Archive for May 2017

News from Japan

May 31, 2017

The Orix Buffaloes just signed Chris Marerro for a reported $400,000.  San Francisco Giants fans should remember Marrero, as he made the major league team out of Spring Training.  However, a 5 for 38 start got him sent down to AAA Sacramento, where he didn’t hit much better.

It’s obviously a wise move by Marrero.  He turns 29 in July, and this spring was probably has last real chance to establish himself as an MLB player.  Even if he washes out in Japan’s NPB, I don’t see how it will impact his likely future minor league career here.

The other big news out of Japan is that possible (probable?) future MLB pitcher Takahiro Norimoto became the second pitcher in NPB history to strike out ten or more batters in six straight starts.  The first pitcher to do it was Hideo Nomo back in 1991.  That’s certainly good company to keep.

What stands in the way of future MLB success for Norimoto is the fact that he’s a small right-hander (he’s still listed at 5’10” and 180 lbs) who has been worked mighty hard in his four-plus year NPB career.

On the subject of NPB pitching prospects who have been overworked, it looks like the Hanshin Tigers have succeeded in blowing out Shintaro Fujinami‘s arm.  At the end of last season, I ranked Fujinami as NPB’s best pitching prospect for MLB purposes after Shohei Otani, which is saying something, but I said then (and not for the first time) that I was greatly concerned about the Hanshin Tigers leaving him in for 150+ pitch starts (he topped the 150 pitch mark in starts in each of 2015 and 2016).

Fujinami’s 2016 performance was beginning to show the strain, the signs are unmistakable this season.  After seven starts, he has an ERA of 2.66 with a run average below 3.40, but he hasn’t pitched nearly that well.  He’s allowed a whopping 33 walks in 40.2 inning pitched while striking out only 21.

The Hanshin Tigers have sent Fujinami down to the team’s minor league club for a “tune-up” start on June 3rd.  Given Fujinami’s past performance, he doesn’t need to work out his issues in the minor leagues — he needs a long rest.  When a young pitcher of Fujinami’s proven talent level suddenly can throw strikes and his strikeout rate plummets, it usually means an arm injury is well on its way.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Shohei Otani still isn’t back from the hamstring injury he suffered running the bases only eight games into the 2017 NPB season.  The injury has raised a lot of questions both here and in Japan about whether Otani’s desire to be a two-way player opens him up to twice as many opportunities to hurt himself.

I don’t think the Nippon Ham Fighters will prevent a player of his talents from both hitting and pitching, if that is what he wants to do.  However, Otani is almost certainly going to have to accept less money than he’d otherwise get to find a team willing to let him do both in MLB.

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Should the San Francisco Giants Demote Christian Arroyo Back to AAA?

May 26, 2017

Christian Arroyo went 0-fer at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field today.  He’s now batting .191 with a .546 OPS.

The odds are overwhelming that the Giants won’t be a .500 team this year, let alone a play-off contender, so there is little reason not to let Arroyo work through his difficulties at the major league level.  At the same time, however, if a player isn’t ready, you can damage his confidence with night after night of failure.  And failure, like success, tends to be re-enforcing.

That said, it is not quite yet time to send Arroyo down.  If his batting average falls below .170 and his OPS below .500, yes, send him down.  Until then, be patient.

I have opined previously that Arroyo’s pitch selection at the plate needs work, and that might be a skill better learned at AAA, where the pressure and talent level is lower.  Nothing about his 120+ major league plate appearances so far has convinced me otherwise.

Give Arroyo some leash, but pull it tight when it becomes clear he is not yet ready for the Show.  Whatever will best prepare Arroyo to be a major league star after this season is what is in the Giants’ best interests.

Fathers and Sons

May 22, 2017

I read an article today from the NY Times about Mike Trout, MLB’s quiet super-duper star.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that the article stated that Trout is most comparable at this point in his career to Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle and also that his father was a former minor league player.

I don’t know if Hank Aaron’s father was a ball player, but part of the legend of the Mick was that his father was a frustrated ball player, who channeled those dreams to his son, who was the perfect chalice for those dreams.  Sort of like Tiger Woods and his dad, who loved golf for whatever reason and had a son who had the natural ability and the love of his father and the game to become a legend.

Mike Trout’s dad, Jeff Trout, was a four year minor leaguer, who was probably the best baseball player to come out of Millville Senior High School in 40 years (the now longer remembered Steve Yerkes was the best player out of that school before the son).  Jeff apparently played four years at the University of Delaware before his professional career began.

Jeff could hit, slashing .321/.406/.451 in his last minor league season, but spent three years in AA ball because he couldn’t catch the ball enough.  He was a 2B/3B prospect who fielded a minor league career .956 at the former position and .915 at the latter.  Jeff had enough talent to have a reason to be frustrated when his professional baseball career ended well short of major league success.

The dynamic I’m talking about is best described in detail in Gaylord Perry‘s autobiography Me and the Spitter, probably the most entertaining baseball autobiography I read as a kid.  Evan Perry got an offer to play Class D baseball when he was 19 years old.  However, his wife was either pregnant with or had already given birth to Jim Perry, a great major league pitcher who is only remembered today as Gaylord’s older brother.

Class D baseball paid in the mid-1930’s what the low minors pay today (little more than nothing), and Evan Perry did the sensible thing of continuing to share-crop tobacco in East Carolina.  It was as bleak as that sounds — Evan was proud of the fact that he didn’t send his boys to work in the fields until they each turned 7, since he had been about 5 when he started working the plow or picking the tobaccy.

Evan was a semi-pro stud in East Carolina, and he raised his strong sons with an intense love of baseball.  It was what you did when you had finished in the fields and church had let out Sunday morning.

Mickey Mantle’s father was a wannabe professional ballplayer from rural Oklahoma few years earlier than Evan Perry.  Those were the days when real men married their pregnant, teenage girl friends and went to work in rural, depression era dead-end jobs because it still paid better than the lowest levels of minor league baseball.  In those days, the dream of major league riches was just as real to dirt-poor rural Americans as it is to dirt-poor, teenage Latin Americans today, and paid accordingly.

Gaylord was technically a cheater, Mickey became an alcoholic, and Tiger had personality deficiencies of which those who have been paying attention are now well aware.  However, all did receive the many awards and benefits that come from the most elite athletic performance.

There is probably a lot of pressure attendant with living out someone elses dreams and becoming the absolute best at one’s chosen profession.  Andre Agassi is member of this group who has publicly spoken about the misery that can come with trying to live out his father’s dream.

Even so, I like to imagine that there can be a situation where it’s more true than not that the child lived out the dream of the parent to the satisfaction of both.  I certainly hope that my child will have a better life than I’ve had, whatever that turns out to be.

Self Confidence

May 16, 2017

One thing I’ve wondered about for some time is the role that self confidence plays in major league performance.

Baseball is definitely not the realm of touchy-feely psychological stuff, but I have come to believe strongly that self-confidence is an as yet unmeasured, or at least under-measured, consideration that needs more consideration.

People with a long-term understanding of MLB baseball generally know a couple of things: (1) good teams are better at developing players than bad teams because players progress better in a winning environment than a losing environment; and (2) it is easier to develop hitters in hitters’ parks and it is easier to develop pitchers in pitchers’ parks, than the opposite. I haven’t done the research (someone should), but I think the research would show the above two claims are objectively true.

Some of this is personal.  I was a pipsqueak as a kid, but I could play ball, at least until the bases were moved out to 90 feet and the pitchers began pitching off a mound and occasionally throwing curveballs before my growth spurt arrived.  I had a great deal of confidence at the smaller sizes, and I was a star, but when the distances got bigger and I didn’t, I lost my confidence.  The drop in my subsequent offensive performance was greater than the objective changes, I believe, because I lost the confidence I once had had.

Does Eric Thames‘ 2017 performance (s0 far) have something to do with the fact that he was an under-performing MLB prospect, who went to South Korea’s KBO, made a few adjustments, and found that he was a tremendous hitter in a less talented, extreme hitters’ league?  I definitely think so.

Thames built up a lot of confidence in his abilities in his three KBO seasons.  He returned to MLB older, wiser and with a sense that he really had what it took to perform in MLB, plus the ability to make adjustments and the maturity to deal with slumps without giving up on his fundamentally sound approach and his sense of self confidence.

Again, I have not done the comprehensive research to prove my claim — however. my limited investigations suggest that major league regular batters playing their home games in extreme hitters’ parks like Coors Field and the Ball Park at Arlington hit better on the road than they have before because of the confidence they get from their artificially elevated home park performances.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I think the same is true for pitchers who pitch their home games in an extreme pitchers’ parks.  Even professionals perform better when their performance is rewarded by playing in highly favorable conditions half of the time, in part because the level of MLB play is so high that slight advantages in playing conditions can have out-sized effects.  Putting a prospect in the best possible circumstances to succeed seems to be the best way to bring about that result.

The A’s Santiago Casilla is perhaps a case in point.  He has always been a power pitcher.  With the A’s early in his career, he didn’t live up to his arm strength.  He was traded to the Giants, in a league that at the time wasn’t quite as talented and was generally a more fastball, power slider league.  He developed at an advanced age and under the right circumstances into a star.  He has now returned to the Junior Circuit, older and wiser (and against a league that hasn’t seen him pitch regularly for years), and he’s been a better pitcher for the A’s in his age 36 season (at least until his last appearance on May 12th, when he got hammered) than he was in any of his age 26 through 28 seasons.

This is a topic that is worth further investigation.  Unfortunately, I am both too lazy and too busy to do the research myself.  Hey, this is a great research topic for anyone willing to take it on.

If my hypothesis is correct, teams playing in extreme hitters parks should focus on drafting and developing hitters, and vice versa.  These teams should seek to trade for or sign free agents veteran pitchers, whose talents match the hitters’ parks they’ll have to pitch in (generally ground ball pitchers who throw strikes) and have developed a level of confidence that won’t be easily shaken by the hitters’ parks they will now be pitching their home games in.  And vice versa.

There has already been speculation that the Yankees, with their short home right field porch, should be a potential landing spot for Brandon Belt, if (and when) the Giants are sellers at the trade deadline.  It could indeed be a match made in post-season heaven.

Those Accursed Elbow Injuries

May 12, 2017

Former Cleveland Indian Jeff Manship set a new KBO record with seven consecutive wins to start his KBO career after receiving a $1.8 million contract this off-season from the NC Dinos.  He has a 1.49 ERA with 38 Ks in 42.1 innings pitched to go with his 7-0 record.

However, it was reported yesterday that Manship will miss at least the next six weeks due to an elbow injury.  Yonhap describes the injury as “damage to his elbow muscles,” which sounds better than an elbow ligament injury, but I wonder if it’s really the same thing.

Aside from being a blow to his team, Manship’s injury is blow to the entire league.  As I’ve written earlier, KBO attendance is down in the early going this season due to the South Korean team falling flat in this year’s World Baseball Classic.  Manship’s record winning streak was certainly something to for KBO fans to get excited about.

As I’ve also written earlier (same post), the KBO spent a lot of money this off-season to get the best foreign players available; and Manship, coming off a successful MLB season in 2016 for the World Series Indians, was certainly someone to make KBO fans believe they were getting to watch a quality baseball product for their money.  Manship’s injury is just another disappointment for the KBO and South Korean baseball fans this year.

Are Carlos Beltran and Adrien Beltre Future Hall of Famers?

May 12, 2017

Almost certainly.

Carlos Beltran has scored more than 1,500 runs and driven in more than 1,500.  The only qualifying players not in the Hall of Fame with that many runs scored and that many RBIs are the recent generation of nearly proven PEDers.

Beltran has some reports of chemically enhanced performance, but probably not enough to tar him as a PED cheat.

Adrian Beltre, who is currently injured, is current stuck at 2,999 career runs scored plus RBIs, one short of what is certainly a magic number for HOF purposes.  A cursory internet search has not turned up any compelling case for PED use by Beltre, so his HOF chances are indeed strong.

I’m convinced that the best of the PED guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, maybe Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) will eventually make the HOF on the grounds that when enough time passes, the voting sports writers will acknowledge that these guys would have made the HOF even if PEDs never existed.  As jaded as I am, I still have some faith that experienced sports writers will be able to evaluate the PED crop of players and one day decide which of them were so much better than everybody else that they deserve to be in the HOF.

I will admit, though, that it hasn’t always happened.  The Veterans’ Committee has indeed over-valued the performance of hitters in hitters’ eras and pitchers’ in pitchers’ eras, and vice versa.  I’m hopeful that 75% of sports writers in the future will learn from past mistakes and someday figure out how to evaluate the PED-era players.  Wishful thinking?  We’ll see.

A Win’s a Win

May 11, 2017

Today’s 6-5 victory over the Mets wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win.  Christian Arroyo had a big day, going 2-for-5 with three RBIs.

I’m at the stage now where I’m just glad the Giants are busy developing Arroyo before his 22nd birthday (May 30th).  Arroyo really isn’t playing all that well (.707 OPS and three errors), but he’s getting the kind of experience for which there is no substitute, and he’s young enough he really could be something some day.

I’m still concerned about how little Arroyo walks, but he walked twice yesterday, so at least I can be convinced for the moment that he is making some kind of progress in this regard.

Derek Law got an ugly save, but he still seems like a guy who can continue to help the Giants for the four seasons after this one.  Like the Mississippi River, Buster Posey  just keeps rolling along.

Justin Ruggiano got two singles today, which will probably keep him on the active roster for at least a few games longer than I’d like.  The Youth Movement is now!