Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ category

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.

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Today’s Tie-Breakers

October 1, 2018

I really like the fact that two tie-breaking games were played today, if only because it means that the National League wild card loser will have to lose two consecutive games before being sent home.

The Brewers have already beaten the Cubs, and it looks all but certain that the Dodgers will beat the Rocks.  On paper, the Cubs looked like a better team than the Brewers, but one-and-done match-ups are more about whose starting pitcher has a better game.

Presumably, the NL wild card game will be played in Chicago, which certainly favors the Cubbies.  However, as the Cubs just learned, anything is possible in a one-game series.  The Cubs and Dodgers look like the only two NL teams with any realistic shot of winning the World Series, but the Cubs could be going home if they lose to the Rockies on Wednesday.

Certainly, the Astros and Red Sox look like the class of the American League, but anything can happen in a short series, and all the teams but the A’s have recent post-season experience.  As for the A’s, they really played great in the second half and made the trades they needed at the trade deadline to make themselves a great team.

The 2018 A’s remind me of the powerhouse A’s teams of the early 1970’s, at least in terms of their everyday players.  They hit for power, many of them will take walks, they by and large play good defense.  Except at catcher, they don’t have many holes in their line-up.

Obviously, the A’s starting pitching is not as good as that of the early 1970’s A’s, but their bullpen has been strong enough to get them to the play-offs.  We’ll see what happens.

How Much Are the Boston Red Sox Willing to Take Advantage of the 10-Day DL for Chris Sale?

August 25, 2018

I and a lot of other people are wondering whether the BoSox put Chris Sale on the Disabled List for the second time since Sale’s July 27th start not because his arm was hurting, but because they want to rest Sale’s arm for the post-season.

Sale has a history of getting tired in August and particularly September that carried into the 2017 Division Series against the Astros.  It would certainly make sense to skip as many starts, up to every other one, to keep Sale’s arm fresh for October while still keeping him sharp.  There isn’t any doubt that the Red Sox will make the post-season and will need Sale to pitch like he does in June (2.54 career ERA) and July (2.40 career ERA).

So what happens if the Red Sox stick Sale back on the DL every one or two starts the rest of the way?  It might be the best way of keeping Sale fresh, but it will be obvious to everyone else that the Red Sox are taking advantage of the 10-Day DL.

I don’t see teams wanting to go back to a 15-Day DL.  Every team benefits too much from shorter disabled list minimums, particularly where the players themselves are such extreme investments that you don’t want them trying to play through pain unless the pennant or the post-season are on the line.

If other teams feel that using the DL solely to rest a player for the post-season instead of actual injury is wrong, I could see the possibility of teams agreeing to move back to a 12-game minimum for the DL. Still, it seems unlikely that a majority of teams would agree to jettison the benefits they have received from the flexibility of a 10-day DL.

Not to mention that the Players Association would hate any change in the 10-day minimum.  Teams using the DL more is obviously good for the players collectively because it means more players earning major league salaries and service time while a veteran on a guaranteed contract “rehabilitates.”

Injury Bug Bites San Francisco Giants

August 3, 2018

The San Francisco Giants’ decision not to be sellers at the trade deadline looks more like a mistake this week with the announcement that Johnny Cueto will need (and has now had) Tommy John elbow surgery and Pablo Sandoval will need surgery to repair a torn hamstring.

However, the reason for the Giants’ decision not to trade away veteran talent is actually fairly obvious.  The Giants currently have MLB’s fourth highest per game attendance in spite of being in a virtual tie for the 17th best record in the majors.  If the fans are still filling the stadium, only fools would make the team weaker in the short term, as long as there is at least some reasonable possibility of making the post-season.

Management’s prime job is to put cans in the seats, not to win ball games.  Management tries to win ball games precisely because winning is the proven best method for putting cans in the seats.  The fans will tell management when it’s time to rebuild by no longer paying to put their cans in the seats.  One can argue that at least Giants’ management had the good sense not to trade anyway any prospects in a season where the odds of making the post-season are now well less than 50-50.

As for the injuries to Cueto and Sandoval, they are disappointing but not surprising.  Cueto has a lot of miles on his arm, and blown elbow tendons are the scourge of the current game.  Can anyone really be surprised that a man of Pablo’s size and age (32 in less than 10 days) might blow out a hamstring at this very moment?

Sandoval’s relatively productive play was one of the feel good Giants’ stories of 2018, but at least the odds are now good that if the surgery is successful, the Giants will bring Pablo in 2019 for another major league minimum salary contract, what with the Red Sox still on the hook for $18+ million in 2019.

I can’t help but feel that the whole Pablo Sandoval saga of recent years hasn’t been an incredible stroke of foresight and good luck for the Giants.  The Red Sox gave Sandoval the big, high risk contract which anyone thinking with his or her head rather than heart had to know was probably not going to go well.  Now, the Giants have Pablo back for the major league minimum, where somehow not surprisingly Pablo has recaptured just enough of the old magic to be a real bargain.

If the Giants start to fall out of contention in the next two weeks, a waiver deal is certainly possible for Andrew McCutchen and at least possible for Tony Watson.  I’m doubtful anyone would claim McCutchen, because he’d still be owed at least a full $2M even if he’s traded at the end of August.  It might also be possible to slip Watson through waivers since he’ll still be owed $6M for his age 34 and 35 seasons in 2018-2019.  Of course, if the right team claims either one of them, deals might still be worked out.

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).

Why Major League Hitters Aren’t Beating the Shifts

July 11, 2018

Here’s a good article from Jerry Crasnick about why players who are routinely shifted against aren’t changing their approach to beat the shift.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that today’s major league hitters are paid to hit the ball with power, and for left-handed hitters who are shifted against most, that means pulling the ball or driving the ball out to left center.  It’s easy to plug those holes with defensive shifts.

60 or 70 years ago, Ted Williams talked about hitting against the shifts played on him (there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Trivia question: which team invented the Williams Shift?)  Williams said that hitting against the shift never bothered him, because it meant that pitchers were trying to pitch him middle-in to get him to hit into the shift.  That meant pitchers were pitching into his power, with all-too-often predictable results: 521 career home runs despite missing nearly five years of his major league career to military service.

The shifts work better today because pitchers are better and defenders are better.  There will never again be another .344 career hitter unless umpires start calling a ten-inch tall, over the plate strike zone.  Still, an awful lot of home runs are being hit today because pitchers are pitching inside to power hitters to get them to hit into the shift.

I thought Daniel Murphy‘s comments were particularly telling because he rightly talks about the advantages to hitting for power in today’s game, but he’s dead wrong insofar as taking a free first base is not extremely valuable if the bases are empty or with a man on first with less then two outs.  Home run hitting works best when men have gotten on base first.  Earl Weaver, good pitching and defense and the three-run homer.

However, the guy the hits the home run makes a lot more money than the guy who gets on base first, all other factors being even.  That’s why Murphy overvalues power hitting over getting on base.

Ichiros will always beat the shift, but how much demand is there for the poor man’s Ichiro’s in today’s game.  (There will be future Ichiros, Tony Gwynns and Rod Carews, but they will need to play at that level.  How much demand is there in today’s game for the next Nori Aoki?

The very best players have the confidence and ability to try to take advantage of every opportunity the other team gives them.  Most major league players, however, want to maintain the swing and the approach that got them to the bigs in the first place.  Trying to hit the other way against the shift might screw up their power stroke, so why risk it?

Hitters are superstititious, and almost always associate slumps and hot streaks to what they are doing rather than to random probability over short stretches, which plays a much bigger role than most major league players realize at a conscious level.  That said, the players who have the most success don’t tend to get too high during hot stretches or too low during slumps.

Answer to trivia question:  the Chicago Cubs.  They started shifting Fred “Cy” Williams in the 1920’s when Williams played for the Phillies.  The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 feet down the right field line and only 300 feet to right center, only marginally counteracted by a very tall right field fence.

Phillies quickly learned the value of power hitting left-handed pull hitters, and the Cubs were the first team to respond accordingly.  Williams led the NL for the Cubs with 12 HRs in 1916 during the “Dead Ball” (dirty ball) Era, so the Cubs knew exactly what type of hitter Williams was.

 

Ichiro Is Done

May 4, 2018

Ichiro retired into the Mariners’ front office where he will presumably work to bring more elite Japanese players to Seattle.  He finishes at age 44 with 3,089 hits, after all those hits in Japan.

Suzuki may the last of the hitters in the Paul Waner, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn line, the pure hitters.  Power’s too important in today’s game, perhaps unless Japan can produce another Ichiro, or at least another better than Nori Aoki. the poor man’s Ichiro.

If it’s a style that all but gone, Ichiro brought a talent set to MLB that will be missed if we don’t soon see it again.