Not all Hot Stove additions are alike. With a record $3.265 billion spent in free agency last offseason, it’s only natural that some transactions generated more attention than others. But more attention doesn’t always equal more production. With a month of baseball behind us, here’s a look at 10 underrated moves that are paying dividends.
Note: All statistics are through Monday’s games.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Yankees
Signed 2-year, $32 million contract
Rizzo’s contract continues to look better and better by the day. Along with blasting an MLB-leading nine home runs, Rizzo has provided stability and leadership to a Yankees team that looks poised to make a run deep into October.
It doesn’t hurt that Rizzo and Yankee Stadium are a match made in heaven -- just ask the O’s. On April 26, Rizzo poked two home runs to the short porch that wouldn't have been home runs in any other ballpark. It’s not all the short porch, however, as Rizzo ranks in the top 10% of the league in expected slugging percentage (.575) and expected wOBA (.394).
Eduardo Escobar, 3B, Mets
Signed 2-year, $20 million contact
While the Mets' signings of Max Scherzer and Starling Marte might have overshadowed Escobar’s two-year contract, the 2021 All-Star’s play has stood out over the past month.
Although Escobar’s numbers might not be eye-popping (one home run, seven RBIs), he’s 12th in baseball in walks (17) and ninth in doubles (nine) while serving as the perfect complement to the Mets’ sluggers at the top of the lineup. Even if his 14.2% walk rate might not be sustainable (his career average is 7.3%), Escobar has been a spark plug for the Mets thus far.
Zack Greinke, SP
Signed 1-year, $13 million contract
While Greinke currently boasts the lowest strikeout rate of his career, the 38-year-old has still proven he has the ability to get batters out. Along with boasting a 2.67 ERA in 33 2/3 innings, Greinke has a WHIP of 1.099, despite having the fourth-slowest average fastball speed in baseball (88.4 mph).
One reason for Greinke's success this year has been his curveball, which has been his go-to secondary pitch so far this season. Batters are hitting .214 off Greinke’s curveball this year and have yet to hit it for a home run.
David Robertson, RP, Cubs
Signed 1-year, $3.5 million contact
Despite turning 37 in April, Robertson has enjoyed a career renaissance in Chicago’s North Side. In 2019, the longtime Yankee signed a 2-year, $23 million contract with the Phillies but only appeared in seven games after needing Tommy John surgery -- an injury that ended up keeping him out for 2020 as well. After playing in the Atlantic League last July, Robertson pitched for Team USA in the Olympics before signing with the Rays in September.
Through 12 innings, Robertson has put together a 1.50 ERA to go along with a miniscule 0.750 WHIP on three hits and six walks. Not bad for a guy who was playing for the High Point Rockers last July.
Robertson's metrics back up his hot start as well, as he currently ranks in the 90th percentile or higher in several key advanced stats. His opponents' expected batting average (xBA) of .157 is 21st in baseball among pitchers with 10 or more innings.
Taylor Rogers, RP, Padres
Traded from Twins to Padres
One of the last moves before the start of the season has turned out to be one of the shrewdest. Hours before Opening Day rosters needed to be set, the Padres dealt pitchers Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagán to the Twins for Rogers and outfielder Brent Rooker. It’s turned into one of the best deals in baseball.
Rogers has removed the drama from the ninth inning for the Padres by nailing down 11 saves this year while surrendering only four hits and one walk in 11 2/3 innings. While his hard-hit rate currently ranks in the bottom 6% of baseball, Rogers has shown elite command of the strike zone with a walk rate of 2.5%. He also earned a save earlier this year to close out a game in which his brother Tyler took the loss -- something that surely will get brought up at Thanksgiving.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Rockies
Signed 2-year, $14.5 million extension
Cron has been nothing but a bargain since he signed with the Rockies last offseason. After mashing 30 home runs for the Rays in 2018, Cron had an OK year with the Twins in 2019 before needing knee surgery 13 games into 2020, leading to him signa Minor League pact with the Rockies last year. In October, Cron re-upped with the Rockies for a two-year pact before officially hitting free agency.
In the time since then, Cron has done nothing but rake. Since the start of 2021, Cron is 11th with an OPS of .927 -- nestled right between Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani. This year, Cron leads baseball in home runs (nine) and is in the top-5 in RBIs (24) and slugging (.627) while batting at a career-high clip. Cron is batting .301 against right-handers this year (a far cry from his career average of .256 against righties) while still producing his trademark power.
Ryan Tepera, RP, Angels
Signed 2-year, $14 million contract
Tepera's presence has been a godsend for an Angels team that has seemingly forever struggled to find quality bullpen arms. After finishing with a team ERA over 4.50 the past three seasons, the Angels have settled into the middle of the pack with 3.50 team ERA, thanks in large part to Tepera leading the Angels' bullpen resurgence.
The former Cubs and White Sox hurler has worked his way into a shutdown setup role for the Halos. Tepera has produced a 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings while mostly being deployed in the seventh and eighth innings. He’s also provided some length as well, with four of his 13 appearances going longer than an inning.
Martín Pérez, SP, Rangers
Signed 1-year, $4 million contract
Pérez’s second stint with the Rangers has gotten off to a hot start. Along with holding a 2.25 ERA in 28 innings, Pérez took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Astros on April 28.
Pérez’s bounce-back season is due in large part to a change in his pitching repertoire. Along with increasing his sinker usage (39.1% this year compared to 25.3% last year), Pérez’s cutter has transformed into a secret weapon.
After using it as his primary pitch last year, Pérez has only thrown his cutter 17.6% of time this year. Even though his cutter's usage has dropped, its effectiveness has increased, as batters are hitting .182 off the pitch compared to .331 last year. While it’s been a disappointing start of the season for the Rangers, Pérez’s start has been a bright spot.
Sheldon Neuse, 3B, Athletics
Claimed on waivers from Dodgers
Like Pérez, Neuse is making the most of his second stint with a former team. After being traded from the Athletics to the Dodgers in 2021, Neuse was claimed off waivers by the A’s before the start of the season. In the time since, the utility player has slashed .305/.365/.411 while playing all over the infield.
Part of the reason for Neuse’s success is that he’s hitting breaking balls for the first time in his career. After batting .091 in 22 at-bats against breaking balls last year, Neuse is batting .297 in 38 at-bats against breaking pitches this year while also using the opposite field (more than 80% of his batted balls this year have been hit to the opposite field or straight up the middle.) As the Athletics embark on their latest rebuild, hitting on fringe finds like Neuse becomes incredibly important.