Three Unorthodox Signings the A’s should Consider this Off-Season

In both my business and personal life, when confronted with a challenge, I often think of Brad Pitt’s line from Moneyball“If we try to play like the Yankees in here we will lose to the Yankees out there.” It’s a simple reminder to think outside the box, no matter how unorthodox it might seem to someone else. After reading Joseph DeClercq’s article discussing Oakland’s needs for 2017, I started to think about some of the less obvious players whom the A’s might be able to acquire this offseason. Without further ado…

Munenori Kawasaki

If you’ve never heard of Munenori Kawasaki you’re in for a treat. Kawasaki is a character in every sense of the word, one full of unabashed joy and candour.

Here he is breaking down his diet:

And here he is giving us his thoughts on what we call a non-repeating phantasm, or a class-5 full roaming vapour.

After spending 11 seasons in Japan, where he slashed .294/.345/.378, Kawasaki made his major league debut in 2012 with the Mariners. The following year he joined the Blue Jays where he showed flashes of brilliance offensively and a sturdy glove in the field as he shuttled between AAA and the bigs. He quickly became a fan favourite north of the border, known for his energetic and entertaining interviews (I’ve spent more than one afternoon just watching YouTube clips of this guy). Upon leaving Toronto at the end of the 2015 season, he was promptly snapped up by the Cubs, making his first trip to Wrigley as cover when Schwarber went down. He spent most of the year in AAA Iowa where he posted a line of .255/.352/.312 in 102 games. While he’s never done much more than provide infield cover, his career MLB numbers are serviceable at .237/.320/.289. “Kawa” can confidently play short, second and third, which is probably why he’s never been a free agent for very long. Having a guy who can play three of four infield positions provides a GM with a little more flexibility when it comes to filling out his active roster. But Kawasaki shouldn’t be thought of as just a utility infielder. While any clubhouse animosity may have been eliminated with the departure of Billy Butler, the fact that something like that (his run in with Danny Valencia) transpired in the first place is a cause for concern. Kawasaki a great ‘clubhouse guy’ who has injected morale and plain old happiness into every club he’s played at.

As far as games played goes, the A’s top infielders in 2016 were Semien (159), Valencia (130), Lowrie (87) and Healy (72). With the hasty progress made by rookie stalwart Healy and with Semien pumping out dingers at a league leading rate for middle infielders, the left side of the infield looks to be in safe hands for the foreseeable future. Regrettably, with the tear-jerking departure of fan-favourite Eric Sogard, the infield looks a little light on big league experience heading into 2017. As a group, the five remaining infielders (excluding first basemen) played 183 games and posted a slash line of .170/.260/.224. Kawasaki can cover all of these positions and has a career line of .237/.320/.289. Muncy, Walsh and Wendle are all 27+ years of age so I’m not sure we can truly say that they’re still developing. Pinder however is 24 and, while he could one day progress into an everyday player, being stuck behind Semien, Healy and Lowrie isn’t going to do him any favours. Perhaps the answer is to let Pinder continue to develop by playing every day in AAA Nashville, where he posted a line of .258/.310/.425, while Kawasaki acts as infield cover until the next wave is well and truly ready for regular big league duty.

No matter how you break it down, this guy would be a huge boost to team chemistry, something every big league ball club (especially one that loses close to 100 games a season) needs. Seriously, can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue should Kawasaki and Vogt team up? That’s something I would gladly trade all of my government cheese vouchers to see. As a 35 year old utility infielder who had just 21 at bats for the Cubs last year, he shouldn’t be difficult to acquire.

Alex Rodriguez

Yes you read that correctly. Before you say something uncouth or tweet me some sad emoji’s, hear me out. While A-Rod’s stats are underwhelming to say the least, he is still one of the greatest hitters to play the game. Juice or no juice, the guy can swing a bat. His 2016 slash line was .200/.247/.351. He hit a home run every 25 at bats and struck out once every 3.35 at bats. One could make the argument that as his at bats were sporadic at best, it’s quite possible that he could get into a rhythm once he’s getting regular plate appearances again. Let’s not forget that when he was playing regularly in 2015 he hit 33 bombs, drove in 86 runs and posted numbers of .250/.356/.486. His lack of playing time this past season could have more to do with the rift between him and Brian Cashman than his diminishing skills. His potential salary (likely the league minimum or there about) could also be appealing to a team attempting to boost ticket sales.

With the departure of Billy Butler, the A’s have room for a designated hitter / specialist pinch hitter on their roster. Remember, he wants to get to 700 home runs. He is currently on 696. The A’s get a veteran presence in the clubhouse who can work with some of the younger hitters and A-Rod can chase his 700th homerun with impunity. Who knows, he may even hang ‘em up as soon as he reaches the historic milestone. All in all it’s not like the A’s are going to be a whole lot better next year, so they might as well take the boost in ticket sales and veteran tutelage A-Rod will provide while these youngsters continue to develop.

A.J. Ellis

Veteran backstop A.J. Ellis will bring a plethora of experience to whichever team snags him this off-season. After serving as Kershaw’s battery mate since as early as 2007, when the two were teammates in double A ball, Ellis was traded to the Phillies this past season after being displaced by Yasmani Grandal. So great was the loss that many Dodgers openly admitted to crying upon hearing the news that Ellis was heading to Philadelphia (whether or not they worked out afterwards is unknown).

The A’s catchers combined for a .253/.308/.394 slash line in 2016 and the younger members of the group require a little more seasoning to say the least. Maxwell showed promise albeit over just 92 at bats while Vogt, who did most of the heavy lifting last year (490 AB’s), struggled to post numbers of just .251/.305/.406. Maxwell and Phegley make a solid platoon combo so Vogt could be on the bubble this off-season. If any one of these three is not on the 25 man roster, adding a catcher as cerebral and experienced as Ellis could be a no-brainer.

Between MLB and the minors Ellis has never caught more than 131 games in a season (2012) and as a result, has less wear and tear than most 36 year olds. He caught Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter in 2014 and carries a career slash line of .239/.340/.351. Ellis led the league in 2015 when he cut down 45% of would-be base stealers, so he’s no slouch behind the plate either. Add to that the fact that he allows a passed ball just once every 157 innings and you’ve got a good, solid backstop that can help shape some of the A’s young hurlers. He has a proven track record of working with and helping to develop elite pitchers which is something none of the A’s current pitch-callers can lay claim to.

Sack to the Future: What’s in Store for Jay Cutler?

After eight less than impressive seasons Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago may be coming to an end. Thanks to some amazing advances in technology I’ve been able to travel forward in time to see how he fared after leaving the Bears. Before we go any further I must warn you, it’s not pretty.

End of 2016 – Start of 2017

After going down with a thumb injury Cutler never regained the starting job from Brian Hoyer. Hoyer didn’t fare much better, leading the Bears to a 5-11 record. But he did have one major advantage in the fact that he wasn’t named Jay Cutler. Smokin’ Jay is cut just 15 minutes after the Bears’ season ending loss to the Vikings. Rather than travel with the team, he decides to make his own way back to Chicago. To this day the contents of his locker are sitting in a trash bag behind the tackling dummies, waiting to be picked up.

As the 2017 season approaches Cutler is courted by just two teams – the Browns and Dolphins. The Jets considered offering him a deal until Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall began sending tweets about how they were suddenly feeling “banged up” and “too old for this sh*t”. When Forte tweeted a picture of a pipe, slippers and a rocking chair, Mike Maccagnan promptly deleted the email he’d been typing to Cutler’s agent and offered Ryan Fitzpatrick a contract extension.

Wanting to create some much needed competition at quarterback, the Browns eventually sign Cutler to a two year deal with a team option for a third. In a short-sighted attempt to raise their national profile they volunteer to appear in the 2017 edition of Hard Knocks. RGIII and Cutler battle week in, week out for the starting spot. Eventually it’s the player who made the least amount of mistakes (RGIII) who is named as the starter.

Hard Knocks highlights:

Week 1 – Jay arrives at camp and immediately alienates his new teammates by sauntering around in sweat pants and saying things like “So that’s as fast as you can run?” and “Just turn around and catch it. Geez.”

Week 2 – Cutler is demoted to working with the number two’s, much to the chagrin of… the number two’s.

Week 3 – In an attempt to work a little magic, Cutler goes off the page in the huddle when he makes the decree “Two guys go five yards, two guys go ten yards. Doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter where. Ready? BREAK!” The ensuing pick-six made ‘Highlight of the Night’ on over a dozen regional sportscasts.

Week 4 – Cutler is spotted sitting on the bench during the national anthem, not because he’s protesting or anything, but because he was hunched over trying to light a cigarette. Battling the elements he eventually gets it lit and is on his feet just in time for “Gave proof through the night”.

In limited preseason action Cutler finishes 11/31, for 106 yards, 0 TD’s and 3 INT’s. He did scramble away from a few rushers during a broken play in his final series only to throw one of his signature rockets through the back of the endzone. The injured cameraman agreed not to sue.

After securing the starting job, RGIII has an uncharacteristically good season, leading the team to a 10-6 record. Cutler grows a huge beard just for something to do.


In an effort to unwind Cutler spends the offseason in New Zealand. He, Kristin and the Cutlets enjoy the many outdoor pursuits that ‘Aotearoa’ has to offer. There’s no shortage of awkward looks as he strolls around Auckland saying “G’day mate!” to everyone he meets. The lowlight of the trip is when he asks a local shopkeeper if “that Crocodile Dundee dude ever hangs out around here?”

Cutler returns in time for camp having shaved his beard into a huge, thick moustache. The antics continue as he expertly keeps a straight face (as if he’s ever made any other face?) while making comments like “I’m kind of a big deal” and “People know me”. He starts every week by seeing how many times he can say the word ‘meow’ during team meetings. He’s released at the end of the season.


Cutty receives little interest during the offseason, from NFL teams anyway. The suitors he does have include the Montreal Alouettes (who are again being coached by The Quarterback Whisperer, Marc Trestman), the Arizona Rattlers of Arena League football and the Oakland Athletics. Apparently, now that everyone’s caught on to that whole ‘Moneyball deal’, the A’s have run out of ideas on how to cheaply round out their bullpen. After a lengthy phone call with Doug Flutie in which Mrs. Flutie overhears her husband repeat the phrase “Seriously, it’s not that bad up there” a half dozen times, Jay unenthusiastically signs with “Munch-ra-y’all”.

Cutler, enjoying the laid-back lifestyle north of the border, immediately puts on 20 pounds but is still the best quarterback in the league by a kilometre. The ‘Al’s’ finish 14-1 (Cutler insisted on playing wide receiver for one game) and waltz to a Grey Cup victory in record setting fashion. Cutler is disappointed when he learns that his league-high salary of $250,000 CAD is worth just $94,276.93 USD after taxes and the foreign exchange conversion.


With no NFL teams vying for his services, and convinced that he had lost money by playing in Canada, Cutler decides to retire and take a job as a colour man on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Viewers don’t even notice Cutler’s presence until week four.

2016 MLB Predictions – RECAP

A few months ago I posted some predictions for the 2016 Major League season.  I had previously made these predictions to my buddy Steve and later found time to expand on them.  They were:

  • Maikel Franco to hit 30+ home runs.
  • Jason Hammel to win 15+ games and have a solid, but unnoticeable season.
  • Giancarlo Stanton to hit 60+ home runs.
  • Jose Bautista to be busted for PED’s.


Franco – Wrong!

It was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde season for Franco as he socked 18 dingers in the first half of the season but managed just 7 on the way in.  His first half pace put him on track for 32, his second half just 15.  At just 24 years of age Franco has plenty of time to develop into the 35/100 guy I think he can be.



Hammel – Right!

The Hamm sandwich finished 15-10 in 30 starts with a 1.203 WHIP and a 3.83 ERA.  In 166 innings he allowed 148 hits, had 144 strike outs and allowed just 53 walks.  To top it all off he ripped 16 hits (3 doubles) and drove in 7 runs!

I had previously compared him to Jake Arrieta (calm down) so here’s how they stacked up:

Hammel / Arrieta

3.83 – ERA – 3.10

15-10 – W/L – 18-8

1.203 – WHIP – 1.084

8.0 – H/9 – 6.3

2.9 – BB/9 – 3.5

7.8 – K/9 – 8.7

This (successful) prediction feels especially satisfying considering the manner in which I found Hammel.  I wonder if this is how Billy Beane felt when he plucked Chad Bradford out of obscurity.

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Stanton – Big time wrong!

Stanton battled injuries again and managed just 119 games this season.  He still pumped out 27 big flies but did so at one every 15.29 at bats.  A far cry from the one every 10.33 he managed in 2015.

Mets Marlins Baseball
(AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Joe Rimkus Jr.)

Bautista – Wrong!

Nope.  Mr. Bautista was NOT busted for PED’s.  I think I may have figured it out though…

“I eat three every day to help keep me strong.”


Other ‘off the cuff’ predictions I had made:

Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers to combine for 30 wins – Wrong!

The Fighting Scotsmen combined for just 19 wins (McCullers 6, McHugh 13).  The ‘stros finished a disappointing 84-78.


Wil “Don’t call me ‘Will'” Myers to be awesome – Right! (sort of)

I didn’t actually predict Myers to be awesome but I did pick him up for my fantasy team after studying his 2015 stats.  Despite playing just 235 career games over the three seasons prior to 2016, he exploded for 99 runs, 28 dingy-dongs and 94 RBI’s.  He also stole 28 bases putting him the super exclusive ‘Exactly 28/28’ club.

The force is strong with this one.

The Sultans of Swipe

Ask any Bostonian to tell you the single greatest moment in Red Sox history and you’re almost certain to hear about Dave Roberts’ stolen base in game four of the 2004 ALCS (I did and my buddy “Boston Steve” immediately cited Roberts’ larceny as his #1 Red Sox moment). After working a lead-off walk, Kevin Millar was immediately replaced with the recently acquired Roberts.  The Dodgers had dealt the speedster to the Sox on July 31st in exchange for minor leaguer Henri Stanley.  In 45 games for Boston Roberts slashed .256/.330/.442, stole five bases and was caught twice over 101 plate appearances.  This is one of those situations that occurs in baseball where everybody on both teams, in the stands, and watching on TV, knows exactly what is about to happen.  It was never, ‘Will he go?’ it was ‘What will happen when he goes?’  Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera threw over to first three times before finally throwing a pitch, at which point Roberts broke for second.  Posada was set up over the inside corner (Bill Mueller was batting left-handed) but Rivera’s offering to Mueller was high and outside, towards Posada’s left shoulder.  His release was quick but due to the pitch location he couldn’t fully close his front side, which limited his hip rotation and cost him some velocity.  His throw was high and to the Shortstop side of second base, forcing Jeter to catch the ball up near his head and bring his tag down to the bag, some two to three feet away.  While this probably only added another few tenths of a second onto Posada’s pop time, baseball, as they say, is a game of inches.  Roberts dove headfirst toward the bag, Jeter tagging him on the forearm a split second later.  Safe.  The rest is history.



Today, traditionalists still fume at Oakland’s continued assertion that attempting to steal bases is inefficient and unnecessarily risky. But ask yourself; Where’s the excitement in watching Billy Butler work a 9 pitch walk then trod down to first base only to stand 2 ½ feet from it, motionless?  While Billy Beane and his brainy charges can definitively back up their claims using statistics, this single play is the antithesis of Oakland’s station-to-station approach.  Boston, both the team and the city, was barely clinging to life.  Fans, despite holding signs that said, “BELIEVE” and “THE GREATEST COMEBACK IN SPORTS HISTORY!” were surely preparing for another off-season of heartache and despair.  The previous season they had at least made it through seven games before Aaron Boone stomped all over their dreams, but now they were being swept (swept!) by their long-time nemeses.  Until one play, one single play, changed everything.

Dave Roberts is certainly not the first pinch runner to steal a base (10 career attempts, 8 steals, 10 runs). Ironically, Oakland (yes, Oakland) seems to have been at the forefront of the “specialist base runner” movement.  While pinch runners have been used for decades, the idea of having the human equivalent of a Thoroughbred racehorse sitting at the end of your bench didn’t emerge until the late 60’s.  After stealing 116 bags for the Royals’ single A affiliate, the Leesburg A’s in 1966 (exactly 50% of the team’s total of 232), Allan “The Panamanian Express” Lewis was called up by the Royals for 34 games in 1967.  During his rookie campaign, Lewis stole 14 bases, scored seven runs and was thrown out five times.  Ignoring the likely cries of a then five year old Billy Beane, the Athletics brought Lewis to Oakland where he played 122 games but made just 25 plate appearances from 1968 to 1973.  During that span Lewis stole 30 bases, 27 of them when employed as a pinch runner.  In 1973, listed as a DH, Lewis appeared in 35 games, had no plate appearances and played zero innings on defense.  He stole seven bases and was thrown out four times.

The A’s continued to experiment with the use of specialist pinch runners when they acquired former sprinter “Hurricane” Herb Washington in 1974. Washington signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 22 and in 105 games with the A’s in 1974 and ’75, he made a grand total of zero plate appearances.  The ’74 A’s went on to win the World Series (their 3rd of three straight), with Washington taking home 29 bags and scoring 29 runs in the process.  He was however picked off during a crucial ninth-inning situation in game 2 and was released early in 1975.  To this day, whether or not Washington actually owned a glove is unknown.

They say less is more, but in Oakland, when it comes to guys who do nothing but pinch-run, apparently more is more. Following Washington’s departure in 1975, Don Hopkins and Matt Alexander were drafted in to fill the void.  Hopkins had 21 pinch-steals, scored 20 runs and was caught 7 times during the ’75 season while Alexander put up numbers of 17SB / 8R / 9CS.  Hopkins left the following year but Alexander, in three seasons with the A’s, made 88 plate appearances over 214 games, stealing 63 and getting caught 31 times.  From 1975 to 1977 Alexander pinch-stole 17, 19 and 20 bags respectively.

During his career, this green-and-gold-clad Prince of Thieves pinch-stole a total of 90 bases in 126 attempts, 26 more than Otis Nixon’s 64 bags in 88 tries. Alexander reached base more as a pinch runner than he did of his own accord, amassing just 36 hits, 18 walks and one hit-by-pitch over his career (55 times on base).  He had just 195 plate appearances in 374 games.

Pinch-stealing was most prevalent during the mid-70’s, with the top seven single season totals coming between 1974 and 1978, three of which belong to Alexander. The single season leader is another Oakland speedster, Larry Lintz, who swiped 30 bags (caught 11 times) in 1976 and ranks 4th all-time with 47.  Herb Washington is second with the 29 he stole in 1974.  The downtrend can, at least partially, be attributed to the Sabermetric assertion that in order to have a positive impact on a team’s run totals, a steal must be successful at least 75% of the time.  Clearly, many of these proprietors-of-pace are well below that mark.  The top 21 all-time pinch-base stealers have a combined success rate of just 74.79%.  The top 10 are even worse at 72.54%.


But what could have sparked this sudden need for speed in the first place? Was the league’s motivation (or Oakland’s at least) based on gut feeling, some kind of statistical trend, or just the thought that; because there are specialist pinch hitters, there should be specialist pinch runners too?  It’s possible that, during the decade of the pitcher (1960’s) when hits, and offense in general, were scarce, teams were trying to gain a completive advantage by stealing bases in order to manually generate more opportunities to score.


Other than a few minor exceptions, home runs had plateaued or decreased throughout the 60’s, the low-point being 1968. It was around this time that “The Panamanian Express” first appeared.  Home runs got a small bump in 1969, due mainly to expansion, but the renaissance was short lived as long balls again began to wane in 1971.  The AL went so far as to adopt the designated hitter in 1973.  Judging by the figures, these “specialist hitters” must have finished developing around 1977, as evidenced by the subsequent increase in AL home run totals.  While the NL also saw a rise in round-trippers, the AL totals were well and truly separated from their NL counterparts.  This remained so until the steroid era’s hey-day in the mid 90’s.  Interestingly, 1977 was right around the time that the use of specialist pinch-base stealers began to decline.


Was this decline in base stealing due to an emergence of power across the leagues? Perhaps managers felt it would be more beneficial to carry an extra slugger on their bench, who could bring a handful of players (as well as himself) home with one mighty swat, rather than waste a roster spot on a base path bandit who could do little else on a ball field.  Remember, stealing second only puts a runner into scoring position.  He still needs one of his teammates to bring him around.  A muscled up basher is in scoring position the moment he steps into the batter’s box.

Inevitably the practice died off. The 80’s single season pinch-stolen base leader Bob Dernier pilfered just 14 bags in 15 attempts in 1983.  Damian Jackson led the way in the 2000’s with 12 bags in 18 attempts in 2003 while Jarrod Dyson currently carries the torch in the 2010’s, grabbing seven bags in 2013 and eight bags in both 2014 and 2015.  Regardless of whether or not it’s statistically beneficial to attempt to steal bases, no one can deny that it’s one of the most exciting plays in baseball. A single, glorious moment that can change the outcome of a game, a series, or in Boston’s case, franchise history.  Just ask my buddy Steve.

Fool’s Gold: The Great Hideki Irabu Hoax


Hideki Irabu


Most baseball fans remember Hideki Irabu as the Yankee’s pseudo-superstar Japanese pitcher who, after playing five years of mediocre major league ball, found himself in the minor leagues before eventually moving back to Japan. He was touted a “Japanese Nolan Ryan” and given a four year contract worth $12.8 million before so much as throwing a baseball in a competitive game on American soil.  But the great Hideki Irabu hoax doesn’t begin with him joining the Yankees.  It begins with a little known player named Masanori Murakami some 30 years earlier.

Even the most grizzled baseball aficionados would have to think long and hard were you to ask them who Masanori Murakami is. The first Japanese player to play in the big leagues, Murakami’s career has been mostly forgotten.  Murakami, which means ‘upper village’ was born May 6th, 1944 in Otsuki, Japan.  Murakami first appeared in America in 1964 when he suited up for the San Francisco Giants at the tender age of 20.  Over parts of two seasons in the Bay area, Murakami posted the kind of numbers that, although solid, were likely to be overlooked by anyone not named Bill James (unfortunately for Murakami Bill James was only 15 years old at the time and people wouldn’t even consider listening to him for another 30 years).  During the 1964 season Murakami also spent time in Fresno with the Giants single A affiliate.  He dominated opposing hitters going 11-7 with a 1.78 ERA and 159 K’s in 106 innings.  He allowed just 64 hits and 34 walks and posted a 0.925 WHIP.

The left-hander, who was labelled a “soft tosser” regularly baffled hitters with a dazzling array of off-speed junk and pin-point control. All in all he threw just 89 1/3 innings in the Majors, posting a 5-1 record and a respectable 3.43 ERA.  During those 89 1/3 innings he allowed just 65 hits and 23 walks (0.985 WHIP) to go along with 100 punch-outs (10.1 K’s/9).  His K’s/BB ratio was 4.35.  Almost as soon as he had appeared he was gone again, back to Japan to again suit up for his former club, the Nankai Hawks.  Why the Giants didn’t put up a fight to retain his services is understandable considering the player evaluation methods of the day.  Murakami was unassuming, of slight build and didn’t even throw that hard.  Murakami finally retired following the 1982 season at the age of 38.

Following Murakami’s departure in 1965 things on the Japan front went quiet to say the least. For 30 years no Japanese born player would enter the big leagues.  That all changed when a lanky, 26 year old with an nasty forkball and a grotesque delivery showed up in L.A. in 1995.  Hideo Nomo was initially sent to high A ball in Bakersfield where, during his first game on U.S. soil, he allowed 2 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk in 5 1/3 innings.  Early jitters aside, Nomo promptly established himself within the Dodgers rotation going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 28 starts on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award.  He allowed 124 hits and 78 walks in 191 1/3 innings while racking up a league leading 236 K’s.  All in all Nomo pitched 323 games in the Majors over 12 seasons.  He finished his career with a 123-109 record and a 4.24 ERA.  Although his career tapered off after that amazing start, he had done something much greater than any stat recorded by Major League Baseball; he had kicked open the door to America.

Perhaps, as a result of teams trying to find the next Nomo, the next eight Japanese players to play big-league ball were pitchers. After Nomo appeared in 1995 there was an influx of hurlers from Japan as MLB teams scrambled to unearth the next diamond in the rough.  Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Takashi Kashiwada, and Hideki Irabu all made their Major League debuts in 1997 which begs the question: how much, if any, research went into these signings?

A closer look at Irabu’s NBL stats shows an unsettling amount of walks combined with a lower K’s/9 (9.08) than you’d expect from the “Japanese Nolan Ryan.” From 1988 to 1996 Irabu appeared in 243 Nippon Professional Baseball League games where he compiled a 59-59 record, and a 3.67 ERA.  He allowed 924 hits and 507 walks in 1101 2/3 innings pitched.  His 1.3027 WHIP was suspect even by major league standards, but in Japan, against has-been major leaguers and never-were minor leaguers, it was downright awful.  I mean, Irabu was 27 at this point.  It’s not like he was some raw fireballer who had yet to harness his powers (see Expos washout, Randy Johnson).  If Irabu was so great, why did the Dodgers choose Nomo?  In 1994, Nomo’s last year in Japan, Irabu went 15-10 with a 1.273 WHIP while Nomo went 8-7 with a 1.596 WHIP.  Remember all of this was before the creation of the Japanese Posting system, so it’s possible that the Dodgers did want Irabu, but had to settle for Nomo who was able to get out of his Japanese contract when his agent discovered a loophole.

So how did the Yankees get it so wrong?  For starters, they didn’t look at Irabu’s stats.  Not seriously anyway.  If they had they would have seen that despite his low ERA and high K’s/9 he also walked one batter every two innings.  Sure he threw gas but what good is that if you can’t throw strikes?  In Japan, apparently it’s fine.  If Irabu walked a few guys, so what?  He’d just strike out the next guy anyway.  Some of these hitters were barely good enough to play in the low minors.  Some of them couldn’t play in America, period.  Irabu’s Japanese stats were inflated because he was pitching against guys the majority of whom were essentially Rookie league and low A ball calibre, at best.  Add to that the fact that he was still walking 4.5 guys per game in Japan, where even if he just fired it right down the middle he was unlikely to get hurt, and you had a disaster in the making.  Putting a pitcher like that up against MLB hitters, who would not only take the walks Irabu handed them but could actually hit his fastball, was always going to end in tears.  In the Show everybody can hit a fastball.

A perfect example is that of Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder.  After a woeful 1988 season in which he slashed .230/.289/.431 for the Jays, Cecil knew his days were numbered.  Fielder’s ever increasing girth, combined with his shrinking average and diminishing power were responsible for his exile to Japan.  Once there however, Fielder feasted (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the sub-standard pitching and began swatting home runs at a rate of one every 10 at bats.  In 384 at bats he mashed 38 dingers and drove in 81 runs while slashing .302/.403/.628.  What’s the point?  The point is Japanese baseball isn’t as good as Major League Baseball and it’s obvious to anyone who looks at the stats for more than 2 and a half seconds.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, Steinbrenner didn’t.


Big Daddy Cess!


In three seasons with the Bronx Bombers Irabu posted a record of 29-20 and a 4.80 ERA.  Over 395 2/3 innings of work he allowed 397 hits, 142 walks and had 315 K’s.  His WHIP was an under-whelming 1.362.  Other stats: 9.0 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 7.2 K’s/9, 2.22 K’s/BB.  He went on to make stops in Montreal and Texas before the league finally wised up and gave Irabu his walking papers.  Baseball Reference shows Irabu’s career earnings as $15,550,000.00 and lists Irabu’s top five similarity scores as; Ryan Drese, Brandon Backe, Ray Phelps, Chris Knapp, Geremi Gonzalez.  Nope, I don’t remember any of those guys either.

Irabu’s body was found on July 27th, 2011 in his L.A. home.  Irabu had hanged himself.

The Perfect Storm: Could 2016 be a career year for Jay Cutler?

When people use the term ‘Career year’ they’re usually only referring to a player’s individual statistics.  Often times, one player’s statistical dominance overshadows, and serves to divert attention from, the team’s sub-par record.  One could argue that Smokin’ Jay himself had his career year in 2008 while playing for the Denver Broncos.  In his third NFL season he tossed up 25 TD’s, had just 18 picks (this is good for Cutler), averaged 282.9 yards per game (still his career best) and threw for 4,526 yards (also a career best).  Since then he hasn’t thrown for more than 3,812 yards (2014) and his season high TD’s is just 28 (2014).  During Jay’s career year in 2008, in which he finished 3rd in passing yards behind Drew Brees (5,069) and Kurt Warner (4,583) the Bronco’s posted a gloriously unsatisfying record of 8-8.

In 134 career starts Mr. Cutler has a perplexing record of 67-67, the epitome of average.  So what do I mean when I say the 2016/2017 NFL season could be a career year for Jay?

Cutler needs to take control if the Bears are to be successful in 2016


He knows the system

Despite OC Adam Gase taking the head coaching job at Miami during the off season, this will be Cutler’s 2nd season in this system.  Head Coach John Fox has already confirmed that the system will not change much, if at all.  New OC Dowell Loggains was the QB coach in 2015 and reportedly has an open, no nonsense relationship with Cutler.  This increased familiarity should translate into more synergy and greater cohesion on offense.  Brian Hoyer has also joined the team which means that for the first time in his career, Cutler will have a QB actually capable of starting an NFL game pushing him for playing time.  Hopefully having the possibility of being benched hanging over his head will finally give Cutler the impetus to break through that glass performance ceiling that he’s been squashing his face into for the past eight seasons.


D  IIII! (clap-clap-clap) D  IIII! (clap-clap-clap)

In 2015 the Bears switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under first year DC Vic Fangio.  An adjustment period is expected in situations like this as shuffling out 4-3 scheme players (Jared Allen) and acquiring 3-4 scheme players (Danny Trevathan) takes time.  The Bears 3-4 defense has had a season to settle in and should provide Cutler and his offense more time on the football.  They should also allow fewer points, thus taking some of the burden off of Cutler.  He has a reputation of being a bit of a gunslinger and can at times try to squeeze balls into tight windows when chasing the game.  Less of this can only be good for the Bears.


He has two big, quality targets

Alshon Jeffery is healthy again and can hopefully remain so for the entire season.  He’s also the proud recipient of the Bears’ franchise tag, meaning he is in a contract year for the second straight season.  While not a deep threat in the traditional sense, his massive wingspan and Cirque du Soleil-esq body control make him without a doubt one of the league’s best when it comes to high-pointing, and thus winning, jump balls.  He knows better than anyone that it’s in his best interest to put up #1 WR numbers if he wants to be paid like one.  Kevin White has recovered from the broken shin which kept him side-lined for the entire 2015 season.  Getting him back is as if the Bears had an extra 1st round pick in the 2016 draft.  Plus, unlike an actual rookie, he’s had all of 2015 to study the playbook, watch film and just generally acclimatize to life in the NFL.  Should hit the ground running in 2016.


The running backs will actually run

Despite GM Ryan Pace letting the best running back since 2008 walk during the offseason (before you get all upset and start sending angry tweets and sad emoji’s, I’m basing this on the simple fact that Forte has more yards from scrimmage than any other back since 2008), the Bears have a good, young group of backs at their disposal.  RB’s coach Stan Drayton has a reputation for developing and mentoring young runners (Ohio State 2011-2014) so shouldn’t have any problem with the task at hand.  He’s a seasoned vet at the college level and the effect he had on Ohio State’s ground game is there for all to see.  Things cooled off a little when Braxton Miller was out with a medical redshirt in 2014 but Ezekiel Elliott had a fine season under Drayton and was subsequently drafted 4th overall by the Cowboys.


While question marks surround Jeremy Langford, he has shown brief flashes of being a genuine #1 back.  His workload was obviously lighter than Forte’s but the Bears don’t seem reluctant to use him when he’s on the field.  He played 392 snaps in 2015 amassing 170 touches (getting the ball 43.3% of the time he’s on the field) while Forte had 262 touches in 597 snaps (43.9%).  Forte was traditionally more of a pass-catcher than a bruising runner, evidenced by his 102 receptions in 2014.  He had just 44 in his first year under Fox.  It’s no secret that Fox likes his running backs to actually run, combine that with the fact that Forte has lost a step since his mid-20’s, (average yards per rush dipped from 4.9 in 2011 – long of 46, to just 4.1 in 2015 – long of 27) and letting Forte walk was a no-brainer from a business standpoint.  Enter Fox’s new running back committee – Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers.

Yes, Forte is undeniably one of the greatest Bears of all time but Cutler dropping back to pass him the ball is still Cutler dropping back to pass.  Rather than having to put eight in the box, teams can key on the pass and staff their defense with faster, more athletic players.  ‘Establishing the running game’ is one of the oldest clichés in football for a reason; it works.  Teams can’t simply drop back and drape players all over the receivers.  Imagine you’re a boxer who only throws punches at your opponent’s head.  If this is the case, he’ll just cover up his head while you tire yourself out punching the backs of his gloves and forearms.  Long story short, you need to sock him in the gut every once in a while.  Remember, Cutler’s arm strength and accuracy aren’t the issue here, it’s his decision making (or lack of it) and his gunslinger attitude that get him into trouble.


Yeah, so?

So, many people forget that statistically speaking, Jay Cutler is the greatest QB in Bears history.  Despite the fact that Jim McMahon led the Bears to a Superbowl victory in 1985, his stats were nothing to write home about.  That year McMahon posted a TD/INT ratio of 15/11, threw for 2,392 yards and had a QB rating of just 82.6.  Being backed up by arguably the greatest defense in the history of football is a difference maker to say the least.  During Cutler’s reign however, the Bears defense has been decidedly hit or miss (mostly miss):


You’ll notice they did have a good defensive unit in 2010, allowing just 17.9 points per game.  Chicago finished 1st in the NFC North (11-5).  They beat the Seahawks 35-24 in the first round to advance to the NFC Championship where they then lost 21-14 to the Packers.  A good season by anyone’s standards.

Snake bitten in 2012 the Bears somehow finished 3rd in the NFC North despite posting a 10-6 record, causing them to miss the playoffs.  Other than these two seasons Cutler and his offensive unit have pretty much shouldered the load themselves, all the while receiving unjustifiable and downright ignorant criticism.  During Peyton Manning’s record breaking 2004 season in which he tossed 49 touchdown passes, the mighty Colts averaged 32.6 points per game.  This is viewed by many, and rightfully so, as the greatest year by a QB, ever.  Jay Cutler is no Peyton Manning so when you think about it objectively, with the defense they had, the Bears had no chance in 2013, 2014 or 2015.

I feel like we’ve shown that a player putting up great individual stats doesn’t always correlate to the team being successful, and vice versa.  But, could Cutler emerging as a reliable game manger and leading the Bears to a 12+ win season (something he’s never done before) be considered a career year?  The Bears are in a good position with regard to coaching, playbook familiarity and talent.  Cutler himself wouldn’t necessarily need to put up the huge aggregate numbers we traditionally associate with upper echelon quarterbacks, just to tie all of these resources together and stay within himself.  Oh and he’ll need a little help from his defense of course.

2016 MLB Predictions

The other day I came across an email that I had sent to my buddy Steve prior to the start of the 2016 MLB season.  In it I made a few predictions about how I thought certain players would perform and how one would be busted for using PEDs.  Without further ado…


Maikel Franco hits 30+ home runs

Last year Franco burst on the scene for the Phillies by socking 14 dingers in just 304 at bats (That’s one every 20 at bats for those of you counting at home).  I created an excel sheet which projects a part time player’s stats over 550 at bats; useful when trying to get a feel for guys who may have been injured or who’ve come up midway through a season.  My projections show Franco as a 25 HR, 90 RBI guy.  After 107 games he’s on pace for a 27/89 season, and if he can accumulate upwards of 600 at bats, which I was counting on from the beginning, he’s projecting to be a 30/100 guy.

“I bet he acted all aloof, like he didn’t know me.”


The Phillies are 52-63, 15.5 games back in the NL East so it’s safe to say that their season is effectively over.  Despite the line up not turning over as often as one might like, which could potentially reduce Franco’s at bat totals, he should still get lots of playing time as the Phillies look to continue his development.  For now we’ll call this one, ‘on track’.


Jason Hammel has a great, but possibly unnoticeable, year.  Wins 15+ games.

I found Hammel while trying to round out my fantasy team following this year’s draft.  My draft didn’t go exactly as planned (does it ever?) and I needed to add another starter.  There was just one problem; all the half decent starters had just been auctioned off to the highest bidder.  I opened my trusty excel spreadsheet and removed every unavailable starting pitcher.  I then began the arduous process of whittling down the list of potential signings.  Traditionally speaking, none of them had great stats.  Remember, these were the guys who no one wanted.  They all had mediocre numbers as far as wins and strike outs went so those were essentially useless to me.  Choosing a guy who’s 11-10 over a guy who’s 10-11 is nothing more than a crapshoot, at best.  Using obscure stats like ground ball percentage, pitches per inning pitched and adjusted strike outs (my own creation, click here for more info), I began sifting through the remaining names on my spreadsheet,  like someone combing through a sandbox trying to find an earring.  Sure you start off calmly enough but after 15 minutes of searching panic sets in.  There didn’t seem to be any continuity.  One guy had a great GO/AO ratio but that was only when he could actually find the strike zone.  His 1.78 WHIP definitely wasn’t what I was looking for.  After a while I noticed that Hammel’s name kept popping up near the top of these categories.  He wasn’t first in anything but seemed to hover around the top five in everything.  I decided to dig a little deeper.  He put up some solid numbers in Chicago in 2014 and stumbled a little when he moved to Oakland (he still posted a 1.29 WHIP which is nothing to sneeze at).  In the time he spent in Chicago during the 2014 season he went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in 17 starts.  In 108 2/3 innings he allowed 88 hits and 23 walks while fanning 104.  The Hammer of Glamour put up more solid numbers in 2015 going 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 31 starts.  He allowed just 158 hits in 170 2/3 innings and struck out 172.  I pulled the trigger and he was mine!

Arietta and Hammel
It’s not just their stats that look alike… Seriously though, what’s the story fellas?


Through 21 starts in 2016 Hamm-dawg is 11-5 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.  During his 120 1/3 innings of work he’s allowed 95 hits and just 37 walks while punching out an even 100.  He’s collecting the win in 52% of his starts which means that a 15+ win season isn’t out of the question.  The one potential problem here is that for some reason, Hammel is the #5 starter for the Cubs.  As progressive and forward thinking as Joe Maddon is, you can bet that whenever possible he will skip over Hammel in order to get the ball back into you-know-who’s hands, every time.  Most back end guys get 30-31 starts so again, as long as Hammel continues to get the ball (almost) every 5th day, we’ll call this one ‘on track’.


Giancarlo Stanton hits 60+ home runs.

The projection methods I used when looking at Franco were also used to evaluate Stanton, who had just 279 at bats in 2015.  He mashed 27 home runs though, which equates to one every 10.3 at bats.  Ruth hit one home run every 9 at bats in 1927 and Maris hit one every 9.6 in 1961.  It’s no cake walk however.  We’ve all heard the stories of a chain-smoking Roger Maris losing his hair from the stress of it all, but Stanton has definitely shown that, if he can remain consistent, he could do it one day.  Currently he has 24 bombs in 371 at bats, which equates to one jimmy jack every 15.5 at bats.  I think it’s safe to say this one looks ‘unlikely’.

Kiss my asterisk.



And Finally…

Jose Bautista will be busted for using performance enhancing drugs.

No I haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years.  I know these types of accusations have come up before and so far nothing has been proven.  To be honest I kinda just threw up a Hail Mary with this one.  Bautista is in a contract year and wants a big raise.  His teammate Chris Colabello had just been caught using a banned substance.  He’s also 35 which is generally when power hitters start to decline.  I guess I just had a feeling that he might try to ensure that he had a great season in order to create interest from other teams and either; A) Force Toronto to give him the mega-deal he wants, or B) Trick the [insert name of struggling team desperate to appease their irate fan base here] into giving him an abbreviated version of the Pujols deal.  Let’s call this one ‘who knows’ for now.

The Canadian Tuxedo: If this is wrong, why would anyone wanna be right, eh?