Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ category

The Only Game in Town

April 18, 2020

Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan.

We are now six games into the 2020 CPBL season with the games being played in empty stadiums but broadcast on TV.  It is surely better than nothing for a baseball hungry world.

The best game pitched so far was former New York Yankee and half-season KBO ace Esmil Rogers‘ effort earlier today.  He allowed one run, earned, on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched with 11 strikeouts.

I had questions about how Rogers would pitch in the extremely hitter friendly CPBL.  Despite the past KBO success, he’s now 34 and got hit pretty hard in the Mexican League in 2019, which was also an extreme hitters’ league.  CPBL teams love foreign pitchers with a history of success in the KBO and/or NPB, and so far so good for Rogers.

Former Seattle Mariner and SoftBank Hawk Ariel Miranda and former Toronto Blue Jay and KBO ace Ryan Feierabend both looked good on opening day, but neither reached the seventh inning nor got a decision.  Former San Francisco Giants farmhand, brief Houston Astro and former KBO ace Henry Sosa looked good in his first CPBL start of the young CPBL season, allowing one run in 7 IP on four hits and a walk while striking out five.

[Kudos to baseballreference.com — they are publishing CPBL stats for the first time this season — maybe my two emails over the last three or four years had some effect… but probably not, at least not by themselves.]

CPBL teams decided to spend more money on the four foreign pitchers each of the league’s four franchises can sign (three on the major league squad and one in the minors, with the ability to promote and demote foreign players without having to release someone for the first time this season) this past off-season.  CPBL teams decided to do this in part to get more attention from the baseball world, but more because the Lamigo (now Rakuten) Monkeys have completely dominated the league the last few seasons because they have a disproportionate share of the best Taiwanese hitters.  The other three teams realized the only way they can compete is by spending more money to get better foreign pitchers.

Even though the CPBL is going to lose money this season because fans probably won’t be attending any games this year, as the only pro game in the world as I write this post, teams’ decisions to spend more money to put on a better product may well pay dividends when a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

The best game pitched by a Taiwanese starter so far is the three earned run, six inning outing with seven Ks thrown by the Brothers’ Huang Enci (黃恩賜) — the translations provided by Google Translate for Chinese names are not necessarily the conventional ones.  He’s 24 this year and appears to be a work in progress.

33 year old former Cleveland Indian C.C. Lee has six Ks in 3.1 innings pitched in two relief appearances, but he’s also blown a save, which happens a lot in the CPBL.  21 year old rookie (he pitched 18.2 innings CPBL major league innings across 16 relief appearances last season) Wu Jun-wei (吳俊偉) has struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings

Former Detroit Tiger Ryan Carpenter and former Padre/Mariner/Cub Donn Roach got hit pretty hard in their first ever CPBL starts.  I had my doubts about the Roach signing after a rough 2019 AAA International League season, but one start doesn’t prove much.

The big story at the plate so far is last season’s home run champ Chu Yu-Hsien (朱育賢), who hit five home runs in his first two games this season and is currently batting .692 (9 for 13) with a 2.538 OPS.  Aside from his league leading 30 dingers last season, he batted .347 with a .605 slugging percentage, which were only good enough for fifth and fourth best respectively, in the hit-happy 4-team circuit.  Here’s video of two of his 2020 home runs.

It’s worth noting that the Monkeys have scored 9, 15 and 11 runs in their three 2020 games so far.  Not surprisingly, they are 3-0 in spite of having allowed 8 and 10 runs in two of the games.  You know what they say — the best defense is a good offense.

Good to See MLB Teams Spending Some Money

December 5, 2019

The Phillies have reportedly reached a deal with Zack Wheeler that will pay the player $118 over five seasons; and the Braves have inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal for a cool $18M.

Wheeler’s deal beats mlbtraderumors.com’s prediction by $18M and is good news for the other top-tier free agent pitchers.  Obviously, Stephen Strasburg and Geritt Cole are going to top $118M by a bunch, and it’s likely that Madison Bumgarner will do considerably better than the $72M guarantee mlbtraderumors predicted.  It’s also a big commitment from the Phils for a pitcher who has a reasonable shot of blowing out his elbow tendon a second time in the next five years.

While Hamels’ deal is only for one season, it’s still a big commitment for a player entering his age 36 season, who pitched less than 150 innings in 2019 and failed to reach 150 IP in two of the last three seasons.  Again, this deal can’t hurt other free agent starters going forward.  There are lot of free agent starters still on the market, but they have an advantage over position players in that every team could use at least one more good starter.

In completely unrelated news, the Doosan Bears have agreed to post outfielder Kim Jae-Hwan.  Kim was great from 2016 through 2018, but his .796 OPS was only 30th best in the KBO and he’s going into his age 31 season.  I doubt MLB teams will have much interest, but you never know.

That’s Baseball

September 11, 2019

I’m sad to hear that Christian Yelich has a busted kneecap and his 2019 season is over.  He’s an exceptional talent in his age 27 season, and it would have been nice to see him play out the season to see what kind of final numbers he could have put up.  That, and the fact that he was probably the leading candidate for the Senior Circuit’s MVP award.  Now Cody Bellinger is looking like an obvious choice.

The Brute Crew were in 3rd place for the two wild card spots, so Yelich’s injury will make it harder to make the post-season.  However, what was once Beer City (how much beer is still made in Milwaukee?) is still only two back in the loss column to the Cubbies, and the Brewers have won five in a row.  Repeat after me — one player doesn’t make that much difference.  The Brewers could now collapse, or keep winning to pick up for their best player or (most likely) keep winning at the same rate they have won so far (10 of their remaining 18 games) and just miss the play-offs.

That’s why they play all of the games – there are no guarantees.

Will the Bryce Harper Contract Be a Bust?

August 17, 2019

espn.com is running a piece: “Is Bryce a Bust? …”  His contract won’t be a bust if the Phillies win at least one World Series during the length of the contract.

This year, Bryce is still hitting the way I complained about 13 months ago.  He seems convinced that every hit has to be for extra bases.  Watching the replays of his walk-off grand slam and strikeouts to Yu Darvish, it seems clear that Harper is trying to hit every pitch 450 feet, even though 400 foot home runs count just as much.

Harper’s swing looks violent to me, and it certainly involves a great deal of torque through his core.  He hasn’t had any back problems so far in his career (his injuries have been left knee, shoulder and thumb), which is one of the reasons he got the record-setting contract.

Harper’s a big guy at 6’3″ and 220lbs.  He can swing like that now at age 26, no problem, but if he keeps it up, his back may be barking by the time he’s 30.  If the Phils haven’t won a World Series by then, the contract could turn out to be a real stinkeroo.

Detroit Tigers Were Arguably Trade Deadline Winners

August 1, 2019

I just read this article on espn.com from David Schoenfield regarding trade deadline winners and losers.  He failed to mention the Tigers as a trade deadline winner, which in my mind they definitely are.

The 2019 Tigers are a dreadful team with an albatross of a contract in Miguel Cabrera.   The team badly needed a talent infusion and more low-cost controllable players.  They got that today by trading away a third of a season of Nick Castellanos and 1.33 seasons of closer Shane Greene.  In return, they got three former late 1st round draft picks and a former late second round draft pick.

Except for 24 year old jack-of-all-trades-type Travis Demeritte, none of these high-draft-pedigree prospects is playing particularly well in the minors this season.  Even so, the Tigers got more than if they’d held on to Castellanos and extended him a qualifying offer (which they might not have done, given his 2019 performance and the possibility that Castellanos might accept an $18M qualifying offer — See Miguel Cabrera above and Jordan Zimmerman, whom the Tigers owe $25M for 2020).

Further, the teams saves about $4M in salary for the rest of the season, and it isn’t likely the 2020 Tigers are going to need a great closer.  The team also gets out from under the big raise Greene was going to get in his final year of arbitration eligibility.  Better to try to develop Joe Jiminez as the team’s closer for 2020-2023.

Trading Castellanos and Greene probably locks in the Tigers finishing with the worst record in MLB this year, and with it, receiving the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft.  If any team could sorely use the first overall draft pick next June, it’s the Tigers.

In short, the Tigers did what they needed to do this trade deadline, and it looks like they got as much as they could for what they had to trade away.  It would have been nice of the Tigers had another one or two veterans nearing free agency who were playing well enough to draw trade interest, but you can’t have everything.

I think the team did the right thing holding onto Matthew Boyd, who still has three more seasons of control, although it is presently unknown what, if any, trade offers were extended for him.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

Luis Robert, Robel Garcia and Other 2019 Hot Starts

May 4, 2019

I thought it would be fun to write a couple of pieces on minor leaguers off to particularly hot starts in 2019.  Here goes:

21 year old $26 million Cuban bonus baby Luis Robert got off to the hottest start anywhere in organized baseball.  In 19 games in the Class A+ Carolina League his 1.432 OPS was a whopping 437 basis points better than the league’s next best hitter.  Not surprisingly, he has already been promoted to the AA Southern League, where he is off to an 0-for-6 start after two games.

Robel Garcia‘s 1.050 OPS leads the AA Southern League by 100 basis points.  He’s already 26 years old and has only played 17 games this season, so it’s probably a fluke.

However, Garcia’s back-story is extremely interesting.  Before this season, baseball reference lists no professional statistics for him since 2013.  He washed out of the Indians’ organization all those years ago, but he apparently kept his baseball career going by playing on Italy’s National team, even though he’s a Dominican.

Garcia makes me wonder how many other players who can play never get the chance because they take too long to develop or don’t get the right breaks.  Some NPB teams have academies in the Dominican Republic that occasionally turn Dominican MLB system wash-outs into servicable NPB major league players.  Xavier Batista is a current example.

Yordan Alvarez is ready for the majors.  The soon-to-be 22 year old Cuban’s 1.421 OPS leads the admittedly hit-happy Pacific Coast League.  Alvarez is an LF/1B and the 35 year old also Cuban Yuli Gurriel isn’t hitting in Houston, so Alvarez may get his first major league shot right quick.

Brian O’Grady‘s 1.189 OPS leads the AAA International League by 58 basis points.  Alas, he turns 27 in two weeks and has yet to play in the majors.  Hopefully, he can get some major league action this season in order to put himself in a position for an Asian payday next year.

21 year old catcher Sam Huff is ready for a promotion.  His 1.189 OPS leads the Class A Sally League by 127 basis points, and he’s thrown out 10 baseball stealers in 16 attempts.

25 year old 1Bman Chris Gittens has a 1.264 OPS, which leads the AA Eastern League by 110 basis points.  He’s also ready for a promotion.

Trey Cabbage leads the Class A Midwest League with a 1.029 OPS.  I wonder if his teammates call him “Cole Slaw” or “Trey Cole”.

What is former NL home run champ Chris Carter doing in the Mexican League?  He’s leading this hot weather hitters’ league with a 1.397 OPS.

Chicago Cubs Extend Role Player David Bote

April 4, 2019

MLB’s future is here, and it is contract extensions and more contract extensions.  The Cubs extended jack-of-all-trades, super-sub David Bote to a five year deal that covers 2020 through 2024 and guarantees Bote a hair over $15M.

All for a much smaller amount, I see this contract extension as being as consequential and the recent extensions signed by Eloy Jiminez and Ronald Acuna Jr. I can’t remember a young bench player like Bote ever receiving a multi-year contract extension before.

It’s definitely a risk for the Cubs.  Bote has all of a hundred days of major league service entering his age 26 season.  He wasn’t a high draft pick and he spent years in the minor leagues honing his skills.  Players like this generally don’t have long and successful major league careers.

What the Cubs like about Bote is his versatility.  In the minors he played every position except catcher and center field, even pitching in about half a dozen presumably emergency situations.  Fangraphs.com rated his defense highly in his limited 2018 major league play.

The Cubs probably also like the fact that after a slow professional start, Bote hit better the last three seasons as he reached the upper levels of the minors.

The question is whether Bote will hit well enough as a major leaguer for the Cubs to be able to take advantage of his versatility.  Apparently, the Cubbies see Bote as having a realistic chance to be the next Ben Zobrist, which if he were would make this contract a bargain.  We shall see…

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.

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.