Bogar’s background is also a fit for the front office. The 47-year-old is well-versed in sabermetric concepts, having worked under Joe Maddon in Tampa and Terry Francona in Boston. He also spent a season with Bobby Valentine, giving him an up-close look at what can happen when managerial decisions are based more on whimsy than analytic judgment.
General manager Jon Daniels says Bogar wasn’t hired as a conduit to the team’s analytics department. That doesn’t mean he won’t influences the more-traditional Washington. Defensive-positioning is an early indicator.
“We’ve been shifting a little more this year,” Daniels told me earlier this week. “That’s something Tim Bogar is implementing. He, along with Wash, sets our infield. They communicate with Mike Maddux, so we can defend according to the game plan against hitters. I don’t know exactly how shifts are measured — how extreme a guy has to be out of “standard position” to qualify — but Wash and Dave Anderson did shift some in the past. Tim is a little more aggressive with it.”
According to Baseball Info Solutions, the Rangers shifted 355 times last season — 10th most in MLB — and are slightly ahead of that pace two weeks into the current campaign. What happens henceforth will depend on matchups and, as Daniels alluded to, interpretation.
“We’re shifting, although probably not as dramatically as some would want,” said Bogar. “There are a lot of people out there who would like everybody to be shifting in a certain way. I’d say we move guys enough to be noticed, but sometimes not enough for it to be considered a shift.”
Would there be more-pronounced shifting if he, not Ron Washington, was running the ball club?
“We’re just trying to put our players in the best possible position to succeed,” Bogar replied diplomatically. “Wash and I talk all the time about what we want to do with certain players and certain situations. Ultimately, it comes down to what he wants, but we discuss a lot of things.”
It was a different story when he served as Bobby Valentine‘s bench coach.
“Bobby didn’t ever ask my opinion,” said Bogar. “He actually didn’t talk to me at all. He wasn’t like Wash.”
“The way Wash runs his staff is very collaborative,” agreed Daniels. “He wants guys to speak their mind. Wash was actually Tim’s manager in A ball, so they weren’t starting from scratch. They already had a rapport. Wash has encouraged him to be an active part of the in-game decision-making process.”
Does Daniels hope Bogar’s saber-friendly approach will rub off on Washington?
“He wasn’t hired for that,” said Daniels. “I’m sensitive to the idea Tim was put in to implement front office strategy. That’s not the case at all. The bottom line is that Tim is a good baseball man. He’s a good coach and teacher. He’s smart, a good communicator, detail-oriented, and knows how to use information. He has the ability to merge both [traditional and sabermetic] ideas.”
Daniels does as well. As a matter of fact, the Rangers GM believes melding the two is essential.
“There’s a give and take,“ explained Daniels. “Wash and I talk about things and some we agree on and some we don’t. But at the end of the day, we supply as much information as we can and trust the staff to use it to the best of their abilities. I’m not looking to agree with every move we make. It’s more about the bigger picture of getting our players in the best position to succeed. There are different ways to accomplish the same goals.”
All pitchers have the same goal of throwing quality strikes. How they go about it isn‘t always the same. Red Sox left-handers Jon Lester and Andrew Miller deliver pitches from different sides of the rubber.
“I started out on the third base side, then I went to the first base side,” said Lester. “Now I’m not all the way on the first base side, but rather a little bit toward the middle. I moved about a year and a half ago when I was having trouble with my hip. This kind of alleviated some things. I felt it was easier for me to get the ball to the glove side.”
“I stand on the third base side,” said Miller. “I think that opens up the strike zone a little more. I was on the first base side until probably 2011. I think that adds to deception and creates better angles, but it narrows the strike zone for you. I sacrificed some angle, but my slider is a pretty big breaking pitch and I carry enough angle as it is.”
Physical starting points aren’t the only things that will differ. So is the focus pitchers put on endpoints.
“Each guy is going to have his own gig,” said Lester. “Take this guy pitching [on the clubhouse TV] for the Orioles. [Zach Britton] is a big power sinker guy, so he’s probably not throwing for the glove. A guy with a lot of movement is probably aiming for areas, but I’m a four-seam guy. I have to throw it to the glove. That’s where my focus is.”
Chris Hernandez, a left-handed pitcher for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, doesn’t throw to the glove.
“I never throw to the mitt, because I have so much movement,” said Hernandez, who features a cutter. “I just try to stay between the knees. I always tell my catcher to set up on halves of the plate. Let’s say the middle of the plate is the point. Instead of setting up on the outer black, I have him set up in between the point and the black. I throw the ball and let it play for a strike.”
Hernandez is more precise when it comes to breaking balls, but he‘s still not throwing directly to the mitt.
“If I’m throwing a curveball for a strike, I usually aim for his shoulder,” explained the left-hander. “My curveball is going to break from his right shoulder to the mitt. With a changeup, I’ll focus on the bottom of his face mask to drop it in for a strike. If I don’t want to throw it for a strike, I’ll focus more on the mitt and let it fall below the zone.”
Lester and Miller visualize their breaking pitches, albeit in slightly different ways.
“If I’m throwing a strike curveball, I’m looking at the glove,” said Lester. “I’m a visual person, so I pick out spots in my head, or remember a curveball I threw in the past that I can draw from. I visualize it and throw it.”
“A slider, a pitch that has that much action… personally, I have to visualize the whole path of the pitch,” said Miller. “I’m not throwing at a left-handed hitter’s hip. That’s too simplified for me. I need to see the whole thing in my head. If I wasn’t visualizing, I’d be in deep trouble.”
D.J. Baxendale has a backup plan. If his playing career doesn’t pan out, the 23-year-old Minnesota Twins pitching prospect will be interviewing his former teammates.
“I was a journalism major in college,” said Baxendale, who attended the University of Arkansas. “My aunt was a news anchor in Texarkana for awhile, and I’ve always wanted to do something in sports, so I jumped right in. I learned from taking classes that a lot of work goes into it, but I liked talking in front of the camera and interviewing people.”
The right-hander isn’t ready to switch sides of the microphone just yet. He went 12-7 with a 3.90 ERA between Fort Myers and New Britain in his first full professional season. This year he’s back with the Double-A Rock Cats, who are expected to add Byron Buxton to the roster once his wrist injury is fully healed.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Byron Buxton,” said Baxendale. “Being such a high-profile guy… it’s got to be tough. Knowing Buxton, he was really shy about it at first. I give him a lot of credit for how much he‘s grown up in that area. He’s really worked on being able to talk in front of a camera, and to talk to reporters. He feels a lot more comfortable in that environment now. It’s not always easy.”
How do players view the media when they enter a clubhouse?
It’s kind of a mixed reaction,” opined Baxendale. “Some guys don’t really like talking to the media, because don’t feel comfortable with it. Some guys don’t really have a care either way, they just see it as part of the job. Then you have guys who really enjoy talking to the media. They like cameras. They get a real kick out of it.”
I asked if there is ever resentment toward a player getting the lion’s share of attention.
“No, it is what it is,” answered Baxendale. “We all have a pretty good idea of where we rank as prospects. We know the higher-up guys draw the most. There are first-round picks and there are 40th-round picks. That’s just part of life in the minor leagues.”
Where does he fit in?
“I don’t like to classify myself as far as prospect status,” said the 2012 10th-rounder. “I let all the big sources handle that. Whatever they want to say about me, they will. That’s how it works.”
Robbie Ross is working out of the Rangers rotation after spending the last two years in their bullpen. He embraces his new role. The 24-year-old southpaw told me he likes starting because “It’s your day. You work as hard as you can to get ready for it, and when you get out there you do your best. I like that mentality.”
Ross approaches his vocation the way he approaches life. His glass is half full, and he keeps everything in perspective.
“It’s important to slow things down and just do what you can to get outs,” said Ross. “If you put too much pressure on yourself it becomes difficult to perform. Sometimes you can press so hard it’s not a game anymore. Instead of something you enjoy, it becomes stressful. This is supposed to be fun. Control your mind so you’re not thinking the bad things. Think about the good things.
“We’re working as hard as we can, but we have to remember we get to be out here playing a game. I’m where I’m at because of what God has blessed me with. [A baseball career] is very short-lived, so I want to enjoy this and do the best I can.”
Last September, Ross did his best to support an important cause. He and his wife, Brittany, participated in the NOH8 campaign, a charitable organization promoting marriage, gender and human equality.
“It was important to us because it was a no-hate campaign,” explained Ross. “[Gays and lesbians] are being discriminated against. There’s a lot of bitterness and hate being directed toward them. What we were saying is that they shouldn’t be treated wrong. They’re people and should be showed love.
“There are obviously guys [in MLB] who are gay. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with [when players start coming out]. We should love people and accept them for who they are. As a Christian, I believe God is going to ultimately judge us for how we live our lives. There’s no reason for us to be judging.”
Ross is non-judgmental, but the same can’t be said for everyone wearing a big-league uniform. I asked him what the response was from teammates and others within the game.
“No one really had much to say about it,” said Ross. “It was mostly just Christian people asking me what I thought. It was different for a lot of them, but I think there was a lot of acceptance. They knew my heart was in the right place. I was just trying to be accepting and show people love.”
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