On Deck for My KBO ESPN Debut

Over the past two months, with no Major League Baseball to watch due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve absorbed myself in the progress and eventual return to play of the Korea Baseball Organization. It’s a league to which I had previously paid little mind beyond the arrival of Hyun-Jin Ryu 류현진, the return of Eric Thames 테임즈, and the departures of several less familiar players, such as knuckleballing lefty Ryan Feierabend 피어밴드, but it’s one to which I suddenly felt more drawn via my connections to FanGraphs alumni Sung Min Kim 김민 and Josh Herzenberg. Both are now living in Busan and working for the Lotte Giants, the former in the R&D department, the latter as the team’s pitching coordinator and quality control coach. Recent discussions with them, with MyKBO proprietor Dan Kurtz, and with KBO alums Josh Lindblom 린드블럼 and Eric Hacker 해커 have taught me a great deal about the league and helped bring me up to speed in offering some analysis. Read the rest of this entry »


The Universal DH Will Not Kill Your Fantasy Plans

Amid the difficulties that need to be hammered out before a theoretical 2020 season gets going, probably the easiest to sort out is the universal DH. Baseball has been inching closer to this outcome — which I’ve felt was inevitable as soon as daily interleague play became a thing — for a while now, and instituting it for an oddball 2020 season is probably the least controversial decision to make. But while it registers as easy when compared to the other issues facing players and league decision makers, for projections, it opens up a whole new can of worms.

When ZiPS projects pitchers, it knows the team and (so it believes) the general league structure. Every club plays 162 games, mostly against teams in their own league, and in interleague play in AL parks, the NL uses the DH. Those things have been thrown into disarray by most of the proposed 2020 changes. 82 games instead of 162 is fairly easy to deal with; you just have to realize you’re going to be inaccurate. Swapping out pitchers for designated hitters is a little different.

To get an idea of what offense will look like and who it would affect, which is important for both real life and fantasy purposes, let’s start by looking at non-pitcher offensive numbers for both leagues from 2008-2019:

AL Rate Changes Without Pitchers Hitting
League Year HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG RC/G
AL 2008 0% 0% -1% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2009 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2010 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2011 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2012 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .000 .001 .001 1%
AL 2013 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2014 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2015 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2016 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2017 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2018 0% 0% -1% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL 2019 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%
AL Total 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% .001 .001 .001 1%

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 5/26/20

2:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to the second edition of my chat in this Tuesday time slot, which thankfully is working better than Monday did in these pandemic-ridden times.

2:05
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Before I dive in, a bit of housekeeping: I’ve been very focussed on the Korea Baseball Organization lately, and at the end of today’s piece on Doosan Bears hitting machine Jose Miguel Fernandez (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/doosan-bears-fernandez-is-tearing-up-the-k…) I noted that I’ll be a guest on tomorrow’s ESPB KBO broadcast. I’ll be joining a Bears-SK Wyverns game, talking with hots Jon Sciambi and Eduardo Perez at around 7:30 AM ET. It’s my first time being part of a game broadcast, even under theses strange conditions, and it should be a lot of fun. I’ll have an Instagraphs post with further details including re-airing times.

2:05
Magic Kingdome: What is your best interaction with a Hall of Fame candidate?

2:07
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hmmmm. I haven’t had a ton of them that particularly stand out. The first, though, was when I got Willie Mays’ autograph, which might have been 1981 or ’82. He was appearing at some grocery store expo at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, one of several players (Don Sutton was also on the list) but the one that I somehow convinced my mom to take me to. I had a 1973 Topps card of Mays as a Met, a hand-me-down from my cousin Allan. We stood in line, and he autographed the card without even making eye contact; he was bored as hell and didn’t care who knew it.

2:08
Avatar Jay Jaffe: More fun was my Vin Scully interaction, from 1989 at Vero Beach, which I wrote about as part of a 2016 Sports Illustrated piece (https://www.si.com/mlb/2016/09/30/vin-scully-tribute-dodgers-jay-jaffe). When I was a college freshman, my parents took my brother and me to Dodgertown during my spring break, and I had a chance encounter with the great announcer himself. From the piece

2:10
Avatar Jay Jaffe: En route to the concession stand before one ballgame, I crossed paths with Scully himself, decked out in a cream-colored golf sweater. I asked for an autograph, then realized I had just a scrap of paper and no pen. Seeing how flustered I was, he agreed to wait while I fetched one from my mother, who was on her way to the restroom. Somehow, I not only got the pen, but Vin waited in place, and signed what might have been a golf scorecard or a ticket stub. I’ve long since lost that piece of paper—inevitable while moving half a dozen times in four years—and I’ve never gotten to meet Scully again despite being now being armed with a credential. But I’ve never forgotten the man’s small gesture of patience and humanity toward a star-struck 19-year-old.

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OOTP Brewers: Taking Stock

Sometimes the math just works out perfectly. Coming into today, our fictional OOTP Brewers have played exactly one third of their season. At 32-22, we’re atop the NL Central by four games, an outcome I would have happily accepted before the season started. Let’s take a look at how we got here before considering our next steps.

First, let’s talk NL Central. The division isn’t the four-way race that many pundits expected before the year began. In fact, the Cardinals have faded more or less completely out of contention:

NL Central Standings
Team W L GB RDiff
Brewers 32 22 3
Cubs 28 26 4 14
Pirates 26 27 5.5 34
Reds 25 28 6.5 -22
Cardinals 21 34 11.5 -48

The true surprise in the division is the Pirates. Keyed by Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove, they’ve allowed the fourth-fewest runs against in the league. On the offensive side, Josh Bell is having a solid year; his 128 wRC+ and 17 home runs pace the team. But despite the hot start, problem spots remain: the team is 11th in the NL in overall wOBA, as well as 11th in FIP. It isn’t hard to imagine the run-scoring numbers moving down to match the peripherals, which would leave the Pirates on the fringes of the playoff chase. Read the rest of this entry »


Doosan Bears’ Fernandez Is Tearing Up the KBO

The defending champion Doosan Bears are merely in third place in the Korea Baseball Organization standings, but through the season’s first three weeks, nobody in the league has been hotter than their designated hitter, Jose Miguel Fernandez 페르난데스. Through Sunday’s games, the 32-year-old Cuban defector is batting .500/.531/.764, leading the league in the first two categories as well as wRC+ (240, via Statiz) and trailing Roberto Ramos 라모스 by a mere three points in slugging percentage. His performance has led the Bears’ powerhouse offense, which alas had trouble papering over the team’s pitching issues.

When you’re hitting .500, everything is by definition hot streak, but Fernandez closed the past week in exceptional fashion even as the Bears did not. After going hitless for just the second time all year on May 20 against the NC Dinos, he rebounded to go 3-for-4 with an RBI in a 12-6 loss the next day, then 3-for-4 with a double, a homer, and six RBI in a 12-7 win over the Samsung Lions on Friday. He followed that up with two more multi-hit games against the Lions, first a 4-for-5 performance that included a solo homer (his fourth) in a 10-6 win on Saturday, then a 2-for-4 showing in a 13-0 loss on Sunday. That’s a 12-for-17 spree, and 12 multi-hit games so far this season, including three apiece of the three- and four-hit varieties. Whew.

Known more for his bat-to-ball skills than his raw power, Fernandez has never homered more than 17 times in a season. But thus far in 2020, the lefty swinger — who lists at 5-foot-10, 185-pounds — has been launching some titanic blasts. Here’s his first homer of the year, off the KT Wiz’s Min Kim 김민 on May 10:

Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1546: Best of the Best

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about viral particles, Mike Trout’s self-identified best at-bat, Carney Lansford’s possible link to Sir Francis Drake, sports card “breakers,” a perplexing story involving Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, Wilbert Robinson’s five birthdays, why a love of playing baseball often translates to a love of anything connected to baseball, the serendipitous discoveries that come from browsing newspaper archives, and a mysterious 1989 Cy Young vote.

Audio intro: Darlingside, "Best of the Best of Times"
Audio outro: The Birthday Crew, "Happy Birthday Wilbert"

Link to COVID-19 guide
Link to Trout video
Link to BP bobbleheads piece
Link to Emma on “breakers”
Link to order The MVP Machine

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Sunday Notes: Rangers Outfielder Scott Heineman Is Painting His Own Picture

Scott Heineman has become increasingly interested in the mechanics of his swing. That said, the 27-year-old Texas Rangers outfielder isn’t married to the technical aspects of his craft. Nor is his approach what one could call cookie-cutter. That was crystal clear when I asked him the ‘art or science?’ question.

“I’d say hitting is more of an art,” Heineman expressed last Sunday. “I’m going to do what’s most comfortable for me. For instance, I’m not going to go out there and imitate Paul Goldschmidt. That’s what works for him — that stance — but I’ve tried it in the cage and it doesn’t work for me. That said, he does things I really like. I guess I could say I’m an artist painting my own picture, and at the same time looking at all the other pieces in the gallery. I’m seeing how they use colors, and whatnot, and putting parts of that into my own art. That’s what I’m doing with hitting.”

Heineman’s portfolio is somewhat spotty. Pointedly bland in last year’s cup of coffee — a .679 OPS in 85 big-league PAs — he’s otherwise made a good impression down on the farm. Heineman’s right-handed stroke has produced a snappy .303/.378/.475 slash line over four minor-league seasons. Ever the realist, he recognizes that those numbers aren’t going to translate to the big-league level if he doesn’t study the masters. Moreover, Goldschmidt isn’t the only bopper whose palette he’s perused.

“I’m not Mike Trout, even though I’ve tried to be Mike Trout,” Heineman told me. “But it doesn’t work. Again, I’ve got be myself. Even so, guys like Trout, Ryan Braun, J.D. Martinez… I take bits and pieces from them.”

Heineman absorbed a valuable chunk of information last September when the Red Sox played in Texas. It came via a player who revamped his swing and has gone on to craft multiple monster seasons.

“Before the game, J.D. Martinez and I were both running out to center field,” said Heineman. “I said, ‘Hey J.D., do you have a second? I don’t want to take you away from your pregame routine, but I’d love to ask you a couple of questions about hitting.’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve always got time to talk hitting.’ So we talked for a couple of minutes, and as we were breaking off he said, ‘Why don’t you tell your clubbie a time that’s good for you tomorrow, and we’ll meet in the tunnel and talk a little bit more.’”

The next day, the two got together in the bowels of Globe Life Park and talked shop for approximately 10 minutes. Some of Martinez’s words pushed Heineman in the direction of science and technology.

“That’s where the all video I like to watch came into play,” Heineman explained. “He half-jokingly told me that it’s not worth taking a swing if you don’t video it. For instance, your body can fool you. You need to be consistent with everything — how you go about loading and triggering into the ball — and that can change without you really noticing. A big thing for me is my elbow. While I might line up a pitch with a high elbow, I know that in the future that probably won’t be a good road for me.

“Another thing [Martinez] said that was cool is, ‘I’m rarely perfect in this game.’ This is a guy who is usually hitting .330 with 30 home runs. He said his perfect swing, his perfect timing, is a line drive home run to dead center.”

Which brings us back to art. Much like an Andy Warhol could never be a Claude Monet, Heineman will never be J.D. Martinez. The former Oregon Duck doesn’t possess that type of raw talent. At the same time, he can be a better version of himself.

“From my experience, no one knows hitting better than Luis Ortiz, our major-league hitting coach, or Howard Johnson, who I had in Triple-A,” said Heineman. “Both are educated on how they need to work with different guys. And that’s crazy, because we’re all different artists. A good art teacher knows how to show each individual how to be their own best artist. From there you can hopefully create a masterpiece.”

——

The Ogden Raptors are reportedly one of the roughly 40 minor-league teams slated for contraction. Count Kyle Farmer among those who doesn’t want to see that happen. The Cincinnati Reds jack-of-all-trades broke into pro ball with the rookie-level Raptors, and his memories of that experience are endearing. Despite the grind.

“I’ve read that they’re in danger, and I’m hoping they’re not,” Farmer told me earlier this week. “It was the perfect transition from [the University of] Georgia to the minor leagues. It was a great atmosphere, a great town, and I stayed with a great host family. It was your prototypical minor-league setting. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to love baseball.

“In college, you have it so easy. Then you go to the minor leagues — especially the Pioneer League with the all the long travel — and you have to adapt. If you don’t love baseball, the minor leagues aren’t for you. It’s a grind. It’s a mental grind. If you don’t learn to sleep on a bus, learn how to go without a meal, then you’re not going to make it. The big leagues aren’t going to happen.”

And then there is the Ogden atmosphere. The Raptors have led the Pioneer League in attendance for each of the last 15 seasons.

“The town supports them so well,” said Farmer “The Raptors are a great landmark for Ogden, so losing them would be awful. Part of me understands why [MLB] would do it, but at the same time, they’d be taking away baseball for so many people. This pandemic is showing how important baseball is to the world. People miss it, and if you take away a small-town team, forever… I’d be sad to see that happen.”

——

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Turkey Gross went 0 for 2 against Lefty Grove.

Oscar Grimes went 5 for 29 against Orval Grove.

Moose Grimshaw went 7 for 20 against Fred Glade.

Skinny Graham went 2 for 4 against Milt Gaston.

Johnny Groth 2 for 6 against Connie Grob.

——

The news that the Baltimore Orioles have released 37 minor-league players has been met with indignation on social media. That’s understandable. The budget cuts, the furloughs, and the ill-advised move toward contraction have combined to leave a sour taste. Even so, some context is in order. Were it not for the pandemic, a good many of the 37 would have been let go more than a month ago.

The number of players each organization releases in spring training varies. Per player-development personnel I checked with (none of whom work for the Orioles) it can range from as few as 15 to as many as 35. One of the estimates I got was “roughly 20-30 each spring.”

Organizations differ in approach. Some prefer to release players at the end of the minor-league season rather than bring them to camp the following spring. Other teams will invite a larger number of players to camp, necessitating more cuts. And the releases don’t always come all at once; they often happen in waves throughout the month of March. Of course, this year’s spring training didn’t progress as usual; it ended abruptly. Exactly how that altered the fortunes of 37 Baltimore Orioles hopefuls is hard to say.

——

A quiz:

Which 1970s-1980s infielder followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for Alabama in the Orange Bowl? Both were quarterbacks.

The answer can be found below.

——

NEWS ITEMS

Japan’s national high school championship, which was to begin on August 10, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in 1915 and held annually at Koshien Stadium, the two-week tournament was last on hiatus during World War II.

The Hiroshima Carp opened up part of their stadium to a limited number of fans on Thursday, allowing them to watch the club’s first practice since spring training was shut down. NPB is hoping to start its season as early as mid-June.

Ken Retzer, who caught for the Washington Senators from 1961-1964, died last week at age 86. Retzer was behind the plate on September 12, 1962 when Tom Cheney fanned 21 batters in a 16-inning complete-game win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Jonathan Becker and Daniel R. Epstein are the new co-directors of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. The duo replaces Howard Cole, who founded the IBWAA in 2009.

The SABR Games Project reached a milestone this past week with the publication of its 2,000th article. The project was launched in 2014.

——

The answer to the quiz is Butch Hobson. The power-hitting third baseman ran the wishbone for Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl. His father, Clell Hobson, threw a touchdown pass in the 1953 Orange Bowl.

——

Jacob Cruz didn’t hit a lot of home runs. The outfielder-turned-hitting-coach went deep just 19 times in parts of nine seasons. But he does share a rare distinction: Cruz is one of just a handful of players whose first and last big-league hits left the yard. The final one, which came in a Cincinnati Reds uniform in 2005, doesn’t have much of a story. The initial one, which came in 1996 with the San Francisco Giants, evokes memories that will last a a lifetime.

A knuckleballer was on the hill.

“It was off [Tom] Candiotti, and it’s crazy,” recalled Cruz, who is currently the assistant hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. “I remember that in the pregame meeting, they talked about how every once in awhile he was going to flip you a curveball when he fell behind. Sure enough, he did.

“My second at bat, Candiotti went 1-0 on me. I remember stepping out and thinking, ‘All right, there’s a chance he’s going to flip a breaking ball here.’ That’s what happened. The ball popped up out his of hand, and my eyes lit up. I hit it out to right-center field.”

His trip around the bases was a mixture of exaltation and anxiety.

“Rounding first base and heading toward second, I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground,” Cruz explained. “I also recall thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, did I even touch first base? Do I go back? Will anybody even notice?’ But you don’t forget that. You never forget that first hit.”

It came in Cruz’s second game. A day earlier, flummoxed by Hideo Nomo’s splitter, he’d gone 0 for 4 with three punch outs. Butterflies were in abundance.

“It’s such a blur,” admitted Cruz. “You’re so nervous. You’re this kid, and we’re playing the Dodgers in front of 30,000 fans at Candlestick. Before the game, my heart was coming through my chest. I’m thinking, ‘Slow down, Cruz.’ And it just never did. Eighth inning, and my heart is still racing. I called my dad afterwards and told him, ‘Pops, it’s tough up here.’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, “My heart never slowed down; I don’t think I can take this every day.’ Of course, it eventually does slow down.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

NPB teams aren’t cutting pay or furloughing employees during the COVID-19 shutdown. Jim Allen explained why at jballallen.com.

ESPN’s Marly Rivera talked to Toronto Blue Jays southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu 류현진 about his experiences in the KBO, and why he thinks you should watch.

At Baseball America, JJ Cooper looked at how minor-league teams on the chopping block are scrambling to find MLB partners.

Beyond The Boxscore’s Kenny Kelly took a look at Yadier Molina and the great catcher WAR.

Will the pandemic set back the Kansas City Royals’ rebuild? Max Rieper explored that question at Royals Review.

At Words Above Replacement, Bill Thompson wrote about how Chiang Chih-Hsien is still packing a wallop in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Bill Buckner had 2,715 hits, including 498 doubles and 49 triples.
Rusty Staub had 2,716 hits, including 499 doubles and 47 triples.

In 1963, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 12 HRs, and 10 steals.
In 1964, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 11 HRs, and 10 steals.
In 1965, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 11 HRs, and 10 steals.

The 1965 Chicago White Sox, a 95-win team, had eight players with between 10 and 18 home runs. No one had more than 18. They had five pitchers with between 10 and 15 wins. No one had more than 15.

Hank Greenberg singled in his only career at bat against Ted Williams.

Players born on this date include Dave Machemer, whose only big-league home run came in the first inning of his first game. On June 21, 1978, Machemer led off for the California Angels and promptly went deep against Minnesota’s Geoff Zahn. As Machemer would later tell me, “It was all downhill after that.” He finished his career with 11 hits in 48 at bats.

On May 23, 2002, Shawn Green went 6 for 6 with four home runs to help lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 16-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Babe Ruth hit his final three home runs on May 25, 1935 as a member of the Boston Braves. It was the fourth three-homer game of his career. Ruth played his last game on May 30, 1935.

Bill Sharman, a Boston Celtics legend and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was a third baseman/outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodgers system from 1950-1955. Sharman received a big-league call-up in 1951 but never appeared in a game.

Roger Clemens’s given name is William Roger Clemens.

High Pockets Kelly was once traded for Pea Ridge Day. High Pockets is in the Hall of Fame. Pea Ridge is not.


Effectively Wild Episode 1545: Boogie Mornings

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about a mystifying comment on the back of track star and Oakland A’s designated runner Herb Washington’s 1975 Topps card, the phenomenon of wildly inaccurate appraisals of player value, and the utility of pinch-running specialists. Then (21:48) they talk to ESPN broadcaster Jon “Boog” Sciambi about calling KBO games from home, learning a new league, the perils and pitfalls of remote baseball broadcasting, how calling games in a different time zone has affected his sleep schedule, making international baseball accessible to American fans, how the pandemic may impact the future of broadcasting, and more.

Audio intro: Phish, "Fast Enough for You"
Audio interstitial: Richard Thompson, "Johnny’s Far Away"
Audio outro: James Taylor, "As Easy As Rolling Off a Log"

Link to Washington’s 1975 Topps card
Link to Andrew’s book about baseball in Taiwan
Link to Cardboard Gods entry on Washington’s card
Link to video of Washington pickoff
Link to 12/1/74 article on Washington
Link to 12/27/74 article on Washington
Link to Sam on Hamilton’s value
Link to Travis on Hamilton’s value
Link to Sam on Washington, Hamilton, and Bolt
Link to Ben on Lords of the Realm
Link to KBO on ESPN schedule
Link to photo of Boog’s backdrop
Link to Boog on building a better broadcast
Link to Bryan Curtis on remote broadcasts
Link to info on Project Main St.
Link to donate to Project Main St.
Link to order The MVP Machine

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 Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com


FanGraphs Audio: Craig Edwards Recalls He Is a Lawyer

Episode 887

I welcome FanGraphs writer Craig Edwards to the program. Craig and I discuss the growing tension between team owners and players, MLB’s claim that a season of fanless games will result in $4 billion in losses, the move to shorten the amateur draft, and the discourse surrounding it all. Plus, Craig briefly puts his lawyer hat back on to assess the so-called smoking gun email, and we recall the 2011 World Series.

Relevant Craig pieces:

To become a FanGraphs member, click here.

To donate to FanGraphs, click here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 43 min play time.)


FanGraphs Live! Friday: MLB The Show, White Sox at Twins, 2 PM ET

In this week’s MLB The Show 20 stream, featuring Ben Clemens and Dan Szymborski, the White Sox head to Minnesota to square off against the Twins in a battle for first place in the AL Central.

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