Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ category

Should CC Sabathia Take a Page from Roger Clemens?

October 22, 2017

I’m not talking about steroids here, I’m talking about starting the season late.

Those who remember the last couple of years of Roger Clemens‘ career know that Clemens decided he didn’t want to pitch in April and the first half of May when the weather was cold.  He had reached a point in his career, in his early 40’s, where he didn’t think he could go through a full season, or he simply no longer wished to.

It seemed to work pretty well for Clemens, and at the time I thought it was a creative way for veteran pitcher to extend his career.  I wonder if 2018 wouldn’t be a good time for CC Sabathia to try the something similar.

Sabathia is coming off his most successful season since 2012, and he pitched great this post-season, last night’s loss to the Astros not withstanding.  I think the fact that CC made only 27 regular season starts and pitched only 148.2 regular season innings had something to do with his success.

Frankly, I’m amazed that a man CC’s size could still be a reasonably effective major league starter in his age 36 season.  I figured that Sabathia would now be at the stage in his career where he had had umpteen knee, back and ankle surgeries and would just be hanging on making half a dozen starts or so a season because he could no longer stay healthy.

I was certainly wrong about that, but I still think that placing CC’s 300 lbs on his joints through 500+ major league starts has to catch up to him eventually.  Why not act proactively, and find a way to reduce Sabathia’s work load going forward?

Sabathia has already made his hundreds of millions, and he wants to stay in New York with the Yankees.  Perhaps CC and the team could come up with something creative that allows Sabathia to reduce his regular season workload, so he’s fresh for the post-season and can extend his career to 40.

It might be something as simple as deciding to start CC in April and May only on dates in which the weather is forecast to be unseasonably warm and balmy, and then limit his September starts in the same way.  At this point in his career, I very much doubt that Sabathia needs to start every 5th game in order to maintain his effectiveness, so I advocate for finding creative ways to keep the regular season wear and tear on his body at a minimum.

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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.

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.

Japhet Amador Slugs Three Home Runs in NPB Game

July 24, 2017

Two days ago huge Mexican slugger Japhet Amador launched three home runs in a game in Japan, making him the fourth player to have a 3-HR game in NPB this season.

Amador is fairly well known to those who follow international baseball the last five or ten years as one of the few young players in the Mexican League (summer) who could really hit but who never broke through to MLB success.

MLB teams didn’t like Amador for a couple of reasons.  First, his Mexican League team, the Mexico City Red Devils, wanted a couple of million dollars for his rights.  MLB teams generally didn’t think Amador was worth it because of his size (he’s listed as 6’4″ and somewhere between 297 and 310 lbs), his lack of defensive value, and the suspicion that his hitting prowess in Mexico was based primarily on the fact that he rarely, if ever, saw major league stuff.  Any young Mexican pitcher with a major league fastball and any semblance of command gets acquired by an MLB organization very quickly.

Amador had brief trials in the Houston Astros’ system in 2013 and 2014, but he generally failed to impress.  In 2016, the Rakuten Golden Eagles acquired his rights (I’d guess the Mexico City Reds received close to $1 million for Amador’s rights from Rakuten, on top of a likely $1.2M-2M they got from the Astros in 2013, of which Amador probably received somewhere around 25%).   Amador has been paid roughly $275,000 for each of his two NPB seasons, which is low for a foreign major league NPB player, but is likely about ten times per year what he was making playing in Mexico and likely reflects that the Golden Eagles had to pay a significant amount for his rights.

Amador hit with enough power in 2016 for Rakuten to bring him back in 2017.  This year has been a struggle for Amador, as Japanese pitchers have learned to pitch to his weaknesses.  Even with the 3-HR game, giving him 13 dingers on the season, he’s still slashing only .229/.305/.404.

What has kept Amador around this long is that Rakuten is having a great season this year in spite of Amador’s relatively modest contributions and also that NPB teams want their foreign imports to hit for power, which Amador certainly does.  Over parts of two seasons in Japan, he’s slugged 22 HRs in 407 plate appearances.  However, Amador has only eight other extra base hits, including a surprising two triples, and has also grounded into 18 double plays.

I’m doubtful that Amador will return to Japan in 2018, unless the recent 3-HR game truly constitutes real improvement, rather than the more likely one-off great game from a hitter who can certainly hit the ball a long way if he squares a mistake pitch up.  If his Japanese career ends, Amador can always return to Mexico, where he’ll likely be able to play professionally until his big body can’t handle the strains any more.

How Small Was He?

June 9, 2017

Something got me thinking today about the smallest real players to play in major league baseball.  Of course, Bill Veeck‘s little person Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only major league plate appearance, was the shortest at 3’7″ to play in MLB.

Veeck was able to meld crass exploitation with real baseball know-how (in 1951, when pitching staffs were only 9 or 10 men, you can’t entirely discount the fact that Veeck could have seen the value in a pinch-hitter would almost always walk — this was the guy who turned the Indians into World’s Champions, and the best single season attendance draw continuing through the next generation, in only about three seasons).  If filling the seats was the goal, and it was, it certainly worked for Veeck, at least until Disco Demolition Night in 1976.

Will Harridge, the AL President, voided Gaedel’s contract the next day.

This is the best post on-line I found to my question, and it’s relatively recent.  Herearesomeothers.  I not sure it any of these posts mention the 5’6″ Jose Altuve.

Wee Willy Keeler (“Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t”) is the only Hall of Famer, and for that matter the only player of real consequence at 5’4.”  Nobody remembers Lee Viau today.  At 140 lbs, Keeler was 20 lbs lighter than Viau.

The first major league pitchers to develop major league curveballs were not big dudes.  Candy Cummings was 5’9″ and 120 lbs, and Bobby Mathews was 5’5″ and 140 lbs.  Candy is in the Hall of Fame for his reported discovery of the curveball.  An HOFer who got there purely on MLB performance is “Old Hoss” Radbourn listed at 5’9″ and 168 lbs.

People were a lot smaller in 19th century America.  Multiple subsequent generations of heavy meat and dairy eating has made the contemporary American male on average much larger than those whose diets were based mainly on starches.

Baseball Almanac says there were ten MLB players listed at 5’3″.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t identified, at least to the cheapskate public, the identities of those ten.  One of the posts linked above says that Mike McCormack (5’3″, 155 lbs) was the shortest player to qualify for a batting title.  However, he slashed .184/.278/.222 as the main 3Bman for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas and was never heard of again outside of the minor league cities where he continued to play pro baseball.

“Doc” Gautreau was probably the 5’4″ that baseball reference lists him at.  Rumors of shorter height are probably a result of the fact that he was reported to weigh only 129 lbs.  He was a rangy 2Bman who made his share of errors.  He had no power, and his ability to get on base wasn’t appreciated during his three seasons as an MLB platoon player on second division Boston Braves teams in the late 1920’s.

Gautreau was a Massachusetts Canuck, like footballer Jack Kerouac a generation later.  When the Montreal Royals started play in the (now AAA) International League in 1928, they were on the look-out for a French Canadian ballplayer who would appeal to their fan base.

Gautreau, who spoke French, had left the majors in 1928, and the Royals acquired him for the 1929 season.  He gave the Royals five strong seasons and was almost certainly the team’s most popular player, since he also hustled like a guy who was 5’4″ and 129 pounds.

The subject of tiny MLBers is near and dear to my heart for reasons I will elaborate on in a later post.

Are Carlos Beltran and Adrien Beltre Future Hall of Famers?

May 12, 2017

Almost certainly.

Carlos Beltran has scored more than 1,500 runs and driven in more than 1,500.  The only qualifying players not in the Hall of Fame with that many runs scored and that many RBIs are the recent generation of nearly proven PEDers.

Beltran has some reports of chemically enhanced performance, but probably not enough to tar him as a PED cheat.

Adrian Beltre, who is currently injured, is current stuck at 2,999 career runs scored plus RBIs, one short of what is certainly a magic number for HOF purposes.  A cursory internet search has not turned up any compelling case for PED use by Beltre, so his HOF chances are indeed strong.

I’m convinced that the best of the PED guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, maybe Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) will eventually make the HOF on the grounds that when enough time passes, the voting sports writers will acknowledge that these guys would have made the HOF even if PEDs never existed.  As jaded as I am, I still have some faith that experienced sports writers will be able to evaluate the PED crop of players and one day decide which of them were so much better than everybody else that they deserve to be in the HOF.

I will admit, though, that it hasn’t always happened.  The Veterans’ Committee has indeed over-valued the performance of hitters in hitters’ eras and pitchers’ in pitchers’ eras, and vice versa.  I’m hopeful that 75% of sports writers in the future will learn from past mistakes and someday figure out how to evaluate the PED-era players.  Wishful thinking?  We’ll see.

Ouchies

April 20, 2017

There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.