Archive for the ‘Arizona Diamond Backs’ category

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.

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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.

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign A.J. Pollock for $55 Million

January 26, 2019

So much for the Giants signing A.J. Pollock, one of the few premium free agents the team had been linked to.  The Dodgers signed Pollock for four years and $55M, only $5M less than mlbtraderumors.com had predicted.

At least the Giants get to keep the draft pick compensation that signing Pollock required, and management is making noises that they will still find a way to improve the outfield mix before Spring Training starts.  I’m really starting to feel, though, that new General Manager Farhan Zaidi was brought in to start a quiet re-build of the team that will begin in earnest next July if the 2019 club, with it’s core of veteran players, doesn’t play better/win more than they did last year.

The Padres have reportedly gotten in on Manny Machado because his market isn’t where everyone was expecting it to be.  It’s possible the Gints could similarly jump in on Bryce Harper, but I won’t have any expectations of that front until a signing is reported to be imminent.

What I am starting to anticipate with so many top free agents still unsigned is that the final contract guarantees will be disappointing, but will feature lots and lots of player opt-outs.  When teams originally began giving players opt-out clauses, as I’ve written before, it seemed absolutely crazy because the players getting the opt-outs were also getting record-setting deals.  Times have changed in a big way, and now the player opt-outs have become the miss congeniality, second banana prize in place of the record-setting contract guarantee.

J.D. Martinez‘s contract last year was the perfect example of this.  The $110M guarantee was disappointing, but he gets two opt-outs after each of the 2019 and 2020 season.  I could easily see either or both of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper getting $75M to $100M less in guarantee than mlbtraderumors.com projected, but getting like three or four or even five separate opt-outs over the length of the contract.

Why not?  The opt-out clauses make sense if the team can short the player on the guarantee.  In Bryce Harper’s case in particular, I have no doubt that Scott Boras will wring out every single possible term he can to get that benefits his client, particularly if he can’t get a record-setting guarantee.  Manny’s agent Dan Lozano won’t be far behind Boras.

 

Still Waiting for the San Francisco Giants to Do Something This Off-Season

January 16, 2019

We are just past the half-way mark in January, and the biggest Giants’ move this off-season is re-signing Derek Holland for one year at $7M with an option for a second season.  One has to wonder if new Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi has decided it’s time for a re-build without telling anyone.

The Giants have signed plenty of minor leaguers to add organizational depth, including Pat Venditte, Cameron Rupp, Donovan Solano, Mike Gerber, Kieran Lovegrove, Breyvic Valera, Travis Bergen, Drew Ferguson, Jeffrey Baez, and Keyvius Sampson.

Hard to see any of them, except maybe Venditte or Rupp, contributing much if anything at the major league level in 2019.  Travis Bergen and Drew Ferguson are Rule 5 selections, so they’ll get a shot to make the major league club, but the odds are slim they’ll actually improve the team in 2019.  Keyvius Sampson showed major league stuff in South Korea’s KBO in 2018, leading the circuit with 195 Ks in 161.2 IP.  However, Sampson didn’t show major league command, walking 79 batters and posting a 4.68 ERA.

There is still time for the Giants to make a splashy free agent signing, namely center fielder A.J. Pollock.  There haven’t been a lot of rumors about either the Giants trying to sign Pollock or anyone trying hard to sign Pollack for that matter, so it’s hard to know if there is a real chance the Giants will sign him.  Signing Pollock would cost the Giants the tenth pick of the 2nd Round of the 2019 Draft and $500,000 of international bonus pool money, which would be enough to discourage any team committed to re-building.

Right now, the Giants look like the same team that limped in with a 73-89 season in 2018.  Could be that new GM Zaidi wants to see whether the same team gets off to a better start in 2019 or falls flat on its face, at which point the re-build can begin in earnest after the 2019 All-Star Break.

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

January 6, 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

A Couple of Interesting Asian Signings

December 13, 2018

The KBO’s Lotte Giants today announced the signing of former Philadelphia Phillie Jake Thompson.  What is interesting about this signing is that Thompson is not yet 25, which makes him extremely young to be signed by an Asian team, particularly in light of the fact that Thompson is not yet 25 years old and has had some significant major league success (4.87 ERA across 116.1 IP).  Players of Thompson’s age and past major league success usually aren’t ready to give up on their major league dreams.

Obviously, it’s largely about the money.  Thompson will earn $900,000 if he sticks with the Lotte Giants through the 2019 season.  After being designated for assignment by the Brewers last season, Thompson was a free agent who was reasonably looking at minor league contract that would not have paid him more than $650,000 for major league service time.  Thompson didn’t pitch particularly well in 2018 either in the Show or at AAA, although he probably impressed Lotte with six very strong starts in the Dominican Winter League through November 18th.

Also, Thompson’s signing likely reflects the new reality that MLB-system players going to the Asian majors can easily return to MLB later after they have succeeded in Asia.  Two big seasons in the KBO, and Thompson could potentially return to MLB for his age 27 season on the kind of guaranteed money deal that Merrill Kelly just received from the Arizona Diamondbacks (two years plus options for a $5.5M guarantee).  Even if he isn’t a big success in South Korea, Thompson can still return to AAA in 2020 at age 26 with $900,000 (less South Korea’s new higher taxes for foreign players) in his pocket.

Former San Francisco Giant Albert Suarez is another former major leaguer who appears to have turned a strong winter league performance into an Asian majors contract.  The 29 year old Venezuelan has been signed by NPB’s Yakult Swallows after leading the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts through today’s date.  He had a mediocre 4.97 ERA at AAA Reno (a very tough place to pitch) in 31 appearances including four starts with no major league appearances in 2018, so his winter league effectiveness no doubt helped him get an Asian contract for 2019.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Andrew McCutchen for $50 Million

December 12, 2018

The Phillies have reportedly reached a three year deal with Andrew McCutchen that promises him $50 million.  Although it’s not much more than the $45M guarantee mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it feels like a lot for a 32 year old outfielder who can no longer play center field and had an OPS under .800 last season.

Fangraphs says that McCutchen was worth roughly $21M in 2018 and $29M in 2019 (he gets on base, drawing 95 walks last season, despite a declining batting average and power numbers), and the Phillies are obviously trying to put together a winning team in 2019 and 2020, so the deal makes a certain amount of sense.  It also suggests that the Phillies probably won’t be the winner in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes if they’ve now agreed to pay this kind of money for another right fielder.

The signing is obviously good for Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock, who are roughly in the same group of free agent outfielders as McCutchen, but not so good for Harper who now has one less team willing to bid up his final free agent contract.

There haven’t been a lot of signings so far, but the McCutchen and Patrick Corbin signings don’t suggest that this will be as tough an off-season for free agents as last off-season was.