Archive for May 2018

Shohei Ohtani Gives the Angels Options

May 26, 2018

The Anaheim Angels have decided to skip Shohei Ohtani‘s next turn in the rotation in order to “manage his workload.”  Obviously, protecting your young pitcher is a much easier decision to make when it means the team will get his bat in the line-up three more games between now and his next start.

At 23, Ohtani isn’t especially young, and he pitched as many as 160.2 innings in a season in Japan, so one has to think that Ohtani’s .991 OPS entering today’s game has a lot to do with the decision to skip his next start.  Ohtani does not hit the day he pitches, or the next day or the day before, but you can bet he’ll be hitting on those days this week.

Everyone in MLB thought that Ohtani was a better pitching prospect than hitting prospect before the season started, so everyone’s understanding is that Ohtani would be allowed to hit in exchange for the bargain price he would be signed for by joining MLB now, rather than waiting until he turned 25.  Obviously, it turns out he can hit major league pitching, at least so far, so now the Angels have to engage in the difficult but highly enjoyable process of trying to decide how they both protect their investment for the long term and maximize the value of his two-way abilities now.

In days past, teams typically decided that an every-day hitter was worth more than a starting pitcher.  Today’s analytics may not bear the old calculations out.  In any event, it’s more or less irrelevant, since Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch, and at his bargain price, the Angels will go along with Ohtani’s wishes for the immediate future.

Would using Ohtani as a two or three inning starter, rather than skipping a turn, make sense?  The Rays recently started Sergio Romo for three-and four-out starts in consecutive games against the Angels to take advantage of the fact that the top of the Angels’ line-up is top-heavy with right-handed hitters.  The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have been starting their relief pitchers for a couple of innings before bringing in their foreign starters to pitch the next six or seven innings, with some success this season.

If nothing else, it’s kind of gratifying to see teams in the baseball world trying out some new ideas to get an advantage at the margins.  I can’t give Ohtani credit for teams trying their relievers as short-outing starters, but he has at least shaken up the baseball world enough to suggest that new ideas ought to be given a trial even if they conflict with the inherited wisdom about how today’s game should be played.

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Miles Mikolas Tearing It Up in St. Louis

May 22, 2018

Miles Mikolas threw his first MLB major league shutout today and improved to 6-0 in his first year back from three in Japan’s NPB.  For some reason, I had gotten the idea from his Japanese stats that he was something of a control pitcher.  However, the clip of his shutout I just watch recorded him hitting 97 mph with his fastball.  Kind of makes me wonder why he had to go to Japan in the first place.

Even with his nine Ks today, his strikeout rate is a pedestrian in today’s game 6.9.  However, his K/BB ratio is currently above 7.  If I had to guess, I’d say his fastball probably doesn’t have a great deal of movement, and the batters pick it up fairly well out of his hand. In a somewhat related note, Jordan Hickstwo 105 mph pitches didn’t look as fast to me on video as Josh Hader‘s 95 mph pitches about a week ago.  How the hitters see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand makes a big difference.

Mikolas’ command in Japan was always pretty good, but his strikeout rate went up sharply his third and final season.  Sometimes it takes a while for pitchers to learn how to take maximum advantage of their plus stuff by figuring out how to set hitters up for the strikeout pitch.  Subtle command improvements must also play a role, though, since managers and catchers call a young major league pitchers’ pitches and presumably have plenty of experience setting up hitters for the strikeout pitch.

I’m hoping we see more 26 year old pitchers like Mikolas elect to pitch in Japan as a way to get some experience and build up confidence pitching in a league with a level of play between the MLB majors and AAA.  To me at least, there is something exiting about a player with great tools like Mikolas or Eric Thames, who couldn’t establish themselves as major league regulars, go to play in Asia and come back a few years later as finished products.

Top Prospects in the Atlantic League So Far

May 18, 2018

Courtney Hawkins is almost certainly the best prospect in the Atlantic League so far this season.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five home runs.

The main thing to like about Hawkins is his age.  He’s only 24 this season, in league in which all the top hitters in terms of OPS are at least 27.

Hawkins had a strong year in A+ ball at the age of 20 in 2014 when he slugged 19 dingers and slashed .249/.331/.450.  However, a 3-for-25 start to his 2018 season in his fourth season at the AA level, and he’s playing in the Atlantic League now.

Hawkins’ OPS is only .788, so he needs more time in Sugar Land, Texas. At age 24, he’s definitely still young enough that MLB teams will want to sign him once some players get hurt at the A+ or AA level.

Kyle Kubitza, Johnny Bladel, David Washington and Mike Fransoso are all young enough at age 27 that they will be signed by MLB organizations if they keep hitting the way they have so far. Kubitza and Washington both have limited major league experience which will certainly increase the likelihood of their being signed by a new MLB organization.

Rey Navarro played in only three Atlantic League games before the Yankees signed him a couple of days ago and sent him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, after a 4-for-27 start for the Mariners’ AAA team in Tacoma.  He’s 28 this year.

Bennett Parry is the youngest pitching prospect I could find.  He’s 26 and leading the Atlantic League with 23 strikeouts (in 17 innings pitched with a 3.17 ERA after three starts).  However, the Dodgers have just signed Logan Bawcom who is three years older and hasn’t pitched as well so far as Parry, but has had past success at the AAA level.

Parry was pitching well as a starter for the Orioles’ full-season A team in 2015 when he apparently hurt his arm.  He made only 17 starts in the American Association in 2016 and 2017 combined, put still pitched well enough to work his way up to the Atlantic League.

Several 27 year olds are among the league’s top starter so far and will likely sign with MLB organizations if they keep pitching well, but I won’t both mentioning their names.  Approximately one-third of each Atlantic League’s roster moves up to better professional baseball opportunities over the course of each full season, enough to keep a lot of players playing at an average salary of only $2,100 per month.

Dave Roberts Gets the Kiss of Death

May 18, 2018

The dreaded vote of confidence from management to Dave Roberts.  With an under-performing team, this is more of a warning than a vote of confidence.

At least the Dodgers won 7-0 today behind Kenta Maeda‘s best start of the 2018 season.  He allowed only two hits over eight innings in only 96 pitches.

I’m definitely getting the feeling that Maeda will continue to have wild swings as a starter.  He’ll have great days and days when he gets bombed all in fairly close proximity.  Still, the current trend is good.

After today’s game, the Dodgers have scored three more runs than the team has allowed.  Their record is likely because they aren’t winning as many of the close ones, but with Kenley Jansen pitching like himself in May after a terrible first month, that could turn around in a hurry.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2018

May 12, 2018

Shohei Ohtani has more or less blown up any discussion of the best hitting pitchers in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be the next two-way player, although he’s still got a long way to go and his hitting abilities may not be able to keep up with his pitching abilities as he shoots up through the minors.  McKay is already ready for a promotion to A+ ball as a pitcher, and I wouldn’t hold him back to let his hitting catch up.  Still, major league pitchers who can also pinch hit should have value in today’s extreme relief pitching game.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  I didn’t want to jump on the Ohtani as hitter bandwagon too soon, but I was convinced he’s for real (even if he doesn’t continue to bat .344 and produce over 1.000) when he beat the shift with a double down the left field line about a week ago.  Ohtani has what it takes to be a great major league hitter, although he’ll face his forced adjustments and his hitting performance will be affected by the many games in which he does not bat.  That said, the baby-faced 23 year old phenom can hit.

2.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher hitter, but the bloom is off the rose compared to Ohtani, who will be DHing three times a week until major league baseball pitchers prove they can get him out.  A one-on-one Ohtani-MadBum home run derby at the All-Star Break would be an enormous amount of fun.  Madbum should be healthy by then.

3.  Zack Greinke  (.229 BA, .579 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.229, .564).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher may be over, but he sure could hit.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.181 BA, .561 OPS).  A poor start to the 2018 season has brought Syndergaard’s batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he has power and will take a walk.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson has had only one plate appearance since 2012, but he could hit.

8.   Mike Leake (.200, .511).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.214, .485) and Tyson Ross (.199, .476).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable MentionsCC Sabathia (.212, .539)  CC hasn’t had a hit since 2010, but he could hit when he had the opportunity to bat more than three or four times a season.  Travis Wood (.185, .537).  Wood’s major league career appears over.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.226, .618).  A shoulder injury has prevented Lorenzen from pitching or hitting so far in 2018.  Ty Blach (.194, .505) hit as a rookie in 2017 but is off to a terrible start with the bat in 2018.  Ben Lively (.182, .545) still has to prove he can be a major league starter.

What Happened to Jarrett Parker?

May 11, 2018

It’s now May 10th, and there is still no word on anyone signing Jarrett Parker, whom the San Francisco Giants released on March 30th.  It’s hard indeed to understand why no one has signed him yet, or why there have been absolutely no reports of any teams having an interest in him.

I’m thinking that the silence is so deafening on Parker that he must be recovering from an injury which hasn’t been reported, possibly because he hurt himself late in Spring Training and his agent doesn’t want to publicize the fact that he’s not 100%.  I can’t think of any other explanation that makes sense.

At 29 this year, Parker is still reasonably young, and he’s awfully close to being a major leaguer with great tools and a .257/.335/.456 slash line in 382 career major league plate appearances.  It just doesn’t make sense that a player his age and this close to the majors would retire or that another major league team wouldn’t want him on a minor league contract.

Parker reportedly was looking for a major league deal after the Giants released him, but when he hadn’t received one by April 15th, I can’t believe he’d continue to hold out for a major league deal.  When everyone else is playing and you’re not, the odds that a player in Parker’s situation will get a major league deal evaporate after about two weeks.

He isn’t playing in the Atlantic League and he isn’t playing in Japan’s NPB, so I think he’s got to be recuperating from some kind of injury (lingering effects of last year’s broken collar bone?).  There don’t seem to be any other reasonable possibilities.

Shohei Otani Beating the Shifts

May 5, 2018

One thing that has really impressed me in the last couple of games is Shohei Otani very clearly attempting to hit ’em where they ain’t by hitting the ball to left field.  Here’s video of the first double a couple of days ago, a ball that was hard hit but was playable with the 3Bman playing where he would a right-handed batter, but instead went unmolested down the line for a stand-up double with Ohtani running at only 70%.  You can see video of Otani hitting another double to left field in last night’s game for the next day or two.

If Otani can force defenses to play him straight away, I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a .300 hitter in the major leagues on a semi-regular basis.  Otani is likely to experience swings based on the fact that he will be a part-time hitter and part-time pitcher for as long as Otani wants to keep doing both.

If the hitting we’ve seen from Otani so far is for real, it’s still within the realm of possibility that he could end up as the Angel’s everyday right fielder.

Otani would not be the first great two-way player.  Jack Bentley for the New York Giants and the early 1920’s Baltimore Orioles, the last minor league team almost certainly better than the worst major league teams.

Bentley played 1B and pitched a full season of games for the Orioles for three seasons, and then pitched and pinch hit (at least 39 times) for the World Series losing 1923 and 1924 Giants.  He was probably one of the best players you’ve never heard of.