Archive for the ‘Baltimore Orioles’ category

NPB Signings

December 14, 2017

The biggest signing of a new foreign player by an NPB team was formally announced today.  The Hanshin Tigers signed Wilin Rosario, formerly of the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.

Rosario will be receiving a reported $3 million salary in 2018.  He may have also received an additional $500,000 signing bonus.  There are rumors that there is a second year of the deal that will pay Rosario $4 million in 2019.  However, that may be a team option, or what is for all intents and purposes a team option if only the first year of the contract is guaranteed.

NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, so it’s always something of a mystery exactly what each player is getting paid.  I also believe that not every contract is guaranteed.

Rosario is what NPB teams are all looking for: a power hitter with a significant MLB track record who is still reasonably young.  Rosario will be 29 next season.

Rosario has also proven his ability to produce in Asia, as he’s coming off two great seasons in the KBO, in which he slashed a combined .330/.393/.625 and launched 70 home runs.  However, that is no guarantee, as Yamaico Navarro had two huge seasons in the KBO in 2014-2015 and then fell flat on his face in NPB in 2016.

Still, there are reasons to think Rosario can make the transition that Navarro couldn’t.  Rosario is a better pure hitter and had a much more impressive MLB record.

With the Tigers having committed to Rosario, the seemingly obvious candidate to sign the Central League’s 2017 home run champ Alex Guerrero, who it has been announced will not be returning to the Chunichi Dragons, is the Yomiuri Giants, mainly because the Giants are the only team with the money and the need to sign Guerrero.

With Miles Mikolas having returned to MLB, the Giants have the roster space to add another foreign every-day player.  Also, with no 2017 Giant hitter hitting more than 18 HRs, Guerrero would seem to fill an obvious hole in Yomiuri’s line-up.

To date, the next biggest contract to a new foreign player in NPB this off-season, is the two-years and $2.1 million (plus another $500,000 in performance incentives) the Nippon Ham Fighters gave to former Minnesota Twin Michael Tonkin to become their closer.  NPB foreign veterans Scott Mathieson, Wladimir Balentien, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, David Buchanan, Casey McGehee, Arquimedes Caminero, Zelous Wheeler, Carlos Peguero, Spencer Patton and Joe Wieland have also reportedly signed new deals that will pay them more than $1 million in 2108, led by Mathieson’s two-year deal that pays him $3.2 million in 2018.  Higher paid foreign veterans Alfredo Despaigne, Ernesto Mejia and Dennis Sarfate are in the middle of three-year deals that will pay each of them at least $4.4 million (500 million yen) in 2018.

As a final note, there are rumors that big-time MLBer Pedro Alvarez might be playing in NPB in 2018.  He could potentially hit a lot of home runs in NPB, but he’d be expensive and he was looking like an old, old 30 in a 2017 season spent mostly in the AAA International League.  I still think we could see Chris Carter playing in NPB in 2018, although I haven’t heard any rumors to that effect.


Sometimes It’s Better to Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond

November 5, 2017

Than it is to be a small fish in big pond.

Both Wilin Rosario and Roger Bernadina, after big seasons in South Korea’s KBO, are making noises about wanting to return to MLB in 2018.  I think the odds are slim of either of them getting an MLB deal that matches what they can expect to make in Asia.

Wilin Rosario, who will be 29 next season, has the better chance, but he still doesn’t get on base enough to suggest he would be good enough to start regularly in MLB.  Meanwhile, he made $1.8 million in the KBO this past season and can reasonably expect to make $2 million in 2018.

Also, both the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s NPB are reported to be interested in Rosario, which could well mean a two-year offer in the $4M to $5M range total.  That’s MLB money, any way you slice it.

Roger Bernadina will be 34 next season and hasn’t played in the Show since 2014.  It’s hard to see an MLB team giving him a guaranteed offer based on one good season in the KBO, an extreme hitters’ league.

Meanwhile, the Kia Tigers paid Bernadina a reported $850,000 in 2017 (plus a presumed post-season share). With the Tigers just winning the Korea Series, it seems likely Bernadina will command a 2018 contract in the $1.2M to $1.5M range.

The rumors are getting attention mainly because of the possibility that teams are looking for the next Eric Thames. However, Thames hit much better in the KBO than either Rosario and Bernadina.  Thames’ lowest OPS in three seasons in the KBO was 1.106; neither Rosario nor Bernadina has reached 1.100 in any of their combined three seasons.  Basically, Eric Thames’ KBO numbers are what it’s going to take for a player coming to MLB to have a reasonable shot of being an everyday MLB player.

Of course, what could be going on is that Rosario and Bernadina and their agents may simply be trying to create pressure on Asian teams to generate the best possible offers from their current KBO teams and any NPB team that might be interested.  I think Rosario has a great shot of moving up to NPB, which is certainly more “major league” than the KBO, but I can’t really see anyone giving Bernadina a better offer than he’s likely to get from his current employers.  He’s proven his value to the Kia Tigers, and everything else seems like a total crap shoot.

What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

August 14, 2017

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

The Demise of the Everyday Player

August 10, 2017

Years and years ago I read a piece by Bill James in which he argued that Cal Ripken‘s decision to keep his consecutive game streak alive was actually detrimental to the Baltimore Orioles’ ultimate goal of winning as many games as possible.  The article made a lot of sense to me: playing every single game, even by the very best players, means that the player plays a lot of games when he’s exhausted and/or has minor injuries, which can’t heal properly because the player is playing six days a week; under those circumstances, even the best major league players aren’t necessarily playing as well as the replacement-level player sitting in the team’s bench would.

[In fairness to Ripken, the Orioles’ true ultimate goal was putting as many cans in the seats as possible.  Being Cal Ripken, playing every game every day for a generation, probably was pretty good for Orioles’ attendance during that streak.]

Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak is a record that probably never will be broken because it seems that MLB teams now agree whole-heartedly with what James argued all those years ago.  In contrast to the Asian leagues, where playing every day in leagues that play shorter schedules and have more rain-outs is still commendable, MLB teams have clearly decided that the occasional day off is more valuable than playing every single game.

Looking at the 17 full seasons from 2000 through 2016, the shift from playing every single game seems to have taken hold after the 2008 season.  In the nine seasons from 2000 through 2008, an average of 6.33 players per season played in all 162 games.  In the eight full seasons since then, only 2.5 players per season have played 162 games in a season.

Even players who manage to play at least 160 games in a season seems in decline.  In the 14 seasons from 2000 through 2013, an average of 13.6 players played at least 160 games per season.  In the last three seasons, that average has dropped almost in half to seven per season. The recent low seasons could be a result of a small sample fluke, but I don’t think so.

Just as teams have learned that using more and more relief pitchers pitching more and more total innings results in fewer runs scored by the opposition, teams have also learned that keeping their stars properly rested and their bench players sharp results in better won-loss results.  The good managers, and I consider the Giants’ Bruce Boche one of them, realize that keeping the stars fresh and the bench players sharp has a lot more value than riding the race horses until they inevitably drop.

For what it’s worth, Justin Morneau is the last player to play 163 games in a season.  Morneau’s 2008 Twins lost their 163rd game to the White Sox, sending the latter team to a brief post season and former team home.  The all-time record for games played in a season is Maury Wills‘ 165: he played all 162 regular season games and all three games to decide the pennant against the Giants.  That was the year Wills set then records for plate appearances and stolen bases in a season.



San Francisco Giants Sign Free Agent Amateur Jack Conlon

July 18, 2017

In something you don’t hear about too often, the Giants just signed high school pitcher Jack Conlon.  Conlon had been drafted by the Orioles in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but they didn’t like the results of his physical, and didn’t make him an offer in any amount.

If a drafted player does not receive an offer of at least 40% of the slot amount for his selection in the draft, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent when the signing period ends, and the team does not get a compensatory pick in the next year’s draft.

Conlon’s slot amount was $409,000, so the O’s needed to make him an offer of about $164,000 to get a compensatory pick in the 2018 draft.  Apparently, the O’s didn’t think he was worth even the 164K.

Although the number of his contract with the Giants haven’t yet been reported, it seems likely the Giants offered him at least 164K, since he had committed to play for Texas A&M.  A four-year college scholarship has to be worth at least that much today.

Baseball America ranked Conlon at 239th in their list of the top 500 prospects in this year’s draft, which is about the sixth round.  Clearly, the Giants are not as worried about the physical exam results as the Orioles were.

Baseball America suggests he’s something of a project, but he can touch 95 with his fastball and has a body that projects to being able to throw mid-90’s on a regular basis.  Good things are said about his work ethic.

Whether or not Conlon ever amounts to anything, the Giants can use all the extra talent they can get right now.

How Small Was He?

June 9, 2017

Something got me thinking today about the smallest real players to play in major league baseball.  Of course, Bill Veeck‘s little person Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only major league plate appearance, was the shortest at 3’7″ to play in MLB.

Veeck was able to meld crass exploitation with real baseball know-how (in 1951, when pitching staffs were only 9 or 10 men, you can’t entirely discount the fact that Veeck could have seen the value in a pinch-hitter would almost always walk — this was the guy who turned the Indians into World’s Champions, and the best single season attendance draw continuing through the next generation, in only about three seasons).  If filling the seats was the goal, and it was, it certainly worked for Veeck, at least until Disco Demolition Night in 1976.

Will Harridge, the AL President, voided Gaedel’s contract the next day.

This is the best post on-line I found to my question, and it’s relatively recent.  Herearesomeothers.  I not sure it any of these posts mention the 5’6″ Jose Altuve.

Wee Willy Keeler (“Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t”) is the only Hall of Famer, and for that matter the only player of real consequence at 5’4.”  Nobody remembers Lee Viau today.  At 140 lbs, Keeler was 20 lbs lighter than Viau.

The first major league pitchers to develop major league curveballs were not big dudes.  Candy Cummings was 5’9″ and 120 lbs, and Bobby Mathews was 5’5″ and 140 lbs.  Candy is in the Hall of Fame for his reported discovery of the curveball.  An HOFer who got there purely on MLB performance is “Old Hoss” Radbourn listed at 5’9″ and 168 lbs.

People were a lot smaller in 19th century America.  Multiple subsequent generations of heavy meat and dairy eating has made the contemporary American male on average much larger than those whose diets were based mainly on starches.

Baseball Almanac says there were ten MLB players listed at 5’3″.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t identified, at least to the cheapskate public, the identities of those ten.  One of the posts linked above says that Mike McCormack (5’3″, 155 lbs) was the shortest player to qualify for a batting title.  However, he slashed .184/.278/.222 as the main 3Bman for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas and was never heard of again outside of the minor league cities where he continued to play pro baseball.

“Doc” Gautreau was probably the 5’4″ that baseball reference lists him at.  Rumors of shorter height are probably a result of the fact that he was reported to weigh only 129 lbs.  He was a rangy 2Bman who made his share of errors.  He had no power, and his ability to get on base wasn’t appreciated during his three seasons as an MLB platoon player on second division Boston Braves teams in the late 1920’s.

Gautreau was a Massachusetts Canuck, like footballer Jack Kerouac a generation later.  When the Montreal Royals started play in the (now AAA) International League in 1928, they were on the look-out for a French Canadian ballplayer who would appeal to their fan base.

Gautreau, who spoke French, had left the majors in 1928, and the Royals acquired him for the 1929 season.  He gave the Royals five strong seasons and was almost certainly the team’s most popular player, since he also hustled like a guy who was 5’4″ and 129 pounds.

The subject of tiny MLBers is near and dear to my heart for reasons I will elaborate on in a later post.


April 20, 2017

There is a great article on interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.