Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ category

Who Saw Four Home Runs from Scooter Gennett?

June 7, 2017

Anyone who bet on Scooter Gennett to have a four home run game, that’s like winning the trifecta on three horses running longer than 20-to-1 to win.

You have to give Gennett credit: he really socked all four pitches.  My favorite was the home run the opposite way to left field, where he hit it just fair and to the shortest part of the yard, but still no cheapy since he hit it 10 or 12 rows deep.

Pat Seerey (86 career HR) and Mark Whiten (105) were clearly the worst modern home run hitters to hit four in a game.  Both Whiten and Gennett had only 38 career HRs the day before their big day.

Pat Seerey was a player with skills that would be much more recognized today than in his own time.  Mark Whiten was five months younger than Scooter Gennett on their special days.

Mark Whiten’s career was a disappointment after his 1993 season, the year he hit four, although he was good in 1996, the only subsequent year he played more than 100 games — injuries were a big part of his limited career HR total.

If Scooter Gennett stays healthy, I think he’ll show a marked improvement going forward, sort of like Daniel Murphy since his performance in the 2015 post-season.  Sure, it’s only one game, but when a player accomplishes something this rare and sees the company he’s now keeping, it has to boost a player’s self-confidence tremendously.

I don’t know how Scooter wouldn’t feel confident after watching footage of his four swings.  He really socked ’em.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon and Other Developments

December 7, 2016

There was an article in the SF Chronicle today entitled, “New Giants Closer Mark Melancon Explains Why He Picked SF.”  Surprisingly, the quote, “They gave me a sh*$-load of money!” appears nowhere in the article.

The Giants were determined to sign Mark Melancon and they did by the basic expedient of offering him the most money.  It’s an all-in kind of move since Melancon will be 32 in 2017, but now is the time for one last run at going deep into the post-season with this core of players.

Today’s big news is the Chris Sale trade.  It’s a hard pill to swallow for Chi-Sox fans, given that they had a good chance at their first over .500 season since 2011 going in to the upcoming season, and now they most certainly do not. The team went 18-14 in Sale’s 32 2016 starts, which means the team without him is going to have to be about 12 games better than they were last year to finish 2017 with a winning record.

From White Sox management’s perspective, though, the move makes a great deal of sense.  Sale was definitely a squeaky wheel in 2016, and the White Sox got a boat-load of young talent in exchange for the three years of now bargain-price control on Sale’s contract.  Yoan Moncado, Michael Kopech and Luis Basabe all look like great prospects, and Chicago got a fourth B-level prospect to boot.  Things might look up dramatically for the White Sox in 2018 or 2019.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.

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.

Some Notes on Asian Players in the U.S. and Vice Versa

September 26, 2016

Jung-ho Kang and Hyun-Soo Kim were both in the news today for very different reasons.

Kang made a play on Bryce Harper today that is probably acceptable in South Korea’s KBO, but that doesn’t fly in MLB, to say the least.  Harper hit a ball into the right field corner and legged it out for a triple.  The relay throw was well off line and threatened to disappear somewhere up the left-field foul grounds, and Kang faked a tag on Harper, forcing Harper to slide and thus likely preventing Harper from scoring on the play.

The TV announcer’s comments pretty much said it all: [I’m paraphrasing] “You don’t make that play in MLB, or anywhere in [American] baseball because you might cause the base runner to hurt himself thinking he has to slide at the last minute.”  In fact, that’s exactly what happened.  Harper hurt his thumb on the play, the same thumb he had operated on in 2014.  He stayed in long enough to score the run later in the half-inning, but then came out for a defensive replacement.

The next time Kang came up to bat, the Nationals pitcher threw a pitch well behind him and was promptly ejected.  The fans were then treated to classic baseball “brawl” with players pouring out of the dugouts and a lot of pushing and shoving and bear-hugs and not many, if any, punches thrown.

It’s worth noting that Kang was seriously injured last year on a take-out slide at second base, a play no less dangerous and probably much more dangerous than Kang’s fake tag.  After the game, Kang said he was simply trying to prevent Harper from scoring on the play.

In short, absent playing in the U.S. from the start of your professional career or someone telling you not to do it, there is no way for an Asian player to know what dangerous plays are permissible under the MLB “Code” and which ones are not.  That said, I will not be surprised if a Nationals’ pitcher succeeds in plunking Kang next season in the first series the two teams play against each other, particularly if Harper’s injury impacts his play-off performance.  It’s well recognized in MLB that you protect (and take vengeance on behalf of) your teammates.

As for Kim, he was in the news for slugging a two-run homer that proved to the difference in a 2-1 Orioles’ victory.

Kim has become a remarkably successful platoon player for the O’s.  He is a dreadful 0-for-18 against left-handed pitchers this season, but has an on-base percentage just shy of .400 against righties.  The O’s have been remarkably successful at making sure Kim does not bat against lefties while still getting him more than 300 plate appearances against righties.

This is a big advantage Asian players playing in MLB have compared to former MLB players playing in the top Asian leagues.  Given the relative salary structures of the different leagues, Asian players can have success in MLB as relievers or platoon players and still make as much or more money than they can make in Asia.

Kim got a two-year $7 million contract from the Orioles, which is the same amount he’d have received over four years to remain in South Korea’s KBO.  He probably could have made the same money in two years playing in Japan’s NPB.

On the other hand, MLB platoon players going to Asia are at a distinct disadvantage because they are being paid to play every day in Asia.  If they are good enough or lucky enough, they can hit enough against lefties to keep them in the line-up so they can chew up right-handed pitchers.  Often, however, they have just as much trouble with Asian lefties as they did with port-siders States-side, and their Asian baseball careers are short-lived.

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.