New 10-Day DL Rule Obviously Makes Sense

Posted April 15, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals

I didn’t write anything earlier about the new 10-day Disabled List rule, because it just seemed to be such an obvious improvement over the 15-day rule.

Part of the reason for the so long adherence to the 15-day rule was to prevent teams like the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers from taking advantage of their much deeper minor league systems to bring up major league level talent stuck in the minors for limited high value appearances.  The old rule meant that you lost a player for 15 days if you sent him to the DL, lessening the relative value of the selective, high value call-up.  The idea being that a player didn’t go on the DL unless he was really hurt.

This rule makes no sense this far into the Draft era, and it already appears that MLB teams are going to the 10-Day DL faster they went to the 15-Day.  Gone, perhaps, are the days of waiting three or four days before retroactively employing the DL, to see if the injured player wasn’t hurt that bad and could return without a 15-day loss of his services.

Now teams have less incentive to play a man short for several games and more incentive to give the injured player enough time to recover.  In today’s game, where a new player can be there in one game thanks to air travel and chartered jets, that 25th man on the bench is more valuable than ever.

The 10-Day rule gives teams more flexibility, and means star players can potentially come back from injury sooner.  What’s not to like?

Baltimore Orioles Shuffle Pitchers on their 40-man Roster

Posted April 15, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Uncategorized

The Baltimore Orioles made a flurry of moves today, mostly involving minor league pitchers and international draft slots.  It seems clear that the Orioles are making a calculated gamble that the best 16 and 17 year old Latin American players aren’t worth the risk.

The O’s obtained Damien Magnifico from the Brewers and Paul Fry from the Mariners for respectively, the 15th overall international draft slot (worth $885,000) and the 105th international draft slot worth $198,000.  Meanwhile, Baltimore designated Jason Garcia and Parker Bridwell for assignment and traded Oliver Drake to the Brewers for cash or the infamous player to be named later.  Phew, that’s a busy day!

I suspect that, while the Magnifico and Drake deals were announced separatedly one day apart, they are closely connected.

Ben Badler criticized the Orioles yesterday for not spending more money on international players the last few years.  The O’s have spent only $260,000 on five prospects in the 2016-2017 signing period, one of whom received $150,000.  According to Badler, the most expensive Orioles international signing of the last three years is the mere $350,000 given to 3Bman Jomar Reyes, who at least looks like a good return on that money so far.

I have to agree with Badler: it might have made sense not to take a high risk, high reward strategy in recent years when signing bonuses were high for the best players, as at least five or six teams flouted the rules each signing period and elected to sign as many good players for as much money as it took in exchange for losing big money signings for the next year or two.  But now that there is effectively a draft with capped bonus pools, it seems crazy to me not to participate fully.

The Orioles have obviously decided they are still going to go with players closer to the majors than tender-aged international prospects, as they have now traded away what would be their 1st and 4th round international picks in the first international draft.

Looking at what the Orioles netted today, it seems highly likely that they’d have been better off with the two international slots.  Magnifico and Fry are obvious improvements over the two pitchers designated for assignment to make space on the 40-man roster.  Both look to have major league stuff as bullpen pitchers, are still looking for their command, and are young enough they may yet find it.

However, Oliver Drakes, although already 30, has even better stuff than Magnifico or Fry, and has the same command issues.  Drake may yet be as effective a major league reliever as either Magnifico or Fry going forward, despite a a poor start (in only three AAA relief appearances) this year.

This doesn’t look like a worthy trade for 1st and 4th round international slots, unless the aforementioned player to be named later turns out to be great.

Hit This Sign Win 100 Million Yen

Posted April 5, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

Chubu Nippon Broadcasting Company (CBC TV) has promised 100 million yen if any player hits their sign in the Nagoya Dome (home of the Chunichi Dragons).  Here are some images that give you an idea of the home run that needs to be struck to win the prize.  It will take a hell of a home run to hit the sign, but it looks doable with a lot of luck.

The 100 million yen ($900,000 at today’s rates) prize is split evenly between the player who hits the mammoth and well placed shot, and fifty viewers, who will each get 1M yen each ($9,000).  That somehow sounds very Japanese to me.

A $450,000 prize is more than 10% of what almost all of NPB’s sluggers make in a full season, so the incentive is certainly there, much as it was for all the MLB home run heroes of 1959 who appeared on the one and only season of Home Run Derby, back in the days when MLB salaries were still relatively low.

 

Why Can’t Joe Mauer Hit for Power?

Posted April 4, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Minnesota Twins, Uncategorized

One of the reasons the Twins have been terrible in recent years is Joe Mauer‘s move from catcher to 1B/DH.  He went from being one of the best catchers in baseball to an aging 1Bman who no longer hits .300 and hits for no power.  He hasn’t had a .400 slugging percentage since 2013, and that just kills you from 1B/DH position, even if Mauer still gets on base like a starting IB/DH.

The Twins’ demise (and I well remember when the Twinkies were the-small-market-team-that-could) is hardly entirely Joe’s fault.  He was still performing at a Hall of Fame caliber in 2012 when the team lost 96 games anyway.

Most players of Mauer’s talents add power as they age.  Even if you see the 28 HRs Joe hit in his best season (2009) as a fluke, since he’s never hit more than 13 in any other major league season, Mauer had more than 50 extra base hits in two other seasons during his prime.  Usually, a lot of those doubles and triples turn into home runs as the number of lines on the back of the baseball card gets longer.

For years I advocated that playing a guy of Mauer’s size (6’5″ and 225 lbs) who could hit like a young Joe Mauer at catcher for years and years was going to ruin a perfectly good Hall of Fame career.  I turned out to be right, but not for the reasons (injuries) I expected.

Traditionally, big catchers who hit so well that they play too much burn out right quick, usually because of leg and back problems. However, Mauer still runs surprisingly well for a man his size who has played more than 900 MLB games at catcher.

Mauer’s hit eight triples and stolen seven bases in eight attempts over the last three seasons.  He isn’t going to win any team footraces, but he’s certainly not among ten, or probably even 20, slowest IB/DH types in MLB.  I initially thought that perhaps all that catching had ruined his legs, but it doesn’t match with the speed stats above, or the fact that he still plays pretty regularly for a player with knee and back problems.

Instead, Mauer’s ruin seems to have been the concussion he suffered in August 2013, as the result of foul balls off his mask, something no catcher can avoid. (espn.com’s recap doesn’t even mention it, since Mauer probably toughed it out and finished the game.)  Here’s a source who almost certainly knows more about the Twins than I do from mid-season 2015, which attribute the drop in batting average, and, inferencially, his failure to add power, to his 2013 brain injury.  That off season, Mauer admitted to vision problems as a result of the concussion which lingered through the 2015 season.

I still think that Mauer may yet be an 18-20 HR a year player, at least for one season.  He isn’t that old for a player of his proven ability, he still runs well, and he may eventually get over the concussion that occurred more than three and a half years ago, particularly since he’s never played catcher again.  It’s hard for me to believe that a player of Mauer’s proven offensive ability can’t show a little pop and potentially have one last great offensive season (or at least an OPS over .850) in the two years before his contract expires.

As for Joe Mauer’s long-term contract, what are you gonna do?  The Twins had to sign Mauer to the long-term enormous deal because he was the local boy who made good.  Mauer had earned that contract, because how could the fan base not love him?  It’s just an unfortunate, even if somewhat predictable, bummer, because how could a team not overplay a big catcher of Mauer’s ability?

Byung-ho Park to Start 2017 Season at AAA Rochester

Posted March 31, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Minnesota Twins

I saw that Byung-ho Park didn’t make the Minnesota Twins out of Spring Training and will instead be starting the season at AAA Rochester.  For most of the off-season, I thought that the best thing for Park would probably be to spend 40 to 60 games to start this season in AAA, where he could play every day and quite literally get up to speed on MLB system baseball.  Now, I’m not quite so sure.

In Spring Training, Park hit six home runs and posted a 1.159 OPS, which was the best for any Twins player with at least 25 plate appearances, and Park had more than twice that many.  I’m a strong believer that players who have great Spring Trainings should be rewarded with a roster spot, particularly if they are players who are already damned close to being major league players.

I’ve also heard that the new management team the Twins hired this off-season aren’t particularly enamored with Park and see his signing as a mistake made by the old administration.  To me, that makes no sense, since the commitment to Park at this point ($9.25 million guaranteed over the next three seasons, plus a very affordable $6.5 million option for 2020) is such a bargain in today’s game, particularly for a guy who showed so much power potential (22 HRs in 372 at-bats at the major league and AAA level) in an otherwise forgettable season.

Maybe Park has finally gotten up to speed and is now ready to have a reasonably successful major league career.  That said, in the greater scheme of things 40 to 60 AAA games isn’t a big deal so long as Park doesn’t get discouraged or hurt.  If Park hits well at AAA Rochester, it’s fairly certain that someone in Minneapolis will get hurt or won’t hit on what looks fairly certain to be another well below .500 Twins’ ballclub.

Park’s power is very real, and I’m still convinced he could be a productive player relative to the financial commitment the Twins made to him.  What I would hate to see is Park not get every reasonable opportunity to prove he can be a major league player because the Twins’ new management sees him as a holdover mistake by the management team they replaced.

Since the money has already been spent, why not at least see if you can get something out of your investment no matter how much you might now see the original signing as a mistake?  Even if you don’t like Park’s overall game, if he can prove himself a major league hitter, you might be able to trade him and his affordable contract off for somebody you really want next off-season.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2017

Posted March 28, 2017 by Burly
Categories: American League, Arizona Diamond Backs, Baseball Abroad, Baseball History, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers

As everyone knows, contemporary pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2017 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats, in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.183 career batting average and .542 career OPS).  For the third year in a row, fangraphs rates big-swinging MadBum as the most productive pitcher as a hitter in MLB.

On paper, Jake Arrieta‘s 2016 slash line of .262/.304/.415 is much more impressive than Bumgarner’s .186/.268/.360.  I expect that park factors play a big role in fangraphs’ ratings.

In the last three seasons, MadBum has slugged 12 HRs in 229 at-bats and driven in 33 RBIs.  There isn’t a team in the National League who couldn’t use that batting performance from a starter.  He’s also the only major league hitter since the start of the 2015 season to homer twice off MLB’s best starter Clayton Kershaw.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.219 BA, .580 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.

Greinke’s 2016 was his weakest offensive performance in four seasons.  Still, he hit .212 with a .476 OPS, which is great for a contemporary pitcher.

3.   Mike Leake (.203, .522).  Mike Leake has disappointed me as a hitting pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three major league seasons (2010-2012), but since then he’s just been a better than average major league average hitting pitcher.

I bet this has something to do with making adjustments.  By the 2013, major league pitchers realized that Leake could really hit and they’d have to pitch to him like a real hitter, and they’d figured out his weaknesses.  Leake doesn’t seem to have made the necessary counter-adjustments, and now he’s just a better than average hitting pitcher.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.200, .562).  Gallardo hasn’t played in the NL in two years, but he’s 4 for 8 the last two seasons in the AL. His 33 extra base hits in 424 at-bats is what makes him a threat at the dish.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  With well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.198 BA, .613 OPS).  Syndergaard passed the 100 career at-bat threshold in 2016, and his combination of power (three HRs in 2016) and willingness to take a walk (seven in 67 plate appearances) made him a real threat at the plate this past season.

I’ve been writing versions of this post long enough now that I’ve noticed that pitchers who hit well through their first 100 major league at-bats tend to regress in subsequent years to towards the pitchers-as-hitters mean.  That’s why I’m ranking him low until he proves he can keep doing it.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.217, .546).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) Hudson is now a relief pitcher, and despite 70 relief appearances, the 2016 Diamondbacks didn’t give him even one plate appearance in spite of the fact that he had his one big season at the plate in 2011 as a D’Back (no wonder the 2016 D’Backs lost 93 games); and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010 (CC’s 0-for-18 over that span).

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.   As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits over his career to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.232, .526).  Chatwood was a starter again last year and made it over the 100 at-bat threshold in 2016.  He’s a fine hitting pitcher who probably benefits as a hitter from making half his starts at Coors Field.  Needless to say, Coors Field doesn’t do much for him as a pitcher.

10.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .522 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, was moved to the bullpen in 2016, and signed this off-season with the AL’s Kansas City Royals for the next two seasons, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers anytime soon.

11.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross is coming back from a major injury and pitching for an AL team, the Rangers, this year, but he sure hit in 2015 for the Padres.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.244, .628).  Lorenzen can hit, but he has to establish himself as a starting pitcher if he ever hopes to reach the 100 at-bat cut-off.  He pitched exclusively in relief last year, but was used as a pitcher or allowed to hit five times in which he hit slugged a homer for his only hit.

Shohei Otani will be one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers as soon as he signs with an MLB team some years from now.  I’m hoping an NL team signs him for this reason.

The top two prospects in this year’s amateur draft, Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, are two-way players, who will most likely be developed as pitchers.  Thus, the odds are good that one day at least one of these two will make a future year’s version of this post.

As final notes, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Also, since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter by 2030.

Remembering Jonathan Sanchez

Posted March 21, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants

According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Royals just released Jonathan Sanchez as he attempted what will almost certainly be his last MLB comeback attempt.  The thought of Sanchez brings back at least some fond memories.

Giants’ fans will remember a largely frustrating career — great stuff, not enough command — that culminated in one fine year in which the Giants just happened to win their first World Series since 1954. That, and his 2009 no-hitter.

2010, when Sanchez went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA, was his one full season to remember.  His command still wasn’t great that year, but his stuff was so good that he allowed only 142 hits in 193.1 innings pitched, and he struck out 205.

Sanchez last pitched in the majors in 2013.  Injuries set in quickly in quickly after the 2010 season, and his career was straight downhill from that point.

He pitched well in the Puerto Rican Winter League in post 2015, but this past Winter League season he pitched only two innings in one start in which he gave up only one hit, but walked four while striking out three.  If his arm is healthy, he could get a shot pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter league next off-season, but that’s about it, unless he’s willing to pitch in Mexico this summer.

In today’s game, it’s hard to feel sorry for Sanchez.  His career may not have been what he and the SF Giants hoped for, but he made more than $15 million playing professional baseball, and he’s earned a substantial major league pension, which will go far indeed if he spends any significant part of each year in Puerto Rico.

It’s tough to be an MLB player this generation, but those who can have any kind of career are now well compensated.