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  • Why Non-Tendering Matt Wisler Made Sense


    Matthew Trueblood

    The Twins non-tendered right-handed reliever Matt Wisler Wednesday, in a surprising move. On a closer look, though, it’s not the shock—or the problem—it might appear to be at first.

    Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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    Wisler, 28, had a marvelous 2020 season in the Minnesota bullpen, thanks not only to his extreme slider usage, but to a change to his delivery that improved his command of the pitch. His 32.7-percent strikeout rate placed him in the 89th percentile among all pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched. He was in line to earn somewhere around $1.5 million, and the team retaining him at that price seemed like a foregone conclusion.

    At a deeper level, though, it’s not hard to see what led the Twins to violate that expectation. There are, in fact, at least three contributing factors that probably led them to that choice.

    Firstly, as welcome as Wisler’s whiffs were, a great strikeout rate does not make a great pitcher. By walking roughly one in every seven batters faced, Wisler put too many opponents on base. They didn’t often come around to score, as his minuscule ERA attests, but to strand runners that way is often impossible in the long run. Between that failing, the suspect offensive competition (especially for a righty reliever) the Twins faced throughout the season, and his extreme fly-ball tendencies, Baseball Prospectus’s advanced pitching metrics pegged Wisler as an essentially average pitcher in 2020. By both DRA- and cFIP, Wisler was actually worse in 2020 than in 2019. That sounds bonkers, when considering only his surface-level numbers, but when evaluating a relief pitcher, always resist the temptation to weigh those traditional numbers as heavily as more granular, advanced ones.

    The second reason why letting Wisler become a free agent makes some sense is logistical, and reflective of both the team’s and the league’s prevailing preferences with regard to pitching usage. Wisler is out of minor-league options. That’s not a big deal if a pitcher is on the relief ace tier, like Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers, but for almost any lesser light, it becomes a real factor. Teams (and the Twins, especially) value the ability to shuttle fresh arms up from Triple-A and send tired or struggling ones down. That will be truer than ever in 2021, since the team’s highest affiliate is now just a Green Line ride away.

    Wisler was good enough in a shortened season, with expanded rosters, but at this moment, we don’t know how many players teams will be allowed to carry in 2021, and the developing news about vaccine timelines suggests we’ll have a full, 162-game season. Both of those things make it harder to plan to carry a non-elite reliever who cannot be optioned. It’s not hard to imagine that the Twins believed there was about $1 million (the difference between Wisler’s likely arbitration earnings and the league minimum) of value to be gained by maintaining flexibility. It helps, in that regard, that the free-agent market is flush with quality right-handed relievers, including a bevy of new ones who flooded that space along with Wisler on Wednesday.

    The final reason is conceptual, rather than concrete, but no less potent. To grasp it, imagine pitching acquisition, evaluation, and development as a frontier in a land being explored and occupied by a new people. On a frontier, it’s important to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses, because they determine what is both possible and prudent. Wisler’s path to success in 2020 was extreme. It was a push into a new, unexplored, unestablished space. Even as the season progressed, I found myself asking the question: how far can this whole thing be taken?

    Wisler was used in multiple roles. A former starter, he opened multiple games, and often got more than three outs in an appearance. He threw sliders at historic frequency. I wondered, and I can only assume that even the Twins also wondered: how much further could this be taken? Could Wisler go three innings at a time without losing effectiveness? Could he pitch 100 innings over a full season, without fading? Could he keep throwing sliders 90 percent of the time, reshaping the pitch and mixing up his locations well enough that the league wouldn’t figure him out, adjust, and start scoring against him?

    A less successful, confident pitching infrastructure would have led a team to continue that dangerous exploration. It’s a potentially lucrative endeavor, but there’s a lot of risk attached to it. The questions posed above are fascinating, from a sheer scientific perspective. The exploration would have some value for the league, as it continues in an era of rapid change and advancement. The Twins, though, have enough skills not to keep exploring until their luck runs out. They can, and already have, set up an outpost and start replicating the success Wisler represents. They can let others bear the risks of trying to get more out of Wisler. Plenty of hurlers can be gotten slightly cheaper, with as-good-or-better chances to thrive.

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    This is what baseball has become. A somewhat "minority report" hybrid. It doesn't matter what you accomplish and how you actually perform, it only matters how an observer might think you will perform. It is not your thoughts and actions that count, it is some pencil pushing baseball nerd's that can't even come close to performing if they tried.

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    While the numbers are SSS they still look good IMO.  HIs WHIP is only 1.14 and with his K-9 that is plenty good for a reliever.  I guess you have to decide if it is sustainable on basically one pitch or not.  The SSS does us no favors telling us how those numbers would look for a whole season.  Just one bad game or two from bumping up that ERA and if enough players figure out his Slider then the K-9 could slip too.

     

      For the money and all they invested in him though it still seems like an odd decision to me.  They must have something in mind more long term to just DFA him.  Again for the results and price tag you would think they could have gotten at least a C level prospect lottery ticket for him.  This looks to be an interesting offseason for sure.

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    Aside from the stats, this makes sense if the Twins are agressive in signing FA relievers.  This is a deep class and the Twins do have needs.  I have no problem with nontendering Wisler, assuming the coaching staff has supportable reasons.  Same with letting homer-prone May go.

     

    But they need a reliable closer.  Rogers was awfully hittable and relievers are very prone to quick drops in effectiveness.  A franchise truly interested in going deep into the playoffs must look for a second closer.  Today's market includes several: Hendricks, Rosenthal, Yates, Hand.  I'd like them to select two, but if only one, Liam's the one and then  resign Clippard and your bullpen becomes very solid, at least on paper.  Unfortunately, there is no one in their minor league system who seems major-league ready.

     

    This is a must for a team that seems intent on over-protecting their starters!

     

     

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    I argued elsewhere that non-tendering Wisler is dumb, but thank you for this extensive analysis. I still think he's worth the risk, given his performance, though the FA class at his position might be the crucial factor that got him axed. If other GMs think as you do, though, it might be that Wisler might still be available to the team on the cheap. Nobody can know quite yet when vaccines will take us to herd immunity and allow full stadiums and a season that's not shortened by many dozens of games. Too many Americans are incapable of trusting epidemiologists and scientific acumen; only the vaccine in this country will bring Covid to its knees, and that will take time to manufacture and distribute. We need baseball this year. Here's hoping it can come on its usual schedule, with or without Wisler.

     

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    This is what baseball has become. A somewhat "minority report" hybrid. It doesn't matter what you accomplish and how you actually perform, it only matters how an observer might think you will perform. It is not your thoughts and actions that count, it is some pencil pushing baseball nerd's that can't even come close to performing if they tried.

     

    I believe arbiters are legal professionals, not baseball professionals.

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    I believe arbiters are legal professionals, not baseball professionals.

     

    could be..... 

    could be

    "a person whose views or actions have great influence over trends in social behavior."
    "an arbiter of taste"

    could be used to descibe other nuances.

     

    Perhaps not the most concise analogy.... I hope you understood the point.

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    This is what baseball has become. A somewhat "minority report" hybrid. It doesn't matter what you accomplish and how you actually perform, it only matters how an observer might think you will perform. It is not your thoughts and actions that count, it is some pencil pushing baseball nerd's that can't even come close to performing if they tried.

     

    Did you have a better baseball career than Falvey? Just curious.

     

    I guess to avoid being a "nerd," Falvey should intentionally make incorrect decisions, to show that he's above concepts like "due diligence" and "logic"?

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    I hate how a guy like this works all his life for a year like he had and gets the shaft, and a guy like Malik Beasley goes and signs for $60 million.

    Why compare two different sports, one that has a salary cap and one that does not.  One that has 15 man rosters and one that will go through nearly 50 people on their roster any given season.  

     

    Also, just because Wisler was not tendered by Twins does not mean he cannot sign with any team.  He is free to sign and make money off of his season. 

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    Did you have a better baseball career than Falvey? Just curious.

     

    I guess to avoid being a "nerd," Falvey should intentionally make incorrect decisions, to show that he's above concepts like "due diligence" and "logic"?

     

    It was meant to be a general observation. Not personal. But I have no problem with a Falvey apologist. I don't know how the decision will turn out, and I am not advocating for Wisler or Falvey.

     

    I had taken a bit of a break from the boards..... I guess I forgot how the internet works. 

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    Good article -  and I completely disagree. 

     

    For his price we could have seen if the success continued and still DFA'd him if it was appropriate.

     

    Numbers, stats, graphs - the only questions I ask are - did he do what he was asked to do?  Did he do it well?  Was he affordable.  Those are my analytics and I would sign him again.

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    The only throwing slider gimmick must have run its course. Maybe they road that wagon and the wheels were falling off. Better to jump off now!

    Or maybe he had some kind injury that him and team doctors didn’t see eye to eye on.

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    Nice dogwhistle.

    Sorry but that's a stretch. It is a good point and resonates with me on a dispassionate level. The NBA is irritating on many levels, maybe the antithesis of MLB.

     

    Edit: Upon further reflection I still stand by my reaction to the dog whistle comment as it is perfectly reasonable to be irritated that a man can wave an assault rifle at an innocent family for being on his property when in fact they were on public property while negotiating a contact for a high level, very public position with a large corporation and not have his behavior affect said negotiations. That said it is true that it is apples to oranges. On the one hand you have a first round pick and on the other a fringe player.

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    Good article -  and I completely disagree. 

     

    For his price we could have seen if the success continued and still DFA'd him if it was appropriate.

     

    Numbers, stats, graphs - the only questions I ask are - did he do what he was asked to do?  Did he do it well?  Was he affordable.  Those are my analytics and I would sign him again.

     

    We had a front office this resembled these remarks and most people here felt (correctly) the game had passed them by. It's just not nearly that simple and it never was that simple. Team's have become much better at evaluating potential and sustainability and I don't would like our team to among the most sophisticated in their analysis as opposed to the most simplistic.

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    I hate how a guy like this works all his life for a year like he had and gets the shaft, and a guy like Malik Beasley goes and signs for $60 million.

    You're not wrong except that Beasley can do so many things and is on a rapid incline of improvement, raw talent always gets a second chance.  Wisler throws a slider and Matthew points out that his numbers don't project well in addition to the fact that he can't do the up and down anymore.

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    It was meant to be a general observation. Not personal. But I have no problem with a Falvey apologist. I don't know how the decision will turn out, and I am not advocating for Wisler or Falvey.

     

    I had taken a bit of a break from the boards..... I guess I forgot how the internet works. 

     

    Considering the performance of the organization under Falvey, I'm not sure that he needs much "apologizing" on his behalf.

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    Interesting article if his projected salary was actually significant. I would have simply tendered him a 1.5-3 million dollar deal and DFA’d him if he turned back into a pumpkin. What’s the point of taking a flyer on a guy like Wisler and cutting him loose when he achieves the best possible scenario of performance?

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    I think it might all be about the fact that he wouldn't sign a contract in front of the deadline and the Twins didn't want to take a chance on his salary.

     

    Given that, I think it might also be about flexibility. If they do sign someone in free agency as the closer, and do sign a starter or 2 to bring in as well, there is going to be a lot of potential pitchers pushed into bullpen duty. Thorpe is out of options. Romero, should he work himself into the picture, is out of options. Dobnak probably deserves a roster spot. Alcala seems like he belongs. Stashak seems like he might belong. And there needs to be opportunities for guys like Colina, Chalmers, and probably Duran. Smeltzer is still around as well. 

     

    I know that a lot of these guys are not proven commodities, but they need opportunities to prove it.

     

    And if the front office choses to take advantage of the vast amount of relievers available on the open market, it gets even tighter. 

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    Why compare two different sports, one that has a salary cap and one that does not.  One that has 15 man rosters and one that will go through nearly 50 people on their roster any given season.  

     

    Also, just because Wisler was not tendered by Twins does not mean he cannot sign with any team.  He is free to sign and make money off of his season. 

     

    All valid and trumping points of what I said.  It was a knee-jerk opinion after reading a Beasley article just prior to this one.  Opinion hasn't changed.  I just need to make comments more relevant.

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    Considering the performance of the organization under Falvey, I'm not sure that he needs much "apologizing" on his behalf.

     

    An apologist, by definition, is one who speaks in defense of (not one who is apologizing for). So I am not suggesting Falvey needs much apologizing for, at all, and I agree with you. I was noticing your defense of him, when I was meaning to speak in general, and had not even accused him personally.

     

    I am a proud apologist for many people and things and ideas, and don't apologize for it at all. I also embrace being a baseball nerd. I am even a baseball nerd apologist.

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    All valid and trumping points of what I said.  It was a knee-jerk opinion after reading a Beasley article just prior to this one.  Opinion hasn't changed.  I just need to make comments more relevant.

    I was not defending the Beasley deal, just felt the comparing the two was a little flawed.  Also, one other thing of note, is in basket ball they share the revenue.  You hear a player makes 'x' money in NBA they may actually not make that if the league makes less money.  I could be wrong, but I think I heard NBA is asking players to have about 50% of salary in escrow until end of season, normally it is only 10%.  So if league makes 50% less than what they would normally be expected, the players lose that money and it goes back to league.  So a player making 10 mil will make only 5 mil.  

     

    In baseball, the player will earn all their money no matter how much money the league pulls in.  So there is much more risk to team owners in baseball giving deals than in basketball as well.  

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    An apologist, by definition, is one who speaks in defense of (not one who is apologizing for). So I am not suggesting Falvey needs much apologizing for, at all, and I agree with you. I was noticing your defense of him, when I was meaning to speak in general, and had not even accused him personally.

     

    I am a proud apologist for many people and things and ideas, and don't apologize for it at all. I also embrace being a baseball nerd. I am even a baseball nerd apologist.

     

    I'm aware of the definition . . . the word is almost never used that way colloquially. But I'm glad you agree with the general point.

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