Who is Masahiro Tanaka?

Masahiro Tanaka is a 6’2,” 205 pound right hand pitcher who won 24 and lost none for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball, the MLB equivalent in Japan) league in 2013. His team has now posted his contract as available to the highest bidding Major League team. This new posting sysem allows the Japanese team to notify its Commissioner that it will “post” the contract of a player and set a price that is not more than $20,000,000. The Japanese Commissioner then notifies the MLB Commissioner who notifies his teams that anyone willing to pay the posting fee may negotiate with the player, without limit on the compensation paid. If a team is successful in signing the player, it is then obligated to pay, on an installment plan, the set posting fee. In the Tanaka case, that is the maximum of $20,000,000. So now the fun begins. All Major League teams can bid on this pitcher, who, at age 25, is probably going to improve with time. If you haven’t heard of Masahiro Tanaka until now, you will hear a lot more about him in the future.

There have now several very successful Japanese pitchers in the Major Leagues. Most recently, we watched Koji Uehara finish the World Series for the Red Sox. For the Yankees, Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31ERA, 201IP, 1.162WHIP) was their best pitcher. Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma (14-6, 2.66ERA 219.2,IP 1.01WHIP) was an All-Star and third in Cy Young balloting. The one Japanese pitcher that I love seeing is Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers 13-9, 2.83ERA, 209.2, 1.07WHIP). From what I have read, I think Tanaka is most like Darvish. That is he throws hard. One commentator talked about a splitter and another the fastball. This fellow, therefore, has two dominant pitches. He can also be expected to pitch 200 innings or more. A major league team needs to pitch 1450 ininngs a season and this will be done by about twenty pitchers, so one pitcher who pitches 14% of these and does so with a high probablity of winning the game is extremely vauable. How valuable is Tanaka and to whom is he most valuable-that is the question?

Clearly, there will be a bidding war for this fellow and I am guessing the usual prospects will be active. These are the Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Rangers. (The Angels are out of this for reasons I will discuss later.) The Yankees want to out bid the Red Sox for everything, so if the Red Sox bid, look for the Yankees to try to out do them. Then the Dodgers may just want this player very badly and bid accordingly. The Diamond Backs may play at the game, but they’re not nuts, so probably will not mortgage the future for one pitcher. The Mariners just want to get better and have strong Japanese connections, but they have limits, market limits. That leaves the Cubs and Rangers.

I think either of these teams can make a deal that is around the Zack Greinke, six year $147M figure, my instinct, based merely on a hunch, is that the Cubs maybe the team to beat here. After making moves that promised but didn’t deliver results, this may be the chance to do something.

Now to why the Angels are out of it. This team signed Albert Pujols to a long term, $240M contract, that soaks up lots of salary space. More importantly, the Angels are facing the major challenge facing teams, the super star heading for free agency. In this case, that is Mike Trout. He is the best player (along with Miguel Cabrera) and must be signed soon. The Pujols contract sets the market for Trout in LA. Layering a Tanaka contract just under that would be very risky for the Angels. It is risky because Pujols may be finished, and Tanaka is a bright prospect, but not without risk as not every Japanese player has starred in the Majors, as shown by Kei Igawa, Hideki Irabu and the Twins collosal fail in Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Having half of the salary obligation in a few players is a disaster and a team needs 25 skilled players to win pennants.

We will know the outcome in a month, and Masahiro Tanaka will be very well known.

Yankees Sign Brian McCann

The Yankees make huge signing by getting catcher Brian McCann to 5-year, $85 million deal, outbidding #Rangers —
Let’s this mark the beginning of the post season team building  competition that I think is as interesting as the season itself.

Please note this player is beyond his peak. See full career record Here.

This points out the flaw in the baseball reserve system where teams spend huge amounts for players who will have declining performance. Experts are already speculating as to what McCann will play when he gets older. He will be 30 this year.

Baseball; The Long Season Ends, Not With a Bang But a Whimper

The Boston Red Sox won the sixth and final World Series game of 2013 when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1. It seemed that the Cardinals, who out hit the Red Sox 9-8, just couldn’t win this important game as the key moments all belonged to the Red Sox. The prime moment came in the third inning, when, after Dustin Pedroia singled, Series MVP, David Ortiz was walked intentionally. He batted .688 for the Series. With two on and two out, Michael Wacha hit Jonny Gomes, loading the bases, setting the stage for the big hit. Shane Victorino then cleared the bases with a hit off the wall in left. The key element here was that Wacha hit Gomes. This indicated that his control was off, he didn’t have the command that had allowed him to pitch superbly in post-season games resulting in a 4-0 record. That he was not the master this night was evident earlier as well as he allowed runners in the first two innings. This lack of command then produced the big hit when he fell behind Victorino 2-0. Victorino guessed fast ball and got it and it was up in the zone and inside, but not far enough. His hit off the Green Monster, as the left field fence in known in Fenway Park, was the game. A homerun by slumping Stephen Drew and RBI singles by Mike Napoli and Victorino, again, in the fourth ended Red Sox scoring, but it was enough.

The Cardinals never got it going in this game, or, for that matter, the last three. Their win in game three on the rarely used obstruction call (See explanation here) was their high point. After that, they were flat and lost. There is always hope in Baseball where there is no clock to end the game and a team always has a chance to continue play. Here, the final inning went in few pitches and two fly ball outs and a final strike out of Matt Carpenter on a 2-2 pitch by Koji Uehara, the Red Sox closer, ended it, not with a bang, but a whimper.

The long season that begins in the first week of April and ends the last week of October, is now over. I wrote many posts on this season that are available in the archives and can only wait for 2014. A year ago, the Red Sox finished last and now join the 1991 Minnesota Twins as the two teams who have gone from worst to first in one year. I have little hope that will happen soon. Go Cubs? Maybe not this year.

World Series Game Two: Cardinals beat the Red Sox and It Was Easy.

A team wins “easy” when it pitches superbly, and the other team throws the ball away so runs score. That is the story of Game Two of this World Series. The Cardnals used three pitchers in this game, Michael Wacha started and gave up two runs in the sixth by walking Justin Pedroia before David Ortiz homered over the fence to left. Wacha is 4-0 in postseason play and rarely allows this sort of event to happen as his previous 18 1/3 innings had been scoreless. He was followed by Carlos Martinez who got six outs, three by strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings before Trevor Rosenthal struck out three Red Sox on eleven pitches in the ninth to end the game. It was easy. Wacha and Martinez are twenty-two years old, Rosenthal is twenty-three.

The four Cardinal’s runs were scored in the fourth on a Matt Holliday triple and a Yadier Molina ground out. Then in the seventh, it was really interesting. After David Freese walked with one out, and Jon Jay singled to right, moving Freese to second and causing the removal of Red Sox Pitcher, John Lackey, for Craig Brelsow. Pete Kozma pinch ran for Freese at second and he and Jay then stole third and second. I was watching this and I noted that Kozma did not have a big lead off of second. When he and Jay ran, I was startled and so was Red Sox catcher Saltalamachia,  who bobbled the pitch and couldn’t make a throw. Breslow then walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases with one out. Matt Carpenther then hit  a sacrifice fly to left that scored Kozma and,  ultimalely, Jay, as the throw from the outfielder was way off line and to the catcher’s right. Instead of getting in front of the throw,(which had no chance of getting Kozma) to keep Jay in place at second, he let it go past as he merely reached across his body to snare the throw. It was fielded by pitcher Breslow, backing up the play. Jay saw this and took off for third. Now experienced baseball people cringe whenever a pitcher has to make a 120 foot throw on level ground. These are people who throw downhill, and only sixty feet, to earn a living. So Breslow, on level ground, threw the ball over the thirdbaseman and into the stands, scoring Jay for the go-ahead third run. Daniel Decalso had been watching this from first base, a great vantage point, by the way, and started running and ended up on third. He scored on Carlos Beltran’s single. 4-2 Cardinals. Then that young fellow Martinez came in to pitch the seventh, and you already know the outcome of that story.

This was the second game of a seven game series. They now play three in St. Louis, and we will either have a champion or a team with a 3-2 lead going back to Fenway Park for the Halloween game. The homefield advantage is real, but the home team must win and the Red Sox split. Now the Cardinals have the advantage of playing in St. Louis against the lesser lights of the Red Sox rotation and there will be no DH. The Cardinals just may win three. We’ll see. As I told a fellow earlier, I like the Red Sox but I have learned not to bet against the Cardinals, the best organization in the game.

Cardinals WIn The Pennant

The St. Louis Cardinals won its 19th National League Pennant last night with a resounding defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0. This was a story of rookies beating the veteran, very expensive, Dodgers. The Cardinal rookies, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal,  are pitchers who throw very hard. Wacha beat Dodger star Clayton Kershaw twice in the League Championship Series and Rosenthal, a closer, just beat everyone. They are off to the World Series in their first Major League season.  Wacha has given up one run in 21 innings of Postseason play. Magnificent.

The Cardinals are lead by Carlos Beltran a thirty-six year old outfielder who went three for four, drove in two runs, including the first one which was the only one the Cardinals needed, and made a leaping catch to douse Dodger hopes. Beltran is going to the World Series for the first time in his 16 year career.

The Cardinals are the second winningest baseball franchise, second to the Yankees. The Cardinals lead in the combination of modern player analysis and ancient baseball culture. For Cardinals people, it is all baseball, all the time.  I keep thinking of a time in Atlanta when I was sitting with a bunch of baseball scouts and mentioned that I wanted to drive out to see the Kennesaw Mountain  battlefield. A Cardinal scout offered me his truck; I took it. The truck came with a rifle, a can for tobacco juice, a box of maps so he could find every baseball field in the southeast, a box of batting practice balls, just in case you wanted to work-out some prospect, and a collection of bats in the back. There was a worn baseball golve on the right front seart.  This was a baseball scouts truck, a Cardinals’ scouts truck.

These are the Cardinals of the Gashouse Gang, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. A magnificent baseball team off again to a well deserved World Series. They just missed last year, and make up for it now. No mattter who they play against, Red Sox or Tigers, there will be history there and a wonderful World Series.

So, now we have to pay attention to the Red Sox v. Tigers games this weekend, I just hope that series goes to seven games. 

Judge Rejects San Jose’s Antitrust Claim Against Major League Baseball

A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed San Jose’s antrust claim against MLB, but allowed the contract interference claims to remain. A story describing the dismissal can be seen here.
The court said that the antitrust exemption for baseball, first found in the Federal League case in 1921 and upheld most recently in Flood v. Kuhn in 1972, said that the exemption remains in place until congress acts to change it. Congress did act in the 1998 Curt Flood Act that granted antitrust rights to players but did not alter the exemption as it applied to the business of baseball. This act is interpreted as congressional action that supported the exemption for baseball. Of interest is that the lesser claims will continue. Antitrust claims allow treble damages against a defendant, so that dismissal is a significant victory for MLB.

St. Louis Beats Pittsburgh as the Baseball Gods Toy With Us

Baseball people all recognize that game you are just not going to win. That happened to the Pirate faithful on Wednesday night as they lost 6-1. Although the faithful held hope until the final out, it seems to have been preordained. It was like the baseball gods were saying, “OK, Pittsburgh, you had a good run, but it’s over for now.”  This devine intervention is best shown by the two line drive double plays that the Pirates hit into last night. in both cases, with a runner on first, line drives were caught by the second baseman who threw behind the runner to double them off. This occurs as the runner has to look over his shoulder to see the second baseman and the runners first instinct on seeing the line drive is to advance to second or to third so there is that slight move to second that dooms them as the second baseman has a short throw to make the out. On other caught line drive plays, the play is in front of the runner, easily seen and reponded to, or the ball is hit to the first baseman who is already standing between the runner and the base for an easy out. These two rare double plays stopped innings and cost the Pirates four critical outs, and baseball keeps time with outs. It was also a sign that it was the Cardinals night.

The next indication that it was the Cardinals night was in the second inning when David Freese hit a two run homerun on a slider that just happened to wander over the middle of the plate. The pitcher, Garrit Cole, had his “good stuff,”  and it is very good, but he made one mistake and the Cardinals took advantage of it. The next run scored on a grounder up the middle to make it 3-0. The Pirates scored their run on a bizarre series of two out hits. Justin Moreau singled to the second baseman, who moving to his right to field the ball, slipped, and that slip allowed Morneau to be safe at first. Marlon Byrd then singled to the shortstop, who instead of making the easier third out at second forcing Morneau, tried to make the out at first and Byrd was safe there. Two on, two out, NL homerun champ Pedro Alvarez at bat. Alvarez hit a ground ball to first that hit the bag and bounced over the first baseman where it was fielded by the second baseman who threw wildly to first. The errant throw, by the way, was toward home where it almost allowed the catcher to make a play on the scoring Morneau.  The next batter grounded out to short. For followers of Fifth Game theory, that was the batter who held the key to the game. A hit there makes it 3-2 and the game is on, but this was only an example of how the baseball gods toy with us during the season. This exciting inning, where an infielder slipped, a shortstop hesitated, and a ball that hit first base  bounced over a fielder’s head to allow a run to score, is the stuff of baseball’s best drama.  Alas, it was only the baseball gods toying with us. The Cardinals scored twice in the bottom of the inning to ice it.

Today, we get Justin Verlander pitching against the remarkable rookie, Sonny Gray, as the Tigers play the Athletics in Oakland. I wonder what the baseball gods have in store for us today!

Playoff War Continued, Late Inning Victories

There were two games yesterday in the MLB Playoffs. Boston beat the Rays 3-1 to advance to the League Championship Series and Detroit beat the A’s 8-6 to force a final game in Oakland on Thursday.

Red Sox scored all of their runs in the final three innings and Detroit scored five and the A’s three in the final three innings. This points to the reality of championship baseball where teams have learned the three stages of team success. First, they learn to play, then they learn to win, then they learn to win when they have to. These teams are the demonstrated masters of this art. They know how to win when they have to.

The next rule is that a baseball game is really two games in one. The first game is a six inning game to gain an advantage in the short, three inning game that determines the winner. The short game is played by specialists, relief pitchers, pinch hitters and runners, and defensive replacements. It is the true test of a team as it involves the entire roster.

The Rays entered the short game yesterday with a lead and the Red Sox scored two in the seventh and one in the ninth to win, using three relief pitchers, Craig Breslow, who sruck out three Rays in the seventh, Junichi Tazawa, who struck out the one batter he faced, and Koji Uehara, who struck out the first batter he face in the 8th inning, and the three batters he faced in the ninth went out quietly with a fly ball, a ground ball to the pitcher, and a strike out to end the game.

During this same period, the Rays made wholesale pitching changes and they simply did not work. The game came down to three Red Sox relievers who were perfect. The Rays’ relievers faltered.  In this game, thirty-eight players participated, eleven of them relief pitchers and seven pinch hitters and defensive replacements.  It does take a team! 

In Detoit, with a 8-4 lead in the ninth, Joaquin Benoit, the closer, replaced Max Scherzer, and allowed two runs in the ninth but won. Scherzer, a stating pitcher acting in relief, had faced a baseloaded, no out, situation in the 8th and struck out the next two batters, and got the third, a pinch hitter, to line out to centerfielder Austin Jackson to end the inning. It was a magnificent display after he loaded the bases. Maybe he just likes drama. There were thirty players involved in this game, six relief pitchers, and four pinch hitters, runners and defensive replacements.

The lesson from these games is that teams win and a complete roster of talented players is needed to win pennants. For those teams that finished poorly this year, the road to success is not through free agent signings, but through improvement of the roster overall.  It takes a team to win and all players must be talented as they are for these teams playing for World Series glory. 

MLB Playoffs: Excitement in the Last Innings

The fabulous Wild Card race has given way to a somnambulistic Division Series. The scores of the games, without team names, tells the story. 9 -1, 7-1, 12-2, 7-4, 6-1, 13-6, but the other games give me hope that games will be fought to the last out going forward as four games of the ten played qualify as the epitome of baseball games, the “Fifth Game.” See Fifth Game Theory here .  That theory says that one game in five is a Fifth Game and here we have four of ten as Fifth Games. The teams playing here are the masters of Fifth Games, so this is not surprising.

The contested games in this Division Series started with Detroit scoring three in the first inning and holding on, per Max Scherzer, to three hit the A’s who scored two in the 7th in Oakland on a Yoenis Cespedes homerun. One run short; fifth game stuff. Oakland came back in the next game with a perfect Fifth Game victory 1-0 over Detroit, scoring the one run in the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes opened the inning with a single, Seth Smith then singled, Josh Reddick was walked intentionally, and Stephen Vogt singled to win the game. The starting pitchers in that game were Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray (Oakland) who were superb as it was the first time in Playoff history where both pitchers had nine strikeouts and no runs scored.

The Pirates 5-3 win over the Cardinals in game three was a fifth game victory as the winning runs were scored in the eighth inning after St. Louis tied it on a homerun in the top of the inning.

In the second game in Atlanta, the Braves scored two in the seventh to go ahead 4-1, the Dodgers scored twice in the top of the eighth to make it 4-3. In classic Fifth Game style, Atlanta made four defensive changes and brought in a new pitcher to start the inning and changed pitchers again after Hanley Ramirez hit a two run homerun and Yasiel Puig struck out. In the top of the ninth for the Dodgers, after a strike out, A.J. Ellis walked, Dee Gordon pinch ran and was thrown out trying to steal while pinch hitter Andre Eithier was at bat, he ultimately walked and was replace by pinch runner, Scott Van Slyke, but Carl Crawford struck out.  A great game and well played Fifth Game.

I pay attention to Fifth Games. Embrace the theory and you will understand a season and enjoy it well. This theory, by the way, allows Tampa Bay to accept their two losses to the Red Sox as not being Fifth Games. They were never going to win those two in Fenway anyway.  Alex Cobb will pitch for the Rays and he was 7-0 at home this year.

I only want four five game series in the Divisional Series, and seven gamers in the League Championship and World Series. Tag’em.


The Significance of This MLB Playoff Season

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds in the one game that determined the NL Wild Card last night. It was an easy game for the Pirates. What occurred to me as the game unfolded that the oldest professional baseball team, the CIncinnati Reds (nee Redlegs or Red Stockings) was playing an original National League team. The league was formed in 1876. From there, it occurred to me that every team, except the Tampa Bay Rays, in the playoffs this year was an original team either from the original National League or the ‘upstart’ American League, formed in 1901.

The Detroit TIgers, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and St. Louis Cardinals are in their original cities. The Cardinals actually became the Cardinals later. The Atlanta Braves started as the Boston Beaneaters, Red Stockings, and then Braves, moved to Milwaukee in 1955, and Atlanta in 1966. The Oakland Athletics started as the Philadelphia Athletics, moved to Kansas City in 1955, then to Oakland in 1968.  The Brooklyn Dodgers, (nee the Trolley Dodgers) moved to LA in 1957. (It is curious that LA’s two top teams are named after Brooklyn trolley dodging and Minneapolis Lakes.)

There is an additional aspect to these playoffs that is of importance as well. The Cardinals, Pirates, Athletics, Rays, and Indians are all small market teams with low payrolls compared to the much more afluent Yankees, White Sox, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Astros, Rangers, Phillies, and Nationals. The Cubs and White Sox, two original teams, finished last in their divisions, by the way.

The provenance of the teams may be only a historical anomaly, but the small market teams victories, and I must add the expansion Tampa Bay Rays to this mix, are there because of the exquisite way they play baseball, from the scouting of amatuer players to finesse baserunning in the playoffs (Tampa’s Fuld stole a run in Texas Monday night).

This indicates the precision these teams give to the operation of their teams. Much has been said about sabermetrics, that computer generated analysis of everything that occurs on a baseball field, and all teams engage in some sort of sabermetric analysis, but it is the scouting and player development they engage in that makes them successful. The Cardinals and Rays are prime examples of this and the play of those teams shows great discipline, energy and thought to the way they play the game. Among these disciplines is the act of throwing first pitch strikes. A small thing you may think, but getting pitchers to do it is daunting, but the Cardinals and Rays do it. Also, these teams catch and throw the ball with precision. This takes skill and discipline, but that’s how you win pennants.

The Indians and Rays play for the AL WIld Card tonight and then the real playoffs begin. Watch to see who plays the game correctly.