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The Biggest Injury Wild Card for 2019

I’ll grant that trying to answer this is unavoidably subjective. The Nationals just signed Brian Dozier, and a bone bruise might’ve clipped four wins from his WAR. The Braves are crossing their fingers for a healthy season from Josh Donaldson. Corey Seager is returning to the Dodgers after missing almost the whole year. The Cubs are looking for Yu Darvish to rebound. The Angels are looking for Zack Cozart to rebound. Dustin Pedroia should be coming back. Michael Pineda should be coming back. Buster Posey should be coming back. And so on and so forth. Baseball players get hurt. They try to put those injuries behind them. They try to get back to being what they were.

But as I think about this — certain recoveries are more predictable than others. Certain recovering players have bigger error bars than others. In a sense, the purpose behind this post is simply to remind you of the existence of Jimmy Nelson. But I think he really is the biggest injury wild card for the season ahead. The Brewers will play in a division with at least three and possibly five competitive teams. As of this moment, the Brewers are projected to have a below-average starting rotation. Jimmy Nelson might be a zero, as he was in 2018. Or he might be an ace, as he was in 2017. I don’t know which it’s going to be. The Brewers don’t, either.

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Yasmani Grandal Is Better Than This

Free agent Yasmani Grandal reached a one-year agreement with the Brewers, worth $18.25 million. Grandal’s contract — while surprising — is not proof that baseball is broken. Not in an offseason where Lance Lynn got $30 million. Not in an offseason where Zach Britton got $39 million. Not in an offseason where Andrew McCutchen got $50 million. Nathan Eovaldi got $68 million. Patrick Corbin got $140 million. And even in Grandal’s specific case, it’s been reported he turned down an offer of $60 million or so from the Mets. Now, there’s reason to believe that didn’t happen exactly as so. It feels more than a little far-fetched. But the conversations, at least, were productive, before the Mets opted for Wilson Ramos instead. Grandal had a chance to do better than this.

But still, Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year contract barely worth more than the qualifying offer he declined. He signed a one-year contract with a competitive team, but a competitive team that happens to play in baseball’s smallest market. This could ultimately work out just fine — with a big season ahead, Grandal would re-enter free agency, and maybe next winter he’d find a larger guarantee. There’s nothing wrong with bringing home $18.25 million in the meantime. It’s just surprising there wasn’t greater demand. The Brewers lucked out; a good player just fell into their lap. It probably shouldn’t have happened.

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Willians Astudillo and Shooting for History

Some of you might not realize that, if you hover over the search bar up there, you’ll see which player pages have recently been the most popular. Let’s give it a spin, shall we?

Willians Astudillo. Between Astudillo and Vlad, I don’t know which has been more popular, but I strongly suspect it’s the former, and it’s definitely the former among major-league players. People have been losing their minds over Astudillo of late. Now, I did write about him last week. Playing winter ball down in Venezuela, Astudillo has performed like a deserving MVP candidate. But also, there’s a clip that’s been making the rounds. Willians Astudillo hit a home run.

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Somebody Go Get Will Smith

The Giants don’t project to be a good baseball team in 2019. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a good baseball team in 2019, but the odds are against them. They’re unlikely to be as good as the Dodgers. They’re unlikely to be as good as the Rockies. They might’ve been passed by the Padres, and they might still be worse than the Diamondbacks. With a farm system that’s in similarly mediocre shape, something had to change, and indeed, the Giants are now under new management. Farhan Zaidi and the rest of his front office are in the process of figuring out their next steps.

Some form of rebuild or step back seems inevitable. And the player who’s drawn the most public attention is Madison Bumgarner, on account of his having become a household name. Bumgarner could be traded, but then again, there are certain incentives pushing the Giants to giving him a few months to build up his value. It would also be difficult for Zaidi to make dealing Bumgarner one of his first major decisions. Something that could and should happen sooner is a trade of Tony Watson, and/or a trade of Will Smith. Both of them are veteran lefty relievers. I’m here to advocate for Smith. He’s the one any contender should want to get.

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By the Way, Jose Alvarado Was Impossible

Let me explain how I landed on Jose Alvarado. Alvarado is a reliever for the Rays. I actually wrote about him last June, but not because of his pitching.

Right. So why Alvarado, on today of all days? It’s not like he’s been showing up in trade rumors. Here’s the explanation: I’m a guy who loves looking at bullpens. I was also looking at the Twins last night, considering them as a possible sleeper. One guy they should be getting back is Michael Pineda. Another guy they already got back is Trevor May. May is going to pitch out of the Minnesota bullpen, and when he returned in 2018, he put up some encouraging numbers. I went into the leaderboards, to see how his numbers stacked up. That’s where I came across Alvarado. That’s what prompted all of this work.

Almost completely off the radar, Alvarado broke out late in the season. There’s no need to be complicated here. This is a very simple table:

2018, August and September
Pitcher K%
Corey Knebel 48.0%
Jose Alvarado 46.7%
Edwin Diaz 46.3%
Kirby Yates 44.6%
Josh Hader 41.1%
Ryan Pressly 40.8%
Dellin Betances 39.6%
Justin Verlander 39.2%
Blake Snell 38.5%
Brad Hand 37.1%
minimum 20 innings

That’s a list of some talented pitchers. Down the stretch, Alvarado struck out almost literally half of his opponents. He struck out the same rate of opponents as Edwin Diaz. I’ve written before about Ryan Pressly’s breakout. I’ve written before about Jose Leclerc’s breakout. What happened with Alvarado? Did anything happen with Alvarado? The answer is yes. He changed on the fly, and became something dominant.

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Zach Britton Turned One Simple Pitch Into $39 Million

It was just a little over two years ago that the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays in the AL wild-card game. At that point, Zach Britton was one of the greatest per-inning pitchers in the world, yet the Orioles left him in the bullpen while they lost in extra innings. Before they got to Britton, they went to Donnie Hart. Before they got to Britton, they went to Brian Duensing. Before they got to Britton, they went to Ubaldo Jimenez. It was as inexplicable then as it still is today –Britton was too good of a weapon to ignore, when the stakes were so high. There’s nothing to wait for in a game of that magnitude.

For Britton now, it might feel like ancient history. He moved on to a different team, and in 2018 he made it back to the playoffs, where this time he actually pitched. And Britton has elected to re-sign with that team, agreeing with the Yankees for $39 million over three years. The idea, from the Yankees’ perspective, is to again build out a bullpen that already included Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder. Britton will pitch in the seventh and eighth innings, this being further evidence of how teams are coming to reward non-closers. Something else is different, however. Britton will be paid more than he was in 2016. And yet he also hasn’t been that pitcher ever since. The Yankees are rolling the dice on a hard-to-hit sinker.

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What If Patrick Corbin Were a Trendsetter?

To whatever extent people are concerned about the slow free-agent market, it didn’t have any meaningful effect on Patrick Corbin. After his breakout 2018 season with the Diamondbacks, he signed a six-year contract with the Nationals worth $140 million. That value is more than twice as high as the next-biggest free-agent deal, and while two players will eventually blow the Corbin contract out of the water, he did well for himself, considering it wasn’t that long ago that he lost his spot in the rotation.

Think about the lessons one might learn from the Corbin experience. Very generally, one might observe that perseverance pays off. There’s also the understanding that the market pays for ceilings, even in the presence of risk. Corbin is something of a risky pitcher, but he also just pitched like an ace. Teams love that. Can’t get enough of it. And now, think about how Corbin pitched like an ace. There could be a lesson buried in there, as well. And it’s a lesson that, at least in theory, could alter the course of player development. Patrick Corbin might inspire a new trend.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 1/4/19


Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends


Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat


Jeff Sullivan: I don’t know where Harper or Machado are going to sign


Jeff Sullivan: I don’t know when Harper or Machado are going to sign


stever20: So with the news from Jim Bowden that the Nats have increased their offer to Bryce Harper- do you think they are now the favorites to sign him?


Jeff Sullivan: Let us first consider whether or not that report is accurate or credible

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David Robertson Is the Phillies’ New Right-Handed Lefty Reliever

Baseball finds itself in a difficult position. On the one hand, there’s a clear, increasing emphasis on bullpen usage, as starters are throwing fewer and fewer innings every year. Teams are leaning on their relievers now more than ever, and as a consequence, more relievers are getting more money. The money tends to go where it’s needed. Yet on the other hand, relievers have this nasty volatility habit. They’re tougher to predict from one year to the next one, and many of last offseason’s free-agent contracts for relievers didn’t work out very well. Teams want relievers, and teams will pay for relievers, but it’s not always easy to know which effective relievers are for real. So many end up shooting stars against the night sky.

There are your pop-up relievers, though, and there is David Robertson. It’s true that a player is only consistent until he isn’t. Every career comes with some unknown and unknowable expiration date. Perhaps Robertson is about to enter his shakier years. But over the past several seasons, few relievers have been so steady, so dependable. Few relievers would appear to come with so high a floor. In large part because of that reason, the Phillies have signed Robertson for two years and $23 million. It’s not the three years Robertson was said to be looking for, but as he’s headed into his age-34 season, I think that both sides can call this a win.

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Willians Astudillo Is an MVP Candidate

Just a few weeks ago, something incredible happened. On an otherwise ordinary day in Venezuela, a pitcher named Rick Teasley became the first person to ever strike out Willians Astudillo twice in a game. Teasley is a former Rays draft pick who’s played baseball all over the globe, and Ben Lindbergh and I were delighted to chat with him for the Effectively Wild podcast. He remembered the pitches he threw to Astudillo with great detail. Those are pitches one wouldn’t soon forget.

The Venezuelan winter league regular season is now over. Astudillo wound up fourth in the league in plate appearances, with 261. Against Teasley, that one evening, he struck out two times. Against everybody else, every other evening, he struck out two times. Willians Astudillo has completed another regular season. He finished with four strikeouts. And it only gets better from there.

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