9 M
Matt Harvey LAA 1.0 14.7 M 11 M -3.7 M
Kurt Suzuki WSN 1.3 10.1 M 10 M -0.1 M
Brian Dozier WSN 2.2 31.9 M 9 M -22.9 M
Trevor Cahill LAA 1.3 14.5 M 9 M -5.5 M
CC Sabathia NYY 1.2 10.7 M 8 M -2.7 M
Ian Kinsler SDP 1.7 11.8 M 8 M -3.8 M
Jesse Chavez TEX 0.6 7.5 M 8 M 0.5 M
Trevor Rosenthal WSN 1.2 9.9 M 7 M -2.9 M
Steve Pearce BOS 1.2 10.5 M 6.3 M -4.2 M
Jonathan Lucroy LAA 1.9 10.4 M 3.4 M -7 M
Lonnie Chisenhall PIT 0.9 10.4 M 2.8 M -7.6 M
Brian McCann ATL 1.0 10.1 M 2 M -8.1 M
TOTAL $984.7 M $838 M -$146.7 M

So far, free agents have signed for roughly 15% less combined than predicted. It’s interesting to note that the discount is being taken almost entirely in the length of the contracts, as both the predicted and actual AAV are around $12 million. Now that many players have reached agreements to avoided arbitration and a good number of players have signed free agent deals, we can take a look at where teams’ Opening Day payrolls stand at this point in the offseason. There are obviously a few huge contracts to go, with five of the top six contract projections still unsigned, so these numbers are nowhere near final. As of this writing, here’s what Opening Day payrolls look like for every team.

The Red Sox are well out in front of everybody, just like they were last season. The Cubs payroll is up compared to where it was. It might be somewhat difficult, if not impossible, to tell how every team’s payroll has moved based on the graph above. For reference, here’s a graph showing each team’s change in payroll from Opening Day last season.

Some of this will change in the coming months, though a lot of those teams at the bottom aren’t really expected to move the needle much. Last year’s Opening Day payroll average came in at around $136 million. Keep in mind, these numbers don’t include benefits or players on the 40-man roster. Last year, the end-of-season payroll average including those numbers went up to around $152 million. Right now, the average 2019 Opening Day payroll comes in at close to $128 million. In total, the difference between last year’s combined Opening Day payrolls and payrolls right now is $243 million. If we take a look at how much spending is left to be done, we might be able to approximate payroll for next season.

Here are the remaining crowdsourced free agents, their projected total salaries and the average annual value of each deal.

Remaining Free Agent and Contract Predictions
Name Proj WAR Crowd Avg Years Crowd Avg Total ($M) Crowd AAV ($M)
Bryce Harper 4.9 9.1 $300.0 $33.0
Manny Machado 5 8.6 $272.9 $31.7
Dallas Keuchel 3.3 4.2 $81.0 $19.4
Craig Kimbrel 2.1 3.9 $62.2 $16.1
A.J. Pollock 3.1 3.7 $58.8 $16.0
Mike Moustakas 2.8 2.8 $34.3 $12.2
Adam Ottavino 0.8 2.6 $27.0 $10.3
Marwin Gonzalez 1.8 2.9 $29.5 $10.1
Jose Iglesias 1.7 2.8 $25.6 $9.1
Gio Gonzalez 0.8 2.3 $26.4 $11.6
Nick Markakis 1.1 1.9 $19.9 $10.8
Adam Jones 1.2 1.9 $18.7 $9.9
Asdrubal Cabrera 2 2.1 $20.4 $9.6
Cody Allen 0.5 2.3 $20.5 $9.0
Wade Miley 1.1 1.9 $15.9 $8.5
Josh Harrison 1.2 1.9 $14.5 $7.5
Freddy Galvis 0.3 2.1 $15.1 $7.2
Brad Brach 0.1 2.0 $15.0 $7.5
Justin Wilson 0.1 2.1 $12.2 $6.0
Martin Maldonado 1 1.8 $10.7 $5.9
Carlos Gonzalez 1.3 1.5 $10.9 $7.3
Ryan Madson 0.1 1.2 $6.9 $5.8
Clay Buchholz 1 1.4 $9.3 $6.6
Jeremy Hellickson 0.4 1.5 $9.2 $6.2
Greg Holland 0 1.3 $7.4 $5.8
Tony Sipp 0 1.2 $5.9 $4.8
Shawn Kelley 0 1.2 $5.4 $4.5
Zach Duke 0 1.2 $4.7 $3.9
TOTAL 73.3 $1140.3 M $296.1 M

If the crowd is correct and $296 million in salaries are added to the 2019 season, we’ll be looking at around a $50 million increase over last season. That probably won’t happen, though. Last season when I did this same exercise, I was overly generous in my estimates, giving the players the crowdsourced money, and adding in another $60 million for all the other players for whom we did collect estimates. By the time Opening Day rolled around, I was more than $100 million off, and instead of a potential 1% increase in payroll, teams moved down 1% from the previous year.

If the rest of this offseason is anything like the remainder of last offseason, we are going to be looking at flat Opening Day payrolls. Even more troublesome for the players is that while Opening Day payroll was down about one percent from 2017 to 2018, when the end of season numbers were calculated, that figure was closer to 2.5%. While not definitive yet, there seems to be a pretty good possibility that major league payrolls will go down for the second consecutive season.


The Specter of Jason Heyward’s Contract Looms Over Manny Machado

Three winters ago, Jason Heyward was a young free agent, a relative rarity as most players make their debuts at 23 years old or older, while many other young stars sign contract extensions prolonging the wait to hit the open market. Heyward debuted at just 20 years old on Opening Day back in 2010 and moved through the arbitration process to become a free agent heading into his age-26 season. There hadn’t been a free agent like Heyward — that young and that accomplished — in more than a decade. Three seasons later, Heyward has put up just four wins rather than the four wins per year that was expected. And now a very similar player in Manny Machado is hitting free agency, and might not be receiving the offers he expected.

While Manny Machado isn’t Jason Heyward, he’s not Bryce Harper either. Machado just put up his best offensive season with a 141 wRC+, while Harper’s season was almost viewed as a disappointment despite him hitting a very similar 135 wRC+. Harper derives nearly all of his value from his bat, while Machado is a more balanced player, getting value from his bat and his glove. In that way, he’s a remarkably similar player to Jason Heyward when the latter hit free agency.

Manny Machado and Jason Heyward Through Age-25
Name PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Manny Machado 4074 175 7.3 % 16.4 % .204 .282 .335 0.487 120 30.2
Jason Heyward 3429 97 10.8 % 18.5 % .163 .268 .353 0.431 118 25.2

Machado got a one-third season jump on Heyward to begin his career and has almost never been hurt, leading to roughly an extra season’s worth of playing time and a five-WAR lead. Heyward walked more, while Machado hit for more power. Heyward’s baserunning exceeded Machado’s, but his good defense at a more difficult position evened out that baserunning deficiency. When Heyward hit free agency, there were some (including me) who argued that Heyward’s contract floor in free agency should have been something like $160 million, with a reasonable value potentially above $300 million based on his comps at the time. Heyward is the most recent player to point to when it comes to long-term deals not working out, even when signed at a young age. Setting aside that Heyward was hurt almost immediately, that the Cubs changed a swing that worked in 2015, and that Heyward will now be on his third hitting coach in four years, what Heyward really should be is another data point among potential Manny Machado comps.

Earlier this month, I took a look at some comps for Bryce Harper mostly ignoring his MVP season. Near the end of the piece, I noted just how great Harper’s overall comps were.

There are so few players like Bryce Harper in baseball history that it is tough to find a lot of good comparisons. In the past 100 years, there have only been 16 players within five WAR of Harper and also within 20% of his plate appearances. Of those 15 other players, 11 are in the Hall of Fame. Manny Machado is another player on that list, with the others being Jim FregosiCesar Cedeno, and Vada Pinson. The 14 players averaged 37 WAR from age-26 through age-35, with eight of the 11 players who played since 1947 hitting that average.

The same exercise with Machado yields slightly different results due to a difference in plate appearance and Harper’s half a win higher WAR total. We end up with 16 total players, including Machado and Harper. We lose Johnny Bench and Tim Raines, but gain Adrian Beltre, so the number of Hall of Famers is pretty close. Also added to the list is Jason Heyward, but even if we include Heyward’s 4.1 WAR and assume he will not generate any wins over the next seven seasons, the average WAR produced from 26 years old through age 35 is 34.8 WAR. That’s easily $300 million contract territory, and with seven of the 11 players since integration going above that mark, there’s a reasonable chance of hitting that mark with Machado.

On the other hand, if we were to admit that the valuations on Heyward missed the mark from some reason or another — like too much of his value being tied into defense or perhaps that debuting young isn’t as important as we thought — we can take a different angle to get a better perspective on Machado. The last set of comps look at only total value, go very far back in history, and take into account up to seven nearly full seasons for some players. Let’s start by narrowing things down a bit. We’ll look at Machado’s last four years, when he put up a 128 wRC+ and 21.7 WAR from age 22 through his age-25 season. To find good comparable players, we’ll look at non-catching position players from 1973-2008 with at least two wins at 25 years old, a WAR between 18 and 26, a wRC+ between 118 and 138, a positive defensive value, and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Here are Machado’s comps.

Manny Machado Age-22 Through Age-25 Comps From 26-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
George Brett 5554 204 .316 .393 .535 148 317.4 14.9 53.7
Scott Rolen 5367 195 .284 .367 .492 124 172.9 131.4 47.6
Derek Jeter 6923 161 .317 .387 .456 125 247.2 -14.1 46.1
Chet Lemon 5059 151 .266 .352 .441 121 112.1 43.6 33.2
Cesar Cedeno 4007 78 .277 .342 .418 113 76.6 -41.2 17.5
Troy Glaus 3485 172 .255 .357 .485 120 81.6 -38.9 15.6
AVERAGE 5066 160 .286 .366 .471 125 168 16 35.6

Through 2008, six players have taken Manny Machado’s path at the same age. Two are Hall of Famers, and Scott Rolen should be a third. Even if we include more recent players who have yet to play through age-35, only Jose Ramirez and Ryan Zimmerman qualify and the latter drops the average by just a couple of wins. Machado is still pretty easily a $300 million value by this analysis assuming we start with a $9M/WAR evaluation. Now, let’s only use the last three seasons, where Machado put up 15.1 WAR and a 125 wRC+. Using similar PA, defense, and age-25 restrictions, with WAR between 12 and 18, and a wRC+ between 115 and 135 yields the following comps at age 26 through 35 years old.

Manny Machado Age-23 Through Age-25 Comps From 26-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Chipper Jones 6165 312 .312 .413 .565 150 401 -33 55.3
Scott Rolen 5367 195 .284 .367 .492 124 173 131 47.6
Derek Jeter 6923 161 .317 .387 .456 125 247 -14 46.1
Andre Dawson 5839 260 .285 .332 .502 125 180 7 39.6
Ryne Sandberg 5416 185 .290 .353 .465 122 148 42 38.5
Robin Ventura 5405 223 .267 .363 .465 113 85 114 37.4
Willie Randolph 5500 32 .273 .368 .343 106 43 87 31.8
Eric Chavez 3217 123 .260 .339 .451 108 30 29 16.6
Troy Glaus 3485 172 .255 .357 .485 120 82 -39 15.6
Edgardo Alfonzo 3390 84 .280 .357 .422 106 31 7 14.4
Lloyd Moseby 3237 88 .251 .333 .405 103 25 -42 9.3
AVERAGE 4904 167 .279 .361 .459 118 131 26 32

Another very good group here, but it’s worth noting that Glaus, Chavez, and Moseby all posted WAR totals at age-25 at least two wins lower than Machado last year, so restricting this group further would yield a number even higher than the previous group. It is also worth noting that Jason Heyward, Dustin Pedroia, Nolan Arenado, and Ryan Zimmerman are all recent comps. Pedroia has been worth 33 wins over the past 9 years with Zimmerman worth around 14 over the past eight seasons, and including those two players only drops the average WAR by about one win. Arenado has already put up 11 wins in two seasons, we’ve discussed Heyward, and in the unlikely event that none of the four active players produce anything else, the group average still sits at around 28 wins. We are dealing with a very accomplished group whose average production would be worth well over $300 million over the next 10 years.

When we drop down to just the last two years of Machado, we should see the most pedestrian group given Machado’s lackluster 2017 season. Over the last two seasons, Machado has a 122 wRC+ with 8.8 WAR, so we’ll look at players between 112 and 132 wRC+ with between 7 and 11 wins, leaving the other parameters the same.

Manny Machado Age-24 Through Age-25 Comps From 26-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Carlos Beltran 5748 252 .282 .368 .509 129 265.8 21.6 47.2
Alan Trammell 5279 132 .293 .359 .445 121 138 125.5 44.8
Andre Dawson 5839 260 .285 .332 .502 125 180 7.4 39.6
Dave Winfield 6301 256 .290 .359 .496 136 263.7 -112.4 37.6
Matt Williams 5155 261 .278 .327 .503 112 79 76 31.9
Dwayne Murphy 3989 142 .241 .348 .410 116 73 42.7 25.4
Dusty Baker 5407 166 .279 .346 .432 119 114.5 -62.1 24
Coco Crisp 4345 82 .260 .327 .393 96 31.8 20.9 20.3
Eric Chavez 3217 123 .260 .339 .451 108 29.5 29.3 16.6
Raul Mondesi 4571 201 .264 .330 .478 109 61.5 -49 16
Edgardo Alfonzo 3390 84 .280 .357 .422 106 30.5 6.7 14.4
Roberto Kelly 3915 98 .290 .338 .436 105 29.6 -68.5 9.5
Lloyd Moseby 3237 88 .251 .333 .405 103 25.1 -41.7 9.3
AVERAGE 4646 165 .273 .343 .452 114 101.7 -0.3 25.9

As we might expect given Machado’s 2017, this is the most disappointing group we’ve seen. It’s also still a group that might produce an average outcome in the $275 million range. There are three Hall of Famers up there with Beltran having a chance at four. The same caveats as above regarding Moseby and Chavez apply here, as well. Among active players, we still have Pedroia, Heyward, and Arenado, though we add Kyle Seager, who has averaged around four wins per season over the last five years despite a disappointing 2018 campaign. We also add Christian Yelich, who has just one season beyond 25 years old, but won the NL MVP with a 7.6 WAR year. Javier Baez and Xander Bogaerts also qualify, but are the same age as Machado.

If we only had Machado’s 2018 season as a comparison, this is what that group looks like:

Manny Machado Age-25 Comps From 26-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Larry Walker 5127 277 .331 .416 .613 147 323 6 48.6
Alan Trammell 5279 132 .293 .359 .445 121 138 126 44.8
Bobby Grich 5209 158 .271 .375 .438 132 185 51 42.7
Andre Dawson 5839 260 .285 .332 .502 125 180 7 39.6
Ryne Sandberg 5416 185 .290 .353 .465 122 148 42 38.5
Tim Raines 5808 107 .294 .385 .429 125 221 -53 36.8
Willie Randolph 5500 32 .273 .368 .343 106 43 87 31.8
Jesse Barfield 3456 153 .250 .336 .456 115 58 71 24.7
David Wright 3824 112 .286 .366 .458 128 127 -16 24.1
Marcus Giles 2190 38 .273 .348 .405 100 12 8 9.2
AVERAGE 4765 145 .285 .364 .455 122 143 33 34.1

These are the wildest results we’ve seen with a bad Marcus Giles, a good but injury shortened run from David Wright, a decent run from Jesse Barfield, and then near-Hall of Fame or better runs from the seven remaining players. Of the more recent players, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Hanley Ramirez, Kris Bryant and Matt Chapman also fit the bill. Even including the first three more recent players doesn’t drop the average below 30. Of note, Jason Heyward is not a comp in the last group, as Machado’s 141 wRC+ was significantly higher than Heyward’s age-25 season and at least 20 points higher than every season Heyward has put up since the right fielder’s 134 wRC+ in his 2010 rookie campaign.

Jason Heyward might show some similarities to Manny Machado, but that contract and the results the last three seasons shouldn’t scare people away from Manny Machado. Heyward is still young enough that he could turn his contract around, but that also shouldn’t matter for Machado. The current free agent has better comps than Heyward and is coming off a much better season. Even with similar comps, Heyward is still just one data point among multiple Hall of Famers. Players who hit like Machado, play solid defense, and perform well in their early to mid-20s tend to keep doing so. The same should be expected of Machado, as well.


Yankees Go a Different Route on the Infield

The Yankees signed a free agent infielder. He’s been an All-Star and has won Gold Gloves, and there are considerable differences of opinion over how much he might be worth, but the Yankees found the player for whom it was worth going over the competitive balance tax threshold. That player is not Manny Machado. Signing DJ LeMahieu will cost the Yankees $24 million. Not per season, but total over the next two years, per Jack Curry and Ken Rosenthal.

The Yankees’ infield is an intriguing one. With shortstop Didi Gregorius set to miss some of next season, the team signed Troy Tulowitzki to play shortstop. Tulowitzki has barely played the last two seasons and at 34 years old, it isn’t clear he has much left, but with Gregorius coming back at some point and Gleyber Torres able to play short, the team didn’t necessarily need Tulowitzki to earn a starting role. The club still has Miguel Andujar penciled in at third base with some hope that he will improve his defense, while over at first base, the team has late-season wonder Luke Voit and perpetually hurt Greg Bird.

The logic for adding Manny Machado was pretty sound. Beyond his obvious talent at the plate, the Yankees had a potential hole at shortstop and a long term opening there after next season. This year, Machado could have played third base, with Andujar moving to first base, designated hitter, or another team. That would leave Torres at second base, and first base as is. It would also likely provide the team a five-win upgrade over its present situation. As to how things will fit with LeMahieu, Jack Curry provides some insight.

LeMahieu has started 882 games in the field in his career and 857 of those have come at second base. He’s started 24 games at third base, the last one coming in 2014, and he also started one game at first base for the Cubs during the 2011 campaign. It would seem that this signing is an insurance policy of sorts for the shortstop situation. If Torres needs to move to short, the organization doesn’t have anyone capable of playing at an average level at that spot. If Andujar completely bombs out on defense at third base, the team could move LeMahieu or Torres there and hope to get decent play. Of course, LeMahieu is a very good defensive second baseman, and it would be odd to move him from that spot given how well he fits there.

There’s also the question of LeMahieu’s bat. The now-former Rockies’ second baseman has played essentially six full seasons in the majors and been above-average offensively in exactly one of them. In 2016, Leamhieu posted a double-digit walk rate, a strikeout rate of just 13%, an ISO of .147 and a sky-high .388 BABIP on his way to a 130 wRC+. The last two seasons, his walk rate has dropped to 8%, his strikeout rate increased slightly to 14%, his ISO has been .123, his BABIP .326, and his wRC+ has been 10% below league-average. Combined with solid defense, this has made him a roughly average player. Jeff Sullivan noted that LeMahieu does have some hidden upside as a player who hits the ball hard and makes a lot of contact, and used the graph below to illustrate those two skills, with LeMahieu’s spot highlighted.

If LeMahieu could take that hard contact and put it in the air more often, he might hit for more power and have better overall numbers. As Sullivan (along with Travis Sawchik) noted, there might have been some attempts by LeMahieu to achieve a change. In 2018, he posted a GB/FB rate below 2.0 for the first time in his career, while his 30% pull-rate was a career-high. It likely helped cause his career-high .152 ISO. If that power came at the expense of hits — LeMahieu had a career low .298 BABIP, as well as fewer walks, with just a 6% walk rate — it isn’t clear the trade-off has helped yet.

The problem for LeMahieu is that he just hasn’t been able to translate his hard ground balls into hard fly balls. On ground balls last season, LeMahieu put up an average exit velocity of 89.6 MPH, well above the 84.5 mph league average and in the top 10% in all of baseball. On fly balls, LeMahieu put up an average exit velocity of 91.3 mph, which is harder than his grounders, but below the league average of 91.6 mph last year. His exit velocity ranks so highly overall because he hits balls on the ground very hard, which is generally what allows him to post high BABIPs and come close to a league-average player. This is what his spray chart looked like last year.

That’s a lot base hits from a player who can’t be effectively shifted against. LeMahieu might have some untapped power, but he hasn’t yet been able to get to it. At 30 years old, he probably isn’t getting any better than the useful player we see right now. In any event, the Yankees aren’t bringing LeMahieu in for his untapped power. They are bringing him in to raise the team’s floor should their other infield options fail to work out, and to add a solid glove with good contact ability.

In a world where LeMahieu was one of very limited options, the move would make sense, albeit not all that much sense if LeMahieu is a utility player. We don’t live in that world, though. We live in a world where Manny Machado exists, wants to play in New York, and doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of bidders for his services. By signing LeMahieu, the Yankees are essentially committed to going over the competitive balance tax next season. The last time the Yankees passed on a $200-plus million infielder who really wanted to play for the Yankees, the team missed the playoffs in two of the next three seasons and didn’t play in a playoff series during that time. Robinson Cano averaged five wins per season over those three years in Seattle, as the Yankees opted to spend their money on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees should be better the next three seasons than they were from 2014 to 2016, and D.J. LeMahieu should help them, but it’s easy to see how the Yankees might end up regretting passing on a 26-year-old star so they can save a little money. Unless they still sign Machado, in which case the last paragraph is moot.


Nationals Gain Upside with Brian Dozier

While much of the focus of the Nationals’ offseason has been the potential loss of Bryce Harper, the club has been one of the more active teams this winter. Their big move brought in Patrick Corbin. They also signed Anibal Sanchez and traded Tanner Roark. They fixed their biggest hole last season by trading for Yan Gomes and signing Kurt Suzuki to play catcher. They also added Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal to improve their bullpen depth. With all of those moves, the Nationals were already going to have the best team in the division on paper, no matter who the Phillies signed. Despite that apparent lead, having missed the playoffs a year ago, the club filled it’s last obvious weakness by signing Brian Dozier to a one-year deal worth $9 million, per Jeff Passan.

While there are obvious concerns over the slow offseason and declining salaries, Dozier’s seemingly low contract is more a victim of circumstance than a league-wide issue. There have been a lot of second basemen available this winter, and not as many contending teams with holes. Add in Dozier’s disastrous 2018 season, particularly toward the end, and his market was going to be limited. The Rockies signed Daniel Murphy, and even if he plays first base, that seemingly puts Ryan McMahon at second. The Padres added Ian Kinsler as a stopgap. The Twins signed Jonathan Schoop. The A’s traded for Jurickson Profar. The Mets didn’t even really need a second baseman and they traded for Robinson Cano.

That just leaves a smattering of contending teams in the bottom half of our second base depth charts. The Angels don’t need to work too hard to justify giving David Fletcher a shot. Cleveland’s going to go with Jason Kipnis in the last year of his deal. That really just leaves the Rockies, who could go with McMahon, the Nationals, and the Brewers. The list of available second baseman along with Dozier includes DJ LeMahieu and Jed Lowrie, as well as Asdrubal Cabrera, and Josh Harrison. Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez can play some second base as well. That’s before we get to a trade market that might include Joe Panik, Whit Merrifield, and Jedd Gyorko. In our Top 50 Free Agent list, Kiley McDaniel correctly pegged Dozier for the one-year, $9 million deal he is receiving, though the crowd was a bit more optimistic, believing a multi-year deal worth more than $30 million would be possible. This is what Eric Longenhagen had to say about Dozier in that piece.

He didn’t miss any time due to the injury (and has still never been on the DL), but Dozier has acknowledged to the media that a right knee bone bruise — and the manner in which he compensated for it, mechanically — impacted his 2018 production. Dozier had the worst full big-league season of his career, slashing .215/.305/.391 and playing sluggish defense. The league-average line at second base in 2018 was just .254/.317/.395, so if there’s any dead-cat bounce in Dozier at all, he’s probably still an average regular going forward. Obviously, though, a return close to what he has shown for the last four years means he has a chance to be an All Star.

Dozier has also had minor back issues over the years, which has been known to sap some strength. Dozier’s reliance on homers means any decrease in power is going to stunt his overall production. As for what went wrong last year, Paul Sporer noted that Dozier’s plate discipline numbers were mostly unchanged, but Dozier’s home run to fly ball rate went way down. One thing slightly unusual about Dozier’s plate discipline numbers is that Dozier swung at fewer pitches out of the zone, yet his walk rate didn’t go up. He did make more contact on pitches out of the zone, and those pitches tend to elicit weaker contact, so it is possible his numbers were hurt a little by a small adjustment to not swing for the fences as much. His expected BABIP based on launch angle and exit velocity was about 20 points higher, but any contact on pitches out of the strike zone or batted-ball luck were relatively small issues compared to his lack of thump.

A quick look at his Statcast numbers on fly balls over the past two seasons shows the following:

Brian Dozier’s Fly Balls
Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
2017 95 MPH 37.3 335 ft.
2018 92 MPH 38.4 324 ft.

There’s not some big secret to explore here. Dozier just didn’t hit the ball as hard last season, so his fly balls didn’t go as far, and therefore Dozier’s home runs and ISO came down significantly. If we can chalk Dozier’s issues up to injuries that might resolve with an offseason of care and training, then Dozier is going to be a huge bargain for the Nationals. If any lingering issues follow him into next season, it’s possible we are just looking at the decline of a player in his 30s who has been selling out for pull power, which isn’t working as well anymore. Jeff Sullivan noted towards the end of 2017 that Dozier was going to the opposite field more often, and he made the natural assumption that this was an approach-based change to get better. However, Sullivan wasn’t quite sure the change was necessary. With another year in the books and similar spray charts in 2017 and 2018, it’s possible we are seeing a hitter who isn’t capable of pulling the ball as much rather than one choosing to be successful going the other way.

We don’t know which version of Dozier is going to show up next season. If he repeats his 2018, the Nationals should still have enough firepower to win the division. If he recovers some of his old form, he could help Washington be the best team in baseball. The Nationals won’t have to pay much for the opportunity to find out. The floor for players like LeMahieu and Lowrie is considerably higher than Dozier, but the former Twin is just one season removed a five-win campaign. He’ll get the opportunity to put last year behind him in a lineup that shouldn’t need his production. If he plays well, he could be in line for a much bigger contract a year from now.


A’s Revenue Sharing Money Heads Back to the Yankees

A lot of time and words are spent here and elsewhere on the split of baseball revenue between players and owners; we spend less time comparing revenue between franchises. Sure, we make distinctions between small-market teams and large-market teams, putting the Yankees and Red Sox in one corner and Cleveland, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh in another. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about what that actually means. There are a few good reasons for that. One is that we don’t have access to much of the data that would make meaningful analysis possible. But I suspect the main reason is probably that fights between billionaires who don’t take the field aren’t that interesting to a lot of fans. Add in rising revenues and $50 million windfalls from MLBAM, and for some, exactly how much money owners have isn’t all that important when we just know that they have a lot.

Many fans don’t even care about the fight between millionaires and billionaires. That’s their prerogative, but it’s important to consider these things carefully. The latest CBA wasn’t just a loser for the players for the obvious reasons, those were multiple: a competitive balance tax that barely increased, tax penalties that get progressively worse, small minimum salary increases, no universal designated hitter, only minor changes to free agent compensation, no concessions when it comes arbitration, no additional roster spots, hard international spending limits, and no help at all for the minor leaguers. The CBA also hurt the players when it comes to revenue sharing.

Wendy Thurm’s post from 2012 does a good job explaining the system under the old CBA and it is worth revisiting, but in sum: Teams took 34% of their net local revenue (local revenue minus stadium expenses), pooled it together, and divvied it up equally among all the teams. This was the base plan, and as is probably obvious, teams like the Yankees paid more into the pool than they received as part of it. There was also a supplemental plan. A pool of 14% of total net local revenue is created, with revenue taken from big-market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and given to small-market teams like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. The supplemental plan worked to take a greater percentage away from high-revenue teams like the Yankees, and give it in higher percentages to the small-market teams.

Here’a a hypothetical under the old system.

  • Total Local Net Revenue is $3 billion, averaging $100 million per team.
  • Yankees Local Net Revenue is $400 million
  • A’s Local Net Revenue is $50 million

Under the old system, 34% of the *total* local net revenue is $34 million per team. For the Yankees, 34% of their local net revenue is $136 million; they end up making a net payment to the pool of $102 million once their distribution is taken into account, bringing other clubs up to $34 million. For the A’s, 34% of local net revenue is around $17 million; they end up receiving around $17 million in revenue sharing from the pool. Under the supplemental plan, 14% of $3 billion is $420 million. The Yankees pay about a quarter of that total with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and Mets paying another 50%, so the Yankees put another $105 million in the pool. The A’s receive around 8% of the supplemental pool, so they get another $34 million to up their total to around $51 million. The Yankees end up with $193 million in net local revenue minus revenue sharing and the A’s end up with $101 million in net local revenue plus revenue sharing. These numbers are meant to be illustrative and provide a rough example of how revenue sharing worked.

The current CBA is much simpler, with a single 48% pool divided equally so that the same percentage of revenue is shared, but it is distributed differently. It takes less money away from the richest teams by eliminating the supplemental pool. In the example above, every team gets $48 million from the pool. The Yankees 48% figure comes to $192 million, so that they pay in $144 million. The A’s 48% figure is $24 million, so they receive $24 million. In this scenario, the Yankees get to keep a lot more of their money and the A’s get less. While we don’t know what the actual numbers are, the A’s did receive more than $30 million in 2015 and 2016, and at one time expected their 2019 payment to be greater than $40 million. The A’s won’t be getting that $40 million, however, as they will receive just a fraction of that amount. Most of that $40 million will stay with the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, and Dodgers.

In the last CBA, which went from 2012-2016, MLB phased in restrictions on teams receiving revenue sharing payments. All teams started on equal footing, able to receive revenue sharing based solely on their local net revenue numbers. (The Marlins were treated slightly differently, essentially unable to collect in 2012 after refusing to spend any money prior to 2012, resulting in a threatened grievance by the players.) The CBA phased in restrictions so that larger-market teams could only collect a portion of the revenue sharing owed to them, and by the time the new CBA rolled around, none of the large-market teams were allowed to collect revenue sharing money if their revenue was low except for the A’s, who despite their famously spendthrift ways and decaying ballpark, signed a billion dollar local TV deal in 2009. They’re low-revenue due to their stadium issues, but not quite small-market. The A’s were given an exception under the previous CBA, so that the restrictions didn’t apply until the team got a new ballpark. The new CBA removed those restrictions and began phasing in reduced revenue sharing payments for the A’s. Per the CBA:

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the revenue sharing disqualification of the Oakland Athletics shall be phased in as follows: 25% disqualified in the 2017 Revenue Sharing Year; 50% disqualified in the 2018 Revenue Sharing Year; 75% disqualified in the 2019 Revenue Sharing Year; and fully disqualified in the 2020 and 2021 Revenue Sharing Years.

This means that if, for example, the A’s had received $40 million in revenue sharing in 2016, they would only have received $30 million in 2017, then $20 million last year, $10 million this year, and then would get nothing in 2020 and 2021. So who gets the A’s money? The teams paying into revenue sharing receive it, but there’s a catch: teams get more money if they don’t go over the competitive balance tax.

Let’s say the Yankees pay about 20% of the money in revenue sharing that goes to other teams. That means that for next season, they will receive $6 million more dollars than they would have because the A’s can’t receive revenue sharing. The Dodgers will get something less than that. The Cubs, too. The Red Sox will receive 75% of their potential share because they will have gone over the tax threshold two years in a row next season. In 2020 and 2021, the clubs stand to gain even more money. Even If the Yankees go above the tax threshold the next two seasons, they might end up holding on to around $15 million that would have gone to the A’s in the previous CBA. That money might make its way to players, but given the incentives here and the teams publicly stated desires to stay under the threshold, there’s cause to be skeptical.

The amounts we are dealing with aren’t huge sums, but they are an added benefit to keeping spending low despite having to pay significantly less in revenue sharing. These aren’t speculative amounts if some big market team have lower revenues. We know where Oakland will be the next few years. And it isn’t just Oakland that ends up with less money, though they certainly bear the brunt of the losses. All of the lowest-revenue, smaller-market teams are likely receiving less money from revenue sharing than they used to under prior CBAs. It’s not an excuse for Cleveland to cut payroll given the increases in national television money, but it is likely that the have-mores are taking a bigger piece of the revenue pie than the have-a-decent-amounts.

Ahead of the last round of CBA negotiations, I thought there would be a fight among the owners over revenue sharing. Likely because the players didn’t demand enough concessions, that fight never took place. Small-market teams were willing to take less revenue sharing because negotiations with the players were too easy, and national revenues from television deals and money from MLBAM were good enough at the time. It’s not a big part of the player loss in the last CBA, but it doesn’t help when the teams with more money refuse to spend it. Revenue sharing might not seem like an important issue for the players, but spreading money around might have yielded a bit more spending at the bottom of the league.


The Missing Free Agents

This year’s free agent class was supposed to be historic, but with Clayton Kershaw pitching only really well, Josh Donaldson and Andrew Miller hurt, David Price and Jason Heyward not performing well enough to opt out of their deals, and Matt Harvey taking a nosedive, this class only turned out to be pretty good. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are two superstars hitting free agency in their mid-20s. Having one of the two would make for a great headliner; signing both would provide multiple teams with the opportunity to transform their franchise. After those two, we’ve seen starting pitchers do pretty well so far, and a bunch of relievers sign solid deals, but the talk of a slow offseason has returned.

Some of last winter’s slowness was mitigated by star players receiving contracts close to expectations. Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and Lorenzo Cain all signed deals that seemed fair as spring approached. Jake Arrieta didn’t come that far off when we consider his opt-out. Machado and Harper are still likely to sign very big contracts, while some in the middle might end up getting squeezed. But with this free agent class the supposed justification for teams saving their money on the heels of MLB payrolls going down despite soaring revenues, another slow winter is cause for concern for the players.

In examining the slow market, Ken Rosenthal recently called the system broken and floated some differing perspectives on the causes, effects, and solutions. One paragraph, in particular, caught my eye. Read the rest of this entry »


White Sox Sign Kelvin Herrera as Relief Market Shrinks

The White Sox have made a series of minor moves this offseason to prepare themselves for contention at some point in the future; that might be as soon as next year, but it’s more likely in 2020 or later. The team added Ivan Nova from the Pirates to provide innings in the rotation. They added Alex Colome from the Mariners to help the pen. Chicago acquired Yonder Alonso from Cleveland to improve the offense and let Jose Abreu spend more time at designated hitter. If there was a $7 million to $10 million unwanted player, the White Sox have seemed willing to take on the salary in exchange for a fringe prospect. That strategy took on a different form today, as the team snapped up free agent reliever Kelvin Herrera on a two-year, $18 million deal with a vesting option, per Jeff Passan.

Herrera, not unlike many relievers, has had an inconsistent career. In 2012, 2014, and 2016, he put together very good seasons, with a sub-3.00 FIP and at least one win above replacement. In 2013 and 2015, he was closer to average. In 2017, when he took on closer duties in Kansas City, he just wasn’t very good. Last season, he put together a very good first half, which prompted Kansas City to trade him to Washington at just the right time. In DC, Herrera pitched poorly, and was sidelined with a rotator cuff injury and then a foot problem that ended his season. He’s missed time due to right arm injuries in 2014, 2017, and last year, also not uncommon for a reliever throwing in the high-90s. This is what his velocity looks like by season.

Velocity isn’t everything, and at 29 years old, Herrera is still young, but the drop is concerning. Here’s a similar graph showing his strikeout and walk rates.

Herrera’s walk rate has always been fine aided by a career 60% first strike rate, including 67% last year. It is interesting that his strikeout rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with his fastball velocity. He wasn’t striking out a lot of batters in 2014 and 2015, when he still had great velocity, and then when his velocity first dipped in 2016, he struck out batters at the highest rate of his career. In ranking the Top 50 free agents this offseason, Kiley McDaniel put Herrera 49th overall and 10th among relievers. McDaniel pegged Herrera for a one-year deal at nine million dollars, roughly half the guarantee he ended up receiving. Dan Szymborski wrote Herrera’s report in that post and came to a similar conclusion. Read the rest of this entry »


With Jonathan Lucroy Signing, Yasmani Grandal Market Shrinks

From 2012 through 2016, Jonathan Lucroy was one of the best catchers in baseball. His 19 WAR during that time was second only to Buster Posey, and that figure likely underrates Lucroy, as his framing numbers made him even more valuable; Baseball Prospectus’ catcher defensive metrics have him being worth 85.5 framing runs over that span, though his value declined precipitously beginning in 2015. Since leaving the Brewers (and turning 30 years old), Lucroy has not been the same player on offense or defense. In 2017, he put up an 81 wRC+ and had to settle for a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the A’s. Last year, Lucroy got worse at the plate, posting a 70 wRC+, and now he has had to settle for a one-year deal worth $3.35 million with the Angels.

In their deal, the Angels are paying Lucroy like a player who put up 1.1 WAR in 2017 and followed it with 0.6 WAR last season. The projections still hold out a bit more hope that the 4.6 WAR season from 2016, and the very good seasons preceding it, are not a too-distant memory. Below is a the breakdown of Lucroy in his 20s and 30s, and his projection for next season.

Jonathan Lucroy Through the Ages
PA BA OBP SLG wRC+
Lucroy in his 20s 2996 .284 .342 .436 111
Lucroy in his 30s 1244 .261 .327 .381 86
2019 Depth Chart Proj 384 .254 .318 .381 94

Read the rest of this entry »


Ignoring Bryce Harper’s MVP Season

In 2015, at just 22 years of age, Bryce Harper had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all-time. He hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers, and his 197 wRC+ was the 37th-best mark of the past 100 years and the 18th-best since integration, with only Barry Bonds posting a higher number this century. With that season, Harper delivered on whatever hype had been manufactured for him as a teen phenom and No. 1 pick overall, one who made his debut at 19 and had notched two All-Star berths before he turned 21. The best way to show the future potential for achievement is to actually do it in the first place. Harper showed he can be the best player in baseball because for one season, he was the best player in baseball.

In the three seasons since that MVP season, Harper has been more good than great, averaging 3.7 WAR per season. For the sake of a hopefully interesting exercise, let’s pretend we only know about Harper’s last three years. What if we throw out the 2015 season and ignore that Harper was actually so good that he put together All-Star caliber seasons at 19 and 20 years of age? What might that tell us, if anything, about Bryce Harper as well as his future?

To that end, I looked at outfielders who accumulated between 8 WAR and 14 WAR (Harper was at 11.2) and a wRC+ between 120 and 140 (Harper: 132) from the age of 23 through 25 from 1973 to 2008. I then eliminated those players who had below a 2.5 WAR or above a 6.0 WAR at 25 years old. This is the resulting group from age-23 through age-25, along with Harper.

Bryce Harper Age-23-to-Age-25 Comps
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Larry Walker 1600 58 .280 .344 .469 128 51.2 11.2 12.0
Tony Gwynn 1680 12 .329 .380 .415 127 48.4 11.8 11.9
J.D. Drew 1359 58 .287 .386 .505 128 53.4 24.5 11.9
Ruben Sierra 2081 70 .298 .345 .491 129 73.3 -28.9 11.8
Ellis Burks 1702 51 .297 .360 .481 131 60.5 -6.8 11.7
Dave Winfield 1836 53 .275 .351 .436 120 49.5 -1.5 11.3
Ellis Valentine 1530 59 .290 .328 .484 125 41.0 15.7 11.1
Lee Mazzilli 1980 47 .286 .374 .437 130 71.3 -33.6 10.8
Steve Kemp 1847 62 .295 .384 .468 133 70.7 -29.3 10.7
Adam Dunn 1821 113 .246 .379 .532 132 86.4 -42.7 10.2
Lenny Dykstra 1443 26 .284 .350 .428 121 44.6 8.0 10.2
Dave Parker 1408 42 .306 .348 .492 135 56.7 -7.5 10.1
Raul Mondesi 1707 66 .296 .332 .501 121 46.9 1.5 10.1
Jack Clark 1559 65 .275 .358 .485 135 59.8 -27.4 8.8
AVERAGE 1682 56 .289 .359 .473 128 58.1 -7.5 10.9
Bryce Harper 1814 87 .267 .391 .505 132 74.8 -21.8 11.2

What we have above isn’t a perfect match Harper, but in terms of age, position, and overall production, we have a decent set to work with. Perhaps the first question we might have is how those players performed at age-26, the age Harper will be next season.

Harper Age-23-to-Age-25 Comps at Age-26
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Dave Parker 706 21 .338 .397 .531 146 35.4 17.2 7.7
Tony Gwynn 701 14 .329 .381 .467 136 33.2 4.8 6.2
Raul Mondesi 670 30 .310 .360 .541 138 32.5 3.8 5.7
Larry Walker 582 22 .265 .371 .469 120 17.4 8.9 4.7
Dave Winfield 649 24 .308 .367 .499 144 33.0 -14.8 4.3
Jack Clark 659 27 .274 .372 .481 142 28.6 -13.9 3.9
Steve Kemp 447 9 .277 .389 .419 136 18.2 0.6 3.5
Ruben Sierra 656 17 .278 .323 .443 110 8.7 -0.2 3.1
Lenny Dykstra 584 7 .237 .318 .356 96 -1.2 2.0 2.0
J.D. Drew 496 18 .252 .349 .429 108 7.8 -5.6 1.8
Ellis Burks 524 14 .251 .314 .422 98 -4.6 5.6 1.8
Adam Dunn 683 40 .234 .365 .490 115 14.8 -21.7 1.5
Ellis Valentine 261 8 .208 .238 .359 67 -11 0.1 -0.3
Lee Mazzilli 376 6 .228 .324 .358 98 -0.2 -17.1 -0.4
AVERAGE 571 18 .271 .348 .447 118 15.2 -2.2 3.3

More than half of the players had good or better seasons with another third coming in close to average, although Ellis Valentine and Lee Mazzilli came in below replacement-level. On average, the group comes in just a touch below their average performances from age-23 through age-25. As for the aging process, the group stayed roughly the same for three years, remaining pretty close to average for the late-20s and early 30s before dropping a bit more in the mid-30s.

There are a lot of different ways to take this information. One might be wariness of the aging process and forecasting deals 10 years into the future. Several players didn’t even make it to their late-20s as productive players. On the other hand, Harper’s young age means that the decline of the contract never gets too far down when it comes to expected production. Another viewpoint might focus on the individual player names and note that Harper compares pretty well to some Hall of Famers. The table below shows the production of the comps above from age-26 through age-35.

Harper Age-23-to-Age-25 Comps at 26-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Larry Walker 5127 277 .331 .416 .613 147 323.1 6.4 48.6
Tony Gwynn 5991 74 .340 .392 .460 133 249.9 -45.8 40.8
Dave Winfield 6301 256 .290 .359 .496 136 263.7 -112.4 37.6
Jack Clark 5092 230 .265 .397 .484 145 260.2 -107.8 33.5
J.D. Drew 4753 179 .274 .383 .481 126 174.2 -1.0 32.9
Dave Parker 5764 201 .300 .351 .491 127 168.4 -79.1 29.0
Lenny Dykstra 3566 54 .288 .387 .421 124 118.4 42.0 28.6
Ellis Burks 4519 214 .294 .371 .531 126 147.7 -39.2 24.4
Raul Mondesi 4571 201 .264 .330 .478 109 61.5 -49.0 16.0
Adam Dunn 5545 304 .231 .355 .476 119 115.6 -203.9 9.1
Steve Kemp 2231 50 .270 .359 .402 115 37.6 -41.9 7.2
Lee Mazzilli 2140 38 .239 .352 .351 103 11.8 -53.9 3.0
Ellis Valentine 945 31 .248 .273 .402 86 -18.0 -10.5 0.2
Ruben Sierra 3586 124 .258 .308 .435 92 -37.5 -109.3 -2.3
AVERAGE 4295 160 .278 .360 .466 121 134 -57.5 22.0

The bare-bones look might examine the average and see a projected contract of close to $200 million. There’s also, based on this group, a little bit better than a one-in-five shot at Hall of Fame-level production with a roughly 50% chance at being worth a $300 million contract over the next 10 years. Opt-outs are going to drop that value some, as a few of the top results lose a bit of their value.

The best way to look at these comps is to think of them as Bryce Harper’s floor. We’ve taken some of the very best attributes of Harper — namely his young debut and his great MVP season — and then eliminated them. Despite this elimination, he still resembles a few Hall of Famers and some Hall of Very Good-types. Here’s what the group above looks like through Age-25 with Harper as a comparison.

Harper Age-23-to-Age-25 Comps Through 25
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Bryce Harper 3957 184 .279 .388 .512 140 199.7 -30.1 30.7
Jack Clark 2818 105 .276 .350 .478 130 93.6 -20.3 17.4
Ellis Valentine 2447 92 .290 .332 .480 123 66.3 13.4 16.6
Ruben Sierra 3856 139 .280 .325 .474 115 66.5 -35.0 16.6
Adam Dunn 2783 158 .248 .383 .518 131 124.5 -48.8 16.5
Ellis Burks 2308 71 .291 .350 .470 123 62.8 -2.9 14.3
Dave Winfield 2534 76 .273 .342 .433 118 59.0 -13.2 13.4
J.D. Drew 1400 63 .291 .388 .519 132 61.7 26.1 13.0
Tony Gwynn 1889 13 .325 .376 .412 125 51.3 11.7 12.9
Steve Kemp 2483 80 .285 .374 .456 126 76.3 -42.6 12.1
Larry Walker 1656 58 .276 .341 .459 125 47.0 12.7 11.9
Lenny Dykstra 1716 27 .279 .348 .413 117 45.4 13.0 11.7
Lee Mazzilli 2691 55 .275 .364 .410 120 61.6 -42.6 11.3
Dave Parker 1552 46 .304 .344 .488 133 58.4 -3.5 11.2
Raul Mondesi 1798 70 .295 .331 .501 121 49.6 -0.3 10.5

There are so few players like Bryce Harper in baseball history that it is tough to find a lot of good comparisons. In the past 100 years, there have only been 16 players within five WAR of Harper and also within 20% of his plate appearances. Of those 15 other players, 11 are in the Hall of Fame. Manny Machado is another player on that list, with the others being Jim Fregosi, Cesar Cedeno, and Vada Pinson. The 14 players averaged 37 WAR from age-26 through age-35, with eight of the 11 players who played since 1947 hitting that average.

There are even fewer comparable players in history who have hit free agency heading into their age-26 season. If we look at the comps from the beginning of the post where we ignore important, relevant facts, Harper is merely worth a $200 million investment. If we look at the last batch of comps or apply his five-win projection forward with aging, he might be worth $400 million to $500 million. There’s going to be considerable downside to the contract Harper requires, and any opt-outs are going to remove some of the best-case scenarios, but there is almost as much upside in Harper as there has been in any free agent we’ve ever seen, Alex Rodriguez excepted, because we don’t have to guess at what Harper is capable of. Combine those abilities with his age, and the team that nabs Harper isn’t just contending with the risk of a potential albatross; they are also adding the possibility of greatly exceeding the value of his contract.