OOTP Brewers: Odds and Ends by Ben Clemens June 22, 2020 In the simulated reality of Out Of The Park Baseball, the season is chugging along normally. There’s no virus keeping stadium doors closed, no season schedule to work out. In fact, while in real life baseball is at a point of extreme uncertainty, the OOTP season is currently in a lull. It’s late June — too early for the All-Star Game or the trade deadline, too late for the new-car smell of April and May performances. In keeping with that between-events ambience, today I’m going to cover a few topics I find interesting but that aren’t of crucial, immediate import to the team. Keston Hiura Signs Well, I did say immediate import. The best thing that has happened to the Brewers so far this year is that we’re in first place in late June. Not far behind, however, is the extension Keston Hiura signed on Saturday after we decided to offer him a deal last week. OOTP contracts can look alien, because the game’s contract logic is governed by its own set of rules rather than the ones that major league teams adhere to, but this contract looks both like a real-world deal and an excellent one for the team: Keston Hiura’s Contract Extension Year Salary ($M) Team Option? 2021 2.2 – 2022 3.2 – 2023 4.2 – 2024 7.5 – 2025 8.5 – 2026 12.5 Yes 2027 12.5 Yes Note: 2026 and 2027 team options each carry a $1.3 million buyout. A $1.3 million buyout on the 2026 team option brings the average annual value of the first five years to $5.4 million. Given that Hiura will likely qualify for Super Two status, that’s one year at the minimum and four years of arbitration we’re replacing. The financial certainty for Hiura (up to $50 million but at least $25 million) shouldn’t be overlooked, but make no mistake, this is a great deal for the team; it’s likely to produce cost savings even without the two team options, both of which are attractively priced (they’ll be for his age-29 and age-30 seasons). This deal is the perfect way to continue building a team around Christian Yelich. Yelich provides star-level production at a market rate, which means our job is to find complementary pieces for cheap to make the whole package work. This certainly qualifies, and could easily be more than that — if Hiura reaches the potential our scouts see, he’ll be a top-three second baseman for years to come. It’s not quite the Ozzie Albies deal (thankfully, because that one feels icky), but it’s a bargain nonetheless. As an added bonus, the structure of Hiura’s deal means we have room to offer a shorter extension to someone else. Our 2021-2023 budgets are hardly affected by his salaries. This means we can take aim at someone closer to free agency, or even stretch a little for a short-term free agent this winter, without breaking the budget. In fact, we might as well put it up to a poll: Take Our Poll Pitcher Statistics Will Deceive You Josh Hader is having a terrible season. Through 32 innings of work, he has a 5.63 ERA. That’s nightmare fuel — his highest previous full-season line was a 2.62 ERA in 75.2 innings last year, which means he’d have to allow exactly two runs over his next 43.2 innings of work to reproduce his 2019 line. That’s not impossible, but it’s hardly likely given his form so far this year. At the same time, Hader is having an excellent season. His 1.3 WPA ranks seventh among all relievers, within shouting distance of Alex Colomé’s league-leading 1.8. Win probability added measures how much a given player has changed your team’s win probability, in sum, in all of their pitching appearances this year — so from that sense, Hader has been a huge boon. In WPA terms, in fact, he’s essentially repeating his 2018 and 2019 seasons. How does that work? He’s allowed 20 runs in 32 innings, after all. Well, he’s basically done it via excellent timing. He allowed five runs in an 11-run blowout on Opening Day, three runs to turn a 2-0 defeat into a 5-0 pasting in San Diego, and another six in games the Brewers lost by four or more runs. In other words, he’s performed at his worst in situations where he was a stopgap, the last line of defense, where he needs to be absolutely lights out to even give the team a chance. That doesn’t sound like real-life Hader — he doesn’t enter in nearly so many games when the Brewers are trailing. In OOTP, however, we’re using him as a stopper, which gives him a far wider set of entry criteria. So far, he’s contained his bad performances to the situations where it matters less. In fact, he has only a single blown save on the season, and the team won that game. He also has a 1-0 record; in one-run games, he sports a sterling 0.87 ERA. What does that mean, predictively? Nothing at all! WPA is a terrible predictive statistic; context-neutral stats are what you want here. Hader’s FIP is a hideous 6.07. Guess he’s terrible, right? Wrong again! In fact, he’s probably the same Josh Hader he’s always been, give or take a little control. On the year, he’s striking out 39.7% of opponents while walking 14.7%, the latter a career high. What sets the FIP so high? A colossal 10 home runs in 32 innings, or 2.8 per nine innings — Edwin Díaz’s 2019 turned up a notch. Consider the fact that 55% of Hader’s opponents either walk or strike out, and that home run total is gargantuan. In fact, Hader has allowed only 26 fly balls all year. 10 home runs out of 26 fly balls is a whopping 38.5%, which is higher than Christian Yelich’s league-leading 2019 rate (and far higher than any pitcher’s rate). There’s no exact concept of xFIP available in OOTP, but we can approximate, and if you give Hader a normal home run per fly ball rate, his xFIP checks in around 3.3; worse than his peak, but still an excellent reliever, home run rate aside. What does this all mean? It means that you should stop paying attention to small pitching samples, whether they’re in video games or real life. It’s a lesson we already know, but it never hurts to see it again. Hader’s stats, depending on which ones you look at, tell the story of one of the best or one of the worst pitchers in baseball. The truth is nothing close to either of those. Pirate Pride Lastly, a quick note on the division race. Our lead is down to a single game in the NL Central. It’s not those pesky Cubs nipping at our heels, however; it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re 41-34, and even though it’s a fluke, it doesn’t look like a fluke. Their starting pitching is doing good work: Pirates Pitching Notables Pitcher ERA FIP K% BB% WAR Chris Archer 2.94 4.11 22.1% 8.5% 2.0 Joe Musgrove 2.91 3.91 24.1% 4.8% 2.2 Mitch Keller 2.71 4.02 24.1% 11.0% 1.6 The bullpen is chipping in as well, as are depth starters Steven Brault and Trevor Williams; overall, the Pirates have allowed the second-fewest runs in the NL. The offense hasn’t kicked in yet — a .727 OPS has led to the 10th-most runs scored in the NL, hardly a screaming success. The pitching core is enough, however; they’re actually underperforming their Pythagorean record by two games so far, though of course Pythagorean record isn’t always the last word in team talent level. There will be more time for gazing at the other teams in the league. There will be more time to find out how good Hader actually is. And of course, there will be more time for drama, for trade deadlines and pennant races. For now, though, OOTP has settled into the grind of the regular season, and it’s a refreshing antidote to the extreme uncertainty of real-world baseball. As always, tune in tomorrow at noon ET on FanGraphs Live, where we’ll spend more time working up extensions and take a deeper dive into the Pirates’ fortunes.