Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ category

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

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The Best Hitting Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2018/2019

October 23, 2018

Offense was way up in Japan’s NPB in 2018, as, perhaps, “launch angles” have reached Japan.  Anyway, there was more hitting in NPB in 2018 than in recent past seasons.  That may be a good thing, because it might get some of the best Japanese hitters more interest from MLB clubs.  There are more potential NPB position players who could be MLB starters now than there were a few years ago, and it may be time for MLB teams to look to NPB for more than just pitchers.

Here are the best position player prospects for MLB this off-season as I see it:

Tetsuto Yamada (26 years old in 2019; MLB ETA 2019-2021).  A speedy 2Bman, Yamada bounced all the way back from a disappointing 2017 season, slashing .315/.432/.582 in 2018.  He also stole 33 bases in 37 attempts.  Because offense was up this year, Yamada arguably hit better in 2015 and 2016 than he did this year, but he was good enough.

Yamada plays for the small-market Swallows who are likely to post him when the time comes, and he’ll be young when that happens, most likely next off-season.

Hideto Asamura (28, 2019).  Another 2Bman, Asamura also had a bounce back year with the bat in 2018, putting up his best offensive numbers since 2013, when he was primarily playing 1B.  Asamura slashed .310/.383/.527.  Here’s some video of Asamura playing SS in high school, which gives you a good idea why he became an NPB star.

There are better hitters lower down this list, but Asamura is an NPB domestic free agent this off-season, and he’s still in the prime years of his career.  Asamura plays for the small market Seibu Lions, so he’ll either be posted this off-season, or he’ll sign a three or four year deal with one of NPB’s three rich teams for roughly 400-500 million yen ($3.6M-4.45M) per season.

I don’t have any real idea of how good Asamura’s or Yamada’s second base defense is — the raw numbers look good, but there are probably more ground balls hit in NPB than in MLB.  Obviously, how well Asamura and Yamada pick it and turn the double-play will have a big impact on MLB teams’ interest.

Yoshihiro Maru (30, 2019).  Maru had a tremendous season in 2018, slashing .306/.468/.627, finishing first in the Central League in on-base percentage and second in slugging percentage.  He drew 130 walks in only 125 games, and he also earned his domestic free agent option this year.

Maru plays center field in Japan but would almost certainly be a corner outfielder in MLB.  That, and being two years older is why I have him rated below Asamura.  Even so, I’m convinced that Maru would get on base enough in MLB to be a Nori Aoki with more power.

Maru plays for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.  The Carp are now one of the middle four teams in NPB that now routinely draw around 2 milllion fans a year.  However, the Carp are notorious tight-wads, so I expect that either Maru will be posted or he will end up signing with the Yomiuri Giants or Hanshin Tigers this off-season for 4 years and 2 billion yen ($17.8M).

Dayan Viciedo (30, 2019).  Former MLBer Dayan Viciedo had an eye-opening 2018 season in Japan.  He led the Central League with a robust .348 batting average and finished sixth with both a .419 on-base percentage and a .555 slugging percentage.

The knock on Viciedo as an MLB player was his inability to get on base.  He improved that ability dramatically in Japan in 2018, and he’s still young enough to return to MLB.  Of course, one great year is only one great year, and in his 2016 and 2017 seasons in Japan, he looked like the player who wasn’t quite an MLB every-day player when he left for Japan.

Seiya Suzuki (24, 2022-2023).  Suzuki slashed .320/.438/.618 in his age 23 season, which roughly matched his breakout season in 2016.  He’s a corner outfielder, and with only four stolen bases in eight attempts, he did not run as well as he did the previous two seasons when he stole a combined 32 bases in 49 attempts.  He can hit, though, and he’ll be young when he becomes available to major league teams.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (27, 2020-2021).  One of NPB’s top sluggers, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo slashed .295/.393/.596 in 2018.  He’s a corner outfielder who doesn’t run well, and his power numbers would drop in MLB, but he’s enough of a hitter and he’ll be young enough that he should draw MLB interest when the time comes.

Kensuke Kondo (25, 2020-2021).  Kondo is a former catcher who now plays the corner outfield positions.  He slashed .323/.427/.457 in 2018.  In other words, Kondo doesn’t have much power, but he really gets on base.  His career NPB on-base percentage of .397 is extremely impressive for a player this young.  He runs well for a former catcher.

The ability to get on base is the ability that best translates for NPB hitters trying to make the jump to MLB.  That, and Kondo’s tender age relative to his NPB service time, are the reasons why I like him.

Tomoya Mori (23, 2022-2023).  Moyi is a true catcher who slashed .275/.366/.457.  That’s actually a slight drop-off from his career .288/.369/.465 slash line.  If he can stay healthy at catcher, he could be an MLB player when the time comes.

Yuki Yanigita (30), Hayato Sakamoto (30) and Shogo Akiyama (31) are three NPB players with MLB-level talent we may never see in MLB.  Yanigita, who slashed .352/.431/.661 leading NPB’s Pacific League in all three categories and has a career .422 on-base percentage, still has two more years to play on his current three-year deal with the NPB-wealthy SoftBank Hawks.  When his contract ends, he’ll be 32 and past his MLB window, as I’ll explain below.

Hayato Sakamoto is NPB’s best SS and has long since achieved his international free agent option.  However, he’s shown no signs of wanting to leave the Yomiuri Giants.  Sakamoto slashed .345/.424/.537 in 2018.

Despite ten full years of NPB service, the Yomiuri Giants, NPB’s richest team, paid Sakamoto only a reported 350 million yen ($3.2M) in 2018, which seems criminally low.  However, as an ethnic Japanese, Yomiuri Giants superstar, Sakamoto likely makes more money in endorsements than any MLB player.  There aren’t any basketball and football player in Japan to take the big endorsement money away from baseball players and specifically, ethnic Japanese, Yomiuri Giants superstars.

Shogo Akiyama isn’t as good as Yanigita or Sakamoto, but he did slash .323/.403/.534 in 2018 and has an OBP above .400 and an SLG above .500 over the last four NPB seasons in which he’s played every single game.  However, he has one season left on his three-year contract with the Seibu Lions, and he’ll be 32 in 2020.

I don’t think that any NPB position player once he reaches his age 32 season is worth being signed by an MLB team, unless he’s willing to play for less guaranteed money than he’d make staying in NPB.  Hitters, in particular, are on the decline once they reach their age 32 seasons, and almost all NPB players with the talent to make the jump to MLB successfully do so in their age 27 to 29 seasons.

Kosuke Fukudome is a case in point.  He came to MLB as a 31 year old rookie on an MLB market rate four-year $48M contract.  Fukudome was decent major league regular, but he wasn’t worth anywhere near the contract the Chicago Cubs gave him, which was far, far more than any NPB would ever have given Fukudome.  Had the Cubs signed Fukudome for four years at $30M, Fukudome would still have made more money than any NPB team would have given him, and his MLB career would not be remembered as such a disappointment.

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.

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.

Willie Kamm

August 11, 2018

There’s a San Francisco baseball name that even most San Francisco baseball fans don’t remember.  Willie Kamm was probably the best defensive 3B man of the first half of the 20th Century.  He was also an effective offensive player to an extent that was recognized in his own day in spite of having very little power.

One of the things that got me interested in Willie Kamm was going out to the Musee Mechanique when it was still at the Cliff House.  They had a pin-ball type baseball game, one using a pin-ball which you hit with a mechanical bat to try to get hits while avoiding the fielder holes.  At 3B was Willie Kamm, going along with top major leaguers and Pacific Coast League (PCL) stars who also had big years in the major leagues like Winters‘ finest Frank Demaree.

I can’t recall if Joe DiMaggio was in CF — anyone been to the Musee Mechanique lately?  The table game I would date to the mid-1930’s.  If DiMaggio is in the game, then the machine probably would almost certainly have to date no earlier than Spring of 1936, when DiMaggio was coming off his huge final season for the San Francisco Seals and had long since been traded to the Yankees.  I also don’t recall if Paul Waner was in right field, but he’d be a good guess because he starred for the San Francisco Seals before reaching greater fame with the Pirates.

Willie Kamm was from San Francisco, although he started his PCL career with the Sacramento Senators at the age of only 18.  He went 2-for-9 in his first four games and was summarily released.  Then the Seals signed him.

It took two years for Kamm to develop both his bat and his glove.  He had a fine season in 1921, and then was completely off the charts at age 22.  He batted .342 with 56 doubles, nine triples and 20 HRs in 650 at-bats and 170 games, while playing elite major league defense for the second year in a row.

He was such a hot prospect, he commanded a then still astounding $100,000 purchase price from the Chicago White Sox, who were looking to replace Buck Weaver, alleged leader of the 1919 Black Sox and also a former Seal, who was banned for life in late September 1920.  The Seals also received Doug McWeeny (great name) and two players to be named later.  McWeeny went 55-24 for the Seals over three seasons between 1922 and 1925 before returning to the majors for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so this was a great deal for the Seals on multiple levels.

The deal was so good for the Seals in fact, that even though the transaction was completed on May 29th, they got to keep Kamm for the rest of the 1922 season before sending him east, while McWeeny went 15-7 for the rest of the year in San Francisco.  Impossible to imagine a deal like that today.

Kamm was immediately one of the Junior Circuit’s best defenders at the hot corner in 1923, and he remained such for the next 11 seasons.  He defensive excellence is easy to explain: he consistently made the most plays per game while making the fewest errors per chance.  Of course, some ChiSox fans complained if he made any errors, given how much the team had payed for him.

I would rate Brooks Robinson as a better defensive 3Bman, mainly because he had a longer major league career and was better at turning the double play, but Kamm and Robinson had in common that they made the most plays while making the fewest errors in their respective versions of the American League.

Kamm’s defensive prowess at third base was so well recognized in his own day that, while he could almost certainly have held down SS or 2B as needed, he played every single game of his professional career at 3B.  That is similar to Robinson, who played a total of 30 games at SS and second between 1956 and 1963, but never played another position in the field for the last 14 years of his career.  What you could call the “don’t mess with a good thing” principle.

Kamm’s hands were so good, he claimed he could consistently catch two base runners a season with the hidden ball trick.  I have no reason to believe he was exaggerating.

Kamm couldn’t hit home runs in the majors, finishing his career with a grand total of 29, which was a problem in the lively ball era.  However, Kamm did have the advantage that the 1920’s still valued 3B defense as a hold-over from the 1910’s, when 3B defense was very highly valued indeed.

As such, Kamm’s contributions were appreciated in a way they would not subsequently be appreciated for some time.  Kamm ran well, but was not an effective base-stealer, another holdover from the 1910’s.  Kamm had alley power, hitting between 30 and 39 doubles seven times and between nine and 13 triples four times.  He also walked a lot, including leading the AL with 90 in 1925.

One way to compare Kamm is by comparing him to the Washington Senator’s Ossie Bluege (pronounced Blue-jee) another long-time 3Bman who was about the same age and started his major league career at about the same time.  Bluege played on all three Washington Senators World Series teams (1924, 1925 and 1933) and was generally regarded as a fine defensive 3Bman and valuable major league regular.

In the ten American League seasons both Kamm and Bluege both played at least 800 innings at the hot corner, Kamm bested Bluege to the tune of 21-8-1 in the three major categories of chances per game, fielding percentage and DPs.

Over roughly the same number of career major league plate appearances (7,454 for Bluege, 6,945 for Kamm) Kamm slashed .281/.372/.384 while Bluege slashed .272/.352/.356.  Both played in what were regarded as pitchers’ parks in their era, but I don’t know which was worse for hitters.

Kamm was clearly the better player on both sides of the ball, but he’s no better remembered today than Bluege, because Kamm never played in the World Series and played most of his major league career for White Sox teams that never once made the first division (his last fourCleveland Indians teams finished 3rd or 4th every season).  It’s hard to be seen as a great player when your team never wins.

A couple of other stories from Kamm’s career and later life I found interesting were that, while he was generally considered a good teammate, he got in trouble late in his career with the Indians for giving young players too much advice.  The new Cleveland manager was Walter Johnson — that Walter Johnson.  Apparently, Johnson, like a lot of formerly great players was not a great manager.  I don’t know whether how Kamm delivered his “advice” or whether Johnson thought Kamm was a threat to his leadership, but it in interesting fact for someone who seems to have been a pretty sober ballplayer.

Kamm’s playing career ended with the Mission Reds back in the PCL in 1936, a team he managed in 1936 and 1937.  He was then at age 37 reportedly able to retire on his investments, having been told at some time presumably early in his career by Seals owner George Putnam to invest in Pacific Gas & Electric and General Motors stock and holding on the stock even when the stock market crashed in 1929.

An earlier Seals owner C.H. Strub in September or October of 1918 had convinced Kamm to sign a contract with the Seals rather than enlisting in the navy by telling him that the war would be over in a month based on how the stock market was performing.  The war ended approximately one month after Kamm signed his contract, and he apparently never forgot the lesson.

Kamm passed away in Belmont, California at the age of 88 in 1988.  At least in  my little corner of the Bay Area, Willie Kamm has not been entirely forgotten.

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.