May 24, 2024

Blake Snell presents a fascinating dichotomy, akin to a Carlos Rodon II or a nuanced blend of Al Leiter and Randy Johnson Lite. On one hand, his exceptional talents could lead the executive who signs him to a triumphant parade, while on the other, there’s a risk that the same decision might result in an unceremonious pink slip.

Blake Snell compiled a 1.20 ERA across his final 23 starts in 2023.

The spectrum of possibilities with Snell ranges from envisioning him clinching two Cy Young awards to contemplating the intermediary seasons where his Wins Above Replacement tied with the likes of Mike Clevinger, Zach Eflin, and reliever Jordan Romano.

Snell’s polarizing nature stems from his outstanding curveball, a weapon so formidable that even when he’s telegraphing its arrival, opposing batters might still struggle to make contact. Despite his dominance during much of 2023, lingering doubts persist within the industry. It’s not a matter of character, as Snell is not regarded as a bad guy. Rather, there are concerns about how well his temperament would fare in a high-pressure environment, particularly in a major Northeast market.

Drawing parallels to Carlos Rodon, a fellow lefty represented by Scott Boras, adds another layer to the analysis. Both possess elite stuff and have enjoyed two stellar seasons, yet questions about durability loom large. The cautionary tale of Rodon’s first season in New York serves as a warning about the potential pitfalls of such a union, adding a layer of complexity to Snell’s status as one of the most enigmatic free agents in the current market.

The perspectives from the four executives on Blake Snell provide a comprehensive view of the polarizing nature surrounding the talented pitcher.

Executive No. 1 acknowledges Snell’s potential ace-like performances but raises concerns about his limited innings and questions whether this indicates a fresh arm or an inability to handle heavy workloads. Additionally, the executive notes Snell’s reserved demeanor, emphasizing that while you’d be acquiring a top-tier pitcher, leadership qualities might not be part of the package.

The risks attached to Blake Snell in free agency could make Carlos Rodon a good comp.

Executive No. 2 expresses awe at Snell’s exceptional repertoire of pitches but tempers the excitement when considering other factors that contribute to the overall package. The sentiment suggests that while Snell’s stuff is outstanding on paper, there are intangibles that dilute the overall appeal.

Executive No. 3 touches on Snell’s perceived compatibility with different markets, expressing reservations about how well he might thrive in more demanding environments. The executive appreciates Snell’s abilities but is cautious, pointing out concerns about pitch counts and likening him to Robbie Ray, who secured a significant contract despite similar challenges.

Executive No. 4 takes a pragmatic approach, highlighting the difficulty in predicting Snell’s future performance compared to another pitcher, Jordan Montgomery. While recognizing Snell’s higher ceiling, the executive is wary of his lower floor and expresses uncertainty about making a confident bet on Snell’s long-term production.

In summary, the executives appreciate Snell’s extraordinary pitching skills but remain wary of the associated risks, including concerns about durability, leadership qualities, market adaptability, and the unpredictability of long-term performance.

The concerns surrounding Snell primarily revolve around his walks and high pitch counts. During a phone conversation, Boras drew a comparison between Snell and Johnson, noting statistical similarities up to their age-30 seasons (Snell turned 31 in December). However, Johnson significantly improved his command in his 30s, securing a clear path to Cooperstown. The question arises: will Snell follow suit and achieve better command and control?

Even if Snell doesn’t enhance his command, there is still a possibility of success, as seen in the comparison with Leiter. Despite perpetual struggles with command, Leiter maintained his skill and intensity, remaining an above-average pitcher into his 30s. The crucial question remains: will Snell retain his skills and determination?

Currently, Snell is surpassing concerns about walks. In 2023, he walked 13.3 percent of batters, the highest for a qualified starter since Matt Clement also walked 13.3 percent in 2000. Snell’s success can be attributed, among other factors, to his dominance over hitters with runners in scoring position (batting average of .152, OPS of .470). However, the concern arises: what if he loses some of his effectiveness in his 30s? Will he handle challenging situations on the field as effectively? Will he adapt emotionally, intellectually, and physically to the challenges of aging?

Snell’s struggles with walks contribute to shorter outings, making complete games a rarity. Notably, he has never completed the eighth inning in a start, recording just five outs in the eighth inning throughout his career—none during his NL Cy Young-winning season last year.

Despite his achievements, including an AL Cy Young in 2018, Snell faced challenges in the four seasons between the Cy Young awards. During this period, he posted a record of 25-26 with a 104 ERA-plus over 413 2/3 innings. Interestingly, this is the same ERA-plus as Tyler Anderson had over 426 innings in that timeframe.

There are several commendable aspects to Snell’s performance. In 2023, he showcased an impressive 1.20 ERA over his final 23 starts, a feat matched only by Bob Gibson in his revered 1968 season since the Live Ball Era began in 1920.

Furthermore, Snell has demonstrated durability, having been on the Injured List (IL) only twice for arm-related injuries in his career, with the last occurrence in 2019 when he underwent elbow surgery to remove loose bodies, resulting in a two-month absence.

A standout characteristic of Snell’s game is his consistently high strikeout rate, having struck out over 30 percent of batters faced in each of the past six seasons. Over this span, among pitchers with at least 600 innings, Snell ranks fourth in strikeout percentage, with only Jacob DeGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Max Scherzer ahead of him.

It’s noteworthy that Snell has not just excelled against weaker opponents. Facing seven teams that averaged five runs or more in 2023, including formidable offenses like the Braves, Dodgers, Rangers, Rays, Astros, Cubs, and Orioles, Snell stood out. He faced the second-highest number of batters against these teams (272), surpassed only by Reid Detemers and Chris Bassitt. Among the 125 pitchers who faced at least 100 batters from these seven teams, Snell’s 2.65 ERA ranked eighth, highlighting his effectiveness against potent lineups.

Snell’s exceptional performance on the road, particularly in the favorable pitching environment of San Diego’s Petco Park, is noteworthy. Among pitchers with at least 50 road innings, Snell’s 1.82 ERA was the best in 2023, with 16 starts. Michael King, a potential replacement for Snell in San Diego as part of the Juan Soto trade, ranked second at 2.31, and Cole, a potential teammate, and AL Cy Young winner, was third at 2.34.

The idea of signing Snell to team up with Cole for the Yankees is intriguing, but it comes with complications, especially considering the potential de-emphasis on Rodon. The presence of Soto adds another layer of complexity. While the Yankees aim to maximize their current season with Soto’s one-year control, signing Snell long term could impact their financial flexibility for future commitments. If Snell, Cole, Judge, and Stanton are all on the books for years to come (with Stanton’s contract ending after 2027), it may pose challenges in signing Soto to a long-term deal after the current season. The Yankees would need to carefully assess their long-term financial commitments and balance their desire for immediate success with the need to maintain flexibility for future roster adjustments and contract extensions.

The question of Snell’s contract negotiations raises various uncertainties. There’s a perception among executives and agents that Snell is aiming for a deal surpassing $200 million. However, the ultimate outcome remains unclear: will he secure such a lucrative contract, or will he have to compromise and accept a lesser deal, possibly with a shorter term but higher annual value and opt-out opportunities?

Determining the right price for Snell involves assessing the balance between his upside and downside for potential suitors. At a certain price point, teams may find the risk associated with Snell’s performance more tolerable, considering the potential for him to be a difference-maker in winning a championship or, conversely, facing the risk of underperformance.

The negotiation process will likely involve a delicate balance of financial considerations, performance expectations, and the willingness of both parties to find common ground. The final contract terms will hinge on how teams perceive Snell’s value in the context of their roster-building strategies and financial constraints, weighing the potential for success against the risks involved.

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