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Michael Conforto Controls His Own Destiny

It’s hard to think of the right word to describe the Mets’ winter. It hasn’t been “good,” given their prominent position in not one, but three separate sexual harassment scandals. In terms of the team’s on-field talent, the organization has given fans much to look forward to, but the offseason is still somewhat incomplete. Hoped-for defensive upgrades in center field didn’t materialize, and long-term deals for two soon-to-be-free agents — Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto — have yet to come to fruition either.

Lindor’s extension still feels all but inevitable. New York sent Cleveland too much talent to have him for one season, and it’s hard to imagine a better use for new owner Steve Cohen’s money. And while the 27-year-old shortstop has a good deal of leverage, he does have some incentive to take a deal now, given how many other stars at his position will be available in free agency next year.

A Conforto extension is less certain. Mets president Sandy Alderson said he expects to speak with both players about deals soon, but Conforto is probably less likely to be persuaded away from testing free agency, especially since he could be looking at a particularly friendly market at the end of the year.

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Jason Heyward’s Age-30 Season Looked A Lot Like His Age-20 Season

Here are two seasons, played 10 years apart:

Jason Heyward Batting Numbers, 2010 & 2020
Year PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO wRC+ WAR/600
2010 623 .277 .393 .456 14.6% 20.5% .179 134 4.43
2020 181 .265 .392 .456 16.6% 20.4% .190 131 5.96

We’re used to seeing a hitter’s numbers change over the course of that many seasons — sometimes improving in some areas, often declining in others. A table like the one above suggests both an incredible sustaining of abilities and an undying faith in approach. Ironically, that is not the story of Jason Heyward, a player who has been neither consistent in his performance nor trusting of his own approach, having tinkered constantly with his swing mechanics and his goals as a hitter. What the table above omits are the nine seasons between 2010 and 2020, which showed many different versions of Heyward that add up to a hitter far less valuable than the ones that bookend them.

Jason Heyward Career Batting Numbers
Year PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO wRC+ WAR/600
2010 623 .277 .393 .456 14.6% 20.5% .179 134 4.43
2011-19 4,957 .260 .337 .407 9.8% 16.9% .148 104 3.21
2020 181 .265 .392 .456 16.6% 20.4% .190 131 5.96

To me, this table is much more interesting than the previous one, providing more information and simultaneously prompting more questions. Heyward started off as a very good hitter, then averaged merely okay performances for the next nine seasons, then suddenly reverted back to his rookie self as a 31-year-old during a pandemic year. The second table is the story I’d like to talk about. (You may be asking, “Then why show us the first table at all?” And to that I say, writing ledes is hard.)

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Let’s Check In On the Padres’ Bullpen

You probably haven’t thought about the Padres’ bullpen in a while, and you’d be forgiven for that. Most of the high-profile additions they’ve made in the last several months have come in the starting rotation. The other big moves, such as trading for Austin Nola and signing Ha-seong Kim, have been upgrades to the lineup. Oh, and there’s that whole record-setting contract they just gave to their 22-year-old superstar.

All of that has overshadowed the fact that the turnover in San Diego’s relief staff lately has been extreme. Seven of the team’s top eight projected relievers on our Depth Charts page were not on the roster at the end of the 2019 season. Like the rest of the Padres, though, that turnover has resulted in a unit that now looks like one of the best in baseball. It’s worth getting caught up, then, on who the newest arrivals are, who has recently departed, and where that leaves the group as a whole.

San Diego did a lot of its heavy lifting last offseason and at the trade deadline, but the team signed two notable big leaguers in the last few weeks. One was Mark Melancon, the 35-year-old veteran who will join the eighth team of his soon-to-be 13-year big league career. Melancon became famous at the back of Pittsburgh’s bullpen in the mid-2010s when his cutter made him one of the game’s most dominant closers for a few years, bringing about the obligatory comparisons to Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. From 2013 to ’16, he threw 290 innings with a 1.80 ERA and 2.25 FIP, all while throwing his cutter about 67% of the time. After that, he landed a big contract with the Giants, who traded him to the Braves at the deadline in 2019. Melancon wasn’t as good over the past four seasons as the four previous, but he still managed to pitch effectively.

Mark Melancon’s Last Eight Years, In Two Halves
Years IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% ERA FIP WAR
2013-16 290 8.32 1.40 0.31 57.4% 1.80 2.25 7.7
2017-20 159 8.04 2.55 0.57 57.2% 3.57 3.18 2.3

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Tyler Anderson’s Comeback Train Rolls Into Pittsburgh

According to Stanford Healthcare’s website, a chondral defect “refers to a focal area of damage to the articular cartilage (the cartilage that lines the end of the bones).” It can be caused either by injury or by a preexisting disorder, and it is often not repairable. Efforts to treat the defect can include a process in which non-viable cartilage is removed and small holes are made in the bone to create pathways for stem cells to travel to the area of missing cartilage, with the hope that the cells will create new healthy tissue. It can also be fixed with bone and cartilage from a donor “that is specifically matched to the size and dimensions of the defect.” In any case, the procedure is an extremely delicate one, and recovery is a slow, arduous process with no guarantee of success.

After years of pain in his left knee, however, a procedure like those was something that left-handed pitcher Tyler Anderson could no longer put off. He underwent surgery in May 2019, having thrown just five games that season. His return — not to mention the quality of pitcher he might be post-surgery — was ambiguous enough that the Rockies waived him that September, allowing the Giants to claim him. As it turned out, Anderson was healthy enough that he pitched a full season in 2020 (albeit helped by the pandemic-imposed delay in starting the year). And he was impressive enough that he now has a guaranteed big league job for 2021.

The Pirates made Tyler Anderson their first major league free-agent signing of the winter on Tuesday, agreeing to terms on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will step into the rotation slot vacated by the trade of Joe Musgrove; between him, Steven Brault, and Mitch Keller, it’s probably a toss-up as to who will be the Pirates’ Opening Day starter.

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The Rays Finally Have a Full Rotation, At Least For Now

The average innings per start across MLB has been in decline for a few years now. The last time starting pitchers threw more innings than they did the previous season was in 2014, at 5.97 per start. Just five years later, that number had dropped all the way to 5.18, a loss of nearly 400 starter innings league-wide. At the forefront of this were the Rays, who began using openers in 2018 and finished the year with their starters throwing nearly 200 fewer innings than those of any other team.

Two seasons later, a pandemic-shortened season introduced a number of factors — injuries, larger rosters, seven-inning doubleheaders, and more — that helped the rest of the majors take a step toward Tampa Bay’s minimization of the starter’s responsibilities.

With the 2021 season two months away, it seems apparent that those two lines are about to diverge. With roster sizes being trimmed back to 26 and a somewhat more typical offseason hopefully leading to fewer injuries, I would guess that the average starter workload will go up for the first time in seven years. The Rays, however, appear to be heading for a season of pitching management even more extreme than what they had in 2018, after signing two pitchers over the holiday weekend: 40-year-old lefty Rich Hill and 33-year-old right-hander Collin McHugh, each at one year apiece, with the former set to make $2.5 million and the latter $1.8 million. Read the rest of this entry »


Marlins Buy a Bunch of Home Runs From Adam Duvall

In 2020, for the first time in three seasons, the Miami Marlins finished above dead-last in the majors in home runs. You can blame some of that bad stretch on Marlins Park, which is decidedly pitcher-friendly in the way it suppresses homers. But mostly, it’s because the team just hasn’t had good power hitters. From 2018-19, just three players logged 20 homers in a season, with the highest total being Starlin Castro’s 22. The additions of Jesús Aguilar and Corey Dickerson helped to bolster the team’s totals in 2020, but the Marlins still only out-homered four other teams. It isn’t as though the team can’t hit — Miguel Rojas, Jon Berti and Garrett Cooper were all well above-average hitters last year despite combining for just 12 homers. Miami just lacked an true established slugger in the middle of the order.

On Tuesday, the Marlins took a step toward remedying that by signing free agent outfielder Adam Duvall. The deal is an interesting one — it guarantees Duvall $5 million, but will only pay him $2 million in 2021. The rest will come in 2022, either in the form of a mutually agreed-upon second-year at $7 million, or a $3 million buyout. The mutual option cost, if exercised, would award Duvall a decent chunk of money — the same amount that Adam Eaton and Joc Pederson signed for this winter. Even if it isn’t, however, the $5 million guarantee itself isn’t bad for a slugger in his 30s who just two years ago spent the majority of the season in Triple-A.

The Marlins are hoping the version of Duvall they get is similar to the one who broke out with the Reds back in 2016. That year, he was a surprise All-Star, and finished the season with a .241/.297/.498 line, 33 homers, a 104 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR. He knocked out 31 more homers and notched 1.6 WAR the following year, further establishing the kind of player Duvall could be when things were going his way. He was a right-handed power bat capable of good defense in an outfield corner, but one who was also going to strike out a lot without walking enough to salvage a league-average on-base mark.

In 2018, we found out what kind of player Duvall is when things aren’t going his way. The power that comprised all of his value fell off considerably, and he finished the year with just 15 homers and a 69 wRC+. He was particularly bad after being traded to Atlanta in July (.132/.193/.151 with zero homers in 57 PAs), and started the 2019 season in Triple-A. It seemed like a sign of where Duvall’s career was headed — his weaknesses exposed, he was now a luxury power bat for playoff teams to keep on the fringes of their roster, never to be trusted with a full-time opportunity.

And yet, he’s since earned that trust back. He was a force at Triple-A, hammering 32 homers in 101 games. The Braves couldn’t fit him into their crowded outfield until the last week of July, but once they did, he was suddenly an everyday player in the majors again. He hit .267/.315/.567 with 10 homers in 41 games to finish the season. With the helpful addition of the DH in the National League, Duvall kept that everyday role in 2020, slashed .237/.301/.532, and homered 16 times, making him one of just 14 hitters to hit at least that many last year. That included one torrid stretch during which he recorded two three-homer games just one week apart.



Being able to capitalize on his power with this kind of frequency is what helps Duvall make up for his low batting average and walk rates. Because of the limits placed on his playing time over the last couple years — first because of the Braves prioritizing other outfielders, then because of the pandemic — his 26 big league homers since the start of 2019 have him tied for just 124th in the majors. But if you take all players with at least as many home runs as Duvall in that time and divide those totals by their number of plate appearances, he emerges as one of the best bang-for-your-buck power hitters of the last couple seasons.

Highest Home Run Rate, 2019-20
Player HRs PAs HR/PA
Nelson Cruz 57 735 7.76%
Adam Duvall 26 339 7.67%
Mitch Garver 33 440 7.50%
Yordan Alvarez 28 378 7.41%
Pete Alonso 69 932 7.40%
Mike Trout 62 841 7.37%
Jay Bruce 32 436 7.34%
Miguel Sanó 47 644 7.30%
Eugenio Suárez 64 893 7.17%
Gary Sánchez 44 624 7.05%
Minimum 26 home runs

Keep in mind, this leaves out the 32 homers he hit in 429 Triple-A plate appearances at the start of 2019 — a HR/PA rate of 7.45%. And as you may have noticed in the last video clip above, the Marlins have had a front row seat to Duvall’s most explosive performances. That kind power output is what Miami is hoping to acquire in this deal, and while the transition to the more pitcher-friendly ballpark may pose some challenges, there’s some reason to believe it shouldn’t hamper him too much. According to Statcast’s Expected Home Runs by Park feature, the number of home runs Duvall would have hit in Miami since the start of 2019 (28) is the same number he actually hit for Atlanta.

As for as the rest of the Marlins lineup, there are all sorts of effects signing Duvall can have. Right now, our RosterResource page has him starting in right field, with Dickerson in left and Starling Marte in center. Such a construction, however, would signify a huge step toward giving up on Lewis Brinson, the former top prospect who headlined the Christian Yelich trade return, but has been 2.8 wins below replacement level in three seasons with Miami. Abandoning plans for Brinson could prove too unnerving for management to go through with, though, and the above arrangement would also leave out Magneuris Sierra and Cooper. Instead, it seems likely that without the designated hitter in 2021, the Marlins will platoon the outfield quite heavily — with Dickerson and Duvall splitting up left and some combination of Brinson, Sierra and Cooper taking right, with Cooper also splitting first base reps with Aguilar.

The logistics of adding Duvall, then, are a headache the Marlins didn’t really need to volunteer for. He does, however, make them better, which makes this a fun move. Even after a surprise entry into the second round of last year’s playoffs, a run at contention for Miami in 2021 still feels far-fetched, and Duvall doesn’t change that. But for an offense that managed to be close to league-average last year while getting by on little more than spunk, his muscle will be a welcome addition — especially for Marlins fans who have waited years for another fearless slugger to swing it for their side.


Diamondbacks Add Still-Excellent Joakim Soria to Bullpen

I’m not sure many people expected Joakim Soria to stick around this long. Perhaps that’s the case with any reliever, given how volatile they can be, and how they begin their careers with the inherent flaw of not being starters. Maybe it’s the case for all players in general — how many of today’s prospects would you bet on lasting 14 years in the majors? Careers that stretch into a player’s late-30s are rare across the board, and any player still putting on a uniform 20 years after he was signed for the first time has accomplished something impressive. But it feels especially pertinent to point out in the case of Soria, who began his big league career as a Rule 5 draft pick with a low-90s fastball only to be asked to close games as a rookie. Since then, he’s become one of baseball’s pillars of consistency. And on Wednesday, it was announced that he would be joining the eighth team of his career.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, whose offseason additions prior to this week consisted of just two minor league deals given to 30-and-older relievers, signed Soria to a one-year contract worth $3.5 million, with the potential to add $500,000 more if he hits certain innings incentives:

Soria spent 2020 as one of the best relievers in one of the majors’ best bullpens. In 22.1 innings with the Athletics, he held a 2.82 ERA and 2.97 FIP, striking out 24 batters while issuing 10 free passes (three of which were intentional). That was Soria’s third time in the last four years finishing with a sub-3.00 FIP. Among active pitchers, he’s one of the 10 best relievers in that time span.

Top Major League Relievers, 2017-20
Name G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Aroldis Chapman 180 170.1 14.21 4.17 0.53 2.64 2.35 2.85 5.7
Roberto Osuna 174 171.1 10.03 1.31 0.63 2.84 2.46 3.21 5.8
Liam Hendriks 184 187.2 12.09 2.49 0.77 2.83 2.47 3.28 6.0
Kirby Yates 193 184.2 13.99 2.58 1.02 2.63 2.62 2.75 5.5
Chad Green 163 218.0 12.06 2.06 0.99 2.77 2.71 3.17 5.5
Ken Giles 175 169.2 11.94 2.60 0.90 3.02 2.73 3.08 4.2
Joakim Soria 217 207.0 10.43 2.87 0.61 3.61 2.78 3.67 5.1
Tommy Kahnle 166 148.1 13.17 3.22 0.97 3.64 2.81 2.85 3.4
Josh Hader 172 223.2 15.29 3.30 1.25 2.54 2.85 2.66 6.2
Brad Hand 224 230.2 12.60 2.73 0.90 2.61 2.87 3.14 5.5
Active pitchers, minimum 100 innings

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Rays Bring Back Chris Archer on One-Year Pact

Maybe the Rays are getting nervous. Two and half months ago, they watched Charlie Morton sign with Atlanta as a free agent. About a month later, they traded staff ace Blake Snell to San Diego. Those were the two best starters on a team that leaned heavily on its rotation, but Tampa’s only addition so far this winter has been embattled right-hander Michael Wacha at a mere $3 million. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have landed one major free agent after another, and the Yankees still look very much like a juggernaut. As of Tuesday morning, Tampa Bay ranked 10th in the American League in our Depth Charts projected WAR standings — fourth in the AL East — just a few months after winning the pennant.

But with spring training (theoretically) fast approaching, the Rays finally signed another starting pitcher on Tuesday, adding a familiar face to the rotation.

To be clear, Chris Archer is no replacement for the starters Tampa Bay lost this winter. He’s posted an ERA over 4.00 in each of his last four seasons and missed all of 2020 after undergoing surgery to treat neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Effectiveness in the first season back from that injury — one of the most serious a pitcher can experience — is far from guaranteed. Tampa’s familiarity with Archer, however, made the team willing to bet on the 32-year-old right-hander anyway.

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Blue Jays Add Even More Rotation Depth in Trade for Steven Matz

Just two years ago, the Blue Jays used an MLB-record 21 different starters over the course of a season, most of whom were either years past their prime or pitching in the majors for the very first time. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go so well. Toronto tried to fix that last winter by adding nearly enough pitchers to build a whole new rotation, then acquired three more starters at the August trade deadline. Even after all that movement, though, the Jays still finished 24th in the majors in pitching WAR.

The Blue Jays don’t have an arm quantity problem; they have an arm quality problem. But between a free-agent market lacking in top-end starting pitching and an apparent unwillingness to compete with the Padres and White Sox in making trades for aces, Toronto has been unable to address that need. Instead, it has directed its financial resources elsewhere, adding two of the best free-agent hitters of this winter’s class and the best reliever of the 2019 season. The Blue Jays have improved their offense and their bullpen. As for their starting pitchers, well, there sure are a lot of them.

You can add one more arm to that growing pile, as Toronto acquired left-hander Steven Matz from the Mets on Wednesday in exchange for three young right-handed pitchers: Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski. Matz, 29, is entering his final year of team control and is set to make just over $5 million in 2021. He became expendable in New York after the team acquired Joey Lucchesi — a younger, cheaper, and more controllable left-handed starter — from the Padres in the three-team deal that sent Joe Musgrove from Pittsburgh to San Diego. On the Mets, Matz was either the fifth or sixth starter in an elite rotation. In Toronto, he’ll be the fifth or sixth starter in a rotation that is merely okay.

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Giants Commit Three Years to Tommy La Stella

It would be inaccurate to say the Giants have been big spenders on the market this winter, but it also wouldn’t be right to say they’ve done nothing. Coming into this week, they had added six players on major league contracts, improving their rotation, bullpen, catching and infield depth with nothing other than cold hard cash. What all of those players had in common, though, is that they all were willing to agree to cheap one-year deals. San Francisco has been willing to fill holes and add talent, but only in low-risk situations.

Consider Tuesday’s news, then, somewhat of a reprieve from that strategy. The Giants signed infielder Tommy La Stella to a three-year contract, a few days before his 32nd birthday. Though we don’t know the exact dollar figure yet, it’s the first three-year deal the team has given since Tony Watson’s before the 2018 season, and it will likely be the most money the team has committed to a free agent since Mark Melancon heading into 2017. The risk involved with this deal, however, isn’t anything to sweat over, even if La Stella was basically a career pinch-hitter until just two years ago.

To call La Stella a unique player in 2021 would be an understatement. He’s coming off a season in which he struck out in just 5.3% of plate appearances, with a walk rate more than double that. It was his second-straight season with a strikeout rate under 10%. Even more impressively, La Stella’s transition into a truly elite resistance to whiffs has also included him hitting for more power than he ever has. Doing both of those things at once is something few hitters can accomplish.

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