Rob is a senior writer for Baseball Prospectus.
Rob Mains: Hey, before we start a programming note. We're going to try to get a regular chat schedule set up after the holidays, with a day per week each for prospects and fantasy, in addition to folks like me. So I'm not going to be taking prospects and fantasy questions today. (I swear a lot of you put them in my queue to try to rile me up.) Mark Barry will be handling fantasy questions TOMORROW! And we'll line up prospects chats soon. I'm not a prospects person, and anybody in my fantasy leagues can tell you how bad I am at that. So let's start!
Cole Hamels (Chicago, now, I guess): Am I still gonna be mediocre Texas Cole Hamels next year or am I gonna be good Chicago Cole Hamels?
Rob Mains: You turn 35 next week, man. Both FIP and DRA say you weren't as bad in Texas as your ERA suggests, but they also say you weren't as good in Chicago as your ERA suggests, either. Wrigley's a hitter's park, but not as much as Globe Life. So something in line with your full-year numbers last year: mid-high 3's ERA, about a whiff per inning--seems reasonable.
Alec Denton (Atlanta): Region is such a central part of wine conversations because geography (and all of its associated environmental and climatological components) is so important in determining the nature of fruit development. Region similarly is a central part of the player-development conversation in baseball, and there now seems to be a geographical orientation that favors players raised in warm-weather climate zones that permit year-round outdoor play (New Jersey's Mike Trout being a notable exception). That wasn't always the case, though. Do you expect, e.g., California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida to continue to lead the pack? What sorts of changes might lead to a shift in this regard?
Rob Mains: Climate change.
OK, straight answer. Obviously, the problem up here (I'm in upstate NY--where Patrick Corbin hails from!) is that the season's so short. There was snow on the ground up here well into March. So kids don't get the reps they can in warmer climates. The answer, I suspect, will be baseball-oriented boarding schools in the sun belt where high school kids will go for the second and third quarters of th year. (For all I know, they already exist. We have similar academies for skiers up here.) That will then exacerbate the problem of baseball increasingly becoming a rich kid's sport, given the demands of travel ball, showcases, etc. So a bad solution! The easier answer, of course, is that teams realize that amateurs in cold-weather climates are the new market inefficiency. But the lack of information about these kids will hamper things.
Dusty (Colorado): Thoughts on Twins prospect Wander Javier? What's his upside?
Rob Mains: Do any of you read Jeff Sullivan's chats over at FanGraphs? There was a guy, Bork, who led off all his chats by saying, "Hello, friend." Dusty, I am pronouncing your Wander Javier question the official kickoff of my chats henceforth. (Not that I'm going to answer it.)
jgaztambide (Louisville): What are some changes happening around baseball that we're NOT talking about? We know all about shifts, defensive positioning, Trackman, and the opener, but what are some other things teams are experimenting with that we're not aware of yet but should be?
Rob Mains: Injury monitoring. Teams are doing a lot with wearable technology (and running into a lot of HIPAA issues, but that's another story) to collect data on players' movements, respiration, etc. It gets a little iffy--hence the HIPAA concerns--in terms of how it winds up getting used, but if you can get advance warning that your pitcher's showing signs of fatigue, or injury, that'd be a huge step forward. But players are concerned about privacy and how information may be used against them. But there's a lot of research going on, for obvious reasons.
Nils (NY): With Verlander a FA after the 2019 season, do you think he can get a 3+ year deal next offseason? Can he remain effective through his late 40s?
Rob Mains: I assume you mean late 30s...there isn't much a record of that, but then, dude's already an outlier. If his upcoming Age 36 season's as good as his Age 35, I'd think yeah. We're obvously talking about a freak of nature who'd pitched 200+ innings in 11 of the past 12 years. Assuming 2019 makes it 12 of 13, I assume a team signs him for three in hopes of getting two productive years from him.
tallahassee (Chatham, NJ): Does Joey Gallo reach new heights this year? Or can we expect the same kind of power with the OBP compensating for the low BA?
Rob Mains: I should know this, but I don't: I don't know what the career arc is for extreme TTO guys like Gallo. He's only 25, so there is room for improvement, but good golly, I sure don't see evidence of it. I mean, his ratio of home runs to singles was lower in 2018 than in 2017, but it was still > 1, which is pretty nuts. He's such an extreme player, and I don't know that the extreme guys change that much. Given his age, though, I think he's a 3-4 win guy for several more years, and that's something.
Alec Denton (Atlanta): Anticipating that he will be the everyday shortstop when he suits up for Detroit this spring, Jordy Mercer will be the most-experienced player to make his team debut at that position for the Tigers since Jhonny Peralta in 2010 and the oldest (I think) since Adam Everett in 2009. I've scouted Mercer's modest stat line, but you've watched him regularly with the Pirates. What do you think it's reasonable for the Tigers to expect to get from Mercer in 2019?
Rob Mains: Mercer is your basic generic shortstop. The advanced metrics all agree that he's become a below-average fielder, but it's more a case of him not making the spectacular play than butchering routine ones. Jose Iglesias he's not. Two things to be concerned about. First, he's never played more than 149 games in a season, so expect to see a fair amount of Ronny Rodriguez. Second, the bat, which was acceptable in 2016 and 2017, declined in 2018. Could be injuries, or could be a guy who's 32. In any case, he's down-in-the-order placeholder, but looking at the Tigers' farm system, I'm not exactly sure for whom. Isaac Paredes? Tigers gonna win, what, 65-75 games this year, maybe? Mercer's not going to keep them out of the postseason or anything.
Carl (Fresno): Do you see Kyle Tucker getting a call up soon? Should I be stashing him in my league? Once he graduates, who replaces him in the Astros top 10?
Rob Mains: OK, this is kind of a prospects/fantasy question, but I'm going to take it because it applies to this year in the MLB. And that is: Holy moley, the deal for Brantley sure hoses him. You've already got Reddick and Springer and Kemp. I think he still gets playing time--you can squint and see him breaking camp with the club--but unless somebody gets moved, I think he's somewhat blocked now. My answer would have been different 24 hours ago.
Derek (Big Apple): How strong is the marlins park factor for pitchers now? Any pitchers there you like in particular?
Rob Mains: Checking...yeah, that's quite a pitcher's park. Decent argument it's the most extreme in the game. (San Francisco and Queens may have something to say about that.) I *guess* Trevor Richards is OK. I'm not a big fan of the Marlins pitchers tbh. They're not Orioles-quality cover-your-eyes but I don't see the nucleus of the next winning Miami team there. (Hey and sorry for the delayed answer; internet hiccup on my end)
sportsguy21792 (Nowhere): What level of a prospect would Milw have to send to AZ to pay down Greinke's deal to $25M annually?
Rob Mains: That'd be $29.5M of salary relief. So you're saying Arizona sends Greinke and $29.5 million to Milwaukee for prospects? Well, after having just written that I think teams saying they can't "afford" a player is BS, I think the Brewers would still say they can't "afford" Greinke under those terms, given that he's already 35. (Verlander is less than a year older.) Were Greinke four years younger, I think he'd fetch maybe a couple of Milwaukee's top 15 or so prospects, including one legit blue chip.
roxfan12 (Colorado): Hi Rob, Can you please make sense of the Rockies mess? Good, young talent in McMahon, Tapia and others, who just don't get a legit shot. Is *this* the year the insanity ends?!?
Rob Mains: I don't know whether it's ownership or management that calls the shots there, but they really need to call different shots. It must be really hard to be a fan of that club. As you may have read, we think that the park factors for Coors may be overstated, but there's no question it's a hitter's park, and it's like management doesn't buy it, thinks everybody's batting line is true talent. Until there's a recognition that they need to fix the offense, they're going to squander the best pitching staff in club history. And, as you imply, somebody's gotta explain the concept of "sunk costs" to these guys. Most teams, to a degree, tend to put the most expensive team on the field rather than the best one. The Rockies do it more to their detriment than others. You're paying Desmond $38M over the next three years no matter what you do, so get the best lineup on the field for crying out loud. (sorry for the rant, but I don't see evidence that the insanity is ending imminently)
spwood (DE): What is reasonable to expect out of Nimmo this year? Love the guy and his plate discipline/ power combo, but his swing and miss problems in the strike zone are really worrisome.
Rob Mains: I wrote about Nimmo when were rolling out DRC+. In general, the three advanced hitting metrics--OPS+, wRC+, and DRC+--agree on hitters. Nimmo's an exception. DRC+ sees him as good, not great. The strikeouts are one thing, but our hangup is that Nimmo doesn't hit an unusual number of balls into the outfield, yet he had an outstanding BABIP (.351). That sounds like an outlier. I'd be less concerned about his K rate (which fell from 29% to 22% from the first half to the second, btw) than gravity pulling that BABIP back down the Earth. I'd expect good performance, but not what he gave you last year.
Sam (NJ): Next Big Prospect to make big jump like Acuna did last year?
Rob Mains: I don't do prospects but this is a gimme. The obvious answer has to be Vladito, right? You can make a cogent argument that he's one of the top 25 hitters in the game *right now*.
Alec Denton (Atlanta): A lot of people expected free-agent signings to rebound this offseason relative to last offseason due to the superior talent available this time around. It also seems like more teams may be treating the luxury tax like a salary cap. What's your early read on how free-agent signing is shaping up right now? Bryce Harper sure picked a bad time to have his second-worst season by WARP, didn't he?
Rob Mains: I think it's early to make the call on this free agent class. Let's see how things pick up in January. It hasn't been a drought. Corbin did well for himself. So did Brantley, so did Eovaldi, arguably so did McCutchen, and only Corbin of those four was belle-of-the-ball status. As for Harper, he hit .300/.434/.538 after the break, and his WARP was polluted by terrible defensive numbers that several people smarter than I (e.g., Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer) pointed out may be the product of, well, some self-preservation tactics he took in the outfield last year. I think the suitors will see through that. This isn't like Jonathan Lucroy turning into a pumpkin in his walk year.
Uri (Israel): Hi Rob, I swear I'm not asking this specifically to RILE you up. I'm just curious. Why such the strong dislike for prospects and fantasy? It seems a lot of BP's readers really like those things.
Rob Mains: I don't dislike them at all. They're just not area of expertise. I think if you asked most of the fantasy or prospects guys here their take on wRC+ vs DRC+, or how the game today compares with how it was played in the 1950s, or what factors are going into rapid increase in baseball team franchise values, they wouldn't have much to say. I'm fully cognizant that there is a large prospects and fantasy following here, and I feel we do a good job in both areas. But not all of our writers have expertise there; some of us dwell on other topics. I know what I know, and fantasy and prospects isn't on the list. But I have no animus toward either area. I know a lot about wine, not so much about beer, but that doesn't mean I don't like beer.
Mrs. Denton (Atlanta): Rob, would you please tell my husband Alec to take out the damn trash? He's posted so many times in this chat and nothing is getting done around the house!
Rob Mains: Ma'am, Alec posted his questions in advance and, he assures me, only after he had finished all of his household chores.
Clifford (Minneapolis): On a scale of 1-10 💩's, how many 💩's would you give the balance of Byron Buxton's playing career?
Rob Mains: Clifford, sadly, our chat interface completely garbled your unit of measure there. So let me just generally say that I am hopeful that the Twins stop screwing around with Buxton. There have been a lot of changes there--new front-office and on-field personnel in leadership roles--and one would hope that they either give him the CF job or send him somewhere else. There's a lot to be concerned about, of course, but he's flashed way more talent than, say, Billy Hamilton, and Hamilton's going to make at least $5.25 million this year from Kansas City. I expect his legs and glove to compensate for what could be only a league average-ish bat, making an overall decent ballplayer.
Henry Hucklebuck (Honolulu): Do you know if DRC+ was created just as a means to new content? You know. For the clicks.
Rob Mains: Well, you don't expect me to say "yes," do you, Henry? But having been involved with the testing, I can tell you that we saw an opportunity to move offensive stats forward by incorporating factors that other metrics don't use, like opposing pitcher and defense quality, batted ball quality, more sophisticated park factors, and the like. wRC+ and OPS+ are great metrics that moved offensive analysis forward, but they're outcomes-oriented. If Dee Gordon beats out a dribbler up the third base line off Chris Tillman, and Joey Gallo hits a rocket off Blake Snell that Kiermaier chases down, Gordon wins and Gallo loses. We think there's more to it than that. And, as Jonathan Judge showed, DRC+ is both more descriptive and more predictive than other metrics.
tallahassee (Chatham, NJ): Does Jose Peraza belong in the same tier as Elvis Andrus and Joey Wendle? Does Senzel coming up concern you about playing time issues for Peraza?
Rob Mains: Senzel can play all over the place but fortunately for Peraza, SS isn't one of those places, and it's not like if they put Senzel at second or third or the outfield they're gonna move Schebler or Suarez or Gennett to shortstop. As far as comparisons to the others, I think Peraza is one of the more underrated guys of the 2018 season. He's nothing special with the glove but he's not going to kill you, he had a pretty good bat last year (when you're done with this chat, look at his performance once the calendar turned to June), and he's a good bit younger than the other two. I don't know if his power's for real--the GAP helps everybody--but if he can maintain the contact (and maybe walk a little more?) he's valuable to a rebuilding franchise.
sportsguy21792 (3rd floor restroom): Is Miami gun shy to move Realmuto based on how bad the Yelich trade worked out or the message it sends to the fan base that there is little reason to buy season tickets for a while?
Rob Mains: Nah, I don't think that's what's going on. First, Marlins ticket sales have already cratered. Second, they're under no pressure to deal Realmuto. He doesn't become a FA until after next season. Why rush into a deal? Why not wait for the best deal you can get? Somebody's going to say uncle, or maybe some contender's catcher is going to get hurt in spring training. The Marlins don't have to do anything. Opening the season with JT Realmuto as your catcher isn't the worst outcome in the world.
Bearry (VT): Would love to have a feature, similar to the zone tool and hit tracker, where you can see offensive performance through certain dates. For example, a players DRC+ and WARP from April to August of 2018.
Rob Mains: This is a question for a Jonathan Judge or somebody else on the stats team chat, but my guess--don't hold me to that!--is that it'd be a tall order for a mixed-model equation. If you want to figure a guy's OPS+ over a range, you just have to know his OPS and the relevant park factors. DRC+ (and therefore WARP) requires a lot of other data that is not easily segmentable. Again, a stats team question.
sportsguy21792 (Santas Lap): Brewer schedule for Mar/Apr has them playing the Cardinals 3 series, the Cubs, Dodgers twice and the Rockies. That looks like an early buzz saw schedule. Who creates this stuff? Any schedule adjustments next year based on how many games had to be rescheduled in 2018?
Rob Mains: A long time ago I read an article about the people who draw up the schedules. It's an incredibly complicated linear algebra problem. Every year there will inevitably be problems. And remember, an early buzz saw means an easier schedule later in the year. As for adjusting the schedule due to last spring, remember that NOBODY wants April home games--weather sucks, kids still in school--so you can't move them all to domes and warm weather climates without really screwing the host teams. So it's luck of the draw.
tallahassee (Chatham, NJ): Last preseason, there was some Yelich buzz about his switching to a hitter friendly ball park with a stronger offense. That certainly worked out.
This season are you excited about the possibility of any particular players taking advantage of new scenery or new personnel?
Rob Mains: Building on your last question, I want to see how Senzel does in the GAP. Great question, though, let me think. But also, Yelich also hit a lot more balls in the air last year; that certainly helped. The humidor in Arizona turned that into a neutral park, so we could see a little more power from Goldschmidt, which is kinda scary. The most interesting free agent hitters are still unsigned, of course. McCutchen is going to a better park but he's past his peak. I am interested in seeing what Yandy Diaz does with a chance to play. I'm interested to see what Jordan Lyles does in Pittsburgh. Probably nothing, but he's an odd case (been a low- and high-K, starter and reliever) and he's moving to a pitcher's park.
spwood (DE): Any breakout pitchers from 2018 you have a feeling are due for major regression in 2019? Happens every year. I have my eye on Freeland, Corbin, Bauer, and Snell, and MadBum (though he's obviously regressed) for guys who take a may big step back next year
Rob Mains: Bumgarner's been in retreat from his lofty heights for a while. I'm with you on Corbin. But in general, pretty much *any* pitcher who has a surprisingly great year is going to regress some thereafter. Players suddenly making a quantum leap are pretty rare. Freeland I have hard time figuring out, but "home ERA greater than 2.40" is one of the safer bets I can imagine. His DRA was good but over a run higher than his ERA. Is Anibal Sanchez too obvious? Or Dereck Rodriguez?
sportsguy21792 (3rd floor cube): Rob-What is the biggest obstacle with signing Grandal...the draft pick, his postseason play or Realmuto?
Rob Mains: (1) He's 30, which isn't young for a catcher. (2) His fielding has been in a mild decline. He graded out this year as excellent, but not elite. Aaron's of the opinion that his postseason record hurts him, and his bat went totally MIA towards the end of the 2017 season, but he hit OK in September this year and I imagine most teams view his postseason as SSS noise. The thing about Realmuto, of course, is that he's gonna cost prospects, while Grandal costs only dolalrs, and I don't think there's a total overlap of teams that need a catcher and teams that are willing to trade prospects. The draft pick, I think, is an underrated reason that teams are skittish about signing him. But he'll get a deal. And, as I said earlier, I wouldn't read too much into a lack of activity until we roll into February or so.
Duhbear (VT): In the world of late-age breakouts, Wendle and Muncy reign. Seemed like Wendle improved significantly throughout the season whereas Muncy stagnated and maybe slowed a bit towards the end. DRC+ and WARP believe more in Muncy, but what do you see of each moving forward?
Rob Mains: Muncy, to his credit, legitimately changed his approach. Wendle's problem wasn't a lack of success, it was a lack of opportunity. So it's arguably easier to see his trajectory: a 29-year-old (as of next April) who'd probably at his peak. Muncy could be the beast he was in the first half of the year, or the merely .919 OPS guy he was in the second half, but either way, he's still arguably figuring things out, and he's nearly a year younger than Wendle. I could see him maintain his 2018 performance longer than Wendle, though, for the same reason noted for the pitchers, I'd expect some regression.
spwood (DE): Speaking of Buxton, what the heck is wrong with him offensively? any chance he plays like 2017 Buxton again?
Rob Mains: Well, striking out 30% of the time doesn't help. And even in 2017, he was a below-average hitter. I'd say that 2017 with a few less homers is a reasonable expectation, though. I think part of the problem with him is that the Twins keeping him jerking him around between the majors and minors.
spwood (DE): What is your take on Manny Machado's glove at SS? Seems like each advanced fielding metric tells its own story on him. Is he brutal over there like my eye test would have me believe? Or closer to competent like his metrics in LA showed?
Rob Mains: Well, let's see. DRS and UZR don't seem to disagree: They don't like him. I think it's worthwhile to consider that (1) he became a full-time SS for the first time since he couldn't legally drink, (2) he was playing most of the year for a dreadful team, (3) he might have had the save-the-body-for-free-agency thing that Harper had going, and (4) just as pitchers and hitters can have an off-year, so can fielders. Given his sterling defense at third, I think he can be adequate.
Rob Mains: Well, that wraps it up. Thanks for all the questions! I probably won't be chatting with you until 2019, so enjoy Christmas and New Year's. Walk and run on the left, ride on the right, and if you don't like Riesling, it's probably because you haven't had a good one.