Archive for May 2019

Yastrzemski Factoids

May 27, 2019

On the day on which Mike Yastremski got his first three major league hits, it seems like a good time for a couple of factoids about his Hall of Fame grandfather Carl.

As a youngster, Carl Yastrzemski played on sandlot teams with his father Carl Sr., a potato farmer out on Long Island, whom the HOFer Carl claimed was a better athlete than he was.  Jr. or Gramps, depending on how/who you want to look at it, got a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame before he signed his first professional baseball contract, after Carl bested Jim Brown‘s record for most high school points scored by a Long Islander.

In those days, great athletes were great across many sports, at least at the high school level.  As the National Pastime (with professional pay to match), baseball got well more than its fair share of the best athletes, even if the athlete was better at football or basketball.  That sure isn’t the case anymore, although MLB star salaries are big enough to get its fair share of the duel sport high school superstars.

 

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Kris Johnson wins 50th NPB Game

May 25, 2019

Kris Johnson won his 50th game in Japan’s NPB today.  He has a career NPB record of 50-25 now with a career 2.63 ERA.

Johnson turns 35 in October, so it’s safe to say he won’t be returning the MLB major leagues.  Nevertheless, I love it when players who don’t quite have what it takes to become MLB stars become big stars in Asia where their talents can be financially rewarded in way that wasn’t going to happen in the States.  Even more so for players like Johnson who had to use the Independent-A leagues to keep his professional career going so that one day his talents could be recognized.

It May Be Mike Yastrzemski’s Time in San Francisco

May 24, 2019

The Giants were determined to give Mac Williamson one last real shot at establishing himself as a major league player when they called him up a couple of weeks ago.  After tonight’s 0-for-5 performance, he’s slashing a brutal .128/.226/.213.  If you take out his first game this season, when he went 2-for-4 with a home run, he’s 4-for-43 with a double in his last 13 games.

I don’t see the down-side in giving Williamson a couple more games to try to get something going.  However, he’s playing so poorly, the team can’t in good conscience carry him much longer, when there are other hot bats down in AAA Sacramento.

28 year old Mike Yastrzemski is slashing .326/.424/.697 after 39 games played, giving him the Pacific Coast League’s fifth highest OPS.  He hasn’t played in the majors yet, and he deserves to get to a shot the way he’s hitting at AAA.  The 26 year old Austin Slater is slashing .331/.463/.615, giving the PCL’s 9th best OPS.  He also deserves another major league shot.

At two years younger and already on the 40-man roster, Slater’s chances of being the next outfield prospect to get a major league shot this season are significantly better than young Yaz’s.

Even Mike Gerber, who already got a major league shot this year, is currently slashing .331/.388/.586.  He’s also on the team’s 40-man roster.

The River Cats currently have a losing 22-24 record, so it seems safe to assume that Raley Field in Sacto is a particularly good place to hit in 2019, while McCovey Park in San Fran is a particularly bad place to hit this year.  At any rate, outfielders hitting a ton in Sac aren’t hitting jack in SF.

Meanwhile, the Giants have already lost Aaron Altherr off waivers to the Met.  His Giants career lasted exactly one at-bat, and it was a strike out.

After a 1-for-5 performance in today’s game, Steven Duggar is slashing .240/.286/.350, so his hold a major league roster spot can’t be good either.  However, Duggar’s defense presumably will keep him on the roster longer than a struggling Mac Williamson.

SoftBank Hawks to Sign American Pitching Prospect Carter Stewart

May 21, 2019

In what would apparently be a first, the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s NPB are reported to be on the verge of signing U.S. amateur pitcher Carter Stewart for more than $4 million.  Stewart was the 8th overall selection in last year’s MLB Draft but did not sign with the Atlanta Braves, after a ligament issue in his wrist turned up in his medical records and the Braves lowered their offer to him, down to what was likely about $2 million instead of the nearly $5 million slot value.

After failing to sign with the Braves, Stewart enrolled with a Florida junior college, Eastern Florida State College, where he has pitched well this Spring.  In 13 starts, he has posted a 1.74 ERA with a pitching line of 74.1 IP, 41 hits, three HRs and 26 BBs and 108Ks.  Fangraphs.com currently ranks Stewart as the 55th best prospect in this year’s MLB draft.

By signing for the Hawks for the money that Stewart expected to get last summer (and possibly then some), the Hawks will presumably have Stewart’s rights for nine NPB major league seasons, like all other amateurs who sign their first pro contracts with NPB teams.  It’s possible, of course, that Stewart’s representatives contracted for some variation of this requirement — for example, that Stewart has to be posted after 4 to 6 full NPB seasons — but I can’t imagine that the Hawks would give Stewart a $4M+ guarantee without being guaranteed at least four or five full years of NPB major league service from Stewart.

Obviously, the Hawks get in Stewart a prospect of a caliber that comes not more than about once a year for all 12 NPB teams to fight over in the NPB amateur draft.  The Hawks can certainly afford to shell out for Stewart as one of NPB’s three rich teams along with the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers.

The down-side to signing Stewart for all this money is that he could, of course, get hurt and thus never develop. Presumably, there are some legitimate concerns about his wrist tendon, or the Braves would have offered him a bigger signing bonus last year.

Also, since Stewart didn’t play high school or college ball in Japan, he would count against the major league four-roster-spot-limit for foreign players.  However, the wealthy NPB teams are now signing about six NPB-major-league-worthy foreigners every year in order to protected against injuries and slumps and to provide roster flexibility during the season.

I can see why Stewart would be angry at the Braves for selecting him high and then low-balling him, and I can see why he would want a big initial guarantee in light of the frequency with which high school pitchers end up getting seriously hurt before they reach their MLB major league pay days.  However, it’s clear that Stewart is almost certainly leaving money on the table if he is good enough to be an MLB major league star.   Once MLB stars reach their second or third salary arbitration off-season, they make a lot more money than any player makes in NPB, where salaries are effectively capped at about $5M or $6M even for the very best veteran NPB superstars.

It also remains to be seen how a 19 year old American adjusts to life and baseball in Japan.  It isn’t easy to do, and few foreign players in NPB have much success before their age 26 season, in part, I think, because a certain maturity level is needed to adjust to living and playing in Japan.  It’s not like playing in the U.S., and American and Latin American players need a certain amount of mental flexibility and focus to deal with the differences.

Stewart signing with the Hawks will be great for American amateur players and their agents going forward, since they can now credibly threaten to take their talents some place else.  It may even force MLB to allocate more money to amateur draft bonus pools to ward off the possibility that future amateur players might elect to take their talents to Japan.

Three True Outcomes Make for Boring Baseball

May 20, 2019

Bryce Harper hit a home run for the second consecutive game on Sunday, but he’s batting .235 and he’s on pace for 218 strikeouts this year.  He’s a better player than this, but he seems to have convinced himself that singles have no value in today’s game.

Harper hit .330 in 2015 and .319 in 2017, but he seems to have convinced himself that somehow 450 foot home runs put more runs on the scoreboard than 400 home runs.  What is he thinking?

Long home runs are sexy, but Harper is now married, so what good does it do him, unless he’s one unfaithful Mormon.

I want to see the superstars who can hit for power, draw walks, and hit for averageChristian Yelich hit .326 last year and is batting .325 so far this year.  He’s on pace for 99 walks this year.  Mike Trout has a .306 batting average.  Cody Bellinger is still hitting .405 and is second in the Senior Circuit behind Yelich with 17 home runs.  Players with superstar talent can still have it all.

I’m beginning to think that Bryce Harper has a $330 million body and a 10 cent head.  Hell, even Joey Gallo is batting .277 this year.  There is just no reason that I can think of that Harper can’t hit .275, draw 100+ walks and hit 30 or 40 or 50 home runs and not strike out 150 times in a season.

There is a once famous story about Stan Musial that is worth retelling here.  The story goes more or less as follows: Musial had a huge year coming back from WWII in 1946.  He batted a league leading .365 with a league leading 50 doubles and 20 triples.  He also hit 16 HRs.  Musial thought that hitting like that without trying to hit home runs, what could he do if he really tried to hit them out.  He hit 19 dingers in 1947, but all his other numbers dropped off dramatically.

In 1948, Musial went back to just trying to put a good swing on the ball while squaring it up.  He batted a league leading .376 and lead the league again in hits, doubles and triples while hitting a career high 39 HRs.  As the story goes, he hit more home runs not trying to hit home runs.

The point of the story, which is probably more true today, given how strong the best hitters are, is that trying to hit home runs is foolish.  Just swing hard and try to hit the ball squarely, and let the outcomes be what they may.  You can’t tell me that a player with Harper’s talent and strength couldn’t hit 50 home runs in a season (to all fields) merely by putting a good swing on the ball and trying to square the ball up by hitting it where it’s pitched.

The largest share of HRs, even for Harper, come on 2-0 and 3-1 pitches when the hitter can look for a specific pitch to crush.  The modern game would be so much more exciting if players didn’t try to hit every single pitch to the wall.

Bryce Harper is setting himself up for a disappointing 13 years in front of Philthy’s notoriously fickle sports fans if he tries to hit a home run every single time he comes up to the plate.

What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

Josh Lindblom Wins 50th KBO Game

May 15, 2019

With his seventh victory of the 2019 season (against zero losses), Josh Lindblom became only the sixth foreign pitcher to record 50 wins in South Korea’s KBO.  He’s also the active career leader among foreign KBO pitchers, after each of Dustin Nippert, Henry Sosa and Eric Hacker failed to return to the KBO in 2019.

Lindblom is the KBO’s highest paid foreign player in 2019 with a one-year salary reported to be $1.77 million.  He’s currently playing for the circuit’s wealthiest team, the Doosan Bears, and he’s currently leading the league in wins (7) and ERA (1.48) and is second in strikeouts (61).  The upshot is that if he continues to pitch well in 2019, he’s got a good shot at besting Dustin Nippert’s record-setting $2.2 million salary in 2017 next off-season.

KBO teams can now sign foreign players to multi-year contracts, so I could see Lindblom signing a two-year $4M guaranteed deal next off-season.

It’s tough having a long career in the KBO as a foreign player.  The KBO pays well for the 4-A players it signs, and there is a surplus of available foreign players who might be solid KBO performers.  As a result, KBO teams expect elite performance from their foreign “mercenaries” every season, and it they don’t get it, they quickly bring in another foreign player at a lower salary to start.

However, some foreign players have what it takes to consistently excel in the KBO, and they can make some good money if they do so.  Lindblom is the latest example.