Archive for the ‘Florida Marlins’ category

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

January 6, 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

The Best Foreign* Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 12, 2017

* This post is a work in progress.  The CPBL’s website is in Chinese using Chinese characters.  Figuring out who the foreign players are for someone like me who has no knowledge of written Chinese is an inexact science.  I have not included Japanese or Korean players in my lists, if there are any who qualify, because it is simply too difficult to figure out who all the Japanese and Korean players are.  I invite anyone with an interest to correct or supplement my lists.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely for the last three or four years now, and it strikes me as time for a list of the best foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 28 year long history.  I won’t bother with foreign hitters at this time, since it does not appear that any foreign position players have played in the league since the end of the 2015 season.


1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.      Jonathan Hurst       76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

3.      Mike Loree                62-33     MiLB, Indy-A stats

4.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer               55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

8.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

9.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even better than either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL.  His 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, firmly establishes him as one of the circuit’s all-time best foreign pitchers.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

2.     Jonathan Hurst       2.56

3.     Joe Strong                 2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna                3.16

7.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.22

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.

Roman will be 39 in 2018, and it remains to be seen if he will return to CBPL next season.  Given his experience, he is surely high paid by CPBL standards (he probably makes $25,000 a month for a seven month season), and his second half of 2017 wasn’t great — he had a first half ERA of 3.95 and a second half ERA of 4.96.  Given that the CPBL plays a split season and Roman’s age, the China Trust Brothers may decide he isn’t a good risk for the money next year.


1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Jonathan Hurst     779

3.     Enrique Burgos     736

4.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

5.     Mike Loree             640

6.     Orlando Roman   564

7.     John Burgos          541

8.     Mark Kiefer           532

9.     Jose Nunez           511

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.


1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

4.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more, with the Uni-President 7-11 Lions the only team that’s still looking for the next great foreign closer.  They haven’t found him yet, although Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the Lions in 2015.  As recently as 2014, Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around.  If the player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players come back to the CPBL later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

The CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that 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. 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.

What Is the Most Wins a Pitcher Could Win in One Season in Today’s Game?

August 18, 2014

In my last post, I wrote that it is highly unlikely that we will see a batter hit .400 in a full season in our lifetimes, but more likely that we’ll see another .400 hitter before we see a starting pitcher win 30 games in a season again.  Which made me think, what is the most wins a pitcher could accumulate in the most extreme season which could reasonably happen.

My feeling is that the limit is about 28 games, if everything reasonably broke in favor of one great starter in one season.  I will explain how I got to that number as follows.

The last pitcher to win 30 games in a season was Denny McLain in 1968, when he won 31.  He was the first to win 30 since since Dizzy Dean in 1934.   McLain’s 1968 was a fluke season by a pitcher who was terrific that year.

The last pitcher to win as many as 27 in a season was the recently deceased Bob Welch, who went 27-6 in 1990.  Since then, no one has won more than 24 games in a season (John Smoltz in 1996, Randy Johnson in 2002 and Justin Verlander in 2011.  Smoltz, Johnson and Verlander were just terrific in the seasons they won 24, but the truth of the matter is that Bob Welch wasn’t particularly brilliant in his 27-win season.

In 1990, Welch had a 2.95 ERA in 35 starts and pitched only two complete games.  He did generally go deep into his games, pitching 238 innings that year, but he struck out only 127.  His exceptional record that season was a testament to tremendously good luck and the exceptional job Dennis Eckersley did as the Oakland A’s closer that year.

If Bob Welch could win 27 games in 1990, I think its at least reasonably possible that in the next 40 years a pitcher having a much better season in all other respects could finish the season at 28-4 if everything reasonably possible broke right for him.

35 starts in a season was relatively common through the 2006 season.  In the the last seven complete seasons, however, only three pitchers have made 35 starts in a season (Dontrelle Willis in 2007, Justin Verlander in 2009 and Chris Carpenter in 2010).  Elite pitchers still routinely make 34 starts in a season, though, and this number isn’t likely to drop any lower in the future, simply because there is no indication that teams will use more than five starters or that active major league rosters are going to get any bigger than the current 25 slots in the foreseeable future.

While no one has made 35 starts in the last few seasons, I certainly think that in a situation where a starter is having an historically great season, teams would find a way to squeeze a 35th start out of that pitcher.  Further, each league’s leader still pitches more than 238 innings in a season more often than not.

In short, a pitcher with Welch’s luck and an historically great bullpen could go 28-4 if he pitched 35 starts as well Randy Johnson or Justin Verlander pitched the seasons they won 24.  I can’t imagine a major league pitcher doing better than that simply because no pitcher in baseball history has ever won 20 games in a season with a won-loss percentage as high as .900.

Only four qualifiers (excluding Perry Werden, who won 12 out of 13 decisions in 1884 in a league that was nowhere near a major league level of talent, although in fairness to Werden, he was one of the greatest players no one has ever heard of) have ever finished the season with a winning percentage at or over .900, and none of them won more than Greg Maddux‘s 19 in 1995.  The closest was Ron Guidry‘s 25-3 in 1978.

In short, I just can’t see anyone going 29-3 in a major league season, but 28-4 at least seems possible based on what’s actually happened in the past.

File and Trial Salary Arbitration Strategy

February 10, 2014

Another article I read today was this piece by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter about the current trend by teams to adopt a “file and trial” strategy for salary arbitration, which means that once player and team exchange salary arbitration figures, the team will no longer negotiate with the player over the next year’s salary but will instead go to the arbitration hearing and get an arbitrator’s decision.

There has been a lot in the baseball press this off-season about the increase of teams with “file and trial” (also called “file and go [to arbitration]”) strategies, but a lot of the discussion sounds overwrought to me.

Up to this off-season, we’ve gone through a period where teams and players (and their agents) have seemingly gone out of their way to avoid taking salary disputes to arbitration, leading to the 2012/2013 off-season as the first since salary arbitration began in 1974 in which no arbitration hearing was held.  This already appears to be something of a fluke, as we’ve had two salary arbitration decisions this off-season and may have several more before it’s all over.  We may also be due for the pendulum to swing back the other way with more teams electing to go to hearing as a way to hold down player costs.

Owners have long hated salary arbitration because it forces them to give their players big raises whether they like it or not.  At least with free agency, owners can elect not to engage in the bidding wars.  However, in the last decade management has largely found a way to minimize this problem by non-tendering large numbers of arbitration-eligible players.  Non-tendering marginal major league players has been an effective way to keep salaries down for these players, particularly middle relievers.

The purported purpose of the “file and trial” strategy is to make players and their agents more reasonable in their demands for salary increases.  Some teams believe that agents intentionally file excessive arbitration amounts in order to create an artificially high figure from which to compromise with the team’s filed amount, since most settlements after team and player exchange figures come in at or around the midpoint of the two sides’ numbers.

The self-proclaimed “file and trial” teams are the White Sox, the Marlins, the Blue Jays, the Braves, and Rays, with the Marlins being the team in recent years most likely to take cases to arbitration and most likely to lose them.

Four other teams (the Brewers, Indians, Nationals, and Pirates) have been described as “file and trial” teams on a case-by-case basis; however, I don’t really know what this means.  Doesn’t every team willing to take at least some cases to arbitration have a figure for some players which they won’t cross but will instead go to arbitration over?  Also, if teams take a “file and trial” approach on some players but not others, it doesn’t much seem to serve the purpose of getting all players and agents to make reasonable salary negotiation demands.  If a player/agent make what the team considers an unreasonable arbitration filing, can’t every team simply state they won’t go higher than a certain figure and the take the case to hearing if their final offer isn’t accepted?

Anyway, Reiter argues that the Marlins have shown the success of the “file and trial” negotiating strategy even though the Marlins have lost more arbitration cases in recent years than any other team, because, according to Rieter, the filing amounts of the Marlins’ players have been more reasonable.  He offers the examples of Miguel Cabrera‘s 2007 arbitration against the Marlins and Ryan Howard‘s 2008 case against the Phillies as evidence. (Both players won their arbitration cases: Cabrera sought $7.4 million, the Marlins offered $6.7 million; Howard sought $10 million, the Phillies offered $7 million).

I’m not convinced.  First, as good as Cabrera’s numbers were after the 2006 season, his back-of-the-baseball-card statistics which the arbitration process over-values (see my piece from a year ago) were no match for Ryan Howard’s at the end of the 2007 season.  Cabrera came into his arbitration hearing averaging about 30 HRs and 115 RBIs in prior seasons while Howard came in averaging more than 50 HRs and 140 RBIs the prior two seasons.  Howard also had an MVP Award in his pocket, while Cabrera had not yet won either of his.

Also, Howard came into his salary arbitration with a much higher base salary than Cabrera ($900,000 compared to $472,000) the year before.  Some of that was due to the fact that the Marlins refused to pay its young players much over the minimum until they became salary arbitration eligible; however, it also gave Howard an argument that he got paid more in recognition of his exceptional early career performance, which included the afore-mentioned MVP award.  [Howard also had an argument that the Phillies kept him in the minor leagues a year longer than Howard deserved because he was stuck behind Jim Thome and his big contract, but I have no idea if he actually made this kind of argument at the hearing.]

Finally, the contention that Howard and his agent would have asked for less than the $10 million they ultimately won at hearing if the Phillies had been a “file and trial” team cannot possibly be proven and, in fact, lacks any real evidence in support whatsoever.  The only thing we can be sure about is that if Howard and his agent would have accepted to split the difference in filing amounts ($8.5 million), the Phillies made a $1.5 million mistake in refusing to offer it to him.

Another point to make here: the Marlins are such an outlier as major league teams go, that I’m not sure that many other teams are going to pursue their salary arbitration strategies.  The Marlins are regarded throughout MLB as the stingiest team most willing to put immediate annual profits before long-term profits (i.e., trying to build a winning team to increase the value of the franchise).  It’s also common knowledge that since Jeff Loria bought the Marlins in 2002 (or at least since the Marlins won the 2003 World Series), the Marlins have been willing to pay their players less than any other team and are the least concerned about the long-term consequences of nickle-and-diming their players.

[Even the Marlins’ spending spree in the 2011-2012 off-season was about short-term profits.  A good team in a new ballpark (Marlins Park opened in 2012) means immediate sell-outs.]

Next, the Braves’ recent dealings with Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward don’t suggest that the “file and trial” posture really has all that many teeth.  O.K., the Braves weren’t willing to negotiate further on 2014 salaries alone, but they gave Freeman a contract extension which says resets the bar for future similar players entirely in favor of the players.

Heyward’s two-year contract extension provides that, including the $1 million signing bonus, Heyward gets the $5.5 million in 2014 he filed for, and he gets a second year at $7.8 million.  If Heyward plays in 2014 like he did in 2010 and 2012, the second year will be a bargain; if he plays like he did in 2011 and 2013, it won’t.

Craig Kimbrel‘s case may well go to arbitration, but in any event his situation looks an awful lot like Ryan Howard’s back in 2008: players who played historically well in their first few seasons seeking record-setting amounts that their teams think is just too much given what similar arbitration-status players have made in the recent past.

Finally, Reiter says that players, their agents and the players’ union are considering challenging the “file and trial” strategy, presumably as a refusal by management to negotiate in good faith.  They may be technically right, but unlike collusion against free agents, it doesn’t seem like a violation without its own built-in remedy.  If teams won’t continue to negotiate after salary amounts are exchanged, player and team can simply take the case to arbitration and let a neutral and professional arbitrator decide.  The past record of salary arbitrations over 40 years suggest that the arbitrators make reasonable decisions most of the time.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2013

February 7, 2013

The most popular posts I’ve written for this blog identify the best hitting pitchers currently active in major league baseball.  Given the level of interest, I have decided to update this piece annually, starting with this 2013 update.

As I’m sure you know, modern pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s wide-spread use in the minors and in the college game is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers tend to say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (which has been the norm since at least the early 1880’s and probably much earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, even though most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This post ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.  I may have missed a couple of qualifiers, but not more than a couple.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average above .167 or a career OPS over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball all their lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

A few pitchers can swing the stick a little bit, though.  Here is my non-scientific list of the best hitting pitchers currently playing as we approach the start of the 2013 season:

1.  Micah Owings.  Micah Owings remains far and away the best hitting pitcher in baseball (at least if you exclude Rick Ankiel, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2004).  Micah’s career numbers have slipped a bit the last two season, likely due both to the law of averages and the facts that he isn’t a starter any more and didn’t pitch much last year due to an elbow injury.  His career batting average is currently .283 with an .813 OPS in 205 career ABs.

As I’ve written previously, it’s clear the Arizona Diamondbacks made a terrible mistake when, after drafting Owings in the 3rd Round of the 2005 Draft, they decided to develop him solely as a pitcher.

Owings is now 30 years old, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever develop into a good major league pitcher.  In fact, Owings just signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals with an invitation to 2013 Spring Training — the Nats signed Owings as a 1Bman, which strongly suggests they will try to develop him as a hitter.

Owings is getting old to switch positions, and it isn’t clear if he could still pitch if he and the Nats wanted him to.  He had arthroscopic elbow surgery last July and hasn’t pitched since last April.  Nonetheless, I still have a hope he’ll become the next Brooks Kieschnick, pitching, pinch-hitting and occasionally playing the field, depending on his team’s needs at the moment.

2 Dontrelle Willis.  One of the things I always loved about Dontrelle was his ability to hit.  While he hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, he recently signed a minor league deal with the Cubs with an invitation to 2013 Spring Training.  In 2011 his last year of play, Willis batted .387 (12 for 31) with a 1.032 OPS to bring his career numbers up to .244 with a .665 OPS, respectively.

Dontrelle is now 31 years old, so it’s probably too late for him to make the switch to a position.  Too bad — as a 6’4″ lefty, he probably could have been major league 1Bman or corner outfielder if he’d been developed as a hitter.

3.  Mike Leake.  Leake remains the top young hitting pitcher in MLB.  He hit .295 with a .749 OPS last year, and despite his 2011 sophomore slump year, he still has a career batting average of .274 with a .656 OPS in 164 major league at-bats.  Leake walked only once last season, dropping his career on-base percentage to .308, but he hit for power for the first time in his career with two taters and five extra base hits.

I wonder what is more discouraging to a pitcher: walking the opposing pitcher or giving up an extra base hit.  Even though the latter would seem to have more value, the pitcher on the hill can better rationalize it: the batter got lucky, he’s a good-hitting pitcher, etc.  Everyone on defense slumps their shoulders when the pitcher walks his doppelganger.

4.  Carlos Zambrano.  In 2012 Big Z had his worst season swinging the ash since his 2002 rookie season, hitting only .176 with a .441 OPS.  Even so, he still has a career .238 batting average with a .636 OPS.

Carlos is an all-or-nothing hitter.  He has only ten walks to go with 240 strikeouts in 693 major league at-bats, but he has hit an impressive 24 HRs and 53 extra base hits.  He’s scored 75 runs and driven in another 71 in his career.  That’s better than a lot of middle infielders given the same number of at-bats.

5.  C. C. Sabathia.  He’s one of the most interesting players on this list.  Unlike all the other pitchers on this list, he’s only played one-half of one season in the National League.  As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about two games a year, yet hit he does.  Despite going 0 for 5 at the plate in 2012, he’s still hitting .238 with a .598 OPS in 105 career at-bats.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher, but obviously he’s just a baseball player pure and simple.  One wonders what kind of numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.

6.  Yovani Gallardo.  The still young Brewers ace is another pitcher with pop at the plate.  Despite his worst season with the bat as a regular starting pitcher, Yovani still has a career batting average of .2o7 with a .599 OPS, thanks to ten HRs and 27 extra base hits in 305 career at-bats.

7.  Daniel Hudson.  After a break-out season in 2011 at age 24, Hudson blew out his elbow tendon after ten starts (nine for Arizona, one for AAA Reno) before having Tommy John surgery in early July.  Presumably, he won’t be back in action until after the 2013 All-Star Break.  At any rate, Hudson has a .229 batting average and a .573 OPS in 105 major league at-bats to date.

8.  Dan Haren.   Haren has a .223 lifetime batting average and .572 OPS.  In 2010, his last season in the NL, he hit .364 (20 for 55) with a .902 OPS. He signed with the Washington Nationals this off-season, so he’ll get the opportunity to hit regularly again in 2013.

Haren and Sabathia are the best arguments against the designated hitter.

9.  Adam Wainwright.  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off his last two seasons (2010 and 2012), but he still has a career .204 batting average and .545 OPS in 367 major league at-bats.

Honorable MentionLivan Hernandez (career .221 batting average, .526 OPS, but his career might be over — he’d still like to pitch, but hasn’t been offered even a minor league contract as of early February 2013); Darren Oliver (.221, .545 — the latest word is he’ll be back with the Blue Jays in 2013, but he hasn’t had a plate appearance since 2006); Chris Narveson (.227, .522 — he missed most of 2012 to rotator cuff surgery, but the Brewers have signed him to a major league contract for 2013); Jason Marquis (.202, .508 — he hit well last year and he’s returning to the Padres for 2013); Manny Parra (.183, .500 — he signed with the Reds for 2013); Javier Vasquez (.204, .478 — rumor has it he’s interested in resuming his major league pitching career after a strong season in the Puerto Rican Winter League); Jordan Zimmerman (.190, .463); and Edwin Jackson (.200, .462).  As you can see, the best hitting pitchers get bad pretty fast.

Young Hitting Pitcher to WatchStephen Strasburg.  He hit .277 (13 for 47) in 2012 with a .759 OPS, highest of any pitcher with at least 50 plate appearances, just beating out Mike Leake.  Strasburg’s career numbers are only .192 and .521, so it has yet to be determined whether he’s closer to 2012’s best hitting pitcher or the guy who started his career a pathetic-even-for-a-pitcher 1 for 26.

Carlos Zambrano started his career 1 for 32, before developing into a good-hitting pitcher, so I tend to think Strasburg will continue to hit well for a pitcher in future years.  One thing is for certain, however: with Strasburg, Haren, Zimmerman and possibly Micah Owings, the Nationals should have the best hitting pitching in MLB in 2013.

You can find my 2014 update on this post here.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB 2013

January 11, 2013

Last summer I discovered that 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 wrote a post last June which evaluates each park’s park factor for the five years ending with the 2011 season.

As we approach the 2013 season (and the 2012 stats have long been in), it seems like a good time to update my earlier post incorporating the 2012 season.  Without further ado, here are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six season (or less for the five ball parks that have opened more recently).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.301

2.  The Ballpark at Arlington (Rangers) 1.148

3.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.134

4.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.131

5.  U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.111

6.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.086

7.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.080

8.  New Yankee Stadium (2009-2012) 1.066 [Old Yankee Stadium, 2004-2008, 1.002]

9.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.057.

10.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.044.

11.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.018

12.  Rogers Center (Blue Jays) 1.010

12.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.010

14.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.008

15.  Marlins Park (2012) 1.005  [Sun Life Stadium, 2007-2011, 1.038]

16.  Nationals Park (2008-2012) 0.998 [RFK Stadium, 2005-2007, 0.892]

17.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.986

18.  Target Field (Twins, 2010-2012) 0.983 [Mall of America Field (the Metrodome), 2005-2009, 0.966]

19.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.978

20.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.960

21.  Angels Stadium 0.939

22.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.936

22.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.936

24.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.919

25.  AT&T Park (Giants) 0.917

26.  Dodger Stadium 0.915

27.  Citi Field (Mets, 2009-2012) 0.904 [Shea Stadium, 2004-2008, 0.886]

28.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.889

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.864

30.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.808

The rankings didn’t change much from last year.  Among last year’s ten best hitters’ parks, U.S. Cellular Park, where the White Sox play, was apparently a great place to hit in 2012, moving it up two slots.  New Yankee Stadium was apparently not a great place to hit, moving it down two slots. Coors Field improved on its status as far and away the best hitters’ park in MLB.

The Marlins’ new park, which looked like a great place to hit in late June of last year, turned out to be only a little better than average for the full season — we’ll have to see how it plays over the next few seasons.

The Royals’ Kauffman Stadium moved up two slots, and the Phillies’ Citizens’ Bank Park fell two slots.  The Astros’ Minute Maid Park also fell two slots.  The Twins’ Target Field was a hitters’ park for the first time in its three year history, jumping it up four slots.  The Pirates and Giants and their respective opponents scored a lot more runs on the road in 2012, causing both PNC Park and AT&T Park to drop three slots.

With another year in the books, the Mets’ Citi Field is developing into as much of a pitchers’ park as the old Shea Stadium.  San Diego’s Petco Park remains the worst place to ply one’s trade as a major league hitter, but Seattle’s Safeco Field narrowed the gap considerably.