Archive for October 2015

The Pitcher Most Likely to Reach 300 Wins

October 31, 2015

Three years ago I wrote a piece in which I opined that it was more likely than not that an active MLB pitcher would win 300 games.  Only a year later, my opinion changed, and as of today, I am more convinced than ever that the likelihood that any pitcher now pitching will win 300 games is less than 50%.

After the 2012 season, there were a number of pitchers I thought had a reasonable chance of winning 300.  Since then, all have either gotten hurt, lost effectiveness, or are reportedly on the verge of getting hurt.

Added to that, the trend of starting pitchers pitching fewer innings and fewer complete games has only gotten stronger, making season win totals as much a matter of luck as a matter of performance.  I also think that the trend of increasingly enormous baseball players decreases the chance of another 300 game winner among today’s pitchers — pitchers can get bigger and stronger and throw harder, but their joints can’t keep up with the increased stresses professional pitchers put on their pitching arms.

Currently, Tim Hudson and Bartolo Colon are the active wins leaders with 222 and 218 career wins, respectively.  Neither has any reasonable chance to win 300 games.  Hudson has already announced his retirement, and Colon, no matter how long he wishes to continue pitching, is simply too old at age 42 to hang around long enough to reach 300 wins.

However, Tim Hudson’s Hall of Fame chances are now looking pretty good.  Ten years from now 220+ wins is going to look like a lot among HOF eligible pitchers.  The main thing standing in his way is the fact that he hasn’t led his league many times in major statistical categories.

Here are the active pitchers I think have the best shot at 300 wins.

1.  Felix Hernandez (143 wins through his age 29 season).  A year ago there was a lot of talk that Hernandez was on the verge of an elbow injury.  So far, he’s proven the speculation wrong, winning 18 games in 2015.  He’s also one of only two active pitchers who is significantly ahead of the career win average for his age (starting at age 30) of the last four 300 game winners (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson).

However, Hernandez’s 2015 performance raises a lot of questions.  He pitched the fewest innings of any season since 2008, while winning more games that any season since 2009.  His ERA was up, and his strike out rate was down.  While he’s still on track for 300 career wins, he’s only 47.7% of the way there, and one has to wonder if 2016 won’t be the year that last off-season’s predictions of impending arm failure prove accurate.

2.  Clayton Kershaw (114 wins through his age 27 season).  Kershaw has the best arm in baseball, but history hasn’t been kind to pitchers who have thrown as many innings before age 27 as Kershaw has.  My original article three years ago listed Matt Cain, a big-bodied pitcher who had won a lot of games young while never appearing to be over-taxed by all the innings he threw at a tender age.  Well, “the Horse” got long in the tooth after his age 27 season.

Kershaw was absolutely still at the top of his game in 2015.  The question is whether he’ll still be wracking up the wins after his age 30 or 31 season.  No modern pitcher has any chance of winning 300 games unless he’s winning an average of 15 games a year in the back half of his 30’s.

3.  Mark Buehrle.  (214 wins through age 36).  I don’t think of Mark Buehrle as a guy who is going to win 300 games, but you can’t ignore the fact that he just keeps on adding to his career wins total.  That said, one has to wonder how many more years Buehrle can continue to win more games than he loses with a 4.1 K/9IP rate, even with his 2015 2.8 K/BB ratio.  Buehrle’s command and knowledge of the art of pitching is such that I think he’ll be around for a few more years.  However, his diminishing stuff is likely to drum him out of MLB before he reaches 3oo wins.

4.  Justin Verlander (157 wins through age 32).  Three years ago I thought Verlander had the best chance of any active pitcher to win 300 games, and I thought the same thing two years ago.  No more!  He was an average starter in 2014 and missed a couple of months on the DL in 2015.  It’s certainly possible that Verlander still has great seasons ahead of him, but at only 52.3% of the way to 300 wins, he surely isn’t likely to win 300.

5.  CC Sabathia (214 wins through age 34).  CC is the other pitcher who is ahead of the average wins by age of the last generation’s 300 game winners.  However, I never thought CC was a good bet to win 300, because pitchers his size historically break down fast after their age 32 seasons.  In fact, CC’s numbers declined dramatically in his age 32 season (2013), and he was hurt in both 2014 and 2015.

CC is such a good pitcher that, if the alcohol rehab treatment takes and he drops his weigh below 260 lbs and keeps it there, he could gut it out to 260 or even 270 career wins.  However, there’s no way to go back in time and take off all the weight on his joints from seasons past.  Do you see CC averaging better than 14 wins per season from 2016 through his age 40 season in 2021?  I sure don’t.

6.  Zack Greinke (142 wins through age 31).  Greinke is a smallish right-hander who hasn’t shown an ability to eat innings without consequences.  However, he was extremely efficient in his 222.2 IP in 2015 by virtue of his league-leading WHIP.  I can’t see Greinke lasting long enough to reach 300 wins, but he was arguably the best pitcher in MLB in his age 31 season, so you can’t completely write him off.

7.  David Price (104 wins through age 29).  Currently one of MLB’s very best, but he has a long way to go to 300 wins.  Of all the pitchers on this list under age 32 in 2015, he is probably the best bet to pitch well well into his 30’s.

8.  Jon Lester (127 wins through age 31).  Lester had a fine year in 2015, although it wasn’t reflected in his win column.  He’s locked himself into pitching his home games at Wrigley Field through 2020, which probably isn’t a great place to be for a pitcher hoping to win 300 games.

9.  Cole Hamels (121 wins through age 31).  Another pitcher still at the top of his game who finds himself locked into a hitters’ park for the next few seasons.  Although he appears to have the right body type, he would need to average better than 16 wins a year from 2016 through his age 42 season to reach 300 wins.  Doesn’t seem likely.

10.  Madison Bumgarner (85 wins through age 25).  Bumgarner’s situation is pretty much the same as Kershaw’s above, except that Bumgarner isn’t as far along in his career.  Statistically, his age 25 season was his best with terrific WHIP, K/IP and K/BB rates.  The odds are good that Bumgarner will be just as good or even better the next two or three seasons.  However, what Bumgarner does after age 30 will determine his ability to reach 300 wins, and that is too far into the future to make any real projections.

SoftBank Hawks Win 2015 Japan Series

October 29, 2015

The SoftBank Hawks won their second consecutive Japan Series today, closing out the Yakult Swallows 5-0 to win the series four games to one.  No real surprise there — the Hawks had the best regular season record in NPB this year, are loaded with talent and were the defending champs going in.

South Korean slugger Dae-ho Lee was named the series MVP, going 8-for-16 with two home runs.  Likely future MLBer Tetsuto Yamada hit three home runs in the only game Yakult won, but went 1-for -15 in his team’s four losses.  Yamada won the Fighting Spirit Award, which I assume goes to the best performer on the losing team.

I tend to think of Dae-ho Lee as an overrated player, because he is so incredibly slow he doesn’t score many runs despite a very potent bat.  However, the Hawks didn’t need Lee to score runs this year, because it had plenty of other potent bats this year.  In any event, his Japan Series performance will unquestionably establish him as a superstar throughout NPB, if he wasn’t already considered one.

One of the reasons for the Hawks’ recent success is the team’s willingness to pay for top foreign talent and the skill/good fortune to identify the right foreign players.  NPB’s other two rich teams, the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, also spend plenty on both foreign and domestic talent, but haven’t been quite as successful in loading up with the best foreigners, at least in the last two years.

Don Mattingly and the Los Angeles Dodgers Part Company

October 23, 2015

The Dodgers and Don Mattingly have decided Mattingly won’t be returning as manager next season.  While the decision is described as mutual, the most likely reason is that the Dodgers’ new management team wants their own guy at the helm, and Mattingly is willing to leave if the team doesn’t appreciate the three consecutive division titles he’s led the Bums to.

Some of it has to do with how much money the Dodgers have spent on players without the desired post-season success.  In my mind, a team is probably crazy to can a manager who has won three straight division titles, unless the players have really come to hate him and are on the verge of active revolt (what might be called Billy Martin Syndrome), because the post-season is such a crap shoot.  Yes, the Dodgers have disappointed in the post-season, but I’m not sure that post-season success is really something the manager has much say in, unless he’s making such awful decisions that any can see he’s actually costing the team games.

In the regular season, one or two players just cannot by themselves carry a team to enough wins to make the post-season.  In any given post-season, a couple of hot players can get a team to four wins and on to the next round.  The Giants don’t win last year’s World Series but for the exceptional pitching of Madison Bumgarner, who was almost solely responsive for three of the Gints’ wins.  This year, Daniel Murphy and strong performances from the team’s young starters has the Mets in the World Series.

Murphy has never hit more than 14 HRs in an regular season.  He now has seven in nine post-season games this year.  I can guarantee you that were Murphy to get another 455 post-season plate appearances in his career, he wouldn’t match Manny Ramirez’s record 29 post-season HRs.  He got hot for a short period as scores of players get hot for short periods every season.  For example, no one is ready to anoint Jarrett Parker the next Barry Bonds just because Parker hit six HRs and was robbed of a 7th in 54 September plate appearances this year.

Murphy just happened to get hot in the post-season, to the Mets’ great benefit.

In my mind the only two factors that make a team likely to do better in any given post-season are past post-season experience, which really does seem to help, and the law of averages.  If a team makes the post-season often enough, eventually it’s going to win one.  Even the Cubs are eventually going to win it all if they start making the post-season on a regular basis.

What concerns me most with Mattingly’s dismissal is that if the Dodgers do win the World Series in 2016 or 2017, the world will look at the dumping of Mattingly as some brilliant move that got the team “over the hump,” when it probably will have more to do with the fact that the Dodgers core players will all be playing in the post-season for at least the second, third or fourth times and the law of averages playing itself out.

More Thoughts on Early Baseball Mitts

October 21, 2015

A few days ago I wrote a post on 19th century baseball mitts, and I have a few more thoughts on the subject.

One thing that is striking, to me at least, is how relatively slow the progress of baseball mitts has been.  By 1910 at the latest baseball was big business, and with so many people playing the game professionally, it surprises me that glove advances weren’t faster.

While modern manufacturing techniques did not exist 125 years ago, there were almost certainly a higher percentage of highly skilled glove makers and leather workers then than there are today, people who could have crafted baseball mitts equal to modern mitts if a player had told them exactly what he wanted and was willing to pay for it.  Certainly by 1890, when most players were wearing gloves in the field, the best players were making enough money to pay for whatever kind of mitt or glove would best have served their purposes.

However, what I think a lot of it comes down to is that no one has a new idea until the first person comes up with it.  Then it seems obvious after a few years of hind-sight.

Also, progress has to be slow enough that leaps in technology, if you want to call it that, don’t seem like “cheating” by introducing something that the professional game as an institution sees as too far beyond what came before.

Obviously, for many years, players played bare-handed.  Gloves were introduced primarily to protect the players’ hands, not to make it easier for the players to catch the ball.  Of course, gloves immediately did improve fielders’ ability to catch the ball, because infielders no longer needed to let scalding line-drives go by unopposed once they had sufficient padding on their hands to prevent injury.

For example, to any player playing baseball in the 19th century, I cannot doubt that they would consider modern outfielders’ gloves to be cheating, because modern gloves make it possible to catch balls that could not possibly be caught with bare hands.  These mitts very clearly catch the ball for you in a lot of situations, and I think 19th century players would have considered their use an unfair advantage that defeated a player’s skill at catching the ball.

Instead, glove styles for the most part evolved gradually over time.  That way, no one really noticed on a year to year basis how much fielders’ mitts were changing.  Again, with respect to modern outfielders’ mitts, it was only after years of gradual elongation that a decade or so ago, people started to notice just how large some of these mitts had become, and rules were then passed (but not always strictly enforced since then) designating a maximum size for mitts.

Also, even when a real break-through was made improving baseball mitts dramatically, it took a long time for further advancements to be made.  In 1919, pitcher Bill Doak designed a new mitt which expanded the webbing between thumb and forefinger, thus creating a deeper pocket in which to catch the ball.  The mitt was a huge success, and Doak ultimately made more money from royalties on the sale of Rawlings’ Bill Doak model gloves than he did playing baseball.

The Bill Doak model quickly become the standard for major leaguers and remained so for almost 25 years with only minor improvements, such as lacing together the fingers.  Rawlings continued to make and sell the Bill Doak model until 1953, which is a good indication that it wasn’t considered out-dated until the early 1950’s.

I’m kind of reminded of Henry Ford and the Model-T.  When the Model-T was introduced, it was a ground-breaking achievement, a modern automobile that ran well at an affordable price.  The car was so successful that it dominated U.S. automotive sales for years and revolutionized manufacturing methods around the country and the world.  However, its incredible success led Ford to believe that it was the ultimate car, one that could not significantly improved upon.  Henry Ford nearly ran Ford Motor Co. into the ground, and in any event caused Ford to lose market share it never recovered, until his son finally convinced him that he needed to introduce new updated automobiles and seek to upgrade future models significantly at least every few years.

What Do Foreign Players Make in South Korea’s KBO?

October 19, 2015

While I’ve been a fan of mykbo.net for some time, I only today discovered that Dan provides not only foreign player stats (which can also be found at KBO’s English language website) but also their current salary figures.  While KBO teams are notorious in seasons past for lying about what they were playing their foreign stars, if anyone is going to have accurate information, it’s Dan at mykbo.net.

Now, I am assuming that signing bonuses are in addition to the annual salaries.  Signing bonuses for some players are substantial, which leads me to believe that salaries are not guaranteed, i.e., if a player gets cut during the season for injury or poor performance, he doesn’t get paid any more.  However, this does not mean that some player contracts are not guaranteed — it depends on the particular contract, and may explain why some players don’t get signing bonuses at all.

Also, as far as I’m aware, foreign players in KBO only get single year contracts, although that may change in the near future as the league’s level of play continues to improve, and Japanese NPB teams continue to poach the KBO’s top performers.  Here’s the list for 2015 (pitchers are noted with a (P) — KBO teams can currently have 3 foreign players on their rosters, which as a practical matter means two pitchers and one position player:

1.     Dustin Nippert (P), $1.6 million.

2.     Jack Hanrahan, $1 million.*

3.     Josh Lindblom (P), $900,000.

4.     Eric Thames, $850,000.

4.     Charlie Shirek (P), $850,000.

6.     Andrew Brown, $800,000.

7.     Yamaico Navarro, $750,000.**

8.     Nyjer Morgan, $700,000.*

8.     Esmil Rogers (P), $700,000.

8.     Alfred Figaro (P), $700,000.

8.     Lucas Harrell (P), $700,000.

12.    Andy Van Hekken (P), $680,000.

13.    Jim Adduci, $650,000.

13.    Tyler Cloyd (P), $650,000

*  Jack Hanrahan and Nyjer Morgan both received substantial signing bonuses, suggesting to me that the rest of their contracts were not guaranteed.  Neither played much in 2015, suggesting to me that both may have been cut and earned less than the numbers listed above.

** Some sources reported that Yamaico Navarro was actually paid $950,000, plus another $400,000 in performance bonuses, for the 2015 season.  In other words, there is still some controversy regarding whether the contract numbers reported by KBO teams are accurate.

The main factors in understanding the above salary figures are: (1) KBO experience and past performance; (2) KBO team playing for; and (3) past and possible future level of MLB success.  Dustin Nippert is the best paid player in KBO because 2015 was his 5th KBO season, he has been successful both in KBO and MLB, and his team, the Doosan Bears, is one of KBO’s wealthiest.  Unfortunately for Nippert, his ERA in 2015 rose for the fifth straight season, and I think he would have to accept a drastic pay cut in 2015, if he returns to KBO at all.

Andy Van Hekken, on the other hand, is probably the most underpaid foreign player, relative to his past KBO experience and performance, simply because his team, the Nexen Heroes, is not a wealthy or generous team.  Unlike NPB, where foreign players who perform well can jump to one of NPB’s three rich teams after typically two NPB seasons, KBO teams hold the exclusive rights (in KBO) to their foreign players until the player would be able to become a KBO free agent (8 or 9 seasons).  Van Hekken is stuck with being underpaid, unless an NPB team comes calling.

Foreign players signed at the start of the KBO season almost all make at least $300,000.  Only players brought in later in the season after another foreigner has washed out make less than $300,000.  When you remember that in 2015, there were only 31 roster spots in total for foreign players in KBO, you can see that foreigners make pretty good money playing in KBO, enough at least that it is clearly more financially rewarding to play in KBO than in AAA, even with brief MLB call-ups thrown in.

What Do NPB Players Get Paid? 2015 Update

October 19, 2015

A popular post I wrote in 2012 and updated in 2013 looks at what players in Japan’s NPB get paid.  The information was based on detailed salary information yakyubaka.com published annually.  Since the 2013 season, however, yakyu baka has stopped publishing this data, presumably because NPB teams are keeping the information confidential.

If my presumption is correct, this is not particularly surprising, because publicly available information about what every  player is making benefits the players seeking higher salaries enormously.  If a player knows what every comparable player is making, it’s much harder for a skin-flint team to underpay its players.  When MLB players first formed a union in the late 1960’s, one of the first things they bargained for was that teams could not longer keep confidential player contract amounts.

I suspect that NPB teams became concerned about salary escalation and started to keep quiet contract amounts to the extent they could.  Nevertheless, salary information for the best players tends to get out, so I can give you some idea of what the best players were making in 2014 and 2015.

Veteran Yomiuri Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe is almost certainly the highest paid player in NPB today.  He reportedly made 600 million yen in 2014 ($5.04 million at current exchange rates; more a year ago).  He reportedly turned down the team’s offer of 620 million yen, which would have been the highest single season salary in team history, because he did not feel he yet deserved to receive such a contract.

In 2014, his age 35 season, Abe’s batting numbers declined sharply from the previous two seasons, so it’s not clear if he made 620 million yen in 2015.  My best guess is that he probably made between 550 million and 600 million yen this past season.  [Abe made 510 million yen in 2015 — see notes below.]

Kenta Maeda, who is NPB’s best veteran starting pitcher, made 300 million yen ($2.52 M) in 2015.  His team, the Hiroshima Carp, are notoriously cheap, and it is all but certain that Maeda will be posted this off-season and join MLB in 2016.  Other reports say that the Carp signed former MLBer Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year $3.3 million deal for 2015 (probably 400 million yen), because Kuroda wanted to return to NPB to finish out his career.  Kuroda probably would have received $12M to $15M had elected to remain with the New York Yankees on another one-year deal.

Veteran Yomiuri Giants starters Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tetsuya Utsumi should have made 500 million  ($4.2 M) and 400 million yen ($3.36 M) in 2015 respectively, based on the four year deals they each signed a few years ago.  Hiroyuki Nakajima signed a three-year 1.2 billion yen deal ($10.08 M) with the Orix Buffaloes before the 2015 season.

Korean stars Seung-hwan Oh and Dae-ho Lee signed record setting deals with two of NPB’s three rich teams before the 2014 season.  The Hanshin Tigers signed Oh to a two-year 900 million yen ($7.56 million) deal while the Softbank Hawks signed Dae-ho Lee to a three-year 1.45 billion yen ($12.18 million) deal.  South Korean stars have considerably more leverage than American players playing in NPB, because the very best KBO free agents can now command four-year $8 million contracts from KBO teams.  Most players from North America and the Caribbean have already washed out of MLB, and their next best option is a minor league contract with an MLB team or a one-year $1 million contract from a KBO team.

Among the best paid American veterans in NPB are Matt Murton, whom the Hanshin Tigers paid $3.5 million in 2014, and Randy Messenger, who signed a three year deal with the Hanshin Tigers, for somewhere between $10M and $15M.  My guess is that Messenger’s contract guarantees him at least $10 million, but could be worth as much as $15 million, if he meets all incentives.

It’s also hard to figure out exactly what NPB players are paid, because NPB contracts tend to include a much higher percentage of the contract as performance incentives than MLB contracts do.  The only really significant performance incentives in MLB contracts are option clauses, where an option for a future season vests if the player plays a certain amount of games, innings pitched or plate appearances over the immediately preceding seasons.

I also suspect that Takeya Nakamura, Tadashi Settsu, Takashi Toritani and possibly Kosuke Fukudome, Kazuo Matsui and Sho Nakata, all made at least 300 million yen in 2015.

By my count, at least 92 players in 2012 and 88 players in 2013 made a least 100 million yen in salary.  I doubt that the number of 100 million yen players in 2014 or 2015 changed much from the previous two seasons, although the information to be certain is no longer available.

19th Century Baseball Mitts

October 17, 2015

I watched a clip of Troy Tulowitski making a bare-handed grab on a flip from Ryan Goins in today’s play-off game, making it easier for Tulo to make the relay to first for the double play.  It was a fine play, but it got me thinking that players in the 19th century, although they certainly turned far fewer double plays than they do today, must have frequently caught softer throws with their bare hands, simply by virtue of the fact that baseball mitts were either non-existent or rudimentary compared to today’s mitts.

It also occurred to me that I had seen relatively few images of 19th century fielder’s mitts/gloves, because in 19th century baseball photographs, the pictures are almost all of players holding their bats or pitchers preparing to pitch with both hands bare.  Part of the reason for this is that 19th century photography required people to keep still for relatively long period of times because of long exposures of the film of the day.  There are few, if any, real action shots from this era, and pictures of fielders standing around isn’t very sexy.

On Bing and Google I looked “19th century baseball mitts,” and I learned something I hadn’t realized.  At least some players in the 19th century wore gloves on both hands.  The fielder’s gloves of the time were just thick leather gloves with no webbing or the fingers laced together.  Catching a hard hit or hard thrown ball with these gloves required both hands to catch the ball with the glove hand.

Needless to say, at the advent of baseball mitts, players engaged in a lot of experimentation.  Some wore no gloves (Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract says that 3Bman Jerry Denny, who retired in 1894, was the last player to play without a glove in the field), some wore a full glove on the fielding hand and a glove with cut off fingers on the throwing hand (sort of like handball gloves), and some wore cut-off gloves on both hands.

Even with cut-off fingers, the thick leather covering the palm of the throwing hand made it hard to make a good throw, particularly if one had grip the ball and throw it quickly.  As the fielder’s hand mitts improved, fielders quickly did away with the fingerless glove on the throwing hand.  In any event, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a photo from any time in the 20th century in which a fielder was wearing a glove of any kind on his throwing hand.

Early catcher’s mitts look much more like modern catcher’s mitts than the other fielder’s gloves with one major exception — they had no hinge.  Presumably, catchers in particular wore padded gloves on both hands early on, but this was quickly replaced by a much more heavily padded glove, which because it had no hinge, was almost like a large leather pad in the shape of a modern catcher’s mitt.  It definitely required two hands to catch a baseball with such a mitt — you had to trap the ball against the padded catcher’s mitt with the bare hand, which must have led to a lot more injuries to the bare hand from foul balls and wild pitches than occur today.  Catchers still get their bare hands wounded by foul balls, particularly when a base runner is trying to steal, but much of the time modern catchers keep their bare hand behind them, while they catch the pitch exclusively with the mitt.

Generally speaking, professional infielders in particular had chronically swollen hands and fingers before at least 1890 because, even if they wore fielder’s gloves, the designs of the time didn’t provide a whole lot of protection.