The Cardinals gear up for their first arbitration hearing in years, Craig Breslow schedules a pitching showcase, and Carl Crawford contemplates retirement (maybe).
Cardinals anticipate first arbitration hearing since 1999
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is test-driving a new strategy with his arbitration-eligible players. According to his comments made at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up event over the weekend, those who did not settle with the team prior to the Friday deadline will go to an arbitration hearing. It’s a relatively common tact that the front office has considered for a few years now, and Mozeliak claimed that the hard-nosed approach was intended to encourage players to work through salary negotiations by Friday’s deadline.
Does better plate discipline for hitters yield better results?
In this series, we’re investigating the outcomes when baseball players made what appear to have been New Year’s resolutions to do something differently in 2016. But unlike the rest of us, who try to waste less time watching TV or learn another language, we’re looking here at specific baseball outcomes. The first article considered batters who hit markedly more (or less) to the opposite field in 2016 than in 2015. The next two looked at batters who hit more or fewer balls on the ground and pitchers who induced more or fewer grounders.
And I’ll admit, framing these as New Year’s resolutions is a bit of a stretch. There probably aren’t a lot of baseball players who said last January 1 that what they really wanted to do in 2016 was to hit more balls in the air. Today, though, I’m going to tackle one that seems plausible: Better plate discipline.
The staff identifies possible value plays at this position for the coming season.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Maybe all those years of the Cincinnati front office and local media riding him for walking too much has seeped into the general fantasy-playing population at large after all, because Votto continues to be an underrated mixed-league target at the top of his position. In 2015, granted at 31 and coming off an injury season, he was taken 71st overall on average – around 12th among first basemen depending on who you count out of the position-eligible pool. He produced $30 in standard mixed-league value, good for the second-best return at the position. Last year he went off the board seventh among first basemen, 36th overall on average; he earned $29 mixed-league dollars, again the second-most of any first baseman. We’ve got him ranked second at the position this season in acknowledgement of recent evidence, and yet… he’s currently going off the board sixth among first basemen, around the 28th overall pick. Huh?
At 33 there are certainly age-related concerns to be peddled, particularly given the history with his legs. But he was thoroughly destructive in the second half last season, the ballpark remains a perfect fit for his batted ball distribution, and he managed a tick under 200 R+RBI last year in spite of a bottom-third supporting cast. And while his value increases exponentially in OBP leagues, he’s a career .313 hitter (.320 over the last two seasons). A whopping six first basemen managed to crack .290 last year, so the advantage of a locked-in asset in AVG shouldn’t be understated, either. At 28 overall, Votto has the look of an absolutely lethal snake-draft target for the turn in 14- to 16-team redrafts, or a lethal second pick for anyone stuck navigating the late first-round muddle in a straight draft. —Wilson Karaman
A look at where the first-sackers have been selected in the first batch of drafts this year.
Welcome to first base week, where we’ll have everything you need to know about the position over the next five days. In this space, you can find the second edition of this year’s average ADP analysis series. As I explained in last week’s catcher edition, these ADP numbers come from the NFBC data, and the average round is assuming a 15-team league. Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
Why the multitude of first-base options can result in suboptimal decisions, and how to avoid falling into the trap.
Good Monday and, more importantly, good Martin Luther King Day to everyone.
Unrelatedly, we go from the catcher position, the least productive offensive position (likely a result of all the ways catchers can impact the game defensively), to first base, one of the most productive offensive positions, likely a result of the limits on the way a first baseman can impact the game defensively. Talk about pointing out contrast because I didn’t know how to get rolling on this article.
A look at the menu of backstop options in the senior circuit.
The top end of the NL-only catcher pool wasn’t nearly as thin as the top end of the AL-only catcher pool going into the 2016 season. As my colleague Mike Gianella noted in his AL-Only Landscape for catchers, in the AL, the most expensive catchers heading into Opening Day were Brian McCann and Salvador Perez at $16. In the NL, four catchers went for the same or more: Buster Posey at $29, Kyle Schwarber at $25, Jonathan Lucroy at $19 and Travis d’Arnaud at $16. Unlike the AL, owners concerned about positional scarcity had multiple legitimate options for spending their auction dollars.
Rain delays, mascot races, Rickie Weeks, civil wars, and dopes.
January is a particularly low month for baseball fans. Pitchers and catchers won’t stretch for a month. It’s the time of year when we mewl for some baseball, any baseball, heck bad baseball, just so long as it is recognizable as such. It is a privilege of distance to forget a thing’s flaws. After all, sometimes baseball is slow and plodding. Sometimes it features a bunch of pitching changes. Sometimes it features the Padres.
The average time of game in 2014 was three hours and eight minutes; it dropped to two hours and 56 minutes in 2015 with the league’s pace-of-play rules. Using the Play Index’s time-of-game data, we know that for the 2,428 games in 2016 (185 of which went to extra innings), the average time of game crept back up, not matching its 2014 levels, but generally slowing:
You might want to someone else draft or buy these players in your leagues this spring.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina was panned in this space last year, and the market was down on him. We were out to lunch. In 15-team mixed leagues, Molina finished 108th overall per the PFM, beating his NFBC ADP of 258 by a fair amount. But last year isn’t this year, and many of the concerns that dogged Molina in 2016 carry over into this season. Much of Molina’s value is predicated on his batting average. While Molina certainly does have a history of .300+ seasons, 2016 was his first campaign over .300 since 2013. He hasn’t stolen more than three bases since 2012 and more importantly hasn’t had more than eight home runs since 2013. Batting average tends to fluctuate, and betting on another .300+ season from an older, slow-footed catcher is suboptimal.
Is there an inefficiency to be exploited by taking so-so center fielders and playing them in a corner?
The Mariners have added Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to their outfield this offseason and they already had Leonys Martin. The Rays traded Drew Smyly for a group of prospects, which they insisted (to at least some extent) include Mallex Smith, and they already had Kevin Kiermaier. I think the Mariners and Rays made these trades because they thought high-end corner outfield defense was undervalued.