The long-awaited end of the MLB lockout is here, and as a result, the free-agent pieces are beginning to fall, especially the Cubs-related ones. Here are updates on which players signed and their fantasy impacts.
Anthony Rizzo: NYY
Anthony Rizzo gets $32 million for two years with an opt out after the first year, per source. That opt out is huge. It’s a free year for him. If he goes off, chance to make more next off season.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) March 16, 2022
So much for the Yankees’ attempt to sign Freddie Freeman. They instead decided to secure a strong backup option in Rizzo, who returns to the Bronx for another year-plus in pinstripes. Rizzo arrived in New York via trade from Chicago, playing 49 games and racking up 200 plate appearances for the Yankees.
Rizzo was a solid, if not boring acquisition for the Yankees, playing almost exactly the same in New York as he did in Chicago in 2021:
The one notable difference to me is Rizzo’s run-scoring pace, as he notched almost as many runs in New York as he did in Chicago in just over half as many games. This is likely a function of Rizzo’s spot in each team’s batting order. In Chicago, Rizzo was hitting in the 3rd or 4th spot pretty regularly, which doesn’t typically lead to as many runs scored but does often lead to a higher RBI output. And, Rizzo was frequently hitting behind guys like Ian Happ (.226 AVG, .323 OBP) and Willson Contreras (.237 AVG, .340 OBP), who often struggled to get on base in front of Rizzo. Accordingly, they didn’t really provide Rizzo with a ton of opportunities to drive runs in, which is why his RBI pace was a little depressed in 2021 as opposed to years past.
However, in New York, Rizzo was hitting in the 2 spot behind DJ LeMahieu (.268 AVG, .349 OBP) and in front of Aaron Judge (.287 AVG, .544 SLG*) and Giancarlo Stanton (.273 AVG, .516 SLG), which contributed to his higher run output pace. Another season hitting in a LeMahieu/Judge/Stanton sandwich is likely to do wonders for Rizzo’s run output. And, if you take a look at the RBI paces in both NYY and CHC, Rizzo really wasn’t that far off from his middle-of-the-order output in New York, which I think can be attributed to the depth of New York’s lineup. It’s a little easier to drive in runs when the quality of player at the bottom/very top of New York’s lineup (here, we assume Rizzo is the 3rd or 4th hitter in a half-inning where the lineup turns over) is higher than the players in Chicago. Accordingly, I don’t think Rizzo’s RBI production is going to decline significantly, while the run production will likely increase over his 2021 and 2019 paces.
*SLG is used for players hitting behind Rizzo because it better encapsulates how they drive in runners on base, like Rizzo, without using RBI.
If you’d rather look at Rizzo’s 2021 as a whole, here are his Statcast percentile rankings:
I don’t see a whole lot in Rizzo’s Statcast profile indicating that his production is going to regress next year. In fact, he might be due for a tiny bit of upwards regression to the mean, given that his xBA (or xAVG) was 12 points higher than his actual batting average, while his xwOBA was 8 points higher than his actual wOBA. I don’t think it changes Rizzo’s projections much, though, so don’t get too excited about the little Statcast bump.
What I am excited about (being excited about the Yankees? Barf.) is Rizzo in an offense that should be a little bit deeper this coming year, with the swap of Gio Urshela for Josh Donaldson in the middle of the Yankees’ order, along with what should hopefully be a full season of Joey Gallo. There’s a whole lot of power and a whole lot of muscle in a fully healthy Yankees lineup:
Here’s the Yankees projected lineup as of now pic.twitter.com/xej8MBHn6S
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) March 16, 2022
Sure seems like there will be a lot of slugging to go around! Rizzo will be a fine starting first baseman for anyone looking for a bit of a bargain in drafts. However, given that he is now officially tied to the Yankees and the New York Media Hype Machine, Rizzo’s required draft capital might start to creep up.
Frederick Freeman: LAD 6/$162M
BREAKING: Freddie Freeman has agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a six-year, $162 million deal according to @JeffPassan and me.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 17, 2022
Per source, $57 million of Freddie Freeman’s $162 million guarantee from the Dodgers is deferred from 2028 through 2040. Those deferments bring the value of the deal to approximately $140 million.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) March 18, 2022
Listen, we all knew it was coming ever since Atlanta traded for Matt Olson, but still… What??? I’m struggling to come up with a comparison for how wild this is.
Freeman joins his “hometown” team, despite growing up closer to the Anaheim Angels, on a pretty sweet deal. Freddie’s going to be making money off this deal until he’s 51 years old, and he gets to spend 6 years in one of the best baseball (yeah, I said it, LA’s a Laker and Dodger town no matter how well other teams in LA might be playing) towns in the United States. Plus, you know, the weather is pretty good.
Oh, and I forgot about the best part: Freeman gets to hit behind a few All-Stars:
The Dodgers' projected lineup this season 🥵
— RotoRadar (@RotoRadar) March 18, 2022
If you’re not audibly gasping at this lineup, you’re doing it wrong. No other team in Major League Baseball has 2 MVPs sandwiching an NL batting champion, followed by 6 above-average MLB players, and no other team ever will.
Don’t complain about Mark Walter outspending everyone else. Complain about how your team’s majority stakeholder isn’t willing to invest in this kind of lineup despite raking in the dough from TV deals.
Oh, right! The fantasy impact. Well, Freeman gets a pretty nice projections boost in his R/RBI categories because he has the great fortune of hitting behind Trea Turner and Mookie Betts, who ranked 12th and 21st in OBP among qualified hitters in 2021. So, there should be plenty of traffic on the basepaths to allow Freddie to do some damage. He “only” brought home 83 RBIs last year, hitting in a slightly-less-than-full-strength Atlanta lineup. What are the odds he hits the century mark in RBIs hitting behind those two? And yes, Freddie might regress a couple of runs off of his 2021 total, but when he’s in the middle of this lineup, I’m not sure that it’s going to decrease significantly enough to hurt him.
I think the better fantasy impact to consider is the one this signing has on Will Smith and Max Muncy and Trea Turner. Not that the Dodgers had trouble scoring runs last year, but it doesn’t look like they’ll have much of an issue doing so this year. Accordingly, Smith and Muncy’s RBI totals will see an increase. Likewise, Turner and Betts weren’t going to have trouble scoring based on the guys hitting behind them, but now they especially won’t see an issue. So, Turner and Betts should see a slight run increase as well.
Kyle Schwarber: 4/$79M
Kyle Schwarber Phillies deal is $79M, 4 years
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 16, 2022
This Phillies lineup is going to be beefy. With a lineup of Schwarber, Harper, and as of yesterday, Nick Castellanos, the Phillies are going to be slow and play horrible defense, but man, they’re going to hit a lot of dingers. Take a look at the new projected lineup with Schwarber (but not Castellanos):
Phillies projected lineup with their 2021 OAA
— hugo (@BatemanFanAcc) March 18, 2022
Boy, oh boy, is their pitching staff gonna be frustrated when some preventable runs score due to the defense behind them. But wow, is this lineup gonna be good! Schwarber presumably will lead off, which is going to add another scary left-handed power bat to the top of the order.
Let’s take a quick look at Schwarber’s stats from last season:
A quick look at his Statcast profile indicates Schwarber’s 2021 wasn’t much of a fluke. His xwOBA was right about in line with his actual wOBA, xSLG in line with SLG, etc. His batted ball profile didn’t see any significant changes, nor did his plate discipline really move one way or another across 2021. So, I wouldn’t expect a ton of statistical regression from Schwarber this season, given that he’s in his athletic prime and hasn’t shown any real signs of decline yet.
There was something intriguing in Schwarber’s production from last year. He was good in Washington, D.C., but he was even better in Boston:
If you look real close, you’ll see that Schwarber’s BABIP shot up to an unreal 0.413 in his 41 games with the Red Sox. And, unless he’s suddenly turned into Rod Carew, Schwarber isn’t going to be posting such a high BABIP for an entire season. So, don’t get too excited about the Boston BA or the OBP rates because those are sure to decrease next year. Schwarber’s average and OBP are probably going to trend closer to his Washington levels than they are his Boston levels.
What’s intriguing to me is that Schwarber’s HR paces are dramatically different in Washington and Boston. I think some of this change (obviously, not all of it) can be identified in Statcast’s 3-year rolling park factors:
|Venue||Overall Park Factor||wOBACon Park Factor||HR Park Factor||Games Played||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS|
Fenway Park is a little more hitter-friendly for LHH overall than Nationals Park is, which I believe contributed to the overall increase in Schwarber’s numbers across the board (in addition to the huge BABIP spike, obviously), but you can see how dramatically different the HR Park Factors are for LHH between Nationals Park (ranked 10th in HR Park Factors) and Fenway Park (ranked 19th). So, some of Schwarber’s decrease in HR pace could have come down to the differences in parks.
Luckily for Schwarber, he stays in a hitter-friendly park. Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, is 4th overall in park factor, sitting pretty at a 105 overall park factor. It is also an incredibly homer-friendly park for left-handed hitters; CBP ranks 6th in HR Park Factor (a score of 118), which is actually a step up from Nationals Park and Fenway.
Also, as we established previously, the quality of the hitters in front of and behind the player in question can have an impact on the RBI/R (and the other rate stats) categories in fantasy. So, is it possible that Schwarber’s move to Boston helped increase his counting stats? Before Schwarber’s injury in early June, he was hitting at the top of the lineup, in front of Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell. Not too shabby of a group. Once Schwarber returned from injury, the Red Sox had him switch back and forth between the top of the order and the 2-hole in the lineup. When he was at the top, he was hitting in front of Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Alex Verdugo. There wasn’t really much of a downgrade in lineup quality from one team to another. So, maybe not.
Poor lineup construction won’t be a problem in Philadelphia, as Schwarber will likely lead off a lineup that will start with Schwarber, Castellanos, Harper, and Realmuto. No one’s going to be pitching around Schwarber to get to someone worse; he’s going to be getting pitches he can hit.
After looking through the various factors and stat-lines, I think you can give Schwarber’s fantasy value a nice little bump. This is about as perfect a landing spot as you can ask for, given how friendly Citizens Bank Park is for left-handed hitters and how strong of a lineup Schwarber will be slotted into. He’s going to have plenty of opportunities to score (so the run total will likely increase), and he’s going to continue to get hittable pitches with Castellanos and Harper right behind him.
I’m not sure that this will significantly injure or boost anyone else’s fantasy value with the Phillies unless you hold speculative shares in Matt Vierling or Adam Haseley. Sure, it will move Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, and Rhys Hoskins down a spot in the lineup, which theoretically leads to decreased RBI opportunities, but it’s too early to say at this juncture. For now, appreciate how powerful this Phillies lineup is, and get ready to see some guys play some really awful defense!
Graphic by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj)