Archive for the ‘American League’ category

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.

Bits and Pieces

June 28, 2016

Kris Bryant today became the youngest player in Cubs’ history to hit three home runs in one game, topping Ernie Banks.  His 16 total bases set an all-time Cubs record.

I sure hope Bryant makes the Cubs pay through the nose when the time comes. However, if the Cubs win a couple of World Series between now and the time Bryant becomes a free agent, the past history probably won’t matter.

One of the things that suggests long-term success for Bryant is that he isn’t isn’t a meaty power hitter.  He’s tall and rangy with modern-day big-man hand-eye coordination.  His height could mean future joint problems, but his body-type isn’t the kind that puts additional weight stress on them.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s game obscured the fact that Cy Young Candidate Jake Arrieta had his worst start of the year, at least in terms of earned runs allowed.

Jeff Samardzija, National League Pitcher?  Neither espn.com nor Baseball Reference list Samardzija’s stats against AL team vs. NL teams.  I would bet dollars to donuts this is something that at least some MLB teams track, because if you can identify marginally successful pitchers in the other league who would be better in your league, you can get talent on the cheap.

Meanwhile, perhaps not surprisingly, Samardzija is getting his brains beat out by the A’s tonight.

Dan Otero Very Quietly a Big Part of the Cleveland Indians’ Very Quiet Success This Year

June 20, 2016

In light of the Cavaliers winning Game 7 of the NBA finals tonight, it’s going to be awhile before anyone but die-hard Tribe fans notice just how well the Indians are playing this season.  Even when people start to notice, assuming the Indians keep winning, one guy who probably won’t get enough credit for that success is Dan Otero.

Otero was originally a 21st round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2007.  His stuff merited the low draft pick, but from the moment he reached professional baseball, his command and his ability to pitch made him consistently successful, at least when he was healthy.

He caught my attention when he had a fantastic season in AA ball in 2009.  However, he promptly hurt his arm, and wasn’t fully back until 2011, his age 26 season, when his age made him barely a prospect.  He should have gotten a September call-up that year, but his lack of stuff and his tough luck made him easy to overlook.

He pitched well in AAA in 2012 and got a look from the Giants in his age 27 season.  Not surprisingly, he was hit hard in his first major league trail, because Otero is almost certainly a pitcher who benefits from learning and exploiting the weaknesses of the hitters he’s facing.

That off-season he was claimed off of waivers, first by the Yankees and then by the A’s.  He was terrific at AAA Sacramento to start 2013 and terrific for the A’s to finish the 2013 season.  He was nearly as good for the A’s in 2014 when he pitched in 72 games.

However, the bottom fell out in 2015.  Otero is a guy who relies on his ability to avoid free passes and keep the ball down.  In 2015, I have to conclude from his numbers that he wasn’t keeping the ball down that year with predictable results.  Batters beat him like a dusty rug and he allowed seven home runs in only 46.2 IP.

Here’s where the Indians come in.  A lot of teams would have thought that Otero’s two years of success in 2013 and 2014 were a fluke based on the fact that the American League’s hitters weren’t familiar with him.  In fact, the Phillies claimed Otero off waivers and then sold him to the Tribe for cash considerations, which probably weren’t very great.

However, the Tribe appear to have signed Otero to a major league contract  — baseball reference lists Otero’s 2016 salary as $520,000, which strongly suggests a major league contract for a couple of reasons.  First, the major league portion of minor league deals generally don’t get listed on baseball reference, and for a player with Otero’s experience a minor league deal would typically call for a minor league salary of $125,000 to $250,000 and a major league salary of $600,000 to $800,000.

At any rate, I suspect the Indians saw something in Otero they thought they could fix and decided he was worth a major league deal, even though pitchers with Otero’s track record typically don’t get them.  The Indians were apparently right, because Otero has been quietly tremendous for the 2016 team.  He currently has a 0.98 ERA with 26 Ks in 27.2 innings pitched.  He still gives up plenty of base hits, but he doesn’t walk anybody, and he has yet to give up a home run this season.

Otero isn’t going to take closer Cody Allen‘s job, because Allen has true closer stuff.  However, Otero has effectively bridged the gap between the Tribe’s strong starting pitching and Allen and turned the 8th inning into a dead zone for opposing offenses.

Another former San Francisco Giant and very low draft pick who is helping the Indians in a big way this season is Rajai Davis.  I have long wondered why Davis, with his plus speed and ability to play center field was not selected until the 38th round of the 2001 Draft.  He played at a secondary campus of the University of Connecticut, and I would guess his college offensive production and his college swing left a lot to be desired.

Davis eventually figured it out, and in his age 35 season he continues to be a valuable fourth outfielder who ends up playing almost every day because of injuries and his ability to play all three outfield positions.  It was certainly a blessing for the Tribe to have Davis around when Marlon Byrd tested positive for PEDs a second time.

Intentional Walks

May 22, 2016

Someone recently wrote a dumb article arguing that the intentional walks should be discouraged by advancing base runners even when there are bases open, essentially turning the intentional walk into a single.  The impetus for this article was the May 8 game in which the Cubs walked Bryce Harper six times and hit him with a pitch in seven plate appearances.  The Cubs won the game in 13 innings 4-3.

The basic argument of the article was that fans don’t want to see the game’s best hitters pitched around.  That makes a certain amount of sense.  However, there are a couple of obvious flaws with the argument.

First, it’s a little late in the day for this change.  Pitchers and teams have been pitching around the game’s best hitters at least since the days of Babe Ruth and the rise of home runs in 1920, and probably since the heavy hitting days of the 1890’s.

Second, baseball is supposed to be a team game.  An intentional walk is almost always a failed strategy if the next batter reaches base safely.  If a team has one great hitter in the heart of its line-up, but no one else that can hit, why shouldn’t the opposing team be able to take advantage of that fact by pitching around the team’s only strong hitter?

That’s exactly what the Cubs did in all four games of that series against the Nationals, which the Cubs swept.  The Cubs won all four games by no more than three runs, and Harper scored only three runs in spite of reaching base 14 times without hitting safely, so obviously the strategy worked.  Why shouldn’t the onus be on the Nats to find somebody who can hit behind Harper to make other teams pay for employing this tactic?

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t see any way to for the plate umpire to determine whether or not a pitcher is intentionally trying to walk a batter if the intentional walk is eliminated and pitchers simply elect to throw four pitches out of the strike zone without the catcher stepping out from behind the plate.  Presumably, in the early days of baseball, pitchers simply threw four pitches out of the strike zone when they didn’t want a certain hitter to have an opportunity to hit, and at some point, teams did away with the pretense of trying to look like the pitcher was pitching to the hitter in good faith but not throwing strikes.

Pitchers pitch to the game’s best hitters very carefully anyway.  Making the plate umpire decide whether or not a pitcher is missing the strike zone intentionally would lead to a lot of arbitrary decisions or would simply be ignored.

An analogous comparison is allowing umpires to deny the batter a base after the batter is hit by a pitch if the umpire thinks the batter didn’t try to get out of the way.  This rule is almost always ignored, even for batters who every one knows don’t try to get out of the way (Don Baylor) or who appear to be moving out of the way but are actually moving into the pitch (Ron Hunt).  As a result, the rare instances when the rule is enforced, for example during Don Drysdale‘s scoreless innings pitched streak when his plunking of Dick Dietz wasn’t called, allowing the streak to continue, always seem arbitrary and capricious.

MLB has only been keeping track of intentional walks since 1955.  What is interesting about the stats is except for when Barry Bonds was juicing hard between 2001 and 2004 and hitting like Babe Ruth‘s big brother, the record for intentional walks for a season is Willie McCovey‘s 45 in 1969.

Since the end of the Steroids Era, it’s not at all clear that intentional walks are much more common now than they were before the Steroids Era.  It’s also worth noting that the intentional walk appears to be much more of a National League strategy, perhaps because of the DH in the AL, with the top 17 single season intentional walks totals recorded in the Senior Circuit.  Further, walking Barry Bonds as much as teams did between 2001 and 2004 does not appear to have been particularly effective, as the Giants won more than 100 games more than they lost during those four seasons.

Good time for a trivia question — who holds the American League single season record for intentional walks?  Answer below.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this issue again is that MLB is reportedly discussing a rule to make the intentional walk automatic, meaning that the defensive team could simply advise the umpire of its intent to issue an intentional walk without the need for four wide pitches.  Presumably, the purpose of the new rule, if formally approved, is to speed up the game.

MLB is also discussing reducing the strike zone from the bottom of the knees to the top of the knees.  If enacted and enforced by the umpires, this is anticipated to boost offense.  More offense means more intentional walks, as the cost of the intentional walk (a free base) is less when the league’s best hitters become more productive offensively.

The American League record for intentional walks in a season is 33, set my Ted Williams in 1957 and matched by John Olerud in 1993.

Just a Matter of Time Before National League Adopts Designated Hitter

April 21, 2016

In today’s game between the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees, pitcher Kendall Graveman became a hitter when the A’s starting 3Bman Danny Valencia had to leave the game with a pulled hamstring.  Because the A’s have only a four man bench, manager Bob Melvin was forced to move starting 2Bman Chris Coghlan to 3B, and make DH Jed Lowrie the new 2Bman.  Thus, no DH, and the pitcher had to hit.

More importantly to the subject of this post, it was the first time in almost seven years that Graveman had batted in a game situation.  The last time was back in high school.  Graveman struck out on three pitches, although espn.com’s recap notes that he fouled off a 97 mph fastball.

In college, Graveman never batted, and playing exclusively for American League organizations in the minors, he never batted.

The upshot is that if Graveman is ever traded to the National League (and remains a starter), the odds are extremely slim that he will be anything other than an absolutely terrible hitter, simply by virtue of the fact that he has had no meaningful opportunities to hit in many, many years.  The same applies for almost every pitcher who went to a college using the DH and was then drafted by an American League Organization.

A small number of pitchers have such exceptional hand-eye coordination and are such exceptionally good natural baseball players that they are better than average hitting pitchers even after years of inactivity.  Zack Greinke is one of the best hitting pitchers in the NL in spite of the fact that he received only 26 plate appearances in his first nine professional seasons.

However, pitchers as a group just have to keep getting worse and worse as MLB hitters because they nearly never get to hit once they leave high school.  Even minor league starting pitchers playing for National League organizations bat infrequently because they don’t bat when playing American League-affiliated opponents and minor league starters rarely go deep into games.

For example, only one pitcher managed to throw even three complete games in one season in any of the last  three full AAA Pacific Coast League seasons.  MLB pitchers don’t throw many complete games now either, but it’s not quite that bad.

At some point in the not too distant future, I expect the NL will adopt the DH Rule.  Pitchers who can hit even a little bit are getting rarer and rarer, and the idea that the NL requires more strategy because pitchers have to hit is going to seem less and less plausible as the possibility that the pitcher as batter can reach base safely even once in a while becomes less and less likely.  There just isn’t much fun for the fans in a batting slot in which the best possible outcome is a successful sacrifice bunt.

 

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I’ve written several posts on this subject, which have proven quite popular, the last about two years ago, so it feels like a good time for an update.

As we enter the 2016 season, below are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six seasons, 2010 through 2015 (four seasons for Marlins Park which opened in 2012).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.427.  Coors Field remains far and away the best hitters’ in MLB by a wide margin.  Every other stadium had a season or two between 2010 and 2015 well out of line with its overall average position except Coors Field.  It was the best hitters’ park in MLB five of the six seasons, usually by a lot, and a strong second in the sixth season.

2.  Globe Life Park at Arlington (Rangers) 1.144.  Globe Life Park remains the best hitters’ park in the American League.

3.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.107.

4.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.093.

5.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.083.

6.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.072.

7.  Yankee Stadium 1.059.

8.    U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.058.  One of the more variable parks in MLB, U.S. Cellular Field was a pitchers’ park in 2015, but a strong hitters’ park in 2010 and 2012.

9. Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) 1.047.  A pitchers’ park in 2015, Rogers Center was a hitters’ park every other year of the last six.

10.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.045.

11.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.034.  Long regarded as one of the best hitters’ parks in MLB, Wrigley was a pitchers’ park in 2014 and 2015, bringing it’s six year average down considerably.

12.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.026.

13.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.027.  25 or 30 years ago, Kauffman Stadium was one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball.  However, the newer parks built starting with Camden Yards in 1992, have for the most part been much better hitters’ parks than the ballparks they replaced.  The casual fans want to see offense, and the modern parks have largely catered to that desire with resulting attendance increases.

14.  Target Field (Twins) 1.013.  The Twins’ new ball park looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ park after the first couple of seasons of play there.  However, it now looks to be a slight hitters’ park.

15.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.005.

16.  Nationals Park 1.004.

17.  Marlins Park (2012-2015) 1.000.  The Marlins’ new park appears to be as close to a perfectly level playing field for pitchers and hitters as currently exists in MLB, at least based on the first four seasons of play there.

18.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.992.  Progressive Field was the second best hitters’ park in MLB last year, after five consecutive seasons as a moderate pitchers’ park.  2015 was almost certainly a fluke.

19.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.987.  Once known as Ten-run Park, when it was named after failed energy company Enron, Minute Maid Park varies wildly between a hitters’ park and pitchers’ park from season to season.

20.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.972.

21.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.957.

22.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.941.  O.co isn’t as much of a pitchers’ park as it once was, more or less switching places with Angel Stadium, another now antiquated multi-use stadium from the 1960’s.

23.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.927.

24.  Dodger Stadium 0.906.

25.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.894.

26.  Angel Stadium 0.877.  The fact that Angel Stadium is now one of the worst hitters’ parks in MLB gives one additional appreciation of just how good Mike Trout is as an offensive player.

27.  Citi Field (Mets) 0.876.

28.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.857.

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.842.  The Mariners and the Padres moved their outfield fences in before the 2013 season in order to goose offensive production.  It hasn’t helped a whole lot, as both parks remained among the worst hitters’ parks in MLB from 2013-2015.

29.    AT&T Park (Giants) 0.842.  AT&T varies a lot season to season, but in 2011, 2012 and 2015 it was a strong pitchers’ park.