Archive for the ‘Arizona Diamond Backs’ category

Top MLB Prospects in South Korea’s KBO 2019/2020

October 10, 2019

As was the case last off-season, there aren’t many 2019 KBO players likely to join MLB in 2020.  We had a flurry of hitters a few years ago who got their shots at MLB, but they have mostly returned to the KBO and are too old to be reasonably likely to return to the States.

The best starter in the KBO for the second year in a row was foreigner Josh Lindblom.  He went 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 189 Ks in 194.2 IP.  He led the KBO in wins, winning percentage, innings pitched, and strikeouts and finished 2nd in ERA.

Given Merrill Kelly‘s success with the Diamondbacks in 2019, it’s certainly possible that an MLB team will offer Lindblom a similar two-year $5.5M contract.  However, Lindblom is going into his age 33 season in 2020, so he may already be too old to interest an MLB team, in spite of the fact that he enjoyed some MLB success before he went to South Korea a few years ago.

I’m also kind of hoping Lindblom signs the first two-year guaranteed deal for a foreigner in KBO history this off-season, maybe $3.5M guaranteed and another $500,000 in possible performance incentives.  KBO attendance was down in 2019, but Lindblom’s team, the Doosan Bears, is the one KBO team that could readily afford the risk of a two-year deal.

Kim Kwang-hyun and Yang Hyun-jong continued to be the KBO’s two best domestic starters in 2019, but their windows for moving up to MLB appear to have passed.

Cho Sang-Wo (26) reportedly has the KBO’s best fastball, which touched 97.7 mph early in the 2019 season.  He had a 2.66 ERA as a reliever in 2019 and has struck out 283 batters in 281.1 career KBO IP.  Shim Chang-min (27) has a live arm (474 Ks in 409.2 career KBO IP) and plenty of KBO service time, but not the level of KBO success to suggest MLB teams would be particularly interested in him.

Youngsters Ko Woo-seok (21) and Koo Chang-Moo (23) look very promising.  In his age 20 season, Ko posted a 1.52 ERA and 35 saves, while striking out 76 batters in 71 IP.  As a 22 year old starter, Koo went 10-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 114 Ks in 107 IP.  Both are many seasons away from being posted, however.

Among position players/hitters, no KBOer is jumping to MLB for at least a couple of years, but there are three very promising youngsters.

After a tremendous age 19 season, Kang Baek-ho (20) looks like the best hitting prospect since Lee Dae-ho or Kang Jung-ho.  Kang Baek-ho slashed .336/.419/.495, giving him the 10-team circuit’s 5th best batting average, 2nd best OBP, and 8th best SLG.  Extremely impressive for an age 19 season.  He’s listed at 6’0″ and 215 lbs and does not appear to be particularly fast, so there may be some question regarding how well he runs when it’s time for him to be posted.

It also does not appear that young Kang has performed his two years of required military service, which could be an issue later on.  The two years of mandatory military service in South Korea is a real killer when it comes to South Korean KBO players making the jump to MLB.

In his third KBO season, Lee Jung-hoo (22) slashed .336/.388/.456.  While that is down from his 2018 numbers, league offense was down even more, so 2019 probably represented continued incremental improvement.   In particular, he showed greater power potential this year. Both Lee and young Kang are corner outfielders, so they’ll have to hit to reach the MLB majors some day.

SS Kim Ha-seong (24) slashed .307/.394/.491 in 2019, a definite improvement from 2018, not taking into account the KBO’s drop in offense due to less resilient baseballs introduced in 2019.  Kim has five years of KBO service through his age 23 season, so if he can play MLB average defense at SS, 2B or even 3B, he should be an MLB major league player two or three years from now.

Catcher Yoo Kang-nam (27) has five years of KBO service time through his age 26 season.  If his defense is good, he has a chance to be an MLB major leaguer, also in two or three years’ time.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in KBO History

October 5, 2019

We are currently in what amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO, with most of the leaders listed below still active or only a season or two removed from the KBO.  The KBO decided around 2006 that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter only because current KBO rules provide that the third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.

Wins

1.  Dustin Nippert   102-51

2.  Danny Rios           90-59

3.  Henry Sosa           77-63

4.  Andy VanHekken   73-42

5.  Josh Lindblom     63-34

6.  Eric Hacker          61-37

After last off-season’s purge of expensive, veteran foreign aces, I was thrilled to see Henry Sosa dominate Taiwan’s CPBL for the first half of the 2019 season and earn another shot in the KBO in the second half.  He pitched well enough that he should be back in South Korea in 2020 in spite of his on-going South Korean income tax issues — he can’t pay those back taxes if he isn’t working!

It remains to be seen where Josh Lindblom pitches in 2020.  He was so good in 2019, going 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA (2nd best) and 189 Ks (1st), that he’s the odds-on favorite for the KBO MVP Award, but he may also have pitched his way to a lucrative MLB contract.  He earned about $1.92 million in 2019, making him the year’s highest paid foreign player, but that’s an amount an MLB team could easily beat.  The knock on Lindblom is that he will be 33 next season, which may keep him in the KBO.  I’m still he hoping he gets the KBO’s first multi-year guaranteed deal provided to a foreign player.

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out for VanHekken.  He was able to return to the Nexen Heroes, but they weren’t going to show him much loyalty once they decided he’d gotten old.  VanHekken spent most of 2018 in the Atlantic League, but finished the season with his second stint (the first in 2007) in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He appears to have retired after the 2018 season, during which he turned 39.

Eric Hacker also tried to catch on with a CPBL team in 2019 after getting dumped by the Nexen (now Kiwoom) Heroes last off-season.  However, his salary demands were more than any CPBL team was willing to pay, particularly coming off a not very successful KBO campaign.

 

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

1.  Danny Rios    3.01

2.  Josh Lindblom  3.55

3.  Andy VanHekken  3.56

4.  Dustin Nippert    3.59

5.  Eric Hacker    3.66

6.  Chris Oxspring    3.90

7.  Brooks Raley   4.13

8.  Henry Sosa     4.28

As far as I am aware, these eight are the only foreign pitchers in the KBO’s history to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off.  Brooks Raley was reasonably effective in 2019, although he recorded a 5-14 record for this season’s worst team, the Lotte Giants.  He’s relatively high paid and may fall victim to what is likely to be another off-season of re-trenching by KBO teams.

Stikeouts

1.  Dustin Nippert   1,082

2.  Henry Sosa    1,059

3.  Andy VanHekken   860

4.  Danny Rios   807

5.  Brooks Raley  755

6.  Josh Lindblom 750

7.  Eric Hacker 675

8.  Merrill Kelly 641

As everyone should know, Kelly returned to MLB in 2019 and had a season that turned out to be a tremendous bargain for the Diamondbacks in terms of the two-year $5.5M contract Kelly received.

Saves

Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  The 23 foreigners who pitched in the KBO in 2019 appeared in a combined 560 games, only one of which was a relief appearance.

The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games.  However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA.  The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons and not even one in the last five seasons.

An Interesting Off-Season Awaits Josh Lindblom

August 21, 2019

Ace Josh Lindblom currently has a 19-1 record in South Korea’s KBO.  He’s leading his league in wins, ERA (2.03) and strikeouts (152 in 155 IP). He’s pitching so exceptionally well (even though the KBO has not been the hitters’ league this season it was in years’ past), mlbtraderumors.com is reporting that “MLB scouts have been attending [his] KBO starts in droves.”  He is now 34-5 in the KBO since the beginning of the 2018 season(!)

The upshot is that Lindblom is going to have an exciting upcoming off-season.  There is nothing a player wants more than to be desired and have options.  I’m sure Lindblom’s agent has already printed out the mlbtraderumors.com post for later reference.

Lindblom will be going into his age 33 season in 2020, which is old in terms of drawing serious interest from an MLB team.  On the other hand, Lindblom has a much stronger past MLB track record than most foreign KBO pitchers.  Lindblom pitched in 114 major league games across parts of five MLB seasons and posted a very respectable 4.10 ERA with decent ratios, although he made only six major league starts.

Lindblom plays for the KBO’s wealthiest team — the Doosan Bears — and KBO rules on foreign player contracts changed last off-season.  New foreign players or foreign players switching KBO teams cannot be paid more than $1M for their first contract.  However, KBO teams are now allowed to sign foreign players to multi-year contracts for the first time.

The highest salary paid to a foreign player by a KBO team to date is the $2.2M or $2.3M the Doosan Bears paid Dustin Nippert in 2017, coming off a 2016 Nippert season not unlike Lindblom’s 2019.  This season, Lindblom has a base salary of $1.77M plus $150,000 in performance incentives he’s likely to earn in full.

Without the rule change, Lindblom would probably be looking at a $2M contract for 2020 with a team option for $2M for 2021 and a $500,000 buyout, so a $2.5M guarantee for one season.  With the rule change (but KBO revenues probably down), Lindblom is most likely looking at a two-year contract with a $4M guarantee from the Bears.  Even with the rule change, I don’t see the Bears taking more than baby steps on a long-term contract for a foreign player, particularly one going into his age 33 season.

Because of his age and lack of NPB experience, I don’t see a Japanese team beating the Bears on a $4M guarantee.  To an MLB team, however, $4M is not big money.  An MLB won’t pay that much if they don’t have to, but if only one of the 30 MLB teams likes Lindblom, two years and a $4M guarantee is easily matched.

Former KBO ace Merrill Kelly signed a two year deal with a $5.5M guarantee with the Diamondbacks last off-season.  He hasn’t been great, but fangraphs says his value has been $11.9M so far this season, so he’s been a bargain.  Kelly is three years younger this year than Lindblom will be in 2020, and Kelly had better strikeout rates in the KBO than Lindblom.  However, Lindblom has a much better past MLB major league record, and his accomplishments the last two KBO seasons speak for themselves.

If an MLB team thinks Lindblom is worth a $4M guarantee, I think he’ll be back in the U.S. in 2020.  If not, he’s likely to get a record-setting KBO contract that will set a precedent for KBO foreign players going forward.

The Diamondbacks Moving to Las Vegas Is a Dumb Idea

August 2, 2019

I just saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com about the Rattlers having considered a move to Henderson, NV, i.e., suburban Los Vegas.  What a dumb idea!

Las Vegas is a big city, but it’s hinterlands are a whole lot less populated than greater Phoenix, AZ.  According the U.S. government, Phoenix is in a “combined statistical area” with 4.91 million people, the 13th largest in the country.  Vegas’ combined statistical area holds 2.28 million people, or 29th largest in the nation.  And, the rate of population growth in greater Phoenix was greater than greater Vegas between 2010 and 2018, at least according to wikipedia.

The idea that Vegas’ tourists could fill the stadium might work for football, with only eight regular season games and two pre-season games.  I don’t believe it’ll work for major league baseball with 81 home dates to fill.

I suspect that there are still a lot more older, wealthier white people moving to greater Phoenix than to greater Vegas, which, like it or not, is a demographic favorable to MLB attendance.  If the D’Backs can’t make it in Phoenix, I have to think that it’s the team’s management and not the metro area that is getting it wrong.

It is worth remembering, though, that teams that aren’t drawing what they think they should be drawing like to float rumors in the media that they are considering a move.  It’s a great way to get a better deal on stadium leases or getting new stadia (the correct plural of “stadium”) built.  That’s one of the big reasons why we haven’t had another round of expansion in Portland or Charlotte or San Antonio or Indianapolis or Salt Lake City  or Vegas yet — a few open major league markets mean that the existing teams can squeeze their current localities for more subsidies.  American crony-capitalism in action!

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.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2019

April 3, 2019

Shohei Ohtani has ended any debate about the best hitting pitcher 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.  He won’t be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John surgery but is expected to return as a designated hitter in May.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be to a great hitting major league pitcher, but his prospects as a two-way player aren’t as good as they were a year ago.  The main problem for McKay is that his talents as a pitcher are developing much faster in pro ball than his talents as a hitter.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani finished the 2018 season with .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter and went 4-2 in 10 starts before hurting his elbow.  The entire baseball world is waiting for his right arm to be healthy enough to pitch again. ’nuff said.

2.  Michael Lorenzen (.247 career batting average and .767 career OPS).  Lorenzen is still short of the 100 career at-bat cut-off I’ve used in previous iterations of this post, but he had a tremendous season with the bat in 2018 and was used in a role that was specifically tailored to his ability to hit.  He managed 34 plate appearances last season, in which he batted .290 with a 1.043 OPS thanks to four home runs, despite making only three starts all season.  He was used at least nine times as a pinch hitter, and was frequently left in games to hit for himself when he pitched in relief.

I expect Lorenzen’s career averages to drop as he gets more major league plate appearances, but it’s clear at this point that he’s one of MLB’s very best hitting pitchers.

3.  Zack Greinke (.219 BA, .569 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, and he has been remarkably consistent as a sweet-swinging pitcher since then.

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.  Madison Bumgarner (.184, .542).  I dropped MadBum a couple of spots this year, because he hit poorly in 2018 and his career batting line isn’t particularly impressive, although park factors are probably in play in comparing MadBum to Greinke.  We’ll see if Bumgarner bounces back to being the best hitting full-time pitcher in 2019.

5.  Yovani Gallardo (.201, .563).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher is probably over, as he remains unsigned as of this writing, but he sure could hit.

6. Adam Wainwright (.202 BA, .537 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.

7.  German Marquez (.230, .504).  Marquez benefits from a small sample size and playing his home games in Coors Field, but any pitcher who hits better than .220 with an OPS over .500 is great hitting pitcher in today’s game.

8.  Noah Syndergaard (.176 BA, .526 OPS).  “Hulk say Thor smash ball with hammer bat!” At least once in a while.

9.  Daniel Hudson (.222, .557).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson hasn’t had many opportunities to hit in recent years, but his career numbers get him on the list.

10.   Mike Leake (.198, .507).  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.

11.  Tyler Chatwood (.210, .475) and Tyson Ross (.200, .481).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable Mentions.  fangraphs.com says that aces Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were with Zack Greinke the best hitting pitchers in 2018.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchBrent Suter (.174, .530).  Unfortunately, Suter is already 29 years old and likely to miss all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery.

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.