Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ category

Good Article on Sergio Romo

February 21, 2017

Ken Rosenthal wrote a good article on Sergio Romo’s journey to the Los Angeles Dodgers this off-season and the personal issues Romo has been dealing with the last few years.  While the personal issues are not entirely spelled out, three of his grandparents died last year, and he went through a divorce in 2013.

After the divorce, it seems pretty clear that Romo got wild, taking advantage of the money, women and partying that come with being an elite professional athlete.  Perhaps that had something to do with the Giants’ decision to let him walk this off-season?

According to wikipedia, Romo had his first child at age 22, and he likely married young as many ballplayers do.  When suddenly divorced, he probably still had a lot of wild oats to sow.  Romo is also either a first or second generation Mexican American, growing up in Brawley, a place that likely means his family didn’t have much money until Romo hit it big.

It can be a tremendous shock for someone coming from a poor or at least less well-to-do background to suddenly come into major league money in his 20’s.  There have to be a lot people coming at you with their hands out, and the player and his family have no experience dealing with the sudden, and often not particularly long lasting, riches.

I’m not surprised that Romo has had some emotional problems the last few years.  He has always come across as a sensitive guy and a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, even if he comes across as generally very upbeat.  Tears of a clown, perhaps.

I hope pitching for the Dodgers works out for him.  At 34, he’s getting long in the tooth, and there is always a lot of pressure coming to play for what you consider your home-town team.  His age and veteran experience will at least help on that side of things.  Of course, it will most likely come down almost entirely to whether he can still snap off his sharp-breaking slider with command this coming season.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Sergio Romo

February 7, 2017

I’m a bit sad the Bums signed Sergio Romo.  It’s hard to see a player you like sign with a team you don’t.

That said, it’s obviously a good move for the Dodgers.  They got Romo at a relative bargain ($3M for one season), because if he’s healthy in 2017, and the Dodgers use him as a right-handed short man and keep his innings pitched below 60, I have little doubt but that they’ll get more than their money’s worth from Romo.

At this price, it’s a little surprising the SF Giants made no effort to re-sign him.  Maybe they know more about Romo’s health than anyone else does.

Romo reportedly signed with the Dodgers for less money than the Tampa Rays offered.  However, he’s already made his money playing for the Giants, he’s much more likely to be in a pennant race playing in L.A., and he wanted to stay in California where he’s from.  As a Mexican American player from Southern California, one would expect him to be a very popular Dodger, at least so long as he pitches reasonably well.

I won’t be rooting against Sergio as a Dodger, except when he’s pitching against the Giants.

What Did Kenta Maeda Make in 2016?

December 22, 2016

Kenta Maeda ended up earning $12,025,000 in 2016, including the pro-rated portion of his signing bonus.  His base salary was $3.125M, including pro-rated signing bonus, so he earned total incentives worth $8.9 million, the biggest chunk of which was for making 32 starts for the Bums.

He was a bargain.  fangraphs values his performance at $26.6M.  He got hit hard his first two post-season starts, but Dave Roberts pulled him too soon in Game 5 of the NLCSThere was a lot of over-managing with the relievers this post-season.

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.

Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2016/2017

October 7, 2016

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball always generates far more pitchers who are potential future MLBers than it does position players, and this year is no exception.  Here are the ones I’m keeping my eyes on:

Shohei Otani (age 22 in 2017).  As a pitching prospect, less is more with Otani.  He pitched only 21 games and threw only 140 innings in 2016, because he was not only the Pacific League’s best pitcher, but also its best hitter, posting a 1.004 OPS in 382 plate appearances.

As a pitcher, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and a pitching line of 140 IP, 89 hits, 45 BBs and four HRs allowed and 174 Ks.  Had he pitched three more innings, he would have led his league in ERA and strikeout rate.  He hit 101 mph (163 km/hr) on five pitches during a start in June, one start after hitting 163 km/hr on a pitch for the first time, thus setting a new NPB record.  He’s the next Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka if his arm stays healthy, which sure seems likely if his bat turns him into a pitcher who only makes 20 starts a season.

I found it kind of amusing following Otani’s 2016 season on Yakyu DB.  Instead of just saying that they were trying to find a balance between having the league’s best pitcher and the league’s best hitter in the same person, Otani’s team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, announced a series of phantom injuries in the second half which allegedly prevented Otani from pitching but not from playing as the team’s designated hitter.  Never has a pitcher suffered so many blisters and muscle pulls without a trip to the disabled list.

From what I know of Japanese culture, I chalked it up to management’s need to save face: no matter how much sense it might make to have Otani’s bat in the line-up as often as possible, they just couldn’t come right out and say they were reducing the league’s best pitcher’s pitching starts in order to play him more games as a hitter.  Well, having to decide how best to use a player of Otani’s enormous talent is a great problem to have, even if it requires routinely making silly excuses, and the Fighters finished a league-best 87-53, beating out a very strong SoftBank Hawks team by 2.5 games.

Another problem Otani creates is with the relatively recent $20 million posting fee cap.  For players as good as Otani, a $20 million posting fee gives the Fighters no reason to post Otani before they absolutely have to due to free agency.  I have previously suggested an obvious solution to this problem — raise the posting fee by $5 million for each year before free agency an NPB team agrees to post its superstar.  The sooner (and thus younger) a superstar player becomes available to MLB, the bigger contract he’s going to get even with a bigger posting fee.  Current MLB ETA: 2021.

Shintaro Fujinami (23).  The Hanshin Tigers seem determined to burn out their young ace before he ever reaches MLB.  After throwing a 152-pitch shutout in 2015, the Tigers had Fujinami throw 161 pitches on July 8, 2016, a game the Tigers lost 8-2 and were losing 5-2 after six innings.  Nevertheless, Fujinami pitched eight full innings and faced 37 batters, striking out 13 and walking five.  It’s just no way to treat a 22 year old pitcher, even if the Tigers did skip his next start to give him a rest.

The overwork apparently effected his 2016 overall performance.  After a breakout 2015 season, Fujinami’s 3.25 ERA this year was only 9th best among 12 qualifiers in the six-team Central League, and he finished third in strikeouts with 176, 45 Ks fewer than in 2015.  However, he still had the best strikeout rate (9.4) among the league’s qualifiers.

Fujinami is still a legitimately great prospect.  It’s just that all the evidence suggests the Tigers are determined to ruin his arm before he becomes a free agent.  MLB ETA: 2021.

Takahiro Norimoto (26).  NPB pitching prospects for MLB take a marked dip after Otani and Fujinami, mainly because of factors other than NPB pitching success.  There can be no dispute after the 2016 season but that Norimoto is a terrific pitcher.  His ERA was 2.91 for the second year in a row (4th best in the Pacific League this year) and he led his league in strikeouts (216) for the second year in a row, the third year in row he’d struck out more than 200.

The problem with Norimoto is that he’s a small right-hander, listed at 5’10” and 180 lbs, and he’s thrown a whole lot of innings (762.1) in his four NPB seasons through age 25.  That’s not a recipe for a pitcher who’s going to last long enough to pitch in MLB while his arm is still relatively strong.  If he can defy the odds, he compares favorably to Kenta Maeda.  Of course, even with Maeda, the jury is still out on how long he can be an every fifth game starter in MLB.  MLB ETA: 2020/2021.

Tomoyuki Sugano (27).  As with Norimoto, Sugana’s 2016 performance has convinced me he’s the real McCoy.  He led the Central League in ERA this year (2.01) and strikeouts (183).  His strikeout rate (9.3) was far and away the highest of his career, which is unusual for a 26 year old pitcher in his 4th full season.  Even if a one-year fluke, his NPB career 2.34 ERA and 4.2 career K/BB rate speak for themselves.

The problem with Sugano as an MLB prospect is that he didn’t come up particularly young, and he pitches for the Yomuiri Giants, a team that has never posted a player for MLB.  He won’t become a true free agent until after the 2021 season, so he will be 32 in 2022, his likely first MLB season, should he decide to cross the ocean.  Also, the adoration and endorsement deals that come with being a Yomuiri Giants’ superstar make it less likely that he will come to MLB at all.  MLB ETA: 2022.

Yuki Matsui (21).  a small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-handed closer for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Matsui has electric stuff (304 Ks in 250.2 career NPB innings pitched) and what appears to be close to three full seasons of NPB experience through his age 20 season.  It’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer long-term.  MLB ETA: 2021.

Kodei Senga (24).  An extremely talented young right-hander who had shoulder problems in 2014 and then spent much more of the 2015 season in NPB’s minor league than his performance there deserved, probably because the 2015 NPB Champion SoftBank Hawks had all the pitching they needed at the major league level, Senga had a terrific season in 2016.  His 2.61 ERA was 3rd best in the Pacific League and his 181 Ks (in only 169 IP) was second best. MLB ETA: 2022-2023.

Shota Takeda (24).  I was more excited about Takeda a year ago.  While his 2.95 ERA was 6th best in the Pacific League and his 144 Ks was 5th best, his strikeout rate dropped sharply from 8.9 in 2015 to 7.1 in 2016 and his walks rate was up, suggesting he might be heading for an arm injury in 2017.  MLB ETA: 2022-2023.

Yusei Kikuchi (26) and Takeru Imamura (26).  Although Kikuchi is a left-handed starter, and Imamura is a right-handed closer, they are the same age and both appear to have at least four full years of NPB service time.  Kikuchi’s 2.58 ERA was 2nd best in the Pacific League, but his strikeout rates (7.3 career) leave something to be desired.

Imamura has good stuff (career 8.4 strikeout rate), but spent significant portions of the 2014 and 2015 seasons in NPB’s minor league leagues after a slow start in 2014.  This will mean he’ll be a couple of years older before he gets posted or becomes a free agent.  MLB ETA for both: 2020-2021.

Shota Imanaga (23) and Yuta Iwasada (25).  Both service time rookies in 2016, Imanaga is obviously the better prospect at this point because he’s two years younger.  Imanaga had a 2.93 ERA and struck out 136 batters in 135.1 IP.  Iwasada had a 2.90 ERA, 5th best in the Central League, and 156 Ks (4th best) in 158.1 IP.  MLB ETA: 2024 at the earliest — both have a long way to go.

Shun Yamaguchi (29), Masahiko Morifuku (30), Naoki Miyanishi (31), Takayuki Kishi (32), Yoshihisa Hirano (33) and Tsuyoshi Wada (36) are the pitchers most likely to sign with MLB teams this off-season.

Yamaguchi is still relatively young, has had success in NPB both as a closer and a starter, and was having a strong season in 2016, until shoulder problems caused him to miss the last three weeks of the regular season.  That obviously hurts his chances of signing with an MLB team this off-season.

Morifuku is a very small situational lefty (5’8″, 145 lbs) who has been very good in six of the last seven seasons, but was dreadful in 2015, when he was probably dealing with an injury.  Despite his size, I think he’d have a shot at being an effective MLB short man, so long as you made sure to limit him to no more than 60 appearances and 55 innings pitched a season.

Miyanishi is another left-handed short man, who is a bit bigger than Morifuki.  After nine full NPB seasons in this role, Miyanishi has a career 2.37 ERA and his rookie year in 2008 was the only year he had an ERA over 2.89.  I have no reason to believe he could not help at least one MLB team in this role.

Kishi is kind of a poor man’s Kenta Maeda, another small right-hander (5’11”, 169 lbs) who can definitely pitch.  He has an NPB career record of 103-65 and a career 3.05 ERA, all of it as a starter.  He missed almost two months to a right adductor strain this season, and he was limited to only 16 starts in 2015, possibly due to elbow soreness.  That’s not promising, and since I see him as a reliever in MLB, he can probably make more money signing a multi-year deal in Japan where he will remain a starter.

Hirano had a strong 2016 season as the closer for the Orix Buffaloes.  However, he signed a three-year deal before the 2015 season, so he won’t be joining MLB for at least another year.

Tsuyoshi Wada’s 2012-2015 MLB career did not go the way he wanted it to.  He almost immediately blew out his elbow tendon and had to spend two seasons working his way back to the majors.  That said, he did prove he’s an MLB-caliber pitcher, posting a 3.36 ERA in 20 starts over two seasons with the Cubs.

Back in NPB, Wada had a strong 2016 season, posting a 3.04 ERA and striking out 157 in 163 innings pitched.  If a major league team were willing to give him another shot, he’d be worth the risk, even at age 36.  However, Wada may be content being an ace for the relatively high-paying SoftBank Hawks going forward.

Kenta Maeda’s Interesting First Year as a Dodger

September 22, 2016

After Kenta Maeda‘s win against the San Francisco Giants last night, he is now 16-9.  With the injury to Clayton Kershaw this season, it is hard to dispute the claim that Maeda has been the ace of the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff.

What I find interesting is the way the Dodgers have been using him.  Maeda hasn’t pitched more than 6.1 innings in a ball game since July 10th.  His limited use, at least in terms of being the team’s top starter, has been effective, however.  He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since July 17th.

Clearly, the Dodgers feel that Maeda is a pitcher who is great the first two times through the line-up and then tires or gets figured out.  Maeda is small by major league standards, and I am almost certain that has something to do with manager Dave Roberts‘ perception about how long to leave Maeda in ball games.

It is no secret that the Dodgers, when they signed Maeda, were very concerned about how he would hold up pitching every five games in MLB.  There were concerns about his medical reports, and that was the reason that Maeda’s eight-year contract contained more incentives (based on starts and innings pitched) than actual salary.

However, I don’t believe those concerns have much to do with the way Roberts has been using Maeda in the second half.  The Dodgers are trying to win their division, and if they thought pitching Maeda routinely into the eighth inning gave them the best chance to win, they’d be doing it.  The way Roberts is using him is best for both Maeda and the Dodgers long term, but with the contract Maeda has, the Dodgers don’t loose much if they burn his arm out sooner rather than later.

The Dodgers’ use of Maeda is a testament to the fact that trend of using more and more relief pitchers to pitch more and more major league innings is continuing and has not yet reached an eventual peak based on the number of pitchers that can reasonably be carried on a 25 man roster.  I can’t remember the last time a team had a starter this good (and currently this healthy) who has pitched as little each start as Maeda has done this year.

After 30 starts starts, Maeda has pitched only 169 innings, well under six innings a start.  Of the 17 National League pitchers with at least 30 starts so far this year, six others have similar innings pitched totals, but all six have ERAs over 4.00.  Maeda’s ERA is now 3.20.

Any way you slice it, the Dodgers’ signing of Maeda was one of the best signings of the off-season.  Fangraphs values Maeda’s 2016 performance to date at $26.3 million, which is about the guarantee of Maeda’s contract (although he’s earned more this year by hitting performance incentives), and does not take into account the added value of Maeda’s performance being a major part of a play-off season.

By my calculation and including a pro-rated portion of the contract’s signing bonuse, Maeda will earn at most this year $12.275 million, assuming the Dodgers do not skip Maeda’s final start in order to keep him fresh for the start of the post-season.  While that is still a tremendous bargain for the Dodgers, it’s also more than twice as much as Maeda could reasonably have expected to make in 2016 had he remained in Japan’s NPB.

It’s an interesting question also what the Dodgers will decide to do with game 162 of their schedule.  Maeda is scheduled to make his 32nd start, earning him another $1.5 million bonus, but if I were Dodgers management, I would consider skipping Maeda’s 32nd start, give him the bonus anyway, and thereby keep him fresh to be the team’s second starter in the post.

However, that may not be necessary.  If Maeda makes the  Dodgers final regular season start on October 2nd, and Clayton Kershaw starts the Dodgers’ first play-off game on October 7th, Maeda would have sufficient rest to pitch the second play-off start on October 8th, particularly if he pitches no more than 3.0 to 5.0 innings on October 2nd.