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.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?