Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ category

Bunt Doubles

April 3, 2018

The subject of bunting against today’s exaggerated defensive shifts has been on my mind for some timeHere’s an article listing all of the bunt doubles one writer was able to find through the 2012 season.

The preceding linked article contains another link to a fangraphs article about the two bunt doubles in the 2012 season.  Interestingly, neither was against a shift.  Instead, fielders failed to keep the ball in front of them on plays that couldn’t properly be called errors, and the hitter got credit for a double.

The most famous bunt double against the shift that I am aware of is Robinson Cano’s 2013 effort.  In my mind, it is an absolute masterpiece: a scoreless game, two outs, a hard, punched, yet well placed bunt, and Robinson Cano finds himself in scoring position — the play at second wasn’t even major league close.

This youtube video from September 2016 shows a couple more presumably recent bunt doubles, but except for Cano’s, they are not against the shift.  One is another can’t be called an error, but the fielder made a mistake; and the other is an exceptionally well-placed hard bunt that went far enough into right field between the 1Bman and 2Bman that it went for a double.

I think we don’t see more bunt doubles because most players who face the most exaggerated shifts are still left-handed power hitters who can’t bunt to save their lives.  But, dammit, at least a few of them should learn.

Joey Gallo, in particular, should learn to bunt and do it often enough to f@#$ with the heads of opposing defensive strategists.  Last week I read a fangraphs article from late last season about how Gallo is perhaps the most extreme pull-hitter in all of the major leagues.

Last year, Gallo hit a brutal .209, but was still a valuable hitter because of his home runs and walks.  You know what? Gallo could still hit home runs and draw walks, while bunting for base hits often enough to bring up his batting average and cut down on what are likely the most extreme defensive shifts ever seen anywhere.

Really, what has Gallo got to lose?  Gallo runs surprisingly well for a man his size, and I just don’t see how a disciplined, confident major league player would throw himself out of his normal game by occasionally bunting when there are fewer than two strikes and the defensive shift is particularly extreme.  If the defense wants to play all four infielders right of second base and play the left-fielder in left center, Gallo could become the first major league player to bunt for a triple merely by bunting the ball hard into shallow left field ten feet from the foul line.

Mickey Mantle used to bunt for base hits sometimes when he was in a slump.  If the Mick could do it, so could modern sluggers.

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Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.

Notes on NPB Free Agents

March 2, 2018

I had long thought that NPB free agent contracts were effectively limited to four years in length.  I may well be wrong.

Some reporting says that last off-season, Taiwanese NPB star Daikan Yoh (real name Yang Dai-kang) may have signed a five year long deal with NPB’s wealthiest club, the Yomiuri Giants.  In fact, free agency exists in NPB only because the Yomiuri Giants in the early 1990’s wanted to make it easier for themselves to pry away the best veteran players from the other NPB teams.

An NPB player becomes a domestic free agent after seven or eight seasons of major league play, depending on whether the player is initially signed out of high school (8 yrs) or college/industrial league (7 yrs).  A domestic free agent effectively forces a trade, by being able to sign with another NPB team (usually but not always one of NPB’s three rich teams) with the team losing the free agent getting to select an unprotected player from the signing team and/or getting a cash payment.  For example, when the Yomiuri Giants signed Yoh last off-season, his former team the Nippon Ham Fighters elected to receive solely a portion (60%) of Yoh’s 2016 salary, which came out to a payment of 96 million yen ($900,000).

An NPB player becomes an international (true) free agent after nine full seasons of major league service.  He is then free to sign with anyone without his former team receiving compensation.  Needless to say, a very small percentage of NPB players play in NPB’s major leagues long enough to become true free agents.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that if a player elects to become a domestic free agent (NPB players must affirmatively elect to become a free agent, and for mainly cultural reasons, many players choose not to exercise their domestic free agent options) and signs with another NPB team, he cannot become an international (true) free agent for four more seasons beyond the seven or eight it took to become a domestic free agent.

As you may have surmised, the best NPB free agents who sign with NPB clubs typically sign four year contracts, since that is how long it will take for them to become free agents again.  These players are typically the best NPB players who aren’t quite good enough to tempt MLB teams or wish to stay in Japan for their own reasons.  Like the de facto 600 million yen annual salary cap (no one in NPB history has ever received a contract for more than 650 million yen in a season and that was only former MLB closer Kazuhiro Sasaki after he returned to NPB on a one-season deal), the four year de facto limit for free agent contracts is determined by the circumstances rather than by an actual rule.

It’s unlikely any NPB player will be good enough to earn more than 650 million yen in a season any time soon, because any such player has already left for MLB and its vastly higher salaries.  For example, the Yomiuri Giants once offered Hideki Matsui $61 million for ten seasons, but he elected to sign with the New York Yankees and made more than $83 million over his 10 year MLB career.  That’s small potatoes compared to Masahiro Tanaka‘s and Yu Darvish‘s more recent MLB contracts.

Reportedly, Daikan Yoh was particularly concerned with a long-term deal, rather than on maximizing his salary per season over a four year deal, and he had other suitors which (may have) convinced Yomiuri to give him a fifth season.  Probably the fact that Yoh is a foreign player (although he may not be considered a “foreign” player for purposes of NPB major league roster limits since he was apparently drafted by the Fighters in the NPB amateur draft in 2007 — he’d have become a free agent much sooner if treated as a foreign player for roster limits) had something to do with his insistence on breaking the unwritten rules.

Texas Rangers Give Tim Lincecum Major League Contract

February 28, 2018

The Texas Rangers have reportedly agreed to give Tim Lincecum a major league contract to pitch for them pending a physical.  The amount of the guarantee hasn’t been reported, but I would guess it’s between $1M and $1.5M, given Lincecum’s veteran status and how they intend to use him.

In his recent showcase, Lincecum reportedly hit 90-93 mph on the radar gun and his breaking ball was sharper than when last seen.  The early word is that the Rangers intend to have Lincecum pitch out of the bullpen, and there is even a possibility he could compete for the closer role.

Lincecum famously wanted to continue to be a starter, but with a year away from the game, he may be willing to do whatever the Rangers want.  Lincecum has only pitched in relief in eight regular season games.  However, he has also made seven relief appearances in the post-season and was terrific in those appearances, mostly pitching long relief throwing at least 1.2 IP and as many as 4.1 IP in six of the appearances.

It will be interesting to see if Timmy can claw back a little of his old glory.  As a Giants fan, I will always root for him to succeed, and I’m also glad he didn’t sign with the reportedly interested Dodgers.

Boston Red Sox Reportedly Reach Agreement with J.D. Martinez

February 20, 2018

The Boston Red Sox have reportedly reached an agreement with J.D. Martinez on a five year contract that guarantees Martinez $110 million and contains opt-outs after both years two and three of the deal.  The deal is front-loaded with Martinez earning $50 million through the first two seasons and $72 million through the first three seasons but only $38 million over the last two seasons.

Martinez is guaranteed a full $40 million less than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, but he gets the two opt-outs.  The effect of the deal is that it is much more future performance driven that the free agent contracts of old, as Martinez will almost certainly opt out if he has seasons in either 2019 or 2020 in which he plays in 150 game and has an OPS at the average of his last four seasons (2014-2017).

What I find interesting about this contract and to a lesser degree with Eric Hosmer‘s recently reported contract with the Padres is the degree to which the contract is front loaded.  In years past, teams always tried to push the highest paid seasons toward the end of the contract term in order to take advantage of the time value of money.  When added to the 100 year old tradition of paying superstars more as they got older, even as their performances began to decline, the time value of money was a powerful incentive for teams to back-load contracts.

What is clearly going on is that teams no longer want albatross contracts, where the teams are paying massive amounts of money for poor performance later in the contract period.  In particular, wealthy teams like the Red Sox expect to contend every year and certainly do not intend five year rebuilding periods that small market teams resign themselves to.

Teams are now obviously more concerned with paying top dollar for the years they reasonably anticipate getting top performance and paying less as the player gets older.  Teams are realizing that no matter how wealthy or poor they are, they have a certain budget for player salaries each season which increases over time at a fairly predictable rate in line with predicted future revenue increases.  If you push back free agent contract compensation to the later years, those are years in which the team is predictably resigning itself to mediocrity or worse.  Added to this are the incentives in recent collective bargaining agreements which punish teams for going over an imposed salary cap.

In the late 1980’s Bill James wrote an article about how the New York Yankees under George Steinbrenner were on what amounted to a second-place treadmill.  At that time the Yankees were building their teams largely around elite free agents, who were really good only for a year or two and then became expensive mediocrities that prevented even baseball’s richest team from building a truly great ball club.  It’s taken awhile for teams to learn the point that James was making all those years ago, but it now seems the teams have learned it.

As time passes, we will see more contracts which reject the old rules of free agent contracts.  I’m certain of this, because we’ve seen over the years the way in which free agent contracts have evolved, for example using team options, player options and opt-out clauses.

Also, I took a sports law class in law school in which the students negotiated various player contracts.  Coming into the practice negotiations with fewer preconceptions about what the contract should look like and negotiating only on the basis of the factual situations involving the player and the team, we came up with some pretty wild contracts.

In representing an imaginary football player in negotiations with an imaginary team that was hoping to win it all the next season and had the money to spend now, I negotiated a two year deal in which the player received 85 or 90% of the contract amount in the first season with most of the 85 or 90% in the form of a signing bonus, so that the money would already be paid out to the player even if he got hurt as soon as he started play for his new imaginary team, since NFL contracts are typically not guaranteed due to the frequency of serious injuries in football.  Also, I wasn’t taking into account taxation or the fact that young athletes tend to spend money as they make it and won’t necessarily be prepared to save enough in year one to handle the steep drop in compensation in year two.

In the real world, past practice tends to shape contracts in the short term, not to mention the fact that the parties involved in the negotiations are better aware of all the real world variables.  Over time, however, real world contracts will ultimately get to roughly the same place as law school experiments if the factual situations are roughly the same (and taking into account all the real world variables).

Owners would love to get back to the world before free agency, not only when players could not access a free market of teams competing for their services, but also when a player’s compensation was determined a year at a time and was thus largely linked to the immediately preceding year’s performance and thus anticipated next season performance, and could be quickly reduced if the player ultimately had a bad season the next year.

Both Martinez’ contract with the Red Sox and Yu Darvish‘s recent contract with the Cubs require the players to perform at an extremely high level in the early years of their respective deals to fully reap the potential benefits of the contract.  That is well to the advantage of their signing teams, and this year the teams have been able to impose these terms on these players.  We’ll see what happens next off-season, but I think we’ll be seeing more of the same.

 

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.

Evidence of Collusion?

February 18, 2018

A lot has been made of the incredibly slow free agent market this off-season and the fact that teams seem less willing to spend on free agents than they were only a few years ago.  The MLBPA and player agents have expressed their concerns that teams are again colluding, and Scott Boras pointed to recent statements by Commissioner Rob Manfred that several free agents had received offers over nine figures, information he would not have unless teams were sharing information about their offers with each other or the Commissioner’s office.

However, Manfred’s statements don’t mean a whole lot, since he can claim media reports as his source of information that several free agents have received offers over $100 million.  Rumors have abounded that all of Yu Darvish (now proven), J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer have received offers above the golden $100 million mark.  In fact, at the start of the off-season, all three were predicted to do well better than a mere $100 million in guaranteed money.  The real dispute is that these players are only getting $100M to $126M guaranteed offers instead of the $140M to $160M guaranteed offers anticipated.

One fact that suggests teams collectively are fighting to keep player salaries down is the 22 salary arbitration cases this off-season that went to decision.  That’s the most salary arbitration cases to go to decision since the 1994 strike, and it beats the previous highs (14 in each of 2001, 2015 and 2017) by more than 50%.

The players went 12-10 in the 22 cases this off-season and went 7-7 last off-season.  Historically, the owners have won 57% of all salary arbitration decisions (319 out of 562) going back to 1974, including the results from the last two off-seasons.  There’s certainly something in both the number of salary arbitration cases going to decision and the outcomes to suggest that for the last two off-seasons at least (while there were 14 salary arbitration decisions in early 2015, the owners won eight of them, and there only four arbitration decisions in 2016) teams are taking a harder line on agreeing to raises for salary arbitration eligible players their teams intend to keep.

Obviously, one can’t make too much out of the salary arbitration results for only two off-seasons.  Each off-season features individual decisions by eligible players and teams in negotiating a salary increase or going to arbitration hearing, and the salary arbitration process is now advanced enough that both sides have fairly good ideas of what are reasonable salary proposals based on precedent and where the arbitrators can accept only one of the two numbers submitted.

At the same time, when taking this year’s exceptionally high number of salary arbitration decisions into account with the obvious drop in interest in and the bidding on free agents this off-season, it does appear that teams are as a group making greater efforts to limit the amount of revenues they have to pay out to players as compensation.  Whether that’s a result of active collusion between the owners, or merely the result of normal market capitalism as effected by better player value analytics and the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, remains to be determined.

For what it’s worth, even though owners have won roughly 57% of all salary arbitration decisions, the players love salary arbitration while the owners hate it.  The reason is that now even the poorest, stingiest, least interested in winning teams have to pay their good salary arbitration eligible players the same amount of money as the wealthiest teams have to pay.  Salary arbitration in conjunction with free agency has caused the enormous increase in player salaries since 1974.

Also, I strongly suspect that free agents have less value today than they did, say ten years ago, is because we have had the longest period without expansion since MLB’s expansion era began in 1961.  When you add in that MLB teams are bringing in more and more foreign talent from more countries, the level of play at the major league level is extremely high and it’s relatively easier to replace or acquire talent outside of free agency.

I contend that the current circumstances are akin to MLB in the 1950’s when there had been no successful MLB expansion since 1901 and black and dark-skinned Latino stars were allowed to play in the white leagues for the first time since the 1880’s.   The addition of only two additional expansion teams would have a big impact on the relative value of free agents, because there would be more demand for the elite players good enough to reach free agency based on six full seasons of major league service.  You would also see more players like Fernando Abad, who just received a non-guaranteed deal from the Phillies despite a 3.30 ERA with the Red Sox last year, get guaranteed major league deals.