Archive for the ‘Baltimore Orioles’ category

Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?

March 17, 2017

Today, the injury every pitcher dreads is the torn ulnar collateral ligament.  When I was young, it was the torn rotator cuff.

A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion.  Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey.  His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.

Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963.  The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season.  Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings.  His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with  Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23).  The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.

Dailey was 28 in 1963.  I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season.  He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.

In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29.  That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise.  Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.

San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt.  If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.

The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch.  That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum.  Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.

For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers.  A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.

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.

Mark Trumbo Finally Signs

January 20, 2017

With Jose Bautista and now Mark Trumbo finally signed to new contracts, the dam might finally have burst on all the lead-footed sluggers still on the free agent market.

I wasn’t surprised at the fact that Bautista ultimately received only a one-year deal.  He is going into his age 36 season and coming off a down year, so the multi-year nine-figure contract he and his agent were making noises about before the season ended always seemed more like trying to goose up the market than anything else.  At the end of the day, he still beat the $17.2 million qualifying offer, and he can’t be QOed again next off-season.

Trumbo’s contract, however, surprises me.  Not necessarily the fact it’s only three years, but definitely the fact that it’s only about $37.5 million.  Trumbo is going into his age 31 season, and he led all of MLB with his 47 dingers.  I really thought he’d get something closer to the four-year $57 million deal Nelson Cruz got two off-seasons ago, at least $43M or 44M for three seasons.

Trumbo was probably hurt by the fact that there are cheaper similar options still out there.  Even so, Nelson Cruz has made the Mariners look like geniuses as he has continued to pound the ball the last two seasons.

Dave Schoenfeld of espn.com wrote a post a few days ago suggesting that teams are less willing to sign aging one-dimensional sluggers like Brandon Moss, because teams are now looking for the next Brandon Moss.  I thought it was kind of a dumb article, because while poor teams like the A’s, who specialize in finding the next Brandon Mosses, will look to sign undervalued 4-A players, other teams will always be on the look-out for proven sluggers at the right price.

The problem with finding the next Brandon Moss in the minor leagues is that it is an incredibly uncertain proposition in terms of any one player (or even two or three) you might put your money on.  Somebody will become the next Brandon Moss, but a majority of candidates for the role sure as hell won’t.

Brandon Moss’s value as a major league player over the last three seasons, working backward, has been $ 11.2M, $3.8M and $19.7M according to fangraphs.  You would have to reasonably expect that his value will be somewhere between $3.8M and $11.2M in 2017.  He’ll be 33 next season, so the lower figure is certainly the safer bet.

What I am trying to say is that the reason Moss hasn’t yet signed is because his current ask as a free agent is too high, rather than because teams are looking for an undervalued 4-A player they can pay the major league minimum.  Once Moss’s ask comes down to $3 or 4 million on a one-year deal, at least one team that needs a left-handed power bat and whose in-house analytics value Moss’ likely 2017 performance similar to fangraphs will sign him for that amount.

Although all 30 major league teams as a whole don’t always act rationally, they do most of the time.  If there are even two team for whom Moss would fill a need, who estimate Moss’ likely 2017 performance at $4 million or more, and who can afford to pay $4 million, he’ll get a one year deal for right around $4 million.  Most teams would rather pay $4 million for a relatively sure thing than the minimum for a guy who is less likely than not to become the next Brandon Moss, if they can afford to pay the $4 million.

It’s bottom feeders like the A’s who keep looking for the next Brandon Moss, because they have to.  And you can only find these guys consistently if your analytics are better than just about everyone else’s.

Remembering Dave Nicholson, A Man Before His Time

January 9, 2017

With each league’s leading home run hitter in 2016 (Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter) still waiting to receive a 2017 contract, it got me thinking about slugger Dave Nicholson.  If Nicholson is remembered at all today, it is for setting the single season strikeout record of 175 in 1963, which lasted until Bobby Bonds (187) set the new record in 1969.

Nicholson had a brief major league career, mainly because everything was stacked against him.  He was probably as good a player as today’s Mark Reynolds, a player who has earned more than $27 million in his major league career.

Nicholson played at a time when players with great power, but low batting averages and high strikeout totals, were not valued for their actual contributions on offense.  Add to that the facts that the mid- and late 1960’s when Nicholson played were a terrible time for major league hitters and also that Nicholson played his prime years for two teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, that played in ballparks terrible for power hitters, and it’s easy to understand why Nicholson was drummed out of MLB after only seven seasons and 1,662 major league plate appearances.

Nicholson had only three seasons in which he managed more than 300 plate appearances, but he was better in each of those three seasons than anyone at the time realized.  For the 1963 and 1964 White Sox, teams that finished second each season behind the New York Yankees with records of 94-68 and 98-64, Nicholson’s .738 and .693 OPS numbers don’t seem too impressive.  However, this was good enough for 3rd out of eight White Sox players with at least 300 plate appearances in 1963 and 4th out of ten players with that many plate appearances in 1964.

In 1966 for the Houston Astros, a team that went 72-90, and, raw numbers to the contrary, had much better hitting than pitching, his .767 OPS was third best out of nine players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan and catcher John Bateman, but ahead of Jim Wynn, Rusty Staub and Lee Maye, the former two of whom were long recognized as major league stars.  Lee Maye had a much more successful major league career than Nicholson, as the kind of player (he hit for average but didn’t have much power or walk much) who was much more valued in his day than today.  Playing today, Nicholson’s and Maye’s career plate appearances would probably be reversed.

As the game and the popular understanding of the game change over time, different skills are more or less valued.  There are some players, most notably Gavvy Cravath, who would have been Hall of Famers if they had just been born a generation earlier or later than they actually were.

Top Pitching Prospects for MLB in South Korea’s KBO 2016/2017

October 11, 2016

The KBO is currently an extreme hitters’ league, which makes it difficult to evaluate pitchers with potential major league talent.  Nevertheless, these are the current KBO pitchers who impressed me in 2016 insofar as pitching in MLB in the future.

Michael Bowden (age 30 in 2017).  A former MLBer, Bowden had a fine first season in the KBO, going 18-7 with a 3.80 ERA (6th best — it’s a hitters’ league) and leading the KBO with 160 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched.

He’d probably be better off getting paid major league money pitching in the KBO until he has a season so impressive no one can ignore it.  However, given his relatively young age and strong 2016 performance, he’s the most likely foreign KBOer to return to the MLB system and have some success in 2017.

Kwang-hyun Kim (28) and Hyun-jong Yang (29).  The two best veteran Korean starters in KBO, both were posted last off-season but neither made it to MLB.  Kim’s team, the SK Wyverns, accepted a $2 million posting bid, but Kim was unable to reach a deal with the Padres.  Yang’s team, the Kia Tigers, rejected a posting bid reported to be $1.5 million.

Both Kim and Yang should be true free agents this off-season, and without the need for posting fees, either could end up in MLB.  Kim pitched well in 2016, but was limited to 137 innings pitched (3.88 ERA and 116 Ks), after missing most of July and the first half of August to an injury of some kind.  Yang pitched just over 200 innings with a 3.68 ERA (tied for fourth best) and 146 strikeouts (5th best — strikeout rates were low in the KBO for starters in 2016).

Both Kim and Yang are lefties, which might give them added value to MLB teams, since they would probably be relievers in MLB.

Woo-ram Jung (32).  After the success of Seung-hwan Oh in MLB, I expect MLB teams to be looking for the next South Korean reliever to sign.  Woo-ram Jung is probably the best one remaining, with 620 strikeouts in 649.1 career KBO innings pitched and a career 2.91 ERA.  However, he signed a four-year 8.4 billion won (a little over $7.5 million) last off-season with the Hanwha Eagles, presumably meaning he won’t be coming to MLB anytime soon and maybe never, given that he will be 35 the season after his current contract ends.

Chang-min Shim (24).  A young pitcher who already has nearly five years of KBO experience and a live arm (303 Ks in 268 career KBO innings pitched), it appears likely that Shim has not yet performed his two years of mandatory military service.  Thus, it may be some time before he gets posted or becomes a free agent.

Jae-haek Lee (26).  A pitcher I’ve been following since he had a big rookie year in 2013, some mid-season injuries limited Lee to 127.2 IP in 2016, but he struck out 134 batters, giving him the highest strikeout rate for any KBO pitcher who threw at least 100 innings.  His career 3.95 ERA isn’t impressive on its face.  However, all but his rookie season have been played since offense exploded in the KBO.

Lee has the disadvantage of being a small right-hander, listed at 5’11” and 176 lbs.  He may remind MLB teams too much of Suk-min Yoon, who famously flopped after being signed by the Orioles in 2014.  In fact, Lee is smaller than Yoon.

Jung-woo Im (26) and Jae-yoon Kim (26).  Both have live arms.  Im established himself as a closer this year, striking out 87 batters in 70.2 IP.  He has more than four years of KBO experience.

Kim has struck out 143 batters in 99 IP over the last two seasons, but those are his only two in KBO’s major league, so he may be too old by the time his team is willing to post him.

Kang-min Koo (20) and Se-woong Park (21).  Two even younger pitchers with live arms.  Koo as a 19 year old rookie struck out 67 batters in 68.2 IP and recorded a 4.19 ERA, which is great for a 19 KBO rookie in 2016.

Park struck out 133 batters in 139 innings pitched in his second year in the KBO.  Unfortunately, he has had a 5.76 ERA each of the last two seasons, which means he’s still got a lot to learn to become an effective starter.

Both Koo and Park are such a long way from pitching in MLB that it’s mostly wishful thinking on my part even to mention them.

Some Notes on Asian Players in the U.S. and Vice Versa

September 26, 2016

Jung-ho Kang and Hyun-Soo Kim were both in the news today for very different reasons.

Kang made a play on Bryce Harper today that is probably acceptable in South Korea’s KBO, but that doesn’t fly in MLB, to say the least.  Harper hit a ball into the right field corner and legged it out for a triple.  The relay throw was well off line and threatened to disappear somewhere up the left-field foul grounds, and Kang faked a tag on Harper, forcing Harper to slide and thus likely preventing Harper from scoring on the play.

The TV announcer’s comments pretty much said it all: [I’m paraphrasing] “You don’t make that play in MLB, or anywhere in [American] baseball because you might cause the base runner to hurt himself thinking he has to slide at the last minute.”  In fact, that’s exactly what happened.  Harper hurt his thumb on the play, the same thumb he had operated on in 2014.  He stayed in long enough to score the run later in the half-inning, but then came out for a defensive replacement.

The next time Kang came up to bat, the Nationals pitcher threw a pitch well behind him and was promptly ejected.  The fans were then treated to classic baseball “brawl” with players pouring out of the dugouts and a lot of pushing and shoving and bear-hugs and not many, if any, punches thrown.

It’s worth noting that Kang was seriously injured last year on a take-out slide at second base, a play no less dangerous and probably much more dangerous than Kang’s fake tag.  After the game, Kang said he was simply trying to prevent Harper from scoring on the play.

In short, absent playing in the U.S. from the start of your professional career or someone telling you not to do it, there is no way for an Asian player to know what dangerous plays are permissible under the MLB “Code” and which ones are not.  That said, I will not be surprised if a Nationals’ pitcher succeeds in plunking Kang next season in the first series the two teams play against each other, particularly if Harper’s injury impacts his play-off performance.  It’s well recognized in MLB that you protect (and take vengeance on behalf of) your teammates.

As for Kim, he was in the news for slugging a two-run homer that proved to the difference in a 2-1 Orioles’ victory.

Kim has become a remarkably successful platoon player for the O’s.  He is a dreadful 0-for-18 against left-handed pitchers this season, but has an on-base percentage just shy of .400 against righties.  The O’s have been remarkably successful at making sure Kim does not bat against lefties while still getting him more than 300 plate appearances against righties.

This is a big advantage Asian players playing in MLB have compared to former MLB players playing in the top Asian leagues.  Given the relative salary structures of the different leagues, Asian players can have success in MLB as relievers or platoon players and still make as much or more money than they can make in Asia.

Kim got a two-year $7 million contract from the Orioles, which is the same amount he’d have received over four years to remain in South Korea’s KBO.  He probably could have made the same money in two years playing in Japan’s NPB.

On the other hand, MLB platoon players going to Asia are at a distinct disadvantage because they are being paid to play every day in Asia.  If they are good enough or lucky enough, they can hit enough against lefties to keep them in the line-up so they can chew up right-handed pitchers.  Often, however, they have just as much trouble with Asian lefties as they did with port-siders States-side, and their Asian baseball careers are short-lived.