Archive for September 2014

The Twins Should Just Give Phil Hughes the Extra $500,000

September 26, 2014

In his last start of the season, Phil Hughes came out early as a result of a long rain delay.  As a result, he is currently at 209.2 innings pitched this season, one out away from a $500,000 bonus, he would have earned upon pitching 210 innings this year.

Today, Hughes said he didn’t think it would be right to pitch a third of an inning in the last game of the season to earn the bonus, even though manager Ron Gardenhire has been quoted as saying he’s willing to let Hughes pitch again to earn the bonus.  Hughes’ attitude is refreshing, but frankly a little niave.

Hughes has earned the bonus.  He gave the Twins everything they were paying for when they signed him to a three-year deal, and the Twins agreed to the $500,000 bonus, because they knew they’d be getting their monies’ worth if he pitched 210 innings.  In fact, Hughes was one of the Twins’ few bright spots in what was otherwise yet another disappointing season in the Twin Cities.

The Twins should just give Hughes the $500,000.  It’s the right thing to do, more so that Hughes’ refusal to pitch a third of an inning in the season’s final game.  In the scheme of MLB salaries, $500,000 isn’t that much, and it would buy the team good will with players throughout baseball worth every bit as much as the 500 grand.

The players well know which organizations treat players fairly, and it can help the team sign players later if they have to decide between multiple teams making similar offers.  You can take the approach the Miami Marlins take, holding on to every dollar like grim death, but it makes it harder to win consistently over the long run.

Speaking of the Marlins, the loss of Giancarlo Stanton for the remainder of the season earlier this month must have been particularly disappointing for Marlins fans.  The Marlins franchise is a hard one to root for, given the fact that it is owned by a notoriously rich greed-head.  Stanton was one of the few things that gave Marlins fans a reason to pay MLB prices to see the team play, particularly after Jose Fernandez blew out his elbow tendon this spring.

Reports are that the Marlins plan to make Stanton a big contract offer this off-season.  However, that wouldn’t convince me they aren’t still the cheapest team in MLB.  Players of Stanton’s skill and youth are almost always the best big contract bets for teams even if they do cost the most.  I half wonder whether Mike Trout hasn’t already paid off in full on the $144 million extension the Angels just game him.

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The Law of Averages Sure Caught up with Mark Buehrle

September 25, 2014

After starting the season 10-1 through June 1st, Mark Buehrle won his 13th game of the season today.  With only four games left in the Blue Jays’ schedule, he isn’t likely to get any more.

This will the sixth year in a row in which Buehrle has won either 12 or 13 games, and the ninth year in a row he’s won between 10 and 15.  He is a remarkably consistent pitcher if not a remarkably good one, at least by MLB standards.  At his current pace, he’s exactly eight more seasons away from getting his 300th career win.

As I like to say, the law of averages will usually kick a ballplayers’ butt.

Some Thoughts about Foreign Players in Japan’s NPB

September 24, 2014

After having followed Japan’s NPB closely for many years, I feel like setting down some not very analytical thoughts generated mainly by personal observation.  First and foremost, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the vast majority of North American and Caribbean players to have long and successful careers in Japan started their NPB careers in their age 27 or 28 year old seasons, which is awfully old when you consider that baseball players as a group peak at about age 27.

The reasons for this are several.  First, almost all players born in the Americas dream of MLB success, not going and playing in Japan for a living.  Age 27 or 28 is the age at which the most talented players who haven’t yet established themselves as regular MLB players realize their chances of future MLB success are extremely slim, since everyone in MLB more or less knows that very few MLB regulars become regulars (and hold that status for a more than a season or two) after their age 26 seasons.  It does happen, but not very often at all.

Particularly for players that are relatively late bloomers, many have seasons at age 26 or 27 at AAA in which they are clearly playing  at a major league level, but they quickly learn the next spring that the MLB team that controls their rights really doesn’t see them as an option even if the player’s position is open at the major league level.

Second, NPB teams demand immediate production from relatively highly paid foreign players, and the level of play in NPB is high enough and different enough from MLB that it takes a veteran player at the top of his game to produce at a high level right from the get-go.

The relative short-sightedness of NPB teams with respect to foreign players is two-fold.  The poor NPB teams, which is most of them, know that even if they sign a foreign player who turns out to be a real gem, they’ll typically be able to hold on to that player for only about two seasons before he moves on a to bigger salary with one of NPB three or four wealthy teams.  You want immediate production from any player who’s only going to be around a couple of seasons even if he turns out to be a real star.  If you are going to develop young players, almost all of them will be Japanese, since they are much cheaper to start with and can be controlled for at least eight major league seasons.

Meanwhile, the three richest teams, the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers and SoftBank Hawks, fully expect to make the post-season every year, so they also want players who are going to help them do so immediately.  These teams are almost never in a rebuilding mode, so they sure aren’t going to keep any foreign player around who has a mediocre season.

Sometimes, the NPB’s insistence on immediate performance is almost mystifying.  Last year at age 26, Matt Clark his 25 HRs in only 467 plate appearances for the Chunichi Dragons, but they didn’t bring him back in 2014 because he hit only .238 in his NPB rookie season.  At his age, Clark almost certainly would have gotten better with more experience, but he wasn’t good enough fast enough, and he was back in AAA this year.

In fact, the only North American player I can remember having an impact season in Japan before the age of 26 was Cecil Fielder all the way back in 1989.  Fielder was a complete fluke, though, a guy who hit 31 home runs in 558 MLB plate appearances through his age 24 season, but somehow had been allowed to slip off to Japan by the Blue Jays because he’d had a couple of inopportune slumps and the Jays simply hadn’t given him enough opportunities.  There may have been other 25 or younger North American players to have big seasons in NPB since then, but none spring to mind.

When you add in the fact that what NPB teams want first and foremost from their foreign position players is power (there are plenty of Japanese players that can hit for average, but precious few with real home run power), which means that the foreign players tend to be big boys, the result is that they tend to have an extremely difficult time staying healthy.  Even starting their NPB careers at age 2y or 28, they usually don’t peak until their third season in NPB, which means they’re already about 30 years old.  Burly sluggers over age 30 have a hard time staying healthy just about anywhere.

I often think that are any number of foreign sluggers who could hit 40 or 50 home runs in NPB every year if they could just stay healthy.  Wladimir Balentien, Tony Blanco, Craig Brazell and this year Brad Eldred are all good examples of what I’m talking about.  The only current Japanese-born NPB player who’s at all comparable is Takaya Nakamura.

Among foreign born pitchers, the ones who seem to have the most success are those who had major league stuff but lacked major league command when they last played in the MLB system.  Most of these guys are also older, because it took MLB organizations a long time to give up on their great stuff.  Once they get to NPB, they can take advantage of a slightly lower caliber of hitter and a wider strike zone, which means more of their pitches get called strikes and they can challenge hitters more often.  Even so, except for Colby Lewis, few of these pitchers have been able to turn exceptional NPB success into later MLB success when they returned to the states.

A Shout Out to Yakyu Baka

September 23, 2014

I like to write about Japan’s NPB, mainly because I’ve been interested in Japanese baseball at least since reading Robert Whiting’s books about NPB in the 1980’s, but also because I think it’s an area in which the U.S. baseball blogosphere isn’t quite as saturated.  Anyway, the go-to sight for English-language news on NPB is yakyubaka.com.

To say that Gen covers NPB exhaustively is probably an understatement.  In fact, I only the visit the sight once every 10 to 14 days, because a lot of the news isn’t particularly interesting to me, particularly the game scores which I can get from NPB’s English language website with more numbers and less verbage.  When I visit the sight, I skim through the articles to find the information that interests me, and there’s always something that does.

Particularly, I always find it fun to see what tidbits and nuggets there are to be had about the Japanese game.  Believe it or not, NPB fans are even more interested in trivial statistics and comparisons than MLB fans, at least if Yakyu Baka is typical of the state of NPB reporting.  A baseball nerdling like me gets a kick out of knowing that the Yomiuri Giants’ great catcher Shinnosuke Abe just became only the fourth catcher in NPB history to hit 300 or more doubles and also just became only the eighth player in NPB history to hit home runs off of 200 or more different pitchers.

The factoids just go on and on — Korean relief ace Seung-hwan Oh just got the first base hit of his major league (KBO and NPB) career — Mauro Gomez just became the 17th foreign player to drive in 100 or more runs in his first season in NPB and the first such player in Hanshin Tiger history — Takahiro Norimoto just became the sixth pitcher to strike out all nine hitters in a line-up and the first since Hisashi Iwakuma in 2009 —  Norimoto also set a Rakuten Golden Eagles franchise record with his seventh shutout of the season, besting Masahiro Tanaka‘s mark also set in 2009 — and that’s all in the just the last four days of Yaku Baka’s reporting.

Yaku Baka is also a great way to keep track of the players who might one day cross the pond to MLB, since almost every injury is reported in excruciating detail.  If a player slipped on a banana peel, and was only able to throw 26 of his typical 40+ pitches in his last throwing session before his next start, you hear about it.

For what it’s worth, MLB fans are becoming increasingly aware of professional baseball beyond North America’s shores. One big part of that is more foreign players; the other part is the internet.  Still, one drives the other and vice versa.  Baseball Reference is now attempting to publish most Mexican League, NPB and KBO stats, at least for about the last ten or twelve seasons.  They wouldn’t be doing so if they didn’t think there would be an interest in this data, if not today, then sometime very soon.

Will Kyuji Fujikawa Put It Together for the Cubs in 2015?

September 23, 2014

For those of you into rotisserie league baseball, a good, low-cost bet for 2015 would the Kyuji Fujikawa.  He isn’t likely to cost you anything, but it seems to me he’s right on the verge of putting it together and becoming an effective late-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

Even though he’ll be 34 next year, there are a lot of indications he’s got major league stuff and just needs a little more time to put it together against major league hitters following his Tommy John surgery last year.  His major league numbers are strange and leave me thinking something’s got to give, hopefully in a positive way for the Cubbies.

In 25 innings pitched over 27 appearances the last two seasons, Fujikawa has struck out 31 and walked only eight.  That’s terrific.  However, he’s also allowed 29 hits and three home runs, which isn’t.  This makes me think that Fijikawa has major league stuff and major league command, but he isn’t spotting his pitches when he needs to and isn’t taking advantage of hitters’ weaknesses and tendencies as much as he needs to.

Fujikawa was so incredibly good in Japan’s NPB, and also in very limited playing time in the American minor leagues the last two seasons, that you have to think he’s eventually going to put it all together.  I think 2015 will be his year.

Still Hating the One-Game Wildcard Play-off

September 19, 2014

As we get closer to the post-season, I feel again the need to express my displeasure at the one-game wild card playoff.  Further, I would feel this way even if my team, the SF Giants, were not likely facing a one-game do-or-die game in a week or ten days from now.

I understand that MLB doesn’t want to make the post-season any longer, and I recognize that there isn’t a lot of national interest in a long wild card series.  Even so, I feel that a three-game series would be markedly more satisfying and meaningful.

After playing a 162-game schedule to reach the play-offs,  a one game series doesn’t prove much of anything, except, I guess, if the two wildcard teams have identical records, so that one game creates a clear winner.  In fact, about as often or not, one of the wild card teams has a better record than one of the division winners, so making them play a one-game do-or-die match is particularly unsatisfying.

It’s worth noting that back in the days when only a single team from each league went on the post-season, the National League decided end of season draws with a best two-out-of-three series.  This happened twice, with the Giants beating the Dodgers both times, first in 1951 and again in 1962.  The Junior Circuit used a one-game series to resolve ties.

I don’t really have a problem with having a lot more teams in the post-season, although the current ten-team format seems to be a good limit at least through the next six expansion teams.  However, if you are going to have more teams in the play-offs, it seems to me there’s really no way around at least a few more play-off games if the play-offs are really going to mean anything.

A best two-out-of-three series played in the park of the wildcard team with the better record makes the most sense to me, with perhaps a 2-and-1 format in the event the two wildcard teams finish with the same record.  A three-game series doesn’t prove a great deal either, but it’s definitely better than one lousy game.  Making the post-season two days longer just isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.

Bounce the Bean-Ballers

September 13, 2014

Earlier this season, I wrote a piece about how in South Korea’s KBO if a pitcher hits a batter in the head with a pitch, he’s automatically ejected, regardless of intent.  It’s a great idea because it takes away from the umpire an impossible decision about whether the pitcher had any intention to do it, and it tends to discourage something almost everybody would agree is a bad thing — a batter getting hit in the head with a pitched ball.

After yesterday’s beanings of both Giancarlo Stanton and Chase Headley, it seems like a good time to make this same point again.

Discipline was handed down today for events after Stanton got hit, when the same pitcher Mike Fiers also hit the next batter Reed Johnson on the hand.  If Fiers is out of the game for hitting Stanton in the face, none of that needless drama happens, and there’s less reason for Marlins pitcher Anthony Desclafani to be throwing at Brewers’ hitters later in the game (Desclafani was given a three-game suspension today for doing so).

I don’t think Fiers had any intent to hit Stanton — he threw a fastball that ran so much it kind of froze Stanton, and Fiers’ body language at the moment of impact suggested he hadn’t meant for it to happen.  Still, that’s kind of beside the point.  If Fiers is automatically ejected, that ends it right there, and there’s an immediate payback for the Marlins of a sort.  If nothing else, it creates an immediate, but hardly unfair or extreme, consequence for a pitcher who throws up and in without enough command of his pitches.  If the umpire makes a judgment call that the pitcher intended to hit the batter in the head, he could always be allowed to recommend to the league that the pitcher be hit with a further punishment.

Unfortunately, MLB is such a conservative institution that, at least until another batter is killed or permanently disabled by a pitched ball, no rule change will be made no matter how good the new rule may be.  There’s an awful lot of “we’ve never done it that way, so it can’t be right” in the MLB mind-set.  It’s a shame, because this proposed change is extremely minor but would prevent at least one or two ugly incidents every season.