Watching Cuban Baseball

Myworld follows Cuban baseball through the box score and occassionally watch the stars as they play in the international tournaments. Last year we were a little disappointed in the amount of talented players who still play in Cuba in the Series Nacional league and found it difficult to report on the progress of the league. As more of the stars defect it is turning into a AA league with the stars leaving once they realize the money is in the States. In the Series del Caribe, which Cuba participated in last year and used to dominant in years past they were the only country not to qualify for the playoffs. They were also the only country to strictly use domestic players to stock their roster.

Ben Badler has an interesting article on what to look for if you happen to have the opportunity to go to Cuba to watch baseball there. You can catch the whole article here:

To summarize:

1) Cuba does not have a lot of pitchers who throw hard. Aroldis Chapman is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the pitchers throw in the low to mid 80s and use deception like different arm slots and a reliance on breaking pitches to retire hitters. You can see the evidence in that when you look at the walk to whiff ratio of many of the hitters. Most of the good hitters walk more than they strikeout. The two best Cuban pitchers today were developed in the United States, Jose Fernandez and Carlos Rodon.

2) To achieve a more competetive game the Cubans decided to have a second season selecting only the best eight teams to continue with their season. A draft is conducted to select the best from the worst teams to have a more quality driven second half of the season. What Badler did not discuss is that the Cubans also have a minor or developmental league where some of the younger players try to improve their skills. These bottom eight teams continue their season playing in this lower level league so they do not stop playing baseball.

3) Hitters tend to have longer swings because they do not have to fear facing 90 plus mile an hour fastballs. Sliders are particularly more difficult for Cuban hitters to adjust to as Carlos Rodon proved when he had them swinging and missing at many of his pitches.

4) Cubans must play in the province where they were born. There is no trading or free agency. So if a team has three or four players whose best tools are better fitted for third base and they have no player with shortstop tools, they move one of those players with third base skills to shortstop. In the majors a team would find another team with extra shortstops who may be looking for a third baseman and work out a trade to improve both teams. So just because a player is at shortstop, it does not mean he has the tools to play the position. Badler did not mention that much of the movement out of the province is normally done to enhance the Havana team (Industriales). The league used to have the Metropolitans and the best players from that team were usually moved to play for the Industriales. Once they were dropped from the league Industriales was improved by stealing the Gourriel brothers from Sancti Spiritus. The Roosters then went from playoff contender to bottom of the barrell while the Industriales returned to being a playoff caliber team.

5) Don’t know if I agree with his assessment pitchers get overused. If you listen to Jose Abreu he would argue players get overused in the major league. Cuba plays a 90 game season so pitchers and position players do not play the number of innings that major leaguers do. Jose Abreu has admitted his homerun numbers have decreased because he is being worn down by the long schedule in the major leagues.

6) It is not unusual for managers to go to the bullpen after a starter faces three hitters and can’t get any hitters out. Cuban managers have a quick hook, but I don’t know if they play the lefty/righty percentages as obsessively as the major league managers. If a pitcher can show he can get a hitter out he will face both lefties and righties until he proves he can’t get those hitters out.

7) Catchers have no arms because few Cuban ballplayers have not learned the art of stealing. If opponents do not steal you do not develop catchers with strong arms. Cuba has players with speed, but for some reason they never learn how to steal bases.

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