Archive for the ‘Denver Rockies’ category

Self Confidence

May 16, 2017

One thing I’ve wondered about for some time is the role that self confidence plays in major league performance.

Baseball is definitely not the realm of touchy-feely psychological stuff, but I have come to believe strongly that self-confidence is an as yet unmeasured, or at least under-measured, consideration that needs more consideration.

People with a long-term understanding of MLB baseball generally know a couple of things: (1) good teams are better at developing players than bad teams because players progress better in a winning environment than a losing environment; and (2) it is easier to develop hitters in hitters’ parks and it is easier to develop pitchers in pitchers’ parks, than the opposite. I haven’t done the research (someone should), but I think the research would show the above two claims are objectively true.

Some of this is personal.  I was a pipsqueak as a kid, but I could play ball, at least until the bases were moved out to 90 feet and the pitchers began pitching off a mound and occasionally throwing curveballs before my growth spurt arrived.  I had a great deal of confidence at the smaller sizes, and I was a star, but when the distances got bigger and I didn’t, I lost my confidence.  The drop in my subsequent offensive performance was greater than the objective changes, I believe, because I lost the confidence I once had had.

Does Eric Thames‘ 2017 performance (s0 far) have something to do with the fact that he was an under-performing MLB prospect, who went to South Korea’s KBO, made a few adjustments, and found that he was a tremendous hitter in a less talented, extreme hitters’ league?  I definitely think so.

Thames built up a lot of confidence in his abilities in his three KBO seasons.  He returned to MLB older, wiser and with a sense that he really had what it took to perform in MLB, plus the ability to make adjustments and the maturity to deal with slumps without giving up on his fundamentally sound approach and his sense of self confidence.

Again, I have not done the comprehensive research to prove my claim — however. my limited investigations suggest that major league regular batters playing their home games in extreme hitters’ parks like Coors Field and the Ball Park at Arlington hit better on the road than they have before because of the confidence they get from their artificially elevated home park performances.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I think the same is true for pitchers who pitch their home games in an extreme pitchers’ parks.  Even professionals perform better when their performance is rewarded by playing in highly favorable conditions half of the time, in part because the level of MLB play is so high that slight advantages in playing conditions can have out-sized effects.  Putting a prospect in the best possible circumstances to succeed seems to be the best way to bring about that result.

The A’s Santiago Casilla is perhaps a case in point.  He has always been a power pitcher.  With the A’s early in his career, he didn’t live up to his arm strength.  He was traded to the Giants, in a league that at the time wasn’t quite as talented and was generally a more fastball, power slider league.  He developed at an advanced age and under the right circumstances into a star.  He has now returned to the Junior Circuit, older and wiser (and against a league that hasn’t seen him pitch regularly for years), and he’s been a better pitcher for the A’s in his age 36 season (at least until his last appearance on May 12th, when he got hammered) than he was in any of his age 26 through 28 seasons.

This is a topic that is worth further investigation.  Unfortunately, I am both too lazy and too busy to do the research myself.  Hey, this is a great research topic for anyone willing to take it on.

If my hypothesis is correct, teams playing in extreme hitters parks should focus on drafting and developing hitters, and vice versa.  These teams should seek to trade for or sign free agents veteran pitchers, whose talents match the hitters’ parks they’ll have to pitch in (generally ground ball pitchers who throw strikes) and have developed a level of confidence that won’t be easily shaken by the hitters’ parks they will now be pitching their home games in.  And vice versa.

There has already been speculation that the Yankees, with their short home right field porch, should be a potential landing spot for Brandon Belt, if (and when) the Giants are sellers at the trade deadline.  It could indeed be a match made in post-season heaven.

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Eric Thames’ Hot Start

April 27, 2017

I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start.  He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.

Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO.  The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat.  They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.

In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed.  He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed.  It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.

Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results.  Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.

However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money.  He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities.  It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.

Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers.  He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.

Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball.  It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.

Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.

I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it.  It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

San Francisco Giants’ Minor Additions

February 19, 2017

In the last month the Giants have made a number of small moves, none of which alone inspired me to write anything, but are now numerous enough for comment.

The Giants signed catcher Nick Hundley for what has been reported as a $2 million guarantee.  The move surprised me a bit at the time it was announced, in that I didn’t think that another back-up catcher would be a priority with the emergence of Trevor Brown and the minor league signings of 4-A catchers Tim Federowicz and Josmil Pinto earlier this off-season.

Signing Hundley also forced the Giants to designate infielder Ehire Adrianza for assignment, who was quickly claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers then promptly placed Adrianza on waivers again, and he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.  Either way, the Giants lose a useful 4-A player entering his age 27 season.

However, just as you can’t have enough pitching, you probably can’t have enough back-up catchers, since catchers tend to get hurt a lot.  It’s safe to say, though, that at age 33 Hundley won’t hit as well at AT&T Park as he did at Coors Field last year.

The Giants have signed a couple of relief pitchers on minor league deals, David Hernandez and Bryan Morris.  I definitely like Hernandez better.  He looks like the kind of strong-armed pitcher (494 Ks in 487 career major league innings), who has pitched mostly in hitters’ parks and could get a huge bump in performance as a right-handed pitcher at AT&T Park.

The Giants typically sign at least one reliever on a minor league deal each off-season who really helps the team the next season.  The odds are good in my mind that one of Hernandez, Morris or Neil Ramirez, whom I wrote about briefly earlier this off-season, will be that relief pitcher in 2017.

Most recently, the Giants have signed veteran infielder Aaron Hill to a minor league deal.  With the recent signing of Jae-gyun Hwang, I didn’t think the Giants would sign another infielder.  Obviously, the team thought otherwise, and Hill also replaces the now gone Adrianza.

Hill is certainly a veteran presence of the kind the Giants typically value, and he has some right-handed power potential, although he really hasn’t hit for much power since the 2013 season.  The Giants could still use another right-handed hitting outfielder with pop to compete in Spring Training, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at this point.

 

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.

Who’s Left?

January 21, 2017

In my mind the last piece the 2017 San Francisco Giants need is a right-handed power hitting outfielder.  Right now, the team’s likely third through fifth outfielders are Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.  All are reasonably young and talented, but none has significant major league experience, something the Giants typically value highly.

The team has signed Michael Morse and Justin Ruggiano, both of whom you will note are right-handed hitters, to minor league deals, but neither looks like a particularly realistic shot to make the team out of Spring Training.

I scanned mlbtraderumors.com’s free agent tracker yesterday, and Ryan Raburn and Rickie Weeks look like the best two right-handed hitting outfielders still available.  Both could be signed to minor league deals for 2017, or in Weeks’ case a relatively inexpensive major league deal, it well appears.

Of the two, I like Weeks better, because he’s two years younger, has more power, has had a much better career, and all in all had a better 2016 season with the bat than Raburn did.  Fangraphs says that Weeks’ outfield defense is brutally bad, but Weeks has played only 55 games in his lengthy major league career in the outfield, all of them in the last two seasons.  Weeks still appears to run fairly well, and I would have to think that he’d get better as an outfielder as he gets more experience after a long major league career through age 31 spent exclusively at 2B.

Another player I like is Jabari Blash, who was just designated for assignment by the Padres.  He isn’t going to hit for average, but he’s blasted an astounding 45 home runs in 646 AAA plate appearances, about one full season at that level.  He’ll only be 27 in 2017, and his on-base percentages are high too.

The main knock on Blash is that he’s got no more major league experience than Williamson, Parker or Hernandez.  However, on the subject of finding the next Brandon Moss, Blash has to be right at the top of the list.

Colorado Rockies Sign Ian Desmond for $70 Million

December 7, 2016

In a move that has left almost the entire baseball commentariat scratching their heads, the Rockies today announced that they signed Ian Desmond to a five-year $70 million, a signing that will reportedly also cost them the 11th overall selection in the 2017 Draft.  While I think that giving up this draft pick at the same time that you are wildly overpaying Desmond makes little sense any way you slice, the only way it makes even a modicum of sense to me is if the Rockies are concerned about Trevor Story‘s ability to come back from the torn thumb ligament that ended his 2016 season.

The 2016 Rockies had gaping holes at 1B and LF, at least until David Dahl was called up to fill the latter position, but Desmond isn’t a good enough hitter for this signing to make sense if they plan to play him regularly at either position.  The Rockies could probably have signed Chris Carter to play first for one year and $8 million; and, while Carter’s game has it’s own big holes, he might well hit 50 home runs playing half his games in Coors Field.

There has been speculation that the Rockies intend to use Desmond as a jack-of-all-trades type player, in the manner of Ben Zobrist.  While Desmond can play all three outfield positions and may well end up in right field with Carlos Gonzales moving to 1B, Desmond has played a total of only eight games in his professional career at an infield position other than shortstop, all of them at 2B, the last time in 2009, his MLB rookie year.  It’s no guarantee that a shortstop with almost no experience at 2B can slide over to the new position without facing a steep learning curve, particularly when it comes to turning the double-play.

It would have made more sense to me to sign Carter, keep the draft pick and use the $60 million savings to try to improve their bullpen.