Archive for November 2012

The B.J. Upton and Russell Martin Free Agent Signings

November 30, 2012

Reports are that B.J. Upton just signed a five year deal with the Atlanta Braves for $75.25 million and Russell Martin just signed a two year deal with the Pirates for $17 million.  Frankly, I expected both players to get more, based on the amounts relief pitchers have signed for earlier this off-season.

Some articles argue that the Braves are taking a risk with Upton based on his diminished on-base percentage in 2012, but I just don’t see it.  How many true center fielders with Upton’s power become free agents the off-season before they turn 28?  Not many.

Upton will be age 28 through 32 under the new contract, and for a player who runs as well as Upton, they are all reasonably likely to be prime seasons and may include the best seasons of his career.  Upton also moves out of Tropicana Field, one of the worst hitters’ parks in baseball.

Fangraphs values Upton’s performance over the last five seasons at $86 million.  For the Braves to sign Upton for five years and only through age 32 for a little over $75 million sounds like a bargain to me, given the premium free agents usually receive.

My feelings about Russell Martin are pretty much the same.  Two years, when Martin will be age 30 and 31, for $17 million sounds like a bargain to me.

O.K., Martin didn’t hit for average in New York, but he drew walks and hit for power, giving him OPS numbers over .700 both seasons, which is good for a catcher, particularly one who provides Martin’s defense.  Fangraphs values Martin’s two years as a Yankee at $23.6 million, which is a lot more than what the Pirates will pay him for the next two seasons.

If nothing else, Martin will certainly improve the Pirates’ defense at catcher significantly, given that Pirates’ catchers threw out only 11% of base-stealers, the worst by far of any National League team in 2012.  In fact, the Pirates allowed both the most stolen bases and recorded the fewest caught stealing of any team in MLB last year.

The biggest knock on Martin is that he has played a lot of games at catcher in his career and his body may begin breaking down sooner rather than later.  Perhaps there is something the Yankees know that the Pirates don’t, and that’s why the Yankees didn’t match the Bucs’ offer.

I kind of doubt it.  The Yankees were more than happy to commit a total of at least $22 million in 2013 to two over age 40 pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, who pitched a total of only 83.2 innings between them last year.

Yes, Pettitte and Rivera have had great careers as Yankees, and that’s worth something.  However, the Yankees are a team that is built to win the World Series every year, and they and their fans are disappointed if they don’t.

While it’s true that if any two pitchers in baseball could have great years at, respectively, age 43 and 41, those pitchers are Rivera and Pettitte.  However, the odds that both of them will justify their salaries in 2013 is extremely unlikely. The Rivera and Pettitte signings are the kind that make a team’s fans happy during the off-season, but not so much once the new season actually begins.

If the Yankees were willing to throw this much money at two over age 40 pitchers in 2013, it’s a little hard to understand whey they felt that two years of Russell Martin at $17 million was too expensive.

More Top KBO Arms

November 27, 2012

With the Dodgers $26 million-plus winning posting bid for Korean ace Hyun-Jin Ryu (using the Western name order), new attention has been shined on the Korea Baseball Organization (“KBO”) as a future source for major league talent.   I thought it would be fun to identify a few other pitching prospects from the KBO who might one day pitch in MLB.

1.  Suk-Min YoonI’ve already written about Yoon here and here.  He’s a right-handed pitcher who won the Pitcher’s Triple Crown (wins, ERA and Ks) in KBO in 2011.  He also led the KBO with a 2.33 ERA in 2008.  In 2012, his 3.12 ERA was 8th best in the KBO and his 137 Ks (in 153 IP) was 4th best.

Yoon doesn’t strike out hitters the way Ryu does, but he can definitely pitch.  He has eight years of KBO experience, and he still only turns 27 next July 24th.

The player Yoon reminds me most of is Japan’s and the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma.  Like Iwakuma, Yoon is a bit inconsistent season to season, and neither pitcher has the kind of strike out totals to make a major league team stand up and take notice.  However, both players really know how to pitch, and there’s something to be said for that.

If Ryu is reasonably successful in MLB and Yoon has a big year in KBO in 2013, there’s a good chance either that his team, the Kia Tigers, will post Yoon next off-season or that he’ll become a free agent (I’m not clear on the KBO’s free agency rules, although KBO players have signed to play in Japan’s NPB after nine or ten seasons) and seek to sign with an MLB team.

[Note that the links in this post are to KBO’s official website, which is in Korean, but the stats pretty much speak for themselves.]

2.  Seung-Hwan Oh.  Oh is the top relief pitcher in KBO by a fairly wide margin.  After eight KBO seasons, he has a career ERA of 1.69, with a pitching line of 458.2 IP, 265 hits, 110 walks and 571 Ks.  It’s hard to find anything not to like about that.

In fact, Oh appears to have had some arm problems in 2009 and 2010, and he had ERAs above 4.00 those years.  For the other six years of his KBO career, Oh’s ERA was a combined 1.35.

Oh turned 30 last July 15th, so he’s not young.  Of course, a lot of Japanese NPB relievers have come over to America over the age of 30 and had a lot of success, so I don’t see any reason why Oh couldn’t.  In fact, he reminds me of Kyuji Fujikawa, the top NPB closer, who most anticipate will get a fat free agent contract this off-season and pitch well in MLB next year.

Oh’s 1.94 ERA in 2012 was high for him, but he also struck out 81 and allowed only 33 hits and 13 walks in 55.2 IP.  Again, it’s hard to find fault in numbers like that.

3.  Chang-Min Shin.  As a 19 year old rookie reliever, Shin posted a 1.83 ERA with a pitching line of 39.1 IP, 26 hits and 17 walks allowed, and 41 Ks.  He’s a long way from leaving Korea, but he’s definitely what you would call a prospect.

4.  Yoon-gu Kang.   At age 21 and in his first year as a starter, Kang struck out 127 batters in 125.2 IP.  He’s extremely wild (he walked 74), but he already has substantial KBO experience, and he has the arm to develop into a fine pitcher a few years hence.

5.  Sang-San Hong.  At age 22, he was one of the top set-up men in KBO, posting a 1.93 ERA, recording 22 holds (3rd best in KBO) and a pitching line of 65.1 IP, 35 hits and 29 walks allowed, and 69 Ks.

6.  Woo-ram Jung.  One of the younger closers in KBO in 2012 at age 27 (Korean teams apparently prefer veteran closers), Jung posted a 2.20 ERA, saved 30 games (5th best) and posted a pitching line of 49 IP, 33 hits and nine walks allowed, and 55 strike outs.

Despite, his tender age, Jung is an eight year KBO veteran with a career KBO ERA of 2.80 and a pitching line of 498.1 IP, 371 hits and 204 walks allowed, and 445 Ks.  However, Jung’s command appears to have improved dramatically the last two seasons.

One thing I noticed in reviewing the stats is that KBO teams appear to work their top set-up men much harder than their closers, with set-up men sometimes pitching twice as many innings in a season as closers.  Jung pitched a lot of innings as the SK Wyverns’ top set-up man from 2008 through 2011  [see here for a discription of a Wyvern], which may mean arms problems in his future, although he sure didn’t show any ill effects in 2012.

If Jung can improve on his already outstanding 2011 and 2012 seasons in 2013, there’s a good chance he’ll draw major league interest next off-season.  Otherwise, my guestimate is that he will sign with a Japanese NPB team a year or two from now.

7.  Yong-chan Lee.  At age 23, Lee posted a 3.00 ERA, seventh best in the KBO.  He already appears to have at least four years of KBO service, although he still looks like a work in progress.

Lee started his career as a set-up man and has been a starter the last two seasons.   He has struck out 212 batters in 291 IP over the last two years, while walking 123. Like I said, he’s a work in progress, but he’s young enough that if he can improve his command and strike out rate, he could become a pitcher of whom MLB would take notice.

8.  Hee-soo Park.  Park was KBO’s top set-up man in 2012, recording 34 holds and a miniscule 1.32 ERA.  He struck out 93 batters in 82 innings of work, while allowing 52 hits and 27 walks.  Park now has a career 1.97 KBO ERA with more strike outs than innings pitched.

The knock on Park is his age.  He turns 30 next July 13th, and as of the end of the 2012 season appears to have less than three years of KBO service.  The upshot is that he may well be 35 years old before his team, the SK Wyverns, posts him or he becomes a free agent.

Back-Up Catchers

November 27, 2012

The Giants just signed catcher Guillermo Quiroz to a minor league contract.  Quiroz hasn’t done much at the major league level (.538 in 282 plate appearances spread across parts of eight seasons), but he’s coming off a good year (.846 OPS) as the primary catcher for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners’ top farm club.  Quiroz turns 31 later this week.

Meanwhile the Yankees signed former Giants back-up catcher Eli Whiteside to what appears to be a major league contract in the amount of $625,000, avoiding arbitration (or the possibility that the Yanks might non-tender Whiteside).  Yankees claimed Whiteside off waivers from the Giants on November 5, 2102.  Whiteside recently turned age 33.

Whiteside is the classic example of a player who was in the right place at the right time, getting a major league shot and making the most of it.  Whiteside had washed out of both the Orioles and Twins organizations in the year before the Giants signed him in 2008.  He got off to a fairly good start in 2009 for Fresno, the Giants’ AAA team, and was Johnie-on-the-Spot when the Giants had a sudden need for a back-up catcher and few other viable options.

Whiteside played just well enough to hold onto his roster spot as the Giants’ back-up catcher through the 2011 season and, in the process, established his reputation as a “major league” player.

Frankly, I don’t think Whiteside is as good a player as Quiroz, at least going forward.  I don’t know much about Quiroz’s defense, but I know from watching Whiteside play with the Giants that his defense is average at best.  While Whiteside has done more at the major league level offensively (Whiteside’s career MLB OPS is .608), that has more to do with receiving more opportunities than Quiroz has had.

Both players have substantial AAA experience, and at that level Quiroz has been the better offensive player by a wide margin — .747 OPS for Quiroz, compared to .644 for Whiteside.  Equally important, Quiroz is two years younger than Whiteside.

The Yankees can certainly afford to give Whiteside $625,000 in 2013, but I suspect they could have found a back-up catcher of equal or greater value for considerably less.

John Bowker Slugging It Out in Japan

November 26, 2012

Former San Francisco Giant John Bowker has just re-signed with the Yomiuri Giants of NPB’s Central League for the 2013 season for 30 million yen, which comes to about $360,000 in the U.S.

Bowker is a player I have long thought should give Japan a shot, and he finally did so in 2012.  However, he had one incredible roller coaster ride of a season, which deserves some elaboration here.

Bowker started the 2012 season as Yomiuri’s starting left-fielder, but he got off to terrible 1 for 27 start in his first seven games.  With the introduction of new baseballs two years ago, NPB has become an extremely difficult place to hit, and generally speaking foreign players don’t get long to prove they can perform there.

However, Bowker must have received a guaranteed contract from the Yomiuri Giants, because they gave him half a season to straighten things out, and when he didn’t, they sent him down to their farm club in Japan’s Eastern League (NPB teams have only a single minor league franchise in which to develop talent — I’d speculate that the level of play in the two Japanese minor leagues is roughly equivalent to AA ball in the U.S.).

In 43 games in the Japanese minors, Bowker played well, batting .295 and posting an .816 OPS, the latter number better than any Eastern League qualifier (there were 23 in the seven team league) except Yusuke Kosai, a Japanese minor league veteran who’s a couple of month older than Bowker.

Bowker was called back up by Yomiuri late in the year, but still finished with a .196 regular season batting average and a .575 OPS.  However, despite Bowker’s piss-poor performance, Yomiuri finished with the best record in NPB’s Central League; and the post-season gave Bowker a chance to redeem his 2012 season.

In the second round of the Climax Series between the Giants and second place finisher/first round winner Chunichi Dragons, the Giants came back from losing the first three games of the series to win the last three games and take the series 4-3 (as the first place team, Yomiuri started the series up 1-0).  Bowker didn’t play until the third game of the Climax Series, but he got hot at the right time, going 5-for-10 and establishing himself as Yomiuri’s starting 1Bman for the Japan Series against the Pacific League champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Bowker went only 3-for-17 in the Japan Series, but two of his hits were home runs, and he drove in seven runs in the series.  His three-run homer in the fourth inning of Game 1 broke the game open, and his second home run in Game 5 staked the Giants to an early 2-0 lead.  Yomiuri went on to win both games and the Japan Series in six games.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  After what could only be considered by Yomiuri to be a very disappointing season, Bowker’s exceptional performance in the last ten games of the post-season and particularly his two timely home runs in the Japan Series convinced the Giants he deserved the opportunity to return to Japan in 2013.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here.  North American players should insist on contracts that guarantee their full first season salary when they sign with a Japanese team, and they should be willing to play in Japan’s minor leagues if they get off to a slow start in NPB.

Most of the North American 4-A players signed by NPB teams have the talent to play NPB’s level of baseball, but they need time to adjust to a different game and living in a different culture.  Those who don’t make the adjustment quickly or who simply get off to a slow start often find themselves released before they’ve had a full and fair opportunity to show what they can do.

Japanese teams are shooting themselves in the foot when they don’t give the foreign players they recruit sufficient time to acclimate to the Japanese game.  In the greater scheme of things, the $360,000 they will pay Bowker in 2013 is peanuts given the revenue streams the Yomiuri Giants enjoy (despite playing a shorter schedule, the Giants drew more fans than at least 20 of the major league clubs over the last three seasons, and their television revenues are at least that good).  On the other hand, Bowker would be lucky to receive half that amount if he returned to AAA ball in 2013, even if he received a September cup of coffee in the Show.

Nothing Does More for Team Chemistry than Winning

November 26, 2012

It was reported today that a full World Series share for the San Francisco Giants will be a record-setting $377,003, thanks in part to the two new wildcard games played this year.  The Giants have voted 50 full shares to players, coaches, trainers, etc., meaning that an awful lot of people will be participating in the gravy train.

Most likely in response to the Barry Bonds years, when the Giants were built around a few obstreperous superstars and could never quite win the Big Enchilada, Giants’ general manager Brian Sabean has put a lot more stock in team chemistry since the Giants dumped Bonds following the 2007 season.

The Giants of the last three seasons seem to be composed of players willing to put aside their own personal glory for the good of the team and a better chance to win.

Of course, it’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation: does good team chemistry facilitate winning, or does winning facilitate good team chemistry?  Certainly, at least a little of both.

Before the last three seasons, I tended to believe that team chemistry was way overrated, and that at the end of the day, the team with the best collection of talent and performance would win far more often than not.  I still think that talent is crucial, although I now give more credence to the idea that if two teams have roughly the same level of raw ability, then team chemistry, and particularly the willingness to put the good of the team first, can be the difference in determining which team wins the championship.

Even so, it’s hard to imagine anyone on the 2012 Giants not looking back at this season with pleasure and satisfaction.  A World Series ring and an enormous World Series share sure sooth a lot of hurt feelings.

4-A Players Japanese Teams Should Consider

November 25, 2012

Here are a few hitters who, it seems to me, would be an ideal fit for a Japanese NPB team:

1.  Freddie Lewis.  The former Giant and Blue Jay looks like a player who would be perfectly suited to Japanese baseball.  He will be 32 in 2013, which is getting up there for a professional baseball player, but he still runs well, stealing 25 bases in 33 attempts and hitting seven triples in 2012 for the Buffalo Bisons of the International League.  Players who run well age better than players who don’t.

Lewis had only 20 major league at-bats in 2012, and his future MLB prospects look slim.  However, his .862 OPS was the fifth best in the AAA International League this past season, so he’s still got some professional baseball left in him.

Lewis has substantial major league experience and has shown command of the major league strike zone (career MLB on-base percentage of .344), and enough MLB power that he could be a slugger in Japan.

2.  Dan Johnson.  His .880 OPS was third best in the International League in 2012, and he deserves another shot in NPB, although Japanese teams will probably be reluctant to give him the money it would take to get him to leave the U.S.

Dan Johnson hit a feeble .215 for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009, but he posted a .791 OPS due to his power and ability to draw walks.  The problem was that the Bay Stars paid Johnson nearly a million dollars for that performance, which is a lot for one of NPB’s second division teams, and he wasn’t invited back in 2010.

The problem with Johnson returning to Japan is that he is probably the best paid minor league player in North America.  He’s a major league veteran who is perennially one of the best hitters in AAA and gets at least a major league cup of coffee every year.  In other words, an NPB team would have to pony up to get him to leave the U.S.

3. Jeff Clement.  Clement will be 29 in 2013, has substantial major league experience (over 400 MLB plate appearances) (MLB experience is a prerequisite for a Japanese team to take a 4-A player seriously).  His .825 OPS was 9th best in the International League (“IL”), and he can play catcher in a pinch, which adds to his value.

4.  Matt LaPorta.  Matt LaPorta will be 28 in 2013, and it seems apparent that he will not have a successful major league career.  He is a 1B/LF with a career .694 OPS in more than 1,000  MLB plate appearances.  He has a career .916 minor league OPS (.891 at the AAA level).  His .825 OPS was the 10th best in the IL in 2012.

LaPorta’s career numbers virtually scream that he should give Japan a try.

5.  Andrew Brown.  The Rockies just outrighted Brown to AAA Colorado Springs, and he should consider taking off to Japan.  Brown will be 28 in 2013, and his .961 OPS was 5th best in the AAA Pacific Coast League (“PCL”) in 2012.

Brown got over 100 plate appearances for the Rockies in 2012 and hit reasonably well (.730 OPS).  However, he’s a corner outfielder, and his age will definitely work against him in terms of an MLB career.  He’s hit well at the AA and AAA level the last four seasons, and he’s definitely worth a shot by an NPB team.

6.  Brendan Harris.  The 32 year old jack-of-all-trades had a .914 OPS for Colorado Springs in 2012, 9th best in the PCL.

Harris didn’t hit a lick in the International League in 2011, but he has a career .701 OPS in more than 1,700 MLB plate appearances, and his ability to play every infield position could make him extremely valuable to a Japanese team.

7.  Cole Gillespie.  A  28 year old corner outfielder (turns 29 next June) with more than 100 major league plate appearances and extremely high on-base percentages at AAA Reno (between .390 and .405) the last three seasons.

8. Josh Fields.  Soon to be 30 years old, Fields failed miserably for the Yomiuri Giants in 2011 (.553 OPS in 40 games), but deserves another shot, possibly with a second division NPB team, in 2013.  He hit .322 with an .880 OPS for the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2012.

When Will MLB Finally Allow the A’s to Move to San Jose?

November 23, 2012

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post in which, as an aside, I complained about what a turd Bud Selig is for not having worked out a deal to allow the now Oakland A’s to move to a new stadium in downtown San Jose.  Ten months later, there has been no reported progress whatsoever.

In fact, when commissioner Bud “Turd” Selig was asked about the status of a possible A’s move about a week ago, he responded with profanity.

How utterly disgusting!

[For purposes of full disclosure, I have lived in Berkeley, just north of Oakland, since 1997, but I grew up in San Francisco, and I root for the Giants.]

The A’s proposed move to San Jose makes too much sense not to happen eventually.  San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area at nearly a million residents, is far more willing than any other locality in the San Francisco Bay Area to provide public money for a major league baseball stadium (San Jose wants desperately to get out from underneath San Francisco’s shadow), San Jose has idea summer baseball weather (warm and dry — far better than either San Francisco or Oakland) and has great opportunities for corporate sponsorship/luxury boxes purchases since it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Yes, San Jose is the Giants’ “territory,” but there simply isn’t any good reason why some kind of deal could not be reached to pay the Giants off with cold hard cash (some now, some later) to surrender a location 45 miles away from where the Giants currently play and will continue to play for the foreseeable future.  In fact, a new stadium in San Jose will be much further away than the Oakland Coliseum is from AT&T Park (nearly three times as far, in fact).

The upshot is that for every South Bay fan the Giants lose, they will surely pick up an East Bay or North Bay fan to take his or her place.  The BART trains from Alameda and Contra Costa counties are already full of Giants fans every time the Giants play at home, simply because the Giants have been the better Bay Area team in recent years.

Frankly, there would no good reason for Oakland fans to abandon their team, simply for moving 35 miles south to a location where the A’s could be much more successful.  It’s certainly much better than other possible outcomes, such as the A’s moving to another market, such as Sacramento, Portland or San Antonio.  Nevertheless, if a move to San Jose happens, some fans would likely feel abandoned, and many of those fans would switch their allegiance to the Giants.

The greater (nine county) San Francisco Bay Area is now the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, and it is unmistakeably a two-team market, at least if the A’s can move to a new stadium where the paying customers are.  While the Giants may not see it this way, having two teams in the Bay Area is good for both teams and good for MLB as a whole, because it keeps fan interest here high.  Two teams means twice as many opportunities to field a contender.

The fact that Commissioner Selig hasn’t been able to work out a deal to get the A’s out of a cold and lousy stadium where they are consistently one of the lowest revenue teams in baseball into what is obviously a perfect fit in San Jose is pathetic and shows that Selig couldn’t care less about the “best interests of the game.”  Instead, he is merely a shill for the most powerful franchises, which hold on to their territorial rights like grim death.

Specifically, I think MLB’s failure act on the A’s move to San Jose is about a lot more than just the Giants’ resistance. Some of the wealthiest clubs in MLB, namely the New York Yankees and Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, are opposed to any weakening of the Giants’ territorial rights whatsoever, for fear that if the A’s were allowed to move to San Jose, there may one day be additional teams located in Northern New Jersey and the Inland Empire, two obvious places for future MLB expansion/re-location based on the demographics.

In the meantime, if MLB continues to refuse to take action, the A’s should turn up the pressure by seeing what opportunities exist in other markets, such as the afore-mentioned Sacramento, Portland and San Antonio.  To the extent that the A’s haven’t done this so far, it’s only because moving to San Jose is clearly the best possible option.