Archive for September 2015

Time to Play the Youngsters

September 30, 2015

Now that Clayton Kershaw has disabused the Giants of any further dreams of an historic comeback, it’s time to play all the youngsters, so we can find out who might actually be able to help the team in 2016.  At this point there is no good reason why Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson and Trevor Brown should not be starting  every single day (or in the case of catcher Brown, at least four of the remaining five games).

Kelby Tomlinson, of course, will continue to play in all the remaining games barring injury, because the Gints don’t have anyone else healthy.  At this point, it looks all but certain that Tomlinson has earned a back-up job with the 2016 Giants anyway.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jarrett Parker.  The power and raw talent are undeniable, but so his strikeout rate.  Parker is batting .667 (12 for 18) when not striking out, and no one can keep that up.  Parker has always struck out a tremendous amount, and you have to think that it’s just a matter of time before the National League’s pitchers all figure out the holes in his swing.

The last five games are a chance to get him some more MLB at-bats and perhaps add some clarity on his making the team as a fourth outfielder out of Spring Training next year.  However, his Spring Training performance will have more to say about that.

Mac Williamson needs all the major league at-bats he can get.  Trevor Brown’s performance has been eye-opening, although I definitely think both he and Williamson need to start next year at AAA Sacramento so they can play every day and continue to develop as hitters.

As for the Giants September call-up pitchers, none has looked particularly impressive and all will need an exceptional 2016 Spring Training to avoid being sent back to AAA.  It would be nice to see Clayton Blackburn get a start, but since the Giants did not promote him in spite of his fine season at Sacramento, where he led the Pacific Coast League in ERA and finished 10th in strikeouts, it looks like the Giants have decided to shut him down for the year.

No rush — he’s still only 22.  However, I hope the team gives Blackburn a chance to make the team out of Spring Training next year.

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NL Is Still the Fastball League

September 19, 2015

Some years ago, I read or heard that National League pitchers threw more fast balls than American League pitchers.  I believed it at the time, but today I wondered if it was still true.

In 2015, at least, it is.  With the season almost over, of the eight teams that have thrown fastballs 60 or more percent of the time, the Orioles are the only Junior Circuit team, while of the 13 teams to have thrown less than 57% fastballs, only three are in the Senior Circuit.

This helps to explain why some players have a big jump (or slump) in performance when they switch leagues, including perhaps Yoenis Cespedes.  Fastball hitters (and pitchers) should do better in the NL, while hitters who are particularly good at hitting off-speed stuff, hanging or otherwise, should do better in the AL.  Since Cespedes is such an especially toolsy player, I would expect him to be a fastball hitter.

Team Chemistry

September 16, 2015

Before the San Francisco Giants started winning World Series rings in 2010, I was long suspicious of the importance of team chemistry.  My feeling was that performance by the players on the field had more to do with winning than how well the players got along together in the locker room.  Players didn’t have to be friends, so long as they weren’t actively at each other’s throats — in other words, team chemistry is mainly an issue when it was so bad that it interfered with the players’ ability to perform on the field.

The success of the 2010 through 2014 Giants has me re-thinking my position on this issue.  The organization and the Giants players very clearly believe that chemistry is important to their recent success.  In fact, on paper the 2010-2014 Giants don’t look any better than the 1997-2004 Giants.  The recent Giants had more pitching, but the Barry Bonds/Jeff Kent Giants had more hitting.

What teams do in the post-season is something of a matter of luck, because anything can happen in a short series.  Even so, after three World Series championships in five seasons, its hard to argue that the current Giants aren’t the better the better team because of their greater post-season success.

Today I read a piece written by Giants third-sacker Matt Duffy, in which Duffy writes about how welcoming and helpful the team’s players were when he first came up last season.  Duffy suggests that this “San Francisco Giants’ way” has been one of the reasons that young players brought up by the Giants have been so successful so quickly upon reaching the major leagues in recent years.

If the players think that clubhouse chemistry is part of the reason for their success, you have to give that a certain amount of credence.  Players will develop better in an atmosphere that inspires self-confidence, preparation and professionalism.  Needless to say, drafting and trading for talent is just as important.  However, it’s no secret that some teams are better at developing young talent than others and finding diamonds in the rough like Matt Duffy.  Right now the Giants and the Cardinals seem to be doing it about as well as anyone.

Go East, (Not So) Young Man! Part 2: the Pitchers

September 11, 2015

Here are some of the minor league pitchers I think mostly likely to be pitching in Asia next season:

Michael Bowden.  Bowden turned 29 two days ago and was one of the best pitchers in the International League this year, finishing 3rd in wins (11), 3rd in ERA (2.63) and 10th in strikeouts (99).  However, the Twins haven’t given him a September call-up, which suggests he isn’t in the team’s future plans.  Bowden has pitched in over 100 MLB games, most notably with the Cubs in 2012-2013.  His age and track record would be popular with Asian teams.

Dan Straily.  Straily will be 27 next season, and he had MLB success in Oakland in 2013, so he may not be ready to give up his major league dreams.  However, his MLB career has gone south in a big way the last two years, and he may be willing to go to Japan if the offer is right.  While his 4.77 ERA for Fresno in the Pacific Coast League wasn’t in the top ten, he led the 16-team circuit with 124 K in only 122.2 IP.   He certainly looks like he has the stuff to be successful in NPB, if he decides to give it a whirl.

Toru Murata.  Murata will be 31 in 2016.  He’s a Japanese pitcher who has never pitched in NPB’s Ichi-gun, i.e., major league.  He was a first round draft pick by the Yomiuri Giants out of college but they released him after three minor league seasons  The Tribe signed him in 2010 after he pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2009.   He made one unimpressive start for the Indians in June, but he pitched well at AAA Columbus, going 15-4 with a 2.90 ERA (6th best in IL)  His strikeout rate was not impressive, but he may have pitched well enough to get another shot at NPB if he wants it.

Chris Smith.  A smallish right-hander who pitched in 50 major league games before pitching his way out of the MLB system in 2011, he worked his way back through the Independent-A leagues and had a strong season for El Paso in the PCL this year.  His 3.60 ERA was 5th best in the league and his 121 Ks was 2nd best.   The question is whether an Asian team would be willing to give him a shot in light of the fact that he turns 35 next April.

Go East, (Not So) Young Man!

September 11, 2015

Here are several minor league hitters I reasonably expect will be playing in Asia next season.

Matt Hague.  Hague was the top hitter in the AAA International League this year, at least among players with enough plate appearances to qualify.  He led the IL with a .338 batting average and an .885 OPS.  It was an extremely poor year for offense in the International League in 2015, with Hague the only qualifier to post an OPS over .850 and only three other qualifiers finishing over .800.

Hague turned 30 in late August, and while he received a September call-up from the Blue Jays to reward him for his fine minor league performance, his MLB future looks doubtful.  He’s a 1Bman and emergency 3B with not enough power to be a major league player.  He presently has a career major league OPS of .527 in 78 plate appearances, which is just enough to gain him serious consideration by a Japanese NPB or South Korean KBO team.

In fact, I think Hague is an ideal NPB prospect in that players like him who can hit for average and have alley power often succeed in NPB, where the caliber of pitching is relatively high, thus favoring players who can hit and don’t strike out too much, and where the smaller ballparks can boost power production for these players significantly.

Jamie Romak.  Romak turns 30 at the end of this month, and like Hague, he received a September call-up from the Diamondbacks for his strong performance this year at Reno in the Pacific Coast League, where his .912 OPS was fifth best among qualifiers.  Romak isn’t as good a pure hitter as Hague, but he has more power, and he has more defensive value.

Romak played mostly 3B at Reno this year, and his raw defensive numbers look good enough for him to be a league-average 3Bman in NPB.  Romak also played games at 2B, 1B and the corner outfield positions, meaning he’s a potentially a useful bench player, and this could keep him in MLB.  Given his age and the fact that his major league career to date constitutes only 34 plate appearances, however, his brightest future, at least financially, is probably in Asia.

Jason Pridie.  Pridie turns 32 in October, and also received a September call-up from the A’s for posting the 6th best OPS (.894) in the PCL at Nashville.  Pridie still runs well enough to play center field, at least in a pinch, although he played mostly the corner outfield positions at AAA this year.

Pridie has more MLB experience than Hague or Romak (273 MLB plate appearances).  He hasn’t played too badly as a major league back-up outfielder, so it’s possible he could hang around as a sometime major league bench player, particularly because he runs well.  However, at age 32, this would definitely be the time to see if he can become an NPB or KBO star if he’s open to the idea.

Death By 2-1 Loss

September 10, 2015

The San Francisco Giants lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks by a score of 2-1 yesterday.  It was the Gints’ fourth 2-1 loss since September 1st and the sixth 2-1 loss since August 1st.  With only 22 more games to play, the Giants are nine games back in the loss column of the Dodgers for the NL West crown and ten games back of the Cubs for the last wildcard spot.

It will take a miracle for the Giants to make the post-season, and with all the injuries to key position players I will go out on a limb and say that miracle won’t happen.

Joe Panik left yesterday’s game with back soreness, raising the question if he will play again this season or be shut down until 2016.  Brandon Crawford is likely to miss a few more games with an oblique strain and deep calf bruise.  Nori Aoki is still dealing with his concussion, Hunter Pence’s oblique is still a problem and back-up catchers Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac are done for the year.

Matt Duffy hasn’t had even a partial day off since the All-Star Break, and it’s looking like he’s running on fumes.  However, he isn’t likely to get a day off until either Crawford or Panik is back in the line-up.  The only good thing about all the injuries is that Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza will get more opportunities for the former to show that his 2015 performance to date is for real and for the latter to dig himself out of his terrible batting slump and prove that he can help the Giants as a back-up infielder in future seasons.

At this point, I would be satisfied if the Giants can win a majority of their remaining games, finish the season with a winning record and get a good look a young players who might be able to help the team in the future.

Maybe Player Opt-Out Clauses Aren’t Such a Bad Idea

September 4, 2015

In recent years I have routinely railed against the rise of player opt-out clauses in long-term contracts, at least as far as the sense it makes for teams to agree to them.  My main complaint has been that an opt-out clause gives all of the upside to the player regardless of how he performs in the future: if he under-performs, he still gets the big up-front multi-year guarantee; if he performs as the team hopes he will, he can (and always) does opt of out of the deal after a few years and sets himself up for another bite at the huge free agent contract apple.

Needless to say, these deals almost always mean that the teams giving the opt-out clause (usually the Yankees and the Dodgers) have to eat several years at the end of the last contract where they are paying out $20 million plus per season for very little performance.  The opt-out clauses haven’t made a lot of sense to me, because the teams with the resources to make these kinds of deals usually end up making the biggest initial guarantee in the first contract and don’t, at least on the surface, need to provide the opt-out.

However, something that I was looking at today has made me re-think my position somewhat.  Fangraphs has been providing player “values” going back to 2002, and what I noticed to today is that the “values” of the very best players has escalated sharply during that time.

From 2002 through 2006, five players had assigned values of $40 million plus, or exactly one per season.  None of those five player seasons had a value as high as $50 million, although Barry Bonds came close a couple of times.   Since 2007, the number of $40 million plus season values has exploded, with the following number of players valued at more than $40 million each season between 2007 and 2014: 6, 13, 15, 6, 30, 12, 25 and 26.  The most valuable player seasons now top out with assigned values of more than $70 million.

On the other hand, player contracts, while steadily growing, don’t seem to have kept up with the values assigned by fangraphs, at least for the very best players.  Yes, Giancarlo Stanton became the first player to receive a $300 million guarantee, but his contract covers 13 seasons and he’s still only 25, so he can be expected to have some very high value seasons in the future, at least if he can stay healthy.

Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw signed long-term deals that legitimately pay them over $30 million a season.  However, the overall size of the guarantees aren’t a big as the contracts Alex Rodriguez signed before the 2001 and 2008 seasons respectively.

Salaries should begin to escalate rapidly the next few years, at least if the fangraph values are reasonably accurate and based on the relative value of players compared to the total value of all major league salaries each season.  The Great Recession and the rise of teams locking in young stars to long-term contracts at below market rates early in their careers are presumably the major reasons why salaries haven’t risen even more in recent years.  Teams may have been afraid to spend on free agents after the Crash above and beyond the actual short-term damage to their revenue streams, and signing youngsters to long-term deals is attractive to many young players because it acts as an insurance policy against future injuries — they take less money because they are guaranteed a relative windfall no matter what happens in the future.

Anyway, if salaries are not, in fact, keeping up with the legitimate values of the very best players, then the opt-out clauses make a lot more sense.  If Clayton Kershaw is really worth $50 million plus per season, why would he accept a long-term deal for a little more than $30 million a year, unless he could opt out somewhere down the line when salaries have become closer to the actual value of Kershaw’s past performances?

At any rate, in the case of the Dodgers contracts with Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the opt out clauses probably convinced the former ace not to test the free agent market as soon as he otherwise could have and saved the team money on the front end guarantee with the latter ace.  In the case of the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton, if Stanton opts out after the 2020 season, the Marlins will almost certainly let him sell his talents to another team, and they will have received his age 25 through 30 seasons for what is now a bargain price of $107 million.

With the year he’s having, the Dodgers will be under a lot of pressure to re-sign Greinke this off-season to a contract that they will probably regret in its later years.  However, the Dodgers got well more than what they paid for in his first three years in Dodger Blue.