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Mariners Hold Onto Their Utility Knife, Extend Dylan Moore

Dylan Moore
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the Mariners’ front office has been rather quiet in terms of acquiring new free agents this offseason, they did plenty of work locking up their existing personnel before free agency opened, extending star outfielder Julio Rodríguez and starting pitcher Luis Castillo with combined guarantees up to $578 million. Now, they’ve agreed to a three-year extension with utility man Dylan Moore worth $8.875 million. This contract buys out his final two years of arbitration as well as his first season of free agency, keeping him in Seattle through his age-33 season.

Moore was a late bloomer, first making the Mariners roster in 2019 at the age of 26, and he’s primarily served in a utility and platoon role ever since. While his career wRC+ sits at exactly 100, that mark jumps to 112 against left-handers. The Mariners have done well to maximize his effectiveness by deploying him on his strong side as much as possible, especially last season, when nearly half of his plate appearances came against left-handed pitching, fourth-most among right-handed hitters.

Platoon usage rate often says more about a team than an individual player — plenty of everyday starters arguably should be sitting more against same-handed pitchers — but the Mariners have the right pieces to put Moore in advantageous situations, including a wide variety of left-handed counterparts like Kolten Wong, Jarred Kelenic, and Tommy La Stella.

Best Used Platoon Righties, 2022
Name % of PA With Platoon Advantage
Austin Slater 56.0%
Diego Castillo 54.1%
J.D. Davis 50.1%
Dylan Moore 47.8%
Darin Ruf 러프 47.2%
Evan Longoria 43.3%
Michael Chavis 42.5%
Chad Pinder 41.7%
Keston Hiura 41.0%
Tomás Nido 39.3%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
min. 250 PA

It’s difficult to thrive exclusively as a right-handed platoon bat, though, given that a significant majority of pitchers are also righties. Players like Moore and Slater only got to face lefty opponents about half the time; sometimes a reliever comes in, sometimes a starter needs the day off regardless of who the other team has on the mound. Luckily, Moore also handles right-handed pitching decently well. His career wRC+ against them sits at 92, and last season, he had a .344 OBP and 117 wRC+ against fellow righties, a good mark for any big league hitter. He definitely has a stronger side, making more contact and drawing more free passes against southpaws, but he’s certainly not helpless on the other side of the platoon either. Read the rest of this entry »

Chad Green Signs Convoluted Deal With Toronto

Chad Green
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays have been busy this offseason, acquiring Daulton Varsho, Chris Bassitt, and Erik Swanson. Now, they’ve added right-handed reliever Chad Green to the mix, one of the bigger names still on the market. While a full-strength Green is probably the best reliever in this free-agent class who didn’t sign a nine-figure extension to jumpstart the offseason, he was shut down after just 15 innings in 2022 and underwent Tommy John surgery in a contract year. Because his rehab will sideline him for the majority of the upcoming season, he was relegated to 41st on our Top 50 free agent list, with a median crowdsourced projection of just one year and $5 million. Our readers came pretty close on the AAV, but the number of years on his deal is still to be determined.

Let’s go over the complex details of this contract. Green will earn $2.25 million in 2023. At the conclusion of the season, the Blue Jays can pick up a three-year option that will keep him in Toronto through the end of 2026, paying out $9 million per season. Should they decline this team option, he has the option to tack on one more year to the deal worth $6.25 million, but if he’s not interested, the Jays get the chance to exercise yet another team option, this one for just two years and $21 million with some escalators based on playing time. In short, if the Blue Jays are satisfied with Green’s arm health, he could be wearing blue for four years, but if they’re not, he could test free agency again as soon as this November. He can guarantee himself $8.5 million over the next two seasons, provided he accepts the player option for 2024. The nested levels of team and player options are reminiscent of Julio Rodríguez’s mega-extension signed last August (although with fewer years and fewer zeroes on the total value), which Dan Szymborski dubbed “the most expensive Choose Your Own Adventure book ever.” Green’s deal doesn’t warrant that distinction, but it’s still one of the more complicated baseball contracts in recent memory.

Green debuted in the majors in 2016 as a starter with the Yankees, demonstrating his excellent strikeout stuff but surrendering 2.4 home runs per nine. ERA estimators like SIERA and xFIP correctly forecasted that the flyball luck would start going his way, but these improvements came alongside a change in role. The next season, he was moved to the bullpen, where he lowered his home run rate to acceptable levels and improved upon his elite strikeout rate, becoming possibly the best multi-inning reliever in the years since. That’s a tough claim to make, but I think I can defend it. To be a multi-inning weapon, you (obviously) have to pitch multiple innings per appearance, and in the past six seasons, no reliever has done that more than Green. Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland, Seattle Make Marginal Infield Upgrades

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

It’s nearly February and the free agent pool is thinning out. Most of the big names have already flown off the board. By our projections, only five unsigned players forecast to amass at least 1 WAR in the upcoming season, only three of whom are position players. Most teams have already filled out their Opening Day starting lineups; now their focus shifts to improving the fringes of their 26-man roster, searching for a couple of additional wins or insurance in case of injuries. The Mariners and the A’s, two AL West teams with very different outlooks for 2023, each recently made such an addition, inking a veteran to bolster infield depth. Let’s take a look.

Mariners sign Tommy La Stella to a league-minimum deal

Formerly a bench infielder and designated pinch hitter for the Cubs (his league-leading 91 pinch hit appearances in 2018 has not been matched since), La Stella was traded to the Angels with two years of team control remaining for a prospect who never threw a pitch in Chicago’s system. In 2019, he maintained the contact skills and excellent plate discipline that made him a league-average hitter, but he improved in another facet of his game that was emblematic of the juiced ball era. That year, his fly ball rate, which had previously sat around the 20% mark, climbed to 25%; that, combined with a small increase in his pull rate, led to a power break out. Despite lacking traditional power indicators like barrels and a high maximum exit velocity, La Stella made the most of his aerial contact (and the favorable dimensions of Angels Stadium) to post a career-high .486 slugging percentage and hit home runs at a rate of 30 per 600 PA, an excellent mark even during the heightened offensive environment. His absolute refusal to swing and miss played a big part in this as well; his minuscule 8.7% strikeout rate gave him plenty of balls in play, many of which left the yard:

Tommy La Stella’s 2019 Season
Stat/Metric Percentile Rank
Hard Hit% 16
Barrel% 26
Avg. Exit Velocity 32
Max Exit Velocity 43
HR% 72
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox Find Their Shortstop, Trade For Adalberto Mondesi

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox have spent most of the offseason with a big hole up the middle of their infield. With Xander Bogaerts departing in free agency, Boston had no true shortstop on the roster. While Enrique Hernández and Christian Arroyo each made a handful of starts at the six on Bogaerts’ off days, neither is a true shortstop and both are needed to man the other up-the-middle positions, where the team still lacks depth. Yesterday, the Red Sox at least partially filled that hole, trading left-handed reliever Josh Taylor to the Royals for switch-hitting infielder Adalberto Mondesi and a player to be named later.

A healthy Mondesi is one of baseball’s most exciting position players to watch. Most fans likely know him for his top-of-the-charts speed, which he shows off in all facets of his game. Let’s start with the most visible one: baserunning. Mondesi has multiple seasons under his belt with an average sprint speed above 30 feet per second, making him one of the most electric runners in the game. Since his debut in 2016, 44% of his competitive runs have been defined as bolts, a mark bested by just four others during that time. Of course, Mondesi has also used his speed to steal bases, and his combination of aggressiveness and efficiency has allowed him to put up ludicrous stolen base numbers despite never getting a full season’s worth of plate appearances:

Plate Appearances Per Stolen Base Leaders, 2018-22
Adalberto Mondesi 119 1157 9.72 .289
Mallex Smith 88 1157 13.15 .326
Billy Hamilton 81 1103 13.62 .282
Jon Berti 76 1126 14.82 .335
Dylan Moore 65 1073 16.51 .317
Starling Marte 133 2473 18.59 .348
Jonathan Villar 112 2161 19.29 .320
Trea Turner 149 2922 19.61 .357
Dee Strange-Gordon 58 1150 19.83 .294
Ronald Acuña Jr. 107 2297 21.47 .370
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
min. 1000 PA

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Brewers Add Veteran Depth in Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For the past five seasons, Brian Anderson has been one of the few steady presences on the Marlins. With a long list of big names leaving town semi-regularly, one of the only things fans in Miami could count on was seeing Anderson’s name every day somewhere in the middle of Don Mattingly’s lineup card. But after starting just 155 games over the past two seasons and suffering numerous injuries, Miami’s front office decided to let him go too, non-tendering him into free agency. And now he is taking his talents to Milwaukee, inking a one-year deal with the Brewers worth $3.5 million.

From 2018 to ’20, Anderson was a consistently above-average performer, with a 115 wRC+ and 7.3 WAR across 341 games. He did basically everything at a solid or better level: he drew his fair share of walks (and was plunked a non-insignificant number of times), his strikeouts weren’t a problem, and while his plus raw power didn’t fully actualize due to a high groundball rate and the unforgiving dimensions of his home ballpark, he still slugged 44 homers during that stretch. He basically defined what it meant to have 50 or 55 grades on every offensive skill, making him successful all around.

After an uneven 2021 season and a left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, Anderson’s production seemed to rebound at the beginning of 2022. He missed most of June with a back issue but had a very solid 117 wRC+ through the All-Star break, right in line with his best seasons. But on July 23, Anderson dove for a ground ball and landed on his left shoulder — his third left shoulder injury in a little over a year, and one that landed him on the IL for three weeks. After returning, his numbers fell significantly below his career norms, as he slashed just .188/.276/.318 in 174 plate appearances the rest of the way. This prolonged slump dropped his season wRC+ to 90, setting a career low for the second consecutive year. Read the rest of this entry »

Athletics Bolster Pitching Staff With Ex-NPB Hurler Shintaro Fujinami

Oakland Coliseum
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

He’s not the Japanese starting pitcher that fans were likely hoping for, but the Athletics signed Shintaro Fujinami to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million, just a couple days before the January 14 deadline to sign posted players. With most starting-caliber players already traded away for prospects, Fujinami becomes just the sixth Oakland player not on a league minimum or arbitration contract, joining a collection of names including fellow international signee Drew Rucinski.

Eleven years ago, when an 18-year old Fujinami was selected in the first round of the 2012 NPB draft by the Hanshin Tigers, many evaluators considered him better than Shohei Ohtani, also taken in that round. Fujinami was well-known as a prospect coming out of high school, where he led his team to victory in the summer Koshien tournament by throwing complete-game shutouts on consecutive days, then tossing another shutout to clinch a junior world championship less than two weeks later. He had an excellent rookie season with the Tigers, posting a 2.75 ERA over 24 starts, and continued this excellence from 2014 to ’16 with a 3.02 ERA and 16.2 WAR, placing in the top seven pitchers by WAR each year.

Then things started to come off the rails. Where Fujinami had succeeded in spite of his below-average command in his first four years, his strike-throwing issues became debilitating after that. In 2017, he walked a sixth of his batters faced; in ’18, his ERA climbed to 5.32 as the walk issues remained. He made just one start in 2019 and has played part of each season since in the minor leagues.

Since 2020, Fujinami has made 27 major league starts and 34 relief appearances, along with 21 farm team appearances (19 of them starts). While he still had a double-digit walk rate in 2020 and ’21, his 7.6% clip in ’22 was the best of his NPB career, as he basically matched the league-average rate of 7.7%. His performance in the strikeout and walk department notably improved after a stretch in the bullpen and in the minors, with excellent peripheral numbers in the last two months of the season. He finished the year with a 3.38 ERA in 66.2 innings, but due to the lowered NPB offensive environment, that resulted in just a 102 ERA- (92 FIP-). While he wasn’t throwing more pitches in the strike zone than before, he significantly cut down on the number of waste pitches thrown, as evidenced by a career-high chase rate. Read the rest of this entry »

Angels Continue Adding Roster Depth, Sign Brett Phillips

Brett Phillips
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a busy offseason for the Angels, who have added to their superstar duo in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani by trading for Gio Urshela and Hunter Renfroe, and signing Brandon Drury, Tyler Anderson, Carlos Estévez, and now Brett Phillips. Phillips has bounced around the league since his debut in 2017, maxing out at just 292 plate appearances in a season. In 2022, he spent time with the Rays and Orioles but was DFA’d by both and became a free agent. The 28-year old will earn $1.2 million in Anaheim this season.

Phillips is a baserunning and defensive specialist with some sneaky pop. To put it another way, he has struggled at the plate throughout his career and has never made it as a starting position player. While he was quite solid in 2021, slashing .206/.300/.427 with a 103 wRC+ (and a 138 wRC+ when he held the platoon advantage) and 2.3 WAR, that production was nowhere to be seen in ’22. In 900 career plate appearances, he holds a 71 wRC+, and his Steamer projection of 74 wRC+ suggests that’s what you should expect going forward.

Phillips’ biggest weakness at the plate is his struggle to put bat on ball. Over the past two seasons, he’s come up empty on over a third of his swings, ranking in just the third percentile of hitters during that timespan. His uppercut swing has a large hole up in the zone, where his whiff rates in that area approach 50%. While he doesn’t chase many pitches out of the zone, his approach at the plate is more passive than disciplined, as he also watches many pitches over the plate. The end result is that pitchers earn far more strikes against him compared to the average hitter; his 32.9% CSW ranks second-worst among all batters. Throughout his career, he has walked at an above-average 9.7% clip, but his enormous 37.8% strikeout rate makes Giancarlo Stanton look like Luis Arraez in comparison. And while many of his compatriots on the whiff rate leaderboard like Joey Gallo and Miguel Sanó have outlier raw power, Phillips has never hit a ball harder than 108 mph. Read the rest of this entry »

Brewers Finally Make A Signing, Reunite With Wade Miley

Wade Miley
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When the ball dropped at midnight and 2022 turned into 2023, 29 of the 30 major league teams had signed at least one free agent, from the Mariners spending $1.2 million on Trevor Gott to the Mets agreeing to terms with seemingly every star player on the market. Even the penny-pinching Marlins brought in Jean Segura, and the A’s committed a respectable $34 million to four solid role players. Now, a few days into the new year, team no. 30 has joined the fray: the Brewers are bringing back left-handed pitcher Wade Miley on a one-year contract that will pay him $3.5 million with a $10 million mutual option for ’24 (with a $1 million buyout) and another $1.5 million in playing time incentives. In total, that guarantees him $4.5 million this season.

Formerly an innings eater who completed at least 190 frames every year from 2012 to ’15 with a 98 ERA-, Miley has battled injuries in each of 2018, ’20, and ’22. Last season, he was limited to just nine appearances with the Cubs as he dealt with elbow and shoulder issues. With that in mind, I’ll be looking at his performance in a limited 2022 campaign in conjunction with his full ’21 season, where he barely qualified for the leaderboards with 163 innings pitched. His stats were very similar in those two samples; he ran an ERA in the low-threes with far less inspiring peripherals and near equal numbers in the walk and strikeout departments. Read the rest of this entry »

Rich Hill Continues Tour of MLB, Signs With Pittsburgh

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Long, successful baseball careers usually have a predictable shape to them. A young, highly-regarded prospect gets his first cup of coffee, then becomes a full-time starter over the next few years, possibly ascending to star level. Then he slowly ages and declines, riding off into the sunset in his late 30s. Some choose not to follow that trend. Jamie Moyer pitched twice as many innings in his 40s as he did in his 20s, finally retiring at the absurd age of 49. In 1965, a 59-year-old Satchel Paige returned to the majors for one more game, and despite his signing being a largely ceremonial move, he still tossed three scoreless innings.

Then there’s Rich Hill. First drafted out of high school in a different millennium, Hill debuted with the Cubs in 2005 at age 25. Over the next decade, he bounced around the league, often struggling with elbow injuries and poor command. At the end of 2014, Hill was a 34-year-old who had played for six different teams, only completing 100 frames in a season once. After opting out of a minor league deal with the Nationals in the middle of the 2015 season, Hill ran out of offers with affiliated clubs. He signed with the independent Long Island Ducks and laid waste to his Atlantic League competition… for two starts. Hill was then tendered a big league contract with his hometown team, the Red Sox, had four excellent starts to close out the season, and has held down a big league roster spot ever since. Hill will begin the upcoming spring training by celebrating his 43rd birthday, making him the oldest major league player since the then 45-year-old Ichiro Suzuki last suited up in 2019. The Pirates will be his 12th team, making him one of just six players to appear for a dozen or more clubs.

When a slightly younger Hill signed with the Red Sox (for the seventh time in his career), Ben Clemens used the prophetic projection system RiPS (Rich is Pitching Superlatively) to forecast a 4.15 ERA and 1.7 WAR for his 2022 season. Hill’s actual numbers? A 4.27 ERA (but a 4.13 SIERA), and 1.8 WAR. Not bad, RiPS. But it gets even better. Ben wrote, “If he pitches to this line, he’ll earn $8 million next year and be well worth it for Boston.” In 2023, the Pirates will be paying Hill (checks notes) $8 million on the dot. Can we get some RiPS projected standings for the season? They might even turn out to be more accurate than the baseball Reddit’s marble race simulations. Read the rest of this entry »

Busy Mets Keep On Spending, Bring Back Adam Ottavino on Two-Year Deal

Adam Ottavino
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets, in their shopping spree of an off-season, have brought back yet another player from last year’s squad. Joining the already re-signed Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Díaz, Adam Ottavino has also agreed to run it back with a team clearly willing to upgrade wherever necessary in pursuit of a championship. He will earn $14.5 million over the next two seasons, with the opportunity to opt out after 2023.

Ottavino is coming off of arguably the best full season of his career and a major rebound from his previous two years. From 2013 to ’19, he had a 2.90 ERA and 3.34 FIP as one of the only pitchers who could figure out the nightmare of Coors Field. He spent 2020 with the Yankees and ’21 with the Red Sox, where his performance declined a bit but his peripherals were still above average. His 2022, with a 2.05 ERA and 2.85 FIP, was certainly a return to form, but he did so with a newfound skill that he’s excelled in for the first time in his career: limiting walks.

For the first time since 2016, Ottavino had a single-digit walk rate, and in the span of just one offseason he went from dreadful (seventh percentile) to very good (77th percentile) at avoiding free passes. In addition to bringing his strikeout rate back to the level of his Rockies days, he posted the best full-season K-BB% of his career. Not only are these improvements impressive in the context of his own career, but the jump is also an outlier among all major league pitchers; between 2021 and ’22, only three other pitchers had their K-BB% improve more than Ottavino. Read the rest of this entry »