Rumors have started to swirl about the Chicago White Sox potentially working on a contract extension with Yoan Moncada. If and when the extension occurs, Moncada would likely become the highest paid player in franchise history.
Naturally, such a deal will draw scrutiny. As many of you know, I am without a doubt a proponent of further incorporation of advanced analytics in baseball. Yet, at least on social media, there seems to be a toxicity present in analytics-based conversations wherein statistics and critical thinking become separated, creating a mass over-reliance on the former, especially a single statistic. Those familiar with the nuances of Moncada’s spectacular 2019 season probably know what I am referring to.
In 2019, Yoan Moncada had the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) among qualified hitters in the past 42 years (.406). Obviously, such a figure is unsustainable. I am not arguing that Moncada will sport a BABIP in the .400+ range. However, to write off Moncada’s 2019 as a one season blip is completely irresponsible. I hinted in the previous paragraph that advanced statistics and critical thinking must be used concurrently, and this is precisely what I meant. There are reasons Moncada produced such a high BABIP, and while luck was certainly one of them, it was not acting in isolation.
Nobody seems to question whether Aaron Judge’s offensive output is flukey. Judge has a career .357 BABIP because he, like Moncada, crushes the ball to all fields and is fast. Granted, Judge does have more of a track record of success and high BABIPs than Moncada, but the gap is not as wide as one may think. Judge has amassed his .357 career BABIP in 1,718 plate appearances. Moncada has compiled a .367 career BABIP in 1,460 plate appearances. A 258 plate appearance difference is significant, but one would think that the gap was closer to 1,000 plate appearances based on how quick many baseball fans are to point out that Moncada’s track record of high BABIPs is lackluster.
Furthermore, a reduction to Moncada’s BABIP would not be a death sentence. He would remain a home run threat, and he could always mix his 2018 and 2019 plate approaches in order to increase his walk rate. If he decides to keep his aggressive 2019 approach, that would be fine too. Baseball Savant’s xBA is an estimate of what a player’s batting average should be based on his exit velocity, launch angle, ball placement, strikeout rate, and many other factors. One can derive xBABIP, or expected batting average on balls in play, from this calculation. According to Baseball Savant, Moncada’s xBABIP was .383 in 2019. He may have been lucky last season, but a .383 xBABIP speaks to the fact that his actual BABIP (assuming his contact profile remains relatively stable) will not suddenly enter a downward spiral towards the league average of about .300. All this is to say that Yoan Moncada’s offensive profile is far from a concern.
Generally, the White Sox fanbase is relentlessly critical of the team’s roster moves. From recent memory, the signing of Yasmani Grandal was the only acquisition that was widely praised by the fanbase, and even it drew a small amount of criticism since some did not consider a catcher to be a need. Thus, I believe it is meaningful that the prospect of a Yoan Moncada contract extension has unified the fanbase and drawn next to zero notable complaints. The shrewd and attentive fans that tend to poke holes in the team’s decisions understand that a Moncada extension would be an overwhelming positive.
I have not yet mentioned Moncada’s defense at third base, as it is almost universally well-regarded. Defensive runs saved, a popular Fielding Bible defensive metric, was disproportionately critical of his 2019 defense, perhaps due to early-season throwing errors that occurred as he acclimated to his new position. However, most other statistics such as ultimate zone rating, outs above average, and defensive runs above average all were very high on Moncada’s defense. As the season progressed, his range and plus arm proved to be terrific traits. There is no reason to think that his defense will become a problem over the coming years.
Of course, there is risk in such an extension, as there is always risk when a player is to be paid somewhere between $100-$200 million. Legitimate concerns, such as Moncada’s injury history, can and should be raised. However, Moncada projects to be a two-way stud for the foreseeable future, so ensuring that he is around for the long haul would, in my opinion, be worthwhile.
Moreover, I do not think that the exact money offered for what would be Moncada’s post-arbitration years will be of major long-term consequence. Some proposed deals involve Moncada’s free agency years being valued around $30 million. Such a figure seems imposing now (and it still might be from 2024 onward), but inflation and the progression of baseball’s free agency market will make it less of a burden in the future. Paying Moncada around $30 million per year for a few years beginning in 2024 would certainly be substantial, but it is also likely to be less than the rate which comparable players sign for at the time.
In signing Yoan Moncada to a contract extension, the White Sox window of contention would become even more elongated. If he stays healthy, Moncada figures to be a plus player on both offense and defense for many years, and he still has the potential to get even better by further tapping into his power and increasing his walk rate. A nine-figure commitment from the White Sox would entail some risk, especially with respect to potential injuries. A healthy Moncada, however, for as often as his high ceiling is invoked, also has a very high floor. Should he and the White Sox agree to a contract extension in the near future, the organization would be making a bold statement and submitting a vote of confidence in their rising star.
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