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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 10 Best Bargains of the MLB Offseason

Of course, the reason Nova had to settle for a pedestrian contract in a barren starting pitching landscape is the very qualifier from that paragraph: He threw only 64.2 innings with the Pirates, which did little to counter his perception after he spread 729 inconsistent innings across seven seasons with the Yankees. Nova’s talent is undeniable, but his performance is undeniably frustrating, and his stale market made it apparent that teams don’t trust the tall righty outside Pittsburgh, where pitching coach–slash-magician Ray Searage turned him into a strike-throwing, run-preventing marvel.

Maybe the key to his success is as simple as throwing more strikes. In Pittsburgh, Nova stayed in the zone more often than any time since his rookie year, and he had the highest first-strike rate of his career. Even if he sticks as a midrotation arm, the going rate for a no. 3 starter is greater than the $8-plus million Nova is due in the coming years, making the Pirates’ investment in his second-half gains a reasonable gamble.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 28, 2017 at 03:18 PM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: free agents, ivan nova, matt joyce, steve pearce

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: February 28, 2017 at 06:29 PM (#5410424)
On the one hand, I want to criticize the article because most of these signings will be quite inconsequential. But they are all reasonable to good values for money and the ordering is OK. They just all seem over-praised and the writer certainly has a lot more faith in half-season peripherals than I do. Epsinosa, Logan and Joyce seem the most over-ranked here but each of those certainly has the potential to turn out just fine. Logan's a true LOOGy (always less than 1 IP per appearance) who's never had a truly elite reliever season (by FIP or ERA+). It's just a 1-year contract so something of a bargain by definition.

Joyce is better than I give him credit for, he's a good bet for 400-450 PA of league-average production at a corner/DH and apparently OK defensively. If the changes highlighted in the write-up (he nearly doubled his BB and HR/FB rates) hold then he could be poised for a bit of a break-out. But those changes could also have been the last gasp of a player entering old man skills territory -- his contact went down, his GB rate went up, his LD rate went down, his BABIP remains low and pitchers will start throwing him more strikes.
   2. JAHV Posted: February 28, 2017 at 10:06 PM (#5410527)
I know every fan thinks this at some point about a player who has a bad season with his/her team, but how in hell was Joyce so damned bad with the Angels in 2015? After five years of putting up consistently above average offensive numbers (118 OPS+ on average), he just cratered. And I can't tell what the heck happened other than blaming it all on BABiP. His Ks were up a little, but not much beyond his previous few seasons. His walks were down, but again, just a little bit. His IF FB % went up, but his LD rate was actually the highest of his career.

If you take into account the extra Ks and fewer walks, you might expect an OPS+ of 95 - 100, which is bad for a left fielder, but won't kill you. Instead it was 60! Basically every ball that had been going for doubles and HRs instead landed in an outfielder's glove. In a season where the Angels missed out on the Wild Card by one game, that's a bit frustrating.

If he had put up another season like that in 2016, at least I could chalk it up to age. Joyce got old fast. Certainly faster than you'd expect, but it's not unprecedented. But then he puts up a 131 OPS+ in Pittsburgh and I'm left throwing my arms up in disgust and bewilderment.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: February 28, 2017 at 11:33 PM (#5410567)
A good question. But it might have been age. Part of the point in the article and I alluded to above is that Joyce took a very different approach in 2016. The article notes that he really stopped swinging at stuff outside of the zone and really crushed the stuff down the middle. Like extremely so as his walk rate rose to 20%. His G/F ratio also went up a bit which is odd for a guy with an apparently big boost in power. One reason that sort of change can occur is that the guy has lost bat speed and so he focuses on the only thing he can hit and hopes for the best on everything else. It's likely a change that works only for a short period of time -- if the driver is slow bat speed. Possibly 2015 scared him enough that he completely re-tooled his approach, swings as hard as he can when he swings but has cut back on what he swings at. It's yet to be seen if the new approach will stick.

You're right that a lot of last year's disaster was BABIP related. Move him back to his career (already low) BABIP and he adds about 50 points to his BA and thereby about 50 points to OBP and 70-80 to SLG and (in raw stat terms), it's just a slightly worse version of his 2014. On the other hand, shift his 2016 walk rate back to his career norm, turn those lost walks into ABs at the same BA and he loses nearly 60 points of OBP and 17-18 points of OPS+ ... which is regular Joyce.

For those that don't know, there's a basic Statcast leaderboard that covers 2015 and 2016. In 2016, Joyce had an average EV of 89.9 and had a "barrel" in 11% of his batted balls, about 5% of his PAs. Those are solid but unspectacular (they're all about the same or slightly worse than Conforto e.g.) but they are a big improvement over 2015 with an EV of 86.1% and %ages of 4.3 and 2.5. Add nearly 60 points to Conforto's 2015 OBP and ... he becomes regular Joyce in OPS+ terms.
   4. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: March 01, 2017 at 12:15 AM (#5410582)
We should bookmark this thread and review it in a year or two. I'd be willing to bet a few bucks that Pearce won't actually be worth the $12.5M that the Jays are paying him over two years (i.e., I'd put the over/under on his total fWAR under that contract at about 1.5).
   5. John Reynard Posted: March 01, 2017 at 04:16 AM (#5410595)
Did he really pick Sean Rodriguez as a top 10 contract knowing Rodriguez is going to miss all or most of 2017? 12.5M for 2018 alone for a sometimes super-utility guy who really should be playing mostly 1B at this point seems terrible to me.
   6. Der-K: at 10% emotional investment Posted: March 01, 2017 at 09:14 AM (#5410627)
6-4-3 (#4): I'll take that bet.
Don't know what the author was thinking wrt a hurt Sean Rodriguez though (though it isn't ATL's fault that he got in that accident).
   7. Walt Davis Posted: March 01, 2017 at 04:24 PM (#5411010)
#5 yes he did and yes it was silly. He includes him with Ramos who will miss at least half the year (as the Rays know) but could still fulfill that contract. It was probably an "emotional" decision in that he may have had Rodriguez somewhere in the top 3 spots to start with and didn't want to drop him entirely out of the top 10.

My main problem with the article is how reliant the assessments are on part-season break-outs on the one hand and ignoring downturns/injuries on the other. That's what you expect when you're shopping in the near-bargain bin but we know about half of these deals will go belly up because the good half-season was a fluke or the bad half-season was real or the injury doesn't heal as expected (e.g. if Ramos misses 5 months).

Partly what we're seeing is a typical reaction to the availability of new information like statcast, swing rates, pitch types, etc. New numbers -- there must be exciting new things for us to discover! We only have two years of exit velocity, etc. We have no idea how much this varies over time during a player's season/career nor how much it relates to production (not all that much it seems). Probably most fluke seasons in the past featured "big changes" in a batter's approach leading to higher exit velocity, more barrels, fewer swings at pitches outside of the zone ... and then most of those batters went (most of the way) back to being their regular selves.

Before the availability of statcast, etc. I never would have given much credence to Sean Rodriguez's 126 OPS+ in 342 PA in 2016 after 2100 PA of a 90 OPS+ ... and until we have enough data and somebody shows me that this new information can help distinguish the flukes from the legit changes, I'm still not going to do it.

On Pearce, even at a over/under of 1.5 WAR for 2 years, that's a break-even contract. If you believe such a projection, the contract's not a bargain but it's not one anybody should feel comfy betting against.

On Rodriguez, possibly (pre-injury) he was worth 2/$12 even without a big offensive breakout. But while he can obviously still play it in an emergency, it's not clear he can handle SS anymore -- just 24 starts over the last 4 seasons although 19 of those were in 2016. He hasn't had that many starts at 2B either. That makes him mainly a back-up corner player (incl 3B) -- valuable in today's game but, at 90 OPS+, really only a good bench option at 2B/3B. Add in the chance the offensive break-out was for real and 2/$12 is at least a decent gamble.

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