Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena among league leaders in Japan

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Here’s a quick look at how some major leaguers are faring in Japan. Remember, the Japanese leagues started strongly favoring pitchers with the switch to a new baseball last year. In the six-team Pacific League, 13 pitchers currently qualify for the ERA title and the worst of the bunch has a 2.91 ERA. Three of the 13 have ERAs under 2.00. The Central League has 21 ERA qualifiers. Included there are eight guys over 3.00, but also five guys under 2.00.

I’ll be listing all of the ex-major leaguers currently qualifying for batting and ERA titles, as well as a few other notable names.

Central League hitters
Lastings Milledge: .307/.376/.491, 19 HR, 55 RBI in 430 AB
Alex Ramirez: .300/.325/.479, 16 HR, 63 RBI in 380 AB
Matt Murton: .248/.279/.333, 4 HR, 27 RBI in 375 AB
Wladimir Balentien: .264/.397/.622, 26 HR, 63 RBI in 246 AB
John Bowker: .182/.258/.284, 3 HR, 9 RBI in 176 AB

Milledge is second in the CL in average and third in homers, ranking behind Shinnosuke Abe in both categories. Balentien is the leader in homers despite being 120-200 at-bats behind most of the regulars.

Murton, on the other hand, is having a second straight difficult year after setting the Central League record for hits with 211 as a “rookie” in 2009.

Pacific League hitters
Aarom Baldiris: .271/.358/.414, 9 HR, 47 RBI in 401 AB
Tadahito Iguchi: .265/.347/.398, 9 HR, 52 RBI in 407 AB
Wily Mo Pena: .263/.321/.486, 18 HR, 61 RBI in 358 AB
Esteban German: .258/.335/.330, 3 HR, 52 RBI in 400 AB
Jose Fernandez: .241/.309/.305, 2 HR, 30 RBI in 344 AB
Josh Whitesell: .331/.418/.494, 5 HR, 30 RBI in 154 AB
Chris Carter: .297/.354/.465, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 91 AB

Pena has quieted down a bit since I previously checked in on him, but he’s third in the Pacific League in both homers and slugging. And, frankly. a .321 OBP is pretty good in which the average game result seems to be 3-2.

German is second in the league in steals with 33.

The Pacific League’s best hitter this year has been Korean import Dae-Ho Lee. He’s batting .294/.382/.502 with 21 homers.

Leading the league in average is shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima at .324. He also has 12 homers and 61 RBI in 411 at-bats. He’ll probably make his way to MLB next year as a free agent. The Yankees gained his rights through the posting system last winter, but he opted to return to Japan rather than sign as a utilityman in New York.

Central League pitchers
D.J. Houlton: 9-6, 2.75 ERA, 103/34 K/BB in 118 IP
Jason Standridge: 6-9, 2.86 ERA, 81/34 K/BB in 116 1/3 IP
Randy Messenger: 6-10, 3.05 ERA, 125/54 K/BB in 150 2/3 IP
Bryan Bullington: 6-10, 3.47 ERA, 112/37 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP
Kam Mickolio: 2-4, 18 Sv, 2.52 ERA, 50/12 K/BB in 50 IP
Scott Mathieson: 2-0, 10 Sv, 1.80 ERA, 46/11 K/BB in 40 IP
Dennis Sarfate: 2-4, 9 Sv, 2.51 ERA, 40/20 K/BB in 43 IP

I still believe both Mickolio and Mathieson would have turned into quality MLB relievers. Of course, they’re young enough that they still could someday.

Houlton’s 2.75 ERA puts him 11th of the 21 qualifiers. Kenta Maeda leads the Central League with a 1.56 ERA in 162 innings.

Pacific League pitchers
Brian Wolfe: 8-9, 2.55 ERA, 67/.34 K/BB in 123 1/3 IP
Seth Greisinger: 9-6, 2.67 ERA, 88/19 K/BB in 124 2/3 IP
Hideki Okajima: 0-1, 2 Sv, 0.69 ERA, 32/5 K/BB in 39 1/3 IP
Brian Falkenborg: 0-1, 13 Sv, 1.89 ERA, 24/8 K/BB in 19 IP
Darrell Rasner: 1-2, 6 Sv, 4.13 ERA, 21/8 K/BB in 28 1/3 IP
Randy Williams: 1-2, 4 Sv, 1.53 ERA, 32/16 K/BB in 29 1/3 IP

Greisinger got off to a great start, but he’s now just 11th of the 13 ERA qualifiers. Okajima leads the way in relief ERA. You may remember that he signed with the Yankees last winter, only to have his contract voided after he failed his physical.

Must-Click Link: “Skunk in the Outfield”

Associated Press
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Sam Miller of ESPN has an amazingly fantastic story today. It’s about a high school tournament baseball game in Rhode Island in 2006. It’s not your typical game story or oral history or look-to-the-past-to-see-the-future kind of thing. The only nod to such conventionality is mention of the fact that former Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland played in the game. That’s mostly a footnote.

No, the article is about a trick play — “skunk in the outfield” — concocted by one of the coaches. About how it played out and what went into it before, during and after it happened. Along the way Miller talks about the nature of trick plays and offers a good three dozen amazing insights into the psychology of young baseball players and the strategy of baseball as it unfolds in real time.

Each of these observations could anchor its own story but here they form a grand mosaic. And that’s only mild hyperbole, if in fact it’s hyperbole at all. Indeed, most treatments of such a play would be some video clip with a “wow, look what happened here!” sort of couching. Miller gives a more than ten-year-old trick play an epic treatment that is every bit as enlightening as it is entertaining.

Set some time aside to read this today.

Rubby De La Rosa to undergo a second Tommy John Surgery

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This is unfortunate: Diamondbacks reliever Rubby De La Rosa will undergo Tommy John surgery. This will be the second Tommy John procedure of his career, the first coming back in 2011.

De La Rosa has had elbow  issues for his entire career. Last year his UCL was barking again and he underwent stem cell therapy to try to avoid a second surgery, but it obviously hasn’t worked out. He’s pitched in only nine games this year, allowing four earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings, striking out 12.

I first saw De La Rosa in spring training in 2011. I thought his stuff was pretty phenomenal and figured he’d be a good one. Great stuff is often a function of heavy strain on an elbow, however, and pitchers breaking is, unfortunately, the rule in baseball far more than the exception.

He’ll miss a year at least. We likely won’t see him until spring of 2019, most likely on a minor league deal.