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John Jaso: Five At Bats vs the Red Sox

On Saturday, Tampa Bay’s John Jaso went 3 for 5 in an 11-7 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The left-handed-hitting Rays DH – a former catcher – faced right-hander Joe Kelly in his first three plate appearances. Righty Justin Masterson and lefty Craig Breslow were on the mound in his subsequent at bats. Jaso — hitting .344/.414/.508 since returning from a long stint the DL — broke down his five plate appearances the following day.

LEAD-IN

“My big baseball philosophy changed when I heard something Pete Rose had said. Every at bat he took, he wanted to do the exact same thing. I kind of ran with that. I treat the late-inning clutch situation the same as I do a first-inning at bat. Take the other night when I hit the pinch-hit double to drive in two runs and put us ahead. I was just looking for a pitch to hit and trying to stay short and straight to the ball.”

FIRST AT BAT, VS JOE KELLY Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Felix, Shark, Archer, Sale, Castellanos, more

My first piece for FanGraphs was an interview with Felix Hernandez. That was in May 2011, when Hernandez was 25 years old and coming off a Cy Young season. Four-plus years later, I’m still here and King Felix is better than ever.

Earlier this summer, I asked the Seattle Mariners ace to compare then to now.

“I’m a little different,” Hernandez told me. “I don’t throw as hard anymore. I was 95-96 (mph) back in 2011, and I’m 91-93 now. But I’m a little smarter. I try to throw on the corners and down in the strike zone, and I mix with my breaking balls.”

I reminded Hernandez that he called himself smart in our earlier interview. In retrospect, was that accurate? Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Tigers, Pillar, Pirates’ Bell, Correa, more

Kevin Pillar is a stud with the glove. The Blue Jays center fielder has 14 Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks him second behind Kevin Kiermaier among fly chasers. Unlike the Rays’ hit robber, he didn’t reach the big leagues because of his defense.

“I got here because I hit well at every level in the minor leagues,” said Pillar, who put up a .322/.364/.477 slash line down on the farm. “My offensive production overshadowed my ability to play defense, but I enjoy playing center field and I enjoy making good plays. I have fun out there.”

He’s certainly been fun to watch. Pillar passes the eye test with flying colors, as evidenced by myriad appearances on highlight reels. But while he’s surprised a lot of people with his Devon White-like play, he hasn’t surprised himself. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Maybin, Gordon, Harris, more

A somewhat shorter Sunday Notes column this week, as I’m on vacation in Upper Michigan.

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It’s taken 10 years and four organizations, but Cameron Maybin has finally found himself. The toolsy outfielder’s professional journey began in 2005 when he was drafted 10th overall by the Tigers. Two years later, he was a key piece in the franchise-altering eight-player trade that sent Miguel Cabrera from Miami to Motown. Burdened with expectations, Maybin failed to flourish with the Fish. Subsequently swapped to San Diego, he continued to find stardom elusive.

Atlanta and his age-28 season are proving to be a panacea. In his first year with the Braves, the long-anticipated breakout has manifested itself. Maybin is playing a mean center field and is hitting .290/.358/.417 with eight home runs and 15 steals.

According to Maybin, no switch has been flipped. Nor does he feel he’s plateaued. Read the rest of this entry »


Dallas Keuchel (and Brent Strom) on Dallas Keuchel

Twelve months ago, Eno Sarris wrote a great piece on how Dallas Keuchel grips each of his pitches. Today, hours before the Houston Astros ace starts for the American League in the All-Star game, we’ll take a look at his approach. We’ll do so with Keuchel’s own words, as well as those of his pitching coach, Brent Strom.

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Keuchel on setting up hitters: “When I go into a start, I’ll definitely look at the scouting report. I’ll watch video and make assessments of each hitter. But it’s also important to have a feel for what you’re doing and to command the ball to both sides of the plate. If I’m confident about a pitch that differs from the scouting report, I’ll try to execute that pitch to the best of my ability.

“You’ll see some of the smarter pitchers set-up guys, even though I don’t like the term “set-up.” If you can command your pitches away, say a fastball and a changeup away, then you can set hitters up for a fastball inside that they’ll take for a punch out. You can get feels for that during the course of a game. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Drafting Aiken, Yankees, Marlins, more

Last month, the Indians selected Brady Aiken with the 17th overall pick of the amateur draft. There’s a distinct possibility that several of the sixteen teams that passed on the southpaw will someday regret doing so. They all might regret it. Aiken arguably has the best raw talent of any player taken.

When he’s healthy.

Aiken is, of course, recovering from Tommy John surgery. What’s curious – at least to me – is that so many teams were seemingly scared away by that fact. This year’s draft was viewed as sub par, and Aiken went first-overall in 2014. The Astros not signing him made sense at the time – and their medicals were proven right – but the elbow fears are now in the rear-view. He’s already gone under the knife.

A full recovery from Tommy John surgery isn’t guaranteed, but chances are good that the 18-year-old will come back strong. Indians scouting director Brad Grant expects exactly that, based on precedent. Read the rest of this entry »


Chris Coghlan on Hitting

Chris Coghlan isn’t the same hitter he was when he captured NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. His numbers aren’t quite as good, but the Marlin-turned-Cub nonetheless feels he’s better. At age 30, he has a more learned understanding both of his craft and the stats that matter.

Coghlan has put up a .272/.353/.443 slash line since coming to Chicago prior to last season. This year he will easily eclipse his career best in home runs, and his walk rate has never been higher. Coghlan is by no means a star, but he’s been a cog in the Cubs lineup against right-handed pitchers. He has just 27 plate appearances against southpaws, which is his lone complaint.

Coghlan talked hitting prior to a recent game at Wrigley Field.

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Coghlan on his swing: “Pitchers are going to run it and sink it on you. If you’re too flat on your bat path, you’re going to swing right over the top of the ball, or hit it right into the ground. You need to have an entry plane that’s up enough, or steep enough, to get underneath the ball, to lift it. The more rotational you are, the flatter you are, yeah, you’re going to run into some line drives if the ball is elevated, but for the most part it’s going to be tough for you to square it up.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Angels Angst, Astros, Colabello, more

The kerfuffle that led to Jerry DiPoto resigning as Angels GM has received plenty of attention, and for good reason. The reported power struggle is seemingly a clash of philosophies. Harkening back to the nascent days of Moneyball, more than a modicum of us-versus-them appears to be at play.

I’m certainly not privy to the club’s inner workings. Nor do I believe in taking sides based on conjecture. Until I learn more, I’ll question, but refrain from criticizing either faction.

Two things stand out from my most-recent time around the team. One is the length of the pre-series meeting the Angels had at Fenway Park earlier this season. It was notable for its duration, and apparently not atypical. According to an Anaheim beat writer, Mike Scioscia‘s squad routinely spends a lot of time on scouting reports.

Reportedly, the DiPoto-Scioscia discord was related to Angels coaches not being willing to convey scouting information provided by the front office. That leads one to wonder what is covered in the meetings, and what type of information is being withheld.

A conversation I had with Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher also stands out. Read the rest of this entry »


Kendall Graveman on Cutters, Contact and Spin Rates

Kendall Graveman pitches to contact with a sinker and a cutter. He throws the former better than half the time and the latter nearly a quarter of the time. Working down and skirting sweet spots is his thing. Punch-outs aren’t. The rookie righty has a worm-killing 47.4% ground-ball rate, but fans a paltry 5.66 batters per nine innings.

Obtained by the A’s as part of last winter’s Josh Donaldson package, Graveman is inducing plenty of outs. The 24-year-old Mississippi State product has allowed just 12 runs over his last eight starts. The stingy outings were preceded by a month-long stint in Triple-A following five mixed-bag performances to begin the season.

Graveman discussed his repertoire and approach, including how TrackMan data has influenced each, when Oakland visited Fenway Park in early June. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: SABR 45 Snapshots, Spray Charts, Roe

More than 700 baseball purists gathered in downtown Chicago over the past four days for the national SABR convention. Snapshots of presentations I attended comprise much of this week’s column.

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Among the notable presentations at SABR 45 was David Smith’sHome Team Scoring Advantage in the First Inning Largely Due to Time and Travel.” According to Smith, home teams win approximately 54% of the time, and 58% of that advantage comes in first inning scoring. Historically, more runs are scored in the bottom of the first inning than are scored by either team in any other inning.

The longer the visiting team hits in the top of first, the more scoring there is in the bottom of the first. The primary determinant is time. Unlike the home team’s starter, the visiting team’s starter doesn’t know exactly when he will begin pitching. Based on Smith’s research, the longer the visiting starter waits to throw his first pitch, the bigger his statistical disadvantage. Read the rest of this entry »


Kyle Gibson on Pitching to Contact

Kyle Gibson is a tall pitcher with a low K rate. The Minnesota Twins right-hander is 6-foot-6 and has fanned 5.76 batters per nine innings this season. Last year, that number was an even-more-contact-heavy 5.37. Strikeouts aren’t what he does. Gibson relies on ground balls for the majority of his outs.

A first-round pick in 2009 out of the University of Missouri, Gibson had the fifth-highest ground ball rate (54.4) among qualified starters in the American League last year. He’s a shade lower (52.8) in the current campaign, but even more successful. After going 13-12, 4.47 in his first full season as a big league starter, the 27-year-old boasts a 3.35 ERA in 14 outings for one of the junior circuit’s most-surprising squads.

Gibson talked about his approach when the Twins visited Fenway Park earlier this month.

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Gibson on height and mechanics: “ I’ve had similar mechanics since I was 15 years old. I wouldn’t say there are only so many ways a tall guy can throw, but for me to repeat my delivery I need to have certain mechanics. My dad – he pitched in junior college and was a high school coach – and I worked really hard on them from a young age. I was never a guy who threw really hard, so I’ve always had to be able to throw strikes. The best way for a kid to throw strikes is to have clean mechanics and a good release point. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Braves, Billy Burns, 3B Coaches, more

Nick Markakis isn’t clearing fences. In his first season in Atlanta, the erstwhile Oriole is without a home run in 294 plate appearances. Despite the paucity of power, he’s been the Braves cleanup hitter in 31 games. Don’t scoff. Markakis has a .314./.404/.407 slash line batting out of the four-hole, Overall, he’s slashing .298/.393/.361.

Even so, he wouldn’t be hitting fourth in a perfect world. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has limited options when he fills out his lineup card. Going into last night, only the Phillies (40) had homered fewer times than the Braves (41) this season. Freddie Freeman has a dozen dingers, and after that it’s basically banjo city.

“Other than Freddie Freeman, he’s our best hitter,” Gonzalez told me earlier this week. “When I first put him there, it was to put a good hitter behind Freddie to protect him a little bit. We want someone who’s going to give us a good at bat, no matter if it’s a home run or a double. I think he’s our best option.”

Markakis used to provide more punch. In nine seasons with the Orioles, he had 141 circuit clouts. Part of that was homer-happy Camden Yards, but it’s not as though Turner Field is a graveyard for fly balls. Off-season immobility is likely contributing to his power outage. Read the rest of this entry »


David Murphy on Four At-Bats vs Seattle

On June 10, David Murphy went 2 for 4 in a 9-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Progressive Field. The Indians outfielder faced right-hander Taijuan Walker in his first three plate appearances. His fourth time up, he faced left-hander Joe Beimel. Murphy, who is hitting .326/.367/.473 on the season, broke down his four at bats the following day.

LEAD-IN

“My general approach is the same for every pitcher. I take an up-the-middle approach. My swing plays into my favor when I pull the ball, but at the same time, a good hitter needs to be able to cover the entire plate. Walker has a good fastball. It’s a little bit sneaky, so if you’re not ready for the heater, you’re going to miss it. His command is what gets him in trouble, so at some point, you’re probably going to get a pitch to hit. But he pitched well against us at their place, about a week-and-a-half ago, and he did a pretty good job again last night. Read the rest of this entry »


Player’s View: Designated Hitter or no Designated Hitter?

The designated hitter rule has been in place in the American League since 1973. Some like it. Others would prefer that pitchers swing the bat. They do in the National League, and that’s part of the debate. Does it make sense for the league to play with different rules, or should there be uniformity?

I asked five pitchers, five position players, and five coaches/managers – many of whom have experience in both leagues – for their opinion of the DH rule. Here is what they had to say.

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Steve Buechele, Rangers bench coach: “I think the DH is good for baseball. The pitcher hitting is the purest form of the game, but having a DH adds to the excitement. Some of the DHs out there are players people pay a lot to watch.

“We’ve done it for so long now, and I’m OK with that, but I wouldn’t mind seeing both leagues go with it at some point. It’s not a priority for me, but I’d like to see it be consistent.”

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox pitcher: “I think it will eventually happen in both leagues. A lot of money is paid for starting pitchers, and many of us aren’t comfortable hitting. Everybody is a competitor, so when you hit a ground ball, you want to run it out. Guys get injuries running the bases.

“I’d be in favor of having the DH in both leagues. It would make baseball better. I think there should be uniformity, but only if the DH was in both leagues.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Cleveland, Taijuan, Coke, more

I was at Progressive Field earlier this week to see the Indians host the Mariners. A stone’s throw away, the Cavaliers were playing Golden State in the NBA finals. The latter series has the city captivated and on the precipice of euphoria. When the basketball game got out on Tuesday night, hordes of fans below my hotel window chanted “Let’s go Cavs!” and blew air horns to celebrate a win. A brass band played somewhere down on the street. It sounded like Mardi Gras, and it was only Game 3.

“They’re going to blow the roof off this place if they win,” Indians outfielder Nick Swisher told me. “People love their sports around here, and it’s been a long, long time since there’s been a championship.”

Fifty-one years, to be exact. The Browns won the NFL title in 1964, and since that time it’s been a multi-sport combination of heartbreak and non-contenders. According to Swisher, who grew up in Ohio, “That’s why you see so many people coming out to support the Cavs.”

Meanwhile, with no basketball game as competition, the official attendance at Progressive Field on Wednesday night was 12,305. The number of fans who actually showed up was probably closer to seven or eight thousand. On the season, the Indians have drawn an average of 16,836, with only the cloudy-future Rays spinning fewer turnstiles. Cleveland was also second from the bottom last year, and in 2013 they ranked just one spot higher despite 92 wins and a Wild Card berth. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Venditte, Scheppers, Perkins, Gerber, more

Health concerns haunted Tanner Scheppers early in his career. Teams feared the Fresno State product couldn’t shoulder the load, which caused him to fall in consecutive drafts, with an indie-ball stint sandwiched in between. The Rangers ultimately inked him to a contract in 2009, and while there have been maladies here and there, he’s yet to go under the knife for an arm woe. An out-of-the-box-for-most-professional-athletes approach is a reason why.

“I really believe in integrative medicine — the combination of what doctors prescribe, and a holistic approach,” explained Scheppers. “I’ve limited the surgeries and have been able to overcome things with alternative medicine. That’s a testament to the training staff here, and to the other people I work with. The combination of both worlds has helped me overcome a lot.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Featherston, Bass, Knucklers & Eddy R

Financially, being on the Angels roster is a plus for Taylor Featherston. The major league minimum is $507,500 and he’d be making a fraction of that down on the farm. Developmentally, it’s a different story. Being in Anaheim is a minus for the 25-year-old infielder.

Featherston is languishing on the end of Mike Scioscia‘s bench. He has just 31 plate appearances on the season. That’s what happens when you can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers and being offered back to your old club. A fifth round pick by the Rockies in 2011, the former TCU Horned Frog was claimed by the Cubs in last December’s Rule 5 draft and subsequently swapped to the Angels for cash considerations.

“For 30 minutes I thought I was going to be a Cub,” said Featherston, who had 53 extra-base hits last year for Colorado’s Double-A afilliate. “My phone was blowing up. I was working out, and my trainer was yelling at me to put it down and focus on my lift. I had hundreds of texts and calls saying, ‘Congratulations, Chicago.’ The next thing I know, the script was flipped and I was in LA. It’s been a fun ride.”

It’s also been an exercise in frustration. Featherston has but a lone base knock in 27 at bats. It’s easy to picture him removing splinters from his backside when Scioscia calls his name. To his credit, he’s taking a glass-is-half-full approach. Read the rest of this entry »


Nick Martinez: Ranger Under the Radar

When the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox square off tonight, most of the starting pitcher attention will be focused on Boston’s Eduardo Rodriquez. Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller at last year’s trade deadline, the promising 22-year-old left-hander will be making his big-league debut.

Nick Martinez will be on the mound for Texas. The fact that he’ll be playing second fiddle to a rookie is par for the course. The 24-year-old right-hander has received scant fanfare this season, despite being 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA. The fact that he’s not playing second base is part of his story.

Martinez played both middle infield positions at Fordham University, and he grew up dreaming of reaching the big leagues an everyday player. He only pitched “three mop up innings” in high school and another 26 in college. He was a reluctant hurler, at least initially. Read the rest of this entry »


Player’s View: Kill the Win?

The MLB Network’s Brian Kenny wants to “Kill the Win.” As a FanGraphs reader, you’re certainly familiar with – and quite possibly supportive of – his stance. The stat is often misleading, and slowly but surely it’s becoming less of a barometer when assessing an individual pitcher’s performance. But should the win be “killed”? I recently posed that question to nine pitchers, two pitching coaches and a pitcher-turned-broadcaster. Here are their responses:

Chris Archer, Rays: “I don’t know if it should be killed. The emphasis behind it isn’t as great as people make it out to be. I think true baseball gurus, and players and management, know. It’s how a lot of fans may judge someone, but we know there’s not so much behind the importance of (an individual pitcher’s) win.”

Craig Breslow, Red Sox: “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Unless we’re going to kill every single statistic, then we should spare the win. I don’t think you can make a good argument for killing a statistic for not telling the whole story. You just to have to explain it doesn’t give a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of a pitcher.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Funky Lefties Holiday Edition

Bruce Chen retired on Monday, which makes this a good time to talk about Michael Roth. Chen closed out his career with the Indians, and Roth, a fellow southpaw, signed with Cleveland this past off-season. That’s not their only connection.

A few days before Chen made his announcement, I suggested to the 25-year-old former Angel that he’s similar to the crafty 37-year-old. It turns out I wasn’t the first to do so.

“Bruce told me that after I finished throwing my second bullpen of the year,” explained Roth, who is 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Columbus. “He looked at me and said, ‘Wow, we’re exactly the same; we throw exactly the same way.’

“There are things in his repertoire I like to use. He drops down with his fastball, and throws a drop-down slider. He’ll flip his curveball in, 0-0, and I’m throwing my curveball more this year – a slow curveball. I mix and match angles and throw four different pitches, so I really enjoy talking to Bruce about how he approaches hitters.”

Charles Nagy, who took over as the Columbus pitching coach when Carl Willis left for Boston, agreed there are similarities. He also sees differences, one of which is in Roth’s favor. Read the rest of this entry »