Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ category

Miles Mikolas Tearing It Up in St. Louis

May 22, 2018

Miles Mikolas threw his first MLB major league shutout today and improved to 6-0 in his first year back from three in Japan’s NPB.  For some reason, I had gotten the idea from his Japanese stats that he was something of a control pitcher.  However, the clip of his shutout I just watch recorded him hitting 97 mph with his fastball.  Kind of makes me wonder why he had to go to Japan in the first place.

Even with his nine Ks today, his strikeout rate is a pedestrian in today’s game 6.9.  However, his K/BB ratio is currently above 7.  If I had to guess, I’d say his fastball probably doesn’t have a great deal of movement, and the batters pick it up fairly well out of his hand. In a somewhat related note, Jordan Hickstwo 105 mph pitches didn’t look as fast to me on video as Josh Hader‘s 95 mph pitches about a week ago.  How the hitters see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand makes a big difference.

Mikolas’ command in Japan was always pretty good, but his strikeout rate went up sharply his third and final season.  Sometimes it takes a while for pitchers to learn how to take maximum advantage of their plus stuff by figuring out how to set hitters up for the strikeout pitch.  Subtle command improvements must also play a role, though, since managers and catchers call a young major league pitchers’ pitches and presumably have plenty of experience setting up hitters for the strikeout pitch.

I’m hoping we see more 26 year old pitchers like Mikolas elect to pitch in Japan as a way to get some experience and build up confidence pitching in a league with a level of play between the MLB majors and AAA.  To me at least, there is something exiting about a player with great tools like Mikolas or Eric Thames, who couldn’t establish themselves as major league regulars, go to play in Asia and come back a few years later as finished products.

Advertisements

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.

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

Arenado Charges Perdomo

April 12, 2018

Nolan Arenado charged Luis Perdomo today after Luis threw a fastball behind Nolan’s back.  Then, it wasn’t just young men enjoying a game of baseball anymore.

I don’t know if I’ve gotten meaner as I get older, I have no problem with Arenado going after Perdomo.  Perhaps I always felt this way.  I still think Arenado should get the standard suspension, but Perdomo has to know there are consequences for throwing a high pitch Arenado had to think was intended to hit him.

Perdomo wimpily threw his mitt and was able to mostly toreador Arenado’s first assault.  Arenado went after Perdomo again and caught him, but only just as the scrum collapsed upon them.  I hope Perdomo gets at least a five-game suspension, for whatever Arenado ends up getting.

A not-too-long suspension and Arenado and the Rockies may have no regrets.  Arenado has just sent a message throughout MLB that he won’t tolerate pitches like that above the waste.

With Arenado as the team’s best player, if I were a Rockies fan, I’d be glad Arenado went after him.  It might fire up the team, and Arenado needs to protect himself.

That reminds me of a Giants’ story.  Mike Krukow was one of the team’s enforcers when it came to not letting the other team get away with anything.  In this game, I think it was this one,  Krukow plunked Braves pitcher Kevin Coffman after the young and wild Coffman threw too many pitches at or behind Giants’ hitters.

Coffman wasn’t trying to hit the batters, and he didn’t actually any of them, his pitches looked like attempted curveballs that didn’t break.  It was probably Duane Kuiper, who was already doing TV announcing in 1988, who suggested that Krukow’s pitch, which hit Coffman squarely in the center of the back and looked like it hurt based on location and the way Coffman winced even though it didn’t look like Krukow threw it as hard as he could, was intended as a message that the young Braves pitcher find his command around the Giants hitters.

It made sense to me at the time.  However, if I have the right game, Coffman went on to score in a game the Giants ended up losing 5-4.

I also remember Krukow getting hurt later against the Cardinals when leading the charge in one of these situations, inside the eye of the scrum as I recall it.  It might have been a leg injury, like a thigh bruise, but I seem to remember him losing time because of the injury.  I can’t find the game, so maybe I’m mis-remembering it.

A lot less entertaining to watch than the Arenado Show was Jordan Zimmerman getting hit in the face with a line-drive off that bat of Jason Kipnes.  It was scorched, and Zimmerman couldn’t get up his glove hand in time.  Zimmerman was down for awhile but it looks like he escaped major injury.  He reportedly has a bruised, not broken, jaw, and passed the concussion protocol tests.

It serves to remind you that baseball players do risk something when they go out on the field.  That’s part of the reason they get the big money.

Minnesota Twins Now Cherry Pick Lance Lynn

March 11, 2018

The Twins have reportedly reached a one-year deal with Lance Lynn that guarantees Lynn $12 million and comes with an additional $2 million in performance incentives.  It’s the latest of the Twins’ cost-effective off-season moves that should give the Twins a real chance to challenge the Indians for the 2018 AL Central flag.

While Lynn’s one-year deal isn’t nearly as much of a shocker as Mike Moustakas’ one-year $6.5 million contract with the Royals, Lynn will ultimately receive more than $5 million less guaranteed than the qualifying offer from the Cardinals Lynn rejected earlier in the off-season.  More evidence that more free agents receiving qualifying offers next off-season will accept them than did this off-season.  It’s one-and-done for qualifying offers now, meaning that any free agent who has ever previously received a qualifying offer can’t receive another one in the future.

There’s clearly a fight brewing over the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA), particularly because I am doubtful that owners will agree to eliminate the qualifying offer/compensation system in the next CBA.  The owners have agreed to limit to one qualifying offer per player per career, but it looks like they have found a way (maybe as a result of collusion, but can it be proven?) to effectively force a significant percentage of the free agents receiving qualifying offers to accept them.  I don’t see owners giving that up without a fight.

One thing worth noting, however, is that fewer free agents may receive qualifying offers next season precisely because more free agents are likely to accept them.  The qualifying offer is high enough that acceptance limits a team’s ability to find the funds to add other free agents the off-season a qualifying offer is accepted, at least unless any other free agent deals are heavily back-loaded.  If players are more likely to accept qualifying offers, teams will be less likely to offer them unless they really believe the player is worth the qualifying offer amount for the additional year of control.

San Diego Padres Reportedly Reach Agreement with Eric Hosmer for $144 Million

February 18, 2018

The San Diego Padres have reportedly reached a deal with Eric Hosmer that will give him $144 million over eight seasons with an opt-out after year five.  The deal is front-loaded, paying Hosmer a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million a year for the first five years, but only $13 million a year for the final three.

The deal is two years and $12 million guaranteed more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted for Hosmer, and in my mind it tends to support management’s claims that the slow free agency period this year has more to do with advanced analytics than collusion.  Hosmer is younger than most of this off-season’s free agents and his big contract suggests that teams are just a lot more leery of over-30 free agents who are likely entering the down-phase of their careers right quick.

The biggest winners of the Hosmer, even more than Hosmer himself, are next year’s young free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  They will be two years younger than Hosmer is now, and they’re better players.  If Harper and Machado have typically strong seasons in 2018, I would expect both to beat the $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton received from the Marlins three off-seasons ago.

Even with Hosmer’s apparent signing, six of mlbtraderumors’ top ten free agents remain on the board.  Hosmer had the Padres and the Royals bidding against each other for his services.  Now that Hosmer has signed with San Diego, the Royals may decide they need to bring back Mike Moustakas to prevent their fans from revolting.  However, there hasn’t been much chatter about Moustakas or the four remaining top pitchers, and one team obviously in the market for pitching, the Minnesota Twins, just traded not a whole lot for Jake Odorizzi in what appears to be a straight salary dump by the Rays.

With Yu Darvish signing for much less than expected, it looks like Jake Arrieta is going to have to come to terms with the fact that no team is likely to give him a $100 million offer.  My guess is that Arrieta will have to accept a three year offer for a $80 million guarantee with a team option for fourth season.  As for Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, teams will probably wait to see which of the two is the first to crack and accept what interested teams are willing to pay him.

MLB Teams Want Shorter Free Agent Contracts

January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the fact that only two of the top dozen free agents has yet signed a contract. mlbtraderumors.com weighed in again on this issue today.

The one thing that seems obvious to me looking at the players who have signed free agent contracts this off-season so far is that teams want shorter contract lengths (i.e., no more than three years) and will pay more per year to get them.

No team has yet signed a player to more than three years.  However, the players who have agreed to three year deals have done pretty well, at least compared to mlbtraderumors’ predictions for its top 50 free agents, which experience has shown deserve a lot of weight.  mlbtraderumors has a formula it uses and tweaks every off-season based on the previous off-season’s signing results, and their predictions have proven to be well better than educated guesses.

Carlos Santana’s three-year $60 million deal is the biggest free agent signing so far.  mlbtraderumors correctly predicted the three-year term, but underestimated the payout by $5 million per year.  Tyler Chatwood (predicted 3 years $20M; actually received 3 years $38M). Jake McGee (3/$18M; 3/$27M), Mike Minor (4/$28M; 3/$28M), Bryan Shaw (3/$21M; 3/$27M), Tommy Hunter (2/$12M; 2/$18M), Pat Neshek (2/$12M; 2/16.25M), Michael Pineda (2/$6M; 2/$10M) and Miles Mikolas (2/$10M; 2/$15.5M) all did significantly better on two and three year deals than predicted.

Meanwhile, only Addison Reed (4/$36M; 2/$16.75M), CC Sabathia (2/$24M; 1/$10M), Yonder Alonzo (2/$22M; 2/$16M), Brandon Kintzler (2/$14M; 1/$5M) and Howie Kendrick (2/$12M; 2/$7M) have done significantly worse than predicted.  Zack Cozart (3/$42M; 3/$38M), Jay Bruce (3/$39M; 3/$39M), Juan Nicasio (2/$21M; 2/$17M), Jhoulys Chacin (2/$14M; 2/$15.5M), Welington Castillo (2/$14M; 2/$15M), Anthony Swarzak (2/$14M; 2/$14M) and Steve Cishek (2/$14M; 2/$13M) got right around what was predicted.

Finally, both Wade Davis (4/$60M; 3/$52M) and Brandon Morrow (3/$24M; 2/$21m) got one fewer year than predicted, but at a much higher annual rate, so much higher, in fact, that one has to think there wasn’t much incentive to hold out for the extra year.  I think these signings make it likely that each of Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will be forced to accept three year offers, although probably for only $3M to $6M less than mlbtraderumors predicted over four seasons.

I suspect that advanced analytics have suggested to teams something they already knew: long-term free agents contract can be a long-term albatross around a team’s neck is veteran player gets hurt or old fast.  Better to pay more per season for fewer seasons so the burden of a bad contract doesn’t hurt the team for as many seasons.

I could see Yu Darvish being forced to accept a five-year deal in the $140M to $150M range, although as the No. 1 starter available this off-season, I think someone will eventually give him a sixth season.  The reported rumors sound as if both Kansas City and San Diego have made Eric Hosmer offers close to the six years and $132M that mlbtraderumors predicted.

The market for J.D. Martinez does not seem to be developing as predicted, but the four years at $100M predicted for Jake Arrieta seems likely to be met since he is the second best free agent starter available.  Scott Boras is representing a number of top free agents this year, and his asks have been pie-in-the-sky, as they always are.  I don’t believe the reports that any free agent will wait until after the 2018 regular season starts to sign, because that is an absolute value killer for a free agent if ever there was one.

It’s likely that a majority of the mid-range free agents (Nos. 20-50) who haven’t yet signed won’t do as well as the predictions, however, based on the fact that many teams have now filled their needs by the free agent players signed to date.

 

Valmy Thomas

January 2, 2018

I want to start this post with a shout-out to Rory Costello, who is the Society for Advanced Baseball Research’s (SABR) co-chairman and chief editor of SABR’s bio project, which has produced hundreds of biographies of retired baseball players which baseballreference.com links to its player pages.  Costello wrote all the biographies for Virgin Islands players, and I relied on heavily in producing my recent post, The Best 10 Players from the U.S. Virgin Islands in MLB History and this post.  I don’t know whether players from the Virgins Islands are great story tellers or whether Costello is simply a great interviewer — probably a little bit of both.

Valmy Thomas was the first player from the Virgin Islands to play in the major leagues, and he had a fascinating career.  He was born in Puerto Rico because his mother thought she’d better care there than in the Virgin Islands, and she and the newborn Valmy returned to St. Croix as soon as it was safe for them to travel.

Thomas grew up in the same St. Croix neighborhood as Alfonso “Piggy” Gerard, the first important professional baseball player from the Virgin Islands and the only Virgin Islander who played in the Negro Leagues.  Gerard was about a decade older than Thomas, but they later played professionally together for eight years for the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers) of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

During Thomas’ youth in the Virgin Islands, the most popular sport was cricket, and that is what Thomas’ father and most of the fathers of the Virgin Islands’ first wave of major league fathers, with the notable exception of Al McBean‘s father O’Neal McBean, was one of the best pitchers in the Islands’ nascent amateur baseball scene.

By the time Thomas was a teenager, there were four amateur teams on St. Croix in which to develop young players.  However, Thomas did not quickly enter professional baseball.  Instead, he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 or 18 in 1943 and remained in the service through 1949.  He was stationed in the much larger Puerto Rico during this time, where he was able to continue playing amateur baseball at a level than that available on St. Croix.

One of his most memorable experiences during this period was an amateur competition in which he played for a Puerto Rican team in Cartegena, Columbia.  According to Thomas, while he was playing left field, a couple of what he calls “Indians” wearing loin clothes and with matted down hair, came to down to observe the game.  The “Indians” thew something over the fence, but Thomas could not see what it was.  When he investigated, it turned out to be a snake, and that was the last time Thomas was willing to play in the outfield that game.

Thomas’ Puerto Rican Winter League career began in the winter of 1949-1950, and Thomas played on five Puerto Rican Champion Crabbers’ teams during his 13 years with the club and thus in five Caribbean Series during those years.  In one game in the 1950-1951 season, he was spiked on the hand by Puerto Rican star Vic Power on a play at the plate (Thomas was by now playing catcher) and a couple of his teammates asked if Thomas thought the spiking was intentional or an accident.  If the former, Thomas claims, the teammates pulled out knives and showed Thomas where they intended to stab Power.

In the summer of 1951, signed to play for St. Jean, a town 20 miles outside of Montreal, in the Class C Provincial League.  St. Jean had a working relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was common in the early integration era for major league organizations to send newly signed young black and Latino players to play in Canada, where their presence on integrated teams was much less controversial than in the U.S.

Although Thomas played well in Canada, batting .296 and playing all over the field based on the team’s need, he quit after the season because of economic reasons.  According to Thomas, he made $400 a month in 1951, and Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey sent him a contract for 1952 offering only $350 a month.  Thomas “voluntarily retired” in order to protect his future eligibility, but what he actually did was spend the next three summers playing professionally in the Dominican Republic, where he was paid $1,100 a month to play fewer games each week.  Of course, Thomas also continued to play professionally during the winters in Puerto Rico.

Valmy Thomas split catching duties with Harry Chiti on the Santurce Crabbers 1954-1955 team, a team which Don Zimmer has called the greatest Winter League team of all-time.  The club featured Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Bob Thurman in the outfield and contained numerous other major league and former Negro League players.

In the summer of 1955, Thomas returned to St. Jean after the Dominican League switched to a winter schedule.  The Crabbers owner Pedrin Zorilla had a good working relationship with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham and after playing back in the Pirates organization, the Giants selected Thomas in the Rule 5 Draft that winter.

In 1956, Thomas was initially assigned to the Minneapolis Millers, the Giants’ top farm team.  However, it was a cold spring in Minneapolis, and Thomas threatened to quit and return to the Caribbean.  Instead, Thomas was able to convince the Giants to assign him to their Albuquerque club in the lower level Western League.  There Thomas batted .366 with power.

Thomas was apparently offered a September call-up to the Giants, but instead elected to return to Puerto Rico to prepare for winter ball, because Thomas said he didn’t want to sit on the bench in New York.  In the spring of 1957, he came into the Giants’ camp expecting assignment to AAA Minneapolis again.  However, a strong spring performance and injuries to catchers ahead on the team’s depth chart enabled Thomas to make the major league squad out of Spring Training.

Ever the sharp businessman, Thomas was irked when Stoneham’s son in law Chub Feeney tried to play a fast one on Thomas’ 1957 contract.  According to Thomas, the team’s major league minimum was $6,000, but a player automatically earned $7,500 if he made the team out of Spring Training.  Feeney represented the additional $1,500 as a “raise” even though Thomas had made the team out of Spring Training and the team was in Thomas’ understanding obligated to pay him the higher figure.  Thomas complained about it Horace Stoneham, and Stoneham offered to raise Thomas’s contract to $8,500.

Thomas was the Giants’ leading catcher during the team’s last season in New York.  He played in 88 games and slashed .249/.296/.390 and played his customary strong defense, throwing out 12 of 28 (43%) attempted base stealers. After the season ended, he returned to the Virgin Islands for a islands-wide Valmy Thomas Day to celebrate him as the first local player to reach and succeed in the major leagues.

However, Thomas was already 31 years old in 1957, and he became the back-up to the younger rookie Bob Schmidt in 1958, the team’s first season in San Francisco.  He played about as well as he had the year before in a more limited role, but he was traded along with Crabbers’ battery mate Ruben Gomez that off-season to the Phillies for Jack Sanford.  Sanford became a star for the Giants, winning 24 games in 1962, but Gomez and Thomas were reaching the end of their major league careers.

Thomas played 66 games for the 1959 Phillies, but only batted .200.  He only sporadically in the majors in 1960 and 1961, and 1962 was his last season in the MLB system.  It was a turbulent season for Thomas indeed.

Future manager Jim Frey was playing in the International League in 1962.  According to him, he was batting in a game in which Eddie Lopat‘s brother Ted was the umpire and was having trouble calling the high strike.  The ump called two pitches above the letters strikes and Frey complained.  Lopat told Frey to get back in the batter’s box and swing at the next pitch, because Lopat was going to call it a strike no matter where it was.  According to Frey, he responded, “If you do, I’ll take this bat and beat you to death with it!”  Valmy Thomas was the catcher while this exchange was going on.

Despite this threat on his life, Lopat did not eject Frey.  Later in the game, Thomas came to bat, and when Lopat called a strike on a questionable pitch, Thomas called Lopat an S.O.B., according to Frey, and was immediately ejected.  Thomas went ballistic, pushed the umpire and then hit him on the chin.

Thomas was sold by his team to a team in Rochester for which he never played, instead winding up on the Atlanta Crackers roster shortly thereafter, following a 30-game suspension imposed on Thomas.  Lopat resigned the next day in protest over what he thought was an insufficient punishment.

In Atlanta, Thomas became involved in a love triangle, and on August 21, 1962, the other man, 42 year old musician and mortician Cleveland Lyons, shot Thomas twice in the chest after Lyons climbed in threw a window of the building in which the shooting occurred.  Lyons then killed himself.

Despite being critically wounded, Thomas recovered quickly and was even able to play ball successfully back in Puerto Rico that winter.  According to Frey, the next time Thomas saw him, Thomas grabbed Frey by the throat and shouted at him, “You dirty S.O.B., you almost got me killed!”

The winter of 1962-1963 was Thomas’ last season of professional baseball however.  After his career, Thomas returned to St. Croix were he got a job with the Virgin Islands’ government Department of Recreation.  He arranged a Yankees-Red Sox exhibition game in St. Croix and brought down Hank Aaron and Lou Brock to clinics to teach young Virgin Islanders baseball skills.  He also worked as a promoter and brought Muhammad Ali to St. Croix for an exhibition in 1965.  He was also a supporter of horse racing on the islands and ran a sporting goods store there for many years.  He died in 2010, less than a week before his 85th birthday.