A Shout Out to Yakyu Baka

Posted September 23, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

I like to write about Japan’s NPB, mainly because I’ve been interested in Japanese baseball at least since reading Robert Whiting’s books about NPB in the 1980’s, but also because I think it’s an area in which the U.S. baseball blogosphere isn’t quite as saturated.  Anyway, the go-to sight for English-language news on NPB is yakyubaka.com.

To say that Gen covers NPB exhaustively is probably an understatement.  In fact, I only the visit the sight once every 10 to 14 days, because a lot of the news isn’t particularly interesting to me, particularly the game scores which I can get from NPB’s English language website with more numbers and less verbage.  When I visit the sight, I skim through the articles to find the information that interests me, and there’s always something that does.

Particularly, I always find it fun to see what tidbits and nuggets there are to be had about the Japanese game.  Believe it or not, NPB fans are even more interested in trivial statistics and comparisons than MLB fans, at least if Yakyu Baka is typical of the state of NPB reporting.  A baseball nerdling like me gets a kick out of knowing that the Yomiuri Giants’ great catcher Shinnosuke Abe just became only the fourth catcher in NPB history to hit 300 or more doubles and also just became only the eighth player in NPB history to hit home runs off of 200 or more different pitchers.

The factoids just go on and on — Korean relief ace Seung-hwan Oh just got the first base hit of his major league (KBO and NPB) career — Mauro Gomez just became the 17th foreign player to drive in 100 or more runs in his first season in NPB and the first such player in Hanshin Tiger history — Takahiro Norimoto just became the sixth pitcher to strike out all nine hitters in a line-up and the first since Hisashi Iwakuma in 2009 —  Norimoto also set a Rakuten Golden Eagles franchise record with his seventh shutout of the season, besting Masahiro Tanaka‘s mark also set in 2009 — and that’s all in the just the last four days of Yaku Baka’s reporting.

Yaku Baka is also a great way to keep track of the players who might one day cross the pond to MLB, since almost every injury is reported in excruciating detail.  If a player slipped on a banana peel, and was only able to throw 26 of his typical 40+ pitches in his last throwing session before his next start, you hear about it.

For what it’s worth, MLB fans are becoming increasingly aware of professional baseball beyond North America’s shores. One big part of that is more foreign players; the other part is the internet.  Still, one drives the other and vice versa.  Baseball Reference is now attempting to publish most Mexican League, NPB and KBO stats, at least for about the last ten or twelve seasons.  They wouldn’t be doing so if they didn’t think there would be an interest in this data, if not today, then sometime very soon.

Will Kyuji Fujikawa Put It Together for the Cubs in 2015?

Posted September 23, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Chicago Cubs

For those of you into rotisserie league baseball, a good, low-cost bet for 2015 would the Kyuji Fujikawa.  He isn’t likely to cost you anything, but it seems to me he’s right on the verge of putting it together and becoming an effective late-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

Even though he’ll be 34 next year, there are a lot of indications he’s got major league stuff and just needs a little more time to put it together against major league hitters following his Tommy John surgery last year.  His major league numbers are strange and leave me thinking something’s got to give, hopefully in a positive way for the Cubbies.

In 25 innings pitched over 27 appearances the last two seasons, Fujikawa has struck out 31 and walked only eight.  That’s terrific.  However, he’s also allowed 29 hits and three home runs, which isn’t.  This makes me think that Fijikawa has major league stuff and major league command, but he isn’t spotting his pitches when he needs to and isn’t taking advantage of hitters’ weaknesses and tendencies as much as he needs to.

Fujikawa was so incredibly good in Japan’s NPB, and also in very limited playing time in the American minor leagues the last two seasons, that you have to think he’s eventually going to put it all together.  I think 2015 will be his year.

Still Hating the One-Game Wildcard Play-off

Posted September 19, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, San Francisco Giants

As we get closer to the post-season, I feel again the need to express my displeasure at the one-game wild card playoff.  Further, I would feel this way even if my team, the SF Giants, were not likely facing a one-game do-or-die game in a week or ten days from now.

I understand that MLB doesn’t want to make the post-season any longer, and I recognize that there isn’t a lot of national interest in a long wild card series.  Even so, I feel that a three-game series would be markedly more satisfying and meaningful.

After playing a 162-game schedule to reach the play-offs,  a one game series doesn’t prove much of anything, except, I guess, if the two wildcard teams have identical records, so that one game creates a clear winner.  In fact, about as often or not, one of the wild card teams has a better record than one of the division winners, so making them play a one-game do-or-die match is particularly unsatisfying.

It’s worth noting that back in the days when only a single team from each league went on the post-season, the National League decided end of season draws with a best two-out-of-three series.  This happened twice, with the Giants beating the Dodgers both times, first in 1951 and again in 1962.  The Junior Circuit used a one-game series to resolve ties.

I don’t really have a problem with having a lot more teams in the post-season, although the current ten-team format seems to be a good limit at least through the next six expansion teams.  However, if you are going to have more teams in the play-offs, it seems to me there’s really no way around at least a few more play-off games if the play-offs are really going to mean anything.

A best two-out-of-three series played in the park of the wildcard team with the better record makes the most sense to me, with perhaps a 2-and-1 format in the event the two wildcard teams finish with the same record.  A three-game series doesn’t prove a great deal either, but it’s definitely better than one lousy game.  Making the post-season two days longer just isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.

Bounce the Bean-Ballers

Posted September 13, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees

Earlier this season, I wrote a piece about how in South Korea’s KBO if a pitcher hits a batter in the head with a pitch, he’s automatically ejected, regardless of intent.  It’s a great idea because it takes away from the umpire an impossible decision about whether the pitcher had any intention to do it, and it tends to discourage something almost everybody would agree is a bad thing — a batter getting hit in the head with a pitched ball.

After yesterday’s beanings of both Giancarlo Stanton and Chase Headley, it seems like a good time to make this same point again.

Discipline was handed down today for events after Stanton got hit, when the same pitcher Mike Fiers also hit the next batter Reed Johnson on the hand.  If Fiers is out of the game for hitting Stanton in the face, none of that needless drama happens, and there’s less reason for Marlins pitcher Anthony Desclafani to be throwing at Brewers’ hitters later in the game (Desclafani was given a three-game suspension today for doing so).

I don’t think Fiers had any intent to hit Stanton — he threw a fastball that ran so much it kind of froze Stanton, and Fiers’ body language at the moment of impact suggested he hadn’t meant for it to happen.  Still, that’s kind of beside the point.  If Fiers is automatically ejected, that ends it right there, and there’s an immediate payback for the Marlins of a sort.  If nothing else, it creates an immediate, but hardly unfair or extreme, consequence for a pitcher who throws up and in without enough command of his pitches.  If the umpire makes a judgment call that the pitcher intended to hit the batter in the head, he could always be allowed to recommend to the league that the pitcher be hit with a further punishment.

Unfortunately, MLB is such a conservative institution that, at least until another batter is killed or permanently disabled by a pitched ball, no rule change will be made no matter how good the new rule may be.  There’s an awful lot of “we’ve never done it that way, so it can’t be right” in the MLB mind-set.  It’s a shame, because this proposed change is extremely minor but would prevent at least one or two ugly incidents every season.

The Goyang Wonders Bite the Dust

Posted September 12, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

Who are the Goyang Wonders, you may well ask.  They are, or were, an independent minor league team in South Korea.  For the last three seasons, they existed on the fringe of the KBO’s Futures (minor) League, playing a full season of “friendly” (they didn’t count in the standings) games against Futures League teams, but the KBO would never fully incorporate the Wonders into the Futures League, which eventually led to the team’s demise.

Frankly, I think the KBO’s failure to allow the Goyang Wonders to become a full-fledged member of the Futures League was just stupid.  The team provided a valuable function in that it created the opportunity for undrafted players and players who had been released by KBO organizations to get another chance at establishing themselves as professional baseball players.

With each KBO organization having only one minor league team and no independent professional leagues, there was certainly a need for the Wonders.  In fact, more than 20 Wonders players made it back into the KBO in its short history, including three players currently playing in the Championship League, the KBO’s major league.

Further, the Wonders were competitive, winning well more than half of their eighty “friendly” matches with Futures League teams this past season.

The Wonders were largely the product of Hur Min, a South Korean billionaire who owned and funded the team and even pitched occasionally (he throws a knuckle-ball).  However, he apparently got tired of the costs involved in light of the fact that the KBO simply refused to commit to any kind of regular schedule between the Wonders and Futures League teams around which the Wonders could develop a sustaining fan base.

The KBO’s refusal to incorporate the Wonders is short sighted, and South Korean baseball will be just a little bit poorer without them.

Cubs’ Failure to Promote Kris Bryant a Head-Scratcher

Posted September 6, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Chicago Cubs

I saw a note on mlbtraderumors.com today that many Cubs fans are disappointed the team didn’t give top prospect 3Bman Kris Bryant a September call-up after having promoted other top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara when the rosters were still small.  Frankly, I can’t understand what the Cubbies are thinking.

Of the four players, Bryant had the highest OPS at AAA Iowa.  Only Soler was close, but he had less than half as many AAA plate appearances as Bryant before the Cubs called him up.  Bryant’s 3B defense looks to be raw, but still in the general range of major league average at this point.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have given most of the third base starts this season to Luis Valbuena, a 28 year old of the type who plays regularly at the major league level until his (losing) team comes up with a prospect like Bryant who looks to be ready.  I also have to assume that Bryant isn’t hurt and doesn’t need the rest, because his agent Scott Boras is complaining about the fact that Bryant didn’t get promoted.

What Baez, Soler and Alcantara have that Bryant doesn’t I just can’t see.  Most likely, it simply comes down to the fact that the Cubs think they can keep Bryant down on the farm just long enough in 2015 to hold on to his rights for another season before he becomes a free agent.  With Baez, Soler and Alcantara promoted before the Sepember 1st roster expansion, their free agency horses are already out of the barn.

Even so, you would think the Cubs would have a strong incentive to try to get all their young studs on the major league team together as quickly as possible, so that they can learn to play and become a team together.  Delaying Bryant’s promotion for however long just delays the Cubs fielding a winning team based on their new young core for that period of time.

Byung-Ho Park Has Four Home Run Game

Posted September 6, 2014 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad

South Korea’s Byung-ho Park became only the second player in KBO history, and the first since 2000, to hit four home runs in one game.   One thing is for sure, Park’s got major league power — as you can see here, none of the four homers was a cheapy.

Park has 46 home runs this year, and he is on the verge of leading the KBO in home runs for the third straight year.  Last off-season, I ranked Park as the top position player prospect, in terms of moving on to MLB or Japan’s NPB, in the KBO for obvious reasons.

In spite of another big season, however, I am now inclined to rank his teammate, SS Jung-ho Kang, higher simply by virtue of the fact that as a middle infielder as opposed to a 1Bman, Kang has to have a lot more defensive value than Park.  Also, despite all of Park’s home runs, Kang actually has a higher OPS this year (1.219 to 1.131 — it’s a crazy offensive season in South Korea this year).

I’d still rank Park as the better hitter, given his performance over the last three seasons.  However, as a 1Bman, he’s a lot more likely to end up in NPB, where teams can be relatively assured that he’ll be worth a multiple seven figure contract.  Major league teams are going to be much less willing to take a risk on a player who would be making a huge jump in competition were he to go directly from the KBO to MLB.

I know nothing about Jung-ho Kang’s defense, although based on my understanding of the level of defensive play in the KBO, I would very much doubt that he plays an MLB level of defense at shortstop.  If he could move to third or second and play at or close to MLB-average defense, then he’d be worth a shot from an MLB team at three years and about $5.5 million, the money the the Orioles gave pitcher Suk-Min Yoon last off-season.

Kang has expressed a desire to play in MLB, and it’s doubtful his current team, the Nexen Heroes, could match the offer described above.  However, he isn’t a true free agent yet, so an MLB team would have to shell out some money to buy his rights from the Heroes.

One thing is fairly certain, however.  If they don’t get hurt, both Park and Kang will play professionally outside of South Korea one day.


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