Archive for the ‘Cincinnati Reds’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men!

October 11, 2018

A couple of days ago mlbtraderumors.com posted a list of recently announced players who have elected free agency after being out-righted off of teams’ 40-man rosters and accepting minor league assignments during the season.  It’s a virtual who’s-who of players who should seriously consider playing in Asia in 2019 if any Asian teams will have them.  Players who might look particularly appealing to Asian teams based on age, past major league success and 2018 performance on this list are 1B Tommy Joseph (27 in 2018), SS/2B Dixon Machado (27), RHP Drew Hutchison (28), RHP Mike Morin (28), RHP Casey Sadler (28), RHP Chris Rowley (28), RHP Ryan Weber (28), RHP Jacob Turner (28), RHP Mike Hauschild (29), LHP Danny Coulombe (29), RHP Kevin Quackenbush (30), RHP Jhan Martinez (30), LHP Buddy Boshers (31) and LHP Tommy Milone (32).

A player I have thought for the last several years should take his talents to Asia is Jabari Blash.  He’s 29 now, hit a ton in the Pacific Coast League, but failed to take advantage of another major league opportunity with the Angels this season.  It’s not too late to become a star in Asia, Jabari, you certainly have the raw talent.

Slugging 1Bman Dan Vogelbach turns 26 in December, and he’s out of minor league options.  After a season in he hit at AAA but only hit .207 with a .691 OPS in 102 major league plate appearances, his best offer might come from Asia.  Socrates Brito is another out of options 26 year old with significant, but not yet successful, major league experience who could appeal to Asian teams.

1B/corner OF Jordan Patterson turns 27 in February.  He still appears to have options left, but hasn’t played in the majors since a 10-game cup of coffee in which he hit well for the Rockies back in 2016.  Despite solid, if unspectacular, AAA performance the last two seasons, he doesn’t appear to be in the Rockies’ future plans in any serious way.

Mike Tauchman, who turns 28 in December, has done much in a couple of brief major league cups of coffee, but he could likely be a starting center fielder in Asia.  Corner IF/OF Patrick Kivlehan who turns 29 in December got significant major league playing time with the Reds in 2017, but spent most of 2018 back at AAA.

Another soon to be 29 year old I root for is 2B Nate Orf.  He got a his first cup of coffee with the Brewers this year, which vastly improves his chances at interesting an Asian team.  Orf turns the double play well and has a career minor league .387 on-base percentage.  Unfortunately, he has little power, and Asian teams want their foreign players to hit for power.

Jose Fernandez was a 30 year old rookie 1Bman for the Angels in 2018 with a .697 OPS in 123 plate appearances, after joining the MLB system in 2017 following a long career in Cuba.  Asian teams have come to love their Cuban imports, who have had a great deal of success, particularly in Japan.

UT Danny Santana (28), UT Drew Robinson (27), and OF Noel Cuevas (27) are three more position players who may well both be available and draw interest from NPB and KBO teams.

Starting pitchers who fit the bill are (lefties in parentheses) Austin Voth (27), Adrian Sampson (27), Alec Mills (27), William Cuevas (28), Manny Banuelos (28, LHP), Daniel Corcino (28), Casey Kelly (29), Aaron Brooks (29), Drew Gagnon (29), Eric Jokisch (29), Asher Wojciechowski (30), Deck McGuire (30), Chris Bassitt (30), and Casey Lawrence (31).

Relievers I could see making the move to NPB (KBO wants starters only, thank you) are Joely Rodriguez (27, LHP), Jake Barrett (27), Tyler Duffey (28), Andrew Kittredge (29), Scott McGough (29), Chris Smith (30), Liam Hendriks (30), Neftali Feliz (31) and Josh Edgin (32, LHP).

Needless to say, most of the 48 currently marginal major leaguers I have listed above will be pitching in the MLB system in 2019 and at best I’ve named only half of the 2018 mlb system players who will be playing in the Asian majors at any time in 2019.  For example, I haven’t even identified most of the arbitration eligible players likely to be non-tendered when the time comes in November.  There are an awful lot of these guys every off-season for the Asian major league teams to choose from, and no more than half of them are willing to pitch in Asia in the first place.

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Inside-the-Park Home Runs

August 24, 2018

I can’t do better than this wikipedia article on the subject, but here are few highlights.

Jesse “The Crab” Burkett is the all-time leader with 55 career inside-the-park home runs.  Willie Wilson‘s 13 career inside-the-park sprints is the most by any player since 1950.

Wahoo Sam Crawford hit an astounding 12 inside-the-parkers in 1901 for the Cincinnati Reds.  Crawford is, of course, the all-time career leader with 309 triples, back in the days when the triple was major league baseball’s big power hit.

When Big Ed Delahanty hit four home runs in a game on July 25, 1896, two of the inside-the-park variety, making him the only player to have an inside-the-parker as part of a four home run game.

When Alcides Escobar hit an inside-the-park home run on October 27, 2015, he became the first player to do so in a World Series game since 1929.  It was fairly common before that, occurring nine times in the first 26 World Series.

Roberto Clemente became the first and only player to hit a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam, when he did it on July 25, 1956, during his break-out season at age 21.

Ichiro Suzuki is the only player to have hit an inside-the-park home run in the All-Star Game when he did it in 2007.

On August 18, 2009, Kyle Blanks, weighing in at 285 lbs, became the heaviest player ever to hit an inside-the-park job.

On July 18, 2010, Jhonny Peralta hit the slowest recorded inside-the-park home run.  It took him 16.74 seconds to round the bases after outfielder Ryan Rayburn crashed through the bullpen fence trying to catch the ball.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2018

May 12, 2018

Shohei Ohtani has more or less blown up any discussion of the best hitting pitchers in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be the next two-way player, although he’s still got a long way to go and his hitting abilities may not be able to keep up with his pitching abilities as he shoots up through the minors.  McKay is already ready for a promotion to A+ ball as a pitcher, and I wouldn’t hold him back to let his hitting catch up.  Still, major league pitchers who can also pinch hit should have value in today’s extreme relief pitching game.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  I didn’t want to jump on the Ohtani as hitter bandwagon too soon, but I was convinced he’s for real (even if he doesn’t continue to bat .344 and produce over 1.000) when he beat the shift with a double down the left field line about a week ago.  Ohtani has what it takes to be a great major league hitter, although he’ll face his forced adjustments and his hitting performance will be affected by the many games in which he does not bat.  That said, the baby-faced 23 year old phenom can hit.

2.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher hitter, but the bloom is off the rose compared to Ohtani, who will be DHing three times a week until major league baseball pitchers prove they can get him out.  A one-on-one Ohtani-MadBum home run derby at the All-Star Break would be an enormous amount of fun.  Madbum should be healthy by then.

3.  Zack Greinke  (.229 BA, .579 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.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.229, .564).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher may be over, but he sure could hit.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.181 BA, .561 OPS).  A poor start to the 2018 season has brought Syndergaard’s batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he has power and will take a walk.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson has had only one plate appearance since 2012, but he could hit.

8.   Mike Leake (.200, .511).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.214, .485) and Tyson Ross (.199, .476).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable MentionsCC Sabathia (.212, .539)  CC hasn’t had a hit since 2010, but he could hit when he had the opportunity to bat more than three or four times a season.  Travis Wood (.185, .537).  Wood’s major league career appears over.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.226, .618).  A shoulder injury has prevented Lorenzen from pitching or hitting so far in 2018.  Ty Blach (.194, .505) hit as a rookie in 2017 but is off to a terrible start with the bat in 2018.  Ben Lively (.182, .545) still has to prove he can be a major league starter.

Is It Too Soon to Call Shohei Ohtani the Best Hitting Pitcher in Major League Baseball?

April 11, 2018

Every year just before or just after the regular season starts I write a post of the best hitting pitchers in MLB.  These articles are some of the most popular I’ve written, so I do it pretty religiously every year until now.

This year, I don’t know what to do about Shohei Ohtani.  He’s hit home runs in three consecutive games, including one that traveled nearly 450 feet, but he has had only 19 major league plate appearances.

I have generally tried to limit my list to pitchers with at least 100 major league at-bats in order to weed out great one-season fluke performances.  But no one has come along like Ohtani in several generations, a true two-way player who can’t really be compared with anyone I’ve seen play in MLB since I became a fan in 1978.

Ohtani also has an established track record in Japan’s major leagues.  How much credit do you give him for that?  On a scale from 1 to 10 with the MLB AAA a 1 and the MLB majors, I would rank NPB’s majors as a 4.  NPB is a good league, but it’s not the MLB majors.

There is no doubt even with a limited sample size that Ohtani is an elite MLB rookie prospect on both sides of the ball.  It still remains to be seen on the hitting side how quickly he will adjust once MLB pitchers, scouts and analytics guys find the holes in his swing.  (As a pitching prospect, Ohtani has a less of a problem — unfamiliarity is a pitcher’s friend, and as long as he can continue to command his pitches, it could well be 2019 before major league hitters figure out how to attack his exceptional stuff.)

As such, I’m going to hold off on my annual article until I feel more confident that Ohtani’s performance is for real.  With Ohtani DHing three times a week, that shouldn’t be too long.

The thing that excites me even more than Ohtani’s exceptional MLB performance so far, is that his breakthrough has the possibility of effecting a paradygm shift in MLB.

For the last generation at least, MLB teams have a made a decision when they draft or sign an amateur player that they will develop that player either as a hitter/position player or as a pitcher.  Most of the time MLB teams make the right decision, but once in a while you get a two-way player on whom the team makes the wrong decision.

For example, I think the odds are high in hindsight that Micah Owings would have had a more successful major league career if the DiamondBacks had elected to develop him as a hitter, rather than as a pitcher.  Owings was a real prospect on both sides of the ball out of college, but under the old regime, the D’Backs made a decision that he was going to be a pitcher and stuck with it until he hurt his arm and couldn’t be a pitcher any longer.

With early first round 2017 picks Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene, the Rays and Reds have made at least some effort to develop them as two-way players, at least while they are still in the low minors.  I strongly suspect that Shohei’s performance in Japan had something to do with decisions to try to so develop McKay and Greene at least a little bit as two-way players, because everyone in MLB knew well by the time of the 2017 amateur draft what Ohtani was doing in Japan at a level of play too high to be an aberration.

Obviously, there won’t be a whole lot of players so good on both sides of the ball that MLB teams will try to develop them as two-way players.  However, there was always be a few top amateur prospects who can do everything on a baseball field.

In today’s game, two-players could be extremely valuable, at least enough to give these prospects a chance to try both in the low minors and see how it goes.  The American League has the DH, which is ideal for taking advantage of a two-way player, but the NL still needs pinch-hitters and there are fewer roster spots for them now that all teams are carrying more relief pitchers.

In 2003-2004, Brooks Kieschnick had some value as a relief pitcher/pinch hitter/emergency left-fielder for the Brewers. (Kieschnick had been developed as a hitter, and only turned to pitching when his MLB career as a position player didn’t pan out — he’d been an effective college pitcher but it wasn’t a close call when he was drafted as a hitter.) Why not give at least a few two-way prospects two-way training in the minors leagues to try to develop a more valuable major league player down the line?

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.

KBO Goes Younger and Cheaper with its Foreign Imports in 2018

February 13, 2018

With the Samsung Lion’s announced signing of 28 year old pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla to a reported $700,000 deal, South Korea’s KBO has now filled all 30 roster spots for foreign players heading into the 2018 season.  KBO teams went younger and cheaper this off-season, which is probably a very sensible thing to do.

Last off-season, KBO teams spent big, hoping that the Korean National Team would do well in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the KBO would see a big boost in attendance as a result.  The Korean team under-performed again in the WBC, and KBO attendance, while steady, did not experience the attendance surge KBO teams had been betting on.

KBO teams spent big on some older foreign pitchers with significant MLB experience like Jeff Manship, Carlos Villanueva and Alexi Ogando.  However, these oldsters had a hard time staying healthy, and their performances while solid, weren’t the league-leading performances their respective teams were paying for.

Also, this off-season KBO teams elected to jettison some of their big foreign stars who still pitched effectively in 2017 but were getting long in the tooth, namely Dustin Nippert, Andy Van Hekken and Eric Hacker.  Nippert was able to sign a $1 million with the KT Wiz, but that was less than half of the record-setting $2.2 million the Doosan Bears paid him in 2017.

Well, there’s a lot to be said for going younger and cheaper.  Players going into their age 26-29 seasons are a lot less likely to get hurt than players over the age of 30.

Also, except for teams with a realistic chance of going deep into the post-season, KBO teams should be looking for foreign pitchers they can develop and keep around for a few years.  You might get one great year from an MLB veteran over 30, but you might get three or more good years out of a pitcher who is signed entering his age 27 or 28 season.

The initial contract that a foreign player in the KBO signs tends to have a big impact on future contracts.  KBO teams own the rights of each foreign player in the KBO, meaning that the team which signs a foreigner to his first contract is the only game in town unless the player plays well enough to generate interest from a NPB team.

Starting a rookie foreign player in the $600,000 to $800,000 range means that it’s going to take more than one fine KBO season for that player to begin to approach the top of the salary scale for foreign players, which is currently between about $1.5 million to $2 million.  Needless to say, if you pick the right 26 to 29 year old at $600,000 to $800,000, that could be a player a KBO team could build a team around for the next three or four seasons without breaking the budget.

MLB Teams Want Shorter Free Agent Contracts

January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the fact that only two of the top dozen free agents has yet signed a contract. mlbtraderumors.com weighed in again on this issue today.

The one thing that seems obvious to me looking at the players who have signed free agent contracts this off-season so far is that teams want shorter contract lengths (i.e., no more than three years) and will pay more per year to get them.

No team has yet signed a player to more than three years.  However, the players who have agreed to three year deals have done pretty well, at least compared to mlbtraderumors’ predictions for its top 50 free agents, which experience has shown deserve a lot of weight.  mlbtraderumors has a formula it uses and tweaks every off-season based on the previous off-season’s signing results, and their predictions have proven to be well better than educated guesses.

Carlos Santana’s three-year $60 million deal is the biggest free agent signing so far.  mlbtraderumors correctly predicted the three-year term, but underestimated the payout by $5 million per year.  Tyler Chatwood (predicted 3 years $20M; actually received 3 years $38M). Jake McGee (3/$18M; 3/$27M), Mike Minor (4/$28M; 3/$28M), Bryan Shaw (3/$21M; 3/$27M), Tommy Hunter (2/$12M; 2/$18M), Pat Neshek (2/$12M; 2/16.25M), Michael Pineda (2/$6M; 2/$10M) and Miles Mikolas (2/$10M; 2/$15.5M) all did significantly better on two and three year deals than predicted.

Meanwhile, only Addison Reed (4/$36M; 2/$16.75M), CC Sabathia (2/$24M; 1/$10M), Yonder Alonzo (2/$22M; 2/$16M), Brandon Kintzler (2/$14M; 1/$5M) and Howie Kendrick (2/$12M; 2/$7M) have done significantly worse than predicted.  Zack Cozart (3/$42M; 3/$38M), Jay Bruce (3/$39M; 3/$39M), Juan Nicasio (2/$21M; 2/$17M), Jhoulys Chacin (2/$14M; 2/$15.5M), Welington Castillo (2/$14M; 2/$15M), Anthony Swarzak (2/$14M; 2/$14M) and Steve Cishek (2/$14M; 2/$13M) got right around what was predicted.

Finally, both Wade Davis (4/$60M; 3/$52M) and Brandon Morrow (3/$24M; 2/$21m) got one fewer year than predicted, but at a much higher annual rate, so much higher, in fact, that one has to think there wasn’t much incentive to hold out for the extra year.  I think these signings make it likely that each of Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will be forced to accept three year offers, although probably for only $3M to $6M less than mlbtraderumors predicted over four seasons.

I suspect that advanced analytics have suggested to teams something they already knew: long-term free agents contract can be a long-term albatross around a team’s neck is veteran player gets hurt or old fast.  Better to pay more per season for fewer seasons so the burden of a bad contract doesn’t hurt the team for as many seasons.

I could see Yu Darvish being forced to accept a five-year deal in the $140M to $150M range, although as the No. 1 starter available this off-season, I think someone will eventually give him a sixth season.  The reported rumors sound as if both Kansas City and San Diego have made Eric Hosmer offers close to the six years and $132M that mlbtraderumors predicted.

The market for J.D. Martinez does not seem to be developing as predicted, but the four years at $100M predicted for Jake Arrieta seems likely to be met since he is the second best free agent starter available.  Scott Boras is representing a number of top free agents this year, and his asks have been pie-in-the-sky, as they always are.  I don’t believe the reports that any free agent will wait until after the 2018 regular season starts to sign, because that is an absolute value killer for a free agent if ever there was one.

It’s likely that a majority of the mid-range free agents (Nos. 20-50) who haven’t yet signed won’t do as well as the predictions, however, based on the fact that many teams have now filled their needs by the free agent players signed to date.