Kawakami  throwing

Braves drop Kenshin Kawakami from 40-man roster

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Just in case there was any doubt that the Braves have completely given up on Kenshin Kawakami, they dropped him from their 40-man roster today, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com. The Japanese right-hander passed through waivers and was sent outright to Double-A Mississippi.

Kawakami, 35, is 8-22 with a 4.32 ERA in 50 games (41 starts) since signing a three-year, $23 million contract with the Braves prior to the 2009 season. This includes a 5.15 ERA to go along with an ugly 1-10 record this past season. Though Kawakami was removed from the 40-man roster today, he is still owed $6.67 million for next season.

Braves general manager Frank Wren is trying to swing a deal with a major league club, but his best bet may be to find a willing suitor in Japan. Bowman reports that the Yomiuri Giants and Nippon Ham Fighters have contacted the Braves to express their interest. An unidentified third team has indicated to the Braves that they would be willing to pick up more of Kawakami’s salary than either the Giants or the Fighters.

With the Braves trying to set a budget for their offseason, I would expect Wren to find a resolution sooner rather than later.

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon
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I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.