Archive for the ‘KBO’ category

Mac Williamson Elects Free Agency

June 1, 2019

Mac Williamson‘s time as a San Francisco Giant is likely over, as he has elected free agency instead of accepting an assignment to AAA Sacramento.  Maybe a fresh start in a new organization is just what Big Mac needs.

However, as I say with a lot of players of Williamson’s talent level (too good for AAA, not good enough for the Show), if an Asian major league team from Japan or South Korea makes him an offer, Mac should jump on it with both feet.

It seems clear to me that Williamson is never going to be able to lay off major league breaking balls down and away, but he’s got the power Asian teams love, and he might be able to hit well enough in NPB or the KBO to take advantage of his power.

Williamson turns 29 on July 15th, so he’s still young enough to sign with another major league organization now, and if it doesn’t result in a reasonably good chance of starting 2020 with an MLB major league team, signing with an Asian team next off-season.

For what it’s worth, the 2019 Giants seem to be a team made up of outfielders at the major league and AAA levels who should seriously consider giving Asian baseball a shot in the not too distant future.  Mike Yastrzemski is holding his own after six major league games, but 28 year old rookies don’t typically go on to major league success.  Mike Gerber and Austin Slater are killing it at AAA Sacramento this season, both have major league experience, and neither is getting any younger, as both will turn 27 before the end of the 2019 calendar year.

One would have to think the odds are indeed good that at least one of these four outfielders will be playing in Asia at some time in the next twelve months.

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Josh Lindblom Wins 50th KBO Game

May 15, 2019

With his seventh victory of the 2019 season (against zero losses), Josh Lindblom became only the sixth foreign pitcher to record 50 wins in South Korea’s KBO.  He’s also the active career leader among foreign KBO pitchers, after each of Dustin Nippert, Henry Sosa and Eric Hacker failed to return to the KBO in 2019.

Lindblom is the KBO’s highest paid foreign player in 2019 with a one-year salary reported to be $1.77 million.  He’s currently playing for the circuit’s wealthiest team, the Doosan Bears, and he’s currently leading the league in wins (7) and ERA (1.48) and is second in strikeouts (61).  The upshot is that if he continues to pitch well in 2019, he’s got a good shot at besting Dustin Nippert’s record-setting $2.2 million salary in 2017 next off-season.

KBO teams can now sign foreign players to multi-year contracts, so I could see Lindblom signing a two-year $4M guaranteed deal next off-season.

It’s tough having a long career in the KBO as a foreign player.  The KBO pays well for the 4-A players it signs, and there is a surplus of available foreign players who might be solid KBO performers.  As a result, KBO teams expect elite performance from their foreign “mercenaries” every season, and it they don’t get it, they quickly bring in another foreign player at a lower salary to start.

However, some foreign players have what it takes to consistently excel in the KBO, and they can make some good money if they do so.  Lindblom is the latest example.

What to Do about Luke Heimlich?

May 10, 2019

Down in Mexico, lefty Luke Heimlich is busy proving he’s a legitimate major league prospect.  Unfortunately, he’s also a convicted child molester.

After six starts in the Mexican League (LMB) so far this season, Heimlich has a 3.41 ERA with 32 Ks in 34.1 innings pitched.  While I believe the LMB is really a AA level of play, rather than the AAA status it is granted by MLB, for a rookie professional pitcher, even one now 23 years old, to pitch this well at this level says a great deal about Heimlich’s abilities as a pitcher.

You will note that Luke Heimlich’s page on MiLB.com to which I link above does not contain a photo for Heimlich even this late into the season.  It’s like everyone wants to do everything they can to have Heimlich fly under the radar to the extent possible.

I don’t see an MLB organization trying to acquire Heimlich this season.  My guess is that Heimlich, assuming he stays healthy, will attempt to pitch in the upcoming Mexican Winter League (LMP) or the Dominican Winter League (if he can find a team) and hope that a strong performance there will compel an MLB organization to sign him in spite of all his very heavy baggage.

As I’ve written before, I don’t see an MLB organization signing Heimlich until he’s put in at least two full seasons in the LMB, so that the signing organization can credibly argue that Heimlich has proven he can keep his nose clean and has paid his dues.  Even so, any MLB organization to sign Heimlich will still face a firestorm, because his history is too well known now for the media not to immediately raise his child molestation conviction as soon as he is signed.

Would an NPB or KBO team be willing to sign Heimlich before the 2021 or 2022 season?  I kind of doubt it.  NPB or KBO teams have a lot of choices in terms of the foreign players available to them, and the media in Japan in particular can be every bit as thorough as the U.S. media, particularly when it comes to baseball.  I don’t see Heimlich’s conviction record being tolerable in South Korea either.

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL tried bringing in Heimlich last season, but the Taiwanese media got hold of Heimlich’s story soon enough and the league voided the contract within a week of its signing.

As for Heimlich, I’m sure that all he wants to do is keep his head down and continue to have the opportunity to pitch professionally somewhere.  If he continues to pitch well in the two Laredos — U.S. and Mexican — he can at least look forward to making living pitching there going forward.

Early Season Asian Baseball Run-Down

April 28, 2019

The elite few who have read this blog with any regularity know that I follow Asian major league baseball quite closely.  Here’s a run-down on what’s happening in the Far East so far in 2019.

Japan’s NPB

So far, it feels like a fairly typical NPB season.  The high revenue Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks are leading their leagues respectively.  However, the small or mid-market Yakult Swallows, Chunichi Dragons, Hiroshima Carp and Rakuten Golden Eagles remain within close striking distance.  Of course, only 25 games into the NPB season, no one is yet truly out of it.

Most of the top NPB hitters are off to good starts, including Hayato Sakamoto, Tetsuto Yamada, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Nori Aoki and Dayan ViciedoTomoyuki Sugano is off to a not so hot start after a recent rough outing and Takahiro Norimoto is still recovering from non-Tommy-John elbow surgery to clean out loose bodies and bone chips, but Kodai Senga is still showing MLB-level stuff.

I am convinced that Tetsuto Yamada is going to be an MLB player.  The most important stat for NPB hitters in terms of future MLB success is on-base percentage, and Yamada has that in spades.  He has a .513 OBP so far this season and an NPB career OBP of .404.  He plays 2B, he runs well (142 career NPB steals at an 82% success rate) ,and he plays for the small market Swallows.

Yamada should be posted this post-season, so he can join MLB in 2020 for his age 27 season.  The relatively new posting fee regime gives NPB teams the most money based on the greatest value of the player to an MLB team.  Yamada’s value to an MLB team will be highest this coming post-season if he doesn’t get hurt or slump.

South Korea’s KBO

The SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears are off to the best starts, with LG Twin, NC Dinos and Kiwoon Heroes leading the field for the KBO’s five playoff spots.  Foreign Aces Tyler Wilson and Josh Lindblom are off to great starts.  Lindblom is the KBO’s highest paid foreign player this year at somewhere between $1.7M and $1.9M, so if he can keep up this exemplary performance so far, he could challenge Dustin Nippert’s $2.2M single season record for foreign player compensation in 2020.

Former MLBers Jose Miguel Fernandez, Byung-ho Park, Jerry Sands and Darin Ruf are among the top six KBO hitters in terms of OPS so far.

Offense is down in the KBO so far this season, apparently due to less zing in the baseballs per fangraphs.com.

I’ve noticed the out-sized effect Cuban players have had in Asia in recent years.  Part of it is that Cuba produces a great deal of baseball talent, at least as much as the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, and only the Cuban players with a reasonable shot at playing in the MLB majors go through the very arduous process of defecting.  Needless to say, the Cuban defectors don’t all live the MLB major league dream, but many of those that haven’t have lived the dream in Asia.

I think that one of the things that help Cuban players is that, because they come to the MLB system later, they have to make a bigger adjustment than the Dominicans and Venezuelans who come to the MLB system between age 17 and 21.  If the Cuban players can succeed as AAA players in the MLB system, they’ve done something, and it’s relatively not as big a deal for them to adjust to playing and living in Asia.  That’s my theory anyway.

Taiwan’s CPBL

The big story in the CPBL this year is the performance of former KBO Ace and marginal MLB major leaguer Henry Sosa.  After six starts, his 1.26 ERA leads the league by nearly a run-and-a-half and his 48 Ks (in 43 IP) leads the league by an even dozen.

The CPBL got lucky in signing Sosa, who was one of the KBO’s top starters in 2018, when/where he finished third in ERA (3.52), sixth in run average (4.12), second in strikeouts (181) and third in innnings pitched (181.1).  Sosa didn’t return to the KBO for 2019 because of South Korean tax law changes which would have required him to pay most of his salary to the government, and at age 33 (he turns 34 in July), he was too old to interest any MLB team.

Sosa at 95-to-97 mph consistently throws harder than any other pitcher in the CPBL, and he’s learned from his time in the KBO that he throws hard enough at the KBO level to attack the strike zone.  Rob over at CPBL Stats opined before the season started that the signing of recent MLB major leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx would create a test for how good CPBL hitters currently are.  I think that Sosa is a better test — the extent to which CPBL hitters can eventually catch up to Sosa will show just how good or not they are.

The second best pitcher in the CPBL so far this year is another Dominican former KBO Ace Radhames Liz.  The 35 year old Liz has been recorded as throwing even bigger fast balls than Henry Sosa, but Liz can’t do it as often as Sosa.

In recent years, CPBL teams (there are currently only four of them) have focused mostly on North American pitchers as their foreign imports.  I think part of that is that even though the CPBL pays better, there is more longevity for Latino pitchers to pitch in the summer Mexican League and their home country’s winter league than to try to jump to the CPBL’s slightly higher salaries.  In Sosa’s case, I believe he is looking at jumping to Japan’s NPB if he can dominate in Taiwan.

Anyway, I think that Sosa and Liz will have CBPL teams looking at Latin pitchers more next off-season.

AAA Defense

April 27, 2019

I was wondering yesterday what the level of defense is like in AAA ball compared to the Show.  In 2018, major league teams combined for a .984 fielding percentage.  In the International League last year, the league fielding percentage was .982 and in the Pacific Coast League .981.  So MLB is clearly just a little bit better, to the tune of two or three fewer errors put 1,000 chances by this relatively objective metric.

One thing I noticed about looking at AAA fielding statistics from last year was the degree to which AAA players still play multiple positions each year.  By my count only 12 players out of 30 AAA teams managed to play even 100 games (out of a 140 game schedule) at the same position in 2018.

Not one outfielder managed to play 100 games at any of the three outfield positions.  Just about every AAA outfielder splits time between the corners or all three outfield positions.  Obviously, since it’s a developmental league, teams want as many of their players to be able to play multiple positions in a pinch if they are called up to the majors.

I was also wondering about the degree to which NPB and KBO teams are valuing defense among their foreign position players.  Both leagues still seem to prefer the best hitters they can find.  Unfortunately, baseball reference doesn’t provide fielding stats for NPB and the KBO, so there’s no way for me to compare defensive numbers between the three levels of play.

However, if some foreign players are good enough to star as hitters and pitchers, there must be some that could star in Asia based on their defense.  Particularly in this age of defensive metrics, there have to be some.  The fact that AAA players bounce around the diamond defensively must make it more difficult to project defense as it is offense.

One position I thought might be rich for defensive defensive value to Asian teams is 3B.  Most above major league average defensive shortstops, 2Bmen and CFs, even if they are not major league hitters, have a successful major league career path as bench infielders.  3B, however, is a position that is both difficult to play defensively, but has to be a major league hitter to keep a major league job.  Good glove, not quite major league hitting 3Bmen would seem to be especially good candidates for Asian major league success.

To my surprise, I found about 15 AAA 3Bman in 2018 who looked like they could play the hot corner at a major league level based on the raw numbers (fielding percentage; double plays and chances per 9/IP) who weren’t so young or good with the bat to be sure-fire prospects, but hit well enough in 2018 at the AAA level.

One I particularly like for Asian baseball next off-season is Albuquerque Isotope Josh Fuentes.  He batted .329 with an .871 OPS last year, and has a higher OPS (.924) so far this year.  On defense, Fuentes turned 25 DPs while making only 10 errors in 110 games and making 2.70 plays per 9/IP, so he’s likely a plus-major league defensive 3Bman.

However, Fuentes is 26 this year, and he is stuck behind Nolan Arenado in Denver, so unless he gets traded or Arenado gets hurt, Fuentes won’t much of a chance at the major league level this year.  Fuentes has all of 18 major league plate appearances to date, but that would be enough to entice an NPB or KBO team if Fuentes can keep his OPS this year at or near .900.

Another AAA 3Bman I’ll be keeping an eye on is the Las Vegas 51’s Sheldon Neuse.  He has the raw tools to be a plus major league defensive third-sacker and can play shortstop in a pinch, but he made a lot of errors last year and didn’t hit well in the Pacific Coast League (.661 OPS) in his age 23 season.  He’s slashing .308/.372/.474 so far this season.

Neuse is stuck behind Matt Chapman in Oakland, so he has to keep hitting in Las Vegas this summer and hope the A’s are buyers at the trade deadline, so he can get a shot at establishing himself as a major leaguer somewhere else while he’s still young enough to be considered a legitimate prospect.

Attendance Down in South Korea’s KBO So Far in 2019

April 11, 2019

The first three weeks of the 2019 have been poorly attended, with attendance down 11% from the same time last season.  The Kiwoom Heroes (formerly the Nexen Heroes) drew a total of fewer than 2,600 fans for two mid-week games this week, even though they play in a domed stadium (so current cold weather not an issue) in Seoul, South Korea’s largest city by a very wide margin.  As big as Seoul is, however, three KBO teams share the city and the Heroes have never been one of the KBO’s better drawing teams.

Even so, with attendance down sharply from an average of a little over 12,000 last year, an 11% attendance decline doesn’t bode well for the league.  The only good news is that it’s early in the 2019, so things could turn around as the weather heats up.

Bruce Maxwell Signs with Mexican League’s Acereros del Norte

March 7, 2019

It sure is unusual to see a 28 year old once promising major league catcher sign with a Mexican League team, but Bruce Maxwell has done it, due to conduct the last two seasons that has made him unappealing to all 30 major league organizations.

Maxwell is the only major league player to have taken a knee during the National Anthem to protest racial discrimination in America back in 2017.  My first thought in reading that he had signed with a Mexican League team is that he has been unfairly black-listed because of the National Anthem issue.  However, I resisted my gut reaction, because Maxwell’s situation is a lot more complicated than that.

He was arrested during the 2017-2018 off-season for allegedly pulling a gun on a fast-food delivery person and charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.  He ultimately pleaded out to disorderly conduct, which mlbtraderumors.com describes as a “class 6 undesignated offense,” which I assume means not very serious, and received probation and community service.  Presumably, the probation period has expired, or he wouldn’t be able to play in Mexico.

Also, Maxwell was absolutely horrible in 2018, both for the A’s and also at their AAA affiliate in Nashville.  The A’s also reportedly had concerns about his conditioning (he’s currently listed at 6’1″, 250 lbs — conditioning is always going to be an issue for someone with those dimensions).

As such, teams could legitimately believe that Maxwell is a head-case and would prefer that he work out his issues some place else before signing him.  It certainly raises issues when a player his age and on the verge of major league stardom engages in crazy behavior and doesn’t keep himself in shape.  Add to that the fact that as a major league veteran, Maxwell couldn’t be signed to play at the minor league level for less than about $90,000, it is not entirely surprising that all 30 major league teams would take a pass on him.

The Acereros de Monclova (the city in which the team plays) are one of the top Mexican League teams and routinely collect the best foreign players (which in this case includes Americans) to play for them, so it’s no surprise that they would jump at the chance to sign a player of Maxwell’s talents.  Obviously, NPB and KBO teams will be keeping an eye on how Maxwell performs in Mexico, although neither league likes to sign foreign catchers because of worries about foreign catchers’ ability to communicate with domestic pitchers — although the ability of foreign pitchers to communicate with domestic catchers is not considered an issue at all, as both leagues routinely sign foreign pitchers.

If nothing else, playing in Mexico should determine pretty quickly whether Maxwell now has his head on straight.  It’s a big let-down playing in Mexico under Mexican League conditions for Mexican League money (probably no more than $5,000 or $6,000 a month for rookie foreigners), and it takes a certain determination to move past that and put in the work to succeed even in what is probably a AA class league.  If Maxwell plays up to his abilities, MLB teams (or NPB or KBO teams) will come calling soon enough.  If not, then maybe we’ll see Maxwell playing next in the Indy-A Atlantic League or American Association.