What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

Posted August 14, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburg Pirates, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

The Demise of the Everyday Player

Posted August 10, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball History, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

Years and years ago I read a piece by Bill James in which he argued that Cal Ripken‘s decision to keep his consecutive game streak alive was actually detrimental to the Baltimore Orioles’ ultimate goal of winning as many games as possible.  The article made a lot of sense to me: playing every single game, even by the very best players, means that the player plays a lot of games when he’s exhausted and/or has minor injuries, which can’t heal properly because the player is playing six days a week; under those circumstances, even the best major league players aren’t necessarily playing as well as the replacement-level player sitting in the team’s bench would.

[In fairness to Ripken, the Orioles’ true ultimate goal was putting as many cans in the seats as possible.  Being Cal Ripken, playing every game every day for a generation, probably was pretty good for Orioles’ attendance during that streak.]

Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak is a record that probably never will be broken because it seems that MLB teams now agree whole-heartedly with what James argued all those years ago.  In contrast to the Asian leagues, where playing every day in leagues that play shorter schedules and have more rain-outs is still commendable, MLB teams have clearly decided that the occasional day off is more valuable than playing every single game.

Looking at the 17 full seasons from 2000 through 2016, the shift from playing every single game seems to have taken hold after the 2008 season.  In the nine seasons from 2000 through 2008, an average of 6.33 players per season played in all 162 games.  In the eight full seasons since then, only 2.5 players per season have played 162 games in a season.

Even players who manage to play at least 160 games in a season seems in decline.  In the 14 seasons from 2000 through 2013, an average of 13.6 players played at least 160 games per season.  In the last three seasons, that average has dropped almost in half to seven per season. The recent low seasons could be a result of a small sample fluke, but I don’t think so.

Just as teams have learned that using more and more relief pitchers pitching more and more total innings results in fewer runs scored by the opposition, teams have also learned that keeping their stars properly rested and their bench players sharp results in better won-loss results.  The good managers, and I consider the Giants’ Bruce Boche one of them, realize that keeping the stars fresh and the bench players sharp has a lot more value than riding the race horses until they inevitably drop.

For what it’s worth, Justin Morneau is the last player to play 163 games in a season.  Morneau’s 2008 Twins lost their 163rd game to the White Sox, sending the latter team to a brief post season and former team home.  The all-time record for games played in a season is Maury Wills‘ 165: he played all 162 regular season games and all three games to decide the pennant against the Giants.  That was the year Wills set then records for plate appearances and stolen bases in a season.



Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez Update

Posted August 9, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants

In what has been a bleak season for the San Francisco Giants at all levels, one bright spot has been the strong starts of 1st and 2nd Round 2017 Draft picks Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez in the Rookie Arizona League.

CF Ramos, age 17, currently has the fifth best OPS (.975) in his league, and the third best OPS among hitters under the age of 20.  3B Gonzalez, age 19, has the league’s 9th best OPS (.911), and the 4th best among hitters under 20.  Their batting averages are also high, which you like to see in your prospects.

We are only 35 games into the Arizona League season, and Ramos and Gonzalez have played in only 26 and 28 games, respectively.  Even so, it’s better to get your professional career off to a strong start than a slow one.

The AZL Giants are currently 23-12, with the league’s best overall record (the league plays a split season in spite of being a short season league), which is a pleasant change from the sorry records of the Giants’ full season minor league squads this year.

The best of the rest of the AZL Giants’ position players so far in 2017 is 18 year old Nicaraguan Ismael Munguia.  He’s hitting for average and has an .881 OPS after 24 games, mostly in left field.  He’ll have to hit to move up at that position, although there are suggestions he may have enough arm to play right field.

Weilly Yan (21), Camilio Duval (20), Franklin Van Gurp (21), and Keenan Bartlett (21) have all pitched well in terms of ERA and strikeout rates.  2017 3rd Round Draft Pick Seth Correy (18) has a 1.88 ERA and has struck out 14 in 14.1 innings pitched, but has been wild, allowing 13 walks.  Correy is obviously the best prospect here, with Duval, who is in his age 19 season and only just turned 20, the second best as of this moment.

Waiting for Draft Day 2018

Posted July 31, 2017 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants

The 2017 trade deadline has come and gone with the San Francisco Giants apparently making no more trades after sending away Eduardo Nunez five days ago. Sigh.

Grant Bisbee at the McCovey Chronicles points out that the Giants still have 31 days to make waiver deals, which should be easy for any Giants starter the team wishes to move, since their contracts essentially bar waiver claims.  Even so, I don’t see the Giants getting a big return on anyone the team might trade going forward.

The Giants are almost certainly a lock on top five draft picks in next year’s domestic and international amateur drafts.  The last time the Giants had a top five draft pick in the draft, they selected Buster Posey.  Their three other top five draft picks in the Draft era were Jason Grilli, Matt Williams and Will Clark.

The odds are good indeed that the Giants will get at least one player who will really help them next June.  Perhaps they’ll also be able to use their high draft slot to get some real talent in the later rounds too.

If the Giants don’t play much better in the first half of 2018, next July will be the time of the big fire sale.  Posey and Brandon Crawford will be 31 next season, and Brandon Belt will be 30.  The window built around this core will be closing rapidly, as will these players’ trade values.

Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Yu Darvish

Posted July 31, 2017 by Burly
Categories: American League, Los Angeles Dodgers, National League, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers

The Dodgers pulled the trigger on the trade deadline’s biggest deal by acquiring Yu Darvish for three prospects right at the deadline.  The price was indeed heavy for a two-month rental, but this deal is obviously more about the Dodgers going deep into the post-season than about helping the Dodgers win their division outright.

Moving from the American League’s best hitters’ park to one of the National League’s best pitchers’ parks should help Darvish step right into the shoes of injured ace Clayton Kershaw.  I would have to think that Darvish will enjoy playing in L.A., a city with a much larger Asian presence than Dallas/Ft. Worth, not to mention the fact that he’ll get a shot a winning a World Series ring.  Also, if things go as planned for Darvish and the Dodgers, the odds are good the team will give Darvish an enormous long-term contract this off-season, unless, of course, the Yankees or the Rangers offer even more.

If Kershaw is healthy again by late September, the Dodgers will be the obvious and overwhelming favorites to go all the way.  Certainly, no one will be able to match their pitching.

The main piece in the deal for the Rangers is 22 year old 2B/LF Willie Calhoun.  Calhoun’s minor league numbers don’t suggest he’s got enough range at 2B to stick there, and the odds are effectively nil that he will displace Rougned Odor unless Odor gets hurt. However, Calhoun has enough power that he won’t be a liability as a corner outfielder, once he learns to play there.  Calhoun needs more time to learn to play positions other than second, so I don’t expect he’ll be promoted to the majors before September, although his bat is very, very close to being ready now.

The other two players the Rangers received, RHP A.J. Alexy and infielder Brendon Davis, are both in their age-19 seasons.  They have talent, but they are a long way from the majors.

It isn’t often that a team gets three prospects of this caliber for 2+ months of veteran performance, but it also isn’t often that a team as good as the 2017 Dodgers can add a pitcher of Yu’s caliber.  The Dodgers want their first World Series title since 1988 bad, and now they can absolutely taste it.

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

Posted July 30, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Minor Leagues, Uncategorized

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams may be making more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are approximately 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season.

What’s Wrong with Tetsuto Yamada?

Posted July 30, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

As of last off-season, Tetsuto Yamada was the best Japanese position player prospect for MLB purposes since Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui.  In his age 22 and 23 seasons, he hit .329 and .304 with on-base percentages of .416 and .425, blasted 38 home runs both seasons and stole a total of 64 bases in 70 attempts.   His age 21 season was almost as good, and he’s a middle infielder to boot!

In fact, Yamada was on pace to have an even better season in 2017, but nagging minor injuries slowed him down late in the season.

This year, however, Yamada has had something of a lost season.  He’s currently batting only .225, dead last among the 30 qualifiers in NPB’s Central League.  He’s still hitting for power and drawing walks, so his .759 OPS is not atrocious.  Still, it represents a tremendous drop from his output the three previous seasons.

I’ve waited all year long for Yamada to get hot, but it hasn’t happened.  He’s played in all 93 of his team’s (the Yakult Swallows) games, so if he’s still hurt, it has to be the type of lingering minor injury that hasn’t effected his ability to play every single game.

If NPB pitchers have found a hole in his swing, it was a long time coming — one has to think that they would have found it sooner, since he’s now in his fifth season as a starting player.  My go-to site for NPB baseball news in English, Yakyu DB, has been engaged in something of a conspiracy of silence about Yamada’s 2017 season, since I haven’t even been able to find even one mention of Yamada this season.

I tend to think that opposing teams have been steadfastly pitching around him, and he’s had a hard time adjusting to it.  Even hitting dead last, he was leading his league in walks until very recently when he was passed by Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, another top Japanese MLB prospect who is not playing as well as did in 2015 or 2016 but who has gotten hot recently.

The Swallows have been awful this year, holding the Central League’s worst record only two years after finishing with the league’s best record.  The Swallows’ hitting is poor, and the only other truly dangerous hitter on the team, Wladimir Balentien wasn’t hitting with his usual power until about two weeks ago.  As of today’s game, Balentien has hit home runs in five consecutive games and now has 20 HRs on the season after having only 10 or 11 fifteen days ago.

The upshot is that Yamada has probably been feeling a tremendous amount of pressure, as the team’s brightest star, to help his team win.  The fact that he’s played every single one of his team’s games in spite of his struggles suggests his team believes they can’t give him even one game off to clear his head and rest his body.

NPB pitchers have also had no reason to throw Yamada any more strikes than they absolutely had to, and Yamada has probably been swinging at pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at in order to make something happen for his team.

Now that Balentien is finally slugging again, it’s possible that Yamada may start seeing better pitches and will hit better in the Swallows’ remaining 50 games.  However, no matter how hot Yamada might get, his final season numbers are going to seem very anomalous with his career to date.

The thing is, Yamada only just turned 25 thirteen days ago.  So long as his 2017 season isn’t the result of a physical problem, this lost season could actually be good for Yamada’s development as a player.  There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth during and immediately after Bryce Harper‘s 2016 season, but a year later he’s right back to where he was in 2015 when he was the National League’s undisputed MVP.  As a recent gatorade commercial points out, players and people generally tend to learn more from their failures than their successes.