Archive for April 2017

Eric Thames’ Hot Start

April 27, 2017

I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start.  He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.

Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO.  The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat.  They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.

In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed.  He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed.  It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.

Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results.  Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.

However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money.  He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities.  It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.

Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers.  He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.

Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball.  It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.

Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.

I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it.  It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.

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San Francisco Giants Promote Christian Arroyo

April 25, 2017

I was wrong about the Giants giving Christian Arroyo at least another 15 games before promoting him to the Show.  The Giants gave Arroyo two more games in which he went 5-for-9, and they wasted no time in calling him up.

Given the recent news out of San Francisco, promoting Arroyo this soon contains a whiff of desperation, as the team tries to shake things up a bit, and gives its first hint that the team already sees 2017 as a rebuilding year.

Current word is that Arroyo will be giving a chance to start at 3B, with Eduardo Nunez presumably moving to LF.  I’m still a bit concerned with how little Arroyo walks, and if it had been up to me, I’d have left him at AAA Sacramento for that 15 or 16 games I’d previously written about.

Still, Arroyo is hot and can clearly hit, and we’ll see how long it takes before National League pitchers can figure out how to make him hit their pitch, since he isn’t yet disposed to take walks.  NL pitchers might not figure that out until 2018.

A Bad, Bad Start

April 23, 2017

Already it’s looking an awful lot like 2017 isn’t going to be the Giants’ season.  With today’s 8-0 pounding administered by the Rockies in Denver, the Giants are now 6-13, their worst start since 1983.

The Giants went 79-83 in 1983, which wasn’t dreadful but a big comedown after the Giants had just missed the play-offs in 1982.  With their best pitcher Madison Bumgarner injured in a damn fool way (riding dirt bikes during the baseball season), and likely to be out for a while, things sure don’t look bright.

There is talk of the possibility of the Giants fining Bumgarner, but the commentariat seems to think that won’t happen.  There’s a good chance the team’s kangaroo court, if they have one, will fine Bumgarner something like $500 to pay for a party later in the season.

There’s still time for the Giants to turn things around, but a start this bad usually says something about the team.

Christian Arroyo Making a Statement at AAA Sacramento

April 22, 2017

21 year old middle infielder and former Giants 1st round pick (2013) Christian Arroyo is making a statement at Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League.  In 14 games, he’s 24 for 56, a .429 batting average, and he’s got a 1.136 OPS.

The PCL is a hitters’ league and it’s early in the season, so Arroyo is “only” 2nd in the league in hitting and 4th in OPS.  Even so, the message is clearly that Arroyo is ready for the Show.

The Giants will almost certainly leave Arroyo in the minors for at least another 15 or 16 games, to give him a chance to come down to earth.  Also, it is a concern that Arroyo has walked only twice in at least 58 plate appearances.

If Arroyo keeps hitting like this for another 15 or 16 games, the Giants will have to do something.  He has played eight games at SS, three at 2B and three at 3B so far this season, so he certainly provides flexibility coming off the bench at the major league level.

Ouchies

April 20, 2017

There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.

Sorry to See Clayton Blackburn Go

April 19, 2017

In the recent roster machinations that put Buster Posey on the 7-Day Concussion list and prompted a brief call-up of Tim Federowicz, the Giants elected to drop Clayton Blackburn from the 40-man roster.  That placed Blackburn on waivers, and the Giants were forced to trade him to the Rangers for young middle infielder Frandy De La Rosa.

I first became aware of Blackburn when he had a huge year in 2012 at Class A Augusta at the age of 19.  He was only a 16th round draft pick, so I was hoping he’d turn out to be a steal.

He continued to play well in the minors at each level, culminating in a 2015 season at AAA Sacramento in which he went 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA, good enough to lead the Pacific Coast League that season among pitchers who threw at least 115 innings (Blackburn threw 123 IP).  His strikeout total (99) was only tenth best, but his strikeout to walk ratio was better than 3/1, and he was only 22 that season.

Blackburn deserved a September call-up that year, but didn’t get one.  The Giants may have been right, however, because Blackburn regressed badly in 2016.  Back at AAA Sacramento, Blackburn went 7-10 with a 5.02 ERA.  His numbers were almost exactly the same as the year before, except that he allowed three times as many home runs.  That’ll sure rowdy up the old ERA.

Blackburn was dreadful in his first AAA start this year, allowing five earned runs in three innings pitched.  But it was just one start before the trade.  Blackburn’s still only 24 this season, and he’s maybe only a few adjustments from being a major league caliber pitcher.

The guy the Giants got, De La Rosa, also appears to have talent.  He had a solid season in the Class A Sally League last year at the age of twenty, most notable for a .330 on-base percentage, which is certainly acceptable for a middle infielder.

De La Rosa got off to a horrible start to 2017 at Down East (Kinston) in the Class A+ Carolina League (3 for 28, but two doubles and five walks), and the Giants have sent him back to their Sally League franchise in Augusta.  It’s entirely possible the Rangers gave up on him too soon also, although I would like my chances with Blackburn better, since he’s much closer to the major leagues.

Let’s hope they both ultimately make it to the Show.

Making or Breaking a Career

April 17, 2017

Jarrett Parker made a tremendous over the shoulder catch yesterday, crashed into the left field wall and broke his collar bone.  So, perhaps, goes his shot at a successful major league career.

Parker was, practically speaking if not in conformance with the actual rule, a 28 year old rookie this year, who had made the San Francisco Giants as the guy-to-get-the-most-plate-appearances left fielder out of Spring Training.  Parker is the kind of toolsy outfielder the Giants sometimes like to take with their second round draft pick, in Parker’s case in 2010.

It took a while for Parker to develop, but he always had the tools, and slowly but steadily he got better.  That’s why he had a shot at being a 28 year old rookie sensation in 2017.  He was off to a slow start this year (3 for 21 for a .143 batting average and a .455 OPS), but having played in only nine games not much had been proven.

Parker underwent surgery on his right clavicle today, and I still haven’t seen an announcement on how long he’ll be out, which suggests to me the answer is at least 60 days plus rehab time in the minors.  A collar bone is something that needs to heal fully, as it’s an easy bone to break in the first place.

This is all too often how major league careers make or break.  Given Parker’s age, the injury could not have come at a much worse time.  He has to come back hot sometime later this season, or he’ll be a 29 year old in 2018 coming off an injury plagued season.  That’s a recipe for a possible major league career in Japan or South Korea, not MLB.

Meanwhile, lefty Steven Okert gets another opportunity to prove he’s major league ready at an old 25 (he turns 26 on July 9th).  Parker’s loss is quite literally Okert’s gain.

I’m fairly convinced that Steven Okert will help the Giants win games at some point in the future, but I’m sad to see Jarrett Parker’s career take such a hit.  Life’s not fair, Baby!