Archive for the ‘Pittsburg Pirates’ category

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.

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon and Other Developments

December 7, 2016

There was an article in the SF Chronicle today entitled, “New Giants Closer Mark Melancon Explains Why He Picked SF.”  Surprisingly, the quote, “They gave me a sh*$-load of money!” appears nowhere in the article.

The Giants were determined to sign Mark Melancon and they did by the basic expedient of offering him the most money.  It’s an all-in kind of move since Melancon will be 32 in 2017, but now is the time for one last run at going deep into the post-season with this core of players.

Today’s big news is the Chris Sale trade.  It’s a hard pill to swallow for Chi-Sox fans, given that they had a good chance at their first over .500 season since 2011 going in to the upcoming season, and now they most certainly do not. The team went 18-14 in Sale’s 32 2016 starts, which means the team without him is going to have to be about 12 games better than they were last year to finish 2017 with a winning record.

From White Sox management’s perspective, though, the move makes a great deal of sense.  Sale was definitely a squeaky wheel in 2016, and the White Sox got a boat-load of young talent in exchange for the three years of now bargain-price control on Sale’s contract.  Yoan Moncado, Michael Kopech and Luis Basabe all look like great prospects, and Chicago got a fourth B-level prospect to boot.  Things might look up dramatically for the White Sox in 2018 or 2019.

Joe Biagini Was Great for the Toronto Blue Jays, or Mark Melancon on My Mind

October 16, 2016

Joe Biagini pitched two shutout innings in a losing cause to the Tribe today, and it finally made me take full notice of just what a great rookie season he’s had for the Blue Jays after they claimed him in the Rule 5 draft from the San Francisco Giants.

I had written up Biagini before about his great start at AA Richmond in late May of last year.  I remember noting in my own mind, at least, that the Jays had claimed him in the Rule 5 draft, but apparently didn’t think it was worth writing about.  I also seem to recall noting that he had made the team out of Spring Training and that he was off to a good start.

Then I forgot about him.  As I had written in May 2015, Biagini’s final numbers in AA that year essentially matched his numbers at the time I wrote about him.  Biagini finished the year with a 2.42 ERA in 130.1 innings pitched.  However, he struck out only 84 batters, a sharp drop down from previous years to a 5.8 strikeout rate.

Figuring out that Biagini might be much better in relief was either a based on scouting or an educated guess.  He struck out 62 in 67.2 IP major league innings, an 8.4 rate, which is fine for a top set-up reliever.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account from his numbers is his very low home run rate, which at 0.5 is terrific.  His ability to keep from giving up the long-ball really helped him this year.

I certainly wish the best for Biagini going forward, particularly since he didn’t necessarily have a role in the Giants’ pen this year, which already had lots of relievers as good Biagini.  What killed them was not having someone who could consistently pitch the 9th inning.

So, the Giants are reported to be interested in Mark Melancon as the least expensive of the big three free agent relievers available this Winter.  Well, the Giants can certainly afford him.  I could see him getting five years and $50+ million, given how bad management probably wants a top closer.