Archive for June 2017

What Do Players in Taiwan’s CPBL Make? 2017 Update

June 29, 2017

About three years ago, I wrote a post which stated that foreign stars in Taiwan’s CPBL typically make around $150,000 a season.  I now think that this estimate is probably on the high side for all but established foreign stars.

I suspect that the lowest paid foreign players in the CPBL probably make as little as $7,500 to $10,000 per month for a seven month long season, based on the fact that the Independent-A Atlantic League and the Mexican League (summer), from which the CPBL routinely draws talent, pay far less.

The Atlantic League maximum is still $3,000 per month for a 5.5 month season, and Mexican (summer) League salaries for foreign players start at about $5,500 per month and are capped at $8,000 per month for a 4.5 month season.  Foreign players in the Mexican Pacific (winter) League probably max out at as much as $10,000 to $12,000 a month for a 2.5 month season, although I don’t have any idea how many foreign players actually make that much.

At those rates, $7,500 to $10,000 per month would generally be a substantial raise for any players coming out of these leagues to play in the CPBL.  Needless to say, CPBL teams need to pay just enough to convince players from the Americas to travel half way around the world to play baseball in Taiwan.  Also, a draw to foreign players is that success in the CPBL can be a launching pad for opportunities to sign more lucrative contracts to play in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

However, new foreign players in CPBL sign half season contracts (the CPBL plays a split season with two halves of 60 games each), and many foreign players play only half a season in the CPBL if their performance is not impressive.  The recent trend in the CPBL has been to sign far more pitchers out of the Atlantic League than the Mexican League, suggesting that my guesstimate on starting CPBL salaries if probably accurate.

The average salary for foreign pitchers in the CPBL is reported to be around $15,000 a month, and established foreign CPBL stars like Mike Loree and Orlando Roman could well be making significantly more than $150,000 a year now. [A comment below indicates that Loree is probably making somewhere between $200,000 to $225,000 in 2017, possibly  including or with some additional performance bonuses.]

However, Loree and Roman are playing in their 5th and 4th CPBL seasons respectively this year, and foreign players generally do not last or stay long in this league, because they have to stay healthy and pitch exceptionally well by CPBL standards to return each year.  I also assume that the CPBL is like other Asian pro leagues, where veteran service is typically required for a max level contract.

It’s worth noting that Mike Loree left the CPBL to pitch in the KBO’s minor league in 2014 for an amount reported to be somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000.  That would strongly suggest that Loree’s CPBL team offered him less money in spite of the fine CPBL season he had in 2013.

The website CPBL English provides some useful information on top CPBL salaries.  Before the 2016 season,  then 12-year veteran star Lin Chih Sheng signed a reported three-year deal that will pay him as much as 15 million New Taiwan dollars (about $498,500 at current exchange rates) per year, although 20% of that total contract amount is performance bonuses.  That set a record for largest total value of contract in CPBL history.

The previous record was held by long-time MLBer Freddy Garcia who, according to AP, signed for a seven-month contract that paid him $50,000 a month plus an additional $6,000 in performance bonuses, for a total possible pay-out of $392,000, to play for the EDA Rhinos in 2014.  Garcia had a good season for the Rhinos, but it was his lone season in the CPBL.

However, the year before former MLB super-star Manny Ramirez played for half a season in the CPBL on a contract that paid him $25,000 per month.  He was reportedly offered $40,000 or $50,000 per month for the second half of the 2013 season, but elected to return to the MLB system instead.

The best foreign pitchers (all foreign players in the CPBL are currently pitchers) could thus now be making more than $150,000 per season, particularly once they’ve pitched two full seasons in Taiwan.

Additional relevant information from CPBL English is that 1st round CPBL draft picks are now receiving signing bonuses as high as NT$5.6 million ($186,100) but starting salaries of only $2,700 to $3,300 per month.  You’d need a large signing bonus to live on that, particularly since a lot of draft picks are coming out of Taiwanese Universities.

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Home Runs and Strikeouts

June 29, 2017

The last year and a half, MLB has been averaging all-time records for both home runs and strikeouts.  Much has been written on this topic, but not by me, so hear goes.

The cause of the increases are fairly obvious.  All of the teams and players, thanks to advanced statistical analysis (sabrmetrics) and much better tracking records of every pitch and every ball put into play and their outcomes, has finally broken down professional baseball’s 125+ year hostility to strikeouts, at least if more strikeouts come with more home runs.

Obviously, a home run, compared to singles and doubles, produces a greater benefit than the extra cost of a strikeout compared to an out made on a ball put in play.  Teams just don’t care any more if a player strikes out 200+ times for every 650-700 plate appearances, so long as that player also hits 30+ HRs and can keep his on-base percentage over .320, however he may get to that number.

What is interesting in the last year and a half is that batting averages have not fallen in spite of the increase in strikeouts.  Along with the increase in defensive shifts, one would expect to see falling batting averages as a result of these trends.  In fact, the new obsession with batter launch angles (i.e., upper-cutting the ball in order to hit it in the air) is almost certainly in part a result of the increase in defensive shifts, as home run balls are much harder to defend against and the statistical analysis and tracking shows that balls hit in the air are much likelier to result in hits than balls hit in the ground.

I have certainly noticed the rise in pitchers throughout professional baseball who are striking out more than 8 batters per nine innings, but still have terrible ERAs, because they are giving up lots of hits and especially home runs.  It’s not something I’ve ever seen before on this scale, and I very much doubt anyone else has seen it either.

Since swinging for the fences at all times seems to be working, I don’t see any likelihood in the near term that these trends won’t continue, absent rule changes imposed from the top.

Clearly, teams are going to have to start finding and developing more pitchers that hitters cannot easily hit in the air, i.e., extreme groundball pitchers.  However, MLB has been drafting and developing pitchers based mainly on arm strength since basically forever.

There are always a few extreme groundball pitchers in MLB, including low side-armers, but these guys never get anything they don’t earn in spades.  Their major league careers typically start late, and often don’t get a chance except from teams that are desperate for affordable, effective pitching.  It’s no surprise that in the last 15 or 16 years, it was the “Money Ball” Oakland A’s who developed both Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler as effective major league relievers.

This subject is particularly on my mind because I recently wrote a post about San Francisco Giants’ prospect Tyler Rogers.  Rogers now has a 2.14 ERA in more than 46 relief innings pitched at AAA Sacramento, but the Giants elected to call up Dan Slania yesterday when they put Mark Melancon on the 10-day disabled list.

Slania is a year younger than Tyler Rogers, he has much better stuff, and he has a better draft pedigree.  However, Slania was hit hard as a starter at AAA (7.82 ERA) in large part because he couldn’t keep the ball in the yard (14 HRs in 61 IP).

140 years of baseball history support calling up Slania over Rogers.  However, the way the game is being played at this moment suggests that teams need to start to crediting the cold, hard statistics that extreme groundball pitchers like Rogers put up.

Also, if more hitters are hitting more balls in the air, the value of outfield defense is also going to increase.  Fast outfielders who can cover ground are going to become more valuable than ever.

Chris Shaw and Jae-Gyun Hwang Update

June 27, 2017

Chris Shaw was the San Francisco Giants’ second 1st round pick in the 2015 draft, selected 31st overall.  He got off to a hot start at AA Richmond this year, slashing .301/.390/.511 in 37 games, and earned a quick promotion to AAA Sacramento.

He got off to a slow start in AAA ball, but has hit in his last 10 games, bringing his AAA OPS up to .729.  He’s 23 this year and is on track to force the Giants to make some decisions this off-season.

The Giants are trying to teach Shaw to play left field this season.  He’s played 42 games there, all this season, and the numbers aren’t pretty.  He hasn’t made any errors, but he doesn’t appear to have much range or much of a throwing arm.

The 23 year old Shaw’s long-term future looks to be at first base, where the Giants already have Brandon Belt signed through 2021.  It’s certainly possible the Giants could trade Belt this July or next off-season, but right now it would probably be hard to get full value for Belt in trade since he’s only batting .229, even though his other numbers are still fairly good.

Belt is almost certainly a better defensive 1Bman than Shaw, and that’s important when you’re taking about playing home games at AT&T Park, a yard that reduces left-handed power hitting.  Belt is also very popular in SF, although that won’t necessarily bar a trade if the Giants can get sufficient value in return, as they try to rebuild from this disastrous season.

Meanwhile, AAA 3Bman Jae-Gyu Hwang has let it be known that he intends to opt out of his contract if the Giants do not promote him to the majors by July 1st.  After playing well, but not great, at AAA for most of the first half, Hwang has lifted his OPS up to .810.

Hwang has split time between 1B and 3B this season, and his third base defense doesn’t look great — adequate range but a .937 fielding percentage in 267.1 innings played.  He does appear to turn the double play well, however.  Hwang has also played two games in left field, where he’s recorded six outs, so he could play a number of positions in SF.

I can’t imagine the Giants won’t at least give him a look in the majors after bringing him over from South Korea this past off-season.  To do so, though, the Giants will have to clear a space on their 40-man roster, which means someone will have to be released or exposed to waivers, most likely Conor Gillaspie.

Will the Economic Collapse in Venezuela Impact Its Ballplayer Pipeline to MLB?

June 26, 2017

Everyone who has been following major league baseball for the last 20 years knows that Venezuelan players have become an integral part of the game, now matching or even surpassing the Dominican Republic as the Latin American country producing the most major league players and superstars.  I wonder what effect the slow motion collapse of Venezuela’s economy will have on the country as a continuing source of major league talent.

Obviously, even very poor countries can produce major league stars.  Until very recently, a majority of major league stars came from poor or relatively poor backgrounds, as baseball and other professional sports were avenues for the most talented and driven poor young athletes to strike it rich.  The first generation of Puerto Rican, Venezuelan and Dominican players who came up in the 1950’s and 1960’s were coming from much poorer places than those countries are today.

However, Venezuela has reached a point where a majority of the population no longer has enough to eat (Venezuelans call it the “Maduro Diet”), and it’s hard to build large numbers of strong young athletes in a country experiencing severe food shortages.

For those of you who haven’t followed Venezuelan affairs over the last twenty years, here is a quick primer on what’s happening there.

In 1998, former military man and left-wing demagogue Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela on a platform to improve the lot of the poor majority in the country.  Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, or very close to the world’s largest, but it was a typical third world country where most of the wealth was controlled by a small, politically connected capitalist elite.

Chavez imposed what he called “Bolivarian Socialism” on Venezuela, fixing the prices of basic food stuffs and commodities and over time nationalizing many of the countries largest companies and industries.  As long as oil prices were reasonably high, Chavez was able to finance his policies at home and grab attention and allies throughout Latin America with below market oil shipments.

Chavez’s policies did improve the lot of the poor majority in Venezuela, and this made it virtually impossible for any other politician or political party to beat him at the ballot box.  Unfortunately, Chavez, who first became involved in Venezuelan politics in 1992 when he led a failed coup attempt, had no real commitment to or belief in either democratic values or institutions.  Over time Chavez used nationalizations of industry to disenfranchise financially his political opponents, and he handed control over these industries to cronies, who were selected for loyalty to the regime, rather than because of competence or honesty.

This was the case even at the state oil company, PDVSA, with predictable results.  Profits were skimmed, and production levels have steadily fallen over the last 20 years because of lack of competence and investment, even though oil revenues were the key to Chavez’ project.

Venezuela once had no problem producing enough food for its citizens.  However, government mandated prices enforced by credible threats of nationalization to farmers who protested they couldn’t make a profit, led inevitably to farmers simply going out of business.

Chavez died suddenly of cancer in early 2013 at age 58.  He was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, a loyal Chavista who lacked Chavez’ charisma.  However, the Venezuelan economy was still operating fairly well in 2013, and Maduro won a close election to become the next president based on Chavez’ continued popularity with a majority of Venezuelans.  In 2014, the price of oil crashed and has yet to recover (and probably won’t any time soon due to ready availability of American shale oil and Canadian tar sands oil).

By 2015, the consequences of Chavista economic policy had come home to roost, and with the oil money spigot cut off, Venezuela’s economy tanked and continues to tank.  A majority of Venezuela’s population quickly realized that Chavez’s policies were no longer sustainable and that changes needed to be made.  In 2015, congressional elections were held, and the opposition appeared to win a tight two-thirds majority that could overturn the Chavez/Maduro policies.  However, after 17 years in power the Chavistas had successfully packed the courts and filled the army with regime royalists.  Venezuela’s National Assemby was ultimately divested of power by the country’s supreme court, and Maduro now rules by decree.

There still is oil money coming into the state’s coffers, which has had the effect of making the economic collapse one long, slow-motion train wreck.  The government is effectively in control of the food supply, since Venezuelan farmers are no longer producing for anyone but their own families, and most food must be imported using oil money.  This leaves the state largely in charge of distribution, and there have been allegations that regime loyalists are first in line for the limited supplies.  Further, the government has refused to accept foreign aid to make up for the food and medicine shortages, because to do so would be to admit the abject failure of Bolivarian Socialism.

Maduro sounds progressively more and more like an out of touch dictator than a democratically elected head of state, but he has that oil money, the military and the organs of the state at his disposal, until he elects to give up power or there is a civil war.  Very little suggests that Maduro will give up power voluntarily, and I for one kind of expect that one day in the near or distant future he’ll end up swinging from the roof of a gas station like Mussolini.

To get back to the topic of baseball, it does not look like Venezuela’s problems are going to be fixed any time soon, unless a large enough portion of the Venezuelan military elects all at once to dump Maduro and allow for real change.  Until then, an awful lot of Venezuelans are going to continue to go hungry.  It’s entirely possible that at some time in the future we will see a band of Venezuelan children of a certain age who have largely had their physical and mental development stunted by their countries’ lack of accessible and affordable food and medicine.  I think it is entirely possible that at some time in the future, there will be a period of two or three years where the number of young ballplayers coming out of Venezuela drops sharply compared to other Latin American baseball powers as a result of the problems in Venezuela now.

Milwaukee Brewers Make Nice Little Move Claiming Stephen Vogt

June 25, 2017

The Brewers were the only team to put a waiver claim in on Stephen Vogt, so it looks like they will get their man.  Vogt has about $1.5 million more coming to him on his $2.95 million 2017 contract, so it’s a very affordable half season rental for the first place Brewers, with what amounts to two salary arbitration options for 2018 and 2019.

Vogt may very well start hitting again playing his home games in Milwaukee in the heat of the summer, rather than in Oakland.

I love seeing small market teams doing more with less.  I strongly suspect that a lot of teams don’t scan the waiver wire carefully or regularly unless they are actively looking for an upgrade somewhere.  In Vogt’s case, the A’s decision to designate him for assignment was national news because Vogt made the All-Star team the last two seasons and had a very affordable contract.

If no one had claimed Vogt on waivers, Vogt would almost certainly have exercised his right to free agency.  Then, any team could have signed him for the pro-rated major league minimum.  Essentially, the Brewers committed $1.25 million by claiming Vogt in order to guarantee that they’d be the team to get him after he left the A’s.

By claiming Vogt and sending Jet Bandy back to AAA, the Brewers get a true platoon at catcher, and since Bandy still had an option left, the Brewers lose nothing by taking a chance on Vogt except the $1.5 million remaining on Vogt’s contract.  That sure seems like a small price for a player who could be a valuable piece as the Brewers try to make their first post-season since 2011.  Well done, Milwaukee!

Austin Bibens-Dirkx Shuts Down New York Yankees

June 25, 2017

32 year old rookie pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx frustrated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to improve his record to 3-0.  What a great name and what a tremendous story!

Bibens-Dirkx used the Independent-A Leagues twice to keep his professional career going.  In 2009 after washing out of the Mariners’ system, he pitched in the now defunct Golden Baseball League and earned another shot in the Cubs’ system.  He started last year in the Atlantic League before being picked up by the Rangers.  Bibens-Dirkx  has also pitched in the Latin American winter leagues for years as another way to hone his game and catch the attention of major league organizations.

The only chink in Bibens-Dirkx’s armor yesterday was a long home run to Aaron Judge, which thankfully for the Rangers came with the bases empty.  [For what it’s worth, the player Aaron Judge reminds me most of is Frank Howard, another enormous right-handed slugger who could launch baseballs a country mile.  The main difference between them is that there are lot more players of this size now than there were in Howard’s day.]

The reality is that there is a very good chance that last night’s game will be the pinnacle of Bibens-Dirkx’ professional career.  He only made it to MLB at age 32 for a reason.  While he can obviously pitch, his numbers so far suggest that his stuff is well below major league average, and that once MLB’s hitters become more familiar with him, he’ll be a marginal major leaguer at best.  He’s going to have to keep his walks totals low and have good defense behind him to succeed.

Still, nothing can take away from his accomplishment last night or the fact that eleven years struggling through the minors has finally paid off, both financially and emotionally.  Guys like a Bibens-Dirkx give everyone in baseball and those who follow baseball hope that the luck will finally turn for you if you just keep at it and trust that your efforts will one day be rewarded.

Cubans Impacting Japanese Game

June 24, 2017

I was remiss in my last post for failing to mention that two Cubans, Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne, are presently leading their respective NPB leagues in home runs.  Guerrero is leading the Central League with 19, and Despaigne is tied for the Pacific League lead with Yuki Yanagita at 18.

Despaigne is in the running for the world’s best position player who will likely never play in MLB.  His family has connections with the Communist government in Cuba, so he hasn’t been willing to defect.  The Cuban government worked out a deal with NPB a couple of years ago to allow some of its best players to play in Japan to prevent their defections.

I don’t know what cut the Cuban government gets of the money Despaigne earns, but they are probably both benefiting greatly by the arrangement since Despaigne’s 2017 salary is a reported 400 million yen ($3.59 million).  Even a small fraction of that would go a long way in Cuba, where because of heavily state subsidized prices, $1000 a month in hard currency income would allow a family to live like royalty.

I would compare Despaigne to South Korea’s Dae-ho Lee, who proved last year that he is an MLB-level hitter.  Despaigne and Lee are both thickly built right-handed hitting sluggers, with Lee being physically bigger and Despaigne being a few years younger.

Guerrero signed a big deal with the Dodgers a few years ago and quickly washed out due mainly to his inability or unwillingness to take a walk. (Several media reports also suggested he wasn’t too bright.)  In Japan, his power and raw talent make up for the fact that his on-base percentages are poor, at least so far.

I can’t imagine Cuban players not becoming every bit as important to Japanese baseball as they’ve become to MLB in recent years.  There are a lot of defecting Cuban players who are just a little too old and/or a not quite talented enough to become MLB stars, but who would be great bets to become stars in Japan.

If Guerrero and Despaigne finish one-two in home runs at the end of the NPB season, the desire to sign the next Cuban slugger will be high indeed throughout NPB.