We looked in at the top-performing one-year MLB contracts for position players from the 2017-18 offseason just this morning. Now, we’ll perform the same exercise for the hurlers.
It’s still early, of course, but there’s a fairly short period of time for one-year deals to pay off or fizzle out. We’ll identify those hurlers who have posted strong bottom-line results to date. Of course, the picture could still change quite a bit in a few months’ time; as we’ll see, some of the players cited below may well fade, while there’s still ample opportunity for others to deliver value. The six pitchers are ordered from lowest to highest guarantee:
- Trevor Cahill, SP, Athletics ($1.5MM): Signed late as a replacement for the injured Jharel Cotton, Cahill has been a revelation. He carries 11.6 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9, with a hefty 59.6% groundball rate, through 24 innings of 2.25 ERA pitching. Cahill is getting swings and misses at a 16.0% rate — rare air for a starter. We’ll have to see to what extent he can keep it going once he’s back from a brief DL stint, but it’s a fascinating showing for the 30-year-old veteran.
- Seung-hwan Oh, RHP, Blue Jays ($2MM): Swinging strikes are worthy of considering with regard to Oh, as well. Unfortunately, he’s again sitting in the ~12% range rather than the 18% rate he showed in his first season in the majors. Oh has also lost some fastball velocity. All told, it seems unlikely he’ll keep up his current pace after carrying a 1.65 ERA through 16 1/3 innings. Still, he looks to be a solid value for the Jays.
- Bud Norris, RHP, Cardinals ($3MM): The brilliant start to the season from Norris seems rather more sustainable. He’s averaging about a dozen K’s and one free pass per nine innings, with a 15.5% swinging-strike rate and a first-strike rate (72.1%) that’s easily a career-high and near the top among all relievers. This one seems to be a bargain.
- Doug Fister, SP, Rangers ($4MM): To be sure, 31 1/3 innings of 4.02 ERA pitching is not exactly exciting. Fister is humming along with a solid ~50% groundball rate to go with a middling mix of 7.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. But that’s a nice initial showing on a limited investment. Fister has, however, rather handily outperformed the contact he’s allowed. Statcast credits the hitters that have opposed him with a .352 wOBA that lands far shy of the corresponding .400 xwOBA, so the veteran righty could be in for some regression.
- Francisco Liriano, SP, Tigers ($4MM): Another veteran hurler who is sporting a yawning x/wOBA gap (.049 in this case), Liriano nevertheless carries a promising .313 xwOBA. Contact management helps explain how the southpaw has managed to throw 40 1/3 innings of 3.35 ERA ball to open the season despite a pedestrian combination of 6.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and a 47.7% grounder rate. Still, it’d be a surprise if he’s able to keep up quite this rate of productivity.
- CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees ($10MM): It’s a bit unfair to include a player this costly here, but nevertheless it is notable that the Yanks got Sabathia to return for only a single-season commitment. He’s thriving through six starts, over which he has given 32 1/3 innings with a 1.39 ERA that’s the best of any hurler on this list. While a .211 BABIP screams good fortune, Sabathia has allowed a meager .238 wOBA (against a still-low .266 xwOBA) and has been quite stingy with the free passes (just 1.4 per nine). He’s not going to keep getting mid-prime results, but the 37-year-old is maintaining his arm speed and seems a good bet to continue providing quite a few quality frames over the 2018 season.