Archive for June 2016

Taiwanese Outfielder Wang Po-Jung

June 30, 2016

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL have a twenty-two year outfielder named Wang Po-Jung (last name first) who is doing everything right this year.  Half-way through the 120 game CPBL schedule, he leads all hitters with a .401 batting average.  His .464 on-base percentage leads the league among qualifiers, and his .623 slugging percentage is fifth.

The four-team CPBL is an outrageous hitters’ league this year.  American Mike Loree currently leads the league with a 4.19 ERA, and he’s one of only four qualifiers with an ERA under 5.00.

Even so, a young guy batting .400 this far into the season anywhere qualifies as a prospect.  Wang is listed as 5’11” and 198 lbs.  My guess is that he’ll sign with a Japanese NPB team this off-season.

The Brother Elephants of the same league have a 23 year old slugger named Xu Ji-hong, who is currently batting .403 with even better obp and slg numbers than Wang.  However, he has played in 23 fewer games than Wang so far this season (35 compared to 58).  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 227 lbs, so he’s probably pretty strong.

Bits and Pieces

June 28, 2016

Kris Bryant today became the youngest player in Cubs’ history to hit three home runs in one game, topping Ernie Banks.  His 16 total bases set an all-time Cubs record.

I sure hope Bryant makes the Cubs pay through the nose when the time comes. However, if the Cubs win a couple of World Series between now and the time Bryant becomes a free agent, the past history probably won’t matter.

One of the things that suggests long-term success for Bryant is that he isn’t isn’t a meaty power hitter.  He’s tall and rangy with modern-day big-man hand-eye coordination.  His height could mean future joint problems, but his body-type isn’t the kind that puts additional weight stress on them.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s game obscured the fact that Cy Young Candidate Jake Arrieta had his worst start of the year, at least in terms of earned runs allowed.

Jeff Samardzija, National League Pitcher?  Neither nor Baseball Reference list Samardzija’s stats against AL team vs. NL teams.  I would bet dollars to donuts this is something that at least some MLB teams track, because if you can identify marginally successful pitchers in the other league who would be better in your league, you can get talent on the cheap.

Meanwhile, perhaps not surprisingly, Samardzija is getting his brains beat out by the A’s tonight.

Is Japan’s NPB Getting Better?

June 28, 2016

For some time, my attitude about the level of play in Japan’s NPB is that if on a scale from one to ten, MLB is 10 and AAA is 1, then NPB is about at 4.  The thing that makes it difficult to make relative comparisons is that relatively few Japanese players join MLB in any given off-season.

A lot of 4-A players go to Japan.  Some succeed there, and some don’t.  The guys with the most talent — the guys who seemingly should have succeeded in MLB, but for some reason didn’t, or true late bloomers who aged out of MLB before establishing themselves — tend to do the best, but for some players adapting to playing and living in Japan is too much for them.

What has me wondering if NPB is getting better relative to MLB is the success of this year’s NPB-to-MLB cross-overs.  I’m not surprised that Kenta Maeda is pitching the way he is for the Dodgers.  His career in Japan and the fact that Dodgers Stadium is a strong pitchers park led me to expect roughly what Maeda has accomplished so far.

I find the two South Koreans Dae-ho Lee and Seung-hwan Oh‘s MLB performance much more surprising.  Don’t get me wrong — I thought both of these guys were fine players.  I just had my doubts about how they’d make a transition to MLB.

Dae-ho Lee is a world-class hitter, but his numbers in Japan (four seasons with OPS numbers between .816 and .892) just were not impressive enough to expect him to succeed in MLB, given the kinds of numbers NPB hitters have needed to put up to succeed in MLB in the past.  Add to that that at age 34, he is almost certainly the slowest non-catcher in MLB.  He hasn’t hit a triple in almost four years and hasn’t stolen a base in nearly five.

I thought superb MLB defense would rob him of too many hits for him to be a successful major league hitter, not to mention the drop-off in power that would come from facing better pitchers in bigger ball parks.  Needless to say, in late June the jury is hardly out.  He has only walked eight times in 151 MLB plate appearances, which is well below his career norms.

If I had to guess, Lee is getting challenged with a lot fastballs out over the plate early in the count, which is what MLB pitchers often do with first year MLB hitters, and he’s smoking them because Lee can hit the fastball.  We’ll see what happens when MLB pitchers have more of an idea of how to pitch to him, and there’s more MLB data on where to position the fielders.

Oh was truly a fine pitcher in South Korea’s KBO and NPB, but I thought he was getting kind of old, and he had a 2015 season in Japan that suggested he might be due for a drop-off.

Oh was an old 32 last year (his birthday is July 15th) and his ERA was nearly a run higher than the year before.  He didn’t pitch an unreasonable number of regular season innings in 2014 or 2015, but was worked very hard in NPB’s post-season.

In short, I thought the odds were good that he might well just be an adequate middle reliever in MLB in 2016.  Clearly, I was wrong — he’s been great, and is poised to become the Cardinals’ closer, as it has been Trevor Rosenthal who has fallen on his face in 2016.

Oh clearly knows how to pitch, and his 2014, 2015 and 2016 (so far) seasons may have a lot to do with hitters’ familiarity with him.  In 2014, NPB hitters had never seen him before, and Oh dominated them.  In 2015, NPB hitters had a much better idea of what to expect, and while Oh was still good, he wasn’t the same pitcher he was the year before.

In 2016, MLB have never seen Oh before, and we see how that’s going.  I don’t expect him to do as well next year, but, of course, Oh will also be another year past 30 in 2017.

At any rate, it’s been a good year so far for NPB transplants, and MLB teams will be more eager to sign NPB players going forward.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many premium NPB players in the pipeline for a 2017 start to their MLB careers.  There are some really good ones in NPB, but they won’t get posted for a few years yet.  I’ve suggested a sensible way for NPB stars to get posted sooner rather than later, but I doubt anyone is listening.

Julio Urias Proving Me Wrong (Somewhat)

June 23, 2016

Four weeks ago I wrote a post stating that the Dodgers were making a big mistake beginning 19 year old rookie Julio Urias in the starting rotation, rather than in middle relief.  Indeed, Urias got bombed in his second start against the Cubs also, but since then he’s run off four consecutive strong starts.

However, I’m still not convinced that Dodgers’ management really knows what they are doing.  Urias’ recent success says more about the youngster’s talent level and his own self confidence than anything else.

The thing is, there isn’t a lot of information out there on whether a 19 year old in today’s game is going to be able to handle starting in a big media town like Los Angeles the moment he reaches the Show.  None of Urias’ previous promotions through the Dodgers organization is anything like suddenly pitching in front of 40,000 fans with the nation’s media eyes suddenly focused squarely upon you.

Urias seems to have been able to handle it in spite of a couple of very rough starts, but I very much doubt the fact that the Dodgers really had any way to know how Urias would handle it until he actually did.

Almost every article I’ve read about Urias from the moment he was called up through now says that he won’t be in the starting rotation for long, because the Dodgers don’t want to kill their tender golden goose by overworking him.  If that’s the case, what was the point of having him make his ten or twelve 2016 starts the moment he was promoted in late May, rather than initiating him with lower stress middle relief duties at first, and then getting those 10 or 12 starts a little later in the season?

The only thing I can think of is that it might be easier for the Dodgers to trade for pitching help closer to the trade deadline and they want Urias to bridge the gap until then.  However, with the Dodgers needing a couple of new starters, I kind of doubt that Urias’ starts now are worth any more they’d have been coming a month later in the season.

The Dodgers’ rush to throw Urias into the pressure cooker still smacks of desperation to me.

San Francisco Giants Prospect Gustavo Cabrera Off to a Fast Start at Salem-Keizer

June 22, 2016

Do you remember Gustavo CabreraHe was the Giants’ top foreign amateur singing back in 2012, when they gave him a $1.3 million signing bonus, which is probably the most they’re given any international amateur since then.

Cabrera had a promising season in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 at age 17, slashing .247/.379/.360 and stealing 21 bases in 28 attempts.  That off-season he slashed something far more serious, nearly cutting off his right hand, as he slipped and fell either through a glass table or window.  The hand was successfully sewn back together, and I think he underwent micro-surgery, but there was a real question if he’d have enough function in his right hand and wrist to resume a professional baseball career.

Cabrera lost almost all of 2014 and 2015 to the injury and rehabilitation, but he’s back in 2016, and still showing a little promise.  He started this season at Class A Augusta, and he struggled there, slashing only .232/.293/.319 in 75 plate appearances.  With the start of the Class A- season, he’s been sent down to Salem-Keizer and is off to a hot start, going 6 for 15 with a home run in his first four games.

At age 20 now, he will be a back on track as a prospect if he has a strong season at the short-season A level.  Right now the main thing is for him to be playing every day and seeing how his wrist holds up.

Dan Otero Very Quietly a Big Part of the Cleveland Indians’ Very Quiet Success This Year

June 20, 2016

In light of the Cavaliers winning Game 7 of the NBA finals tonight, it’s going to be awhile before anyone but die-hard Tribe fans notice just how well the Indians are playing this season.  Even when people start to notice, assuming the Indians keep winning, one guy who probably won’t get enough credit for that success is Dan Otero.

Otero was originally a 21st round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2007.  His stuff merited the low draft pick, but from the moment he reached professional baseball, his command and his ability to pitch made him consistently successful, at least when he was healthy.

He caught my attention when he had a fantastic season in AA ball in 2009.  However, he promptly hurt his arm, and wasn’t fully back until 2011, his age 26 season, when his age made him barely a prospect.  He should have gotten a September call-up that year, but his lack of stuff and his tough luck made him easy to overlook.

He pitched well in AAA in 2012 and got a look from the Giants in his age 27 season.  Not surprisingly, he was hit hard in his first major league trail, because Otero is almost certainly a pitcher who benefits from learning and exploiting the weaknesses of the hitters he’s facing.

That off-season he was claimed off of waivers, first by the Yankees and then by the A’s.  He was terrific at AAA Sacramento to start 2013 and terrific for the A’s to finish the 2013 season.  He was nearly as good for the A’s in 2014 when he pitched in 72 games.

However, the bottom fell out in 2015.  Otero is a guy who relies on his ability to avoid free passes and keep the ball down.  In 2015, I have to conclude from his numbers that he wasn’t keeping the ball down that year with predictable results.  Batters beat him like a dusty rug and he allowed seven home runs in only 46.2 IP.

Here’s where the Indians come in.  A lot of teams would have thought that Otero’s two years of success in 2013 and 2014 were a fluke based on the fact that the American League’s hitters weren’t familiar with him.  In fact, the Phillies claimed Otero off waivers and then sold him to the Tribe for cash considerations, which probably weren’t very great.

However, the Tribe appear to have signed Otero to a major league contract  — baseball reference lists Otero’s 2016 salary as $520,000, which strongly suggests a major league contract for a couple of reasons.  First, the major league portion of minor league deals generally don’t get listed on baseball reference, and for a player with Otero’s experience a minor league deal would typically call for a minor league salary of $125,000 to $250,000 and a major league salary of $600,000 to $800,000.

At any rate, I suspect the Indians saw something in Otero they thought they could fix and decided he was worth a major league deal, even though pitchers with Otero’s track record typically don’t get them.  The Indians were apparently right, because Otero has been quietly tremendous for the 2016 team.  He currently has a 0.98 ERA with 26 Ks in 27.2 innings pitched.  He still gives up plenty of base hits, but he doesn’t walk anybody, and he has yet to give up a home run this season.

Otero isn’t going to take closer Cody Allen‘s job, because Allen has true closer stuff.  However, Otero has effectively bridged the gap between the Tribe’s strong starting pitching and Allen and turned the 8th inning into a dead zone for opposing offenses.

Another former San Francisco Giant and very low draft pick who is helping the Indians in a big way this season is Rajai Davis.  I have long wondered why Davis, with his plus speed and ability to play center field was not selected until the 38th round of the 2001 Draft.  He played at a secondary campus of the University of Connecticut, and I would guess his college offensive production and his college swing left a lot to be desired.

Davis eventually figured it out, and in his age 35 season he continues to be a valuable fourth outfielder who ends up playing almost every day because of injuries and his ability to play all three outfield positions.  It was certainly a blessing for the Tribe to have Davis around when Marlon Byrd tested positive for PEDs a second time.

Tim Lincecum Wins First Start for the Angels

June 19, 2016

Tim Lincecum won his first start for the Angels tonight.  He was good, allowing one run in six innings pitched, but he wasn’t that good, walking two and striking out only two.

Like most Giants fans, there is a special place in my heart for Timmy, and I’m certainly rooting for him to come back and have a late career surge that makes him a possible Hall of Fame candidate.  However, my left brain says it’s just not going to happen.

Everything I’ve seen so far in Tim’s comeback from last year’s hip surgery says to me that Tim is the basically the same guy he was before the injury:  a pitcher who once had great stuff who really knew how to pitch but didn’t have the greatest command due to a pitching motion that provided great deception but was hard to replicate consistently, but now has below average stuff with the same problematic command but is still major league useful because of his deception and his inherent ability to pitch.

His first start with the Angels is, in my mind, entirely consistent with a guy who can still no-hit a team like the Padres, but who is going to struggle against teams with more than two elite hitters because his stuff and his command just aren’t good enough.

I will certainly keep rooting for Tim, particularly when he can beat an NL West team in inter-league play, and not at all when it can somehow cost the Giants anything.

Tim is perfect for the 2016 Angels, a team desperate for starting pitching.  I expect Tim to be better than any other option the Angels have for at least the next couple of months.  You can look at their AAA pitchers at Salt Lake City and see for yourself.