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Here’s Hoping Older Starters Rediscover That 2022 Magic

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

While many of my colleagues here at FanGraphs have spent the last two weeks discussing prospects, I’ve been thinking about veteran starting pitchers. I usually do. Perhaps it’s because I’m just young enough that there are still a couple of starters left from the earliest days of my fandom. Technically, the last starting pitcher to debut before I was born retired this past September… although the last one before him retired a full decade earlier. Still, I can’t really remember the days before Zack Greinke was a big league hurler, and Justin Verlander was already one of the best in the game by the time I started following baseball closely. This is the first year that I’m older than every prospect on our Top 100 list, but as long as Greinke and Verlander are still in the league, I can convince myself that I’m still a kid.

There’s no easy way to decide the age at which a “pitcher” becomes an “older pitcher.” There is evidence that certain skills start dropping off as early as age 26, while the average MLB player retires before his 30th birthday. On the other hand, in almost any other industry, some of baseball’s elder statesmen would still be considered young. Clayton Kershaw is barely old enough to run for president, while Jacob deGrom could probably still get cast as a teenager on The CW. Personally, I think of 36 as the age when a player enters “older” territory. There isn’t anything scientific about it (and believe me, I tried to find a more scientific answer – there’s just no magic number), but 36 is the entry point into the late 30s. It’s an age at which no one is too surprised to see a player retire, nor is anyone overly shocked to see a talented player sign a lucrative, multi-year deal.

In 2022, pitchers age 36 and older were amazing. Relievers in that age range did well (especially Daniel Bard, Chris Martin, and Adam Ottavino), but it was the starters who did most of the heavy lifting. They combined for a 3.53 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 23.8 WAR (1.77 WAR per 100 IP). The last time starters age 36 and older produced more than 23 WAR was 2007, when John Smoltz, then 40, Tom Glavine, then 41, and Greg Maddux, then 41, helped older starters throw nearly twice as many innings as they did in 2022. The last time older starters were so valuable on a per-inning basis was all the way back in 2001, when Randy Johnson, then 37, and Roger Clemens, then 38, took home their fourth and sixth Cy Young awards, respectively.

For comparison, the average starter under 36 had a 4.07 ERA, 4.06 FIP, and was worth just 1.24 WAR per 100 IP in 2022. The older cohort will always benefit from survivorship bias, but even so, it’s rare to see older starters perform so much better (if better at all) than their younger counterparts. The last time older starters were this much better than the younger ones, in terms of FIP and WAR/IP, was 2003; if you go by ERA, 2002 was the last time.

To be sure, the top two arms in the cohort, Verlander and Max Scherzer, deserve the lion’s share of the credit. Verlander won the AL Cy Young with one of the best age-39 seasons in recent memory, while Scherzer, then 37, could have seriously challenged Sandy Alcantara for the NL award were it not for a couple of stints on the injured list. However, six more veteran starters threw over 120 innings with at least 1.5 WAR: Greinke, Corey Kluber, Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto, Rich Hill, and Charlie Morton.

While the strong performance of older starters in 2022 was unexpected, that’s not to say it came out of nowhere. Every year since the start of the 2019 season, pitchers age 36 and older have thrown a higher percentage of all starter innings than they did the year before. Their collective ERA and WAR/IP were better than those of their younger counterparts in every season from 2019–22. Older starters were getting more opportunities and making the most of them.

Then the 2023 season happened. Heading into the year, there were plenty of reasons to believe older starters would continue to thrive. All eight of the aforementioned veterans were set to return. At least some decline was expected from the Elder Eight — especially from Verlander and his 1.75 ERA — but reinforcements were on the way, with five younger talents aging into the group. Joining the fold were three recent All-Stars and Cy Young vote-getters, Lance Lynn, Yu Darvish, and Hyun Jin Ryu, as well as two lesser but typically dependable pitchers, Wade Miley and Carlos Carrasco. Those were some top prospects! Unfortunately, even as the workloads for older pitchers continued to rise, their collective performance did not.

Morton was the only member of the Elder Eight who improved in 2023. After finishing 2022 with a 3.10 ERA and 4.1 WAR, Darvish posted a 4.56 ERA last year, though that was still enough for a respectable 2.4 WAR, and missed the final 37 days of the season with an elbow injury. Carrasco was below replacement level last season, as his ERA ballooned to 6.80, and had two IL stints that cost him a combined 60 days. And then there was Lynn, whose decline was perhaps the most astonishing of the older pitchers. Last year, he gave up 44 home runs, the most by any pitcher in a season since Bronson Arroyo (46 homers) in 2011; after averaging 0.9 HR/9 over his first 11 big league seasons, Lynn allowed 2.16 HR/9 last year, the second-worst rate ever for a qualified starter in a single season, behind only Jose Lima and his 2.2 rate in 2000.

Meanwhile, Miley had a sweet-as-pie 3.14 ERA, but his 4.69 FIP wasn’t so nice, and although Ryu pitched well (3.46 ERA), he made only 11 starts because he missed the first four months of the season as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery.

Ultimately, the biggest problem was how poorly the worst members of the age group performed, but it also hurt that the guys at the top (Verlander and Scherzer) took a step back, and no new aces emerged in their place. It’s worth mentioning that the table below includes only what these pitchers did as starters last season, though four of them (Kluber, Hill, Cueto, and Greinke) pitched in relief, as well.

Older Starters in 2023 and 2022
Pitcher 2023 ERA 2022 ERA 2023 FIP 2022 FIP 2023 WAR 2022 WAR
Adam Wainwright 7.40 3.71 5.99 3.66 -0.4 2.9
Carlos Carrasco 6.80 3.97 5.86 3.53 -0.3 2.5
Charlie Morton 3.64 4.34 3.87 4.26 2.7 1.5
Corey Kluber 6.26 4.34 6.57 3.57 -0.4 3.0
Hyun Jin Ryu 3.46 5.67 4.91 4.78 0.4 0.1
Johnny Cueto 6.41 3.29 6.92 3.76 -0.6 2.5
Justin Verlander 3.22 1.75 3.85 2.49 3.3 6.0
Lance Lynn 5.73 3.99 5.53 3.82 0.5 1.9
Max Scherzer 3.77 2.29 4.32 2.62 2.2 4.4
Rich Hill 5.57 4.27 4.99 3.92 0.6 1.8
Wade Miley 3.14 3.34 4.69 4.00 1.1 0.5
Yu Darvish 4.56 3.10 4.03 3.31 2.4 4.1
Zack Greinke 5.02 3.68 4.74 4.03 1.1 1.9

Overall, starters age 36 and older saw their WAR nearly slashed in half. Their ERA- rose from 89 to 111, while their FIP- climbed from 93 to 111. Only twice in the last 50 years have older starters had a worse FIP compared to league average; similarly, only four times have they produced less WAR/IP. On the bright side, older starters made an additional 49 starts and threw nearly 200 more innings than they did the year before. Thus, they continued the trend of older starters taking on heavier workloads for the fifth consecutive season. We haven’t quite reached the levels of the early 2000s, when older starters were throwing 9-10% of all starter innings, but we have returned from the dark days of the mid-2010s when it looked like older starting pitchers were becoming an endangered species. However, if this trend is to continue, older starters will need to provide better results.

So, what are the prospects for older starters in 2024? Once again, there is reason for optimism. A couple of last season’s worst performers, Wainwright and Kluber, have retired. A few more, such as Cueto and Carrasco, are unlikely to make many starts unless they earn the opportunity. Moreover, while it would be fair to assume that some of the top performers from last year will take a step back, some bounceback candidates can make up the difference. Darvish had much better peripherals last year (3.74 xERA, 4.03 FIP) than his 4.56 ERA would suggest, while Lynn projects to have a large positive regression after his uncharacteristically bad season; his 2.2 projected Depth Charts WAR would be a tremendous improvement upon his 0.5 WAR in 2023.

Even better, several (relatively) young guns are entering their age-36 season. Joining the club are Kershaw, deGrom, Alex Cobb, Kenta Maeda, and Kyle Gibson (and, uh, Dallas Keuchel). Gibson is quite reliable, though his ceiling is not as high as the others in this group, and the same is true for Maeda if he can stay healthy. Both should help raise the cohort’s floor. Meanwhile, Keuchel probably won’t pitch enough to have a strong effect either way. Kershaw, deGrom, and Cobb will all start the season on the injured list, but perhaps between the three of them, they could provide a full season’s worth of starts. If they do, the three-headed monster of deCobbshaw might be the best pitcher in the whole age group. Our Depth Charts projections have deCobbshaw making 34 starts with a 3.60 ERA and 3.8 WAR. Could Verlander or Darvish match that level of production? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t call it likely, and the projections seem to agree. Here is what our Depth Charts have to say:

Depth Charts Projections for Older Starters in 2024
Pitcher IP ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 FIP WAR
Alex Cobb 87 3.75 8.04 2.72 2.95 0.78 3.61 1.5
Carlos Carrasco 64 4.74 7.78 3.10 2.51 1.36 4.66 0.3
Charlie Morton 164 4.14 9.84 3.76 2.61 1.15 4.21 2.1
Clayton Kershaw 71 3.64 9.10 2.32 3.93 1.26 3.90 1.4
Dallas Keuchel 51 4.93 6.23 3.77 1.65 1.15 4.89 0.3
Jacob deGrom 27 2.87 12.86 2.01 6.40 1.13 2.76 0.9
Johnny Cueto 91 4.96 5.83 2.44 2.39 1.48 5.05 0.5
Justin Verlander 164 4.03 7.88 2.58 3.06 1.29 4.33 2.3
Kenta Maeda 123 4.29 8.80 2.73 3.22 1.29 4.18 1.6
Kyle Gibson 175 4.41 7.13 3.16 2.26 1.13 4.50 2.0
Lance Lynn 175 4.40 8.32 2.94 2.83 1.35 4.48 2.2
Max Scherzer 93 3.96 9.96 2.38 4.18 1.47 4.11 1.6
Rich Hill 59 4.87 7.43 3.19 2.33 1.52 5.05 0.3
Wade Miley 133 4.38 6.41 3.14 2.04 1.25 4.79 1.2
Yu Darvish 176 4.06 8.88 2.38 3.73 1.28 4.09 2.8
Zack Greinke 113 4.74 5.91 2.06 2.87 1.38 4.71 1.0
TOTALS 1,766 4.38 8.03 2.82 2.84 1.27 4.37 22.1

That 22.1 WAR figure is awfully close to the 23.8 WAR older starters produced in 2022, and the 1,766 IP projection would make 2024 the sixth straight season in which older starters took on a heavier workload. I’d take the playing time estimates with a grain of salt for the pitchers who haven’t signed yet, but still, the projections are enough to get me excited about an old guy revival. They may not quite reach the heights of the 2022 season, but this group features future Hall of Famers padding their résumés, pitchers who could be All-Stars this year, and beloved journeymen still chugging along. After several disappointing seasons for older starters in the 2010s, we’re lucky to be watching so many talented pitchers prolong their careers in 2024. And I’m happy to feel like a kid for at least one more year.

Reversing the Rowdy Tellez Curse

Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

A month after Rowdy Tellez was non-tendered by the Brewers, the first baseman signed with the Pirates to little fanfare. It’s not hard to see why that particular transaction flew under the radar. Back in the good old days of December, the offseason was at its peak. There were more pressing concerns than a player with exactly 0.0 career WAR joining a rebuilding club. Yet two months later, amidst the dullest stretch of the winter (and perhaps a bout of offseason-induced delirium), I have realized we made a dreadful mistake. FanGraphs has cursed Rowdy Tellez, and now it falls on my shoulders to reverse the spell. Let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunt for Sedona Red Joctober

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the second half of the 2023 season, three players shared designated hitting duties for the Arizona Diamondbacks: Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham, and Evan Longoria. Three more started multiple games at DH: Dominic Canzone, Kyle Lewis, and Buddy Kennedy. By mid-November, none of those players remained with the organization. The D-backs quickly replaced Longoria, trading for veteran third baseman Eugenio Suárez in November. A few weeks later, they re-signed Gurriel. However, neither move fully addressed the hole at DH; Suárez will slot in at the hot corner, while Gurriel should start most days in left field. The Diamondbacks still needed a regular designated hitter, and late last week, they finally found their guy in Joc Pederson.

Pederson will earn $9.5 million in 2024, with a $14 million mutual option ($3 million buyout) for 2025. If both sides pick up their end of the option, the deal will max out at $23.5 million over two years, quite similar to our crowdsourced estimate of two years and $24 million. In the more likely scenario where one side or the other declines the option, Pederson will earn $12.5 million for a single year of work, almost perfectly in line with Ben Clemens’ prediction of one year and $12 million. That is to say, nothing about this contract comes as much of a shock. Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Normal Pitches in Baseball: Fastball Edition

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The other day, my friend asked me a simple baseball question with no easy answer: What does a four-seam fastball look like? Not what is a four-seam fastball, or what does a four-seam fastball accomplish, or any number of fastball-related questions with more straightforward answers. He wanted me to conjure up an image of the most common pitch in baseball. I didn’t quite know what to tell him; strangely enough, the more ordinary something is, the harder it can be to describe.

My friend is merely a rhetorical device, but I’ve already grown attached to him, so let’s call him Tony. Tony is a casual observer of baseball. He hears terms like “fastball” and “curveball” and “the Dodgers are ruining the game” every now and then, but he doesn’t have the requisite context to understand what any of it really means. How do I show Tony what a four-seam fastball looks like in 2023? After all, every pitcher works differently. The velocity gap between Jhoan Duran’s and Rich Hill’s four-seam fastballs is the difference between a speeding ticket and losing your license. Explaining to Tony that those two offerings are technically the same pitch would be like trying to convince an alien that a Bergamasco Shepherd and a Xoloitzcuintli are the same species. It’s factually correct, yet without hyper-specific evidence – and the background knowledge necessary to interpret that evidence – it’s all but impossible to believe.

I could show Tony some video of Félix Bautista to illustrate the ideal four-seam fastball. Alternatively, I could show him Andrew Heaney as an example of a perfectly average four-seamer instead:

Andrew Heaney’s Four-Seam Fast-Blah
Year Usage Run Value RV/100 Pitching+
2023 57.9% 1 0.0 99
2022 62.5% 0 0.0 101
2021 57.4% 0 0.0 103
Run value and pitch usage via Baseball Savant

Yet Tony didn’t ask about results, be they average or exceptional. He wants a visual point of reference, and simply put, neither of those two throws a visually conventional heater. Reaching triple-digits on the radar gun remains a rarity, and Bautista does it more often than most. Meanwhile, Heaney throws his fastball with over 15 inches of arm-side run; that’s 70% more horizontal movement than the average four-seamer of a similar speed and release point. On the graph below, Heaney sits way over on the right, and only two dots (min. 500 pitches) can be found farther in that direction:

via Baseball Savant

What Tony really wants to see is the prototypical four-seam fastball, the pitch that most closely resembles the norm in as many material ways as possible. Identifying the man who throws such a pitch won’t serve a practical purpose; it won’t help teams win ballgames, fans win their roto league, or Harold Ramírez lay off all those four-seamers outside the zone. Still, it’s nice to have a baseline for the most important pitch in baseball – or any pitch for that matter. Thus, I set out to find the pitchers who throw the pitches that best exemplify what each pitch looks like in the game today.

A project like this requires a good deal of subjective decision making. No one throws a pitch perfectly identical to league average in every measurable way. Heck, even if someone did, who’s to say that average is the same as normal. The league average four-seam fastball last year clocked in at 94.2 mph, but the average reliever threw nearly a full mile per hour faster than the average starter. With that in mind, would it be incorrect to say that a starter who boasts a 94.2 mph heater is throwing with typical velocity? On top of that, pitchers who throw harder fastballs tend to throw better fastballs, which means they get to throw more fastballs. Therefore, they influence the league average to a greater extent than their less prolific peers. The average velocity of the 43 starters who threw at least 1,000 four-seam fastballs last season was 1.2 mph faster than the average velocity of the 216 starters who threw between 50 and 999 of the same pitch. Should those fewer, faster pitchers have such an outsized influence on the overall numbers? With all that said, I’m sticking with league average as my baseline (for lack of a perfect alternative, if nothing else), and I hope you’ll stick with me as I explain the rest of my decisions.

Next, I had to figure out how to narrow down the list of possible candidates. Seven-hundred and thirty-one players threw a four-seam fastball in the major leagues last year, and I wasn’t going to get anywhere if I gave each of them a close look. (Sorry Tony, even I have my limits.) Thus, I set 100 four-seam fastballs as my arbitrary minimum requirement, and I chose to prioritize one attribute above all else: velocity. It’s called a fastball, after all.

Seven pitchers (min. 100 pitches) averaged exactly 94.2 mph on their four-seam fastball. Another 18 sat at 94.1 or 94.3 mph, and I included those arms in my search to allow for candidates who might be a rounding error away from league average. That gave me 25 pitchers to work with, 19 right-handers and 6 southpaws. I hemmed and hawed over whether to include lefties at all, and ultimately I put off making a decision in hopes I wouldn’t have to. Thankfully, that proved to be the case, as none of the top candidates were left-handed.

Narrowing Down the Candidates
Pitcher Handedness mph V Movement H Movement
Nick Anderson R 94.2 0.1 -0.7
Jalen Beeks L 94.3 -0.3 -1.0
Andrew Bellatti R 94.1 0.9 1.3
José Berríos R 94.3 0.1 1.3
Slade Cecconi R 94.1 -1.4 5.2
Mike Clevinger R 94.3 1.6 -0.1
Roansy Contreras R 94.3 0.6 -2.0
Fernando Cruz R 94.3 0.5 0.7
Reid Detmers L 94.3 -0.3 3.5
Michael Fulmer R 94.2 -1.7 -7.2
Robert Garcia L 94.3 -1.4 0.7
Hobie Harris R 94.1 -0.6 3.4
Casey Legumina R 94.3 0.4 2.1
Matthew Liberatore L 94.2 -0.3 0.5
Zack Littell R 94.1 1.1 1.5
Michael Lorenzen R 94.3 0.4 3.7
Alec Marsh R 94.2 -0.3 1.2
Sam Moll L 94.1 -0.4 -0.7
Stephen Nogosek R 94.2 2.2 -4.4
Lucas Sims R 94.2 2.7 -1.4
Trent Thornton R 94.1 1.0 -5.3
Justin Verlander R 94.3 1.2 2.0
Alex Vesia L 94.3 3.6 -1.6
Hayden Wesneski R 94.3 -3.4 -0.6
Devin Williams R 94.2 1.4 2.7
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Armed with 25 contenders and a Google spreadsheet, I hopped on Baseball Savant, looking for as many physical pitch characteristics as I could find and manipulate. I settled on nine: vertical release point, horizontal release point, extension, perceived velocity, vertical movement, horizontal movement, spin rate, total movement, and active spin. After calculating the standard deviation of each metric, I returned to my 25 candidates. Did anyone fall within one standard deviation of league average in every category?

Well Tony, today is your lucky day. One pitcher, and only one pitcher, fit the bill. One pitcher was within a single standard deviation of league average in all nine of the aforementioned metrics. That same pitcher came within half a standard deviation in seven categories, within a quarter of a standard deviation in five categories, and within an eighth of a standard deviation in four. No one else came closer at any step along the way. The owner of the most ordinary four-seam fastball in baseball is José Berríos.

Wow… Let’s take a minute to marvel at the regularity. Here’s how Berríos threw his four-seamer in 2023:

José Berríos Four-Seam Fastball
mph V Release H Release Ext. Pcvd. Velo V Mvt. H Mvt. Spin Total Mvt. Active Spin
94.3 5.68 -2.30 6.5 94.5 0.1 1.3 2227 17.8 92%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

And here is how he stacks up to Alec Marsh, the next closest competitor and, as I discovered, a player for the Royals, not the title of a Phillies day care fan fiction. I’ve also included league average numbers in the table for additional context:

Berríos and Marsh Four-Seamers
Pitcher mph V Release H Release Ext. Pcvd. Velo V Mvt. H Mvt. Spin Total Mvt. Active Spin
Berríos 94.3 5.68 -2.30 6.5 94.5 0.1 1.3 2227 17.8 92%
Marsh 94.2 5.67 -2.33 6.4 94.5 -0.3 1.2 2461 17.3 85%
Average 94.2 5.83 -1.82* 6.5 94.4 0.0 0.0 2283 17.4** 90%**
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
*Horizontal release point average for RHP
**Average is a close approximation using available data

I considered making a case for Marsh on the basis of speed alone. At the beginning of my search, I said I would prioritize velocity, and his 94.2 mph average was right on the money. However, Berríos’s 94.3 mph average velocity was actually rounded up from 94.25 mph. In other words, if he had thrown just one additional fastball at 92.3 mph or slower (he threw 27 such pitches last year), his season average would have fallen to 94.2. It’s simply too close to take the title away from him.

Interestingly, Berríos’s four-seam fastball wasn’t quite so ordinary until this past season. For most of his career, he threw the pitch with less rise and more run than the typical four-seamer. However, in 2023, his four-seamer had more vertical movement and less horizontal movement than it had since his breakout campaign in 2018:

Data via Baseball Savant

My quest for the platonic ideal of a four-seam fastball was so fruitful that I decided to perform a similar search for sinkers and cutters. I still prioritized velocity, but for this investigation, I also took movement into account to narrow down the contenders. Call me a literalist, but I say the typical sinker needs to sink, and the typical cutter needs to cut.

Starting with sinkers, I picked out the 12 pitchers who came within one-quarter of a standard deviation of league average in velocity and within half a standard deviation in both vertical and horizontal movement. Next, I compared them all to league average in each of the additional categories I previously identified. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite as clear of a winner this time around.

Only one pitcher, Colin Rea, finished within one standard deviation of league average in every metric (including mph). However, eight others finished within one standard deviation in nine out of 10. When I narrowed the criteria to half a standard deviation, Rea remained in the lead, meeting the criteria in nine of the 10 metrics, but he was tied with three other pitchers: Mitch Keller, Miles Mikolas, and Bryse Wilson. Meanwhile, at a quarter of a standard deviation, Rea reclaimed sole position of first place (eight out of 10), but three more arms were right on his tail with seven: Mikolas, Pedro Avila, and Brandon Pfaadt. What’s more, one of the metrics in which Rea wasn’t particularly close to league average was vertical movement, and that seems pretty important for a sinker. Among the quartet of Rea, Mikolas, Avila, and Pfaadt, only Avila came within a quarter of a standard deviation of league average in vertical movement. Finally, when I went down to an eighth of a standard deviation away from league average, Rea lost his crown to Avila, who came that close to league average in six different metrics. Rea and Noah Davis finished right behind him with five each.

The names that came up most often in the previous paragraph were Rea, Avila, and Mikolas. However, only one of those three threw his sinker with precisely league-average velocity. Indeed, only one of those three came within half a mile per hour of average. What’s more, that same pitcher was the only candidate out of 12 who came within an eighth of a standard deviation of league average in both vertical and horizontal movement, and one of only two who came within a quarter: Pedro Avila.

Avila, Rea, and Mikolas Sinkers
Pitcher mph V Release H Release Ext. Pcvd. Velo V Mvt. H Mvt. Spin Total Mvt. Active Spin
Avila 93.3 5.56 -1.24 6.4 93.4 -0.3 -0.2 2281 17.5 76%
Rea 92.6 5.58 -2.1 6.7 93.2 -1.2 -0.1 2136 17.9 84%
Mikolas 92.7 6.49 -2.1 6.4 92.8 -0.8 -0.2 2193 18.1 84%
Average 93.3 5.64 -1.93* 6.4 93.3 0.0 0.0 2150 17.8** 85.7%**
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
*Horizontal release point average for RHP
**Average is a close approximation using available data

Likewise with the cutter, there were no exact matches. I picked out the 14 contenders who came within half a standard deviation of league average in velocity and both planes of movement, but none of those 14 came within one standard deviation of league average in every other metric. Nonetheless, there was still a clear winner. Only one pitcher came within half a standard deviation of average in nine categories, within a quarter in six categories, and within an eighth in five. He was one of only four pitchers within half a standard deviation of league average in both vertical and horizontal movement and within a rounding error of league average in velocity. And out of those four, he was easily the closest to league average in release point and extension. It’s Javier Assad.

Javier Assad’s Cutter
Pitcher mph V Release H Release Ext. Pcvd. Velo V Mvt. H Mvt. Spin Total Mvt. Active Spin
Assad 89.1 5.94 -1.81 6.4 89.7 0.8 0.6 2046 8.2 57%
Average 89.2 5.84 -1.82* 6.4 89.5 0.0 0.0 2388 8.2** 47.1%**
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
*Horizontal release point average for RHP
**Average is a close approximation using available data

Here at FanGraphs, we pay a ton of attention to average performance. The concept of “league average” informs some of our most foundational stats. We even have a tab on the leaderboards page (+ Stats) dedicated to precisely that. It’s not hard to see why; a good sense of average performance, whether for a team, a player, or an individual skill, has all sorts of practical applications. Sometimes, however, it’s just as interesting to take a step back from results and focus on the process instead. We talk a whole lot about four-seamers, sinkers, and cutters, and it’s helpful to visualize those concepts as best we can. In 2023, it was Berríos, Avila, and Assad who made that possible.

So, there you have it, Tony. It’s been fun! Let’s grab a coffee sometime soon.

Adding Arms Like One-Two-Three: Suter, Weaver, and Plesac Sign New Deals

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One million dollars. It’s the prize money on Survivor. It’s Dr. Evil’s ransom. Apparently it’s a song by 100 gecs, a band my little brother claims I should know. It’s also the price of Zach Plesac’s services in 2024. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Jays Check Off a Pair of Gloves on their Winter Shopping List

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The best defense is a good offense. As much as the pacifist in me hates to admit it, the old platitude is true. Many have tried to flip this popular saying in a sports context, suggesting instead that the best offense is a good defense, but that’s just patently false. No matter how terrific a team’s run prevention abilities may be, they can’t win a ballgame without scoring at least once. Conversely, it doesn’t matter how many runs a team concedes as long as their offense can score even more. As such, I’d embrace the strategic offensive principle of war (or should I say WAR) more readily than I’d accept its antimetabole.

Nevertheless, Kevin Kiermaier and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are the kinds of players who make the patently false seem true. Kiermaier is the greatest center fielder of the modern statistical era; no other outfielder comes within 10 points of him in either DRS or OAA. His defense makes a convincing argument that players should earn bonus points for impossible catches and spectacular throws.

Kiner-Falefa, meanwhile, is the consummate picture of defensive versatility. He’s the first player since the turn of the 20th century to play at least 50 career games at catcher, shortstop, and in the outfield – not to mention 154 games at third base, 21 appearances at second, and four innings pitched as the cherry on top. In 2018, a then-23-year-old Kiner-Falefa became the first player to start multiple games at catcher and shortstop in the same season since Dave Roberts (not that Dave Roberts) and Derrel Thomas in 1980. Add in the fact that he also started multiple games at second and third base the same year, and he’s the first player to have done all that since Marty Martinez in 1968. Read the rest of this entry »

There’s a Hole in J.T. Realmuto’s Tool Box

J.T. Realmuto

I don’t think J.T. Realmuto ever got enough credit for his remarkable season in 2022. It was easily the finest performance of his career. With 22 home runs, 21 stolen bases, and a 128 wRC+, in addition to his typical Gold Glove defense and trademark durability, he produced a personal-best 6.5 WAR, claimed All-MLB First Team honors for the second time and finished seventh in a stacked NL MVP race.

What made his 2022 season so impressive were the demographics of it all. We’re not talking about a center fielder in his 20s; Realmuto’s 6.5 WAR was the highest for a regular catcher age 31 or older since Javy Lopez in 2003. As a matter of fact, only four catchers have ever put up more WAR in a single season after their 31st birthday: Lopez, Gary Carter, Roy Campanella, and Josh Gibson.

Top 10 Catcher Seasons (Age 31 and Older)
Catcher Season Age G wRC+ WAR
Josh Gibson 1943 31 69 251 8.1
Roy Campanella 1953 31 144 154 7.7
Javy Lopez 2003 32 129 170 6.8
Gary Carter 1985 31 149 139 6.7
J.T. Realmuto 2022 31 139 128 6.5
Yogi Berra 1956 31 140 139 6.4
Russell Martin 2014 31 111 140 6.2
Jorge Posada 2003 31 142 145 6.0
Elston Howard 1964 35 150 129 6.0
Elston Howard 1963 34 135 142 5.9

That same year, Realmuto also became the first backstop to qualify for the batting title in seven consecutive seasons since Jason Kendall in 2009. Only seven other catchers have accomplished that particular feat in the divisional era (1969-present): Jorge Posada, Mike Piazza, Carter, Lance Parrish, Ted Simmons, Johnny Bench, and Thurman Munson. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Gary Sánchez in for Another Long Wait?

Gary Sanchez
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The top prospect designation is a curse as often as it is a blessing. The same goes for the star rookie label, and Gary Sánchez knows it well. While he has established himself as a serviceable big league catcher over the past six years, he still plays in the shadow of his star-making rookie and sophomore campaigns. And though he’s had his ups and downs, he’s been a solid player in the years following his lone Silver Slugger season. Since 2018, he ranks 10th among active catchers with 8.6 WAR; since 2021, he’s 14th with 4.6. Yet his reputation remains that of a disappointment. His struggles are amplified, and his successes are overlooked.

Sánchez went unsigned during the 2022–23 offseason, finally earning a minor league deal with the Giants on the second day of the regular season. After a month at Triple-A, he opted out of his contract, signing a new minor league deal with the Mets shortly thereafter. And although he did make his way onto New York’s active roster, his stay in the majors was brief; after three games, he was designated for assignment. It wasn’t until late May, when the Padres scooped him up off waivers, that Sánchez finally found a path to regular playing time.

Yet it’s not as if he had a terrible season the year before. In 2022, he ranked sixth among primary catchers in games played and 20th in innings behind the dish. By our calculation, he was worth 1.3 WAR, 22nd among catchers. That didn’t turn any heads, but 1.3 WAR was more than 12 teams got from the catching position in 2022. And it’s not as if he was due for regression. Despite his low .290 wOBA, he had a .321 xwOBA — slightly higher than league average, and significantly better than average for a catcher. While his power numbers were down, he tore the cover off the ball, posting hard-hit and barrel rates in the 92nd percentile. Heading into his age-30 campaign, his 50th percentile ZiPS projection for 2023 was 1.7 WAR. If you presume a win is worth about $8 million in free agency, that projection translates to $13.6 million on a one-year deal. Read the rest of this entry »

García, Cimber, and Tonkin Join New Bullpens on One-Year Deals

Luis Garcia
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

While looking back at the free agent signings I covered last winter, I noticed a bit of a pattern. On the same day Aaron Judge came to terms on a nine-year, $360 million deal with the Yankees, I wrote about Miguel Castro. On the same day Brandon Nimmo agreed to a $162 million deal with the Mets, I wrote about Matt Strahm. On the same day Yu Darvish and Bo Bichette signed contract extensions, I wrote about Pierce Johnson and Scott McGough. While the rest of the baseball world was focused on All-Stars and mega-million-dollar contracts, I found myself drawn to mid-tier relievers on small-scale deals.

We’re not farming for clicks here at FanGraphs, and I’m grateful to write for a website where I never have to come up with hot takes or misleading headlines. Thankfully, I’ve never been asked to write about one weird trick for evading the luxury tax or why dermatologists hate Gabe Kapler. Still, it’s nice when others read your work, and as much as I love them, I know middle relievers don’t rack up pageviews like middle-of-the-order bats. While I have a weakness for run-of-the-mill bullpen arms — the more ordinary the better — I know I need to resist the pull.

“Leo,” I said to myself when the offseason began. “You can’t write about so many relievers this winter. You wrote about Joely Rodríguez last year. Maybe this time you cover Eduardo Rodriguez instead?”

Flash forward to the final day of the Winter Meetings, and I’m here to write about Luis García, Adam Cimber, and Michael Tonkin. Like the 2020 Phillies, you could say I have a bullpen problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Nick Martinez Keeps His Options Open, Signs With Reds

Nick Martinez
Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the Reds made their second signing in as many days, adding right-handed pitcher Nick Martinez on a two-year, $26 million deal. Evidently, Cincinnati decided to get in on the regional pitching party; of the nine free-agent pitchers to sign MLB deals with new teams so far, six have joined the AL or NL Central. Not to mention that two of the four position players switching teams also came to the Central, and word on the street is that the Brewers are signing top prospect Jackson Chourio to an $80 million extension. The Central division teams, often the most overlooked and underfunded, have been surprisingly active so far this winter.

Martinez, who turned 33 this past August, is coming off the strongest season of his truncated career. Never a top prospect, he struggled over parts of four seasons with the Rangers from 2014 to ’17, posting a 4.77 ERA and 0.5 WAR in 415.1 innings. He was non-tendered following the 2017 season, after which he spent four years in Japan, pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters and the Softbank Hawks of NPB. His 2021 season for the Hawks was particularly impressive; he averaged more than 6.2 innings per game and finished second in the Pacific League in ERA (min. 50 IP), trailing only Yoshinobu Yamamoto. His performance caught the attention of several MLB clubs, and when the lockout ended, he signed a four-year, $25.5 million deal with the Padres that included opt-outs after every single season.

Martinez performed well enough in 2022 to escape his deal at the first chance he got, pitching to a 3.47 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 47 games. His underlying numbers weren’t as impressive as his ERA, and while he pitched in nearly every role — starter, long-man, set-up man, closer — a lot of his success came in lower-leverage relief opportunities. Still, he knew he could do better than the three years and $18 million remaining on his contract, and indeed, only a few days after he opted out, he and the Padres agreed on a richer contract, albeit one still replete with options, team and player alike.

Martinez looked even better in 2023, but his performance wasn’t quite enough to convince the newly cost-conscious Padres to pick up their team option for $32 million over the next two years. At the same time, the righty decided he could do better than his player option for two years and $16 million. His new deal with the Reds splits the difference at $26 million over two years. Read the rest of this entry »