GM's OFFICE: BF22, your starting point for offseason analysis

One of the problems we encounter in the Baseball Forecaster production process is that news doesn't stop breaking while we're writing the book. Players change teams, players retire, unfortunately players have even died while we're in the late stages of pulling the book together.

Sometimes, we can react to the news in mid-stream. This year, for instance, we scrambled to re-write Buster Posey's commentary to reflect his retirement, and accordingly re-opened Joey Bart's box to comment on his new opportunity, as well as to bump up his projected playing time.

But that's not our normal tact. One of the central tenets of the Forecaster, because we do the bulk of the analysis so early in the offseason, is to steer clear of team context in the analyses and instead focus on the player's underlying skills. For sure, this improves the shelf life of the book: you might be sure that, say, Juan Soto isn't going to be traded this offseason, but surprises (maybe not quite at that level) can and do happen every winter, and staying skills-focused keeps the analysis evergreen for the entire offseason.

A side benefit of that approach is that it gives us a chance to view the players as an MLB team might view them. Of course, our fantasy focus is somewhat different than an MLB team's focus (we'll see one good example of that below), but in the Venn Diagram of how we analyze players vs. how MLB front offices analyze them, there is a fair amount of overlap.

So, with that in mind, and as a taste of the analysis that awaits in Ron Shandler's 2022 Baseball Forecaster (which goes to press THIS WEEKEND!), we thought we would share the actual player boxes of five pitchers who have changed teams or signed new contracts this month.

Haven't ordered your 2022 Forecaster yet? This weekend is your last chance to pre-order, which secures your copy in the very first batch of books to be shipped directly from the printer in early December. And if you choose the 'annual standing order' option when you order, you'll get access to the full-book PDF on Wednesday, Nov 24th. Yes, that's right... NEXT WEEK! What are you waiting for? CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY.

Item: Andrew Heaney signs a 1-year, $8.5M contract with the Dodgers

BB, K skills would indicate above-average ERA/WHIP, but LD and FB are hit into the gaps or over the fence. Five years of declining strand rates may indicate a vulnerability to pitch with men on base. xERA indicates some upside, but we've been saying that for 4 years. Health cooperated in 2021, but that excellent K% is going to waste.

This sets up as a nice test case for whether some MLB teams have a "secret sauce" for optimizing player performance. It's not hard to see what the Dodgers are chasing here: as the commentary notes, Heaney's BB%, K%, and xERA all point to an underlying level of talent that has been almost entirely absent from his actual numbers. Something clearly needs fixing in order to let that command shine, and the Dodgers are pushing $8.5MM worth of chips onto the table to back up the notion that they know what to fix. I wouldn't buy that notion on blind faith alone, but on the other hand I'm more open to the idea of Heaney getting fixed by the Dodgers than I would be, if, for instance, he had re-signed with the Angels.

 

Item: Cubs claim Wade Miley off waivers from Reds, exercise his $10M option for 2022

Control improvement was nice, but main driver of best season since 2012 was S%. 2nd half shows how little room for error there is, as it only took small drops in K%, GB% to push xERA, xWHIP to alarming levels. Velocity trend, older pitcher, IL time in each of the last five years... that's a lot of risk for a guy who's a two-category contributor at best.

Speaking of "secret sauces," the Cubs are apparently doubling down on their idea of chasing sub-90 mph throwers as some kind of market inefficiency. Miley was quite good in 2021, but also quite far out over his skis in terms of skills matching results. Of course, this is one of those cases mentioned above, where maybe the MLB needs of the Cubs don't necessarily have a huge overlap with our fantasy lens. The Cubs need pitchers who can soak up innings, and they have money. Given some of the transactions that happened after this one at much higher price points, this may be a case where the Cubs just opted for some cost certainty, feeling that ~160 IP of not-quite-league-average performance isn't a terrible deal for $10M. For fantasy purposes, this is where we'd say you're better off giving that roster spot to the high-skilled middle reliever.

 

Item: Eduardo Rodriguez signs a 5-year, $77M contract with the Tigers

Results don't show it, but this was his best season yet. As SwK keeps inching upward, foundation is there to push K rate up even further. And those gains have been paired with two-year reduction in ball rate, validating K-BB% spike. Inflated hit rate was the only reason his ERA stayed above 4.00. Profit plays don't get much better than this one. UP: 3.50 ERA

It's almost like the Tigers snuck an advance copy! There are some similarities to Heaney, except that Rodriguez underperforming his base skills is not a long-term pattern as it is with Heaney. Plus Rodriguez has shown some durability, with the biggest recent blemish on his track record being a bout with COVID-induced myocarditis in 2020.

In terms of Rodriguez's fantasy value, the news here is all good: he gets out of the AL East in favor of the more pitcher-friendly (both in terms of ballparks and lineups) Central. Also, Boston's 2020 infield defense was downright shoddy; it's not clear how much of an upgrade he might get in Detroit, but it's likely to be at least a bit better. Once we start revising these initial projections when they hit BaseballHQ.com next month, that projected 3.80 ERA will almost certainly move closer to that "UP: 3.50 ERA" from the commentary.

 

Item: José Berríos signs a 7-year, $131M contract extension with the Blue Jays

Tagged with "UP: sub-3.50 ERA" in last year's book and he pretty much nailed it. PRO: regained superb BB%, sported career-best DOM/DIS% and dominated vR. CON: SwK points to a touch of negative K% regression, surrendered more hard contact, and xHR/F indicates some HR/F luck. Unlikely to match 2021, but shouldn't fall far.

Another case where the "real baseball" considerations are paramount: the comment above gives a healthy nod to the idea that we just saw Berríos' career year, which in turn suggests that the Jays are overpaying for that past performance rather than future performance. In fact, it seems that a big part of what the Jays are buying here is that AAA reliability, the notion that Berríos is the "goldilocks" starting pitcher: a reliable workhorse, but one who is still young enough and with enough mileage left in his arm to justify this kind of long-term commitment.

For Berríos' fantasy value, this probably solidifies the displayed projection (14 Wins, 3.71 ERA, 1.19 WHIP): the AL East is a tougher haul for a starter, though that newfound success against right-handed hitters plays well anywhere. And with that still-young and still-potent Toronto lineup behind him, those 14 Wins look very attainable.

 

Item: Noah Syndergaard signs a 1-year, $21M contract with the Angels

A May setback in rehab from Tommy John surgery cost the season. Last time we saw him he owned excellent BPX built from above-average K%, SwK, and GB%, with good control. Take that as a baseline, expect bumps and a bit of rust along the way, and amortize it over a (likely) limited workload to set a prudent valuation... and don't overpay for name.

This brief commentary is very much in line with much of the criticism the Angels are taking for this signing, which largely seems to focus on the price paid for what figures to be a less-than-full-season workload. Some others have taken that a step further, pointing out that not only has he missed two years, but he wasn't that good back in 2019 either. Per our metrics, that's not totally fair, as his healthy BPX history shows. Bottom line, for $21M, tthere's a lot of white space in this box. It certainly could work out, but I don't think you'll see Syndergaard's ADP reflecting the ace-like valuation that this contract suggests.

 

There are (fingers crossed, Rob Manfred and Tony Clark) many, many more transactions still to come this offseason. Our intent here was just to prime the analytical pump a bit, and demonstrate how Ron Shandler's 2022 Baseball Forecaster needs to be at your fingertips (digitally or physically) throughout all of it. If you haven't ordered yet, do it now!


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.