Archive for the ‘Toronto Blue Jays’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men, Part II: The Pitchers

October 20, 2017

Here are some starting pitchers who seem like good bets to sign with a KBO or NPB team for 2018:

Drew Hutchinson (27 in 2018).  Hutchinson looked like a burgeoning star in 2014 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he’s only thrown 24 major league innings since the start of the 2016 season.  He didn’t pitch in the Show at all this year, despite posting a strong 3.56 ERA in 26 starts for the International League’s Indianapolis Indians.

One would think that Hutchinson would be receptive to a guaranteed offer from an NPB club; and one or two strong seasons in Japan could put his MLB career back on track.

Wilmer Font (28).  Font hasn’t pitched much in the majors (7 IP over eight appearances with an ugly 11.57 ERA), but he was dominating for the Pacific Coast League’s Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017.  His 3.42 ERA was the only ERA under 4.00 by any PCL pitcher who threw at least 115 innings, and his pitching line of 134.1 IP, 114 hits, 11 HRs and 35 BBs allowed and a whopping 178 Ks was even better.

Font will have a hard time breaking through with the pitching rich Dodgers, and I would expect a KBO team in particular to make him a strong offer.

Justin Masterson (33), Tom Koehler (32) and Dillon Gee (32).  A trio of veterans with substantial MLB resumes, all three look to be at a point in their respective careers where the Asian majors would be each pitcher’s option, at least if they want to continue starting.  Masterson, also pitching for the OKC Dodgers, recorded the PCL’s second best ERA at 4.13 and recorded 140 Ks in 141.2 IP, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.

Koehler pitched well in relief for the Blue Jays late in the 2017 season, but might well get a better offer to be a starter for an Asian team than a reliever for an MLB one in 2018.  Pretty much the same for Dillon Gee.

T.J. House (28).  House was pretty good for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA and 108 Ks in 133.1 IP.  He also has enough of an MLB track record that he might interest an Asian team.

Anthony Bass (30).  Bass pitched for NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 and pitched pretty well (3.65 ERA in 103.2 IP), although he was not invited back.  This year, he pitched well enough for the PCL’s Round Rock Express (4.18 ERA, 87 Ks in 75.1 IP) to get a two game cup of coffee with the Rangers.  He seems like he’d be a good bet for a KBO team in 2018.

Other starting pitchers who might well get an Asian offer too good to pass up are Williams Perez (27), Cody Martin (28), Michael Blazek (29), Vance Worley (30) and Paolo Espino (31).

The relief candidates for NPB in 2018 (KBO teams only want starters) number as many as 50.  These are the ones I like best.

Louis Coleman, Al Alburquerque and Ernesto Frieri (all 32).  A trio of live-armed, proven MLB relievers who pitched great in AAA in 2017, but aren’t likely to get major league contract offers for 2018.  It’s reasonable to assume that at least one of them will be pitching in Japan next season.

Preston Claiborne (30).  He’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, but didn’t get much of a look from the Rangers in spite of a 1.89 ERA and 16 saves at AAA Round Rock.

Bruce Rondon (27) and Blaine Hardy (31).  A couple of Tiger hurlers who may well be non-tendered this off-season, because both are arbitration eligible.

Jack Leathersich (27), Dayan Diaz (29) and Simon Castro (30).  Will they or won’t they receive major league contract offers from their current MLB teams?  That is the question that will most likely determine their receptiveness to any Asian offers.

Other reasonable relief possibilities: Michael Tonkin (28), Alex Wimmers (29), Brandon Cunniff (29), Deolis Guerra (29), Felix Doubront (30), Josh Smith (30), Jason Gurka (30), Zac Rosscup (30), Jeff Beliveau (31), Rhiner Cruz (31), Erik Davis (31), Pat “Switch Pitcher” Venditte (33) and Edward Mujica (34).

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Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

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.

Joe Biagini Was Great for the Toronto Blue Jays, or Mark Melancon on My Mind

October 16, 2016

Joe Biagini pitched two shutout innings in a losing cause to the Tribe today, and it finally made me take full notice of just what a great rookie season he’s had for the Blue Jays after they claimed him in the Rule 5 draft from the San Francisco Giants.

I had written up Biagini before about his great start at AA Richmond in late May of last year.  I remember noting in my own mind, at least, that the Jays had claimed him in the Rule 5 draft, but apparently didn’t think it was worth writing about.  I also seem to recall noting that he had made the team out of Spring Training and that he was off to a good start.

Then I forgot about him.  As I had written in May 2015, Biagini’s final numbers in AA that year essentially matched his numbers at the time I wrote about him.  Biagini finished the year with a 2.42 ERA in 130.1 innings pitched.  However, he struck out only 84 batters, a sharp drop down from previous years to a 5.8 strikeout rate.

Figuring out that Biagini might be much better in relief was either a based on scouting or an educated guess.  He struck out 62 in 67.2 IP major league innings, an 8.4 rate, which is fine for a top set-up reliever.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account from his numbers is his very low home run rate, which at 0.5 is terrific.  His ability to keep from giving up the long-ball really helped him this year.

I certainly wish the best for Biagini going forward, particularly since he didn’t necessarily have a role in the Giants’ pen this year, which already had lots of relievers as good Biagini.  What killed them was not having someone who could consistently pitch the 9th inning.

So, the Giants are reported to be interested in Mark Melancon as the least expensive of the big three free agent relievers available this Winter.  Well, the Giants can certainly afford him.  I could see him getting five years and $50+ million, given how bad management probably wants a top closer.

Slugging It Out in South Korea: The Best Foreign Hitters in KBO History — 2016 Update

October 9, 2016

The 2016 KBO regular season has ended, so it’s time to update last year’s post on the best foreign hitters in the KBO’s history.  KBO only began allowing foreign players in 1998, and it’s is a young league, starting play only in 1982.  What that means is that the records for foreign players are very much in play.

Initially, KBO teams brought in mostly hitters; and the foreigners, at least at first, hit a lot of home runs.  As the league improved, KBO teams began to realize in the second half of the 2000’s that North American pitchers were worth more to them than the hitters.  So much so that by 2012 and 2013, there were no foreign hitters in the league at all.

KBO teams expanded the roster space for foreigners from two to three in 2014 (four for the expansion KT Wiz) with the requirement that one of the three be a position player/hitter.  Foreign hitters have been back in the league the last three seasons and have fully taken advantage of an extreme hitters’ league.  However, most of them have not yet been in the league long enough to challenge the foreign player records set in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Batting Average  (2,000 at-bats)

Jay Davis .313

Hits

Jay Davis   979

Jay Davis had far and away the best career of any foreign hitter in the KBO, with Tyrone Woods as the only other player in the conversation.

The problem is that very few foreigners have had long careers in the KBO.  Until the last few years, when increased revenues made bigger salaries possible, the foreigners who played in KBO were clearly a cut below the foreign players who signed with Japanese NPB teams.  They tended not to maintain their initial KBO performance levels for long — three full seasons was a long KBO career for a foreigner — or they moved on to greener NPB pastures.  NPB still offers greener pastures for the best KBO players, as NPB teams simply can offer bigger salaries based on greater revenue streams than KBO teams can.

Home Runs

Tyrone Woods   174

Jay Davis   167

Eric Thames  124

Cliff Brumbaugh  116

Tilson Brito   112

Karim Garcia   103

Felix Jose     95

In the early days (late 1990’s and early 2000’s), KBO teams paid foreigners to hit home runs.  The most prolific was Tyrone Woods, who blasted 174 dingers over five KBO seaons and then moved on to the NPB, where he blasted 240 HRs in six seasons.  Woods never played even one game in the major leagues, and there are some reasons to believe that PEDs may have had something to do with his tremendous Asian performance, at least by the time he reached NPB.

Eric Thames is the best of the hitters to join the KBO since the foreign player roster expansion in 2014, and he’s averaged more than 40 home runs per year in his three KBO seasons.  My guess is that Thames returns to MLB (he’s already a proven MLB hitter with a .727 OPS in 684 career plate appearances) or joins Japan’s NPB in 2017 (the Hanshin Tigers reportedly have great interest).

Thames can earn more in either place (his reported 2-year $3 million KBO deal which ends this year is about as high as it gets for a foreign player), and he also ended the 2016 KBO season suspended for the last eight regular season games and the first play-off game, after being arrested for a DUI.  His blood alcohol level reportedly tested at .056, which would be legal in California (.08), but not in South Korea where the cut-off is .050.  If I were an MLB or NPB general manager, I would not be particularly concerned about the incident, unless, of course, it happens again.

Cliff Brumbaugh played briefly for the Rangers and Rockies in 2001 before starting a successful seven year career in South Korea and Japan.  You probably remember Karim Garcia and Felix Jose, who both had significant major leagues careers, and you may remember Tilson Brito, who played in 92 MLB games in 1996-1997 for the Blue Jays and the A’s.

Runs Scored

Jay Davis    538

RBIs

Jay Davis   591

Tyrone Woods   510

As you can see from the above numbers, the KBO records for foreign hitters are ready to be broken in all categories, because so relatively little has been accomplished by foreign hitters to date.  It’s mainly a matter of whether any of the post-2014 crop of foreign hitters hangs around lot enough to add their names to the above list in a few more years’ time.

Assuming that Eric Thames does, in fact, leave, one good bet to make the lists one day is former San Francisco Giants’ prospect Brett Pill, who has been remarkably consistent in his three year KBO career.  He’s played well enough to keep being invited back, at least so long as his salary demands are reasonable, but not so well that he’s likely to return to MLB or move up to NPB.

Intentional Walks

May 22, 2016

Someone recently wrote a dumb article arguing that the intentional walks should be discouraged by advancing base runners even when there are bases open, essentially turning the intentional walk into a single.  The impetus for this article was the May 8 game in which the Cubs walked Bryce Harper six times and hit him with a pitch in seven plate appearances.  The Cubs won the game in 13 innings 4-3.

The basic argument of the article was that fans don’t want to see the game’s best hitters pitched around.  That makes a certain amount of sense.  However, there are a couple of obvious flaws with the argument.

First, it’s a little late in the day for this change.  Pitchers and teams have been pitching around the game’s best hitters at least since the days of Babe Ruth and the rise of home runs in 1920, and probably since the heavy hitting days of the 1890’s.

Second, baseball is supposed to be a team game.  An intentional walk is almost always a failed strategy if the next batter reaches base safely.  If a team has one great hitter in the heart of its line-up, but no one else that can hit, why shouldn’t the opposing team be able to take advantage of that fact by pitching around the team’s only strong hitter?

That’s exactly what the Cubs did in all four games of that series against the Nationals, which the Cubs swept.  The Cubs won all four games by no more than three runs, and Harper scored only three runs in spite of reaching base 14 times without hitting safely, so obviously the strategy worked.  Why shouldn’t the onus be on the Nats to find somebody who can hit behind Harper to make other teams pay for employing this tactic?

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t see any way to for the plate umpire to determine whether or not a pitcher is intentionally trying to walk a batter if the intentional walk is eliminated and pitchers simply elect to throw four pitches out of the strike zone without the catcher stepping out from behind the plate.  Presumably, in the early days of baseball, pitchers simply threw four pitches out of the strike zone when they didn’t want a certain hitter to have an opportunity to hit, and at some point, teams did away with the pretense of trying to look like the pitcher was pitching to the hitter in good faith but not throwing strikes.

Pitchers pitch to the game’s best hitters very carefully anyway.  Making the plate umpire decide whether or not a pitcher is missing the strike zone intentionally would lead to a lot of arbitrary decisions or would simply be ignored.

An analogous comparison is allowing umpires to deny the batter a base after the batter is hit by a pitch if the umpire thinks the batter didn’t try to get out of the way.  This rule is almost always ignored, even for batters who every one knows don’t try to get out of the way (Don Baylor) or who appear to be moving out of the way but are actually moving into the pitch (Ron Hunt).  As a result, the rare instances when the rule is enforced, for example during Don Drysdale‘s scoreless innings pitched streak when his plunking of Dick Dietz wasn’t called, allowing the streak to continue, always seem arbitrary and capricious.

MLB has only been keeping track of intentional walks since 1955.  What is interesting about the stats is except for when Barry Bonds was juicing hard between 2001 and 2004 and hitting like Babe Ruth‘s big brother, the record for intentional walks for a season is Willie McCovey‘s 45 in 1969.

Since the end of the Steroids Era, it’s not at all clear that intentional walks are much more common now than they were before the Steroids Era.  It’s also worth noting that the intentional walk appears to be much more of a National League strategy, perhaps because of the DH in the AL, with the top 17 single season intentional walks totals recorded in the Senior Circuit.  Further, walking Barry Bonds as much as teams did between 2001 and 2004 does not appear to have been particularly effective, as the Giants won more than 100 games more than they lost during those four seasons.

Good time for a trivia question — who holds the American League single season record for intentional walks?  Answer below.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this issue again is that MLB is reportedly discussing a rule to make the intentional walk automatic, meaning that the defensive team could simply advise the umpire of its intent to issue an intentional walk without the need for four wide pitches.  Presumably, the purpose of the new rule, if formally approved, is to speed up the game.

MLB is also discussing reducing the strike zone from the bottom of the knees to the top of the knees.  If enacted and enforced by the umpires, this is anticipated to boost offense.  More offense means more intentional walks, as the cost of the intentional walk (a free base) is less when the league’s best hitters become more productive offensively.

The American League record for intentional walks in a season is 33, set my Ted Williams in 1957 and matched by John Olerud in 1993.