Archive for the ‘Atlanta Braves’ category

Billy Hamilton Is Now Available

December 1, 2018

The Cincinnati Reds elected not to offer Billy Hamilton a 2019 contract since he was projected to get $5.9 million through the arbitration process this off-season.  I hope the SF Giants make a run at him, because his defense is still outstanding.

MLB Trade Rumors has predicted the Giants will sign for Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollack for four years and $60M.  While Pollack played center in Arizona, it doesn’t look like he has the range to cover AT&T Park’s Death Valley.  Even signing Pollack for free agent money, it seems like the Giants could find a place for Hamilton with Pollack moving to one of the corner outfield positions.  The Giants’ pitchers would certainly benefit from an outfield featuring both Hamilton and Pollack.

Rumors suggest that the Giants will not be in on Bryce Harper sweepstakes.  The other free agent outfielders available are Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.  All of them are basically corner outfield types who won’t help you make the post-season unless you already have a very good team that needs an upgrade at one of the outfield corners.

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Atlanta Braves Sign Josh Donaldson And Other Notes

November 27, 2018

The Braves have reportedly signed Josh Donaldson for one season at a robust $23 million, the same salary he earned in 2018.  It’s a exciting move for Braves’ fans, because Donaldson has the goods when he’s healthy, and he’s due for a healthy age 33 season in 2019.  If he isn’t healthy, it’s only a one-year commitment.

Donaldson’s signing indicates the Braves are serious about making and going deeper into the post-season next year.  The Braves also added veteran catcher Brian McCann on a one-year $2M deal, where he will presumably platoon with Tyler Flowers, following Kurt Suzuki‘s departure for greener pastures in the National’s capital.

With both McCann and Flowers over age 33 next season, the Braves will need a third catcher waiting in the wings.  It remains to be seen who that might be since the Braves may well decide that Carlos Perez isn’t worth an arbitration raise.

Nice to see Donaldson betting on himself to be healthy and productive in 2019.  Of course, $23M is still an enormous amount of money even if were to be Donaldson’s last significant major league payday.

Donaldson’s signing is the biggest so far in an as yet slow to develop signing period, so I’ll go back to a favorite topic of mine: Asian signings.

Former Giants prospect Tommy Joseph signed a million dollar deal to go play for the LG Twins of South Korea’s KBO.  Joseph was the first guy I listed in my post on the subject six weeks ago, because he’s the right age (he turns 28 next July 16th) and the right talent level.  Good luck to him — the secret to Asian baseball success for former MLB players is a hot first six weeks.

In another example of why Japan’s NPB and marginal major league relievers are a match made in heaven is the Yokohama Bay Stars’ re-signing of Spencer Patton for two years and a reported $3M guarantee plus another $1M in performance bonuses.  The MLB major leagues are loaded with relievers who aren’t quite good enough to be MLB stars, but are good enough to be NPB stars.  On top of that, the NPB salary scale, where the very best players are effectively capped at around 600 million yen per season ($5.3M), means that star relief pitchers are relatively overpaid compared to MLB.

Foreign one-year KBO veterans, RHP Tyler Wilson and OF Jared Hoying, re-signed for $1.5M and $1.4M, respectively, but so far this year looks like a retrenching year for the KBO with many still effective foreign veterans getting the ax for presumably less expensive foreign newbies.

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 6, 2018

Starting in 2009 and every couple of years thereafter, I have written a piece handicapping the likelihood of any currently active pitcher winning 300 games in his major league career.  The last such post from about two years ago is here.

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.

When I first started writing these posts over a decade ago, I thought we’d certainly see another 300 game winner in my life time.  About five years later, I changed my opinion almost completely.  I now think it less likely than not that any current pitcher will win 300 games, but at least it could still happen, as I explain below.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2018 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (37) 246

Justin Verlander (35) 204

Zack Greinke (34) 187

Felix Hernandez (32) 168

John Lester (34) 177

Clayton Kershaw (30) 153

Max Scherzer (33) 159

David Price (32) 143

Rick Porcello (29) 135

Madison Bumgarner (28) 110

It’s worth noting that the list of pitcher contains the same 10 as two years ago, which I think is a good sign in terms of one of them reaching 300 wins.

I like Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s chances of winning 300 the best.  Both are coming off of terrific seasons at advanced ages at which they still had extremely high strikeout rates.  These are the kinds of pitchers who end up pitching into their early 40’s and thus have the chance to eventually win 300 games.

The 12 pitchers to win 300 games after the end of World War II all pitched into their 40’s as follows:

Phil Neikro 48 (in his last MLB season)

Nolan Ryan 46

Randy Johnson 45

Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn  44

Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Early Wynn 43

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine 42

Tom Seaver 41

With the exception of knuckleballer Phil Neikro, there is a pretty obvious connection between an ace’s strikeout rate in his respective era and how long he’ll be able to compete at the major league level.  That certainly suggests that Verlander and Scherzer could pitch well into their 40’s.

Verlander has averaged 15.7 wins per season in his first 13 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.7 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 109 or 110 games, which would put him comfortably over 300 career wins.

Scherzer has average 15.9 wins per season in his first 10 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.9 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 143 games, which would just get him over 300.

Thus, if either can avoid major injury and wants to keep pitching as long as it takes for a shot at winning 300 games, it could certainly be done, particularly when you take into account that MLB teams would be willing to carry them for an extra season or two at the end if either pitcher has a realistic shot at winning 300 game.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw have all won a lot of games at their respective ages, but none of the three seems like a good bet to still be pitching at 40, let alone 42 or 43.  Sabathia is likely coming back for another season with the Yankees in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine his big body holding up for as long as it would take for him to win 300.  King Felix’s arm may be shot — we’ll have a better idea a year from now.  Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but back problems don’t improve with age.

What all current aces need to improve their chances at winning 250 or 300 games is another round of expansion, which I think could easily add two wins per year to a top starter’s career wins total.

MLB’s Race Problem

August 2, 2018

I read this article today by Jeff Pearlman, which captures some of the feelings I have about the recent news of Josh Hader‘s, Trea Turner‘s and Sean Newcomb‘s high school homophobic and/or racist tweets.  Baseball has become primarily a white pastime in the U.S., and the revelations about Hader, Turner and Newcomb, and now possibly Sonny Gray, certainly isn’t going to convince many Americans of color that baseball is still their game too.

Sure, all of Hader, Turner and Newcomb were young and dumb when they posted their offensive tweets, but the age thing cuts both ways.  None of the three of them is over the age of 25, so they’re part of a generation that really should know better and be more tolerant of diversity.

Pearlman claims that major league club houses are “almost without fail” segregated in racial or ethnic groups, with white players hanging out with whites, Latinos with Latinos, and Asians with Asians.  Pearlman would certainly know better than I, as I have never been inside a major league clubhouse except by virtue of television.

If baseball really is becoming a whites-only sport among young domestic players and the fan base which pays the freight, which has been reported for some time, then MLB is in trouble.  Maybe not as much trouble as football with its brain injury crisis, but big trouble nonetheless.

Growth rates among non-hispanic white Americans is slowing down toward zero, with something like 26 states now reporting more deaths than births among non-hispanic whites.  There also aren’t a whole lot of Europeans looking to immigrate to the U.S. like their once were, as most poorer Eastern Europeans would prefer to emigrate to or within the E.U.

Little or no growth in the fan base means little or no long-term growth for MLB.  I noticed yesterday that the Miami Marlins are averaging only 9,800 fans a game in attendance this year.  Miami is large metro area with plenty of wealth and with a large Latino population with ancestry mostly from countries where baseball is extremely popular.  Yet the Marlins can’t draw flies.

Some of the Marlins’ attendance problems have to do with a terrible team and a history of unpopular owners.  However, it also seems like greater Miami has decided it can take or leave major league baseball.

In that vein, MLB isn’t helping itself in terms of maximizing fan bases and revenues.  The power plays of the wealthy teams in New York and Los Angeles and the San Francisco Giants, which are preventing third teams from playing in the Inland Empire, northern New Jersey or the A’s from moving to San Jose, is just pure stupidity in the long term.  Major league teams need to be playing where the fans are and will be in the future, particularly if MLB’s national fan base isn’t expanding at the same rate as the other major American team sports.

The 10 Best Major League Players Who Started Their Pro Careers in the Independent-A Leagues

July 31, 2018

I’ve been following the Independent-A Leagues closely the last few years, and I recently wondered who the best major league players were who started their pro careers in an Indy-A League.  I couldn’t find a decent list, so I decided I’d make one.

One of the things I learned in compiling this list is just how incredibly difficult it is to have a major league career amounting to more than a couple of brief cups of coffee for players who don’t start their professional careers in the MLB-system.  MLB hoovers up just about every player with any shot of ever having a major league career that anyone besides the players themselves would typically remember.  Only a tiny number of players gets overlooked.

That said, it is within the realm of possibility that a player can start his pro career in an Indy-A league and still amount to a successful major league player.  That’s what keeps the dream alive.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 11 best major league players who started their pro careers in an independent-A league.  Be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anyone who should be included.

1.  J.D. Drew.  J.D. Drew is really an Independent-A league ringer.  He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1997 Draft by the Phillies.  Before the Draft, Drew and his agent Scott Boras let if be known that Drew was demanding a $10 million signing bonus.  The Phillies called Drew’s bluff, drafted him and offered him $2.6M.

Drew wasn’t bluffing.  When the Phillies refused to come up significantly from their initial offer, Drew refused to sign.  Instead, he spent parts of two seasons thumping the ball for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League (now the American Association).

I haven’t always been a fan of Boras inspired holdouts, but it sure worked for Drew.  The Cardinals drafted Drew with the 5th overall pick in 1998 and signed him for $7 million.  Refusing to sign in 1997 did not significantly delay Drew’s career, as the Cardinals gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the 1998 season, and he was in the majors for good (except for injury rehab assignments) by 1999.

Drew would not be the last early round draft pick to elect to start his career in the Indy-A’s when he couldn’t reach an agreement with his drafting team, as you will see below.  A couple of Cuban defectors, Ariel Prieto and Eddy Oropesa, used the Indy-A Leagues as a means to boost their draft stock — one can argue whether Cuba’s Serie Nacional is an amateur or pro league, but it is effectively amateur in name only, since the players are essentially professionals who are compensated for their performance, although perhaps not in cash.

2.  Kevin Millar.  Millar is in my opinion the best undrafted, unsigned player independent-A league product in major league history.  Every year, many undrafted players are nevertheless signed by major league organizations.  As I understand it, each major league team makes a list shortly before Draft Day of the 500 or 600 players who the team believes are the best amatuer players available.  Each team’s scouts and front offices grade the nation of prospects differently, and every team has at least a few players who aren’t on any other team’s list.  If any of those players go undrafted, then the team that had the player listed will typically sign them up.

Playing for small college Lamar in Texas, Millar went undrafted and unsigned, and thus started his pro career at age 21 with the St. Paul Saints in 1993, the Northern League’s maiden season.  Millar never made an All-Star team or received an MVP vote, but he was a star on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.  Millar was also never allowed to join the MLB Players’ Association, because he crossed the picket line during the 1994-1995 strike.

3-5.  George Sherrill, Joe Thatcher and Kerry Ligtenberg.  A trio of relief pitchers who all pitched in between 386 and 442 major league games.  George Sherrill was the Orioles’ closer in 2008 and the first four months of 2009 before being traded to the Dodgers.  He finished his career with a 3.77 ERA, 56 saves and 320 Ks in 324.1 IP.  He started his pro career with Evansville of the Frontier League in 1999.

Joe Thatcher had a nine year career as a left-handed relief specialist.  He was effective in the role, finishing his major league career with a 3.38 ERA and striking out 270 batters in 260.2 innings pitched.  Thatcher began his pro career with River City in the Frontier League in 2004.

Kerry Ligtenberg was the Braves’ closer in 1998 before hurting his arm.  He came back from it, but never pitched as well as he did in 1998.  He finished his major league career with a 3.82 ERA and 357 Ks in 390.2 IP.  He started his pro career in the short-lived North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1994 and 1995.

6.  David Peralta.∗  David Peralta gets an asterisk because he started his professional career as an 18 year old pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization.  He pitched ineffectively for two seasons in the Rookie Appalachian League and was unceremoniously dumped.  He came back four years later as a 23 year old outfielder for the Rio Grand Valley WhiteWings of the short-lived North American Baseball League, and gradually worked his way up the majors three years later in 2014.  He’s still active and having a solid season at age 30, so he could well move up this list in the future.

7.  Aaron Crow.  Another high first round draft pick who refused to sign a contract with the Nationals, Crow made four appearances (three starts) with the Ft. Worth Cats of the American Association in 2008 and 2009 in order to prove he was still worth a high 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2009.

Crow had four strong seasons as a set-up man in the Royals bullpen from 2011-2014 before his arm gave out.  He compiled a 3.43 career major league ERA and struct out 208 batters in 233.2 IP while recording six saves.

Crow is attempting a comeback in the Mexican League this summer at age 31.  While he is pitching effectively (2.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances so far), his peripheral numbers don’t suggest he’ll make it back to the majors in the near future.

8.  Daniel Nava.  Nava started his professional career at the advanced age of 24 with the Chico Outlaws of the long since defunct Golden Baseball League.  He hit a grand slam in his first major league game in 2010 (as I recall, the outfielder may have actually tipped the ball over the wall with the end of his glove), and he was a star for the 2013 World Champion Red Sox when he slashed .303/.385/.445 as an every day outfielder who split his time between right field and left field.

Nava has managed to play parts of seven major league seasons, and at age 35 he’s still listed as part of the Pirates’ AAA team, although he has yet to play a game this season because of injury.

9.  Jeff Zimmerman.  Zimmerman finished his three year major league career as the closer for the Rangers before injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, ruined his career.  He started with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League in 1997.

10T.  Matt Miller and Chris Coste.  Miller was a relief pitcher who pitched in an even 100 major league games with a career 2.72 ERA with 95 Ks in 106 IP.  He was a 31 year old rookie for the Rockies in 2003, but enjoyed most of his major league success starting with the Indians in 2004.  His professional career began with Greenville of the short-lived Big South League in 1996.

Chris Coste was the Phillies’ primary back-up catcher for four seasons starting with his age 33 season in 2006.  He began his pro career in the North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1995 and then spent four seasons with his home town Fargo-Moorehead Red Hawks of the Northern League before being signed by the Indians’ organization.  The North Central and Prairie Leagues may not have lasted long, but in Coste and Kerry Ligtenberg, these leagues gave first shots to two young Minnesota ballplayers who eventually made the big time and proved they belonged there.

Other players who had more than brief major league cups of coffee who began their pro careers in the independent A leagues are Chris Colabello, Brian Tollberg, James Hoyt, Chris Jakubauskas, Scott Richmond, Brian Sweeney, Chris Martin, Trevor Richards and Bobby Hill.  Hoyt, Martin and Richards are all still active and have at least a reasonable shot at adding to their career major league numbers.

Bobby Hill was drafted in the second round in consecutive seasons and presumably started his career in the Atlantic League in 2000 because he refused to sign after the White Sox drafted him the year before.  Scott Richmond started his professional career in the Northern League in 2005 at the age of 25, which makes him the oldest rookie professional baseball player I found to eventually make the majors after starting in the Indy-A leagues (MLB organizations never or almost never sign any amateur over the age of 23).

Two More 1st Round Draft Picks Fail to Sign

July 7, 2018

Two more First Round Draft picks failed to get signed and will instead by pitching in college next year.  The Atlanta Braves failed to sign 8th overall pick Carter Stewart, and the Arizona Diamondbacks failed to sign 25th overall pick Matt McLain.  Add to those two, the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign 36th overall pick Gunnar Hogland.  For what it’s worth, all three unsigned 1st rounders and Hogland are high school right handed pitchers.

The 8th overall pick came with a $4.9807M slot value, but medical tests after Stewart was selected raised issues for the Brave, and according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, the Braves’ final offer came “a lot closer” to the 40% of the slot amount ($1.992M+) the Braves had to offer to get the 9th overall pick in 2019 than the full slot amount.

Assuming that the Braves offered something around $2.5M, Stewart should have signed, but I can at least understand why he elected to attend Mississippi State with J.T. Ginn, the Dodgers’ unsigned first round selection.  It has to be disappointing to be selected this high and not receive an offer close to the slot amount when you have the leverage of being able to elect college.

On the other hand, the D’backs are reported to have offered McLain the full $2.6364M slot amount even though none of Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN, or fangraphs had him ranked in the top 50 of this year’s prospects.  McLain should have took the money.

Hoglund is another prospect who didn’t make any of the major raters’ top 50 (fangraphs had him at 55th), but didn’t sign.  However, mlbtraderumors.com doesn’t report any rumors as to what the Pirates offered him.

The four unsigned prospects is probably a single season Draft record.  Factors that may be contributing to the failed signings is that a four scholarship at a major university is now worth $200,000+.  College players at major programs get to be campus heroes and probably receive all kinds of perqs like personal tutors.  College athletes also make all kinds of connections that can help them in business after their playing careers are over.

Another factor is that MLB teams have shown that top pitching prospects can blow out their elbow tendons and still be first round draft picks.  Brady Aiken and Jeff Hoffman are two recent prospects who were drafted in the 1st round after having Tommy John surgery.  (It’s worth noting, though, that neither Aiken or Hoffman has done much yet to justify their high draft positions.)  That makes it a lot less risky for high school pitchers to elect to go to college rather than accept a $2M+ signing bonus to start their professional careers.