Jon Heyman: Agent Scott Boras calls recent contracts baseball's 'analytic catastrophe'

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Longtime Astros star Dallas Keuchel seems to be seen as the second-best starting pitcher on the market (or perhaps even third by one or two), but agent Scott Boras says teams are often evaluating players wrong, that some players are being overvalued and others — like Keuchel — are being undervalued. Furthermore, Boras predicts teams will soon start viewing analytics more skeptically, which may aid Keuchel and pitchers like him.

Boras talks about what he sees as the “analytic catastrophe” now, after some top players performances veered wildly in contrast to their contracts during the odd market last winter. Boras, who himself uses a state-of-the-art computer to crunch numbers and certainly isn't opposed to figures, spoke out about the over-emphasis on analytics last year, but it didn’t prevent teams from stressing velocity and spin rate, launch angle and the like.

It’s a small sample size but Yu Darvish, a darling of the analytic community for outsized velocity reading and other peripherals, did not pitch up to his $126-million, six-year contract (and it wasn’t only the Cubs who played big on Darvish) while the $75-million, three-year contract of Jake Arrieta, who was dinged for falling velocity, looks considerably better; though Arrieta didn’t pitch beyond his salary, he had a solid year. Boras also cites J.D. Martinez, who finished fourth in MVP voting and was one of the three best hitters in baseball.



Boras going back to last year more closely aligns with old-school scouts who try to judge heart and head as well as tools, though that can be imprecise as well.

Speaking of the pitchers, Boras asserted, “Spin rate and velo do not forecast psychology.” Keuchel is a soft tosser who knows how to pitch, but despite similar career numbers, hasn’t been seen as the equal of Patrick Corbin by some big teams for that reason. Corbin, who scores higher on velo and spin rate, just got a $140-million deal. Keuchel has won a Cy Young (won in 2015), posted three seasons with an ERA below 3.00 (Corbin has none) and may have trouble matching Corbin’s monster deal which was signed by one of Boras’ favorite teams (the Nats no less).

Keuchel has a fine market, with the Braves, Phillies, Reds and others said to be playing now, and others ready to jump in. But some teams that need pitchers haven't been linked to Keuchel to this point, including the Yankees, who had Corbin at the time, and have been said to be looking at J.A. Happ (and Eovaldi). Keuchel could still be a candidate in New York, and word is he would relish the big stage, but he seems almost to be an afterthought there.

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But the below-average velocity may be hurting him with some, especially with Nathan Eovaldi, who has hit 102 mph (and also has an excellent postseason track record and big heart) still out there — though word is the Red Sox are closing in on Eovaldi for a four-year deal, believed to be for close to $17 million a year. Boras is selling Keuchel, who also may be hurt by a recency bias — while he finished 2018 strong, he didn’t have as good a year as Corbin — as “another Tom Glavine,” which is high praise indeed. Boras cites the fact that Keuchel has been excellent in the postseason, with a 4-2 record and 3.31 ERA, including  a shutout in a Wild Card game at New York in 2015, which was something he stressed with Arrieta as well.

Analytics, Boras also says, is “helpful but not determinative.”

He cites mistakes made on Martinez, Christian Yelich and others as proof that front offices should — and in his way of thinking, will — dial back. Martinez may be able to make up for what looks like a bargain salary by opting out after his second, third or fourth year, but Boston itself turned a bit away from analytics when it hired Dave Dombrowski to run its baseball operation (Dombrowski knew Martinez personally from their time together in Detroit, after his then assistant Al Avila, who knew Martinez from Miami, where he played with his son Alex Avila, recommended him). Dombrowski also made Eovaldi, another player he nows well from his time in Boston and 2018 October heroics is top priority this winter.

“What we’re seeing,” Boras says, “is misses at grand levels.”

Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.

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