Archive for the ‘Detroit Tigers’ category

More Asian Comings and Goings

December 2, 2019

In terms of players moving between MLB and the Asian majors, the biggest news since my last post on the subject is that slugging 1Bman Justin Bour will be playing for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s NPB in 2020.  No word yet on what Hanshin will be paying him, but it’s likely for a guarantee of over $1 million, given Bour’s major league pedigree.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a great signing by Hanshin.  Bour is entering his age 32 seasons, and players of his talent level and size (he’s listed at 6’4″ and 270 lbs).  His 2018 season was a big step down from 2015-2017, and in 2019 he played his way out of a major league contract for 2020.

Bour also has a big career platoon split, which helped make him a useful major league platoon player, but which doesn’t bode well for Japan, where he will expected to play every day for the money he’s getting.  If Bour can hit NPB right-handers well enough to stick, it may just be a matter of time before we see him getting a day off to “rest” every time Hanshin faces a tough lefty starter.

The Hiroshima Carp have signed South African born Tayler Scott to a deal that pays him a $175K signing bonus and a $525K salary, which may or may not be guaranteed.  Scott has major league stuff, but not major league command — sometimes these kind of pitchers do very well in NPB, where the margin for error is greater than the MLB majors.

Drew VerHagen and Aderlin Rodriguez are two more MLB system products who will be playing in NPB next year.  VerHagen has enjoyed some MLB major league success and should be a good bet to perform well for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2020.  Aderlin Rodriguez is something of a bargain-basement player for a bargain-basement team, the Orix Buffaloes.

Rumors have it that Pierce Johnson and Joely Rodriguez will be returning to MLB for 2020, at least if they get the contract offers they are hoping for.  IMHO they are both likely to receive major league contract offers.

The SK Wyverns of the KBO will be posting South Korean ace Kwang-hyun Kim.  You may remember that Kim was posted a few years’ back, but failed to reach agreement with the winning bidder, the San Diego Padres, and returned to South Korea.  Kim then promptly tore his elbow tendon and missed a season.

Since then, Kim has firmly re-established himself as one of the KBO’s two best domestic starters, and he wants to give MLB another shot, although he’s already 31 years old.  Reports have it that MLB teams are interested, but we’ll see what kinds of offers he gets or doesn’t get.

New MLB system players who will be plying there trade in the KBO in 2020 are Aaron Altherr, Mike Wright, Adrian Sampson, Dixon Machado and Nick Kingham.  The NC Dinos signed both Altherr and Wright and is giving them the best deals so far for first year foreign KBOers this off-season — both Altherr and Wright will reportedly receive $200K signing bonuses and $800K guaranteed salaries, which is the most they can make under the league’s salary cap.  Nick Kingham will also reportedly receive a $900K guarantee, although $200K of that is for a team option for 2021, most likely also for $900K, so if things go right for Kingham and the SK Wyverns, he’ll earn $1.6M over two seasons.

Meanwhile, the low-budget Kiwoom Heroes re-signed pitcher Eric Jokisch for a second KBO season at a modest $700K max, which includes have-to-earn-’em performance incentives.  No one ever said life was fair.

KBO’s KT Wiz Sign Pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne

November 12, 2019

The KT Wiz of South Korea’s KBO signed RHP Odrisamer Despaigne for 2020 at a $750,000 salary and another $150,000 in performance incentives.  The only thing unusual about the signing is that Despaigne will be 33 in 2020, which is about two years older than the typical cut-off age for players going to South Korea or Japan to start the season.

In Despaigne’s favor are the facts that he has the kind of MLB experience Asian teams look for, and he had a good year at AAA in 2019.  His 3.47 ERA was third best out of 23 International League starters who threw at least 100 innings in the suddenly hitter-friendly circuit.  His 124 Ks was also third best in the IL, and struck out almost exacty one batter per inning pitched.  Finally, Despaigne is Cuban, and Cubans are a hot commodity in the Asian majors right now.

Despaigne is a great pitcher who doesn’t have major league stuff.  Sometimes, guys like him can be very successful in Asia, at least so long as they find the league in which their stuff is good enough to take advantage of their ability to pitch.  Asian teams generally prefer foreigners with major league stuff, who haven’t been able to put it together in the MLB majors, usually because their command isn’t quite good enough.  Pitchers with big fastballs, a sharp breaking pitch and a little brains can be very successful in Asia if they figure out that they can afford to miss out over the plate more often than they could in MLB.

The nice thing for the Wiz is that Despaigne is a relative bargain.  His level of past MLB major league experience would usually require a total commitment at the $1M KBO cap for first year foreign players.  Despaigne would likely have gotten the full $1M if he were two years younger.

In a related note, I saw that Tim Adleman recently re-signed to a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers for 2020.  Too bad — he had as good a season in the International League as Despaigne did.  He pitched in the KBO in 2018 on a $1.05M contract the Samsung Lions had given him (the KBO’s $1M cap was imposed the next off-season), after he led the Cincinnati Reds in innings pitched in 2017 (the Reds’ pitching that year was bad and hurt).

Adleman wasn’t terrible, with an 8-12 record and a 5.05 ERA when the KBO was still an extreme hitters league, but it wasn’t good enough for the money he was making, and he found himself starting the 2019 season in the Atlantic League, almost certainly because he was already 31 entering the 2019 season.  The Tigers signed him after only three Atlantic League appearances, and he put in a fine season for them at the AA and AAA levels.

All of which means, Adleman wouldn’t be a bad bet for a KBO team on a contract paying a $600,000 salary and another $200,000 in performance incentives.  Now that Adleman knows the league, he might be better in a second go ’round.  Of course, that could occur only if Adleman was willing to spend another year in South Korea.  Some American players don’t enjoy the experience of playing and living in a foreign country for six months out of the year.

Hiroshima Carp Sign DJ Johnson

October 25, 2019

The last few off-seasons I have been writing posts about 4-A stars who would be good bets for Asia’s NPB and KBO.  I’m not motivated to do so this off-season, but I will be noting some of the signings by Asian teams.

NPB’s Hiroshima Carp just signed former Colorado Rockies’ reliever DJ Johnson.  He’s a big right-hander who will be 30 in 2020.  He has major league stuff, at least based on his strikeout rates, but not enough command for MLB.

In recent years, we’ve seen just about every NPB team bring in relief pitchers like Johnson, guys with great stuff but not quite the command they need to be successful in MLB.  The NPB team’s hope is that the particular pitcher of this type will be able to take advantage of the wider NPB strike zone and will gain confidence by being able to get away with fastballs out over the plate more often in Japan than they can in MLB.

Sometimes it works out for the player and NPB team, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Needless to say, some pitchers can’t find the level of command they need to succeed in Japan, while some do.  The ones who do often are extremely successful.  Dennis Sarfate and Marc Kroon are examples of hard throwers who were record-setting relievers in Japan.

South Korea’s KBO and Taiwan’s CPBL only want foreign starters, so NPB is the only real option for 4-A relievers.  If they are not quite good enough for NPB, then the next best option is the Mexican League, which means the Mexican League usually has half a dozen high-quality closers every season.

However, NPB really loves its 4-A relievers.  Although there are only four major league roster spots for foreign players per NPB team, all NPB teams now sign an additional 2 to 4 foreigners to pitch at the minor league level.  These players can and will typically be promoted to the NPB majors as soon another foreigner gets hurt or is ineffective.

Also, NPB has a less than free-market salary scale under which top relief pitchers are relatively better paid than their MLB counterparts.  Every off-season in MLB features a large number of marginal major league relievers who won’t get major league contracts entering the upcoming season.  By going to Japan these players can make major league money while playing in a league where they are more likely to be successful.  They are also a good bet for NPB teams, because even if they aren’t great, they are usually adequate NPB major league relievers.

This is the time of year that 4-A relievers are starting to be non-tendered or electing free agency after being designated for assignment.  Aside from Johnson, former Detroit Tigers’ pitchers Daniel Stumpf and Victor Alcantara just became free agents.

Strumpf is a marginal MLB major league left-handed specialist who has the strikeout rates NPB teams prefer.  He’ll be 29 next season.  Alcantara’s strikeout rates aren’t as impressive, but he’s two years younger than Strumpf.  NPB teams love foreign players going into their age 27 seasons.

Of course, there is always the question of whether an individual MLB system player is willing to play in an Asian league, even for considerably more money.  Many Latin American born players go to Asia, because for them, it isn’t as big a deal to leave the United States.

Is It Worth Tanking to Improve Your MLB Draft Position?

September 25, 2019

My team, the SF Giants, are currently in line to get either the 13th or 14th pick in the 2020 June Draft.  Gints fans will remember that the team made deals at the trade deadline, but they were kind of push.  The team sold on a couple of relievers, but also made trades designed to help the team going forward in 2019.  The Gints still had an outside shot at making the play-offs at the trade deadline, and they play in a market large enough to make total rebuilds relatively expensive.

Is it worth tanking, at least once the team has realized it has no reasonable chance of making the post-season, in order to get a higher selection in the next MLB draft?

I looked at the first twelve draft picks from the June drafts starting with 1987 (the first year the June draft was the only MLB amateur draft conducted for the year) through 2009 (which is long enough ago that we should now know whether the players drafted were major league success stories).  Suffice it say, with the first 12 draft picks of each June draft, the team imagines it has drafted a future major league star in compensation for sucking ass the previous season.

In order to keep things simple, I used baseball reference’s career WAR totals to determine whether each drafted player was a major league success.  Not precise, I’ll admit, since what drafting teams really care about is the first six-plus major league seasons of control.  However, I don’t know how to create a computer program to figure out the years-of-control WAR for each drafted player, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to do so even if I knew how.  Career WAR seems a close enough approximation.

Also, for purposes of my study, no player is considered to have lower than a 0 career WAR — you cannot convince me that a drafted player who never reaches the majors is worth more than a drafted player who played in the majors but had a negative career WAR.  A player reaches and plays in the majors 9 times out of 10 because he is the best player available at that moment to take the available roster spot.  The tenth time, he is worth trying to develop as a major league player because of his potential upside.

As a result, I did not bother with averages.  Instead, I looked at median performances (i.e., for the 23 players picked at each of the first 12 draft slots during the relevant period, 11 players had a higher career WAR and 11 players had a lower career WAR than the median player.

Also, if a player was drafted more than once in the top 12, because he didn’t sign the first time drafted, I still counted him as his career WAR for each time he was drafted.

Here we go:

1st Overall Pick.  Median player:  Ben McDonald (1989, 20.8 Career WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez (1993, 117.8 career WAR); Chipper Jones (1990, 85.3 WAR); Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987, 83.8 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 61%.  [Examples of 15+ WAR players are Mike Lieberthal (15.3 WAR); Gavin Floyd (15.6 WAR); Eric Hosmer (15.7+ WAR); and Phil Nevin (15.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 65%.  [Examples of 10+ WAR players are Rocco Baldelli (10.2 WAR); Shawn Estes (10.4 WAR); Todd Walker (10.5 WAR)  ; and Doug Glanville (10.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.  [Examples of 5+ WAR players are John Patterson (5.0 WAR); Mike Pelfrey (5.3 WAR); Billy Koch (5.4 WAR); and Sean Burroughs (5.5 WAR).]

2nd Overall Pick.  Median player: Dustin Ackley (2009, 8.1 WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 2 pick: Justin Verlander (2004, 70.8+ WAR); J.D. Drew (1997, 44.9 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 35%.  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 43%.  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.

3rd Overall Pick.  Median player:  Philip Humber (2004, 0.9 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 3: Evan Longoria (2006, 54.2+ WAR); Troy Glaus (1997, 38.0 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 22%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 43%.

4th Overall Pick.  Median player: Tim Stauffer (2003, 3.8 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman (2005, 37.7+ WAR); Alex Fernandez (1990, 28.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 17%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

5th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 5: Mark Teixeira (2001, 51.8 WAR); Ryan Braun (2005, 47.7+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 39%.

6th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 6: Derek Jeter (1992, 72.6 WAR); Zack Greinke (2002, 71.3+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 9%10+ WAR player = 13%5+ WAR player = 26%.

7th Overall Pick.  Median player: Calvin Murray (1992, 2.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 7: Frank Thomas (1989, 73.9 WAR); Clayton Kershaw (2006, 67.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

8th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 8: Todd Helton (1995, 61.2 WAR); Jim Abbott (1988, 19.6 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

9th Overall Pick.  Median player: Aaron Crow (2008, 2.6 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 9:  Kevin Appier (1987, 54.5 WAR); Barry Zito (1999, 31.9 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 48%.

10th Overall Pick.  Median player: Michael Tucker (1992, 8.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 10: Robin Ventura (1988, 56.1 WAR); Eric Chavez (1996, 37.5 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 39%10+ WAR player = 48%5+ WAR player = 52%.

11th Overall Pick.  Median player: Lee Tinsley (1987, 1.7 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 11: Max Scherzer (2006, 60.5+ WAR); Andrew McCutchen (2005, 43.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 17%5+ WAR player = 22%.

12th Overall Pick.  Median player: Bobby Seay (1996, 3.0 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 12: Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 44.2 WAR); Jared Weaver (2004, 34.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

What do I conclude from all of the above number-crunching and name-dropping (and my cursory review of the Nos. 13-15 draft picks during the relevant period)?  It’s worth tanking to get the first or second pick in the June Draft or to get one of the top ten picks.  Since teams bad enough at the trade deadline to have a reasonable shot to get the No. 1 or 2 picks will be tanking no matter what, the only real lesson is that teams that have the 11th to 15th worst record in MLB approaching the trade deadline and realize they have no reasonable shot to make the post-season should SELL, SELL, SELL in order to get one of the top ten draft picks the next June.

The second lesson I take from my study is that teams should ALWAYS draft the player they think to be the best available/remaining if they have a top 12 or 15 draft pick and PAY what it takes to sign the player, unless the potential draftee has made it clear he will not sign with the team under any circumstances.  After the two best players in any given draft, there is too much uncertainty for teams not to draft the player they think is the best available.  Drafting a player the team thinks is a lesser player in order to save $2 million to throw at a high school player drafted in the 11th round is going to be a bad decision in most cases, particularly in the current regime where teams get a finite budget to sign their first ten draft picks, and the draftees know the cap amounts.

I see no obvious difference in the results for the third through tenth rounds, because, I assume, after the first two consensus best players in any given draft, teams have different opinions about the merits of the next, larger group of potential draftees, to the point where it more or less becomes a crap shoot.  After the first two rounds, and with the notable exception of the 10th round, the median player drafted with the third through 12th pick isn’t really worth a damn, and the odds of selecting a 15+ WAR player, a true star, are considerably less than one in three.

As a final note, I don’t like the fact that post-trade-deadline waiver deals can no longer be made.  I don’t see the downside in allowing losing teams to dump their over-paid veterans after the trade deadline (but before the Sept. 1st play-off eligibility deadline) in exchange for some, usually limited, salary relief and prospects, while play-off bound teams get to add veterans so they can put the best possible team on the field come play-off time.  I hope MLB can find a way for these deals to resume in the future.

Detroit Tigers Were Arguably Trade Deadline Winners

August 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

Hot Pitchers

May 4, 2019

23 year old Zac Gallen is ready for his major league promotion.  He’s leading the AAA Pacific Coast League with an 0.81 ERA, his 38Ks is tied for 1st, and the Marlins suck.  Gallen could pitch in relief to start with or one of the Marlins’ currently not very effective young starters could be moved to the bullpen to make way for Gallen.

It’s worth noting, though, that New Orleans with its below sea level air appears to be one of the PCL’s best pitchers’ parks — three of the circuit’s top five ERA leaders play for the Baby Cakes.

Rico Garcia (1.82 ERA, 35 Ks in 24.2 IP) deserves a promotion to AAA.  Devin Smeltzer has already received a promotion to AAA Rochester after recording an 0.60 ERA and 33 Ks in 30 IP at AA Pensacola.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that top two-way prospect Brendan McKay is going to be mainly a pitcher at the major league level.  In 14 AA games, he has a .481 OPS as a hitter, but on the mound he currently has a 2.41 ERA with 33 Ks in 18.2 IP.  If he ever catches up with the bat, he’ll already be a major league starter that no one’s going to want to f@#$ around with.

Great namers MacKenzie Gore and Ljay Newsom are dominating the Class A+ California League.  Their respective 1.32 and 1.47 ERAs are the only ones under 2.00.  Gore has stuck out 38 batters in 26.1 IP, and Newsom has struck out 54 batters in 36.2 IP.  Each has allowed exactly four walks so far.  Gore is the better prospect, because at age 20, he’s two years younger.

22 year old Dominican Cristian Javier is impressing in the Class A+ Carolina League with an 0.73 ERA and 32 Ks in 24.2 IP.

Former No. 1 overall draft pick and recent no-hit throwing Case Mize is not the best pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Class A+ Florida State League.  While Mize has recorded an 0.35 ERA with 25 Ks in 26 IP, Bailey Ober has a perfect 0 ERA (and run average) with 26 Ks in 24 IP.  Meanwhile Damon Jones has an 0.77 ERA with 36 Ks in 23.1 IP.