Archive for August 2017

Will Miles Mikolas Return to MLB in 2018?

August 30, 2017

In recent off-seasons, I have written posts about the best prospects who may eventually move from Japan’s NPB to MLB.  In terms of joining MLB in 2018, the best candidate is probably former MLB pitcher Miles Mikolas, who has had a great deal of success pitching for the Yomiuri Giants the last three years and will still be only 29 years old next season.

In three NPB seasons so far, Mikolas is 29-11 with a 2.21 overall ERA.  This season, he has struck out 150 batters in 153.2 innings pitched while walking only 17.  Mikolas went to Japan for the guaranteed money, and it has worked out extremely well, not only for him, but also for his wife Lauren, who has reportedly become as a big a celebrity in Japan as her ballplayer husband.

Mikolas is finishing up a two-year $5 million deal with the Yomiuri Giants, and my best estimate is that he will command a two-year one billion yen (currently $9.1 million) guarantee this off-season if he elects to stay in Japan.  Yomiuri could certainly afford to pay more than that, but I very much doubt that they would given NPB’s unwritten salary scales which even the rich teams roughly follow.

By way of comparison, given what starting pitchers now command in MLB, it seems likely Mikolas would be a good risk on a two-year $12 million guarantee with a club option for a third season from an MLB team.

Obviously, the most recent proto-type for the American pitcher who went to NPB after failing to make it in MLB and pitched so well in Japan that he was able to successfully return to MLB is Colby Lewis.   Mikolas’ NPB numbers look very similar to Lewis’s numbers there almost a decade ago.  Lewis’ strikeout rates were a little better, but Mikolas has had lower ERAs and will be a year younger in 2018 than Lewis was when he returned to MLB in 2010.

For what it’s worth, Mikolas may be best remembered in the States for eating a lizard in the bullpen back in 2011.  Since then, he’s been known as the Lizard King.  No doubt, a lot of people will find that off-putting, but that’s something that will earn a young ballplayer a lot of respect from his teammates.

 

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What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

August 14, 2017

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

The Demise of the Everyday Player

August 10, 2017

Years and years ago I read a piece by Bill James in which he argued that Cal Ripken‘s decision to keep his consecutive game streak alive was actually detrimental to the Baltimore Orioles’ ultimate goal of winning as many games as possible.  The article made a lot of sense to me: playing every single game, even by the very best players, means that the player plays a lot of games when he’s exhausted and/or has minor injuries, which can’t heal properly because the player is playing six days a week; under those circumstances, even the best major league players aren’t necessarily playing as well as the replacement-level player sitting in the team’s bench would.

[In fairness to Ripken, the Orioles’ true ultimate goal was putting as many cans in the seats as possible.  Being Cal Ripken, playing every game every day for a generation, probably was pretty good for Orioles’ attendance during that streak.]

Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak is a record that probably never will be broken because it seems that MLB teams now agree whole-heartedly with what James argued all those years ago.  In contrast to the Asian leagues, where playing every day in leagues that play shorter schedules and have more rain-outs is still commendable, MLB teams have clearly decided that the occasional day off is more valuable than playing every single game.

Looking at the 17 full seasons from 2000 through 2016, the shift from playing every single game seems to have taken hold after the 2008 season.  In the nine seasons from 2000 through 2008, an average of 6.33 players per season played in all 162 games.  In the eight full seasons since then, only 2.5 players per season have played 162 games in a season.

Even players who manage to play at least 160 games in a season seems in decline.  In the 14 seasons from 2000 through 2013, an average of 13.6 players played at least 160 games per season.  In the last three seasons, that average has dropped almost in half to seven per season. The recent low seasons could be a result of a small sample fluke, but I don’t think so.

Just as teams have learned that using more and more relief pitchers pitching more and more total innings results in fewer runs scored by the opposition, teams have also learned that keeping their stars properly rested and their bench players sharp results in better won-loss results.  The good managers, and I consider the Giants’ Bruce Boche one of them, realize that keeping the stars fresh and the bench players sharp has a lot more value than riding the race horses until they inevitably drop.

For what it’s worth, Justin Morneau is the last player to play 163 games in a season.  Morneau’s 2008 Twins lost their 163rd game to the White Sox, sending the latter team to a brief post season and former team home.  The all-time record for games played in a season is Maury Wills‘ 165: he played all 162 regular season games and all three games to decide the pennant against the Giants.  That was the year Wills set then records for plate appearances and stolen bases in a season.

 

 

Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez Update

August 9, 2017

In what has been a bleak season for the San Francisco Giants at all levels, one bright spot has been the strong starts of 1st and 2nd Round 2017 Draft picks Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez in the Rookie Arizona League.

CF Ramos, age 17, currently has the fifth best OPS (.975) in his league, and the third best OPS among hitters under the age of 20.  3B Gonzalez, age 19, has the league’s 9th best OPS (.911), and the 4th best among hitters under 20.  Their batting averages are also high, which you like to see in your prospects.

We are only 35 games into the Arizona League season, and Ramos and Gonzalez have played in only 26 and 28 games, respectively.  Even so, it’s better to get your professional career off to a strong start than a slow one.

The AZL Giants are currently 23-12, with the league’s best overall record (the league plays a split season in spite of being a short season league), which is a pleasant change from the sorry records of the Giants’ full season minor league squads this year.

The best of the rest of the AZL Giants’ position players so far in 2017 is 18 year old Nicaraguan Ismael Munguia.  He’s hitting for average and has an .881 OPS after 24 games, mostly in left field.  He’ll have to hit to move up at that position, although there are suggestions he may have enough arm to play right field.

Weilly Yan (21), Camilio Duval (20), Franklin Van Gurp (21), and Keenan Bartlett (21) have all pitched well in terms of ERA and strikeout rates.  2017 3rd Round Draft Pick Seth Correy (18) has a 1.88 ERA and has struck out 14 in 14.1 innings pitched, but has been wild, allowing 13 walks.  Correy is obviously the best prospect here, with Duval, who is in his age 19 season and only just turned 20, the second best as of this moment.