Archive for the ‘Detroit Tigers’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men, Part II: The Pitchers

October 20, 2017

Here are some starting pitchers who seem like good bets to sign with a KBO or NPB team for 2018:

Drew Hutchinson (27 in 2018).  Hutchinson looked like a burgeoning star in 2014 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he’s only thrown 24 major league innings since the start of the 2016 season.  He didn’t pitch in the Show at all this year, despite posting a strong 3.56 ERA in 26 starts for the International League’s Indianapolis Indians.

One would think that Hutchinson would be receptive to a guaranteed offer from an NPB club; and one or two strong seasons in Japan could put his MLB career back on track.

Wilmer Font (28).  Font hasn’t pitched much in the majors (7 IP over eight appearances with an ugly 11.57 ERA), but he was dominating for the Pacific Coast League’s Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017.  His 3.42 ERA was the only ERA under 4.00 by any PCL pitcher who threw at least 115 innings, and his pitching line of 134.1 IP, 114 hits, 11 HRs and 35 BBs allowed and a whopping 178 Ks was even better.

Font will have a hard time breaking through with the pitching rich Dodgers, and I would expect a KBO team in particular to make him a strong offer.

Justin Masterson (33), Tom Koehler (32) and Dillon Gee (32).  A trio of veterans with substantial MLB resumes, all three look to be at a point in their respective careers where the Asian majors would be each pitcher’s best option, at least if they want to continue starting.  Masterson, also pitching for the OKC Dodgers, recorded the PCL’s second best ERA at 4.13 and recorded 140 Ks in 141.2 IP, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.

Koehler pitched well in relief for the Blue Jays late in the 2017 season, but might well get a better offer to be a starter for an Asian team than a reliever for an MLB one in 2018.  Pretty much the same for Dillon Gee.

T.J. House (28).  House was pretty good for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA and 108 Ks in 133.1 IP.  He also has enough of an MLB track record that he might interest an Asian team.

Anthony Bass (30).  Bass pitched for NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 and pitched pretty well (3.65 ERA in 103.2 IP), although he was not invited back.  This year, he pitched well enough for the PCL’s Round Rock Express (4.18 ERA, 87 Ks in 75.1 IP) to get a two game cup of coffee with the Rangers.  He seems like he’d be a good bet for a KBO team in 2018.

Other starting pitchers who might well get an Asian offer too good to pass up are Williams Perez (27), Cody Martin (28), Michael Blazek (29), Vance Worley (30) and Paolo Espino (31).

The relief candidates for NPB in 2018 (KBO teams only want starters) number as many as 50.  These are the ones I like best.

Louis Coleman, Al Alburquerque and Ernesto Frieri (all 32).  A trio of live-armed, proven MLB relievers who pitched great in AAA in 2017, but aren’t likely to get major league contract offers for 2018.  It’s reasonable to assume that at least one of them will be pitching in Japan next season.

Preston Claiborne (30).  He’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, but didn’t get much of a look from the Rangers in spite of a 1.89 ERA and 16 saves at AAA Round Rock.

Bruce Rondon (27) and Blaine Hardy (31).  A couple of Tiger hurlers who may well be non-tendered this off-season, because both are arbitration eligible.

Jack Leathersich (27), Dayan Diaz (29) and Simon Castro (30).  Will they or won’t they receive major league contract offers from their current MLB teams?  That is the question that will most likely determine their receptiveness to any Asian offers.

Other reasonable relief possibilities: Michael Tonkin (28), Alex Wimmers (29), Brandon Cunniff (29), Deolis Guerra (29), Felix Doubront (30), Josh Smith (30), Jason Gurka (30), Zac Rosscup (30), Jeff Beliveau (31), Rhiner Cruz (31), Erik Davis (31), Pat “Switch Pitcher” Venditte (33) and Edward Mujica (34).

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Go East, Not So Young Men

October 20, 2017

Every year around this time, I like to do a post regarding MLB-system players who are good bets to be playing in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO next season.  In the past, these posts typically identify players who had great seasons in AAA, but didn’t get much MLB playing time.

This year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more thorough about the subject, including looking at contract issues more likely to push some players, but not others, to try their luck in Asia.  The biggest factors for a player entering his age 26 or older season in deciding whether to give up the MLB dream and go to Asia are likely whether he has received a major league contract offer from an MLB team and also his personal, subjective belief about his likely future chances of MLB success.

I suspect that a lot players who play in MLB for the first time in September of their age 26 or 27  seasons and play well during that cup of coffee will elect to stay in the MLB system the next season, even if they get a better offer from an NPB or KBO team.  On the other hand, players who received substantial major league playing time in their early or mid-20’s, who then spend the next couple of years mostly at AAA, have a much better idea how tenuous MLB success can be and are a lot more tempted by better offer from abroad.

Here’s my list of some hitters who are good bets to be playing in Asia next year.

Oswaldo Arcia (27 in 2018).  Arcia played in 200 games for the Twins in 2013 and 2014 at the ages of 22 and 23.  Since then, his major league career has gone straight downhill, in large part because he isn’t patient enough, i.e., he doesn’t walk enough and strikes out too much.

At age 26, Arcia led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.049 OPS.  However, he didn’t play in even one major league game because he got hurt on August 30th, right before the September roster expansions.  I wasn’t able to determine the nature of his injury, and injuries have plagued him the last few seasons.  If he’s fully healthy by December 1st, though, he’d be a great bet for an Asian team.

Bryce Brentz (29).  Brentz hit a league-leading 31 home runs (Asian teams want their foreign hitters to hit the long ball) and his .863 OPS was second best in the International League.  Even so, the Red Sox never called him up, even after the rosters expanded in September.  A player can’t get a much stronger message his team doesn’t see him as part of their future than that.

Jabari Blash (28).  Blash has a lot of talent, but through his age 27 season, he hasn’t been able to put it together at the major league level.  If the Padres don’t offer him a major league contract, he should seriously consider any Asian offers he receives.

Leonys Martin (30).  NPB teams love Cubans as much as cigar aficionados do.  Small wonder — Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne respectively led the Central and Pacific League in home runs this past season.

Martin isn’t likely to hit 35 home runs in a season even in Japan, but he could 25-30 in a season there, and he still runs well. He has more than three full seasons of MLB service time, entitling him to salary arbitration, and will almost certainly be non-tendered by his current MLB club.  I’m guessing his best free agent offer will come from Japan.

Will Middlebrooks (29).  Middlebrooks’ MLB career has gone down the toilet, but he’s the kind of power-hitting 3Bman NPB teams like.

Mark Canha (29).  I could definitely see him getting a $1M offer from the Doosan Bears this off-season, if the Bears decide to replace Nick Evans as their foreign position player.

Cody Asche (28).  Another 3B candidate with power potential in Japan’s smaller ballparks, Asche was the Phillies’ main 3Bman in 2014 and 2015.  Now he’s just another guy coming off a strong minor league season looking for a decent contract going into his age 28 season.  Still, Asian teams love past MLB experience.

Xavier Avery (28).  A center fielder whose .816 OPS was 5th best in the International League, Avery’s only major league experience (32 games with the Braves) came way back in 2012.  You would have to think he’d be receptive to a foreign offer.

Nick Buss and Brandon Snyder (both 31).  A couple of left fielders coming off strong AAA seasons.  Buss led the Pacific Coast League with a .348 batting average, and his .936 OPS was 7th best.  Snyder’s .846 OPS was 3rd best in the International League.  You can guess which of the two AAA leagues is a pitchers’ league and which is a hitters’ league.

Chris Johnson and Eric Young, Jr. (both 33).  Two aging veterans with substantial MLB experience, both played well enough in AAA to suggest they still have something left going into 2018.  Both would provide an Asian team with a certain amount of defensive flexibility.  Johnson is probably more likely to get an offer because he has more power.

In my opinion, age 27 is the ideal age for a foreign MLBer to try his luck at a successful Asian career.  Here is a list of players who will be 27 next season, had great AAA seasons, have at least a little MLB experience, but don’t look likely to receive major league contract offers for 2018: Richie Schaffer, David Washington, Christian Walker, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Naquin, Ji-man Choi, Garrett Cooper, Tyler White, Christian Villanueva, Luke Voit, Max Muncy and Cesar Puello.

Almost all of these guys will elect to stay in the MLB system, but don’t be surprised if you hear that one or two of them have signed with Asian teams later this off-season.  Tyler Collins (28) and Travis Taijeron (29) are a couple of slightly older players who are reasonable possibilities of getting Asian offers.

An Ugly One Ends

October 2, 2017

The 2017 San Francisco Giants couldn’t even do losing right.  After coming back from an early 4-1 deficit to win yesterday, the Giants finished 64-98, the second worst record in San Francisco Giants history.  They tied the Tigers for the worst record in baseball, but the Tigers will get the first pick of the 2018 Draft, because the Tigers were half a game worse than the Giants in the final 2016 standings.

The silver lining is that the No. 2 overall pick is still pretty good.  Also, the Giants typically draft the player whom they think is the best available, regardless of cost, and have yet to sign a first round draftee for less than slot in order to have extra money to sign high school prospects drafted much later in the draft.  I feel certain the Giants will select the player they believe is the best available when they choose, and that may well be someone different from whom the Tigers select at No. 1.  As far as I’ve heard, 2018 won’t be a draft class in which one player is a prohibitive favorite to be drafted No. 1, regardless who does the choosing, although that could change sometime next spring.

The Giants still have a host of problems and a very thin farm system, but next year’s No. 2 pick and the second pick in each subsequent round of the draft should net at least a couple of players who produce for the Giants down the line.

The Race for Last Place

September 24, 2017

Call it the Toilet Bowl.  However, it is also the race for the 1st selection of the 2018 Draft.

The Giants and Phillies are tied at 61-94 for the worst record in baseball, with the Tigers and White Sox within a game and a half of last, last, last place with seven games (eight for the ChiSox) remaining.

As a Giants’ fan, I can’t quite bring myself to root against the Giants, but I have certainly been rooting for the Phillies, White Sox and Tigers to win as many games as possible.  Also, the Giants’ losses, at this point, don’t hurt all that much at all.

I’m rooting for the Giants not to lose 100 games.  That would tie them with the 1985 Giants, and as bad as the 2017 club is, I just don’t believe they are as bad as the 1985 squad.  The 1984 Giants had lost 96 games, so the 1985 team was no fluke. This year, the Giants have scored more runs and allowed fewer runs than the Padres, who are presently nine full games up on the Giants, adding an obvious element of hard luck to this year’s Giants.

On the other hand, this is a bad, bad Giants’ team.  The Tigers and the White Sox traded away an awful lot of talent last off-season and this year, explaining in part why they are now so bad.  The Phillies are in the middle of a painful rebuilding process, which is at least giving opportunities to youngsters who will contribute mightily in the near future.  Even if the Phils finish with MLB’s worst record, the team’s fans can go into the off-season with visions of Rhys Hoskins‘ future dancing in their heads.

Meanwhile, the Giants are still old, overpaid and have little they can successfully trade away.  The team hopes to “reload” for 2018, rather than “rebuild,” and I do think most of the team’s starters will pitch better next year than they did this year.  However, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver given the payroll already committed to 2018.

At this point, it is virtually certain the Giants will receive at least the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, so that’s at least one thing to look forward to.

 

Detroit Tigers Trade Justin Verlander to Houston Astros

September 1, 2017

In a surprising, truly last minute move, the Astros acquired Justin Verlander and $16 million from the Tigers for three prospects and a player to be named later.  It’s a good deal for the Tigers, and while I think the Astros overpaid, it isn’t surprising they’d go all in to give themselves the best possibility of winning the World Series this year.

The move makes nothing but sense for the Tigers.  The three prospects — Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers — all look to be legitimate, and the Tigers also get a PTBNL and shed $40 million in salary they were obligated to pay Verlander for 2018 and 2019.  It’s hard to imagine them getting a better deal for Verlander at this stage in his career and this late in the season.

Obviously, only a team guaranteed to make the play-offs already would give up this much for only one month of regular season performance left.  This move is about the post-season exclusively, and one can see why the Astros would want to wager this much on Verlander.  Anything can happen in short post-season series, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a veteran of Verlander’s talent level to an already extremely strong team.

This is a move the Astros may well regret mightily as early as next season, but there is at least a reasonable possibility that Verlander will step up and have a great post-season this year, which is what the Astros are paying for.

Meanwhile, there is a good chance Tigers fans will be looking forward to a 100 loss 2018 season, now that the team has traded away its three best players and are still stuck with several unproductive huge contracts.  Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jordan Zimmerman are owed a total of $72 million in 2018, while fangraphs values their total 2017 contributions so far as not even at replacement value.  I expect that Cabrera and Zimmerman will play better in 2018, and the Tigers are only on the hook with Martinez for one more season, but the team sure isn’t going to get enough value from these players to make even a .500 season likely.

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.