Archive for the ‘Baseball History’ category

CC Sabathia Wins 250th Major League Game

June 20, 2019

CC Sabathia won his 250th major league game, which, if he wasn’t already assured a place in the Hall of Fame, has assured him a place in the Hall of Fame.  250 career wins is almost certainly the contemporary 300 career win standard that guaranteed any pitcher (major scandals excepted) a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Future pitchers will win 250 games.  Justin Verlander will likely do it in 2021 or 2022, but it is certainly debatable whether any pitcher will again win 300 games.

Advertisements

Yastrzemski Factoids

May 27, 2019

On the day on which Mike Yastremski got his first three major league hits, it seems like a good time for a couple of factoids about his Hall of Fame grandfather Carl.

As a youngster, Carl Yastrzemski played on sandlot teams with his father Carl Sr., a potato farmer out on Long Island, whom the HOFer Carl claimed was a better athlete than he was.  Jr. or Gramps, depending on how/who you want to look at it, got a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame before he signed his first professional baseball contract, after Carl bested Jim Brown‘s record for most high school points scored by a Long Islander.

In those days, great athletes were great across many sports, at least at the high school level.  As the National Pastime (with professional pay to match), baseball got well more than its fair share of the best athletes, even if the athlete was better at football or basketball.  That sure isn’t the case anymore, although MLB star salaries are big enough to get its fair share of the duel sport high school superstars.

 

What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

Catcher Defense

April 16, 2019

One of the biggest breakthroughs of the recent analytics revolution of the last generation is the degree to which catcher defense can now be analyzed and quantified.  Specifically, pitch framing has turned out to be far more valuable than teams realized only two decades ago.  Teams, of course, knew that pitch framing was important, but until complete filming, saving and replay of every pitch thrown in MLB was accomplished it wasn’t really possible to quantify which catchers were good at and which ones weren’t and just how many runs are saved or lost as a result.

I was looking at fangraphs.com’s defensive leaders for 2018 today and the importance of catcher defense completely jumped out at me.  18 of the top 30 players in terms of runs saved over replacement were catchers.  Six of these 18 catchers caught fewer than 540 innings in 2018, meaning they played less than 60 full games at the position but were still among the most valuable defensive players in MLB.  The only other defenders of roughly or nearly equal value were the seven best everyday shortstops.

Three 2Bman, 3Bman Matt Chapman and CF Kevin Kiermaier round out the top 30.  Aside from being the only center fielder, Kiermaier played only 747.1 innings there in 2018, which gives you a pretty good idea of just how good his center field defense is.

MLB teams have known just about forever how importance catching defense is.  How else to explain the fact that Bill Bergen played 11 major league seasons more than 100 years ago in which he compiled an astounding .395 career OPS (even worse than today’s best hitting pitchers and a lot worse than the best hitting pitchers of his own era)?  Bergen played in the deadball era when catchers had to be good defensively, at least insofar as controlling the running game and fielding bunts.

What we have now is a better idea of which good-field, no-hit catchers are worth keeping around solely for their gloves and which ones aren’t.  By the same token, there are still intangibles like pitch-calling (particularly because on many teams the manager or coaches call the pitches and clubhouse/on-field presence which are hard to quantify.  Obviously, we can now quantify whether catchers of the same team have higher or lower ERAs when they are behind the dish, but it’s hard to quantify the value of pitch-calling or the ability to keep a pitcher calm and focused.

I definitely think that some catchers — at least based on fangraphs’ evaluations — are still seen as major league catchers simply because they have been major league catchers.  For example, Drew Butera just got the call to come up with Rockies in spite of the fact that he is now 35 years old and has been worth $21.4M less to his major league teams than a replacement level catcher would have been across his nine year major league career.

An Off-Season of Contract Extensions

March 26, 2019

As we approach the start of the 2019 season, it was a notable off-season for the way in which big money contract extensions eclipsed all but the top three free agent signings.  As Spring Training started, it seemed like every single team was determined to lock in their best players for many years at big money, bigger money it sure seems than the free agents got at least in grand total.

A couple of things seem to be in play here.  First, it seems like the owners have finally figured out what Charlie Finley had realized around 1975, which is essentially that only the superstars are worth the really big contracts and that more average players and aging stars are fungible enough that teams shouldn’t go around overpaying them.

When the players won the Andy Messersmith free agency arbitration, Finley suggested that all players should be allowed to be free agents every year.  That way, the biggest stars would get huge salaries, but all the other players would be competing with each other for contracts, which would drive their prices down.

However, the other owners thought Finley was a kook and wanted to hold on to their best players as long as they could.  Thus, the owners negotiated a six-year service requirement for free agency, which meant that there would always be more demand for free agents than there were actual players who satisfied the six year service requirement and were still playing well.  As a result, for a very long time, free agents received enormous contracts, and the players’ association used those contract amounts to get higher contracts for younger players through the salary arbitration process they had successfully negotiated for a few years earlier.

The pendulum back towards a freer market began when teams began to non-tender an increasingly large share of their arbitration eligible players as arbitration salaries also got enormous.  More available players each off-season meant more competition for second-tier free agents, and the non-tendered players were and are more likely to sign one-year contracts for less money just to guarantee themselves major league jobs.  That surely drove down the market for second-tier free agents.

Also, teams may be realizing that their own superstars are worth more to them than anyone else.  While it is certainly exciting to bring in a high profile free agent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, there is probably just as much good will to be gained from the fan base when a Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado is locked into play all or nearly all of his professional career for the team that developed him into a superstar.

Given how much more generous the recent spate of extensions feels compared to the free agent signings this winter, I would if teams aren’t acting collusively to send a message to players: sign with the team that developed you for big money, or test an increasingly uncertain free agent market.

Of course, if more superstars sign long-term extensions covering their prime and declining years, the superstars who do elect to become free agents will find even less competition for their services.  In short, the Bryce Harpers of the baseball world who elect free agency will continue to set contract records.  Instead, it’s the second-tier free agents who will be feeling greater pressure to accept any extension offers their current teams are willing to offer them.

No Fan of Spring Training

March 19, 2019

Spring Training is one of my least favorite times of the baseball season.  Nothing really interesting is going on, and I find it hard to wait for the real games to start.

Most of the news is who got hurt last and the Spring-Training-everyone’s-still-in-first-place B.S.  Hope springs eternal, and everyone’s got a shot in Spring Training, but I am tired of it.  The Giants look old and under-talented, and they aren’t going to compete unless almost all their stars have great seasons and stay healthy.  That’s not easy when most of the players with talent are over 30.

There are still a few free agents out there, but it’s hard to wait for the at most once a week big signing.  Most of the guys being signed now are guys who just got released from other teams or who have no real chance of playing in the majors and are being signed to fill in Spring Training injuries at the AA and AAA levels.

All the players getting hurt is a drag.  One tends to find out in Spring Training who worked hard in the off-season and who didn’t.  Bet on the guys who hurt themselves during their off-season workouts and not those that get hurt in Spring Training.  But, of course, even the veteran stars get hurt in Spring Training.  You can’t win, and morality doesn’t always tell the truth.

The Giants’ outfield still looks terrible, and experience has told me I can’t yet write off the possibility that the Giants will make a move here.  I can’t remember the Giants going into a season with an outfield this bad without making a move before Opening Day.

The Winter Hot Stove League beats Spring Training.  When the flurry of signings take place between December 1st and February 1st, at least something of seeming consequence is going on.

Yeah, it’s fun to go to Arizona or Florida to watch the games, particularly if you are from a winter weather area.  Not so much in San Francisco — just wet or not wet — and I’ve never been particularly interested in traveling to Arizona to pay to see games that don’t matter.  Maybe when I have more income than I know what to do with.

It’s nice to argue about who should make the team, but the opening day roster is almost always pre-determined based on who is getting guaranteed money and who doesn’t have any options left.  And the Spring Training games just aren’t enough to give all the bubble players enough plate appearances to really mean something.  It doesn’t get interesting for me until the bubble player actually makes the team and starts putting up some regular season stats.

Does anyone remember Brandon Hicks in 2014?  A good Spring Training got him a roster spot, and he hit a ton his first 15 or 20 regular season games.  Then reality set in, and his inability to hit the ball buried his power and willingness to take a walk.  Hicks was done by July 10, but Joe Panik was ready, and the rest was history, as they say.

Anyway, what Brandon Hicks did in the regular season (and the final result) was a lot more interesting than his Spring Training, even if S.T. was largely what enabled him to make the team in the first place.

New Rule Changes

March 14, 2019

The owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) have reached agreements on numerous rule changes to take place in 2019 and 2020.  Here is a thorough run-down of what has been agreed to so far.  I’ll run down and comment on the most notable changes.

Rosters are being expanded to 26 from the current 25 (the parties are still negotiating on how many of the 26 can be pitchers, but 13 is the most likely outcome) through September 1st.  On September 1st, teams must expand the roster to 28 players, but no more than 28 from the current possible maximum of 40.

Increasing the roster to 26 players for most of the regular season likely means more pinch-hitters, pinch-runners and glove-first players will be able to hold roster spots.  While I am not thrilled that September call ups will be limited to two new players — it’s nice to see prospects get a chance to show what they can do and get some major league experience — I’m sure the MLBPA has done the calculations to convince itself that more players will get more major league service time by expanding rosters to 26 for most of the season.

Clearly, limiting September call-ups is good for teams in preventing prospects from starting their service-time clocks from running, although it seems self-defeating if prospects lose what could be valuable experience in games that for many teams don’t matter as much and are less pressure-filled.  The White Sox decision to option Eloy Jimenez to AAA yesterday is only the latest example that limiting service time accumulation is more important in today’s game than getting prospects an additional 20 or so games of major league experience when their performance suggests they are ready for it.

Pitchers will now have to face at least three batters or finish a half-inning before being replaced.  I suspect that will mean more instances where starters will be called upon to get an out or two in their final innings and fewer instances where relievers will start an inning.

There will be a hard July 31st trade deadline, with no more August waiver trades.  I’m not sure why the parties felt that eliminating August waiver trades is a good idea, except perhaps that teams have been colluding to not claim players off waivers so that such trades can go through (you don’t claim the players I want to trade for, and I won’t claim the players you want to trade for).

I don’t have a problem with teams loading up for the post-season, and I am somewhat at a loss to understand why MLB would want to discourage it.  Might as well have the best possible teams playing in the most valuable games for which MLB stands to make the most money.  It also allows teams that were still in the hunt on July 31st to unload some salary and get some prospects if they hopelessly fade in August.  Forcing teams to make a hard decision by July 31st doesn’t seem wise.

“Subject to input from the Joint Committee,” pitchers placed on the disabled list or optionally assigned to the minors shall be returned to 15 days from the current 10-day minimum.  Obviously, the purpose is to prevent teams from manipulating the shorter time periods, but I hate this rule change.  A 10-day disabled list minimum does mean more trips to the DL, but it also works to prevent player injuries.  I don’t understand why teams would wish to promote more pitcher injuries — I mean there aren’t enough already, right?

In a move that surprises me, inning breaks will be limited to two minutes from the current 2:05 for local broadcasts and 2.25 for national broadcasts.  Obviously, the change isn’t going to mean a big time savings (about seven minutes on a national TV broadcast), but it could well cost MLB one 30 second commercial time slot per half inning, which is money the networks surely don’t want to lose.

It is worth noting, though, that 30 second TV commercials are in decline, with the internet having shortened attention spans for commercials.  In fact, it is surprising that the 30 second commercial has held on for so long in television.  Commercials ranging in length from 10 to 25 seconds should actually be more profitable for TV stations because you can fit more adds into the same two or three minute commercial break.  It’s exactly the reason why early TV’s single sponsor format was quickly replaced by one minute ads, which were then quickly replaced by 30 second ads.

Some changes have been made to the All-Star Game selection process, which I really don’t care about. The prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to $2.5 million with the winner getting a cool $1M, which goes to show that it’s good to be a major league star.