Archive for April 2014

Giants’ Prospect Mac Williamson to Miss Rest of 2014

April 29, 2014

Mac Williamson, the San Francisco Giants 3rd round pick in the 2012 Draft, will miss the rest of the 2014 season due to damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow which will require Tommy John surgery.  While Williamson is an outfielder rather than a pitcher, the injury is bad indeed for Williamson’s status as a top Giants’ prospect.

Baseball America ranked Williamson as the Giants’ 5th best prospect and MLB.com ranked him 9th (I ranked him 18th) after a fine season at A+ San Jose in 2013.  However, due to his elbow problems, the Giants returned Williamson to San Jose this season, so he could be a full-time designated hitter (pitchers bat for themselves in National League affiliated AA Eastern League parks, but not in the A+ California League).  He was off to a great start this year, batting .318/.420/.506 in 100 plate appearances.

The main reason the injury is so serious to Williamson’s prospect status is that he wasn’t particularly young to begin with.  He turns 24 in mid-July, so even assuming he’s ready to go by Spring Training 2015, he’ll be an old 24 year old who hasn’t yet played at the AA level.

Another issue will be the effect that the Tommy John surgery has on his throwing arm.  Outfielders typically come back from Tommy John surgery faster than pitchers do.  However, one of Williamson’s plus skills was his right field throwing arm.  He recorded 18 assists in 140 career minor league games played in right field going into the 2014 season.  That’s terrific.  If he loses something on throwing arm, it will be a real shame.

As it stands now, Williamson probably won’t reach the majors until after his 26th birthday.  It’s tough to establish yourself as a major league regular at that age.

What Are Tim Lincecum’s Hall of Fame Chances?

April 26, 2014

Last year, a friend asked me what I thought about Tim Lincecum‘s Hall of Fame chances and how many games Lincecum would need to win to have a legitimate shot at future Hall of Fame election.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Clearly, Big Time Timmy Jim’s current Hall of Fame credentials are two Cy Young Awards, two World Series championships and the no-hitter he threw last year.  Those are some pretty major accomplishments for any pitcher hoping to one day make the Hall of Fame.

However, Lincecum hasn’t done much else to boost a future Hall of Fame candidacy.  He’s never won 20 games in a season, and he’s led his league (the NL) in only four major statistical categories through his first seven seasons, winning percentage in 2008 and strikeouts in 2008 through 2010.

As for how many career wins Timmy needs to have a real shot at election, I think the magic number is at least 190.  There are already a number of Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer than 200 career wins, and with more wins being transferred from starters to relief pitchers in today’s game (and little likelihood that this trend will change), 190 wins would probably be enough for a pitcher with Lincecum’s highs listed above.  For example, there’s no doubt in my mind that both Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez will eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame even though neither finished with much more than 200 career wins.

The problem for Lincecum right now is that he doesn’t look like a pitcher who will reach 190 wins.  He currently has a career record of 90-71, less than half of the total I think he needs, and he hasn’t been a good starter since 2011.  He’s going to need a return at least to the pitcher he was in 2010 and 2011 and maintain that level of performance for at least five seasons if he’s going to have any chance of getting enough career wins.

Right now, there’s a pervading sense of Timmy being a disappointment, insofar as his career got off to this incredible start but he’s gotten steadily worse in two year increments.  He’s going to need a sustained resurgence to make future Hall of Fame voters forget that sense that he hasn’t lived up to his enormous potential.

Giants Bring Back Travis Ishikawa on Minor League Deal

April 25, 2014

The San Francisco Giants today signed their former prospect Travis Ishikawa to a minor league deal and assigned him to AAA Fresno. It’s a nice story to have the Giants bring back Ish, but I still think his best professional future remains getting a job with a Japanese team.

I just don’t see Ish helping the Giants much in the future.  Even if Brandon Belt were to get hurt, I think the Giants have other better options to fill in at first, for example, moving Buster Posey to first and calling up Andrew Susac to split the catching duties with Hector SanchezMike Morse could also be moved to first with Gregor Blanco playing in left.

KBO Attendance Up

April 24, 2014

Attendance for South Korea’s KBO is up 12% from a year ago, and the KBO has drawn 1,000,000 fans in the third fewest games (behind 2012 and 1995) in its 33 year history.

While there are likely many factors involved in this year’s increase in KBO attendance, at least so far in the young season, I have to think that one important factor is the KBO’s decision to increase the number of foreign players from two to three per team and the KBO’s increasing willingness to pay for foreign players of the caliber who used to go almost exclusively to Japan’s NPB.

After a couple of seasons with no foreign position players, the KBO’s new foreign player rules require that one of the three foreign players on each team be a position player.  The nine foreign position players in the KBO this year are all off to fine starts, with all nine having an OPS of at least .821 and four of them over 1.000 (including most notably former San Francisco Giant Brett Pill and former Tampa Bay Ray Luke Scott), as of today.

The KBO’s 19 foreign pitchers have had a greater mix of performances so far, but that seems to me as it should be in a league that is putting an increasingly skilled baseball product on the field.

Michael Pineda’s Pine Tar Neck and Other Yankee Notes

April 24, 2014

Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda got busted by the Red Sox yesterday for having a big smear of pine tar on his neck.  The ump came out, fingered Pineda’s neck and threw him out of the game.  Pineda now faces a mandatory 10-game suspension (two starts) for using a foreign substance on the baseball.

Reportedly, using pine tar is mainly a method to help the pitcher get a better grip on the ball in cold, dry weather when rosin doesn’t work well for that purpose.  Hitters say they don’t really have a problem with pine tar, at least so long as it’s applied discretely, since it doesn’t really alter the flight of the ball and may make it less likely that they’ll get hit by a pitch that gets away from the pitcher.

I think these kinds of episodes add a little spice to the game.  A player tries to get away with a little something to give him an edge, and sometimes he gets caught and punished.  This particular episode will be a subtext in all the remaining Yankee-Red Sox games this year, and the Sox will have to worry that the Yankees will be doing everything they can to catch one of their pitchers (for example, Clay Buchholz, who has been accused of using foreign substances in the past) doing something he shouldn’t.

In my mind, it’s extremely easy to differentiate this kind of cheating from the use of performance enhancing drugs.  The reason that performance enhancing drug cheating is different is mainly because use of PEDs is really unhealthy.  No one ever got liver damage, heart problems, or an increased risk of cancer by applying a foreign substance to a baseball.

Futher, more than the adverse health effects that PEDs cause to the adult athletes who elect to take them, failing to sternly punish PED use by professional athletes promotes PED use by teenage athletes hoping to get an edge so they can become professionals themselves one day.  Of course, some athletes, professional and otherwise, will use PEDs to get an edge no matter what the consequences.  However, professional sports don’t need to be promoting their use and abuse by turning a blind eye on their athletes using them.

In another piece of Yankee news, espn.com has a screaming headline that Masahiro Tanaka says it isn’t impossible he could go 24-0 in MLB like he did in Japan last year.  Reading the story and Tanaka’s actual statements, the headline seems way overblown.

Tanaka’s actual statements aren’t extreme at all.  He says the chances of him going 24-0 in MLB are not zero (they aren’t: there is at least an absolutely minute possibility that Tanaka could do it), that he tries his best to win every game he pitches (what major league pitcher doesn’t?), and that he refuses to think it’s impossible in order to keep his mental edge.

As a practical matter, the odds of Tanaka going 24-0 in the MLB are extremely small, but certainly not impossible.  The record for consecutive wins by a major league pitcher is 24 (in 27 starts) by Carl Hubbell between the 1936 and 1937 seasons.

As a final note, Tanaka is sometimes reported to have a 30 game winning streak going between the end of the 2012 season and this season.  That’s true in terms of his regular season wins.  However, Tanaka lost the most important game of his 2013 season, Game Six of the Japan Series, by a 4-2 score, although he had won Game 2 and came back to save Game 7, giving his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles its first Japan Series title.

24 consecutive wins is something I don’t think we’ll see again for a long time, either in MLB or in Japan’s NPB.

Connie Marerro Passes

April 23, 2014

Former Cuban ace and Washington Senator pitcher Connie Marerro died today, two days before his 103rd birthday.  He pitched for the Senators for five years, starting his major league career a few days before his 39th birthday in 1950.  He won 39 major league games and was one of the few bright spots on some Senators’ teams that were usually going nowhere, even making the American League All-Star team in 1951.

Marrero was a tiny right-hander (he’s listed as 5’6″) who didn’t start pitching until age 27, after starting his amateur career in Cuba as an infielder.  He had a strange and deceptive pitching motion (and probably well more than one) which Felipe Alou described as looking like “a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards.”  He threw breaking pitches — sliders, curves and a knuckler — which bedeviled opposing batters.

Marrero was extremely gregarious and was famed for his quotes in broken English, his always present cigars and his good humor, all of which made him the most popular Senator of his era.  Here is SABR’s biography of Marerro, if you want to read more about him.

Oakland A’s Reject 10-Year Coliseum Lease Proposal

April 23, 2014

The A’s today rejected the Oakland Coliseum Authority’s proposal for a ten-year lease extension, reportedly because the Coliseum Authority’s proposal did not address all of the A’s concerns regarding the condition of the now 48-year, multi-use stadium.  The Coliseum’s repeated sewage overflows have become legendary, and it’s hard to understand why the A’s would have any interest in a new 10-year lease, instead of say five years at a maximum, in light of the fact that the team obviously needs a new baseball-only stadium somewhere.

It’s been years and years that the A’s have been trying to move to San Jose, where the city has provided the A’s with a downtown location on which to build a new stadium at the team’s expense.  MLB and Commissioner Turd Selig continue to block the A’s move to the South Bay, as they did a year ago and a year before that.  Time passes, and no sensible deal has been reached to let the A’s move where the fans and the baseball weather are and to buy out the San Francisco Giants’ territorial rights.

In fact, the only reason that I can see for why a deal cannot be reached for the A’s to move to San Jose and the Giants to get paid off (say $150 million paid out over 30 years), is that Giants’ ownership is thinking about the very long-term future of the Giants.  Some day AT&T Park is going to get old and rundown (maybe 40 years from now), and the Giants want to retain the option of either moving to San Jose or using the threat of moving to San Jose to extort better terms from the City of San Francisco.  The Giants have obviously seen how well this worked for the 49ers, who start play in Santa Clara this fall.

The only arguments against this theory are that the Giants’ need for a new stadium is so far out in the future, and businesses usually don’t concern themselves with prospective conditions more than about 10 years out.  At any rate, it’s probably time for the A’s to start negotiating with other localities, such as Portland (OR), Sacramento and San Antonio, and making those negotiations public news in order to force MLB to do something about the A’s stadium situation.