Archive for March 2017

Remembering Jonathan Sanchez

March 21, 2017

According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Royals just released Jonathan Sanchez as he attempted what will almost certainly be his last MLB comeback attempt.  The thought of Sanchez brings back at least some fond memories.

Giants’ fans will remember a largely frustrating career — great stuff, not enough command — that culminated in one fine year in which the Giants just happened to win their first World Series since 1954. That, and his 2009 no-hitter.

2010, when Sanchez went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA, was his one full season to remember.  His command still wasn’t great that year, but his stuff was so good that he allowed only 142 hits in 193.1 innings pitched, and he struck out 205.

Sanchez last pitched in the majors in 2013.  Injuries set in quickly in quickly after the 2010 season, and his career was straight downhill from that point.

He pitched well in the Puerto Rican Winter League in post 2015, but this past Winter League season he pitched only two innings in one start in which he gave up only one hit, but walked four while striking out three.  If his arm is healthy, he could get a shot pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter league next off-season, but that’s about it, unless he’s willing to pitch in Mexico this summer.

In today’s game, it’s hard to feel sorry for Sanchez.  His career may not have been what he and the SF Giants hoped for, but he made more than $15 million playing professional baseball, and he’s earned a substantial major league pension, which will go far indeed if he spends any significant part of each year in Puerto Rico.

It’s tough to be an MLB player this generation, but those who can have any kind of career are now well compensated.

MLB Teams Should Develop Two-Way Stars

March 18, 2017

Baseball America recently published its list of its top ten prospects for the 2017 Amateur Draft.  The top two players, high school star Hunter Greene and Louisville 1B/P Brendan McKay are described as two-way stars (offense and defense) who the drafting teams will probably develop as pitchers.

I wish MLB teams and the players themselves would be more willing to develop the players as two-way stars, like Japan’s Shohei Otani.  There is a certain logic to what I am saying, at least so far as those prospects who are developed as pitchers in pro baseball.  Because pitchers are so susceptible to arm injuries, developing the player at least in part as a position player is basically a kind of insurance policy, since if he blows out his arm, he could still prove to be a major league hitter.

In the case of Greene and McKay, their talent levels as baseball players are probably so high that they could potentially develop into stars either as pitchers or afield.  If the player quickly proves in the low minors that the player’s professional potential is as one or the other, you haven’t lost much but committing a minor league season or two to doing double duty.

MLB teams and amateur players don’t typically do so for a number of reasons.  The teams quickly decide how they like the youngster better and train him toward that narrow goal.  That’s what they based their 1st round draft pick on.

Also, each MLB team ideally wants to be developing one player at each position on each minor league team, because in most cases those are the guys who are one day going to contribute at the major league level. Developing a player as a two-way star means some degree of platooning somewhere, as I explain below.

The amateur player’s primary concern is getting as big a signing bonus as possible.  Since the team almost always considers their value at the moment of selection as either or, the player’s financial incentive is clearly with doing what the team wants the player to do.

I would love to see a young player like Greene or McKay say, “I’m willing to sign for $1M under slot if you will agree to play me at least X number of games in the field.  I’m good enough to do both, and I just might add a great deal of value if I can prove it.

In 2016’s NPB season, Shohei Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher with a 1.86 ERA and 174 Ks in 140 innings pitched.  As mainly a DH, he slashed .322/.416/.588 in 104 games and 382 plate appearances.  Otani would have led the Pacific League in OPS if he’d had only 61 more plate appearances.  Oh, and by the way, his team the Nippon Ham Fighters won the 2016 Nippon Series.

You can’t tell me that the way the Fighters used Otani in 2016 didn’t have a lot to do with the team’s success, since while he could have potentially pitched exclusively for the same overall value, he would have had to throw a truly unhealthy number of innings to do so.  Otani, who is still only 22 years old, could be better, on both sides of the ball, in any of the next few years than he was in 2016.

Developing a two-way player requires a team to be willing to platoon, at least at the DH position, since a two-way player is going to miss games recovering from his pitching efforts.  Also, teams willing to do so don’t typically get to select the two-way player before the team that most highly values him as a pitching prospect.

On the other hand, MLB organizations realistically expect only a couple of players at any level below AA ball to eventually make the Show.  Platooning to develop a true MLB prospect on both sides of the ball is not overly burdensome, since it’s unlikely that any one MLB team will have more than one of these players in its minor league system at any one time.

I’d don’t think it’s any surprise that the very best of the best amateur players feature real two-way prospects.  Youngsters with great physical talent who really understand the game at a physical level are going to be able to hit, pitch and field.

That said, I will admit that it’s either to find the next Shohei Otani in NPB than it is in MLB.  Since MLB is the better league, you have to be better on both sides of the ball to be either a pitching ace or an hitting star, let alone both.

At the end of the day, it’s probably going to take Greene saying, “I’m willing to take only $5.4M or $6.4M in order to play both ways,” or Brendan McKay saying, “I’m willing to accept $5.0M or $5.85M to play both ways,” in order for MLB to develop a true two-way player.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last two-way player in MLB, but it’s sure unlikely to be any more common in the future MLB than in its been in MLB past, for the reasons suggested above.

Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?

March 17, 2017

Today, the injury every pitcher dreads is the torn ulnar collateral ligament.  When I was young, it was the torn rotator cuff.

A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion.  Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey.  His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.

Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963.  The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season.  Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings.  His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with  Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23).  The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.

Dailey was 28 in 1963.  I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season.  He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.

In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29.  That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise.  Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.

San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt.  If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.

The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch.  That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum.  Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.

For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers.  A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.

San Francisco Giants Outfield Situation Looks Promising

March 16, 2017

We’re only half-way through the 2017 Spring Training, but even if things still have to be taken with a grain of salt, the Giants are looking prescient in keeping relatively still on their left field situation this off-season.

The Giants were hoping that Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson could hold down left field in 2017, either as a platoon, or more likely, by one of two stepping forward in Spring Training and the early season and proving that he can be an every day player, at least in 2017.

So far looks good — after 13 games played, Jarrett Parker is slashing .313/.450/.625; and after 11 games, Mac Williamson is slashing .324/.378/.559.  Sure, 11 or 13 games don’t mean s*&%, but with almost 80 plate appearances between the two of them, it’s better than hitting a buck-85 with no power and no walks.

Mike Morse, to my great surprise, looks like he has a real chance to be the Giants 5th outfielder on Opening Day, particularly with Gorkys Hernandez in a deep, deep slump so far this spring.  I thought the Morse signing was a classic example of wishful thinking, but he’s slashing .304/.407/.609, and could potentially be that right-handed power bat the Giants sorely need off the bench.

With half of Spring Training still to come, there is plenty of time for Parker, Williamson and Morse to get cold.  It’s a good sign that Parker and Williamson in particular are off to fast starts, since they both know what is at stake, are feeling the pressure, and are nevertheless doing what they need to do to prove they’re ready.  Let’s hope they keep it up.

Ed Hobaugh — Here’s to You!

March 15, 2017

This weekend I saw one of my oldest friends for the first time since January.  While he is not a baseball fan like me, he’s the kind of guy who still goes to the occasional comic book/baseball card convention, and he had gone to one at Stonestown recently.

He bought some sports cards, all but one baseball (49er receiver Gene Washington).  He offered to give me one, and looking through them, mostly early 1970’s cards, there was a good chance I had most of them in my childhood collection, now buried away in a closet somewhere.

One card I’m sure I didn’t have was a 1962 topps Ed Hobaugh card.  I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before, but he went 7-9 with a 4.42 ERA for the expansion 1961 Washington Senators and pitched 126 innings that year.

I love players (and baseball cards) like this.  1961 was Hobaugh’s one great MLB hurrah.  He pitched pretty well in 26 games, mostly in relief, for the Senators in 1962, pitched ineffectively in nine MLB games in 1963, and that was the end of his major league career, although he continued to pitch in AAA until the 1969 season.

Hobauch was a college pitcher at Michigan State who didn’t pitch professionally until his age 22 season after finishing school and being signed by the White Sox organization.  He went 11-4 in the Three-I League in 1956 and threw a no-hitter, but he missed all of the 1957 and 1958 seasons, most likely because of military service.

Hobaugh was a good, but by no means great, AAA pitcher in the American Association in 1959 and the Pacific Coast League in 1960, going a combined 24-18.  Hobaugh appears to have been a pitcher without major league stuff who knew how to pitch, maybe comparable to some  of the pitchers who find success in the East Asian leagues after failing to make it in MLB today.  Pat Misch springs to mind.

At the time of the 1960 American League expansion draft, Hobaugh was still reasonably young, had pitched reasonably well in AAA and hadn’t been protected by the team that originally signed him.  But for expansion, Hobaugh probably would have received one or two major league cups of coffee at most.  However, the new Senators needed players, and Hobaugh turned out to be probably the team’s fifth best pitcher in their expansion year.

Hobaugh is pretty typical of the players who fill expansion team rosters and who prevent said expansion team from losing 120 games their first season in the Show, but who aren’t good enough to prevent the team from losing 100.  For every Jeff Conine that an expansion team finds among the available 27+ year olds, there are probably ten Ed Hobaughs who got their one real chance to be a major leaguer in that first expansion year and then quickly receded as the expansion teams tried to develop younger, potentially more talented players.

At the end of the day, Hobaugh proved he was a real major league, even if was only for a couple of seasons with an expansion team.  Ed Hobaugh — here’s to you!

What Will Adam Duvall Do in 2017?

March 14, 2017

As a 27 year old rookie (he may not technically have qualified as a rookie in 2016 because he had 149 plate appearances going into the season, but he was a rookie in all other respects), Adam Duvall was one of the feel-good stories of 2016.  His 103 RBIs were fifth best in the Senior Circuit, his 33 HRs were tied for 6th, and he made the All-Star team.

Given that 27 year old rookies tend not to have particularly impressive careers, the jury is definitely out on whether 2016 was a peak year fluke or Duvall can continue to make adjustments and have a more memorable MLB career.  Lew Ford is kind of the recent poster boy for the classic 27 year old rookie who had one great season and then quickly faded off into the sunset.

I recently wrote a couple of posts about the string of players the Oakland A’s developed beginning with their age 28 seasons.  However, most of the A’s diamonds-in-the-rough had high on-base percentages to go with their plus MLB power.  Duvall swings away and swings away some more, to the tune of a 4/1 K/BB ratio last year.

Guys who walk as little as Duvall does often have problems adjusting when opposing  pitchers stop throwing them strikes, pitch to their weaknesses and get better at setting them up to pitch to their weaknesses.

On the other hand, Duvall runs pretty well (six triples and six stolen bases in 11 attempts), and his left field defense was rated by fangraphs as more valuable than his offensive contributions in 2016 in spite of the fact that he made eight errors, which is a lot for a corner outfielder.  The upshot is that if Duvall can maintain the same level of offensive performance in 2017 and beyond as he had in 2016, he’ll still be a valuable major league player for some time to come.

The question is probably can Duvall continue to hit well enough in 2017, so that the Reds don’t lose confidence in him and conclude he was one-year wonder.  That can happen faster than you think if he starts off this season in a bad slump.

As a former San Francisco Giants’ prospect, I’ve been following Duvall with interest since he hit 22 HRs for Class A Augusta, a very tough place to hit, in his age 22 season.  He hit 30 home runs in the Class A+ San Jose the next year (in the hitter friendly California League), and continued to hit home runs the next three seasons in the upper minors.

In short, Duvall’s 2016 power is no fluke, and the question is whether he can hit for enough of an average, given his adversity to taking a walk , to keep put himself in a position to continue hitting the long balls.  Whether he will or won’t is definitely an open question as we approach the 2017 season.

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.