Archive for the ‘New York Yankees’ category

Winter League Notes

November 9, 2018

With the free agent market yet to heat up (CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees for $8M, but that’s about it), I’ve been following players in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.  Here are a few I want to note.

The Nationals’ Victor Robles is lighting it up in the Dominican Winter League.  Youngsters of Robles’ talent and closeness to the majors usually don’t get to play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues unless they were hurt during the summer season, which Robles was.  He played in only 73 summer season games, so the Nats are letting him get some live game reps in the the Dominican Republic this winter.

Robles’ winter season may well end after only 20 or 25, like Eloy Jiminez last winter, because his MLB team doesn’t want to risk injury.  However, the Nats may want to give him reps since he’s definitely a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster out of Spring Training if/when Bryce Harper leaves for the big money.

Every baseball blogger, I suspect, is looking for players who are much better than anyone else seems to realize.  One of the players I’ve been watching in this regard is left-handed starter Tyler J. Alexander.  For several years he pitched his summers for Fargo-Moorhead in the Indy-A American Association and winters in the Mexican Pacific League.  He was consistently good with high strikeout rates, but couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

Alexander shook things up in 2018, starting the season with the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners of the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League isn’t any better than the American Association, but it probably gets more scouting because it’s on the East Coast.  He pitched well enough there to finally get a contract to pitch in the second half of the Mexican League (Summer) season.

This winter Alexander has elected to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, rather than the Mexican Pacific League, I think because he’s hoping to finally get someone’s attention in a league that pays a real wage.  He’s been great through his first five starts with a 2.13 ERA and 25 Ks in 25.1 IP.  If he can keep it up the rest of the winter, maybe somebody (besides me) will finally take notice.

Two Dominican Winter League pitchers who have done a lot to keep their high-paying summer league dreams alive are Esmil Rogers and Tommy Milone.

Esmil Rogers had a more than $1M contract to pitch in the KBO in 2018, but he broke his hand about half-way through the season and got cut, probably losing roughly the second half of his $1M+ contract.  He currently has a 2.53 ERA after five DWL starts.  If he can keep it up, a KBO team will play him at least $500,000 to pitch in South Korea in 2019.

Tommy Milone was a marginal major leaguer in 2018, his age 31 season.  He’s pitching in the DWL to prove that he’s worth a split AAA/major league contract in 2019.  So far, so good — Milone hasn’t allowed an earned run or a walk in his first four starts, while striking out 19 in 22 IP.  That’s what a soon to be 32 year old player of Milone’s caliber needs to do to show MLB teams he’s worth bringing back for another season as AAA insurance.

 

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Free Agent Foo and Other Notes

November 3, 2018

mlbtraderumors.com posted its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season.  I was interested to see what they had to say after last year’s paradigm shifting free agent period.

Mlbtraderumors projects Bryce Harper to get 14 years at $420M and Manny Machado to get 13 years at $390M.  My guess would be that Harper gets between $350M and $400M and Machado gets $330M.  I think Machado hurt himself with a poor post-season, and I’m doubtful any team is going to be willing to completely blow out of the water the record-setting 13 year $325M deal that Giancarlo Stanton got a few years ago, at least to the extent that mlbtraderumors is predicting.

However, it will come down to how many teams are in the hunt for both players.  If either player gets three or four teams determined to sign him, then the numbers could be bigger than I’m saying.  For whatever reason, I think the Phillies will sign Harper and Yankees Machado, although the Yankees could pursue Josh Donaldson as a shorter-term, lower commitment alternative.

Patrick Corbin is the only player MLBTR projects to get a $100M contract, in keeping with last year’s off-season”s disappointing returns for all but the very best free agents.

I think somebody will pony up more than $50M for Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi, including the posting fee.  I will be surprised if a team does not allocate at least $60M total for the six years MLBTR is projecting.

If CC Sabathia does not re-sign with the Yankees, I would love to see him sign with either the Giants or the A’s on a short-term deal.  CC is from Vallejo, so you would certainly think he’d be receptive to an offer from one of the two Bay Area teams.

The Dodgers extended Hyun-Jin Ryu a $17.9M qualifying offer, but MLBTR anticipates the Dodgers will bring him back for three years and $33M.  If I had to guess, I would say that Ryu decides to do will have a lot to do with whether or not the Yankees or Mets have any interest in him.

As a Korean, I would imagine the NYC or LA, two cities with large Korean American populations, would be his preferred destinations.  Ryu is also the only player out of seven who might reasonably accept the qualifying offer if he wants to stay in LA but the Dodgers won’t offer him a multi-year deal between now and the decision date and/or he decides to bet that he’ll be healthier in 2019 and be able to set himself for another big contract next off-season.

Clayton Kershaw signed a new deal with the Dodgers that essentially adds a third season at $28M (plus incentives), on the two-year $65M contract he could have opted out of, although the new deal pushes back $3M to the final season so he will now earn $31M per.  For whatever reason, I had imagined a new five-year $125M deal for Kershaw with or without money pushed back to the new seasons.  The actual contract signed may reflect both the Dodgers’ concerns about Kershaw’s back problems and Kershaw’s realization that he may not want to pitch more than three more seasons given his back problems.  Dodger fans can at least rest assured that Kershaw isn’t leaving this off-season.

 

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

World Series Indifference

October 29, 2018

The 2018 World Series is now officially in the books, and I have to admit that I found it hard to get excited about this one, even aside from the fact that it turned out to be pretty one-sided.  As a Giants’ fan, I can’t root for the Dodgers as a team, and as a non-Red Sox fan, I find it hard to root for a team that spends as much money as they do and has enjoyed as much recent success even before this year’s World Series.  Also, with the spate of racist, terrorist attacks this week, baseball seems trivial (although it is precisely because the World is sometimes an awful place that we need distractions and entertainments like baseball).

When I can’t root for the teams, I root for individual players.  However, I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of many players on either team.  I like Kenta Maeda, because he’s a small right-hander and I sung his praises as a potential major leaguer for years before he signed with the Dodgers.  I like late-bloomer Justin Turner, although I don’t enjoy looking at that ugly, bushy, bright orange hipster beard of his — I don’t like Craig Kimbrel‘s beard either.  I’m eagerly waiting for both the don’t-shave-until-season’s-over baseball trend and the larger hipster trend to finally run their respective courses.

I root for Clayton Kershaw to pitch well in the World Series, so long as it can’t hurt a team I care about, because he’s such a good pitcher, but I root for David Price and Chris Sale for the same reason.  But if they don’t pitch well, my attitude is f@#$-’em, because you got to get it done when it counts the most.

The Red Sox and Dodgers have plenty of bright young stars, but since I don’t root for either team, I haven’t developed any particular fondness for most of them. They’re fun to watch, but that’s about it.

I was also a bit disgusted to see chronic steroids cheat Alex Rodriguez getting paid big money to provide commentary at the end of the games.  I can see why Fox hired Rodriguez — he’s a big name, he knows plenty about MLB baseball, he’s good looking (and relatively light skinned), and he’s reasonably well spoken.  It still rankles me, though, the way that Barry Bonds got black-balled by MLB for being an obstreperous black man, while arguably bigger steroids cheats like AFraud and somewhat less obstreperous white men like Mark McGwire are able to continue drawing big paychecks from the game.

In a just world, Bonds will get into the Hall of Fame before either Rodriguez or McGwire, but I wouldn’t count on it.  See racist, terrorist attacks above.

It must have given Red Sox fans pleasure to watch somebody’s else Manny being Manny for a change.  Machado went 4-for-22 with no extra base hits in the Series, which will probably cost him more this off-season than failing to run out the ball hit off the wall, although it really shouldn’t.  Even great players can have bad World Series.  Mickey Mantle went 3-for-25 with a lone double in the 1962 World Series, but hit 18 home runs in the nine other World Series in which he played regularly.

At the end of the day, though, I still expect Machado to get his $300M+ free agent deal this off-season.  You can’t under-perform in the World Series if you don’t get there in the first place, and Machado improves any team’s chances of making it there.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 6, 2018

Starting in 2009 and every couple of years thereafter, I have written a piece handicapping the likelihood of any currently active pitcher winning 300 games in his major league career.  The last such post from about two years ago is here.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

When I first started writing these posts over a decade ago, I thought we’d certainly see another 300 game winner in my life time.  About five years later, I changed my opinion almost completely.  I now think it less likely than not that any current pitcher will win 300 games, but at least it could still happen, as I explain below.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2018 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (37) 246

Justin Verlander (35) 204

Zack Greinke (34) 187

Felix Hernandez (32) 168

John Lester (34) 177

Clayton Kershaw (30) 153

Max Scherzer (33) 159

David Price (32) 143

Rick Porcello (29) 135

Madison Bumgarner (28) 110

It’s worth noting that the list of pitcher contains the same 10 as two years ago, which I think is a good sign in terms of one of them reaching 300 wins.

I like Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s chances of winning 300 the best.  Both are coming off of terrific seasons at advanced ages at which they still had extremely high strikeout rates.  These are the kinds of pitchers who end up pitching into their early 40’s and thus have the chance to eventually win 300 games.

The 12 pitchers to win 300 games after the end of World War II all pitched into their 40’s as follows:

Phil Neikro 48 (in his last MLB season)

Nolan Ryan 46

Randy Johnson 45

Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn  44

Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Early Wynn 43

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine 42

Tom Seaver 41

With the exception of knuckleballer Phil Neikro, there is a pretty obvious connection between an ace’s strikeout rate in his respective era and how long he’ll be able to compete at the major league level.  That certainly suggests that Verlander and Scherzer could pitch well into their 40’s.

Verlander has averaged 15.7 wins per season in his first 13 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.7 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 109 or 110 games, which would put him comfortably over 300 career wins.

Scherzer has average 15.9 wins per season in his first 10 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.9 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 143 games, which would just get him over 300.

Thus, if either can avoid major injury and wants to keep pitching as long as it takes for a shot at winning 300 games, it could certainly be done, particularly when you take into account that MLB teams would be willing to carry them for an extra season or two at the end if either pitcher has a realistic shot at winning 300 game.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw have all won a lot of games at their respective ages, but none of the three seems like a good bet to still be pitching at 40, let alone 42 or 43.  Sabathia is likely coming back for another season with the Yankees in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine his big body holding up for as long as it would take for him to win 300.  King Felix’s arm may be shot — we’ll have a better idea a year from now.  Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but back problems don’t improve with age.

What all current aces need to improve their chances at winning 250 or 300 games is another round of expansion, which I think could easily add two wins per year to a top starter’s career wins total.

New York Yankees Acquire Andrew McCutchen

August 31, 2018

The San Francisco Giants were able to pull the trigger on an Andrew McCutchen trade, sending him to the Yankees for minor middle infielder Abiatal Avelino and right-handed pitcher Juan De Paula.

Avelino is 23 this season. He hit well at AA, but has struggled with the bat since his promotion to AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre.  Avelino looks more like a future Kelby Tomlinson than Brandon Crawford, but we’ll have to wait and see if that turns out to be the case.

De Paula turns 21 in late September and he’s currently pitching well as a starter in the short-season New York-Pennsylvania League (A-).  He has struck out 220 batters in 228 innings pitched in the low minors and has a career professional ERA of 2.49.  Hopefully, the Giants can give him a start or two at Class A Augusta before the minor league season ends.  De Paula is a long way from the majors, but at least he appears to have some talent.

I can’t say I’m that excited about what the Giants got, but what can you expect for one month of Andrew McCutchen’s 2018 performance?  The main thing is that the Giants did trade McCutchen and got something more in return than cash considerations or $250,000 in international bonus money.

Meanwhile, the Giants have called up former 1st round draft pick Chris Shaw to take McCutchen’s roster spot.  Shaw was just O.K. at AAA Sacramento this year, slashing .259/.308/.505 in 422 plate appearances.  In other words, he’s got power (he’s currently tied for 5th with 24 HRs in the Pacific Coast League), but he doesn’t draw many walks.

I kind of expect major league pitchers will carve up Shaw in September, but at least at age 24 (Shaw turns 25 in late October), he’s getting some major league experience.  I’m not convinced that Shaw will amount to much of a major league player, but we can’t know for certain unless he gets his shot.

Willie Kamm

August 11, 2018

There’s a San Francisco baseball name that even most San Francisco baseball fans don’t remember.  Willie Kamm was probably the best defensive 3B man of the first half of the 20th Century.  He was also an effective offensive player to an extent that was recognized in his own day in spite of having very little power.

One of the things that got me interested in Willie Kamm was going out to the Musee Mechanique when it was still at the Cliff House.  They had a pin-ball type baseball game, one using a pin-ball which you hit with a mechanical bat to try to get hits while avoiding the fielder holes.  At 3B was Willie Kamm, going along with top major leaguers and Pacific Coast League (PCL) stars who also had big years in the major leagues like Winters‘ finest Frank Demaree.

I can’t recall if Joe DiMaggio was in CF — anyone been to the Musee Mechanique lately?  The table game I would date to the mid-1930’s.  If DiMaggio is in the game, then the machine probably would almost certainly have to date no earlier than Spring of 1936, when DiMaggio was coming off his huge final season for the San Francisco Seals and had long since been traded to the Yankees.  I also don’t recall if Paul Waner was in right field, but he’d be a good guess because he starred for the San Francisco Seals before reaching greater fame with the Pirates.

Willie Kamm was from San Francisco, although he started his PCL career with the Sacramento Senators at the age of only 18.  He went 2-for-9 in his first four games and was summarily released.  Then the Seals signed him.

It took two years for Kamm to develop both his bat and his glove.  He had a fine season in 1921, and then was completely off the charts at age 22.  He batted .342 with 56 doubles, nine triples and 20 HRs in 650 at-bats and 170 games, while playing elite major league defense for the second year in a row.

He was such a hot prospect, he commanded a then still astounding $100,000 purchase price from the Chicago White Sox, who were looking to replace Buck Weaver, alleged leader of the 1919 Black Sox and also a former Seal, who was banned for life in late September 1920.  The Seals also received Doug McWeeny (great name) and two players to be named later.  McWeeny went 55-24 for the Seals over three seasons between 1922 and 1925 before returning to the majors for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so this was a great deal for the Seals on multiple levels.

The deal was so good for the Seals in fact, that even though the transaction was completed on May 29th, they got to keep Kamm for the rest of the 1922 season before sending him east, while McWeeny went 15-7 for the rest of the year in San Francisco.  Impossible to imagine a deal like that today.

Kamm was immediately one of the Junior Circuit’s best defenders at the hot corner in 1923, and he remained such for the next 11 seasons.  He defensive excellence is easy to explain: he consistently made the most plays per game while making the fewest errors per chance.  Of course, some ChiSox fans complained if he made any errors, given how much the team had payed for him.

I would rate Brooks Robinson as a better defensive 3Bman, mainly because he had a longer major league career and was better at turning the double play, but Kamm and Robinson had in common that they made the most plays while making the fewest errors in their respective versions of the American League.

Kamm’s defensive prowess at third base was so well recognized in his own day that, while he could almost certainly have held down SS or 2B as needed, he played every single game of his professional career at 3B.  That is similar to Robinson, who played a total of 30 games at SS and second between 1956 and 1963, but never played another position in the field for the last 14 years of his career.  What you could call the “don’t mess with a good thing” principle.

Kamm’s hands were so good, he claimed he could consistently catch two base runners a season with the hidden ball trick.  I have no reason to believe he was exaggerating.

Kamm couldn’t hit home runs in the majors, finishing his career with a grand total of 29, which was a problem in the lively ball era.  However, Kamm did have the advantage that the 1920’s still valued 3B defense as a hold-over from the 1910’s, when 3B defense was very highly valued indeed.

As such, Kamm’s contributions were appreciated in a way they would not subsequently be appreciated for some time.  Kamm ran well, but was not an effective base-stealer, another holdover from the 1910’s.  Kamm had alley power, hitting between 30 and 39 doubles seven times and between nine and 13 triples four times.  He also walked a lot, including leading the AL with 90 in 1925.

One way to compare Kamm is by comparing him to the Washington Senator’s Ossie Bluege (pronounced Blue-jee) another long-time 3Bman who was about the same age and started his major league career at about the same time.  Bluege played on all three Washington Senators World Series teams (1924, 1925 and 1933) and was generally regarded as a fine defensive 3Bman and valuable major league regular.

In the ten American League seasons both Kamm and Bluege both played at least 800 innings at the hot corner, Kamm bested Bluege to the tune of 21-8-1 in the three major categories of chances per game, fielding percentage and DPs.

Over roughly the same number of career major league plate appearances (7,454 for Bluege, 6,945 for Kamm) Kamm slashed .281/.372/.384 while Bluege slashed .272/.352/.356.  Both played in what were regarded as pitchers’ parks in their era, but I don’t know which was worse for hitters.

Kamm was clearly the better player on both sides of the ball, but he’s no better remembered today than Bluege, because Kamm never played in the World Series and played most of his major league career for White Sox teams that never once made the first division (his last fourCleveland Indians teams finished 3rd or 4th every season).  It’s hard to be seen as a great player when your team never wins.

A couple of other stories from Kamm’s career and later life I found interesting were that, while he was generally considered a good teammate, he got in trouble late in his career with the Indians for giving young players too much advice.  The new Cleveland manager was Walter Johnson — that Walter Johnson.  Apparently, Johnson, like a lot of formerly great players was not a great manager.  I don’t know whether how Kamm delivered his “advice” or whether Johnson thought Kamm was a threat to his leadership, but it in interesting fact for someone who seems to have been a pretty sober ballplayer.

Kamm’s playing career ended with the Mission Reds back in the PCL in 1936, a team he managed in 1936 and 1937.  He was then at age 37 reportedly able to retire on his investments, having been told at some time presumably early in his career by Seals owner George Putnam to invest in Pacific Gas & Electric and General Motors stock and holding on the stock even when the stock market crashed in 1929.

An earlier Seals owner C.H. Strub in September or October of 1918 had convinced Kamm to sign a contract with the Seals rather than enlisting in the navy by telling him that the war would be over in a month based on how the stock market was performing.  The war ended approximately one month after Kamm signed his contract, and he apparently never forgot the lesson.

Kamm passed away in Belmont, California at the age of 88 in 1988.  At least in  my little corner of the Bay Area, Willie Kamm has not been entirely forgotten.