Archive for the ‘Miami Marlins’ category

Ed Hobaugh — Here’s to You!

March 15, 2017

This weekend I saw one of my oldest friends for the first time since January.  While he is not a baseball fan like me, he’s the kind of guy who still goes to the occasional comic book/baseball card convention, and he had gone to one at Stonestown recently.

He bought some sports cards, all but one baseball (49er receiver Gene Washington).  He offered to give me one, and looking through them, mostly early 1970’s cards, there was a good chance I had most of them in my childhood collection, now buried away in a closet somewhere.

One card I’m sure I didn’t have was a 1962 topps Ed Hobaugh card.  I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before, but he went 7-9 with a 4.42 ERA for the expansion 1961 Washington Senators and pitched 126 innings that year.

I love players (and baseball cards) like this.  1961 was Hobaugh’s one great MLB hurrah.  He pitched pretty well in 26 games, mostly in relief, for the Senators in 1962, pitched ineffectively in nine MLB games in 1963, and that was the end of his major league career, although he continued to pitch in AAA until the 1969 season.

Hobauch was a college pitcher at Michigan State who didn’t pitch professionally until his age 22 season after finishing school and being signed by the White Sox organization.  He went 11-4 in the Three-I League in 1956 and threw a no-hitter, but he missed all of the 1957 and 1958 seasons, most likely because of military service.

Hobaugh was a good, but by no means great, AAA pitcher in the American Association in 1959 and the Pacific Coast League in 1960, going a combined 24-18.  Hobaugh appears to have been a pitcher without major league stuff who knew how to pitch, maybe comparable to some  of the pitchers who find success in the East Asian leagues after failing to make it in MLB today.  Pat Misch springs to mind.

At the time of the 1960 American League expansion draft, Hobaugh was still reasonably young, had pitched reasonably well in AAA and hadn’t been protected by the team that originally signed him.  But for expansion, Hobaugh probably would have received one or two major league cups of coffee at most.  However, the new Senators needed players, and Hobaugh turned out to be probably the team’s fifth best pitcher in their expansion year.

Hobaugh is pretty typical of the players who fill expansion team rosters and who prevent said expansion team from losing 120 games their first season in the Show, but who aren’t good enough to prevent the team from losing 100.  For every Jeff Conine that an expansion team finds among the available 27+ year olds, there are probably ten Ed Hobaughs who got their one real chance to be a major leaguer in that first expansion year and then quickly receded as the expansion teams tried to develop younger, potentially more talented players.

At the end of the day, Hobaugh proved he was a real major league, even if was only for a couple of seasons with an expansion team.  Ed Hobaugh — here’s to you!

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

Jose Fernandez Dies in Boating Accident

September 25, 2016

In devastating news for baseball fans everywhere, Jose Fernandez died last night in a boating accident somewhere off South Florida.  Reportedly, the small boat he was in was moving at top speed when it ran into a rock jetty, flipping the vessel and killing all three people aboard.

I am old enough to remember well the boating accident that killed Steve Olin and Tim Crews back in the early Spring of 1993, also in Florida.  That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I woke up and read the news on the internet this morning.  No word yet if last night’s boating accident involved drinking, as the 1993 tragedy did.

Plenty of players have died during their playing careers in baseball’s long history, but it is difficult for me to recall any that involved a player this young of this proven talent level.  Austin McHenry, Ray Chapman and Lyman Bostock are probably the most comparable major league players, based on this list from wikipedia and what they could reasonably have been expected to accomplish had they lived on past the age of 40.

The one player in baseball history most comparable to Jose Fernandez is probably a pitcher who is remembered by few modern baseball fans indeed, because he pitched before the days of professional baseball.    Jim Creighton is recognized as baseball’s first great star by baseball historians like John Thorn.

From the age of 19 to 21, Creighton dominated the baseball world’s attention, such as it was from 1860-1862.  Not surprisingly, Creighton was from Brooklyn, as New York City was then the center of what would become the national pastime.

At the time Creighton entered New York City’s elite amateur game, pitchers were still required to “pitch” the ball underhand without bending the wrist or the elbow.  Creighton’s innovation was adding a largely unnoticeable wrist flip which enabled him to throw the ball harder and with more movement than anyone had before.  Creighton was so in demand as a pitcher that he may well have become the first truly professional player when he joined the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1860.

Creighton was also one of the best hitters of his day and one of America’s best cricket players, at a time when most baseball players were still also regularly playing the English game.  It was his batting technique that may have played a role in his untimely death.

In 1861 Creighton and his Excelsior teammate Asa Brainard, who went on to greater fame as the pitcher for the undefeated 1869 Cincinnati Reds, baseball’s first openly all-professional team, jumped to another great Brooklyn team, the Atlantics, presumably for more money than the Excelsiors had been paying them.

Creighton’s batting stroke involved a great deal of torque through his torso, which gave him more power than most players of his day.  In a game on October 14, 1862, he hit four doubles in his first four at-bats, playing the field while Brainard pitched the first five innings.  Creighton went in to pitch in the 6th inning and in the bottom half, he slugged a home run.

As he crossed the plate, Creighton commented to another player that he thought he must have snapped his belt.  Instead, he had apparently snapped something inside his body, and he died a few days later, possibly of an inguinal hernia.  He was only 21 years old.

At least, that is the legend.  Other sources say he died playing cricket, and medical treatment and diagnosis in the early 1860’s were not what they are today.

It is no surprise that Creighton is not well remembered today.  His death came during the Civil War, when a lot of young men were dying for reasons more significant than playing baseball.  In fact, it was the Civil War that turned baseball from New York City’s pastime to the National pastime, as the New York rules, as opposed to those used in other East Coast cities, most notably Boston, became the rules in general use across the North by the end of the war.  It is worth noting that the draft into the Union Army didn’t start until 1863, which is the reason why a young man of Creighton’s obvious physical health and strength was able to continue playing baseball as thousands of other young men were busy fighting and dying in battle or of disease in military camps.

Dee Gordon’s PED Suspension

April 30, 2016

Here’s a good article from Jayson Stark about the aftermath of Dee Gordon‘s steroids suspension.  One particularly germane point he makes is that season is probably too long, i.e., the players don’t have enough off-days during the season to recuperate and still keep the regular season and the post-season within the window of time that northern and eastern teams playing in outdoor stadia need to avoid playing games in the snow.

Here’s an article is which Justin Verlander says penalties need to be stiffened.  As Stark’s article points out, some guys are always going to cheat, no matter how stiff the penalties, because the obvious and perceived benefits of using PEDs for some players are going to override any possible penalty.

Every time we get a few players punished for PEDs in close proximity, a few self-righteous players mouth off about stiffer penalties.  However, once the players’ union has explained all the considerations (what about players’ privacy rights?  What about possible false positives?  What about a reasonably honest first-time mistake?  What happens if we allow teams to void contracts because of a positive test?), the players as a group are rarely willing to make anything more than incremental changes every three to five years that a new agreement is negotiated.

In short, the next agreement might result in first-time suspensions of 100 games and second-time suspensions of 200 games, but don’t expect much more than that.

I agree that the season is too long, but don’t expect any significant reduction in the number of games played each year, because everyone is too addicted to the extra revenue extra games provide for anyone to give them up.  I have long suggested that MLB cut the number of regular season games to 160 and expand the wild card from one do-or-die game to a best two-out-of-three game series.

This would reduce the number of games that 28 of the 30 teams play by two games, but would only cost each team a single home date, which would probably be matched by increased revenues in the national television contract, since you would get one or two more higher value playoff games in each league.  It’s not a big difference in terms of the number of games players play, but something is better than nothing.

Thank Goodness for the Atlantic League

April 22, 2016

mlbtraderumors.com reported today that two-way talent Micah Owings signed to play with the York Revolution of the Independent-A Atlantic League this season.  I hope he gets and takes the opportunity to both pitch and play in the field there.

Owings is 33 this season, and the odds of him making it back to the Show are slim.  However, I still have dreams of him becoming the successor to Brooks Keischnick as MLB’s next true two-way player.

Meanwhile, former Oakland A Nate Freiman (29) and now former Miami Marlin Chris Narveson (34) were released today.  If either of them can’t secure a minor league deal from an MLB organization, both, but Freiman in particular, should consider trying to catch on with an Atlantic League team.

The odds of Freiman obtaining an MLB organization offer, after his horrible  4 for 26 start at AAA Syracuse, depend almost entirely on whether another AAA or AA team needs to replace an injured 1Bman.  However, Freiman is definitely young enough that his making it back to MLB in the future is well within the realm of possibility.  In fact, Freiman might benefit by getting more regular at-bats in the Atlantic League, and building his confidence back up against lesser pitching.

In entirely unrelated news, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed 24 year old Cuban 2Bman Jose Adolis Garcia.  At ages 22 and 23 Garcia had .851 and .869 OPS numbers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, which are just fine for his position.  The Giants have the money (if they’re willing to spend it) to compete with MLB teams on players of Garcia’s not quite Grade-A talent level, and Garcia looks well-suited to become a star in Japan.

It will all depend on how quickly Garcia can adjust to playing in Japan, because NPB teams are way too short on patience when it comes to foreign players.  This may, in fact, be a problem, because Garcia is not a patient hitter, and NPB pitchers tend to have good command and an ability to pitch to a hitter’s weaknesses.

On the other hand, if Garcia’s Serie Nacional power translates to Japanese baseball, he could become a big star quickly.  If this happens, he’s still young enough to be playing in MLB in a few years.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I’ve written several posts on this subject, which have proven quite popular, the last about two years ago, so it feels like a good time for an update.

As we enter the 2016 season, below are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six seasons, 2010 through 2015 (four seasons for Marlins Park which opened in 2012).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.427.  Coors Field remains far and away the best hitters’ in MLB by a wide margin.  Every other stadium had a season or two between 2010 and 2015 well out of line with its overall average position except Coors Field.  It was the best hitters’ park in MLB five of the six seasons, usually by a lot, and a strong second in the sixth season.

2.  Globe Life Park at Arlington (Rangers) 1.144.  Globe Life Park remains the best hitters’ park in the American League.

3.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.107.

4.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.093.

5.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.083.

6.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.072.

7.  Yankee Stadium 1.059.

8.    U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.058.  One of the more variable parks in MLB, U.S. Cellular Field was a pitchers’ park in 2015, but a strong hitters’ park in 2010 and 2012.

9. Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) 1.047.  A pitchers’ park in 2015, Rogers Center was a hitters’ park every other year of the last six.

10.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.045.

11.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.034.  Long regarded as one of the best hitters’ parks in MLB, Wrigley was a pitchers’ park in 2014 and 2015, bringing it’s six year average down considerably.

12.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.026.

13.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.027.  25 or 30 years ago, Kauffman Stadium was one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball.  However, the newer parks built starting with Camden Yards in 1992, have for the most part been much better hitters’ parks than the ballparks they replaced.  The casual fans want to see offense, and the modern parks have largely catered to that desire with resulting attendance increases.

14.  Target Field (Twins) 1.013.  The Twins’ new ball park looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ park after the first couple of seasons of play there.  However, it now looks to be a slight hitters’ park.

15.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.005.

16.  Nationals Park 1.004.

17.  Marlins Park (2012-2015) 1.000.  The Marlins’ new park appears to be as close to a perfectly level playing field for pitchers and hitters as currently exists in MLB, at least based on the first four seasons of play there.

18.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.992.  Progressive Field was the second best hitters’ park in MLB last year, after five consecutive seasons as a moderate pitchers’ park.  2015 was almost certainly a fluke.

19.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.987.  Once known as Ten-run Park, when it was named after failed energy company Enron, Minute Maid Park varies wildly between a hitters’ park and pitchers’ park from season to season.

20.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.972.

21.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.957.

22.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.941.  O.co isn’t as much of a pitchers’ park as it once was, more or less switching places with Angel Stadium, another now antiquated multi-use stadium from the 1960’s.

23.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.927.

24.  Dodger Stadium 0.906.

25.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.894.

26.  Angel Stadium 0.877.  The fact that Angel Stadium is now one of the worst hitters’ parks in MLB gives one additional appreciation of just how good Mike Trout is as an offensive player.

27.  Citi Field (Mets) 0.876.

28.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.857.

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.842.  The Mariners and the Padres moved their outfield fences in before the 2013 season in order to goose offensive production.  It hasn’t helped a whole lot, as both parks remained among the worst hitters’ parks in MLB from 2013-2015.

29.    AT&T Park (Giants) 0.842.  AT&T varies a lot season to season, but in 2011, 2012 and 2015 it was a strong pitchers’ park.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2016

April 7, 2016

As everyone knows, modern pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

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

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

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2016 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.182 career batting average and .521 career OPS as I write this).  The big-swinging Bumgarner has forced me to change the way I do my rankings.  In previous iterations of this post, I ranked pitchers-as-hitters strictly based on best career numbers for pitchers with at least 100 career plate appearances.  However, despite some poor hitting seasons early in his major league career, MadBum has clearly and pretty much indisputably been the best hitting pitcher in each of the last two seasons, so it’s safe to say that entering the 2016 season, Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher in MLB at this point in time.  Of course, I reserve the right to drop Bumgarner down more than a few notches next year if he isn’t one of MLB’s 10 or 15 best hitting pitchers in 2016.

Bumgarner has hit nine HRs in 159 plate appearances the last two seasons with 24 RBIs, and that probably goes a long way in explaining why his record was 36-19 over those two seasons, compared to going 13-9 in 2013, when he didn’t hit a lick, but had a lower ERA.  All things considered, Bumgarner probably pitched as well or better last year than he did in 2013, but not enough to explain the much better won-loss record in 2015.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.223 BA, .603 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have  for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

3.   Mike Leake (.212, .545).  Leake’s hitting has dropped off substantially the last two seasons, but I still rank him as third above Yovani Gallardo because of his higher OBP (.235 to .223).

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.198, .556).  His 12 career home runs make him one of the best power threats among today’s pitchers.

5.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.219, .551).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) since Hudson blew out his elbow tendon in 2012, he worked his way back to the majors as a reliever and has had only one plate appearance the last three seasons; and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010.

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.  As an American League hurler who has been hurt a lot in recent seasons, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

7.  Adam Wainwright (.197 BA, .508 OPS).  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off at bit in recent seasons, but I rank him above Travis Wood because of the Wainwright’s better career on-base percentage (.225 to .206)

8.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .525 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, and he’s been moved to the bullpen, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers, particularly on a Cubs team loaded with talented potential pinch-hitters.

9.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross hit extremely well for a pitcher last year (.250 batting average and .640 OPS) as a full-time starter for the Padres.

10.  Jacob DeGrom (.200, .458).  Even with no power and few walks, hitting at exactly the Mendoza Line after 105 career MLB at-bats makes DeGrom MLB’s tenth best hitting pitcher entering the 2016 season.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Taylor Jungmann (.270, .614), Michael Lorenzen (.250, .576), Noah Syndergaard (.209, .530), and Jose Fernandez (.190, .498) are the sweet-swinging young hurlers to keep an eye on.

Of the four, Michael Lorenzen, if he can prove himself to be an MLB starter [remember pitcher first, pitcher first, pitcher first], is the best bet to move quickly up my list in future years.  Someone posted a comment last year tipping me off to him.  Lorenzen was a fine college hitter (.872 career college OPS in three seasons at Cal State Fullerton, one of the many excellent Cal State University system baseball programs in Southern California).  He started his college career as a position player, but became the team’s closer as a sophomore.  In his case, as opposed to the aforementioned Mica Owings, his college numbers much more strongly suggested his development as a pitcher in the professional ranks, mainly due to his lack of power as a hitter.  If he ends up back in the bullpen, so much for his being a great hitting pitcher.

What is interesting about Taylor Jungman is that he pitched three seasons as the ace of the University of Texas Longhorns (Hook ’em, Horns!) without receiving even a single plate appearance (see my comments at the top of this post).  He had only 65 plate appearances in the minor leagues before hitting strongly in 38 plate appearances for the Brewers last year.  In short, there is really no way to tell at this moment what the future holds for him as a major league hitter.

As a final note, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter in as little as ten or fifteen years from now.