Archive for the ‘New York Yankees’ 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.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx Shuts Down New York Yankees

June 25, 2017

32 year old rookie pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx frustrated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to improve his record to 3-0.  What a great name and what a tremendous story!

Bibens-Dirkx used the Independent-A Leagues twice to keep his professional career going.  In 2009 after washing out of the Mariners’ system, he pitched in the now defunct Golden Baseball League and earned another shot in the Cubs’ system.  He started last year in the Atlantic League before being picked up by the Rangers.  Bibens-Dirkx  has also pitched in the Latin American winter leagues for years as another way to hone his game and catch the attention of major league organizations.

The only chink in Bibens-Dirkx’s armor yesterday was a long home run to Aaron Judge, which thankfully for the Rangers came with the bases empty.  [For what it’s worth, the player Aaron Judge reminds me most of is Frank Howard, another enormous right-handed slugger who could launch baseballs a country mile.  The main difference between them is that there are lot more players of this size now than there were in Howard’s day.]

The reality is that there is a very good chance that last night’s game will be the pinnacle of Bibens-Dirkx’ professional career.  He only made it to MLB at age 32 for a reason.  While he can obviously pitch, his numbers so far suggest that his stuff is well below major league average, and that once MLB’s hitters become more familiar with him, he’ll be a marginal major leaguer at best.  He’s going to have to keep his walks totals low and have good defense behind him to succeed.

Still, nothing can take away from his accomplishment last night or the fact that eleven years struggling through the minors has finally paid off, both financially and emotionally.  Guys like a Bibens-Dirkx give everyone in baseball and those who follow baseball hope that the luck will finally turn for you if you just keep at it and trust that your efforts will one day be rewarded.

Fathers and Sons

May 22, 2017

I read an article today from the NY Times about Mike Trout, MLB’s quiet super-duper star.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that the article stated that Trout is most comparable at this point in his career to Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle and also that his father was a former minor league player.

I don’t know if Hank Aaron’s father was a ball player, but part of the legend of the Mick was that his father was a frustrated ball player, who channeled those dreams to his son, who was the perfect chalice for those dreams.  Sort of like Tiger Woods and his dad, who loved golf for whatever reason and had a son who had the natural ability and the love of his father and the game to become a legend.

Mike Trout’s dad, Jeff Trout, was a four year minor leaguer, who was probably the best baseball player to come out of Millville Senior High School in 40 years (the now longer remembered Steve Yerkes was the best player out of that school before the son).  Jeff apparently played four years at the University of Delaware before his professional career began.

Jeff could hit, slashing .321/.406/.451 in his last minor league season, but spent three years in AA ball because he couldn’t catch the ball enough.  He was a 2B/3B prospect who fielded a minor league career .956 at the former position and .915 at the latter.  Jeff had enough talent to have a reason to be frustrated when his professional baseball career ended well short of major league success.

The dynamic I’m talking about is best described in detail in Gaylord Perry‘s autobiography Me and the Spitter, probably the most entertaining baseball autobiography I read as a kid.  Evan Perry got an offer to play Class D baseball when he was 19 years old.  However, his wife was either pregnant with or had already given birth to Jim Perry, a great major league pitcher who is only remembered today as Gaylord’s older brother.

Class D baseball paid in the mid-1930’s what the low minors pay today (little more than nothing), and Evan Perry did the sensible thing of continuing to share-crop tobacco in East Carolina.  It was as bleak as that sounds — Evan was proud of the fact that he didn’t send his boys to work in the fields until they each turned 7, since he had been about 5 when he started working the plow or picking the tobaccy.

Evan was a semi-pro stud in East Carolina, and he raised his strong sons with an intense love of baseball.  It was what you did when you had finished in the fields and church had let out Sunday morning.

Mickey Mantle’s father was a wannabe professional ballplayer from rural Oklahoma few years earlier than Evan Perry.  Those were the days when real men married their pregnant, teenage girl friends and went to work in rural, depression era dead-end jobs because it still paid better than the lowest levels of minor league baseball.  In those days, the dream of major league riches was just as real to dirt-poor rural Americans as it is to dirt-poor, teenage Latin Americans today, and paid accordingly.

Gaylord was technically a cheater, Mickey became an alcoholic, and Tiger had personality deficiencies of which those who have been paying attention are now well aware.  However, all did receive the many awards and benefits that come from the most elite athletic performance.

There is probably a lot of pressure attendant with living out someone elses dreams and becoming the absolute best at one’s chosen profession.  Andre Agassi is member of this group who has publicly spoken about the misery that can come with trying to live out his father’s dream.

Even so, I like to imagine that there can be a situation where it’s more true than not that the child lived out the dream of the parent to the satisfaction of both.  I certainly hope that my child will have a better life than I’ve had, whatever that turns out to be.

Self Confidence

May 16, 2017

One thing I’ve wondered about for some time is the role that self confidence plays in major league performance.

Baseball is definitely not the realm of touchy-feely psychological stuff, but I have come to believe strongly that self-confidence is an as yet unmeasured, or at least under-measured, consideration that needs more consideration.

People with a long-term understanding of MLB baseball generally know a couple of things: (1) good teams are better at developing players than bad teams because players progress better in a winning environment than a losing environment; and (2) it is easier to develop hitters in hitters’ parks and it is easier to develop pitchers in pitchers’ parks, than the opposite. I haven’t done the research (someone should), but I think the research would show the above two claims are objectively true.

Some of this is personal.  I was a pipsqueak as a kid, but I could play ball, at least until the bases were moved out to 90 feet and the pitchers began pitching off a mound and occasionally throwing curveballs before my growth spurt arrived.  I had a great deal of confidence at the smaller sizes, and I was a star, but when the distances got bigger and I didn’t, I lost my confidence.  The drop in my subsequent offensive performance was greater than the objective changes, I believe, because I lost the confidence I once had had.

Does Eric Thames‘ 2017 performance (s0 far) have something to do with the fact that he was an under-performing MLB prospect, who went to South Korea’s KBO, made a few adjustments, and found that he was a tremendous hitter in a less talented, extreme hitters’ league?  I definitely think so.

Thames built up a lot of confidence in his abilities in his three KBO seasons.  He returned to MLB older, wiser and with a sense that he really had what it took to perform in MLB, plus the ability to make adjustments and the maturity to deal with slumps without giving up on his fundamentally sound approach and his sense of self confidence.

Again, I have not done the comprehensive research to prove my claim — however. my limited investigations suggest that major league regular batters playing their home games in extreme hitters’ parks like Coors Field and the Ball Park at Arlington hit better on the road than they have before because of the confidence they get from their artificially elevated home park performances.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I think the same is true for pitchers who pitch their home games in an extreme pitchers’ parks.  Even professionals perform better when their performance is rewarded by playing in highly favorable conditions half of the time, in part because the level of MLB play is so high that slight advantages in playing conditions can have out-sized effects.  Putting a prospect in the best possible circumstances to succeed seems to be the best way to bring about that result.

The A’s Santiago Casilla is perhaps a case in point.  He has always been a power pitcher.  With the A’s early in his career, he didn’t live up to his arm strength.  He was traded to the Giants, in a league that at the time wasn’t quite as talented and was generally a more fastball, power slider league.  He developed at an advanced age and under the right circumstances into a star.  He has now returned to the Junior Circuit, older and wiser (and against a league that hasn’t seen him pitch regularly for years), and he’s been a better pitcher for the A’s in his age 36 season (at least until his last appearance on May 12th, when he got hammered) than he was in any of his age 26 through 28 seasons.

This is a topic that is worth further investigation.  Unfortunately, I am both too lazy and too busy to do the research myself.  Hey, this is a great research topic for anyone willing to take it on.

If my hypothesis is correct, teams playing in extreme hitters parks should focus on drafting and developing hitters, and vice versa.  These teams should seek to trade for or sign free agents veteran pitchers, whose talents match the hitters’ parks they’ll have to pitch in (generally ground ball pitchers who throw strikes) and have developed a level of confidence that won’t be easily shaken by the hitters’ parks they will now be pitching their home games in.  And vice versa.

There has already been speculation that the Yankees, with their short home right field porch, should be a potential landing spot for Brandon Belt, if (and when) the Giants are sellers at the trade deadline.  It could indeed be a match made in post-season heaven.

New 10-Day DL Rule Obviously Makes Sense

April 15, 2017

I didn’t write anything earlier about the new 10-day Disabled List rule, because it just seemed to be such an obvious improvement over the 15-day rule.

Part of the reason for the so long adherence to the 15-day rule was to prevent teams like the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers from taking advantage of their much deeper minor league systems to bring up major league level talent stuck in the minors for limited high value appearances.  The old rule meant that you lost a player for 15 days if you sent him to the DL, lessening the relative value of the selective, high value call-up.  The idea being that a player didn’t go on the DL unless he was really hurt.

This rule makes no sense this far into the Draft era, and it already appears that MLB teams are going to the 10-Day DL faster they went to the 15-Day.  Gone, perhaps, are the days of waiting three or four days before retroactively employing the DL, to see if the injured player wasn’t hurt that bad and could return without a 15-day loss of his services.

Now teams have less incentive to play a man short for several games and more incentive to give the injured player enough time to recover.  In today’s game, where a new player can be there in one game thanks to air travel and chartered jets, that 25th man on the bench is more valuable than ever.

The 10-Day rule gives teams more flexibility, and means star players can potentially come back from injury sooner.  What’s not to like?

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2017

March 28, 2017

As everyone knows, contemporary pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2017 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats, in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.183 career batting average and .542 career OPS).  For the third year in a row, fangraphs rates big-swinging MadBum as the most productive pitcher as a hitter in MLB.

On paper, Jake Arrieta‘s 2016 slash line of .262/.304/.415 is much more impressive than Bumgarner’s .186/.268/.360.  I expect that park factors play a big role in fangraphs’ ratings.

In the last three seasons, MadBum has slugged 12 HRs in 229 at-bats and driven in 33 RBIs.  There isn’t a team in the National League who couldn’t use that batting performance from a starter.  He’s also the only major league hitter since the start of the 2015 season to homer twice off MLB’s best starter Clayton Kershaw.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.219 BA, .580 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.

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.

Greinke’s 2016 was his weakest offensive performance in four seasons.  Still, he hit .212 with a .476 OPS, which is great for a contemporary pitcher.

3.   Mike Leake (.203, .522).  Mike Leake has disappointed me as a hitting pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three major league seasons (2010-2012), but since then he’s just been a better than average major league average hitting pitcher.

I bet this has something to do with making adjustments.  By the 2013, major league pitchers realized that Leake could really hit and they’d have to pitch to him like a real hitter, and they’d figured out his weaknesses.  Leake doesn’t seem to have made the necessary counter-adjustments, and now he’s just a better than average hitting pitcher.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.200, .562).  Gallardo hasn’t played in the NL in two years, but he’s 4 for 8 the last two seasons in the AL. His 33 extra base hits in 424 at-bats is what makes him a threat at the dish.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  With well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.198 BA, .613 OPS).  Syndergaard passed the 100 career at-bat threshold in 2016, and his combination of power (three HRs in 2016) and willingness to take a walk (seven in 67 plate appearances) made him a real threat at the plate this past season.

I’ve been writing versions of this post long enough now that I’ve noticed that pitchers who hit well through their first 100 major league at-bats tend to regress in subsequent years to towards the pitchers-as-hitters mean.  That’s why I’m ranking him low until he proves he can keep doing it.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.217, .546).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) Hudson is now a relief pitcher, and despite 70 relief appearances, the 2016 Diamondbacks didn’t give him even one plate appearance in spite of the fact that he had his one big season at the plate in 2011 as a D’Back (no wonder the 2016 D’Backs lost 93 games); and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010 (CC’s 0-for-18 over that span).

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.   As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits over his career to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.232, .526).  Chatwood was a starter again last year and made it over the 100 at-bat threshold in 2016.  He’s a fine hitting pitcher who probably benefits as a hitter from making half his starts at Coors Field.  Needless to say, Coors Field doesn’t do much for him as a pitcher.

10.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .522 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, was moved to the bullpen in 2016, and signed this off-season with the AL’s Kansas City Royals for the next two seasons, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers anytime soon.

11.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross is coming back from a major injury and pitching for an AL team, the Rangers, this year, but he sure hit in 2015 for the Padres.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.244, .628).  Lorenzen can hit, but he has to establish himself as a starting pitcher if he ever hopes to reach the 100 at-bat cut-off.  He pitched exclusively in relief last year, but was used as a pinch hitter or allowed to hit five times in which he hit slugged a homer for his only hit.

Shohei Otani will be one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers as soon as he signs with an MLB team some years from now.  I’m hoping an NL team signs him for this reason.

The top two prospects in this year’s amateur draft, Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, are two-way players, who will most likely be developed as pitchers.  Thus, the odds are good that one day at least one of these two will make a future year’s version of this post.

As final notes, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Also, since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter by 2030.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.