So far, the Dodger’s offseason has only been filled with Trade Rumors. But it appears the Dodgers have finally set their sights on their ideal FA fit.
The first free agent target for the Dodgers has finally surfaced, and it’s 30-year-old reliever, Brad Hand. Considering the Dodgers are possibly losing Baez, Wood, McGee and Treinen this offseason, it’s not surprising that Friedman and co. are looking to solidify the last few innings. Oh yeah, and Jansen may not be a closer anymore.
So who is Brad Hand? How good has he been? How good is he now? And how much is he going to cost?
- Brad Hand Arsenal
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Hand is a large lefty at 6’3″, 215 pounds. In his younger years he was quite the flame thrower and viewed as a starter for the Marlins, but more on that later.
Now Hand has positioned himself as one of the elite relievers of the past half decade with basically only two pitches. He uses almost a 50-50 split between his slider and his fastballs.
In 2020 his slider took the edge as his number one pitch. It averages just under 80 MPH and peaks at the league average speed. It’s his best pitch at this point in his career.
It had just under a 40% whiff rate and was responsible for a quarter of Hand’s 2020 put-aways. It has his lowest spin rate of his pitches at a 2,385 RPM, which was once upper echelon. Now he’s about 200 rpm under the average on breaking pitches.
However, his movement is still above average. His slider’s vertical movement is only 2% better than average, but the horizontal movement is a massive 84% above average. And while that’s a decline for him personally, it’s clearly still an elite weapon in his arsenal.
His 4-seamer is his secondary pitch with an average of 91.4 MPH. He can still touch as high as 94, but also goes as low as 87 to 88 mph. Still, his fastball has almost always been his secondary offer.
It has a whiff rate of only 9.4%, but it was still responsible for a fifth of Hand’s put-aways last year. The OPS against it is around .500 (his slider is around .300) which is definitely better than average.
This time, his average spin rate is actually considered borderline elite. At 2,453 RPM he ranks in the 86th percentile of the MLB. If he can cross the 2,500 RPM barrier, there may even be another level to this pitch. Statistics from 2018 showed that the jump over 2500 could lower BAA by about 25 points.
Still, his movement shows the same story as his slider. He was around average in vertical drop, but 67% better than average in horizontal movement.
And finally, he uses another fastball variation with his sinker. It averages the same speed as the fastball but hitters performed much better against it for years. And for that reason, he throws it just over 10% of the time and never uses it as a putaway pitch.
This pitch got crushed for an OPS north on 1.000 last year. Granted it was a very small sample size. But again, this wasn’t an exclusive for 2020 Hand.
He get’s a solid 22.7% whiff rate on the pitch, it has a good spin rate of 2436 rpm, and it also is around average vertical movement while being 21% better than average horizontally. However, this pitch is different in that it’s been improving since 2015.
It’s possible that if Hand can upgrade his sinker to average levels, there may be an even higher ceiling for the already 30 year old.
Hand’s Career Through 2020
That’s saying a lot for a guy who was one of the best relievers in the MLB last year.
In his career he is 26-43, has a 3.65 ERA, 105 saves, and a 1.25 WHIP. A long way from his 2008 draft with the Marlins. He debuted in 2011 as a highly ranked prospect.
They spent the next 5 years attempting to reach his starting potential before being claimed by San Diego in 2016. There, he would be used as exclusively a reliever for the first time in his career.
He responded with a career best 2.92 ERA in 89.1 innings for them. In 2017, he would be promoted to closer for SD and finish with a career high at the time, 21 saves. He’d also improve to a 2.16 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.
In 2018, he was traded to the Indians after posting 24 more saves for the Padres. Since then, he has remained with Cleveland never posting an ERA above 3.30 and compiling 58 saves over 2 and a half seasons. (One of which was a shortened 2020)
2020 was even kinder to Hand as he put up a 2.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and a record of 2-1 on his way to 16 total saves. His best season of his career by the averages. And as far as the stats that matter, Statcast had him as a top 4th percentile pitcher in baseball.
So now, the Dodgers (and possibly others) have to decide if Hand is truly capable of a low 2 ERA over a full season. If this sounds familiar to Blake Treinen to you, you’re not alone.
The biggest worry with Hand is his age and statistically visible decline. His pitches have decline in speed almost every year since statcast began tracking.
Yet somehow, his stats were never better than last year despite the decline in power. It’s very possible that Hand may have finally adapted to declining much like the Kershaw we saw in 2020.
If that’s the case, whoever signs him may be signing the best reliever in the market.
Fangraphs projects Hand with an ERA of 4.01 in 65 innings next year, but that would mean his regressing far below his career average after putting up career highs.
We don’t think he’ll replicate last year either, but they are grossly underestimating him. And even with that disturbingly low projection, they still say he would be worth about 0.5 WAR.
Here’s his WAR for the past 5 seasons since he transitioned to the pen.
- 2016: 1.5 WAR
- 2017: 1.7 WAR
- 2018: 1.2 WAR
- 2019: 1.6 WAR
- 2020: 1.1 WAR (in a 3rd of his regular appearances)
So we think it’s safe to assume he can at least double that god awful Fangraphs projection.
In our opinion, Hand can pitch about 70 innings with an ERA between 2.75 and 3.5. Maybe abut 80 strikeouts, and about a 85% success rate at closing if you let him.
How Much Is He Worth?
Even though Hand has been around for almost a decade, he has still yet to get paid like other top relievers. It’s estimated that he’s only been paid about $20 million before all of his costs. A lot for normal people, but barely anything for an athlete of Hand’s status and caliber.
And now that he has turned 30, he’s likely looking to sign his last big contract of his career. Most likely somewhere between 3 to 6 years if we had to guess. It’s unlikely that a 30 year old after his best season, wants to take his chances on a 1 year flyer.
But so far, pitchers are demanding the most money in this weird 2020 market. Drew Smyly signing for a 1 year, $11 million contract with the Giants, and Morton at $15 million for a year with the Braves is the closest we have to a base so far.
Hand would cost less per year the more years you sign him for, but he was ranked as the 4th top RP in this market by ESPN. They ranked him 23rd overall (and Morton at 18th). So the price won’t be cheap.
Right now we think that Hand will settle somewhere in between $8 to $12 million a year depending on the length. So a five year contract would cost about $40 million and a 3 year would be about $36 million.
So we sit right in the middle. We want the Dodgers to come in with an offer of about 3 years at $25 million. The Dodgers just have too much young talent to give out an offer longer or more expensive than that for a player on the decline.
There’s also no guarantee that Hand will see any save opportunities with the Dodgers, which limits his value for LA. Still, they look as Hand as a replacement for Treinen.
We don’t however. We see Graterol as the fill in Treinen. We see Hand in the role they gave Victor Gonzales and Jake McGee last year. (The top LHP role and sometimes closer). He’s a change of pace for a flame throwing, right-handed dominated, Dodger’s pen.
Jansen will most likely start 2021 as the closer, but his role has never been less solidified. The Dodger’s closer role is looking like open season next year, and Hand would bring in save experience only Jansen has currently.
The Dodgers aren’t alone in their interest in Brad Hand unsurprisingly. Every team lost some arms, and that also means there’s a surplus of arms in the market. Every team needs bullpen pieces, and those looking to contend in 2021 will need a super pen to compete.
So outside of the Dodgers, here are the most likely landing spots in our opinion.
- Blue Jays
- 6 different pitchers recorded saves in 2020
- Cohen needs to make moves, and the offense is one of the best in baseball. The bullpen was one of the worsts.
- Oakland A’s
- They lost Liam Hendricks and desperately need to fill that void for any shot at winning the AL West title
- Also one of thee worst bullpens in baseball and they lost their Closer Osuna to FA this year
- If they can’t upgrade their starters, they’ll need to upgrade their pen
- Another truly awful pen that has young talent budding in the offense all around it. If anyone signs Hand for the long term, or as a guaranteed closer, it’s Seattle.
- They lost closers Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates. They have more talent to fill in from within, but they could use a sturdy presence amongst their young studs.
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