Archive for the ‘Chicago White Sox’ category

How Small Was He?

June 9, 2017

Something got me thinking today about the smallest real players to play in major league baseball.  Of course, Bill Veeck‘s little person Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only major league plate appearance, was the shortest at 3’7″ to play in MLB.

Veeck was able to meld crass exploitation with real baseball know-how (in 1951, when pitching staffs were only 9 or 10 men, you can’t entirely discount the fact that Veeck could have seen the value in a pinch-hitter would almost always walk — this was the guy who turned the Indians into World’s Champions, and the best single season attendance draw continuing through the next generation, in only about three seasons).  If filling the seats was the goal, and it was, it certainly worked for Veeck, at least until Disco Demolition Night in 1976.

Will Harridge, the AL President, voided Gaedel’s contract the next day.

This is the best post on-line I found to my question, and it’s relatively recent.  Herearesomeothers.  I not sure it any of these posts mention the 5’6″ Jose Altuve.

Wee Willy Keeler (“Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t”) is the only Hall of Famer, and for that matter the only player of real consequence at 5’4.”  Nobody remembers Lee Viau today.  At 140 lbs, Keeler was 20 lbs lighter than Viau.

The first major league pitchers to develop major league curveballs were not big dudes.  Candy Cummings was 5’9″ and 120 lbs, and Bobby Mathews was 5’5″ and 140 lbs.  Candy is in the Hall of Fame for his reported discovery of the curveball.  An HOFer who got there purely on MLB performance is “Old Hoss” Radbourn listed at 5’9″ and 168 lbs.

People were a lot smaller in 19th century America.  Multiple subsequent generations of heavy meat and dairy eating has made the contemporary American male on average much larger than those whose diets were based mainly on starches.

Baseball Almanac says there were ten MLB players listed at 5’3″.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t identified, at least to the cheapskate public, the identities of those ten.  One of the posts linked above says that Mike McCormack (5’3″, 155 lbs) was the shortest player to qualify for a batting title.  However, he slashed .184/.278/.222 as the main 3Bman for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas and was never heard of again outside of the minor league cities where he continued to play pro baseball.

“Doc” Gautreau was probably the 5’4″ that baseball reference lists him at.  Rumors of shorter height are probably a result of the fact that he was reported to weigh only 129 lbs.  He was a rangy 2Bman who made his share of errors.  He had no power, and his ability to get on base wasn’t appreciated during his three seasons as an MLB platoon player on second division Boston Braves teams in the late 1920’s.

Gautreau was a Massachusetts Canuck, like footballer Jack Kerouac a generation later.  When the Montreal Royals started play in the (now AAA) International League in 1928, they were on the look-out for a French Canadian ballplayer who would appeal to their fan base.

Gautreau, who spoke French, had left the majors in 1928, and the Royals acquired him for the 1929 season.  He gave the Royals five strong seasons and was almost certainly the team’s most popular player, since he also hustled like a guy who was 5’4″ and 129 pounds.

The subject of tiny MLBers is near and dear to my heart for reasons I will elaborate on in a later post.

Who Saw Four Home Runs from Scooter Gennett?

June 7, 2017

Anyone who bet on Scooter Gennett to have a four home run game, that’s like winning the trifecta on three horses running longer than 20-to-1 to win.

You have to give Gennett credit: he really socked all four pitches.  My favorite was the home run the opposite way to left field, where he hit it just fair and to the shortest part of the yard, but still no cheapy since he hit it 10 or 12 rows deep.

Pat Seerey (86 career HR) and Mark Whiten (105) were clearly the worst modern home run hitters to hit four in a game.  Both Whiten and Gennett had only 38 career HRs the day before their big day.

Pat Seerey was a player with skills that would be much more recognized today than in his own time.  Mark Whiten was five months younger than Scooter Gennett on their special days.

Mark Whiten’s career was a disappointment after his 1993 season, the year he hit four, although he was good in 1996, the only subsequent year he played more than 100 games — injuries were a big part of his limited career HR total.

If Scooter Gennett stays healthy, I think he’ll show a marked improvement going forward, sort of like Daniel Murphy since his performance in the 2015 post-season.  Sure, it’s only one game, but when a player accomplishes something this rare and sees the company he’s now keeping, it has to boost a player’s self-confidence tremendously.

I don’t know how Scooter wouldn’t feel confident after watching footage of his four swings.  He really socked ’em.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2017

June 2, 2017

Those few who have followed my blog over the years know that I love to write about players who have used the Independent A and Mexican leagues as a spring board to professional baseball success after their careers in the MLB system looked over.  Here are a few players I’ve been following for the last few seasons as they work their ways through interesting baseball careers.

Josh Lowey.  One of the Atlantic League’s best pitchers in 2013, Lowey had a terrific first half in the Mexican League (summer) in 2016.  That earned him a shot in South Korea’s KBO on a reported $200,ooo contract for the second half.  I don’t know if the 200 grand was pro-rated for the half season he played, but either way it was the first time in his professional baseball career he had made any real money.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for Josh.  Although he struck out 68 batters in 60 innings pitched, he also gave up 74 hits, six dingers and 37 walks, leaving him with an ugly, even for the sluggin’ KBO, ERA of 6.30.  Needless to say, he did not return to the KBO this season.

Instead, Lowey is back in the Mexican League, where’s he pitching well, but perhaps not good enough to get a shot to make more money in Taiwan’s CPBL in the second half.  He has the best strikeout rate of any Mexican League starter so far, but his ERA 4.06 ERA is only 22nd best in the 16-team circuit.  He’s also 32 years old this season, which does not help his future prospects.

Mike Loree.  As I wrote a year ago, Mike Loree remains the best starting pitcher in Taiwan’s four-team CPBL.  Minor injuries have limited him to seven starts so far this season, and his 1.60 ERA so far was the league’s best a day or so, but he’s now one inning short of qualifying.

This is Mike’s fifth season in the CPBL, and given the fact that he was the league’s best starter in 2015 and 2016, I would guess he’s probably making somewhere from $100,00 to $125,000 this season.

Loree got a raw deal from the KBO’s KT Wiz back in 2014.  The Wiz had signed both Loree and former major leaguer Andy Sisco to play for the Wiz’s minor league club the season before the Wiz started play in the KBO’s major league.  Although the limited information I was able to obtain indicated that Loree pitched better than Sisco in 2014, the Wiz brought Sisco back in 2015 but not Loree, almost certainly because of Sisco’s better MLB pedigree.

Sisco got bombed for the expansion Wiz and was quickly released, while Loree had to go back to being the Ace of the CPBL for less money. Sisco subsequently pitched in the CPBL also, but nowhere near as effectively as Loree.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  A pair of now 32 year old outfielders, both Hankerd and Gailen are still playing and still hitting.  Unfortunately, neither looks to have much chance to move up at this point to a real money league.

Gailen played for Israel’s surprisingly successful World Baseball Classic team this Spring, but didn’t play especially well, and he’s back in the Indy-A Atlantic League.  His .336 batting average is currently fifth best in the eight-team circuit.

Hankerd is back in the Mexican League for a fourth season.  His .976 OPS is currently 8th in a 16-team circuit known for its hitting.

The obvious place of advancement for players of Hankerd’s and Gailen’s proven talent level is Taiwan’s CPBL.  However, that league has only 12 slots for foreign players (three each for the league’s four teams), and, as far as I am aware, all twelve of those slots are currently held by pitchers.  Like the KBO, the CPBL wants mainly foreign pitchers.

Both the Atlantic League and the Mexican League remain loaded with former major leaguers well over 30 who can still excel at this level.  Sean Burroughs (age 36) and Alberto Callaspo (34) are first and third in the Atlantic League in hitting presently, and Lew Ford (40) played in a few games this year before likely getting hurt.  Chris Roberson (37) and Corey Brown (31) are respectively 4th and 5th in OPS in the Mexican League as of today.  I don’t have nearly as much sympathy for any of these guys, however, because all appear to have enough MLB service time to have earned a pension which presently starts at $34,000 a year at retirement age.

Players I am keeping an eye on in these leagues right now are Yadir Drake, K.C. Hobson and Ramon Urias.  Drake is a 27 year old Cuban right fielder who played pretty well at AA Tulsa in the Dodgers’s system in 2015, but started the 2016 in a terrible slump and was cut after only 19 games.  He’s currently the top hitter in the Mexican League slashing .406/.454/.703.  Hobson is a big 26 year old 1Bman, whose .959 OPS is currently 4th best in the Atlantic League.

Ramon Urias is the only real prospect, however.  He is a Mexican middle infielder who turns 23 tomorrow.  He played two seasons for the Texas Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team in 2011 and 2012 and played well enough for his age for me to wonder why the Rangers apparently released him or sold his rights to the Mexico City Red Devils.  It’s possible that the Red Devils had a more experienced player the Rangers wanted and traded Urias’ rights for that player.

At any rate, Urias had a strong age 21 season in 2015 in both the Mexican summer and winter leagues.  He apparently had some injuries in 2016, but this year his .998 OPS is currently his league’s 7th best.  Urias’ raw defensive numbers at 2B, SS and 3B look good enough that it’s surprising some major league team hasn’t already shelled out the $1M to $3M the Red Devils probably began asking for him after his 2015 campaigns.

Karl Gelinas has started his 11th consecutive season with the Quebec Capitals of the Can-Am League.  Unfortunately, at age 33 now, he doesn’t look to have a whole lot left.  2016 was his least successful campaign for the Capitals since 2009, and he’s started his season slow with a 6.55 ERA after three starts.  He started 2016 slow too, though, and finished up with what was still a solid season for this level.  Although his success for one minor league team no longer shows up in the career totals the way it once did, he remains this generation’s Lefty George.

It appears that Jose Contreras‘ professional baseball career is finally over.  At age 44 (at least), he made 10 starts in the Mexican League early in the 2016 season.  He pitched pretty well, and it is surprising that his pro career seams to have ended then.  I think his hope was to pitch again in the CPBL in the second half of 2016, as he had done the year before, but probably no Taiwanese team came calling.  He pitched in a Florida senior league this winter, and this recent article states that he is volunteering his time to the Ft. Myers Little League, teaching 8 to 12 year olds how to pitch.  The man clearly loves baseball with passion.

The above referenced article concludes with a great quote from Contreras about his pro career: “I had 28 great years: 14 in Cuba and 14 here.”

Jon Velasquez, Paul Oseguera and Brock Bond also appear to be done.  I will always feel that MLB in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular didn’t give Brock Bond a fair shake.

I’m still keeping an eye out for two guys I wrote about last year: Telvin Nash and Jack Snodgrass.  Snodgrass, formerly of the Giants’ system, pitched well enough in the Atlantic League early last year to get a shot from the Rangers.  He was hit hard in four appearances in AAA, and then got sent down to AA, where he pitched well in six starts.  Not well enough, however, to stay in organized baseball.  He’s back in the Atlantic League this year at age 29, where he appears to have quickly injured himself.

Nash (26) was signed by the White Sox last season after a strong Atlantic League start and hit well in the Class A+ Carolina League.  This year, he’s mostly been hurt.  His season didn’t start until May 12th, and he quickly hit his way up to AA, but after three games for Birmingham, he hasn’t played since May 21st.  Injuries are a great way to ruin what may be Nash’s last real shot at a major league career.

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price.  At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.

Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017.  Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.

I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level.  However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.

Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous.  What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.

1.   Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent).  Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding.  He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.

2.  Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent).  Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season.  In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.

3.  Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent).  Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.

4.  Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets).  Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts.  He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.

5.  Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres).  Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player.  Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times.  Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.

[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]

6.  Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent).  Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009.  When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.

7.  Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays).  It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age.  Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.

Honorable Mention.  Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97).  Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242.  However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year.  The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.

 

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

Remembering Dave Nicholson, A Man Before His Time

January 9, 2017

With each league’s leading home run hitter in 2016 (Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter) still waiting to receive a 2017 contract, it got me thinking about slugger Dave Nicholson.  If Nicholson is remembered at all today, it is for setting the single season strikeout record of 175 in 1963, which lasted until Bobby Bonds (187) set the new record in 1969.

Nicholson had a brief major league career, mainly because everything was stacked against him.  He was probably as good a player as today’s Mark Reynolds, a player who has earned more than $27 million in his major league career.

Nicholson played at a time when players with great power, but low batting averages and high strikeout totals, were not valued for their actual contributions on offense.  Add to that the facts that the mid- and late 1960’s when Nicholson played were a terrible time for major league hitters and also that Nicholson played his prime years for two teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, that played in ballparks terrible for power hitters, and it’s easy to understand why Nicholson was drummed out of MLB after only seven seasons and 1,662 major league plate appearances.

Nicholson had only three seasons in which he managed more than 300 plate appearances, but he was better in each of those three seasons than anyone at the time realized.  For the 1963 and 1964 White Sox, teams that finished second each season behind the New York Yankees with records of 94-68 and 98-64, Nicholson’s .738 and .693 OPS numbers don’t seem too impressive.  However, this was good enough for 3rd out of eight White Sox players with at least 300 plate appearances in 1963 and 4th out of ten players with that many plate appearances in 1964.

In 1966 for the Houston Astros, a team that went 72-90, and, raw numbers to the contrary, had much better hitting than pitching, his .767 OPS was third best out of nine players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan and catcher John Bateman, but ahead of Jim Wynn, Rusty Staub and Lee Maye, the former two of whom were long recognized as major league stars.  Lee Maye had a much more successful major league career than Nicholson, as the kind of player (he hit for average but didn’t have much power or walk much) who was much more valued in his day than today.  Playing today, Nicholson’s and Maye’s career plate appearances would probably be reversed.

As the game and the popular understanding of the game change over time, different skills are more or less valued.  There are some players, most notably Gavvy Cravath, who would have been Hall of Famers if they had just been born a generation earlier or later than they actually were.