Author Archive

Kevin Newman on Hitting (His Way to Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they were getting a good hitter when they made Kevin Newman the 19th-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Not only did he hit .337 in his three seasons at the University of Arizona, he won a pair of Cape Cod League batting titles along the way. There wasn’t much power — just two home runs as a Wildcat — but he fanned a grand total of 48 times in over 700 plate appearances.

Newman is still putting his bat on the baseball. In 95 games between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, the 23-year-old shortstop is slashing .328/.391/.435. He’s even showing a little pop. On the season, he has 21 doubles, a pair of triples, and five home runs.

Newman talked about his line-drive approach prior to a recent game in Portland, Maine.


Newman on his hitting approach: “I try to hit low line drives all over the field. I know myself as a hitter — I’m a singles-doubles sort of guy — and I want to stick to my strengths. My swing plane is short and level through the zone. I try to hit a line drive over the second baseman, a line drive over the shortstop. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side. Read the rest of this entry »

Tyler Clippard on Beating BABIP and the Limits of FIP

Tyler Clippard has always been a smart pitcher. That’s evident from his erudition as well as his results. Based on my experience, the 31-year-old reliever is equally adept at discussing his craft and flummoxing opposing hitters with solid-but-unspectacular stuff.

As noted in this past Sunday’s Notes column, Clippard has recorded the lowest BABIP against (.237) of any pitcher to have thrown at least 500 innings since 2007. That’s when the righty broke into the big leagues. Pitching for the Nationals, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks and now the Yankees, Clippard has 45 wins, 54 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 539 appearances (all but eight out of the bullpen). Augmenting his ability to induce weak contact is a better-than-you-might-expect 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s made a pair of All-Star teams.


Clippard on his BABIP and creating plane: “Someone brought it to my attention a few years ago. I guess it didn’t surprise me when I learned that. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways that I can pitch to get the weakest contact, whether it’s from my arm slot or my pitch selection. That’s kind of how I’ve always pitched. I’ve always tried to maximize my room for error. I’m not a guy who is going to have pinpoint command, so I’m always trying to create more plane, more deception.

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Robbie Ray: A Diamondback Discusses His Arsenal

Robbie Ray has a 7-11 win-loss record and a 4.31 ERA. Neither is impressive. Some of his other numbers are. The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander has a 3.53 FIP and his walks and strikeouts per nine innings are 3.2 and 11.2, respectively. His velocity is also notable. Ray’s heater is averaging 93.9 mph and topping out at 97. Six weeks short of his 25th birthday, he’s never thrown harder.

There have been a few situational issues. Third time through the order has been the biggest problem — resulting in a .331/.373/.598 slash line — and he’s had trouble closing out innings. With two outs, opposing batters are hitting .286/.347/.432 against him. As August Fagerstrom wrote earlier in the month, despite his plus stuff, Ray is “something of an enigma.”

In his last start he was masterful. On Sunday, in San Diego, Ray allowed one hit — a home run by Patrick Kivlehan — and fanned 13 over seven innings of work. A week earlier, he sat down to discuss his repertoire and the reasons behind his not-without-flaws breakout.


Ray on his mechanics and velocity gain: “The velo on my fastball is up this year. I think a lot of that is just me understanding my body better and fine-tuning my mechanics to get maximum efficiency out of my body. It hasn’t been anything big. I did make a minor change with my initial step. I step back now, kind of at a 45-degree angle, whereas before I stepped a little horizontally.

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Sunday Notes: Espinoza, Anderson, Clippard, Segura, Groome, more

Prior to changing organizations, Anderson Espinoza would sometimes be compared to a young Pedro Martinez. From a projectability standpoint, it wasn’t far-fetched. Signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela two years ago, Espinoza was lanky with long fingers, and he possessed advanced feel for his off-speed pitches. Last year in the Gulf Coast League his fastball flirted with triple digits.

Espinoza is 18 years old now, and in the Padres system. Acquired by San Diego from Boston at the trade deadline in exchange for Drew Pomeranz, the high-ceiling right-hander is currently pitching for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the low-A Midwest League. The raw stuff remains, but his physical resemblance to Pedro is fading.

Espinoza has gained 22 pounds since last season — “a lot of working out and a lot of eating” — and he now weighs a solid 202 pounds. “A strong guy who can get even stronger,” he aspires to better maintain his velocity deep into games.

Espinoza recognizes the value of velocity, but it’s no longer a main focus. Read the rest of this entry »

Dave Righetti on Pitching

Dave Righetti was a good pitcher. In a 16-year career spent mostly with the New York Yankees, he threw a no-hitter and saved over 250 games. He might be an even better pitching coach. “Rags” has held that position with the San Francisco Giants since 2000, and in the opinion of many, he’s among the best in the business.

Righetti’s reputation is well deserved. Under his tutelage, Giants pitchers have made 22 All-Star teams, won two Cy Young awards, and thrown five no-hitters. More importantly, the club has gone to the World Series four times and captured three titles.

Righetti talked about his philosophies — and the repertoires and pitch selection of members of the Giants’ staff — when the team visited Fenway Park in July.


Righetti on location and changing speeds: “Changing speeds on any pitch is essential, even if it’s a 95-mph fastball. If you can’t back off on it at times and throw it 90, people are going to time it out. The last thing you want to do is throw your hardest fastball every pitch.

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Max Pentecost: A Jays Prospect Shoulders Multiple Surgeries

On May 12, Max Pentecost played his first game in nearly two years. Drafted 11th overall in 2014 by the Blue Jays out of Kennesaw State, the right-handed-hitting catcher was just 25 games into his professional career when he was shelved with a shoulder problem. It took three surgeries to get him back on the field.

A lot of head-scratching was involved. Pentecost went under the knife for a second time last spring — the initial surgery having failed to alleviate the pain — and once again the results were insufficient. His throwing shoulder still ached, and no one could explain why.

The a-ha moment came when a member of Toronto’s medical staff attended a talk by Dr. Craig Morgan, an orthopedic surgeon who had operated on Curt Schilling’s shoulder. The symptoms Morgan described were markedly similar to what Pentecost had been experiencing. An MRI followed, and soon thereafter Pentecost was undergoing yet another surgical procedure, this one a subacromial decompression. Based on early results, it appears to have done the trick.

Hurdles remain. The 23-year-old former first-rounder is getting closer to full strength, but he’s yet to return behind the plate. The Blue Jays have limited him to DH duties, which means he has some catching up to do defensively. Offense hasn’t been a problem. In 267 plate appearances for the low-A Lansing Lugnuts. Pentecost has slashed a lusty .314/.375/.490 with seven home runs.

His next at-bats will come with Dunedin. Pentecost has already reported to Toronto’s High-A affiliate and will be activated once he’s fully recovered from a minor injury unrelated to his thrice-surgically-repaired shoulder.


Pentecost on his third shoulder surgery: “A lot has gone into it and I still don’t really know what was in there. We don’t know for certain if that was the original injury or if it was something caused by having pretty much a newly structured shoulder. But something was wrong and we got it fixed. So far it’s helped a lot, and hopefully my shoulder continues to get better.

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Adam Loewen on his Anything-But-Ordinary Career

Adam Loewen was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. His future is thus in limbo, but that’s nothing new for the 32-year-old southpaw. Loewen has become well-acquainted with adversity and uncertainty since being drafted fourth-overall by the Orioles in 2002.

A contract squabble delayed the start of Loewen’s professional career, and he had barely 100 big-league innings under his belt when elbow woes threw a monkey wrench into his pitching aspirations. No longer able to toe the rubber, the Surrey, British Columbia product — a promising hockey player in his formative years — was converted into a position player.

Not surprisingly, ups and downs followed. Loewen had his moments as a slugging outfielder, but there was a lot of swing-and-miss to his game and he never put it all together. A strong 2011 season in hitter-friendly Las Vegas prompted an opportunity with the Blue Jays, but a 6-for-32 cameo in Toronto brought expectations back to earth. A few years later — his elbow no longer barking — he came full circle. Like no one before him had done at the big-league level, the 6-foot-6 Lefty returned to the mound after once leaving it to become a position player. Read the rest of this entry »

Carson Fulmer: A White Sox Rookie on his Enigmatic Identity

Carson Fulmer has an enigmatic identity. As Eric Longenhagen wrote last month, the 22-year-old right-hander “was perhaps the 2015 draft’s most polarizing prospect,” thanks in part to an electric arsenal and a delivery “paced like a hummingbird’s heart beat.”

He got to the big leagues in a hurry. Fourteen months after being taken 8th overall out of Vanderbilt University, Fulmer has made eight appearances out of the White Sox bullpen. That’s another part of the intrigue. Fulmer fashions himself a starter, as do many, but not all, talent evaluators. Perhaps apropos, his early results have been a mixed bag.

Fulmer talked about his game when the White Sox visited Detroit earlier this month.


Fulmer on self-identity and learning: “Every pitcher can tell you that he knows himself, for the most part. At the same time, you’re constantly trying to learn more about yourself. I’m learning every single day. That’s through the adversities I’ve faced, and even from playing catch. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Saber Seminar, Yelich, Shipley, Hooton, Aardsma, more

Christian Yelich is one of the best young hitters in baseball. He’s not one of the best when it comes to talking about his craft. Twice I’ve tried, and twice I’ve failed to draw much out of the Miami Marlins outfielder.

Yelich is unfailingly polite — this by no means a criticism of his character — but he’s swatted away my queries like errant curveballs. The 24-year-old batting-champion-in-waiting is “up there trying to hit the ball hard, and whatever happens, happens.”

One thing happening is increased power. Yelich has gone yard 12 times — he had seven long balls all of last year — and he’s slugging a robust .496. As for his home-run production going forward, that’s another subject to be sidestepped. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Heller on Reaching The Show in Pinstripes

Ben Heller was called up to the big leagues for the first time yesterday. He arrived as a member of the Yankees, having been acquired by New York from Cleveland at the trade deadline as part of the Andrew Miller deal. As luck would have it, the 25-year-old right-hander’s first MLB venue was Fenway Park.

His debut will come elsewhere — the Bombers left Boston without him appearing in the game — and when it does, you can expect to see heat. Heller throws hard. Baseball America rated his fastball tops in the Indians system, and opposing hitters have certainly taken notice. In 45 relief innings this season, Heller has allowed 24 hits and fanned 52 in 45 innings at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Heller talked about his game, and the excitement of putting on a big-league uniform for the first time, shortly before taking the field at Fenway. Read the rest of this entry »

Players’ View: Do Pitchers Pitch to the Score?

Following a 4-2 win over the Red Sox in late July, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was asked about pitch selection. His response to a small group of reporters was as follows:

“It’s different when it’s a [close] ballgame. You don’t think about pitch count as much; it’s just about getting outs. It’s a different situation with more runs. Maybe you take a shot at throwing some more-hittable pitches to get some quick outs. But not in a one-run ballgame.”

As the media scrum broke up, I asked Verlander a point-blank question: “Do you pitch to the score?” His answer was a short and simple, “Yes.”

He’s not the only one. Jack Morris has been criticized — if not mocked — for saying that he pitched to the score. Others have certainly done the same, but how many? Is the practice prevalent, or are pitchers like Morris and Verlander the exception rather than the rule?

I decided to explore the subject. Prompted by Verlander’s answer, I asked a collection of pitchers, catchers, pitching coaches and managers if big-league pitchers do indeed pitch to the score. Here are their responses.


Alex Avila, Chicago White Sox catcher: “For a starter, it’s probably a little bit different than it is for a reliever. Some starters can’t. They’re kind of oblivious to the score — they don’t want to know the score — and they don’t want to let up.

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Kyle Barraclough on Wipeout Sliders and Missing Bats

Kyle Barraclough has a record of 6-2 and a 2.88 ERA n 53 games out of the Miami Marlins bullpen this season. Those are his ho-hum numbers. The 26-year-old right-hander has 82 strikeouts, 34 walks, and has allowed 31 hits in 50 innings. Those are his holy-cow numbers.

Barraclough’s 14.75 strikeouts per nine innings is tops in the National League, and third highest in MLB behind Dellin Betances (15.86) and Andrew Miller (15.38). His 6.12 walks per nine innings is the most of any pitcher, in either league.

Obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals last July in exchange for Steve Cishek, Barraclough overpowers hitters with a mid- to high-90s fastball and a slider that averages a tick over 82 mph. The latter is his signature pitch. Barraclough throws it 40% of the time, and as Jeff Sullivan wrote in June, “It’s a phenomenal slider.”

Barraclough talked about his power arsenal, and how his ability to miss bats helps ameliorate his walk rate, prior to a recent game at Marlins Park.


Barraclough on limiting damage and missing bats: “The walks matter — you obviously want to limit them as much as you can — but my ability to get out of jams with strikeouts is what helps me the most. If you walk a guy, but don’t give up a lot of hits… I mean, if you take your walk rate, K rate and hit rate, and two of them are good, that’s going to translate to better statistics, to fewer earned runs. You want your WHIP to be close to 1.00, or under 1.00, and if you walk a guy but don’t give up any hits, it’s going to be hard for them to score.

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Sunday Notes: Santana’s Feat, Avisail’s Hands, Gordon, Gyorko, more

Earlier this season, Bartolo Colon (now at 228) passed Pedro Martinez (219) on the all-time wins list. Among Dominican-born pitchers, only Juan Marichal has more (243).

Ervin Santana is also climbing the ranks. At 131 wins, the Twins right-hander is just four behind Ramon Martinez, who ranks third among natives of the Dominican Republic. Since the start of the season, Santana has leapfrogged countrymen Joaquin Andujar (127) and Pedro Astacio (129).

“To be in that category is special,” Santana told me recently. “Growing up, I looked up to Pedro, to Bartolo, to Jose Rijo (116 wins). I know many of them now, (although) I haven’t had a chance to talk to Marichal. He was obviously one of the great pitchers.”

Santana has learned from his heroes. He’s discussed sliders with Rijo, and two-seamers that run back over the plate with Colon. Some of the best tutorials have come from Pedro Martinez. Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Dozier on Extra-Base Hits and Creating Runs

Brian Dozier isn’t concerned with the first three digits of his slash line. Nor does he worry about his spray chart, which reveals his pull-heavy approach. What the Twins second baseman cares about is creating runs.

Extra-base hits are Dozier’s forte. He had 71 of them last year, and this season he has 48 with two months left on the schedule. Yesterday he went deep for the 22nd time, putting him on pace to match last year’s career-high total of 28.

Dozier established his hitting identity in 2013. Since that first full season in Minnesota, he’s slashed .245/.325/.440, with 128 doubles and 91 home runs. Now, at age 29, he’s turning it up a notch. Gong into the weekend, Dozier is slashing .263/.341/.506 with the aforementioned 22 dingers.

Dozier discussed his approach during a recent visit to Fenway Park.


Dozier on value: “The game has changed. Everything is being brought into light as far as advanced stats, and all that. They’re evaluating players like… for instance, a .300 hitter who slaps 5, 10 home runs is less valuable than a .250 hitter who hits 25-30 home runs. A guy who creates runs. People are realizing that’s it’s not just the statistics we see on the scoreboard that you use to evaluate a hitter.

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Broadcasters’ View: Pitchers’ Duels or Slugfests?

“Pitchers’ duels or slugfests?” It’s a lot like asking “beer or tacos?” There’s a pretty good chance you like both. At the same time, you might have a preference. Some would rather see an 11-10 game than a 1-0 game. Others would prefer to see a pair of pitchers match zeroes into the late innings.

What about the men behind the microphones? Do they consider one more enjoyable than the other? I asked a cross section of MLB broadcasters for their preference — pitchers’ duel or slugfest — urging that they try not to stay neutral. Here is what they had to say.


Uri Berenguer, Boston Red Sox (Spanish-language) radio: “It seems to get more exciting when it’s a slugfest, but after too many of them, it’s too much excitement. Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing… except when it comes to pitching. My preference is the pitchers’ duel.

“I really appreciate the craft of pitching. There’s something to be said about a pitcher who really knows how to manipulate the ball and make the best hitters in the world look silly. When you have one of those guys on the mound on a given night, it’s impressive. When you have two of those guys going at it, that’s baseball.”

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Sunday Notes: Cards Bowman, Kinsler, Span, SABR Miami, Moore, more

Matt Bowman isn’t your stereotypical baseball player. The St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander majored in economics at Princeton, and his senior thesis looked at how much a win is worth in free agency. He doesn’t fit the physical profile, either. A slender 6-foot-even, he looks more like… well, an Ivy League economist.

Last year he pitched like one. In 140 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, Bowman went 7-16 with a 5.53 ERA and a 4.95 K/9. To little surprise, he was left unprotected by the Mets, who had selected him in the 13th round of the 2012 draft. The last thing he expected was for a team to gamble on him in the Rule 5.

“I was surprised that I got picked up,” admitted Bowman. “I didn’t feel that I deserved a 40-man spot with the Mets and I certainly didn’t think that any team would be looking at me as someone who could contribute, or even hide, on a major league roster. When my agent said the Cardinals picked me up, not a whole lot of it made sense. These guys are perennial contenders and I was coming off a terrible year in Triple-A.”

The 25-year-old’s level of honesty and humility are also atypical. When I asked if he’s surprised at how well he’s pitching, I received an answer I wasn’t expecting. Read the rest of this entry »

Kyle Gibson on His Best Outing of the Season

Kyle Gibson starts tonight against Baltimore. He pitched his best game of the season on Friday. The Minnesota Twins right-hander gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, but that was the lone blemish in a 2-1 win. Matching up against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Gibson fanned six and allowed just three base-runners over eight innings of work.

He mixed his pitches proficiently. Per Brooks Baseball, the 29-year-old sinker-baller threw 37 two-seamers, 24 sliders, 18 changeups, nine curveballs and eight four-seamers. His sequencing induced a 38.8% swing rate on pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%) against one of baseball’s most patient lineups.

Gibson, who is suffering through a subpar year, discussed the game and his overall pitch usage the following day.


Gibson on his July 22 outing: “The homer to [Mookie] Betts was on a four-seamer. There are times I’ll throw a first-pitch four-seamer to righties, but it’s usually all sinkers. Most of the four-seamers I throw are in to lefties and I haven’t been beaten too many times on that. One that comes to mind is a Jackie Bradley home run in our ballpark [on June 11]. It’s a pitch I’m normally trying to elevate and throw for effect.

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Michael Fulmer on Turning a Corner with the Change

I was at Progressive Field when Michael Fulmer made the second start of his big-league career on May 5. He wasn’t very good. The Detroit Tigers right-hander gave up a four spot in the first inning and ultimately left having allowed 10 hits and five runs in five innings.

The game in Cleveland exemplified his early outings. In his first four starts, the 23-year-old rookie surrendered 14 earned runs over 19.1 innings. Then he discovered a changeup. Or, perhaps it could be said, the changeup found him.

To say Fulmer has since found success would be an understatement. Over his last 11 starts, the former Mets prospect — Detroit acquired him at last year’s trade-deadline for Yoenis Cespedes — has allowed a grand total of 11 runs over 70 innings. On the season, he has a record of 9-2 to go with a 2.41 ERA.

Fulmer talked about his ascent — including the changeup that seemingly fell from the sky — prior to last night’s game. The pitch will be on display this afternoon when he takes the mound at Fenway Park.


Fulmer on his development: “There’s hesitation when you first start out. When you’re 18 years old and going into pro ball, you don’t know what to expect. You see big-league guys playing on TV and you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s going to be so cool. Then you get to the Gulf Coast League and you’re playing at noon. It’s hot and it rains every day. That’s not what I was expecting. I’ve had to learn how it all worked, step by step, at every level along the way.

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Sunday Notes: Giants’ Law, Twins’ May, Miller’s Pop, January, more

Earlier this week, I interviewed Giants rookie right-hander Derek Law in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park. Approximately 10 feet to our right, another conversation was taking place. Johnny Cueto was shooting the breeze with Luis Tiant.

Tiant was a favorite of mine during his glory years. Law was born in 1990, eight years after the Cuban legend threw his last pitch, but he was every bit as captivated with the nearby confab.

“I’m a huge Luis Tiant fan,” Law told me. “I’d love to go over and get his autograph after this. My dad pitched for a bit and I’m big into baseball history. Tiant is one of the guys I’ve really taken a liking to.”

The windup is a big reason. Cueto essentially copied the one El Tiante artistically employed on his way to 229 wins. Not surprisingly, the youngster has asked his Giants teammate about the wiggle and turn. Read the rest of this entry »