Daniel Nava spent a month in Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this season. Whether he merited the temporary demotion is a matter of opinion. Regardless of any stated reasons, the Red Sox outfielder was sent down partly as punishment for not appeasing the BABiP gods.
Not long before Nava got the bad news, I discussed his sudden propensity to hit into bad luck with Red Sox beat writer Jason Mastrodonato. At the time, Nava had a line-drive rate a shade under 25% and a ground-ball rate just over 42%. His batting average was well south of the Mendoza line. Mastronato – a stat-savvy scribe – agreed with me that it probably wouldn’t be fair to send Nava down. The switch-hitter was coming off a year in which he hit .303/.385/.445. A reversal of fortune seemed imminent.
Shortly thereafter, Nava had a two-hit game, upping his BA to .149 BA and his BABiP to .167. His next 98 plate appearances came in a PawSox uniform.
The 31-year-old has been back in Boston since late May – platooning with lefty-killer Jonny Gomes – and has seen his numbers slowly climb. Notable is the fact his BABiP has risen over .120 points despite a line-rate nearly identical to when he was sent down.
Nava isn’t a numbers guy — he professes to not look at his stats – nor is he one to complain. While many players would take vocal umbrage at a demotion, the humble outfielder has kept his mouth shut and his chin held high. But he is willing to admit it was frustrating to go through a stretch where nothing was falling.
“I was very aware that my numbers weren’t completely representative of how well I was hitting the ball,” Nava told me on Friday. “I knew [the bad luck] was going to end eventually, it was just a matter of when. I never got to find out before getting sent down, but that’s part of the game. At the end of the day, I also knew I wasn’t hitting as well as I could.”
At-em-balls asides, it’s true Nava was missing some hittable pitches. His strikeout rate was higher than usual, his walk-rate lower. The misfortune began to creep into his psyche.
“Sometimes you want a ball to fall so badly that maybe you take yourself out of your more natural approach, your more relaxed position,” said Nava. “Maybe I was pressing too much because balls weren’t falling.”
“It was starting to play on his mind,” concurred Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. “He was putting pressure on himself, because he wasn’t getting rewarded for the good ABs he was having. Every time he’d hit a ball hard, it was right at somebody. With any hitter, if you smoke three balls in a row and don’t get any hits, it’s hard not to think you have to make some sort of adjustment. Since he came back [from Pawtucket] he’s shortened up a little and more balls have been falling for him.”
Nava had an option left when he was sent to the minors, while other outfielders on the team didn’t. Ultimately, that probably influenced the decision as much as the stat sheet. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington suggested that was the case when I asked about Nava’s BABiP.
“We consider all data points when making a decision to option a player,” Cherington told me. “Coming into the year we believed Daniel would be a big part of our offense. He got off to a slow start and some of that could have been bad luck. There were also some things he had gotten away from doing that he needed to correct. On top of that, our offense was struggling and we wanted to preserve as many options as we could as we tried to get on track. Optioning Daniel was a way to do that. We fully expected Daniel to be back at the time we optioned him. He has in fact come back, and he’s had very good at bats versus right-handed pitchers ever since.”
The good at bats come as no surprise. Nava is a disciplined hitter who sees over four pitches per plate appearance. His .385 OBP was fifth-best in the American League last year and his career slash line against righties is .287/.386/.425. A 17-game sample size is indicative of little, which is why Nava’s late-April demotion – even considering his remaining option — was somewhat curious.
Equally curious is Nava being on the bench much of last October, while historically-inept-against-right-handers Jonny Gomes got regular at bats. Cherington says lineups are entirely John Farrell‘s decision. Nava takes the high road and says he respects the decision.
The feeling here is that Daniel Nava doesn’t get the respect he deserves from the Red Sox organization.
THE NON-QUALIFIED ALL-STARS
If you looked at the FanGraphs leader boards over the All-Star break, you didn’t see any of the players listed below unless you changed the tab from “qualified” to a lower number. The cutoff for plate appearances was 295, and they all fell short of that mark. None were in Minneapolis this past week, but they’ll receive their due here.
Of note, Josh Harrison and Devin Mesoraco weren’t considered for this hypothetical team, as they were National League all-stars. Kole Calhoun [.295/.356/.521] was the toughest omission. Brock Holt gets the nod at shortstop despite limited time at the position, because… well, Brock Holt can play anywhere [and pretty much does].
OF: Corey Dickerson, Rockies, .325/.391/.579
OF: AJ Pollock, Diamondbacks, .316/.366/.554
OF: Kevin Kiermaier, Rays, .310/.349/.576
1B: Steve Pearce, Orioles, .316/.383/.567
2B: Tommy LaStella, Braves, .292/.371/.357
SS: Brock Holt, Red Sox, .327/.371/.463
3B: Conor Gillaspie, White Sox, .326/.377/.484
C: Evan Gattis, Braves, .290/.342/.558
DH: JD Martinez, Tigers, .346/.380/.654
Aaron Crow was standing near the visiting dugout at Fenway Park yesterday, watching the Red Sox take batting practice. I asked the Kansas City Royals reliever what he was gleaning from the experience. Was he looking for anything that might help him in a game, or was he mostly just taking in the atmosphere?
“I was mostly watching David Ortiz,” responded Crow. “I was noticing how he does such a good job of going the other way and using the wall. For two straight groups he was just trying to go the other way. It’s amazing watching someone work on that during BP, because a lot of guys try to hit home runs all the time. You realize one reason he’s so good is that he’s always working on something.”
I asked Crow who he most enjoys watching take batting practice.
“It’s always pretty impressive to watch Miguel Cabrera,” said Crow. “He hits the ball so hard, and uses the whole field. He can hit the ball out of any part of the park. It’s amazing to watch a guy like that hit.”
What about when pitchers, getting ready for an inter-league series, take BP?
“It’s kind of funny,” said Crow. “Most pitchers aren’t very good hitters. I don’t even take BP, because I’m a reliever. I haven’t actually swung a bat since I was in high school. If I ever have to hit in a game, I don’t think I’ll be ready.”
Jordan Procyshen has a unique way of keeping his composure in big games. The 21-year-old catcher in the Red Sox organization sings himself a happy tune when the nerves start to act up a little bit. A 14th-round pick this year out of Northern Kentucky, Procyshen had an early opportunity to croon. The fifth time he took the field for the short-season Lowell Spinners was in Fenway Park’s annual minor-league game. Following batting practice, I asked how he goes about staying relaxed.
“I try to get within my body, and if I’m tense I’ll take deeps breaths,” Procyshen told me. “I try to slow my mind down. It’s like when you’re driving: You don’t want to be a white-knuckle driver gripping the steering wheel too hard. The same is true for gripping the bat. Sometimes I’ll sing to myself. I’ll get a song in my head, which gets me not thinking, and everything becomes nice and loose. Sometimes I’m just singing in my head, but other times it might be audible.”
Which tunes might you hear him humming?
“It changes every day,” said Procyshen, who hails from Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. “But I’m a big country fan, so if I hear a good country song the inning before, it might still be stuck in my head when I come up to hit. The way I look at it, you want to be as relaxed as possible, so if you have to sing to yourself, sing to yourself.”
Bradley Zimmer‘s bat plays sweet music, which is why the Cleveland Indians drafted him 21st overall last month. The 21-year-old outfielder was in the Mahoning Valley Scrappers lineup when they played Procyshen’s Spinners last weekend at Fenway Park. When I asked him about the experience prior to the game, Zimmer was as cool as a cucumber.
“We’re playing on a historic field, which gets the butterflies going a little bit, but I still have to treat it like any other day,” Zimmer told me.” I have to go out there and do what I do and not change anything. It’s obviously exciting to be here, but in the back of my head I know I need to keep the same mindset.”
Zimmer’s mindset is all about base hits. Featuring a smooth left-handed stroke, he rang line drives to the tune of .368/.461/.573 this year at the University of San Francisco. He doesn’t lack confidence, but he also doesn’t let his ego in the way.
“When you’re swinging it really well, sometimes you come out thinking you’re going to go 5 for 5,” explained Zimmer. “But if you try to do too much, you get away from your swing. You end up trying to be something you’re not instead of playing the brand of baseball that’s made you successful.”
Zimmer’s brand of baseball has him in pro ball, which is any kid’s dream. When he closes his eyes at night, he sees baseballs
“I practice visualization in the locker room before the game,” Zimmer told me. “Or I’ll do it the night before when I go to sleep. I try to lock in for a couple of minutes and visualize the pitch coming in. I’ll visualize to a specific pitcher I’ll be facing, or to a specific hitting spot.”
Like most people who had the pleasure of being around him, Darrin Jackson has Don Zimmer stories. The former outfielder played for the recently deceased manager when Zimmer skippered the Cubs in the late 1980s. Jackson, now a broadcaster for the White Sox, remembers him fondly.
“Zim was like that old, grumpy grandpa at times,” Jackson said. “He always looked like he wasn’t very happy with us, but I could always approach him. I’d go up to him and say this, that, or the other, and he’d look at me like, ‘What?” He’d give you a look that said, ‘What the hell are you asking me?’ I’d be there holding my breath, waiting for an answer, then all of a sudden Zim would go, ‘Oh, OK. That’s fine.’ He was intimidating when you were a younger player. It kind of felt like you couldn’t approach him, yet you could always approach him.”
According to Jackson, you didn’t necessarily want to approach Zimmer after a loss. You definitely didn’t want to crank up the music and act like it didn’t matter.
“If we played poorly and didn’t take the loss accordingly, Zim would chew the team a new ass,” said Jackson. “He would yell at everybody, ‘Turn off the damn music! This is not a damn party! This is not the way we handle losing!’ He’d let every single player know – in the clubhouse, on the bus, on the plane – there would be consequences if we didn’t do it his way. He was going to be in charge and not take anything from anybody.”
The exterior was rough, but the manager often referred to as “Popeye” had a tender side. Jackson experienced that first-hand after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer following the 1987 season. Twenty-four years old with just 12 big-league games under his belt, he was in camp trying to impress the “grumpy, old grandpa.”
“It had been a tough winter, recovering from the surgeries,” said Jackson. “I was there trying to make the team, and I was also out of options so it was either make it or clear waivers. I was stretching in the outfield one day, and wasn’t exactly comfortable. I had this big 12-inch incision in my stomach, so situps were kind of hard to do. He walks over and squats by me, and says, ‘Hey, kid, just do what you can do. Take it easy.’ I never forgot that. He could be gruff, but he cared about his players.”
One thing he didn’t care about was criticism for doing things his way. Zimmer managed from 1971-1991, and not always by the book.
“One of the crazy managerial things he did was put the hit-and-run on with the bases loaded and Andre Dawson on deck,” Jackson remembers. “Ryne Sandberg struck out and they tagged the runner out at the plate. It happened in Houston. Zim started the runners, thinking Ryno was going to make contact, but instead he swings and misses and the inning is over. Andre Dawson is standing there, bat in his hand, looking into the dugout like, ‘What just happened?’ Zim did things his way. It didn’t matter if it was different. He was the manager and was going to do it the way he wanted.”
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Bobby Richardson of the Yankees went 11 for 30, with one home run, in the 1960 World Series. Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates went 8 for 25, with two home runs, one of them a ninth-inning walk-off in Game 7. Richardson was named Series MVP.
In 1919, Babe Ruth hit 29 home runs, the most ever in a season. Ned Williamson held the previous mark of 27, which he set in 1884 with the Chicago Cubs. Only five players – Rogers Maris, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are the others – have held the record for home runs in a season over the past 130 years.
Twenty-seven players have made at least 7,500 outs in their career. All but six of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame. The ones who haven’t are Pete Rose [the all-time leader with 10,328], Omar Vizquel, Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter, Rafael Palmeiro and Rusty Staub.
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