Archive for the ‘Cleveland Indians’ category

Ouchies

April 20, 2017

There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.

Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?

March 17, 2017

Today, the injury every pitcher dreads is the torn ulnar collateral ligament.  When I was young, it was the torn rotator cuff.

A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion.  Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey.  His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.

Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963.  The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season.  Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings.  His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with  Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23).  The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.

Dailey was 28 in 1963.  I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season.  He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.

In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29.  That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise.  Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.

San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt.  If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.

The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch.  That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum.  Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.

For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers.  A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.

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.

 

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter Finally Have Teams for 2017

February 8, 2017

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter finally agreed to 2017 contracts today.  The Texas Rangers have reported guaranteed Napoli $8.5 million for one year, and the New York Yankees $3.5 million to Chris Carter.  Carter can earn another $500,000 in plate appearance based performance incentives.

Napoli’s contract is about what I had been expecting, although the deal reportedly includes a team option for 2018 and so presumably a buy-out.  Carter’s guarantee is less than I expected, although perhaps not a lot less.

Fangraphs valued Napoli’s 2016 performance at $8.1 million and Carter’s at $7.1 million.  Given the age difference, the Yankees appear to have made the more team-friendly signing.  Carter also gives the Bombers a power bat they sorely need.

Carter must feel seriously disrespected after leading the National League in home runs last year.  That could be a good thing for the Yankees if it inspires Carter to try to improve his game and prove that 2016 was no fluke, at least in terms of his ability to hit home runs in bunches.  If he hits 40+ HRs for a second consecutive seasons, he’ll get a much better deal next off-season, regardless of his lack of other marketable skills.

It’s also interesting to see the Yankees engaged in February bargain-basement shopping.  Things have sure changed since George owned the team.

Somehow, it seems like kind of a relief that these two are finally signed.  Despite Carter’s talk of possibly playing in Asia in 2017, he ultimately did get a deal that’s just enough to keep him in the U.S.

Guys like Napoli and Carter, who don’t find the market they were expecting, almost always end up signing before Spring Training starts.  Still, until it happens, there’s always at least a chance that something weird will happen, like the NL’s reigning home run champ playing the next season in Japan or South Korea.

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.

World Series Notes

November 3, 2016

What a great game!  In theory, I was routing for the Cubs, but without a dog in the fight I reverted to my usual no-dog-in-the-fight mindset: I found myself rooting for individual players in individual situations based on my own personal prejudices.  In other words, I was rooting for the guys I like against the guys I don’t like, or at least like less, and I was rooting for my own hunches to be proven true.

For example, I’m a fan of Rajai Davis based on personal history, so I was thrilled about his big home run.  A former 38th round draft pick, the SF Giants acquired Davis for what was basically a pure salary dump of Matt Morris‘ contract back in 1997.  I expected little from Davis and was very pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be a useful piece in what was otherwise a dreary season.

Through his own hard work, Rajai turned himself into a legitimate major league regular, and I couldn’t be happier for him.  It’s easy to root for guys who no one ever expected anything from but who turn out to be something.

For all the talk about what great managers Terry Francona and Joe Madden are, their performance in the World Series didn’t impress me and was arguably cowardly, or at least overly safe.  There is obviously a lot more to managing than in-game decision-making and roster management, but Game 7 was pretty much a testament to which manager had overworked his best pitchers too much.  25 players get you to the post-season, and you get to pick your 25 for each post-season series, so there is pretty much no excuse for not using every player on that 25 roster to your advantage.

I also didn’t like Francona’s decision to pitch around Anthony Rizzo to face Ben Zobrist in the top of the 10th inning.  No matter what the past history of the individual match-ups suggested (and they had to be very small data sets given the players involved), Zobrist struck me as the player on the Cubs’ line-up with the single best likelihood of a productive at-bat in that scenario.  I also thought that putting Rizzo on base could mean a critical second run, and this time I turned out to be entirely right.

Managers have the least secure jobs in major league baseball, and it puts a lot of pressure on managers, even the best ones, to make safe decisions that won’t be second-guessed to the nth degree if they don’t go as hoped.  Of course, precisely because managers’ continuing tenure is based solely on results is the very reason why this strategy/tendency is so self-defeating.  If you are judged solely on results, you have to make the decision that is most likely to get the win, no matter how much it goes against conventional wisdom or what the sportswriters think is inside baseball.

I will admit that my own opinion that Francona in particular, but also Madden with Aroldis Chapman, overworking their best pitchers would likely blow up in their faces was based on my own subjective observations.  I remember all too well how Dusty Baker rode his excellent bullpen horses as hard as he possibly could and how they just didn’t quite get him to the finish line in the 2002 World Series.

Even assuming that you go into the World Series with fewer pitchers on the 25-man roster than you carry during the regular season, you have to find a way to steal outs here and there with the bottom of your World Series bullpen so your race horses don’t run out of gas.  Madden “stole” two crucial bottom of the tenth outs with Carl Edwards, Jr. (I hope that Senior is still around and proud of his son tonight), which was a gutsy and ultimately successful move.

I also have to say that the Giants’ World Series victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014, after 32 long years of personal disappointment and suffering (I became a die-hard fan in 1978), have given me a certain equanimity that I wouldn’t possess otherwise.  I enjoyed the shots of Cubs and Indians fans looking miserable each time the game turned against their squad.  I’ve been there, brothers and sisters, but now that the Giants have won a few, I will likely never experience that level of misery ever again.

In fact, if the Giants never win another World Series again in my life time, I will still have 2010, 2012 and 2014.  It will be so much easier to see the glass as half full going forward.