Welcome, contestants, to the Free Agent Lefty Guessing Game!
The rules are simple. I’ll provide you with the 2019 statistics of three left-handed starting pitchers currently on the free agent market plus one who signed yesterday. All you have to do is guess who those stats belong to! Guess them all correctly, and you can win the fabulous prize!*
(*Fabulous prize= my respect)
Ready? Let’s begin!
Free Agent Lefty #1
- 2020 Age: 30
- Fastball Velo: 91.4 mph (10th percentile)
- Fastball Spin Rate: 2,405 rpm (87th percentile)
- Swinging Strike Rate: 11.6 percent
- Walk Rate: 5.1 percent
- Hard Hit Rate: 41.5 percent
- Launch Angle: 17.4 degrees
- DRA-: 91.6
Free Agent Lefty #2
- 2020 Age: 32
- Fastball Velo: 88.3 mph (3rd percentile)
- Fastball Spin Rate: 2,006 rpm (10th percentile)
- Swinging Strike Rate: 8.7 percent
- Walk Rate: 8.0 percent
- Hard Hit Rate: 38.5 percent
- Launch Angle: 2.3 degrees
- DRA-: 87.1
Free Agent Lefty #3
- 2020 Age: 33
- Fastball Velo: 90.7 mph (8th percentile)
- Fastball Spin Rate: 2,084 rpm (11th percentile)
- Swinging Strike Rate: 11.4 percent
- Walk Rate: 3.3 percent
- Hard Hit Rate: 30.8 percent
- Launch Angle: 6.0 degrees
- DRA-: 62.2
Free Agent Lefty #4
- 2020 Age: 34
- Fastball Velo: 89.5 mph (7th percentile)
- Fastball Spin Rate: 2,261 rpm (36th percentile)
- Swinging Strike Rate: 10.4 percent
- Walk Rate: 10.1 percent
- Hard Hit Rate: 30.8 percent
- Launch Angle: 8.9 degrees
- DRA-: 90.6
All told, it’s a very similar group of pitchers. All four are soft-throwers who don’t generate much swing-and-miss, but were more successful than the average pitcher by DRA last season. There are subtle variations, but based on the above information, we should expect all four to receive similar contracts.
And now... the answers!
Answer #1: Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner just signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for five years and $85 million. He sticks out from this group with an extremely high spin rate. He also throws a little harder than the others, but his velo is still well below league average. The high spin rate might help him achieve a few more swinging strikes, but he’s the only one with a launch angle above the MLB average of 11.2 degrees. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, whereas the others generate more grounders. He’s also prone to the highest hard hit rate of the four, which combined with his high launch angle portends a lot of home runs. Still, he’s 2-4 years younger than the rest, and reasonably durable. He features a long track record of success, but his declining velocity is cause for concern.
Answer #2: Dallas Keuchel
The fastball and spin rate numbers listed for Keuchel actually describe his sinker—his primary pitch which he throws about half the time. He’s the softest tosser of this group, though their velos are all similar. His 2.3 degree launch angle was the lowest in MLB last season (minimum 300 batted ball events), caused undoubtedly by heavy reliance on the sinker. Of course, the sinker is one of the easiest pitches for batters to connect with— Keuchel is one of the few remaining successful sinkerballers— so he won’t record a lot of strikeouts. He’s got a clean medical history free of arm injuries, and now that he’s no longer burdened with a qualifying offer, he’ll seek a multiyear deal.
Answer #3: Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ryu led the NL in ERA last year and finished runner-up in the Cy Young voting to Jacob deGrom. His 62.2 DRA- was 13th best in baseball among qualified starters, and far outpaces the rest of the guessing game quartet. Only one qualified starting pitcher featured a better walk rate (Mike Leake). Without a doubt, he was the most successful starting pitcher in our group last season. However, he also carries the greatest injury risk. His 29 starts last year surrounded two IL stints, and he only started 40 games from 2015-2018.
Answer #4: Gio González
Surprise! You probably didn’t expect to see González’s numbers fitting in so well with Bumgarner’s, Keuchel’s, and Ryu’s. He walks a few more batters than the rest, but his hard hit rate is tied with Ryu’s for the best of the group (88th percentile in all of MLB). He excels at limiting hard contact, and his DRA- was virtually tied with Bumgarner’s and Keuchel’s. He missed time last season with an injury described as “arm fatigue,” but has otherwise never suffered an arm injury.
Last year, he inexplicably failed to secure a major league contract in free agency. He joined the Yankees on a minor league deal, then opted out when they wouldn’t call him up for some reason. He joined the Brewers on a one year, $2 million deal at the end of April, and posted a solid season. He’s 34-years-old, but remains a consistent, durable mid-rotation starter.
Now that we have the benefit of name recognition, we can guess who will receive the biggest contract. Jon Becker’s Offseason Matrices are a great resource for free agent contract expectations.
Bumgarner, the youngest of the group, received $85 million. Given that he’s basically similar in quality to Keuchel and González— not to mention the concerns about his home run propensity and decreasing velocity— perhaps Arizona overrated his relative youth compared to the other options.
Keuchel and Ryu should probably receive similar contracts, albeit for different reasons. The former is a reliable #2 starter, whereas the latter is an injury-prone ace. Becker projects $55.77 million for Ryu (range of $32-78 million) and $41.87 million for Keuchel (range of $28-70.4 million).
González is expected to take home $9 million. He has a projected range of $3-20 million, but that doesn’t include the very real possibility that he will be forced to accept a minor league contract once again. Just as Bumgarner’s new deal shows how age is being weighted too heavily, so does González’s on the other end of the spectrum. They’re basically the same pitcher! Wouldn’t you rather have Gio on a two year, $10 million deal than MadBum’s contract with Arizona?
How did you fare in the guessing game? Did you get all four?
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.