Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ category

Will the KBO Start Giving Multi-Year Contracts to Foreign Players?

July 17, 2019

About two months ago I wrote a post about former major league pitcher Josh Lindblom winning his 50th game in South Korea’s KBO.  Since then, he’s won another eight games.  He’s currently 15-1 (!), and he’s leading the KBO in ERA (2.01) and strikeouts (126 in 130 IP).

Meanwhile, fellow foreigner Angel Sanchez is second in wins (13-2), second in ERA (2.28) and 5th in strikeouts (98 in 110.2 IP).  It’s got me wondering whether they will become the first foreign players in KBO history to get multi-year contracts this coming off-season.

Until this last off-season, KBO teams could only sign the three foreigners each team was allowed to single year contracts.  Teams dealt with this by giving the best foreigners one-and-one contracts: one year contracts with a team option for a second year.  These contracts typically worked something along these lines: the star foreign player got a $1M contract with a $300,000 option for a second year at $1M.  The actual amount of the first year contract obviously varied, but the ratio of the option amount to the second non-guaranteed season was typically about the same as the example given.  This type of contract meant the player got a big guarantee, the team reduced risk, and if the player played well in year one, the team got the second year at a good price, relative to the guarantee for the first year and option.

This last off-season, the KBO changed the rules on foreign players.  Now, if a player signing a first contract with any KBO team could not be paid more than $1M for the first season with the team.  This cap applies to foreign KBO veterans who switch KBO teams: $1M max for the first year with the new team.  In order to give something for the cap, the KBO now allows teams to sign foreign players to multi-year deals.

No foreigner signed for a multi-year deal last off-season.  Lindblom, an established KBO ace, got a reported $1.77M guarantee for 2019 (plus another $150,000 in performance incentives that he’ll earn absent injury), which is the most any foreigner is making in the KBO this year, but is pretty poor compared to what the best domestic KBO free agents get, typically four years at $2M to $3M per season.  The KBO doesn’t formally require teams to limit free agent contracts to four seasons, but like Japan’s NPB, there is a de facto four year cap on free agent contracts that teams follow strictly.

In the past, a foreign KBO star’s only real option to get more than what his KBO team wanted to pay him was to jump to Japan’s NPB (or in the rare case of Eric Thames, return to MLB).  Now, at least in theory, Josh Lindblom, Angel Sanchez and possibly one or two others could squeeze two-year deals out of their respective KBO teams.  Lindblom’s Doosan Bears could easily afford to give him a two-year $4M deal this coming off-season, which would compare very favorably with what Lindblom could get as a guarantee from an NPB team.  I fully expect that both Lindblom and Sanchez will threaten to go to NPB this off-season in order to squeeze at least two years out of the Bears and the SK Wyverns, respectively.

Given how conservative professional baseball is everywhere, I can’t imagine either Lindblom or Sanchez getting more than two years next off-season.  What typically happens in situations like these is that the rule changes, the right players force a change (in this case, a multi-year contract), and the teams take baby steps, because why would any team rush to guarantee players more money?  What will happen over time is that Lindblom or Sanchez (or their successors) will pitch well for the two seasons of their new contracts, and teams will realize that the two year deal will actually save them money.  Then we’ll start to see three year deals for KBO foreigners.

My suspicion is that multi-year contracts for foreign players will likely cap at around three seasons, because I don’t think that NPB teams will go beyond a two-year guarantee for only slightly better than KBO money for any foreign player who hasn’t previously played in Japan.  If teams are acting rationally, there is no reason to give players more than what the market will bear.

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2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

Up until March of this year, yakyudb.com was my go-to source for Japanese baseball news beyond the box scores available on NPB’s English-language website.  However, Yakyu DB hasn’t posted since the eve of the 2019 season, and until about a week ago, I was hard pressed to find any good information in English.  Then I found Jim Allen’s blog, and I can start to get a little “color” again beyond the box scores and leader boards.

Here is a run-down of some of the things that have been happening in NPB as we approach the 2019 season’s half-way mark.

Former New York Yankee Zelous Wheeler became the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ first foreign player to reach 100 NPB home runs a few days ago.

Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez set an NPB record for 1Bmen by playing 1,632 consecutive chances without an error.  The streak began on August 31, 2017 and ended on June 2, 2019, thus enabling Lopez to become in 2018 the first qualifying NPB 1Bman to record a 1.000 fielding percentage for a full season.  You may remember that Lopez played mostly 2B and 3B in the MLB majors.  He’s now an bigger, slower power-hitter, but he’s still got the same soft hands.

Shinnosuke Abe, a catcher who was an MLB major league talent who never left Japan, became the 19th player in NPB to hit 400 home runs on June 1st.

Rakuten Golden Eagles ace and likely future MLBer Takahiro Norimoto made his first minor league rehab appearance a few days ago.  He hit 150 kph (93.2 mph) on consecutive pitches.  Norimoto says he’s now at “60%” but he should be pitching in the NPB majors within about a month.  He had his elbow cleaned out of loose bodies in late March.

Another MLB major league caliber star, Yuki Yanagita won’t be back until late July after tearing a muscle behind his knee early in the season.  Yanagita became only the second player in NPB history (the other being Sadaharu Oh) last season to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the fourth year in a row.  He’s unlikely to get enough plate appearances this year to do it for the fifth consecutive season.

Daisuke (“Dice-K”) Matsuzaka is at age 38 working on another come back.  He’s pitched effectively in two minor league appearances for the Chunichi Dragons.  Former Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwamura is also attempting to come back at age 38.  He’s training at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility but hasn’t pitched in game-action yet.

Former MLBer Norichika Aoki collected his 1,500th NPB hit and 100th NPB home run early this season for the Yakult Swallows.  Although Aoki has played well, it hasn’t been a good year for the Swallows — they tied an NPB record with 16 consecutive losses in a streak that ended on June 2nd.  The NPB Central League’s best team of the last few seasons, the Hiroshima Carp, turned their 2019 season around recently with an 11 game winning streak.

Another former MLBer reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday on May 29th by pitching his 800th NPB game.  Including his 83 MLB major league appearances, he’s pitched in 889 major league games and counting.

A 20 year old minor leaguer named Yuto Furuya became the first Japanese left-hander to throw a 100 mph pitch in game action earlier this season.  Unfortunately, he still has no idea where the strike zone is, so it may be some time before he reaches the NPB majors.

A couple of NPB foreign “rookies” I’ve been watching closely this year are Taiwan’s Wang Po-Jung and the Virgin Islands’ Jabari Blash.

Wang hit .400 in consecutive seasons (2016-2017) in Taiwan’s CPBL, earning him a lucrative three-year deal to play with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters starting in 2019, his age 25 season.  Wang’s .291 batting average is currently 10th best in NPB’s Pacific League, but his OPS is only .744, because he has yet to hit for any power in Japan.  There has been talk that Wang might one day be an MLB-level talent, but for now I expect him to peak as an NPB star.

After a slow start, Blash has gotten hot and is now one of the Pacific League’s most productive hitters.  I’ve been writing for a couple of years now that he was an ideal candidate to try to become an NPB star.  He waited until he was an old 29 (he turns 30 on July 4th), but it looks like he has now firmly established himself as an NPB star.  I’d guess he has at least four more good NPB seasons in him after this one.

Cuban players have an out-sized role now among NPB foreign players, nowhere more so than for the SoftBank Hawks. Four of the Hawks’ seven foreign players starting the 2019 season are Cubans — Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Graciel, Livan Moinelo and Ariel Miranda.  Miranda is the only defector and former MLB-system player in the bunch: Despaigne, Graciel and Moinelo are all the product of contracting between Cuba’s baseball federation and the Hawks.

There are reasons to believe that none of Despaigne, Graciel or Moinelo were prime MLB prospects, and that this was part of the reasons why they never defected, but they’ve all sure played great in NPB and are making a hell of lot more money in Japan than they’d ever make in Cuba.

The Hiroshima Carp have something of a similar relationship with Dominican players.  Until recently a small market team, the Carp have maintained a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, looking to turn up players who got overlooked by MLB.  They currently have two players — Xavier Batista and Geronimoa Franzua — who washed out of the low MLB minors, but are now helping the Carp win ballgames a few years after asking for a second chance at the Carps’ Dominican academy.  Sometimes beating the bushes will turn up some legitimate baseball talent.

Mr. Inconsistent

June 10, 2019

I just noticed that 33 year old Eric Sogard has a .799 OPS for the Toronto Blue Jays and has hit a career high five home runs so far in the still young 2019 season. He’s set his personal long-ball best in only 159 plate appearances.

I remember Sogard from when he was a glove-tree middle infielder and semi-regular for the A’s a few years ago.  He played in between 117 and 130 games three years in a row for the A’s, but the Oakland Coliseum is a tough place to hit, and two years with OPS totals below .600 and a knee injury in 2016 drummed him out of the major leagues.

He caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization in 2017 and a fast start at AAA Colorado Springs got him another shot in the Show.  He got off to an extremely hot start with the Brewers, as the team went from losing 89 the year before to winning 86 in 2017.

Sogard had a .900 OPS as late as July 23rd that season, but cooled off considerably in the second half and finished with a .770 OPS.  Along with Eric Thames, Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana, Sogard was one of the real offensive surprises and/or bright spots in the Brewers’ line-up that year.

Alas, in 2018 Sogard came crashing back down to earth.  In fact, he was absolutely horrible, slashing an awful .134/.241/.165 in 113 plate appearance, before the Brewers released him on July 10th.  The organization re-signed him, but when he didn’t play better in the minors, the Brewers released him again on September 1st.

At the time, I thought that Sogard’s 2018 was an extreme case of the law of averages coming back to take its revenge on Sogard’s fine 2017 season.  Also, Sogard was 32 in 2018, an age at which performance drops sharply for a lot of players, and I expected that we’d probably never see Sogard in the majors again.

Instead, the Blue Jays signed Sogard to a minor league contract, he got off to a reasonably good start at AAA Buffalo and got a call up on April 15th when the Jays decided that Lourdes Gurriel needed more minor league seasoning.

As in Milwaukee in 2017, Sogard got off to a hot start with the Jays and has been cooling off since the start of May.  Even so, he’s been a relative bright spot on a very bad 2019 Blue Jays team, which is mainly in the process of developing some young stars so that the team can be better in the not too distant future.

At some point soon enough one would expect that Lourdes Gurriel will go back to being the Jays’ every day 2Bman, and Sogard will move back into a bench role.  However, the Jays’ outfield has hit so poorly this season that right now Gurriel is playing in left field, and Sogard may remain at second so long as he can continue to provide more offense than the Jays’ outfielders.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2019

June 8, 2019

Every year I like to write about current or former minor league stars who have particularly captured my attention and/or imagination.  Here is this season’s edition:

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues (or even got close), but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Both are 34 this year.

Mike Loree is currently in his seventh CPBL season and continues to be the best pitcher in Taiwan, although another former SF Giants farm hand, Henry Sosa, gave Loree a run for his money this season until having his contract purchased for a return to South Korea’s KBO last week.  I wrote about Mike Loree yesterday.

Josh Lowey is in his sixth season in LMB and he is to the Mexican League what Loree is to the CPBL.  Lowey is also 33.  Lowey has started the 2019 LMB season 8-0, and his 3.91, while on its face high, is actually the ninth best in a 16-team circuit known for its offense.  Lowey is now an incredible 63-24 in LMB play, a .724 winning percentage.  Unfortunately, Lowey has missed his last two starts.  He’s on the reserved list, rather than the Injured List, so maybe he’s dealing with a family emergency.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more 34 year oldss who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his sixth season in LMB.  He has a 1.011 OPS so far in 2019, although he’s only played in 30 games.

A strong season in the Atlantic League last year got Blake Gailen a job playing for the Dodger’s AAA team in Oklahoma City.  I suspect he’s doing double duty as a coach, whether officially or not, based on the fact that he’s spent a lot of time on the Injured List and is only 3 for 19 when he’s played.  He won’t last much longer on the roster hitting like that, but I expect he’ll go into coaching when they tell him he can’t play any more.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 39 season, he’s still the undisputed American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played nine seasons in LMB and at least 14 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  However, his current .893 OPS isn’t even in the LMB’s top 40 in what has been a great season for hitters south of the border.  If any American is making a good living playing baseball in Mexico, it’s Chris Roberson.

Another Mexican Leaguer who has captured my attention in the last year is Jose Vargas.  Once a 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura College, a JC in Ventura, California, Vargas quickly washed out of the White Sox’ system, after which he spent six (!) playing for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Indy-A Frontier League.  Traverse City is by most accounts a great place to spend one’s summers; however, it’s hard to imagine being able to have a whole lot of fun on $1,600 a month, which is about where Frontier League salaries max out.

Vargas is big, has power and is able to play 3B, 1B and LF.  After paying his dues in the Frontier League, he was able to catch on with an LMB team in 2017, possibly due to the fact that LMB began treating Mexican American players as “domestic,” rather than “foreign” players for roster purposes around that time.

In his age 31 season, he’s leading LMB with 27 HRs in only 222 plate appearances, and his 1.220 OPS is third best in the league in spite of the fact that he doesn’t walk much.  I’m somewhat doubtful that Vargas is currently making the LMB’s $10,000 salary cap, because his team’s attendance is terrible (just below 2,200 per game), but the odds are good that if he isn’t earning it this year, he’ll get it next year in light of how well he’s now playing.

Karl Galinas .  A 35 year old Can-Am League pitcher, Galinas is the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey may not yet be over.  He’s made nine starts in the Puerto Rico Winter League over the last three winter seasons, so you can’t completely count him from making one or more in 2019-2020.  He pitched professionally for about 20 years in just about every league except the MLB majors.  He’s another pitcher like Mike Loree and Josh Lowey who has leveraged a not quite major league talent into the most successful professional career possible.

A couple of guys in the MLB minors I’m following are Tyler Alexander and John Nogowski.  Tyler Alexander got his start in Brewers’ system but was effectively banished from MLB after testing positive for pot a couple of times while he was having some personal problems.  He spent three years pitching great for Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association and wintering a couple of season in the LMP.

Last year, Alexander pitched effectively in LMB in the summer and in the Dominican League in the winter.  That got him a minor league contract with the A’s, who sent him to AAA Las Vegas.  So far, the results have not been encouraging.  Alexander has a 6.85 ERA after 11 start.  Although he’s struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings pitched, the long ball has killed him.  I suspect the A’s haven’t yet moved him to the bullpen because they don’t have anyone they reasonably expect to pitch better as a starter in what is probably a terrific hitters’ park.

Last off-season, I thought that Alexander would be a great prospect for Taiwan’s CPBL.  It could still happen, since Alexander will be 28 next season, and isn’t going to last long with a 6.85 ERA at AAA, even in a hitters’ park.

I wrote about John Nogowski two years ago when, after getting bounced out of the A’s system, I noticed he was batting over .400 in the American Association at the still young age of 24.  I “predicted” he’d get signed by another MLB organization soon, and he was within about a week by the Cardinals’ organization.  More importantly, John wrote a comment on my article, becoming the first and so far only active professional player ever to comment on one of my articles.  Needless to say, I’ll be a fan of John’s for life.

Nogowski played well at AA Springfield in in 2018 and is playing fairly well this season at AAA Memphis at age 26.  He’s currently slashing .267/.402/.400.  He’s got major league get-on-base skills, but doesn’t have the power he needs for the position he plays (1B).  His talents might be more suited to Japan’s NPB, where the outfield fences are a little shorter.

At any rate, there’s still a chance that Nogowski could get a major league look this year, if things break right for him.  Unfortunately, he’s not currently on the Cards’ 40-man roster, which means he’ll have to get truly hot at AAA Memphis to bump somebody else off.

Three True Outcomes Make for Boring Baseball

May 20, 2019

Bryce Harper hit a home run for the second consecutive game on Sunday, but he’s batting .235 and he’s on pace for 218 strikeouts this year.  He’s a better player than this, but he seems to have convinced himself that singles have no value in today’s game.

Harper hit .330 in 2015 and .319 in 2017, but he seems to have convinced himself that somehow 450 foot home runs put more runs on the scoreboard than 400 home runs.  What is he thinking?

Long home runs are sexy, but Harper is now married, so what good does it do him, unless he’s one unfaithful Mormon.

I want to see the superstars who can hit for power, draw walks, and hit for averageChristian Yelich hit .326 last year and is batting .325 so far this year.  He’s on pace for 99 walks this year.  Mike Trout has a .306 batting average.  Cody Bellinger is still hitting .405 and is second in the Senior Circuit behind Yelich with 17 home runs.  Players with superstar talent can still have it all.

I’m beginning to think that Bryce Harper has a $330 million body and a 10 cent head.  Hell, even Joey Gallo is batting .277 this year.  There is just no reason that I can think of that Harper can’t hit .275, draw 100+ walks and hit 30 or 40 or 50 home runs and not strike out 150 times in a season.

There is a once famous story about Stan Musial that is worth retelling here.  The story goes more or less as follows: Musial had a huge year coming back from WWII in 1946.  He batted a league leading .365 with a league leading 50 doubles and 20 triples.  He also hit 16 HRs.  Musial thought that hitting like that without trying to hit home runs, what could he do if he really tried to hit them out.  He hit 19 dingers in 1947, but all his other numbers dropped off dramatically.

In 1948, Musial went back to just trying to put a good swing on the ball while squaring it up.  He batted a league leading .376 and lead the league again in hits, doubles and triples while hitting a career high 39 HRs.  As the story goes, he hit more home runs not trying to hit home runs.

The point of the story, which is probably more true today, given how strong the best hitters are, is that trying to hit home runs is foolish.  Just swing hard and try to hit the ball squarely, and let the outcomes be what they may.  You can’t tell me that a player with Harper’s talent and strength couldn’t hit 50 home runs in a season (to all fields) merely by putting a good swing on the ball and trying to square the ball up by hitting it where it’s pitched.

The largest share of HRs, even for Harper, come on 2-0 and 3-1 pitches when the hitter can look for a specific pitch to crush.  The modern game would be so much more exciting if players didn’t try to hit every single pitch to the wall.

Bryce Harper is setting himself up for a disappointing 13 years in front of Philthy’s notoriously fickle sports fans if he tries to hit a home run every single time he comes up to the plate.

Jay Jackson Makes It Back to the Show

April 29, 2019

The Milwaukee Brewers today called up 31 year old right-hander Jay Jackson from AAA.  It will be Jackson’s first MLB major league experience since he pitched briefly and ineffectively for the Padres in 2015.

In between Jackson spent three years pitching in Japan’s NPB, where he was really good in 2016 and 2017.  At AAA San Antonio this year, he hadn’t been scored upon in 8.2 innings, allowing only four hits and two walks, while striking out 14.

There are surely no guarantees that Jackson will be able to pitch like that at the game’s highest level, but he sure deserved a shot with that kind of dominance at AAA.

According to mlbtraderumors.com, Jackson wanted to return to MLB after the 2017 season, but couldn’t get an offer.  After 2018, when he hadn’t pitched as well in Japan, all he could get was a minor league offer from Brewers, a team for whom he had pitched briefly in the minors in 2014.

Perhaps Jackson will be the latest in a run of pitchers to find MLB success after returning from a few year long stint in Japan.  If so, he will be one more reason for MLB teams to look to foreign pitchers pitching successfully in NPB as desirable additions.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2019

April 3, 2019

Shohei Ohtani has ended any debate about the best hitting pitcher in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.  He won’t be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John surgery but is expected to return as a designated hitter in May.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be to a great hitting major league pitcher, but his prospects as a two-way player aren’t as good as they were a year ago.  The main problem for McKay is that his talents as a pitcher are developing much faster in pro ball than his talents as a hitter.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani finished the 2018 season with .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter and went 4-2 in 10 starts before hurting his elbow.  The entire baseball world is waiting for his right arm to be healthy enough to pitch again. ’nuff said.

2.  Michael Lorenzen (.247 career batting average and .767 career OPS).  Lorenzen is still short of the 100 career at-bat cut-off I’ve used in previous iterations of this post, but he had a tremendous season with the bat in 2018 and was used in a role that was specifically tailored to his ability to hit.  He managed 34 plate appearances last season, in which he batted .290 with a 1.043 OPS thanks to four home runs, despite making only three starts all season.  He was used at least nine times as a pinch hitter, and was frequently left in games to hit for himself when he pitched in relief.

I expect Lorenzen’s career averages to drop as he gets more major league plate appearances, but it’s clear at this point that he’s one of MLB’s very best hitting pitchers.

3.  Zack Greinke (.219 BA, .569 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, and he has been remarkably consistent as a sweet-swinging pitcher since then.

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.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Madison Bumgarner (.184, .542).  I dropped MadBum a couple of spots this year, because he hit poorly in 2018 and his career batting line isn’t particularly impressive, although park factors are probably in play in comparing MadBum to Greinke.  We’ll see if Bumgarner bounces back to being the best hitting full-time pitcher in 2019.

5.  Yovani Gallardo (.201, .563).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher is probably over, as he remains unsigned as of this writing, but he sure could hit.

6. Adam Wainwright (.202 BA, .537 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

7.  German Marquez (.230, .504).  Marquez benefits from a small sample size and playing his home games in Coors Field, but any pitcher who hits better than .220 with an OPS over .500 is great hitting pitcher in today’s game.

8.  Noah Syndergaard (.176 BA, .526 OPS).  “Hulk say Thor smash ball with hammer bat!” At least once in a while.

9.  Daniel Hudson (.222, .557).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson hasn’t had many opportunities to hit in recent years, but his career numbers get him on the list.

10.   Mike Leake (.198, .507).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

11.  Tyler Chatwood (.210, .475) and Tyson Ross (.200, .481).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable Mentions.  fangraphs.com says that aces Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were with Zack Greinke the best hitting pitchers in 2018.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchBrent Suter (.174, .530).  Unfortunately, Suter is already 29 years old and likely to miss all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery.