Archive for the ‘American League’ category

Wow! The Twins Are Really Good Again

June 2, 2019

After today’s win, the Minnesota Twins have the best record in baseball and they’re playing that well with the best run differential in baseball.  With a 10.5 game lead in the AL Central, the Twins already look like a lock to win the division although we aren’t quite at the 60 game mark.

I used to write about the Twins a lot back when they were a small-market can-do team.  It was a lot harder to find good things to write about the Twins when they weren’t winning and couldn’t seem to catch a break.

It was a long re-build but it’s working this year.  Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton are all-home grown and only Rosario is as old as 27 this season.  The same for Jose Berrios, who looks like he’s going to be a great pitcher for however long his arm lasts.

Also, the bargain free agent signings have worked out better this year, with waiver-claimed C. J. Cron posting an .866 OPS, Martin Perez winning seven games, and Jonathan Schoop posting an .816 so far.  Relatively highly paid Marwin Gonzalez has been the only significant dud.

Jake Odorizzi is having a great year going into free agency.  The bullpen looks like the team’s best in some years.

What will slow the Twinkies’ down are the fact that’s highly unlike their catchers will keep hitting the way they have so far and their pitchers, in particular, could get hurt.

I’m glad to see that Ehire Adrianza is still a fine back-up middle infielder, and a little sad to see that Adalberto Mejia is hurt after pitching ineffectively.   Their both former Giants, and I root for them to do well in Minnesota.  I still like Williams Astudillo, but he’s got to start walking or getting hit by pitches enough to force pitchers to throw him a few more strikes, and he hits into a fearsome number of double-plays.

 

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An Idea for Solving the DH-Pitcher-Hitting Debate

February 9, 2019

There has been a lot of talk this past week about new negotiations over playing rules between MLB and the Players’ Union (MLBPA).  The most notable proposals have involved getting rid of the designated hitter in the National League, requiring incoming relief pitchers to face at least three batters and a 22 second pitch clock (pitchers have to throw the next pitch within 22 seconds.

I am a life-long NL fan, what with rooting for the Giants.  My main concern with adding the DH to the National League is that there are a few pitchers who can hit, and I would miss seeing them get their turns at the plate.  The pitchers that can’t hit a lick?  Well, not so much.

So how about a rule that requires teams in the NL (or both leagues) that requires teams to bat their pitchers a certain number of games every season, but less than all 162 games.  Why not require teams to bat their pitchers, say 40 to 80 games a season, with all of the remaining games subject to the DH?  Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke would still get to hit when they start, but the really dreadfully hitting pitchers could be replaced by DHs.

Such a system would increase strategy because teams would have to figure out when to let their pitchers hit and when to go with the DH.  The best hitting pitchers, like Bumgarner and Greinke, might not be thrilled with such an arrangement because they’d often have to face the DH, while they themselves batted.  However, it would also shine a spotlight on the value of pitchers good enough to hit for themselves.

What bothers me most about the DH is that it creates this developmental separation between players who can pitch and players who can hit, when the reality is that most major league pitchers were the best or at least in the top half of hitters among starters on their high school teams.  Before the Second World War, there were many players whose careers moved back and forth between pitching and hitting, because they were good enough to do both.  Now that Shohei Ohtani has shown that players can do both even today, it would be a shame to completely cut out hitting pitchers from the professional game.

If you are willing to impose a rule requiring relievers to face at least three hitters (I am doubtful, however, that such a rule will be adopted), then there is no reason why you could not require pitchers to hit in some games and DHs to hit in others.  Once you get past the novelty of the idea, rules that create more room for strategy and calculation are actually a good thing.

Today’s Tie-Breakers

October 1, 2018

I really like the fact that two tie-breaking games were played today, if only because it means that the National League wild card loser will have to lose two consecutive games before being sent home.

The Brewers have already beaten the Cubs, and it looks all but certain that the Dodgers will beat the Rocks.  On paper, the Cubs looked like a better team than the Brewers, but one-and-done match-ups are more about whose starting pitcher has a better game.

Presumably, the NL wild card game will be played in Chicago, which certainly favors the Cubbies.  However, as the Cubs just learned, anything is possible in a one-game series.  The Cubs and Dodgers look like the only two NL teams with any realistic shot of winning the World Series, but the Cubs could be going home if they lose to the Rockies on Wednesday.

Certainly, the Astros and Red Sox look like the class of the American League, but anything can happen in a short series, and all the teams but the A’s have recent post-season experience.  As for the A’s, they really played great in the second half and made the trades they needed at the trade deadline to make themselves a great team.

The 2018 A’s remind me of the powerhouse A’s teams of the early 1970’s, at least in terms of their everyday players.  They hit for power, many of them will take walks, they by and large play good defense.  Except at catcher, they don’t have many holes in their line-up.

Obviously, the A’s starting pitching is not as good as that of the early 1970’s A’s, but their bullpen has been strong enough to get them to the play-offs.  We’ll see what happens.

Willie Kamm

August 11, 2018

There’s a San Francisco baseball name that even most San Francisco baseball fans don’t remember.  Willie Kamm was probably the best defensive 3B man of the first half of the 20th Century.  He was also an effective offensive player to an extent that was recognized in his own day in spite of having very little power.

One of the things that got me interested in Willie Kamm was going out to the Musee Mechanique when it was still at the Cliff House.  They had a pin-ball type baseball game, one using a pin-ball which you hit with a mechanical bat to try to get hits while avoiding the fielder holes.  At 3B was Willie Kamm, going along with top major leaguers and Pacific Coast League (PCL) stars who also had big years in the major leagues like Winters‘ finest Frank Demaree.

I can’t recall if Joe DiMaggio was in CF — anyone been to the Musee Mechanique lately?  The table game I would date to the mid-1930’s.  If DiMaggio is in the game, then the machine probably would almost certainly have to date no earlier than Spring of 1936, when DiMaggio was coming off his huge final season for the San Francisco Seals and had long since been traded to the Yankees.  I also don’t recall if Paul Waner was in right field, but he’d be a good guess because he starred for the San Francisco Seals before reaching greater fame with the Pirates.

Willie Kamm was from San Francisco, although he started his PCL career with the Sacramento Senators at the age of only 18.  He went 2-for-9 in his first four games and was summarily released.  Then the Seals signed him.

It took two years for Kamm to develop both his bat and his glove.  He had a fine season in 1921, and then was completely off the charts at age 22.  He batted .342 with 56 doubles, nine triples and 20 HRs in 650 at-bats and 170 games, while playing elite major league defense for the second year in a row.

He was such a hot prospect, he commanded a then still astounding $100,000 purchase price from the Chicago White Sox, who were looking to replace Buck Weaver, alleged leader of the 1919 Black Sox and also a former Seal, who was banned for life in late September 1920.  The Seals also received Doug McWeeny (great name) and two players to be named later.  McWeeny went 55-24 for the Seals over three seasons between 1922 and 1925 before returning to the majors for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so this was a great deal for the Seals on multiple levels.

The deal was so good for the Seals in fact, that even though the transaction was completed on May 29th, they got to keep Kamm for the rest of the 1922 season before sending him east, while McWeeny went 15-7 for the rest of the year in San Francisco.  Impossible to imagine a deal like that today.

Kamm was immediately one of the Junior Circuit’s best defenders at the hot corner in 1923, and he remained such for the next 11 seasons.  He defensive excellence is easy to explain: he consistently made the most plays per game while making the fewest errors per chance.  Of course, some ChiSox fans complained if he made any errors, given how much the team had payed for him.

I would rate Brooks Robinson as a better defensive 3Bman, mainly because he had a longer major league career and was better at turning the double play, but Kamm and Robinson had in common that they made the most plays while making the fewest errors in their respective versions of the American League.

Kamm’s defensive prowess at third base was so well recognized in his own day that, while he could almost certainly have held down SS or 2B as needed, he played every single game of his professional career at 3B.  That is similar to Robinson, who played a total of 30 games at SS and second between 1956 and 1963, but never played another position in the field for the last 14 years of his career.  What you could call the “don’t mess with a good thing” principle.

Kamm’s hands were so good, he claimed he could consistently catch two base runners a season with the hidden ball trick.  I have no reason to believe he was exaggerating.

Kamm couldn’t hit home runs in the majors, finishing his career with a grand total of 29, which was a problem in the lively ball era.  However, Kamm did have the advantage that the 1920’s still valued 3B defense as a hold-over from the 1910’s, when 3B defense was very highly valued indeed.

As such, Kamm’s contributions were appreciated in a way they would not subsequently be appreciated for some time.  Kamm ran well, but was not an effective base-stealer, another holdover from the 1910’s.  Kamm had alley power, hitting between 30 and 39 doubles seven times and between nine and 13 triples four times.  He also walked a lot, including leading the AL with 90 in 1925.

One way to compare Kamm is by comparing him to the Washington Senator’s Ossie Bluege (pronounced Blue-jee) another long-time 3Bman who was about the same age and started his major league career at about the same time.  Bluege played on all three Washington Senators World Series teams (1924, 1925 and 1933) and was generally regarded as a fine defensive 3Bman and valuable major league regular.

In the ten American League seasons both Kamm and Bluege both played at least 800 innings at the hot corner, Kamm bested Bluege to the tune of 21-8-1 in the three major categories of chances per game, fielding percentage and DPs.

Over roughly the same number of career major league plate appearances (7,454 for Bluege, 6,945 for Kamm) Kamm slashed .281/.372/.384 while Bluege slashed .272/.352/.356.  Both played in what were regarded as pitchers’ parks in their era, but I don’t know which was worse for hitters.

Kamm was clearly the better player on both sides of the ball, but he’s no better remembered today than Bluege, because Kamm never played in the World Series and played most of his major league career for White Sox teams that never once made the first division (his last fourCleveland Indians teams finished 3rd or 4th every season).  It’s hard to be seen as a great player when your team never wins.

A couple of other stories from Kamm’s career and later life I found interesting were that, while he was generally considered a good teammate, he got in trouble late in his career with the Indians for giving young players too much advice.  The new Cleveland manager was Walter Johnson — that Walter Johnson.  Apparently, Johnson, like a lot of formerly great players was not a great manager.  I don’t know whether how Kamm delivered his “advice” or whether Johnson thought Kamm was a threat to his leadership, but it in interesting fact for someone who seems to have been a pretty sober ballplayer.

Kamm’s playing career ended with the Mission Reds back in the PCL in 1936, a team he managed in 1936 and 1937.  He was then at age 37 reportedly able to retire on his investments, having been told at some time presumably early in his career by Seals owner George Putnam to invest in Pacific Gas & Electric and General Motors stock and holding on the stock even when the stock market crashed in 1929.

An earlier Seals owner C.H. Strub in September or October of 1918 had convinced Kamm to sign a contract with the Seals rather than enlisting in the navy by telling him that the war would be over in a month based on how the stock market was performing.  The war ended approximately one month after Kamm signed his contract, and he apparently never forgot the lesson.

Kamm passed away in Belmont, California at the age of 88 in 1988.  At least in  my little corner of the Bay Area, Willie Kamm has not been entirely forgotten.

Aaron Judge Strikes Out Eight Times in Double-Header

June 5, 2018

Aaron Judge set a record today that may stand for a very long time, striking out eight times in a double-header.  That is the most since records have been kept (1910 in NL; 1913 in AL); and with as few double-headers as are played today, it could well last just as long.

Judge’s new record is the flip side of Stan Musial/Nate Colbert record of five homeruns in a double header.  Nate Colbert was from St. Louis and claimed to have attended as a kid the double-header in which Stan Musial set the record that Nate Colbert, the man, later equaled.

Don’t know if the claim is true, but it’s a great story.  Colbert would have been eight years old on the day that Musial did it, so it’s at least possible.

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.

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.