No, Jayson Stark, Craig Kimbrel is not the NL Cy Young

24 Comments

ESPN’s Jayson Stark built his Cy Young case for Craig Kimbrel in Friday’s column. It’s chock full of some delicious statistics that demonstrate Kimbrel’s unprecedented accomplishments, and it’s well worth reading. It’s actually a really good column. I just totally disagree with the premise.

Now, I’m not one to say relievers don’t deserve consideration for the Cy Young Award. But it would have to be a truly epic season for a reliever to trump the league’s top starters.

And in a way Kimbrel is having that epic season. His strikeout rate is ridiculous. His .128 average against is insane. He’s incredible, and there’s no one I’d rather have pitching the ninth for my team right now.

That said, Kimbrel’s sole job is pitching the ninth inning with a lead of one, two or three runs. Of his 57 1/3 innings this season, 55 have been the ninth. He’s gotten one out in the eighth, and he’s twice pitched in extras.

And Kimbrel has blown three of his 41 save chances. That’s very good, maybe even great, but it’s far from historic.

When Eric Gagne won his Cy Young award in 2003, he was a perfect 55-for-55 converting save chances. He also threw 82 1/3 innings. Kimbrel figures to finish at about 60 innings.

Kimbrel is one of five closers this season with at least 34 saves and no more than three blown saves. Jim Johnson is 46-for-49. Fernando Rodney is 43-for-45. Joel Hanrahan is 36-for-39. Joe Nathan is 34-for-36.

Last year, Jose Valverde was 49-for-49 saving games and John Axford was 46-for-48. Valverde finished fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting and Axford was ninth in the NL.

Now, Kimbrel is more dominant than those guys and maybe that should matter, given that Cy Young is for “best pitcher” rather than “most valuable pitcher.” But unless that “best” is adding more wins to his team’s total, I find it hard to put weight to it. Because the closer’s role is so specific these days, the guy who routinely strikes out the side in the ninth isn’t doing anything more to help his team than the Todd Jones-type nail-biter who always puts two guys on before securing the save.

Give me a reliever who works the eighth on occasion, throws 80-90 innings and picks up several wins in tie games and maybe he could be a Cy Young winner. Something along the lines of Tyler Clippard’s 2011, only better. As is, I’m taking the starter. In this case, it’s R.A. Dickey.

Eric Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million contract isn’t that bad

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
9 Comments

Late Saturday night, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres and first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to an eight-year, $144 million contract, the new largest contract in club history. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, the contract includes an opt-out after the fifth year. Further, Hosmer will average $21 million per year for those first five years and $13 million for the final three years, so it’s severely front-loaded.

Hosmer, 28, had a career year last season, playing in all 162 games while batting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs, 94 RBI, and 98 runs scored in 671 plate appearances. Per Baseball Reference, Hosmer accrued 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, only one of six first basemen to do so. At No. 6, he was 0.4 WAR behind Anthony Rizzo and 0.4 WAR ahead of Logan Morrison.

Wil Myers had previously told the Padres he would accept a position change if the club were to sign Hosmer. He will be moving to the outfield as a result. The Padres now have a logjam in the outfield, so Jose Pirela could move moved to the infield. How the Padres plan to handle that situation remains to be seen.

The general consensus about the Hosmer signing once news broke was that it is laughably bad. Back in November, Dave Cameron — ironically now in the Padres’ front office — called Hosmer a “free agent landmine.” That thought hasn’t really changed among many writers. For example, using restraint, Dennis Lin of The Athletic calls the deal “a big gamble.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said Hosmer has at least three “red flags.”

FanGraphs projects the Padres to finish 71-91, so adding Hosmer isn’t likely to transform the club into a contender on his own. That being said, the Padres’ payroll was only at $70 million prior to the Hosmer signing, so the contract won’t hamstring them going forward. If the young nucleus of players — including Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe — perform as expected, the Padres could be a threat in the NL West relatively soon with plenty of cheap, cost-controlled players and having some experienced veterans like Hosmer and Myers could be useful for their intangibles — pennant race/playoff experience, clubhouse presence, leadership, etc.

Hosmer has had three seasons of 3.5 WAR or more, according to Baseball Reference. He’s had four between -0.5 and 1.0. Now entering his age-28 season, it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll be an All-Star-caliber player in 2018, let alone in 2022 when he is 32 years old. From a strict dollars-to-WAR standpoint in a complete vacuum, one could’ve done better than Hosmer at eight years, $144 million.

The Padres, however, aren’t a small market team; they just operate like one. Forbes valued the club at $1.125 billion last April. The Padres don’t have the financial muscle of the Dodgers or Yankees, but paying Eric Hosmer $18 million on average for the first five years of his contract won’t come close to hurting the organization in any way, shape, or form. More importantly, signing Hosmer shows the rest of the team and the fans a commitment to being legitimate, bumping the payroll up towards $90 million. That now dwarfs teams like the large-market Phillies, who opened up spring training with just over $60 million in player obligations.

In the grand scheme of things, the Hosmer signing is also a good sign given the standstill in the free agent market. Many veteran players — even reliever Fernando Abad, who posted a 3.30 ERA last season — had to settle for minor league contracts instead of guaranteed major league deals. Many others, including the likes of Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The rumor that Hosmer wanted more than seven years and close to $150 million was laughed at last month. Agent Scott Boras was still able to get his client the deal he wanted, which could bode well for those still teamless. Martinez’s patience may yet be rewarded like Hosmer’s was; money may once again start flowing in the free agent economy.

In summation, the Eric Hosmer contract is good if: you are Eric Hosmer, related to or a friend of Eric Hosmer, a teammate of Hosmer’s, Scott Boras, a current or soon-to-be free agent, a Padres fan, and a baseball fan in general. The Hosmer contract is bad if: you are a penny-pinching owner of a Major League Baseball team, or someone who cares more about $/WAR than an actual good product being put on the field.