2022 Early Baseball Era Committee Candidate: Lefty O’Doul

The following article is part of a series concerning the 2022 Early Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon on December 5. For an introduction to the ballot, see here, and for an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Lefty O’Doul

2022 Early Baseball Candidate: Lefty O’Doul
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Lefty O’Doul 27.1 27.3 27.2
Avg. HOF LF 65.7 41.7 53.7
1,140 113 .349/.413/.532 143
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

A hard-throwing southpaw, two-time batting champion, longtime minor league manager, pioneer of Japanese baseball, and dapper San Francisco icon — Lefty O’Doul was all of these things and more. He played just 11 seasons in the majors leagues between 1919 and ’34, appearing only sparingly during his 20s as he was unable to sustain success on the mound due to an injury suffered while serving in the U.S. Navy. After converting to the outfield and woodshedding in the Pacific Coast League, he reemerged as one of the game’s top hitters, finding success under particularly hitter-friendly circumstances. While traveling to Japan with a group of All-Stars in 1931, he became engrossed with spreading the game, soon writing a manual for teaching the fundamentals of baseball to Japanese players, and serving as a goodwill ambassador both before and after World War II in addition to his duties managing in the PCL. Though he owns the highest batting average of any eligible player outside the Hall of Fame, his case for Cooperstown rests on his pioneering work in furthering baseball’s reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Detroit Pulls a Shortstop Out of Its Hat

There’s something satisfying about the perfect trip to the grocery store. If you’re anything like me, you know what I’m talking about: you have a list of a ton of things you can’t wait to eat, you cross each of them off as you throw them in your cart, and by the time you reach the cash register, you can almost taste the delicious meals you’ll be eating the rest of the week.

Why bring this up now? Because that’s how I imagine Al Avila feels after signing Javier Báez, with the Tigers inking the ex-Cubs shortstop to a six-year, $140 million deal last night, as Jon Morosi first reported. Front-line starter. Shortstop. Catcher. The Tigers came into this offseason looking to place star veterans around their burgeoning youth movement, and with Báez in tow, they’ve now landed a top hitter to go with a top pitcher, just like they planned.

Báez played second base after his trade to New York last season, but he’s a natural fit at shortstop. He’s a plus defender with a knack for making spectacular plays, but even without those flourishes, he’d be an asset in the field, with a huge arm and solid range and instincts. Of the marquee shortstops in this class, Báez and Carlos Correa are first and second, and no one else is in the same stratosphere.
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A 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot of Your Own – and a Schedule of Profiles

It’s Hall of Fame season, if you haven’t noticed by the multitude of Era Committee posts that have run amid the flurry of recent transactions. While my annual series on the BBWAA ballot is barely underway, it’s time to launch what’s become a yearly tradition at FanGraphs. In the spirit of our annual free agent contract crowdsourcing, we’re inviting registered users to fill out their own virtual Hall of Fame ballots using a cool gizmo that our developer, Sean Dolinar, built a few years ago. By next week, I’m also going to use this page to lay out a tentative schedule for the remainder of the series.

To participate in the crowdsourcing, you must be signed in, and you may only vote once. While you don’t have to be a Member to do so, this is a good time to mention that buying a Membership does help to fund the development of cool tools like this — and it makes a great holiday gift! To replicate the actual voting process, you may vote for anywhere from zero to 10 players; ballots with more than 10 won’t be counted. You may change your ballot until the deadline, which is December 31, 2021, the same as that of the actual BBWAA voters, who have to schlep their paper ballot to the mailbox. Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Gray Aids a Feeble Rangers Rotation

Usually, it’s the other way around. The Rockies take a chance on a pitcher, who’s then whisked away to a cold, harsh biome that warps the movement on his pitches. There’s speculation about whether he can adapt and maintain a standard of excellence set at a more friendly elevation. The season unfolds, producing success stories like Austin Gomber, or more unfortunate ones like Wade Davis.

But it’s rarer for a pitcher to survive Coors Field, reach free agency, and head to a new team. Jon Gray, a Coors veteran, is this offseason’s exception. He wasn’t spectacular during his time in Colorado, but he put up a solid 4.54 ERA and 3.92 FIP across six full seasons (including 2020) that consisted of 788.2 innings. All in all, adjusting for his home environment, Gray has been a slightly above-average (108 ERA+) pitcher. That’s harder than one might think, a fact the Rangers perhaps appreciated. Part of a huge splash that also includes Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, the Rangers signed Gray to a four-year contract worth $56 million, as reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Looking at our Depth Charts, the Rangers were in desperate need of a durable starting pitcher. Before landing Gray, Dane Dunning was pegged as the team’s de facto ace; the remainder of the rotation consisted of rookie pitchers, none of whom are particularly notable. Of those expected to join the Rangers’ rotation in 2022, Gray is projected to have the highest number of innings as well as the highest strikeout rate. By signing him, the Rangers gain a starter who can at the very least provide innings and also comes with intriguing upside. Read the rest of this entry »

2022 MLB Draft Rankings and Offseason List Primer

We begin this year’s run of lists with an update to and expansion of the 2022 Draft rankings, which can now be found over on The Board. I’ll do the same for the next two draft classes later this week, and follow that with a fresh coat of paint on the International Players list, which was completed with the aid of Brendan Gawlowski, Kevin Goldstein, and Tess Taruskin. Team lists will start rolling out next week, beginning with the East Valley pod of teams (Angels, Cubs, A’s, and Brewers).

Before I talk about this draft class, here are a couple of process-oriented reminders and changes. The grading system we use here is called Future Value (you’ll typically see it abbreviated FV), which maps WAR production and player roles to the 20-80 scale. In short, a 50 FV prospect is the equivalent of a good everyday player (2-3 annual WAR), with grades above 50 telling you how good of an everyday player we expect the prospect to be. Grades below that either describe a role (for example, a 45 FV for a left-handed hitting corner platoon or set-up man, a 40 FV for fifth starters or stopgap first base sluggers, etc.) or are trying to balance upside and risk (for instance, a 50 FV talent with an injury history will get rounded down to account for that history). Read the rest of this entry »

Toronto Catches Gausmania!

The clever introductions to early free-agent signings have all been used up. It’s November 30, and more than a third of the top 25 players on the market have already signed. That’s an unprecedented pace, one that ran me out of headlines sooner than expected. So, uh: Kevin Gausman is going to the Blue Jays, and that’s really neat! The deal is for five years and over $100 million:

I was wildly low on my prediction for Gausman’s contract when I previewed the top 50 free agents earlier this month. Why, then, would you want to read what I think of this deal? I’ll give you two reasons. First, you love reading about baseball; you’re browsing FanGraphs on November 30, like we covered up above. Second, I think that the solid market for Gausman says something about both him as a pitcher and the market as a whole, and who doesn’t like big sweeping pronouncements mixed with micro re-assessments? It’s a party for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Texas Spending Frenzy Hits Crescendo in Monster Corey Seager Deal

Few people probably anticipated the kind of spending frenzy we’ve seen this offseason leading up to a likely lockout. Nobody assumed the Rangers would be leading the way. They’ve now committed over $500 million in salary in the last 48 hours, with the biggest chunk of that coming on Monday afternoon in the form of a 10-year, $325 million deal for shortstop Corey Seager, who finished second in our top 50 free agent rankings. The deal includes a $5 million bonus and no opt-outs.

(A quick note before we move on: When you get into these numbers, state taxes make a difference. Playing in Texas and the AL West, Seager will play nearly two-thirds of his games in tax-free states. The Dodgers, who play nearly two-thirds of their games in the state with the highest tax rate in the country, could have offered $350 million and still not matched the Rangers in overall money.)

In Seager, the Rangers get a face-of-the-franchise–level talent — when he’s healthy, which has been depressingly rare of late. He missed more than a third of the 2021 season due to an errant pitch breaking a bone in his hand, lost nearly three weeks of the ’19 season to a hamstring strain, and was absent for the majority of of the ’18 season due to Tommy John and hip surgeries.

That said, the healthy version of Seager (and to be far, the broken hand was an accident) has shown that he’s capable of seasons worthy of MVP votes and is the best offensive shortstop on the market, and yes, that includes Carlos Correa, No. 1 in our top 50. Seager’s power is a seemingly underrated aspect of his game that every bit matches Correa’s in terms of exit velocities, and the former’s pure hit tool exceeds the latter’s, who is ultimately the better overall player thanks to his incredible defensive prowess. Read the rest of this entry »

Job Posting: Atlanta Braves Player Development Video & Information Trainee

Position: Player Development Video & Information Trainee

Reports To: Minor League Video Coordinator
Department: Player Development

Position Overview:
The Player Development Video and Information Trainee will provide a service to an Atlanta Braves affiliate through charting live baseball games and providing video and information to Braves coaches, coordinators, and front office personnel. This role manages all aspects of the assigned affiliate’s video, technology, and advance scouting operation and aims to provide an experience that prepares the ideal candidate for a future role in the baseball industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Mariners Finally Land an Ace With Five-Year Deal for Robbie Ray

Cross another top starting pitcher off the list, as the Mariners agreed on Monday to a five-year deal with the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray, formerly of the Blue Jays. The contract, worth $115 million, also includes a no-trade clause for the first two seasons and an opt-out that Ray can exercise after the 2024 season.

It’s quite the reversal of fortunate for the lefty, who was coming off an unforgettable 2020 campaign; anybody would have a hard time wiping their memory of a season in which they walked eight batters per nine innings. The Jays will be sad to lose him, but in signing him last year for all of $8 million, they scored one of the top starters in baseball plus earned an extra draft pick as a chaser — and Ray’s replacement, Kevin Gausman, who was signed over the weekend, is a pretty good pitcher himself.

It’s hard to say that Ray emerging once more as a solid contributor in 2021 was a complete shock — ZiPS projected an ERA of 4.15, and I believe Steamer was in the same neighborhood — but few saw him returning to the pitcher he was in 2017. And while some regression toward the mean is likely, given the simple fact that his FIP was a run worse than his ERA, there are few danger signs lurking in the shadows. His fastball was as hard velocity-wise as it’s ever been, and it’s rare for a large improvement in walk rate to be a mirage. He was as hard to make contact as he usually is, but this time, batters couldn’t simply wait for him to throw a couple fastballs in the dirt.

ZiPS Projection – Robbie Ray
2022 11 8 0 3.45 31 31 182.7 140 70 30 56 240 121 3.6
2023 10 7 0 3.53 29 29 170.7 133 67 28 53 219 118 3.2
2024 10 7 0 3.65 28 28 165.0 132 67 28 52 207 114 2.9
2025 9 7 0 3.64 26 26 151.0 121 61 25 47 189 115 2.7
2026 8 6 0 3.76 24 24 141.3 114 59 25 46 177 111 2.3

Like most of the big signings, the contractual terms seem to align with the reasonable expectations and the risk. Just like the Rangers aren’t paying Marcus Semien as if he’ll finish in third place in the AL MVP race again, Seattle isn’t paying Ray as if the baseline expectation is a Cy Young repeat. At $7.3 million per ZiPS WAR and 3% yearly salary growth, which I’ve been going with this over this offseason (though this is obviously a guessing game), ZiPS projects a five-year offer at $109 million, just under what he actually got. It’s a good price, and I think given where the Mariners are in the AL West right now, they could have justified spending quite a bit more if they had to in order to land him.
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With Scherzer, Mets Go To the Max To Land a Marquee Free Agent

For all of the sound and fury coming from Steve Cohen last week upon being spurned by Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the Mets’ owner has put his money where his mouth is since then. After signing a trio of midmarket position players — outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha, plus infielder Eduardo Escobar — over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, New York landed a marquee hurler on Monday, agreeing to terms with Max Scherzer on a three-year, $130 million deal.

The contract will pay Scherzer $43.33 million annually for his age 37–39 seasons, marking this as quite a high-risk move. The deal, which includes an opt-out after 2023 as well as a full no-trade clause, is a record-setter, with an average annual value 20% higher than the $36 million per year won by the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, the previous standard-bearer. And — in a bit that’s sure to be schadenfreude-licious for a certain segment of the Mets’ fan base — while Scherzer is pulling down that massive salary, he’ll also be receiving the first three of seven $15 million deferred payments from the Nationals during the span of his contract with the Mets.

The move comes as something of a surprise given that Scherzer refused to consider waiving his 10-and-5 rights for a potential deal to the Mets in July. On top of that, the Dodgers, to whom he was ultimately dealt, were presumed to have the inside track on retaining the 37-year-old righty given their status as contenders, their seemingly limitless resources, and a sense of unfinished business after coming up short in their quest to defend their 2020 title. But whether it was because Los Angeles wouldn’t go beyond two years or because Scherzer, who purchased a mansion in Jupiter, Florida in 2020, preferred a return to the East Coast, New York was able to close a deal ahead of the December 1 expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the lockout that’s likely to follow.

In the final year of his seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals — perhaps the most fully realized free-agent mega-deal to date, featuring two Cy Young awards, two no-hitters, a championship, 39.7 WAR, and probably a curly W on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque — Scherzer pitched like a man in search of more hardware. In his first nine starts after being dealt to the Dodgers, he posted astounding numbers (0.78 ERA, 1.36 FIP, 36.6% strikeout rate), and on September 12, during that run, he became the 19th pitcher in history to collect 3,000 career strikeouts, doing so while taking a perfect game into the eighth inning. Even after a couple of bumpy starts at the end of the regular season, he finished second in the NL in ERA (2.46), strikeouts (236), strikeout rate (34.1%) and K-BB% (28.8%), third in WAR (5.4), and fourth in FIP (2.96) in 179.1 innings. In the year’s Cy Young voting, he placed third behind Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler, receiving six first-place votes.

Even so, those bumpy starts turned out to be an ominous portent of things to come. Scherzer failed to complete five innings in two of his three postseason starts, including the NL Wild Card Game. After closing out the Giants in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Division Series, he admitted that he was battling arm fatigue, and was able to make only one NLCS start; he could only watch as a similarly gassed Walker Buehler struggled on three days of rest in Game 6 against the Braves. Still, Scherzer’s problem was believed to be nothing more than arm fatigue — understandable given his 128.2-inning workload increase relative to 2020.
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