The K Zone
January 3rd, 2017
Playing Overrated/Underrated with the Top Winter Targets, by Ian Joffe
Evaluating talent is a cornerstone of baseball analytics, but often, finding the most talented players is a secondary goal. What really matters is finding the most valuable players. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the best players in baseball are – Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Joey Votto, etc. – but it’s incredibly unrealistic for a team to be able to sign or trade for all these players. With limited payroll space and trading power, teams need to figure out who they get for a bargain, and who they should avoid overpaying for. Stacking a team with underrated players is much more realistic than stacking the most talented players, so, here is a list of which of the more polarizing and incorrectly valued winter targets are overrated (low value), and underrated (high value).
J.D. Martinez: Underrated
Potential Suitors: Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Giants, Blue Jays
Since 2014, only four players have a higher wRC+ than J.D. Martinez: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper. Martinez has been better offensively than Paul Goldshmidt, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Altuve during that period. While often ranked around the top 30 baseball players, J.D. makes a good case to be in the conversation for top 10. An early season injury barely disqualified him from the statistical leaderboards this season, but had he made it on, J.D. would have ranked third in offense, his only problem being defense, which, to be fair, has been horrific. But even with some of the worst defense in baseball, he is a top talent and any AL team like Boston who would plan to put him at DH should be willing to put up 150 million without thinking about it.
Eric Hosmer: Overrated
Potential Suitors: Padres, Royals
With Boston resigning Moreland and St. Louis picking up Ozuna, Hosmer has seen his market evaporate, and for good reason. Since his first full season in 2011, the Royals’ first baseman has put up a fWAR lower than 1.0 for 4 out of 7 seasons, and has put up a negative fWAR (that’s right, below replacement level), in two full seasons, most recently in 2016. In his best year so far, 2017, he was barely top 25 in offense alone, and that’s with the help of a .351 BABIP. Top 25 is not bad, but keep in mind that J.D. Martinez has been the #4 offensive player since he got good. Furthermore, Eric’s ceiling is limited to about what he did last year by his 53% career ground ball rate (55% last season). I’m not saying that Hosmer is a bad baseball player, but I am saying that he should not be considered by any team while Martinez is still on the market. When he is signed, I advise it be by an AL team so that he doesn’t have to wreck the defense on a daily basis.
Carlos Santana: Underrated
Signed with the Phillies for 3yrs/$60MM
Carlos Santana is the proud owner of 23.0 career WAR. He has about 10% more career at-bats than Hosmer, but Hosmer, who is expected to get at least double Santana’s $60 million, only has a mere 9.9 career WAR. Age is certainly a factor in that salary differential, but it should be nowhere near that large, especially considering the fact that Santana has shown no sign of aging. Carlos is an on-base machine, with a career 15.2% walk rate (13% last season), which raises his floor, and is probably the reason that he is so underrated (career batting average .249, career OBP .365). That .365 mark is 28th in baseball since 2011, and goes along with consistently strong power that maxed out at 34 home runs in 2016. Santana is incredibly durable and consistent (his on-base has hovered between .351 and .377 every year since 2011, and he has played 152 games 6 out of those 7 years, the exception being a 143-game 2012), and his first base defense has improved greatly since he starting playing there permanently (10 DRS last season). The $20MM AAV he got from the Phillies is probably only a little under value and about right, but the Phils are lucky to have him on such a short commitment.
Billy Hamilton: Overrated
Rumored Suitor: Giants
A few weeks ago it seemed like Billy Hamilton to the Giants was hours away from occurring. San Francisco is lucky that it didn’t. Hamilton is, and probably always will be (there are no signs that a change is possible), a weak hitter. His career walk rate is under 7%, and has one of the lowest average exit velocities in baseball. Dee Gordon can get away with those shortcomings (at least to some extent) because at least he can hit singles, but I don’t see any base hits coming from Hamilton either. Speed is nice, but it’s only really useful to players who can get on base consistently. Hamilton’s defense is great too, but it’s not enough to even make him an average player (2017 WAR 1.2). If I were the Giants, or any team, I would stay away.
Jose Abreu: Underrated
Rumored Suitor: Red Sox
Maybe it’s just that he’s on a rebuilding team, but most people I talk to seem to think Abreu is more of a league average first baseman than an All-Star. But, since joining the White Sox as an international rookie in 2014, Abreu has been the model of consistency. After knocking 25 points of BABIP off his 2014 numbers to be in line with the rest of his career, Jose’s OBP through the years has gone .358, .347, .353, .354. His home runs have been incredibly steady as well, progressing at 36, 30, 25, 33. Looking at WAR, until last year, there was some thought that Abreu’s career was going downhill each season, but improvements in 2017 (4.1 WAR) seemed to have quelled that fear. Abreu is the rock that any streaky team, Boston included , should be looking for.
Lance Lynn: Overrated
Potential Suitors: Cubs, Twins, Orioles, Rangers
Lynn had once shown promise of being at least a solid MLB #2 starter, but now at 30 years of age, that hope seems to have faded. Since his best full season in 2012, Lynn has always had a high walk rate, but as of 2017 his strikeouts are decreasing too. Lynn’s fastball has lost speed three years in a row, and the low home run rate that once gave him such promise blew up to 1.30 in 2017. The year ended for Lance with a 4.82 FIP, 4.75 xFIP, and 4.85 SIERA (the 3.43 ERA is deceiving). Don’t count on Lynn being a mid-rotation starter for a contender in 2017.
Chris Archer: Underrated
Potential Suitors: Twins, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies
The strikeouts keep on coming for the now 29-year-old Chris Archer, who put up the 5th-best K-Rate in baseball last season from the AL. His walk and home run rates are not spectacular, but they work fine to supplement the strikeouts, and helped lead him to a 3.35 xFIP last year. 19 losses for a terrible 2016 Rays team took Archer off the map for many box-score-only baseball fans, but his 3.41 xFIP in 2017 tells the truer tale. Under one of, if not the most team friendly contract in baseball, Chris is worth the prospect price for any team that wants to contend for a while.
Michael Fulmer: Overrated
Potential Suitors: Yankees, Brewers, Cubs
Michael Fulmer should be labeled among the most overrated young pitchers in MLB. A late-season surge in 2016 netted Fulmer the Rookie of the Year Award, but in his short career, he has averaged only 6.84 K/9, near the bottom of baseball in this age of power pitching. A low BABIP has also helped the Tiger sustain a low ERA, even thought in both 2016 and 2017 he registered a hard hit rate over 30%. This does goes along with a lot of ground balls, which would help the sinkerballer create something of a floor, except for the fact that he’s now fallen victim to elbow problems. If any team thinks he will continue to be an ace or even a #2, they’re kidding themselves.
Signed With the Cubs for 3yrs/$39MM
I wrote about Chatwood in my recent study of the Rockies overall, which you’ll have to read, but I’ll tell you one thing: for the Cubs, this was either a really great bargain, or it’ll be a rough and rocky three years ahead.
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