Archive for the ‘Detroit Tigers’ category

James Loney Going to South Korea

July 18, 2017

James Loney has signed a contract with the LG Twins of South Korea’s KBO on a deal that will pay him $350,000 for the remainder of the 2017 season.  Loney is a relatively high profile signing for the KBO, and $350,000 is a relatively high salary for a player signing this late in the KBO season.

It’s worth noting, though, that the money Loney is being paid is probably not his primary motivation in going to South Korea to play.  Loney has made more than $37 million in his pro career to date, so he probably doesn’t need the extra $350,000 that much.  Instead, Loney just wants to keep playing, since at age 33, he’s not especially old for a player of his past career accomplishments.

I have no idea whether Loney’s got much left in the tank.  He played relatively well in 2016, but was pretty awful in trials totaling only 18 games with the Tigers’ and Braves’ AAA teams earlier this season (.218 batting average and .608 OPS in 70 plate appearances).  The LG Twins will surely find out if he can still compete at the KBO level.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely this season.  It’s a league that, like the KBO a few years ago, signs almost exclusively pitchers for its three foreign player roster spots per team.  These pitchers pretty much all come to the CPBL after great performances in the Mexican League (summer), the independent-A Atlantic League or the Latin American winter leagues or after washing out of AAA, the KBO or Japan’s NPB.  One or two great seasons in the CPBL, and these pitchers generally move up to the KBO, NPB or back to AAA.

The CPBL pays well better than the Mexican or Atlantic Leagues, roughly the same or a little more per month than the Latin American winter leagues (but for a much longer summer season) and considerably less than the KBO or NPB.

The competition for talent across the three Asian major leagues is fierce and largely defined by each league’s salary structure.  NPB is far wealthier than the KBO, but has more roster spaces available for foreign players; and many NPB teams stash additional foreign players on their minor league clubs so that they can quickly fill an available roster space if a foreign player on the major league roster gets hurt or is ineffective.

NPB and the KBO compete for the 4-A players who aren’t quite good enough to play with any regularity in MLB.  The KBO is now offering as much or more to rookie foreign players as NPB teams are, although success in NPB (which is harder to achieve than in the KBO, since it is a better league) can ultimately mean annual salaries three times what KBO teams can or will pay its best foreign veterans.

Also, KBO and CPBL teams no longer sign foreign relief pitchers, because their salary scales are such that they want more valuable starting pitchers for the money required to sign foreigners and to fill the restricted number of roster spaces.  NPB, which is considerably wealthier and which finds it more difficult to find 4-A players good enough to succeed in NPB (the world’s best leagues after MLB), routinely sign foreign relievers.  In fact, this has been an extremely successful strategy for NPB, with several NPB teams sporting foreigners as both their closers and top set-up men this season.

The most money ever offered to foreigners in the CPBL is the $60,000 per month the EDA Rhinos offered Manny Ramirez to remain in Taiwan for the second half of the 2013 season (which Manny turned down), and the $56,000 per month ($6,000 of which was performance incentives) to Freddy Garcia in 2014.  Manny had a huge impact on attendance and merchandise sales during his half-season in Taiwan, leading to the relatively huge second half offer (he was paid only $25,000 per month for the half season he actually played), and almost certainly being responsible for the huge offer Garcia, another big-name former MLB star, received the next season.

However, although Garcia’s first start drew about three times the typical CPBL game attendance, Garcia pitched well but was not completely dominant after that, and no CPBL team has signed a foreign player with Garcia’s MLB credentials since 2014.  It’s worth noting that while both Ramirez and Garcia played well in Taiwan, neither one was head and shoulders above the other top players in the league in their respective seasons.  The CPBL has apparently decided that for the time being, it can find pitchers who are good enough from the sources I mention above, who do not command the kind of salaries former major league stars command.

 

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.

My Favorite Baseball Trivia Question

October 16, 2016

Years ago, before the internet, there was something called sports trivia, where the cognoscenti of each particular sport showed off the depth of their obscure knowledge by asking questions that where nearly impossible to answer because of the passage of time.  Today, Javier Baez stole home plate for the first time by a Cubs player in the World Series since Jimmy Slagle did it in the 4th game of the 1907 World Series.

Anyway, that reminds me of my all-time favorite baseball trivia question back in the day when you could utterly stump someone with a really good one:  Whose passed ball on a strikeout pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning allowed the Cubs to tie the score at 3-3 in the first game of the 1907 World Series?  The game ended in a draw on account of darkness.  The Cubs went on to sweep the series in the next four games.

The Answer:  Charles “Boss” Schmidt.  (There isn’t much point in holding back a response to build up the attention, since you could go to baseball reference or wikipedia and find the answer in less time than would take to read a few hundred more words.)

Schmidt was one of the great goats of the early years of the World Series, but he his almost entirely forgotten today.  Schmidt played in all three Detroit Tigers’ World Series appearances from 1907-1909, but unfortunately the Tigers lost all three.  He had a long career in baseball, though, playing until his age 43 season.

For what it’s worth, Schmidt’s misplay was treated as an error in 1907, but would be considered a passed ball today.

Triples Alley

May 4, 2016

Hitting three-baggers is something of a lost art, and is now largely limited to certain ballparks or when an outfielder misplays a ball off the wall not quite badly enough to be called an error.  This was not always so.

In the Deadball Era before 1920, triples were the big power hit, simply because they were much more common (most years at least) than home runs.  Aside from the dirty, battered baseballs in play, the slower, less athletic outfielders and the inferior fielder’s gloves of those days, many ballparks had very deep outfield fences, particularly to one or two of the three fields, than they do today, because of the urban lot shapes on which the fields were built and that fact that with home runs an extreme rarity, no one was really concerned with symmetric fields and keeping fences within reasonable home run distance.  In fact, before Babe Ruth, most home runs were of the inside-the-park variety when a batter split the outfielders to the long field.

Time for some trivia: Who hit the most triples in a season after 1920?  After 1946?  Since 2000?

Who hit the most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s?  In the 1970’s?  1980’s?  1990’s?  2000’s?  2010’s?

The answers will show you just how much triples have declined as part of the offensive game, with the slight exception that integration starting in 1947 brought more speed and speed/power players into the game.

Kiki Cuyler hit 26 triples in 1925. Hazen Shirley Cuyler (pronounced Ky-ler) was nicknamed “Kiki” (rhymes with “sky”) because he had a bad stutter.  Nicknames weren’t nearly as kind back in the day.  Unfortunately, Cuyler did not live long enough to see the Veterans’ Committee vote him into the Hall of Fame in 1968, which is pretty much the ultimate retort to a mean-spirited nickname.

Since 1946, Curtis Granderson‘s 23 in 2007 is the most, although a number of players have hit at least 20 in a season since 1946.

Most career triples for any player to play in the 1960’s?  Stan “The Man” Musial with 177, tied for 19th best all-time.

1970’s?  Roberto Clemente 166 (tied 27th best all-time).

1980’s and 1990’s? Willie Wilson 147 (tied 56th best all-time).

2000’s?  Steve Finley 124 (tied 90th all-time).

2010’s?  Carl Crawford 123 (tied 94th all-time).  Although Crawford’s career appears to be winding down, with his big-money free agent contract running through the 2017 season, the odds are fairly good he can collect two more triples to move past Finley.

For what it’s worth, Babe Ruth hit 136 triples in his career, good for a tie at 71st best all-time.  While the Bambino’s lofty career total is largely a product of the times he played in, people forget that when Ruth was young and lean, he was very fast, kind of like a young Reggie Jackson, or some of the big fast guys of today’s game, like Mike Trout.

In the six seasons between 1918 and 1923, from ages 23 through 28, the Babe hit 69 triples, more than half his career total.

 

Dee Gordon’s PED Suspension

April 30, 2016

Here’s a good article from Jayson Stark about the aftermath of Dee Gordon‘s steroids suspension.  One particularly germane point he makes is that season is probably too long, i.e., the players don’t have enough off-days during the season to recuperate and still keep the regular season and the post-season within the window of time that northern and eastern teams playing in outdoor stadia need to avoid playing games in the snow.

Here’s an article is which Justin Verlander says penalties need to be stiffened.  As Stark’s article points out, some guys are always going to cheat, no matter how stiff the penalties, because the obvious and perceived benefits of using PEDs for some players are going to override any possible penalty.

Every time we get a few players punished for PEDs in close proximity, a few self-righteous players mouth off about stiffer penalties.  However, once the players’ union has explained all the considerations (what about players’ privacy rights?  What about possible false positives?  What about a reasonably honest first-time mistake?  What happens if we allow teams to void contracts because of a positive test?), the players as a group are rarely willing to make anything more than incremental changes every three to five years that a new agreement is negotiated.

In short, the next agreement might result in first-time suspensions of 100 games and second-time suspensions of 200 games, but don’t expect much more than that.

I agree that the season is too long, but don’t expect any significant reduction in the number of games played each year, because everyone is too addicted to the extra revenue extra games provide for anyone to give them up.  I have long suggested that MLB cut the number of regular season games to 160 and expand the wild card from one do-or-die game to a best two-out-of-three game series.

This would reduce the number of games that 28 of the 30 teams play by two games, but would only cost each team a single home date, which would probably be matched by increased revenues in the national television contract, since you would get one or two more higher value playoff games in each league.  It’s not a big difference in terms of the number of games players play, but something is better than nothing.

Three Home Runs in One Game – 2016 Update

April 10, 2016

Since 2010 I’ve written a couple of posts containing fun facts about three home run games.  The most recent was almost three years ago, so it seems like a good time for another update.  Here is baseballreference.com’s list of the players to hit three in one game between 1951 through early in the 2011 season.

You will note that three home run games have been particularly common in the last 20 years, the period in which the PED-fueled offensive barrage reached its peak.

The original “Big Cat” Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa are the all-time leaders with six different three home run games each. Joe Carter, Dave Kingman, Mark McGwire and Carlos Delgado and Alex Rodriguez each hit three or more in five different games.  ARod’s fifth such game occurred July 25, 2015.

Babe Ruth is still the only player to have two three home run games in the World Series, but as of October 22, 2011, Albert Pujols has joined the Babe with two three HR post-season games. On October 24, 2012, Pablo “Kung-fu Pando” Sandoval joined the Sultan of Swat, Reggie Jackson in 1977 and Prince Albert as the only other players to hit three in a World Series game.

In the Dead Ball Era between 1900 and 1920, not one player hit three home runs in a major league game.

Interestingly, Babe Ruth did not have a three home run game in any of the four years (1919, 1920, 1921 and 1927) in which he set the single season HR record.  Nor did Roger Maris (or for that matter Mickey Mantle) in 1961.

Mark McGwire did it twice and Sammy Sosa once in 1998, the year they decimated the old HR record.  Barry Bonds did it twice in 2001, and Sosa three more times that same year.  The feat was accomplished a ridiculous 22 times in 2001, the year with the most three home run games.

George Bell (1988), Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and Dmitri Young (2005) had their big days on Opening Day.

On May 6, 2015, Bryce Harper became the youngest player to hit three HRs in a game since the now largely forgotten Joe Lahoud did it on July 11, 1969.  Both were age 22.

The youngest player to hit three home runs in a major league game was Al Kaline at the tender age of 20 years and 119 days when he did it on April 17, 1955.  Eddie Matthews was the only other player to do it before age 21, when he hit his three on July 20, 1952.

The oldest player to hit three in one game is Stan Musial at age 41 and 229 days on July 8, 1962.  Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Jason Giambi are the only other players to accomplish this feat after reaching age 40.

Now’s a good time for some trivia questions, the first from my original 2010 post, the second from my 2013 update, and the third a new one.

(1)  who are the only two major league players to hit five home runs in a double-header?  This is a record that will probably never be matched again, since MLB teams no longer schedule double-headers.

(2) who hit the fewest career home runs for any player to hit three HRs in one game?

(3) who hit the fewest career home runs for any player to hit three HRs in one game twice?

Answer (1): Stan “The Man” Musial for the Cardinals against the New York Giants on May 2, 1954; and Nate Colbert for the Padres against the Atlanta Braves on August 1, 1972.  Colbert was from St. Louis and claims to have personally attended the game in which Musial first accomplished the feat.   Whether or not he actually did, it’s a great story.

Answer (2): Since 1951, Bill Glynn, who hit three dingers on July 5, 1954, but finished his major league career with only ten.  Here’s a list of the players with the fewest career home runs to hit three in one game since 1951.  However, the actual correct answer is probably Merv Connors, who hit three on September 17, 1938, but hit a total of only eight in his major league career.

There’s a lot more to the story than this, however.  Merv Connors was one of the all-time great minor league sluggers.  He hit 400 HRs in his minor league career, placing him in the top five all-time.

In the year he hit three home runs in one game for the Chicago White Sox, Connors hit three other HRs and in only 24 games, he batted .355 with a 1.146 OPS.  He was only 24 years old that season, but he never played in the major leagues again.

No matter how bad his defense may have been, there’s no way a team doesn’t keep a player who hit like Connors did in his 1938 trial.  By way of comparison, no other player on that White Sox team had an OPS higher than .854.

My guess is that an injury was involved.  At any rate, he was sent back to Shreveport in the Texas League in 1939 and had a bad year, batting only .229.  He was even worse in 1940, another season in which he was almost certainly battling injuries.

That poor year got Connors sent down to the low minors in 1941.  He bounced back that year and also had a great 1942 campaign back in the Texas League, but he was now going on age 29.  1943 appears to be another season in which he battled injuries, and he was then drafted for the last two years of the War.

When Connors returned to professional baseball, he was 32 years old.  He spent most of the remaining eight years of his career playing in B and C leagues in Texas.  For what it’s worth, Merv Connors was born and died in Berkeley, California, the location in which I’m writing this post.  Needless to say, he attended Berkeley High School.

Answer (3): The New York Giants’ immortal pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes, who hit only 54 HRs in his career.  Darnell Coles (75), Pat Seerey (86), and Erubiel Durazo (94) are the only other players I am aware of who have multiple three home run games but finish their MLB careers with fewer than 100.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I’ve written several posts on this subject, which have proven quite popular, the last about two years ago, so it feels like a good time for an update.

As we enter the 2016 season, below are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six seasons, 2010 through 2015 (four seasons for Marlins Park which opened in 2012).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.427.  Coors Field remains far and away the best hitters’ in MLB by a wide margin.  Every other stadium had a season or two between 2010 and 2015 well out of line with its overall average position except Coors Field.  It was the best hitters’ park in MLB five of the six seasons, usually by a lot, and a strong second in the sixth season.

2.  Globe Life Park at Arlington (Rangers) 1.144.  Globe Life Park remains the best hitters’ park in the American League.

3.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.107.

4.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.093.

5.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.083.

6.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.072.

7.  Yankee Stadium 1.059.

8.    U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.058.  One of the more variable parks in MLB, U.S. Cellular Field was a pitchers’ park in 2015, but a strong hitters’ park in 2010 and 2012.

9. Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) 1.047.  A pitchers’ park in 2015, Rogers Center was a hitters’ park every other year of the last six.

10.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.045.

11.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.034.  Long regarded as one of the best hitters’ parks in MLB, Wrigley was a pitchers’ park in 2014 and 2015, bringing it’s six year average down considerably.

12.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.026.

13.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.027.  25 or 30 years ago, Kauffman Stadium was one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball.  However, the newer parks built starting with Camden Yards in 1992, have for the most part been much better hitters’ parks than the ballparks they replaced.  The casual fans want to see offense, and the modern parks have largely catered to that desire with resulting attendance increases.

14.  Target Field (Twins) 1.013.  The Twins’ new ball park looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ park after the first couple of seasons of play there.  However, it now looks to be a slight hitters’ park.

15.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.005.

16.  Nationals Park 1.004.

17.  Marlins Park (2012-2015) 1.000.  The Marlins’ new park appears to be as close to a perfectly level playing field for pitchers and hitters as currently exists in MLB, at least based on the first four seasons of play there.

18.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.992.  Progressive Field was the second best hitters’ park in MLB last year, after five consecutive seasons as a moderate pitchers’ park.  2015 was almost certainly a fluke.

19.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.987.  Once known as Ten-run Park, when it was named after failed energy company Enron, Minute Maid Park varies wildly between a hitters’ park and pitchers’ park from season to season.

20.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.972.

21.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.957.

22.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.941.  O.co isn’t as much of a pitchers’ park as it once was, more or less switching places with Angel Stadium, another now antiquated multi-use stadium from the 1960’s.

23.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.927.

24.  Dodger Stadium 0.906.

25.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.894.

26.  Angel Stadium 0.877.  The fact that Angel Stadium is now one of the worst hitters’ parks in MLB gives one additional appreciation of just how good Mike Trout is as an offensive player.

27.  Citi Field (Mets) 0.876.

28.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.857.

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.842.  The Mariners and the Padres moved their outfield fences in before the 2013 season in order to goose offensive production.  It hasn’t helped a whole lot, as both parks remained among the worst hitters’ parks in MLB from 2013-2015.

29.    AT&T Park (Giants) 0.842.  AT&T varies a lot season to season, but in 2011, 2012 and 2015 it was a strong pitchers’ park.