Archive for Q&As

Billy Eppler on Taking the Reins in Anaheim

Billy Eppler isn’t sure if he’s bringing philosophical change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That’s not something he’s especially concerned with. How things were done under Jerry Dipoto is largely immaterial. Eppler’s focus is on the future, which began when he took over as the team’s general manager in early October.

Eppler is a first-year GM, but he’s not without experience. A graduate of the University of Connecticut — his degree is in finance — he spent the last 11 years in the New York Yankees front office. Before that, the erstwhile collegiate hurler worked in scouting and player development for the Colorado Rockies.

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Eppler on his role with the Yankees: “The quick and easy answer would be to say I was one of (Brian Cashman’s) assistant firefighters. I helped out in a lot of different areas. Originally, Brian hired me to run the pro scouting department. From there, it manifested itself into more involvement with major league operations, roster management, contract negotiation and player procurement.

“I had some existing relationships with agents from my days in Colorado. I had a comfort level signing players and negotiating contracts. I continued to learn more about rules and the protocols as they relate to roster management.

“In New York, I stayed involved with the player development side and was one of the liaisons between our major league club and what was going on in the upper levels of our farm system. The job essentially morphed into a potpourri of everything.”

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Liam Hendriks on his Evolution to Blue Jays Bullpen Stud

Liam Hendriks bombed as a starter. Pitching almost exclusively in that role prior to this season, he went 3-15 with a 5.92 ERA. The ineffectiveness turned him into a nomad. The 26-year-old Australian was property of five organizations – including Toronto twice – from December 2013 to October 2014.

This year, he bolstered the Blue Jays bullpen. In 58 relief appearances, Hendriks fashioned a 2.92 ERA and a 2.14 FIP, and his strikeout (9.9 per nine innings) and walk rates (1.5) were exemplary. The righty was credited with a win in each of his five decisions.

Originally a Minnesota Twin, Hendriks was acquired by Toronto from Kansas City last Halloween-eve in exchange for Santiago Nessy. He talked about his successful transition when the Jays visited Fenway Park in September.

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Hendriks on the reasons behind his breakthrough: “I did a few things differently last offseason than I had in the past. For one, I went down to the Dominican and played there for two months. I joke around that maybe my velocity kicked up because all I ate was Dominican chicken. But no, I had a blast. Probably the main thing was doing a lot of Pilates with my wife. It’s a lot more core, a lot more stability; it’s a little bit of that explosive stuff that helps keep you strong.

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Paul Janish on (Not) Hitting

Paul Janish is your classic good-glove, no-hit infielder. In parts of seven seasons with the Reds, Braves, and currently the Baltimore Orioles, the 32-year-old defensive whiz has slashed .215/.282/.289. Outside of 2010, when he had a .723 OPS and hit five of his seven career home runs, in 200 at bats, Janish has been a non-entity at the dish.

Like most glove-men of his ilk, Janish hit well enough in the minors to reach the big leagues. His bat hasn’t translated to the highest level, but success is often a byproduct of extended opportunities, of which he’s received a paucity. It’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic: you need to hit to stay in the lineup, but you need to stay in the lineup to hit.

That isn’t to say Janish would be a productive hitter if given a chance to play every day. He might not even be a league-average hitter. Janish realizes that. Even so, he can’t help but wonder if he maybe could have been more than he is: a vacuum cleaner bouncing between Triple-A and a big-league bench, essentially because he’s failed to flourish in 1.234 sporatic MLB plate appearances.

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Janish on getting labeled: “It’s been tough for me. From an early stage in my career, I was labeled as somebody who could play very well defensively, and if I could do X amount offensively, I could play in the big leagues. I kind of took that mindset, and it probably hurt me. I was a victim of circumstances in that respect. 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.

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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.”

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FanGraphs Q&A and Sunday Notes: The Best Quotes of 2014

In 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of people within baseball. Many of their words were shared via the FanGraphs Q&A series. Others came courtesy of the Sunday Notes column, which debuted in February. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations.

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“Later on, when they went to the QuesTec system, the strike zone became more of a north-and-south than an east-and-west. I had to learn how to pitch inside more, which wasn’t an easy thing to do.” – Tom Glavine, Hall of Fame pitcher, January 2014

“In my first at bat, I hit a home run and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to hit 30 home runs in this league.’ I ended up hitting five.” – Clint Frazier, Cleveland Indians prospect, January 2014

“As a pitcher, you’re supposed to feel at home on the mound. You’re supposed to feel comfortable and strong. I didn’t feel that way.” – Jesse Biddle, Philadelphia Phillies prospect, January 2014

“My mind was free, because I was only concentrating on one thing, which was getting hitters out. I was in the big leagues, so I was able to relax and do my job.” – Matt Harvey, New York Mets, February 2014

“Twenty-four hours to vent and rage, break things. I punched my door and put a crack in it. I broke a few boat oars out back of the house. I was mad, because I felt I was being stolen from.” – Luke Scott, former big-league outfielder, February 2014

“When I brawled, I blacked out. I don’t really remember much outside of watching the videos. I do remember telling Dean Palmer, ‘They’re about to start hitting our guys and we’ll need to go out there.’ ” – Doug Brocail, former Detroit Tigers pitcher, February 2014

“When I stood on the mound while on Adderall, everything faded away except for the catcher’s mitt. No crowd noise, no distractions. It was almost like being in the Matrix. Although you were sped up, everything slowed down.” – Player X, March 2014 Read the rest of this entry »


Q&A: Scooter Gennett on Ceramics, Lefties and Riding Scooters

Scooter Gennett of the Milwaukee Brewers is among those players participating in an innovative cancer charity drive that ends Thursday night and benefits LUNGevity, “the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit.” An online auction, coordinated by Major League Baseball media and public relations offices, is awarding scores of unusual prizes to winning bidders. Pitching lessons with CC Sabathia or Dwight Gooden, for example. Rather than a game-used jersey or an autographed baseball, Gennett is donating his time and his noteworthy skills with ceramics, giving a pottery lesson to the winner of his auction.

MLB took this initiative in part to celebrate the life of Monica Barlow, who died earlier this year at age 36 because of lung cancer. Like a majority of people who get lung cancer, Barlow did not smoke. Gennett has gotten involved in part because his father is a cancer survivor. He discussed all of that and more in a phone conversation with FanGraphs during baseball’s winter meetings. In addition to the charity work, he also discussed how he’s preparing for the upcoming season, and further explained how Ryan Joseph Gennett became — sometimes — “Scooter.”

David Brown: Were you into Play-Doh as a kid?

Scooter Gennett: Yeah, when I was younger, I liked those kind of toys where you’d make something. I wasn’t the type of kid to play with action figures. I guess I was a Play-Doh type of kid. But once I turned 8 years old, until high-school age, there really wasn’t much for me other than playing baseball. So I didn’t take many art classes, certainly ceramics, until high school. It was all baseball.

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Dave Wallace on Analytics and the Minor Leagues

Dave Wallace played several minor league seasons in the Indians organization as a catcher before beginning his coaching career as a staff assistant in Cleveland from 2009-10. He has moved his way through the Indians organization quickly, managing the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011, the Class-A Lake County Captains in 2012 and the High-A Carolina Mudcats in 2013 before joining the Double-A Akron RubberDucks this year.

It’s no secret that, as a small-market ballclub, Cleveland has one of the most sabermetrically-inclined front offices in baseball alongside organizations like Oakland, Tampa Bay and Houston. After reading Alex Kaufman’s great piece on the Indians DiamondView system, I wanted to know how much of that trickled down to the minor leagues and what Wallace’s stance was with regards to analytics. Wallace mentioned he is a regular reader of FanGraphs and that one of his favorite things to do is comb through our glossary and learn about new stats. We talked about advanced numbers, their prevalence and role in the minor leagues and how he uses them as a manager:

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Q&A: Corey Kluber’s Repertoire, A Brief History

Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber entered the 2013 season as a 27-year-old with fewer than 70 major-league innings. He’s departing it, however, having established himself as one of the club’s — and perhaps the league’s — most effective starters, having recorded strikeout and walk rates of 23.3% and 5.2%, respectively, and a 74 xFIP- that’s fifth among pitchers with 100-plus innings.

Nor does Kluber’s success appear to be founded upon deception alone. His two-seam fastball sits at 93-95 mph. He has command of a cutter, which he throws around 90 mph, to either side of the plate. His slider has excellent two-plane break.

In summary, Kluber’s career arc is an unusual one: he’s in what’s typically a player’s peak-age season, entered that season with little in the way of major-league experience, is having great success in the majors presently, and appears to have the armspeed/command capable of sustaining that success.

While the understated right-hander isn’t inclined to meditate at length on the significance of his achievement (“That’s external to what I’m trying to focus on,” he says), he did consent — while rehabbing from a sprained middle finger — to provide briefly for the present author a biography of sorts for each of his four pitches, which appears below.

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Stryker Trahan: Building a D-Backs Backstop

When scouting, the first instinct is to comp. You fight the urge, knowing every player is an individual, but the desire to quantify the unknown inevitably creeps into your thoughts. Who has a similar body type? A similar swing? Approach? Range and athleticism? Background? Instinctively, you formulate a first impression by answering one question: Who does he remind me of?

Then there are prospects like Stryker Trahan. The attributes packed into his dense 5-foot-10 frame are anything but ordinary:

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Snapshots from the 1980s: Wade Boggs

As noted in the introduction to last Friday’s conversation with Chris Chambliss, three years ago I did a series of short interviews that were never published and will appear in this space over the coming weeks. They focus on baseball during the decades of the 1980s, and today’s subject is Wade Boggs, who played for the Red Sox, Yankees and Devil Rays from 1982-1999.

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Boggs, on OBP in the ‘80s: “That was my game. It was how I thrived, but at the point in time that I played, I was criticized for doing something that is now fashionable – Moneyball, or whatever you want to call it. Today, everybody is looking for a guy who can get on base 250 times a year, and at the time I was doing it I was getting 200 hits and 100 walks. Then I would go to arbitration and be criticized for doing something that [front offices] now love.

Billy Beane, the guy in Oakland, is the one who really put it on the map and it’s been fashionable for close to 10 years by now. Like I said, it wasn’t that way when I played, especially earlier in my career. I led off, so I always felt that it was my job to get on base and set the table for Jim Rice, Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, and all the big guys coming up to drive me in. That was a part of the game that I excelled at, but quite frankly, it was a part of the game that I was criticized for.”

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Q&A: A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski is, in his own words, “not what people think.” But that only applies to off the field. The ChiSox catcher readily acknowledges being Public Enemy No. 1 between the white lines, an irascible gamer who cares far less about making friends than he does about winning. The 14-year, big-league veteran doesn’t mind that perception, just so as long as fans realize that he’s not a villain in street clothes. He may share traits with Ozzie Guillen — and get along with Barry Bonds — but he also stops to smell the roses. Behind the mask, big, bad A.J. Pierzynski is just a regular guy who likes to have fun.

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David Laurila: Who is A.J. Pierzynski?

AJ Pierzynski: I’m not what people think I am, for one thing. A lot of people think I’m a rough-and-tough and mean person. I’m just a normal guy who likes to have fun and is lucky enough to play baseball for a living.

DL: Where does that perception come from?

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Q&A: Darwin Barney

Darwin Barney is a throwback middle infielder, and to the surprise of many, a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate. The 25-year-old Oregon State product came into spring training battling for a backup position, but instead established himself as the Cubs everyday second baseman. His skill set is more Glenn Beckert [fans under the age of 40 may need to look him up] than Starlin Castro, but there is nothing wrong with being scrappy when you’re hitting .297 and playing quality defense. In Barney’s opinion, there is also nothing wrong with following instructions from Carlos Zambrano. As for the infield surface of Wrigley Field…well, the youngster is a fan of historic ballparks.

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David Laurila: This year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook says of you: “He isn’t flashy, but he’s the best defensive infielder in the organization, including the majors.” Do you agree with that?

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Q&A: Chris Sale on the Draft

One year ago tomorrow, Chris Sale nervously awaited word on where he would begin his professional career. The Florida Gulf Coast left-hander didn’t have to wait long to find out, as the White Sox called his name with the 13th overall pick of the amateur draft. A mere two months later he became the first player in his draft class to reach the big leagues, debuting on August 6 and going on to log four saves and a 1.93 ERA in 21 appearances. The 22-year-old native of Lakeland, Florida sat down to talk about the whirlwind experience of Draft Day, and the process that surrounds it.

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David Laurila: You were drafted out of high school, by the Rockies in 2007, but didn’t sign. Why?

Chris Sale: I had a lot more to learn. Both physically and mentally, I just wasn’t mature enough to go out on my own and start living my own life. I really liked the school that I was going to, and felt that it was a better opportunity than starting my professional career. It was a big decision. I talked it over with my family, and my coaches, and everyone came to the same decision, which was that three or four years of college would be better than starting right then and there.

DL: How different was the scouting process the second time around?

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Q&A: Mark Buehrle

When Mark Buehrle takes the mound tonight, against the Tigers, he may or may not throw an indoor sinker to a right-handed hitter, which he recently did for the first time in several years. He might also throw a cut changeup, although it would be by accident rather than by design. Both pitches could come from either side of the rubber, as could the game’s best pickoff move, which Buehrle admits may reasonably be defined as a balk. The crafty lefty may also throw his third career no-hitter, or second perfect game, and he would do so following a simpler approach than you might imagine.

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David Laurila: What is your approach on the mound?

Mark Buerhle: I just get the sign from the catcher and try to make the best pitch I can, to the best location. I’ve never been a guy who studies film or goes over scouting reports. I go with my catcher, and Coop [pitching coach Don Cooper] usually sits down with us and goes over the game plan beforehand. For the most part, I figure that the less that’s on my mind when I’m out there — if I’m not thinking about, and worrying about, what to throw to guys — the better off I’m going to be.

I have four pitches that I have confidence in, and I’ll throw almost all of them in any count, in any situation. I feel that if I make a quality pitch, sometimes it’s going to be a hit, but a lot of times I’m going to get an out. Who’s to say…if I’m thinking of throwing a fastball to a certain guy, and A.J. [Pierzynski] calls for a changeup, why am I right over him? I just take it as, “Hey, whichever pitch you throw down, I’ll try to throw it to the best location, the best spot, and see what happens.”

DL: You’ve worked with A.J. for a long time. What if it’s a catcher you don’t know very well?

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Q&A: Max Scherzer and Rick Knapp

It is common knowledge that starting pitchers take the mound every five games, but what happens between starts isn’t as widely know. A lot of work goes into those days between starts, and it typically happens within the parameters of a set routine. The routine itself can differ from pitcher to pitcher, but for almost everyone, it includes a bullpen session. Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, and his pitching coach, Rick Knapp, talked about their respective approaches to getting ready for day five.

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David Laurila: Max, what do you do on the day after a start?

Max Scherzer: For me, the next day is one of the hardest-working days to get my body right. I’ll do a total body lift, lifting every major area. I’ll exercise my legs, back, chest, arms — kind of the whole nine yards. Then I’ll go out and run for awhile, trying to get as tired as I can. Throwing is very minimal. I just kind of loosen up, getting the arm moving to get ready for my pen the next day.

DL: Rick, what do you expect from a pitcher in his bullpen session?

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Q&A Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez is a student of hitting, which should come as no surprise given that he is one of the game’s premier sluggers. The left-handed-hitting first baseman has a career slash line of .288/.369/.510, and this season he’s been even better. In his first 50 games with the Red Sox, he’s hitting a superstar-caliber .337/.385/.553.

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David Laurila: Is hitting simple or is it complicated?

Adrian Gonzalez: Hitting is simple. We make it complicated. We look into mechanics and a lot of different things that could be wrong, instead of simplifying everything by staying back and letting our hands go to the ball. In this profession, because of how good the pitchers are, it’s hard not to look at a lot of different things.

Getting hits is extremely hard. Swinging, just getting up there and hitting, and doing the right mechanics, that’s what I’m saying is simple. But when you put in all of the equations, like the pitcher on the mound and the defense that’s behind him, that’s what makes it complicated.

DL: What role do hitting coaches play for you?

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Q&A Marlon Byrd

Marlon Byrd won’t be facing live pitching in the near future, having suffered multiple facial fractures when hit by an errant Alfredo Aceves fastball on Saturday. When he does get back into action, he’ll go back to following a detailed routine that has served him well. The 33-year-old Cubs outfielder is a .294 hitter over the past four-plus seasons, and was hitting .308 at the time of the injury.

Prior to Saturday’s game, Byrd sat down to talk about how he prepared to face Florida’s Chris Volstad earlier in the week, and the results of each at bat.

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Byrd, on preparing for the game: “My pre-game preparation stays the same; nothing changes. I go in and do my one-hand drills, which I’ve been doing since 2003. I started that with Bobby Abreau. I’m seeing the ball coming right at me when I’m doing my flips. First I start with my two-hand swing, with a short bat to make sure the ball gets close to me, then I go to a one-hand drill to make sure my bottom hand is where it should be.

“Everything in the beginning is with a short bat. The reason you use a short bat is because the longer the bat is, the further your hands can go and you can still hit the ball. If you do that with a short bat, you won’t even hit it, so it teaches you to keep your hands inside the ball. It makes sure that your hands stay close to your chest, going to the ball, which helps you stay inside the ball when you swing.

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Q&A: Justin Masterson and Chris Perez

Justin Masterson and Chris Perez are having success against American League hitters — Masterson is 5-2, 2.52; Perez has 10 saves — but what would happen if they went up against a lineup of Indians legends? How would they pitch to the likes of Napoleon Lajoie and Rocky Colavito? The Cleveland right-handers tackled that question head on, often with tongues firmly in cheek, prior to a recent game.

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David Laurila: Shoeless Joe Jackson is playing left field and leading off. How do you go after him?

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Q&A: Alan Hirsch

Throughout much of sabermetric cyberspace, The Beauty of Short Hops: How Chance and Circumstance Confound the Moneyball Approach to Baseball, is being panned, its co-authors, Alan and Sheldon Hirsch, labeled as backwards-thinking ignoramuses [and worse]. Some of the criticism is merited — the book certainly has its flaws — but looking at its content objectively, it is also necessary to ask: Do the authors make some valid points? In this interview, Alan Hirsch defends, and clarifies, several of them.

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David Laurila: The first chapter of the book is, “Where Moneyball Went Wrong.” Why do you feel that Moneyball — most commonly defined as “identifying undervalued assets in baseball (often through the use of statistical analysis)” — is a failed approach?

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Q&A: Felix Hernandez

We are pleased to welcome David Laurila to the FanGraphs staff. He’s an accomplished journalist who was accepted into the Baseball Writer’s Association of America in December, and has become one of the premier interviewers of those in and around the game. We’re excited to bring his series of excellent Q&As to FanGraphs, and the series kicks of today with a certain reigning Cy Young award winner.

Few, if any, hurlers combine overpowering stuff and pitching acumen quite like Felix Hernandez. The Mariners workhorse has dominated the American League each of the past two-plus seasons, going 19-5 in 2009 and capturing the Cy Young Award last year despite logging just 13 wins. He’s done so with an array of offerings, all of which induce weak contact and swings and misses on a consistent basis. The 25-year-old right-hander led the league in numerous categories in 2010, including ERA, innings pitched, and hits per nine innings. He topped all American League pitchers in WAR and finished second in strikeouts. In eight starts this season he is 4-2, 3.02, including a pair of complete games.

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David Laurila: How would you define yourself as a pitcher?

Felix Hernandez: I’m a smart pitcher. I’m a hard thrower who knows what he has to do. I know myself and go by my strengths and not by the guys who are hitting. I know what I have to do. That’s me.

DL: Do you use video or scouting reports?

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