Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ category

Why Major League Hitters Aren’t Beating the Shifts

July 11, 2018

Here’s a good article from Jerry Crasnick about why players who are routinely shifted against aren’t changing their approach to beat the shift.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that today’s major league hitters are paid to hit the ball with power, and for left-handed hitters who are shifted against most, that means pulling the ball or driving the ball out to left center.  It’s easy to plug those holes with defensive shifts.

60 or 70 years ago, Ted Williams talked about hitting against the shifts played on him (there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Trivia question: which team invented the Williams Shift?)  Williams said that hitting against the shift never bothered him, because it meant that pitchers were trying to pitch him middle-in to get him to hit into the shift.  That meant pitchers were pitching into his power, with all-too-often predictable results: 521 career home runs despite missing nearly five years of his major league career to military service.

The shifts work better today because pitchers are better and defenders are better.  There will never again be another .344 career hitter unless umpires start calling a ten-inch tall, over the plate strike zone.  Still, an awful lot of home runs are being hit today because pitchers are pitching inside to power hitters to get them to hit into the shift.

I thought Daniel Murphy‘s comments were particularly telling because he rightly talks about the advantages to hitting for power in today’s game, but he’s dead wrong insofar as taking a free first base is not extremely valuable if the bases are empty or with a man on first with less then two outs.  Home run hitting works best when men have gotten on base first.  Earl Weaver, good pitching and defense and the three-run homer.

However, the guy the hits the home run makes a lot more money than the guy who gets on base first, all other factors being even.  That’s why Murphy overvalues power hitting over getting on base.

Ichiros will always beat the shift, but how much demand is there for the poor man’s Ichiro’s in today’s game.  (There will be future Ichiros, Tony Gwynns and Rod Carews, but they will need to play at that level.  How much demand is there in today’s game for the next Nori Aoki?

The very best players have the confidence and ability to try to take advantage of every opportunity the other team gives them.  Most major league players, however, want to maintain the swing and the approach that got them to the bigs in the first place.  Trying to hit the other way against the shift might screw up their power stroke, so why risk it?

Hitters are superstititious, and almost always associate slumps and hot streaks to what they are doing rather than to random probability over short stretches, which plays a much bigger role than most major league players realize at a conscious level.  That said, the players who have the most success don’t tend to get too high during hot stretches or too low during slumps.

Answer to trivia question:  the Chicago Cubs.  They started shifting Fred “Cy” Williams in the 1920’s when Williams played for the Phillies.  The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 feet down the right field line and only 300 feet to right center, only marginally counteracted by a very tall right field fence.

Phillies quickly learned the value of power hitting left-handed pull hitters, and the Cubs were the first team to respond accordingly.  Williams led the NL for the Cubs with 12 HRs in 1916 during the “Dead Ball” (dirty ball) Era, so the Cubs knew exactly what type of hitter Williams was.

 

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San Francisco Giants Foreign Amateur Signings

July 3, 2018

The international signing period started today, and the Giants have been busy.  The biggest signing so far is of 16 year old Dominican shortstop Marco Luciano for a reported $2.6 million.  All of MLB.com, fangraphs and Baseball America ranked Luciano as the 2nd best available prospect this signing period.

The Giants signed two more prospects of ranking renown, 17 year old Cuban CF Jairo Pomeraz for $975,000 and 16 year old Venezuelan outfielder Luis Matos for $725,000.  Baseball America ranked Pomeraz as the 11th best prospect and fangraphs ranked him 31st.  MLB.com ranked Matos as 27th best and Baseball America as 37th.

Baseball America reports that the Giants signed all of the following players not included in their rankings: RHP Odue Civada, C Eduardo Jaramillo, RHP Melvin Marte (good chance he’s related to former Giants’ prospect Kelvin Marte), SS Roberto Monegro, LHP Aaron Peniche, CF Victor Bericoto, 2B Yeiver Torrealba, and LHP Anthony Torres.  All of these youngsters are from either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

For what it’s worth, the White Sox still like Cuban amateurs, the Mariners have signed three players out of Panama, and the Rays have signed the top two prospects out of Curacao, Ryson Polonius and Rainer Polonius.  They may be twins and were perhaps a package deal.  A few Colombians were signed and at least one Brazilian.  I didn’t notice any Taiwanese players as having signed yet, although I’m aware that at least a couple of have reached deals that either were part of last year’s class or haven’t been formally announced yet.

San Francisco Giants Select Big Right-Hander Sean Hjelle in 2nd Round

June 5, 2018

The Giants selected 6’11”, 225 lbs righty Sean Hjelle out of the University of Kentucky with the 45th pick of the 2018 Draft.  His college numbers are not overwhelming.

Hjelle had a 3.44 ERA his junior season with a pitching line of 99 IP, 87 hits, five HRs, 22 BB and 91 Ks.  He did not appear to show any significant improvement as a pitcher from either his freshman and his sophomore seasons, although he did become a starter as a sophomore.

He’s big, and he can clearly pitch at the college level.  I guess we will have to wait and see how he does as a pro.  According to MLB.com, his best pitch is a knuckle-curve, and his so far not particularly impressive fastball through is first two college seasons may have hit 96 mph as a junior.  The feeling is that at 6’11”, his fastball may continue to improve as he puts on weight and receives MLB system professional training.

Hjelle would be tied for the tallest pitcher to pitch in the MLB majors with Jon Rauch, if he makes it.  Sixty years ago there was still a prejudice against very tall pitchers, but since then each generation has shown that pitchers can get taller and still be effective major leaguers.  Randy Johnson may have killed the theory completely.  The mlb.com blurb emphasizes Hjelle’s “remarkable coordination” and his ability to repeat his delivery.

I watched some of Hjelle’s highlight videos on youtube.  I couldn’t tell much from the videos, other than the fact that Hjelle’s was really long as a sophomore, he was definitely bigger as a junior, and he’s got an impressively high leg-kick out of the wind-up.  He does seem to be good at repeating his motion, and he looks like a pitcher, in spite of the extreme height.

One thing to be said about Hjelle (pronounced “Jelly”) — he will be great for the Giants’ PR department if he makes the major league squad.  “He’s Hjelle good!”  “They may call him “Jelly,” but he sure jams the hitters!”  Silly but clever ad-lines are everywhere with this name.

Top Prospects in the Atlantic League So Far

May 18, 2018

Courtney Hawkins is almost certainly the best prospect in the Atlantic League so far this season.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five home runs.

The main thing to like about Hawkins is his age.  He’s only 24 this season, in league in which all the top hitters in terms of OPS are at least 27.

Hawkins had a strong year in A+ ball at the age of 20 in 2014 when he slugged 19 dingers and slashed .249/.331/.450.  However, a 3-for-25 start to his 2018 season in his fourth season at the AA level, and he’s playing in the Atlantic League now.

Hawkins’ OPS is only .788, so he needs more time in Sugar Land, Texas. At age 24, he’s definitely still young enough that MLB teams will want to sign him once some players get hurt at the A+ or AA level.

Kyle Kubitza, Johnny Bladel, David Washington and Mike Fransoso are all young enough at age 27 that they will be signed by MLB organizations if they keep hitting the way they have so far. Kubitza and Washington both have limited major league experience which will certainly increase the likelihood of their being signed by a new MLB organization.

Rey Navarro played in only three Atlantic League games before the Yankees signed him a couple of days ago and sent him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, after a 4-for-27 start for the Mariners’ AAA team in Tacoma.  He’s 28 this year.

Bennett Parry is the youngest pitching prospect I could find.  He’s 26 and leading the Atlantic League with 23 strikeouts (in 17 innings pitched with a 3.17 ERA after three starts).  However, the Dodgers have just signed Logan Bawcom who is three years older and hasn’t pitched as well so far as Parry, but has had past success at the AAA level.

Parry was pitching well as a starter for the Orioles’ full-season A team in 2015 when he apparently hurt his arm.  He made only 17 starts in the American Association in 2016 and 2017 combined, put still pitched well enough to work his way up to the Atlantic League.

Several 27 year olds are among the league’s top starter so far and will likely sign with MLB organizations if they keep pitching well, but I won’t both mentioning their names.  Approximately one-third of each Atlantic League’s roster moves up to better professional baseball opportunities over the course of each full season, enough to keep a lot of players playing at an average salary of only $2,100 per month.

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.

2.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher hitter, 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.

Ichiro Is Done

May 4, 2018

Ichiro retired into the Mariners’ front office where he will presumably work to bring more elite Japanese players to Seattle.  He finishes at age 44 with 3,089 hits, after all those hits in Japan.

Suzuki may the last of the hitters in the Paul Waner, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn line, the pure hitters.  Power’s too important in today’s game, perhaps unless Japan can produce another Ichiro, or at least another better than Nori Aoki. the poor man’s Ichiro.

If it’s a style that all but gone, Ichiro brought a talent set to MLB that will be missed if we don’t soon see it again.

Knuckleheads

April 28, 2018

One thing every baseball blogger needs is something to get exercised about.  Knucklehead ballplayers are a great source for vituperative writing.

For that reason, I kind of miss the end of the professional careers of Milton Bradley and Sidney Ponson.  They provided countless opportunities for my digital venting.

Now, if a player is kind of a jerk, but really, really good, everyone in the baseball world kind of puts up with him, at least so long as he remains at the top his game.  Think Barry Bonds.  But the moment the player begins to slip, then everyone is quick to jump in and get their digs.

With that in mind, I’ve kept my eyes open for a knucklehead worthy of Bradley and Ponson.  Some players are just so bad, they’re disgusting and quickly out of the game like Aaron Hernandez.  Other promising contenders like Matt Bush end up (apparently) learning something and turning their lives around .

What you need is a guy who is just bad enough that he hangs around so you can be righteously indignant every time a team that should know better signs him anyway.

A guy I’ve got my eye on is former marginal MLB pitcher Josh Lueke (pronounced like loogie with a k).  You may or may not remember Lueke for an incident that happened back in 2010 when he was a throw-in prospect who went to the Mariners in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

The Mariners at the time were taking a leading role in MLB in speaking out against violence against women.  However, the Mariners traded for Lueke, who had spent most of the previous summer in the Bakersfield, California jail after being accused of sexually assaulting a young woman he brought home from a bar, which even a cursory internet search would have revealed (which I well know: I was one of the first to report Lueke’s legal problem which I had discovered through a cursory internet search when the trade was announced).  The allegations were pretty disgusting, but there was a lot of alcohol involved, and ultimately Lueke got off relatively easy in all respects except for his reputation.

The M’s understandably caught a lot of flack for the move, and they eventually traded him off to Tampa Bay, although not until after he had gotten lit up for a 6.06 ERA in 25 major league relief appearances for them in 2011.  Lueke has a major league arm, but after unsuccessful major league stints with the Rays in each of 2012 through 2014, he ended up in the Mexican League in 2015, presumably because at age 30, he was no longer worth the baggage that came with him.

Lueke not surprisingly had a big year in the Mexican League — he’s got a major league arm — and was signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2016 for an estimated $330,000.  He had a good year, posting a 3.06 ERA and 60 Ks in 64.2 relief innings pitched, and the Swallows brought him back in 2017 for an estimated $687,000, a hefty raise and MLB money anyway you slice it.

Lueke was even better in 2017, recording a 2.97 ERA, 22 holds and seven saves, while striking out 70 in only 60.2 innings pitched.  Lueke had made a success of himself in a league that would pay him major league money and where few likely knew much if anything about his past.

Alas, the knucklehead in him struck again.  The Swallows are a small-market NPB team, and apparently their offer for the 2018 season wasn’t to Lueke’s liking, because he skipped a team practice on October 2, 2017, the day before the Swallows’ last game in a season in which they finished dead last 29.5 games out of the play-offs (team practices in these circumstances are not usual in NPB — it’s a Japanese thing — fighting spirit and all that).  The Swallows suspended him for the last game, didn’t bring him back in 2018 and no other NPB team did either.

As an American (and a knucklehead), you can’t necessarily expect Lueke to understand how important it is in Japanese baseball for players to show respect and for the team to save face.  Still, that’s usually one the first things players from the Americas are told by the foreigners already there, and Lueke had been in the league two seasons.

Anyway, in 2018, Lueke is back in the Mexican League as the league’s best closer.  Now aged 33, MLB teams apparently decided he was too old for his baggage to offer him a minor league no matter how well he had pitched in NPB the year before.

So, Lueke has apparently worn out his welcome in both MLB and NPB, and he’s presumably making somewhere between $8,000 (the official league cap) and $15,000 (more likely if the rumors are to be believed) a month to pitch in Mexico, but in any event far, far less than the $800K or $900K the Swallows almost certainly would have been willing to pay him if he hadn’t stepped on his dick.

If, in fact, no NPB team can or will bring Lueke back to Japan, then his opportunities for better future pay-days are extremely limited.  KBO and CPBL teams only sign starting pitchers, and Lueke hasn’t started a game in his professional career.  A relief pitcher of Lueke’s abilities who wears out his welcome in both MLB and NPB is certainly a worthy candidate for Knucklehead of the moment.