June 18, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Are you looking for free agent hitters this winter? MLB teams will need to take a leap of faith

Are you looking for free agent hitters this winter?  MLB teams will need to take a leap of faith

In theory, Cody Bellinger is an All-Star in his prime. He’s a 28-year-old former MVP with Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger to his name. The top line of his resume is undeniable.

It was also written five years ago.

In the free agent market, the offensive impact is relatively mild, although Bellinger is The athleteThe highest-ranked position player other than Shohei Ohtani. He’s coming off a breakout season with the Chicago Cubs, but he’s not far from being one of the least productive players in the game. In the past five years, Bellinger has gone from reclamation draft MVP to the top of the free-agent market, and potential suitors will have to decide which version they expect moving forward.

“Any projection system you look at will kind of assume a certain level for next season, and then it will have a very gradual, consistent trend over time,” San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said of players overall, not Bellinger. particularly. “But we know in reality it looks a lot different than that. So, I don’t really have an answer. It’s a tough question.”

It’s one of the biggest questions of the offseason.

Top players at the free agent position

player position Overall rank prediction

Cody Bellinger

SF, 1B


6/162 million dollars

Matt Chapman

3 b


5/95 million dollars

Rhys Hoskins

1 b


1/16.5 million dollars

Jimer Candelario

3b, 1b


4/70 million dollars

Lee Jung Ho



4/56 million dollars

Jorge Soler



3/45 million dollars

Teoscar Hernandez



4/80 million dollars

Mitch Garver



2/33 million dollars

JD Martinez



1/14 million dollars

This free agent market contains a number of relatively reliable starting pitchers, and pitchers tend to be easier than hitters to measure objectively. Speed, turnover and position are seen as quality indicators of future performance, and it is easier to cut through the hype of the inflated or deflated ERA to purchase raw materials and fundamental data.

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Analyzing players’ positions can be more difficult, and this market is full of difficult cases. Ohtani is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Rhys Hoskins missed last season with a torn ACL, yet they are two of the top three players at the position. The athleteBig Board’s free agent tracker. Other notables include: Bellinger’s final seasons have been a roller coaster, Matt Chapman underperformed offensively for most of last year, Jimmer Candelario was unreleased last winter but had a solid showing in 2023, Mitch Garver, Jorge Soler, Brandon Belt, Tommy Pham, and Jason. Heyward is also coming off strong bounce-back seasons, and Tim Anderson, the best quarterback on the market, is coming off the worst offensive season of his career after making back-to-back All-Star appearances the previous two years.

Rhys Hoskins has a great track record but is coming off knee surgery. (Bill Streicher/USA Today)

Choose wisely, execs, because it will take multi-year contracts worth more than $100 million to sign some of these guys.

“Even at the major league level, where you think you know the players better, trying to figure out what they’re going to be like the next year is still very difficult,” said Eric Neander, president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays. “There are a lot of humility lessons along the way.”

Modern player analysis is designed to filter out misleading statistics and get to the root of actual performance, but even this leaves room for interpretation and personal preference. Teams will generally weigh a player’s most recent performance, said Zach Scott, a longtime Boston Red Sox executive, former acting general manager of the New York Mets, and current CEO of Four Rings Sports Solutions. A good year in 2023 will mean more than a bad year in 2022 and vice versa – players do get better or worse year after year – but that comes with a caveat.

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“(Teams) have better tools than they did five or 10 years ago, so you can at least get an idea of ​​what their adjusted performance tells you about their true talent level,” Scott said. “Because that’s what everyone is trying to get to.”

In Bellinger’s case, his OPS jumped from .654 in 2022 to .881 in 2023. This is a surface level analysis. Furthermore, his swings and misses have improved dramatically, and his projected performance based on contact quality has improved, but his barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage actually declined last year. His Statcast numbers were better than his horrific 2021 numbers but still not as good as his elite 2019. Teams will have to figure out what to do with this, and their internal analysis will go beyond those publicly available metrics.

Not only do organizations have their own systems for analyzing players, many have also invested in expensive biomechanical technology that can analyze the why, how and frequency of a player’s most productive swings. Not only can they analyze swing decisions, but they can also analyze swing path and mechanics. The more detailed a team is, the more confident it is in the sustainability of the rebound or the ability to correct the disappointment.

“There are certain things that will be easier to modify than others,” Scott said. “And all organizations have their different philosophies about what it is. Their hitting programs might have a philosophy that says, ‘We’ve had a lot of success in being able to change this about the player.’ … It has to be a collaborative thing where you look at all of these things together to paint a picture of what It will be.

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When Scott started in the industry 20 years ago, free agency involved a lot of guesswork, he said. Statistics of that era did a good job of explaining what happened in the past, but they often did a poor job of predicting what might happen in the future. Modern analysis involves models built on objective data, and computers are better than humans at performing such complex calculations, but many teams still value personal opinion.

“That’s where the exploration comes in, right?” Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “You can’t just live on projections. You can’t just live on what historical statistics mean and how you project those (going forward). You have to have a reason to believe that something is real, or it’s not, and that’s where valuations come in.” In-depth exploratory teams.

None of this is guaranteed, of course. Players are not computers, and games are not models. Every contract represents a risk, and every team evaluates that risk differently.

“I think you’re trying your best to determine what matters,” Neander said. “What has more staying power when you’re evaluating someone’s abilities and how they’re built, and just trying to be the best you can at it and trying to sift through the noise and stick to what’s most important to you and your family? The club.”

When the analysis is done, offers are put on the table, contracts are signed, and players take to the field.

“At some point, this is going to be a leap of faith,” Scott said.

(Top photo by Bellinger: Jimmy Sabaugh/Getty Images)