Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 2/27/24

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks! Welcome to another edition of my Tuesday chats. I have a piece up today illustrating the weakest positions on NL contenders — sort of a preseason Replacement Level Killers list — with a companion AL piece to follow soon. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-weakest-positions-on-national-league-c…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: On Sunday I covered the Cody Bellinger signing https://blogs.fangraphs.com/options-options-cody-bellinger-returns-to-…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: and last Friday i took a look at the Mets’ rotation in light of the Kodai Senga injury https://blogs.fangraphs.com/with-kodai-senga-injury-mets-rotation-alre…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: With the caveat that I may have to duck out for a few minutes soon when our painter arrives, let’s get on with it.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: (We had our living room, dining room, and kitchen painted yesterday! Facelift for the whole first floor!)

Idiotic Failson: Regarding the Yankees still being potentially interested in Snell – I want owners to spend money as much as the average fan and feel that owners too often hoard their team revenue. That said, let’s say that the Yankees spend $25mm/year on Snell. That brings their commitment this year to him to close to $60mm and their payroll to close to $400mm. Can they really afford to run $400mm payrolls (necessary or not) regularly? Am I wrong in thinking that signing Snell might actually be unreasonable?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Color me skeptical about the Yankees-Snell link because you’re right, their payroll is already on the fourth tier, tax-wise (they’re at $306 million) and so the penalties get quite exorbitant. I think they could do it if they thought they were getting a bargain (i.e., low AAV, achievable via a 1 or 2 plus player option deal)

Avatar Jay Jaffe: but I don’t think it’s very likely.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Snell’s value isn’t going to get much higher than it is coming off Cy Young #2, so unless he really wants to play for the Yankees— which seems a stretch given his Seattle roots — I think this could be more smoke than substance

Andrew: Does two more 5+ WAR seasons for Gerrit Cole essentially guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think that would guarantee it by itself but it would certainly get him most of the way there. He doesn’t have much (any?) competition from his cohort as far as progress towards Cooperstown, but unless he reaches a milestone like 200 wins or 3,000 strikeouts, it’s going to take some adjustment by BBWAA voters to get him to 75%.

Chris A: Jose DeLeon died this week. What comes to mind when you think of him?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: To be clear, this is the first Jose DeLeon (born 1960, https://www.fangraphs.com/players/jose-deleon/1003168/stats?position=P) not the active pitcher José De León (born 1992, https://www.fangraphs.com/players/jose-de-leon/15463/stats?position=P). What I remember most about him is that he always seemed to be wearing the Pirates’ “train conductor cap in every photo. RIP

Avatar Jay Jaffe: ok, painter is here, hang tight for a few minutes…

Gashouse Gorilla: With several free agents remaining unsigned, I wonder if we won’t see some of the distortions the CBT created looked at in the next CBA bargaining session–particularly first dollar in over the threshold, draft-pick forfeitures, and escalating penalties for more than one-time “offenders”.   I realize the owners like these distortions, but the players must be frustrated–not just at the high end but also middle market

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The thing I think the players have most reason to be frustrated about is the way the expanded playoffs have incentivized so many teams to build for .500 instead of adding the players at that crucial point on the expected wins curve where their odds increase exponentially and instead hope to get lucky, both to get into the playoffs and to go deep (à la last year’s Diamondbacks). You can get a bit of a sense of this from looking at the distribution of our playoff odds, which had bearing on what I defined as a contender for the purposes of the article. 23 teams have odds of at least 25%, and 20 teams are in the range of about 79.5 to 85.5 wins! Meanwhile, we’ve got three premium free agents and a handful of useful ones still unsigned as March approaches.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: So yes, I’m with you, especially on how the middle-market guys must feel right now.

Scrapper: Have you or anyone else ever written an article regarding what the worst lineup of Hall of Famers would look like?  Including what others saw that elevated them to HOF status, even if those players are not by current standards true HOFers.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: At some point I did a Worst Hall of Famer at Every Position type round up in my Baseball Prospectus days; back then, those were the guys I specifically eliminated from the JAWS calculations because they were such outliers, and as you might expect, several of them were from the Frisch/Terry years of the Veterans Committee. For The Cooperstown Casebook, whose cheeky subtitle is “Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques,” I identified the guys who belonged in the “basement,” but rather than further pick on them, I tried to take a closer look at just what it was that stood out about them that might have swayed voters.

Mike: Any chance of Bobby Grich or Lou Whitaker ever making the Hall of Fame?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: As I like to say, “never” is a long time, so I wouldn’t give up hope. Whitaker is sure to get another shot soon based on his solid showing in his first Era Committee appearance, and as for Grich, who has never appeared on an Era Committee ballot, I’m at least heartened that Susan Slusser, who’s on the Historical Overview Committee that builds the ballots, voiced support for Grich (and Whitaker, IIRC) in her ballot explainer.  https://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/giants/article/baseball-hall-fame-b…

Scrapper: Will the pendulum ever swing back to pitching a team’s best players more often?   Seems to me that fans would greatly prefer watching the best pitchers on the mound for more innings and less the parade of middle relievers that we have seen in recent years.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It is going to take rule changes for that pendulum to swing back — limits on the number of pitchers carried and disincentives to change pitchers — as well as advances in sports medicine. So long as a reliever facing a batter for the first time in a game has the advantage over facing a tiring starter for the third time, that’s the way things will tend to turn out. Teams aren’t going to unlearn that fundamental lesson just for the sake of what the fans want.

JWR: Cubs of the late 1960s had four Hall of Famers–Banks, Williams, Santo and Jenkins, but those Cub teams never made it to a World Series, with 1969 being notable in Chicago as being an epic collapse as the Miracle Mets blew by them.  Did any other non-championship teams have four or more Hall of Famers while winning nothing?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m sure there must be many, particularly on those Yankees teams in the 1920s and ’30s who didn’t win the pennant, but here’s one that instantly comes to mind: the 1928 Philadelphia A’s, who went 98-55 and finished second, had Mickey Cochrane, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb. Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove all playing key roles and mostly performing well, with 41-year-old Eddie Collins serving as a player/coach as well.

Sanford: Do you think Harper’s move to 1B will meaningfully impact his  HOF chances, or has done enough thus far that he just needs to stay healthy and continue to rack up counting stats?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The latter, mostly. Though he has yet to win an actual championship, i think he’s sort of like David Ortiz in that fame and postseason highglights are going to cover for the fact that he’ll be short in WAR, though i expect he’ll have over 500 homers by the time it’s all said and done.

JWR: What do you think would happen if MLB moved the mound back a foot or moved the mound down a foot?  I still think MLB needs to increase balls in play and reduce strikeouts.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The Atlantic League tried moving the mound back in 2021 and it had relatively little effect on scoring, so the experiment was abandoned after one half-season trial. To me, I think there’s a real problem with forcing pitchers trained for years at 60’6″ to adjust like that because the inevitable response is going to be THROW HARDER to try to regain that lost velocity, and injury rates will rise. If this is going to be done, I think you’d have to do it 2″-3″ a year over a longer period of time to get pitchers safely adjusted to it.

JWR: What division has your attention right now?  Seems like the NL Central and AL East should both be incredibly tight from top to bottom.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Those are the two divisions where the favorites have less than a 40% chance of winning the division, and where any one of the top four teams seems to have a reasonable shot. I am very interested in the NL West not because I think anybody is going to challenge the Dodgers so much as I want to see how the Diamondbacks build upon last year and whether the Padres can rebound while building the entire team out of shortstops.

the person who asks the lunch question: what’s for lunch?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I had leftover chicken tinga, an instant pot recipe I pulled off the internet a few years ago https://ministryofcurry.com/chicken-tinga-instant-pot/

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I did it over rice, with a side of pinto beans plus cheese and avocado. I could eat tinga 3x a week and not get tired of it.

Matt: Hey Jay, great work on the HOF articles and your continued FG coverage! I was curious, if you weren’t a baseball writer, what would you do for a living?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Thanks, Matt! Before I stumbled into writing about baseball for a living I was a graphic designer working on textbooks and children’s books. It’s been over a decade and a half since I worked in that field and so I don’t think there’s any going back. If I had to do something outside of baseball I’d probably look toward some kind of copy writing or editing, since I seem to be able to wrangle words into coherent sentences on most days.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that because I love what I do and who I get to do it with! Particularly in this increasingly grim media environment I’m grateful to be part of what Jeff Sullivan called this unicorn.

Sonny: Does the Bellinger deal help GMs dig in deeper in negotiations with the Boras 3? I imagine some FOs will demand similar concessions on Snell & co

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think it’s as one-sided as you make it out to be, but I do think that creative deals along the lines of Bellinger’s are the most likely way forward. Both sides assume some risk; teams guarantee themselves short-term help while knowing that they could lose a key contributor quickly, while players guarantee themselves a decent floor with another shot at solidifying their credentials toward a bigger payday. Everybody wins in some way.

Jed: Which of these SS produces the most WAR this year
Zach Neto, Masyn Winn, Ezequiel Tovar?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Our projections put Neto a bit ahead of the other two, but Tovar’s defensive value could be enough that he comes out ahead.

Richard: I know he’s behind Munson and Tenace in JAWS, but Bill Freehan’s 11 All-Star selections lead eligible players outside the Hall (who are not connected to PEDs). Do you expect that gets him the required attention for this year’s Classic Era ballot?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Freehan has long been hosed by the committee process. He’s the most complete candidate of the three, but I don’t *expect* him to get the needed attention to get on this upcoming ballot. I do hope that he does, at least.

And I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Tenace. No matter how good he looks in WAR and JAWS, the reality is that he had just three seasons where he caught more than 61 games, and so it’s going to be tough for a committee to accept a guy who’s really a C/1B hybrid getting through.

Insert Witty Name Here: Read your piece today and had questions about two Phillies: 1) Bohm can make great contact, but doesn’t quite have as much power as we’d like.  Do you see any indicators he may still have more in the tank? 2) Rojas is an elite CF, what’s the minimum triple slash you’d accept to keep running him out there every day hitting out of the 9 hole?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Re Bohm: the evidence is modest at best. He did hit 20 homers and post a .450 xSLG (.437 actual) but his maximum exit velocities have been trending downward. I think he’d need a swing change (and/or a philosophical change) to produce more power.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: As for Rojas, .300 OBP/.375 SLG with plus-plus defense would still be pretty playable.

Sanford: Positional power rankings coming soon?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think they start on March 18.

Eric: What’s a reasonable ceiling for the Mets this year, especially in the wake of the Senga injury? Is there an outside shot at a wild card berth, or just gotta take the lumps and look ahead to 2025?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: They have just over a one-in-four chance of being a Wild Card team, so I think that’s your answer. Finding out what they have in guys like Baty, Vientos, Alvarez, Magill, Manaea, and Severino  coud still be worthwhile; they have pitching they could deal at the deadline if they’re clearly not in contention.

Joey Caltrain: If a player somehow put up fifteen 3-win seasons and one 15-win season, they would approach the JAWS standards at most positions. Would you think they were a good Hall of Fame candidate, or would their ordinary compiler career outside of the one mind-breaking season make you dubious?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The latter, though it would still be very difficult to discount that 15-win season!

DBRuns: Cleveland fan here. Andres Gimenez has put together 14.6 bWAR before his age 25 season (doesn’t get talked about much). If you do the math, 12 more seasons averaging 4 WAR, and he’s in strong HOF contention. I’m sure there are tons of players over the course of history that have done something similar prior to their age 25 season, but there has to be a scenario he’s a HOF candidate right? Maybe 5% chance?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: 12 seasons of anybody averaging 4 WAR would put them in strong HOF contention. I don’t particularly see optimism in Gimenez’s case because his defense at 2B will inevitably regress and because he has just one season out of four where he was significantly better than league average on the offensive side. 5% odds? Yeah, that’s probably not a bad guess given his age.

Devil Ray Jay Johnson: Do enjoy the break from Hall of Fame questions and topics between the January announcements and the summer inductions, or do you miss talking about it?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I still get asked about Hall stuff year round, and I’m happy to field questions along those lines, though I do enjoy the lower intensity of the whole matter when we’re not in election season.

Devil Ray Jay Johnson: If you could do one thing to improve the health of the game, what would you do?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Find a better way to incentive spending among middle-of-the-pack teams so they’re not just aiming for .500, leaving glaring holes and hoping to get lucky.

Stephen Dubner: Why is the free agent market so depressed this year? After last year’s bevy of megadeals, this year, we had Ohtani and Yamamoto and then a bunch of crickets. Snell and Montgomery are still unsigned (why?), and a bunch of other players seem to be signing for below market value. Are teams anticipating a bumper crop next year and saving their cash? Or is something else at play?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think the Diamond Sports Group bankruptcy, which has thrown several teams’ broadcast revenues into question, has created some real problems for many teams, and even griping as I have above, I probably haven’t weighted this heavily enough in terms of my own expectations.

Mark: Hi, what are your feelings on Nolan Schanuel this year?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: he’s going to have to hit the ball harder than he did in 2023 (85.4 mph EV, .367 xSLG)  to be very useful

Dan Rosenberg: Hi Jay, What did you think of the Dodgers’ trade of Michael Busch to the Cubs? I didn’t see a Fangraphs article about it. It seems LA didn’t get much for Busch

Avatar Jay Jaffe: it seemed pretty clear he wasn’t going to get much of a chance in LA, so trading him was for the best, but now he’s in a situation where he’s got a lot of other young players to compete with for playing time. In light of the Bellinger signing it wouldn’t surprise if his long-term destination is another trade away.

KC Pain: NY questions. Can Stanton be a .230 35HR type?  Is there a Met you like at the backend of rotation to breakout?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think we’re likely to see Stanton hit 35 homers again; if he does, I’d be he’s also producing a higher AVG. As for Mets starters, I’m especially interested to see how Sean Manaea does after a second straight winter at Driveline, his late 2023 addition of a sweeper, and plans to introduce a cutter as well.

fishs: So the Cubs 5th starter job is between Smyly, Wicks, Assad, and Wesneski. It seems that Smyly and Wicks are considered most likely to win the job while most people would agree that Wesneski has the best stuff of the 4. My question is about Assad. He has gotten the best results of this group over the last 2 year, but he has significantly out performed his FIP in this time. At what point does a team that hopes to contend decide to take a bigger swing in someone like Wesneski instead of rolling with the “safer” option in Assad?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: For so many starting pitchers, the commitment from a team — the point at when they’re deemed ready — is when they develop a reliable third pitch. Hitters pounded Wesneski’s fastball, sinker, and cutter last yea, and by Stuff+ only the cutter (100) and sweeper (123) were average or better. He’s gotta shore that up to reach his potential.

Hugh Duffy: Looking at your “weakest positions” article, how crazy is it that the Braves and Dodgers aren’t even mentioned?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It really is crazy! Depending upon how the AL shakes out I might take a look at the weakest spots on the top-tier teams who otherwise go un- or under-represented.

12 to 6: up to 2016 kershaw had a perfectly cromulent (if not necessarily “winning”) argument as the best sp in mlb history; the injury breaks since then have removed him from that convo, but i’d still posit he’s in the convo for “best” lhsp in mlb history. perhaps not most dominant (carlton, unit), but for consistency of performance whenever he took the mound i’m having a hard time making the argument against without going back to lefty grove (and it was a totally different game).  thoughts?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Because he could repeatedly throw more innings and miss more bats, I still would put Randy Johnson ahead of Kershaw, but I’d have Kershaw ahead of Carlton, who rarely strung together big seasons back to back. IIRC, not until 1980-81 did Lefty have consecutive 5-bWAR seasons whereas Kershaw had eight in a row from 2010-17 (including offense).

birds: Plenty of teams could use back of the rotation depth/help.  I gotta imagine that Lorenzen and Clevinger are cheap.  Are they stuck because teams think they can catch Snell/Montgomery on a pillow?  Because teams think they’re cooked?  Because they’re holding out for two years?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think once Snell and Montgomery find homes, the other guys will, too. They’re the consolation prizes.

bringbackpologrounds: How would you rank the shortstop wave (Correa, Lindor, Xander, Semien, Seager, Turner) by HOF chances? How many of them are on track?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I took a look at this last summer https://blogs.fangraphs.com/cooperstown-notebook-the-2023-progress-rep…. Seager didn’t make the cut but his 2nd World Series MVP award pushes him into the picture. Particularly with Correa’s subpar season, Lindor is the strongest bet of all of them right now.

Whaler: Why do you think Matt Chapman remains unsigned at this point.  I remember he turned down a nice extension a few years ago wanting to bet on himself.  That hasn’t gone well.  I would think he’s in panic mode by now.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think any of the remaining Boras free agents is panicking. They’ve still got time to make opening day rosters barring any injuries, and they’re all trying to make sense of an array of options that might not be what they had hoped, and may fall tens of millions of dollars short of what they wanted. However it pans out they’re still going to get paid a ****ton of money to play baseball for a team they choose.

Matt (Oceanside): Hi Jay, obviously Babe Ruth’s offensive accomplishments speak for themselves, but I don’t hear too much about his defense in RF. Was he considered a good defensive RF? From the photos I have seen of him, he looks more like a compact slugger with a burly frame that doesn’t suggest a lot of defensive value. What say you?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The defensive metrics we have for Ruth put him substantially below average (-78 runs career) and we know his managers would switch him between left and right field depending upon the configuration of the ballpark he was in. Didn’t really matter for the most part because his offense was elite.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: ok folks, that’s all i can fit in today. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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1 month ago

Snell is too unreliable, and also the entire point of the luxury tax is to punish rich teams (like the Yankees) from hoarding expensive higher tier talent. So yes, teams will shy away from being charged double on high priced free agents if they don’t have to be.

1 month ago
Reply to  johndarc

If only they’d build in punishment for teams that consistently don’t spend, too. Financial penalties will get the attention of owners, no matter the market size. Laggards do nothing to expand interest in the sport.

Beyond that, the tepid free agent market this year is driven by a variety of factors. Recent high-spending teams that are out of play, such as the Dodgers (because they spent big on the two Japanese players); the Padres because they’re resetting after the passing of their owner; the Mets because they’re also resetting; the Yankees because they are now in the luxury tax high penalty zone; and the Red Sox because, well I’m not sure what the Red Sox’s excuse is, but they don’t operate like they used to. Add in the Diamond fiasco, and that the Boras Four all have flaws, and you get a stagnant market.

Smiling Politelymember
1 month ago
Reply to  RobM

The Dodgers are widely expected to pursue Roki Sasaki, and the Yankees were willing to give Yamamoto the same deal LA did (as was PHI, apparently), so I’m not sure this premise holds as much as ownerships not seeing the RoI on winning vs existing

1 month ago
Reply to  johndarc

The tax penalty is looked at as a tax on the entire roster, not just the acquired player. Teams don’t view a contract that puts them over the tax in a vacuum to make the decision. Blake Snell alone would not cost the Yankees $60M. The roster as a whole is resulting in the additional tax cost so the overage gets applied against the value of the entire roster.

Why is the distinction important? For one, because a team would never pay Blake Snell $60M a year for his production. However, they might be willing to pay $30M for Blake Snell and accept a $30M penalty to their roster if it moves the needle enough on the win curve and they have the budget for it.

Without Snell, the Yankees pay $300M for 50 WAR. ($6M/WAR).
With Snell on a $30M contract with a $30M tax penalty, Yankees pay $360M for 53 WAR. ($6.8M/WAR).

The Yankees are still paying $60M for 3 incremental WAR, but they aren’t specifically paying Snell $60M for 3 WAR. They are paying him $30M for 3 WAR and the roster as a whole is assuming the the other $30M against the team’s new total WAR.

The other reason this distinction is important is because the overage amount is not attached in any way to Snell’s contract. Imagine a world where they sign Snell but then move off the entirety of Stanton’s contract (fantasy, I know). The $30M tax overage they would have paid on their new payroll of $330M with Snell is now gone because they moved Stanton’s $32M off their books.

This is why it’s important to understand that tax penalties are applied across the roster as a whole and are not looked at in the context of an individual player. Team’s look at the total production they are expecting, their budget, the win curve, etc.to make decisions when operating in the tax. The Yankees are not looking at Blake Snell and asking themselves if his production is worth $60M.