Archive for April 2015

Is Madison Bumgarner Already the Greatest Left-Hander in San Francisco Giants History?

April 29, 2015

Madison Bumgarner again out-dueled Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw last night in Los Angeles.  MadBum’s victory got me thinking whether or not it is time to anoint him the title of the Greatest Left-Handed Pitcher in San Francisco Giants’ History, particularly in light of the fact that the San Francisco team has always had tremendous difficulty in developing ace left-handers.

After looking into this question further, I have concluded not yet, but very soon, unless Bumgarner is unexpectedly traded or suffers a career-ending injury.

The following is a list of the left-handers with the most wins as San Francisco Giants with their won-loss records:

Kirk Rueter  105-80

Mike McCormick  104-94

Gary Lavelle  73-67, 127 saves

Vida Blue 72-58

Madison Bumgarner 69-50

Shawn Estes 69-50

Barry Zito 63-80

Atlee Hammaker 58-59

Ron Bryant 57-55

Billy O’Dell  56-49

Bob Knepper 53-55

At this moment I rank the Greatest San Francisco Giants Left-Handers as follows:

1. Mike McCormick.  He led the NL in ERA in 1960 and won the Cy Young Award as an SF Giant in 1967.  At this point, I think he’s still too many SF Giants career wins ahead of Bumgarner for MadBum to be No. 1.

2.  Madison Bumgarner.

3.  Kirk Rueter  A terrific career won-loss record, but he was never the team’s No. 1 starter in his long SF Giants’ career.

4.  Gary Lavelle.  Clearly the best left-handed reliever in SF Giants history, Lavelle pitched more than 100 innings in five different seasons as a Giant, which allows him to compete with the top starters in terms of value, as reflected by the fact that only two left-handers have more career wins as an SF Giant.

5.  Vida Blue.  Vida’s great hurrah for the SF Giants was his first half in 1978 when he started the season 16-4, had the team unexpectedly out in front in the NL West and started the All-Star Game for the Senior Circuit.  Vida cooled off badly in the second half, and so did the rest of the team, ultimately losing the division title to the hated Dodgers.

6.  Shawn Estes.  Estes is remembered as a disappointment, because he had only one great season (1997 when he went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA) at the beginning of his major league career.  However, he was great that one season and finished his Giants’ career with an impressive won-loss record, at least in comparison to other San Francisco Giants’ left-handers.

7.  Ron Bryant.  Bryant also had only one great year (1973 when he went 24-12 and finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting) after which he blew out his arm.  However, Bryant was also good in 1972.

8.  Billy O’Dell.  O’Dell went 19-14 for the 1962 World Series team and also had a good year in 1963.

9.  Atlee Hammaker.  Famously remembered as never being the same after the 1983 All-Star game in which he got hammered, Hammaker actually threw four more high quality starts in the second half of the season before his arm gave out.

10.  Bob Knepper.  Knepper was 10-5 at the 1978 All-Star Break and finished the season 17-11.  Knepper and Blue will always hold a certain place in my heart because 1978 was the year I really became a Giants fan.

11.  Barry Zito.  If salaries are factored into the rankings, Zito would certainly rank even lower.  However, he deserves a place on my list solely by virtue of his 2012 post-season performance.

12.  Jeremy Affeldt. Now in his seventh season as a Giant, Affeldt’s career numbers as an SF Giants (15-17 record, 10 saves) says a lot about how much the job of relief pitching has changed since Gary Lavelle’s era.

In Giants’ franchise history, there is still no doubt that Carl Hubbell was the Greatest Left-Hander.    For Madison Bumgarner to make a case for the franchise title, he’ll have to spend almost his entire career with the Giants and be exceptionally healthy in the second half of his career.

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Josh Hamilton and Kris Bryant

April 25, 2015

Rumor has the Angels trading Josh Hamilton to the Rangers in exchange for taking $15 million of the remaining $83 million owed to him.  Hamilton back in Texas sounds just about ideal for everyone.  There was a rumor of Shin-soo Choo going to the Angels, which would also make a certain amount of sense, given the large number of Korean Americans in greater Los Angeles and his incredibly poor performance in Dallas/Ft. Worth so far.  However, this rumor has disputed by at least one source.

Apparently the MLB Players Association has waited a few days before asking Kris Bryant whether he wants to bring a grievance regarding be kept in the minors for eight games and eleven days to the start the season so that the Cubs could hold on to his rights for one more year even though he was clearly ready to be promoted for Opening Day.

I couldn’t find anything in the MLBPA Basic Agreement regarding this situation, and the Basic Agreement contains the following reservation of rights clause in favor of the owners:  “Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to restrict the rights of the Clubs to manage and direct their operations in any manner whatsoever except as specifically limited by the terms of this Agreement.”

If the contract is silent regarding the teams’ rights to make decisions unilaterally regarding when they elect to promote the player, then teams should have the right to make these decisions unilaterally under the reservation of rights clause.  It’s also been reported there haven’t been any previous arbitration decisions under the basic agreement addressing this issue.  Thus, it looks like the owners would win in arbitration.

There’s also something to be said for Bryant trying to get along with the team with which he has to spend the next almost seven seasons.  It’s obvious already that Bryant and his agent Scott Boras won’t be giving the Cubs any bargains here on out; and they will have four, instead of the usual three, rounds of salary arbitration, which could be very expensive for the Cubs if Bryant decides to go year to year or forces the Cubs to give him an extension topping what the Marlins gave to Giancarlo Stanton.

I certainly won’t feel bad if Bryant sticks it to the Cubbies if he develops the way it looks like he will.

As a final related note, I can’t see how leaving Bryant in the minors for eight games reasonably could have cost the Cubs more than one game in the standings.  The Cubs went 5-3 before promoting Bryant and only one of those three losses was by fewer than three runs. Unless the Cubs miss the playoffs or fail to escape the one-game wildcard by a single win, leaving Bryant in the minors won’t have hurt the Cubs any.

Thoughts from Here and There

April 22, 2015

The Yomiuri Giants today signed former Milwaukee Brewer and Toronto Blue Jay Juan Francisco for 140 million yen (approx. $1.17 million).  Those of you who read this blog with any regularity know that I love to write about the the North American players Japanese NPB teams recruit.

On the plus side, Francisco is age 28 this season, which is just about the ideal age for North American 4-A rookies in NBB, and he’s got MLB class power and significant MLB experience, two things NPB teams covet and value.  On the down side, Francisco strikes out a god-awful lot, and NPB pitchers know how to work the larger NPB strike zone nearly as well as MLB pitchers work the MLB strike zone.  Also, Francisco can’t hit left-handed pitching, which will hurt him tremendously as an every day player in Japan, since NPB teams don’t pay foreigners $1 million-plus to be excellent platoon players.

Francisco is certainly worth the risk for an NPB team, but NPB teams don’t fully appreciate Russell Branyon-type players, which is what I think Juan will be in Japan, as I would expect his performance to be something very similar to Dan Johnson‘s 2009 season for the Yokohama Bay Stars.

Carlos Rondon’s first appearance for the White Sox tonight was kind of what I expected — Rondon still needs to improve his command after only 34.1 minor league innings pitched.  How quickly Rondon shows major league command is essentially how quickly he establishes himself as a major league star, since the stuff is clearly there.

The St. Louis Cardinals designated former Giants’ 1st round draft pick Gary Brown for assignment today in order to clear a space on the 40-man roster after a brutal start at AAA Memphis.  Brown, who hasn’t amounted, at least so far, to even a major league bench player, has to rank as one of the worst 1st round draft picks of recent Giants’ memory.  My guess is he clears waivers with room to spare.

Former Giants’ middle infield hopefuls Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen are still hanging around, with Burriss apparently erroneously reported to be promoted to the Washington Nationals a couple  of days ago (he hasn’t played in the majors since 2012) and with Frandsen just having signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  My heart has a soft spot for long-term marginal major leaguers; they eke out their careers and never make the truly big money, but they have their moments and leave some fairly long columns in the record books.

For that matter, John Bowker is back in the Giants’ organization toiling for the AAA Sacramento River Cats this season.  He’s not looking like he’s got a whole lot left at an old 31, but the season is still young.

 

No Way to Start the Season

April 18, 2015

The San Francisco Giants have lost eight in a row and now have the second worst record in MLB, with only the Brewers off to a worse start.

The team isn’t hitting, and the Giants don’t have a whole lot of options to improve in the near term.  Adam Duvall is off to a fine start at AAA Sacramento, posting a 1.172 OPS in nine games, but the only position he can reasonably play at the major league level is 1B.  While Brandon Belt is off to a brutally bad start, you have to figure that Belt will start hitting eventually, and that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take significant playing time away from Belt to get Duvall in the line-up.  Belt needs a couple of days off, but not more than that, unless he’s hurt and hasn’t been telling anyone.

The only bright spot in the Giants’ young season so far is the emergence of Matt Duffy as a major league player.  As an 18th round draft pick out of a major college program (Long Beach State) it’s safe to say that nobody considered him to be much more than a minor league roster-filler.  Now, if Duffy keeps playing the way he has so far, it’s going to be tough for the Giants to take his bat out of the line-up to play Casey McGehee now that the latter’s bone bruise has healed.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2015

April 11, 2015

As everyone knows, 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 might 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 (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot 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 and many were fine college hitters.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2015 update 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.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average above .160 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 their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

All that said, here is my non-scientific list of the best hitting pitchers currently playing as we start of the 2015 season:

1.  Zack Greinke.  (.217 career batting average, .599 career OPS)  I now rank  Zack Grienke as the best hitting pitcher in baseball, based mostly on his career .599 OPS, which is the best among pitchers with at least 100 at-bats.

One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have  for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and having spent his minor league time or his entire career for a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

2.   Mike Leake. (.233 BA, .585 OPS)  Leake switches places with Greinke as MLB’s best hitting pitcher this year, but he’s got the career numbers to put him in the conversation.  Leake’s best hitting years were years one and three of his major league career.  He’s cooled off the last two seasons, but is still a well better than average hitting pitcher.

3.  Daniel Hudson (.229 BA, .573 OPS) & CC Sabathia (.225, .565).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  Because of arm injuries, which have turned him into a relief pitcher when he’s healthy enough to pitch, Hudson hasn’t had a plate appearance since 2012.  He’s still active, though, so he remains on the list.

Sabathia is 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 (roughly four or five at-bats) during inter-league play, but he’s gotten his hits when he’s had the opportunity.  Although he hasn’t had a hit in the last four seasons (in all of 14 plate appearances), he’s still hitting .225 with a .565 OPS in 111 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 great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.

5.  Travis Wood.  (.191 BA, .555 OPS)  According to fangraphs.com, Travis Wood was the second best hitting pitcher in MLB has year, just ahead of Zack Greinke and Mike Leake.  Wood has hit six home runs over the last two seasons, which is terrific.

6.  Yovani Gallardo.  (.195 BA, .550 OPS) While Gallardo’s career batting average dropped below the Mendoza Line during a very poor hitting 2014 season, his 12 career home runs and 32 career extra base hits in 416 at-bats still makes him one of the best power threats among active major league pitchers.

7Dan Haren.   Haren has a .209 lifetime batting average and .530 career OPS in 368 major league at-bats despite spending much of his career in the Junior Circuit.  Greinke, Haren and CC Sabathia are the best arguments against the designated hitter.

8.  Adam Wainwright. (.201 BA, .517 OPS)  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off at bit in recent seasons, but he still has a career batting average above .200 and an OPS above .500 in roughly 500 major league at-bats.

Honorable Mentions.   Madison Bumgarner was the best hitting pitcher in MLB for the 2014 season, batting .258 with .755 OPS, four HRs, 10 runs scored and 15 RBIS.  However, Bumgarner was merely a better than average hitting pitcher his first three major league seasons and was dreadful as a hitter in 2013.  His career numbers (.164 BA, .458) aren’t good enough to get him onto the list.  Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Bumgarner really is one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball or if 2014 was merely one great fluke season.

It’s worth noting that Cole Hamels (.174 BA, .412 OPS) and Clayton Kershaw (.156, .376), like Bumgarner, have improved dramatically as hitters the last few seasons after inauspicious starts to their major league batting careers.

Manny Parra (.188 BA, .507 OPS); Jason Marquis (.197, .494) and Andrew Cashner (.200, .493) all deserve mention.  As you can see, however, the best hitting pitchers get bad in absolute terms pretty quickly.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchTyler Chatwood (.275 BA, .610 OPS in 69 ABs) and Jose Fernandez (.197 BA, .482 OPS in 66 ABs) are trying to get healthy enough to resume their pitching and batting careers.  Jacob DeGrom, who hit .217 with a .495 OPS in 46 at-bats last year, is the most promising 2014 rookie I found.

The 2016 Update to this post is here.

Alex Rodriguez and Yankees on a Mini-Collision Course

April 11, 2015

This article in the New York Times says that now that ARod has hit his first HR upon his return, the Yankees are confirming they will absolutely not pay him the $6 million bonus he was supposed to get for home run #660, which is now only five away.  That means a challenge from the Players’ Association, since it will fight a lot harder for the principle that player compensation can’t be taken away beyond the period of suspension, than they did on the question of whether Rodriguez took steroids.

From what I know of the facts, it sounds like the Players’ Association has the better case by far, since it’s a pretty straightforward argument that the $6 million bonus is compensation regardless of what unknown event might occur at some unspecified time in the future.  MLB says that the bonus was for marketing based on ARod’s big dinger.

Obviously, it will come down to the specific language of the ARod/Yankees contract and whether it contains any language reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that bad behavior by ARod could terminate the bonus.  Since I don’t know the actual terms of their contract, I can’t say with certainty.

However, I find it hard to believe that Scott Boras would have left such language in the contract, particularly when he was holding most of the cards in the negotiations, since the Yankees thought they might really make more than the bonuses and the whole contract if things had gone right for them.

At any rate, as the Times article suggests, the parties are likely to settle the matter short of an arbitration hearing.  I would expect a settlement where ARod accepts $4-5 million, in order to avoid all risk that he gets an arbitrator who still thinks ARod should be punished.

 

Asian Teams Are Fickle

April 9, 2015

One of the advantages of having a limited number of roster spots for foreign players is that teams in Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO can be as imperious with their foreign players as they want to be.

This past off-season, the KBO’s Hanwa Eagles played tough with their top 2014 position player Felix Pie.  After batting .326 with power while playing what was probably above-average KBO center field defense, Pie thought he was due for big raise.  The Eagles, who had finished in last place in a nine-team league in spite of Pie’s efforts, felt otherwise.

However, according to Pie’s agent, Pie had accepted to the Eagles’ final contract offer, when Eagles’ management, which had recently hired a new (and highly respected in the KBO) manager who decided he didn’t want Pie re-signed.  As a result, the Eagles allegedly reneged on the agreed-upon contract, leaving Pie high and dry late in the off-season.

More recently, NPB’s Yokohama Bay Stars decided to terminate their 2015 contract with Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel.  This move is something of a head-scratcher, because Gurriel has long been recognized as one of the best Cuban players not willing to defect to play in MLB.  In only 62 NPB games last year, Gurriel had 33 extra base hits, a .305 batting average and an .885 OBP.  He definitely appeared to be a keeper.

Why the Bay Stars decided to jettison a player of Gurriel’s obvious and proven talents has a lot to do with the top-down thinking in Asian professional baseball.  Gurriel had just finished the Cuban Serie Nacional season.  The Bay Stars wanted him to come to Japan immediately.  Gurriel decided he wanted to remain in Cuba to give himself time to heal a right hamstring injury he’d suffered during the Cuban season.

The Bay Stars were so eager to get Gurriel to Japan, even if his leg was still hurting, that they sent a representative to meet with him in Cuba in late March.  When Gurriel continued to insist that he’d stay in Cuba until he felt his leg was fully healed, the Bay Stars dumped him.

Gurriel hit for average in Cuba this winter and had a .376 on-base percentage, but he hit only one home run all season, leaving him with an OPS below .750.  One has to think that Gurriel was playing hurt most of the winter.  If so, his decision to remain in Cuba to rest his leg makes a lot of sense, since if he went to Japan, you would have to think that the Bay Stars would have put a lot of pressure on him to get into the line-up as soon as possible, whether his hamstring was ready or not.

In unrelated NPB news, the Hiroshima Carp just signed former Giant and Cub Nate Schierholtz to a one-year deal for a reported $1.162 million.  That’s big money for the small-market Carp for a player yet to prove himself in NPB.

It’s definitely the right move for Schierholtz, who no longer looks like even a major league bench player, at least if the contract is guaranteed.  If not, Nate better get off to a great start, because Japanese teams have no patience for foreigners who don’t produce immediately.