Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ category

Austin Bibens-Dirkx Shuts Down New York Yankees

June 25, 2017

32 year old rookie pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx frustrated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to improve his record to 3-0.  What a great name and what a tremendous story!

Bibens-Dirkx used the Independent-A Leagues twice to keep his professional career going.  In 2009 after washing out of the Mariners’ system, he pitched in the now defunct Golden Baseball League and earned another shot in the Cubs’ system.  He started last year in the Atlantic League before being picked up by the Rangers.  Bibens-Dirkx  has also pitched in the Latin American winter leagues for years as another way to hone his game and catch the attention of major league organizations.

The only chink in Bibens-Dirkx’s armor yesterday was a long home run to Aaron Judge, which thankfully for the Rangers came with the bases empty.  [For what it’s worth, the player Aaron Judge reminds me most of is Frank Howard, another enormous right-handed slugger who could launch baseballs a country mile.  The main difference between them is that there are lot more players of this size now than there were in Howard’s day.]

The reality is that there is a very good chance that last night’s game will be the pinnacle of Bibens-Dirkx’ professional career.  He only made it to MLB at age 32 for a reason.  While he can obviously pitch, his numbers so far suggest that his stuff is well below major league average, and that once MLB’s hitters become more familiar with him, he’ll be a marginal major leaguer at best.  He’s going to have to keep his walks totals low and have good defense behind him to succeed.

Still, nothing can take away from his accomplishment last night or the fact that eleven years struggling through the minors has finally paid off, both financially and emotionally.  Guys like a Bibens-Dirkx give everyone in baseball and those who follow baseball hope that the luck will finally turn for you if you just keep at it and trust that your efforts will one day be rewarded.

Midwest Revival

June 5, 2017

It’s June 5th, and the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers are both still in 1st place in their respective divisions.  The Twins and Brewers have never both made the post-season in the same year, so I wouldn’t exactly get my hopes up that this will finally be the year, particularly with neither team much over .500 or more than one game ahead of the second place team.  Nevertheless, it’s good to see both teams back in the hunt after a string of not-so-successful seasons.

The Twins seem to be owing their success to Miguel Sano‘s and Max Kepler‘s breakout seasons and a strong bullpen.  The emergence of rookie hurlers Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia should certainly give Twin Cities’ fans hope that the Twinkies will continue to compete throughout the summer.  Remember the old adage, though: young pitchers will break your heart.

Obviously, Eric Thames is the big story this year in Milwaukee, but the Brute Crew is also getting strong offensive performances from Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana and their bench.

The Brewers starting rotation has been solid, and while the bullpen has been inconsistent, Corey Knebel‘s breakout has given the team an effective closer.  If Nefali Perez can get his act together or an effective set-up man can be obtained by trade, the Brewers might have enough to hang with the Cubs or Cardinals when either of the latter two teams finally puts it together and makes a run.

What to Make of Neil Ramirez?

May 1, 2017

As the San Francisco Giants’ dreadful April 2017 has drawn to a close, one of the moves they made was sending down right-handed reliever Neil Ramirez.  With a 13.06 ERA after nine appearances, this was a move one could see coming miles away.

Ramirez was a guy who I thought was a great bargain basement pickup this off-season.  He was extremely effective for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015, when he had a 2.51 run average in 69 appearances (57.1 IP) with well more strikeouts than innings pitched.

Ramirez pitched his way back to the minors with several teams in 2016, but finished the year strong at AAA Rochester, where he again flashed his typically dominating strikeout rates.

This year, his MLB numbers are weird.  He struck out 18 batters while walking only four in 10.1 innings pitched, but he also allowed sixteen hits including two dingers and allowed 15 runs, all earned.  That gave Ramirez an astounding .519 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — 14 for 27.

Clearly, Ramirez pitched better than his 13.06 ERA suggests, but that still isn’t saying much.  Without having watched any of Ramirez’s appearances this year, I would guess that he still has command issues.  When he can get ahead of the hitter and get to two strikes, he’s one or more tremendous strikeout pitches which hitters feel they have to swing at, but when he falls behind on hitters, he comes in over the plate, and they pound him.  That’s my guess anyway.

Ramirez seems to be that close to being an effective major league reliever, as his stuff is clearly well better than major league average.  While his command needs work, he’s no Erik Cordier, a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball who will likely never have major league command.

I could see Ramirez pitching well at AAA Sacramento and earning another shot with the 2017 Giants.  If he doesn’t, he’ll be 29 next year and should seriously consider going to Japan, where his talent level would give him a good chance of great success.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2017

March 28, 2017

As everyone knows, contemporary pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2017 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats, in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.183 career batting average and .542 career OPS).  For the third year in a row, fangraphs rates big-swinging MadBum as the most productive pitcher as a hitter in MLB.

On paper, Jake Arrieta‘s 2016 slash line of .262/.304/.415 is much more impressive than Bumgarner’s .186/.268/.360.  I expect that park factors play a big role in fangraphs’ ratings.

In the last three seasons, MadBum has slugged 12 HRs in 229 at-bats and driven in 33 RBIs.  There isn’t a team in the National League who couldn’t use that batting performance from a starter.  He’s also the only major league hitter since the start of the 2015 season to homer twice off MLB’s best starter Clayton Kershaw.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.219 BA, .580 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

Greinke’s 2016 was his weakest offensive performance in four seasons.  Still, he hit .212 with a .476 OPS, which is great for a contemporary pitcher.

3.   Mike Leake (.203, .522).  Mike Leake has disappointed me as a hitting pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three major league seasons (2010-2012), but since then he’s just been a better than average major league average hitting pitcher.

I bet this has something to do with making adjustments.  By the 2013, major league pitchers realized that Leake could really hit and they’d have to pitch to him like a real hitter, and they’d figured out his weaknesses.  Leake doesn’t seem to have made the necessary counter-adjustments, and now he’s just a better than average hitting pitcher.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.200, .562).  Gallardo hasn’t played in the NL in two years, but he’s 4 for 8 the last two seasons in the AL. His 33 extra base hits in 424 at-bats is what makes him a threat at the dish.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  With well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.198 BA, .613 OPS).  Syndergaard passed the 100 career at-bat threshold in 2016, and his combination of power (three HRs in 2016) and willingness to take a walk (seven in 67 plate appearances) made him a real threat at the plate this past season.

I’ve been writing versions of this post long enough now that I’ve noticed that pitchers who hit well through their first 100 major league at-bats tend to regress in subsequent years to towards the pitchers-as-hitters mean.  That’s why I’m ranking him low until he proves he can keep doing it.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.217, .546).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) Hudson is now a relief pitcher, and despite 70 relief appearances, the 2016 Diamondbacks didn’t give him even one plate appearance in spite of the fact that he had his one big season at the plate in 2011 as a D’Back (no wonder the 2016 D’Backs lost 93 games); and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010 (CC’s 0-for-18 over that span).

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.   As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits over his career to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.232, .526).  Chatwood was a starter again last year and made it over the 100 at-bat threshold in 2016.  He’s a fine hitting pitcher who probably benefits as a hitter from making half his starts at Coors Field.  Needless to say, Coors Field doesn’t do much for him as a pitcher.

10.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .522 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, was moved to the bullpen in 2016, and signed this off-season with the AL’s Kansas City Royals for the next two seasons, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers anytime soon.

11.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross is coming back from a major injury and pitching for an AL team, the Rangers, this year, but he sure hit in 2015 for the Padres.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.244, .628).  Lorenzen can hit, but he has to establish himself as a starting pitcher if he ever hopes to reach the 100 at-bat cut-off.  He pitched exclusively in relief last year, but was used as a pinch hitter or allowed to hit five times in which he hit slugged a homer for his only hit.

Shohei Otani will be one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers as soon as he signs with an MLB team some years from now.  I’m hoping an NL team signs him for this reason.

The top two prospects in this year’s amateur draft, Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, are two-way players, who will most likely be developed as pitchers.  Thus, the odds are good that one day at least one of these two will make a future year’s version of this post.

As final notes, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Also, since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter by 2030.

The Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant Reach a Record Deal

March 10, 2017

Well, isn’t this interesting?  The Cubs have just given Kris Bryant a record $1.05 million contract for a pre-arbitration player, beating the record deal the Angels gave Mike “Clark Kent” Trout before the 2013 season by $50,000.

It was a fairly obvious move — the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years and Bryant won the Senior Circuit’s MVP Award, so a record-setting contract was obviously called for.  Even so, the Cubbies only gave Bryant enough to be able to say he broke the record.

The Cubs’ decision to keep Bryant in the minors a lot longer than his  performance in the minors said was the time for his call-up, so the team could hold onto his rights for the 2021 season, was pretty bush and penny-wise and pound-foolish, at least in my opinion.  Everybody in MLB knew what the Cubs were doing, and Bryant would be crazy not to stick it to the Cubs every chance he gets from now until he signs his first free agent contract.

Still, it’s worked out well for the Cubs so far.  They weren’t going to win in 2015 even with another eight games from Bryant, and they won the very next year, when the team was clearly better than the 2015 squad.

The Cubs pretty much had to give Bryant the current record-setting deal, because that’s what his 2016  performance and the World Series win required.  They gave him only exactly as much as the standard of the industry required and no more, because they know that Bryant and his agent Scott Boras aren’t going to think that an extra $300,000 for the 2017 season a fair trade for reaching free agency a year later.

In this sense, things are as they should be.  Yes, the Cubs screwed Bryant, but this way Bryant has to continue to develop the way everyone hopes he will (except maybe Cardinals’ fans) and the Cubs win another World Series in the next five years.  Then the Cubs will have pretty much no choice but to give Bryant a record-setting free agent deal.  Even the most money-ball of money-ball organizations has to know that Cubs’ fans would be unbelievably disappointed if the team trades the next Mike Schmidt and Ron Santo rolled into one, particularly now that MLB teams all know how much power-hitting, slick fielding 3Bman are really worth.

Right now, one has to think that the only things standing between Bryant and record-setting free agent contract is a freak injury or that his big size (6’5″, 230 lbs) leads to wear-and-tear injuries in 2020 or 2021.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

Colby Rasmus on a One-Year Deal?

December 31, 2016

There was an article today on mlbtraderumors.com about the San Francisco Giants’ remaining needs this off-season.  It has me thinking that Colby Rasmus could be an excellent sign for left field if the price is right.

I feel better about Giants’ current options at 3B (Eduardo Nunez and Connor Gallaspie as a platoon with Kelby Tomlinson and either Ehire Adrianza or Jimmy Rollins as the other back-up possibilities) than I do about the team’s third, fourth and fifth outfielders being Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.

I don’t hate any of these three — I’m confident that Jarrett Parker will be a major league back-up outfielder in 2017, and Hernandez could become the next Glegor Blanco or Andres Torres — but it’s hard for me to imagine that the Giants will go into the 2017 with three mostly LFers who have this little major league experience.  I also can’t see the Gints thinking that Michael Morse who will be 35 next season and hasn’t played since last April is a realistic veteran option.

Thus, Colby Rasmus, who might come very cheap off a season in which he hit only .206.  His 2016 OPS (.641) is more than 100 basis points lower than his career OPS (.744), so he’s a great bounce-back candidate at age 30, particularly given that he still runs pretty well.

Rasmus also plays good D in LF, which would be valuable with a CF in Denard Span who doesn’t cover a lot of ground anymore.

As for right-handed relievers, the Giants did sign one player this off-season which hasn’t received much attention, since it was a minor league deal.  However, this guy has up-side.

The Giants signed Neil Ramirez, who will be 28 next May.  He is a former 1st round draft pick who had a terrific 2014 season for the Cubs, when he had a 1.44 ERA in 50 relief appearances with a pitching line of 43.1 IP,  29 hits, two HRs and 17 walks allowed and 53 Ks.  He had shoulder and left abdominal injuries in 2015, and in brief stints with three different major league teams this past season he had trouble throwing strikes.  However, he was very effective in 16 appearances and 20.1 IP at AAA Rochester at the end of the 2016 season.

Ramirez definitely has up-side if he’s healthy in 2017, and he could be the next in a long line of effective (at least in the short term) right-handed relievers the Giants have signed  to minor league deals in the last two decades.