Archive for June 2015

Home Run Derby

June 30, 2015

Thanks to the rise of digital television and the explosion of new digital channels looking for cheap content to broadcast, I got to see my first episode of the classic syndicated TV show Home Run Derby which originally aired in 1960.  The episode I watched had the San Francisco Giants’ Willie Mays beating out the Washington Senators’ Bobby Allison, before the franchise’s move to Minnesota.

It’s well known that this TV show was the inspiration for the Home Run Derby that plays a part of the All-Star Break.  However, the original show had slightly different rules.  Any batting practice pitch thrown for a strike that was not hit out of the ballpark was counted as an out, and the hitters took turns hitting with three “outs” constituting a half inning.

19 of the era’s best sluggers appeared on the show, nine of them future Hall of Famers (you can find a listing in the wikipedia article I link to above).  The most successful participants, not surprisingly, were Hank Aaron (6-1), Mickey Mantle (4-1) and Willie Mays (3-2).

The players were paid for their appearances with winners receiving $2,000 an episode and losers getting a $1,000.  Players also got $500 bonuses for their third home run in a row and for their fourth home run and received $1,000 for their fifth consecutive home run and for each consecutive home run after that.  Since Ted Williams, who was finishing up his career in 1959-1960, never appeared on the show, it’s safe to say that none of the participants was then earning more than $90,000 a year, if that, so the money was a very nice supplement to their regular salaries.

Jackie Jensen was the only player in the show’s history to hit five consecutive home runs, so even though he lost the series’ final episode 13-10 to Mickie Mantle, he actually made more money for that episode ($3,000 to $2,500 for Mantle, who hit three in a row during the episode.)  Hank Aaron earned the most money on the show ($13,500) with Mantle the only other player to earn a cool $10,000.

The show was filmed at Wrigley Park in Los Angeles, the former home of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, who moved out of L.A. when the Dodgers came to town in 1958, and the soon-to-be home (1961) of the Los Angeles Angels of the American League.  Special rules were adopted to make the home run dimensions roughly equal for right-handed and left-handed hitters.

The wikipedia article linked to above is not clear on just how popular the show was, although I would expect that it was popular, given the brisk pace of the show, and what was then the novel opportunity to see the games great sluggers compete head-to-head to see who could hit the most batting practice fastballs out of the yard.  However, the show lasted only 26 episodes over approximately early January to early July 1960, because the show’s host Mark Scott died of a heart attack a week after the the last episode of the first season aired, and the producers decided to discontinue the show, rather than find a new announcer.

A Lot Going On

June 27, 2015

Max Scherzer nearly became the second pitcher in major league history to throw consecutive no-hitters, or at least reasonably close, as he carried a perfect game into the 6th inning in Philadelphia.  He now has a 1.79 ERA with insanely great ratios, but his won-loss record is only 9-5.  That’s baseball.

Ryne Sandberg quit on the Phillies, who didn’t win with a very old, but too highly paid to replace, roster.  I don’t know if management forced him out to distract attention, or he really just couldn’t take all the losing.  Still, something about it doesn’t quite sit right with me about it.

Managers shouldn’t quit mid-season — make the team fire you, since a manager’s job should be to keep an even keel and get the most out of the players they can, subject to the actual, current abilities of the players on roster.  A manager has essentially no ability to construct the roster — that’s the General Manager’s job — so you do the best you can with what you’re given.

Meanwhile, the first openly gay professional pitcher threw a shutout with 11 strikeouts the day before the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that LGBT people have a constitutional right to marry.  Here in Northern California, most of us are very much in favor of both developments.

The cold, hard reality for Sean Conroy, trailblazer or not, is that he’s pitching at the very bottom of professional baseball and is unlikely ever to reach the big time.  The Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs is a four team league that I would categorize as a fly-by-night Independent-A League.  It is a step below the Frontier League, which is basically an established Independant-A rookie league.

All Conroy can do is keep pitching well, and maybe next year he gets picked up by a league where another well above average season gets him picked up by a franchise in organized baseball.  Conroy’s major contribution is that there will be a hair less pressure on the first MLB prospect who decides to come out in the hopefully not to distant future.

Prince Fielder hit his 300th major league home run today, making him and his father the second father and son combo, after Bobby and Barry Bonds to both reach 300 dingers.  It’s quite an accomplish and perhaps shows that American baseball fans are just as obscure-stats obsessed as the Japanese.

Still Keeping an Eye on Clayton Blackburn

June 24, 2015

A San Francisco Giants pitching prospect who doesn’t get a lot of mention in many circles, Clayton Blackburn is ever so slowly but steadily moving towards the major leagues.

A 16th round draft pick out of high school in 2011, Blackburn pitched tremendously well in 2012 at age 19 in the full season A Sally League.  His numbers haven’t been as impressive as he’s moved up the ladder of professional baseball, he’s still been good enough that it’s a little surprising we don’t hear more about him as a prospect.

This year Blackburn currently has a 4.33 ERA after nine AAA appearances, seven of them starts.  His pitching line is 43.2 IP, 48 hits, 1 HR and 15 walks allowed and 37 Ks.  Those are pretty good numbers for a 22 year old in his first taste of AAA baseball.

Blackburn missed at least five starts last year with an oblique injury, and I had some concerns last year about his conditioning, as he was reported to weigh 260 lbs, which is fat for a guy 21 years old and 6’3″.  This year, however, he’s listed as 230 lbs, which suggests he may have gotten religion last off-season and gotten himself into shape.

The photo currently on of Blackburn appears to be last year’s photo with AA Richmond when he was a fat-ass, or at least a pudge-ball (sorry Clayton, but the picture bears me out).  It also appears that the Giants are being extremely careful about how much Blackburn pitches this season, which either suggests minor injuries or a desire by the team not to bring him along too quickly and kill the golden goose.

It’s worth noting in this vein that much more highly recognized top prospect Kyle Crick has only pitched a total of 41.1 innings in 10 starts in AA ball this year after also having some minor injuries in 2014.   This strongly suggests the Giants are just being careful with both Crick and Blackburn more than anything else.

At any rate, Blackburn still seems well on course for a major league debut as a starter at age 24 in 2017.  For some reason, former Oakland A Joe Blanton comes to mind as a possible comp for Clayton Blackburn, at least if things break right for Clayton and the Giants.

Meanwhile, Kyle Crick is still basically on course for a 2017 debut as a Giants starter.  He has much higher upside than Blackburn, as everyone recognizes, but Crick is now a minor league level behind Blackburn because the former still is unable to command the strike zone.  In fact, while Crick’s 2015 ERA is currently 1.4 runs lower than last year, his ratios are a little worse overall than they were at the same level (AA) last year.  Crick isn’t going to be a successful major league pitcher, for more than a few months at least, until he finds the strike zone on a consistent basis.

Let Him Have It

June 20, 2015

Alex Rodriguez recorded his 3,000th major league hit tonight, a home run off of Justin Verlander.  A famed ball-hawk named Zack Hample, who claims to have snagged/retrieved more than 8,000 MLB baseballs in 51 different stadia since 1990 and even wrote a book about it, will be keeping the baseball, probably so he can auction it off at some point in the future.  One expert says it’s worth more than $50,000.

Good for him.  If Hample has paid his way into 51 different major league parks, he deserves to keep every single baseball he wants. He’s put plenty of money into MLB’s pockets, and ARod (and MLB for that matter) has always been all about the money anyway.

It will be interesting to see if anyone will actually pay $50,000+ for this baseball.  The intrinsic value of a used major league baseball is probably somewhere between $5 and $10 at most.  ARod memorabilia comes with so much steroids baggage that it’s a little hard to imagine it selling for that price.

However, all it takes is two or three extremely wealthy Yankees’ fans who really, really want that baseball, and there are plenty of extremely wealthy Yankees’ fans.  Also, this kind of memorabilia develops a life and value of its own.  Once one person with more money than sense submits a large winning bid, then a value has been created, such that other people with a lot of money see it as an “investment” which will appreciate over time.  It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but then why have paintings by Gauguin and Cezanne sold for more than $250 million?

Some of it is simply scarcity: only 29 players have ever reached 3,000 hits, and you can be sure that not all 29 of the baseballs struck for those 29 3000th hits have been saved and made available for purchase.  The same is true for the works of famous painters, or for that matter gold and diamonds, which have relatively few practical uses other than that they are shiny, pretty and are not easily damaged.

At any rate, a fan who is lucky enough to catch or retrieve an historically significant baseball should keep the damn thing and sell it to the highest bidder, unless to him or her a jersey and baseball bat signed by their favorite player with a personalized message is worth more.

San Francisco Giants to Sign Top Draft Picks Chris Shaw and Jalen Miller

June 16, 2015

Some good news for Giants fans while the team is mired in a nine game home losing streak — the Giants have agreed to terms with their second 1st round draft pick Chris Shaw (31st overall) and their 3rd round draft pick Jalen Miller (95th overall).  Shaw agreed upon a $1.4 million signing bonus, a savings for the team of $485,000 below the slot value for the pick.  Meanwhile, Jalen Miller agreed to a $1.1 million signing bonus, approximately $500,000 more than the slot value for his spot in the draft.

With Giants having received two first round draft picks and signing Jalen Miller, who the four main pre-draft raters ranked between 35th and 60th overall (just slightly better than Chris Shaw), this could be a very productive draft year for the Orange and Black.  Now it’s just a matter of signing Phil Bickford (18th overall) and second round pick Andrew Suarez (61st overall), and the Giants can start developing this handful of promising young prospects.

The Japanese Are Stats Mad

June 16, 2015

Baseball fans, at least the serious ones, are in general obsessed with statistics.  They slice and dice them every which way to measure the performances of their favorites, and in the last ten or fifteen years there have been a flood of new statistics designed to better explain individual and team performances.

If American baseball fans are obsessed with stats, Japanese baseball fans are just plain crazy about them.  I routinely read Yakyu Baka, an English language site which reproduces Japanese media reports on Japan’s NPB, and I never fail to get a kick out of the fact that no accomplishment is too obscure to get reported there.  Here are a few recent tidbits.

On June 13th, Sho Nakata became the fourth player in Nippon Ham Fighters history to be the first player in either of NPB’s two leagues to reach 20 home runs in a season.  He also became the eighth player in team history and the fourth Japanese player in team history to hit at least 20 HRs in four or more consecutive seasons.

Also on June 13th, former MLBer Kazuo Matsui recorded the 172nd modasho (three or more hits in one game) of his NPB career moving past the immortal Sadaharu Oh for seventh most all-time.  Presumably, Oh didn’t have more modashos because he walked so much.

Anyway, the modasho is considered a significant accomplishment in Japan.  For example, also on June 13th, the Hiroshima Carp had four players achieve modashos in the same game for the first time since September 9, 2011.

It’s news that on June 11th, the Hanshin Tigers lost a game on a walk-off error for first time since September 22, 2010.

Shogo Akiyama recorded his 100th hit in his 63rd game played this season, third fastest in NPB history.

Also, on June 11th, Yoshinabu Takahashi became the 55th player in NPB history to reach 3,000 career total bases.

On June 10th, Kosuke Tanaka hit two three-doubles in a game, the first time a Hiroshima Carp player had accomplished this player since September 26, 2003.

Also, on June 10th, Kazuhiro Hatakeyama became the 10th player (and fifth Japanese player) in NPB history to hit nine or more home runs in inter-leagues games.

Finally, also on June 10th, Yuito Mori tied a Softbank Hawks franchise record by striking out seven consecutive batters.  This piece of information, at least, seems worthy of reporting.

Aside from the actual wins and losses, these were some of the highlights of the last week that was in NPB.  I guess all these minor accomplishments keep the fans focused during the long NPB season.

San Francisco Giants 2015 Draft Picks: Rounds 26 through 40

June 10, 2015

Continuing on with the San Francisco Giants’ selections in the latter rounds of the 2015 MLB Draft:

26th Round (786th overall).  SS Tyler Brown (JC, 20).  A shortstop out of junior college powerhouse College of Southern Nevada, Brown hit .323 with an .874 OPS and appears to run well.  He may well elect to transfer to a four-year college for the 2016 season in order to improve his draft position next year.

27th Round (816th).  C Bryan Case (OSU, 22).  A Northern California native (he’s from Winters in Yolo County), Case played two years at a junior college before transferring to OSU.  He had a total of only 202 total at bats the last two seasons, but he did hit fairly well for a catcher.

28th Round (846th).  CF Ashford Fulmer (Houston U., 22).  Fulmer is a light-hitting center fielder who runs well.

29th Round (876th).  RHP Matthias Dietz (JC, 19).  A big-right hander (6’5″, 220 lbs), he pitched in relief and made six starts for his junior college team.  He had a 3.13 ERA with 50 Ks, 57 hits and 11 walks allowed in 54.2 IP.

30th Round (906th).  RHP Tucker Forbes (UCLA, 21).  Forbes is huge, standing 6’8″ and weighing 235 lbs.  As a reliever in 2015, he had a 2.11 ERA and pitching line of 38.1 IP, 29 hits and 9 walks allowed, and 45 Ks.  You would have to think based on those numbers that he is intent on returning to UCLA for another season.  Otherwise, it’s awfully hard to understand why he wasn’t drafted sooner.

31st Round (936th).  SS Ryan Howard (Missouri U., 20).  He’s a draft eligible sophomore like Tucker Forbes above, who hit .308 with an .802 OPS.  Again, you would have to think that teams expect him to return for his junior year to go this low in the draft.

32nd Round (966th).  RHP Jeff Burke (Boston College, 22).  Burke had a 4.85 ERA this year with 30 Ks in 39 IP across eight starts.  He’s big though, and presumably the Giants like his arm.

33rd Round (996th).  RHP Rafael Ramirez (High School, 19).  He’s a big Dominican, who according to one website on Florida prep players has a 94 mph fastball.

34rd Round (1026th).  SS Travis Moniot (High School, 18).  He’s a slender shortstop out of Palm Desert who has committed to the University of Oregon.

35th Round (1056th).  RHP Drew Jackson (Florida Atlantic U, 22).  A slender right-hander who had a 2.44 ERA in 13 starts this Spring but struck out only 55 in 73.2 innings pitched.  Looks like a roster-filler.

36th Round (1086th).  LHP Brendon Little (High School, 18).  Described by as “up to 93 mph … and can really pitch,” but he’s committed to North Carolina.

37th Round (1116th).  3B Mark Weist (Michigan State, 22).  After transferring from another four year school and sitting out for a year, Weist hit .346 this spring with a .933 OPS.  He’s a year older than other college juniors and had a .911 fielding percentage, which I assume are the reasons he wasn’t drafted earlier.

38th Round (1146th). LF Nathaniel Pecota (High School, 18).   He’s listed as 5’9″ and 170 lbs and a left fielder.  I couldn’t find a scouting report on him, making me think that he was drafted as a favor to somebody.

39th Round (1176th).  LHP Hunter Bowling (High School, 18).  A very projectable body (he’s somewhere between 6’6″ and 6’8″ and 193 to 220 lbs) who reportedly hits 94 mph on the radar gun.  Alas, he has committed to the University of Florida.

40th Round (1206th).  CF Roger “Woody” Edwards (JC, 20).  A whippet-like centerfielder (he’s listed as 5’10” and 155 lbs), Edwards batted .278 with a .374 on-base percentage and stole 29 bases in 31 attempts.  However, he has no power at all, hitting only four doubles in 205 at bats.  His glove and his wheels are likely to determine how far he goes in professional baseball.  I also imagine he’s a good bet to play for a four-year school in 2016.