Fletch Returns: Angels Ink David Fletcher to Long-Term Deal

The Angels locked up their second baseman on Opening Day, inking David Fletcher to a five-year contract that will keep him in Anaheim through at least the 2025 season. In addition to the baseline guaranteed money ($24.5 million), there are two club option years at $8 million and $8.5 million. Both option years have buyouts for $1.5 million, the first one bringing the contract to the headline figure of $26 million.

Fletcher has been a find for the Angels, and I daresay that he’s outperformed the original expectations for him. Drafted as a shortstop out of Loyola Marymount, he avoided the wacky error totals that many middle infield prospects put up in the low minors. Still, his offensive profile wasn’t seen as having enough upside to propel him to the top of the team’s prospect lists. The consensus going into 2018 was generally that he would be a utility infielder, though a dependable one.

Notably, even the lukewarm evaluations had nuggets of Fletcher’s later success. John Sickels gave Fletcher a C+, but praised his reliability and noted him as a player who could surprise.

David Fletcher, SS, Grade C+: Age 23, a sixth-round pick in 2015 from Loyola Marymount, hit .266/.316/.339 with 20 doubles, three homers, 20 steals, 27 walks, 55 strikeouts in 448 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; easy to under-estimate, old-time scouts would have called him an “intangibles” player; runs well, but throwing arm is nothing special and hitting power is below average; all that said, he is a very reliable defensive shortstop how outplays his mediocre defensive tools with positioning, instincts, and impressive reliability: has a .982 career fielding percentage at short; most likely a utilityman but might surprise eventually; ETA 2018.

Here at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen gave Fletcher a 40-grade in 2017 but had praise for his contact skills.

A draft-eligible sophomore at Loyola Marymount, Fletcher projects to carve out a big-league job as a utility man capable of competently playing both middle-infield positions, a terrific outcome for a sixth-round pick.

Fletcher is an above-average straight-line runner but not an especially twitchy athlete, and he’s able to play short despite fringey range and an average arm because of polished but unspectacular actions, hands, and good instincts. His bat is quick, his stroke short but effortful. Fletcher projects as a fringe hitter with 40 raw power and less than that in games.

As for ZiPS, it saw Fletcher as merely a .237/.276/.304 hitter with above-average defense at second in the majors in 2018, so I cannot claim that my work nailed his rise either! ZiPS didn’t really start getting interested until after 2018 when it translated his full season at .274/.314/.394 but at 13 runs better than average at second.

The point isn’t to shame my friends, colleagues, or myself, but to demonstrate the value in young players even when they’re not top prospects. While it may have been the result of the team’s holes — Zack Cozart bombing was a big aid — however it happened, the Angels gave Fletcher every opportunity to prove the projections wrong. And that’s just what he did. After a very underrated debut in the majors driven by some fantastic glove work, his bat also improved. All told, Fletcher combined to hit .298/.356/.395 for 4.8 WAR in 2019 and ’20. The projections now have him as a league-average player overall, with a bit of regression due to being 20 points above his xBA in 2020 and old offensive data forming a larger chunk of the projection than normal thanks to the abbreviated season.

As it turned out, Fletcher wasn’t just a solid contact hitter, but an elite one. Since he debuted in the majors, his 3.3% swinging strike percentage is the lowest in baseball. Even Ichiro Suzuki never had a rate that low in any individual season (at least starting in 2002). ZiPS wasn’t convinced at the time that Fletcher’s estimated defensive performances in 2017 and ’18 of +10.1 runs and +13.0 runs, respectively, were quite that good, given the spotty nature of minor league defensive data. But he’s been just as solid in the majors, at 11.6 UZR/150 at second base. And that’s the grumpy estimate: Fletcher’s DRS per 1,350 innings in the majors has been a sterling 24 runs in the positive.

The Angels used Fletcher as a supersub in 2019 and ’20, getting him a full slate of plate appearances while playing five positions. Last year, he was more than adequate even at short, filling in for the injured Andrelton Simmons. With Tommy La Stella now in San Francisco and Fletcher leap-frogging Luis Rengifo, the second base job is now undisputedly his. Fletcher’s lack of power likely keeps him out of superstar territory, but he should be a solid starter for a long time for the Angels, who have struggled mightily to find players like that.

ZiPS Projections – David Fletcher
2021 .279 .329 .386 612 79 171 33 4 8 52 44 73 9 95 5 2.2
2022 .279 .331 .393 573 75 160 33 4 8 50 43 70 8 97 4 2.2
2023 .278 .330 .392 561 74 156 32 4 8 49 42 68 7 97 3 2.0
2024 .277 .331 .391 545 72 151 32 3 8 48 42 64 7 96 2 1.9
2025 .274 .327 .389 525 68 144 30 3 8 46 40 60 7 95 2 1.6
2026 .271 .322 .387 494 62 134 27 3 8 43 36 55 6 93 0 1.3
2027 .267 .317 .377 446 54 119 22 3 7 37 32 48 5 89 -1 0.8

I still think ZiPS is about five runs too conservative on Fletcher’s projection. Regardless, $26 million isn’t a lot of money for this level of performance, but he was hampered by being four years away from free agency, meaning he would enter the market before his age-31 season. Given the cost-controlled years that the Angels hold, ZiPS would have recommended a five-year, $34.4 million contract or $53 million over seven years. If Fletcher had been a free agent right now, those figures would have been $76 million and $94 million, respectively.

If the Angels had developed more David Fletchers over the last decade, it wouldn’t have been ages since Mike Trout appeared in a playoff game. Fletcher uses his old-school skillset for new-school value, and the Angels are lucky to have even one of him.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jon L.member
3 years ago

Nice article!

Not an Angels fan here, just someone who’s excited about David Fletcher and hopes he keeps outperforming expectations with his great glove, amazing contact skills, and elite baseball sense.