Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ category

Japanese Baseball News

June 23, 2017

Tad Iguchi, now age 42, has announced that this will be his last professional season.  It has been quite a career, as he has combined to date for more than 2,200 hits, 294 HRs and 224 stolen bases between MLB and Japan’s NPB.  Lusty numbers indeed for a career 2Bman.

On June 14th, Shun Yamaguchi, Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero combined for a no-hitter for the Yomiuri Giants against the SoftBank Hawks.  It was Yamaguchi’s first start or appearance of the 2017 NPB season.

A few years ago, Yamaguchi was definitely an MLB prospect, but it’s now looking like he’ll stay in Japan for his career.  Does anyone remember the first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB?  (Answer at bottom.)

Chris Marrero, whom I wrote about in my last post on the 2017 NPB season about a month ago, appeared to hit his first NPB home run on June 9th.  But he missed home plate!  The catcher went over and tagged Marrero, and the umpire called him out.

That’s no way to make an impression on your new team in a foreign country.  However, the man on base ahead of Marrero still scored, and Marrero has continued to hit with power in what appears to be a platoon role.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles signed American Josh Corrales recently.  What is interesting about this move is that Corrales was signed out of the BC League, Japan’s independent-A league.  He’s not the first player from the Americas to be signed by an NPB organization out of the BC League.

Corrales had an interesting year in the full season A League Midwest League at age 22, posting a 4.09 ERA and striking out 54 batters in 55 innings pitched but also walking 40.  After he was apparently released, he must have somehow decided that his chances of one day reaching NPB were better than reaching MLB, because he has no record of pitching in any of the more stable American Indy-A Leagues.  He’s only 27 years old, so an NPB big payday is still possible!

The first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB history was when Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore did it on June 23, 2017.  The Babe, who was then one of the Junior Circuit’s aces, walked the first batter of the game and was promptly thrown out of the game for arguing about it with the umpire.  Shore came in, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters consecutively for what has widely, but not unanimously, been recognized as a perfect game, sort of like Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect effort in 1959.

The first time in MLB history three or more pitchers combined for a no-hitter was September 28, 1975, when Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers accomplished the feat.  The A’s had already clinched a play-off birth and decided it was wise not to overwork their ace Vida “True” Blue (a little joke there for Charlie Finley fans).  Seems kind of ho-hum today, but it was a big deal in the 1970’s.

The Flood of Cuban Players

June 20, 2017

I just read a good article on espn.com about one of the side effects of the flood of Cuban baseball players into the international market since the beginning of 2014: huge numbers of Cuban professionals are stuck in the Dominican Republic unable to play baseball professionally because they aren’t quite good enough to sign lucrative contracts with MLB organizations.  The article reports that 349 Cuban ballplayers have left Cuba since the start of 2014.

I’ve written about the flood of Cuban players several times in recent years (see this article for example), mainly as it effects the major leagues.  The espn.com article reflects one obvious effect of the ginormous contracts that the very best Cuban players have signed in recent years.

The problems for the perhaps several hundred Cuban players stuck in the Dominican Republic are fairly obvious.  Most of them were good but not great Serie Nacional regulars who are past age 28, who simply do not have a reasonable chance of making the major leagues going forward, and thus cannot get offers from mlb organizations that the buscones, who fronted the money to smuggle the players out of Cuba and who typically get about 30% of the player’s first post-Cuba professional contract, are hoping to get.

The last three-plus years have already begun to show that the early bargains (by MLB standards) for players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu resulted in irrational exuberance on the part of many MLB organizations who signed a number of Cubans players for too much money and got burned.  For example, the Dodgers and Red Sox have committed a grand total of $193 million to Hector Olivera, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero and Yaisel Sierra in deals which now look like wild overpays (Sierra may yet be a capable major league reliever, but I’m doubtful he’ll prove to be worth the $30 million the Dodgers will be paying him through 2021).

In short, we have probably reached a point now where mlb organizations will still pony up eight figure contracts for the very best Cuban defectors, some of whom will pan out and some of whom will not, but organizations aren’t going to throw even low six figure amounts at players who don’t have a reasonable chance of playing in the majors going forward.  Japanese NPB teams will offer signing bonuses between $100,000 and $1M for a handful of these players, but that still leaves the vast majority with few prospects.

After the major leagues, there are plenty of places for these second-tier Cubans to play professionally, including Mexico, the Independent-A Leagues and the Carribbean Winter Leagues, but none of those will offer the kinds of signing bonuses the buscones are looking for just to cover their initial investments in bringing the players in from Cuba and supporting the players in the D.R. for up to a year.  Meanwhile, many players end up sitting around in the Dominican Republic for years, their skills rapidly atrophying, often without proper papers and unable to play professionally anywhere.

One thing that some of the recent over-pays for Cuban players also shows is that the value of baseball talent to MLB organizations is just enormous.  The MLB Draft and the International bonus pools artificially decrease the monies teams pay for amateur talent subject to these regimes substantially.  As a result, any player who can escape these regimes, such as MLB free agents or foreign veteran professionals from Cuba, tend in a mature market to be overpaid as a result of the fact that mlb organizations have a surplus of money freed up to throw at these players who are operating in much closer to a free market environment.

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.

Former San Francisco Giants Prospect Edwin Escobar Heading to Japan’s NPB

January 11, 2017

Former Giants prospect Edwin Escobar is heading to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s NPB on a 90 million yen ($780,000) deal for the 2017 season.  What makes this deal relatively interesting is that Escobar will be only 25 in 2017, the second pitcher after Elvis Araujo, who signed with the Chunichi Dragons earlier this off-season, who will be only 25 in 2017 and expected to star immediately in NPB’s major leagues.

Escobar was one of the Giants top starting pitcher prospects in 2014, when they traded him at the trade deadline to the Boston Red Sox along with Heath Hembree for Jake Peavy.  At the time, Escobar who was only 22 years old then and pitching with promise at AAA, was the prospect who seemed to have more upside.  As it turned out Hembree has become a useful bullpen piece for the BoSox, while Escobar is moving on to Japan, because he had injury problems in 2015 and didn’t return strong in 2016.

Past history suggests that the ideal age for a North American player to start an Asian career is their age 27 season, and a majority of the North American players who head off to Asia are older than that when they go.  In the last year or so, however, we have started to see more players under age 27 trying their luck in Asia, as the immediate rewards (next year’s salary) are greater in NPB or South Korea’s KBO, and North American players are beginning to feel that success in Asia can also be used as a spring-board to return to the MLB-system at some later date.

It will be interesting to see how Escobar and Araujo do in NPB in 2017.  I would think that Araujo’s chances are better, as he has far more proven MLB experience and success.  NPB is a good enough league, and the adjustments necessary to play NPB’s style of baseball and live in Japan are such, that foreign players as young as Escobar and Araujo have a hard time getting off to the fast start needed to stick in Asian baseball.  I tend to think that players who are at least 27 as NPB or KBO rookies tend to do better in part because they are more experienced in professional baseball and more mature.

Still, Escobar’s and Araujo’s talent level appears to be high by the standards of North American players who go to play in Asia, and the experience of pitching in NPB, unless a total disaster, will probably be beneficial to their careers even if they return to the MLB system in 2018.  Playing in a league that is roughly intermediate between AAA and the MLB majors is clearly more advantageous to a player’s development than another season spent almost entirely at AAA.

More typical of the North American players who go to Asia is the 33 year old Alexi Ogando, who just signed a $1.8 million deal with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.  Ogando has the proven MLB track record that earned him what is to date the second highest contract amount for a foreign player in the KBO’s history (Esmil Rodgers signed a $1.9M contract before the 2016 season).  Howwever, I think that the Eagles overpaid for Ogando by at least $300,000, as Ogando’s 2016 performance in MLB and at AAA strongly suggest a pitcher with not a lot left in the tank and with very little chance indeed of receiving a major league contract for 2017.

Ogando will almost certainly be used as a starter in the KBO, since KBO teams don’t pay this kind of money for relievers.  We’ll have to wait and see how he does.

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon and Other Developments

December 7, 2016

There was an article in the SF Chronicle today entitled, “New Giants Closer Mark Melancon Explains Why He Picked SF.”  Surprisingly, the quote, “They gave me a sh*$-load of money!” appears nowhere in the article.

The Giants were determined to sign Mark Melancon and they did by the basic expedient of offering him the most money.  It’s an all-in kind of move since Melancon will be 32 in 2017, but now is the time for one last run at going deep into the post-season with this core of players.

Today’s big news is the Chris Sale trade.  It’s a hard pill to swallow for Chi-Sox fans, given that they had a good chance at their first over .500 season since 2011 going in to the upcoming season, and now they most certainly do not. The team went 18-14 in Sale’s 32 2016 starts, which means the team without him is going to have to be about 12 games better than they were last year to finish 2017 with a winning record.

From White Sox management’s perspective, though, the move makes a great deal of sense.  Sale was definitely a squeaky wheel in 2016, and the White Sox got a boat-load of young talent in exchange for the three years of now bargain-price control on Sale’s contract.  Yoan Moncado, Michael Kopech and Luis Basabe all look like great prospects, and Chicago got a fourth B-level prospect to boot.  Things might look up dramatically for the White Sox in 2018 or 2019.

Nippon Ham Fighters to Post Shohei Otani after 2017 Season?

December 5, 2016

mlbtraderumors.com posted a piece this evening stating that NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters have announced they will post super-prospect Shohei Otani after the 2017 season.  This seems like a real possibility only if Otani made it clear to the Fighters that he wants to be posted.

The only reason for the Fighters to post Otani two years earlier than they reasonably had to would be to avoid him getting hurt.  Otherwise, Otani is clearly worth more to the team than the same $20 million they will get for him whether they post him next off-season or three years from now.

Otani cannot be unaware that he is the best player in NPB and that his major league earnings will certainly be greater the younger he leaves for MLB.  I would expect him to command a $200 million plus contract next off-season in addition to the posting fee.

After helping the Fighters win the 2016 Nippon Series, as Masahiro Tanaka did before insisting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him a few years back, Otani’s ability to successfully demand posting is very high.  NPB teams don’t want to look bad to their fan bases by preventing obvious major league talents from going on to greater wealth, fame and professional fulfillment in MLB, particularly when they have reached the top of the mountain in NPB.

I see Otani as strictly a pitcher in MLB, except perhaps for occasional pinch-hitting opportunities if he signs with a National League team.  For that reason, though, I’d like to see a National League team sign him, although I expect the Yankees and Red Sox will have a lot to say about that.

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.