Pacific Association Action

Posted July 16, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues

I took my wife and five year old daughter to a Martinez Clippers game today, our first.  The Clippers are a 2018 expansion team in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent-A league which plays at almost the lowest level of professional baseball, one step up from the Pecos League and one step down from the Frontier League.

The Clippers play at one of the four fields at Joe Dimaggio Fields, a four-plex of baseball diamonds in Martinez.  There were maybe 150 fans tops in attendance, and I don’t think the park could seat more than 300.  It’s hard to understand how a team could stay in business with attendance that low when tickets are only $12 for adults and $5 for children under 13.

I will say that Joe Dimaggio Field was a great place to watch a game at this level.  There is very little foul territory, so all the seats, which run from about third base to first base are extremely close to the action.  It was certainly professional baseball as up close and personal as I have ever seen it — I flinched almost every time a left-handed hitter fouled one back into the screen in front of me.

Drinks were expensive, but food wasn’t.  There was a taco truck which served tacos and burritos at pretty typical taco truck prices.  My wife got a large burrito for $7.25 which fed all three of us, which was less than the $8 I paid for a beer.  The beer was made by Martinez craft brewer Del Cielo Brewing Co.  On tap were a Mexican-style lager and an IPA.  I chose the Mexican lager, as it appeared to me most of the other patrons did, and it was quite good.

I attended a Sonoma County Crushers game in the now defunct independent-A Western League in Rohnert Park around 2000.  Today’s game between the Clippers and the Sonoma County Stompers was about the same level of play I recall from all those years ago, even though the Western League was trying to provide a highly level of Indy-A play.

The Stompers scored two runs early on a routine fly ball that Clippers right fielder Will Decker lost in the sun (he was deservedly charged with an error), and there were a few other misplays.  Clippers DH Jacob Barfield hit a home run to dead center that was the only run the Clippers scored in seven innings against Stompers’ starter Dominic Topoozian, who pitched for Fresno State, a top college program, for a couple of seasons.  Stompers 3Bman Kevin Farley made back-to-back great plays in the bottom of the 5th, and Clippers shortstop Pedro Barrios made a terrific play on a shot up the middle in the top of the 6th.

Unfortunately, I had to leave after seven innings, as my daughter was bored by the third inning and getting increasingly restless as the game wore on.  If I lived closer to Martinez (I live in Berkeley) or my wife and daughter had more interest, I’d definitely go again.  Martinez has excellent summer baseball weather, and Joe Dimaggio Fields is close enough to the Carquinez Straight to get an occasional cool breeze.

That said, I don’t how the Pacific Association has lasted five seasons to date. The reported attendance is awful, with only the San Rafael Pacifics (442) and the Sonoma Stompers (428) averaging more than 211 fans per game.  The Clippers are currently averaging 104 fans a game, and the Pittsburg Diamonds averaging only 70 per game.

The only information I could find on Pacific Association salaries says that in 2015 teams were capped at $15,000 per month for 22 players and two coaches.  That averages $625 per month per player/coach, but I don’t see how teams can be paying that given the reported attendance.

By comparison, the Frontier League pays players between $600 and $1,600 per month, with season caps of $75,000 per team, which comes to maximum average salaries of about $725 per month.  The Frontier League’s 12 teams are averaging from a high of 3,078 fans per game to a low of 1,595 fans per game this season.  Granted, the Frontier League has been in play since 1993, which is a testament to fact that its teams draw enough fans to keep teams making enough of a profit to keep going year after year.

The Pecos League pays a brutal $50 a week for an 11+ week season, which isn’t even enough to feed a young athlete.  The Pecos League is essentially a pay to play league for undrafted college seniors who just can’t give up the pro baseball dream without at least taking one real stab at it.  I note that the Pecos League appears to be just about the only Indy-A league that does not routinely report its attendance.

After the Pecos League season ends, the best players typically get late season tryouts from American Association and Frontier League teams looking to replace players who have been sold, injured or released.  If they don’t show enough to get re-signed for the next season in these leagues (or to even get a shot in the first place), they try their luck in the Pacific Association.

In spite of the dream, it’s hard to imagine being able to pay players in their second professional season less than $400 or $500 per month.  It appears to me that the average age for a Pacific Association player is about 24, which is old enough that anything less than $400 or $500 month seems untenable if a team is hoping to fill a 22 man roster with a couple of guys on call in case someone gets hurt.

As of the start of the 2018 season, Jon Edwards and Chris Smith are the only two Pecos League players to have later reached the major leagues.  To my knowledge, no Pacific Association player has yet accomplished this feat.

Since the Pacific Association only began play in 2014, it’s certainly possible that someone will someday do it.  However, the odds sure aren’t good, since the best Pecos League players jump to the better American Association or Frontier League or get signed directly by an MLB organization.  Some Pacific Association players have signed with MLB organizations, but the time game is simply not in their favor.

Local boy Matt Chavez is probably the best player the Pacific Association has produced so far.  He’s currently a top hitter in the best of the Indy-A Leagues, the Atlantic League, where he is slashing .323/.380/.442.  However, he’s 29 this year, so his  future major league chances are slim indeed.  His best reasonably possible future is playing successfully in the Mexican League.

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MLB and KBO Agree on New Posting System

Posted July 13, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Baseball Abroad, KBO, New York Yankees, NPB, Texas Rangers

MLB has reached an agreement on a new posting system regime with South Korea’s KBO.  The new system provides that KBO players who are posted get to sign with any MLB team they choose, which in practical effect will mean for the highest bidder 90% of the time, with the former KBO team getting a percentage of the contract amount as follows.

For the first $25M guarantee of the contract, the former KBO team gets 20%.  For the next $25M guarantee, the KBO team gets 17.5%.  For any guaranteed amount above the first $50M, the KBO team gets 15%.

The upshot is that on a contract that guarantees the South Korean player $100M, his former KBO team would receive $16.875M.  When Hyun-jin Ryu signed with the Dodgers, his former KBO team, the Hanwha Eagles, received 71.5% of the contracted amount (a $25M+ posting fee compared to Ryu’s $36M guarantee over six seasons.)  The new regime obviously means the player will get a far larger percentage of his true value to the top MLB bidder.

The next Ryu Hyun-jin will cost well more than a $61M+ layout, but it’s anyone’s guess when the next Ryu will come along.  KBO teams aren’t going to make a great deal of money posting their biggest stars on any kind of a regular basis under the new system, but $16.875M is still a lot of money to a KBO team when that $100M player finally comes along.

Two years ago, I proposed an adjustment to the Japanese NPB posting regime, which while different from the one just adopted above, was designed to accomplish the same thing: getting Asian teams to post their best players sooner in order to receive a bigger payout.

If a KBO team has a MLB-caliber player which it posts in the off-season before the player’s age 27 season, that player will command a far higher MLB guaranteed contract than the same player posted when he’s a year short of the nine full seasons it takes to become a KBO (or NPB) true free agent.  That means, under the new posting regime, the KBO team makes a lot more money posting the player a year or three sooner than they absolutely have to.

The same kind of regime would work for NPB postings, except that the percentages the NPB team would receive would have to be higher (maybe 33%, 25% and 20%), because the best NPB players are worth more money to their NPB teams than the best KBO players are worth to their KBO teams, given the difference in league revenue streams.  If MLB teams try to squeeze NPB teams too much, there is simply much less reason for an NPB team to post its best players until it absolutely has too (the off-season before the off-season in which the player is a true free agent).

In fact, I think my proposal is better if the goal is to get NPB teams to post superstars a year or three early, since it directly ties NPB team compensation to earlier posting.  The benefit to the new MLB-KBO regime is that it could mean big money for the next NPB team to develop the next Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka or Shohei Ohtani who commands a contract well in excess of a $100M guarantee.

Bennett Parry and Tyler J. Alexander

Posted July 11, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Mexican League, Milwaukee Brewers, Minor Leagues

One problem with being a life-long baseball observer outside of the professional game is that, at the end of the day, I can only guestimate how major league organizations make decisions.  Even though a lot of input is sought by the media from major league organizations, major league organizations will provide some information, but they won’t provide everything.  Pro baseball knowledge is proprietary, and why would you put out information to the public from which another pro baseball organization might learn something with which to compete against you?

Sabrmetrics can tell us something by which we can get some idea of what MLB organizations analytics departments are looking at.  (If I had to guess, I’d say that computer simulations using powerful computers and algorithms produced by professional mathematicians are things MLB orgs are using that hasn’t yet reached the likes of fangraphs.com.)

Sometimes, I just don’t know whether the MLB orgs are missing something that seems obvious to me or they have information I don’t have, or some combination of both.  I often feel like I’m working with 1950’s inside baseball, and that the modern baseball world might well be passing me by.

Why haven’t MLB orgs re-signed either Bennett Parry or Tyler J. Alexander, as I write this.  Both started their professional careers in MLB organizations, but were late round draft picks who apparently got burned by MLB’s minor league numbers game (35+ new prospects are added by each organization every year, which is about or more than 1.5 low minor league club rosters).

Bennett Parry was a 40th round (whew!) draft pick who never pitched higher than the full season A level but still produced a 2.71 ERA with 211 Ks in 216 IP across four MLiB seasons, before apparently blowing out his elbow tendon.

He has worked his way back through the Indy-A leagues to the point where he is a starting pitcher in the Atlantic League with a 2.60 ERA with 104 Ks in 72.2 IP.  He’s a big 26 year old left-hander at 6’6″ and 240 lbs.

Tyler Alexander is another, smaller 26 year old left-hander (6’1″ and 200 lbs) without the arm injury.  He was plagued by high ERAs but with high strikeout rates in two MLiB seasons after being drafted by the Brewers in the 27th round.  He put together three fine seasons for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Indy-A American Association and two fine winters in the Mexican Pacific League, before signing with a Can-Am League team this year, presumably to get more exposure). He has joined the Mexican Summer League for the second half season.

Left-handers with strikeout stuff are always in demand if only for the simple fact that while only one person in ten is a natural left-hander, about one-third of major league pitchers are left-handed.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why neither Parry nor Alexander has been signed by an MLB organization as of this writing.  I haven’t found anything on line suggesting a scandal involving either player, and neither is too small to suggest MLB would ignore them for this reason.

What am I missing?  The question torments me in my spare time.

Why Major League Hitters Aren’t Beating the Shifts

Posted July 11, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

Here’s a good article from Jerry Crasnick about why players who are routinely shifted against aren’t changing their approach to beat the shift.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that today’s major league hitters are paid to hit the ball with power, and for left-handed hitters who are shifted against most, that means pulling the ball or driving the ball out to left center.  It’s easy to plug those holes with defensive shifts.

60 or 70 years ago, Ted Williams talked about hitting against the shifts played on him (there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Trivia question: which team invented the Williams Shift?)  Williams said that hitting against the shift never bothered him, because it meant that pitchers were trying to pitch him middle-in to get him to hit into the shift.  That meant pitchers were pitching into his power, with all-too-often predictable results: 521 career home runs despite missing nearly five years of his major league career to military service.

The shifts work better today because pitchers are better and defenders are better.  There will never again be another .344 career hitter unless umpires start calling a ten-inch tall, over the plate strike zone.  Still, an awful lot of home runs are being hit today because pitchers are pitching inside to power hitters to get them to hit into the shift.

I thought Daniel Murphy‘s comments were particularly telling because he rightly talks about the advantages to hitting for power in today’s game, but he’s dead wrong insofar as taking a free first base is not extremely valuable if the bases are empty or with a man on first with less then two outs.  Home run hitting works best when men have gotten on base first.  Earl Weaver, good pitching and defense and the three-run homer.

However, the guy the hits the home run makes a lot more money than the guy who gets on base first, all other factors being even.  That’s why Murphy overvalues power hitting over getting on base.

Ichiros will always beat the shift, but how much demand is there for the poor man’s Ichiro’s in today’s game.  (There will be future Ichiros, Tony Gwynns and Rod Carews, but they will need to play at that level.  How much demand is there in today’s game for the next Nori Aoki?

The very best players have the confidence and ability to try to take advantage of every opportunity the other team gives them.  Most major league players, however, want to maintain the swing and the approach that got them to the bigs in the first place.  Trying to hit the other way against the shift might screw up their power stroke, so why risk it?

Hitters are superstititious, and almost always associate slumps and hot streaks to what they are doing rather than to random probability over short stretches, which plays a much bigger role than most major league players realize at a conscious level.  That said, the players who have the most success don’t tend to get too high during hot stretches or too low during slumps.

Answer to trivia question:  the Chicago Cubs.  They started shifting Fred “Cy” Williams in the 1920’s when Williams played for the Phillies.  The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 feet down the right field line and only 300 feet to right center, only marginally counteracted by a very tall right field fence.

Phillies quickly learned the value of power hitting left-handed pull hitters, and the Cubs were the first team to respond accordingly.  Williams led the NL for the Cubs with 12 HRs in 1916 during the “Dead Ball” (dirty ball) Era, so the Cubs knew exactly what type of hitter Williams was.

 

Delmon Young Sighting

Posted July 8, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, Mexican League, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays

Doesn’t it seem like a long time since Delmon Young last played in the majors?  It was only 2015 with the Orioles, but it feels like longer.

Young is still around, attempting a come-back in the Mexican League at the age of 32.  I was certainly surprised when I saw his name today in milb.com’s list of Mexican League hitters, because one has to think long and hard to remember that Young was young when he entered the major leagues and still young when he left them.

Young had enormous talent, enough to be the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003 out of high school.  He was a great pure hitter (.283 career batting average across ten major league seasons), and he had some pop, but he almost never drew a walk and didn’t hit with enough power consistently enough to make it as a corner outfielder.

He had a great year for the Twins in 2010, when he drove in 112 runs and had 12 outfield assists playing exclusively left field, but that was pretty much it.  Another thing that appears to have contributed to his rapid demise is that he had lost his speed by the time he was in his late 20’s.

After leaving the majors, Young played in the Dominican Winter League in the winter of 2015-2016, and he played in the Australian Baseball League the next winter, without particularly impressive results given the respective levels of competition in either league.

He has only played in 26 Mexican League games so far this summer, and he looks like the same old Delmon Young.  He can hit for a decent average with a little pop, but he still doesn’t walk much.  We’ll see how long he’s willing to play for $5,000 to $8,000 a month playing in Mexico.

San Francisco Giants Trade Away Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin

Posted July 8, 2018 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers

In a move that seems designed to free up salary cap space in order to make another move closer to the trade deadline, the Giants traded away Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin along with prospect Jason Bahr to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations or a player to be named later.  In other words, a straight dump of what remains of Jackson’s and Gearrin’s combined $4.68M in contracts for 2018 (plus Jackson’s $3M 2019 guarantee) with a B-grade prospect thrown in to sweeten the pot.

Jackson seemed like a low-cost place holder when the Giants signed him last off-season, and that’s pretty much what he turned out to be.  The Giants have promoted Steven Duggar to replace Jackson in center field.  I don’t think that Duggar is quite ready to be a major league hitter, but there’s a good chance he’ll hit as well as Jackson did so far in 2018 (.604 OPS), and at age 24 Duggar has much more a major league future in front of him than the 31 year old Jackson.

I kind of liked Cory Gearrin, but he’s the kind of fungible right-handed relief pitcher the Giants have always been able to find on the scrap heap and get a couple or three solid years out of.  Gearrin’s roster spot is being replaced by Ray Black, who may or may not now have major league command but in any event has absolutely electric stuff.  Black will be fun to watch, if nothing else.

I’m a little sad that Tyler Rogers didn’t get the call to replace Gearrin.  Rogers now has a 1.64 ERA at AAA Sacramento a year after posting a full-season 2.37 ERA there.  That said, Ray Black has a major league arm and then some, and the Giants are an old school team that likes right-handers who can really bring it.  If Black can’t throw enough strikes at the major league level yet, which is a very real possibility, then maybe Rogers finally gets his shot.

Jason Bahr was the Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2017 out of Central Florida, and he’s having a fine season after recently receiving a promotion to A+ San Jose from A Augusta.  He has a 2.55 ERA with 103 Ks in 84.2 IP, which is great.  However, he is already 23 years old and hasn’t yet reached the AA level.  mlbtraderumors.com says mlb.com rates Bahr as the Giants’ 27th best prospect, which frankly isn’t saying much except that he isn’t a total dog.

The Giants are trying to stay under the $197M competitive balance cap.  The penalties for going over the cap are complicated — suffice it say that the wealthy teams have strong incentives to get under this cap at least once every two or three seasons in order to avoid the steepest penalties.

Now we wait and see what the  do with this newly acquired cap space as we get closer to the trade deadline.

Two More 1st Round Draft Picks Fail to Sign

Posted July 7, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburg Pirates

Two more First Round Draft picks failed to get signed and will instead by pitching in college next year.  The Atlanta Braves failed to sign 8th overall pick Carter Stewart, and the Arizona Diamondbacks failed to sign 25th overall pick Matt McLain.  Add to those two, the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign 36th overall pick Gunnar Hogland.  For what it’s worth, all three unsigned 1st rounders and Hogland are high school right handed pitchers.

The 8th overall pick came with a $4.9807M slot value, but medical tests after Stewart was selected raised issues for the Brave, and according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, the Braves’ final offer came “a lot closer” to the 40% of the slot amount ($1.992M+) the Braves had to offer to get the 9th overall pick in 2019 than the full slot amount.

Assuming that the Braves offered something around $2.5M, Stewart should have signed, but I can at least understand why he elected to attend Mississippi State with J.T. Ginn, the Dodgers’ unsigned first round selection.  It has to be disappointing to be selected this high and not receive an offer close to the slot amount when you have the leverage of being able to elect college.

On the other hand, the D’backs are reported to have offered McLain the full $2.6364M slot amount even though none of Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN, or fangraphs had him ranked in the top 50 of this year’s prospects.  McLain should have took the money.

Hoglund is another prospect who didn’t make any of the major raters’ top 50 (fangraphs had him at 55th), but didn’t sign.  However, mlbtraderumors.com doesn’t report any rumors as to what the Pirates offered him.

The four unsigned prospects is probably a single season Draft record.  Factors that may be contributing to the failed signings is that a four scholarship at a major university is now worth $200,000+.  College players at major programs get to be campus heroes and probably receive all kinds of perqs like personal tutors.  College athletes also make all kinds of connections that can help them in business after their playing careers are over.

Another factor is that MLB teams have shown that top pitching prospects can blow out their elbow tendons and still be first round draft picks.  Brady Aiken and Jeff Hoffman are two recent prospects who were drafted in the 1st round after having Tommy John surgery.  (It’s worth noting, though, that neither Aiken or Hoffman has done much yet to justify their high draft positions.)  That makes it a lot less risky for high school pitchers to elect to go to college rather than accept a $2M+ signing bonus to start their professional careers.