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Underrated Free Agent Signings of the Offseason

Brandon Drury on the Padres in 2022; CC by License 2.0

With the vast majority of the 2022 offseason complete, the number of free agent signings also is on the decline. This offseason saw superstars like ‘22 AL Cy Young Justin Verlander sign with the Mets, Jacob DeGrom sign a huge deal with the Rangers, and Carlos Correa have the most confusing free agency of all time. However, with those names being very famous in the baseball world, it will not be surprising when they inevitably put up great seasons with their teams. This article will name three players signed in the 2022 offseason who can be classified as underrated. All of the players mentioned below have a lot to prove in 2023, and they all possess the tools to excel on their new teams.

Brandon Drury

The Angels signed Brandon Drury to a 2-year $17 million deal, landing him $8.5 million per year. Drury had the best offensive season of his entire 6-year career in 2022. He slashed .263/.320/.492 with 28 home runs, 87 RBI, and a 123 wRC+ (where 100 is the league average). Drury’s Baseball Savant page is quite impressive as well. He displayed the ability to hit the ball hard as he fell in the 85th percentile in Max Exit Velocity and 72nd in Barrel%. He also proved he could make contact at an above-average rate after placing in the 67th percentile for Whiff%. The downside to Drury’s game has always been his plate discipline, and this struggle continued in his 2022 campaign. He landed in the 31st percentile for walk percentage, 42nd for strikeout percentage, and 42nd for Chase Rate. With all of those being below average, it raises some understandable concerns.

Drury’s role in 2023 depends on changing factors in the Angels’ organization. First, the health of Anthony Rendon will play a huge part in where Drury will end up playing. With a healthy Rendon, Drury will most likely see a lot of time at second base. This position would benefit Drury significantly as he ranked in the 15th percentile for arm strength but the 71st for Outs Above Average. As a 30-year-old, Drury needs to be put in situations that allow the best parts of his game to shine. A 15th percentile mark in arm strength will not be enough at third base on any major-league roster. However, if Rendon continues to be seemingly made of glass in the 2023 season, Drury may have to step up and play third. If Drury is a primary second baseman in 2023, he has a chance to be among the league’s best for the position. If he’s forced to play third base, however, he will be competing with guys like Rafael Devers and Jose Ramirez for the American League’s best third baseman. The type of production by those two is simply out of reach for Drury, even at his best. The Angels should keep him at second base as long as they can in order for his abilities to benefit.

Ross Stripling

The Giants inked a 2-year $25 million deal with Ross Stripling, good for $12.5 million per year. The 33-year-old had his most productive season in 2022, producing a respectable 3.1 fWAR. In Toronto, he had a 3.01 ERA in 134.1 innings. The most impressive part of his performance in ‘22 was his outstanding walk percentage. Stripling placed in the 98th percentile for walk percentage. The only other impressive percentile ranking from his 2022 season is his 93rd in Chase Rate. All of his other rankings are either slightly above average or firmly below. This does raise some concerns for the future of Stripling on the Giants. However, it can be argued that his prime has yet to be reached on the mound.

Stripling’s ERA at 3.01 was not much different from his expected ERA (xERA), which clocked in at 3.57. The same variation occurred with his FIP compared to his xFIP, coming in at 3.11 and 3.67 respectively. While these differences imply luck played a part in Stripling’s success last year, the differences were small enough to not be concerning for his production in the future. Another point that points to success in the Giants’ Oracle Park in 2023 is Stripling’s ability to limit home runs. According to Baseball Savant, Stripling only allowed 12 home runs in his 134.1 innings, good for an extremely impressive 0.80 home runs per 9 innings. In the 2021 season, Stripling surrendered 23 home runs in 101.1 innings, good for a 2.04 HR/9. 18 of those 23 home runs came off of his 4-seam fastball, so Stripling knew he had to make a change. He went from throwing his 4-seamer 50.9% of the time in ‘21 to throwing it 33.7% of the time in ‘22 (a 17.2 % decrease). This change benefited Stripling in a huge way. This paired with the fact that Oracle Park is known for being pitcher-friendly points to another above-average year from Stripling where he can continue to limit the long ball.

Alex Reyes

The Dodgers signed Alex Reyes to a 1-year $1.1 million contract. The Dodgers have a reputation for taking mediocre pitchers and turning them into stars. They proved this last year by getting extreme value from veterans like Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney, both of which landed solid deals this offseason. However, the story with Reyes is much more complex. The righty missed all of 2022 with a torn labrum and will not be healthy enough to pitch in 2023 until after the all-star break. This is not the end of the world for the Dodgers’ bullpen, as they still have weapons like Alex Vesia and Blake Treinen. The best case for this team would be adding Reyes, who is an established reliever, to this already-loaded bullpen for a very cheap contract. The worst case is having Reyes underperform for a couple of months and landing himself a hasty DFA from the front office.

Taking a look at Reyes’ 2021 Savant page, he landed in the 91st percentile or higher in fastball velocity, Barrel%, Whiff%, xBA, and xSLG. The weak parts of his game, however, are very apparent. In ‘21, he was in the 1st percentile for walk percentage and the 36th for Chase Rate. These rankings point to a pitcher who needs to throw in the strike zone in order to get outs. While this approach to pitching can grant short-term success, the league will eventually figure out how to hit any pitcher. This regression was on display in 2021, as Reyes had one of the worst second halves in the league from a reliever. He managed a -0.4 fWAR with a 2.03 HR/9, compared to his 0.6 fWAR and 0.44 HR/9 of the first half of his ‘21 season. To cap off his horrible second half, he gave up a walk-off home run in the 2021 wildcard game to Chris Taylor of the Dodgers. If the Dodgers can fix Reyes’ walk problem and get him back to his all-star form, Reyes could be a very valuable arm for another playoff run.

All of the players featured above have a lot of promise heading into the 2023 MLB season. Based on their numbers from previous seasons, they all contain the ability to seriously impact their new clubs. Brandon Drury can thrive as the Angels’ new, powerful second baseman. Ross Stripling could establish himself as a 2 or 3 starter in the Giants’ rotation. Alex Reyes could bounce back and thrive in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Each of these athletes need to have a lot go right for their potential success in 2023. However, the potential for solid performances out of all of these players is there and very well could become reality in 2023.

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