Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Phillies’ category

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2018

May 12, 2018

Shohei Ohtani has more or less blown up any discussion of the best hitting pitchers in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be the next two-way player, although he’s still got a long way to go and his hitting abilities may not be able to keep up with his pitching abilities as he shoots up through the minors.  McKay is already ready for a promotion to A+ ball as a pitcher, and I wouldn’t hold him back to let his hitting catch up.  Still, major league pitchers who can also pinch hit should have value in today’s extreme relief pitching game.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  I didn’t want to jump on the Ohtani as hitter bandwagon too soon, but I was convinced he’s for real (even if he doesn’t continue to bat .344 and produce over 1.000) when he beat the shift with a double down the left field line about a week ago.  Ohtani has what it takes to be a great major league hitter, although he’ll face his forced adjustments and his hitting performance will be affected by the many games in which he does not bat.  That said, the baby-faced 23 year old phenom can hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher, but the bloom is off the rose compared to Ohtani, who will be DHing three times a week until major league baseball pitchers prove they can get him out.  A one-on-one Ohtani-MadBum home run derby at the All-Star Break would be an enormous amount of fun.  Madbum should be healthy by then.

3.  Zack Greinke  (.229 BA, .579 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.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.229, .564).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher may be over, but he sure could hit.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.181 BA, .561 OPS).  A poor start to the 2018 season has brought Syndergaard’s batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he has power and will take a walk.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson has had only one plate appearance since 2012, but he could hit.

8.   Mike Leake (.200, .511).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.214, .485) and Tyson Ross (.199, .476).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable MentionsCC Sabathia (.212, .539)  CC hasn’t had a hit since 2010, but he could hit when he had the opportunity to bat more than three or four times a season.  Travis Wood (.185, .537).  Wood’s major league career appears over.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.226, .618).  A shoulder injury has prevented Lorenzen from pitching or hitting so far in 2018.  Ty Blach (.194, .505) hit as a rookie in 2017 but is off to a terrible start with the bat in 2018.  Ben Lively (.182, .545) still has to prove he can be a major league starter.

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Lop-Sided Wins

April 8, 2018

As I write this the Phillies are beating up on the Marlins 20-1 in the late innings.  The game is being played in Philadelphia, and when I saw the box score, I was reminded of the quote attributed to famous Yankees’ owner and beer baron Col. Ruppert, who said that his favorite day at the ballpark was when the Yankees scored 10 runs in the first inning “and then slowly pulled away.”  Other internet sources state that Ruppert said either 8 runs or 5 runs in the first inning, but I first heard it as 10 runs and my own personal preference is for the 10 runs.

I’m sure any of you who are long-time baseball fans rooting for a specific team have attended at least a couple of total blow-outs by the home nine, and I, for one, always found these games extremely enjoyable.  There’s nothing like seeing all of your home-town heroes pound out one hit after another to the point of complete massacre. The high-drama games are great, but only if your team wins at the end.

It’s also fun when your pitcher is pitching well in these games.  He’s full of confidence, because, lord knows, he won’t give up ten runs, so the moundsman, if he’s worth his salt, pounds the zone and challenges the losers to hit it.  Even if they do, it’s always right at a fielder in these games.  That keeps the game moving along, even while the home team is busy running around the bases in their half of each inning.

As a Giants fan entering his 41st season of active fandom (I attended a game or two in 1977 and rooted for the Giants, because at that age I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t root for the home team, but I didn’t really become a serious fan until 1978, when a Jack ClarkVida BlueBob Knepper team held first place into August), I have come to learn that 16-3 victories are typically followed by 3-2 losses.

For what it’s worth, two teams have scored ten runs in the first inning and gone on to lose the game.  On June 8, 1989, the Pirates put up ten runs in the first inning, but the Phillies put up crooked numbers in the bottom half of the first and four subsequent innings and won 15-11.  On August 23, 2006, the Royals scored 10 runs in the bottom of the first to go up 10-1, but the Indians scored in six of the following nine innings to pull out a 15-13 win.  I don’t think it’s happened again since 2006, but I didn’t look very hard.

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.

Philadelphia Phillies To Sign Jake Arrieta for Three Years at $75 Million

March 12, 2018

The Phillies and Jake Arrieta have reportedly reached a deal that guarantees Arrieta $75 million over three seasons.  This is perhaps the contract for Arrieta that could have been predicted much earlier this off-season, as teams showed a strong preference for shelling out big bucks but for fewer seasons during the first half of this free agency period.  Arrietta receives well less than expected, but he certainly didn’t take a beating like Mike Moustakas.

Aside from the term and the guarantee, Arietta’s contract is interesting and full of the kind of crafty, creative terms we’ve come to expect from Steve Boras.  The deal is heavily front loaded, with Arietta receiving $30M in 2018, $25M in 2019 and $20M in 2020.  More evidence of many teams’ new preference for paying players the most when they reasonably predict the player’s performance value will be highest and paying less for the anticipated decline seasons.  This makes budgeting in future seasons easier, but loses the time value of money of the traditional back-loaded multi-year deals.

After two seasons, Arrieta has an opt-out, except that the Phils can void the opt-out by guaranteeing two additional years (2021-2022) at $20 million per.  The $20M per can be elevated up to $25M per based on games started or up to $30M per based on Cy Young Award finishes in 2018-2019, meaning, I suppose, that Arrieta could earn as much as $60M or $70M more than the $75M guarantee if he wins the Cy Young Award in either 2018 or 2019.

Arrieta and Boras didn’t get what they were expecting, but it’s still hard to have much sympathy for either.  Arrieta is still guaranteed a pile of money, which could nearly double if Arrieta is as good going forward as Boras claims he will be.

For a team that lost 96 games last off-season, the Phillies sure spent a lot of money on free agents this off-season.  None of the deals is longer than three years, so the Phillies must think they can be competitive by 2019, or the deals don’t appear to make much sense.

However, the Phillies play in a big and potentially lucrative market, and I definitely think it’s easier to develop young players on a good team than a terrible one.  It’s nice to see at least one MLB team this off-season — and you also have to give credit to both the Twins and the Brewers for doing the same — really trying to make itself better for 2018 this off-season.

Evidence of Collusion?

February 18, 2018

A lot has been made of the incredibly slow free agent market this off-season and the fact that teams seem less willing to spend on free agents than they were only a few years ago.  The MLBPA and player agents have expressed their concerns that teams are again colluding, and Scott Boras pointed to recent statements by Commissioner Rob Manfred that several free agents had received offers over nine figures, information he would not have unless teams were sharing information about their offers with each other or the Commissioner’s office.

However, Manfred’s statements don’t mean a whole lot, since he can claim media reports as his source of information that several free agents have received offers over $100 million.  Rumors have abounded that all of Yu Darvish (now proven), J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer have received offers above the golden $100 million mark.  In fact, at the start of the off-season, all three were predicted to do well better than a mere $100 million in guaranteed money.  The real dispute is that these players are only getting $100M to $126M guaranteed offers instead of the $140M to $160M guaranteed offers anticipated.

One fact that suggests teams collectively are fighting to keep player salaries down is the 22 salary arbitration cases this off-season that went to decision.  That’s the most salary arbitration cases to go to decision since the 1994 strike, and it beats the previous highs (14 in each of 2001, 2015 and 2017) by more than 50%.

The players went 12-10 in the 22 cases this off-season and went 7-7 last off-season.  Historically, the owners have won 57% of all salary arbitration decisions (319 out of 562) going back to 1974, including the results from the last two off-seasons.  There’s certainly something in both the number of salary arbitration cases going to decision and the outcomes to suggest that for the last two off-seasons at least (while there were 14 salary arbitration decisions in early 2015, the owners won eight of them, and there only four arbitration decisions in 2016) teams are taking a harder line on agreeing to raises for salary arbitration eligible players their teams intend to keep.

Obviously, one can’t make too much out of the salary arbitration results for only two off-seasons.  Each off-season features individual decisions by eligible players and teams in negotiating a salary increase or going to arbitration hearing, and the salary arbitration process is now advanced enough that both sides have fairly good ideas of what are reasonable salary proposals based on precedent and where the arbitrators can accept only one of the two numbers submitted.

At the same time, when taking this year’s exceptionally high number of salary arbitration decisions into account with the obvious drop in interest in and the bidding on free agents this off-season, it does appear that teams are as a group making greater efforts to limit the amount of revenues they have to pay out to players as compensation.  Whether that’s a result of active collusion between the owners, or merely the result of normal market capitalism as effected by better player value analytics and the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, remains to be determined.

For what it’s worth, even though owners have won roughly 57% of all salary arbitration decisions, the players love salary arbitration while the owners hate it.  The reason is that now even the poorest, stingiest, least interested in winning teams have to pay their good salary arbitration eligible players the same amount of money as the wealthiest teams have to pay.  Salary arbitration in conjunction with free agency has caused the enormous increase in player salaries since 1974.

Also, I strongly suspect that free agents have less value today than they did, say ten years ago, is because we have had the longest period without expansion since MLB’s expansion era began in 1961.  When you add in that MLB teams are bringing in more and more foreign talent from more countries, the level of play at the major league level is extremely high and it’s relatively easier to replace or acquire talent outside of free agency.

I contend that the current circumstances are akin to MLB in the 1950’s when there had been no successful MLB expansion since 1901 and black and dark-skinned Latino stars were allowed to play in the white leagues for the first time since the 1880’s.   The addition of only two additional expansion teams would have a big impact on the relative value of free agents, because there would be more demand for the elite players good enough to reach free agency based on six full seasons of major league service.  You would also see more players like Fernando Abad, who just received a non-guaranteed deal from the Phillies despite a 3.30 ERA with the Red Sox last year, get guaranteed major league deals.

San Francisco Giants Sign the Blanchos

January 31, 2018

The Giants are bringing in Gregor Blanco and Andres Blanco on minor league deals.  It’s good to see Gregor come back, and he’s depth at AAA Sacramento, since Jarrett Parker is out of options and Gorkys Hernandez is a younger, better fielding version of Gregor.

Andres plays 2nd, 3rd, in an emergency shortstop, and other positions as needed.  He had a really good year in 2015 at the age of 31, but then got old fast as he now enters his age 34 season.

Andres needs to have a great spring.  His contract promises him $1.1M if he makes the team plus $400,000 in incentives.  If he doesn’t make the team, he can opt out of his MiLB career (I’d guestimate $125,000 per annum for minor league service time) if an Asian team comes calling.  This is probably a common term for older players willing to play in the Asian leagues and signing minor league agreements.

It seems likely Andre was signed to push Kelby Tomlinson and in case Tomlinson gets hurt, because with Tomlinson going into his age 28 season, that role has to be his to lose.

The Virtual Travels of Engelb Vielma

January 26, 2018

Engelb Vielma‘s virtual odyssey this off-season continued today as the San Francisco Giants traded Vielma to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash considerations.  Vielma finished the 2017 season in the Twins’ minor league system.  He was claimed by the Giants off waivers, then by the Phillies, then by the Pirates, then by the Giants again, and after the Giants designated Vielma for assignment for the fifth time this off-season, the Orioles presumably claimed him and a modest deal was worked out.

Of course, all of this movement has been solely on paper, as Vielma played winter ball in Venezuela, his homeland, and almost certainly hasn’t left Venezuela since the winter season began there.  He’ll instead just wait until Spring Training until his agent or his then team tells him where to report.

Vielma’s “come here-come here-come here-go away-go away-go away” status is almost entirely due to his specific situation.  He is an excellent defensive middle infielder who doesn’t turn 24 until late June 2018.  In 508 AA level plate appearances, Vielma has slashed .275/.350/.321, which is just fine for a quick middle infielder who defends as well as he does.  However, in 314 plate appearances at the AAA level in 2017, Vielma slashed an absolutely brutal .206/.233/.260.

A player his age with his glove who has proven he can hit AA pitching is still a prospect.  That’s why teams keep claiming him off waivers.  The reason why teams keep designating him for assignment is because he will almost certainly become a minor league free agent after the 2018 season if he is not on a major league roster at that time.  He’s thus not a guy that’s worth keeping on the 40-man roster, because the odds aren’t particularly good that he can contribute at the major league level in 2018 before he may well become a free agent.

The reason he’s moved around so much this off-season is that teams keep trying to slip him through waivers in order to protect somebody else on the 40-man roster, but another team with roster space keeps coming in and claiming him.  From Vielma’s perspective, it’s good to know that many teams want him enough to keep claiming him, because it means that when/if he becomes a minor league free agent, there will be multiple teams competing to sign him to minor league deal, at least so long as he shows some meaningful improvement with the bat (an OPS of at least .590 or .600) at the AAA level in 2018.