Archive for the ‘Oakland A’s’ category

Home Runs and Strikeouts

June 29, 2017

The last year and a half, MLB has been averaging all-time records for both home runs and strikeouts.  Much has been written on this topic, but not by me, so hear goes.

The cause of the increases are fairly obvious.  All of the teams and players, thanks to advanced statistical analysis (sabrmetrics) and much better tracking records of every pitch and every ball put into play and their outcomes, has finally broken down professional baseball’s 125+ year hostility to strikeouts, at least if more strikeouts come with more home runs.

Obviously, a home run, compared to singles and doubles, produces a greater benefit than the extra cost of a strikeout compared to an out made on a ball put in play.  Teams just don’t care any more if a player strikes out 200+ times for every 650-700 plate appearances, so long as that player also hits 30+ HRs and can keep his on-base percentage over .320, however he may get to that number.

What is interesting in the last year and a half is that batting averages have not fallen in spite of the increase in strikeouts.  Along with the increase in defensive shifts, one would expect to see falling batting averages as a result of these trends.  In fact, the new obsession with batter launch angles (i.e., upper-cutting the ball in order to hit it in the air) is almost certainly in part a result of the increase in defensive shifts, as home run balls are much harder to defend against and the statistical analysis and tracking shows that balls hit in the air are much likelier to result in hits than balls hit in the ground.

I have certainly noticed the rise in pitchers throughout professional baseball who are striking out more than 8 batters per nine innings, but still have terrible ERAs, because they are giving up lots of hits and especially home runs.  It’s not something I’ve ever seen before on this scale, and I very much doubt anyone else has seen it either.

Since swinging for the fences at all times seems to be working, I don’t see any likelihood in the near term that these trends won’t continue, absent rule changes imposed from the top.

Clearly, teams are going to have to start finding and developing more pitchers that hitters cannot easily hit in the air, i.e., extreme groundball pitchers.  However, MLB has been drafting and developing pitchers based mainly on arm strength since basically forever.

There are always a few extreme groundball pitchers in MLB, including low side-armers, but these guys never get anything they don’t earn in spades.  Their major league careers typically start late, and often don’t get a chance except from teams that are desperate for affordable, effective pitching.  It’s no surprise that in the last 15 or 16 years, it was the “Money Ball” Oakland A’s who developed both Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler as effective major league relievers.

This subject is particularly on my mind because I recently wrote a post about San Francisco Giants’ prospect Tyler Rogers.  Rogers now has a 2.14 ERA in more than 46 relief innings pitched at AAA Sacramento, but the Giants elected to call up Dan Slania yesterday when they put Mark Melancon on the 10-day disabled list.

Slania is a year younger than Tyler Rogers, he has much better stuff, and he has a better draft pedigree.  However, Slania was hit hard as a starter at AAA (7.82 ERA) in large part because he couldn’t keep the ball in the yard (14 HRs in 61 IP).

140 years of baseball history support calling up Slania over Rogers.  However, the way the game is being played at this moment suggests that teams need to start to crediting the cold, hard statistics that extreme groundball pitchers like Rogers put up.

Also, if more hitters are hitting more balls in the air, the value of outfield defense is also going to increase.  Fast outfielders who can cover ground are going to become more valuable than ever.

Milwaukee Brewers Make Nice Little Move Claiming Stephen Vogt

June 25, 2017

The Brewers were the only team to put a waiver claim in on Stephen Vogt, so it looks like they will get their man.  Vogt has about $1.5 million more coming to him on his $2.95 million 2017 contract, so it’s a very affordable half season rental for the first place Brewers, with what amounts to two salary arbitration options for 2018 and 2019.

Vogt may very well start hitting again playing his home games in Milwaukee in the heat of the summer, rather than in Oakland.

I love seeing small market teams doing more with less.  I strongly suspect that a lot of teams don’t scan the waiver wire carefully or regularly unless they are actively looking for an upgrade somewhere.  In Vogt’s case, the A’s decision to designate him for assignment was national news because Vogt made the All-Star team the last two seasons and had a very affordable contract.

If no one had claimed Vogt on waivers, Vogt would almost certainly have exercised his right to free agency.  Then, any team could have signed him for the pro-rated major league minimum.  Essentially, the Brewers committed $1.25 million by claiming Vogt in order to guarantee that they’d be the team to get him after he left the A’s.

By claiming Vogt and sending Jet Bandy back to AAA, the Brewers get a true platoon at catcher, and since Bandy still had an option left, the Brewers lose nothing by taking a chance on Vogt except the $1.5 million remaining on Vogt’s contract.  That sure seems like a small price for a player who could be a valuable piece as the Brewers try to make their first post-season since 2011.  Well done, Milwaukee!

Japanese Baseball News

June 23, 2017

Tad Iguchi, now age 42, has announced that this will be his last professional season.  It has been quite a career, as he has combined to date for more than 2,200 hits, 294 HRs and 224 stolen bases between MLB and Japan’s NPB.  Lusty numbers indeed for a career 2Bman.

On June 14th, Shun Yamaguchi, Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero combined for a no-hitter for the Yomiuri Giants against the SoftBank Hawks.  It was Yamaguchi’s first start or appearance of the 2017 NPB season.

A few years ago, Yamaguchi was definitely an MLB prospect, but it’s now looking like he’ll stay in Japan for his career.  Does anyone remember the first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB?  (Answer at bottom.)

Chris Marrero, whom I wrote about in my last post on the 2017 NPB season about a month ago, appeared to hit his first NPB home run on June 9th.  But he missed home plate!  The catcher went over and tagged Marrero, and the umpire called him out.

That’s no way to make an impression on your new team in a foreign country.  However, the man on base ahead of Marrero still scored, and Marrero has continued to hit with power in what appears to be a platoon role.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles signed American Josh Corrales recently.  What is interesting about this move is that Corrales was signed out of the BC League, Japan’s independent-A league.  He’s not the first player from the Americas to be signed by an NPB organization out of the BC League.

Corrales had an interesting year in the full season A League Midwest League at age 22, posting a 4.09 ERA and striking out 54 batters in 55 innings pitched but also walking 40.  After he was apparently released, he must have somehow decided that his chances of one day reaching NPB were better than reaching MLB, because he has no record of pitching in any of the more stable American Indy-A Leagues.  He’s only 27 years old, so an NPB big payday is still possible!

The first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB history was when Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore did it on June 23, 2017.  The Babe, who was then one of the Junior Circuit’s aces, walked the first batter of the game and was promptly thrown out of the game for arguing about it with the umpire.  Shore came in, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters consecutively for what has widely, but not unanimously, been recognized as a perfect game, sort of like Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect effort in 1959.

The first time in MLB history three or more pitchers combined for a no-hitter was September 28, 1975, when Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers accomplished the feat.  The A’s had already clinched a play-off birth and decided it was wise not to overwork their ace Vida “True” Blue (a little joke there for Charlie Finley fans).  Seems kind of ho-hum today, but it was a big deal in the 1970’s.

John Nogowski

June 15, 2017

24 year old 1Bman John Nogowski is currently the best hitting prospect in the independent-A American Association.  He’s currently leading qualifiers with a .424 batting average and .500 on-base percentage in 24 games played.  One would expect an MLB organization to sign him soon.

Nogowski was a 34th round draft pick by the A’s out of Florida State, a major program, three years ago.  The A’s certainly treated him as place holder until they found somebody they liked better.

Nogowski actually hit fairly well the last two seasons in the A+ California League at ages 22 and 23.  In a combined 727 plate appearances, he batted .279, had an OBP above .350 and hit a total of 35 doubles and 11 HRs.  He didn’t hit in a seven game trial at AA Midland, TX and was released.

Nogowski probably deserved one more year in the mlb system, and his over .400 batting average in the second best Indy-A league should get him noticed again.  His lack of home run power is a problem for any 1Bman, but he’s not a small guy and could potentially still add power as his professional career advances.

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.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part II

February 25, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote a post listing the minor league veterans the A’s turned into major league stars over the last 25 years.  Today, I will state some of my thoughts about the A’s success in locating these kinds of players.

First, the A’s focus on these kinds of players was largely a matter of desperation.  The A’s had three periods, from 1988 to 1992, from 2000 to 2006 and finally from 2012 to 2014, where the team was really good.  Those teams were largely built around prospects that A’s developed themselves mostly through the Draft and amateur signings.  The A’s, however, simply didn’t have the financial resources to compete every year for long periods of time.

You will note that many of the years the players I listed in yesterday’s post played for the team occurred during the periods when the A’s weren’t particularly good.  In other words, when the A’s didn’t have a player they had developed themselves to build around at a position, they looked for somebody cheap they could get a couple of good, or at least adequate, seasons out of until they could develop a younger prospect they could control for five or six seasons.

The A’s financial woes were the main reason Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane got into statistical analysis, the whole Money Ball thing, first.  Starting with Berroa, they realized that sluggers who drew walks but didn’t hit for much of an average and struck out a lot were undervalued and could be obtained cheaply.  Perhaps even more importantly, they realized that minor league veterans who consistently hit in the minors but hadn’t done much in limited major league opportunities, would eventually hit at the major league level if they got more significant opportunities.

That’s certainly no longer the case, as other teams have a much better idea of what these kinds of players are worth. In fact, the success the A’s had in finding Brandon Moss and Stephen Vogt probably had more to do with the A’s greater emphasis because of financial considerations to continue to acquire and give opportunities to these kinds of players, while wealthier teams continued to hire more reliable major league veterans.  I would bet that if I were willing to do the research, the A’s have run through a great number of these kinds of players who never did break through at the major league level.

In fact by 2012-2013, when the A’s found Moss and Vogt, the team had reportedly move on to defense as an under-valued skill around which to obtain affordable talent.  Five years later, most of the other 29 teams have caught up with that angle too, and now teams are looking at pitch-framing, defensive shifts (which make sure-handed, but not very rangy defenders look better), and other more esoteric analyses in order to find a competitive advantage.

One thing that is also interesting to note is that once the A’s had located and developed these kinds of players into stars, they didn’t have much success trading them away for new talent.  The A’s ultimately traded away each of Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs and Marco Scutaro.  Stairs and Scutaro had long major league careers after the A’s traded them away, and, while Berroa did not, he certainly looked like a valuable commodity at the moment the A’s traded him mid-season in 1997.  However, the only player of any value the A’s got in return for these three was Jimmie Haynes, a starting pitcher that I bet even many A’s fans don’t remember well today.

Billy Beane famously claimed that the reports that other teams didn’t want to trade with him because he was allegedly such a sharp trader didn’t have a lot of basis in fact.  Many teams have done well in trades with the A’s during Beane’s reign in Oakland, and the trades of Berroa, Stairs and Scutaro are certainly examples.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price.  At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.

Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017.  Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.

I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level.  However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.

Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous.  What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.

1.   Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent).  Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding.  He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.

2.  Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent).  Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season.  In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.

3.  Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent).  Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.

4.  Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets).  Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts.  He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.

5.  Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres).  Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player.  Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times.  Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.

[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]

6.  Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent).  Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009.  When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.

7.  Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays).  It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age.  Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.

Honorable Mention.  Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97).  Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242.  However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year.  The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.