Analyzing the Brewers and Padres Swap of Young Big Leaguers

Wednesday’s four-player Brewers/Padres swap was largely about two teams recognizing that they could trade puzzle pieces with each other to better complete themselves, and probably also revealed San Diego’s long-term pessimism regarding Luis Urías. Here’s the deal:

Padres get:

OF Trent Grisham
RHP Zach Davies

Brewers get:

INF Luis Urías
LHP Eric Lauer

With Lauer, the Brewers get an inning-eating lefty whose 2019 innings total is a big reason he generated 2.3 WAR despite his pedestrian 4.77 xFIP. He gives the Brewers yet another unique mechanical look, and chucks in a lot of varied breaking stuff, working heavily off of a cutter, curveball, and a slider that Lauer doesn’t use very much overall, but that he throws at a higher rate when opposing hitters have two strikes. That slider and cutter usage flipped last year (20% sliders and 6% cutters in 2018, with the inverse last year) and Lauer’s glove-side command of the cutter seemed to enable him to jam righties, as right-handed batter wOBA against him dropped from .341 in 2018 to .300 last year.

Lauer was still a little fly ball/homer prone last year, but PETCO has a fairly short porch to straightaway left field (334 feet down the line, 357 feed to left), and six of the 14 dingers he surrendered to righties last season were wall-scrapers, so Miller Park’s dimensions (344 feet, 371 feet) might prove helpful in that regard. Read the rest of this entry »


Drew Pomeranz Is a San Diego Padre

Drew Pomeranz, star reliever” would have been an absurd claim five months ago, when the left-hander was laboring as a starter with the Giants. Since then, however, it’s become an eminently reasonable view. Beginning with a stint out of the bullpen in San Francisco and continuing with the Brewers, Pomeranz delivered a half-season of pure electricity.

Today that view goes mainstream. As first reported by Ken Rosenthal, the Padres have signed Pomeranz to a four-year, $34 million deal, further thinning out the free agent reliever market and besting the estimates of both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd on our Top 50 Free Agents list; Pomeranz ranked 24th on the list. Pomeranz will join Kirby Yates to further anchor what was already an above-average unit.

The terms of the deal were reported by Joel Sherman: Pomeranz will receive a $8 million signing bonus, and his annual salaries will be $4 million, $6 million, $8 million, and $8 million respectively. That works out to an average annual value of $8.5 million, with the money slightly front-loaded for the Padres.

I recently wrote about the changes Pomeranz made to his game as a reliever, but they’re worth reiterating, as they certainly figure heavily into San Diego’s move. Essentially, Pomeranz is the type of pitcher best suited to switch to relief. He has a great fastball that could use a bit of extra giddyup, a terrific secondary offering in his knee-buckling curve, and no business throwing any of his other pitches.

The returns on this new look were immediate. Pomeranz struck out nearly half the batters he faced over 30 innings of work, and he looked the part while doing it. The riding fastball went from a good pitch to one of the best fastballs in baseball. The curve wasn’t far behind; its 12-6 break looks best as an offset to the four-seamer, and batters loading up for the heat were blindsided by the curve. Read the rest of this entry »


Seattle Adds Fixer-Upper in Carl Edwards Jr.

In what is shaping up to be a very busy pre-Thanksgiving Hot Stove League, the Mariners announced on Wednesday that they have agreed with relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. on a one-year contract. Edwards will receive a base salary of $950,000, with the potential to make another $500,000 in performance incentives tied to appearances and games finished.

This is the type of move that you will likely see more of in Seattle this winter. The Mariners are rebuilding, and though it’s not the type of rebuild that tears everything down to the foundation, they probably won’t be competitive in 2020. Whether you call it a rebuild or a retool or a reimagining, finding low-cost pickups and reclamation projects are typically smart things for teams to do. It’s also a healthy situation for players seeking to rebuild their value and get better contracts down the road.

Seattle’s bullpen is a prime place for these types of low-risk additions. Spending on relievers tends to be the worst bang-for-the-buck signings when it comes to wins, so it’s natural to look for these kinds of transactions to fill out the relief corps. The Mariners are also a good candidate for this as they’re currently projected in our Depth Charts to have the worst bullpen in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »


Stephen Vogt Heads to Cactus Country

Catcher week continued Tuesday in Arizona as the Diamondbacks signed Stephen Vogt, 35, to a one-year, $3 million deal that could extend to two years and $7 million if Vogt reaches various threshholds during his first year in Phoenix. Vogt missed all of 2018 after fairly serious shoulder surgery undergone whilst with the Brewers, but performed credibly in 280 plate appearances for the Giants in 2019, hitting 10 home runs and posting a 107 wRC+.

Arizona, meanwhile, was in the market for a veteran catcher to replace Alex Avila, who seems likely to depart in free agency after spending most of the last two years mentoring the Diamondbacks’ young backstop Carson Kelly. Kelly, 25, finally got more than 75 plate appearances in 2019 after three disappointing campaigns with the Cardinals left his once-elevated prospect status in doubt.

He made the most of his chances, triple-slashing .245/.348/.478 while walking 13% of the time and posting a 108 wRC+. Those aren’t All-Star figures, to be sure, and I’m certain the Diamondbacks are hoping for a little bit more out of him, but it isn’t bad for catcher, given the state of the position, was presumably enough promise to allow the Arizona brain trust to feel comfortable passing on bigger-name catching options for 2020. I suspect, given Arizona’s aspirations for 2020, that a disappointing start for Kelly might push the D-backs into the trade market come July, but they don’t need to decide that now. Read the rest of this entry »


Rangers Go for Trifecta With Kyle Gibson Signing

Two winters ago, the Rangers weren’t looking to contend, but they were looking for undervalued pitching. They gave reliever money to starter-turned-very-good-reliever Mike Minor in early December to join the rotation with a three-year, $28 million deal that has proved to be a massive bargain, as Minor’s 6.7 WAR over the last two seasons ranks 29th among all pitchers. Last December, the still-rebuilding Rangers signed Lance Lynn, whose very good FIP in 2018 was marred by an ugly 4.77 ERA across stints with the Twins and Yankees, to a three-year deal worth $30 million. Lynn delivered with a seven-win season and a fifth-place finish in the AL Cy Young award voting. Now the Rangers have reached a three-year deal with Kyle Gibson worth $30 million, according to Jeff Passan, with Jon Morosi first reporting the team and player.

How Gibson fits in with Lynn and Minor goes beyond just the identical contracts. Over the last two years, Gibson put together a pair of solid 2.6-WAR seasons with the Twins, but a low BABIP in 2018 meant a 3.62 ERA, while a higher one last season resulted in a 4.84 ERA that made him look worse than he deserved. Gibson’s strikeout rate climbed to 23% with his walk rate dropping to 8%, all while maintaining his high groundball rate. His home run rate went up in a fashion consistent with the rest of the league. With his sinker, assuming a good infield defense (yet to be determined, given that the Rangers likely aren’t done making moves), he should put up very good numbers even in a hitter’s park (we don’t yet know how Texas’ new ballpark will play).

Gibson’s peripheral numbers aren’t the only aspect of his game that could make him an underrated signing. The prescient Kiley McDaniel had this to say in FanGraphs’ Top 50 Free Agents post:

It’ll surely hurt the Division Champion Twins to lose 9.6 WAR and 60% of their rotation with Gibson, Odorizzi, and Pineda hitting free agency. Gibson was the player with the most helium amongst team-side analyst-types consulted for the first iteration of this list. Some have him over Keuchel, in part because his 92-95 mph heater gives more margin for error in games, in projecting his future, and in projecting a role in a playoff rotation. His ERA indicators suggest he’s a sub-4 ERA type and he’s made 25-plus starts six years in a row. Gibson seems like a solid candidate for a sneaky big and/or early deal from a club confident he offers the best value among the 10 or so starters with a solid chance at a multi-year contract.

Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Curt Schilling

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

On the field, Curt Schilling was at his best when the spotlight shone the brightest. A top starter on four pennant winners and three World Series champions, he has a strong claim as the best postseason pitcher of his generation. Founded on pinpoint command of his mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, his regular season dominance enhances his case for Cooperstown. He’s one of just 18 pitchers to strike out more than 3,000 hitters, and is the owner of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern major league history.

That said, Schilling never won a Cy Young award and finished with “only” 216 regular-season wins. While only one starter with fewer than 300 wins was elected during the 1992-2014 span (Bert Blyleven), four have been tabbed since then, two in 2015 (Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) and two in ’19 (Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina), suggesting that’s far less of an obstacle than before.

Schilling was something of a late bloomer who didn’t click until his age-25 season, after he had been traded three times. He spent much of his peak pitching in the shadows of even more famous (and popular) teammates, which may have helped to explain his outspokenness. Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi nicknamed him “Red Light Curt” for his desire to be at the center of attention when the cameras were rolling, while Phillies general manager Ed Wade said, “Schilling is a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.” Whether expounding about politics, performance-enhancing drugs, the QuesTec pitch-tracking system, or a cornerstone of his legend, Schilling wasn’t shy about telling the world what he thought.

That desire eventually extended beyond the mound. Schilling used his platform to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and, after a bout of oral cancer, recorded public service announcements on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. In 1996, USA Today named him “Baseball’s Most Caring Athlete.” But in the years since his retirement, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric on social media have turned him from merely a controversial and polarizing figure to one who has continued to create problems for himself. Read the rest of this entry »


Which Players Might Have Benefited from the Astros’ Sign-Stealing?

It’s been more than two weeks since the Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich’s bombshell report at The Athletic, which revealed a massive sign-stealing scandal implemented by the Houston Astros beginning in 2017. Since then, we’ve seen reports that the official investigation launched by Major League Baseball has confirmed the system as described by Mike Fiers in that original report; they are continuing to look into other ways the Astros may have cheated during the 2017 postseason and beyond. Whether the Astros were using a modified method on the road relying on “buzzers,” as some have speculated, has yet to be confirmed.

What we do know is that the Astros broke the rules by using technology to steal signs in real-time. Members of Houston’s front office and coaching staff could face significant penalties, and with Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán implicated as sign-stealing ringleaders, there could be impacts felt in organizations beyond Houston. It remains to be seen just how severe the punishment will be — though our own Craig Edwards argued last week that they could be quite severe indeed — and if any players are caught up in the fallout.

Last week, I took an initial look at whether or not the on-field value of the Astros sign-stealing scheme could be parsed out in the data. Between the changing roster, the changing ball, and the at times non-linear effect of coaching and player development, there was a lot of noise in the data. At a broad level, it’s hard to make any conclusive statements about the specific effects of the Astros sign-stealing, though as I noted, the fact that the team persisted in the practice suggests they believed they derived an appreciable benefit from it. On Friday, two more attempts to answer that same question were made.

Over at The Ringer, Ben Lindbergh concluded:

“Knowing the next pitch just has to help, right? But no matter how we slice and dice the data, the statistical case is less compelling than it would be if sign-stealing made hitting as simple as it seems like it should. Great as the Astros were at the plate in 2017, the most fascinating aspect of their sign-stealing scandal is that it didn’t make them even better.”

Rob Arthur was a little more confident in his conclusions in a piece for Baseball Prospectus:

“We can tentatively conclude that their sign stealing probably had a major impact on the team’s plate discipline numbers. This was not innocent cheating that barely affected the game; according to the available data, it may have yielded an unprecedented improvement in the Astros’ ability to make contact and lay off outside pitches, helping to turn a talented lineup into one of the best-hitting teams of all time.”

In my previous piece, I landed somewhere in between these two positions: sign-stealing probably had an impact, but it was nearly impossible to determine the exact benefit at a team level due to all the noise. But what happens if we drill down to the per-pitch level, as I did with the run expectancy (RE288) data in my article last week, and this time focus on individual players? Read the rest of this entry »


The Reds Have Been Busy

In the first few weeks of the offseason, just a few teams have been making the headlines by means of improving their roster. The Chicago White Sox, of course, just spent money to acquire the best catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal while also retaining first baseman Jose Abreu for the next three years. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves have held onto two important relievers while acquiring a third in Will Smith via free agency and bringing in catcher Travis d’Arnaud on a two-year deal. Most teams, however, haven’t budged much. There’s no reason to get squeamish about that — we’re still a couple of days away from Thanksgiving, and the Winter Meetings are a few weeks away. Many teams are still likely in the process of mapping out just what the free agent and trade markets could look like in the coming months, and thus are treading lightly during November.

The Cincinnati Reds are not one of those teams. They are rumored to have big plans for spending money and getting back to contention this winter, but that hasn’t stopped them from making a string of more minor transactions before much of the league has made any at all. Since the end of the winter, they’ve added four players from outside the organization to their 40-man roster, more than any team in the majors. It began with the organization claiming outfielder Travis Jankowski from San Diego on Oct. 31, and it continued with a trade for Rays right-hander José De León last week. On Monday, Cincinnati added two more players, trading for Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Justin Shafer and claiming another Padres outfielder in Nick Martini. Shafer was acquired for just cash, while the Rays trade will involve either cash or a player to be named later.

Each of these players comes to the organization with varying levels of intrigue. Perhaps the most interesting is Shafer, 27, who pitched 39.2 innings with Toronto in 2019 and held a 3.86 ERA and a 5.18 FIP. An eighth-round pick in 2014, this was just his second season seeing big league competition, and as is evident in the ERA and FIP split, results were mixed. He’s walked far too many batters as a major leaguer, with 6.0 BB/9 over 48 total innings, especially when combined with the seven homers he’s allowed (1.3/9) and his lack of gaudy strikeout numbers (8.8 K/9 in 2019). Read the rest of this entry »


Kiley McDaniel Chat – 11/27/19

11:43

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: Hello from a rainy ATL! Scout is napping in the other room and I’m scrambling to finish stuff before the holiday grocery shopping and prep. May share some finished products and more kitchen looks on my instagram @kileymcdaniel

11:43

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: Also, there’s a bunch of moves happening in the last hour. Gibson to TEX, Pomeranz at SDP, Urias-Grisham MIL-SDP deal, so I’m sure we’ll spend time on that.

11:44

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: Lastly, we were in NYC last week and had a live event that sold out and went really well! Eric and I joined Meg and Ben on stage for a prospects panel with a Q&A and it’s the last segment on this episode of EW: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/effectively-wild-episode-1460-live-from-ne…

11:45

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: While at that event, Eric and I revealed something we’ve been hinting at for the last few weeks: we wrote a book!

11:46

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: you can preorder it here: https://www.triumphbooks.com/future-value-products-9781629377674.php?p
and use code FV20 to get 20% through the end of the year

11:47

Avatar Kiley McDaniel: there’s summaries there and on Amazon, but the idea is this is a follow-up on the happenings of Moneyball, about the tension between stats and scouting and where things are now in baseball. Also covers how to scout, how to get a job in baseball, how to train/get a scholarship as a player and many other things!

Read the rest of this entry »


What to Expect From Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson is among a group of free agents who bet on themselves last winter. He certainly could have gotten a multi-year deal from some team, but likely at a lower salary than the $23 million he received last season. Going two or three years also would have meant hitting the free agent market again heading into his age-35 or age-36 season, when another multi-year deal would have been far less likely. Donaldson opted to get a jump on free agency last winter, take the best one-year deal he could get, and let his play do the talking heading into free agency again. While Donaldson’s risk hasn’t paid off yet, he is coming off a five-win season that ranked 20th among position players, just behind Yasmani Grandal and just ahead of Peter Alonso and Juan Soto. Despite turning 34 years old next month, Donaldson should receive a multi-year deal paying him just as much as he earned a year ago.

We’ve already seen Grandal bet on himself and have the move pay off in free agency this season. The same is likely to be true for Hyun-Jin Ryu as well. It might also finally pay off for Mike Moustakas. Turning down greater guarantees in the hopes for a better market when the player is a year older is a risky play. It was particularly risky for Donaldson given how injuries prevented him from playing most of the 2018 season, and when he did play, his hitting was well below his previously high standards. Another year like 2018 and Donaldson would’ve been looking at very small guarantees heading into next season. As it stands, Kiley McDaniel predicted Donaldson would receive $71 million over three years while the crowd came in at $60 million. He only needs half of McDaniel’s prediction to beat the expected contract from a year ago. A good 2019 should pay off for Donaldson, but let’s look at how his future performance could pay off for a team. Read the rest of this entry »