Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ category

Bennett Parry and Tyler J. Alexander

July 11, 2018

One problem with being a life-long baseball observer outside of the professional game is that, at the end of the day, I can only guestimate how major league organizations make decisions.  Even though a lot of input is sought by the media from major league organizations, major league organizations will provide some information, but they won’t provide everything.  Pro baseball knowledge is proprietary, and why would you put out information to the public from which another pro baseball organization might learn something with which to compete against you?

Sabrmetrics can tell us something by which we can get some idea of what MLB organizations analytics departments are looking at.  (If I had to guess, I’d say that computer simulations using powerful computers and algorithms produced by professional mathematicians are things MLB orgs are using that hasn’t yet reached the likes of fangraphs.com.)

Sometimes, I just don’t know whether the MLB orgs are missing something that seems obvious to me or they have information I don’t have, or some combination of both.  I often feel like I’m working with 1950’s inside baseball, and that the modern baseball world might well be passing me by.

Why haven’t MLB orgs re-signed either Bennett Parry or Tyler J. Alexander, as I write this.  Both started their professional careers in MLB organizations, but were late round draft picks who apparently got burned by MLB’s minor league numbers game (35+ new prospects are added by each organization every year, which is about or more than 1.5 low minor league club rosters).

Bennett Parry was a 40th round (whew!) draft pick who never pitched higher than the full season A level but still produced a 2.71 ERA with 211 Ks in 216 IP across four MLiB seasons, before apparently blowing out his elbow tendon.

He has worked his way back through the Indy-A leagues to the point where he is a starting pitcher in the Atlantic League with a 2.60 ERA with 104 Ks in 72.2 IP.  He’s a big 26 year old left-hander at 6’6″ and 240 lbs.

Tyler Alexander is another, smaller 26 year old left-hander (6’1″ and 200 lbs) without the arm injury.  He was plagued by high ERAs but with high strikeout rates in two MLiB seasons after being drafted by the Brewers in the 27th round.  He put together three fine seasons for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Indy-A American Association and two fine winters in the Mexican Pacific League, before signing with a Can-Am League team this year, presumably to get more exposure). He has joined the Mexican Summer League for the second half season.

Left-handers with strikeout stuff are always in demand if only for the simple fact that while only one person in ten is a natural left-hander, about one-third of major league pitchers are left-handed.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why neither Parry nor Alexander has been signed by an MLB organization as of this writing.  I haven’t found anything on line suggesting a scandal involving either player, and neither is too small to suggest MLB would ignore them for this reason.

What am I missing?  The question torments me in my spare time.

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Cubs Rotate Two Pitchers between Left Field and the Mound

June 14, 2018

In what has been a year full of innovation in the world of professional baseball, Cubs’ manager Joe Madden tried rotating pitchers between left field and the pitcher’s mound to get the platoon match-ups he wanted.  It’s an interesting idea, and it worked today, but I don’t think it will catch on.

Madden used righty Steve Cishek to face two right-handed hitters, and lefty Brian Duensing to face two left-handed hitters.  It worked this time, but it will only take one misplay by a pitcher turned left fielder on a ball hit by intention or accidentally to that field for the whole scheme to unravel.  The media will go crazy, and MLB managers typically lack the intestinal fortitude to buck the conventional wisdom as expressed by the large majority of sportswriters.

In a baseball world in which teams are carrying more and more pitchers in order to take advantage of match-ups, it certainly makes sense for athletic pitchers to learn how to defend left field.  However, even left field takes a lot of practice to play at the major league level, and, repeat after me, major league pitchers become and remain major league pitchers solely based on their abilities as pitchers.  Shohei Ohtani got to hit this year solely because it was part of the cost of signing him at a bargain basement price.

Unless every man in the bullpen can also learn to defend left-field, this tactic just won’t work, because managers are always going to go with the relief pitchers whom they think can get the next hitter or few hitters out.  This goes beyond actual match-ups into the question of which pitchers are sufficiently rested to be available so your bullpen doesn’t break down sooner rather than later.

It worked tonight, but I just do not see a trend here.

$750,000 to Pitch in a Foreign Minor League

June 13, 2018

Former Milwaukee Brewer and MLB 1st Round Draft pick Taylor Jungman is pitching for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s NPB this year for a reported $750,000, but he isn’t doing it at the major league level.  It’s mid-June and he’s spent his entire season pitching in NPB’s minor leagues (two leagues at one level of play: NPB teams only have a single minor league club each).  He’s currently 6-2 with a 1.42 ERA after 10 starts.

The situation is not entirely unexpected.  The Giants signed Jungman last off-season with their major league roster already filled with four foreign players who are more highly paid this season than Jungmann in 2018.  None of the four is younger than 31 this season, so the Giants figured that one of the four would probably get hurt.  It just hasn’t happened yet.

The Yomiuri Giants are NPB’s wealthiest team by far and can afford sticking a foreign player earning a major league salary in the minor leagues.

I wonder what Jungmann thinks about pitching in Japan’s minor league?  On the one hand, it’s certainly better in the short-term to be earning major league money pitching in Japan’s minors than it would be earning around $125,000 pitching at the MLB AAA level.  Of course, it’s possible to pitch one’s way out of AAA back to the MLB majors, where Jungman would probably be making a pro-rated portion of the same $750,000 he’s making in Japan for MLB major league service time, since it looks like he would have been out of options for the Brewers and was still young enough to sign a relatively generous split contract with another team that remembers his draft pedigree and his successful 2015 season.

Meanwhile, no matter how well Jungmann pitches against Japanese minor leaguers, he isn’t going to be impressing anyone much in Japan or back in MLB for purposes of his 2019 contract, although if he continues to pitch as well as he has so far this year, Yomiuri will probably want him back for around the same $750,000 he’s making this year to pitch at the NPB major league level.

Right now, Jungman’s best shot at a major league job is replacing Arquimedes Camerino, who has struggled in the closer role this year (4.50 ERA), after a strong 2017.  Still, it doesn’t look like any of Yomiuri’s current four foreign major leaguers is playing poorly enough that Yomiuri won’t stick with them for at least another month.  I guess Jungmann has to hope for one of the olders getting hurt if he wants a chance at NPB stardom in the near future and the chance at a triumphant, or at least lucrative, MLB return in a couple of seasons.

Miles Mikolas Tearing It Up in St. Louis

May 22, 2018

Miles Mikolas threw his first MLB major league shutout today and improved to 6-0 in his first year back from three in Japan’s NPB.  For some reason, I had gotten the idea from his Japanese stats that he was something of a control pitcher.  However, the clip of his shutout I just watch recorded him hitting 97 mph with his fastball.  Kind of makes me wonder why he had to go to Japan in the first place.

Even with his nine Ks today, his strikeout rate is a pedestrian in today’s game 6.9.  However, his K/BB ratio is currently above 7.  If I had to guess, I’d say his fastball probably doesn’t have a great deal of movement, and the batters pick it up fairly well out of his hand. In a somewhat related note, Jordan Hickstwo 105 mph pitches didn’t look as fast to me on video as Josh Hader‘s 95 mph pitches about a week ago.  How the hitters see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand makes a big difference.

Mikolas’ command in Japan was always pretty good, but his strikeout rate went up sharply his third and final season.  Sometimes it takes a while for pitchers to learn how to take maximum advantage of their plus stuff by figuring out how to set hitters up for the strikeout pitch.  Subtle command improvements must also play a role, though, since managers and catchers call a young major league pitchers’ pitches and presumably have plenty of experience setting up hitters for the strikeout pitch.

I’m hoping we see more 26 year old pitchers like Mikolas elect to pitch in Japan as a way to get some experience and build up confidence pitching in a league with a level of play between the MLB majors and AAA.  To me at least, there is something exiting about a player with great tools like Mikolas or Eric Thames, who couldn’t establish themselves as major league regulars, go to play in Asia and come back a few years later as finished products.

Josh Hader Strikes out Eight of Eight Batters to Record the Save

May 1, 2018

Josh Hader pitched a 2.2 inning save today.  He struck out all eight batters he faced to become the first reliever in MLB history to strike out eight batters in less than three innings pitched.  You can see the eight strikeout pitches here.

He throws hard, with his fastball hitting 95 or 96 miles an hour, but what really seems to make the difference is his motion.  He kind of slings it ala Randy Johnson, and just watching the video, it looks like his pitches are extremely hard to pick up coming out his hand, at least until the Senior Circuit’s hitters become more familiar with him.

With time, the league’s hitters will get better at laying off of pitches out the strike zone, but right now aren’t able to.  I’m not sure if left-handed hitters as a group will ever be able to hit him consistently.

Hader isn’t a big man by MLB standards, listed as 6’3″ and 185 lbs in his age 24 season.  The Milwaukee Brewers like to use him less often for more innings, often pitching two or even three innings in his relief appearances.  Given the results, you can see why.

Still, it raises questions about how long Hader will hold up, particularly if the Brewers continue to be in contention and have strong incentives to overwork him.  So far this season, however, the Brewers’ bullpen has been tremendous, with six of the top seven in innings pitched with ERAs below 2.08 and four with ERAs below 1.40.

Is It Too Soon to Call Shohei Ohtani the Best Hitting Pitcher in Major League Baseball?

April 11, 2018

Every year just before or just after the regular season starts I write a post of the best hitting pitchers in MLB.  These articles are some of the most popular I’ve written, so I do it pretty religiously every year until now.

This year, I don’t know what to do about Shohei Ohtani.  He’s hit home runs in three consecutive games, including one that traveled nearly 450 feet, but he has had only 19 major league plate appearances.

I have generally tried to limit my list to pitchers with at least 100 major league at-bats in order to weed out great one-season fluke performances.  But no one has come along like Ohtani in several generations, a true two-way player who can’t really be compared with anyone I’ve seen play in MLB since I became a fan in 1978.

Ohtani also has an established track record in Japan’s major leagues.  How much credit do you give him for that?  On a scale from 1 to 10 with the MLB AAA a 1 and the MLB majors, I would rank NPB’s majors as a 4.  NPB is a good league, but it’s not the MLB majors.

There is no doubt even with a limited sample size that Ohtani is an elite MLB rookie prospect on both sides of the ball.  It still remains to be seen on the hitting side how quickly he will adjust once MLB pitchers, scouts and analytics guys find the holes in his swing.  (As a pitching prospect, Ohtani has a less of a problem — unfamiliarity is a pitcher’s friend, and as long as he can continue to command his pitches, it could well be 2019 before major league hitters figure out how to attack his exceptional stuff.)

As such, I’m going to hold off on my annual article until I feel more confident that Ohtani’s performance is for real.  With Ohtani DHing three times a week, that shouldn’t be too long.

The thing that excites me even more than Ohtani’s exceptional MLB performance so far, is that his breakthrough has the possibility of effecting a paradygm shift in MLB.

For the last generation at least, MLB teams have a made a decision when they draft or sign an amateur player that they will develop that player either as a hitter/position player or as a pitcher.  Most of the time MLB teams make the right decision, but once in a while you get a two-way player on whom the team makes the wrong decision.

For example, I think the odds are high in hindsight that Micah Owings would have had a more successful major league career if the DiamondBacks had elected to develop him as a hitter, rather than as a pitcher.  Owings was a real prospect on both sides of the ball out of college, but under the old regime, the D’Backs made a decision that he was going to be a pitcher and stuck with it until he hurt his arm and couldn’t be a pitcher any longer.

With early first round 2017 picks Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene, the Rays and Reds have made at least some effort to develop them as two-way players, at least while they are still in the low minors.  I strongly suspect that Shohei’s performance in Japan had something to do with decisions to try to so develop McKay and Greene at least a little bit as two-way players, because everyone in MLB knew well by the time of the 2017 amateur draft what Ohtani was doing in Japan at a level of play too high to be an aberration.

Obviously, there won’t be a whole lot of players so good on both sides of the ball that MLB teams will try to develop them as two-way players.  However, there was always be a few top amateur prospects who can do everything on a baseball field.

In today’s game, two-players could be extremely valuable, at least enough to give these prospects a chance to try both in the low minors and see how it goes.  The American League has the DH, which is ideal for taking advantage of a two-way player, but the NL still needs pinch-hitters and there are fewer roster spots for them now that all teams are carrying more relief pitchers.

In 2003-2004, Brooks Kieschnick had some value as a relief pitcher/pinch hitter/emergency left-fielder for the Brewers. (Kieschnick had been developed as a hitter, and only turned to pitching when his MLB career as a position player didn’t pan out — he’d been an effective college pitcher but it wasn’t a close call when he was drafted as a hitter.) Why not give at least a few two-way prospects two-way training in the minors leagues to try to develop a more valuable major league player down the line?

Taiwan’s CPBL Is the Lowest Major League

April 5, 2018

My interest in Taiwan’s CPBL has grown over about the last five years.  Part of the reason is that in the world-wide baseball scene, the CPBL is the lowest major league.

The CPBL fills a space between obvious minor leagues like the Mexican (Summer) League, the Caribbean Winter Leagues, and the European Leagues (Holland and Italy), the next lowest (and I would consider obvious) major league, South Korea’s KBO.

Players can possibly make as much as $15,000 to $17,000 a month for a two or two-and-a-half month Winter League season in Puerto Rico, Mexico or the Dominican Republic; and rumors say the best players on the wealthiest three or four teams in the summer Mexican League make considerably more than the approximately $8000.00 official monthly salary cap for a 4.5 month season.  This all means the very best Mexican League players are making $90,000 or $100,000 in salary and benefits, if they are also playing during the winter.

The best paid player in the CPBL in 2017 made $497,000 as part of a three year deal with at least 17 other players making between $200,000 and $310,000, according to CPBL English and my reasonable estimate of Mike Loree’s 2017 salary.  There’s going to be a jump in league performance where the salaries are relatively that much higher.

The CPBL has a minor league, and the major league is only a small 4-team league in a country of more than 23.5 million where baseball is highly popular due to the Japanese occupation.  The best Taiwanese players at 18 (and even earlier — Dai-Kang Yang, aka Daikan Yoh played some high school ball in Japan and thus is not treated as a foreigner for NPB’s roster limits — he signed a four to six year contract for somewhere between 1.0 billion yen and 1.8 billion yen [$9.44M to $17M] in the pre-2017 off-season — Japanese teams don’t publish actual salary numbers so the media sources make educated guesses) get sucked up by MLB and Japan’s NPB.

However, MLB in particular produces a fair number of Taiwanese players who peak at the AA or AAA level and then return to Taiwan and become CPBL stars.  CPBL teams also are able to sign players who don’t become top prospects until later in their college careers, because MLB and NPB teams prefer signing youngsters.

Wang Po-Jung is the best hitter in the CPBL, and he was drafted out of a Taiwanese University (the Chinese Culture University in Taipei).  In his first two seasons, he batted .414 as a rookie and .407 as a sophomore, his age 22 and 23 seasons.  It’s a hitters’ league, but even so back-to-back .400+ seasons are impressive.

Wang is batting .452 this season after eight games, and I would put the odds at 80% (at least 10 of the remaining 20% is for possible injury) that Wang will be playing in NPB next season, because CPBL teams only maintain rights for their best domestic players for three seasons.  The jump to MLB is too great, given the difference between the CPBL and the MLB majors, but Wang would probably be very appealing to an NPB team on a two year deal that would guarantee him around $1.0M to $1.2M.  That’s a relative bargain for a top foreign player in NPB, but it’s probably more than a CPBL team would offer, aside from the fact that strong NPB performance would bring much larger NPB salaries or a chance to jump to MLB for his age 27 season.

The first player who got me interested in the CPBL was probably league ace Mike Loree.  I noticed him when he had a huge season in the Indy-A Atlantic League in 2011, which got him some late season time at the Pirates’ AA franchise in Altoona.  Loree made four appearances in which he pitched a total of 7.2 innings and allowed six hits and three walks while striking out 11.

That fine performance didn’t get Loree a return engagement in 2012 because he was already 26 (baseball reference has the wrong date of birth) and his fastball tops out at 89 mph.

Loree can locate his fastball, and he has a terrific forkball which burrows into home plate.  In the CPBL starting in 2013, he quickly established himself as the circuit’s best pitcher.  Even in a league in which every team plays every other team in the league 30 times a season and he’s entering his fifth full season, CPBL hitters still can’t pick up the change of speed consistently out of Loree’s hand.  Loree also commands a tight slider, which gives him a different look and speed from the fastball and his change-up forkball.  I’ve followed Mike Loree‘s mostly CPBL career ever since.

2013 was also the year Manny Ramirez played half a season in the CPBL.  Ramirez’s performance and status as an MLB superstar got the CPBL a huge boost in attendance and an international attention it hadn’t had before.  Another CPBL team then paid former long-time MLBer Freddy Garcia a then record of nearly $400,000 to pitch for them in 2014.  Garcia was very good but not dominating, which says something for the quality of play in the CPBL, given that Garcia had pitched creditably in the MLB majors the year before (4.37 ERA and 4.48 run average in 17 games and 13 starts for the 2013 Orioles and Braves at the end of long 156-108 major league career).

Garcia didn’t boost CPBL attendance the way ManRam had, and he wasn’t brought back in 2015.  However, that year another of my favorite obscure players, Pat Misch, pitched a no-hitter in Game 7 of the Taiwan Series.

Misch was a former 7th round draft pick by the SF Giants in 2003, after being a 5th round draft pick by the Astros the year before.  Nevertheless, he always struck me as a pitcher who took a lack of major league stuff as far as he possibly could because of his ability to pitch, not unlike Mike Loree.  If I had had to pick a former major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the Taiwan Series, Pat Misch certainly seems like an obvious candidate in terms of his past major league career, continued reasonably success at AAA, yet at a price a CPBL team could afford.

What is standing in the way of the CPBL becoming a better league by holding on to its top domestic talent and attracting better foreign pitchers for the three available team roster spots for foreigners, is unimpressive attendance except during the post-season.  CPBL’s four teams only averaged just over 5,500 per regular season game in 2017, although post-season attendance can reach 19,000 per game in the league’s biggest ballpark.

Attendance isn’t better because of a couple of past gambling scandals in the league’s 29 season history, and probably the fact that most of the best Taiwanese players are playing in Japan, the U.S. and now South Korea (the KBO’s NC Dinos signed the league’s first Taiwanese player, former MLBer Wang Wei-Chung, this past off-season — he’s off to a quick 2-0 start).

I think the CPBL needs and Taiwan could potentially support two more teams, but the league currently has no plans to expand.  A strong performance or two by the Taiwanese team in future World Baseball Classics is probably what the league needs to move up the next level in attendance, at least to the point where it could begin to compete with KBO teams for foreign pitchers.