Archive for the ‘Pittsburg Pirates’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men, Part II: The Pitchers

October 20, 2017

Here are some starting pitchers who seem like good bets to sign with a KBO or NPB team for 2018:

Drew Hutchinson (27 in 2018).  Hutchinson looked like a burgeoning star in 2014 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he’s only thrown 24 major league innings since the start of the 2016 season.  He didn’t pitch in the Show at all this year, despite posting a strong 3.56 ERA in 26 starts for the International League’s Indianapolis Indians.

One would think that Hutchinson would be receptive to a guaranteed offer from an NPB club; and one or two strong seasons in Japan could put his MLB career back on track.

Wilmer Font (28).  Font hasn’t pitched much in the majors (7 IP over eight appearances with an ugly 11.57 ERA), but he was dominating for the Pacific Coast League’s Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017.  His 3.42 ERA was the only ERA under 4.00 by any PCL pitcher who threw at least 115 innings, and his pitching line of 134.1 IP, 114 hits, 11 HRs and 35 BBs allowed and a whopping 178 Ks was even better.

Font will have a hard time breaking through with the pitching rich Dodgers, and I would expect a KBO team in particular to make him a strong offer.

Justin Masterson (33), Tom Koehler (32) and Dillon Gee (32).  A trio of veterans with substantial MLB resumes, all three look to be at a point in their respective careers where the Asian majors would be each pitcher’s option, at least if they want to continue starting.  Masterson, also pitching for the OKC Dodgers, recorded the PCL’s second best ERA at 4.13 and recorded 140 Ks in 141.2 IP, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.

Koehler pitched well in relief for the Blue Jays late in the 2017 season, but might well get a better offer to be a starter for an Asian team than a reliever for an MLB one in 2018.  Pretty much the same for Dillon Gee.

T.J. House (28).  House was pretty good for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA and 108 Ks in 133.1 IP.  He also has enough of an MLB track record that he might interest an Asian team.

Anthony Bass (30).  Bass pitched for NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 and pitched pretty well (3.65 ERA in 103.2 IP), although he was not invited back.  This year, he pitched well enough for the PCL’s Round Rock Express (4.18 ERA, 87 Ks in 75.1 IP) to get a two game cup of coffee with the Rangers.  He seems like he’d be a good bet for a KBO team in 2018.

Other starting pitchers who might well get an Asian offer too good to pass up are Williams Perez (27), Cody Martin (28), Michael Blazek (29), Vance Worley (30) and Paolo Espino (31).

The relief candidates for NPB in 2018 (KBO teams only want starters) number as many as 50.  These are the ones I like best.

Louis Coleman, Al Alburquerque and Ernesto Frieri (all 32).  A trio of live-armed, proven MLB relievers who pitched great in AAA in 2017, but aren’t likely to get major league contract offers for 2018.  It’s reasonable to assume that at least one of them will be pitching in Japan next season.

Preston Claiborne (30).  He’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, but didn’t get much of a look from the Rangers in spite of a 1.89 ERA and 16 saves at AAA Round Rock.

Bruce Rondon (27) and Blaine Hardy (31).  A couple of Tiger hurlers who may well be non-tendered this off-season, because both are arbitration eligible.

Jack Leathersich (27), Dayan Diaz (29) and Simon Castro (30).  Will they or won’t they receive major league contract offers from their current MLB teams?  That is the question that will most likely determine their receptiveness to any Asian offers.

Other reasonable relief possibilities: Michael Tonkin (28), Alex Wimmers (29), Brandon Cunniff (29), Deolis Guerra (29), Felix Doubront (30), Josh Smith (30), Jason Gurka (30), Zac Rosscup (30), Jeff Beliveau (31), Rhiner Cruz (31), Erik Davis (31), Pat “Switch Pitcher” Venditte (33) and Edward Mujica (34).

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The Best Foreign* Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 12, 2017

* This post is a work in progress.  The CPBL’s website is in Chinese using Chinese characters.  Figuring out who the foreign players are for someone like me who has no knowledge of written Chinese is an inexact science.  I have not included Japanese or Korean players in my lists, if there are any who qualify, because it is simply too difficult to figure out who all the Japanese and Korean players are.  I invite anyone with an interest to correct or supplement my lists.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely for the last three or four years now, and it strikes me as time for a list of the best foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 28 year long history.  I won’t bother with foreign hitters at this time, since it does not appear that any foreign position players have played in the league since the end of the 2015 season.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.      Jonathan Hurst       76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

3.      Mike Loree                62-33     MiLB, Indy-A stats

4.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer               55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

8.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

9.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even better than either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL.  His 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, firmly establishes him as one of the circuit’s all-time best foreign pitchers.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

2.     Jonathan Hurst       2.56

3.     Joe Strong                 2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna                3.16

7.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.22

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.

Roman will be 39 in 2018, and it remains to be seen if he will return to CBPL next season.  Given his experience, he is surely high paid by CPBL standards (he probably makes $25,000 a month for a seven month season), and his second half of 2017 wasn’t great — he had a first half ERA of 3.95 and a second half ERA of 4.96.  Given that the CPBL plays a split season and Roman’s age, the China Trust Brothers may decide he isn’t a good risk for the money next year.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Jonathan Hurst     779

3.     Enrique Burgos     736

4.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

5.     Mike Loree             640

6.     John Burgos          541

7.     Mark Kiefer           532

8.     Orlando Roman   564

9.     Jose Nunez           511

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

4.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more, with the Uni-President 7-11 Lions the only team that’s still looking for the next great foreign closer.  They haven’t found him yet, although Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the Lions in 2015.  As recently as 2014, Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around.  If the player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players come back to the CPBL later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

The CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help.

What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

August 14, 2017

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

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.

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.

The KBO Is All in for 2017

January 24, 2017

South Korea’s KBO teams have been spending dramatically more money on free agents and foreign players this off-season than they did even a year ago.  I suspect the surge in investment is connected directly to the 2017 World Baseball Classic to be played in March, some of which games will be played in Seoul, South Korea.

Professional baseball in South Korea is heavily dependent on the national team’s showing in the World Baseball Classic to generate future attendance increases.  In 2009, South Korea surprised the world with a strong second place finish in that year’s WBC, and KBO attendance surged starting with the 2009 regular season.

In 2013, South Korea was surprisingly knocked out of the WBC in the first round (three of the four teams in their initial pool went 2-1 with the South Korean team having the worst runs scored/runs allowed differential and thus failing to move on the second round).  KBO attendance dropped dramatically in 2013, and has only just in 2016 caught up to where it was before the national team’s ignominious 2013 WBC performance.

With Pool A’s games being played in South Korea, the South Korean baseball world is expecting the home team to have an advantage.  If the national team makes the final game again, I would expect KBO attendance to surge in 2017.  Anything less than a top four finish, however, it’s likely that KBO 2017 attendance will be down from 2016.

Right now, it’s looking like some of South Korea’s best players won’t be playing in this year’s WBC.  Jung-ho Kang is off the national team after being arrested recently on his third drunk driving charge.  Shin-soo Choo will miss the WBC because of injury concerns of his MLB team, the Texas Rangers.  Top starter Kwang-hyun Kim had or is going to have elbow surgery this month.

Needless to say, every national team has to deal with injuries to one degree or another.  However, with as much as the KBO has riding on this WBC, not to mention South Korea in general, the loss of any of South Korea’s top players has to be cause for consternation.

Japanese baseball fandom also puts a great deal of weight on their national team’s performance in international events.  I expect that a Championship performance, or, conversely, a disappointing performance in the WBC has a discernable effect on NPB attendance.  However, I very much doubt that the effect is anywhere near as dramatic as in the KBO.

NPB has roughly 50 years of history on the KBO, which only started play in 1982.  I, therefore, suspect both that NPB teams have solid fan bases and fans sophisticated enough to realize that performance in as small a sample size as the WBC doesn’t really prove much of anything, at least when Japan’s team doesn’t win.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the average baseball fan doesn’t spend much time thinking about the World Baseball Classic one way or another.  We have MLB, the undisputed world’s best baseball league, and most MLB stars don’t even play in the WBC because their major teams don’t want their players getting hurt in what MLB considers mere exhibition games.

As a die-hard baseball fan, I find the WBC interesting in terms of which teams perform well each go ’round, and I’m sure it would be interesting to attend individual games, particularly if you can see Asian stars we don’t see much of in the U.S.  However, I don’t put much stock in what amounts to a series of one-game series to determine the alleged “world’s best” national team.

Yomiuri Giants Sign Arquimedes Camerino

December 19, 2016

The Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s NPB just signed former Seattle Mariner and Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Arquimedes Camerino to a $1.15 million contract for 2017.  I don’t usually write about individual signings of players from the Americas to play in Japan or South Korea, because most readers don’t really care, but I decided to write about this one because it seems like such a good one for Yomiuri.

Most former MLBers who go to play in Asia for more money are 4-A players, who are a little too good to keep playing at AAA but haven’t succeeded in MLB in limited opportunities, or veteran players who are trying to squeeze out one or two more years of major league level pay at the end of their MLB careers.  However, there are surprisingly few proven MLB players still relatively close to their primes who elect to go to Japan or South Korea, like Camerino has now done.

Camerino did not pitch as well last year as his 3.66 ERA would suggest, particularly after the Pirates traded him to the Mariners.  The Mariners are reportedly deep in right-handed middle relievers and may not have had room for Camerino, even though he is not yet arbitration eligible and would have been a very low re-sign at somewhere between $550,000 and $600,000, depending on what the M’s scale is for not yet arbitration-eligible players with two-plus years of MLB service time.  Even if the Mariners didn’t want him, it’s hard to believe they could not have found a trade partner, in light of Camerino’s record over the last two MLB seasons (130 games pitched with a roughly 3.6 ERA) and the fact that Camerino has one of the best fastballs in MLB.

Given his age (he’ll be 30 next season), it certainly makes sense for Camerino to jump at the chance to make twice as much money to play in Japan in 2017 than he’d make in MLB.  His odds of success in Japan have to be considered high.  He reminds me, in terms of major league track record, of Dustin Nippert and Randy Messenger, both of whom have made my lists of the most successful foreign pitchers to pitch in the KBO and NPB respectively.  Camerino’s big fastball but not quite MLB command reminds me of Marc Kroon and Dennis Sarfate, the most successful foreign closers (in terms of career saves) in NPB history.  With a slightly wider strike zone and hitters who aren’t quite as good as MLB hitters and thus can be challenged with a high 90’s heater more often, these pitchers can be absolutely dominating in NPB.

Why don’t NPB and KBO teams sign more somewhat successful major leaguers like Camerino?  It mostly comes down to money.  A few KBO teams are now willing to invest $1.15 million on a foreign rookie to KBO.  However, KBO teams want starting pitchers for this money, not relief pitchers like Camerino.

Even in NPB, $1.15 million is a lot of money for a foreign rookie relief pitcher, and Yomiuri is one of only three wealthy NPB teams reasonably willing to make this kind of commitment.  Yomiuri, the Hanshin Tigers and the Softbank Hawks could all reasonably afford to sign a better class of former MLB players than they typically do, but they for the most part obey an unwritten league-wide salary structure which allows these teams to spend just enough more than the other nine teams to consistently remain in the top half of the standings each year and no more.

Asian teams tend to treat their foreign imports as a fungible commodity until an individual player actually develops a track record in NPB or KBO.  Given the money Asian teams are willing to pay, and the quality of players they typically sign, it is really hit or miss whether any one player will succeed or quickly wash out in Asia (Asian teams are not patient with the rookie foreign players except in rare cases when the player’s entire contract is guaranteed), so Asian teams don’t want to make a big financial commitment, even for only one year, to a foreigner who hasn’t yet proven he can excel in Asia.

Add to these facts, the fact that a lot of players from the Americas don’t want to play in Asia under any circumstances.  Camerino is also somewhat exceptional in that he is definitely a late bloomer.  A pitcher only two years younger than Camerino with the same MLB track record and service time would be far more likely to want to take his chances remaining in the MLB system.  Camerino is the kind of pitcher who can blossom late, because his fastball is so big that he’s got more time to improve his command than a typical professional pitching prospect would.  That’s also exactly what makes him such a promising prospect to become a major star in Japan.