Mailbag: Gleyber in Context, All-Time SP Signings, Yanks vs. Astros, 26th Man

Happy Friday, everyone. Good news: there is light at the end of the offseason tunnel. Pitchers and catchers will report to camp on Wednesday, February 12. That’s just 54 days away! Five days later, on February 17, the entire team will report. While nothing ever happens on those days, it is officially the beginning of 2020 Yankees’ story. It can’t get here soon enough.

To keep us warm on these freezing, baseball-less days here in New York, we have four great questions in today’s mailbag. As always, if you want to be included in a mailbag, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. I’ll answer my favorites every week.

Ted Asks: If Gleyber Torres stays healthy and averages what he produced in 2019 from now until free agency, where will he stand in terms of all-time Yankees and all-time MLB shortstops?  Given that he will then be 28 years old (right?), and theoretically at his physical peak, where would he stand if he averaged his 2019 production for another five years after that?

Assuming no extension, Gleyber will hit free agency following the 2024 season. Gleyber’s just turned 23 last week, which means he’ll be a free agent just before entering his age-27 season. Not bad! That’s a hell of a time to hit free agency, especially if he continues to grow as a player. For the sake of this discussion, though, we’re going to pretend he doesn’t get better. He is going to stay exactly the same. Gleyber hit .278/.337/.535 (128 wRC+) with 38 HR and 3.9 bWAR last year in 604 plate appearances in 2019, so we’ll use that as his baseline level of production moving forward.

Assuming he stuck to the 3.9 WAR pace, our son would add 19.5 bWAR to his career total over the next five seasons. Add that to his existing 6.8 bWAR, and you get a total of 26.3 bWAR through his age 27 season. Thanks to the magic of the Play Index, I pulled a list of every player in the World Series era (1903-2019) who logged 80% of their games as a shortstop or second baseman before their age-27 season. Here’s where Gleyber would rank on that leaderboard:

34. Dustin Pedroia: 26.8
35. Hanley Ramirez: 26.3
36. Gleyber Torres: 26.3
37. Larry Doyle: 25.7
38. Barry Larkin: 25.4

Among direct contemporaries, Torres would sit behind Jose Altuve (21), Francisco Lindor (24), and Andrelton Simmons (25). He would be a pretty clear cut below those players, at least by WAR. That’s still really good! That feels right to me, That’s really good! But also perhaps lower than you were expecting, based on the tone of the question.

For what it’s worth — and I’m not sure it’s worth much given rocket ball — Torres would stand a cut above if he maintained his current HR production. If he hits 38 HR annually for the five years, that’s 214 total, including 2018-19. That would rank second all time among this group, behind only A-Rod’s preposterous 345 big flies. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on this type of power moving forward. I’d be happy to be wrong, though. (Please prove me wrong.)

As far as the Yankees go, Torres is on track to be one of the franchise’s premier middle infield talents. In this scenario, he’d rank ahead of Robinson Cano (23.5 WAR) and sit behind just Derek Jeter (33.2) and Willie Randolph (32.2). That’s pretty good company, I’d say.

Remember, this just if he maintains his 2019 production. If he improves, this could look all the more impressive. He will probably improve by WAR as he slots over to short, as well. That’s his natural position and I’d be willing to bet that defensive metrics rate him better over there. And that’s if he doesn’t get better at the plate, which is extremely possible! Gleyber is a hardworking kid by all accounts who clearly possesses a wealth of talent. He made a huge jump from 2018 to 2019 and I think it’s possible — likely, even — that he will continue to get even better.

However, in any case, the Yankees have a good one in Gleyber Torres — and, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but he’s just 23-years-old.

Ethan Asks: First of all, I think the Cole signing makes a lot of sense and is 100% the right move based on the information we have today. That said, we’ve been talking a lot about big free agent contracts handed out to pitchers lately, ones that have worked out and ones that haven’t. My question is: from the team’s perspective, is Max Scherzer’s contract with the Nationals the best contract ever given to a pitcher? If not, which one is (besides the one we just gave Cole, of course).  

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This is a great question and I really hope that when we look back on Cole’s contract a decade from now, we get to place him in this context. That’s because man oh man have there been some good starting pitchers signed as free agents. There are certainly some I’m excluding here but here are the best of the best.

I’ll start with Max Max Scherzer because Ethan asked about him. His contract belongs in this conversation. There’s no doubt about it. (I will always be mad that the Yankees didn’t sign him.) Mad Max signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington after the 2014 season. All he’s done in that time is pitch 1,050.2 innings of 2.74 ERA (2.82 FIP, 65 ERA-) ball while striking out a third of the batters he’s faced and walking just 5.5% of them. Opponents are batting just .197 against him. The Nationals, of course, just won the World Series during his tenure. I could go on and on. The point is that Max is one of the very best.

Another among his peers is Randy Johnson, who signed a four-year, $58 million deal with Arizona following the 1998 season. In just those four years — he did stay with the Diamondbacks longer — he threw 1,030 innings of 2.48 ERA (2.53 FIP, 54 ERA-) ball with a 34% strikeout rate and 7% walk rate. Batters hit just .207 against him and he surrendered fewer than one HR per 9 innings (0.86) in the height of the steroid era. (This despite pitching in Barry Bonds’ division.) Much as I don’t want to bring it up, he more than earned his money in the 2001 postseason, when he was as dominant as dominant could possibly be.

The king of all free agent signings in my opinion, though, is Greg Maddux. It has to be. He signed with Atlanta for five years and $28 million after 1992 — declining a larger contract with the Yankees — and while he stayed with Atlanta much, much longer than that, let’s just stick to those five years. In that time, he pitched 1,156.1 innings of 2.13 ERA (2.55 FIP, 51 ERA-) ball with a 19.7% strikeout rate against an absolutely ridiculous 3.4% walk rate. Amazingly, he surrendered just one home run every 27 innings! He helped make Atlanta a perennial contender and helped them win the (just) one World Series they got in that run — should have signed with the Yanks, buddy — and changed the way people pitched. He has to be king of this hill.

As far as Yankee free agent signings go, none of them really compete with those three. That said, Jimmy Key, David Cone, Mike Mussina, and CC Sabathia are the obvious choices for best in the Bronx. Anyway, with all of this in mind, let’s hope that Cole is able to live up to these standards. That sure would be nice.

Alan Asks: Do you think the Yankees as presently constituted are actually better than the post deadline Astros last year (let’s leave all the sign stealing stuff out of it)? I would rather have the Astros top three of Verlander, Cole, and Greinke over Cole, Severino, and Tanaka/Paxton any day, and the Astros had a historically great offense last year (125 wRC+ to the Yankees 117), all the injuries to the Yankees notwithstanding. Obviously our bullpen is/was way better. Thoughts?

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This is a difficult question and one I generally try to avoid. I much prefer thinking about these teams in terms of tiers rather than a specific ranking. As for 2019, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Astros were superior to the Yankees all season. I’m not sure that’s fair, though, given the onslaught of injuries the Yankees faced, but the Astros’ roster was better from top-to-bottom. That said, the clear top tier of teams was the Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees. There was no doubt about that.

Honestly, I think the same is true going into the 2020 season, but the Cole signing swings the pendulum in a major, major way. The Yankees didn’t just add Cole — they took him away from Houston. That’s a big deal and not something that is discussed enough, in my opinion. Hopefully it’s enough to overcome the Yankees recent struggles against them. Houston has eliminated the Yanks in three of the last five postseasons and the regular season head-to-head, while close, clearly favors Houston. Gross. Anyway, the Cole situation changes this. The Astros, while still one of the best teams in the league, are simply less formidable now. The Yankees, of course, are much more formidable.

That’s really all I care about. Do I think there’s a chance the 2020 Yankees are better than the 2019 Astros? Yeah, I do think that, but it’s impossible to say. Lame answer, I know. Here’s a better one: as of right now, I don’t think there’s a better team in baseball from top-to-bottom than the New York Yankees. They plugged their major hole and should be a dominant team in 2020. World Series favorites, even. That rules, to me.

John Asks: With the extra roster spot, do you think the Yankees will go 8 pen/4 bench or 9 pen/3 bench?

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The answer to this question is actually a bit more complicated than it initially seems. That’s because the new rule — which allows for MLB teams to carry 26 players instead of 25 — comes with a twist: teams will have to designate players as “position players”, “pitchers”, or “two-way players*.” There will be a yet-undetermined limit on the number of pitchers rostered at once. The latest guess, which is probably what will come to pass, is that the limit will be 13.

In other words, they won’t be able to carry 14 pitchers. The choice will be between 12 and 13. So, that means that this question probably doesn’t mean much, because the Yanks have already answered it. In 2019, they carried 13 pitchers for almost the entire season. There’s no reason for that to change in 2020, really. I think this is all good news, though. Gone will be the days of the two-man bench. Hooray for that. For more on the rule changes and how they impact the Yankees, check out Derek’s breakdown from early November.

*A two-way player is defined as a player with one season with at least 20 IP and 2o games started with at least 3 plate appearances as a position player or DH.

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2 Comments

  1. Your A Looser Trader FotD

    I appreciate the notion of judging SP contracts by the stats cited, but I’d also be interested in comparing each pitchers WAR * value of WAR in the given years with dollars paid in the contract. IOW, did the pitcher provide more, equal, or less value than they were paid? And consequently, who over performed the most?

    • Bobby

      I get this, but would have called for more detail than I could get into for the purposes of the mailbag. Generally speaking, though, the $/WAR type analysis generally makes me wary — I think that those three guys, who have have been some of the best in the history of the sport over their tenure and all won a WS, clearly fit the bill here.

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