Sunday Notes: Amir Garrett’s Slider Is a Slider That Doesn’t Slide (But it’s Good)

When I asked Amir Garrett about his slider last weekend, what I was really doing was asking about a mystery pitch. Which isn’t to say that it’s not a slider. Labelling pitches — especially breaking pitches — can be tricky. If the spin and movement suggests one thing, and the person throwing the baseball calls it something else… what is it?

First things first. Garrett came into pro ball with scant experience on the diamond. Basketball was his sport. The Cincinnati reliever did play baseball growing up, but he stopped at age 14. From there, he “literally didn’t play again until [age] 18.”

A few months after Garrett’s 19th birthday, the Reds — having seen him throw in the mid-90s during a tryout camp — selected the southpaw in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft. Shortly thereafter, they introduced him to a pitch other than a fastball. Whether or not it’s a slider is an exercise in semantics.

“I didn’t know how to pitch, so I was just flicking a ball in there,” explained Garrett. “Curveball, slider, whatever I was calling it is what it was at the time. Kind of the same now. Whatever I throw, that’s what it is. I guess it’s a slider. I don’t know.” Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1362: An Inelegant Blooper for a More Civilized Age

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Mariners’ fun, surprising, and unsustainable start (and how it might affect the franchise), Austin Hedges’ chest protector, the extraordinary nature of Ozzie Albies’ extension, why he might have signed it, what it says about baseball’s economic market, and why we should care, the frustrating MLB/MiLB crackdown on sharing game video, Marcell Ozuna’s weird week, whether we’re beyond the golden age of bloopers, and the Twins’ meltdown inning against the Mets.

Audio intro: Sonny & The Sunsets, "Cheap Extensions"
Audio outro: Herman’s Hermits, "Marcel’s"

Link to Sam on creating MLB nicknames
Link to Dan on the Albies extension
Link to Craig on the Albies extension
Link to Meg on baseball and politics
Link to Ozuna blooper
Link to story on highlights crackdown
Link to summary of the Twins’ ugly inning
Link to Dylan on FanGraphs Audio
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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FanGraphs Audio: Dylan Higgins Allows Exactly One Swear

Episode 858

FanGraphs Audio returns to welcome Dylan Higgins, FanGraphs editor and important podcast person, to the program for the very first time. Dylan and I engage in a little bit of editor talk, and also recount some of Dylan’s experiences as a baseball intern in Australia, and with the Pacific Coast League. We also discuss the matter of minor league fandom, and the proper etiquette for those who attend baseball meetups.

Warning: this episode contains exactly one unbleeped swear, which appears around the 8 minute 38 second mark, and is well telegraphed in advance, but which will scar and alter young listeners.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 46 min play time.)


Michael Lorenzen Talks Hitting

Michael Lorenzen loves to hit, and he’s good at it. The Cincinnati Reds reliever — and sometimes outfielder and pinch hitter — went 9 for 31 last year, with four home runs. A black hole in the batter’s box he’s not.

His college numbers were every bit as boffo. In his three years as a centerfielder and part-time pitcher at Cal State Fullerton, Lorenzen slashed .324/.394/.478. But when push came to shove, scouts were more impressed with his right arm. In 2013, the now 27-year-old was drafted 38th overall by the Reds as a pitcher. His hitting days were over, at least to the extent that he was no longer a position player.

But again, Lorenzen loves to hit. That’s something that’s never changed. And while this might surprise you, he feels that he’s a better hitter now than he was before. The reasons why might surprise you, as well.

———

David Laurila: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science?

Michael Lorenzen: “I look at hitting as a blend of both, which is funny, because in my current role I do a blend of multiple things. That’s the way I think, too. I consider pitching to be both an art and a science. There’s never … if you’re sold out to one thing, you’re missing so much. To me, balance is key to all things. If you’re sold out to being an art, you’re missing all the science. If you’re sold out on all the science, you’re missing out on all the art. That’s how my mind works.”

Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?

Lorenzen: “Stylistically, I… I’m usually going to come in in a pinch-hitting role. That’s going to define my approach. As a pinch hitter, I’m coming in to swing the bat. I’m not coming in to get to 0-1 and 0-2 without swinging the bat. I’m looking for a pitch to hit, trying to do some damage.”

Laurila: Would your approach be different if you were playing every day? Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Chat: 4/12/2019

12:01
Eric A Longenhagen: Good morning from Tempe. Please give me a minute to do something to the Royals list (which runs Monday) before I forget.

12:04
Eric A Longenhagen: Thanks, let’s begin

12:04
Chris: What do you see out of Spencer Howard, Daniel Lynch and DL Hall? Can any of them develop into being a #3 or better?

12:05
Eric A Longenhagen: Howard and Hall have a chance for 3 pluses with fringe command, Lynch could be a bunch of 55s with 55 command. That’s right on the #3/4 fringe depending on the inning load

12:05
Lilith: Why do you prefer Abrams over Witt?

12:05
Eric A Longenhagen: Better feel to hit

Read the rest of this entry »


Here’s Why the Ozzie Albies Deal Was Terrible

Dan Szymborski has already laid out why Ozzie Albies’ recent extension with the Atlanta Braves is surprising, and a bargain for the team. He detailed the hundreds of millions of dollars Albies is potentially giving up by signing this contract. This post deals less with Albies’ future and more with his past. We can speculate on what Albies might do in his career and what he might be worth, but we don’t need to speculate about what he’s already done and what other players in similar situations have received in contract extensions.

Since 2014, nine players have signed contract extensions after accruing at least one year of service time and less than two. These were all players needing five full seasons to reach free agency, and each signed away at least one year of free agency based on a search of MLB Trade Rumors. Here’s the career WAR of each of those players when they signed that contract.

Albies compares favorably to the two best players on this list, Christian Yelich and Andrelton Simmons.

Now, here’s how each of these players did on their guarantees.

Yelich and Simmons got over $50 million each, but their guarantees were about 50% higher than the one Albies just got.

Generally, teams pay extra for free agent years. Here’s how many free agent seasons the above guarantees bought out. Read the rest of this entry »


Does MLB’s Involvement in Salary Arbitration Cross a Line?

Over the course of the last two painfully slow offseasons, baseball fans, agents, and writers have speculated about the possibility that collusion might be responsible. We aren’t going to talk about that today. Instead, we’re going to talk about the report from Marc Carig late last month about Major League Baseball awarding a prize for the team most successful in suppressing arbitration salaries.

The​ Belt​ changes hands​ shortly after season’s end,​ in​ a crowded​ conference room at a luxury resort, where delegates​ from every MLB team​ have​​ been summoned for a symposium on arbitration. For three hours, they will work together at the direction of the league to set recommendations, which teams will use in negotiations with their players. It’s a thankless job. So before the meeting adjourns, they’ll celebrate an unsung hero in this battle over dollars. The ceremony ends with the presentation of a replica championship belt, awarded by the league to the team that did most to “achieve the goals set by the industry.” In other words: The team that did the most to keep salaries down in arbitration…

…In a statement, Major League Baseball acknowledged The Belt as “an informal recognition of those club’s salary arbitration departments that did the best.”

Now, this may seem like an insignificant token – after all, a plastic belt awarded as a trophy is in most contexts rather innocuous. But this is more complicated than it appears at first glance.

Collusion is a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, as we discussed in February. The word “collusion” doesn’t appear in the Major League Rules, and it isn’t in the Collective Bargaining Agreement either. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does say in Article XX – governing the Reserve System – that rights under the CBA are individual, not collective.

The utilization or non-utilization of rights under Article XIX(A)(2) and Article XX is an individual matter to be determined solely by each Player and each Club for his or its own benefit. Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.

Let’s refresh our recollections on what collusion is in the context of major league baseball, beginning with the preeminent legal definition of collusion from Darren Heitner and Jillian Postal, who wrote a particularly excellent note on the subject for Harvard Law School’s Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law.

Collusion at its core is collective action that restricts competition. Under federal law, particularly the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (the “Sherman Act”), collusion is prohibited; however, because of labor exemptions, what constitutes collusive, prohibited behavior in specific sports leagues varies based on the league’s negotiated collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”).

And, as Marc Edelman explained for Forbes:

Although collusion under Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement is not identical to collusion under U.S. antitrust laws, the language and case precedence track similarly. Under antitrust law, mere parallel behavior among competitors is not enough to trigger a violation. But, parallel behavior along with a plus factor is sufficient.

Put another way, the mere fact that everyone is acting in the same way isn’t enough on its own to trigger a violation of the CBA’s collusion language. That’s doubly true in arbitration, because as we’ve discussed before, MLB teams are allowed to coordinate their arbitration filings. Per Jeff Passan:

While MLB works diligently and impressively to coordinate the arbitration targets of its 30 teams — this behavior is sanctioned under the collective bargaining agreement and not considered collusive — agents occasionally make far-under-target settlements. The effect, in a comparison-based system, is devastating: A bad settlement can linger and depress prices at a particular position for years.

But coordination of filings isn’t all that’s going on. As Carig explains:

Those versed in arbitration describe efforts that encourage teams to hold the line in negotiations, even when differences are relatively small, because the results will eventually have a larger impact in setting future comparables. In essence, it is worth fighting for pennies, because even pennies pile up over time. The labor relations department positioned itself as a central resource. It made data available for teams to more easily find comps to be used in negotiations. It staged mock arbitration sessions. It encouraged frequent discussion about the process. As a result, teams as a group have improved their approach to arbitration.

Eventually, the league began using its internal information to promote its own valuations for all players eligible for arbitration. These are still, technically, recommendations. But according to several people familiar with the process, they have increasingly been treated as hard guidelines. It is understood that teams are to settle at or below the league’s recs.

Now, a lot of this is above-board. Coordination of arbitration figures is allowed by Section 2 of the part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that governs salary arbitration, which states that, “It shall be the responsibility of the Association prior to the Exchange Date to obtain the salary figure from the Player, and the LRD shall have a similar responsibility to obtain the Club’s figure.” That “LRD” is the league’s Labor Relations Department. So this clause, by its plain language, allows for the LRD to talk to the club about what its filing is going to be – after all, how else would the LRD obtain the figure? In fact, as attorney Michael D’Ambrosio explained, it’s the LRD that submits the team’s proposed salary figure. The CBA also allows for LRD to select arbitrators on behalf of teams, and designates LRD as the recipient of arbitration awards along with the team, the player, and the union. That’s because the LRD is also tasked by Major League Baseball with “look[ing] at results across cases to analyze the consistency of outcomes.”

In short, there’s nothing wrong with LRD being involved in the salary arbitration process. Major League Baseball is even right now hiring for an attorney to assist teams in preparing for and presenting arbitration cases. Holding mock arbitrations? Providing data? Facilitating communication? All fine. The CBA bars none of those things. The CBA doesn’t even prohibit awarding a schlocky plastic belt for stupid reasons, but there’s no law against stupid behavior. What the CBA does prohibit is the LRD stepping out of its role as a helper and into the team’s role as a party.

Here, the key fact isn’t the piece of plastic, though that’s certainly the most eye-catching. Instead, the most important fact is Carig’s reporting that MLB’s recommendations are being treated as “hard guidelines.”  Per Carig:

“The LRD is definitely pushing a narrative that recs are concrete. And going above the rec is a substantially bad thing to do because it will mess up this entire salary structure.”

Remember, the CBA says that the LRD can help teams in arbitration. What the CBA doesn’t allow is for LRD to make final decisions. LRD can help a team develop a submission, but it can’t tell a team what its submission figure should be. It can help a team prepare for a hearing, but it can’t tell the team it must have that hearing instead of settling. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Think of LRD as a person sitting next to you in a car. It can read you a map. It can read you the directions from your smartphone. It can tell you what direction you’re driving in. But it can’t take over the steering wheel or force you to slam on the brakes. The question then is whether meetings like those Carig reported mean that LRD is the driver or the passenger:

For the league, it begins in spring training, when they hold State of the Union-style debriefings — two in Arizona and two in Florida — to evaluate the just-completed arbitration cycle. Attendees are presented with a 90-page booklet filled with data such as each club’s adherence to the league’s recommendations, the timing of all settlements, and a preview of the work to come. This spring, it also included a section of media quotes regarding arbitration. One in particular was highlighted in red, [agent Jeff] Berry’s line about “successfully stagnated arb salaries.” To this point, the executive leading the session offered a confirmation, and encouraging words about the progress being made.

If LRD really is stepping over that line – taking control of the arbitration process instead of merely providing assistance – we would expect to see some empirical data on that point. Notably, Deadspin found that “Nearly two-thirds of settlements have come in at or below the labor relations department’s ‘recommendations,’ up from less than half a few years ago.” At the same time, Carig noted that “there are no tangible repercussions for teams that break ranks.” And though Carig also added that “some teams find themselves feeling compelled to go along with the league’s plan, and fighting with their own players in the process[,]” he doesn’t say how.

Unfortunately, the CBA never actually specifies the evidentiary showing necessary to prove collusion. Per Heitner and Postal, “The Basic Agreement does not provide what burden needs to be met in order to prevail in this type of grievance.” Nevertheless, we can use what we know about antitrust law to make some educated guesses.

Courts evaluate most antitrust claims under a “rule of reason,” which requires the plaintiff to plead and prove that defendants with market power have engaged in anticompetitive conduct. To conclude that a practice is “reasonable” means that it survives antitrust scrutiny.

(Because the standards are similar, we can look at what antitrust law considers collusive or anticompetitive behavior in interpreting MLB’s own collusion clause; this does not mean that MLB isn’t subject to an anti-trust exemption, which is a different issue entirely.)

Why a reasonableness standard? Because, theoretically, everything is a restraint on trade, and to an extent, everything is collusive, too. Every trade between teams is a coordinated attempt by those teams to set the value of players. Trading James Paxton for Justus Sheffield (and other prospects) means that James Paxton is worth Justus Sheffield (and other prospects), and future trades will use that as a referent. Exchanging J.T. Realmuto for Sixto Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro means that the Phillies and Marlins, two enterprises that are supposed to be in competition with one another, have fixed the price of a J.T. Realmuto at a Sixto Sanchez and a Jorge Alfaro. In a sense, those trades are themselves anti-competitive, because it means that the value of similar players has been set, and the players who were traded have been removed from the market. But no one would say those trades were an unreasonable restraint on competition. The Red Sox can’t file a grievance because the Yankees and Marlins “colluded” on Giancarlo Stanton.

It’s for these reasons that subjective intent isn’t necessarily a good indicator. As such, we aren’t going to discuss whether or not the LRD and teams think they’re colluding. For example, the Supreme Court said in a case called Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Oklahoma that when we’re looking at whether something is unlawfully collusive, we can base our conclusion “either (1) on the nature or character of the contracts, or (2) on surrounding circumstances giving rise to the inference or presumption that they were intended to restrain trade and enhance prices.”

Legal test aside, there’s a factual problem with using subjective intent: we don’t always know what other people are thinking. For all we know, the Giants’ arbitration team does its work while thinking about Chicago deep-dish pizza. So instead, we’ll follow a rule from a 1913 case called United States v. Patten that we don’t need to prove specific intent: “by purposely engaging in a conspiracy which necessarily and directly produces the [anticompetitive] result which the statute is designed to prevent, they are, in legal contemplation, chargeable with intending that result.” (It also is possible to do something so anti-competitive that the law presumes the action to be unlawfully collusive, but that’s unlikely to be the case when we’re talking about a piece of plastic.)

To understand why all of this matters, it’s helpful to look at baseball’s collusion cases from the 1980s.

After the 1985 season, at the urging of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, owners came to an unwritten agreement not to compete with each other over the services of free agents, and to reduce significantly the length of contracts they would offer. As a result, free agents were forced to re-sign with their original teams for little or no pay raise, unless their team indicated that it was not interested in their services.

The union’s grievance eventually resulted in a $280 million arbitration award in favor of the players, and an award of free agency for seven players. In some ways, the similarities between the collusion of the 1980s and today are striking. For example, that “unwritten agreement” mentioned above was couched in terms of fiscal responsibility and avoiding long-term contracts, rhetoric that would be familiar to anyone who follows a front office today. But then, the owners went further than that.

Then at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that winter [1985-86], the idea of “fiscal responsibility” was preached to ownership. A list of the 62 players who filed for free agency was circulated to all teams and a message was sent to avoid the free agent market until a player was “released” by their former club, meaning a team would have to make it public that a player no longer fit in their plans. If all teams participated in the plan, the free agent market would no longer be free, but it would be controlled by the teams.

That’s the part that was found to be collusive by an arbitrator. What does this have to do with a plastic wrestling belt? Take a look at what then-MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said to owners ahead of the 1985-86 offseason.

“If I sat each one of you down in front of a red button and a black button and I said, ‘Push the red button, and you’d win the World Series but lose $10 million; push the black button, and you would have a $4 million profit, and you’d finish in the middle,’ you are so damned dumb, most of you would push the red button. Look in the mirror and go out and spend big if you want; don’t go out there whining that someone made you do it.”

In closing, Ueberroth told the owners: “I know and you know what’s wrong. You are smart businessmen. You all agree we have a problem. Go solve it.”

That’s a directive from the commissioner of baseball to not spend on free agents. As soon as Ueberroth made this statement, what could have been passed off as benign instantly became legally something more sinister. That we now have sources implying that LRD is dictating salary arbitration submissions and strategies, all for a uniform purpose, does potentially suggest a situation with at least some parallels to the 1980s.

That said, there are a number of significant differences between Ueberroth’s speech and this plastic wrestling belt. For one thing, Ueberroth gave a de facto instruction. As far as we know, no one has given a similar speech regarding arbitration. Even the comments regarding “progress” made in “stagnating arbitration salaries” aren’t in and of themselves damning; the comments weren’t tied to team revenues the way Ueberroth’s were, and didn’t, in and of themselves, suggest an instruction or implied agreement. Moreover, even assuming that all teams agreed that arbitration salaries should be lowered to improve profits, complimenting those teams on having already done so doesn’t mean that those efforts were collusive from the beginning.

So while the MLBPA might have new grist for a collusion grievance based on Carig’s reporting, we’re a long way from the union being able to prove such a case. Proving collusion from a legal perspective is very difficult hard. For example, Barry Bonds couldn’t find a job after posting a 157 wRC+ and .276/.480/.565 triple-slash with a BB% of 27.7% in 2007. He lost a collusion grievance in 2015, with one well-known labor union attorney noting that “I don’t believe that there is sufficient evidence, at least not public evidence, that there was a concerted effort to blackball him. I would be very surprised to see him prevail in this case.” That’s despite the fact that several well-known labor attorneys continue to think Bonds’ grievance had merit.

That said, the ramifications of this development are potentially significant beyond a legal case. First, this puts the league’s recent concession regarding a 26th roster spot in an entirely new light, particularly if the league knew ahead of time that this was about to break. Second, this changes the dynamic between the league and union from that of a potential thaw in relations to being on the precipice of a possible work stoppage. One veteran told Carig he was “ready to strike tomorrow.” Players across the league reacted similarly.

Astros ace right-hander Gerrit Cole:

We understand business, but if you were looking for a way to antagonize players, this would be a great way to do it,” Cole told The Chronicle on Saturday. “If it’s not intentional, it certainly is a pretty fascinating move by them because I don’t think there’s one player in this room that’s worked hard for his salary through arbitration or gone through the process and taken it seriously like I have or Collin [McHugh] has that really wants to kind of be treated with a lack of respect.”

An MLBPA spokesperson referred me to Executive Director Tony Clark’s official statement:

Major League Baseball did not respond to my request for comment.

We can’t say with any certainty whether MLB’s actions are legally collusive, nor whether the MLBPA would have a viable claim based on these facts. But as reported, LRD’s actions suggest that they may have gone beyond the role the Collective Bargaining Agreement defines for them in the arbitration process. How the union chooses to react to these facts remains to be seen, but they could constitute a significant development in the game’s ongoing labor conflict, and could deepen the rift between the union and MLB.


Their Powers Combined: Finding the Best of Trout and Harper

By now — and barring a mid-career role reversal — the arguments over the relative greatness of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have been settled in favor of the Millville Meteor. Trout has perennially played at an MVP-caliber level since 2012, winning the award twice while finishing second four times and fourth once, the year that he missed more than a quarter of the season due to a thumb injury, and — as of this week — has climbed to sixth in the JAWS rankings among center fielders. Harper owns one MVP award and might have won a second if not for a late-season knee injury in 2017, but in terms of consistency and overall levels of accomplishment, he’s second banana. Trout has chalked up five seasons worth at least 9.3 WAR, which matches Harper’s best, but the latter’s second- and third-best seasons merely add up to 9.2 WAR. As Jeff Sullivan put it in his penultimate post, “Mike Trout Has Been as Good as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper Combined.”

Yet Trout and Harper remain inextricably linked in the minds of many (including this scribe) in part because on the day that Harper debuted in the majors (April 29, 2012), Trout returned from Triple-A for good, and both players took their respective leagues by storm en route to Rookie of the Year awards. Though separated by about 14 months in age, they’re part of a baseball cohort in a way that Trout and Paul Goldschmidt or Giancarlo Stanton (whose totals of plate appearances are all in the same vicinity), or Harper and Machado (whose free agencies coincided) are not. The relatively stoic Trout and the more demonstrative Harper pair well as contrasts, too. Trout is so routinely great without calling attention to himself that he sometimes recedes into the background, to the point of being forgotten, while Harper’s combination of hot streaks and exuberance is more eye-catching — in grabbing our attention, he also reminds us that hey, that other guy is playing even better.

The dynamic duo are currently scalding the ball, in case you haven’t noticed. Harper, who signed a record-setting 13-year, $330 million contract, is off to a flying start with the Phillies (.314/.500/.743, four home runs, and a 198 wRC+ through Wednesday).

Trout, who signed a record-setting $12-year, $430 million extension less than three weeks after Harper inked his deal, is flying even higher (.406/.592/.938, five home runs, and a 288 wRC+).

The coincidence of their current hot streaks got me wondering whether we’re seeing their collective apex, the peak pair. The answer, within the way I chose to address the matter, is “pretty damn close.” For this, I called upon our player graphs tool — putting the graphs in FanGraphs, after all — to calculate each player’s rolling 10-game wRC+ since the aforementioned point of arrival in 2012. This ignores defense, for which we can’t get any kind of reliable read across 10 games anyway, and makes the familiar squiggly pictures, like so…

…And so…

Using that page’s “Export Data” function, I calculated the pair’s combined wRC+ for every date on which they both played and had the requisite 10 games in the sample (we’re not yet to 15 games for either player in 2019, hence this choice). That means that if one player was on the disabled list, or even had an off day, there’s no data point for that day. On the other hand, each player’s 10-game range might have different dates attached due to such absences.

Here’s the top 20 of the pair’s most productive stretches, with overlapping 10-game spans included:

Highest Combined 10-Game wRC+ for Trout and Harper
Rk Season End Trout PA Trout wRC+ Harper PA Harper wRC+ Combined wRC+
1 2017 4/26/17 44 209.0 43 369.9 288.5
2 2015 5/16/15 43 154.4 44 403.2 280.2
3 2015 5/17/15 43 154.4 45 376.9 268.1
4 2017 4/27/17 43 197.3 44 326.5 262.7
5 2015 7/20/15 44 274.7 40 149.5 261.4
6 2015 9/23/15 44 223.4 42 297.6 259.7
7 2019 4/9/19 40 313.8 45 208.0 257.8
8 2017 4/25/17 43 204.3 42 311.9 257.5
9 2015 6/20/15 41 234.2 42 279.6 257.2
10 2017 4/28/17 44 229.0 45 283.4 256.5
11 2017 4/21/17 42 194.9 47 309.4 255.4
12 2015 6/16/15 41 220.0 43 285.3 253.5
13 2015 9/22/15 43 213.1 42 289.6 250.9
14 2015 9/19/15 43 193.4 41 304.7 247.7
15 2015 5/15/15 42 112.4 44 366.8 242.6
16 2015 7/10/15 45 286.2 43 193.3 240.8
17 2016 9/3/16 46 314.3 42 158.8 240.1
18 2013 8/7/13 45 316.2 42 158.1 239.9
19 2017 4/22/17 42 202.8 46 273.6 239.8
20 2017 4/24/17 43 195.1 42 285.3 239.7

As it turns out, April 9 — the point at which Harper reached 10 games this year (Trout had done so two days earlier), and the last point for which we have data, because Trout hasn’t played since then due to a groin strain that we’re all praying is minor — is the end of the seventh-best such stretch. Trout’s videogame-like numbers you saw above; Harper was hitting .333/.511/.788 for a 210 wRC+ before taking an 0-for-3 and an early exit from Wednesday night’s 15-1 drubbing by the Nationals. The heavyweight championship belongs to a stretch in late April 2017 during which Harper hit .588/.674/1.206 with five homers, with Trout at .375/.432/.725 and three homers.

One aspect of this that’s particularly striking is that we have to dig down to the 19th spot to find a combined performance that lands in an even-numbered year. Harper hit for a career-low 111 wRC+ in that 2016 season, four points lower than in 2014 and nine points lower than in 2012. For some weird reason, he’s simply been better in odd-numbered years, like two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen.

Condensing the above table to remove the overlapping streaks (i.e., tossing out the third-ranked streak, because most of it is already represented within the second-ranked streak) yields this top 10:

Highest Combined 10-Game wRC+ for Trout and Harper, No Overlap
Rk Season End Trout PA Trout wRC+ Harper PA Harper wRC+ Combined wRC+
1 2017 4/26/17 44 209.0 43 369.9 288.5
2 2015 5/16/15 43 154.4 44 403.2 280.2
3 2015 7/20/15 44 274.7 40 149.5 261.4
4 2015 9/23/15 44 223.4 42 297.6 259.7
5 2019 4/9/19 40 313.8 45 208.0 257.8
6 2015 6/20/15 41 234.2 42 279.6 257.2
7 2016 9/3/16 46 314.3 42 158.8 240.1
8 2013 8/7/13 45 316.2 42 158.1 239.9
9 2012 10/1/12 46 224.9 43 250.3 237.2
10 2016 7/3/16 47 297.3 48 146.7 221.2

From a contemporary standpoint, that’s more satisfying, as this season’s opening salvo climbs to fifth (not third, as I originally had it when this published — score that E6). Streaks from every season except 2014 and ’18 are represented, with the 2015 season, Harper’s MVP year, dominating the charts, as separate streaks from May, June, July, and September all rank among the top six. Harper pulls his weight here, owning the higher wRC+ of the pair (highlighted with the bold-faced numbers) in five of the streaks .

As for the coldest spells, I’ll skip to the mirror image of the second table, identifying only the extremes of each discrete streak:

Lowest Combined 10-Game wRC+ for Trout and Harper, No Overlap
Rk Season Date Trout PA Trout wRC+ Harper PA Harper wRC+ Combined wRC+
1 2016 9/17/16 41 59.7 42 32.8 46.1
2 2016 7/29/16 43 106.5 40 16.6 63.1
3 2012 8/15/12 45 136.2 45 15.2 75.7
4 2018 5/19/18 39 118.8 44 37.9 75.9
5 2013 9/28/13 45 99.3 40 54.5 78.2
6 2012 9/25/12 43 113.4 41 52.7 83.7
7 2014 8/2/14 47 101.3 42 66.7 85.0
8 2016 5/30/16 46 115.3 37 50.8 86.6
9 2014 8/17/14 47 44.0 44 135.4 88.2
10 2015 8/18/15 43 70.5 46 108.2 90.0

Above we’ve got almost entirely even-year streaks, with one exception apiece from 2013 and ’15. Every season but 2017 and this one is represented, with 2016 the most common one. During the very worst stretch, in September 2016 — a rare instance of both players falling well below 100 — Harper hit .094/.310/.188, with a home run representing one of his three hits, and Trout hit .229/.317/.229 without a homer. For eight of the 10 stretches, it’s Harper dragging the pair down, with a wRC+ below 70; that conforms to the general impression that he’s the more slump-prone player of the two.

One could certainly look at the matter in other ways, using larger sample sizes — going by 15-game stretches with the same methodology, for example, or simply by our monthly splits, or even full seasons. On that last front, 2015 gets the nod on the basis of combined wRC+ (184) or WAR (18.6) if we’re bringing defense into this. By the monthly splits, the pair’s combined wRC+ of 243 for March and April (which we customarily lump together, as we do for September and October) would rank first, but with an asterisk, as it’s the only month besides April 2012 for which the pair has combined for fewer than 100 PA. Discarding what would be the second-ranked month (June 2014) on the grounds that Harper had just four PA, the best combined month for the pair is July 2015, when Trout (260) and Harper (172) combined for a 214 wRC+ in 193 PA. Incidentally, by this method the pair has combined for a 120 wRC+ or better in every month for which we have a meaningful sample from both save for July 2016, when Trout (144) and Harper (65) combined for a 104 mark.

Still, I do like the immediacy of the 10-game sample and the fact that it places what we’ve witnessed so far this season near the top of the heap. If Trout doesn’t miss too much time, there’s a chance we can see that number climb. All of which serves to remind us that while major league baseball has problems on and off the field that shouldn’t be ignored, the level of talent today is astounding, and anytime Trout and Harper are both firing on all cylinders is a great time to be watching.


Ozzie Albies Just Signed a Stinker

The Atlanta Braves locked up another one of their key foundational pieces on Thursday, signing Ozzie Albies to a seven-year contract extension worth $35 million. Also included, since the Atlanta Braves felt like they didn’t get quite enough value in this deal somehow, are two team options at $7 million a year with a $4 million buyout, taking the total possible contract term up to nine years and $45 million.

The Evan Longoria long-term contract was probably the gold standard in team value when it came to these sorts of deals, but this one eclipses it. For those who don’t remember, Longoria signed an extension early in his rookie season for six years and $17.6 million, with three team option years. While the guaranteed dollars are a little lower, the team options were more generous at $7.5 million, $11 million, and $11.5 million. Here, the Braves buy out as many as four of Albies’ free agent years for less money than he’d likely be paid in a single year of free agency. In addition, Longoria had yet to succeed in the majors while Albies already had a full star-level season under his belt.

Quite frankly, this is a bit shocking. There’s risk aversion for a player, and then there’s risk aversion. Obviously, Albies wouldn’t get a contract equivalent to what he would get in free agency under any circumstances with a year of service time, but when I think of a risk-benefit tradeoff that isn’t horrific for a player, I think Blake Snell’s contract is a better representation of a team-friendly deal that doesn’t cross the line into, let’s be honest, exploitation. For those who didn’t read my piece on the Snell signing because you wanted to make me sad, ZiPS estimated that year-to-year, Snell was giving up $23 million on average to have a guaranteed $50 million in his pocket.

ZiPS Projections – Ozzie Albies
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB OPS+ WAR Expected ($M)
2019 .271 .319 .454 634 101 172 36 7 22 78 17 104 4.3 0.6
2020 .280 .329 .481 611 102 171 38 8 23 81 17 114 4.9 0.6
2021 .280 .331 .496 615 105 172 39 8 26 85 17 118 5.3 6.5
2022 .279 .332 .504 613 106 171 39 9 27 86 16 120 5.5 11.9
2023 .280 .334 .510 608 107 170 38 9 28 88 14 122 5.6 20.5
2024 .277 .333 .502 603 106 167 37 9 27 86 14 120 5.4 52.0
2025 .274 .331 .495 584 102 160 35 8 26 82 13 118 5.0 50.4
2026 .272 .330 .488 566 97 154 34 8 24 77 12 116 4.6 48.9
2027 .271 .327 .485 546 92 148 32 8 23 74 11 114 4.3 47.6
2028 .268 .324 .470 523 86 140 29 7 21 68 10 110 3.7 43.5

So, umm…yeah.

ZiPS is a fan of Ozzie Albies’ future, a weird quirk of the system in that it finds young, phenomenally talented infielders with a star season in the books to be totally awesome. All told, among the game’s hitters, ZiPS projects Albies with the fourth-most WAR remaining in his career, behind only Mike Trout, Juan Soto, and Francisco Lindor. If you’re wondering where Ronald Acuña is, he’s all the way down at…fifth.

ZiPS expects that, going year-by-year, Albies could be expected to make $282 million through the theoretical ninth and final season of his contract extension. In other words, ZiPS is estimating that Albies, in return for this contract, is giving up more than $200 million on average. But let’s say that ZiPS is being way too kind on Albies and is overrating him by two WAR a year. That knocks a shocking 18 WAR off his projections for the next nine years, in which case, ZiPS projects him to make a mere $153 million going year-to-year. So even in the case that ZiPS is horribly overrating Albies, he’s still likely to be underpaid by at least $100 million for his contributions to the Braves. And remember, this is relative to what he would expect to get under the current collective bargaining agreement, not some fanciful world in which he could otherwise just become a free agent right now.

(One side note since somebody will notice, reducing his projected WAR by 18 doesn’t have the exact same linear value as WAR in his real projection does because the better a player is, the lower a percentage of their expected free agent value they get in arbitration).

If I made a deal like this when I was a kid, and had offered my friend Alan a candy bar for his Super Nintendo (he had one a few months before I did, the jerk), you can bet my mom would have marched right down to Alan’s house and made me undo that particular transaction.

Ozzie Albies is, of course, an adult and I highly value the right of two consenting adults entering into freely negotiated contracts with each other. But I can sure as sugar express that I think he got an absolutely rotten deal here!

For the Atlanta Braves, the value of this trade is obvious. They get a star player for the entire length of his twenties for next to nothing, at least in baseball terms. Already having signed Ronald Acuña to a team-friendly deal — but at least, not as team-friendly a deal — the team has no excuse now to not open their pocketbooks for big free agents in coming seasons, something they really should have done beyond Josh Donaldson this winter.

This is not a contract that players should forget at the bargaining table. With higher minimum salaries for young players and earlier arbitration, players would have more leverage in negotiations and we’d likely see fairer terms for players in their prime as a result. If nothing else, it’s a sign that to keep salaries growing in baseball, players will need to fight for the Ozzie Albieses of the league, and advocate for a system that doesn’t require salary growth to be tied to teams signing 34-year-olds to crazy contracts like it’s 1986.


Daily Prospect Notes: 4/11/19

These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Cole Tucker, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Level: Triple-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 5   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, HR, 2 SB

Notes
Readers are often looking for a prospect outside the top 50 who might break out and move near the top of our overall list. My answer to that question is typically some big, projectable teenager who I expect to experience sizable physical growth. Tucker is rare in that he’s also a viable answer to this question even though he turns 23 this summer. Having answered once-relevant, shoulder-related questions about his arm strength, Tucker is now seen as a plus-gloved shortstop who has good feel for contact. But because he still has this big, seemingly unfinished frame on him, we think it’s possible that he comes into power a little late, and he might take a sizable leap. A source indicated to me that Tucker looks noticeably bigger and stronger this year. He hit for power during the first week of the season, and his batted ball data should be monitored for a possible indicator that he’s made a mechanical adjustment, too.

Tarik Skubal, LHP, Detroit Tigers
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 6 K

Notes
Kiley saw Skubal last night and had him up to 97, with an average breaking ball. A possible second or third rounder as a college underclassman, Skubal’s amateur career was derailed by an elbow injury that required Tommy John. He missed his junior year, instead throwing side sessions in front of scouts close to the draft. Nobody was confident enough to pull the trigger on drafting him, and he went back to school and couldn’t throw strikes. The Tigers signed him after his redshirt junior year for $350k and he threw almost all fastballs during his first pro summer. Things seemed to have clicked a bit.

Michael Baumann, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Level: Hi-A   Age: 23   Org Rank: 28   FV: 35+
Line: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 10 K

Notes
Orioles pitching prospects should be considered potential movers this year as the new front office applies the player dev philosophy that seems to be working in Houston. Baumann already has some components Houston might have otherwise tried to install; he has a vertical release point that looks like it creates backspin, he throws hard, and he works up in the zone. Maybe that just means he has less to fix and is likely to improve more quickly than others in the system. He was up to 96 last night.

Brendan McKay, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Level: Double-A   Age: 23   Org Rank: 2   FV: 60
Line: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 R, 11 K

Notes
McKay’s stuff is not especially nasty — he was 91-95 last night — but his fastball plays up because of good extension. All of his pitches look the same coming out of his hand, and he has shockingly good feel for pitching even though his attention has been split between the mound and the plate for much of his career. If he keeps dominating Double-A hitters like this, it’s fair to start considering him as a potential big league option sometime this year.

Shed Long, 2B/3B/LF, Seattle Mariners
Level: Triple-A   Age: 23   Org Rank: 6   FV: 50
Line: 4-for-5, BB, walk-off HR

Notes
Shed’s defensive assignments mimic what we saw during spring training. He remains a 40 glove at second base who survives through a combination of athleticism and will, but he’s going to mash enough that you want him in your lineup every day. I tend to think of multi-positional players as individuals who excel defensively at various spots, but maybe it’s time to consider if players who can really hit can be barely playable at several positions and just spend each game at a different spot in the field, wherever they’re the least likely to touch the ball that day. Willians Astudillo would seem to be another candidate for a role like this, and perhaps it could be taken to a batter-by-batter extreme. Hiding your worst defensive player is old hat in other sports; maybe there’s a better way to do it in ours.

A Quick Rehabber Update
I saw Angels lefty Jose Suarez rehab in Tempe yesterday. He looked good, sitting 91-93, with command and an above-average curveball (it’s slow but has good bite, and he commands it), and some plus changeups. He didn’t break camp due to a sore shoulder, which is kind of scary, but the stuff looks fine. The Angels rotation has struggled with injuries, so Suarez might see the big leagues this year. He’s in our top 100.

On Pedro Avila
Padres righty Pedro Avila makes his big league debut tonight against Arizona. Expect him to sit 90-94 and touch 96, have scattered fastball command, and try to work heavily off secondary stuff — a change and curveball — that is consistently plus. His long term role may ultimately be in the bullpen, especially since three-pitch relievers may become more necessary due to forthcoming rule changes.