Archive for February 2013

Bobby Abreu’s Available Cheap

February 25, 2013

Here is an mlbtraderumors.com article which lists every option/player available to the Yankees now that Curtis Granderson will miss at least the first 30 games of the 2013 season.  It seems to me that if the Yankees need another outfielder until Granderson recovers from his broken arm, Bobby Abreu is the obvious choice.

In spite of his poor 2012 season (.242 batting average and .693 OPS), Bobby still got on base as he always has (.350 OBP last year, .396 career).  As such, Abreu still has some value and would be a terrific low-cost way to get some offensive value out of left field while Granderson is out.

Schadenfreude

February 25, 2013

For those of you not up on your German, schadenfreude is the taking of pleasure in the misfortunes of some one else.  In this case, the misfortunes are happening to the New York Yankees, and I’m not exactly sad about it at all.

J. A. Happ broke Curtis Granderson‘s arm with a wild inside pitch in a Spring Training game today, and Granderson will miss ten weeks while his arm heals.  I’m certainly not saying I’m happy about Granderson getting hurt.  I don’t wish that any player get hurt. Also, Granderson’s a great player, and I always want great players to stay healthy and play.

It’s just that I find it hard not to take a certain pleasure when bad things happen to the Yankees as a franchise.  They spend so much money to buy up the best players, and the team and its fans are disappointed any year they don’t win the World Series, even if they go deep into the post-season.  As a fan of a team that had a long, long stretch of futility before the last three seasons, it’s hard not to enjoy seeing the Yankees fall flat on their collective faces once in a while.  See how the rest of us live, you New York blowhards!

Everything seems to be going wrong for the Yankees right now.  They have gotten old and so overpaid that the team can’t (or won’t — see below) simply spend to bring in a whole new line-up of new stars, as they did under the Boss.

Derek Jeter is old and coming off a broken ankle.  Alex Rodriguez will miss at least half the year after hip surgery and is embroiled in another steroid scandal.  Mark Teixeira isn’t the player he once was, and at age 33 isn’t likely to be that player again.  C. C. Sabathia in 2012 showed signs of the injury problems many analysts, including his one, have been been expecting for a pitcher his size now in his 30’s.

In a rare confluence of events, not only the Yankees, but also the Red Sox, look like they won’t make the play-offs in 2013.  The Sox lost 93 games last year, and they don’t at all look a team that will suddenly turn around and win 90+ games in 2013.

Meanwhile, the underdogs may finally be ready to have their days.  The Blue Jays made several big moves this off-season at what appears now to have been a particularly opportune time for them to do so.  Maybe they’ll make the post-season for the first time since they won the World Series in 1993.

The 2012 Orioles made the post-season for the first time since 1997, and they have a relatively young team that will presumably get better.

The Rays are one of MLB’s smallest market teams, but they make the most out of what they have to work with and can be expected to contend again in 2013.

The last time neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox made the post-season (excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season in which the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League) was 1993.  It’s long past time that someone else get the opportunity to fight it out in the play-offs.

That being said, the underdogs better make hay while the sun shines.  If the Yankees and Red Sox finish no higher than third in the Eastern Division, expect them to start shelling out again next off-season.  Their potential revenue streams (and in the case of the Yankees the fact that so many of their fans are front-runners) are such that it’s worth it for them to spend big on free agents if that’s what it takes to reach those play-off revenues.

Stray Thoughts

February 14, 2013

When I’m hard up for something to write about regarding baseball, one of the places I look is Sports Illustrated’s newswire.  It’s usually good for something that sparks my desire to comment.

The Indians are planning to put out an Albert Belle bobble-head next June in which he points to his flexed biceps, a pose the real Belle struck in the 1995 play-offs against the Boston Red Sox, when the Sox manager Kevin Kennedy asked the umps to check Belle’s bat for corking.  The gesture has a whole new meaning today, in light of all we now know about steroids in the 1990’s game.

I’m not accusing Belle of steroids use, but I do wonder about a bobble-head that celebrates something relatively forgettable that happened 18 seasons ago.  However, the Tribe hasn’t won a World Series since 1948, but last lost the Series in 1995 and 1997.

I guess Belle making a muscle is the best they can do.  As far as bobble-heads, I would have gone with their two big free agent signings this off-season, local boy (relatively speaking) Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, or one of their young stars like Carlos Santana (if they haven’t already issued a bobble-head for him), and left it at that.

I was also amused by back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli‘s claim that he “consulted” with Biogenesis of America LLC, but never used any of their banned performance-enhancing products.  It may be true, but it certainly sounds ridiculous.

The players most likely to resort to performance enhancing drugs are (1) superstars, who want to be the very best and have unrealistic (?) expectations that they will be protected from disclosure so long as they perform; (2) marginal players, who have the least to lose (minor league careers at dirt pay) and the most to gain (significant major league careers and salaries) by using PEDs; and (3) aging veterans trying to hang on for a few more seasons.  That being said, all professional athletes can benefit from the boost they get from PEDs, and a lot of it probably comes down to each individual player’s willingness to push the envelope (i.e., cheat) to get ahead.

One thing to be said for Cervelli — his career numbers don’t suggest a player on steroids.  As a major league player, Cervelli’s strongest attribute is his ability to get on base (i.e., lay off pitches just out of the strike zone and draw walks — he has a .339 career on-base percentage), and he’s never shown a whiff of power (career .353 slugging percentage).  I don’t see how PEDs would give a player a better batting eye, and there’s no evidence at all that Cervelli has added strength by ‘roiding up.

Here’s a silly Spring Training article about how Barry Zito has a bounce in his step and renewed swagger after his fine performances in last year’s post-seasonI’ve already written about how Zito’s 2012 post-season finally justified the $126 million contract he signed with the Giants before the 2007 season.

However, Barry Zito‘s post-season performance in no way suggests that he still has the major league stuff to pitch his way successfully through the 2013 season.  Zito’s 15-8 regular season record was more a matter of good luck and the law of averages bouncing back, at least when one compares his 2012 performance to 2009 and 2010, when he had losing records but pitched about the same or better.

Compared to those two prior seasons, Zito’s hits per nine innings and strike outs rate were worse in 2012.  He threw a few more strikes in 2012, but not enough to justify his vastly better won-loss record.

I’m not taking anything away from Zito’s 2012 post-season performance by saying it’s highly doubtful that the ego and confidence bump he got will translate into a successful 2013 campaign.  Instead, the objective evidence suggests that Zito’s 2013 is more likely to look like his miserable 2008 and 2011 seasons, than his 2009, 201o and 2012 campaigns.

Michael Bourn Gets Burned

February 12, 2013

The Indians have reportedly signed center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year deal for $48 million.  While Bourn won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, this deal is a disaster for him and his agent Scott Boras, given that the majority opinion was that Bourn was the best true center fielder available in this year’s free agent class.

The obvious comparison is with B. J. Upton, who got five years at a guaranteed $75.25 million from the Braves earlier this off-season.  Yes, Upton is two years younger than Bourn, but Bourn has been much better last year and the last three years.

In 2012, fangraphs rated Bourn’s performance as worth $28.9 million and Upton’s at $15.0 million.  Over the last three seasons, fangraphs rated Bourn’s performance as worth $66.2 million and Upton’s at $49.9 million.

Strangely, fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan thinks both the Indians and Bourn got good deals out of this signing.  I just don’t see it.

Even taking into account that much of Bourn’s value comes from his center field defense and the facts that he’s getting older and his defense is likely to slide in the next few seasons, Bourn looks like the kind of player who will be a more valuable lead-off hitter in years to come.  Bourn still runs extremely well (ten triples and 42 stolen bases in 55 attempts last season), he hit with more power than ever in his career (his nine home runs nearly doubled his career total), and he gets on base fairly well for a lead-off hitter who runs as well as he does (.348 OBP last year, and between .341 and .354 the previous three years).

I will admit, however, that Bourn is not an ideal lead-off hitter, due to his relatively low on-base percentages.  Bourn has not scored 100 runs in any of the last four seasons despite averaging 677 plate appearances per year and leading the NL in stolen bases in three of those seasons.  Wade Boggs, who ran like a slug, scored 100 or more runs in seven consecutive seasons because he got on base roughly 45% of his plate appearances.

Even so, the fact that Bourn got less than four years and $60 million has to be seen as a failure by his agent Scott Boras.  In fact, it’s not clear at all that the Braves decided they wanted Upton over Bourn.  Early in the off-season, Bourn/Boras were throwing up pie-in-the-sky contract numbers, and the Braves simply went out and got the next best player, for what at the time seemed like a more reasonable amount.

Would the Braves back in November have been willing to give Bourn the same contract they gave Upton?  I don’t have much doubt they would have.

Boras has generally been so good at turning what looked like a bad situation into a huge contract that I wasn’t willing to write him off until a relatively bad contract was actually signed.  Well, that bad contract has now been signed.  Boras overplayed Bourn’s hand, and Bourn will have to live with it — he’ll be crying all the way to the bank.

The new draft pick compensation scheme agreed upon by the owners and players’ association looks like a win for the owners.  The Mets almost certainly would have given Bourn more than what the Indians won with, but they were concerned about losing a first round draft pick (and the signing bonus pool money) despite finishing with the tenth worst record in MLB last season, thanks to the Pirates’ failure to sign Mark Appel, another Boras client, with the eighth pick of last year’s draft.

While the owners probably would have struck a deal to let the Mets keep their 2013 first round pick, even reaching that stage required the players’ association to file a grievance after the Mets signed Bourn (you can’t file a grievance or any other legal claim for a hypothetical injury), and this fact likely impacted the contract the Mets were willing to offer Bourn.

2013 should be an interesting season for the Indians.  Even with the additions of Brett Myers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Trevor Bauer, their pitching still looks pretty weak, although Bourn in center should help a lot in that regard.

At a minimum, Ubaldo Jimenez will have to bounce back to the pitcher he was in 2009 and 2010, Justin Masterson will have to return to 2011 form, and Zach McAllister has to improve on his fine 2012 rookie season for the Tribe to be successful in 2013.  Seems like a tall order.

As a final and largely unrelated note, the Felix Hernandez contract extension seemed like a good move for both sides, at least until medical tests suggested a problem with King Felix’s pitching elbow.  Despite all the talk of record-setting contracts, the extension really only promised Hernandez $139.5 million in new money, while giving him the ego bump of a record-setting contract and allowing the Mariners to control him through age 33, which is just about ideal for a pitcher of his caliber.

My biggest concern with a long-term extension for Hernandez was all the innings he’s pitched before age 25.  Needless to say, it’s not particularly surprising that his elbow is showing wear after all the innings he’s pitched in his career to date.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2013

February 7, 2013

The most popular posts I’ve written for this blog identify the best hitting pitchers currently active in major league baseball.  Given the level of interest, I have decided to update this piece annually, starting with this 2013 update.

As I’m sure you know, modern pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s wide-spread use in the minors and in the college game is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers tend to say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (which has been the norm since at least the early 1880’s and probably much earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, even though most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This post ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.  I may have missed a couple of qualifiers, but not more than a couple.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average above .167 or a career OPS over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball all their lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

A few pitchers can swing the stick a little bit, though.  Here is my non-scientific list of the best hitting pitchers currently playing as we approach the start of the 2013 season:

1.  Micah Owings.  Micah Owings remains far and away the best hitting pitcher in baseball (at least if you exclude Rick Ankiel, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2004).  Micah’s career numbers have slipped a bit the last two season, likely due both to the law of averages and the facts that he isn’t a starter any more and didn’t pitch much last year due to an elbow injury.  His career batting average is currently .283 with an .813 OPS in 205 career ABs.

As I’ve written previously, it’s clear the Arizona Diamondbacks made a terrible mistake when, after drafting Owings in the 3rd Round of the 2005 Draft, they decided to develop him solely as a pitcher.

Owings is now 30 years old, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever develop into a good major league pitcher.  In fact, Owings just signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals with an invitation to 2013 Spring Training — the Nats signed Owings as a 1Bman, which strongly suggests they will try to develop him as a hitter.

Owings is getting old to switch positions, and it isn’t clear if he could still pitch if he and the Nats wanted him to.  He had arthroscopic elbow surgery last July and hasn’t pitched since last April.  Nonetheless, I still have a hope he’ll become the next Brooks Kieschnick, pitching, pinch-hitting and occasionally playing the field, depending on his team’s needs at the moment.

2 Dontrelle Willis.  One of the things I always loved about Dontrelle was his ability to hit.  While he hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, he recently signed a minor league deal with the Cubs with an invitation to 2013 Spring Training.  In 2011 his last year of play, Willis batted .387 (12 for 31) with a 1.032 OPS to bring his career numbers up to .244 with a .665 OPS, respectively.

Dontrelle is now 31 years old, so it’s probably too late for him to make the switch to a position.  Too bad — as a 6’4″ lefty, he probably could have been major league 1Bman or corner outfielder if he’d been developed as a hitter.

3.  Mike Leake.  Leake remains the top young hitting pitcher in MLB.  He hit .295 with a .749 OPS last year, and despite his 2011 sophomore slump year, he still has a career batting average of .274 with a .656 OPS in 164 major league at-bats.  Leake walked only once last season, dropping his career on-base percentage to .308, but he hit for power for the first time in his career with two taters and five extra base hits.

I wonder what is more discouraging to a pitcher: walking the opposing pitcher or giving up an extra base hit.  Even though the latter would seem to have more value, the pitcher on the hill can better rationalize it: the batter got lucky, he’s a good-hitting pitcher, etc.  Everyone on defense slumps their shoulders when the pitcher walks his doppelganger.

4.  Carlos Zambrano.  In 2012 Big Z had his worst season swinging the ash since his 2002 rookie season, hitting only .176 with a .441 OPS.  Even so, he still has a career .238 batting average with a .636 OPS.

Carlos is an all-or-nothing hitter.  He has only ten walks to go with 240 strikeouts in 693 major league at-bats, but he has hit an impressive 24 HRs and 53 extra base hits.  He’s scored 75 runs and driven in another 71 in his career.  That’s better than a lot of middle infielders given the same number of at-bats.

5.  C. C. Sabathia.  He’s one of the most interesting players on this list.  Unlike all the other pitchers on this list, he’s only played one-half of one season in the National League.  As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about two games a year, yet hit he does.  Despite going 0 for 5 at the plate in 2012, he’s still hitting .238 with a .598 OPS in 105 career at-bats.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher, but obviously he’s just a baseball player pure and simple.  One wonders what kind of numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.

6.  Yovani Gallardo.  The still young Brewers ace is another pitcher with pop at the plate.  Despite his worst season with the bat as a regular starting pitcher, Yovani still has a career batting average of .2o7 with a .599 OPS, thanks to ten HRs and 27 extra base hits in 305 career at-bats.

7.  Daniel Hudson.  After a break-out season in 2011 at age 24, Hudson blew out his elbow tendon after ten starts (nine for Arizona, one for AAA Reno) before having Tommy John surgery in early July.  Presumably, he won’t be back in action until after the 2013 All-Star Break.  At any rate, Hudson has a .229 batting average and a .573 OPS in 105 major league at-bats to date.

8.  Dan Haren.   Haren has a .223 lifetime batting average and .572 OPS.  In 2010, his last season in the NL, he hit .364 (20 for 55) with a .902 OPS. He signed with the Washington Nationals this off-season, so he’ll get the opportunity to hit regularly again in 2013.

Haren and Sabathia are the best arguments against the designated hitter.

9.  Adam Wainwright.  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off his last two seasons (2010 and 2012), but he still has a career .204 batting average and .545 OPS in 367 major league at-bats.

Honorable MentionLivan Hernandez (career .221 batting average, .526 OPS, but his career might be over — he’d still like to pitch, but hasn’t been offered even a minor league contract as of early February 2013); Darren Oliver (.221, .545 — the latest word is he’ll be back with the Blue Jays in 2013, but he hasn’t had a plate appearance since 2006); Chris Narveson (.227, .522 — he missed most of 2012 to rotator cuff surgery, but the Brewers have signed him to a major league contract for 2013); Jason Marquis (.202, .508 — he hit well last year and he’s returning to the Padres for 2013); Manny Parra (.183, .500 — he signed with the Reds for 2013); Javier Vasquez (.204, .478 — rumor has it he’s interested in resuming his major league pitching career after a strong season in the Puerto Rican Winter League); Jordan Zimmerman (.190, .463); and Edwin Jackson (.200, .462).  As you can see, the best hitting pitchers get bad pretty fast.

Young Hitting Pitcher to WatchStephen Strasburg.  He hit .277 (13 for 47) in 2012 with a .759 OPS, highest of any pitcher with at least 50 plate appearances, just beating out Mike Leake.  Strasburg’s career numbers are only .192 and .521, so it has yet to be determined whether he’s closer to 2012’s best hitting pitcher or the guy who started his career a pathetic-even-for-a-pitcher 1 for 26.

Carlos Zambrano started his career 1 for 32, before developing into a good-hitting pitcher, so I tend to think Strasburg will continue to hit well for a pitcher in future years.  One thing is for certain, however: with Strasburg, Haren, Zimmerman and possibly Micah Owings, the Nationals should have the best hitting pitching in MLB in 2013.

You can find my 2014 update on this post here.

Angels Sign Japanese Right-Hander Hiroyuki Kobayashi

February 2, 2013

The Angels today announced the signing of Japanese right-hander Hiroyuki Kobayashi to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Kobayashi flew under my radar and that of most other commentators as a possible major league signing out of Japan because Kobayashi didn’t pitch in NPB’s top league last year.

Instead, he pitched for the Hanshin Tigers’ farm club, mostly out of the bullpen and apparently spot starting.  He wasn’t bad there, but with a 3.44 ERA in a minor league, he wasn’t impressive either.

Kobayashi was a good pitcher as recently as 2010, when he recorded 29 saves and a 2.21 ERA as the Lotte Marine’s closer.  His 2011 numbers look good (3.00 ERA and more Ks than innings pitched), but given that new baseballs were introduced that year which killed hitting in NPB and that Kobayashi was pitching in relief, he was a big disappointment to the Hanshin Tigers, who has signed him to a big free agent contract.

Kobayashi turns 35 in June, and he’s obviously well past his prime.  However, he knows how to pitch and he throws strikes, so there’s at least a possibility he’ll pitch well in 2013, since no one in MLB is familiar with his stuff.  Still, it will be a surprise if he helps the Angels much.