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:

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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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 Sponsor Us on Patreon
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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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COVID-19 Roundup: Players, Executives, Experts Weigh in on Health Protocols

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MLB’s Extensive List of Health and Safety Protocols Is Being Dissected

Last Saturday, a 67-page document laying out all of the health and safety measures considered necessary for a 2020 major league season was reported by The Athletic. In the week since, voices from inside baseball as well as the public health and epidemiology fields have weighed in on what the proposal means, where it goes too far, and where it falls short.

Beginning with medical experts — since they really are the most important voice here — the perspective seems to be that MLB’s proposal is extensive and thoughtful, but the actual execution of it will be challenging. That was the sentiment communicated by Andy McCullough and Marc Carig in a story for The Athletic that ran Thursday. Part of the challenge could be ensuring that measures are taken as seriously as they should be for as long as possible. If MLB’s protocols are effective, it will mean the virus isn’t spreading throughout clubhouses. That will make the threat seem less dangerous, which could lead to people letting their guard down and no longer following the rules as closely.

Troublingly, the steps toward that false sense of security has already begun. In a report by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, players openly wondered why so many restrictions would be necessary in an environment where everyone has tested negative for the virus. As doctors have warned, however, false negatives exist, and allowing everyone to proceed with life as normal would be very risky regardless of test results. Read the rest of this entry »


Ah-Seop Son Sure Does Walk a Lot

After the initial sugar rush of watching live KBO baseball faded, I’ve settled into a comfortable routine. While I work and relax throughout the day, I’ll watch some KBO action from the night before, either the English language feature game or a Twitch rebroadcast in Korean. In that way, I soak in the atmosphere of baseball almost by osmosis, sometimes focusing closely on a play but sometimes just listening to the sound of it.

At some point, however, I started to get a sense of déjà vu. Hey, that Ah-Seop Son guy is on base again. Hey, did he walk? That was a nice at-bat there, but haven’t I seen this before? It turns out that yeah, that was the case. Through 61 plate appearances in 2020, Son has drawn 14 walks. That’s a cool 23% walk rate. I wasn’t just imagining things — 14 games, 14 walks. He truly is just walking all the time.

Some quick backup before we cover what’s going on this season: Son has been a mainstay in the Giants lineup for the last decade. Since 2010, his worst wRC+ was a 112 showing in 2019, with a 151 wRC+ effort in 2014 his best overall year. For the most part, he’s been a metronomic presence at the top of the lineup, as his career stats attest — he’s a career .323/.395/.471 hitter, which works out to a 134 wRC+. That’s something like career Will Clark — relative to a weaker competition level, of course.

That career .401 OBP says a lot about his on-base prowess, and indeed, Son’s career walk rate is a robust 11.3%. He’s never been much of a slugger, but the combination of gap power, 20-homer pop at his (and the league offensive environment’s) peak, and an all-fields, line-drive approach have made opposing pitchers careful around the plate, and he’s been willing to take his walks. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Chat 5/22/20

12:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Howdy, letting the coffee drip a few moments more and I’ll be right with you…

12:05
Eric A Longenhagen: Okay

12:05
Eric A Longenhagen: thanks for stopping by, let’s do the thing

12:05
Mike: Is draft intel starting to flow or is it still pretty sparse given all the question marks leading up to the draft?

12:07
Eric A Longenhagen: It’s starting and you’ll get a mock when we’re back from Memorial Day, though it’s a lot of potential strategy stuff now and less about players tied to teams. It’s clear teams just don’t have some guys on their board competitively because they didn’t see them this spring, which I don’t like.

12:07
Pete: If Carlos Colmenarez and Cristian Hernandez we’re available for the draft where would they likely go? Would this demographic be considered as risky as HS Pitching?

Read the rest of this entry »


KBO’s Wyverns Fail to Take Flight

If the NC Dinos are the Korea Baseball Organization’s hottest team — and at 12-2, with a three-game lead over the second-place LG Twins, that’s the case — then the SK Wyverns are its coldest. Through Friday, they’ve gone 2-12, a skid that includes a 10-game losing streak, one game shy of the longest in franchise history.

Based in Incheon, South Korea’s third-largest city after Seoul and Busan, the Wyverns — those are two-legged dragons, in case you’ve forgotten — have been particularly successful in the past couple of years, finishing second in the regular season standings twice in a row. After going 78-65-1 in 2018 under former major league manager Trey Hillman, they beat the Nexen (now Kiwoom) Heroes three games to two in the best-of-five Playoff Series, then beat the Doosan Bears four games to two in the best-of-seven Korean Series for their first championship since 2010 and fourth since joining the league in 2000. Last year, they went 88-55-1 but finished tied with the Bears, that after holding a 7 1/2-game advantage over them as late as August 24. Since the Bears held a 9-7 advantage in head-to-head competition, they won first place and automatically advanced to the Korean Series, while the Wyverns suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Heroes in the Semi-Playoff Series.

Per Dan Szymborski’s rough KBO projections, the Wyverns were forecast to be the league’s third-best team behind the Heroes and Bears, with a 17.0% chance of finishing first and an 83.3% chance of making the playoffs. Instead, after splitting their first two games against the Hanhwa Eagles, they lost 10 straight: the series rubber match against the Eagles, then two to the Lotte Giants and three to the LG Twins (both on the road), three to the Dinos at home, and the series opener agains the Heroes in Seoul. They finally got off the schneid by beating the Heroes on Wednesday, 5-3, then lost to them again on Thursday, a game in which they blew a 5-0 lead and suffered this final indignity, a walk-off infield single that deflected off shortstop Sung-hyun Kim 김성현. Read the rest of this entry »