Archive for June 2011

The VogelSong: Hope Springs Eternal

June 23, 2011

There’s no way Ryan Vogelsong should be pitching this well.  Since leaving A-ball twelve years ago, Ryan’s best seasons (or parts thereof) were ten starts at AAA Indianapolis in 2006 (2.66 ERA) and twelve starts for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese NPB in 2008 (3.99 ERA).  His only effective major league season was for the Pirates in 2005 when he posted a 4.43 ERA in 44 relief appearances covering 81.1 IP (he was obviously the long reliever on one of MLB’s worst teams, albeit a decent one).

Yet, after tonight’s stoppage of the Twins, Ryan has a 1.72 ERA, he’s allowed two or fewer runs in six or more innings in eight of his last nine starts, and in the ninth start he allowed one run in five IP.  In today’s game, you cannot reasonably ask much more from a starter than that.

To boot, Ryan is 33 years old, well older than a player should suddenly develop that secret weapon.  In fairness to Ryan, he always had good stuff, but untimely arm injuries (is there ever a timely one?) and a lack of command have always prevented him from being an effective major league pitcher.  This year he’s found his command, and, according to Giants manager Bruce Boche, he has it with four different pitches.

I don’t expect Vogelsong to keep it up.  How many great pitchers record a sub-2.00 ERA these days at all?

I guess the real question is can Vogelsong pitch out the year and keep his ERA within a run of 1.72?  The law of averages has a way of catching up to pitchers with Vogelsong’s career record.  If they don’t suddenly lose it as fast as they seemed to get it, they get hurt.  Vogelsong has already had at least one major arm injury in his career.

That being said, one of the great things about baseball is that every so often a player like Vogelsong can have an entire season, just completely out of line with the rest of his career.  Remember Davey Johnson in 1973?  Steve Stone in 1980?  Brady Anderson in 1996?

Actually Johnson, Stone and Anderson were all considerably better players than Vogelsong going into their career years, but the point is the same.  Pitchers, in particular, can have one full season in which they catch lightning in a bottle.  Gene Bearden and Jim Konstanty, to name two who popped into mind. They can even have significant post-30 careers if they have good stuff and suddenly find their command.

I fully expect that Ryan Vogelsong will regress towards his career norms in 2012, when he’ll be 34 years old and MLB’s hitters will be fully familiar with his stuff.  Still, there is at least some precedent to suggest he can continue to be a dominating starter this year, which is just about all the Giants and their fans are hoping for right now.

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Wishful Thinking

June 23, 2011

I saw this post on mlbtraderumors.com, which says that the Giants are one of six teams listed on Mark Ellis’s no-trade list and the Giants have already had internal discussions about acquiring him.  As I’m sure you know, Jemile Weeks is the A’s 2Bman of the future who, after an 0-for-6 night tonight is still hitting .321 with an .867 OPS through 14 major league games.

The thought immediately popped into my mind that a Barry Zito for Mark Ellis trade would be wonderful. Obviously, the two teams would continue to pay most of their existing contract obligations.  Mark Ellis is owed a pro-rated $6 million going forward, and Zito is owed (yeesh!) approximately $56 million.

That’s a big pill to swallow, but the Giants really need another middle infielder, this is a year when they are determined to try to win again while their starters are still at their peak, and in San Francisco Zito is obviously the sixth man in a five-man rotation.

Mark Ellis is a way underrated/underpaid player on both sides of the ball, at least according to fangraphs.  Meanwhile, the A’s would get in return a popular former player for the cost of Mark Ellis (actually, the A’s would probably have to throw in some amount of money up to a $3-5 million for each future guaranteed season of Zito), who might regain some of his old magic pitching back in Oakland.

Also, the A’s have had plenty of injuries this year to their young pitching (starters Brett Anderson, Brendan McCarthy and Tyson Ross are on the DL as I write this), and if the Giants eat most of Zito’s future salary, he would make a pretty good insurance policy against future injuries, since the one real value Zito’s had since signing his wind-fall contract is his ability to eat innings (an average of 191 IP per year for the four seasons before this one).  As disappointing as the Zito contract has been, he has certainly made a good 4th or 5th starter.

In his  second rehab start at AAA Fresno last night, Zito threw a complete game two-hitter in which he walked two and struck out seven.

 

 

The Sad Saga of Tagg Bozied

June 21, 2011

Robert Tanios Taggert Bozied, better known as Tagg, is possibly the best hitter in North America who has not played even one game in the major leagues.  His story, which I will set forth as follows, is one of bad decisions, bad luck and bad health.

Tagg was born in Souix Falls, South Dakota and went to high school in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.  He was enough of a prospect to be selected in the 50th round by the Twins in the 2007 Draft, but not enough of prospect to be recruited to an absolutely top-flight college program.  He enrolled at the University of San Francisco in the West Coast Conference (WCC), which is made up largely of Jesuit colleges and has produced its fair share of major league ballplayers.

As a sophomore in 1999, Tagg had one of the great years in WCC baseball history.  It was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him.

That year Tagg hit .412 and set a then-WCC record with 30 HRs, ten more than the runner-up Jason Bay, who played for Gonzaga that year.  Tagg also tied the league record with 98 runs scored and tied for second in league history with 82 RBIs.

His success apparently went straight to his head and also that of his “agent” Scott Boras (amateur players are not supposed to have agents, but, of course, in practice they do).  Unsurprisingly , after his amazing 1999 season, Tagg came back to earth in 2000.  He had some injury problems that year, but still hit .356 with 14 HRs and a 1.133 OPS.  Pretty terrific, but not necessarily a first round talent coming out of the WCC.

In the 2000 Draft, the Twins selected Tagg again, this time in the 2nd Round with the 42nd overall pick.  Well, that wasn’t good enough for Bozied and Boras.  They were absolutely sure that Tagg was a first-round talent, and they were going to get first-round money, or else.

The Twins, who are not a team to pay well above slot unless they are absolutely sure they’ve got a player worth more than where they drafted him, took “or else”.  In Bozied’s case, that meant going back to USF for his senior year.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Bozied’s decision to go back to college for his senior year didn’t hurt Boras nearly as much as it hurt Bozied.  Boras represents so many top college prospects that if he plays hard ball with one, it means he’ll sign his next ten amateur clients for more than they would have gotten because teams know that Boras will send his clients back to college or to an independent A league if they don’t pony up the money Boras thinks he and his client should be getting.

Bozied went back to college in 2001, and he didn’t have a good year. His batting average dropped to .335, his HR total dropped to 12 (in more ABs than the year before) and his OPS dropped to 1.014.  Still pretty good, but Tagg had now regressed two years in a row, and he was a year older going into the 2001 Draft than he’d been the year before.

The Padres selected Tagg in the 3rd Round with the 90th overall pick, which is exactly what you would expect given all the facts available going into the 2001 Draft.

Boras/Bozied were still convinced they should be getting 1st round money, or at least more than what the Padres were initially willing to offer.  Tagg didn’t sign and went to play for the Souix Falls Canaries of the Independent A Northern League.

Yet another questionable move.  It worked for J.D. Drew, but it didn’t work as well for Tagg Bozied.  He didn’t have a bad year, hitting .307 with an .805 OPS for the Canaries, but it wasn’t a particularly good year either, at least not from an alleged top prospect playing at this level.

Eventually, Bozied signed with the Padres for a reported $700,000.  That’s better than 3rd Round money, but in the long run, it probably wasn’t worth it, because Tagg had now wasted a year of his professional development.  It was also a lot less than the Twins’ final offer the year before, which this article states was $999,000.

However, it wasn’t the end of the world, since Tagg was still only 22 years old and had 58 games of what is probably A+ class ball under his belt.  In the Class A+ California League in 2002, he thumped the ball (.298 batting average, .923 OPS) well enough to get promoted to AA at the All-Star Break.

Tagg didn’t play well at AA in 2002, hitting only .214 with a .657 OPS, but the Padres nevertheless advanced him to AAA Portland in 2003.  He hit a respectable-for-a-23-year-old .273 with a .762 OPS, and the next year, still at Portland, he got off to a great start.

Tagg was hitting .315 with a terrific 1.003 OPS when disaster struck on July 20, 2004.  He hit a walk-off grand slam and, while jumping up and down on home plate with his teammates, the patella tendon in his left knee popped.

Tagg missed the rest of the 2004 season, and large portions of the next two, appearing in only 26 games in 2005 and 60 games in 2006.  His OPS numbers both seasons were well over .800, but it’s hard to get promoted when you aren’t playing much.

Tagg was healthy again in 2007, but after missing most of the previous two and half seasons, he was rusty.  He hit .264 with an .839 OPS at AAA Memphis — pretty good, but not good enough for player who was now 27 years old.

Tagg’s bat came all the way back at AAA Albuquerque in 2008.  He hit .306 with a .951 OPS, but he compiled these numbers in an extreme hitters’ park as an injury prone 1Bman over age 27.  The perennially penny-pinching Florida Marlins, for whom the Isotopes were the AAA-affiliate that year, didn’t even bother to give Bozied a September call-up that year, although he certainly deserved one.

In fact, the Marlins apparently weren’t even interested in signing Bozied for the 2009 season, because Bozied started the season playing for the Brother Elephants of the Taiwanese League.  It’s hard to believe none of the major league teams thought enough of Bozied’s 2009 performance to offer him a 2010 contract.

Perhaps Tagg thought playing in Taiwan would be a back-door method of getting in the Japanese leagues, where a player of Bozied’s obvious hitting talents might have a lucrative career.  However, NPB teams like American players who have played at least a little in the majors.

At any rate, Bozied didn’t last long in Taiwan and finished out the season with 56 games played for the AAA Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates’ top minor league team.  He hit .288, but his power was missing, and he finished his AAA season with only an .807 OPS.

The Pirates are truly the last refuge of the career minor leaguer who can hit a little.  Garrett Jones is a great example. In fact, Bozied is a much better hitter than Jones, at least if you compare their career minor league numbers, although, in fairness to Jones, he can play more major league positions than Bozied.

I don’t know whether the Pirates gave up on Bozied, or if Bozied decided to test the waters elsewhere, but prior to the 2010 season, Tagg signed with the Phillies’ organization.  However, the Phillies decided that 36 year old Andy Tracy would be their AAA 1Bman in 2010 rather than the 30 year old Bozied, and sent Bozied down to AA Reading in the Eastern League.

Andy Tracy is a terrific minor league hitter (career minor league OPS of .858), but Tagg is even better (career minor league OPS of .875).  One has to think that either Tagg’s 1B defense is terrible, which seems strange for a former 3Bman, or there is something about his personality that rubs people the wrong way.

Tagg terrorized Eastern League pitchers in 2010.  His .315 batting average led the league, and his 1.033 OPS was 117 basis points better than the next best Eastern League regular.  However, Tagg continued to have trouble staying healthy, playing in only 104 of the Reading Phillies’ 141 games.

The Phillies have promoted Tagg to AAA Lehigh Valley this year, and he continues to pound the ball.  While his batting average is only .256, he leads the Iron Pigs with a .998 OPS as I write this.  However, he has played in only 30 of the Iron Pigs’ 70 games so far.

Tagg is in the Iron Pigs’ line-up right now, and if he can just stay healthy and continue to hit in accordance with his career norms, you have to think the Phillies will give him a call-up in September.  Realistically, Tagg doesn’t have much of a chance to have a major league career at this point, but at age 31 this year, he’s still young enough to have a career in Japan, if he can just get enough at-bats at the major league level to peak a Japanese team’s interest.  Needless to say, I’m hoping Tagg manages to do it.

(As a final note, the player who broke Tagg Bozied’s single season home run record in the West Coast Conference was another fine minor league hitter who managed not even a single major league plate appearance.  Gonzaga’s Nate Gold slugged 33 home runs as a senior in 2002.  After being selected in the 10th Round by the Rangers in the 2002 Draft, Gold played eight seasons of professional baseball, including more than two full seasons at the AAA level, and logged a career minor OPS of .837.  The Rangers probably should have given him a cup of coffee, but it never happened.)

Minor League Memories

June 15, 2011

Someone just posted a comment to a piece I wrote about the Independent A leagues back in April of last year.  I wrote a long response, which I’ve decided to turn into a blog post of its own.

Living in the center of the San Francisco Bay Area, I watch mostly major league baseball, live and on TV — the Giants and the A’s.  I have nothing against the minor leagues, as my many previous posts likely show, but the Majors are the best ball anywhere, and it’s fun to watch the best do what they do, even if the games and concessions have gotten ridiculously expensive.

Also, having major league teams in the area pushes out most minor league teams.  I’m just not willing to go to Sacramento or Fresno solely to see the A’s and Giants’ AAA teams, although I’d certainly go to a game, if I was in town already and had an evening to kill.  I might be willing to drive the 45 miles south to see the Class A+ San Jose Giants play, but I’ve just never gotten around to actually doing it.

As a result I’ve only attended two minor league games in my life.  Around 2000, I went to see the Sonoma County Crushers of the Independent A Western Baseball League in lovely Rohnert Park (it’s just south of Santa Rosa, which is 60 miles north of San Francisco).  The weather was great, and I had a good time, but the baseball was definitely inferior.  Every once in awhile something would happen to remind you that these guys were professionals — one long home run and one great diving stop by one of the infielders, but these guys were definitely a long way from the Show.

In early May 2007, I was in New Orleans to visit an old college friend and to go to JazzFest, but we also caught a New Orleans Zephyrs’ game (the Zephyrs were then the Mets’ AAA team) against the Iowa Cubs.  It was a great game.

The quality of baseball was much higher, very close to MLB.  The Iowa Cubs had a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic who I’d never heard of before starting, but he had some serious stuff.

The Mets were expecting to contend that year, so the New Orleans team was loaded with former major leaguers, including Fernando Tatis, Andy Tracy, Rickey Ledee and Mike DeFelice, in case someone at the major league level got hurt.  The Iowa Cubs were younger.

The young Dominican breezed through the first three innings against the Zephyrs.  However, in the 4th, Tracy and Ledee hit back-to-back solo HRs.  I’ve watched enough baseball (and these were “the best seats in the house” directly behind home plate and only three or four rows back — we could have sat closer but we were happy where we were — for $10 a head) to tell that the two veteran hitters were both sitting on a certain pitch and didn’t miss them when they got them.

The Young Dominican made some adjustments, shut down the Zephyrs through the rest of the first seven innings, and the Cubs won  3-2.

It turns out that young Iowa Cubs’ ace was Carlos Marmol.  Here’s the box score.  He was still a starter then, but he was called up later that year and stuck in the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen.  The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a very enjoyable evening, not the least because the Zephyrs’ park served up double Jack Daniels’-and-cokes for a not outrageous $8 a pop.

More San Francisco Giants’ Draft Picks

June 7, 2011

With their sandwich pick (No. 49 in the Draft), the Giants grabbed their high school pitcher.  He’s a tall right-hander (listed as 6’4″, 220 lbs, but he looks even taller in the scouting video from MLB.com) from Texas named Kyle Crick.  He appears to have a low 90’s fastball and at least one plus breaking pitch, at least as far as I can tell from the scouting video.

Crick has already committed to go to Texas Christian next year, so it remains to be seen whether the Giants can sign him.  Where the Giants drafted him, you’d have to think he’d command a $1 million signing bonus, which is plenty of reason to forego college.  Needless to say, Garrit Cole’s selection as the No. 1 overall pick this year after foregoing a similar payday three years ago when the Yankees selected him near the end of the first round may affect Crick’s decision.

After Crick, the Giants’ picked mostly selected college players.  Including Joe Panik and Kyle Crick, 17 of the Giants’ 23 picks, as I write this, were college players.

At 86th overall (2nd round) the Giants picked Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac.  He’s something of a local boy, having been born in Roseville and going to high school in Carmichael, both just beyond Sacramento.

Many of the mock drafts I saw had Susac going in the first 30 picks, so you have to think he’s a great selection at 86th.  To be honest, though, I kind of wondered why he was rated so high, given that he only had 104 plate appearances at Oregon State in 2010 (.752 OPS), and posted a .996 OPS this year, which is good for a catcher, but not especially exciting for a top college prospect.

However, Susac hit well in the Cape Cod League last year, finishing 8th in the league in batting at .290. He also hit five HRs, good for a third place tie, in only 100 at-bats, which gave him the highest home run rate in the wood bat league for any player with at least that many ABs.

Late in the 3rd Round (116th overall), the Giants selected USC 1Bman Ricky Oropesa.  Mlb.com says he has “plus raw power”, but he had a bad year with the bat in 2011, which is why he fell out of the top 100.

After positing .968 and 1.148 OPS numbers his freshman and sophomore years, Ricky’s OPS plummeted to .883 this year, despite playing in all 56 of USC’s games.  However, he did get three hits and a HR off No. 1 pick Garrit Cole this year.

MLB.com says Oropesa’s defense isn’t great, and his bat will determine how far he goes.

After Oropesa, the Giants loaded up on college pitchers from major schools, selecting Bryce Bandilla (147th), Chris Marlowe (177th), Josh Osich (207th) and Raymond Black (237th).  Bondillo and Osich are lefties, while Marlowe and Black throw from the right side.  Bandilla, Marlowe and Black have good arms but are extremely wild, and Osich had Tommy John surgery two years ago.

You should be able to find the rest of the Giants’ 2011 Draft picks here.

Giants’ Surprise with Joe Panik as 1st Round Pick

June 7, 2011

All the mock drafts I saw had the Giants taking a high school pitcher or outfielder with the 29th pick of the 2011 MLB Draft.  Shows what they know.

The Giants surprised a lot of people by taking St. John’s University SS Joe Panik with their 1st round pick.  MLB.com doesn’t even have him listed in their top 50 prospects.

Even so, it looks like a good pick, at least insofar as Panik’s bat is concerned. In three years as a starter at St. John’s, Panik has posted OPS numbers of .939, 1.098, and 1.151.  That’s just fine for a middle infielder.

Last year in the Cape Cod summer league, where top college players compete against each other using wooden bats, Panik hit .276, which was good enough for 12th best in a pitcher’s league.  He also posted an excellent .384 OBP and was a perfect 11 for 11 in stolen base attempts.

mlbdraftguide.com says Panik has good range and soft hands, but that his arm is average, so he may end up at 2B.   However, he played 3B, as well as SS, in the Cape Cod League, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Aside from surprising the pundits, Panik’s also something of a surprise pick in terms of what the Giants usually look for it position players.  The Giants like toolsy guys, as opposed to guys who really seem to know how to play the game.  Charlie Culberson, who the Giants took with the 51st pick of the 2007 Draft is a good example.  So too Fred Lewis (66th pick in 2002), Todd Linden (41st pick in 2001) and Jarrett Parker (74th last year).

However, toolsy guys are often free-swingers who run into a wall at some time between arriving at AA ball and the majors if they can’t learn how to lay pitches out of the strike zone and work the count.  A lot of them never do it.  I have my doubts about Charlie Culberson for that reason.

Panik, though, looks like a guy who knows how to get on base and doesn’t make a lot of extra outs.  Needless to say, we’ll see what happens once he hits professional baseball.