Archive for the ‘National League’ category

Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Yu Darvish

July 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

What Will Adam Duvall Do in 2017?

March 14, 2017

As a 27 year old rookie (he may not technically have qualified as a rookie in 2016 because he had 149 plate appearances going into the season, but he was a rookie in all other respects), Adam Duvall was one of the feel-good stories of 2016.  His 103 RBIs were fifth best in the Senior Circuit, his 33 HRs were tied for 6th, and he made the All-Star team.

Given that 27 year old rookies tend not to have particularly impressive careers, the jury is definitely out on whether 2016 was a peak year fluke or Duvall can continue to make adjustments and have a more memorable MLB career.  Lew Ford is kind of the recent poster boy for the classic 27 year old rookie who had one great season and then quickly faded off into the sunset.

I recently wrote a couple of posts about the string of players the Oakland A’s developed beginning with their age 28 seasons.  However, most of the A’s diamonds-in-the-rough had high on-base percentages to go with their plus MLB power.  Duvall swings away and swings away some more, to the tune of a 4/1 K/BB ratio last year.

Guys who walk as little as Duvall does often have problems adjusting when opposing  pitchers stop throwing them strikes, pitch to their weaknesses and get better at setting them up to pitch to their weaknesses.

On the other hand, Duvall runs pretty well (six triples and six stolen bases in 11 attempts), and his left field defense was rated by fangraphs as more valuable than his offensive contributions in 2016 in spite of the fact that he made eight errors, which is a lot for a corner outfielder.  The upshot is that if Duvall can maintain the same level of offensive performance in 2017 and beyond as he had in 2016, he’ll still be a valuable major league player for some time to come.

The question is probably can Duvall continue to hit well enough in 2017, so that the Reds don’t lose confidence in him and conclude he was one-year wonder.  That can happen faster than you think if he starts off this season in a bad slump.

As a former San Francisco Giants’ prospect, I’ve been following Duvall with interest since he hit 22 HRs for Class A Augusta, a very tough place to hit, in his age 22 season.  He hit 30 home runs in the Class A+ San Jose the next year (in the hitter friendly California League), and continued to hit home runs the next three seasons in the upper minors.

In short, Duvall’s 2016 power is no fluke, and the question is whether he can hit for enough of an average, given his adversity to taking a walk , to keep put himself in a position to continue hitting the long balls.  Whether he will or won’t is definitely an open question as we approach the 2017 season.

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.

Nippon Ham Fighters to Post Shohei Otani after 2017 Season?

December 5, 2016 posted a piece this evening stating that NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters have announced they will post super-prospect Shohei Otani after the 2017 season.  This seems like a real possibility only if Otani made it clear to the Fighters that he wants to be posted.

The only reason for the Fighters to post Otani two years earlier than they reasonably had to would be to avoid him getting hurt.  Otherwise, Otani is clearly worth more to the team than the same $20 million they will get for him whether they post him next off-season or three years from now.

Otani cannot be unaware that he is the best player in NPB and that his major league earnings will certainly be greater the younger he leaves for MLB.  I would expect him to command a $200 million plus contract next off-season in addition to the posting fee.

After helping the Fighters win the 2016 Nippon Series, as Masahiro Tanaka did before insisting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him a few years back, Otani’s ability to successfully demand posting is very high.  NPB teams don’t want to look bad to their fan bases by preventing obvious major league talents from going on to greater wealth, fame and professional fulfillment in MLB, particularly when they have reached the top of the mountain in NPB.

I see Otani as strictly a pitcher in MLB, except perhaps for occasional pinch-hitting opportunities if he signs with a National League team.  For that reason, though, I’d like to see a National League team sign him, although I expect the Yankees and Red Sox will have a lot to say about that.

Kenta Maeda’s Interesting First Year as a Dodger

September 22, 2016

After Kenta Maeda‘s win against the San Francisco Giants last night, he is now 16-9.  With the injury to Clayton Kershaw this season, it is hard to dispute the claim that Maeda has been the ace of the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff.

What I find interesting is the way the Dodgers have been using him.  Maeda hasn’t pitched more than 6.1 innings in a ball game since July 10th.  His limited use, at least in terms of being the team’s top starter, has been effective, however.  He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since July 17th.

Clearly, the Dodgers feel that Maeda is a pitcher who is great the first two times through the line-up and then tires or gets figured out.  Maeda is small by major league standards, and I am almost certain that has something to do with manager Dave Roberts‘ perception about how long to leave Maeda in ball games.

It is no secret that the Dodgers, when they signed Maeda, were very concerned about how he would hold up pitching every five games in MLB.  There were concerns about his medical reports, and that was the reason that Maeda’s eight-year contract contained more incentives (based on starts and innings pitched) than actual salary.

However, I don’t believe those concerns have much to do with the way Roberts has been using Maeda in the second half.  The Dodgers are trying to win their division, and if they thought pitching Maeda routinely into the eighth inning gave them the best chance to win, they’d be doing it.  The way Roberts is using him is best for both Maeda and the Dodgers long term, but with the contract Maeda has, the Dodgers don’t loose much if they burn his arm out sooner rather than later.

The Dodgers’ use of Maeda is a testament to the fact that trend of using more and more relief pitchers to pitch more and more major league innings is continuing and has not yet reached an eventual peak based on the number of pitchers that can reasonably be carried on a 25 man roster.  I can’t remember the last time a team had a starter this good (and currently this healthy) who has pitched as little each start as Maeda has done this year.

After 30 starts starts, Maeda has pitched only 169 innings, well under six innings a start.  Of the 17 National League pitchers with at least 30 starts so far this year, six others have similar innings pitched totals, but all six have ERAs over 4.00.  Maeda’s ERA is now 3.20.

Any way you slice it, the Dodgers’ signing of Maeda was one of the best signings of the off-season.  Fangraphs values Maeda’s 2016 performance to date at $26.3 million, which is about the guarantee of Maeda’s contract (although he’s earned more this year by hitting performance incentives), and does not take into account the added value of Maeda’s performance being a major part of a play-off season.

By my calculation and including a pro-rated portion of the contract’s signing bonuse, Maeda will earn at most this year $12.275 million, assuming the Dodgers do not skip Maeda’s final start in order to keep him fresh for the start of the post-season.  While that is still a tremendous bargain for the Dodgers, it’s also more than twice as much as Maeda could reasonably have expected to make in 2016 had he remained in Japan’s NPB.

It’s an interesting question also what the Dodgers will decide to do with game 162 of their schedule.  Maeda is scheduled to make his 32nd start, earning him another $1.5 million bonus, but if I were Dodgers management, I would consider skipping Maeda’s 32nd start, give him the bonus anyway, and thereby keep him fresh to be the team’s second starter in the post.

However, that may not be necessary.  If Maeda makes the  Dodgers final regular season start on October 2nd, and Clayton Kershaw starts the Dodgers’ first play-off game on October 7th, Maeda would have sufficient rest to pitch the second play-off start on October 8th, particularly if he pitches no more than 3.0 to 5.0 innings on October 2nd.

Finally Some Good News

August 26, 2016

With the San Franciso Giants sinking like a stone in the NL West, the team sorely needed Matt Moore‘s performance tonight, even if he lost his no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.

It remains to be seen how Moore does in his next couple of starts after throwing 133 pitches tonight, but at least I no longer have such a strong feeling that the Giants’ big trades at the deadline amounted to giving away a mountain of talent for very little improvement to the team.  Moore’s results were mixed until tonight, but it’s now fairly safe to say that any starts Moore takes away from Jake Peavy or Matt Cain improves the team.

The trade for Will Smith, on the other hand, has definitely hurt the Giants, because he took Matt Reynolds‘ roster spot.  No one has ever heard of Reynolds, at least outside of Colorado and Arizona, but he’s now made 21 relief appearances at the AA, AAA and major league levels this season after being signed out of the Independent-A Atlantic League.

Reynolds has found something this season, and his scoreless streak has gone on too long for it to be nothing but a fluke.  In 17.2 innings pitched since returning to the MLB-system, he’s allowed only seven hits and three walks while striking out 18.  The majority of that has come in the AAA Pacific Coast League, which is no easy place to pitch, even if it isn’t the major leagues.

Eduardo Nunez hasn’t been terrible, but there is no reason to think that the Giants couldn’t have gotten the same performance out of the platoon players they were using before the Giants traded away 23 year old Adalberto Mejia.  Mejia made his first major league appearance for the Twins on August 20th and was hit pretty hard, but if he stays healthy, this still looks like a deal that the Giants will really be regretting in three to five years’ time.