Archive for November 2011

How Old Is Mike Loree?

November 24, 2011

For those of you who have never heard of Mike Loree, and most of you probably haven’t, he was the dominant pitcher in the Atlantic League in this past season.  He won the pitchers’ Triple Crown in the best of the Independent A leagues, recording 14 wins, a 1.98 ERA and 131 strikeouts for the league’s best and best-drawing team, the Long Island Ducks.

Loree pitched so well in the Atlantic League that a major league team came calling before the 2011 season was out.  The Pirates’ organization signed him and sent him to Altoona in the AA Eastern League, where he made four relief appearances late in the year.

Although it was his first experience above the A level (not counting the Atlantic League, which is most likely somewhere between an A+ and AA level of play), and he was terrific, albeit for a very limited period.  He pitched 7.2 innings, allowed six hits, three walks, one earned run and recorded 11 strikeouts.

In short, Loree has a realistic shot at having a major league career if he isn’t already too old.

I discovered Loree’s fine 2011 performance when I perused the Atlantic League’s website this afternoon, looking to see if anyone had the kind of year that might get them back into a major league organization and possibly, one day, the Show.  Obviously, Loree stood out above all the others.

The Atlantic League lists his birth day as September 14, 1984.  That means he’s already 27, the age at which ballplayers as a group peak.  At age 26+, a fine 2011 season in the Atlantic League, with a wisp of great late-season pitching in the AA Eastern League, just isn’t a big deal.

However, when I went to mlb’s minor league website, it lists Loree’s birthday as September 14, 1986.  If Loree has only just turned 25, he’s still very much a prospect.

The discrepancy peaked my curiosity, so I did a little more internet research.  Baseball Reference and The Baseball Cube say he was born in 1986.  On the other hand, his alma mater Villanova says he was born in 1984.  The two different birth dates appear in different on-line articles regarding his signing by the Pirates.

I’m almost certain Loree was born in 1984.  He was a four-year pitcher at Villanova, according to The Baseball Cube, and the Giants drafted him in the 50th round of the 2007 draft.  If he was only 20 at the time the Giants drafted him, it’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t have selected him before the 50th round coming out of a Big East school.

The plot thickens.  Why does MLB’s minor league website have the wrong date?  Is it simply a mistake?  Or did Loree shave a couple of years off his age when the Pirates came calling?  Did the scout who signed him do so in order to justify his decision with the front office?

The value of two years of age to any player hoping to be signed by a major league organization is enormous.  This is why we hear every year about foreign players, usually from undeveloped countries in the Caribbean where ages and identifies are harder to confirm, who claimed to be 16 or 17 when they signed, but were really 18 0r 19 and often a different person from the name signed on the initial contract.

At least from Branch Rickey’s day as the General Manager for the Cardinals (specifically, the early 1930’s when the Cardinals began to assemble their enormous minor league system), major league teams have known that on average the younger a player is when he reaches a certain observable level of ability, the greater his peak performance is likely to be years down the road.

Today, two years of age can mean millions of dollars in a signing bonus, or a contract to play for a major league organization where one wouldn’t have been offered to the same player two years older.  In fact, most, if not all, major league organizations will not even consider signing an amateur player who is older than age 23.

The only exception to this rule doesn’t really count.  Cuban players playing in Cuba’s top league may still be “amateurs”, but, of course, they really aren’t — they’re just very poorly compensated professionals, which is why so many of them defect during international competitions.

At this point, whether Mike Loree is now 25 or 27 really doesn’t matter that much.  If he has a strong Spring Training next March, he’ll likely stay in the Pirates’ organization until his minor league numbers slip below a certain threshold.  If he gets bombed in Spring Training or in April, he’ll be back in the Independent A leagues come the Summer of 2012.

One thing that works in Loree’s favor: so long as a pitcher is striking hitters out and isn’t hurt, age isn’t quite so important.  Major league teams are always looking for pitching.

I always root for the best of the Independent A players to claw their way back to the major leagues.  Chris Jakubauskas and Scott Richard are marginal major leaguers, who never, ever would have made it to the bigs if not the for the Independent A leagues (they were, respectively, 24 and 25 when they started their professional careers in the Independent A’s).

And I still remember Chad Zerbe, who pitched for the Sonoma County Crushers in the now defunct Western League.  He eventually made it up with the Giants, and the year they went to the World Series in 2002, he did a most excellent job as their last man in the bullpen, pitching in 50 games, eating up 56.1 innings and recording a 3.04 ERA.  Hope springs eternal.

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Would Greg Halman Have Developed into a Major League Star

November 22, 2011

Now that Greg Halman has been murdered, apparently by his brother, the inevitable question is what kind of major leaguer he might have developed into.  Two things are certain: he had enormous talent, and he had equally enormous flaws.  He hadn’t done much in 121 major league plate appearances, but he would have been only 24 years old in 2012.

On the talent side, Halman’s power was undeniable.  In 2008 at age 20, he 29 HRs and 66 extra base hits in a season roughly split between A+ and AA ball.  That is just a tremendous season at that age.  He also stole 32 bases in 39 attempts that year.

Halman struggled mightily in 2009, mostly at the AA level, but in 2010 in his first year in AAA, he hit 33 HRs in 424 ABs at Tacoma.  That was good enough for 2nd in the PCL that year, behind only Mark Trumbo, who hit three more HRs than Halman in 108 more ABs.

Trumbo was also two years older than Halman that year, and for what it’s worth, Trumbo is now an established major league player, although as a 25 year old 1Bman with a .768 OPS, I’ll be surprised if he continues to hold a starting job in the years to come.

On the flaws side, Greg Halman struck out prodigously, enough to make you think he might have put even Mark Reynolds to shame if he played regularly at the major league level.  At AA in 2009, Halman struck out 183 times in 506 plate appearances, and at AAA in 2010, he struck out 169 times in 465 plate appearances.

That’s just terrible, and unlike Mark Reynolds, he didn’t have the high walk numbers to go with all the strikeouts.  Halman never walked more than 37 times in any of his minor league seasons.  In his 121 major league plate appearances, Halman walked three times and struck out 43 times.

Despite his tremendous power, his career minor league is only .795, mainly as a result of a .312 career minor league on-base percentage.  That just doesn’t cut it.

At the end of the day, it’s hard for me to believe that a player with that little plate discipline would succeed in the major leagues for than a season or two.  Major league pitchers just won’t continue to throw strikes to player who can’t or won’t consistently take pitches out of the strike zone, particularly as advance scouts advise them of exactly which wide ones the hitter can’t resist.

Halman walked more often at the AAA level in the last two years of his career than he did in the lower minors, and he was still only 23 last year, so he at least had the chance to get better over the next couple of seasons.

At best, given his tremendous power, I think Halman had the possibility of becoming the next Nelson Cruz.  However, Cruz walked a lot more in the minors than Halman did, and Cruz’s slow development to stardom was more a matter of blowing his first couple of major league opportunities, rather than developing late as a hitter.

 

Twins Make Smart Move Signing Ryan Doumit

November 20, 2011

I really like the Twins’ deal with Ryan Doumit for one year at $3 million.  The Twins need a lot of help after last year’s collapse, but getting help at catcher was something in particular they needed to do.

With Joe Mauer injured much of the year, the Twins had to start Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and Steve Holm a combined 115 games at the position.  They were just dreadful at the bat.

Butera got the most playing time in Mauer’s absence, and he was the best hitter of the three fill-ins, hitting all of .167 with a .449 OPS.  That tells you just how little offense the Twins got out of the catcher’s position in 2011.

Amazingly, Butera did not have the lowest OPS of any major league player with more than 200 plate appearances in 2011.  That dubious honor went to Rays’ shortstop Reid Brignac, who was a point lower at .448. For what it’s worth, Brignac now has a career .597 OPS, while Butera’s is a mere .481.

The Twins also had three of the ten worst hitters in MLB with at least 200 plate appearances in 2011.  In addition to Butera, Matt Tolbert came in at .518 and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka posted a lusty .527 OPS.  Ben Revere’s .619 OPS was 5th worst of any player with at least 450 plate appearances, but at least he’s going to get better, probably by a lot.

Getting back to the Twins signing Doumit, he is catcher who can flat out hit.  His defense is poorly regarded, and the commentators I read before the signing was announced felt that Doumit needed to sign with an AL team, where he can play at DH, because he really needs to spend less time behind the plate.

With Doumit as the primary back-up to Mauer, the Twins would have two catchers who can really hit and can contribute substantially as the DH when not behind the plate.  A lot of people think Doumit’s offense will improve substantially if he spends less time catching.

Of course, the same can be said for Mauer.  The biggest problem the Twins are going to have with Mauer and Doumit in 2012 is keeping them both healthy.  Unfortunately, they can’t both be the back-up catcher and primary DH.

At the end of the day, there’s still going to be a roster spot for the better defender of Drew Butera and Rene Rivera — the winner of that roster spot should own the 8th and 9th innings of games the Twins are leading.  For the Twins to get better in 2012, one of the things they need to happen is that their catchers not named Mauer or Doumit get fewer than 150 plate appearances.

 

Korean Ace Yoon Suk Min

November 12, 2011

I just saw a post on mlbtraderumors.coms stating that former major leaguer Dustin Nippert had signed a two year deal with the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization, Korea’s top league.  I remember Nippert quite well as a major league pitcher, so it stirred my curiosity regarding just where his career has gone and what he’d been up to in Korea.

Thanks to mykbo.net, I was able to see what Nippert accomplished in Korea this past season.  He was awfully good, posting a 2.55 ERA, good for second in the KBO, won 15 games (tied for 3rd) and struck out 150 (tied of 2nd).  Not particularly surprising for a 30-year old pitcher who had pitched creditably in the major leagues for all or part of six seasons.

However, what really caught my eye was the fact that Yoon Suk Min won the pitcher’s triple crown in the KBO in 2011 — 2.45 ERA (he and Nippert were the only starters with ERAs under 3.13), 17 wins and 178 Ks.  According to wikipedia, Yoon also led the KBO in 2008 with a 2.33 ERA, and he was dominating in both the 2008 Olympics, when Korea won the Gold Medal, and also in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, going a combined 4-0 with a combined ERA under 2.00.

Yoon appears to have had some arm problems in 2010, and he wasn’t really much of a strikeout pitcher until 2011.  However, if he puts up another big year in Korea in 2012, major league teams should give him some serious consideration.  He doesn’t turn 26 until July 24th, so you’d have to think that he’s at least on the radar for a few teams in MLB already.