Archive for Welcome to the Majors

2013 NPB Free Agents in Context

Earlier this week, the great NPB prospect maven, Patrick Newman, ran down a list of the 2013 NPB free agents of interest. He identifies five free agents as likely candidates for impact in the MLB:

1. RP Kyuji Fujikawa
2. SS Hiroyuki Nakajima
3. SS Takashi Toritani
4. 2B Kensuke Tanaka
5. RP Hideki Okajima (who is poised for his second tour of MLB duty)

Newman — a Japanese speaker and a far more qualified scout — offers about the best scouting and contract analysis for which one could ask. But today, let us study the coin’s tail and examine the stats of these players in context with their leagues.

NOTE: My wOBA+, FIP+ and BABIP+ calculations are league adjusted only, not park adjusted.

RP Kyuji Fujikawa
Newman calls Fujikawa, rightly, the head of the class. I have previously examined Fujikawa’s impressive numbers and prognosticated on how his numbers would transition in the MLB. My conclusion, based on his numbers, is that he could easily be a high-leverage reliever in the MLB, starting on day one:

Two of the last three seasons have not been particularly his best years, but even at his worst, Fujikawa is an excellent NPB pitcher. I think we can expect anything from 70 FIP- to 90 FIP- from him in the MLB — at least for a season or two.

SS Hiroyuki Nakajima
I have written about Nakajima on several occasions (when the Yankees paid his posting fee, when the Yankees looked like they might execute a sign-and-trade, and when he put up another great year in the NPB in 2012), and I suspect he could be a starting infielder for a good number of MLB teams.

Newman reports Nakajima’s aging range will lead to an infield job outside of shortstop, and I have little reason to doubt that. In all likelihood, he will sign as a utility player, but I think he very well could play himself into a starting job, much like Norichika Aoki did in 2012.

I am bullish on Nakajima and think he could reasonably do as Aoki did and translate much of his offensive numbers cleanly into the MLB. If not a perfect 1:1 translation, Nakijima should still have no problem hitting in the 100 wRC+ to 110 wRC+ range, which is great for a middle infielder.

SS Takashi Toritani
According to Newman, Toritani has a better hope of sticking at shortstop than Nakajima, but since his offensive production is so walk-heavy — a trait that does not bode well for (domestic) minor leaguers since walk-rates do not translate cleanly into the MLB — teams may not offer him much in the way of either playing time or remuneration. If he can bring his strong offense and decent defense to the States (or Canada), he would make for a healthy catch:

He had a particularly good 2011 season, but the 119 BABIP+ was clearly a departure from his recent norm, so I think we can consign him to a a 115ish wOBA+ in the NPB. It is hard to say exactly how those numbers would translate into the MLB, but my developing rule of thumb is to make it worse by 20 points, which would be about 95 wRC+, which is 10 wRC+ points better than the league average shortstop.

SS Kensuke Tanaka
Tanaka may be the only second baseman of the three infielders testing the MLB markets, but he grades as the best defender. Also, Newman says Tanaka is possibly willing to sign a minor league contract, which should essentially guarantee he will be in the US (or Canada) within the year. His numbers do not suggest he would make for a suitable starter in the MLB, but given his versatility and small ball skills, he could make for a quality utility player for many teams:

Tanaka profiles much like a 75 wRC+ to 95 wRC+ infielder. If his defense is as good as Newman suggests, and if he is able to hitting in the upper levels of that range, then Tanaka will have no problem competing for a bench spot — or even a starting role on a team struggling for infielders. In all likelihood, though, he is Kaz Matsui with even less offense, but more defense.

RP Hideki Okajima
Blast from the past! Okajima has finished his one-year spirit journey through the NPB and is poised for an MLB comeback. He lasted only 7 MLB games in 2011, and then the Yankees released him in February 2012, but in Japan, he dominated like an MLB veteran should. He appears well-poised to play a valuable role out of an MLB bullpen in 2013:

Okajima’s first three seasons in the MLB were exceptional. If he is healthy and feeling younger, he could again post numbers in the 80 to 90 FIP- range.

Much of these projections are optimistic. There is always a chance any one of these players could have their leg snapped within the first month and never be the same again. They might also have certain skillset that for whatever reason just does not translate into MLB parks or against MLB hitters/pitchers. But regardless of the possibilities, the relatively thin infield market and the, as always, wealthy reliever market may be richer than we might think.


Reassessing NPB Talent Levels

Here are the four rookie position players above 3.0 WAR in the 2012 season:
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Adam Greenberg Gets His Shot

The Marlins will be giving former Chicago Cubs farmhand the at bat he lost seven years ago. According to multiple sources, the Marlins are signing Adam Greenberg to make an appearance in their series against the New York Mets:

Greenberg, on July 9, 2005, was hit in the back of the head on the first pitch from Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos, giving Greenberg a severe concussion and effectively ending his MLB career. I was watching the game with my mother. I remember it well.

And now, after a public campaign to get Greenberg another shot at the majors, the long-time minor league and independent league 31-year-old player will get his chance.
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Addison Reed: Shutdown Numbers, Meltdown Stuff

In 2011, White Sox reliever Addison Reed faced 293 minor league hitters and struck out 111 while walking only 14 of them. It was a good year for Reed. He went from A-Ball, to High-A, to Double-A, to Triple-A in 3 months and 15 days.

In 2012, Reed has faced 229 major league hitters and struck out 52 while walking 18. He has also allowed two more home runs than in his time in the minors while facing 64 fewer hitters.

Despite all this, the AL Central-leading, supposedly rebuilding Chicago White Sox have called on the rookie Reed to perform as the team’s closer. And even with his his 4.82 ERA, the White Sox have stuck with him and have been rewarded with the 9th most net shutdowns in the American League (28 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns, 19 net SD) and a total of 28 saves.

So have the White Sox done it? Have they finally found the heir to the ghost of Bobby Jenks? Or have his recent struggles been a portent of pending trouble?

Well, Reed has a few oddities on his stats sheet, and depending on which items we consider aberration and which we consider omens, it can alter the way we see the 23-year-old relief ace.
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Drew Pomeranz Needs Better Secondary Pitches

Drew Pomeranz takes the mound today for the Colorado Rockies. The 23-year-old lefty came into the 2012 season with Matt Moore expectations, but so far has Jamie Moyer results. On Tuesday, he takes the bump aiming for a solid 4.0 IP against the playoff contending Atlanta Braves, and if he hopes to salvage anything from his forgettable rookie season, he will need to get his secondary pitches working for him.

Pomeranz has improved over the last two months, as his K-rate and BB-rate have both moved in the right direction:

But in order for his success to grow, Pomeranz will need to dramatically alter his approach, and that starts with his curveball.
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Yoenis Cespedes: Rookie of the Year in Any Other Year


According to reports, this is how Billy Beane feels.

The casual fan will be excused for not knowing this, but Yoenis “La Potencia” Cespedes is having a phenomenal rookie year.

The Cuban import entered the league this past offseason with a fanfare rivaled only by that of Yu Darvish, who had the weight of his own nation’s media trained on him. But Cespedes — he of the plucky YouTube training video, he of the flight from totalitarian Cuba — has been just as worthy, if not more, of the media’s eye.

His rookie campaign started with a little old fashioned oh-em-gee — three home runs in the opening Tokyo series against the Mariners — but then the excitement petered out as an injury, a muscle sprain in his left hand, stalled his season.

But do not let that trick you. Not only is Yoenis Cespedes crushing the ball this season, he is hitting like one of the best rookies in the league — and if this were any year but Mike Trout‘s, then he’d be in serious Rookie of the Year contention.
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Braves Call Up Andrelton Simmons

Only three NL teams have a higher BABIP against than the Braves, a number which would be even worse if not for a top notch defensive outfield. Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward are all plus defenders in the outfield, but the Braves have struggled tremendously on the defensive front in the infield. Dan Uggla is annually one of the worst defensive second baseman in the league, Chipper Jones and Juan Francisco are both below average in the field, Freddie Freeman maintains a solid glove but very limited range, and Tyler Pastornicky has been the worst defensive shortstop based on pretty much every metric.
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Fiers Handcuffs Dodgers in LA

Injuries have run rampant throughout Major League Baseball this season, and one of the teams most decimated by injuries has been the Milwaukee Brewers. The club has six players on the disabled list, including pitchers Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada, which forced the organization to dip into the minor league system for a spot starter on Tuesday evening against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That spot starter was right-hander Michael Fiers.

The 27-year-old Fiers earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the Brewers’ farm system in 2011, compiling a 1.86 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He struck out more than a batter per inning over 126 innings of work and displayed an ability to throw four pitches — fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup — for strikes in any count. He eventually pushed his way into top prospect lists, with our own Marc Hulet ranking him as the 15th-best prospect in the Brewers’ system coming into the season.

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Hideki Matsui Returns: The Rays, Godzilla, and LHP


Godzilla’s back, and there’s gonna be trouble.

Hideki Matsui, after a somewhat* underwhelming display in Triple-A, will join the Tampa Bay Rays tonight as they take on the Chicago White Sox at home. Some might suspect the move has to do with Monday afternoon’s outing against the White Sox in which Chris Sale struck out 15 Rays hitters — against a lineup featuring backup catcher Jose Lobaton as the DH, minor league veteran Rich Thompson playing left field, and a menagerie of infielders who started the season in the minors or the bench.

*I say somewhat because he was still hitting the ball well.

But the Rays front office rarely works hastily, and in fact Matsui’s callup is somewhat late. The team had previously suggested Matsui would arrive for the preceding Red Sox series, but instead delayed that transaction.

With the move, utility outfielder Stephen Vogt will likely return to the minors and will have to wait a little longer for his first major league hit or walk (he has 17 PAs but not yet reached even first base). How does Matsui fit on this Rays team — a team that already features five left-handed hitters? The answer is not fully clear, but there’s going to be a problem somewhere.
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Rich Thompson and the MLB Dream

“In the end,” Thompson wrote, “very few people will remember anything I have done as a baseball player. But hopefully they will remember what kind of person and teammate I am.”

– the Philadelphia Inquirer

For those who missed the Rays and Red Sox game last night, here’s the update: In the bottom of the eighth, moments before a blood-souring hit-by-pitch to Will Rhymes, pinch runner Rich Thompson took over for Luke Scott at second base. Much of the audience was probably — and perhaps rightly — focused on Rhymes.

But at the same time, Thompson standing at second was a spectacle in itself.
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Is Bryan LaHair’s Success Sustainable?


A visual analysis of Bryan LaHair’s swing.

Yes. Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair will sustain his success. The Cubs have indeed caught lightning in a bottle.

LaHair is leading the MLB with a .510 BABIP and is third behind Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton with a 36.4% HR/FB ratio. Fans of Chicago’s northside and fans of regression to the mean have begun to pay extra close attention to LaHair because he has performed so well in these luck-affected categories. In Mike Axisa’s most recent first baseman rankings, he moved LaHair up to Tier Four, though he was uncertain of what LaHair would look like after the smoke cleared:

LaHair is off to a scorching start but his numbers will come back to Earth a bit once his .545 (!) BABIP returns to normal. That said, the man can definitely hit.

But how much of LaHair’s world-shattering .511 wOBA is white noise, and how much is thunder? Let’s investigate.
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Wieland Gets Call to The Show

Every player processes the news of their first big league call up differently. Some whoop and holler. Some suppress the excitement and act as if they expected it all along.

Right-hander Joe Wieland, however, experienced an outpouring of emotion in the Tucson Padres dugout when he learned of his promotion to the Padres’ big league club. He broke down crying and began hugging all of his teammates that surrounded him.

Wieland is expected to make his first major league start on Saturday evening on the road against a division rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Yoenis Cespedes and the Success of Cuban Players

The Yoenis Cespedes signing is at hand. The exciting Cuban defector is at most weeks, at least days, away from a payday with a major league ball club:

And according to Baseball America’s Jim Callis, Cespedes would instantly be the top prospect for 24 of the 30 franchises:

If Cespedes had signed, he would have ranked somewhere in the 10-15 range on my list. The only systems in which he wouldn’t be a slam-dunk No. 1 would be the Angels (Trout), Rays (Moore), Nationals (Harper), Rangers (Darvish), Mariners (Jesus Montero) and Orioles (Manny Machado).

(Tip o’ the hat to MLB Trade Rumors.)

But is all the hype really warranted? Is Cespedes really going to make an impact? Heck, is he even going to play on a major league club in 2012, or just work his way through the minors?

We cannot say for certain what the Future holds so greedily in its little secrets pouch, but we can delve into the grayish soup of history and at least make a guess. And my guess is we will both see Cespedes in 2012, and he will not be so bad maybe.
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Is Yoenis Céspedes a Good Fit for the Chicago Cubs?

According to Diario Libre, the Chicago Cubs appear to be the leading in the chase to acquire Cuban defector and free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The intriguing center fielder spoke with the media on Monday night, sharing this unexpected tidbit:

“Of all the teams who have come, the most interested in me has been the Chicago Cubs,” Cespedes said Monday at the Quisqueya Stadium… “I dined a few times with them and talked a lot, but that does not mean it is certain I will sign with them. I’m just telling it like it is, they have shown more interest than others.”

(translated by Google Chrome and me, Brad)

If I had snuck into your house this morning and grabbed you by the shoulders before you reached a news device and asked you: “What team is making the biggest play for Cespedes right now?” I’m fairly confident you would have answered, “The Miami Marlins; I’m calling the police.”

But, nay, it is Chicago apparently. Much of this offseason, the Cubs have been playing the quintessential flirt, giggling as they trot around the country, driving prices up for all the free agents they don’t really want.

Well, maybe this Cespedes business is for real. And if it is, does it makes sense?
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Hiroyuki Nakajima: Sign-and-Trade Possibilities

On Tuesday, we took a look at the New York Yankees surprise acquisition of SS Hiroyuki Nakajima via a $2.5M positing bid — the lowest bid for a position player since 2000. Now, it sounds increasingly likely that the Yankees will explore trades for the 29-year-old infielder.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants are both interested in Nakajima, and — frankly — I am surprised there are not even more teams rather interested in one of Japan’s best hitting shortstops.

Rosenthal got some quotes from a rival scout that are somewhat illuminating on the defensive makeup of Nakajima:

“This kid wants to play baseball,” the scout said. “He’s not going to take Jeter’s place, but he’s capable of being an everyday shortstop in the big leagues.”

The scout projects Nakajima as a .270-.280 hitter who will drive in runs and use his instincts to steal bases, despite being a below-average runner. He lacks arm strength at short, but has great hands, very good range to his left and hangs in on the double play, the scout said.

So does Nakajima fit with the Cubs or Giants?
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Matt Moore: Tampa Bay’s Best Ever Pitching Prospect

Going into the 2007 draft, all the buzz was about David Price. The left-hander from Vanderbilt was a veritable lock for the #1 pick in the draft, giving the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — fresh off a 101-loss season — a top arm to go along with 2006 top pick Evan Longoria. Price was a bona fide ace, an All-Star in the making that already had two plus pitches in his fastball and slider.  As was expected, he rose quickly through the minors and has already established himself as one of the top pitchers in the majors in only his second full season.

But this story isn’t about David Price. Instead, this story is about the best pitching prospect selected in the 2007 draft. It’s about the best pitching prospect the Rays have ever had. It’s about Matt Moore.

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Shocked by the Call Up of Chris Schwinden

In 2009, the Savannah Sand Gnats boasted the best starting staff across the New York Mets organization. With Historic Grayson Stadium within walking distance, I scouted 50 or so of their games that season which included starts by each of their starting pitchers. Among the pitchers i saw was Chris Schwinden, who is scheduled to debut Thursday for the Mets.

On that staff, I nicknamed one pitcher “family night” and took the night off from scouting whenever he pitched. That player was Chris Schwinden, who was considered a non-prospect by not only me, but by contacts I spoke to who watched him in person.

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Rookie of the Year, Playing Time, and WAR

A fair amount of Most Valuable Player and Cy Young discussion has been going around lately, and while it seems a bit early with a month left in the season, I suppose it is understandable. There has been less discussion of Rookie of the Year. I don’t blame anyone for that. I really don’t get that worked up about the individual year-end awards. (I’m not quite brave enough to say that I don’t care, maybe if Greinke hadn’t won in 2009 the story would have been different.) And if I’m not that pumped about the MVP or Cy Young races, why should I be excited about Rookie of the Year?

Still, a number of rookies have been impressive this season, so it is worth discussing. Brett Lawrie, for example, has hit so well in only 26 major league games that he’s already at two WAR for the season, right of there with the best of the American League rookie hitters. What if he (or Desmond Jennings, or whatever player you want to pick) keeps this up? What if they put up more value than any other rookie in less than half of a season? Would you vote for them for Rookie of the Year?

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Holy Cow, Mike Trout!

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard the big news: top prospect Mike Trout has been promoted to the majors. He’s filling in now that center fielder Peter Bourjos has strained a hamstring and is expected to be out through the All-Star Break (and who knows for how much longer). In a season where we’ve already seen a wide range of top-rated prospects get promoted to the majors — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, etc. — this promotion takes the cake; Trout is arguably the best prospect in baseball (only Bryce Harper can give him a run for his money), and he’s a mere 19 years old.

Most people weren’t expecting to see Trout with the Angels until 2012, but it’s tough to argue that he doesn’t belong in the majors right now. From all reports, his tools are out of this world, and he’s given the Texas League (Double-A) a thrashing this season to the tune of 9 homeruns, 28 stolen bases, and a .429 wOBA.

That doesn’t quite do Trout justice, though. If you need a bit more perspective on his awesomeness, here are some #TroutFacts:

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The Next Market Inefficiencies: Little People in Baseball

The following is the first and behemoth installment of a three-part (or more) series concerning baseball’s next great market inefficiencies.

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Official MLB Rulebook, Page 22

On Tuesday, in the sixth round of the MLB Draft, the San Diego Padres selected outfielder Kyle Gaedele (who the Tampa Bay Rays had previously drafted in the 32nd round of the 2008 draft). Gaedele plays center field and shows good signs of hitting for power, but what most writers, sports fans, and guys named Bradley talk about is Gaedele’s great uncle.

Casual fans probably do not know about Kyle’s great uncle, Eddie Gaedel (who removed the e off his last name for show-business purposes). We nerds can forgive the casual fan for forgetting a player who outdid, in his career, only the great Otto Neu. Gaedel took a single at-bat, walked to first, and then left for a pinch runner.

What makes Eddie Gaedel a unique and important part of baseball history, however, is not his statistics, per se, but his stature. Gaedel stood 3’7″ tall, almost half the height of his great nephew. Gaedel was the first and last little person to play in Major League Baseball, and the time has come for that to change.

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