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Aaron Nola’s Losing the Waiting Game

The Philadelphia Phillies are off to a more-than-reasonable start in 2019, standing at 11-6 and currently in first place in the NL East. In the early weeks of the season, the division has been as tight as expected, with only 2.5 games separating the four teams that had a reasonable preseason claim to 2019 relevance. What’s unexpected about Philadelphia’s early lead is that it has little to do with the performance of their ace pitcher, and 2018’s third-place finisher in NL Cy Young voting, Aaron Nola.

Nola has thrown four starts so far this season and has been terrible in three of them, all losses. Even more damaging is that all four starts have been against the NL East competition, meaning every loss in those games is a guaranteed win for the team’s direct rivals, no scoreboard-watching needed. Add it all together and you have a pitcher who is already nearly a third of the way to what would be his career-high for home runs allowed in a season, with a 7.45 ERA and a walk rate double what he posted in 2018.

So what’s happening with Nola? The obvious thing to do is to look is at his miserable walk and home run rates, and see if there’s any chance he’s not getting what he “deserves” from his pitching.

For a quick look at a pitcher’s walk rate, you can actually make a simple model that estimates that rate knowing just his plate discipline numbers. Knowing just that, you can get a surprisingly adequate estimation of what a walk rate “should” be. In this case, my very basic non-linear model with observations weighted by number of batters faced, gets the r-squared to 0.65. In layman’s terms, that means that approximately 65% of the pitcher-to-pitcher variance in walk rate is explained by the pitcher-to-pitcher variance of the inputs.

Walk Rate Prediction – Aaron Nola
Year BB% Predicted BB O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2019 12.6% 13.3% 25.5% 55.4% 38.4% 70.0% 43.0% 48.3% 8.4%
2018 7.0% 6.2% 33.2% 64.2% 47.0% 60.9% 44.7% 69.4% 12.4%
2017 7.1% 7.6% 29.4% 60.8% 44.5% 59.3% 48.2% 64.4% 10.8%
2016 6.0% 8.0% 29.5% 55.7% 42.2% 61.5% 48.3% 60.7% 9.6%
2016 6.0% 7.5% 27.7% 61.1% 43.6% 66.1% 47.4% 63.8% 8.6%

That’s a pitcher who’s largely earning a poor walk rate. One might think that Zone% is the a key statistics here, but it’s actually not; first-pitch strikes and swing percentages are far more relevant when predicting walk rate, with the r-squared for Zone% by itself only being 0.05. For the other two variables, it’s 0.41 and 0.29, respectively. Nola’s not throwing first-pitch strikes and batters are not swinging at his stuff at the usual rate. And when they do swing, especially at out-of-zone pitches, they’ve been far more likely to make contact than in the past. At a cursory glance, batters are taking a more patient approach with Nola, waiting him out, and largely getting the pitches they want.

This number tends to stabilize fairly quickly (52% of pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched are already within two percentage points of their actual walk rate), so it’s a statistic I tend to use when deciding whether to panic about a pitcher’s early walk rate. Since someone will no doubt ask, here are the top 10 departures from expected walk rate so far in 2019 (both good and bad).

Walk Rate vs. Modeled Walk Rate, 2019
Player Walk Rate Predicted Walk Rate Difference
Shelby Miller 18.6% 8.5% 10.1%
Blake Treinen 15.2% 6.9% 8.3%
Yu Darvish 18.1% 10.3% 7.8%
Martin Perez 15.7% 7.9% 7.8%
Chris Paddack 11.3% 3.6% 7.7%
Jeremy Hellickson 13.8% 6.2% 7.6%
Sean Newcomb 13.8% 6.9% 6.9%
Domingo German 14.0% 7.2% 6.8%
Rick Porcello 17.7% 11.0% 6.7%
Liam Hendriks 16.3% 10.2% 6.1%
Sonny Gray 7.9% 16.9% -9.0%
Trent Thornton 8.9% 16.1% -7.2%
Patrick Corbin 5.3% 11.7% -6.4%
Dereck Rodriguez 4.4% 10.7% -6.3%
J.B. Wendelken 4.1% 10.4% -6.3%
Tyler Skaggs 3.2% 9.1% -5.9%
Adam Warren 7.3% 13.1% -5.8%
Josh Hader 5.6% 11.1% -5.5%
Zach Eflin 1.5% 6.8% -5.3%
Robert Gsellman 4.2% 9.1% -4.9%

A simple look at Statcast also suggests that Nola’s getting hit a lot harder than in the past. His average exit velocity has jumped from 85.9 mph to 90.0 mph and his barrel-percentage has doubled. The algorithms of Willman, Petriello & Friends predict that a player with Nola’s profile ought to be allowing a .490 slugging percentage; hitters are actually slugging .533 against Nola. So while one can say he’s getting hit a little harder than expected, you still don’t want any of your starting pitchers to be that crushable. In 2018, only a single qualifying pitcher allowed a slugging percentage worse than .490: Dylan Bundy at .523, with a shocking difference between him and Jakob Junis in second place at .455.

So why is it happening? That’s a tricky question, in that there’s no giant red flag, no significant dip in velocity or worsened movement on his pitches. You can see a lot of what’s going on with that first-pitch strike percentage, which shows a troubling difference from 2018. Last year, batters swung at 29% of Nola’s first pitches, whiffing on 28% of those swings. This year, those numbers are 18% and 19%. Nola’s started off 32 plate appearances this year throwing a curveball and he’s gotten a swing-and-miss on…zero. It’s a similar story with his fastball. 27% of his first-pitch fastballs resulted in a 1-0 count last year. This year, that number is 55%.

From this graphic, Nola’s thrown 60 pitches outside the strike zone on 0-0. Batters have swung at only three of them.

At least in the early going, batters seem to simply be taking a more passive approach to Nola after his breakout 2018 season, and he hasn’t adjusted. And he’s getting away from some of the things that he did successfully in 2018, such as daring to throw curves to lefties when behind in the count (he’s dropped from 39% to 20%). Batters are more patient and Nola’s been more predictable.

With the division expected to remain a tight race, every loss is of enormous consequence. ZiPS estimates that Nola’s four starts, when you combine what he’s already done and the decline in his projection, will eventually cost the Phillies 1.2 wins from their preseason forecast. To get an idea what this costs the Phillies in terms of their October fate, I set ZiPS to project the Phillies with Nola performing as predicted before the season (3.9 WAR prorated over the remaining games) and how Nola is predicted to perform now (3.4 WAR), along with a few worse projections, based on how long it takes Nola to get back to where he should be.

Phillies Playoff Probabilities by Aaron Nola Performance
Nola Rest-of-Season WAR Phillies Division % Phillies Playoff %
3.9 25.2% 58.1%
3.4 23.1% 55.0%
3.0 21.5% 52.7%
2.0 17.8% 46.7%
1.0 14.5% 40.7%
0.0 11.5% 34.8%

The Phillies are surviving so far without Nola in top form, but the longer it lasts, the more damaging it becomes to the team’s playoff hopes. It’s not time for Philadelphia to panic about their star pitcher, but with it unlikely that there’s a pitcher equally as good available for trade, it’s time to mix in some serious concern with the cheesesteaks.

(Please note that I don’t mean ketchup. Please don’t do that ever.)

Hot Starts to Believe In

T.S. Eliot once mused that April is the cruelest month, but for me, it’s the most curmudgeonly one. While baseball returning is always a good thing, a good portion of my April job is to (partially) crush the hopes and dreams of fans excited about hot starts from their favorite players. While stats don’t literally lie, April numbers, thanks to our old friend and scapegoat small sample size, only tell a little bit of the story of 2019. But as cautious as I try to be about jumping to conclusions in baseball’s first month, at least some of those torrid beginnings will contain more than the customary grain of truth. So let’s go out on that proverbial limb and try to guess which scorching Aprils represent something real.

Yoan Moncada

I’ve been burned before touching this hot stove, but there’s something so compelling about Moncada’s early-season performances as to once again disarm the skeptic in me. In 2018’s version of this piece, Moncada’s high exit velocity and his .267/.353/.524 April line had me believing that he had finally turned the corner, the one long-expected from a young, talented player with impressive physical tools.

As the narrator meme goes, he had not turned that corner. Moncada spent the next two months with an OPS that didn’t touch .600, and his final 2018 line represented no real improvement over his 2017.

Moncada is hitting the ball just as hard as he did last year, with his average exit velocity ranking sixth in baseball. But this time around, his performance is also coming with some significant progress in his contact statistics. Moncada’s profile has always been a bit weird in that he doesn’t seem to have a serious problem chasing bad pitches, certainly not as you would expect from a player who just led the league in strikeouts with the fourth-highest total in baseball history. But Moncada was in the top 20 in not swinging at pitches outside the zone.

In 2019, he’s been more aggressive, swinging at more bad and good pitches, but there hasn’t been a corresponding contact tradeoff, and he’s in fact making more contact overall, especially against good pitches. Given that one of the purposes of plate discipline is for hitters to actually hit the good pitch they eke out of the dude on the mound, I once again return to the ranks of the believers. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/15/19

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I WANT MY ELEPHANT

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Begin communiqué.

Andy: Is it unfair that some teams can use like an 8 man rotation, and just send some of the players to triple A and not use up roster spots?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Next year, minimum option times are going to be 20 days.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: err 15 days

Avatar Dan Szymborski: 2020

Read the rest of this entry »

Ozzie Albies Just Signed a Stinker

The Atlanta Braves locked up another one of their key foundational pieces on Thursday, signing Ozzie Albies to a seven-year contract extension worth $35 million. Also included, since the Atlanta Braves felt like they didn’t get quite enough value in this deal somehow, are two team options at $7 million a year with a $4 million buyout, taking the total possible contract term up to nine years and $45 million.

The Evan Longoria long-term contract was probably the gold standard in team value when it came to these sorts of deals, but this one eclipses it. For those who don’t remember, Longoria signed an extension early in his rookie season for six years and $17.6 million, with three team option years. While the guaranteed dollars are a little lower, the team options were more generous at $7.5 million, $11 million, and $11.5 million. Here, the Braves buy out as many as four of Albies’ free agent years for less money than he’d likely be paid in a single year of free agency. In addition, Longoria had yet to succeed in the majors while Albies already had a full star-level season under his belt.

Quite frankly, this is a bit shocking. There’s risk aversion for a player, and then there’s risk aversion. Obviously, Albies wouldn’t get a contract equivalent to what he would get in free agency under any circumstances with a year of service time, but when I think of a risk-benefit tradeoff that isn’t horrific for a player, I think Blake Snell’s contract is a better representation of a team-friendly deal that doesn’t cross the line into, let’s be honest, exploitation. For those who didn’t read my piece on the Snell signing because you wanted to make me sad, ZiPS estimated that year-to-year, Snell was giving up $23 million on average to have a guaranteed $50 million in his pocket.

ZiPS Projections – Ozzie Albies
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB OPS+ WAR Expected ($M)
2019 .271 .319 .454 634 101 172 36 7 22 78 17 104 4.3 0.6
2020 .280 .329 .481 611 102 171 38 8 23 81 17 114 4.9 0.6
2021 .280 .331 .496 615 105 172 39 8 26 85 17 118 5.3 6.5
2022 .279 .332 .504 613 106 171 39 9 27 86 16 120 5.5 11.9
2023 .280 .334 .510 608 107 170 38 9 28 88 14 122 5.6 20.5
2024 .277 .333 .502 603 106 167 37 9 27 86 14 120 5.4 52.0
2025 .274 .331 .495 584 102 160 35 8 26 82 13 118 5.0 50.4
2026 .272 .330 .488 566 97 154 34 8 24 77 12 116 4.6 48.9
2027 .271 .327 .485 546 92 148 32 8 23 74 11 114 4.3 47.6
2028 .268 .324 .470 523 86 140 29 7 21 68 10 110 3.7 43.5

So, umm…yeah.

ZiPS is a fan of Ozzie Albies’ future, a weird quirk of the system in that it finds young, phenomenally talented infielders with a star season in the books to be totally awesome. All told, among the game’s hitters, ZiPS projects Albies with the fourth-most WAR remaining in his career, behind only Mike Trout, Juan Soto, and Francisco Lindor. If you’re wondering where Ronald Acuña is, he’s all the way down at…fifth.

ZiPS expects that, going year-by-year, Albies could be expected to make $282 million through the theoretical ninth and final season of his contract extension. In other words, ZiPS is estimating that Albies, in return for this contract, is giving up more than $200 million on average. But let’s say that ZiPS is being way too kind on Albies and is overrating him by two WAR a year. That knocks a shocking 18 WAR off his projections for the next nine years, in which case, ZiPS projects him to make a mere $153 million going year-to-year. So even in the case that ZiPS is horribly overrating Albies, he’s still likely to be underpaid by at least $100 million for his contributions to the Braves. And remember, this is relative to what he would expect to get under the current collective bargaining agreement, not some fanciful world in which he could otherwise just become a free agent right now.

(One side note since somebody will notice, reducing his projected WAR by 18 doesn’t have the exact same linear value as WAR in his real projection does because the better a player is, the lower a percentage of their expected free agent value they get in arbitration).

If I made a deal like this when I was a kid, and had offered my friend Alan a candy bar for his Super Nintendo (he had one a few months before I did, the jerk), you can bet my mom would have marched right down to Alan’s house and made me undo that particular transaction.

Ozzie Albies is, of course, an adult and I highly value the right of two consenting adults entering into freely negotiated contracts with each other. But I can sure as sugar express that I think he got an absolutely rotten deal here!

For the Atlanta Braves, the value of this trade is obvious. They get a star player for the entire length of his twenties for next to nothing, at least in baseball terms. Already having signed Ronald Acuña to a team-friendly deal — but at least, not as team-friendly a deal — the team has no excuse now to not open their pocketbooks for big free agents in coming seasons, something they really should have done beyond Josh Donaldson this winter.

This is not a contract that players should forget at the bargaining table. With higher minimum salaries for young players and earlier arbitration, players would have more leverage in negotiations and we’d likely see fairer terms for players in their prime as a result. If nothing else, it’s a sign that to keep salaries growing in baseball, players will need to fight for the Ozzie Albieses of the league, and advocate for a system that doesn’t require salary growth to be tied to teams signing 34-year-olds to crazy contracts like it’s 1986.

Cleveland’s Clevinger Cleaved

Mike Clevinger was forced to leave his Saturday start against the Blue Jays after five innings of one-hit ball and 10 strikeouts. This was disappointing, but the initial reports were promising, with Clevinger expressing that it was a precautionary measure. Given that he was ultra-dominating over his first two starts, the hope was that it was a minor back strain that wouldn’t prove to be more than a brief setback. Those hopes were dashed this morning with Cleveland manager Terry Francona stating that it would be six-to-eight weeks until Clevinger would even pick up a baseball, and unless he meant that Clevinger had secretly developed a method for telepathically launching crippling sliders and curves, this amounts to Bad News.

It’s especially poor timing for Clevinger considering what a roll he’s been on to start the 2019 season. If his back was bothering him before, his performance gave no indication. Against the White Sox on April Fools Day and the Blue Jays on Saturday, Clevinger combined for 22 strikeouts and two hits allowed over 12 innings and had yet to be scored on. Admittedly, this was against the White Sox and the Blue Jays, two teams with very poor offenses, but he didn’t just dominate two bad teams, he pretty much turned their offenses into armies of Chris Davis clones. (Note for budding mad scientists: this theoretical would not be a good use of your resources). Clevinger even added a couple mph in fastball velocity this year, continuing his pattern of making one of his pitches absolutely frightening each season. Previously mostly used to set up his curveball and slider, his fastball was at +3.8 runs for the year, already his career high!

The good news is that in the early analysis at least, it appears that Cleveland’s simply being careful with Clevinger. Careful would be a kind way to describe a rather disappointing offseason, largely fueled by three of the other four teams in the AL Central being terrible and the remaining team one that saw Cleveland’s free agent apathy and actually reduced the team’s payroll. Running the numbers, the loss of Clevinger barely puts a ding in the team’s playoff odds, but what is of interest is what option the Indians go to. Unlike in some cases, the best fill-in for Clevinger is non-obvious. So let’s arbitrarily rank some candidates from best to worst! Read the rest of this entry »

Cincinnati’s Playoff Odds Are Worse Than the Chili

As anybody who follows my weekly chats in the early part of baseball seasons can attest, I’m a big proponent of shooing off small sample size worries with a brush of the hand and a curt reply of “April.” That answer mostly applies to players, but for teams that are fringe contenders, it’s possible to dig a hole in April that’s nearly impossible to escape from, especially in a competitive division. Expected playoff teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs have had wretched starts of their own, but they also had some room for error based on their talent level. For the Cincinnati Reds, however, it may be closer to panic time.

One reason why it’s easier to panic on the team level than it is for individual players at the start of the season is due to the fact that the bright lines for team success are quite different than the foggier ones for players. If a four-win player has a replacement-level month but then otherwise plays at his normal levels, his eventual 3.3-3.4 WAR still contributed greatly to the team’s bottom line. But the playoffs provide a much sharper divide for team success, and a team that makes the postseason by a single game has a much different penumbra of success than one that misses it by that margin.

So let’s talk about the Reds. On a basic level, it’s disheartening that they’ve struggled to this degree, being one of the few teams this past offseason to aggressively push their roster forward and try to open their contending window early. Teams being successful when they do this kind of thing is something I feel is fundamentally beneficial to baseball.

The Reds didn’t go after the big stars this offseason, and if they ever talked with the Harper, Machado, or Corbin camps seriously this winter, it’s news to me (though there was a rumor last fall they were at least interested in Corbin). But they did make significant moves and take on salary, adding Yasiel Puig, Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark in a bid to provide a short-term boost to their weakest spots. They’ve already committed to Gray for an even longer period, extending him through 2022 with a $12 million team option for the 2023 season. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/8/19

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Oh god, I’m here exactly at the time I intend to be here. IT IS TIME TO PANIC

Marvin Shabazz: What’s with this whole baseball thing?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Smack hard balls with hard sticks, but not in a homoerotic fashion.

CamdenWarehouse: What would happen if Trevor Rosenthal were to face Chris Davis right now?

Gub Gub: It’s Rex Manning Day.  What are you going to do about it?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: First question: Baseball would lock up and blue screen of death and we’d have to start 2019 over again.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Giants Get a New Best Outfielder

The Toronto Blue Jays, in yet another sign that their slightly announced rebuild is continuing, are sending Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants in return for three players. Heading to the land of colorful currency and milk distressingly sold in bags in return are relief pitcher Derek Law, former-Pirate-prospect-turned-useful-utility-guy Alen Hanson, and minor league pitcher Juan De Paula.

With free agency arriving after the 2020 season and the Blue Jays unlikely to go anywhere positive before then, it was only a matter of time until Pillar was traded to someone in need of outfield help. And when looking up “someone in need of outfield help” in a very odd dictionary, you might see a picture of the San Francisco Giants. If you checked out our positional power rankings last week — and you will be quizzed on those — you’d see the Giants ranking 30th, 27th, and 28th in the outfield, from left to right.

The Giants outfield has been a problem for awhile, and the winter before last, the team attempted to solve it by seriously going after all three Marlins outfielders, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, and after missing out on two of the three, picked up Andrew McCutchen as a stopgap option. This winter, on the other hand, with little desire to increase payroll, the Giants decided to collect 17 outfielders each worth about 0.5 WAR and somehow combine them into some form of Eldritch abomination undulating its way to a three-WAR season while hopefully consuming the souls of various Dodgers as a side benefit and then maybe things would be alright.

Narrator: Things were not alright. Read the rest of this entry »

Sox, Bogaerts, Agree on $120 Million Extension

Late Sunday, the Boston Red Sox and Xander Bogaerts agreed on a $120 million extension, keeping the team’s star shortstop in Boston until at least 2025. While the deal is being reported as worth $132 million, that figure already includes the $12 million Bogaerts was going to make in 2019, so it’s kind of cheating for the sake of headline inflation. There are two other significant contract stipulations: a vesting option for 2026 worth $20 million, and an opt-out for Bogaerts following the 2022 season. The opt-out ensures that Bogaerts will at least have the option to test free agency once somewhere near his prime during his career, his first year of free agency otherwise being his age-33 season if the option doesn’t vest.

Bogaerts is in a curious position for a star player at a key position on a very popular team: he might actually be underrated. When people discuss the top shortstops in baseball, the list rightly starts with Francisco Lindor, who is the best shortstop in baseball, but then you’ll generally hear Carlos Correa and Corey Seager’s names, then maybe some talk about Andrelton Simmons because of his glove. It’s only then that Bogaerts might be thrown in as a “oh yeah, him too” selection. Bogaerts still only has one All-Star appearance, one fewer than Scott Cooper, and only received back-end MVP votes in a single season. Even in 2018, a season in which Bogaerts was hitting .284/.353/.535 in the first-half, he failed to be named to the midsummer classic’s roster.

Top 20 Shortstops, 2014-2019
1 Francisco Lindor 22.8 574 .288 .350 .487
2 Andrelton Simmons 18.0 725 .272 .320 .375
3 Xander Bogaerts 17.7 745 .284 .343 .430
4 Brandon Crawford 16.2 750 .257 .323 .415
5 Carlos Correa 15.4 472 .276 .355 .476
6 Corey Seager 14.9 359 .301 .372 .493
7 Didi Gregorius 14.8 658 .268 .315 .437
8 Asdrubal Cabrera 12.5 715 .266 .325 .439
9 Jean Segura 12.0 713 .286 .327 .404
10 Elvis Andrus 11.6 722 .277 .327 .396
11 Trea Turner 11.3 363 .290 .347 .460
12 Troy Tulowitzki 10.8 419 .279 .347 .467
13 Jed Lowrie 10.7 602 .260 .338 .403
14 Marcus Semien 9.9 628 .250 .313 .405
15 Javier Baez 9.9 530 .268 .310 .473
16 Zack Cozart 9.7 505 .249 .314 .414
17 Eduardo Escobar 9.4 649 .260 .311 .431
18 Trevor Story 9.4 403 .267 .332 .528
19 Starlin Castro 9.1 706 .280 .319 .417
20 Addison Russell 8.8 533 .242 .313 .392

But over the last five years, by WAR, only Lindor has clearly contributed more on-the-field than Bogaerts has among shortstops. So why this lack of recognition? Call it the Curse of the Well-Rounded. Bogie does nothing truly poorly, but like a number of other all-around talents, he doesn’t have that one obvious highlight to point to in a culture that likes the ten-second soundbite. He’s topped out short of 25 homers, and only hit .300 the one-time. His glove is middling as shortstops go — there’s significant disagreement between UZR and DRS here — and in sabermetric language, his WAR hovers between three and five a year, so no crazy season like Lindor’s 2018 as of yet. There’s no signature postseason home run to hang his hat on. Bogaerts has played the enchilada in a world obsessed with tacos and burritos.

At just 26, Bogaerts ranks highly enough among shortstops through the same age that he’s on a realistic Hall of Fame trajectory. He’s not on the “hit by a bus and get in” path that Mike Trout finds himself on, and there are players who also ranked highly who have fallen or will fall well short of the Hall (Hanley Ramirez, Garry Templeton, Donie Bush, probably Elvis Andrus), but it’s still an impressive list of Cooperstownerati.

Top 25 Shortstops Through Age 25
1 Alex Rodriguez 42.8 952 .311 .378 .571
2 Arky Vaughan 39.4 849 .334 .424 .491
3 Cal Ripken 34.7 830 .289 .351 .483
4 Travis Jackson 28.9 899 .295 .344 .447
5 Jim Fregosi 27.0 844 .277 .341 .412
6 Joe Cronin 25.4 711 .305 .388 .458
7 Lou Boudreau 24.2 656 .278 .370 .402
8 Hanley Ramirez 24.0 618 .316 .386 .531
9 Francisco Lindor 22.8 574 .288 .350 .487
10 Robin Yount 21.8 1084 .274 .311 .391
11 Jose Reyes 21.6 755 .287 .336 .436
12 Donie Bush 21.3 766 .251 .362 .310
13 Vern Stephens 20.9 694 .294 .354 .462
14 Nomar Garciaparra 20.0 455 .322 .367 .566
15 Alan Trammell 19.7 850 .280 .350 .383
16 Joe Tinker 19.6 693 .250 .299 .326
17 Bill Dahlen 19.5 644 .292 .372 .438
18 Derek Jeter 19.4 638 .318 .389 .465
19 Cecil Travis 18.7 814 .321 .375 .418
20 Rabbit Maranville 18.7 771 .245 .310 .325
21 Joe Sewell 18.0 635 .322 .411 .434
22 Woody English 18.0 659 .306 .376 .407
23 Elvis Andrus 17.8 914 .272 .335 .345
24 Xander Bogaerts 17.7 759 .284 .343 .429
25 Garry Templeton 17.0 713 .305 .325 .418

At $20 million, the Red Sox get a particularly good deal. Bogaerts likely left some money on the table given the fact that he’s not a two- or three-year player, but one who was only a single season away from free agency. Indeed, as someone who would have hit the market at age 27 and almost certainly is in the top five at his position, one might even characterize $20 million a year as a steal. But don’t take my word for it; what’s the fun of having the magic computer that makes projections if I’m not going to use it?

ZiPS Projections – Xander Bogaerts
2020 .285 .350 .478 565 161 38 4 21 54 116 10 118 -2 3.9 $31.0
2021 .283 .350 .475 552 156 37 3 21 54 114 10 117 -3 3.7 $61.6
2022 .281 .349 .471 537 151 36 3 20 53 108 9 116 -4 3.5 $91.6
2023 .282 .351 .474 521 147 34 3 20 52 99 9 117 -5 3.4 $122.2
2024 .281 .349 .470 502 141 32 3 19 49 94 8 115 -5 3.0 $150.9
2025 .277 .345 .450 480 133 29 3 16 46 87 7 109 -6 2.4 $174.9
2026 .272 .335 .441 456 124 26 3 15 41 79 6 104 -7 1.8 $193.6

ZiPS has tended to be fairly close with Red Sox signings this era (for example, it came within $2 million of Dustin Pedroia‘s extension), but this one is a very large aberration. The projections from ZiPS estimate — and this includes the risk of projecting 2020-2025 now rather than after he actually has his 2019 season in the books — that Bogaerts left roughly $50 million on the table. If the projections prove to be accurate, as free agency-year contracts go, Bogaerts’s contract will rank in the upper-echelons of big contracts that worked out well for the team, in the territory of Miguel Cabrera’s first contract. Some of that money comes back to Bogaerts in the form of his opt-out, but his downside is much better than, say, Eric Hosmer, a player with a similar opt-out clause, so it’s less of a hit to the team.

Bogaerts will likely speak more on the subject, but two issues seemed to loom large for him in the decision-making process. By all accounts he enjoys playing for the Red Sox and has shared his concerns about the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado market this winter. Add in uncertainty about baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement and it’s understandable why Bogaerts and other free agents to-be have prioritized getting long-term deals done and in the books.

Does Bogaerts end up in Cooperstown? At this point, ZiPS would say no, projecting him to end up with around 45 WAR with 2429 hits and 264 home runs, a career reminiscent of Toby Harrah’s, who was way better than you think. It’s likely some of that will take place at third base as well, which will probably hurt how he is perceived by voters. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility; ZiPS gives him a 20% chance of passing 65 WAR, a number that would make him a likely Hall of Famer, though not a first-balloter. There are 18 shortstops with 60 WAR and the only ones not in the Hall are Alex Rodriguez (who is not yet eligible and will struggle for non-playing reasons), Bill Dahlen, and Jack Glasscock. I swear I didn’t make up the last guy. A one-in-five chance at a summer speech in Cooperstown ain’t bad.

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/1/19

Avatar Dan Szymborski: It’s April, but I’m still having this lousy Smarch weather!

Z: Burnes, C. Smith, P. Lopez, Matz, Matz

ECDC: Why would Rendon sign an extension now when he’s pretty much the only FA for this coming offseason now?

Z: My fault, meant to say please rank them

Avatar Dan Szymborski: What format?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Well, he could get a deal he likes, but yes, he’s rapidly becoming the only player in free agency!

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