The Most Overhyped Upcoming MLB Free Agents

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2018

The Most Overhyped Upcoming MLB Free Agents

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    All that glitters is not gold.

    The 2018-19 MLB free-agent crop is loaded with talented players capable of having a profound impact on the teams that sign them.

    However, some of the most hyped players in this year's class have notable red flags that lurk below their shiny exteriors.

    Listed ahead are seven players who are about to be overpaid, with a look at what has led to their hype and why they're overhyped.

SP Patrick Corbin

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    The Hype

    In a thin market for starting pitching, Patrick Corbin picked the perfect time for a breakout season.

    The 29-year-old went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings, lowering his walk rate (2.9 to 2.2 walks per nine innings) and raising his strikeout rate (8.4 to 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings) to emerge as one of the top starters in the National League.

    An improved slider was a big reason for the left-hander's newfound level of success:

    • 2017: 37.38% Usage, .184 BAA, .135 ISO, 21.75% Whiff
    • 2018: 41.51% Usage, .148 BAA, .098 ISO, 30.24% Whiff

    He won't turn 30 until July, and after back-to-back seasons of 180-plus innings, any lingering concerns about the health of his elbow have been put to rest.


    Why He's Overhyped

    Despite his career-best numbers, Corbin actually saw his hard-contact rate spike from 31.6 to 41.7 percent in 2018.

    That's a troubling trend for a pitcher who relies more on fooling hitters than pure stuff.

    It's always a risky proposition to hand a huge contract to a pitcher who has a limited track record of success and is coming off a career year. That looks to be where things are headed, though.

    Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently wrote: "Corbin is expected to draw a lot of interest from the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and Braves. The deal likely could be at least five years in the $20 million-$25 million range."

    A return to his 2017 level (4.03 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 189.2 IP) would still make him a solid addition to any staff, but not one worth a $100 million-plus payday.

RF Bryce Harper

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    The Hype

    Bryce Harper is still just 26.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    The polarizing slugger already has 184 home runs, 27.4 career WAR and a National League MVP award on his resume, and he could conceivably continue to play at an All-Star level for another decade.

    Even in a down year by his standards, he still posted a 133 OPS+ with 34 home runs, 100 RBI and an excellent .393 on-base percentage, fueled by an MLB-high 130 walks.

    Aside from his on-field production, Harper brings a level of swagger and name recognition that can have a profound impact on whichever team he suits up for next.


    Why He's Overhyped

    Harper was a 1.3 WAR player in 2018.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    That trailed Max Scherzer (8.8), Anthony Rendon (4.2), Trea Turner (4.1), Juan Soto (3.0), Tanner Roark (3.0), Stephen Strasburg (2.6), Sean Doolittle (2.5), Jeremy Hellickson (1.7) and Gio Gonzalez (1.5) on his own team.

    Brutal defensive metrics (-26 defensive runs saved, -16.7 UZR/150) played a part in his diminished overall value, which has to be taken into account when considering how he'll age over the course of a long-term deal.

    To that point, Harper has not been the picture of health during his career. He was able to suit up for a career-high 159 games in 2018, but he's failed to reach 120 games in three of his seven seasons.

    At his best, Harper is a transcendent talent and a franchise-changing addition.

    That said, there's been a veritable chasm between his floor and ceiling to this point in his big league career, and there's profound risk in handing him a record-breaking deal.

SP Dallas Keuchel

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    The Hype

    After a forgettable first two years in the majors, Dallas Keuchel came out of nowhere with a breakout 2014 season. He followed that up by winning AL Cy Young honors in 2015.

    Over the past five seasons, the lefty has gone 67-45 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while averaging 190 innings and 3.7 WAR, winning three Gold Glove Awards and making a pair of All-Star appearances along the way.

    With a reliance on pinpoint command and a high ground-ball rate, Keuchel is a safer investment than most 30-year-old pitchers. The fact that he's only thrown 1,189.1 innings in the majors lends further credence to the idea that he'll age well.

    Keuchel also boasts a strong resume of postseason work with a 3.31 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 51.2 career playoff innings.

    He's probably the safest option in this year's starting pitching crop.


    Why He's Overhyped

    On the surface, Keuchel had another strong season in 2018, going 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 204.2 innings of work.

    Below the surface, red flags abound:

    Simply put, Keuchel was a good No. 3/4 starter this season, and he hasn't been close to elite since his Cy Young campaign.

    At best, he's a capable innings eater and a safe target for a multiyear deal to fill a middle-of-the-rotation spot.

    However, he's likely to be paid like a front-line starter in this market, and he could have a tough time living up to his salary.

SP Nathan Eovaldi

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    The Hype

    No one is benefiting more from the postseason spotlight than Nathan Eovaldi.

    Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on July 25 to help bolster a banged-up Boston Red Sox starting rotation, Eovaldi went 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in 11 starts following the trade to earn a spot in the postseason rotation. He's made the most of it:

    • ALDS Game 3: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
    • ALCS Game 3: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K

    His high-octane fastball (97.8 mph) has long made him a potential breakout candidate, and the development of his cut fastball has helped him take a step forward this season.

    Eovaldi is also just 28younger than free-agent alternatives like Patrick Corbin (29), Dallas Keuchel (30), Wade Miley (31), Gio Gonzalez (33), Charlie Morton (34) and J.A. Happ (36)—so that further adds to his appeal.


    Why He's Overhyped

    Eovaldi had a 4.22 ERA on Sept. 11.

    Three strong starts to close out the regular season and his stellar postseason performance have sent his stock soaring, but a little over a month ago, he was essentially a league-average pitcher.

    In his three seasons as a full-time member of the starting rotationprior to missing the 2017 season with Tommy John surgeryhe went 29-25 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 81 starts (84 appearances).

    That was good for a 90 ERA+, or about 10 percent below league-average production.

    Eovaldi has always tantalized with his electric stuff, showing flashes of what we've seen over the last month.

    Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote: "Most executives think a comparable is Alex Cobb, who also came back from Tommy John and landed a four-year, $57 million deal with Baltimore last offseason."

    That could be a massive overpay if the past month winds up being a mirage.

RP Craig Kimbrel

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    The Hype

    Craig Kimbrel has nailed down 333 saves in his career—tops among active playersand he's converted them at an impressive 90.7 percent clip over nine big league seasons.

    The 30-year-old finished sixth in Cy Young voting last year, tallying 35 saves with a 1.43 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 16.4 K/9 in 67 appearances. That marked the fifth time in his career that he's finished top-10 in the balloting, and he's also made seven trips to the All-Star Game.

    On top of that impressive resume, Kimbrel has been durable.

    He's made at least 57 appearances in each of his eight full seasons in the majors. Aside from a medial meniscus tear in his left knee during the 2016 season that cost him a month, he's avoided significant injury.


    Why He's Overhyped

    Kimbrel was good this season, but not as dominant as we've seen in years past.

    First off, he walked more hitters, as his walk rate climbed to 4.5 BB/9well above his 3.3 BB/9 mark entering the season.

    He also gave up more home runs, surrendering seven long balls in 62.1 innings for a career-worst 1.0 HR/9 ratedouble his career mark.

    He also saw a slight dip in his fastball velocity, and the pitch was more hittable:

    • 201798.7 mph, .112 ISO, 11 XBH
    • 201897.7 mph, .202 ISO, 19 XBH

    Throw in his shaky postseason performance (8.1 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 5 ER) and there is more than enough reason to think twice before giving him a deal in the neighborhood of the record-breaking deals handed to Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Wade Davis in recent years.

2B DJ LeMahieu

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    The Hype

    DJ LeMahieu can hit.

    Over the past four seasons, his .309 batting average ranks fourth among qualified hitters, trailing only Jose Altuve (.328), Daniel Murphy (.314) and Joey Votto (.312) during that span.

    DJ LeMahieu can also play defense.

    During that same four-year span, his 32 DRS rank second to Ian Kinsler (47) among second basemen, and his 21.6 defensive runs above average (DEF) trail only Kinsler (33.7) and Kolten Wong (26.2) at the position.

    He also bought into the fly-ball revolution a bit this past season, slugging a career-high 15 home runs thanks to a spike in his fly-ball rate from 19.7 to 29.5 percent.

    With strikeouts at an all-time high and a newfound premium placed on defense, LeMahieu could be looking at a big payday thanks to his table-setting abilities and Gold Glove resume.


    Why He's Overhyped

    The big strike against LeMahieu is his home/road splits:

    • 2018 Home: 309 PA, .317/.360/.433
    • 2018 Road: 272 PA, .229/.277/.422
    • Career at Coors: 1,938 PA, .329/.386/.447
    • Career Elsewhere: 1,861 PA, .266/.315/.364

    With alternatives on the free-agent market in the form of Jed Lowrie, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier and Ian Kinsler, there is no shortage of options for teams in search of second base help.

    At the right price, it's worth taking a chance that LeMahieu adjusts to life after Coors Field, but there will be a fine line between a calculated risk and an overpay.

CF A.J. Pollock

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    The Hype

    While others like Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen and Nick Markakis will generate plenty of interest, A.J. Pollock is the only outfielder on the free-agent market capable of manning center field on an everyday basis.

    The 30-year-old posted a 106 OPS+ with 21 home runs and 13 steals in a 2.5 WAR season, and his combination of power and speed makes him a dynamic player when he's at 100 percent.

    He showcased the full toolbox of skills back in 2015 when he hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 111 runs scored and 39 steals for a stellar 7.2 WAR. He's still in his prime, so a return to that level of production is not out of the question.

    Defensively, he might not win another Gold Glove Award, but he was solid once again with 6 DRS over 936 innings in center field.


    Why He's Overhyped

    Injuries are the big red flag with Pollock.

    After his monster 2015 performance, a broken elbow limited him to 12 games in 2016, and he's battled various ailments the past two years to play in 112 and 113 games.

    He also ended 2018 on a low note, hitting .233/.290/.410 in the second half after posting a solid .285/.348/.575 line before the All-Star break.

    His home/road splits also give a reason for pause, as hitter-friendly Chase Field has seemingly aided his production:

    • 2018 Home: 238 PA, .278/.342/.517
    • 2018 Road: 222 PA, .235/.288/.451
    • Career Home: 1,288 PA, .295/.351/.499
    • Career Road: 1,219 PA, .266/.324/.434

    He's still the best option out there for a team that is looking to shore up the center field position—assuming McCutchen's days manning the position are over—and that could lead to a massive overpay if he has multiple suitors.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.