Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Phillies’ category

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.

San Francisco Giants’ Minor Additions

February 19, 2017

In the last month the Giants have made a number of small moves, none of which alone inspired me to write anything, but are now numerous enough for comment.

The Giants signed catcher Nick Hundley for what has been reported as a $2 million guarantee.  The move surprised me a bit at the time it was announced, in that I didn’t think that another back-up catcher would be a priority with the emergence of Trevor Brown and the minor league signings of 4-A catchers Tim Federowicz and Josmil Pinto earlier this off-season.

Signing Hundley also forced the Giants to designate infielder Ehire Adrianza for assignment, who was quickly claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers then promptly placed Adrianza on waivers again, and he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.  Either way, the Giants lose a useful 4-A player entering his age 27 season.

However, just as you can’t have enough pitching, you probably can’t have enough back-up catchers, since catchers tend to get hurt a lot.  It’s safe to say, though, that at age 33 Hundley won’t hit as well at AT&T Park as he did at Coors Field last year.

The Giants have signed a couple of relief pitchers on minor league deals, David Hernandez and Bryan Morris.  I definitely like Hernandez better.  He looks like the kind of strong-armed pitcher (494 Ks in 487 career major league innings), who has pitched mostly in hitters’ parks and could get a huge bump in performance as a right-handed pitcher at AT&T Park.

The Giants typically sign at least one reliever on a minor league deal each off-season who really helps the team the next season.  The odds are good in my mind that one of Hernandez, Morris or Neil Ramirez, whom I wrote about briefly earlier this off-season, will be that relief pitcher in 2017.

Most recently, the Giants have signed veteran infielder Aaron Hill to a minor league deal.  With the recent signing of Jae-gyun Hwang, I didn’t think the Giants would sign another infielder.  Obviously, the team thought otherwise, and Hill also replaces the now gone Adrianza.

Hill is certainly a veteran presence of the kind the Giants typically value, and he has some right-handed power potential, although he really hasn’t hit for much power since the 2013 season.  The Giants could still use another right-handed hitting outfielder with pop to compete in Spring Training, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at this point.

 

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.

Former San Francisco Giants Prospect Edwin Escobar Heading to Japan’s NPB

January 11, 2017

Former Giants prospect Edwin Escobar is heading to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s NPB on a 90 million yen ($780,000) deal for the 2017 season.  What makes this deal relatively interesting is that Escobar will be only 25 in 2017, the second pitcher after Elvis Araujo, who signed with the Chunichi Dragons earlier this off-season, who will be only 25 in 2017 and expected to star immediately in NPB’s major leagues.

Escobar was one of the Giants top starting pitcher prospects in 2014, when they traded him at the trade deadline to the Boston Red Sox along with Heath Hembree for Jake Peavy.  At the time, Escobar who was only 22 years old then and pitching with promise at AAA, was the prospect who seemed to have more upside.  As it turned out Hembree has become a useful bullpen piece for the BoSox, while Escobar is moving on to Japan, because he had injury problems in 2015 and didn’t return strong in 2016.

Past history suggests that the ideal age for a North American player to start an Asian career is their age 27 season, and a majority of the North American players who head off to Asia are older than that when they go.  In the last year or so, however, we have started to see more players under age 27 trying their luck in Asia, as the immediate rewards (next year’s salary) are greater in NPB or South Korea’s KBO, and North American players are beginning to feel that success in Asia can also be used as a spring-board to return to the MLB-system at some later date.

It will be interesting to see how Escobar and Araujo do in NPB in 2017.  I would think that Araujo’s chances are better, as he has far more proven MLB experience and success.  NPB is a good enough league, and the adjustments necessary to play NPB’s style of baseball and live in Japan are such, that foreign players as young as Escobar and Araujo have a hard time getting off to the fast start needed to stick in Asian baseball.  I tend to think that players who are at least 27 as NPB or KBO rookies tend to do better in part because they are more experienced in professional baseball and more mature.

Still, Escobar’s and Araujo’s talent level appears to be high by the standards of North American players who go to play in Asia, and the experience of pitching in NPB, unless a total disaster, will probably be beneficial to their careers even if they return to the MLB system in 2018.  Playing in a league that is roughly intermediate between AAA and the MLB majors is clearly more advantageous to a player’s development than another season spent almost entirely at AAA.

More typical of the North American players who go to Asia is the 33 year old Alexi Ogando, who just signed a $1.8 million deal with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.  Ogando has the proven MLB track record that earned him what is to date the second highest contract amount for a foreign player in the KBO’s history (Esmil Rodgers signed a $1.9M contract before the 2016 season).  Howwever, I think that the Eagles overpaid for Ogando by at least $300,000, as Ogando’s 2016 performance in MLB and at AAA strongly suggest a pitcher with not a lot left in the tank and with very little chance indeed of receiving a major league contract for 2017.

Ogando will almost certainly be used as a starter in the KBO, since KBO teams don’t pay this kind of money for relievers.  We’ll have to wait and see how he does.

Talk of Banning Defensive Shifts Is Just Stupid

April 27, 2016

There was a particularly stupid article on espn.com today in which Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that if he was Commissioner he’d ban defensive shifts.  The apparent motivation for this stupid comment was the fact that Nate Eovaldi lost a no-hitter because a batter hit against a defensive shift Girardi had at least tacitly approved.  I’m not sure if I am more irritated by the inanity of Girardi’s quoted comments or the fact that ESPN presented this baloney as legitimate national baseball news.

Girardi is quoted as saying that as long as extreme, modern defensive shifts are permissible, he’ll use them (because — duh! they obviously work), but he just doesn’t like them because “it takes away from the original intent of the setup of baseball” (writer Andrew Marchand’s stupid choice of words, rather the manager’s actual stupid quoted comments).

This is just wrong on so many levels.  Originally, the 1Bman, 2Bman and 3Bman played more or less right on their respective bases all the time and the shortstop was more of a rover who roamed around the inner outfield  in 10-man softball.  Gradually, over several decades of trial and error (quite literally) between roughly 1840 and 1870, infielders and outfielders moved around until they found the optimal defensive alignments, in an era long before each hitters’ batted balls were charted, where they could best defend against batted balls.

Probably from the moment fully professional league play started in 1871, infielders moved around based on the hitting tendencies of the hitters they were defending against, based on their own personal experience of observing and reporting to their teammates each hitter’s specific tendencies.

Even the extreme defensive shifts we see today are “new” only in the sense that they are being employed more frequently, and not that the infielders or outfielders are moving any further from their “typical” positions.  A favorite trivia question of my childhood in the 1970’s and 1980’s was which team first employed the “Williams Shift,” i.e., the shortstop playing on the 1B side of second base and the 2Bman playing in short right field?

The answer is the Chicago Cubs, because the Williams Shift began in the 1920’s against left-handed hitting Phillies slugger Cy Williams, rather than the more famous Ted Williams a generation later.  You would have been a dead pull hitter too, even against the most extreme defensive shifts, if you were a left-handed batter with pop playing half of your games in the Baker Bowl.  Ted Williams and Barry Bonds didn’t change their swings or their approaches just because the infielders shifted, because pitchers usually pitched inside against them, into the shift, and right into their wheelhouses, as Teddy Ballgame once famously explained.

How can you say that a defensive strategy which has been around almost a 100 years is suddenly ruining the game?  Only if you are profoundly ignorant, or you have some other agenda.

I kind of suspect that what Girardi was really doing was trying to make his pitcher feel better better about losing his no-hitter because a hitter beat the shift Girardi called.  I doubt Girardi is a rocket scientist, but I doubt is as dumb as the reported comments make him sound.

The fact that espn.com reports this nonsense as national baseball news is perhaps more irritating because some professional editor really ought to know better.  Making these kinds of facile arguments and presenting them as legitimate debate brings down the entire level of the conversation.  Sort of like Marco Rubio making insufficiently veiled negative references regarding the size of Donald Trump’s penis, and Trump assuring the American television public in no uncertain terms that he is sufficiently endowed to be POTUS.  While unconscious assumptions about Presidential candidates’ respective virility has probably played a much greater role in their ultimate success or failure than any of us would care to admit, it certainly does not elevate the discussion to make those unconscious assumptions explicit.

Another way to see how ridiculous Girardi’s claim is to take it to its logical conclusion.  Do we put pitcher’s rubbers (or 19th century pitcher’s boxes) at every infield and outfield position and insist that each fielder make contact with it before the pitcher releases the ball or the batter puts the ball in play?  Do we ban cannon-armed, but slow of foot shortstops like Cal Ripken from positioning themselves on the outfield grass?  Do we ban outfielders who are exceptionally good at going back on the ball like Tris Speaker from playing too shallow for fear they might take away too many Texas League hits?  Do we put additional chalk lines all over the infield to make sure infielders don’t shy away too far from their assigned bases?

Look, if a team wants to play put all seven defenders behind the pitcher in the right field corner, I say let them.  The answer to more defensive shifts is obvious: find more hitters who can hit against the shift.  If a left-handed pull-hitter’s value as a slugger is so great that the opposing team wants to play seven defenders to the right of second base, how does it desecrate baseball to let the fielding team have that option?  If the value of left-handed power hitters is diminished somewhat by modern shifting, that means the value of players of the type who were baseball’s greatest hitting stars before 1920 will be elevated somewhat.  How can that possibly be a travesty to the history of the national pastime?

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I’ve written several posts on this subject, which have proven quite popular, the last about two years ago, so it feels like a good time for an update.

As we enter the 2016 season, below are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six seasons, 2010 through 2015 (four seasons for Marlins Park which opened in 2012).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.427.  Coors Field remains far and away the best hitters’ in MLB by a wide margin.  Every other stadium had a season or two between 2010 and 2015 well out of line with its overall average position except Coors Field.  It was the best hitters’ park in MLB five of the six seasons, usually by a lot, and a strong second in the sixth season.

2.  Globe Life Park at Arlington (Rangers) 1.144.  Globe Life Park remains the best hitters’ park in the American League.

3.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.107.

4.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.093.

5.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.083.

6.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.072.

7.  Yankee Stadium 1.059.

8.    U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.058.  One of the more variable parks in MLB, U.S. Cellular Field was a pitchers’ park in 2015, but a strong hitters’ park in 2010 and 2012.

9. Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) 1.047.  A pitchers’ park in 2015, Rogers Center was a hitters’ park every other year of the last six.

10.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.045.

11.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.034.  Long regarded as one of the best hitters’ parks in MLB, Wrigley was a pitchers’ park in 2014 and 2015, bringing it’s six year average down considerably.

12.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.026.

13.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.027.  25 or 30 years ago, Kauffman Stadium was one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball.  However, the newer parks built starting with Camden Yards in 1992, have for the most part been much better hitters’ parks than the ballparks they replaced.  The casual fans want to see offense, and the modern parks have largely catered to that desire with resulting attendance increases.

14.  Target Field (Twins) 1.013.  The Twins’ new ball park looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ park after the first couple of seasons of play there.  However, it now looks to be a slight hitters’ park.

15.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.005.

16.  Nationals Park 1.004.

17.  Marlins Park (2012-2015) 1.000.  The Marlins’ new park appears to be as close to a perfectly level playing field for pitchers and hitters as currently exists in MLB, at least based on the first four seasons of play there.

18.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.992.  Progressive Field was the second best hitters’ park in MLB last year, after five consecutive seasons as a moderate pitchers’ park.  2015 was almost certainly a fluke.

19.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.987.  Once known as Ten-run Park, when it was named after failed energy company Enron, Minute Maid Park varies wildly between a hitters’ park and pitchers’ park from season to season.

20.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.972.

21.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.957.

22.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.941.  O.co isn’t as much of a pitchers’ park as it once was, more or less switching places with Angel Stadium, another now antiquated multi-use stadium from the 1960’s.

23.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.927.

24.  Dodger Stadium 0.906.

25.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.894.

26.  Angel Stadium 0.877.  The fact that Angel Stadium is now one of the worst hitters’ parks in MLB gives one additional appreciation of just how good Mike Trout is as an offensive player.

27.  Citi Field (Mets) 0.876.

28.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.857.

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.842.  The Mariners and the Padres moved their outfield fences in before the 2013 season in order to goose offensive production.  It hasn’t helped a whole lot, as both parks remained among the worst hitters’ parks in MLB from 2013-2015.

29.    AT&T Park (Giants) 0.842.  AT&T varies a lot season to season, but in 2011, 2012 and 2015 it was a strong pitchers’ park.

The Pitcher Most Likely to Reach 300 Wins

October 31, 2015

Three years ago I wrote a piece in which I opined that it was more likely than not that an active MLB pitcher would win 300 games.  Only a year later, my opinion changed, and as of today, I am more convinced than ever that the likelihood that any pitcher now pitching will win 300 games is less than 50%.

After the 2012 season, there were a number of pitchers I thought had a reasonable chance of winning 300.  Since then, all have either gotten hurt, lost effectiveness, or are reportedly on the verge of getting hurt.

Added to that, the trend of starting pitchers pitching fewer innings and fewer complete games has only gotten stronger, making season win totals as much a matter of luck as a matter of performance.  I also think that the trend of increasingly enormous baseball players decreases the chance of another 300 game winner among today’s pitchers — pitchers can get bigger and stronger and throw harder, but their joints can’t keep up with the increased stresses professional pitchers put on their pitching arms.

Currently, Tim Hudson and Bartolo Colon are the active wins leaders with 222 and 218 career wins, respectively.  Neither has any reasonable chance to win 300 games.  Hudson has already announced his retirement, and Colon, no matter how long he wishes to continue pitching, is simply too old at age 42 to hang around long enough to reach 300 wins.

However, Tim Hudson’s Hall of Fame chances are now looking pretty good.  Ten years from now 220+ wins is going to look like a lot among HOF eligible pitchers.  The main thing standing in his way is the fact that he hasn’t led his league many times in major statistical categories.

Here are the active pitchers I think have the best shot at 300 wins.

1.  Felix Hernandez (143 wins through his age 29 season).  A year ago there was a lot of talk that Hernandez was on the verge of an elbow injury.  So far, he’s proven the speculation wrong, winning 18 games in 2015.  He’s also one of only two active pitchers who is significantly ahead of the career win average for his age (starting at age 30) of the last four 300 game winners (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson).

However, Hernandez’s 2015 performance raises a lot of questions.  He pitched the fewest innings of any season since 2008, while winning more games that any season since 2009.  His ERA was up, and his strike out rate was down.  While he’s still on track for 300 career wins, he’s only 47.7% of the way there, and one has to wonder if 2016 won’t be the year that last off-season’s predictions of impending arm failure prove accurate.

2.  Clayton Kershaw (114 wins through his age 27 season).  Kershaw has the best arm in baseball, but history hasn’t been kind to pitchers who have thrown as many innings before age 27 as Kershaw has.  My original article three years ago listed Matt Cain, a big-bodied pitcher who had won a lot of games young while never appearing to be over-taxed by all the innings he threw at a tender age.  Well, “the Horse” got long in the tooth after his age 27 season.

Kershaw was absolutely still at the top of his game in 2015.  The question is whether he’ll still be wracking up the wins after his age 30 or 31 season.  No modern pitcher has any chance of winning 300 games unless he’s winning an average of 15 games a year in the back half of his 30’s.

3.  Mark Buehrle.  (214 wins through age 36).  I don’t think of Mark Buehrle as a guy who is going to win 300 games, but you can’t ignore the fact that he just keeps on adding to his career wins total.  That said, one has to wonder how many more years Buehrle can continue to win more games than he loses with a 4.1 K/9IP rate, even with his 2015 2.8 K/BB ratio.  Buehrle’s command and knowledge of the art of pitching is such that I think he’ll be around for a few more years.  However, his diminishing stuff is likely to drum him out of MLB before he reaches 3oo wins.

4.  Justin Verlander (157 wins through age 32).  Three years ago I thought Verlander had the best chance of any active pitcher to win 300 games, and I thought the same thing two years ago.  No more!  He was an average starter in 2014 and missed a couple of months on the DL in 2015.  It’s certainly possible that Verlander still has great seasons ahead of him, but at only 52.3% of the way to 300 wins, he surely isn’t likely to win 300.

5.  CC Sabathia (214 wins through age 34).  CC is the other pitcher who is ahead of the average wins by age of the last generation’s 300 game winners.  However, I never thought CC was a good bet to win 300, because pitchers his size historically break down fast after their age 32 seasons.  In fact, CC’s numbers declined dramatically in his age 32 season (2013), and he was hurt in both 2014 and 2015.

CC is such a good pitcher that, if the alcohol rehab treatment takes and he drops his weigh below 260 lbs and keeps it there, he could gut it out to 260 or even 270 career wins.  However, there’s no way to go back in time and take off all the weight on his joints from seasons past.  Do you see CC averaging better than 14 wins per season from 2016 through his age 40 season in 2021?  I sure don’t.

6.  Zack Greinke (142 wins through age 31).  Greinke is a smallish right-hander who hasn’t shown an ability to eat innings without consequences.  However, he was extremely efficient in his 222.2 IP in 2015 by virtue of his league-leading WHIP.  I can’t see Greinke lasting long enough to reach 300 wins, but he was arguably the best pitcher in MLB in his age 31 season, so you can’t completely write him off.

7.  David Price (104 wins through age 29).  Currently one of MLB’s very best, but he has a long way to go to 300 wins.  Of all the pitchers on this list under age 32 in 2015, he is probably the best bet to pitch well well into his 30’s.

8.  Jon Lester (127 wins through age 31).  Lester had a fine year in 2015, although it wasn’t reflected in his win column.  He’s locked himself into pitching his home games at Wrigley Field through 2020, which probably isn’t a great place to be for a pitcher hoping to win 300 games.

9.  Cole Hamels (121 wins through age 31).  Another pitcher still at the top of his game who finds himself locked into a hitters’ park for the next few seasons.  Although he appears to have the right body type, he would need to average better than 16 wins a year from 2016 through his age 42 season to reach 300 wins.  Doesn’t seem likely.

10.  Madison Bumgarner (85 wins through age 25).  Bumgarner’s situation is pretty much the same as Kershaw’s above, except that Bumgarner isn’t as far along in his career.  Statistically, his age 25 season was his best with terrific WHIP, K/IP and K/BB rates.  The odds are good that Bumgarner will be just as good or even better the next two or three seasons.  However, what Bumgarner does after age 30 will determine his ability to reach 300 wins, and that is too far into the future to make any real projections.