Author Archive

Chris Young on Working Up (and Down) in the Zone

Chris Young, of the Kansas City Royals, is known for both his Princeton pedigree and his height. The 6-foot-10 right-hander is also known for getting outs up in the zone, with a slow fastball. Young’s four-seamer averages 86.4 mph, and he has the highest FB% (58.2) and the lowest BABiP (.217) among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings. The velocity and fly balls are in line with his career norms; his probability defying BABiP is even more striking than the .248 he’s registered during parts of 11 seasons.

Thanks in large part to his frame, Young has a deceptive delivery. He also has a high spin rate on his lukewarm heater. It’s not elite, but it ranks among the top 20% of hurlers and contributes to his above-the-belt success. The 35-year-old has appeared in 32 games this year — half of them starts — and has a 10-6 record to go with a 3.29 ERA and a 4.71 FIP. Read the rest of this entry »

Pete Mackanin on Managing

Pete Mackanin had the “interim” tag removed yesterday from his job title. The rebuilding Phillies extended the 64-year-old skipper’s contract through next season, with a club option for 2017. Mackanin has been at the helm since Ryne Sandberg unexpectedly stepped down in late June. The team has gone 30-46 under his leadership.

This is Mackanin’s first full-time managerial job at the big-league level. Prior to Philadelphia, he served in an interim capacity in Pittsburgh (2005) and Cincinnati (2007). He previously interviewed for openings in Houston, Boston and Chicago (Cubs), only to be bypassed.

Earlier this month, Mackanin sat down to share some of his thoughts on running a ball club. Our conversation was by no means comprehensive – we only touched on a few of his philosophies – but it does offer a snapshot of Mackanin’s mindset.


Mackanin on playing the kids: “When I make out a lineup here, I don’t necessarily make out a lineup that I feel gives us the best chance to win. I have to play players we want to get a look at. It’s part of the job right now. With the team we have, we need to find out about players – we have to see what some of these guys are capable of. For instance, Darnell Sweeney joined us recently and I knew nothing about him. If I’m playing for a division title, I probably wouldn’t have put him in the lineup, but under these circumstances, he’s playing. And he’s made a good impression.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Counsell on Decisions and Collaboration

The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly hired David Stearns to be their new general manager. What that means for Craig Counsell is yet to be determined. The 45-year-old Counsell has been the club’s manager since May, and his contract extends through the 2017 season.

On the surface, Counsell and the Harvard-educated Stearns look to be a good fit. Counsell was an accounting major at Notre Dame prior to playing 15 big league seasons, and he spent three years as a special assistant to former GM Doug Melvin before moving into his current position.

Counsell talked about his decision-making process, and the collaborative relationship between a manager and the front office, when the Brewers visited Wrigley Field last month. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Melancon, Anthopoulos, Tracking Pitches, more

Mark Melancon has 47 saves this season – a franchise record – and 96 since coming to Pittsburgh three years ago. In 214 games with the Pirates, he has a 1.75 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

Those numbers must seem unfathomable to Red Sox fans. In 2012, Melancon came out of the Boston bullpen 41 times and put up an ugly 6.20 ERA. Torched in high-leverage situations early on, he subsequently took up residence in then-manager Bobby Valentine‘s doghouse. He rarely pitched with a lead and logged just one save.

That winter, Melancon was sent to Pittsburgh in the six-player deal that brought Brock Holt to Boston.

Earlier this week, I asked the 30-year-old right-hander what has changed since his disastrous stint in Beantown. Read the rest of this entry »

Edgar Martinez on Hitting

To say Edgar Martinez knows hitting would be to state the obvious. The Seattle Mariners legend slashed .312/.418/.515 between 1987 and 2004, and he won a pair of batting titles along the way. He ranks 21st all-time in OBP and is 44th all-time in adjusted OPS.

Martinez is now entrusted with getting the most out of Mariners hitters. The should-be Hall-of-Famer took over as the team’s hitting coach in late June after beginning the season as a roving instructor. It’s a challenging job. Seattle ranks 11th in the American League in runs scored, and several players are falling short of expectations.

Martinez talked about the art of hitting — and how he evolved during his career — earlier this summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Revere, Hutchison, Ortiz, Chemistry, more

Ben Revere puts the bat on the baseball. His 4.0 swinging-strike% is fourth lowest among qualified hitters, with only Michael Brantley, Daniel Murphy and Ben Zobrist whiffing less often. His 97.2 Z-Contact% is topped only by Murphy’s 97.7.

Putting balls in play is working out well for the left-handed-hitting former Phillie. Revere is hitting .342/.390/390 since joining the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, and last year he led the National League with 184 hits.

Revere has a low walk rate – 5.5% – but not because he lacks discipline. His Z-Swing% is 58.4, which is 12th lowest among qualified hitters. Speedy and lacking power, he isn’t a hitter you want to issue free passes to.

“I’m not going to get pitched around,” Revere told me last weekend. “Pitchers are like, ‘Don’t let this guy get on with an easy ticket, ’cause he ain’t gonna beat you with the long ball.’ Whether it’s off-speed or fastballs, they’re going to go straight at me.”

Revere went deep yesterday for just the fourth time in over 2,500 big league plate appearances. He was told to hit the ball the other way coming up through the Twins system, and his approach has essentially stayed the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Cody Allen: A Cleveland Closer’s Weird Year

Cody Allen has had, in his own words, “kind of a weird year.” The Cleveland Indians closer has 30 saves and has given up just a pair of home runs in 59 innings. Meanwhile, his ERA (3.51) is nearly a run and a half higher than it was a year ago (2.07) while his FIP (1.96) is more than a full run lower (2.99). His .366 BABIP is exactly .100 points higher than it was in 2014.

Allen is aggressive. His fastball, which he throws 62.4% of the time, is averaging 95 mph. His spiked curveball, which he throws 36.7% of the time, is averaging 85.9 mph. The 26-year-old right-hander – now in his fourth season – has come out of the Cleveland bullpen 60 times in the current campaign.

Allen talked about his statistical season, and his two-pitch power mix, when the Indians visited Boston in August. Read the rest of this entry »

Aaron Nola: Youthful Command in Philly

Aaron Nola is 22 years old and just nine starts into his big-league career. He still has a lot to learn. At the same time, his approach is akin to that of a veteran. Drafted seventh overall last year by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Louisiana State University product has a mature mindset that belies his age.

Nola features two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup, and a curveball. Each offering is of solid quality, but more importantly, he knows how to employ them. The right-hander isn’t a flamethrower — his fastball is averaging 91.7 mph — but that’s not his game. Mixing and matching, and commanding to both sides of the plate, is his M.O. Unlike most youngsters getting their feet wet at the highest level, Nola is more of a pitcher than a thrower.

Nola — who has won five of his seven decisions and has a 4.02 ERA — talked about his game when the Phillies visited Fenway Park over the weekend.


Nola on simplicity and preparation: “Nothing in baseball is easy or simple. Everybody out there has a plan, and mine is to get guys out any way that I can. Everybody has their way of approaching pitching, and the game. But while a lot goes into it, you do want to try to simplify pitching. Over-thinking can get in your way.

“There’s a lot more information available up here. Nothing is really a secret anymore. We all study hitters, and the hitters study us. Especially when you haven’t pitched against a team — it’s good to look at the information to see what their approaches are. I definitely use it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Conforto, Philly Kid Pitchers, Keepsakes, more

Michael Conforto got to the big leagues in a hurry; the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft is already wearing a New York Mets uniform. It fits comfortably. The 22-year-old Oregon State product is hitting a stylish .292/.375/.531, with five long balls, in 112 plate appearances.

Conforto flew through the system this summer, punishing pitchers at two levels before being promoted directly from Double-A. Hoopla accompanied his arrival and he wasted little time justifying the buzz. In his second game, the left-handed-hitting outfielder stroked four hits, including a pair of doubles. He did so with access to data never before at his disposal.

“When I came up, I wanted to use all of it,” Coforto told me on Wednesday. “I wanted to see the heat charts of pitchers, and the percentages of pitches they use in certain counts and with runners on base. Everything. I tried to digest all of the information, but it’s tough to put all of those things into your head and still hit.”

Veteran teammates cautioned the youngster to keep it simple, telling him “You didn’t have those things in the minor leagues and you still hit.” He heeded their advice, but not to the point of eschewing all available data. Read the rest of this entry »

Scooter Gennett: A Brewer’s Quest for Discipline

Scooter Gennett came into the season with a .300 batting average in 704 big-league plate appearance. The stat obviously has limited value, but it does suggest an ability to put a bat on a baseball. Gennett excels at it, sometimes to his detriment.

The 25-year-old second baseman puts a lot of balls in play. His Z-Contact% as a Milwaukee Brewer is 91.9 and his O-Contact% is 74. Both are higher than average, as are his swing rates on pitches in and out of the strike zone. Those aren’t issues when batted balls are going for base hits. They are when they’re being converted into easy outs.

Gennett was hitting .154 in mid-May and he was still south of the Mendoza line in late June. Quality of contact was the main culprit. The left-handed hitter was topping, and popping up, too many pitcher’s pitches. With his frustration level rising, he also began chasing out of the zone on two-strike counts, causing a slight up-tick in his K-rate.

A change of approach was in order. and so far the results are to his liking. Gennett has hit .317/.338/.444 over the last four weeks, raising his seasonal slash line to a more respectable .266/.300/.402. He still isn’t drawing many walks, but that’s not his goal. What he wants is to attack pitches he can barrel up, and not ones he can simply reach.

Gennett talked about his quest for discipline when the Brewers visited Wrigley Field in mid August. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Justin Bour, Marlins Slugger

Justin Bour is a big man who hits bombs. The 27-year-old Miami Marlins rookie is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds — and this season, 10 of his 14 home runs have gone at least 400 feet. On Saturday, he clubbed a 453 foot shot against Jordan Zimmermann at Nationals Park.

The lefty swinger has power to all fields. Seven of his Bour’s blasts have been to the pull side, while six have been from right-center to left-center and one has been to the opposite field.

Bour sees himself as more than a power hitter, although his numbers don’t necessarily reflect it. The slugging first baseman is slashing .257/.325/.449, in 326 plate appearances, and same-sided pitchers have mostly given him fits. He’s 10-for-43 versus southpaws.

As for the opportunity he’s getting in Miami, Bour is fortunate to no longer be buried in a star-studded Chicago Cubs system. The former 25th round pick was selected by the Marlins in the Triple-A portion of the 2013 Rule 5 draft.

Bour talked about his development as a hitter, including his all-fields approach, when Miami visited Boston earlier this summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Heaney, Givens, Dombrowski, Lefties-vs-Lefties, more

Andrew Heaney was pitching in the Arizona Fall League when I first talked to him. A member of the Marlins organization at the time, he was 17 months removed from being drafted ninth overall out of Oklahoma State. This was in 2012, and Heaney had a clean delivery and a bright future.

He still has a bright future, although it’s now with the Angels. Anaheim acquired the 24-year-old southpaw from Miami, via the Dodgers, last winter. As for his delivery, it’s back after a brief hiatus.

“I went through a little funk last year,” Heaney told me earlier this month. “It’s hard to say exactly when it happened, but I developed some mechanical issues. It was also gradual, so I didn’t even feel it. I wasn’t pitching as well as I could, and I wasn’t sure why.”

Film from his time in the Fall League provided the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Saber Seminar, Backup Sliders, Gose, more

Jason Bere had an interesting observation about Joe Borowski, who saved 45 games for the Indians in 2007. According to Bere – currently Cleveland’s bullpen coach – Borowski threw a lot of backup sliders. Contrary to what you might think, that was a good thing.

“A lot of times when he got a guy to swing and miss, it was with the one that just kind of stayed,” Bere told me. “They would react to what they were seeing out of the hand, the spin, but while it had the tightness of a true slider, it didn’t break like one.

“Hitters will tell you that something that backs up on them is hard to hit. A hanger, they’ll crush. But something that backs up – that last second it’s not going where they thought it was going to go – they”ll have trouble with it. You can see it from the swings they take.”

Intrigued by what Bere told me, I set out in search of further opinions on the effective, yet almost always unintentional, backup slider.

Alan Nathan, the man behind The Physics of Baseball, shared a scientific perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Jimmy Nelson, Brewers Emerging Ace

Jimmy Nelson has emerged as Milwaukee’s best starter thanks to a pair of tweaks. The 26-year-old righty has unleashed a spike curveball and tightened up his delivery. The results are striking. Nelson leads Brewers hurlers in punch outs, wins, and innings, and his 3.61 ERA is as solid as his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame.

Nelson discussed his adjustments, as well as his repertoire and approach, when the Brewers visited Wrigley Field earlier this month.


Nelson on his delivery: “Before the season, I smoothed out the rhythm and timing of my delivery, which allows me to throw with less effort and to command the ball better. It was a mechanical change. Instead of going over my head with my hands to start my delivery, now I just keep them in front and drop them down. That allows me to be more consistent and repeatable, and a lot more relaxed. Read the rest of this entry »

David Cone on Pitching

David Cone was a thinking-man’s pitcher before he became a thinking-man’s analyst. The New York Yankees’ television color man took the mound for five teams in 17 major league seasons, and he logged lots of big wins along the way. Moxie played a role. The right-hander augmented his plus stuff with the same cerebral approach he now takes to the broadcast booth.

Cone shared some of his views on pitching when the Yankees visited Fenway Park earlier this summer. As you ‘d expect, he had a lot of interesting things to offer.


Cone on Don Mattingly going 1-for-17 against him: “I can’t really explain it, but generally speaking, my formula for getting left-handed hitters out was fastball, split. Against right-handed hitters it was fastball, slider. Maybe I threw some decent splitters to him that promoted ground balls. It’s possible that he hit some balls pretty hard at defenders, too. It was probably a combination of both. Of course, 17 at bats isn’t a very big sample, either.

“A lot of times when I was throwing a splitter to a left-handed batter, it was either-or. It was to get a swing-and-miss, or to get the hitter out front – get his timing thrown off – and induce weak contact. I’d take either one, so it was sort of the same pitch, looking for two different outcomes. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Eaton’s Pop, Rules, Brewers, Cubs, more

It’s not entirely surprising that Adam Eaton has nine home runs. The White Sox outfielder used to be a three-hole hitter with passable power. He homered 24 times in 434 at bats over his final two seasons at Miami University, and 13 times in his first 470 professional at bats.

Then the team that drafted him took away his bite.

The Arizona Diamondbacks moved Eaton to the top of the order – and sometimes near the bottom – when they promoted him to Double-A, in 2011. It was at that point they asked him to start developing a lead-off hitter type of approach.

“They wanted me to work my hands inside the ball consistently and drive the ball the other way,” explained Eaton. “Being a smaller guy on the left side of the plate, you definitely get tailored to your speed, and Arizona wanted me to ‘get on base, get on base.’ I’ve always been a guy who likes to hit the ball the other way, but that was still a completely different mentality.”

Eaton is 5-foot-8, so it makes sense that a team would want him to eschew swinging for the fences. To their credit, the White Sox realize it also makes sense to let him take advantage of his sneaky pop. Read the rest of this entry »

Nelson Cruz: A Late Bloomer Exceeds Expectations

Nelson Cruz leads both leagues in home runs, and he ranks second behind Bryce Harper in SLG. Neither is a surprise. The Seattle slugger left the yard 40 times with Baltimore last season, and moving to Safeco Field wasn’t going to squelch his production. Per ESPN Home Run Tracker, 22 of the 34 bombs he’s hit this year have traveled more than 400 feet. Nine of them have gone at least 440 feet.

One thing has come as a surprise: Going into last night, the career .274 hitter had a .324 batting average, and he was tied with Prince Fielder for the most base hits (140) in either league. Once one-dimensional, the former Texas Ranger has morphed into more than just a basher.

It’s been a long process. In many respects, Cruz has been a late bloomer. Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Nimmo: A Mets Prospect on Hitting

Brandon Nimmo is one step closer to the big leagues. He’s also off to a good start in Sin City. The Mets promoted the 22-year-old outfield prospect to Las Vegas at the end of July, and he’s finding Triple-A to his liking. In 12 games with the 51s, Nimmo is hitting a handsome .297/.413/.405.

The sample size is small, but at the same time, it’s indicative of his potential. Drafted 13th overall out of a Cheyenne, Wyoming high school, in 2011, Nimmo is one of the top prospects in the New York system. A lanky left-handed hitter, he’s been compared to Miami’s Christian Yelich. He’s comparably raw – remember, Wyoming – but the styles are similar.

Nimmo discussed his hitting approach, and touched on his Citi Field ETA, during last month’s Eastern League All-Star game.


Brandon Nimmo on hitting: “My plan is simply to hit something hard. I’m not trying to hit home runs, or anything like that. Home runs are actually mistakes that come from getting under the ball a little bit. I’m trying to hit line drives, and if I can get something on the barrel, that’s where I’m going to have the most velocity and the most chance of having something fall. I want to be short and direct to the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Putnam’s Odd Mix, Spin Rates, Mariners, more

Zach Putnam has thrown 61.4% splitters and 24.7% cutters so far this season. If you think that’s unique, you’re right. No other MLB pitcher approximates that ratio.

The White Sox reliever is one of only five pitchers (minimum 30 innings) who utilize each of the two offerings at least 10% of the time. Alfredo Simon – 35% splitters and 14.6% cutters – comes closest to Putnam’s particular mix. Masahiro Tanaka throws 25.7% splitters and 10.7% cutters. Kendall Graveman is 25.7% cutters and 11.1% splitters. Jeff Samardzija is 24.8% cutters and 11.1% splitters. (numbers through Friday.)

Putnam’s 61.4% splitter usage is currently the highest in either league. Koji Uehara is next at 60.2% (and throws a cutter once in a blue moon).

The 28-year-old right-hander has thrown a splitter since his days at the University of Michigan. He turned to the cutter more recently. Read the rest of this entry »

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.


“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 »