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David Peralta and Miguel Sanó Gain Security With Similar Extensions

There was an unusual flurry of contract extensions handed out last offseason. In March alone, teams guaranteed over $1 billion in new contract extensions to 11 players — Mike Trout’s record-breaking 10-year, $360 million contract was the centerpiece. In all, 26 players signed a new contract extension between the end of the 2018 World Series and the beginning of the regular season with seven more getting ink on the page in early April. It was an unprecedented outbreak of extensions for players young and old (ish). We’ve already seen five contract extensions since the end of the World Series this offseason, including new contracts for Aroldis Chapman, José Abreu, and Luis Robert. Now we have two more to add to the list in David Peralta and Miguel Sanó.

The first was signed on Friday when Peralta agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract extension with the Diamondbacks. The deal buys out the 32-year-old’s final season of arbitration and his first two years of free agency. He won’t receive a raise on his salary from last season ($7 million) like he would have in arbitration, but the guaranteed salary over the next three years makes it a nice trade-off. After suffering an injury to his AC joint in his right shoulder and spending time on the injured list three times in 2019, this contract extension gives Peralta some security if his injury woes continue.

For the Diamondbacks, Peralta represents an important piece of continuity as they enter the second year of their soft reset that started when they traded away Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke. Peralta’s age and injury history precludes him from being considered part of Arizona’s core group of players led by Ketel Marte, but he’s certainly an important part of their roster as they try and compete for the NL Wild Card again. If his shoulder is healthy, his four-win season in 2018 provides a tantalizing glimpse at his potential ceiling. For an average annual value of just over $7 million, this extension could provide some excellent value for the Diamondbacks. It also provides some cost control for the organization in 2021 and 2022 when they have a sizeable group of prospects that could be graduating and the payroll room to supplement their young core with significant free agent additions. Read the rest of this entry »

Marlins Continue to Improve With Dickerson Addition

The Marlins have spent this offseason quietly adding a number of high-upside veterans on the cheap. They’ve traded for Jonathan Villar after Baltimore unceremoniously dumped him, claimed Jesús Aguilar on waivers, and added Francisco Cervelli on a one-year contract worth just $2 million. They continued to upgrade their roster just after Christmas, signing Corey Dickerson to a two-year deal worth $17.5 million.

The left-handed outfielder fills a big need on the Marlins roster. In 2019, Miami utilized the uninspiring trio of Harold Ramirez, Curtis Granderson, and Austin Dean for the lion’s share of the innings in left field. They collectively cost the Marlins 1.7 wins, with just Ramirez rating above replacement level. For a rebuilding club, this isn’t necessarily concerning or surprising. In Dean and Ramirez, the Marlins were simply looking to see if either minor league veteran could make it in the big leagues, and Granderson was a classic clubhouse veteran playing out the last days of a long career.

But with the Marlins looking to break free from their endless rebuilding phase, adding Dickerson is a savvy move. He immediately upgrades their outfield and provides the club with a much-needed left-handed bat in the lineup. Since his debut in 2013 for the Rockies, he’s posted a 117 wRC+ and 11.5 WAR. After a good start to his career in Colorado, a strikeout problem and getting traded away from the Rays forced him to make some changes to his approach in 2018. In Pittsburgh, he started choking up regularly in an effort to make much more contact. The adjustments worked and he cut his strikeout rate by almost 10 points. Read the rest of this entry »

Angels Pay for Durability, Sign Julio Teheran

Since 2016, only one other team has lost more players to the Injured List than the Los Angeles Angels. They’ve cumulatively lost over 5,600 days to various injuries during the last four seasons, the second highest total in the majors behind the Padres. And a significant number of those injuries have decimated their pitching staff.

Angels Starters, Injury Days Lost
Player 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Andrew Heaney 180 139 16 83 418
Garrett Richards 150 153 103 406
J.C. Ramírez 42 177 125 344
Matt Shoemaker 28 107 154 289
Nicholas Tropeano 97 183 105 63 448
Shohei Ohtani 26 41 67
Tyler Skaggs 115 99 55 14 283
SOURCE: Spotrac

The pitchers listed above account for over 2,200 days lost to injury over the last four years, nearly 40% of the team’s cumulative total. And that doesn’t even take into account the relievers and other less established starters who also lost time to injuries, or Tyler Skaggs’ tragic passing earlier this year (the days listed above include his 2019 IL stint, not the season days following his death). The Angels’ trouble keeping their pitching staff healthy has been one of the major reasons they haven’t come close to sniffing the postseason since 2014 despite employing the best player in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

Wade Miley Reunites with Derek Johnson

Just a few years ago, Wade Miley was a free agent without many teams interested in his services. He had struggled through two seasons in Seattle and Baltimore, compiling an ugly 5.48 ERA and a 4.85 FIP across more than 300 innings in 2016 and 2017. He eventually signed a minor-league contract with Milwaukee in February of 2018 and completely reinvented himself under the tutelage of Derek Johnson, the Brewers pitching coach at the time. Across 16 starts, he cut his ERA in half and dropped his FIP to 3.59. After a season in Houston, Miley will reunite with Johnson, now the pitching coach for the Reds. It’s a two-year, $15 million pact with a $10 million club option for 2022 and a few performance bonuses. Miley ranked 32nd on our Top 50 Free Agents list, with Kiley McDaniel expecting a one-year, $9 million deal; the crowd came much closer to his actual contract, projecting two years and $16 million.

The biggest change Miley made with the Brewers was scraping his slow, looping slider for a hard cutter. He actually made the change at the nadir of his season in Baltimore back in 2017, but Johnson helped him hone the pitch and encouraged him to make it a major part of his repertoire. In a 2018 interview with Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Miley described the moment he decided to make the change to his repertoire:

“Just made it up in the middle of the game [on July 25, 2017]. Swear to God. I was getting crushed a little bit. Welington Castillo was catching and I just said, ‘Hey, look, when (Evan) Longoria comes back up to bat, I’m throwing all cutters.’ He just kind of looked at me and laughed. So we did, struck him out and then he grounded out his next at-bat. So I kind of ran with it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Tanner Roark Heads North

Amidst a flurry of activity surrounding Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon at the Winter Meetings, the Blue Jays bolstered their starting rotation with an under-the-radar free agent signing. On Wednesday afternoon, Toronto agreed to a two-year, $24 million deal with Tanner Roark.

The Blue Jays had 21 different pitchers start a game in 2019, the most in the majors. While a handful of these starters were relievers acting as openers, it’s still a shocking amount to work through in a single season. With Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez traded mid-season, there were moments in September when the pitching probables for Toronto were filled with TBDs.

After trading for Chase Anderson earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays continued to shore up their thin rotation by adding Roark, and they paid a bit of a premium for his durability. He’s made more than 30 starts in five of the last six seasons, with a stint in the bullpen in 2015 as the lone outlier. And though his innings total dropped to 165 in 2019 after three straight seasons of 180 innings or more, he made 31 starts split between Cincinnati and Oakland. His new pact with the Blue Jays has an average annual value higher than Kiley McDaniel ($10m AAV) or the crowd ($9.6m AAV) projected. With such a shaky rotation, the consistency and reliability of Roark was likely a factor in that slightly elevated salary. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brewers Found Their Grandal Replacement

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

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

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

Which Players Might Have Benefited from the Astros’ Sign-Stealing?

It’s been more than two weeks since the Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich’s bombshell report at The Athletic, which revealed a massive sign-stealing scandal implemented by the Houston Astros beginning in 2017. Since then, we’ve seen reports that the official investigation launched by Major League Baseball has confirmed the system as described by Mike Fiers in that original report; they are continuing to look into other ways the Astros may have cheated during the 2017 postseason and beyond. Whether the Astros were using a modified method on the road relying on “buzzers,” as some have speculated, has yet to be confirmed.

What we do know is that the Astros broke the rules by using technology to steal signs in real-time. Members of Houston’s front office and coaching staff could face significant penalties, and with Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán implicated as sign-stealing ringleaders, there could be impacts felt in organizations beyond Houston. It remains to be seen just how severe the punishment will be — though our own Craig Edwards argued last week that they could be quite severe indeed — and if any players are caught up in the fallout.

Last week, I took an initial look at whether or not the on-field value of the Astros sign-stealing scheme could be parsed out in the data. Between the changing roster, the changing ball, and the at times non-linear effect of coaching and player development, there was a lot of noise in the data. At a broad level, it’s hard to make any conclusive statements about the specific effects of the Astros sign-stealing, though as I noted, the fact that the team persisted in the practice suggests they believed they derived an appreciable benefit from it. On Friday, two more attempts to answer that same question were made.

Over at The Ringer, Ben Lindbergh concluded:

“Knowing the next pitch just has to help, right? But no matter how we slice and dice the data, the statistical case is less compelling than it would be if sign-stealing made hitting as simple as it seems like it should. Great as the Astros were at the plate in 2017, the most fascinating aspect of their sign-stealing scandal is that it didn’t make them even better.”

Rob Arthur was a little more confident in his conclusions in a piece for Baseball Prospectus:

“We can tentatively conclude that their sign stealing probably had a major impact on the team’s plate discipline numbers. This was not innocent cheating that barely affected the game; according to the available data, it may have yielded an unprecedented improvement in the Astros’ ability to make contact and lay off outside pitches, helping to turn a talented lineup into one of the best-hitting teams of all time.”

In my previous piece, I landed somewhere in between these two positions: sign-stealing probably had an impact, but it was nearly impossible to determine the exact benefit at a team level due to all the noise. But what happens if we drill down to the per-pitch level, as I did with the run expectancy (RE288) data in my article last week, and this time focus on individual players? Read the rest of this entry »

How Much Did the Astros Really Benefit from Sign-Stealing?

With the offseason moving at it’s now customarily glacial pace, the story that’s dominated the baseball headlines for the past week has been the Astros sign-stealing scandal. Since the first story was published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic last Tuesday, we’ve seen bits of evidence confirming the Astros strategy: a crude system of live monitors and a trash can to relay the incoming pitch type to the batter. On Friday, Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus provided audio evidence from the TV broadcasts, on which the whacking of the trash can can be identified and analyzed. Rosenthal and Drellich followed up their post with another revelation that the Astros were exploring different ways to electronically steal signs. And then there’s the video evidence pulled from the 2017 Astros World Series documentary showing a computer — sometimes a monitor, sometimes a laptop — in the tunnel leading to the dugout with a trash can nearby.

MLB is still conducting its own investigation, but the evidence that’s been dug up publicly is pretty damning. Sign-stealing has always been part of the game, but the Astros crossed the line when they began using electronic means to relay information in real-time. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been accused of baseball skullduggery of some sort. There’s little doubt that some form of punishment will be handed down by the commissioner’s office once MLB wraps up its investigation. The only question is how harsh will the penalties be; will it be a slap on the wrist, or will the hammer come down hard to deter other teams who are likely exploring other ways to use technology to steal signs.

Gamesmanship and various forms of cheating are as much a part of the fabric of baseball as the unwritten rulebook, all in an effort to gain an upper hand against your opponent. But how much of a benefit does sign-stealing give to a batter? Knowing what type of pitch is incoming gives the batter a distinct advantage — more information is far better than just guessing — but they still need to translate that information into action, whether its a swing or a take. Since we have plenty of data to analyze, can we measure the effect of sign-stealing on the outcome of a pitch, play, or game? Read the rest of this entry »

Nick Solak Gives the Rangers Options

The Rangers entered this offseason in a unique position. While many teams appear to be content to wait patiently for the free agent market to get moving and a handful are actively trying to clear salary, the Rangers seem like one of the few clubs approaching the market aggressively. That stance isn’t necessarily reflective of their standing in the AL West — they finished a distant third behind the A’s and the Astros — but it’s partially an artificial urgency created by the opening of their new stadium in 2020.

General Manager Jon Daniels has made it clear that the team will be looking to improve its roster any way they can, including dipping into the top-tier free agent market. They’re reportedly “aggressively” pursuing Josh Donaldson and have been linked to a number of other big names. With their outfield more or less set, with Willie Calhoun, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara manning the three spots from left to right, the infield is the likely target for an upgrade on the position player side of the roster.

Third base seems like the best place to pursue a high-end free agent simply because there are more of them on the market than any of the other infield positions. Plus, the Rangers have Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor’s unmovable contracts entrenched up-the-middle. The problem is the Rangers infielder with the best 2020 projection is currently penciled in as their everyday third baseman. Read the rest of this entry »

Cleveland Has One Piece of Their Outfield Figured Out

At this time last year, the Cleveland Indians were coming off a disappointing exit from the playoffs after getting swept by the Astros in the Division Series. Michael Brantley was on his way out the door as a free agent, soon to join the team that had ousted him from the playoffs in October. His departure left a gaping hole on Cleveland’s roster with no obvious internal replacements. Signing a free-agent outfielder seemed like an obvious need, but no significant move came. The Indians entered the season with the outfield trio of Jake Bauers, Leonys Martín, and the husk of Carlos González. Reinforcements arrived as the season wore on; Yasiel Puig came over in a trade with Cincinnati, and Cleveland’s 12th-ranked prospect Oscar Mercado made his major league debut.

Cleveland’s outfield is in nearly the same state now as it was in early November last year. Puig is a free agent and they have Bauers, Mercado, and Greg Allen penciled in as their starting outfield trio. Luckily, it looks like Mercado can be a long-term solution in center field.

Originally drafted by the Cardinals as a glove-first shortstop out of high school in the second round of the 2013 draft, Mercado struggled to hit during his first few years as a professional. Over his first four seasons in the minors spanning three different levels, he posted a combined 79 wRC+. The Cardinals shifted him to center field in 2017 and he enjoyed a breakout year at the plate, posting a 114 wRC+ in Double-A. Here’s how Eric Longenhagen described Mercado’s improved approach prior to the 2018 season:

Mercado has embraced his modest, but viable, pull-side pop and his approach is largely geared for contact in that direction. This narrow approach caused his strikeout rate (a career 13% entering the season) to spike, but Mercado is making loud contact for the first time in his career.

Mercado was traded to Cleveland at the deadline in 2018 and made his major league debut in May of this year. Through the ebbs and flows of his rookie campaign, he thrived when he stuck with the pull-heavy approach that got him to the majors.

Beyond his initial success in May and June, Mercado’s wOBA looked intimately tied to his pull rate through the rest of the season. He really struggled in August when his pull rate fell to 32.5%, and he rebounded in September when he started pulling the ball almost half the time. Just look at his splits based on batted ball direction:

Oscar Mercado’s Batted Ball Splits
Direction GB% FB% Hard% ISO Exit Velo Launch Angle wOBA
Pull 53.4% 21.6% 47.0% .318 89.4 6.9 .462
Center 35.5% 41.9% 41.1% .115 86.8 12.4 .299
Opposite 22.2% 64.2% 25.3% .179 81.7 25.4 .276

It isn’t surprising to see such a productive split when pulling the ball, but Mercado’s batted ball profile almost makes it too easy to understand why he is so successful when doing so. When hitting to the opposite field, his exit velocity plummets to 81 mph while his fly ball rate jumps up to 64%. The result is lazy fly balls to right field that are easily converted to outs. The same problem occurs when he hits the ball up the middle to a less-extreme degree. His bat just doesn’t have enough pop to support elevating the ball so often when he isn’t pulling it too.

With an aggressive, high-contact approach at the plate, he should be able to leverage his elite sprint speed into more hits. But putting that many balls in the air when hitting to the right side really limits his opportunities to utilize his best tools. His 97th percentile sprint speed and his good contact rate seem like a fit for an approach that uses all fields, but his swing is geared towards pulling the ball to left. Perhaps there’s some middle ground between these two, but it might require making some adjustments to his swing.

Defensively, the former shortstop has excelled in the outfield. DRS thought he was the sixth-best center fielder in 2019 with nine runs saved. UZR was a little less impressed with just 2.8 runs saved, and Statcast’s defensive metrics back this up. He was five outs above average and his elite reaction time was the sixth-highest among all outfielders. Additionally, his elite sprint speed definitely helped him cover up some less-than-ideal routes.

Cleveland hasn’t had a regular full-time center fielder since Michael Bourn from 2013-2015. Nine different players have accumulated more than 100 innings in center since 2016. Mercado’s 1.7 WAR was the best mark posted by a Cleveland center fielder since Tyler Naquin’s rookie year in 2016. The Indians have plenty of fringe candidates to fill their outfield, as Allen, Bauers, Jordan Luplow, and Franmil Reyes all profile better as corner outfielders or fourth outfielders. Meanwhile, Naquin and Bradley Zimmer have unanswered health questions that will likely prevent them from taking a full-time job in 2020. Mercado’s defensive chops in center should allow him to provide everyday value and his bat shows enough promise to help him stick long-term. That’s one outfield spot down and two more to fill.