We always refer to this time of year as the off-season; however, that’s only accurate when it comes to the baseball action in MLB.
The Australian Baseball League is in its Third Round of the 22/23 season, with former Oakland A Josh Reddick playing for Perth Heat in what will be his final competition before retiring.
You will also find a whole bunch of Major Leaguers and Minor League talent in the Caribbean Winter Leagues, primarily in Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico, LVPB in Venezuela and The Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, known as LIDOM, in the Dominican Republic.
One of the players getting some at-bats in LIDOM is a native of Santo Domingo Centro: Cristian Pache.
The A’s centre-fielder unfortunately epitomised how Oakland’s 2022 season unravelled. Just as we knew it was going to be a rough year in the win-loss column, we also knew that Pache came from the Braves with a reputation of being an elite centre-fielder, but needing plenty of development at the plate. The hope, for both the team and for Pache, was that there would be improvement over the season and encouraging signs of things to come.
That wasn’t quite what happened.
Although Pache’s fielding was as outstanding as advertised, he never found any sort of rhythm at the plate. Despite manager Mark Kotsay giving him plenty of time and encouragement to work through his struggles, by June 30th he was hitting only .159/.203/.224 and the team had no choice but to demote him back to Triple-A.
He put up a much better line in 41 games in Vegas, hitting .248/.298/.389 with 4 HR, although it still wasn’t quite at the level you would like to see from a player trying to force his way back onto the Major League roster.
Pache is far from unique in finding it hard to deal with the quality of breaking balls and off-speed pitches as he moves through the Minors. You don’t get far in the professional hitter ranks if you can’t catch up with a good fastball, but what separates the maybes from the Major Leaguers is how they cope with the so-called secondary pitches.
That doesn’t mean you have to be just as good at hitting those pitches and in fact even some of the best hitters have quite a drop in their production off non-fastball pitches. You’ve got to be able to hit them well enough to keep the pitcher honest and, most importantly, you’ve got to develop the pitch recognition and discipline at the plate to force the pitcher to either come at you with the fastball or give you a free pass to first base.
When we look a bit deeper into the statistics there is a case that Pache did suffer some misfortune at the plate during 2022.
His batting average on fastballs was .192, but his expected Batting Average was .276, just as his expected Slugging percentage of .361 was .100 higher than what his actual slugging percentage turned out as (.264).
You have to be careful when looking at ‘expected’ stats as they don’t tell the whole story (e.g. if Pache had been getting better results then pitchers would have started pitching him differently etc); however, at a basic level they give you an idea of how lucky or unlucky the hitter was.
In this case, Pache’s ability to hit fastballs hard didn’t produce the results you would normally expect and part of that genuinely will be a case of hitting into some bad luck.
We all know how important confidence is for an athlete, especially a young player trying to find their feet, so perhaps if the baseball gods had been more on his side then Pache may not have fallen into such a hole and found a better approach at the plate.
That’s not how things work, though. Coping with failure is a big part of the game and Pache was like a driver sat in a car spinning its wheels in the mud hoping that if he jumped on the accelerator pedal enough times he may finally gain some traction and race clear of danger. Time and again Pache was behind in the count 0-2 within a blink of an eye from chasing after bad pitches (accepting that’s easy to say watching on TV from the comfort of your sofa). No one knows any of this better than Pache himself.
Pache is playing for Estrellas Orientales (Oriental Stars) in LIDOM, alongside former A’s teammate Christian Bethancourt.
His season debut came on Monday against Tigres del Licey where he went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and he then went 1-for-5 against Toros del Este on Tuesday. Pache sat out the team’s game on Friday against Aguilas Cibaeñas, whose line-up included former A’s favourite Yoenis Cespedes and former A’s Minor Leaguer Frank Schwindel.
In truth, Pache’s stats from his time in LIDOM won’t tell us all that much. What matters is that he uses the off-season to re-set and then is able to work with the A’s hitting coaches during Spring Training.
His fielding is so spectacularly good that he doesn’t need to be an impact hitter to be a quality everyday Major Leaguer. He does need to be able to contribute at the plate, though. The joy of watching him patrol centre field at the Coliseum, and the infectious joy he shows when playing the game, means that we all want him to come good.
Whether he can or not will be one of the key stories to follow in the A’s 2023 season.
Thao confirmed as new Oakland Mayor
As rumoured last week, Sheng Thao has now been confirmed as the new mayor-elect for the City of Oakland. Thao was elected by a narrow majority of just 682 votes over Loren Taylor and held her first press conference outside the City Hall on Wednesday.
Thao’s campaign drew in part on her own experiences of the homelessness struggles that are rightly a major concern in the city, as the Guardian.com’s news report states:
Just 15 years ago, Thao was living in her car with her infant son. She had just escaped an abusive relationship and had nowhere to go. This week Thao, 37, became the first Hmong American woman to lead a major US city, the youngest Oakland mayor in 75 years and the first renter to hold the positionThe Guardian.com
The report goes on to state that “Over the past five years, Oakland saw a steeper rise in homelessness than any other city in the Bay Area” and this of course plays into some of the tensions around the A’s proposed development at Howard Terminal. Whilst there are valid arguments to support the wider benefits of investing tax-payer dollars into the project, it’s understandable that the optics of potentially doing so continue to be controversial.
Thao’s previous position has been the straight forward one: she wants the project to go ahead but the deal has to be right for Oakland, not just for the A’s owner John Fisher. Coming from a country where public funds wouldn’t be used in this way, largely because we don’t have a sports franchise system that allows teams to threaten relocation, it’s a stance that is hard not to support regardless of how much we all want the team to stay in Oakland.
Thao has lots on her ‘to-do list’ and that will likely include resolving the Howard Terminal project one way or another in the first half of 2023 rather than letting it continue to drag on.
Over to you, Fisher.
Around the Bases
First: Aaron Judge’s Free Agency tour began this past week across the Bay where the San Francisco Giants rolled out the red carpet for the Linden, California native. Whilst a return to the New York Yankees still seems the likeliest outcome – the Yankees not being able to re-sign the reigning AL MVP, and by far their most popular player, would cause a complete meltdown in the Bronx – the Giants figure to be a strong candidate for at least one of the big-ticket free agents on the market this off-season.
Second: There is something very comforting about the annual off-season tale in Anaheim, where the Angels make some moves, the national media hypes them up, and then they fall woefully short of the play-offs. It’s funnier when the A’s aren’t hopeless too, but it’s always worth a chuckle anyway. The Halos have been the most active MLB team so far this off-season, signing pitcher Tyler Anderson to a 3-year, $39M contract, trading for third baseman Gio Urshela from the Twins and then this week adding outfielder Hunter Renfroe in a trade with the Brewers. Will it work this time?
Third: The competition for ‘Cheapest Team of the Off-Season’ has taken an early turn as the usually frugal Pittsburgh Pirates have jumped into the free agent market and agreed a deal with first-baseman Carlos Santana. Although it’s only a one-year deal worth $6.75M, the stakes are so low in the Cheapo Challenge that the investment may take the Buccos away from the other misers. It looks unlikely that the A’s will agree to a free agent contract worth more than that amount of money. The question is whether our entire free agent spending goes above that figure?
Home: The MLB London Series returns in 2023 with the postponed 2020 match-up between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at the London Stadium. Pre-sale ticket offers go live for MLB Europe subscribers on Monday.