Archive for the ‘Arizona Diamond Backs’ category

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

Can He Play Left Field?

January 23, 2017

The San Francisco Giants are reportedly on the verge of signing South Korean Jae-gyun Hwang to a minor league deal that would pay Hwang $1.5 million if he makes the major league team, plus an as yet unannounced amount of incentives.  If accurate, Hwang likely walked away from considerably more money (a likely four-year $8 million offer by his KBO team the Lotte Giants) to make his MLB dream come true.

Hwang played 3B and SS in South Korea’s KBO, but the Giants are already relatively deep at those positions.  The question in my mind is could Hwang be the right-handed power bat who could help if he can play left field also?

In any event, it’s low cost move that could have some upside.  However, despite the MLB interest this off-season, I haven’t seen much in Hwang’s KBO numbers that made me think he’s going to be the next Jung ho Kang.

Hwang’s 2016 season at age 28 was clearly his best in the KBO.  However, his .970 OPS was still only 12th best in a hit-happy league, and he wasn’t in the top 20 in either 2014 or 2015.

Thus, if he hits in MLB, he’s likely to hit enough for a 3Bman or back-up shortstop, but not for a corner outfielder.  The SF Giants still look into the possibility of signing Rickie Weeks as a potential fifth outfielder, if he can be signed cheaply.

Who’s Left?

January 21, 2017

In my mind the last piece the 2017 San Francisco Giants need is a right-handed power hitting outfielder.  Right now, the team’s likely third through fifth outfielders are Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.  All are reasonably young and talented, but none has significant major league experience, something the Giants typically value highly.

The team has signed Michael Morse and Justin Ruggiano, both of whom you will note are right-handed hitters, to minor league deals, but neither looks like a particularly realistic shot to make the team out of Spring Training.

I scanned mlbtraderumors.com’s free agent tracker yesterday, and Ryan Raburn and Rickie Weeks look like the best two right-handed hitting outfielders still available.  Both could be signed to minor league deals for 2017, or in Weeks’ case a relatively inexpensive major league deal, it well appears.

Of the two, I like Weeks better, because he’s two years younger, has more power, has had a much better career, and all in all had a better 2016 season with the bat than Raburn did.  Fangraphs says that Weeks’ outfield defense is brutally bad, but Weeks has played only 55 games in his lengthy major league career in the outfield, all of them in the last two seasons.  Weeks still appears to run fairly well, and I would have to think that he’d get better as an outfielder as he gets more experience after a long major league career through age 31 spent exclusively at 2B.

Another player I like is Jabari Blash, who was just designated for assignment by the Padres.  He isn’t going to hit for average, but he’s blasted an astounding 45 home runs in 646 AAA plate appearances, about one full season at that level.  He’ll only be 27 in 2017, and his on-base percentages are high too.

The main knock on Blash is that he’s got no more major league experience than Williamson, Parker or Hernandez.  However, on the subject of finding the next Brandon Moss, Blash has to be right at the top of the list.

Jhoulys Chacin Gets No Respect

December 18, 2016

Jhoulys Chacin gets no respect, at least by the current standards of MLB.  Last off-season I wrote a post stating that I just couldn’t understand why the Diamondbacks failed to tender Chacin a contract when he was only expected to get $1.8 million through the arbitration process.  I thought it would make a great deal of sense for somebody else to swoop in and sign him for that $1.8 million or even $2 million.

Chacin ended up getting only a minor league deal from the Braves, who then traded him early the season to the Angels for a grade-C prospect.  Chacin was little more than a mediocre fifth starter in 2016 whose biggest accomplishment was eating 144 innings.  Even so, fifth starters who aren’t god-awful have value: fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at $13 million.

Now, I really don’t believe that Chacin was worth any kind of $13 million, but it’s certain he was worth more than the $1.75 million the Padres just signed him to.  Inning-eating fifth starters of Chacin’s ilk are easily worth a one-year guarantee of $3M or $4M in today’s market.

For example, Jerome Williams received $2.5 million in 2015 for a 2014 campaign less impressive than Chacin’s 2016.  That should have been the starting point for Chacin’s negotiation, since the market has gone up since then.

If nothing else, Chacin’s signing with the Padres may be the bargain basement steal of the 2016-2017 off-season, just as his signing was last off-season.

Overpaid Glove-Tree Catchers

December 3, 2016

The Diamondbacks just signed light-hitting, defense-first catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year $4 million contract.  While the contract is relatively small potatoes in today’s MLB, Mathis is still the second all-field, no-hit catcher to get a multi-year, multi-million deal this off-season.

Mathis will be 34 next season, and fangraphs values his career MLB performance as worth -$5.3 million.  His defense is indeed above major league average but his hitting is so poor that even at a position where a lot of hitting isn’t expected, he hurts the team the more he plays.

Guys like Mathis and Drew Butera may be good in the club house, and they certainly make a team’s pitchers happy behind the plate, but they don’t help a team with their total lack of offensive production.  Butera at least hit in a little capacity in 2016, but Mathis has never had a single season OPS higher than .642.

Clearly, the fact that both Mathis and Butera got multi-year deals for roughly the same amount means that this is the value that teams give to veteran good-field, no-hit back-up catchers.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The old baseball term “glove-tree” refers to the fact that it has typically been much easier to find a player who can provide above-average major league defense than it is to find a player who can provide adequate major league defense at a defense-first position who can also hit.  If you need one of the defense-first players, you just go shake the glove-tree, and one will fall out.  You sure don’t give these guys multi-year contracts at more than three times the league’s minimum wage, at least not if you hope to be competitive.

In this age of sabermetrics, where defensive values are more accurately known than ever before, but defensive performance is still largely undervalued, it is hard to understand why players whose defense analytically does not make up for their lack of offense should get be getting $4 million contracts.

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.

Triples Alley

May 4, 2016

Hitting three-baggers is something of a lost art, and is now largely limited to certain ballparks or when an outfielder misplays a ball off the wall not quite badly enough to be called an error.  This was not always so.

In the Deadball Era before 1920, triples were the big power hit, simply because they were much more common (most years at least) than home runs.  Aside from the dirty, battered baseballs in play, the slower, less athletic outfielders and the inferior fielder’s gloves of those days, many ballparks had very deep outfield fences, particularly to one or two of the three fields, than they do today, because of the urban lot shapes on which the fields were built and that fact that with home runs an extreme rarity, no one was really concerned with symmetric fields and keeping fences within reasonable home run distance.  In fact, before Babe Ruth, most home runs were of the inside-the-park variety when a batter split the outfielders to the long field.

Time for some trivia: Who hit the most triples in a season after 1920?  After 1946?  Since 2000?

Who hit the most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s?  In the 1970’s?  1980’s?  1990’s?  2000’s?  2010’s?

The answers will show you just how much triples have declined as part of the offensive game, with the slight exception that integration starting in 1947 brought more speed and speed/power players into the game.

Kiki Cuyler hit 26 triples in 1925. Hazen Shirley Cuyler (pronounced Ky-ler) was nicknamed “Kiki” (rhymes with “sky”) because he had a bad stutter.  Nicknames weren’t nearly as kind back in the day.  Unfortunately, Cuyler did not live long enough to see the Veterans’ Committee vote him into the Hall of Fame in 1968, which is pretty much the ultimate retort to a mean-spirited nickname.

Since 1946, Curtis Granderson‘s 23 in 2007 is the most, although a number of players have hit at least 20 in a season since 1946.

Most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s?  Stan “The Man” Musial with 177, tied for 19th best all-time.

1970’s?  Roberto Clemente 166 (tied 27th best all-time).

1980’s and 1990’s? Willie Wilson 147 (tied 56th best all-time).

2000’s?  Steve Finley 124 (tied 90th all-time).

2010’s?  Carl Crawford 123 (tied 94th all-time).  Although Crawford’s career appears to be winding down, with his big-money free agent contract running through the 2017 season, the odds are fairly good he can collect two more triples to move past Finley.

For what it’s worth, Babe Ruth hit 136 triples in his career, good for a tie at 71st best all-time.  While the Bambino’s lofty career total is largely a product of the times he played in, people forget that when Ruth was young and lean, he was very fast, kind of like a young Reggie Jackson, or some of the big fast guys of today’s game, like Mike Trout.

In the six seasons between 1918 and 1923, from ages 23 through 28, the Babe hit 69 triples, more than half his career total.