Archive for January 2013

Stan Musial Passes

January 20, 2013

I don’t really have much to say about the death of Stan Musial at age 92, but I will pass on one anecdote from Jim Brosnan’s 1960 classic The Long Season.

Brosnan wrote that most major league hitters with whom he played tended to ask what they were doing wrong as hitters when they went into slumps.  However, when Brosnan was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals, the first thing that Musial wanted to know from Brosnan was how the Cubs’ pitchers were pitching to Musial.  In Brosnan’s opinion, this was one of the reasons Musial was the only $100,000 salaried player in the National League at the time.

Thanks to video tape and books like Brosnan’s, major league hitters are more aware today how pitchers are trying to exploit their weaknesses as hitters.  Even so, media reports on hitters trying to break out of slumps still focus on what the hitters are doing in terms of their stances, where they stand in the batters’ box, their timing mechanisms, etc. to get their strokes back.

Part of this is likely comes from the fact that hitters don’t want to tell pitchers through the media that they have figured out what pitchers are doing to get them out and have adjusted accordingly.  However, for many young hitters in particular, there is probably still a tendency to look at slumps as something the hitter is doing wrong instead of how the pitchers, with the help of advance scouts, are working to set up and exploit that hitter’s weaknesses.  The sophomore slump that so many young hitters hit in their second or third professional season is just as real today as it’s ever been.

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Chicago Cubs to Renovate Wrigley Field

January 20, 2013

The Chicago Cubs reportedly intend to renovate Wrigley Field over five years at a cost of $300 million.  Here’s an article about it.

Not surprisingly, Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts is hoping to leverage fewer restrictions on night games and advertising in exchange for an agreement to swallow the entire cost of the remodel.  The Cubs are presently limited to 30 night games a year and none of Fridays and Saturdays due to the residential nature of the neighborhood in which Wrigley Field sits.

I’m not quite sure why the City of Chicago would be willing to provide any funding for a privately owned baseball stadium like Wrigley, but if Cubs management can get a few more night games, particularly Friday nights, why not give it a try?

East Asia Notes

January 17, 2013

Pitchers Vicente Padilla and Jo Jo Reyes are headed to Japan and South Korea, respectively.

The right-handed Padilla has been signed by the SoftBank Hawks for a reported $3.25 million for the 2013 season.  Padilla is now 35 years old, but was reasonably successful as a middle reliever for the Boston Red Sox last year.

One thing that will be interesting to follow with Padilla is what NPB players think of his head-hunting ways.  Padilla has a well deserved reputation for throwing inside (he’s hit 109 batters in his major league career, which is third most among active pitchers).  This caused a lot of friction with his teammates particularly during his time with the Texas Rangers.

Teammates are a lot more hostile to pitchers who throw inside in the American League, since pitchers don’t bat in the Junior Circuit, meaning retaliation is always against the pitcher’s position-playing teammates.  The Hawks play in NPB’s Pacific League which, like the AL, uses the DH.

Meanwhile, Reyes is signing with the SK Wyverns, apparently as a replacement for fellow leftie Doug Slaten, who signed with the Wyverns earlier in the off-season but then apparently had second thoughts about going to South Korea for the year.

Reyes has never pitched well in the majors despite many opportunities (he has a career 6.05 ERA in more than 300 major league innings pitched), but he pitched well in the high minors in 2007 through 2009 and again in 2012.  The odds are good he’ll be successful pitching in the KBO.

As a final note, myKBO.net recently posted photos of Hyun-Jin Ryu in his new Dodger uniform.  I have to say that Ryu looks like he needs to lose at least ten pounds around the middle.

It’s a reality that pitchers don’t really need to be in great shape to be effective pitchers.  However, given all the money that the Dodgers committed to acquire Ryu’s services and get him signed, I’m sure that they’d like to see him work on his conditioning.

Former Major Leaguer Enzo Hernandez Passes

January 15, 2013

Former major leaguer Enzo Hernandez died today at age 63 at his home in Venezuela of an apparent suicide. If I had to guess, I would say that he probably had serious health problems that led to his sad ending.

To the extent that anyone remembers Hernandez as a major league baseball player today, it is as a result of his utter futility at driving in runs as the rookie shortstop for the 1971 San Diego Padres.  At least, that is what first came to mind when I read about his passing this evening.

Hernandez drove in only 12 runs that year in 618 plate appearances.  In 549 at-bats he had twelve extra base hits, nine doubles and three triples.  He hit .222 on the season with a .250 slugging percentage.

The only other regular player to drive in only twelve runs in a season is the aptly named Goat Anderson, who in his only major league season with the 1907 Pittsburgh Pirates, drove in twelve in 510 plate appearances.  Goat only hit .206 and slugged only .225 that year.  He had only five extra base hits: three doubles and triple and home run.  At least, Goat reached this ignominious achievement in the Dead Ball Era and in more than 100 plate appearances fewer than Enzo Hernandez.

One thing to be said both for Enzo and Goat — in spite of their complete inability to hit the ball with authority, they both got on base a lot more than you’d ever expect from such weak batters.  Enzo walked 54 times in 1971, and Goat walked an astounding 80 times in 1907.  Both stole over twenty bases, and both scored a lot more runs than they drove in: Enzo 58, Goat 73.

Hernandez went on to play in eight major league seasons.  While he never got 618 plate appearances or 549 ABs in a season again, he drove in more than 12 runs four times, peaking at 34 RBIs in 1974, his only other season in which he played more than 120 games.

Hernandez must have been a pretty good glove man at short, given the fact that he finished his eight year career with a .224 batting average and .550 OPS in more than 2,600 plate appearances.  However, Enzo never led the National League in any primary fielding category, and his 33 errors in 1971 tied Giants’ shortstop Chris Speier, also a rookie, for the most in MLB that year.

Perhaps Hernandez’s relatively long career says more about the ineptitude of the early 1970’s Padres than it does about his defensive abilities.

San Francisco Giants Should Pursue Thomas Neal

January 13, 2013

In a move I don’t fully understand, the Indians have released OF Thomas Neal after designating him for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster for Nick Swisher.  I certainly understand why you would designate Neal to make room for Swisher, but once Neal cleared waivers, why couldn’t the Indians outright him to one of their minor league teams, particularly if the Indians are interested in re-signing him as they reportedly are?

It almost certainly has to do with the fact that Neal is a seven-year minor league veteran and thus entitled to free agency.  At any rate, he’s a free agent now, and the Giants should consider bringing him back to their organization.

For those of you who don’t remember Neal’s days as a Giants’ prospect, he was the Giants’ 36th round pick in 2005, who established himself as a top prospect with three fine seasons at Class A Augusta, A+ San Jose and AA Richmond in 2008 through 2010.

Neal was hurt and had a bad year in 2011 (but still hit .289 with a .343 OBP in 70 games of AAA ball) and was traded during that season to the Indians for SS Orlando Cabrera, as the Giants thought that Cabrera might be the veteran shortstop to get them to the post-season that year (he obviously wasn’t).

For some reason, the Indians played Neal at their AA franchise, the Akron Aeros, in 2012 ,and they kept him there for the season despite the fact that none of their outfielders at AAA Columbus in 2012 were any younger or apparently any better than Neal.  All Neal did at Akron was finish the season with a .314 batting average, a .400 OBP and an .867 OPS, respectively 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the Eastern League in those categories.

The Indians did reward Neal with a September call-up but only played him in nine games, which wasn’t much of an opportunity for Neal to show what he could do.

Neal is still only 25 years old (turns 26 next August 17th), and his career minor league .376 OBP and .840 OPS suggest that that he could help a major league team in need of a back-up right-handed hitting outfielder.  I’d like to see the Giants bring him back if he’s willing to return.

Chunichi Dragons Sign 1Bman Matt Clark

January 12, 2013

My few regular readers know that I like to write about the comings and goings of players between Asia and the United States.  In that vein, NPB’s Chunichi Dragons just signed Padres’ minor leaguer Matt Clark.

I like this signing for a number of reasons.  Clark is young (26 in 2013) and looks like the kind of player who might do well in Japan.  He has a career minor league batting average of .282 with a .359 OPS and .853 OPS.  Last year, in his second season at AAA Tucson, he hit .290 with a .367 OBP and an .872 OPS.  However, he is clearly blocked by Yonder Alonso at the major league level.

Clark has also been remarkably consistent — as a professional, he’s never had an OPS lower than .824 (at AA San Antonio in 2010) or higher than .891 (in half a season at A+ Lake Elsinor in 2009).  The biggest knock on Clark is that he strikes out a lot (on average 140 times per 600 plate appearances in his minor league career), which might hurt him given the wider strike zone in Japan.

I’ve long thought that Japanese teams are too hung up on past major league experience as a qualification for playing in NPB because it tends to steer them away from American players who might be best suited to develop into long-term NPB stars.  That being said, NPB teams demand that foreign players perform right away and for at least two seasons before they will cut said foreign players any slack in terms of having a down season.

A good example is Jamie D’Antona.  He was a 4-A player (too good for AAA but too old or blocked by another player from a reasonable shot at a major league career) signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2009.  He had a strong year in 2009 (.276 batting average, .813 OPA), but a less than outstanding season in 2010 (.245 batting average, .771 OPS) due to leg injuries and an inability that year to hit well against right-handed pitchers.  Although common sense would suggest that he deserved a third season at age 29 to show that he had adjusted to Japanese baseball, the Swallows (and all the other NPB teams) cut him loose.

One thing I find interesting about this signing is that the Dragons are one of the higher revenue teams in NPB.  They signed Clark for $450,000, including signing bonus, for 2013, which is not a lot of money for an American player expected to play every day in Japan.

Matt Clark is young enough and inexperienced enough that he may well experience growing pains in his first couple of seasons in Japan.  His relatively low salary may buy him some time at least in his first season in Japan, but history suggests that if he isn’t thumping the ball in his second season, he won’t get a third.  That’s really too bad, because Clark looks like the kind of player who could have a long and successful career in NPB if things break right for him.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB 2013

January 11, 2013

Last summer I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I wrote a post last June which evaluates each park’s park factor for the five years ending with the 2011 season.

As we approach the 2013 season (and the 2012 stats have long been in), it seems like a good time to update my earlier post incorporating the 2012 season.  Without further ado, here are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six season (or less for the five ball parks that have opened more recently).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.301

2.  The Ballpark at Arlington (Rangers) 1.148

3.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.134

4.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.131

5.  U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.111

6.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.086

7.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.080

8.  New Yankee Stadium (2009-2012) 1.066 [Old Yankee Stadium, 2004-2008, 1.002]

9.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.057.

10.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.044.

11.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.018

12.  Rogers Center (Blue Jays) 1.010

12.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.010

14.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.008

15.  Marlins Park (2012) 1.005  [Sun Life Stadium, 2007-2011, 1.038]

16.  Nationals Park (2008-2012) 0.998 [RFK Stadium, 2005-2007, 0.892]

17.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.986

18.  Target Field (Twins, 2010-2012) 0.983 [Mall of America Field (the Metrodome), 2005-2009, 0.966]

19.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.978

20.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.960

21.  Angels Stadium 0.939

22.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.936

22.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.936

24.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.919

25.  AT&T Park (Giants) 0.917

26.  Dodger Stadium 0.915

27.  Citi Field (Mets, 2009-2012) 0.904 [Shea Stadium, 2004-2008, 0.886]

28.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.889

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.864

30.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.808

The rankings didn’t change much from last year.  Among last year’s ten best hitters’ parks, U.S. Cellular Park, where the White Sox play, was apparently a great place to hit in 2012, moving it up two slots.  New Yankee Stadium was apparently not a great place to hit, moving it down two slots. Coors Field improved on its status as far and away the best hitters’ park in MLB.

The Marlins’ new park, which looked like a great place to hit in late June of last year, turned out to be only a little better than average for the full season — we’ll have to see how it plays over the next few seasons.

The Royals’ Kauffman Stadium moved up two slots, and the Phillies’ Citizens’ Bank Park fell two slots.  The Astros’ Minute Maid Park also fell two slots.  The Twins’ Target Field was a hitters’ park for the first time in its three year history, jumping it up four slots.  The Pirates and Giants and their respective opponents scored a lot more runs on the road in 2012, causing both PNC Park and AT&T Park to drop three slots.

With another year in the books, the Mets’ Citi Field is developing into as much of a pitchers’ park as the old Shea Stadium.  San Diego’s Petco Park remains the worst place to ply one’s trade as a major league hitter, but Seattle’s Safeco Field narrowed the gap considerably.