Archive for June 2013

All Or Nothing

June 29, 2013

I noticed in today’s box scores that Adam Dunn hit his 21st home run of the season.  He’s currently (as I write this) batting .198 and is on a pace to hit 44 HRs this year.  If he reaches the 40 home run mark again while failing to raise his batting average over the Mendoza Line, he will break the record he set last year for the lowest batting average (.204) by a player to hit 40 or more HRs in a season.

Adam Dunn is the kind of all-or-nothing hitter who walks, strikeouts or hits it long in roughly half of all his plate appearances (in fact, Dunn is at exactly 50% entering today’s games for his career) that has become fairly common in today’s game for the first time in baseball history.  Thanks largely to sabermetrics, the stigma against striking out a lot has evaporated.  Add to that better defense in today’s game, compared to generations past, and batting averages for this type of player were bound to fall.

Even so, it’s a pretty incredible feat to hit less than .250 in a season while still managing to hit 40 or more home runs.  By my count, it’s only been done 12 times in all of baseball history, and four of those times were done by Dunn.

Here is a list of those 12 times:

Harmon Killebrew (1959) .242 & 42 HRs

Harmon Killebrew (1962) .243 & 48

Gorman Thomas (1979) .244 & 45

Darrell Evans (1985) .248 & 40

Jay Buhner (1997) .243 & 40

Jose Canseco (1998) .237 & 46

Greg Vaughn (1999) .245 & 45

Adam Dunn (2005) .247 & 40

Adam Dunn (2006) .234 & 40

Adam Dunn (2008) .236 & 40

Adam Dunn (2012) .204 & 41

Curtis Granderson (2012) .232 & 43

Aside from low batting averages and extreme power, these players generally walked a lot and struck out even more.  Jose Canseco in 1998 was the only player to walk less than once every ten plate appearances, and he just missed.  Darell Evans in 1985 was the only player to strike out less than 100 times — he struck out only 85 times that year.

Something else we can conclude from this list: Harmon Killebrew was clearly a man ahead of his time, and the player in baseball history most like today’s Adam Dunn.  Killebrew was a better hitter and had more power, at least once you take into account hitting in the eras in which he and Dunn played, but otherwise the similarities as hitters are obvious.

Further, Adam Dunn is taking the clear trend towards more of these seasons over the last twenty years to extreme places.  Dunn’s 2012 batting average was a full 30 points below the next closest low-batting 40 HR season, and he’s threatening to break his own record this year.

It’s worth noting, though, that Curtis Granderson’s 2012 season featured the second lowest batting average ever for a player to hit 40 dingers in a season.  While home run numbers have dropped with the end of the steroids era, batter strikeout totals are still increasing.  This suggests that Dunn may not represent the apogee of this trend.  Instead, he may simply be a forerunner, as Harmon Killebrew was in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

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More ARod Drama

June 27, 2013

Whether or not Alex Rodriguez is ready to begin a rehab assignment for his surgically repaired hip has become surprisingly big news.  When Rodriguez tweeted that the doctors had cleared him to begin playing again, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ARod through the media that the latter “should just shut the f#$% up!” and denied that ARod was ready to resume playing.

In the aftermath, the sporting press is citing unnamed sources for various tea-leaf-reading theories about what’s really going on.  ESPN’s sources say that ARod believes the Yankees don’t want him to return to play this season, so that the team can collect on the insurance policy covering ARod’s contract.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s sources say that ARod is chomping at the bit to start his rehab assignment, so that he can go out and play a game or two and then claim that his hip hasn’t healed and won’t allow him to play, so that he could then “retire” due to injury and collect his remaining $114 million in salary before MLB can lower the boom with a lengthy suspension for using performance enhancing drugs and lying about it.

To me, Sports Illustrated’s rumor mongering sound far-fetched.  I suspect that like a lot of professional athletes, ARod’s life and personal identity revolve around his status as a baseball star and that he believes at some level that he if could just go back on the playing field and re-establish himself as a star, all his transgressions would eventually be forgiven and forgotten, just as they have been in the past.

Also, as I’ve written before, I don’t think there’s anyway MLB is going to make a suspension of more than 50 games stick.  There is a collective bargaining agreement in place which very clearly spells out the penalty for a first time performance enhancing drug violation and that’s 50 games.  MLB can come up with all the creative theories it wants regarding why a longer suspension is appropriate, but I just don’t see an arbitrator imposing anything more than what the parties expressly agreed to.  ARod’s legal advisors and the players’ union are presumably telling him the same thing.

A 50 game unpaid suspension is certainly going to hurt ARod in the pocketbook, but it doesn’t seem like enough for him to walk away from the game entirely.  Many players have been hit with 50 game suspensions, served them, and then resumed their baseball careers.  There will be more pressure on ARod, as the face of PED cheating now that Barry Bonds is long-since retired/black-balled, but some of that will diminish if he can again help the Yankees win ballgames.

The Yankees may well hope that some miracle will happen to let them out of ARod’s over-sized contract, but I think in all likelihood a miracle is exactly what it’s going to take.  Neither the players’ union nor the insurer of ARod’s contract is going to sit around on their hands if the Yankees try to ice ARod after he says he ready to get back out on the field.  The Yanks are on the hook for $114 million to ARod and all the lawyers suckling at ARod’s teat; I just don’t see any of them giving up that much money without a legal battle to end all legal battles.

Nick Vander Tuig

June 26, 2013

Nick Vander Tuig, the San Francisco Giants’ sixth round pick this year, finished off his college season with a bang.  He threw eight innings of shutout ball as his UCLA Bruins defeated Mississippi State to win its first ever National NCAA baseball title.

Vander Tuig finished his college year with a 14-4 record, a 2.16 ERA and a pitching line of 129 IP, 108 hits, four HRs and 18 walks allowed and 93 Ks.  His fine tournament pitching certainly raises his stock as a 6th round draft pick.

However, the question about Vander Tuig as a professional player remains: does he have enough stuff to succeed beyond the AA level?

If he is an extreme ground ball pitcher, as his low 2013 home run count suggests, probably so. However, he allowed 13 HRs in 109 IP in 2012, which suggests that 2013 was simply an especially good season for the young right-hander.

Clearly, Vander Tuig’s command is outstanding, but we’ll have to wait and see about his ability to miss bats once he reaches the high minors.

Also, Vander Tuig has not signed a contract with the Giants yet.  We’ll have to wait and see if his great college post-season gooses his signing bonus.  According to Baseball America, via mlbtraderumors.com, is that slot for this pick is $212,300.  The college juniors the Giants drafted in the first ten rounds have all signed for slot except for 3rd round pick Chase Johnson, who gave the Giants a $70,000 discount.

His Defense Must Be Terrible

June 25, 2013

Johnny Monell, a catcher for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies, is currently batting .317 with a.986 OPS.  In his last ten games, he’s batting .405 with a 1.186 OPS.

It’s not a fluke.  Monell has hit well for years in the Giants’ minor league system.  He has a career .816 minor league OPS in almost 2,200 minor league plate appearances, more than half at the AA level or above, which is exceptional for a minor league catcher.  Yet, he’s never played in the majors, and he isn’t currently on the Giants’ 40-man roster.

Monell is a former 30th round draft pick, which means he isn’t going to get a single break he doesn’t earn and then some.  Even so, his record of thumping the baseball with the bat is starting to get to get redundant.

The only logical explanation is that his defense is terrible.  He’s thrown out 29% of base stealers in his minor league career, which isn’t very good, but it isn’t terrible either.  My guess is that he doesn’t otherwise field his position well, and he doesn’t handle pitchers or frame pitches well.

Even so, as a guy who can back-up at catcher and hits like he does, it’s amazing he’s never been on the Giants’ radar.  You never here reports on Monell from main-stream sports writers — the only place you hear anything about him is on blogs like this by people willing to delve into the minutia of a team’s minor league statistics and who proudly don’t know what they don’t know — i.e., who don’t know exactly why the parent team doesn’t think the player is any kind of a prospect.

The problem for Monell is that he’s already 27 years old this season.  If he isn’t any kind of a major league catcher on defense, he’s getting old to be a hitting prospect at some other position.  Even so, back-up catchers who hit like Monell are a rarity, but even this is a knock on Monell, since most teams, assuming they have a starter who can hit, prefer to carry a glove-man as a the back-up catcher.

Monell is a little like Brock Bond, a 2Bman who has put up some terrific minor league numbers but has never been called up by the Giants, except that Bond has found a way to get hurt at the most inopportune times.  Monell has been remarkably healthy for a catcher.

If we can take any lessons from the Johnny Monells and the Brock Bonds of the baseball world, it’s probably the following: (1) good hitting isn’t enough — a player at a key defensive position has to be at least adequate to make the majors unless he hits like the second coming of Josh Gibson; and (2) college players drafted after the 20th round are an after-thought unless and until they play so well that the parent club is forced to take notice.

Alfredo Despaigne Playing in Mexico

June 23, 2013

mlbtraderumors.com reports that under a deal with the Cuban government, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne will be playing for some period of time with the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League (Despaigne is 1 for 4 with a strikeout after one game in Mexico).

For those of you who have never heard of Despaigne, which is probably a majority of you, Despaigne is likely the best reasonably young hitter in the world not playing in the major leagues. The major league player he is most comparable to is fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedis — both are 27 this year (Despaigne is eight months younger) and the two traded off Cuba’s home run record during the years both played in the Serie Nacional (Despaigne set the record, Cespedis broke it, along with another great young Cuban hitter Jose Dariel Abreu, and then Despaigne set it again).

The main difference between Despaigne and Cespedis in Cuba was that Despaigne hit for higher batting averages.

It’s pretty amazing that Cuba would let Despaigne play in Mexico, since it obviously makes Despaigne’s ability to defect that much easier.  Apparently, the Cuban government believes that Despaigne will not defect, since he certainly has had many opportunities to do so in the past while playing abroad on the Cuban national team.  In fact, one almost wonders if the Cuban government does not at some level want Despaigne to defect, so that he may one day send large numbers of U.S. greenbacks to his family in Cuba, as many, many Cuban emigres to the U.S. now do.

On a purely selfish level, I am eagerly awaiting the death of the Castro brothers, simply so that the best Cuban baseball players can one day join MLB like the rest of the best players from the Americas and the world.  Cespedis, Despaigne and Yasil Puig are merely the tip of the iceberg.  Cuba is loaded with major league caliber players.

Alexie Bell is another great hitter, although at age 29 this year, he’s getting a little old.  Frederick Cepeda is another major league caliber hitter, although he’s now 33.  Jose Dariel Abreu, mentioned above, is 26 this year. That doesn’t even take into account the pitchers.

Before the revolution, Cuba was well ahead of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela in terms of the major league caliber players it produced.  While that has certainly changed with respect to Venezuela, a much more populous country, I have no doubt that Cuba would produce as many major leaguers today as the Dominican Republic does if its players were free to come to the U.S.

Communism as an economic system simply doesn’t work.  Let the best of Cuba’s players come to the U.S. to play and tax their incomes back in Cuba to pay for the country’s exceptional (for a Latin American country at least) education and health care systems.

Broadcasting for Stupid People

June 23, 2013

At some point every year I complain about the fact that Joe Buck and Tim McCarver broadcast MLB’s Game of the Week.  This is the one opportunity every week for baseball fans to watch two top teams play on free TV, yet they are subjected to Buck/McCarver’s lame humor, painfully obvious “inside baseball” comments and other baloney.

I caught the last inning and half of today’s Cardinals/Rangers game.  Two top teams playing — great baseball, terrible announcing.  It didn’t take long for Tim McCarver, a man who almost certainly knows more about professional baseball than 99.9% of the U.S. population, to say something that annoyed me.

Veteran closer Joe Nathan came in to pitch the ninth in a save situation.  McCarver, in giving Nathan’s bone fides, said something about Nathan’s “big break” coming when the Twins acquired him.  What nonsense!  As if the Twins trading for him had anything to do with Nathan developing into a great closer.

Giants’ fans know that Nathan was a hot prospect who regressed for a couple of seasons due to wildness and shoulder problems.  He came back from it, and in 2003 at age 28, he went 12-4 for the Giants with a 2.96 ERA and a pitching line of 79 IP, 51 hits, seven HRs and 33 walks allowed and 83 Ks.

In short, Nathan was all the way back from his shoulder problems, had developed command and was poised to become a great relief pitcher.  However, the Giants needed/wanted a catcher and traded Nathan, along with Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano, for A.J. Pierzynski and cash.  Pierzynski had hit .300 or better two years in a row and was not yet 27 when the trade took place.  It takes talent to get talent.

Why did the Twins trade Pierzynski?  Because he’s a dick.  Why did the Giants get rid of Pierzynski after only one season?  Because he’s a dick.

There’s more to it than that.  Pierzynski, a left-handed hitter, not surprisingly hit a lot worse playing his home games in the now-named AT&T Park in 2004 than he did in the Metrodome in 2003.  He also hit into an ugly 27 double plays in his one season for the Giants.

Even so, he was a young and decent hitting catcher who could play every day.  The main reason the Giants got rid of him, at least in my opinion, is because of an incident when he reportedly kicked the Giants’ trainer in the nuts.  Maybe the story is true, maybe it isn’t, but it seems fairly certain that Pierzynski was very unpopular in the clubhouse.  The Giants under General Manager Brian Sabean, and for that matter the Twins for the last generation, highly value team cohesion.

As everyone well knows, Pierzynski moved on with great success to the Chicago White Sox, a team where a Polish-named catcher who reputedly kicks trainers in the nuts is more highly valued.

At any rate, everyone was surprised at just how good Joe Nathan became.  However, anyone with a brain knew that Nathan was the principal piece in a trade for a .300 hitting catcher at the time the November 2003 deal was made.  The Twins didn’t have much to do with Nathan’s success.  If the Giants had held on to him, his pitching would have eventually compelled the Giants to make him their closer.

An example of pitcher who benefited from a change of scenery?  There are many, but one that comes immediately to mind is Santiago Casilla.  He was a marginal major leaguer for the Oakland A’s, despite pitching his home games in a park even friendlier to pitchers than AT&T.  However, after the Giants signed him as a free agent in the winter of 2009/10, he almost immediately developed into one of the best set-up men in the National League.

I’m not sure what turned him around, although I think his pitching style was much more suited to the senior circuit.  AT&T Park may also be a tougher park to hit the ball out of than the O.co Coliseum, which inhibits offense more by its enormous expanses of foul territory.

My criticisms of Tim McCarver are sometimes nit-picking, but it’s something that has built up over time like the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Why, after so many years of lame commentary are baseball fans still subjected to having to sit through Joe Buck and Tim McCarver making the Game of the Week so much less enjoyable than it would otherwise be?  Thank goodness for the mute button.

News Out of Asia

June 20, 2013

Manny Ramirez has opted out of his contract with the EDR Rhinos of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (“CPBL”) after half a season in which he hit .352 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs.  Manny hopes to return to the major leagues on the strength of his half season in Taiwan.

I’m not particularly sanguine about Manny’s chances.  While his performance in Taiwan was good enough for Manny to garner a roster spot at AAA with a chance to progress to the majors if he hits well there, it’s hard to imagine that many major league teams are going to want to take on all of his baggage now that he’s 41 years old and hasn’t played in the majors since 2011.

If any player were to be black-listed the way that Barry Bonds was five years ago, it would be Manny — at least pending a steroids suspension that sticks to Alex Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, 36 year old Korean slugger Seung-Yeop Lee set the all time Korean Baseball Organization (“KBO”) record with his 352nd career home run earlier this week.  While that may not sound like a whole lot, Lee spent eight years playing in Japan’s NPB between 2004 and 2011, where he hit an additional 159 HRs, giving him a grand total of 511 in his professional career, not counting any winter ball he may have played.

A truly great slugger, Lee hit 54 HRs in 1999 and 56 more in 2003 to set the all-time Asian single season record. At age 26 and ten months, he became the youngest player anywhere to hit 300 professional home runs in a “major” league.