Archive for September 2018

Asia Pro Baseball Notes

September 28, 2018

With the KBO regular season approaching its close, attendance is down for the first time in five years.  Average per game attendance this year so far is 11,073 compared to 11,447 in 2017.  Factors for the decrease are poor air quality (South Korea is subject to brutal dust storms), a lop-sided pennant race (the Doosan Bears are 11 games up on everyone else with fewer than 10 to play), and possibly lingering effects from South Korea’s poor performance at that 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The KBO’s players’ association is also considering a proposal by the teams to change the league’s free agency rules.  Teams want a hard limit of four year maximum contracts (no big deal — I’m not aware of any free agent receiving more than a four year deal in recent years) and a hard 8 billion won (approximately $7.2 million) contract cap (a very big deal, as the richest KBO free agent contracts blew past 10 billion won during the 2016-2017 off-season).

Teams have offered to shorten the service time requirements for reaching free agency, as a sweetener.  However, the Yonhap article I read is not clear how much the service time requirement would be reduced.  I can’t see the players agreeing to hard caps without a significant service time reduction.

In Taiwan’s CPBL Elih Villanueva threw a no-hitter today, the second in the CPBL this season and only the 9th in the CPBL’s 29 season history.  Nick Additon threw the season’s first no-hitter back in June.

Two grizzled NPB veterans, Hiroke Iwase and Kazuo Matsui, have announced that they will be retiring at the end of the 2018 season.  The 43 year old Iwase is NPB’s all-time saves (407) and games pitched (1,000) leader.  The now 42 year old Kaz Matsui will retire with at least 2,703 major hits, 615 in MLB and 2,088 in Japan.

Tomoyuki Sugano threw his seventh shutout of the season today.  NPB starters only make one start a week and are given more opportunities to finish their games.  Unfortunately, I do not think it is highly likely that Sugano will one day pitch in MLB.  The Yomiuri Giants don’t post their players, and being a top veteran star for Yomiuri comes with endorsement deals that can’t be matched by all but the top one or two baseball stars in the U.S.

San Francisco Giants Can GM Brian Evans

September 26, 2018

I’m always somewhat gratified when a general manager, as opposed to field manager, gets shown the door.  Field managers typically take the blame for perceived under-performance, when GMs are generally much more responsible.

That said, in today’s game, the GM is no longer the top team-constructor.  On the Giants, I don’t have any real doubts that Brian Sabean, now titled Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, isn’t really the guy most responsible for the current make-up of the Gints’ roster.

I’m not suggesting that Sabean should be shown the door.  2010, 2012 and 2014 earned him years of leash.  That said, the Giants need to make some changes on the player procurement front.

It’s a whole lot easier to rebuild a team when you have really high draft picks, and the Giants are certain to get at least the 12th best pick in 2019, following 2018’s No. 2 overall pick.

With five to play, the Giants are in line to get the 10th overall pick in 2019.  The Giants got Tim Lincecum with the No. 10 pick in 2006 and Madison Bumgarner with the No. 10 pick a year later.  Color me excited about the 2019 Draft!

Shohei Ohtani To Undergo Tommy John Surgery

September 26, 2018

Shohei Ohtani is undergoing Tommy John surgery later this week, which mlb trade rumors describes as “extremely disappointing.”  No, extremely disappointing is when your pitcher-only ace undergoes elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Ohtani will be able to hit again sometime early in the 2019 season, if not by opening day.  So the Angels will be stuck with a full-time DH batting behind Mike Trout, who as a 23 year old rookie slashed .280/.361/.564 in 347 plate appearances.  Cry me a river!

Yes, it will be disappointing not to be able to see MLB’s only true two-way player in 2019.  But, he’ll be back, likely at full strength in 2020, and he’ll probably be a better hitter then, if he gets 400 to 600 plate appearances in 2019.  My guess is that Shohei will face the dreaded sophomore slump in 2019, but just think what he might do with the bat and on the mound with a fully healthy arm in 2020.


The San Francisco Giants’ Young Starters

September 17, 2018

One potential bright spot in what has become an ignominious season for the Giants is the emergence of young starters Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez and Chris Stratton.  I can’t say that I am especially hopeful about their future performance, but at least they provide some possibility that they will get better before they get worse.

I don’t entirely know what to make of Dereck Rodriguez.  26 year old rookie starters generally don’t amount to much down the line, but Rodriguez is an unusual case, since he only became a pitcher, at least as a professional, in his age 22 season after failing to hit enough as an outfield prospect in the low minors.

Rodriguez has obviously pitched extremely well this season, but is it for real?  His strikeout rate is not particularly impressive, and his success has largely been a result of allowing very few home runs (six in 109.1 IP).  Rodriguez’s minor league numbers in 2017 and 2018 (27 HRs allowed in 193.2 IP at split roughly equally between three minor league levels) strongly suggest he’s been lucky in the majors this year, rather than a pitcher who can truly limit the long flies.  I strongly suspect that Rodriguez’s 2019 performance will look more like Chris Stratton’s 2018 performance than his own.

I also suspect that Chris Stratton’s 2018 performance is close to the top of Stratton’s game.  Stratton is already 28 years old, and his first round draft pedigree and the three or four great games he’s pitched this season notwithstanding, I’m doubtful he’s suddenly going to become an ace after the age of 27.

Stratton’s strikeout and walks rate are not impressive, and at no time in his professional career has he ever really performed like a future star.  The best thing that can be said for Stratton is that he hasn’t turned out to be a complete waste of a first round draft pick.  He also provides a modicum of hope that Tyler Beede, another potentially wasted first round draft pick, can turn things around next year and eventually contribute something at the major league level.

In spite of his unsightly 6-11 record this season, I think I have the most hope for Andrew Suarez going forward.  He only just turned 26 and his strikeout rate has been better than either Rodriguez or Stratton this season.

The biggest knock on Suarez going forward is his size.  He’s listed as 6’0″ and 187 lbs, which is small for a major league starter, and it remains to be seen if he can handle a major league starter’s work load for the next four to six seasons.

There’s no reason to think that Madison Bumgarner won’t have a better season in 2019 than he did in either 2017 or 2018, because it’s hard to imagine he’s going to have another fluke injury for the third season in a row.  That gives the Giants potentially four effective starters next season.

It will be interesting to see what the Giants decide to do with Derek Holland this off-season.  There is no doubt but that Holland was an extremely pleasant and affordable surprise in 2018.  However, he’s in line for a big raise — my guess is he commands at least a two-year $20 million guarantee as a free agent — going into his age 32 season.  I expect the Giants will try to re-sign him rather than trying to get lucky like they did last off-season.

KBO Changes Salary and Contract Rules for Foreign Players

September 11, 2018

South Korea’s KBO has announced new rules for salaries and contracts for foreign players.  Most significantly, there will now be a hard cap of $1M on all compensation (salary, signing bonus, incentives, options) paid to foreign players signing their first KBO contract.  The apparent purpose of the cap is to prevent the wealthiest KBO teams from signing the best 4-A/former MLB major league players willing to play in South Korea.

The new rule also applies if a KBO team releases a foreign player and the foreign player signs with a new KBO team.  This means that if a foreign player and his old team cannot reach an agreement on a new contract, and the KBO team releases the player and signs another foreigner, the released foreigner can only sign for a maximum of $1M with any other KBO team, at least for his first season with the new team.

The new rules may or may not allow foreign players signing a second contract with the same KBO team to receive multi-year deals for the first time — the yonhap article is not entirely clear.  Until now (maybe), foreign players could only be signed to one year deals.  KBO teams got around the one-year limit by the creative use of option clauses, which allowed them to lock in players for a second season, while guaranteeing the foreign player a good payout if the option was not exercised.

The real reason for the new rules are almost certainly to contain the monies that KBO are currently expending on the three foreign players each team is allowed each season.  I tend to think the KBO is making a mistake, because it may prevent KBO teams from signing some of the best available foreign players.

In recent seasons, the KBO has been able to compete with NPB to sign the best available foreign players, because KBO teams have often been willing to pay more for first contracts that NPB teams have been.  For example, Hector Noesi likely signed with the Kia Tigers instead of an NPB team because the Kia Tigers offered him more than $1M for his first KBO contract.  Under the new rules, the Hector Noesis are more likely to sign with NPB teams going forward because NPB teams can and do pay more money for veteran foreign stars than KBO teams can.

I also think that foreign players who star in the KBO will have more incentive to jump to NPB if they are unable to agree upon second contract terms, because, even if released, they won’t be able to sign with another KBO team for more than $1M.  I don’t see how discouraging the best available foreign players from signing with your teams is the best strategy for a league like the KBO that still has plenty of room to grow in terms of fan interest.

If veteran foreign stars can now sign multi-year deals, then I do expect that there will indeed be plenty of two and three year deals as there are in NPB, since the best foreign players can threaten to jump to NPB.  If so, then its likely that KBO teams are simply pushing back the money to foreign players who have at least one successful KBO season, i.e., foreign players will be overpaid in their third or fourth KBO season as a result of guaranteed multi-year contracts rather than in their first KBO season.

San Francisco Giants Sinking Like a Stone

September 10, 2018

The Giants are sinking like a stone in the NL West, having lost their eighth game in a row yesterday.  It is not necessarily a terrible thing.

I see the Giants’ horrible late season performance as something of a metaphor for the terrible state of the Giants’ upper farm system.  Their top three farm teams at Sacramento (AAA), Richmond (AA), and San Jose (A+) were awful this year, finishing respectively 15th out of 16 in the Pacific Coast League, 12th out of 12 in the Eastern League and 8th out of eight in the California League.  In short, there is no question but that the top of the farm system is severely depleted of talent, and it’s probably part of the reason the Giants haven’t been able to bounce back from this season’s rash of injuries to their major league club.

The Giants lost another upper level prospect yesterday when Ryder Jones blew out his knee while swinging at a pitch.  I’m not convinced that Ryder Jones is ever going to amount to much at the major league level, but he was off to a 3-for-8 start with two home runs this September.  Jones doesn’t walk much and didn’t impress at AAA Sacramento this year after performing well there in 2017.  At age 24, he’s definitely going to be hurt by missing any further opportunity to get major league reps this September, particularly when he was going to get lots of opportunities with the Giants clearly out of any post-season contention.

The Giants’ low minor league teams played better this year, generally getting better the lower you go.  The Giants’ most recent two first round draft picks Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart both performed well, and the Giants had a number of players perform well in the Dominican Summer League in their age 17 seasons.

As the MLB standings stand today, the Giants are in line for the 12th pick in next June’s draft and could reasonably move as high as 10th if they continue to play nearly as poorly as they have the last ten games the rest of the way.  Given the current state of the farm system and the age of their major league starting line-up, the Giants can use all the help they can get in rebuilding their farm system.

San Francisco Giants Show No Love (Yet) for Tyler Rogers

September 5, 2018

Today the Giants called up 3Bman Ryder Jones and newly acquired middle infielder Abiatal Avelino.  Neither deserves the promotion, at least compared to Tyler Rogers.  OK, Rogers turns 28 in December, but he has been really, really good at AAA Sacramento two years in a row now.

Over the last two Pacific Coast League seasons, Rogers has pitched 106 games and 143.2 IP with a 2.26 ERA (2.69 run average) with a line of 115 hits, six HRs and 51 walks allowed while striking out 103.  Rogers throws low side-arm and he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher at the PCL level.

The problem for the Giants, apparently, is that Rogers isn’t on the 40-man roster.  While I wouldn’t knock either the much younger Jones or Avelino off the 40-man roster for Rogers, there is an obvious candidate to be sent through waivers.  Lefty Josh Osich turned 30 yesterday, and it sure looks like he’s lost whatever he had in 2015 and 2016.  Osich has stunk the last two years at both AAA and the majors, and sure isn’t younger than Rogers.

One problem the Brian Sabean Giants have had is that they prefer toolsy/stuff prospects to actually-perform without great skills prospects.  It works a lot of the time for the recent Giants, but it is obviously interfering with their willingness to give Rogers the shot he has clearly earned.

Rogers has to play one more season in the Giants’ system before he becomes a minor league free agent.  If the Giants don’t give him a shot, and he continues to pitch reasonably well next year at Sacramento, a team like the Oakland A’s or Tampa Rays will sign him and give him his shot.

I still think Tyler Rogers could be the next Brad Ziegler.

Baseball Barbers

September 4, 2018

Here’s an article from the Washington Post I enjoyed about some of MLB’s top barbers.  Being a barber isn’t the most noble job in the world, but it’s certainly noble enough.  Providing a service that men need and trying to be the best at it is certainly noble enough.  And somehow I’m not surprised that the young men who play baseball at the major league level spend a lot on their hair.