Archive for April 2019

Jay Jackson Makes It Back to the Show

April 29, 2019

The Milwaukee Brewers today called up 31 year old right-hander Jay Jackson from AAA.  It will be Jackson’s first MLB major league experience since he pitched briefly and ineffectively for the Padres in 2015.

In between Jackson spent three years pitching in Japan’s NPB, where he was really good in 2016 and 2017.  At AAA San Antonio this year, he hadn’t been scored upon in 8.2 innings, allowing only four hits and two walks, while striking out 14.

There are surely no guarantees that Jackson will be able to pitch like that at the game’s highest level, but he sure deserved a shot with that kind of dominance at AAA.

According to mlbtraderumors.com, Jackson wanted to return to MLB after the 2017 season, but couldn’t get an offer.  After 2018, when he hadn’t pitched as well in Japan, all he could get was a minor league offer from Brewers, a team for whom he had pitched briefly in the minors in 2014.

Perhaps Jackson will be the latest in a run of pitchers to find MLB success after returning from a few year long stint in Japan.  If so, he will be one more reason for MLB teams to look to foreign pitchers pitching successfully in NPB as desirable additions.

Advertisements

Is Willians Astudillo Baseball’s Best Pure Hitter?

April 28, 2019

I saw that Willians Astudillo was placed on the 10-Day Injured List today, and it made me sad.  Astudillo is one of MLB’s most interesting players.

Sometime last season I read a post on fangraphs.com about Astudillo‘s unique skill set: he almost never walks or strikes out.  He also apparently can hit .300 at the major league level.

Swing at everything — hit .300.  That sounds like baseball’s best pure hitter.

Sure, small sample size.  Sure, his defense isn’t great, and he runs like a truck with the grounded into double plays to follow, but fangraphs.com says he’s been worth $7.9 million in only 44 career games.

At age 27 and listed as 5’9″ and 225 lbs, Astudillo is still something of a dark horse, which makes him easier to root for.  Yogi Berra is a better, 1950’s version of Astudillo.  So maybe Astudillo could still develop the kind of power Yogi had and become a true, if brief, superstar.

Astudillo also reminds me of the Round Mound of Pound, like Berra a historically great bad-ball hitter.  If I were AL pitchers, I would not throw Astudillo more than one strike per at bat until he proves he will take a walk.

Maybe Astudillo will stop hitting when pitchers figure out his weaknesses and throw him fewer stikes, maybe he won’t.  He is an exceptional talent, and I’m sorry he he will be out for any period in a season where he still needs to prove he’s a major league player.

It’s apparently a ham-string injury, so Astudillo could miss well more than 10 games.  You need to do all of your stretching regularly when you are a 27 year old player trying to establish himself.

Early Season Asian Baseball Run-Down

April 28, 2019

The elite few who have read this blog with any regularity know that I follow Asian major league baseball quite closely.  Here’s a run-down on what’s happening in the Far East so far in 2019.

Japan’s NPB

So far, it feels like a fairly typical NPB season.  The high revenue Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks are leading their leagues respectively.  However, the small or mid-market Yakult Swallows, Chunichi Dragons, Hiroshima Carp and Rakuten Golden Eagles remain within close striking distance.  Of course, only 25 games into the NPB season, no one is yet truly out of it.

Most of the top NPB hitters are off to good starts, including Hayato Sakamoto, Tetsuto Yamada, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Nori Aoki and Dayan ViciedoTomoyuki Sugano is off to a not so hot start after a recent rough outing and Takahiro Norimoto is still recovering from non-Tommy-John elbow surgery to clean out loose bodies and bone chips, but Kodai Senga is still showing MLB-level stuff.

I am convinced that Tetsuto Yamada is going to be an MLB player.  The most important stat for NPB hitters in terms of future MLB success is on-base percentage, and Yamada has that in spades.  He has a .513 OBP so far this season and an NPB career OBP of .404.  He plays 2B, he runs well (142 career NPB steals at an 82% success rate) ,and he plays for the small market Swallows.

Yamada should be posted this post-season, so he can join MLB in 2020 for his age 27 season.  The relatively new posting fee regime gives NPB teams the most money based on the greatest value of the player to an MLB team.  Yamada’s value to an MLB team will be highest this coming post-season if he doesn’t get hurt or slump.

South Korea’s KBO

The SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears are off to the best starts, with LG Twin, NC Dinos and Kiwoon Heroes leading the field for the KBO’s five playoff spots.  Foreign Aces Tyler Wilson and Josh Lindblom are off to great starts.  Lindblom is the KBO’s highest paid foreign player this year at somewhere between $1.7M and $1.9M, so if he can keep up this exemplary performance so far, he could challenge Dustin Nippert’s $2.2M single season record for foreign player compensation in 2020.

Former MLBers Jose Miguel Fernandez, Byung-ho Park, Jerry Sands and Darin Ruf are among the top six KBO hitters in terms of OPS so far.

Offense is down in the KBO so far this season, apparently due to less zing in the baseballs per fangraphs.com.

I’ve noticed the out-sized effect Cuban players have had in Asia in recent years.  Part of it is that Cuba produces a great deal of baseball talent, at least as much as the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, and only the Cuban players with a reasonable shot at playing in the MLB majors go through the very arduous process of defecting.  Needless to say, the Cuban defectors don’t all live the MLB major league dream, but many of those that haven’t have lived the dream in Asia.

I think that one of the things that help Cuban players is that, because they come to the MLB system later, they have to make a bigger adjustment than the Dominicans and Venezuelans who come to the MLB system between age 17 and 21.  If the Cuban players can succeed as AAA players in the MLB system, they’ve done something, and it’s relatively not as big a deal for them to adjust to playing and living in Asia.  That’s my theory anyway.

Taiwan’s CPBL

The big story in the CPBL this year is the performance of former KBO Ace and marginal MLB major leaguer Henry Sosa.  After six starts, his 1.26 ERA leads the league by nearly a run-and-a-half and his 48 Ks (in 43 IP) leads the league by an even dozen.

The CPBL got lucky in signing Sosa, who was one of the KBO’s top starters in 2018, when/where he finished third in ERA (3.52), sixth in run average (4.12), second in strikeouts (181) and third in innnings pitched (181.1).  Sosa didn’t return to the KBO for 2019 because of South Korean tax law changes which would have required him to pay most of his salary to the government, and at age 33 (he turns 34 in July), he was too old to interest any MLB team.

Sosa at 95-to-97 mph consistently throws harder than any other pitcher in the CPBL, and he’s learned from his time in the KBO that he throws hard enough at the KBO level to attack the strike zone.  Rob over at CPBL Stats opined before the season started that the signing of recent MLB major leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx would create a test for how good CPBL hitters currently are.  I think that Sosa is a better test — the extent to which CPBL hitters can eventually catch up to Sosa will show just how good or not they are.

The second best pitcher in the CPBL so far this year is another Dominican former KBO Ace Radhames Liz.  The 35 year old Liz has been recorded as throwing even bigger fast balls than Henry Sosa, but Liz can’t do it as often as Sosa.

In recent years, CPBL teams (there are currently only four of them) have focused mostly on North American pitchers as their foreign imports.  I think part of that is that even though the CPBL pays better, there is more longevity for Latino pitchers to pitch in the summer Mexican League and their home country’s winter league than to try to jump to the CPBL’s slightly higher salaries.  In Sosa’s case, I believe he is looking at jumping to Japan’s NPB if he can dominate in Taiwan.

Anyway, I think that Sosa and Liz will have CBPL teams looking at Latin pitchers more next off-season.

AAA Defense

April 27, 2019

I was wondering yesterday what the level of defense is like in AAA ball compared to the Show.  In 2018, major league teams combined for a .984 fielding percentage.  In the International League last year, the league fielding percentage was .982 and in the Pacific Coast League .981.  So MLB is clearly just a little bit better, to the tune of two or three fewer errors put 1,000 chances by this relatively objective metric.

One thing I noticed about looking at AAA fielding statistics from last year was the degree to which AAA players still play multiple positions each year.  By my count only 12 players out of 30 AAA teams managed to play even 100 games (out of a 140 game schedule) at the same position in 2018.

Not one outfielder managed to play 100 games at any of the three outfield positions.  Just about every AAA outfielder splits time between the corners or all three outfield positions.  Obviously, since it’s a developmental league, teams want as many of their players to be able to play multiple positions in a pinch if they are called up to the majors.

I was also wondering about the degree to which NPB and KBO teams are valuing defense among their foreign position players.  Both leagues still seem to prefer the best hitters they can find.  Unfortunately, baseball reference doesn’t provide fielding stats for NPB and the KBO, so there’s no way for me to compare defensive numbers between the three levels of play.

However, if some foreign players are good enough to star as hitters and pitchers, there must be some that could star in Asia based on their defense.  Particularly in this age of defensive metrics, there have to be some.  The fact that AAA players bounce around the diamond defensively must make it more difficult to project defense as it is offense.

One position I thought might be rich for defensive defensive value to Asian teams is 3B.  Most above major league average defensive shortstops, 2Bmen and CFs, even if they are not major league hitters, have a successful major league career path as bench infielders.  3B, however, is a position that is both difficult to play defensively, but has to be a major league hitter to keep a major league job.  Good glove, not quite major league hitting 3Bmen would seem to be especially good candidates for Asian major league success.

To my surprise, I found about 15 AAA 3Bman in 2018 who looked like they could play the hot corner at a major league level based on the raw numbers (fielding percentage; double plays and chances per 9/IP) who weren’t so young or good with the bat to be sure-fire prospects, but hit well enough in 2018 at the AAA level.

One I particularly like for Asian baseball next off-season is Albuquerque Isotope Josh Fuentes.  He batted .329 with an .871 OPS last year, and has a higher OPS (.924) so far this year.  On defense, Fuentes turned 25 DPs while making only 10 errors in 110 games and making 2.70 plays per 9/IP, so he’s likely a plus-major league defensive 3Bman.

However, Fuentes is 26 this year, and he is stuck behind Nolan Arenado in Denver, so unless he gets traded or Arenado gets hurt, Fuentes won’t much of a chance at the major league level this year.  Fuentes has all of 18 major league plate appearances to date, but that would be enough to entice an NPB or KBO team if Fuentes can keep his OPS this year at or near .900.

Another AAA 3Bman I’ll be keeping an eye on is the Las Vegas 51’s Sheldon Neuse.  He has the raw tools to be a plus major league defensive third-sacker and can play shortstop in a pinch, but he made a lot of errors last year and didn’t hit well in the Pacific Coast League (.661 OPS) in his age 23 season.  He’s slashing .308/.372/.474 so far this season.

Neuse is stuck behind Matt Chapman in Oakland, so he has to keep hitting in Las Vegas this summer and hope the A’s are buyers at the trade deadline, so he can get a shot at establishing himself as a major leaguer somewhere else while he’s still young enough to be considered a legitimate prospect.

San Francisco Giants’ Outfield Options at AAA

April 26, 2019

The Giants are reportedly asking other teams about outfielders, as neither Steven Duggar (.639 OPS) nor Gerardo Parra (.569) is hitting enough.  The Giants have three internal options: Mac Williamson, Austen Slater and Mike Gerber.

All three are hitting, as I write this.  Williamson is slashing .370/.397/.593; Slater is slashing .313/.476/.479; and Gerber at .310/.349/.552. after 13 or 14 Pacific Coast League games.

I’d give any and all three of them a chance before giving up anything of value to get an outfielder from another team.  I can’t imagine that other teams are going to trade away players of value this soon after the start of the season.  Maybe 50 games in, but not now.

Slater and Gerber are both 26 this year, and Williamson is 28, so each of them deserves at least one more chance at becoming a successful Giant.  Parra turns 32 in ten days, so one has to think he doesn’t have much lease left.

Christian Walker Is NL’s Biggest Surprise So Far

April 24, 2019

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker is the Senior Circuit’s biggest surprise so far in 2019.  The 28 year old 1Bman was stuck behind Paul Goldschmidt until Big Paul got traded away to the Cardinals this past off-season.  Walker is taking full advantage, batting .347 with a 1.135 OPS through his first 21 games of the season.

How long Walker can keep the hitting up remains to be seen.  Not many players who establish themselves as major league regulars at age 28 have long major league careers.

Walker proved that he could hit when he posted a .980 OPS at AAA Reno in 2017, and he has the advantage of playing his home games in one of MLB’s better hitters’ parks.

Walker had very limited playing time in four major league seasons prior to 2019, and he was often pinch-hitting, which is tough for a young player to do.  One thing that may work in his favor is that he has shown a pronounced reverse-platoon advantage in his career.  As an exclusively right-handed batter, he has an MLB career .975 OPS against righties and a career .789 OPS against lefties.  He’s had fewer than 200 major league career plate appearances, so the platoon splits will probably change significantly over time.

Even so, it’s got to be easier for a right-handed hitter to hit better against lefties with more experience than to learn how to hit righties.  While Walker’s career OPS against righties is certain to regress toward the mean the more he plays, it can only be a good thing for him if he hits well against righties to begin with.

For a player like Walker to have any kind of major league career, he needs to do what he’s doing right now — hit a ton right off the bat when he finally gets a chance to play every day.  I don’t think that Walker will make them forget about Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, but I will be rooting for him to at least be the next Garrett Jones.

Joey Bart Fractures Finger

April 17, 2019

San Francisco Giants’ top prospect Joey Bart broke a finger after being hit with a pitch and will miss 4 to 6 weeks.  It’s disappointing, but probably not serious.

Bart was slashing .270/.341/.541 after ten games and 41 plate appearances at A+ San Jose to start the 2019 season.  He wasn’t likely to make the majors this year anyway, although the missed time will slow any promotion to AA Richmond.  There is already talk that Bart will play in the Arizona Fall League this fall to make up for the plate appearances he misses as a result of the hand injury.

I’m sure the Giants won’t rush Bart back into action before he’s ready, so the main concern is that it will take him awhile to get back up to speed once he returns to the field.

Since the Giants’ current minor league talent pool isn’t very deep, it’s surely disappointing that one of their few really good ones is hurt and will miss significant playing time.  In the long run, however, it will probably just be a blip in Bart’s progression to the majors.