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Farewell, One Good Place on the Internet

When I was preparing to join FanGraphs in the summer of 2012, I was warned about the comments. The comments, I was told, could be vicious. I suppose the same could’ve been said of comment sections everywhere, but yet on this site, I’ve never had a bad experience I didn’t deserve. If anything, the community has been warm and downright collegial. It’s even sometimes served as a helpful collective editor. Something that’s stuck with me is how, near the beginning, I was repeatedly told I took way too long to get to the point. So, let me get to the point!

This is my last post. I’ve thought about my eventual last post before, and this is it. I don’t know what the rest of this post is going to look like yet, because thinking about this would just always make my ears ring, but I am leaving FanGraphs, which is the only good place on the internet. I’m leaving because I have accepted a job with the Rays.

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Mike Trout Has Been as Good as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper Combined

FanGraphs loves Mike Trout. FanGraphs has always loved Mike Trout. FanGraphs isn’t unique in this regard — Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and, generally speaking, people are aware of that. But FanGraphs is the home of WAR, and it’s by WAR that Trout dominates the competition. Trout is a frequent subject of articles. Trout is also a frequent subject of search queries. He’s commonly atop the list of the most-searched players.

Indeed, today, Trout is way up there, yet again. Although he’s not in first, and he’s not in second. Trout has been the third-most searched player of late, behind Manny Machado and Bryce Harper:

It makes sense. Machado and Harper have been two of the most desirable free agents in the history of free agents. Both players are 26 years old, and both players are among the best at their respective positions. Both players are among the best players, period. For that reason, the Padres just signed Machado for $300 million. Harper and Scott Boras are looking to top that number. Machado’s contract is already setting a free-agent record — or at least it will, once it’s official. There shouldn’t be any more significant obstacles.

Machado and Harper are great. We’ve written plenty about them, because they’re great. You’ve repeatedly been looking them up, because they’re great. But, remember how Trout is also great? Trout is so great he’s been as good as Machado and Harper combined. I am not making that up, and this is not some manufactured hot take. The numbers are just sitting right there.

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It Seems Unlikely Scott Boras Has a $300-Million Bid for Bryce Harper

Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were never supposed to be free agents all the way into spring training. There are several different reasons why things have dragged on, but among them is that Machado is represented by Dan Lozano, and Harper is represented by Scott Boras. Neither agent wanted to be the first one to sign, believing that would cede the other too much leverage. And so we had a waiting game, up until Tuesday. Tuesday, someone finally blinked, and Machado agreed to a ten-year contract with the Padres worth $300 million. In theory, that makes it easy for Boras: He’ll be looking for at least $301 million to beat Machado, if not $326 million, to beat Giancarlo Stanton. Rumors have already started flying around.

Harper’s decision point is coming, and it stands to reason it’s coming soon. With Machado signed, there’s less reason to wait. Days ago, a number of people reported Harper was close to agreeing with the Phillies for $300+ million. Now, Wednesday, we have this, from Jon Heyman:

It was widely reported that, at the end of last season, the Nationals offered Harper a $300-million extension. That’s just another reason why Boras would be trying to get something bigger. I’m not sure there’s a more prideful agent in the world. Despite everything, though, I’m skeptical there’s an actual $300-million offer for Harper on the table. My best guess is that Boras finds himself in a tricky position.

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The Padres Are Actually Signing Manny Machado

According to those estimated franchise values at Forbes, the San Diego Padres are in the bottom half of baseball’s 30 organizations. Perhaps even more relevant, the Padres are routinely among baseball’s bottom ten spenders. The Padres have pretty much never behaved like a big-market team, and after long enough, that creates a pretty rigid impression. One thinks of the Padres the way one might think of, say, the Reds. When it comes to high-profile free agents, you feel comfortable ruling them out. Why would you think the Padres would be a player?

Of course, teams can choose to change. And as much as we might still think of free agency as directing players toward certain big spenders, you never know when someone might surprise you. One offseason ago, the biggest free-agent contract went to Eric Hosmer, and it was given by the Padres. And now this offseason, the biggest free-agent contract so far is going to Manny Machado, and it’s being given by the Padres. According to reports, the deal will be worth $300 million over ten years, with an opt-out after year five. It’s close enough to the contract we’ve always expected. I just don’t think anyone really expected the team.

The Padres read the market, and they chose to be aggressive, where other clubs were more cautious. Now the door could be open a year ahead of schedule.

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Luis Severino Signed the Latest Contract Extension

As far as FanGraphs is concerned, we’re just wrapping up Prospects Week. But as far as Major League Baseball is concerned, it’s just wrapping up Extensions Week. Aaron Nola signed an extension with the Phillies. Both Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco signed extensions with the Twins. And now, as of Friday, Luis Severino has signed an extension with the Yankees. You’ll remember that Whit Merrifield had already signed an extension with the Royals. Other players are surely going to sign extensions with other teams. That’s what happens this time of year.

Severino is a Super Two player who was looking at a 2019 salary of at least $4.4 million in his first of four arbitration years. That’s all wiped out now, with the Yankees having bought out all four arb years for $40 million. There’s also a fifth-year club option, that would have this contract max out at $52.25 million. The terms are similar to what Nola got from the Phillies, although Nola signed away two would-be free-agent years, while Severino signed away one. This shouldn’t be his last opportunity to make a splash.

The explanations tend to mirror one another. Teams like these contracts because they provide cost certainty. Teams also like these contracts because they usually end up looking club-friendly. Players like these contracts because they’re opportunities to become financially stable and secure for the rest of one’s life. How could Luis Severino possibly turn down a chance to make forty million dollars? Especially as a pitcher in the age of Tommy John. Severino’s set. His family is set. You know how all this goes.

This still looks club-friendly. So many players just don’t want to chance it.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 2/15/19


Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends


Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat


LudeBurger: Prospects, Jeff. Prospects.


Jeff Sullivan: Not your guy, LudeBurger


The Electrician: Do you think there will be a rush of free agent signings once teams move their guys to the 60 day DL and open up 40 man roster spots?


Jeff Sullivan: Already seeing it. Oakland used a 60-day stint to make room for Robbie Grossman. Also used one to make room for Brett Anderson. Arizona used one to make room for Caleb Joseph. Miami used one to make room for Sergio Romo. Kansas City used one to make room for Jake Diekman, etc

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Max Kepler Didn’t Bet on Himself

We’ve officially entered extension season. This happens every year around the start of spring training, with arbitration hearings ending and with opening day coming up. Some expect that this particular extension season will be unusually busy, given the concerns players have about the state of the free-agent market. Aaron Nola just signed an extension with the Phillies. Jorge Polanco just signed an extension with the Twins. And Max Kepler has also just signed an extension with the Twins. Nothing against Polanco, but I find the Kepler move more interesting.

Kepler was already looking at a 2019 salary of $3.125 million, in the first of four arbitration years. He’d qualified as a Super Two. That’s wiped out now, with Kepler and the Twins agreeing to a five-year contract worth $35 million. There’s also a sixth-year club option, worth $10 million. Kepler, therefore, has signed away up to two years of would-be free agency. From Kepler’s own standpoint, he’s now guaranteed his own long-term wealth, as a German kid made good. He wouldn’t have agreed to this if he weren’t happy to do so. At the same time, you wonder what could’ve been. Where is Kepler going to be, as a player, a year from now?

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Aaron Nola Took the Guaranteed Money

No matter what you think about the current market dynamics, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Free agency is leaving more and more players at best annoyed, and at worst pissed off. Many free agents are signed, of course, and some of them are signed to big, healthy contracts, but other premium players are still without employers, and the messaging has hardly been subtle. Players and the union aren’t pleased. Even if the team side of the equation isn’t doing anything wrong, the state of things is far from harmonious. A greater number of players are talking about what they see as a problem.

Imagine yourself, then, as a player who’s not yet a free agent. You might be inclined to believe you’re exceptional. Maybe you figure things’ll be worked out by the time it’s your turn. But you keep hearing about how free agency isn’t what it used to be. Even if most of the money is still there, nothing happens fast. There’s a lot of uncertainty. The idea of reaching free agency has been somewhat devalued. At least in theory, you’d figure this could lead to an increase in the number of long-term contract extensions.

It’s too early to know if there’s a trend. And no player is going to come out and say “I signed this extension because free agency is bad now.” But Aaron Nola has become the latest player to give up a free-agent year or two. Not for free, obviously. He’s going to get paid. It’s a question of whether he’ll get paid enough. It’s getting harder to calculate what “enough” even is.

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The Velocity Surge Has Plateaued

Among the proposals exchanged by MLB and the MLBPA was the idea of studying the mound. More specifically, baseball is interested in studying what might happen were the mound to be lowered, or were the mound to even be moved back. In a sense, adjusting the mound might seem radical, but of course, the mound has been lowered before, and baseball wants to see if it might be able to combat the ever-increasing strikeout rates. The league-average strikeout rate in 1998 was 16.9%. A decade later, it was 17.5%. Yet a decade later than that, it was 22.3%. That’s a 27-percent increase in strikeouts over the course of ten years. You can see why people might want to nip this in the bud.

Why have strikeouts been on the rise? How might you explain all the swinging and missing? I suppose there are the people who might just grumble the term “launch angle” and leave it at that, but a more compelling explanation might be the league-wide increase in velocity. It’s been hard not to notice — as they say, now every bullpen has a half-dozen guys who come out throwing 95 miles per hour. Billy Wagner used to throw 96. Now everybody throws 96. And the less time hitters have to react, the more often they’re going to whiff. Case closed! We’ve all solved it, together.

Except for the part where velocity has ceased increasing. The velocity surge was something I think a lot of us just took for granted. Teams like velocity, and players are training harder than ever before. But the surge has slowed, if not stopped. You don’t need to dig too deep to find evidence.

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Here’s What You Think About Those Proposed Changes to Baseball

Last week, Jeff Passan wrote about talks between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA. As part of those talks, both sides proposed a series of changes that would alter the way the game works, both on the field and off of it. I was able to identify ten discrete proposals — some of them well-defined, and some of them a little more vague. Still, there was more than enough information to proceed to a polling post, where I gave the entire FanGraphs audience a chance to weigh in. The proposals are out there. Some of them might be scrapped; some of them might be pursued. What do you think about each? Good idea, or a virtual non-starter?

Whenever I run a polling project, I never actually specify exactly when the polls close. In part, that’s because most people tend to vote right away. In part, that’s because, once enough votes have rolled in, nothing that happens later on meaningfully changes the results. And in part, that’s because every polling project on FanGraphs is completely inconsequential. There are no stakes. Only opinions. So with all of that said, let’s now take a look at the crowdsourced data. I’ve gathered all the information I needed, and I’ve created a couple of plots.

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