Today is Black Friday, though that is really only a partially true statement. As I type this, it is Tuesday, and depending on how this blog performs it is possible a majority of readers will not read this on Black Friday. But this goes LIVE on Black Friday, the day of unfettered consumption, the personification of Western capitalism. Though, that too is only a partially true statement, as in recent years the internet has allowed Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and its surrounding days to coalesce into a weeklong blob of sales.
Perhaps I’m overthinking this. I am sure burying the lede, which is this: Black Friday is a time for buying. “Buy or Sell” is an exercise where you pick things you’re optimistic about and pessimistic about. Today, I will combine these two concepts in a hamfisted attempt to be #relevant and #timely in order to let you know some players whose performances I’m buying for 2021.
Maybe I’ll save the “sell” part of this exercise for Boxing Day. Who knows. Enjoy.
Hunter Dozier’s professional career path has been a very bizarre one right out of the gate. Kansas City selected Dozier as the 8th overall pick in the 2013 draft in a cost-saving move that allowed them to select Sean Manaea later, but it placed pressure on Dozier that overmatched his talent—Baseball America ranked him the 39th best prospect in the draft, and thinking of Dozier as a high second round talent is probably the way to go. Then, injuries and the Royals’ pretense at contention kept him out of the lineup until 2018.
But Dozier was excellent in 2019. He put up 3 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs, largely on the strength of his bat. His triple slash was a healthy .279/.348/.522—which wRC+ graded as 24% above league average—and he looked for all the world like the right-handed good version of Eric Hosmer at the plate. He was an all-around hitter with plate discipline and power, pairing that with surprising athleticism for his size.
On its face, Dozier’s rather mediocre hitting 2020 season seems concerning—Dozier’s wRC+ fell to 104, barely above league average. However, I’m not worried, and if anything his performance this year speaks to his talents. In July, Dozier contracted COVID-19, but unlike other Royals who tested positive, Dozier and his wife had negative symptoms. Those symptoms kept him from baseball and physical activities.
The tl;dr is that, when a player contracts a once-in-a-century-pandemic disease and still manages to walk 14.5% of the time and contribute positively on the basepaths, the lack of power in a 44-game sample doesn’t worry me.
Evaluating pitchers is hard. The best that talent evaluators can do is evaluate a pitcher’s pitches. To that end, there’s more data now than ever: we can measure velocity, movement, release point, contact rates, exit velocity, and more for every pitch that a pitcher can unfurl. Usually, the pitchers with the best pitches do better than the pitchers with less good pitches.
While Brady Singer has two above average pitches in a wipeout slider and a fastball with extraordinary movement, the knock on Singer was that those pitches wouldn’t be enough for him to succeed at the highest levels of the sport. Without a changeup or a way to neutralize lefties, little stood in the way of opposing teams loading up their lineup with left-handed hitters and just smashing dingers.
Now, I’m not a professional talent evaluator. They know more than I ever will. But sometimes I wonder if, for all the data that’s out there about pitches, the forest is lost for the trees. In other words, at the end of the day, it’s about performance and how well you can get people out.
In college, Singer was excellent. In the minors, Singer was excellent once he acclimated to the level. Lo and behold, Singer found a groove in the big leagues, too. It’s going to be overlooked because of the short season, but despite some evaluators fearing that Singer was a glorified bullpen guy, Singer was a 2.5 WAR pitcher, as a starter, right out of the gate.
Pitching is an art as much as a science, and even though other pitchers on the staff and in the minors may have better stuff, I think Singer is most likely to be a consistently above average starter.
Jake Junis (Bullpen)
Every year, there’s a struggling or middling starting pitcher that gets moved to the bullpen and kills it. Royals fans saw it with Luke Hochevar, who sported a career 5.44 ERA and a 16% strikeout rate as a starter and a 2.95 ERA and a 26% strikeout rate as a reliever. Royals fans saw it with Wade Davis, too, and later with Ian Kennedy. In this year’s playoffs, the Los Angeles Dodgers used Julio Urias, a starter during the regular season, as their fireman when it mattered most.
Could Junis stick as a starting pitcher? Maybe! For his career, Junis has an ERA of 4.78 and an FIP of 4.77, which has been about league average. But that obscures a startling trend, which is that Junis has gotten worse, as measured by both ERA and FIP, every year since his debut—this year Junis was worse than replacement value.
With a parade of younger starters that have much higher upside than Junis in the form of Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and even Asa Lacy at the door, Junis is the perfect candidate to see a lot of bullpen time this year. I think he’ll be great, because it’ll allow him to use his nasty slider with wild abandon. Per Statcast, the average slider this year in the big leagues had 8.5 inches of horizontal break. Junis’ Slider had nearly double that, at over 16 inches of horizontal break.
Not every bad starter becomes a good bullpen piece. Sometimes, they’re just bad. I do not think that will be Junis’ fate, though, and I think he’ll be fun to watch next year.