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NY Post
New York Post
6 Jan 2024

NextImg:Polarizing Blake Snell’s ‘off the chart’ potential comes with a Carlos Rodon-Yankees reminder

You can convince me that Blake Snell is Carlos Rodon II, Al Leiter or Randy Johnson Lite.

You can convince me that he gets the executive who signs him a parade, or a pink slip.

You can convince me he is two Cy Youngs, or that he is the four seasons between the two Cy Youngs when his Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement was tied with Mike Clevinger, Zach Eflin and reliever Jordan Romano.

He is as polarizing a free agent as exists in this market with a curveball so good that when he is locked in (which he was for most of 2023), he could yell to batters that it is coming and they probably still couldn’t hit it.

Yet, the doubt persists in the industry about him. No one says Snell is a bad guy. But they do wonder temperamentally if he should come to a big Northeast market.

Thus, the Rodon II potential comp: a lefty represented by Scott Boras with high-end stuff and two great years surrounded by lesser attached to questions about durability. Rodon’s first season in New York suggests this is a bad marriage.

Blake Snell won his second Cy Young award following the 2023 season. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

I asked four executives with starting pitching needs for their perception of Snell. All loved the potential upside. All fretted at the risk:

No. 1: “He has not logged big innings. Does that mean he has a fresh arm or that he can’t log big innings. It is a little like [Tyler] Glasnow. He might not pitch a lot for you, but when he does, he is going to be an ace. The people we talked to like him, but say he is to himself. You would be getting a pitcher, not a leader. But the pitching is really good.”

No. 2: “Snell’s stuff is off the chart. Curve, slider, fastball, improving changeup. On paper it is wow. Combine it with other things, it is less wow.”

No. 3: “I feel like he is a West Coast laid-back guy. Philadelphia, Boston, New York, I don’t see him thriving in those kinds of markets. But I do like him. What keeps me from loving him? The big pitch counts makes him a six-inning guy. He’s not that different from Robbie Ray — big stuff, lots of walk, and what did Ray get [five years at $115 million off of a Cy Young season]?

No. 4: “If you had to bet which pitcher will produce more WAR over the next five to seven years, would you bet on Snell or [Jordan] Montgomery? Snell’s ceiling is higher than Montgomery, but his floor is so much lower. I wouldn’t bet. I don’t know the answer.”

Blake Snell compiled a 1.20 ERA across his final 23 starts in 2023. Getty Images
The risks attached to Blake Snell in free agency could make Carlos Rodon a good comp. Jason Szenes for the NY Post

The walks/high pitch counts are worrying with Snell. Boras, in a phone call, made a comparison to Johnson, who Snell has some statistical similarity to through their age-30 seasons (Snell turned 31 in December). But Johnson gained greater command in his 30s and a no-doubt path to Cooperstown. Is Snell going to find greater command/control?

If not, success is still possible. That is the Leiter comp. Leiter perpetually struggled with his command, but held his stuff and ferocity, and remained an above-average pitcher into his 30s. Will Snell hold his stuff and desire?

Right now, Snell is outpitching the bases on balls. He walked 13.3 percent of batters in 2023. That was the most by a qualified starter since Matt Clement also walked 13.3 in 2000. Snell thrived by — among other items — dominating hitters with runners in scoring position (.152 batting average, .470 OPS). But what happens if he loses a bit of his stuff in his 30s? Will he navigate traffic as well? Will he adapt emotionally, intellectually and physically as he ages?

    The walks lead to shorter outings. Forget about complete games. Snell has never completed the eighth inning in a start. He has recorded five total outs in the eighth inning in his career — none last year while winning the NL Cy Young.

    He also has an AL Cy Young from 2018. But in the four seasons between the CYs, he was 25-26 with a 104 ERA-plus over 413 ²/₃ innings, or the same ERA-plus as Tyler Anderson had in that span over 426 innings.

    What is there to like about Snell? Lots. Among other elements in his 2023, Snell had a 1.20 ERA over his final 23 starts — the only other pitcher in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) who had as good an ERA in any 23-start span within a season was Bob Gibson in his sainted 1968.

    Snell has been on the IL twice for an arm-related injury in his career, none since 2019 when he had loose bodies removed from his left elbow and missed two months of the season.

    He has struck out more than 30 percent of the batters faced in each of the past six seasons. Over that time frame, for pitchers with at least 600 innings, the best strikeout percentages are: 1. Jacob DeGrom (35.6), 2. Gerrit Cole (33.4), 3. Max Scherzer (32.6), 4. Snell (31.7).

    Snell didn’t just compile vs. bad offenses. Seven teams averaged five runs or more in 2023 — the Braves, Dodgers, Rangers, Rays, Astros, Cubs and Orioles. The only pitchers to face more batters against those teams than Snell’s 272 was Reid Detemers (279) and Chris Bassitt (275). Of the 125 pitchers who had at least 100 batters faced vs. those seven teams, Snell’s 2.65 ERA was eighth best.

    Blake Snell reacts after allowing a homer during a Padres game against the Mets in 2023. Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

    Snell worked in the favorable pitching environment of San Diego’s Petco Park. Yet among those who worked at least 50 road innings, Snell’s 1.82 ERA was the best (16 starts). One of the pitchers who will try to replace him in San Diego, Michael King (a key to the Juan Soto trade), was second at 2.31. And a potential new Snell teammate and AL Cy Young winner, Cole, was third at 2.34.

    Should Snell be signed by the Yankees to team with Cole — and de-emphasize Rodon? Soto is a complicating factor. On one hand, the Yankees are guaranteed just one year of control with Soto and want to maximize the season. But if the Yankees want to sign Soto long term after this season, how much more difficult does that become if Snell joins Cole, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on the books for years to come (Stanton is done after 2027)?

    The Yankees’ path to signing Blake Snell could get complicated after the Juan Soto trade. AP

    Executives and agents said it was their perception that Snell was trying to top $200 million. Will he? Will he have to accept less? A lot less? Will he have to do fewer years for a larger annual value and chances to opt out?

    At some price point, the risk of Snell’s upside vs. his downside becomes more tolerable for each interested club? But what is the right price for a pitcher who you can convince me gets you a ring or gets you canned?