Archive for December 2012

Baseball Is a Weird Game

December 27, 2012

Despite all the games that have been played and all the games teams play is a season, baseball can still surprise.  I’m not a huge fan of Jayson Stark (Barry Bonds bad, Roger Clemens good, until, whoops!, Clemens also likely used steroids), but this article is right up my alley.

Comments:  When a team sucks ass, it is not surprising that they play better after September call-ups when they start playing young players who at least have a reasonable chance of being better than the losers who posted a sub-.333 record up to that point.

It is surprising that the Mets never threw a no-hitter in their history until 2012, given the team has always pitched in a pitchers’ park and had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden in their primes.  Not surprising that Johan Santana was the pitcher to finally get the Mets off the Schneid.

Gregor Blanco’s save of Matt Cain’s perfect game?  That and Blanco’s on-base percentage were the reasons why Blanco was playing a corner outfield position in the first place.  Did you see the World Series?

As for Adam Dunn, he is the epitome of the money-ball player.  Statistical analysis has shown that players who draw walks and hit for power can be valuable even if they hit for a low batting average and strike out a tremendous amount.  Dunn wasn’t great in 2012, but he still scored 87 runs and drove in 96 runs, even though (1) he hit .204; (2) struck out 222 times; and (3) ran like a slug.

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, and some of the cards I appreciated the most were those that set forth the new records set every season.  There is always something new in major league baseball, despite all the years of play.

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South Korea’s KBO Growing Fast

December 27, 2012

I’ve already written about how South Korea’s KBO is growing by leaps and bounds — the eight-team league drew seven million fans in 2012 for the first time; it was the fourth year in a row KBO set a new attendance record; and South Korea’s 2008 Olympics Gold Medal and 2009 World Baseball Classic (“WBC”) second place finish have shot baseball past soccer as South Korea’s most popular team sport.  Yet, I’m embarrassed to admit that until today I was unaware that the KBO is expanding.  KBO will add a ninth team, the NC Dinos in 2013 and a tenth team, as yet unnamed, to bring the league back to an even number of teams in 2015.

The NC Dinos will play in Changwon, a city in the far south of South Korea with a 2010 population of nearly 1.1 million.  Changwon is not far from Busan, home of the Lotte Giants, KBO’s most popular and successful franchise.  Clearly, the NC Dinos are hoping that some of the Lotte Giants’ magic will rub off on them.  Busan is a much better city, but the Dinos will have an immediate rivalry with KBO’s most popular team, which can only be good for the Dinos’ box office.

The Dinos wasted no time signing two American pitchers, Charles Shirek and Adam Wilk, whom I wrote about a week ago.  [KBO has a salary cap for foreign players of $300,000 per season, but reports are that KBO teams now routinely violate the cap to sign better American pitchers such as Wilk, Dana Eveland, Doug Slaten and in 2011 Justin Germano, to name only a few.  Bringing in the best available talent costs money, and with interest in the KBO exploding, the wealthier KBO teams are, not surprisingly, playing fast and loose with the rules.  Also, since KBO teams are limited to two foreign players each season, a salary cap makes little sense.]

However, baseball owners being baseball owners regardless of the country or continent, it took a push for KBO owners to agree to adding a tenth team, as obvious as such a move seems after expanding to nine teams in light of the obvious scheduling considerations.  The Korea Professional Baseball Players’ Association threatened to boycott various events, including the 2012 Gold Glove Awards and the 2013 All-Star Game, unless the KBO owners agreed to expand the league to ten teams.  That got the ball rolling.

The as yet unnamed tenth team will spend two years playing in KBO’s Futures League (which is actually two six-team minor leagues that develop talent for the eight-team Korea Baseball Championship League, which I have been referring to as the KBO), just as the NC Dinos did in 2011 and 2012.

P.S.  The SK Wyverns signed long and lean left-hander Chris Seddon.  Seddon will be 29 years old in 2013, and he’s yet another pitcher that more likely would have signed with a Japanese NPB team in years past based on his North American professional record, except perhaps for his unfortunately high home run rate.

P.P.S  A shout-out to myKBO.net, where most of the information for this post originated.

Ryan Freel Passes

December 23, 2012

Former major leaguer Ryan Freel passed away yesterday at age 36, apparently as a result of a self-inflicted shotgun wound.  He reportedly leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

Freel played mainly for the Reds and was one of those relatively rare players who had a successful major league career although he did not establish himself as a major league player until age 27.  Freel was a jack-of-all-trades who played every position except pitcher, catcher and shortstop at the major league level.  He was also a good top-of-the-order hitter, retiring with a career .354 on-base percentage and stealing 143 bases with a nearly 75% success rate.  He retired in 2010.

At present, the reasons for Freel’s apparent decision to take his own life are unknown.  Reports state that he had been named as coach of the baseball team for St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic High School in St. Augustine, Florida, near Freel’s home town of Jacksonville, in late June this year.  However, Freel later turned down the position.

Freel was a free spirit who played hard to the point of recklessness, sometimes crashing into fences and other players.  After a particularly brutal collision with Reds teammate Norris Hopper in 2007, Freel told reporters he had had “nine or ten” concussions in his life, but couldn’t remember the exact number.

Freel additionally once jokingly told reporters that he had an imaginary friend named “Farney” with whom he was conversing when he appeared to be talking to himself.  Freel was also twice arrested for alcohol related offenses during his career.

No information has been published yet concerning whether Freel was having marital or financial problems, whether his history of concussions contributed to depression which might understandably have arisen at the end of his professional career, or whether he was still drinking.  Regardless of the reasons for it, his death at his own hands is really a shame.

Masahiro Tanaka Not Likely Coming to MLB Any Time Soon

December 23, 2012

The Rakuten Golden Eagles just re-signed their ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a three-year 1.2 billion yen deal (approximately $14.3 million).  For those of you who aren’t regular readers of this blog, Tanaka is the most promising Japanese starter in terms of a future MLB career.

Tanaka becomes only the third NPB player, after Yu Darvish in 2011 (500 million yen) and Ichiro Suzuki in 1998 (430 million yen), to sign a 400 million yen or more per season contract before reaching age 25.  That pretty much tells you how well Tanaka has pitched in Japan — Japanese teams rarely dish out contracts of this size to anyone who hasn’t played in NPB for at least nine or ten seasons.

In my mind, at least, the three-year deal means that it is highly unlikely that the Golden Eagles will post Tanaka until after the 2015 season.  He’ll be a nine year veteran at that point, and the Golden Eagles, as a small revenue NPB team, would likely lose him free agency after the 2016 season if they don’t post him the previous off-season.

Tanaka has said that he wants to play in the major leagues “at some point in the future.”  Further, the Golden Eagles have agreed to “discuss” with Tanaka the possibility of posting him after each season of the new three-year deal.

However, Golden Eagles’ management was quoted the last two days as saying, “Without [Tanaka] we cannot win a championship.  He is a player we absolutely need.”  That doesn’t sound like a team that has any desire to get rid of Tanaka (unless he gets hurt) until the economic realities force them to do so.

Further, the fact that Tanaka agreed to a three-year deal by his own words “without any hesitation” because “it showed how much [the Golden Eagles] value me,” suggests that unless the Golden Eagles win a Japan Series and Tanaka completely dominates the Pacific League in the first two years of the contract, he’ll likely be willing to remain in Japan until the three-year deal expires.

MLB fans have to hope that Tanaka stays healthy the next three seasons so that we get a chance to see him play in the U.S. against the best.  You never know with pitchers, and Tanaka did miss approximately five starts in each of 2010 and 2012 to injuries.

 

Chicago Cubs Sign Edwin Jackson

December 21, 2012

The Cubs reached agreement on a four-year $52 million deal with starting right-hander Edwin Jackson.  It seems like an awful lot of money for pitcher who has never won more than 14 games in a season, never had a single season ERA lower than 3.62, and has a career 70-71 record and 4.40 career ERA.

That being said, fangraphs values Jackson’s performance over the last four seasons at a total of $61.1 million.  Jackson will be age 29 through 32 for the four years of the contract, so barring an injury, he’s reasonably likely to provide the same performance level over the next four years as he did the last four.

Jackson’s contract says a lot about how high major league salaries have risen, how much offense is in the game today, and how the increased use of relief pitchers has radically changed expectations about what kind of numbers a starting pitcher should provide.

Jackson is a solid No. 3 starter who pitches roughly 200 innings a year.  That’s apparently worth $52 million over four years in today’s game.

More News from Japan’s NPB

December 20, 2012

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I like to write about the goings-on/comings and goings of Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO, the best two baseball leagues outside of North America (with the possible exception of Venezuela’s Winter League which draws a fair number of major league players, and considering the Caribbean part of North America).  My go-to source of late for NPB news is http://yakyubaka.com.  Here are some stories I found particularly interesting.

One of NPB’s best young starting pitchers Kenta Maeda is holding off on accepting the Hiroshima Carp’s 200 million yen (approximately $2.38 million) contract offer for 2013.  While the offer represents a 50 million yen raise from 2012, Maeda believes he should receive more based on his 2012 performance, in which he led all of NPB with a 1.53 ERA and was arguably NPB’s best starting pitcher.

The Carp’s argument is apparently that Maeda doesn’t deserve more because he pitched nine or more innings in a game fewer times in 2012 than he did in 2010, his break-out season. However, Maeda was credited with pitching six complete games in 2010, compared to five in 2012, and was credited with two shutouts each season.  Hard to see a meaningful difference there.

The relevance to major league baseball fans is that if Maeda is fighting with his team, the small revenue Hiroshima Carp, over money, the Carp may be more likely to post Maeda sooner rather than later, possibly as soon as next off-season.  As I’ve written before, because of his small stature, Maeda’s potential posting value is probably as high now as it will ever be.

Also, this report tends to give you an idea why so many NPB super-stars are eager to play in MLB, even if their first MLB contracts generally aren’t any larger than what they could make in Japan, not to mention the possible loss of lucrative Japanese endorsement opportunities.

The Yomiuri Giants announced the signing of 31 year old RHP and former New York Met Manny Acosta and are also in negotiations with Casey McGehee, who played (poorly) for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees in 2012.  The Giants see McGehee as part of a possible platoon combination at 1B with John Bowker.

The Yomiuri Giants have also given their star catcher Shinnosuke Abe a 570 million yen ($6.77 million) contract for 2013, a 170 million yen raise from 2012 and the fourth largest single season salary in yen in NPB history.  Only Kazuhiro Sasaki’s 650 million yen salaries in 2004 and 2005 and Hideki Matsui’s 610 million yen salary in 2002 were larger.

Abe certainly deserves the money after leading all of NPB in batting average and OPS by large margins and helping the Giants win yet another Japan Series.  However, in a statement that only makes sense in the context of Japanese baseball, Yomiuri Giants’ manager Tatsunori Hara stated yesterday that he would like to be able to bat Abe fifth or sixth in the Giants’ line-up in 2013.

For what it’s worth, the sixth spot in the batting order gets roughly fifty fewer plate appearances a season than the third spot.  That’s the reason why the team’s best hitter usually bats no later than fourth and why you especially want your first three hitters to have high on-base percentages.

Former major league Kosuke Fukudome has announced to the two NPB teams courting him, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars, that he envisions a three-year deal which, including incentives, would top out at 1.5 billion yen ($17.8 million).  Meanwhile, the Tigers and Bay Stars have each reportedly offered deals that would top out at around 600 million yen ($7.12 million) for the same three-year period.

It seems pretty obvious who is going to have to give here, but Fukudome’s “aspirational” numbers certainly make you think he must be a Scott Boras client. [Fukudome’s agent is actually Joe Urbon.]

The Orix Buffaloes are miffed because the Milwaukee Brewers signed away 28 year old right-hander Alfredo Figaro, who pitched for Orix the last two seasons and whom Orix wanted to hold onto.

Finally, the Saitama Seibu Lions have announced their team slogan for the 2013 season.  It translates as, “Burly! Lions-ism 2013.”  The word “honebuto” apparently translates literally as “big-boned” or “stout” and can also be used to mean “robust” or “strong”  — I like my translation better, but even so, it definitely loses something in translation.

 

 

Two More Pitchers Going to South Korea’s KBO

December 19, 2012

Two more young pitchers are going to South Korea’s KBO for the 2013 season, RHP Charles Shirek and LHP Adam Wilk.  Both signed with the NC Dinos, an expansion team that will make its debut during the 2013 season.

Shirek looks like the kind of pitcher usually targeted by KBO teams.  He’s 27 years old and has never pitched in the majors but is coming off a strong year at AAA Charlotte, where he went 11-5 with a 3.65 ERA, 117 Ks in 170.1 IP and a Ks/BBs ratio slightly better than four to one.

While Shirek clearly knows how to pitch, he doesn’t look like a pitcher with significant major league prospects.  As such, a move to the KBO makes a lot of sense for his professional future.

Adam Wilk, on the other hand, has much better major league prospects, and it’s a little hard to understand why the Detroit Tigers were willing to sell him to a KBO team.  Although Wilk pitched poorly in three April starts for the Tigers, after being sent back down to AAA Toledo, he had an extremely promising season.

While Wilk went an unimpressive 7-11, all of his other numbers were terrific.  His 2.77 ERA was the 4th best in the International League, his 128 Ks was tied for 6th best, his 1.01 WHIP missed the league lead by a fraction of a point, and he had the best Ks/BBs rate of any of the 21 pitchers in the International League with at least 100 Ks.  Wilk also had fine minor league seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Wilk was only 24 last year, so, like I said, it’s hard to understand why he would give up on a major league career so young or why the Tigers were willing to let him go.  At any rate, the Tigers’ loss should be the KBO’s gain, unless Wilk blows out his arm.