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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 »


Stan Boroski on the Rays’ PITCHf/x Usage

Like most teams, the Tampa Bay Rays utilize PITCHf/x data. Stan Boroski, the club’s bullpen coach, looks at it every morning and, along with pitching coach Jim Hickey, uses the findings as an assessment tool. From time to time, what he sees elicits a call to action regarding a member of the pitching staff..

Boroski, currently in his sixth season with the Rays, and fourth in his current job, discussed Tampa Bay’s use of PITCHf/x on a recent visit to Fenway Park.

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Stan Boroski: “I look at everybody who pitched the night before and go to Jim with what I saw. If everything is within normal parameters, it’s usually just ‘So and so was good last night.’ Nothing is specifically dealt with unless something comes up that needs to be addressed.

“I usually don’t go to Kevin (Cash) unless it’s going to prompt doing something different with a pitcher, something he might need to change. That’s a pitching thing and something we normally don’t need to bother him with. But Kevin understands exactly what’s going on with our PITCHf/x stuff. It’s part of the process of how we evaluate, how we attack, and how we build our pitching. Being the manager, he’s obviously involved in all of that, and being a former catcher, he understands it very well. We’re always on the same page when we talk about it. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Archer & Ono, De Leon, Medeiros, more

The lead article in this week’s column is a little off the wall. Indirectly, it celebrates Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, which opens today at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Chris Archer was unfamiliar with Ono when I approached him with this idea. That didn’t matter, because the 26-year-old Tampa Bay Rays pitcher is among the most thoughtful players in the game. The subject matter was in his cerebral sweet spot.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ono, she is more than an avant-garde artist. She is also a legendary singer-songwriter, and was married to the late John Lennon. One of her compositions is “Beautiful Boys,” which appeared on their album Double Fantasy. What follows is lyrics from the song (in italics), followed by Archer’s interpretation of them.

You’re a beautiful boy with all your little toys
Your eyes have seen the world, though you’re only four years old
And your tears are streaming even when you’re smiling
Please never be afraid to cry.
Read the rest of this entry »


Kevin Kiermaier on Turning a Corner

When Kevin Kiermaier made his MLB debut at the end of the 2013 season, he did so as a defensive replacement. The Tampa Bay Rays dynamo was 23 years old at the time, and in the eyes of many, a glove-first fourth outfielder with questionable offensive skills. A 31st-round pick in 2012 out of D-II Parkland College, he wasn’t viewed as an important part of the team’s future.

Kiermaier has done a lot to change that impression. Defense remains his greatest strength, but he’s proving he can hold his own with the bat as well. Last year, the left-handed hitter produced a better-than-expected .263/.315/.450 slash line, and he hit eight triples and 10 home runs in 108 games. This season’s numbers are following a similar track.

Kiermaier talked about the evolution of his high-energy game, including the adjustment that helped him turn a corner, during a recent series at Fenway Park.

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Kiermaier on telling me in March 2014 that he considers himself more than a defensive specialist: “Defense is one of the strongest parts of my game, if not the strongest. At the same time, I don’t want to take anything away from my offensive ability, because I know I can do a lot of good things up there at the plate. That’s pretty much what I was saying. Basically, I don’t want to just be known as a defensive guy.

“When I first got called up, they said ‘Hey, just go hold your own defensively, run the bases well, and anything you do offensively is a bonus.’ They didn’t put a whole lot of pressure on me by saying ‘You need to hit this and this.’ Because of that, I was able to go out there with a free mind and just be aggressive. Instead of putting pressure on myself, I just played the same game I’ve been playing for many years. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Cleveland’s 18-hit CG, Ortiz, Murakami, more

Last week’s column mentioned that Reggie Cleveland was the last native of Saskatchewan to win a big league game prior to Andrew Albers doing so two years ago. The 1981 decision wasn’t his most-notable feat. On September 25, 1977, he allowed 18 hits in a complete-game win.

Pitching for the Red Sox, the right-hander allowed 15 singles, a pair of doubles, and a home run as Boston cruised to a 12-5 victory at Tiger Stadium. He struck out one and didn’t issue a free pass.

Earlier this week, I asked Cleveland about the game. The first thing he did was laugh.

“You have to be pretty good to give up 18 hits and still be in the game,” Cleveland told me with a smile. “That’s a major league record.”

It actually isn’t a record, at least not if you include extra-inning games. In 1932, Eddie Rommel of the Philadelphia Athletics allowed 29 hits – and 14 runs! — over 17 frames in a win over the Indians. What Cleveland did is still remarkable, and I asked him how it came to be. Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation with Adam Warren

Adam Warren is quietly emerging as a reliable member of the Yankees’ rotation. The 27-year-old right-hander hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s pitched well enough for his team to have won four of his five starts. He was credited with two of those wins, and allowed just one earned run in his lone loss.

Warren worked out of the New York bullpen in 2013 and 2014, but his resume is that of a successful starter. He went 32-4 in four seasons at the University of North Carolina, and his ERA in 90 minor-league starts was 3.11. A fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft, Warren mixes and matches two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider, a curveball, and a change-up.

Warren, who will make his sixth start of the season tonight, talked about his evolution as a pitcher, and his approach on the mound, earlier this week.

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Warren on his development: “I’ve had the same pitches since I signed, but I’ve tightened them up. My change-up has gotten a lot better, and my slider has gotten a lot better. I have more feel with every pitch, and I can throw any pitch in any count. One of my strengths is that unpredictability of being able to throw any of them at any time. I’ve just gotten a little sharper. My mechanics, for the most part, have stayed the same. It’s just learning how to maybe tweak a grip, or getting more out in front with a pitch – just getting a feel for things. I’ve had a lot of good coaches help me with that.” Read the rest of this entry »


Player’s View: Does Lineup Protection Exist?

Lineup protection may or may not exist. Studies suggest it doesn’t, at least not statistically, but many within the game insist it does. In their view, the pitches a batter sees are influenced by the batter on deck. Almost all agree that situations play a role, but beyond that, just how much effect is there? The question was posed to six pitchers, four hitters, and two managers (both of whom are former catchers). Here are their responses:

Madison Bumgarner, Giants pitcher: “I should look over at the on-deck circle a lot of time, but my pride gets the better of me. I can’t remember a time that I looked over there and was actually smart about the situation. It should be that way. It’s a hard thing to do. You don’t want to give in, I don’t want to give in.”

Kevin Cash, Rays manager: “A lot of those questions have been asked about Longo (Evan Longoria). You have the guy who protects, you have the guy who gets the benefit of having protection, and then you have the really good hitter who does both. We factor in protection, but it’s not just having that one guy in front of him, or behind him. That’s not the driving force when making a lineup.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Saskatchewan, Siddall, Smoltz, Moore, and much more

Like many broadcasters, Joe Siddall had a playing career before picking up a mic. Uniquely, he bridged the interim years as a batting practice pitcher for the team he rooted for growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Siddall now works alongside the legendary Jerry Howarth in the Toronto Blue Jays radio booth.

Windsor is across the river from Detroit, and the 47-year-old Siddall was a big Tigers fan. He attended a lot of games at old Tiger Stadium, and listened to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey call many more. A lasting memory is being in the eighth grade and having his teacher confiscate his transistor radio. The future broadcaster was clandestinely attempting to listen to the game on opening day, in 1980.

Thirteen years later, Siddall was playing for the Expos. The first of his 24 big-league hits came in Montreal, against Frank Tanana, a former Tiger. His only home run came in 1998, wearing the uniform of his boyhood team.

“I hit it off the facade of the second deck, at Tiger Stadium,” recalled Siddall “The ball caromed back onto the field and Ken Griffey, Jr., who was playing center field, tossed it up into the stands. He had no idea it was my first career home run. The Tigers staff tried to get the baseball, but the fan didn’t want to give it up because Ken Griffey, Jr. had thrown it. After a bunch of negotiating, he finally did give it up.” Read the rest of this entry »


Brady Anderson on Analytics

Brady Anderson‘s title within the Baltimore Orioles’ organization is Vice President of Baseball Operations. According to the team’s media guide, the 51-year-old former all-star “collaborates with Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter on player development and roster management.”

Anderson, who hit .256/.362/.425 over a 15-year career, isn’t your typical ex-player. He spends a lot of time in the clubhouse – his multi-faceted role includes working with hitters — but he’s equally comfortable interacting with the analytics department. A stat geek for most of his life, Anderson is well-versed in sabermetrics.

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Brady Anderson on stats and understanding value: “I’ve always been interested in statistical analysis. From the time I was five years old I was quizzed by my dad and my uncle about members of the 500-home-run club, the 3000-hit club, and a variety of other stats. It was just part of what seemed like normal conversation to me, because that was the environment in which I lived.

“I was drafted in 1985, and remember getting the Bill James “Historical Baseball Abstract.” I used to enjoy his rankings of players and his rationale for his rankings. I also grew up reading Ted Williams‘ “The Science of Hitting.” I used to travel with it and read it frequently while in the minors. Read the rest of this entry »


Player’s View: No-hitter Silent Treatment

A pitcher throwing a no-hitter typically receives the silent treatment once the late innings roll around. His teammates begin giving him a wide berth, leaving him alone with his thoughts. No one wants to be the guy who ruined a no-hitter by doing or saying the wrong thing, which includes invading a pitcher’s solitude.

What do pitchers think of the superstitious convention? Do they like being avoided between innings, or would they prefer everything to be as normal as possible? I asked several pitchers, some of whom have thrown a no-hitter. Here are their responses:

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: “In the sixth inning of mine, I was sitting in the dugout by myself. No one talked to me. I was here for Jon Lester‘s and it was the same thing. When Josh Beckett threw his, he was walking around talking to guys. He treated his a little differently, but for the most part, everybody leaves you alone. But it wouldn’t bother me if someone talked to me.”

R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays: “It’s part of tradition. You see the pitcher sitting at the end of the bench. When Johan (Santana) threw his, I was in a different spot every time, starting in the sixth inning. Everyone wants to feel they had a part in it, psychologically. That’s what every superstition is. You put the right sock on before the left and feel that’s part of what helps you succeed. It’s a bunch of gibberish, of course.”

Dennis Eckersley, Red Sox broadcaster: “Guys did (avoid me), but every game I sort of had my own place to sit. But having a no-no, everybody knows that. Later in the game, they didn’t come near me. I was so young then – I was 22 years old – and looking back, I didn’t know the difference.”

Doug Fister, Nationals: “I don’t like to have things changing. I want everything to be normal. Even if it’s one of my teammates – I don’t want them to start acting weird or do anything out of the ordinary. Just do the same thing you would if I’ve given up three hits or 10 hits. I want everything to be consistent.”

Kevin Gausman, Orioles: “It’s kind of an unspoken rule. You try to not be the reason – you don’t want the pitcher to say, ‘He never talks to me, but he came and talked to me and that’s why I gave up a hit.’ But honestly, most guys don’t talk to the pitcher on the days he pitches anyway. Some guys are really social on the days they pitch, but I usually only talk to a couple of guys.”

Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles: “I’d rather things were just normal. That way you don’t have to think about how you’re doing something different. I would like to be normal, talking to the guys and pretending everything is the same. When I threw mine, some people (avoided me) but I talked to a couple of the guys. They came to me and I came to them.”

Daniel Norris, Blue Jays: “The other day, Hutch (Drew Hutchison) had five or six no-hit innings and we were just trying to keep it on the low. That’s around the time you start noticing. We were kind of staying normal, but we definitely knew what was going on.”

Henry Owens, Red Sox prospect: “I refrain from saying anything if someone else has one going. Ask Brian Johnson about my first start this year. He said something right before I gave up a hit (in the sixth inning). But as far as superstitions go, I don’t really believe in them. Everyone was saying, ‘Brian, apologize,’ but I told him I didn’t care.”

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals: “It’s just something they’ve been doing over the years, and it doesn’t affect me either way. Some pitchers don’t want to be bothered, but I’d rather keep it the same as if I was giving up three, four, or five hits. I don’t like sitting there by myself and not having anyone to talk to. You realize a no-hitter is going on whether there are people talking to you or not.”


Sunday Notes: Bucs’ Watson, Rox McMahon, Belle the Beast, much more

Tony Watson was an All-Star last season. If you’re a casual fan and the Pirates aren’t your team, you maybe weren’t aware of that. The 29-year-old left-hander isn’t exactly a household name.

Opposing hitters know who he is. Working as a set-up man in the City of Bridges, Watson had a 1.63 ERA in 78 appearances for the NL Central squad. A year earlier, he was almost as busy and nearly as good. Ever since he was introduced to a sinker by erstwhile Bucs’ backstop Rod Barajas, in 2012, the former University of Nebraska Cornhusker has been stellar.

Watson is a big believer in establishing your fastball to both sides of the plate.

“You have to do that,” said Watson. “Otherwise, hitters can eliminate pitches and portions of the plate. When that happens, you’re basically putting it on a tee for them. I pitch off my fastball with sliders and changeups, and try to keep hitters off balance. Pitching is all about upsetting timing.”

His changeup, which he’s using more frequently – 21% in April versus 10.7% last year – is a pitch he’s always had a good feel for. He throws it with white-on-white deception, and a grip that belies its movement.

“It’s a four-seam grip, but for some reason it comes out looking like a two-seam,” said Watson. “I kind of pronate to get a little more action, and I guess my long-ass fingers have something to do with it as well. Read the rest of this entry »


An Old (But Topical) Conversation with Andruw Jones

This interview was conducted in September 2012, but that doesn’t matter. The topic was his career, and Andruw Jones was weeks away from his final game. Contextually, nothing has changed in the two-plus years that these words went unpublished.

The longtime Atlanta Brave hit 434 home runs, but his legacy is defense. He won 10 straight Gold Gloves, and few center fielders have played the position with as much style and grace. Jones didn’t age particularly well, but in his prime, he was an outstanding player and an absolute joy to watch. Read the rest of this entry »