Extensions are the new on-base percentage

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Years after Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball and teams started taking a smarter approach to building baseball teams, writers would often proclaim something as “the new on-base percentage”. Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics rose to prominence in one small part due to their ability to find cheap players with good on-base skills. A quick Google search of the phrase “is the new OBP” showed such proclamations about Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), health (injury prevention), and software in general. Surely scores more await with more dedicated digging.

I bring this up because two big pieces of news were announced today: the Tigers and Justin Verlander agreed to a contract extension, as did the Giants and Buster Posey. A smaller but related piece of news included the Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt agreeing to a contract extension as well. The Mariners extended Felix Hernandez earlier in the off-season, and now the Dodgers are thinking about doing the same with Clayton Kershaw.

This isn’t just a coincidence. More and more team executives seem to agree that buying out their star players’ arbitration years and delaying their foray into free agency is a great way to maximize player value. As an example of something that commonly happens, look what happened with the Indians and Cliff Lee: they got two good seasons out of him, then had to trade him at the deadline in 2009 because they had fallen out of contention. Since then, the Phillies have had two and a half stellar seasons out of him, while the Mariners and Rangers also got a half-season each. Meanwhile, the prospects that the Indians got in return for Lee (Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp) have turned out to be duds.

Several years ago, Matt Swartz showed that teams that re-sign their own players, rather than signing free agents who came from other teams, got more value out of the contracts. With surging advancements in data collection and technology, teams are better able to make accurate, long-term projections about players they have grown and cultivated over many years. Though you are still prone to the land mines that are injuries — see: Johan Santana — teams will only get better and better at identifying and predicting them as time goes on.

Bryce Harper played some third base in an intrasquad game

Bryce Harper third base
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper played some third base during Monday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Harper had been pestering manager Joe Girardi for the opportunity and the skipper finally gave in.

Girardi told Harper, “No diving. And make sure your arm is loose.” Harper had the opportunity to field one ball, a grounder to his left and he made the play perfectly.

Why put Harper at third base? Girardi said, “I think it’s important the guys have fun. I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, ‘You look good there.'”

Despite the solid showing, don’t expect Harper to show up at third base in a meaningful game anytime soon. That being said, the Phillies’ second and third base situations are still not cemented. Jean Segura will likely open the season at the hot corner with Scott Kingery at second, but things could change between now and Opening Day in 10 days.

Harper, 27, is coming off a solid first season with the Phillies. He hit .260/.372/.510 with 36 doubles, 35 home runs, 114 RBI, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases across 682 plate appearances. Per FanGraphs, Harper’s 4.6 Wins Above Replacement ranked 16th in the National League. For some people, those numbers weren’t nearly good enough, so the expectations remain high as Harper enters year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract.