Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ category

The Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant Reach a Record Deal

March 10, 2017

Well, isn’t this interesting?  The Cubs have just given Kris Bryant a record $1.05 million contract for a pre-arbitration player, beating the record deal the Angels gave Mike “Clark Kent” Trout before the 2013 season by $50,000.

It was a fairly obvious move — the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years and Bryant won the Senior Circuit’s MVP Award, so a record-setting contract was obviously called for.  Even so, the Cubbies only gave Bryant enough to be able to say he broke the record.

The Cubs’ decision to keep Bryant in the minors a lot longer than his  performance in the minors said was the time for his call-up, so the team could hold onto his rights for the 2021 season, was pretty bush and penny-wise and pound-foolish, at least in my opinion.  Everybody in MLB knew what the Cubs were doing, and Bryant would be crazy not to stick it to the Cubs every chance he gets from now until he signs his first free agent contract.

Still, it’s worked out well for the Cubs so far.  They weren’t going to win in 2015 even with another eight games from Bryant, and they won the very next year, when the team was clearly better than the 2015 squad.

The Cubs pretty much had to give Bryant the current record-setting deal, because that’s what his 2016  performance and the World Series win required.  They gave him only exactly as much as the standard of the industry required and no more, because they know that Bryant and his agent Scott Boras aren’t going to think that an extra $300,000 for the 2017 season a fair trade for reaching free agency a year later.

In this sense, things are as they should be.  Yes, the Cubs screwed Bryant, but this way Bryant has to continue to develop the way everyone hopes he will (except maybe Cardinals’ fans) and the Cubs win another World Series in the next five years.  Then the Cubs will have pretty much no choice but to give Bryant a record-setting free agent deal.  Even the most money-ball of money-ball organizations has to know that Cubs’ fans would be unbelievably disappointed if the team trades the next Mike Schmidt and Ron Santo rolled into one, particularly now that MLB teams all know how much power-hitting, slick fielding 3Bman are really worth.

Right now, one has to think that the only things standing between Bryant and record-setting free agent contract is a freak injury or that his big size (6’5″, 230 lbs) leads to wear-and-tear injuries in 2020 or 2021.

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.

 

Mark Trumbo Finally Signs

January 20, 2017

With Jose Bautista and now Mark Trumbo finally signed to new contracts, the dam might finally have burst on all the lead-footed sluggers still on the free agent market.

I wasn’t surprised at the fact that Bautista ultimately received only a one-year deal.  He is going into his age 36 season and coming off a down year, so the multi-year nine-figure contract he and his agent were making noises about before the season ended always seemed more like trying to goose up the market than anything else.  At the end of the day, he still beat the $17.2 million qualifying offer, and he can’t be QOed again next off-season.

Trumbo’s contract, however, surprises me.  Not necessarily the fact it’s only three years, but definitely the fact that it’s only about $37.5 million.  Trumbo is going into his age 31 season, and he led all of MLB with his 47 dingers.  I really thought he’d get something closer to the four-year $57 million deal Nelson Cruz got two off-seasons ago, at least $43M or 44M for three seasons.

Trumbo was probably hurt by the fact that there are cheaper similar options still out there.  Even so, Nelson Cruz has made the Mariners look like geniuses as he has continued to pound the ball the last two seasons.

Dave Schoenfeld of espn.com wrote a post a few days ago suggesting that teams are less willing to sign aging one-dimensional sluggers like Brandon Moss, because teams are now looking for the next Brandon Moss.  I thought it was kind of a dumb article, because while poor teams like the A’s, who specialize in finding the next Brandon Mosses, will look to sign undervalued 4-A players, other teams will always be on the look-out for proven sluggers at the right price.

The problem with finding the next Brandon Moss in the minor leagues is that it is an incredibly uncertain proposition in terms of any one player (or even two or three) you might put your money on.  Somebody will become the next Brandon Moss, but a majority of candidates for the role sure as hell won’t.

Brandon Moss’s value as a major league player over the last three seasons, working backward, has been $ 11.2M, $3.8M and $19.7M according to fangraphs.  You would have to reasonably expect that his value will be somewhere between $3.8M and $11.2M in 2017.  He’ll be 33 next season, so the lower figure is certainly the safer bet.

What I am trying to say is that the reason Moss hasn’t yet signed is because his current ask as a free agent is too high, rather than because teams are looking for an undervalued 4-A player they can pay the major league minimum.  Once Moss’s ask comes down to $3 or 4 million on a one-year deal, at least one team that needs a left-handed power bat and whose in-house analytics value Moss’ likely 2017 performance similar to fangraphs will sign him for that amount.

Although all 30 major league teams as a whole don’t always act rationally, they do most of the time.  If there are even two team for whom Moss would fill a need, who estimate Moss’ likely 2017 performance at $4 million or more, and who can afford to pay $4 million, he’ll get a one year deal for right around $4 million.  Most teams would rather pay $4 million for a relatively sure thing than the minimum for a guy who is less likely than not to become the next Brandon Moss, if they can afford to pay the $4 million.

It’s bottom feeders like the A’s who keep looking for the next Brandon Moss, because they have to.  And you can only find these guys consistently if your analytics are better than just about everyone else’s.

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.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB

October 8, 2016

This is the post-2016 season update on a topic I’ve been writing about for the last couple of years, which I hope to continue updating annually, at least so long as the leader boards change. The post lists the best foreign pitchers to have pitched in Japan’s NPB in terms of career NPB wins, ERA (800 innings pitched minimum), Strike Outs and Saves.

WINS

1. Tadashi Wakabayaski 237-144

2. Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo) 117-68

3.  Genji Kaku (Yuen-chih Kuo) 106-106

4.  Gene Bacque 100-80

5. Joe Stanka 100-72

6. Nate Minchey 74-70

7. Randy Messenger 73-65

8. Jason Standridge 71-62

9. Jeremy Powell 69-65

10. Seth Greisinger 64-42

11. D. J. Houlton 63-39

One of the things you learn when blogging is that the answers to simple questions often aren’t that simple.  Who exactly qualifies as a “foreign” player for NPB purposes?  For a couple of players the answer is quite complicated.

Tadashi Wakabayashi was a Japanese American born in Hawaii. He played in NPB from 1936 until 1953. He originally held duel citizenship but renounced his Japanese citizenship in 1928, but then renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1941 and became a Japanese citizen again, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

On the other hand, I don’t consider Victor Starfin, who went 303-176 as one of NPB’s all-time great aces, as a “foreign” player for NPB purposes, because while he was born in Russia, his family emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was a small boy. He grew up in Japan, before becoming NPB’s first 300 game winner.

Wally Yonamine, another great Nisei star of NPB, clearly seems more “foreign” to me for NPB purposes than Wakabayashi because Yonamine had a professional sports in the U.S. before going to Japan, and he died in Hawaii as well as being born there.

Wakabayashi played high school ball in Hawaii and then went on a playing tour in Japan, where his pitching earned him a scholarship at a top Japanese University (Hosei University). That certainly makes Wakabayashi less “foreign” than Yonamine — even today foreign players who play at Japanese Universities for four years before going pro are not considered “foreign” for NPB roster-limit purposes.

Is Wakabayashi more foreign than Micheal Nakamura, mentioned below, who was born in Japan, but graduated from high school in Australia, played college ball in the U.S. and then had a long U.S. minor league career before joining NPB?  A comment to the original post said that Nakamura was treated as “Japanese” for NPB roster-limit purposes, presumably due to his Japanese birth.

Technically, however, Wakabayashi is still a “foreign” player by virtue of his U.S. birth, so he makes my list.

Tai-yuan Kuo and Yuen-chih Kuo, known in Japan as Taigen Kaku and Gengi Kaku, respectively, were Taiwanese pitchers, who pitched who both starred in NPB in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The two Kuos/Kakus were the best pitchers to come out of Taiwan prior to Chien-Ming Wang breaking through to have MLB success in 2005.

Gene Bacque and Joe Stanka were two Americans whose Japanese careers roughly overlapped in the early and mid-1960’s.  Stanka was a marginal major leaguer of the type typical among players from the Americas who try to make a go of it in NPB.  He pitched in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1959 at the age of 27, and apparently realized he had little chance of future major league success, and somehow got a job with the Nankai Hawks (now the Softbank Hawks) in 1960.

Gene Bacque was a mediocre minor league pitcher who got cut by the Hawaii Islanders of the AAA Pacific Coast League after only two relief appearances early in the 1962 season.  What he had going for him was the fact that he was still only 24 years old and apparently the physical proximity to Japan when his minor league career ended.  Japanese Hall of Famer and Hanshin Tigers teammate Masaaki Koyama taught Bacque how to throw a slider, and he also improved his knuckleball and became a star.

Bacque and Stanka both had their best NPB seasons in 1964.  Bacque went 29-9 with a 1.88 ERA and 200 Ks in 353.1 innings pitched, while Stanka went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA and 172 Ks in 277.2 IP.  Bacque was awarded the Eiji Sawamura Award, NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, becoming the only foreign player ever to win that honor.

Bacque and Stanka faced off against each other in the sixth game of the Japan Series that season, which Stanka won, throwing a complete game shutout.  Stanka’s team, the Hawks, won the series in seven games, and Stanka was named the Series MVP.

Randy Messenger, who is now age 35, is expected to sign a two-year deal with his current team, the Hanshin Tigers, this off-season, so he will continue to move up the career lists.  Jason Standridge is also still active.  He pitched well enough this year that the Chiba Lotte Marines will probably bring him back in 2017 when he will be age 38.

ERA (800+ IP)

1. Tadashi Wakabayashi 1.99 (ERAs were ridiculously low in Wakabayashi’s era)

2.  Gene Bacque 2.34

3.  Glenn Mickens 2.55

4.  Joe Stanka 3.03

5.  Randy Messenger 3.05

6. Seth Greisigner 3.16

7.  Taigen Kaku 3.16

8.  Genji Kaku  3.22

9.  Jason Standridge 3.24

STRIKE OUTS

1.  Genji Kaku 1,415

2.  Randy Messenger 1,116

3.  Taigen Kaku 1,069

4.  Tadashi Wakabayashi 1,000

5.  Joe Stanka 887

6.  Jeremy Powell 858

7.  Gene Bacque 825

SAVES

1.  Marc Kroon 177

2. Dennis Sarfate 175

3.  Chang-yong Lim 128

4.  Eddie Gaillard 120

5.  Rod Pedroza 117

6.  Genji Kaku 116

7.  Micheal Nakamura* 104

8.  Dong-yeol Sun 98

9. Tony Barnette 97

Foreign relief pitchers have had quite a bit of success in Japan, going back to the late 1980’s, starting with Genji Kaku who both started and closed at different times in his NPB career.  Marc Kroon was an American with a high 90’s fastball, who didn’t throw enough strikes in the U.S. to have MLB success, but was dominating in NPB.  Dennis Sarfate, who is currently the Softbank Hawks closer and absent some very unusual events will break Kroon’s foreigner saves record in 2017, is the same kind of pitcher as Kroon.

Dong-yeol Sun and Chang-yong Lim. like Seung-hwan Oh who saved 80 games in 2014-2015 before jumping to MLB, are products of South Korea’s KBO.  Sun and Lim were probably good enough to be successful MLB pitchers, but ended up starring in NPB instead.

Former Cardinals Scouting Director Gets 46 months in Prison for Stealing Astros’ Data

July 19, 2016

I was a bit taken aback a few minutes ago when I read that former St. Louis Cardinal scouting director Chris Correa was just sentenced to 46 months in prison for breaking into the Houston Astros’ computer network and stealing the ‘Stros scouting reports.  I never expected it would result in criminal sentencing, as opposed to civil monetary damages.

David Barron’s article in the Houston Chronicle has most of the details.  What it apparently boils down to is that the judge treated this like any other serious cyber-crime.  Obviously, big corporations have long since made sure that Congress criminalized the stealing of their valuable proprietary information.

Further, the Court obviously wanted to send a message and set an example in this high-profile case, making a point to state during sentencing that cyber-theft basically costs everyone money by forcing them to buy increasingly costly systems designed to prevent hacking.  The judge has a point there.

Also, Correa accessed the Astros’ system 60 times in a 35 day period, far more than was originally reported.  Correa was also fined $279,000.

It remains to be seen what penalty MLB imposes on the Cardinals.  I would expect it to be steep in light of the punishment Correa received.  MLB would look bad giving the Cardinals a slap on the wrist after Correa received almost four years in the can.

My guess is that the Cardinals will be ordered to pay the Astros some seven or eight figure sum, and more importantly lose one or more future first round draft picks.

Is Japan’s NPB Getting Better?

June 28, 2016

For some time, my attitude about the level of play in Japan’s NPB is that if on a scale from one to ten, MLB is 10 and AAA is 1, then NPB is about at 4.  The thing that makes it difficult to make relative comparisons is that relatively few Japanese players join MLB in any given off-season.

A lot of 4-A players go to Japan.  Some succeed there, and some don’t.  The guys with the most talent — the guys who seemingly should have succeeded in MLB, but for some reason didn’t, or true late bloomers who aged out of MLB before establishing themselves — tend to do the best, but for some players adapting to playing and living in Japan is too much for them.

What has me wondering if NPB is getting better relative to MLB is the success of this year’s NPB-to-MLB cross-overs.  I’m not surprised that Kenta Maeda is pitching the way he is for the Dodgers.  His career in Japan and the fact that Dodgers Stadium is a strong pitchers park led me to expect roughly what Maeda has accomplished so far.

I find the two South Koreans Dae-ho Lee and Seung-hwan Oh‘s MLB performance much more surprising.  Don’t get me wrong — I thought both of these guys were fine players.  I just had my doubts about how they’d make a transition to MLB.

Dae-ho Lee is a world-class hitter, but his numbers in Japan (four seasons with OPS numbers between .816 and .892) just were not impressive enough to expect him to succeed in MLB, given the kinds of numbers NPB hitters have needed to put up to succeed in MLB in the past.  Add to that that at age 34, he is almost certainly the slowest non-catcher in MLB.  He hasn’t hit a triple in almost four years and hasn’t stolen a base in nearly five.

I thought superb MLB defense would rob him of too many hits for him to be a successful major league hitter, not to mention the drop-off in power that would come from facing better pitchers in bigger ball parks.  Needless to say, in late June the jury is hardly out.  He has only walked eight times in 151 MLB plate appearances, which is well below his career norms.

If I had to guess, Lee is getting challenged with a lot fastballs out over the plate early in the count, which is what MLB pitchers often do with first year MLB hitters, and he’s smoking them because Lee can hit the fastball.  We’ll see what happens when MLB pitchers have more of an idea of how to pitch to him, and there’s more MLB data on where to position the fielders.

Oh was truly a fine pitcher in South Korea’s KBO and NPB, but I thought he was getting kind of old, and he had a 2015 season in Japan that suggested he might be due for a drop-off.

Oh was an old 32 last year (his birthday is July 15th) and his ERA was nearly a run higher than the year before.  He didn’t pitch an unreasonable number of regular season innings in 2014 or 2015, but was worked very hard in NPB’s post-season.

In short, I thought the odds were good that he might well just be an adequate middle reliever in MLB in 2016.  Clearly, I was wrong — he’s been great, and is poised to become the Cardinals’ closer, as it has been Trevor Rosenthal who has fallen on his face in 2016.

Oh clearly knows how to pitch, and his 2014, 2015 and 2016 (so far) seasons may have a lot to do with hitters’ familiarity with him.  In 2014, NPB hitters had never seen him before, and Oh dominated them.  In 2015, NPB hitters had a much better idea of what to expect, and while Oh was still good, he wasn’t the same pitcher he was the year before.

In 2016, MLB have never seen Oh before, and we see how that’s going.  I don’t expect him to do as well next year, but, of course, Oh will also be another year past 30 in 2017.

At any rate, it’s been a good year so far for NPB transplants, and MLB teams will be more eager to sign NPB players going forward.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many premium NPB players in the pipeline for a 2017 start to their MLB careers.  There are some really good ones in NPB, but they won’t get posted for a few years yet.  I’ve suggested a sensible way for NPB stars to get posted sooner rather than later, but I doubt anyone is listening.