Mac Williamson Is Mashing at AAA Sacramento

Posted April 20, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants

About a dozen games into the 2018 Pacific Coast League season, Mac Williamson is crushing the ball.  He has six home runs and a .487/.600/1.026 slash line.  Needless to say, he’s leading the PCL in OPS (or Production, as they like to call it in Japan) as I write this.

Williamson was reported to have worked on his swing this past off-season, and it has surely paid off.  He hit a ton in Spring Training and now in the PCL.

The River Cats’ second best hitter so far is Austin Slater, who looked so good in the Show last year before getting hurt.  He’s currently slashing .423/.516/.731 for Sacramento.

Unfortunately for Williamson and Slater, there aren’t currently any openings in San Francisco.  Giants’ back-ups Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco have both hit well so far.

Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson have both pretty awful at the plate, particularly Pence who is slashing .172/.197/.190 after 17 games.  However, Pence is guaranteed $18.5 million this year and Jackson $6 million over the next two, so they are going to get a lot more opportunities to fail before the team takes the drastic action of releasing them to bring up Williamson or Slater.

Jackson is also one of only two true center fielders on the major league roster.  While Blanco can still play center in a pinch, it does not appear that he has the range for the position any longer.

Other Giants’ prospects off to fast starts this April are shortstop Ryan Howard, starters Shawn Anderson and Jordan Johnson and reliever Ray Black at AA Richmond;  2B Jalen Miller and starter Connor Menez at A+ San Jose; and outfielder Malique Ziegler and starters John Gavin and Jason Bahr at Class A Augusta.

In somewhat related news, it appears that three weeks after the Giants released Jarrett Parker on March 30th (because he wasn’t going to make the major league team and is out of options), Parker still hasn’t signed with another MLB organization.  It’s been reported that Parker wants a major league job, which at present he apparently hasn’t been able to find.

Parker’s failure to sign quickly with another MLB organization is strange, because the talent is obviously there (great tools and a career major league slash line of .257/.335/.456 in 382 plate appearances) and he’s still only 29 years old.  The problem is that if you aren’t playing once the regular season begins, you start to fall behind everyone who is playing whether at AAA or the majors.

Maybe Parker is hoping an Asian team will come calling.  He’d certainly be a great prospect, given his tools, for the KBO or NPB.  However, it’s early in the season for Asian teams to be looking for replacements on the foreigners they started the 2018 season with.

If Parker is amenable to playing in Asia, he should still sign a minor league deal with an MLB organization, possibly containing an opt-out that allows him to leave June or July 1st if he hasn’t spent at least 15 days on a major league roster.  Parker is simply too young and too close to being an major league player for him to keep practicing on his own while everyone else is playing regular season games, let alone throw up his hands and walk away from the game because he can’t find a major league job.

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Lee Dae-ho Elects to Rest on His Laurels

Posted April 13, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, Mexican League, NPB, Seattle Mariners

AKA Dae-Ho Lee is looking like a guy who has finally decided to just stop fighting it.

After signing a record 4-year $12.9 million KBO deal and giving the Lotte Giants one fine season in 2017, it sure looks like Lee has decided there’s no point for the Big Boy to fight the Pig Tiger anymore, with an emphasis on the former animal.  The photo reminds me of Japhet Amador  in the Mexican League, only older and more beer gut, and I’m certainly old enough to know.

After an O.K. start this season in the first half dozen games, Lee’s current .623 OPS after 16 games and conditioning suggest that in his age 36 season, he’s going to enjoy his time until the weight catches up with him and he gets hurt.

When it was a question of him establishing himself as a World Class player entitled to World Class salaries, Lee was willing to work on the conditioning.  Five years can be a long time in a baseball career, and now Lee is through pushing himself away from the dinner table.  Hell, he’s got nearly three full years left on his guaranteed contract.

For a massive 1B/DH type, he’s put in plenty through age 35.  I’m kind of surprised he lasted this long.

Arenado Charges Perdomo

Posted April 12, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Denver Rockies, Detroit Tigers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Uncategorized

Nolan Arenado charged Luis Perdomo today after Luis threw a fastball behind Nolan’s back.  Then, it wasn’t just young men enjoying a game of baseball anymore.

I don’t know if I’ve gotten meaner as I get older, I have no problem with Arenado going after Perdomo.  Perhaps I always felt this way.  I still think Arenado should get the standard suspension, but Perdomo has to know there are consequences for throwing a high pitch Arenado had to think was intended to hit him.

Perdomo wimpily threw his mitt and was able to mostly toreador Arenado’s first assault.  Arenado went after Perdomo again and caught him, but only just as the scrum collapsed upon them.  I hope Perdomo gets at least a five-game suspension, for whatever Arenado ends up getting.

A not-too-long suspension and Arenado and the Rockies may have no regrets.  Arenado has just sent a message throughout MLB that he won’t tolerate pitches like that above the waste.

With Arenado as the team’s best player, if I were a Rockies fan, I’d be glad Arenado went after him.  It might fire up the team, and Arenado needs to protect himself.

That reminds me of a Giants’ story.  Mike Krukow was one of the team’s enforcers when it came to not letting the other team get away with anything.  In this game, I think it was this one,  Krukow plunked Braves pitcher Kevin Coffman after the young and wild Coffman threw too many pitches at or behind Giants’ hitters.

Coffman wasn’t trying to hit the batters, and he didn’t actually any of them, his pitches looked like attempted curveballs that didn’t break.  It was probably Duane Kuiper, who was already doing TV announcing in 1988, who suggested that Krukow’s pitch, which hit Coffman squarely in the center of the back and looked like it hurt based on location and the way Coffman winced even though it didn’t look like Krukow threw it as hard as he could, was intended as a message that the young Braves pitcher find his command around the Giants hitters.

It made sense to me at the time.  However, if I have the right game, Coffman went on to score in a game the Giants ended up losing 5-4.

I also remember Krukow getting hurt later against the Cardinals when leading the charge in one of these situations, inside the eye of the scrum as I recall it.  It might have been a leg injury, like a thigh bruise, but I seem to remember him losing time because of the injury.  I can’t find the game, so maybe I’m mis-remembering it.

A lot less entertaining to watch than the Arenado Show was Jordan Zimmerman getting hit in the face with a line-drive off that bat of Jason Kipnes.  It was scorched, and Zimmerman couldn’t get up his glove hand in time.  Zimmerman was down for awhile but it looks like he escaped major injury.  He reportedly has a bruised, not broken, jaw, and passed the concussion protocol tests.

It serves to remind you that baseball players do risk something when they go out on the field.  That’s part of the reason they get the big money.

Is It Too Soon to Call Shohei Ohtani the Best Hitting Pitcher in Major League Baseball?

Posted April 11, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamond Backs, Baseball Abroad, Baseball History, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, NPB, Tampa Bay Rays

Every year just before or just after the regular season starts I write a post of the best hitting pitchers in MLB.  These articles are some of the most popular I’ve written, so I do it pretty religiously every year until now.

This year, I don’t know what to do about Shohei Ohtani.  He’s hit home runs in three consecutive games, including one that traveled nearly 450 feet, but he has had only 19 major league plate appearances.

I have generally tried to limit my list to pitchers with at least 100 major league at-bats in order to weed out great one-season fluke performances.  But no one has come along like Ohtani in several generations, a true two-way player who can’t really be compared with anyone I’ve seen play in MLB since I became a fan in 1978.

Ohtani also has an established track record in Japan’s major leagues.  How much credit do you give him for that?  On a scale from 1 to 10 with the MLB AAA a 1 and the MLB majors, I would rank NPB’s majors as a 4.  NPB is a good league, but it’s not the MLB majors.

There is no doubt even with a limited sample size that Ohtani is an elite MLB rookie prospect on both sides of the ball.  It still remains to be seen on the hitting side how quickly he will adjust once MLB pitchers, scouts and analytics guys find the holes in his swing.  (As a pitching prospect, Ohtani has a less of a problem — unfamiliarity is a pitcher’s friend, and as long as he can continue to command his pitches, it could well be 2019 before major league hitters figure out how to attack his exceptional stuff.)

As such, I’m going to hold off on my annual article until I feel more confident that Ohtani’s performance is for real.  With Ohtani DHing three times a week, that shouldn’t be too long.

The thing that excites me even more than Ohtani’s exceptional MLB performance so far, is that his breakthrough has the possibility of effecting a paradygm shift in MLB.

For the last generation at least, MLB teams have a made a decision when they draft or sign an amateur player that they will develop that player either as a hitter/position player or as a pitcher.  Most of the time MLB teams make the right decision, but once in a while you get a two-way player on whom the team makes the wrong decision.

For example, I think the odds are high in hindsight that Micah Owings would have had a more successful major league career if the DiamondBacks had elected to develop him as a hitter, rather than as a pitcher.  Owings was a real prospect on both sides of the ball out of college, but under the old regime, the D’Backs made a decision that he was going to be a pitcher and stuck with it until he hurt his arm and couldn’t be a pitcher any longer.

With early first round 2017 picks Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene, the Rays and Reds have made at least some effort to develop them as two-way players, at least while they are still in the low minors.  I strongly suspect that Shohei’s performance in Japan had something to do with decisions to try to so develop McKay and Greene at least a little bit as two-way players, because everyone in MLB knew well by the time of the 2017 amateur draft what Ohtani was doing in Japan at a level of play too high to be an aberration.

Obviously, there won’t be a whole lot of players so good on both sides of the ball that MLB teams will try to develop them as two-way players.  However, there was always be a few top amateur prospects who can do everything on a baseball field.

In today’s game, two-players could be extremely valuable, at least enough to give these prospects a chance to try both in the low minors and see how it goes.  The American League has the DH, which is ideal for taking advantage of a two-way player, but the NL still needs pinch-hitters and there are fewer roster spots for them now that all teams are carrying more relief pitchers.

In 2003-2004, Brooks Kieschnick had some value as a relief pitcher/pinch hitter/emergency left-fielder for the Brewers. (Kieschnick had been developed as a hitter, and only turned to pitching when his MLB career as a position player didn’t pan out — he’d been an effective college pitcher but it wasn’t a close call when he was drafted as a hitter.) Why not give at least a few two-way prospects two-way training in the minors leagues to try to develop a more valuable major league player down the line?

Modern Day Pitching Masterpieces

Posted April 10, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals

In today’s game where pitch counts rule, particularly in the first half of April, it’s worth noting just how well Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber both pitched today.

Kluber pitched eight shutout innings in the Indians’ 2-0 victory over the Tigers.  He struck out 13 while throwing only 103 pitches.  He allowed only two singles and a walk.

Scherzer pitched even better, allowing only two singles while striking out ten on a 102-pitch, complete game 2-0 shutout over the Braves.

In today’s Moneyball game, no-hitters don’t have the same value they once did.  Or at least, teams are increasingly unwilling to let pitchers try to complete no-hitters once they’ve thrown more than 120 pitches.

This change is beyond merely the internal workings of each team’s statistics department.  I saw a headline yesterday about how Shohei Ohtani “almost” pitched a perfect game, when in fact he came out after the seventh inning.  Even the sportswriters tacitly accept that losing a perfect game in the 7th is now roughly equal to what losing a perfect game in the 9th inning was a generation ago.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it does, in fact, cut down on pitcher injuries.  It’s hard to prove smaller workloads for starters mean fewer injuries because injuries still happen constantly.  Major league pitchers can’t afford to ever throw anything except their best pitches, although a pitcher with stuff like Ohtani’,along with confidence and pitching smarts, can realize he doesn’t need to throw his best fastball until he needs it for the strikeout pitch.  If your best fastball is 92 mph or lower in today’s game, you can’t afford to throw ’em much lower than that ever.

What makes Kluber’s and Scherzer’s performances so impressive is that it is damn hard to strike out double-digit hitters in eight or nine innings while still throwing fewer than 105 pitches.  Getting a strikeout on fewer than five pitches is a relatively rare thing for almost all major league pitchers.

In today’s game, pitching eight full innings or more is a rarity since it almost always has to be done on fewer than 120 pitches. Pitching eight full innings today is probably more valuable than pitching a complete game in the 1970’s, because it happens less often.  With bullpens working so much harder today than two generations ago, an eight or more inning performance has more value to a team than it’s ever had.

I think most people would regard Kluber and Scherzer at this moment as among MLB’s five best starters.  Tonight’s performances suggest that in the context of today’s game, they’re as good as any top five starters at any time in MLB history.

 

Lop-Sided Wins

Posted April 8, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburg Pirates, San Francisco Giants

As I write this the Phillies are beating up on the Marlins 20-1 in the late innings.  The game is being played in Philadelphia, and when I saw the box score, I was reminded of the quote attributed to famous Yankees’ owner and beer baron Col. Ruppert, who said that his favorite day at the ballpark was when the Yankees scored 10 runs in the first inning “and then slowly pulled away.”  Other internet sources state that Ruppert said either 8 runs or 5 runs in the first inning, but I first heard it as 10 runs and my own personal preference is for the 10 runs.

I’m sure any of you who are long-time baseball fans rooting for a specific team have attended at least a couple of total blow-outs by the home nine, and I, for one, always found these games extremely enjoyable.  There’s nothing like seeing all of your home-town heroes pound out one hit after another to the point of complete massacre. The high-drama games are great, but only if your team wins at the end.

It’s also fun when your pitcher is pitching well in these games.  He’s full of confidence, because, lord knows, he won’t give up ten runs, so the moundsman, if he’s worth his salt, pounds the zone and challenges the losers to hit it.  Even if they do, it’s always right at a fielder in these games.  That keeps the game moving along, even while the home team is busy running around the bases in their half of each inning.

As a Giants fan entering his 41st season of active fandom (I attended a game or two in 1977 and rooted for the Giants, because at that age I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t root for the home team, but I didn’t really become a serious fan until 1978, when a Jack ClarkVida BlueBob Knepper team held first place into August), I have come to learn that 16-3 victories are typically followed by 3-2 losses.

For what it’s worth, two teams have scored ten runs in the first inning and gone on to lose the game.  On June 8, 1989, the Pirates put up ten runs in the first inning, but the Phillies put up crooked numbers in the bottom half of the first and four subsequent innings and won 15-11.  On August 23, 2006, the Royals scored 10 runs in the bottom of the first to go up 10-1, but the Indians scored in six of the following nine innings to pull out a 15-13 win.  I don’t think it’s happened again since 2006, but I didn’t look very hard.

Taiwan’s CPBL Is the Lowest Major League

Posted April 5, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, CPBL, KBO, Milwaukee Brewers, Minor Leagues, NPB, Pittsburg Pirates, San Francisco Giants

My interest in Taiwan’s CPBL has grown over about the last five years.  Part of the reason is that in the world-wide baseball scene, the CPBL is the lowest major league.

The CPBL fills a space between obvious minor leagues like the Mexican (Summer) League, the Caribbean Winter Leagues, and the European Leagues (Holland and Italy), the next lowest (and I would consider obvious) major league, South Korea’s KBO.

Players can possibly make as much as $15,000 to $17,000 a month for a two or two-and-a-half month Winter League season in Puerto Rico, Mexico or the Dominican Republic; and rumors say the best players on the wealthiest three or four teams in the summer Mexican League make considerably more than the approximately $8000.00 official monthly salary cap for a 4.5 month season.  This all means the very best Mexican League players are making $90,000 or $100,000 in salary and benefits, if they are also playing during the winter.

The best paid player in the CPBL in 2017 made $497,000 as part of a three year deal with at least 17 other players making between $200,000 and $310,000, according to CPBL English and my reasonable estimate of Mike Loree’s 2017 salary.  There’s going to be a jump in league performance where the salaries are relatively that much higher.

The CPBL has a minor league, and the major league is only a small 4-team league in a country of more than 23.5 million where baseball is highly popular due to the Japanese occupation.  The best Taiwanese players at 18 (and even earlier — Dai-Kang Yang, aka Daikan Yoh played some high school ball in Japan and thus is not treated as a foreigner for NPB’s roster limits — he signed a four to six year contract for somewhere between 1.0 billion yen and 1.8 billion yen [$9.44M to $17M] in the pre-2017 off-season — Japanese teams don’t publish actual salary numbers so the media sources make educated guesses) get sucked up by MLB and Japan’s NPB.

However, MLB in particular produces a fair number of Taiwanese players who peak at the AA or AAA level and then return to Taiwan and become CPBL stars.  CPBL teams also are able to sign players who don’t become top prospects until later in their college careers, because MLB and NPB teams prefer signing youngsters.

Wang Po-Jung is the best hitter in the CPBL, and he was drafted out of a Taiwanese University (the Chinese Culture University in Taipei).  In his first two seasons, he batted .414 as a rookie and .407 as a sophomore, his age 22 and 23 seasons.  It’s a hitters’ league, but even so back-to-back .400+ seasons are impressive.

Wang is batting .452 this season after eight games, and I would put the odds at 80% (at least 10 of the remaining 20% is for possible injury) that Wang will be playing in NPB next season, because CPBL teams only maintain rights for their best domestic players for three seasons.  The jump to MLB is too great, given the difference between the CPBL and the MLB majors, but Wang would probably be very appealing to an NPB team on a two year deal that would guarantee him around $1.0M to $1.2M.  That’s a relative bargain for a top foreign player in NPB, but it’s probably more than a CPBL team would offer, aside from the fact that strong NPB performance would bring much larger NPB salaries or a chance to jump to MLB for his age 27 season.

The first player who got me interested in the CPBL was probably league ace Mike Loree.  I noticed him when he had a huge season in the Indy-A Atlantic League in 2011, which got him some late season time at the Pirates’ AA franchise in Altoona.  Loree made four appearances in which he pitched a total of 7.2 innings and allowed six hits and three walks while striking out 11.

That fine performance didn’t get Loree a return engagement in 2012 because he was already 26 (baseball reference has the wrong date of birth) and his fastball tops out at 89 mph.

Loree can locate his fastball, and he has a terrific forkball which burrows into home plate.  In the CPBL starting in 2013, he quickly established himself as the circuit’s best pitcher.  Even in a league in which every team plays every other team in the league 30 times a season and he’s entering his fifth full season, CPBL hitters still can’t pick up the change of speed consistently out of Loree’s hand.  Loree also commands a tight slider, which gives him a different look and speed from the fastball and his change-up forkball.  I’ve followed Mike Loree‘s mostly CPBL career ever since.

2013 was also the year Manny Ramirez played half a season in the CPBL.  Ramirez’s performance and status as an MLB superstar got the CPBL a huge boost in attendance and an international attention it hadn’t had before.  Another CPBL team then paid former long-time MLBer Freddy Garcia a then record of nearly $400,000 to pitch for them in 2014.  Garcia was very good but not dominating, which says something for the quality of play in the CPBL, given that Garcia had pitched creditably in the MLB majors the year before (4.37 ERA and 4.48 run average in 17 games and 13 starts for the 2013 Orioles and Braves at the end of long 156-108 major league career).

Garcia didn’t boost CPBL attendance the way ManRam had, and he wasn’t brought back in 2015.  However, that year another of my favorite obscure players, Pat Misch, pitched a no-hitter in Game 7 of the Taiwan Series.

Misch was a former 7th round draft pick by the SF Giants in 2003, after being a 5th round draft pick by the Astros the year before.  Nevertheless, he always struck me as a pitcher who took a lack of major league stuff as far as he possibly could because of his ability to pitch, not unlike Mike Loree.  If I had had to pick a former major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the Taiwan Series, Pat Misch certainly seems like an obvious candidate in terms of his past major league career, continued reasonably success at AAA, yet at a price a CPBL team could afford.

What is standing in the way of the CPBL becoming a better league by holding on to its top domestic talent and attracting better foreign pitchers for the three available team roster spots for foreigners, is unimpressive attendance except during the post-season.  CPBL’s four teams only averaged just over 5,500 per regular season game in 2017, although post-season attendance can reach 19,000 per game in the league’s biggest ballpark.

Attendance isn’t better because of a couple of past gambling scandals in the league’s 29 season history, and probably the fact that most of the best Taiwanese players are playing in Japan, the U.S. and now South Korea (the KBO’s NC Dinos signed the league’s first Taiwanese player, former MLBer Wang Wei-Chung, this past off-season — he’s off to a quick 2-0 start).

I think the CPBL needs and Taiwan could potentially support two more teams, but the league currently has no plans to expand.  A strong performance or two by the Taiwanese team in future World Baseball Classics is probably what the league needs to move up the next level in attendance, at least to the point where it could begin to compete with KBO teams for foreign pitchers.