Archive for August 2015

Expecting Byung-ho Park to Be Playing in MLB Next Year

August 18, 2015

South Korean slugger Byung-ho Park is having another terrific year in the KBO, having slugged a league-leading 43 home runs so far, batting .348 (4th), 116 RBIs (1st), 101 runs scored (2nd) and an 1.163 OPS (2nd) with approximately 25 games left in the KBO regular season schedule.  If he does in fact finish as the 2015 KBO home run leader, it will be the fourth year in a row he’s done it, and he’s still be only 29 in 2016.

With the success of Jung-ho Kang this year for the Pirates, I feel reasonably certain at least one MLB team will make a serious effort to sign Park this coming off-season.  Park won’t be hitting 50 home runs a year in MLB, but a right-handed hitter who can reasonably hit 25 HRs playing every day in MLB has value, at least so long as his on-base percentage is over .320.

The only really negative things that can be said about Park as a hitter are that he does strike out a lot and he’s only the second best hitter in the KBO this season.  However, he also draws a lot of walks, and the best hitter in the KBO this season, Eric Thames, is also a fine player who is probably playing better baseball at this moment than some MLB regulars.

Thames played 181 MLB games in his age 24 and 25 seasons and posted a very respectable career .727 OPS in 684 plate appearances.  He’s exactly the kind of player who, like Tuffy Rhodes and Randy Bass in years past, has major league talent, but somehow couldn’t establish himself in MLB and instead blossomed in Asia where the competition isn’t quite as good.

In fact, I expect that Thames will move on to Japan’s NPB next season, where he’ll make more money, after the two tremendous KBO seasons he’s had.  In NPB, he could be the Ty Woods, a minor league slugger who turned success in the KBO into even more success in NPB.  Thames will also be 29 next year, and he’s already had his major league shot, so I think NPB is his most likely landing spot next year.

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Recent Goings-On in Japan’s NPB

August 12, 2015

Here are notes on a few events that have happened recently in Japan’s NPB:

Slugger Takeya Nakamura hit his 16th career grand slam, moving him out of a tie with the immortal Sadaharu Oh into 1st place all-time on the NPB list.  Nakamura is a burly slugger whose power would drop significantly in MLB, doesn’t have impressive on-base percentages, and doesn’t have any defensive value, so we’ll never see him in MLB.  However, he’s a fine player, and one of many, like Yoshio Itoi and Toshiya Suguichi, who will probably never play in the Show, but keep NPB the second best professional baseball league in the world.

Seung-Hwan Oh recently became the first foreign pitcher in NPB history to record 30 or more saves in his first two seasons.  Fellow South Korean Dae-Ho Lee is also having a tremendous season.  These are signs, along with the MLB success of Jung-ho Kang, that South Korea’s KBO is rapidly improving and that we’ll see more South Koreans playing in Japan in the future.  However, we probably won’t see a lot more, because former KBO stars are much more expensive for NPB teams to sign than 4-A players coming out of the MLB system or the Mexican League.

Former MLBer Ryota Igarashi recently surrendered a home run to Alfredo Despaigne ending a streak of 557 batters faced without allowing a long-ball.  Despaigne is widely regarded one of the world’s best hitter not playing in MLB.  However, his second season in NPB isn’t as impressive as his first.  While he still has an .831 OPS as I write this, that’s a huge drop from last year’s 1.001, albeit in fewer games played.

I have doubts about whether Despaigne would have succeeded in MLB had he chosen to defect a few years ago.  He isn’t a patient enough hitter, which I think is a major reason his batting average has dropped so dramatically this season.  However, another explanation might be that Despaigne is now playing baseball year ’round with little opportunity to rest injuries, because NPB’s and Cuba’s Serie Nacional’s schedules overlapp on both ends.  Needless to say, both leagues want as much of Despaigne’s playing time as they can get.

Motonobu Tanishige set a new all-time NPB record by playing in his 3,018 career game.  What is truly amazing about this feat is that Tanishige is a catcher who has played an astounding 2,841 NPB games at the position (at least according to Baseball Reference).  By way of comparison, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez holds the MLB record with 2,427 games and a total of only four other catchers have played 2,000 MLB games at the position.

While Tanishige is largely unknown in the U.S., he was indeed a fine player during his long peak from 1996 to 2006 (his age 25 to 35 seasons).  He didn’t typically hit for a high average, but he had power and drew lots of walks, making him a valuable offensive, as well as defensive, player.  Baseball Reference lists him as 5’10” and 180 lbs, while NPB’s website lists him as 5’9″ and 178 lbs.  That’s a great size for a long career as a catcher.

Now that MLB no longer allows catchers to block home plate, I expect that we will see more smaller-sized catchers rather than the behemoths we have gotten used to.  The small ones certainly don’t put a much pressure on their knees, ankles and backs as the big boys do, making longer careers more likely.

Mike Hessman Sets U.S. Minor League Home Run Record

August 5, 2015

Mike Hessman hit his 433rd U.S. minor league home run on August 3, 2015 moving him past Buzz Arlett into first place all-time for home runs hit in the regular season U.S. minor leagues.  Including the majors and Japan’s NPB, Mike Hessman has now hit 453 summer time professional home runs, also topping Arlett’s 450.

It’s an amazing accomplishment, and one I don’t expect we will see broken again in our lifetimes.  Arlett’s record has stood for 79 years, and it’s hard to imagine another U.S. professional baseball player last so long in the minors and playing at a level high enough to keep his AAA job, but not spend significant time in the majors.

Hessman’s level of play was ideal for his accomplishment.  He didn’t hit for much of an average and he struck out too much even at AAA, but his power kept him around for years.  He probably deserved more major league playing time, but he developed late, didn’t get many real major league opportunities and didn’t get hot often enough when he did.  He last played in the majors in 2010.

Hessman is now 37 years old, and I expect that 2015 will be his last season in the MLB system.  He’s currently hitting .217 and his OPS is .764.  It’s hard to imagine him sticking around another season at AAA with those numbers.

Hessman still trails Mexican League sluggers Hector Espino (484 HR) and Andres Mora (444 HR) as the North American minor league home run kings.  Mora also hit 27 major league HRs.  Hessman could play in Mexico or the Independent-A Atlantic League next year if he wants to continue playing baseball after the MLB system finally puts him out to pasture.  More likely, however, he will go into coaching when he is released by the Tigers organization for whom he is currently playing.  It would be nice to see the Tigers give Hessman one last September call-up in recognition of his contributions to professional baseball.