Archive for the ‘San Diego Padres’ category

Eric Thames’ Hot Start

April 27, 2017

I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start.  He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.

Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO.  The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat.  They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.

In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed.  He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed.  It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.

Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results.  Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.

However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money.  He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities.  It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.

Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers.  He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.

Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball.  It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.

Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.

I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it.  It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.

Sorry to See Clayton Blackburn Go

April 19, 2017

In the recent roster machinations that put Buster Posey on the 7-Day Concussion list and prompted a brief call-up of Tim Federowicz, the Giants elected to drop Clayton Blackburn from the 40-man roster.  That placed Blackburn on waivers, and the Giants were forced to trade him to the Rangers for young middle infielder Frandy De La Rosa.

I first became aware of Blackburn when he had a huge year in 2012 at Class A Augusta at the age of 19.  He was only a 16th round draft pick, so I was hoping he’d turn out to be a steal.

He continued to play well in the minors at each level, culminating in a 2015 season at AAA Sacramento in which he went 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA, good enough to lead the Pacific Coast League that season among pitchers who threw at least 115 innings (Blackburn threw 123 IP).  His strikeout total (99) was only tenth best, but his strikeout to walk ratio was better than 3/1, and he was only 22 that season.

Blackburn deserved a September call-up that year, but didn’t get one.  The Giants may have been right, however, because Blackburn regressed badly in 2016.  Back at AAA Sacramento, Blackburn went 7-10 with a 5.02 ERA.  His numbers were almost exactly the same as the year before, except that he allowed three times as many home runs.  That’ll sure rowdy up the old ERA.

Blackburn was dreadful in his first AAA start this year, allowing five earned runs in three innings pitched.  But it was just one start before the trade.  Blackburn’s still only 24 this season, and he’s maybe only a few adjustments from being a major league caliber pitcher.

The guy the Giants got, De La Rosa, also appears to have talent.  He had a solid season in the Class A Sally League last year at the age of twenty, most notable for a .330 on-base percentage, which is certainly acceptable for a middle infielder.

De La Rosa got off to a horrible start to 2017 at Down East (Kinston) in the Class A+ Carolina League (3 for 28, but two doubles and five walks), and the Giants have sent him back to their Sally League franchise in Augusta.  It’s entirely possible the Rangers gave up on him too soon also, although I would like my chances with Blackburn better, since he’s much closer to the major leagues.

Let’s hope they both ultimately make it to the Show.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2017

March 28, 2017

As everyone knows, contemporary pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2017 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats, in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.183 career batting average and .542 career OPS).  For the third year in a row, fangraphs rates big-swinging MadBum as the most productive pitcher as a hitter in MLB.

On paper, Jake Arrieta‘s 2016 slash line of .262/.304/.415 is much more impressive than Bumgarner’s .186/.268/.360.  I expect that park factors play a big role in fangraphs’ ratings.

In the last three seasons, MadBum has slugged 12 HRs in 229 at-bats and driven in 33 RBIs.  There isn’t a team in the National League who couldn’t use that batting performance from a starter.  He’s also the only major league hitter since the start of the 2015 season to homer twice off MLB’s best starter Clayton Kershaw.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.219 BA, .580 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.

Greinke’s 2016 was his weakest offensive performance in four seasons.  Still, he hit .212 with a .476 OPS, which is great for a contemporary pitcher.

3.   Mike Leake (.203, .522).  Mike Leake has disappointed me as a hitting pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three major league seasons (2010-2012), but since then he’s just been a better than average major league average hitting pitcher.

I bet this has something to do with making adjustments.  By the 2013, major league pitchers realized that Leake could really hit and they’d have to pitch to him like a real hitter, and they’d figured out his weaknesses.  Leake doesn’t seem to have made the necessary counter-adjustments, and now he’s just a better than average hitting pitcher.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.200, .562).  Gallardo hasn’t played in the NL in two years, but he’s 4 for 8 the last two seasons in the AL. His 33 extra base hits in 424 at-bats is what makes him a threat at the dish.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  With well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.198 BA, .613 OPS).  Syndergaard passed the 100 career at-bat threshold in 2016, and his combination of power (three HRs in 2016) and willingness to take a walk (seven in 67 plate appearances) made him a real threat at the plate this past season.

I’ve been writing versions of this post long enough now that I’ve noticed that pitchers who hit well through their first 100 major league at-bats tend to regress in subsequent years to towards the pitchers-as-hitters mean.  That’s why I’m ranking him low until he proves he can keep doing it.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.217, .546).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) Hudson is now a relief pitcher, and despite 70 relief appearances, the 2016 Diamondbacks didn’t give him even one plate appearance in spite of the fact that he had his one big season at the plate in 2011 as a D’Back (no wonder the 2016 D’Backs lost 93 games); and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010 (CC’s 0-for-18 over that span).

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.   As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits over his career to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.232, .526).  Chatwood was a starter again last year and made it over the 100 at-bat threshold in 2016.  He’s a fine hitting pitcher who probably benefits as a hitter from making half his starts at Coors Field.  Needless to say, Coors Field doesn’t do much for him as a pitcher.

10.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .522 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, was moved to the bullpen in 2016, and signed this off-season with the AL’s Kansas City Royals for the next two seasons, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers anytime soon.

11.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross is coming back from a major injury and pitching for an AL team, the Rangers, this year, but he sure hit in 2015 for the Padres.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.244, .628).  Lorenzen can hit, but he has to establish himself as a starting pitcher if he ever hopes to reach the 100 at-bat cut-off.  He pitched exclusively in relief last year, but was used as a pitcher or allowed to hit five times in which he hit slugged a homer for his only hit.

Shohei Otani will be one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers as soon as he signs with an MLB team some years from now.  I’m hoping an NL team signs him for this reason.

The top two prospects in this year’s amateur draft, Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, are two-way players, who will most likely be developed as pitchers.  Thus, the odds are good that one day at least one of these two will make a future year’s version of this post.

As final notes, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Also, since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter by 2030.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who’s Left?

January 21, 2017

In my mind the last piece the 2017 San Francisco Giants need is a right-handed power hitting outfielder.  Right now, the team’s likely third through fifth outfielders are Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.  All are reasonably young and talented, but none has significant major league experience, something the Giants typically value highly.

The team has signed Michael Morse and Justin Ruggiano, both of whom you will note are right-handed hitters, to minor league deals, but neither looks like a particularly realistic shot to make the team out of Spring Training.

I scanned mlbtraderumors.com’s free agent tracker yesterday, and Ryan Raburn and Rickie Weeks look like the best two right-handed hitting outfielders still available.  Both could be signed to minor league deals for 2017, or in Weeks’ case a relatively inexpensive major league deal, it well appears.

Of the two, I like Weeks better, because he’s two years younger, has more power, has had a much better career, and all in all had a better 2016 season with the bat than Raburn did.  Fangraphs says that Weeks’ outfield defense is brutally bad, but Weeks has played only 55 games in his lengthy major league career in the outfield, all of them in the last two seasons.  Weeks still appears to run fairly well, and I would have to think that he’d get better as an outfielder as he gets more experience after a long major league career through age 31 spent exclusively at 2B.

Another player I like is Jabari Blash, who was just designated for assignment by the Padres.  He isn’t going to hit for average, but he’s blasted an astounding 45 home runs in 646 AAA plate appearances, about one full season at that level.  He’ll only be 27 in 2017, and his on-base percentages are high too.

The main knock on Blash is that he’s got no more major league experience than Williamson, Parker or Hernandez.  However, on the subject of finding the next Brandon Moss, Blash has to be right at the top of the list.

Jhoulys Chacin Gets No Respect

December 18, 2016

Jhoulys Chacin gets no respect, at least by the current standards of MLB.  Last off-season I wrote a post stating that I just couldn’t understand why the Diamondbacks failed to tender Chacin a contract when he was only expected to get $1.8 million through the arbitration process.  I thought it would make a great deal of sense for somebody else to swoop in and sign him for that $1.8 million or even $2 million.

Chacin ended up getting only a minor league deal from the Braves, who then traded him early the season to the Angels for a grade-C prospect.  Chacin was little more than a mediocre fifth starter in 2016 whose biggest accomplishment was eating 144 innings.  Even so, fifth starters who aren’t god-awful have value: fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at $13 million.

Now, I really don’t believe that Chacin was worth any kind of $13 million, but it’s certain he was worth more than the $1.75 million the Padres just signed him to.  Inning-eating fifth starters of Chacin’s ilk are easily worth a one-year guarantee of $3M or $4M in today’s market.

For example, Jerome Williams received $2.5 million in 2015 for a 2014 campaign less impressive than Chacin’s 2016.  That should have been the starting point for Chacin’s negotiation, since the market has gone up since then.

If nothing else, Chacin’s signing with the Padres may be the bargain basement steal of the 2016-2017 off-season, just as his signing was last off-season.

Top Pitching Prospects for MLB in South Korea’s KBO 2016/2017

October 11, 2016

The KBO is currently an extreme hitters’ league, which makes it difficult to evaluate pitchers with potential major league talent.  Nevertheless, these are the current KBO pitchers who impressed me in 2016 insofar as pitching in MLB in the future.

Michael Bowden (age 30 in 2017).  A former MLBer, Bowden had a fine first season in the KBO, going 18-7 with a 3.80 ERA (6th best — it’s a hitters’ league) and leading the KBO with 160 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched.

He’d probably be better off getting paid major league money pitching in the KBO until he has a season so impressive no one can ignore it.  However, given his relatively young age and strong 2016 performance, he’s the most likely foreign KBOer to return to the MLB system and have some success in 2017.

Kwang-hyun Kim (28) and Hyun-jong Yang (29).  The two best veteran Korean starters in KBO, both were posted last off-season but neither made it to MLB.  Kim’s team, the SK Wyverns, accepted a $2 million posting bid, but Kim was unable to reach a deal with the Padres.  Yang’s team, the Kia Tigers, rejected a posting bid reported to be $1.5 million.

Both Kim and Yang should be true free agents this off-season, and without the need for posting fees, either could end up in MLB.  Kim pitched well in 2016, but was limited to 137 innings pitched (3.88 ERA and 116 Ks), after missing most of July and the first half of August to an injury of some kind.  Yang pitched just over 200 innings with a 3.68 ERA (tied for fourth best) and 146 strikeouts (5th best — strikeout rates were low in the KBO for starters in 2016).

Both Kim and Yang are lefties, which might give them added value to MLB teams, since they would probably be relievers in MLB.

Woo-ram Jung (32).  After the success of Seung-hwan Oh in MLB, I expect MLB teams to be looking for the next South Korean reliever to sign.  Woo-ram Jung is probably the best one remaining, with 620 strikeouts in 649.1 career KBO innings pitched and a career 2.91 ERA.  However, he signed a four-year 8.4 billion won (a little over $7.5 million) last off-season with the Hanwha Eagles, presumably meaning he won’t be coming to MLB anytime soon and maybe never, given that he will be 35 the season after his current contract ends.

Chang-min Shim (24).  A young pitcher who already has nearly five years of KBO experience and a live arm (303 Ks in 268 career KBO innings pitched), it appears likely that Shim has not yet performed his two years of mandatory military service.  Thus, it may be some time before he gets posted or becomes a free agent.

Jae-haek Lee (26).  A pitcher I’ve been following since he had a big rookie year in 2013, some mid-season injuries limited Lee to 127.2 IP in 2016, but he struck out 134 batters, giving him the highest strikeout rate for any KBO pitcher who threw at least 100 innings.  His career 3.95 ERA isn’t impressive on its face.  However, all but his rookie season have been played since offense exploded in the KBO.

Lee has the disadvantage of being a small right-hander, listed at 5’11” and 176 lbs.  He may remind MLB teams too much of Suk-min Yoon, who famously flopped after being signed by the Orioles in 2014.  In fact, Lee is smaller than Yoon.

Jung-woo Im (26) and Jae-yoon Kim (26).  Both have live arms.  Im established himself as a closer this year, striking out 87 batters in 70.2 IP.  He has more than four years of KBO experience.

Kim has struck out 143 batters in 99 IP over the last two seasons, but those are his only two in KBO’s major league, so he may be too old by the time his team is willing to post him.

Kang-min Koo (20) and Se-woong Park (21).  Two even younger pitchers with live arms.  Koo as a 19 year old rookie struck out 67 batters in 68.2 IP and recorded a 4.19 ERA, which is great for a 19 KBO rookie in 2016.

Park struck out 133 batters in 139 innings pitched in his second year in the KBO.  Unfortunately, he has had a 5.76 ERA each of the last two seasons, which means he’s still got a lot to learn to become an effective starter.

Both Koo and Park are such a long way from pitching in MLB that it’s mostly wishful thinking on my part even to mention them.