Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward: Defying $/WAR This Offseason

By: Jack Boulia

This offseason, both Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward will be hitting the market, both with interesting player profiles. Both are very good hitters that play in the corner outfield position, which sounds exactly where they should be playing. Gordon has been significantly better than league average this year with a 134 wRC+, while Heyward has also been a significant contributor with a wRC+ of 121. Since 2011, Gordon has ranked ninth in hitter WAR, with Heyward not too far behind at sixteen. Both players combine above-average bats with elite corner defense. Assuming Heyward ends the season with approximately 5.4 WAR, his season would be worth $40.5MM. Gordon’s injury-shortened season would still be worth $24.75MM. Both are known for their exceptional corner-outfield defense; in fact, it’s where most of their value comes from. Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs believes Heyward will get around $200MM, which is a nice haul as a free agent. Recently, MLBTradeRumors predicted Alex Gordon will get nearly $150MM. It’s not that I don’t like these players; I love them. And it’s not like teams have never heard of sabermetrics; they have. Sabermetricians believe these players should get the large salaries based on $/WAR and blame teams for not being savvy enough to see the value these players create. When these players sign for a lot less money than sabermetricians expect, it won’t be because the market doesn’t value these players, but rather because we have valued them wrong.

The first paragraph seems like I was harping on sabermetricians a bit, and I was. I consider myself a sabermetric, but have gradually moved away from being completely data driven. Just as sabermetricians harp on teams for being only dependent on scouting, if you exclusively use stats to value players, it’s a sure-fire way to run a team into the ground. A sabermetrician sees Jason Heyward’s age and considers him to be a five-win player for the next four years. Let’s give Jason Heyward an eight-year contract. Based on last year’s free agent market, let’s say each win is worth $7.5MM, and every year after thirty, he declines at a rate of 0.5 WAR per year. He should be paid approximately $262.5MM according to the hardcore sabermetrician. By using an imperfect stat to evaluate a player, you get an imperfect value. It shouldn’t be something difficult to comprehend, but apparently it is. Granted, WAR is the best stat at the moment that can best determine approximate value, but just because it is the best, doesn’t mean it is not without flaw. Am I skeptical of defensive stats? Absolutely. We talk about all the time how the “seeing-eye-test” is flawed, but what people don’t realize is that stats, like UZR and DRS, are based off of what people see and what they determine a play to be. Much of it is opinion. Much of it is not accurate. I believe defense to be an enormous part of baseball. I believe a run saved is equivalent to a run scored, but blindly accepting defensive stats has unfortunately become the norm. Most of the time, defensive stats are very helpful, and are the best way to quantify a player’s defensive value, but it’s not without noise.

Would you like to know how these stats are calculated? Well, do I have a surprise for you. Stats like UZR are calculated based on the league average defender at each specific position and are assigned positional adjustments. So, if we look at corner outfield positions, that both Gordon and Heyward play, there aren’t great defenders out there. In fact, it’s still the general consensus that corner outfield positions are almost always bat-only guys. So what does that mean? It means the defense in corner outfield positions is not very good. And why does that matter? Well, if you stick a clearly above-average defender in a corner outfield spot, he is going to rack up a ton of defensive value relative to where he is. And what does that mean? It means Heyward and Gordon are given a lot of value that they really shouldn’t be given. If you put either in center field, their value drops significantly based on how WAR is calculated. Heyward would still be a very good centerfielder, but wouldn’t be the best in relation to the other centerfielders, while Gordon might even be considered below-average. It might sound like I think corner outfield defense has no value, and that would be incorrect. It has value, but not as much as WAR and defensive stats would lead you to believe. Due to this inflation of defensive value, it leads to a serious inflation in WAR.

This, of course, is assuming both players continue to defend as well as they do now. Defense, of course, is famous for aging…not so well, which is clearly oxymoronic. Defense drops off a cliff as players age. Speed does, too. Generally when a player debuts in the majors, that is his peak for speed as well as athleticism. So, one of the big factors of Jason Heyward’s free agency is paying for his “prime seasons”. Heyward will incredibly only be twenty-six next year, which is generally considered one of the players’ prime years. But once again, not every player is the same. Heyward debuted at twenty in 2010, and in 2012 hit twenty-seven homeruns. His most since then has been fourteen. Heyward’s power peak is long gone, and his prime seasons are probably actually right now or have already happened. A comparison I thought of, not an exact comparison, was Melvin Upton. Heyward is clearly a better player and will age much better, but Upton debuted at nineteen and his age twenty-one and twenty-two seasons were clearly his best, while his “prime seasons” (let’s call them ages twenty-six through twenty-nine), have been worth a mere 4.3 WAR. Debut age affects peak and prime years, leading me to believe that Heyward’s prime has already happened. He’s been roughly 18% better than league-average so far in his career, but if his defense drops off and you have a corner outfielder only 18% better than league-average with limited defensive upside, do you really have anything?

Then, there’s Alex Gordon. I mentioned before that defense peaks, and dies with age. If we account for all of Gordon’s missing time this year compared to last year, we’ll say that Gordon has saved eleven runs less than he did last year, which amounts to just over a win. Is this noise, or does it represent a significant drop-off? Well, Gordon is no young grasshopper. Any team that signs him will get him for his age thirty-two and beyond seasons. Let’s give Alex Gordon a six-year contract. If we call him a true-talent four-win player next year, and take away a half-win every year, he’ll be worth approximately $123.75MM which seems fair to me. Offensively, he’s good enough to take a hit from defense. Over the last five years, he’s posted an average wRC+ of 125.2, which is impressive and also acceptable for a corner outfielder. This is less than the predicted $150MM, which seems a bit lofty. I think people tend to forget just how old Gordon is; he was a bit of a late-bloomer, and his age might really surprise some looking for a consistent four-win player.

Throughout writing this article, I actually came to the conclusion that I would rather have Alex Gordon than Jason Heyward, but that’s not what the article was about. The article was about how both are overvalued by the sabermetric community. I think Heyward gets around $140MM, and Gordon settles in at about $120MM. Both players have had the illusion of value created around them, but there’s not concrete evidence it actually exists. Teams do value defense and admire players like Heyward. But they also need to put a winning team on the field, and it needs concrete evidence to feel confident in investing in players. If Heyward and Gordon played a premium defensive position like centerfield, this is probably a completely different conversation. The market values defense. But it also values being smart enough to recognize relativity and when it needs to be applied.

It’s Time to Trade Chris Sale

By: Jack Boulia

It’s difficult to trade a franchise player. Take it from me. Since I’ve been writing for this blog, I am an obvious fan of the Red Sox–though a very level headed one at that. However, growing up I was very emotionally invested in the Red Sox, specifically one player. Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player growing up. In old pictures of me, all you can see me wearing is a mesh “Garciaparra” jersey. My neighbor, an older man, used to tease me about the Red Sox, and in July of 2004, would tell me Nomar is going to be traded. I didn’t believe him, only thinking he was teasing me again. Well, as it turns out, Nomar did get traded, and I cried for days on end and decided it was time to retire the jersey. I was seven at the time. What’s the point of this anecdote? Well. Trading franchise players is hard. But the Red Sox also won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 86-year drought. If they hadn’t traded Nomar, they wouldn’t have won in 2004. Trading a franchise player is never easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.

First, let me start off by saying this. The White Sox are not a good team. They made a flurry of moves this offseason, none particularly damaging, but none that seemed to help, either. It reminded me similarly of the Padres, who I predicted months ago would be bad, and lo and behold, they have been terrible. Well, I wasn’t a White Sox believer, either. But the flurry of moves was indicative of something; they wanted to be competitive. And then they didn’t sell at the deadline. The White Sox, as of today, are playing four games over their expected Pythag/BaseRuns records. They should be a fifty-one win team. Yikes. They also decided to not sell at the deadline because, by some miracle, they hit a minor hot-streak but…are still bad. And irrelevant. But they want to be competitive to the point that it seems desperate. So, you ask, why, why would the White Sox trade away Chris Sale, their franchise player? Well, reader, here’s why.

Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League. By a healthy margin. He’s twenty-sixand has compiled 21.8 fWAR. In 2016 he will be paid $9.15MM, 2017 $12MM, and has two incredibly affordable option years for 2018 and 2019 which are locks to be picked up. So Sale is under contract for four more years at an unbelievably low price. According to Dave Cameron, Sale is the sixth most valuable trade piece in all of baseball. Sale would bring back a king’s ransom. I’ve heard a lot of people say “why would the White Sox trade Sale if they want to be competitive?”, but…that’s wrong. Whether or not they trade Sale, he will not be a part of the next competitive White Sox team. They can’t build around Sale and Abreu. Why? Because they tried that and it didn’t work. They are a mid-market team, despite being in Chicago. This offseason they tried to acquire consistent veterans. The problem is, even though baseball players are playing at the highest level, they’re no sure thing. People tend to associate risk with prospects, which is understandable, but tend to remove all risks from established big-leaguers. The White Sox also had a lot of holes, which they could not plug with money or prospects, because they don’t have the money to acquire high-impact players, nor do they have the prospects. They will never be able to build around Sale. Teams make this mistake all the time because they are not willing to stomach the reaction to trading a franchise player. So, if they keep Sale, they will always be stuck in this perpetual grey area, where they will always be a 74-win team. Then when he leaves for free agency, they’ll get a draft pick. Woop-dee-do. Wow. Terrific. Or maybe with a half-season left on his contract, they flip him for a 55 FV guy and change. Wow. And Chris Sale would have been a wasted asset for the White Sox. Now, all this of course is assuming that he stays healthy and this elite. And that’s the real “what if”. The talent is there, no doubt. However. there have been murmurs about Sale’s elbow, and mechanics for a long time. The way he throws is unnatural. He’s lanky. He throws hard. Oh, and the sliders. You can tell he’s acknowledged the sliders because he’s cut down on his usage by more than 10% from previous years. But building around one pitcher, and hoping he keeps doing what he’s doing, is not risky at this point, but just not very intelligent. Building around pitching is risky, especially when it’s not pitching, but just one pitcher.

I also mentioned before that the Sale return would look rather incredible. This is his peak value. Right now. No minor leaguer in baseball would be off the table. You’re looking at a 65 FV, two 60/55 FVs, a 50 FV, and probably a couple low-minors guys (somewhat like what Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot looked like last year). All of a sudden, the White Sox have young, major-league ready talent that costs them nothing. They plug a lot of their holes, and they are able to sign impact guys for a lot of money because the younger guys offset that value. You don’t need to look far to see a team using a similar strategy. In fact, the White Sox need only look across town. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a rebuild, but more of a retooling. This will accelerate the franchise towards a competitive level faster than keeping Sale and crossing their fingers. Chris Sale is only losing value at this point. Teams always wait too long to trade their franchise players. Ask Rockies fans how they feel about their Troy Tulowitzki return, or Phillies fans how they feel about their Cole Hamels return. Trade Chris Sale now and in a couple years ask White Sox fans how it feels to be a perennial contender with roster flexibility, and I’ll bet every seven-year old kid that cried into a mesh Chris Sale jersey won’t want to talk to you. He’ll be too busy watching his Sox in the ALCS, as Julio Urias takes the mound.

Do the Mariners Have a Player Development Problem?

By: Jack Boulia

A few weeks ago, during a Fangraphs chat, somebody asked the question “do the Mariners have a player development problem?”. I can’t remember who the author was that answered and I’m too lazy to look, however I was curious, so I investigated this question and have come to a fairly worrisome conclusion.

Here is a Google doc I comprised of former (and current) Baseball America Top-100 prospects with their respective rankings as well as career fWAR. As you can see, the list is pretty putrid except for standouts Felix Hernandez, Adam Jones, Shin-Soo Choo, and Brandon Morrow. What is a standout, you ask? To me it’s any player on this list with 10+ career fWAR. However. Despite these four standouts, only one has really given the Mariners themselves any value, and that’s Felix Hernandez. Adam Jones has contributed a robust 0.2 fWAR to the Mariners. Shin-Soo Choo somewhere around 0.9 fWAR. And Brandon Morrow with an impressive 0.8. All the players on the Google doc added up to a number of about 138.8 fWAR. Not bad. That’s about fourteen wins a year from your homegrown players. But something doesn’t add up. The average career fWAR player for every player on this list would be about six. Divide that by ten since that’s the year range we are looking at (2005-2015), and all of a sudden a mere 0.6 fWAR per season per player doesn’t look that great. If the players they had stayed at a 0.6 fWAR pace every year, let’s say 25% of the team is homegrown, we’ll say roughly six players, that adds up to 3.6 fWAR. That’s nearly replacement level at every position. Let’s go a step further and say every single player on the Mariners roster is homegrown, and they all average 0.6 fWAR a season. That’s fifteen wins a year. Yikes. Wow, that actually looks an awful lot like the fourteen number we got a while ago. It adds up, and it works.

You can play around with the calculations a bit on the doc, you can take away Felix Hernandez, Adam Jones, Brandon Morrow, and Shin-Soo Choo and see what you get it, etc. But any way you slice it, Mariners prospects have been bad. Three of those four guys, as mentioned before, accumulated nearly all their fWAR on different teams, and probably wouldn’t be the same players they have been today if they stuck with the Mariners. But any way you play around with the calculations, it’s bad.

A common question people tend to ask is “if a player is good enough, he shouldn’t need coaching to reach his potential, right?”. While it sounds like a stupid question, and it is, it’s one of the most commonly asked questions in the sabermetric community. Unfortunately, the community is still so “by-the-numbers” that it forgets the scouting aspect of the game and the psychological part. A lack of coaching and proper preparation for the higher levels is absolutely a factor, even if you can’t quantify it. There are two types of data; qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative data can be measured, while qualitative is seen, or experienced. You can’t tell me if the same prospect were to go through the St. Louis Cardinals organization he wouldn’t be more successful. He absolutely would. I won’t use Cardinals prospects in particular here, but they turn guys like Matt Carpenter into superstars. The Cardinals are perennially stacked in Top-100 lists, but all the players on there don’t flop. In fact many succeed in some capacity. But some teams, specifically the Mariners, are completely and utterly hopeless when it comes to developing players.

Personal Fantasy Recap–44%

By: Jack Boulia

As evidenced in the title, it’s crazy to think the baseball season is nearly halfway over. I will be recapping my draft and looking at my pickups as I currently reside in third place, having a fairly successful season so far.

To the left of the player is where the respective player went in the draft, and to the right is obviously the price.

21-Jose Bautista-$39

33-Ryan Braun-$24

45-Chris Sale-$28

57-Yoenis Cespedes-$20

59-Starling Marte-$16

68-Mookie Betts-$14

69-Mark Trumbo-$10

77-Martin Prado-$8

81-Aroldis Chapman-$20

82-JD Martinez-$20

97-Evan Gattis-$18

100-Craig Kimbrel-$18

130-Jose Fernandez-$11

200-Jake McGee-$3

213-Rougned Odor-$1

224-Phil Hughes-$1

233-Brandon McCarthy-$1

242-Hector Rondon-$1

251-Marcus Semien-$1

260-Mike Fiers-$1

269-Danny Santana-$1

277-Wilmer Flores-$1

285-Michael Saunders-$1

293-Desmond Jennings-$1

297-Marlon Byrd-$1

Picks 21-45: In the draft room at my house, I was given a lot of crap for waiting until after the twentieth pick of the entire draft. i inflated my values to 70% for hitters and figured I would be outbidding everyone, however that was far from what happened and I got quite a late start to the draft. I paid a heavy price for Jose Bautista, considering him to be one of the safest hitters in the draft. He has been a bit underwhelming this year so far, however he is in a potent Blue Jays lineup and the projections seem optimistic in terms of the power for the rest of the season. Ryan Braun will end up about breaking even and has returned to some power this year despite an underwhelming average. And Chris Sale has been an absolute stud after a rough start to the season. I spent 35% of my draft budget on these three players, and honestly haven’t gotten 35% of my team’s worth from them, so I am a little disappointed. Braun will break about even and Sale has been terrific, but the money I sunk into Bautista feels wasted at this moment and ruins the other two picks.

Picks 57-69: I thought $20 for Cespedes was somewhat cheap, but due to his lack of HR, R, and RBIs in a deep Detroit lineup, I will probably break about even with this, too. I still really liked the pick at the time, and still stand by it now. One of, if not my favorite pick in this draft, was Marte at $16. He’s an incredible fantasy asset and keeps getting better, however he is not even on my team anymore (more on that later). I’m a Red Sox fan, but when I nabbed Betts at $14 I thought I had a legitimate steal. Though his average is “suffering” right now to around the tune of .270, he has added some HRs and SBs and will end up being about a $14 player. I saw a high-floor, high-ceiling player which is very rare and I believe the price of $14 was and is justifiable. Trumbo is the next of the guys I basically got in rapid succession and I got him for a mere $10. I thought all the computers in my league had glitched; while he’s not an elite 1B, he puts up the time of offensive numbers that help a lot in three categories. Except just not for me. He’s sorely lacking in every category and even at $10 this is a pretty disappointing pick. I spent $60 on all four of these picks; good for 23% of my draft money, and I believe they’ve been that and possibly more despite underwhelming numbers. Marte would have saved this on his own even if I had not traded him.

Picks 77-82: Nothing really wrong with Prado at $8. Decent average, poor power, bad counting numbers but he is versatile and pretty reliable (although currently residing on the 15 Day-DL). Not a sexy pick, but whatever. I liked Chapman at $20 and still do, he’s the best in the game at what he does despite not having that many saves to his credit. Obviously not his fault, but I did pay for saves and should easily be leading, however I’m currently tied for third. Next was a player that polarized fantasy owners everywhere; JD Martinez. I believed in Martinez, clearly, and gambled kind of heavily at $20. While he’ll end up with decent power numbers and likely break even at his price, the counting numbers are kind of disappointing. Fantasy owners that own any Tiger besides Iglesias and Cabrera have been fairly disappointed this year, but it’s tough to predict counting stats. I paid $48 for these three which becomes 18% and I believe I have gotten more value than what I paid for.

Picks 97-130: Gattis really struggled at the beginning of the season, and I mean really struggled, with many panicked fantasy owners dropping him. While the average hurts, the HRs and counting stats have been welcome and he has really been a big part of my fantasy team’s resurgence after a putrid first two months. $18 at a scarce position with pretty good numbers; I like it. The Astros have a loaded lineup, and I only see room for Gattis to grow even more this season. I can’t remember why, but Kimbrel went really late in this draft and I still paid a steep price at $18 at pick one-hundred. There have been quite a few saves, but I paid a lot for Kimbrel to actually help with my rates, and with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP, he hasn’t really helped. The strikeouts are nice, but still disappointing. But the saves. Oh, the saves. He’s on pace for 30+ despite being on a poor Padres team. He has been better recently. I like this pick a lot. My last pick in this rung is Jose Fernandez, and if you know me, you know I have an extreme soft spot for Jose Fernandez, and I mean extreme. Last year I paid $22 for Jose Fernandez, and despite a shortened season, I felt like I got my money’s worth. And $11 for a half-season of one of the most talented pitchers on the planet is well worth the price of admission and was a smart gamble for such a low price. This rung cost me $47 and was a mere 18% of my budget, however Kimbrel and Gattis have kept my team afloat, and I expect Jose Fernandez to have an enormous second half, further bolstering my pitching staff.

Picks 200-242: Although McGee was injured to begin the season, I loved what I saw last year, and I already feel I have gotten my money’s worth at $3. He has incredible rate stats and is starting to be given save opportunities again which I am surely thankful for. Next is Odor, and for $1, coming out of the draft this was my favorite pick. After struggling to hit the first half of last year, Odor tore it up in the second half and I thought he made the necessary adjustments to be a 15/15 guy. Well. Although he has been better of recent, right now he has hurt my team quite a bit. However, a demotion and utter demolition to AAA has brought me back on board the Odor hype train and I bet I see more than $1 of value going forward. Another bargain pick, I absolutely loved Phil Hughes and getting him for a dollar made me swell with joy. I thought he could be a 3.65ish ERA guy and loved the changes he made. But this year the homer has been a burden, and it hasn’t exactly been fluky, either. Hughes has always given up home runs, and last year was more the outlier than the norm. He’s stopped striking guys out; essentially he is still as efficient of a strike thrower, however he is not throwing good strikes. I don’t know why I keep trotting him out there, I should probably cut and run while I can. However I will get Hisashi Iwakuma back soon (will explain later), and Jose Fernandez. All of my favorite picks in this draft went down the drain. My goodness. Brandon McCarthy at $1? Love, love, love. He had terrific rates at the beginning of the year and I identified him as a second-half surger last year, which he did. This might be the most disappointing injury that will happen to me this year. However, to end things in this tier, I liked Hector Rondon coming into the season, and although it’s more “closer-by-committee” now in Chicago, I’m still hanging onto him as he’s still getting save opportunities and has generally been good. I spent a mere $7 on this tier, or 3% of my total budget and it’s hard to argue with that. They have probably been worth around that already, but I like the potential in this group, especially Odor and McGee, moving forward.

Picks 251-297: Semien at the beginning of the season looked like a steal, so naturally as owners started adding him I dropped him. I really liked Semien at the beginning of the season, but there was something I saw that owners didn’t see and he has regressed pretty poorly, to my chagrin. I basically used Semien for his hot month and dropped him; I can identify flashes in the pan, and that’s all that month or so was. Loved Fiers coming into the season. He has an ugly 4.50 ERA, however FIP and xFIP really like him, still, and most importantly so do I. He’s striking out batters that a guy with his stuff shouldn’t, but he still is. He’s been very unlucky (.368 BABIP) and feel very confident in his ability to continue supplying value. Danny Santana was what he was and was quickly dropped. In this tier, only Fiers remains. I went through a pretty ruthless cut-and-run after seeing what other owners dropped at the beginning of the year. Flores has been rather solid and it was actually a somewhat difficult decision dropping him because I have always loved his bat. Michael Saunders was one of my 15/15 sleepers this year, but got injured and performed poorly at the beginning of the season. And Marlon Byrd was just terrible. Coming out of the draft, however, I thought I won my league in this tier. It cost me $7, so 3% of my budget. Fiers has maybe helped in strikeouts? Or maybe a decent month of Semien? Anyway. Pretty awful. Blegh. Let’s forget this.

Adds: So my team looks really different. At shortstop I have Jimmy Rollins, which I’m not proud of, but I don’t hate either. Added Dozier after the owner dropped him after a rough two weeks. That’s right, you read that correctly. Two weeks. Dozier has been terrific for me. I also added Adam LaRoche, and I know this isn’t very “sabr-friendly”, but I’m really banking on his second half. I also added Javier Baez, and my goodness was I excited when he was tearing up AAA and showing enormous improvement. Then he got injured. But I like his potential too much to drop him, so he is still on my bench. Then I added Torii Hunter, because I can’t quit him for some reason. I also added Brett Cecil, who has been pretty awful and Steve Cishek who was just recalled from AA after being demoted. So, you win some, you lose some. But these guys have been historically better, and I’m still sticking through it for that reason. And lastly, I picked up Hisashi Iwakuma, who went on the DL and I love Iwakuma so he’s been bench-warming with Jose Fernandez for a bit. Yes, Iwakuma was dropped after two or three starts. Because fantasy owners don’t believe there are other months after April. But I really decided to make over my roster through free agency adds because people, well…they don’t like trading with me.

Trades: Ha. Well, as mentioned before, people hate trading with me. I don’t purposely go out of my way to screw people over. I don’t pester people with ridiculous trade offers like Jimmy Rollins for Jose Bautista. Oh wait, that actually happened. Rollins had a hot two weeks of April, and the owner of Bautista two weeks into the season, agreed to that trade. I did not say anything. But I prey on impatience. Remember Chris Davis’ fifty-three homer season from 2013? I got him and another starter for Torii Hunter. In April. Last year I traded for Corey Kluber. In April. This year I traded for Corey Kluber. In May. I traded Starling Marte because I had a surplus of outfielders, for a struggling Corey Kluber. And the day after I got Kluber, he merely racked up eighteen strikeouts in one game. Since then he has brought his ERA down to 3.65 with a minuscule 2.66 FIP and a 2.79 xFIP. Right around the Kluber trade, Chris Sale started to be Chris Sale and I rocketed through the rankings. And people hate that I have Kluber, even though that trade helped both teams immensely. At the time of the trade, the owner and I were sixth and seventh place, respectively. Now, we occupy second and third, and we are just barely out of first. A few weeks ago I offered Torii Hunter for Stephen Strasburg and his response was simply “absolutely not”. I hate adding players to make my team better, but nobody trades with me now.

Moving Forward: Interestingly at the beginning of the season, in April, I was in eleventh place out of twelve. All my players were underperforming, and Marcus Semien was the only one keeping my team from being a complete and utter disaster. Halfway through May, I moved to sixth and seventh. I traded for Kluber and my players started regressing positively and I shot up through the rankings. It was incredible. Patience is my best skill in fantasy. Right now I sit seven points out of first, and I feel like I’m in a good position. Although it sounds boring, I probably don’t make anymore moves from here on out. I like how my pitching looks, and I have a few offensive assets with a lot of potential. It’ll be interesting to review this at the end of the season.

Appreciating Desmond Jennings

By: Jack Boulia

In 2009, Desmond Jennings was the sixth-best prospect in all of baseball and was the Tampa Bay Rays’ number one prospect (per Baseball America). In 2011, Jennings racked up 2.4 fWAR in 287 plate appearances, and if you extend that ratio to six hundred plate appearances, Jennings was on pace for a five-win season. Jennings was fairly exciting in 2011, slashing .259/.356/.449 to go along with ten homers and twenty steals which, if you extend it to six hundred plate appearances again, gives you twenty-one homers and forty-two steals. All of this was supported by a .303 BABIP which is right in line with the league-average. He had a wRC+ of 128, which doesn’t exactly grow on trees. Combine this with scouting reports of above-average to stellar defensive marks in center field, and the Rays had a budding star on their hands.

Then, from 2012-2014, Jennings slashed .247/.322/.393 with a .296 BABIP, so he earned that slash line. He had a 105 wRC+, so he was a pretty much average offensive contributor. Soon after, Jennings lost the shine of his prospect status after not being able to replicate his fantastic rookie season, and was essentially forgotten, even being labeled a bust by many. Yet, from 2012-2014, he quietly put up three straight three-win seasons, good for 9.7 fWAR. Defensive metrics generally agreed with the scouting reports as Jennings was definitely an above-average centerfielder. He was quietly becoming one of the more valuable players in the major leagues for a financially-challenged Rays team.

At twenty-eight years old, Jennings is still in his prime, yet speed peaks very early and defense tends to erode quickly, so I had tempered expectations coming into this season. ZiPS did too, projecting Jennings for twenty stolen bases (nothing to scoff at), but also 2.5 wins due to average projected defensive marks in center field. Jennings was a 60 FV player that turned into a 55 FV one; a drop off, but not a significant one, and still a very valuable one. Jennings also hasn’t exactly been an ideal model of health during his career, so his projection is hurt there as well, however, his move to the corner outfield should help save his legs in the long-run. The incredible Kevin Kiermaier has most likely displaced Jennings in center field (and will also be written about shortly), so the Rays share my concerns, and ZiPS’ concerns, as well.

Everyone knew about Jennings’ ailing knee last year, however it really hasn’t gone away and unfortunately he has only been limited to seventy-two very poor, very injured plate appearances this year. This may end up being a lost year for Jennings who is only projected for about two-hundred plate appearances the rest of the year, equating to somewhere between 0.6-0.9 fWAR. I had the idea for this article last year, so this paragraph seems somewhat out of place in an article that praises Desmond Jennings. However, the fWAR projection for a healthy Desmond Jennings still have him on pace to be an average to above-average player when he comes back.

Jennings will never reach the lofty, superstar status everyone had equated him with for years, however he’s still had quite the career so far, despite going almost universally unrecognized. Though he’s injured, his speed has peaked, and his defense is beginning to drop off, I still see Jennings being an average to above-average baseball player moving forward. Most people hear average and think “eh”, but he’s an average baseball player relative to the best seven-hundred and fifty baseball players in the world. Though this year is probably lost for Jennings, I wrote this more to say “hey, look at what he’s done over his career” just to draw attention to it, because it deserves to have attention drawn to it. Jennings is not going to be a productive fantasy player going forward. He’s barely going to contribute on the field this year. But as a baseball fan, sometimes you have to sit back and admire the under-appreciated player, because they’re often the most valuable.

What Exactly is Dansby Swanson?

By: Jack Boulia

If you follow the MLB even relatively closely, you’ll notice that this year’s draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory. There are no 60 FV players (on the basic scouting scale of 20-80), with the closest being prep arm Kolby Allard who grades out at a 55/60 when healthy, but for now is considered a 45+ FV due to his health risks.  For those who don’t know, generally a 60 FV player is a player who is better than above-average, but isn’t quite consistent All-Star material. These are basically three-win players, or better described as very valuable. On prospect lists, FVs of 60 are generally in the tier 10-30 and are clearly highly-regarded. In this draft, there were two other players of 55 FV and the rest 50 and under. Now, don’t get me wrong–55 FV players are very valuable; they are considered to be above-average regulars and roughly 2.5 win contributors, however you generally don’t envision the number one player in the draft “only” being an above-average regular.

So, in that regard, Swanson’s name value is inflated a little and not because of his absolutely terrific name. Next year on prospect lists, I expect Swanson will be in the range of 30-80. Some people will be high on him, some people will be low on him, so let’s settle right in the middle and say he’ll be about the 55th ranked prospect (most of the guys in the 30-80 range are interchangeable, it’s splitting hairs at that point). Swanson is a relatively safe prospect; I prefer Kiley McDaniel’s work to most scouts, so I’ve been referring to him for these grades so far and will continue to do so. Anyway, according to Kiley, Swanson’s risk is a two on a scale of 1-5. His relatively low risk factors into his FV rating of 55, so there actually is a lot to like here. Scouts rave about Swanson’s terrific makeup so he could become a 60 FV down the line, but if he slides to a 50 FV, having an average major league shortstop is still a really terrific thing for any team.

I really liked this pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks; in fact, I like a lot of what they’ve been doing lately (even though I feel like it’s on accident) and there is a pretty large infusion of youth going on in Arizona at the moment. Obviously they were going to get a young player, that much is obvious. I’m not commending them for taking a young player in the MLB First Year Player Draft. However, they have Archie Bradley at a 60 FV. Braden Shipley is a 55 FV. Aaron Blair is a 55 FV. These are all starting pitchers with pretty high ceilings that are nearly Major League ready (with the exception of Bradley who has debuted). Simply put, Arizona has some very talented pitching, but are a little light on impact position players outside of Brandon Drury. Dansby Swanson is a pretty polished player with a high floor and shouldn’t spend a ton of time in the minors; what I’m trying to say is he’s nearly Major League ready. And he should be pretty reliable. His 75% production projection per Kiley McDaniel is .280/.350/.430 with about 12-15 homeruns. Young pitching is very volatile; Swanson reduces Arizona’s volatility factor by a quite a bit, raising the floor for the future considerably while keeping the ceiling the same.

For quite a while, Brendan Rogers was the consensus #1 pick with everything else looking murky beyond that. And truthfully, it still could have gone either way yesterday; Rogers and Swanson are nearly interchangeable. They are both shortstops with 55 FV, and Rogers’ 75% production projection was an almost identical .280/.350/.460 with 15-18 homeruns, which grades out as average power, but is pretty above average for shortstop. So, you may be wondering why Arizona took a seemingly better hitter over a seemingly inferior hitter and the answer lies in Rogers being a prep shortstop. He’s far away from the majors, a good four years if everything goes correctly, which makes the risk attached to him naturally go up. Although his risk is a three, the difference between a two-risk, and a three-risk is actually somewhat decent. If a two is a 40% risk, a three is a 60%. Like I mentioned before; Swanson is closer. And college-experienced. It makes him a better pick for the Diamondbacks because there is less risk attached to a nearly-identical player who is closer to the big leagues. Arizona keeps hinting that they do want to contend pretty soon with a pretty large infusion of highly-volatile, albeit talented, players. Think of this year’s Astros, or probably more accurately the Mets who are loaded with young pitching and have young position players like Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares. This is a team that’s a couple years from potentially being a big threat, and Dansby Swanson just made them look a whole lot more believable.

How the Padres Went From Bad to Mediocre

By: Jack Boulia

In 2014, the Padres offense was historically bad. As a team, they posted a .226/.292/.342 triple slash line and I promise you there is not a single typo. With an absolutely putrid 82 wRC+ and a 10.1 WAR on offense, the Padres were one of the worst offensive teams of all time. However, the Padres had a wealth of good pitching combined with the pitcher-friendly PETCO park, leading to a team ERA of 3.27. The only teams with better pitching consisted of the Nationals and Mariners. The pitching was good enough to propel them to a 77-85 record which, while not good, wasn’t totally indicative of a team in bad shape. However, BaseRuns is indicative of a team in bad shape. Seventy-seven wins looks like a team on the upswing. Seventy-two wins, however, looks like a team that is completely lost. So, this offseason, AJ Preller set out to improve his team. And he did. It was a dramatic transformation in terms of looks and fan interest, but in terms of actually getting better, Preller’s work leaves a lot to be desired.

Now, to start, I do think the Padres got better, though marginally in terms of actual talent. I’ll list a quick synopsis of the key players, in my opinion, that they acquired and traded away.

Acquired 

Matt Kemp

Justin Upton

Derek Norris

Brandon Maurer

Wil Myers

Will Middlebrooks

Traded Away

Rene Rivera

Ryan Hanigan

Yasmani Grandal

Jesse Hahn

Max Fried

Seth Smith

Acquired

Right off the bat, you can tell the Padres did improve. They also brought back Josh Johnson, and also brought in Brandon Morrow. And while the two are seemingly never healthy, they signed them relatively cheaply and betting on talent is safer than betting on health. But that’s the thing; if Morrow and Johnson are question marks, what makes the other players safe? Granted if you throw enough questions against the wall, some have to be sure answers. It’s the reason why people diversify portfolios in stocks, or why teams stockpile prospects. Something has to stick. 

I’ll write brief a brief synopsis about each player, starting with Matt Kemp. You don’t have to scroll down very far to find my article convincing you to draft Matt Kemp for fantasy purposes; and I still stand by it. Even with his trade to PETCO, Kemp is far from a useless offensive player. And yeah, he was the best man at the disabled list’s marriage standing next to the 2014 Texas Rangers, but when he’s healthy, he is an absolute offensive force. Steamer is a good deal lower now on Kemp after the trade, however he still projects for twenty homers and a .266/.336/.452 slash line which isn’t bad. Combine that with average defense, and you should have a three-four win player. The problem is, Kemp does not combine good offense with good, or, even average defense. He combines good offense with some of the worst defense in the major leagues, if not the worst which significantly saps his actual value. Steamer projects Kemp as a 1.9 win player, basically equivalent to my two-win projection. That’s a league average player. League average players go for a lot these days, and for the Padres, Kemp is essentially being paid as a league average player. It’s not good value, it’s not bad value, it’s fair value. He’ll be worth his contract this year. This year. Let’s assume, now that Kemp is older than thirty, that if he were to stay healthy all five years, he would decline at a healthy 0.5 wins per year. Adjust for inflation, and this deal may not look bad, right? But if Kemp declines at a half-win per year, he goes from average, to below average, to bad, to replacement level, to below replacement level. Granted I think it is a bit harsh to call Kemp below replacement level, but you get the point. This will become ugly and his money will be a sunk cost. And before you lampoon me for advocating Kemp in my previous post, realize that there is an enormous disparity in value between real-life and fantasy. I do think five years and $77 million would be a fair price on the free agent market for Kemp. Would I do it? Probably not, because surplus value is important. But the Padres didn’t sign Kemp, they traded for him, giving up a valuable piece in the process.

Justin Upton is a very good player. Not much to write about him. He was hurt a bit in projections after his move to PETCO, however he still projects for twenty-three home runs and a .253/.337/.442 slash line. I guessed he’d be a roughly three-win player; Steamer projects him for 2.8. Last year he was a very good 3.9 wins. He’s being paid a relatively cheap $14.5 million dollars this year, the final year of his contract. Because this is his final year, the Padres look to be going for it. Upton is potent offensively, make no mistake, however Preller once again sacrificed outfield defense for more offense (more on why this is especially bad for the Padres in a bit). If I were a general manager of a competitive team, I would have made this trade. However, I would have rather kept what the Padres gave up given their situation. Not terrible, just…confusing.

Last year, Derek Norris broke out with the A’s. I hadn’t seen Norris really until the wild card game last year, but I saw enough to realize he’s nothing special at the position, even in so short a small sample size. Fangraphs seems to generally like his defense, and Steamer projects him to be fairly good, but StatCorner doesn’t like his framing. He doesn’t project to hit well next year (.235/.325/.386 slash line) and he’s being paid pretty much nothing. Interestingly, Steamer likes Norris enough for 2.3 wins in ninety-eight games, but frankly, I just don’t like him as much. Norris is essentially projected for 3.8 wins over a full season, and I don’t think he’d be a part-time catcher if he was that good, nor do I think the A’s would give up a four-win catcher making league minimum at a pretty young age. The Padres didn’t give up much so I still like it, though I’m sure the pitchers will definitely suffer throwing to Norris as opposed to Rene Rivera. Or Yasmani Grandal. Or Ryan Hanigan. Pitchers and catcher defense complement each other, and Padres pitchers become worse throwing to Norris.

Quietly, this may have been the Padres best acquisition; now-former Mariners pitcher Brandon Maurer. Still very young and affordable at twenty-four years of age, Maurer had always exhibited great control in the minors, and last year he posted an impressive 2.45 BB/9 to go along with an average 7.11 K/9, leading to a very promising 3.49 FIP. He should leave more men on when adjusting for regression, and Steamer likes him a lot next year, projecting him for a 3.67 ERA, 8.34 K/9, and 2.89 BB/9. That’s a very valuable pitcher to have. I really, really like Maurer, actually more than anyone else the Padres acquired. He could be a good mid-rotation starter for years to come, and if he doesn’t start, he should post sparkling relief numbers.

Here’s probably going to be the most polarizing part of the article; I don’t like Wil Myers. Neither did the Royals, neither did the Rays. According to scouts and personnel, Myers is un-coachable and refuses to make adjustments. When people think of Wil Myers, they think of the former top prospect who had a fantastic rookie year, hitting sixteen home runs to go along with a .293/.354/.478 slash line who had a bad season because he was injured. But when I think of Wil Myers, I think of his .362 BABIP his rookie year. I think of his shaky defense. I think of his personality and refusal to make adjustments. I see a major league hitter that can’t hit a fastball and that hit .227/.313/.354 before he landed on the disabled list last year. And his Steamer projections aren’t anything to dream on, either. Unless Myers comes back and has a ton of power, enough to hit thirty-plus home runs, I don’t see anything to be remotely excited about. He could be league-average. Preller did not give up much. But I’d rather take a chance on what he gave up than what he got.

The last key player they acquired I used to be very excited about and also suffered from a BABIP-inflated rookie year; Will Middlebrooks. Not a lot to say about Middlebrooks, he has a ton of power, but not much else. And, oh, the thing about power. It becomes useful when you can make contact, a skill that Middlebrooks sorely lacks. It seems a bit cruel to call him a major league hitter since he doesn’t actually hit anything. He’s fringe-average defensively at third base to boot, contributing no value anywhere and taking up space on a roster. As a fan of baseball, it frustrates me that a team still values Middlebrooks. But as a Red Sox fan? I’ve never been more excited about Ryan Hanigan.

Traded Away

Fans of catcher defense love Rene Rivera. Padres pitchers loved throwing to Rene Rivera, and for good reason. If you believe in framing metrics, Rivera was worth almost two full wins from pitch framing. But it’s not only his value that helps a team, it’s that it makes the pitchers throwing to him more valuable. In 2014 alone, Rivera was worth three full wins according to Fangraphs in the most extended look he’s had in his entire career. He did this while making nearly nothing; his surplus value is enormous. Steamer projects Rivera to be a two-win player next year. I think it’s a low estimation since pitch framing is not a variable in WAR. Rivera only has to be an average bat as a catcher to be one of the most valuable catchers in baseball. The move from Rivera to Norris makes the Padres a significantly worse team not only on defense, but overall.

Fans of catcher defense will also appreciate Ryan Hanigan, the new Red Sox acquisition. While nothing flashy, Hanigan does add depth and plays very good defense at a relatively cheap price. His defense is valuable enough to make him good in short spurts; but I feel like he would have been a more than acceptable stopgap for defensive whiz Austin Hedges as well as adding value to the Padres pitching staff.

I’m all aboard the Yasmani Grandal hype train. Grandal, of course, was a former top prospect. Once again, there is a general theme here; catcher defense. Catcher defense.

Catcher defense.

It’s valuable. Grandal was worth roughly 1.3 wins last year just based on framing. I’m sure his pitchers appreciated his skill. As a former catcher who was a glove-first guy at the position, I can tell you with confidence framing is a skill that goes unnoticed. Because I caught through travel ball at a younger age, I was able to take advantage of a rather large strike zone and it saved games at times. It saved innings. Grandal is projected for 2.3 wins by Steamer, and most of the weight here comes from his offense since framing isn’t a variable in WAR. He’s probably pushing a three-win player and is making nothing. And like I mentioned before, that three wins is very nice, but he makes his pitching staff better, too. Last year we saw Devin Mesoraco break out as a post-hype sleeper and though Grandal won’t have a season like Mesoraco’s, he’ll break out in his own right. Catchers take a while to develop and Grandal is at the age where he is primed to be one of the most valuable catchers in baseball.

For me personally, due to PETCO suppressing fly balls, pitchers and defense are more valuable to the Padres than hitters. Exploit your strengths if you can’t improve a weakness. Jesse Hahn never made any Top-100 prospect lists. He was a relative no-name until he debuted with the Padres last season. Last year he posted a great strikeout rate of 8.59 K/9 and an OK walk rate of 3.93 BB/9. This led to a 3.07 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and 3.59 xFIP. While I don’t totally believe in Hahn, I do like his mix of pitches, and I especially like his changeup. He’ll be a good back of the rotation starter to have, but the most innings he’s thrown as a professional was last year at 73.1 innings. His 50.3% ground ball rate will make him a great fit in Oakland, and although I don’t think he has the durability to go over 140 innings as a starter, he could be a terrific middle relief pitcher and good rotation depth to have.

This might be the most intriguing part of the trade, former Top-100 prospect Max Fried. Pre-2013 he ranked #61 on Baseball Prospectus’ list and pre-2014 he ranked #55 but was rated higher in both seasons by both Baseball America and MLB.com. He’s still only twenty years old and is a former first round pick now recovering from Tommy John surgery. While Tommy John surgery this young generally constitutes some risk, in his extended looks since being drafted, he’s clearly a talented pitcher. Sure he comes with a bit of risk, but it’s easier to bet on talent than health. He doesn’t throw a ridiculously hard fastball, nor does he throw a slider often enough to be a concern, so this may just be a one time thing. The Braves also have a tendency of developing very good pitchers and if Fried develops like he should, he could be a very nice #3/4 starter.

The last main player, possibly the main player they traded away, is Seth Smith. Smith was a nice little player for the Padres last year, compiling a healthy 2.6 wins in 521 plate appearances last year. Smith is a great platoon bat and has always crushed right handed pitching to the tune of .277/.358/.481 over his career. Simply put, he’s a fantastic platoon option for anyone and it was a very fair trade in my opinion, with a little bit of an edge going to the Padres. Just a quick little anecdote about Smith, I don’t know why, but I find it interesting he’s spent his career in the most extreme home ballparks playing in Coors Field, the Coliseum, PETCO, and now Safeco.

And now time to wrap up what is easily my longest article to date. By name value, the Padres got better. They’re exciting and will be fun to watch. However. Their pitching staff, if they stay the same talent-wise, actually got worse. Significantly. A very poor defensive outfield combined with a below-average pitch-framer makes that staff less valuable. And their staff was the reason they didn’t fade into oblivion last year. The players they added besides Upton are question marks, some of whom are on the decline, and one very expensive question mark that will cost $77 million. Hard to believe there wasn’t a more efficient way to spend that money. So really, the Padres got better but paid a significant price. They traded away what made them serviceable in the first place.

Play to your strengths.

Don’t upgrade a weakness that can’t be fixed.