Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ category

Eric Thames’ Hot Start

April 27, 2017

I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start.  He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.

Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO.  The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat.  They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.

In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed.  He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed.  It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.

Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results.  Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.

However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money.  He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities.  It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.

Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers.  He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.

Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball.  It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.

Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.

I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it.  It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.

Baltimore Orioles Shuffle Pitchers on their 40-man Roster

April 15, 2017

The Baltimore Orioles made a flurry of moves today, mostly involving minor league pitchers and international draft slots.  It seems clear that the Orioles are making a calculated gamble that the best 16 and 17 year old Latin American players aren’t worth the risk.

The O’s obtained Damien Magnifico from the Brewers and Paul Fry from the Mariners for respectively, the 15th overall international draft slot (worth $885,000) and the 105th international draft slot worth $198,000.  Meanwhile, Baltimore designated Jason Garcia and Parker Bridwell for assignment and traded Oliver Drake to the Brewers for cash or the infamous player to be named later.  Phew, that’s a busy day!

I suspect that, while the Magnifico and Drake deals were announced separatedly one day apart, they are closely connected.

Ben Badler criticized the Orioles yesterday for not spending more money on international players the last few years.  The O’s have spent only $260,000 on five prospects in the 2016-2017 signing period, one of whom received $150,000.  According to Badler, the most expensive Orioles international signing of the last three years is the mere $350,000 given to 3Bman Jomar Reyes, who at least looks like a good return on that money so far.

I have to agree with Badler: it might have made sense not to take a high risk, high reward strategy in recent years when signing bonuses were high for the best players, as at least five or six teams flouted the rules each signing period and elected to sign as many good players for as much money as it took in exchange for losing big money signings for the next year or two.  But now that there is effectively a draft with capped bonus pools, it seems crazy to me not to participate fully.

The Orioles have obviously decided they are still going to go with players closer to the majors than tender-aged international prospects, as they have now traded away what would be their 1st and 4th round international picks in the first international draft.

Looking at what the Orioles netted today, it seems highly likely that they’d have been better off with the two international slots.  Magnifico and Fry are obvious improvements over the two pitchers designated for assignment to make space on the 40-man roster.  Both look to have major league stuff as bullpen pitchers, are still looking for their command, and are young enough they may yet find it.

However, Oliver Drakes, although already 30, has even better stuff than Magnifico or Fry, and has the same command issues.  Drake may yet be as effective a major league reliever as either Magnifico or Fry going forward, despite a a poor start (in only three AAA relief appearances) this year.

This doesn’t look like a worthy trade for 1st and 4th round international slots, unless the aforementioned player to be named later turns out to be great.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter Finally Have Teams for 2017

February 8, 2017

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter finally agreed to 2017 contracts today.  The Texas Rangers have reported guaranteed Napoli $8.5 million for one year, and the New York Yankees $3.5 million to Chris Carter.  Carter can earn another $500,000 in plate appearance based performance incentives.

Napoli’s contract is about what I had been expecting, although the deal reportedly includes a team option for 2018 and so presumably a buy-out.  Carter’s guarantee is less than I expected, although perhaps not a lot less.

Fangraphs valued Napoli’s 2016 performance at $8.1 million and Carter’s at $7.1 million.  Given the age difference, the Yankees appear to have made the more team-friendly signing.  Carter also gives the Bombers a power bat they sorely need.

Carter must feel seriously disrespected after leading the National League in home runs last year.  That could be a good thing for the Yankees if it inspires Carter to try to improve his game and prove that 2016 was no fluke, at least in terms of his ability to hit home runs in bunches.  If he hits 40+ HRs for a second consecutive seasons, he’ll get a much better deal next off-season, regardless of his lack of other marketable skills.

It’s also interesting to see the Yankees engaged in February bargain-basement shopping.  Things have sure changed since George owned the team.

Somehow, it seems like kind of a relief that these two are finally signed.  Despite Carter’s talk of possibly playing in Asia in 2017, he ultimately did get a deal that’s just enough to keep him in the U.S.

Guys like Napoli and Carter, who don’t find the market they were expecting, almost always end up signing before Spring Training starts.  Still, until it happens, there’s always at least a chance that something weird will happen, like the NL’s reigning home run champ playing the next season in Japan or South Korea.

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.

Remembering Dave Nicholson, A Man Before His Time

January 9, 2017

With each league’s leading home run hitter in 2016 (Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter) still waiting to receive a 2017 contract, it got me thinking about slugger Dave Nicholson.  If Nicholson is remembered at all today, it is for setting the single season strikeout record of 175 in 1963, which lasted until Bobby Bonds (187) set the new record in 1969.

Nicholson had a brief major league career, mainly because everything was stacked against him.  He was probably as good a player as today’s Mark Reynolds, a player who has earned more than $27 million in his major league career.

Nicholson played at a time when players with great power, but low batting averages and high strikeout totals, were not valued for their actual contributions on offense.  Add to that the facts that the mid- and late 1960’s when Nicholson played were a terrible time for major league hitters and also that Nicholson played his prime years for two teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, that played in ballparks terrible for power hitters, and it’s easy to understand why Nicholson was drummed out of MLB after only seven seasons and 1,662 major league plate appearances.

Nicholson had only three seasons in which he managed more than 300 plate appearances, but he was better in each of those three seasons than anyone at the time realized.  For the 1963 and 1964 White Sox, teams that finished second each season behind the New York Yankees with records of 94-68 and 98-64, Nicholson’s .738 and .693 OPS numbers don’t seem too impressive.  However, this was good enough for 3rd out of eight White Sox players with at least 300 plate appearances in 1963 and 4th out of ten players with that many plate appearances in 1964.

In 1966 for the Houston Astros, a team that went 72-90, and, raw numbers to the contrary, had much better hitting than pitching, his .767 OPS was third best out of nine players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan and catcher John Bateman, but ahead of Jim Wynn, Rusty Staub and Lee Maye, the former two of whom were long recognized as major league stars.  Lee Maye had a much more successful major league career than Nicholson, as the kind of player (he hit for average but didn’t have much power or walk much) who was much more valued in his day than today.  Playing today, Nicholson’s and Maye’s career plate appearances would probably be reversed.

As the game and the popular understanding of the game change over time, different skills are more or less valued.  There are some players, most notably Gavvy Cravath, who would have been Hall of Famers if they had just been born a generation earlier or later than they actually were.

San Francisco Giants Retain Non-Tender Candidate Ehire Adrianza

December 3, 2016

The Giants reached an agreement with Ehire Adrianza to keep him in the organization for a 12th season.  It is a split minor league contract that calls for him to be paid $600,000 per annum for major league service time and $300,000 per annum for minor league service time during 2017.

What is interesting about this contract is that the minor league amount is so high relative to the major league amount.  Traditionally, minor league split contracts for players with at least one day of major league service time provide for very low minor league money relatively to major league money — major league money typically being 4 to 6 times as much as the minor league money, the pay-for-play incentive being obvious.

The Giants have long liked Adrianza, even though he hasn’t yet turned into the major league player they were hoping he would.  After having spent parts of four seasons in the Bigs, Adrianza must be out of options, and I strongly suspect that the relatively high level of minor league pay was offered both so that Adrianza would be more likely to accept a future minor league assignment and so that other teams will be less likely to claim him as he passes through waivers.

In my mind, it is always a good thing to find a way to re-sign a marginal major leaguer going into his age 27 season, because if he is ever likely to contribute significantly at the major league level, that is the most likely age for him to do it.

I noticed possibly a new trend earlier today when the Milwaukee Brewers re-signed one of their non-tender candidates, three-way outfielder Kirk Nieuwenheis, on a split minor league contract calling for $900,000 at the major league level and $257,000 at the minor league level.  In fact, this may very quietly be one of the most team-friendly contracts signed this off-season, as fangraphs valued Nieuwenheis’ 2016 performance as being worth $8 million, mainly on his defense.  In fact, fangraphs values his five season, 1,085 plate appearance major league career at more than $25 million.

During the 2013-2014 off-season, eight minor league free agents were able to command major league deals for the 2014 season, which looked like the start of a new trend.  Not one of the eight ended up being worth a damn, and that was the last time I heard anything about minor league free agents getting major league contracts.

That said, I’ve been surprised that I haven’t heard about players like Adrianza and Nieuwenheis getting minor league contracts that paid them this much for minor league service time before this off-season.  I suspect similar contracts have been signed in previous off-seasons, but I just haven’t heard about them.

Meanwhile, the Giants also reportedly re-signed another of their non-tender candidates Cory Gearrin for $1.05 million.  mlbtraderumors.com predicted he’d get $1.1 million through the arbitration process, so the Giants and Gearrin appear merely to have beaten the rush.

In my mind, Gearrin was just good enough for the Giants in 2016 to be worth bringing back, and the Giants can certainly afford what they’ll be giving him in 2017.  Fangraphs values his 2016 at $4.4 million, although the Cory Gearrins of the MLB world have been pretty fungible as far as the Giants have been concerned.  The team never seems unable to come up with at least one or two marginal major league pitchers each off-season who will pitch well for at least one season in AT&T Park, a strong pitchers’ park.