Let’s Talk Baseball, Or Whatever: Betances and Swanson; Extending Villar

Mailbag II Swanson Villar Chapman Betances Bianchi MLB

Welcome back to another mailbag, friends—my second—and don’t forget to email shaun@thesportspost.com, tweet @Shaun_TSP or leave a comment below with more!

Baseball is back (kind of), and thank goodness for that. If I don’t hear “pace of play” ever again it will be too soon. So without further ado, let’s get right to it with the questions.

From Jawatoss:

Should they replace catchers with wickets?

Only if you can guarantee this will shave significant time off of each game. I’m talking at least 30 seconds or more here. If you’re actually suggesting Major League Baseball just switch to cricket, Commissioner Manfred would like to have a word with you in his office because you’ve just been banished to the shadow realm.

From Jason:

Do you think Aroldis Chapman will flame out and open the door for Dellin Betances to close?

While I don’t believe the Chapman contract will age well in New York, the Yankees are probably safe this season (and most likely the next as well).

We can talk about how five years at $86 million is silly for a closer, but the Yankees are the Yankees. Meanwhile Chapman, 29 years old at the end of the month, has really yet to suffer a down season. Ordinarily we would count his first full campaign (2011) which produced a grotesque walk rate of 7.4 BB/9, but he still managed to work around it with a 3.60 ERA (2.72 DRA) and 54 percent groundball rate while striking out 12.8 batters per nine (or 34.3 percent of those he faced).

But if we’re going off of just last season, it’s almost impossible to be pessimistic about Chapman from a baseball standpoint. His strikeout rate dipped ever so slightly from 2015 to last year—15.7 K/9 (or 41.7 percent of opposing hitters) to 14.0 K/9 (40.5 percent)—but a career-best walk rate (2.8 BB/9, 8.1 percent) is a welcome change if you’re New York.

Still, if Chapman flames out, the soon to be 29-year-old Betances is clearly capable.

These numbers have been discussed endlessly since his arbitration hearing, but what’s the harm in mentioning them just once more? He’s logged the most innings of any reliever over the past three seasons. The only relievers with higher strikeout rates? Former teammate Andrew Miller and former (now current) teammate, Aroldis Chapman. Going by ERA, those two along with Wade Davis and Zach Britton are the only four with lower marks.

So the Yankees are in good hands if Chapman implodes. That is, if Betances ever agrees to go above and beyond for the pinstripes ever again following team President Randy Levine’s moronic comments.

Mailbag II Swanson Villar Chapman Betances Bianchi MLB

From fireplum:

What do we think of Jonathan Villar declining the 20 million dollarydos?

Now we don’t know all the details, but according to this report from Jon Heyman, “…the Brewers floated an extension in the $20 million range for Jonathan Villar, but he passed for now.”

First off, it should be noted that neither side has publicly confirmed said report.

That said, Villar is under team control for the next four seasons, and isn’t eligible for arbitration until next year. Him passing on this extension right now has no bearing on his immediate future with the Brewers. So no, despite what some folks are suggesting in the wake of refusing a fairly low-ball contract offer, we shouldn’t “trade Villar.” He was smart to decline the offer, but the Brewers were smart to offer it as well.

We’ll get to the Brewers side of things momentarily. As for Villar, he’s still two-plus months shy of his 26th birthday and was one of the better parts of Milwaukee’s 2016 campaign, breaking out to the tune of .285/.369/.457/.828 with 38 doubles, 19 home runs and 62 stolen bases. Those numbers would be good enough for a 118 wRC+ (fifth among qualified shortstops) and a 3.0 fWAR (eighth-highest among shortstops). There’s plenty more than 20 million dollarydos in store for him with those kinds of numbers.

Yes, his .373 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in ’16 was very high—the average for hitters is .300—suggesting regression going forward is all but guaranteed. And while stealing 62 bases is very valuable, you’d like to get caught a little less than Villar did (18 times, good for roughly a 78 percent success rate). Yet…

Let’s assume this alleged extension was for 4-5 years, or roughly $4-5 million per season. Even if he regresses a little bit going forward, anything similar to last season’s numbers and Villar would stand to make plenty more than $20 million over the next few years. If he continues to get on base often and steal bases frequently while flashing similar power, $20 million is easy money in the near future for Villar. Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll continue to produce like that, but you cannot blame him for passing on the offer.

And from a business standpoint, you cannot fault Milwaukee for going after a sure-fire team-friendly deal. But as it stands, potentially, Villar could be looking at a whole lot more than 20 million dollarydos much quicker than we would’ve expected—provided similar production continues.

From travis_mke:

Who is the best baseball player named Jeff?

Well Travis, I’m sure few would argue against newly-minted Hall of Fame first baseman, Jeff Bagwell. I’m sure Jeff Kent would receive some votes as well. Obviously, fans of the Milwaukee Brewers will fondly recall Jeff Cirillo—err, I’m terribly sorry, I meant Jeff Suppan.

And who could forget the first two-plus years of Jeff Francoeur? Nothing can take 2005 and 2007 away, not even Francoeur playing for eight different teams (and badly, I might add) since. This list could go on forever, so we’ll end it here.

The best baseball player named Jeff is none other than former Brewers’ great, Jeff Bianchi.

A second-round pick by Kansas City in 2005, Bianchi has spent time within the Royals, Cubs, Brewers, Red Sox and Rockies organizations. But over 162 games (and 402 plate appearances) from 2012-14 with Milwaukee, Bianchi sure did some things. Oh, did he ever do some things: .216/.251/.283/.534; 46 OPS+, ~35 wRC+; and the icing on top, a -0.2 fWAR. Of course, 100 of those games (or roughly 62 percent of them) came in 2013. Good times.

But if we’re being serious, Jeff Bagwell was okay at the ‘ol ball and stick game.

P.S. I’ll get to your other question next time around, I promise.

Mailbag II Swanson Villar Chapman Betances Bianchi MLB

From Arielle, who asked me to weigh in on this:

As part of its initiative to improve the pace of game play, Major League Baseball has approved a change to the intentional walk rule, going from the traditional four-pitch walk to a dugout signal.

Quotes from Terry Francona and Joe Girardi, linked above, suggest managers won’t have a problem with this change. Considering how much this sport (and the people within it) love to cling to “tradition”, I must say this shocks me a bit. Personally, I believe it to be silly.

Commissioner Rob Manfred is hell-bent on speeding up baseball games, which, short of drastically cutting advertising, will never—and I mean eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever—give him the results he so clearly desires.

At the end of the day, the signal shaves off a few seconds and takes away the potential for moments like these:

And we close on another from Jason:

What do you think Dansby Swanson is going to do this year—rookie numbers akin to recent hotshot rookies, or nah?

Look, one writer around here believes the Atlanta Braves can contend in 2017. And while I certainly wouldn’t go that far, saying rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson is going to be a stud doesn’t really qualify as a bold claim. But here I am making it anyway, because that’s what they pay me for: the mild takes. So if you can’t handle this heat, I suggest having a glass of warm milk before going to bed tonight.

But for comparison’s sake, let’s look at some recent numbers from high-profile shortstops (as rookies):

Seager (2016) – 687 PA; .308/.365/.512/.877; 40 doubles, 26 HR; 137 wRC+; 7.5 fWAR.

Turner (2016) – 324 PA; .342/.370/.567/.937; 14 doubles, 13 HR; 147 wRC+; 3.3 fWAR.

Lindor (2015) – 438 PA; .313/.353/.482/.835; 22 doubles, 12 HR; 126 wRC+; 4.5 fWAR.

Correa (2015) – 432 PA; .279/.345/.512/.857; 22 doubles, 22 HR; 122 wRC+; 3.4 fWAR.

So what can we say about Swanson going forward, who had a very limited 2016 in the bigs after being called up and making his debut mid-August? Well first…

Swanson (2016) – 145 PA; .302/.361/.442/.803; 7 doubles, 3 HR; 107 wRC+; 0.8 fWAR.

And next, let’s see what ZIPS and Steamer projections think of Swanson ahead of the 2017 campaign:

ZIPS – 580 PA; .253/.323/.403/.726; 28 doubles, 12 HR; 2.4 fWAR.

Steamer – 593 PA; .259/.322/.395/.717; 26 doubles, 13 HR; 1.8 fWAR.

Swanson was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, and needed very little seasoning in the minor leagues. He needed only 99 plate appearances in low-A ball and 93 in high-A before heading to Double-A for 377 of them before ultimately reaching the show. His 127-game sample in the minors produced a line of .277/.367/.435/.803 with 32 doubles and 10 home runs.

Then Swanson reached the majors and his numbers were either ever so slightly different or identical. Neither significantly worse nor significantly better. So while I expect a similar amount of doubles and home runs out of Swanson, per the aforementioned projections, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar batting average and OBP to that of Correa’s from his rookie campaign.

Of course, this definitely means I’m unwittingly playing the dangerous game of taking these young shortstops for granted, of assuming these types of numbers are a given. But Swanson, much like the names listed above, is very special.

And that’s all for this week, folks. Thanks for the questions and in the meantime, email me more at shaun@thesportspost.com, tweet them to me (@Shaun_TSP) or leave them in the comment section below. Until then, see you next time!

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs

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