Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ category

The Demise of the Everyday Player

August 10, 2017

Years and years ago I read a piece by Bill James in which he argued that Cal Ripken‘s decision to keep his consecutive game streak alive was actually detrimental to the Baltimore Orioles’ ultimate goal of winning as many games as possible.  The article made a lot of sense to me: playing every single game, even by the very best players, means that the player plays a lot of games when he’s exhausted and/or has minor injuries, which can’t heal properly because the player is playing six days a week; under those circumstances, even the best major league players aren’t necessarily playing as well as the replacement-level player sitting in the team’s bench would.

[In fairness to Ripken, the Orioles’ true ultimate goal was putting as many cans in the seats as possible.  Being Cal Ripken, playing every game every day for a generation, probably was pretty good for Orioles’ attendance during that streak.]

Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak is a record that probably never will be broken because it seems that MLB teams now agree whole-heartedly with what James argued all those years ago.  In contrast to the Asian leagues, where playing every day in leagues that play shorter schedules and have more rain-outs is still commendable, MLB teams have clearly decided that the occasional day off is more valuable than playing every single game.

Looking at the 17 full seasons from 2000 through 2016, the shift from playing every single game seems to have taken hold after the 2008 season.  In the nine seasons from 2000 through 2008, an average of 6.33 players per season played in all 162 games.  In the eight full seasons since then, only 2.5 players per season have played 162 games in a season.

Even players who manage to play at least 160 games in a season seems in decline.  In the 14 seasons from 2000 through 2013, an average of 13.6 players played at least 160 games per season.  In the last three seasons, that average has dropped almost in half to seven per season. The recent low seasons could be a result of a small sample fluke, but I don’t think so.

Just as teams have learned that using more and more relief pitchers pitching more and more total innings results in fewer runs scored by the opposition, teams have also learned that keeping their stars properly rested and their bench players sharp results in better won-loss results.  The good managers, and I consider the Giants’ Bruce Boche one of them, realize that keeping the stars fresh and the bench players sharp has a lot more value than riding the race horses until they inevitably drop.

For what it’s worth, Justin Morneau is the last player to play 163 games in a season.  Morneau’s 2008 Twins lost their 163rd game to the White Sox, sending the latter team to a brief post season and former team home.  The all-time record for games played in a season is Maury Wills‘ 165: he played all 162 regular season games and all three games to decide the pennant against the Giants.  That was the year Wills set then records for plate appearances and stolen bases in a season.

 

 

Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Yu Darvish

July 31, 2017

The Dodgers pulled the trigger on the trade deadline’s biggest deal by acquiring Yu Darvish for three prospects right at the deadline.  The price was indeed heavy for a two-month rental, but this deal is obviously more about the Dodgers going deep into the post-season than about helping the Dodgers win their division outright.

Moving from the American League’s best hitters’ park to one of the National League’s best pitchers’ parks should help Darvish step right into the shoes of injured ace Clayton Kershaw.  I would have to think that Darvish will enjoy playing in L.A., a city with a much larger Asian presence than Dallas/Ft. Worth, not to mention the fact that he’ll get a shot a winning a World Series ring.  Also, if things go as planned for Darvish and the Dodgers, the odds are good the team will give Darvish an enormous long-term contract this off-season, unless, of course, the Yankees or the Rangers offer even more.

If Kershaw is healthy again by late September, the Dodgers will be the obvious and overwhelming favorites to go all the way.  Certainly, no one will be able to match their pitching.

The main piece in the deal for the Rangers is 22 year old 2B/LF Willie Calhoun.  Calhoun’s minor league numbers don’t suggest he’s got enough range at 2B to stick there, and the odds are effectively nil that he will displace Rougned Odor unless Odor gets hurt. However, Calhoun has enough power that he won’t be a liability as a corner outfielder, once he learns to play there.  Calhoun needs more time to learn to play positions other than second, so I don’t expect he’ll be promoted to the majors before September, although his bat is very, very close to being ready now.

The other two players the Rangers received, RHP A.J. Alexy and infielder Brendon Davis, are both in their age-19 seasons.  They have talent, but they are a long way from the majors.

It isn’t often that a team gets three prospects of this caliber for 2+ months of veteran performance, but it also isn’t often that a team as good as the 2017 Dodgers can add a pitcher of Yu’s caliber.  The Dodgers want their first World Series title since 1988 bad, and now they can absolutely taste it.

Kenta Maeda — Every 10th Day Starter?

July 21, 2017

I’ve been a fan of the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda for a long time.  I followed his career closely in Japan, where he was a great pitcher at the top of the class just behind Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.  I definitely thought he was good enough to be a successful major league pitcher.

I also liked Maeda because he was a small right-hander, and I was a small right-handed player in my playing days, now oh so long ago.  Like Tim Lincecum, Maeda was small, but he could pitch, and I felt there ought to be a place his talents in MLB.

From the beginning MLB teams were suspicious of Meda because of his size.  The Dodgers signed him on a deal that guaranteed him only $25 million over eight years, but was chock full of incentives if he could prove he could be a successful MLB starter.

Last season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided pretty quickly that Maeda’s innings had to be strictly limited.  While at the time I thought that this might reflect some latent MLB prejudice against small right-handers, on further analysis, I was probably wrong.

Roberts is literally the product of an American Marine and a Japanese woman his father met while serving in Japan.  (I, and probably lots of other baseball afficionados, had assumed that the Dodgers’ manager was the son of Panamanian ball player Dave Roberts, who was playing in Japan the year and the year before the now manager was born.)  The Dodgers’ manager was a below average sized major leaguer in his own day.

Instead, Roberts decided quickly and probably accurately that it would be tough for a pitcher Maeda’s size to start every fifth game.  In fact, this has been a problem for all Japanese pitchers moving to MLB, including those with MLB-sized bodies like Darvish, Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma (it’s been a problem for a lot of American-born pitchers too.)  In Japan, starters typically start only once a week, because so many games are washed out during the wet Japanese summer months.

This season, Maeda has been the victim of the new home run trend, and he’s been in and out of the Dodgers’ talent-packed starting rotation.  He’s become basically a spot starter (and spot reliever), starting when the team doesn’t have an extra game off to rest the other starters.

Maeda has been remarkably successful in this role.  Through June 9, pitching as part of the regular five-man rotation, Maeda had a 4.95 ERA.  Since then he’s made five starts on average eight days apart, and he’s allowed more than one run in a start only once, on a day when he had only four full days’ rest since his previous start.

I’ve been following MLB since 1978, which is pretty much the entire era of five-man pitching staffs.  Many is the time I’ve seen teams try to use 4+-man rotations, basically skipping the fifth man every time there was an extra day off that allowed the other four starters their normal rest.

This strategy has almost never worked.  The fifth starter was routinely skipped because he really wasn’t an adequate starter at all.  The fifth starter, who wasn’t any good to begin with, tended to be even worse when he didn’t pitch regularly.  Also, one of the other four adequate or better starters tended to get hurt at some point in the season, which rendered the strategy completely ineffective.

This season, the Dodgers are so deep with talent that they have the starters, the bullpen, and the pitcher in Maeda to make this strategy work well for the first time I can remember.  Maeda is a veteran pitcher who can be still be effective starting every eight to 12 games, plus the occasional one or so inning relief appearance in between, who may well benefit from starting half as often as the typical MLB starter.

Maeda has also been willing to give the team whatever it needs, even though the infrequent starts hit him directly in the pocketbook because of his incentive-laden contract.  Apparently, Maeda is mature enough to realize that he’s making more in the U.S. than he would have made if he’d stayed in Japan.  Plus, the reasonable likelihood of a World Series check and ring probably do a great deal to assuage any hurt feelings Maeda might otherwise have.

I’m a strong believer that managers need to be extremely flexible in terms of using the actual players they have on their rosters, with their specific skill sets and specific weaknesses, in order to tease out as many regular season wins as they possibly can in any given season. Managers’ jobs are too tenuous not to do every single thing within their power to win ball games.

Managers often aren’t flexible in large part because the players demand consistency in their roles (and the players are now well better paid than the managers), and because there are certain well-established notions about how managers should use their players, built up over generations, and known to the sportswriters who cover the games like professionals.  It’s the reason that teams without great closers generally do not elect to use bullpens-by-committee based on match-ups, even though this would make a great deal of sense if you don’t have a true closer.

Roberts may well end up sending in Maeda for every fifth start if somebody else in the starting rotation gets hurt.  I’m just trying to point out that using Maeda on a less regular basis seems to be working very well for the Dodgers and that Maeda might be exactly the pitcher to make such a strategy work.  The 2017 Dodgers are currently on a pace to win 113 games.  It’s hard to find fault with that.

Cubans Impacting Japanese Game

June 24, 2017

I was remiss in my last post for failing to mention that two Cubans, Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne, are presently leading their respective NPB leagues in home runs.  Guerrero is leading the Central League with 19, and Despaigne is tied for the Pacific League lead with Yuki Yanagita at 18.

Despaigne is in the running for the world’s best position player who will likely never play in MLB.  His family has connections with the Communist government in Cuba, so he hasn’t been willing to defect.  The Cuban government worked out a deal with NPB a couple of years ago to allow some of its best players to play in Japan to prevent their defections.

I don’t know what cut the Cuban government gets of the money Despaigne earns, but they are probably both benefiting greatly by the arrangement since Despaigne’s 2017 salary is a reported 400 million yen ($3.59 million).  Even a small fraction of that would go a long way in Cuba, where because of heavily state subsidized prices, $1000 a month in hard currency income would allow a family to live like royalty.

I would compare Despaigne to South Korea’s Dae-ho Lee, who proved last year that he is an MLB-level hitter.  Despaigne and Lee are both thickly built right-handed hitting sluggers, with Lee being physically bigger and Despaigne being a few years younger.

Guerrero signed a big deal with the Dodgers a few years ago and quickly washed out due mainly to his inability or unwillingness to take a walk. (Several media reports also suggested he wasn’t too bright.)  In Japan, his power and raw talent make up for the fact that his on-base percentages are poor, at least so far.

I can’t imagine Cuban players not becoming every bit as important to Japanese baseball as they’ve become to MLB in recent years.  There are a lot of defecting Cuban players who are just a little too old and/or a not quite talented enough to become MLB stars, but who would be great bets to become stars in Japan.

If Guerrero and Despaigne finish one-two in home runs at the end of the NPB season, the desire to sign the next Cuban slugger will be high indeed throughout NPB.

The Flood of Cuban Players

June 20, 2017

I just read a good article on espn.com about one of the side effects of the flood of Cuban baseball players into the international market since the beginning of 2014: huge numbers of Cuban professionals are stuck in the Dominican Republic unable to play baseball professionally because they aren’t quite good enough to sign lucrative contracts with MLB organizations.  The article reports that 349 Cuban ballplayers have left Cuba since the start of 2014.

I’ve written about the flood of Cuban players several times in recent years (see this article for example), mainly as it effects the major leagues.  The espn.com article reflects one obvious effect of the ginormous contracts that the very best Cuban players have signed in recent years.

The problems for the perhaps several hundred Cuban players stuck in the Dominican Republic are fairly obvious.  Most of them were good but not great Serie Nacional regulars who are past age 28, who simply do not have a reasonable chance of making the major leagues going forward, and thus cannot get offers from mlb organizations that the buscones, who fronted the money to smuggle the players out of Cuba and who typically get about 30% of the player’s first post-Cuba professional contract, are hoping to get.

The last three-plus years have already begun to show that the early bargains (by MLB standards) for players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu resulted in irrational exuberance on the part of many MLB organizations who signed a number of Cubans players for too much money and got burned.  For example, the Dodgers and Red Sox have committed a grand total of $193 million to Hector Olivera, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero and Yaisel Sierra in deals which now look like wild overpays (Sierra may yet be a capable major league reliever, but I’m doubtful he’ll prove to be worth the $30 million the Dodgers will be paying him through 2021).

In short, we have probably reached a point now where mlb organizations will still pony up eight figure contracts for the very best Cuban defectors, some of whom will pan out and some of whom will not, but organizations aren’t going to throw even low six figure amounts at players who don’t have a reasonable chance of playing in the majors going forward.  Japanese NPB teams will offer signing bonuses between $100,000 and $1M for a handful of these players, but that still leaves the vast majority with few prospects.

After the major leagues, there are plenty of places for these second-tier Cubans to play professionally, including Mexico, the Independent-A Leagues and the Carribbean Winter Leagues, but none of those will offer the kinds of signing bonuses the buscones are looking for just to cover their initial investments in bringing the players in from Cuba and supporting the players in the D.R. for up to a year.  Meanwhile, many players end up sitting around in the Dominican Republic for years, their skills rapidly atrophying, often without proper papers and unable to play professionally anywhere.

One thing that some of the recent over-pays for Cuban players also shows is that the value of baseball talent to MLB organizations is just enormous.  The MLB Draft and the International bonus pools artificially decrease the monies teams pay for amateur talent subject to these regimes substantially.  As a result, any player who can escape these regimes, such as MLB free agents or foreign veteran professionals from Cuba, tend in a mature market to be overpaid as a result of the fact that mlb organizations have a surplus of money freed up to throw at these players who are operating in much closer to a free market environment.

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.

New 10-Day DL Rule Obviously Makes Sense

April 15, 2017

I didn’t write anything earlier about the new 10-day Disabled List rule, because it just seemed to be such an obvious improvement over the 15-day rule.

Part of the reason for the so long adherence to the 15-day rule was to prevent teams like the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers from taking advantage of their much deeper minor league systems to bring up major league level talent stuck in the minors for limited high value appearances.  The old rule meant that you lost a player for 15 days if you sent him to the DL, lessening the relative value of the selective, high value call-up.  The idea being that a player didn’t go on the DL unless he was really hurt.

This rule makes no sense this far into the Draft era, and it already appears that MLB teams are going to the 10-Day DL faster they went to the 15-Day.  Gone, perhaps, are the days of waiting three or four days before retroactively employing the DL, to see if the injured player wasn’t hurt that bad and could return without a 15-day loss of his services.

Now teams have less incentive to play a man short for several games and more incentive to give the injured player enough time to recover.  In today’s game, where a new player can be there in one game thanks to air travel and chartered jets, that 25th man on the bench is more valuable than ever.

The 10-Day rule gives teams more flexibility, and means star players can potentially come back from injury sooner.  What’s not to like?