Archive for the ‘Anaheim Angels’ category

Shohei Ohtani Gives the Angels Options

May 26, 2018

The Anaheim Angels have decided to skip Shohei Ohtani‘s next turn in the rotation in order to “manage his workload.”  Obviously, protecting your young pitcher is a much easier decision to make when it means the team will get his bat in the line-up three more games between now and his next start.

At 23, Ohtani isn’t especially young, and he pitched as many as 160.2 innings in a season in Japan, so one has to think that Ohtani’s .991 OPS entering today’s game has a lot to do with the decision to skip his next start.  Ohtani does not hit the day he pitches, or the next day or the day before, but you can bet he’ll be hitting on those days this week.

Everyone in MLB thought that Ohtani was a better pitching prospect than hitting prospect before the season started, so everyone’s understanding is that Ohtani would be allowed to hit in exchange for the bargain price he would be signed for by joining MLB now, rather than waiting until he turned 25.  Obviously, it turns out he can hit major league pitching, at least so far, so now the Angels have to engage in the difficult but highly enjoyable process of trying to decide how they both protect their investment for the long term and maximize the value of his two-way abilities now.

In days past, teams typically decided that an every-day hitter was worth more than a starting pitcher.  Today’s analytics may not bear the old calculations out.  In any event, it’s more or less irrelevant, since Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch, and at his bargain price, the Angels will go along with Ohtani’s wishes for the immediate future.

Would using Ohtani as a two or three inning starter, rather than skipping a turn, make sense?  The Rays recently started Sergio Romo for three-and four-out starts in consecutive games against the Angels to take advantage of the fact that the top of the Angels’ line-up is top-heavy with right-handed hitters.  The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have been starting their relief pitchers for a couple of innings before bringing in their foreign starters to pitch the next six or seven innings, with some success this season.

If nothing else, it’s kind of gratifying to see teams in the baseball world trying out some new ideas to get an advantage at the margins.  I can’t give Ohtani credit for teams trying their relievers as short-outing starters, but he has at least shaken up the baseball world enough to suggest that new ideas ought to be given a trial even if they conflict with the inherited wisdom about how today’s game should be played.

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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.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher, 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.

Shohei Otani Beating the Shifts

May 5, 2018

One thing that has really impressed me in the last couple of games is Shohei Otani very clearly attempting to hit ’em where they ain’t by hitting the ball to left field.  Here’s video of the first double a couple of days ago, a ball that was hard hit but was playable with the 3Bman playing where he would a right-handed batter, but instead went unmolested down the line for a stand-up double with Ohtani running at only 70%.  You can see video of Otani hitting another double to left field in last night’s game for the next day or two.

If Otani can force defenses to play him straight away, I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a .300 hitter in the major leagues on a semi-regular basis.  Otani is likely to experience swings based on the fact that he will be a part-time hitter and part-time pitcher for as long as Otani wants to keep doing both.

If the hitting we’ve seen from Otani so far is for real, it’s still within the realm of possibility that he could end up as the Angel’s everyday right fielder.

Otani would not be the first great two-way player.  Jack Bentley for the New York Giants and the early 1920’s Baltimore Orioles, the last minor league team almost certainly better than the worst major league teams.

Bentley played 1B and pitched a full season of games for the Orioles for three seasons, and then pitched and pinch hit (at least 39 times) for the World Series losing 1923 and 1924 Giants.  He was probably one of the best players you’ve never heard of.

Tetsuto Yamada May Be Back

May 4, 2018

27 games into the NPB season Tetsuto Yamada, after a slow start, is slashing .282/.413/.603.  That’s comparable to his 2015-2016 seasons, and a blame sight better than 2017, when he played in all 143 of the Yakult Swallows’ games, but he slashed a brutal (for him and his future MLB prospects) .247/.364/.435.

I suspect that Yamada hurt himself late in the 2016 season and was still healing from it in 2017, even though the team felt it had to play him every day and he apparently didn’t ask for time off.  Maybe he’s fully healed this year, and he’s back on track while still only 25 this season.

If he’s all the way back, he’s NPB’s best hitting prospect for MLB now that Shohei Otani is in Anaheim.  He’s got another year or two of service with the small market Yakult Swallows after this season, but the Swallows will almost certainly post him once his seven full seasons are recorded.

Hideto Asamura is also off to a start that is his best start since his terrific age 22 season in 2013.  He’s slashing .304/..358/.536.

Asamura played mostly 1B in 2013, and the Seibu Lions moved him to 2B next year.  Presumably, he has had to spend more training in the field and less taking batting practice.  Still, he’s young, and he plays for a small market team, so if his 2B defense is major league adequate, he could provide some value to a small market MLB team.

Yoshihiro Maru and Yuki Yanigita are off to terrific starts, but they won’t be so young when they become available to MLB.  Yoshitomo Tsutsugo isn’t off to the kind of start that you want to see for potentially aspiring MLBers.  It’s early in the season, though, and Tsutsugo isn’t far off his mark at .233/.345/.478, so if he heats up with the Japanese summer, he could still be worth considering.

Is It Too Soon to Call Shohei Ohtani the Best Hitting Pitcher in Major League Baseball?

April 11, 2018

Every year just before or just after the regular season starts I write a post of the best hitting pitchers in MLB.  These articles are some of the most popular I’ve written, so I do it pretty religiously every year until now.

This year, I don’t know what to do about Shohei Ohtani.  He’s hit home runs in three consecutive games, including one that traveled nearly 450 feet, but he has had only 19 major league plate appearances.

I have generally tried to limit my list to pitchers with at least 100 major league at-bats in order to weed out great one-season fluke performances.  But no one has come along like Ohtani in several generations, a true two-way player who can’t really be compared with anyone I’ve seen play in MLB since I became a fan in 1978.

Ohtani also has an established track record in Japan’s major leagues.  How much credit do you give him for that?  On a scale from 1 to 10 with the MLB AAA a 1 and the MLB majors, I would rank NPB’s majors as a 4.  NPB is a good league, but it’s not the MLB majors.

There is no doubt even with a limited sample size that Ohtani is an elite MLB rookie prospect on both sides of the ball.  It still remains to be seen on the hitting side how quickly he will adjust once MLB pitchers, scouts and analytics guys find the holes in his swing.  (As a pitching prospect, Ohtani has a less of a problem — unfamiliarity is a pitcher’s friend, and as long as he can continue to command his pitches, it could well be 2019 before major league hitters figure out how to attack his exceptional stuff.)

As such, I’m going to hold off on my annual article until I feel more confident that Ohtani’s performance is for real.  With Ohtani DHing three times a week, that shouldn’t be too long.

The thing that excites me even more than Ohtani’s exceptional MLB performance so far, is that his breakthrough has the possibility of effecting a paradygm shift in MLB.

For the last generation at least, MLB teams have a made a decision when they draft or sign an amateur player that they will develop that player either as a hitter/position player or as a pitcher.  Most of the time MLB teams make the right decision, but once in a while you get a two-way player on whom the team makes the wrong decision.

For example, I think the odds are high in hindsight that Micah Owings would have had a more successful major league career if the DiamondBacks had elected to develop him as a hitter, rather than as a pitcher.  Owings was a real prospect on both sides of the ball out of college, but under the old regime, the D’Backs made a decision that he was going to be a pitcher and stuck with it until he hurt his arm and couldn’t be a pitcher any longer.

With early first round 2017 picks Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene, the Rays and Reds have made at least some effort to develop them as two-way players, at least while they are still in the low minors.  I strongly suspect that Shohei’s performance in Japan had something to do with decisions to try to so develop McKay and Greene at least a little bit as two-way players, because everyone in MLB knew well by the time of the 2017 amateur draft what Ohtani was doing in Japan at a level of play too high to be an aberration.

Obviously, there won’t be a whole lot of players so good on both sides of the ball that MLB teams will try to develop them as two-way players.  However, there was always be a few top amateur prospects who can do everything on a baseball field.

In today’s game, two-players could be extremely valuable, at least enough to give these prospects a chance to try both in the low minors and see how it goes.  The American League has the DH, which is ideal for taking advantage of a two-way player, but the NL still needs pinch-hitters and there are fewer roster spots for them now that all teams are carrying more relief pitchers.

In 2003-2004, Brooks Kieschnick had some value as a relief pitcher/pinch hitter/emergency left-fielder for the Brewers. (Kieschnick had been developed as a hitter, and only turned to pitching when his MLB career as a position player didn’t pan out — he’d been an effective college pitcher but it wasn’t a close call when he was drafted as a hitter.) Why not give at least a few two-way prospects two-way training in the minors leagues to try to develop a more valuable major league player down the line?

Modern Day Pitching Masterpieces

April 10, 2018

In today’s game where pitch counts rule, particularly in the first half of April, it’s worth noting just how well Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber both pitched today.

Kluber pitched eight shutout innings in the Indians’ 2-0 victory over the Tigers.  He struck out 13 while throwing only 103 pitches.  He allowed only two singles and a walk.

Scherzer pitched even better, allowing only two singles while striking out ten on a 102-pitch, complete game 2-0 shutout over the Braves.

In today’s Moneyball game, no-hitters don’t have the same value they once did.  Or at least, teams are increasingly unwilling to let pitchers try to complete no-hitters once they’ve thrown more than 120 pitches.

This change is beyond merely the internal workings of each team’s statistics department.  I saw a headline yesterday about how Shohei Ohtani “almost” pitched a perfect game, when in fact he came out after the seventh inning.  Even the sportswriters tacitly accept that losing a perfect game in the 7th is now roughly equal to what losing a perfect game in the 9th inning was a generation ago.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it does, in fact, cut down on pitcher injuries.  It’s hard to prove smaller workloads for starters mean fewer injuries because injuries still happen constantly.  Major league pitchers can’t afford to ever throw anything except their best pitches, although a pitcher with stuff like Ohtani’,along with confidence and pitching smarts, can realize he doesn’t need to throw his best fastball until he needs it for the strikeout pitch.  If your best fastball is 92 mph or lower in today’s game, you can’t afford to throw ’em much lower than that ever.

What makes Kluber’s and Scherzer’s performances so impressive is that it is damn hard to strike out double-digit hitters in eight or nine innings while still throwing fewer than 105 pitches.  Getting a strikeout on fewer than five pitches is a relatively rare thing for almost all major league pitchers.

In today’s game, pitching eight full innings or more is a rarity since it almost always has to be done on fewer than 120 pitches. Pitching eight full innings today is probably more valuable than pitching a complete game in the 1970’s, because it happens less often.  With bullpens working so much harder today than two generations ago, an eight or more inning performance has more value to a team than it’s ever had.

I think most people would regard Kluber and Scherzer at this moment as among MLB’s five best starters.  Tonight’s performances suggest that in the context of today’s game, they’re as good as any top five starters at any time in MLB history.

 

Shohei Otani So Far

April 4, 2018

Here is an espn.com article on Shohei Otani that I really enjoyed reading (probably because it confirmed my existing prejudices).  The point is basically that Otani has to keep playing in the majors until he proves he isn’t ready.

He won his first start, he has his first major league hit, why wouldn’t you keep him? Otani has hit 100 mph in the games that count, and, Oh, he runs really well.

Learn those lessons at the major league level, baby!