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Tewksbury’s Notebook: Notes on the 1992 Cubs

Bob Tewksbury had a lot of success in 1992. Pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, the right-hander went 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA. A control artist, he walked 20 batters in 233 innings.

He had less success against the Chicago Cubs. In five starts, he allowed 18 runs — 14 of them earned — in 34 innings. Andre Dawson, Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg went a combined 26 for 65, with 10 extra-base hits, against him.

Tewksbury knows why he struggled against the Cubs, and why he had success against the rest of the National League. The internet age was still a few years away, but notebooks weren’t. Tewksbury logged scouting and statistical information after every game he pitched.

Tewksbury still has the notebook. Within its pages is a sheet that breaks down key facets of his 1992 season. He faced 876 batters and threw first-pitch strikes to 559 of them. He ultimately retired 80% of those hitters. When the first pitch was put in play, he recorded 121 outs and allowed 52 hits. Of the 2,809 pitches he threw that season, 69% were strikes and 64% were fastballs.

The erstwhile hurler — now 52 years old and working as a mental skills coach for the Red Sox — also kept scouting reports updated. The notebook includes both his own and the ones provided by the team. As a precursor to his current job, Tewksbury included notes that focused on his mental approach. Some were motivational: “You’re better than that,” and “In the Air Tonight.” Others were profound: “Mark Grace isn‘t Babe Ruth“ and “Hit the SOB!”

In the first installment of Tewksbury’s Notebook, the former all-star takes us through the five games he pitched against the Chicago Cubs in 1992.

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Tewksbury, on his 1992 Notebook: “I’m not sure exactly how it started, but it could been something to do with Bill James and his Baseball Abstract. I’d always studied pitching. Bob Shaw had a pitching book that I borrowed out of the library — I still haven’t returned it — when I was in high school. I memorized that book. It was mostly mechanical stuff, but I was also interested in statistics.

“I know I looked back at my stats from the 1991 season and wanted to see how I could improve. Being a contact pitcher, I knew the importance of throwing strike one — not being afraid to throw strike one — and getting the leadoff hitter out. I started logging that to see what the success rate of that was for me. I also logged my first-inning runs, because 32 percent of my total runs, in 1991, came in the first inning.

“I figured out that I went to my breaking ball earlier in the first inning if I got in trouble. I went to my bailout pitch instead of continuing to make pitches with my fastball. In 1992, I started throwing more fastballs in the first inning. Everyone thought I was a breaking ball pitcher, and I think there was a blend of that — I was just shy of 50 percent fastballs in 1991. In 1992, I was over 60 percent. Even though I only threw 85-86 [mph], I threw more fastballs.

“The scouting reports we had were pretty minimal. We didn’t have Inside Edge or even MLB Network. We just had ESPN, which was still kind of in its infancy. So, I made my own scouting reports. The advance report would come in, but that was probably based on a right-hander who threw harder than me, threw a lot of changeups or had a better breaking ball. I wanted to form my own scouting report and use that information the next time I played against that team.

“The pitching coach put this [scouting report] together. Look at these two. They both say: ‘Stay down, breaking balls, can jam.’ We didn’t have anything like video or hot-and-cold zones — they were pretty rudimentary reports. I think our advance scout probably called the pitching coach who put these together, and he gave them to us. That’s what we had to work from.

“For Sammy Sosa — he was pretty young then — this report says, ‘Free swinger, can jam late, will chase up and down.’ What I wrote down after the game was ‘Breaking balls, fastball up, will chase.’ So those were pretty close. Those were the things that played with a young, aggressive Sammy Sosa.”

On his first start against the Cubs, on April 10, 1992: “It was at Wrigley Field and it looks like I got a no-decision. I allowed one run in eight innings. In that game I’m primarily going on what I know about them from the previous year, as well as the report. I’m also going off situations and pitching to my strengths. Mark Grace usually liked the ball away… let’s see what we had on him: ‘Start away, finish in, mix him up.’

“I wrote down I stranded a man on second, and with no outs, Grace hit the ball to short without advancing the runner. That was probably on a fastball away. I didn’t want to give him anything to pull there, which goes into the scouting report, but I also wanted him to hit the ball to the left side. It’s important to know what the hitter is trying to do. In that situation, Grace would have been trying to pull something and advance the runner.

“In that game, I threw 66 fastballs out of 94 pitches. I threw 19 out of 29 first-pitch strikes. If I got ahead, 15 of those 19 hitters I got out. There was one first-pitch hit and two first-pitch outs. This was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the details, but based on what I wrote down it looks like I pitched well.

“On the top of the page, I wrote ’Phil Collins: In the Air Tonight.’ That would have been a song I listened to, to do some imagery with. I was doing a lot of visualization back then.”

On his second start against the Cubs, on June 9, 1992: “I threw 94 pitches, 49 were fastballs, and I gave up nine hits. There were five first-pitch outs, and three first-pitch hits, so they were swinging. I gave up four runs, all of them in the second. That’s when the damage was done. But I pitched through the eighth inning and kept us in the game; it was a 6-5 final. It looks like I didn’t write down what my mix was.

“What I wrote down for Sandberg was ‘Start away, finish bad in or bad away — went to right field on fastball away, early in game. Got out third time with fastballs in.’ So, yeah, I had to show him in, hard. He wore me out. He hit the ball against me a lot.

‘Vizcaino, down and away, backdoor.’ I used to backdoor my sinker a lot to right-handed-hitters. I tried to, anyway.

‘Dawson, same as Sandberg.’ You can kind of categorize hitters with similarities. Andre Dawson was more of a free-swinger than Sandberg, but if you didn’t show him in, and you let him get his arms extended, he was going to hurt you. You could get Dawson to swing at more breaking balls than you could Sandberg. Went to right field on a fastball away,’ so he didn‘t try to pull that. Maybe I had a good curveball that day and threw more of those. After the bad inning, maybe I started mixing it up better.

‘Grace: Have to mix, situations, see what he does, change, backdoor slider.’ Again, it comes back to the situation; he was such a situational hitter. He was a good hitter who could hurt you different ways. He got two hits on fastballs that game. ‘Stay away or up and in.’ Yeah, he could get his hands on top of the ball and hit it the other way, so down-and-away was kind of a safe spot against him.

“If you continued to throw him fastballs away, he’d adjust. Seeing what he did with a changeup and a backdoor slider gave me two other options on the outer half of the plate. You need to change things up on a good fastball hitter. I threw a lot of backdoor sliders to left-handed hitters.

“Going back to Sosa, I noted: ‘Has been hitting slider.’ That would refer to my own slider, so a curveball was going to be better; his was a slider-speed bat. That was a time when he was going to hit the fastball, and if you threw him a breaking ball that could speed up his bat… a curve would be a better speed to throw him, because he’s so impatient. The scouting report said, ‘Free swinger, can jam, will chase up and down.’

“I wrote: ‘On fastball early; need to pick up on that earlier.’ That’s part of why they scored four runs in the second inning. The game before I had thrown so many fastballs, and as I always used to say, ‘He who adjusts first, wins.’ I went at them with the same game plan I had in April, and they adjusted, so I had to readjust and throw more breaking balls.”

On his third start against the Cubs, on June 15, 1992: “In six innings, I gave up nine hits. I didn’t worry about hits, because I always gave up hits. ‘Seventy-three pitches, 35 fastballs.’ I also wrote, ‘Was not there this game; got what I expected; couldn’t change mental images.’ This is where the mental side comes in. I beat myself. Like I wrote, this was a game where I got what I expected. To me, that means I went into this game not really confident, for whatever reason — maybe because of my last start. ‘Did not take it one pitch at a time.’ I probably didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t.

“I was maybe fastball-shy after my last start. ‘Twenty curveballs, 14 sliders.’ That’s a lot of breaking balls. ‘Gave up two 0-2 hits, a three-run home run on 0-2.’ I didn’t make a pitch when I had to. ‘Situations. You know better on 0-2 with Dawson than to try to go up and away — he’ll chase down and away.

“Earlier I wrote that he’d chase the ball down, or up, and that it ‘must be up.’ I probably didn’t get that pitch high enough. I think I beat myself up pretty good after that one.

‘Mark Grace isn’t Babe Ruth, stop getting burned on pitches inside, make adjustments; follow the reports — no back-to-back curveballs and that’s what I do. Know the situation.

“In the game prior to this one, I threw Grace a fastball away in the same situation and he hit a ground ball to short. In this game, I’m pretty sure I had my head up my butt and threw him off-speed, and he pulled it.

You don’t have to throw strikes, get ahead and throw balls.’

“I threw too many strikes in this game, especially on 0-2. I didn’t waste pitches. I went at them. I didn’t walk many guys when I pitched, but that didn’t mean I had to throw strikes all the time, especially in plus counts. I could afford to go deeper into a count. I probably got beat on some inside pitches that game. I had to pitch in — but off the plate — to be effective.

Greg Maddux beat me that day, and he was actually my scouting report. I used to tape his games and watch how he pitched people. I’d do my own scouting report off him, because of the way he pitched with his fastball.”

On his fourth start against the Cubs, on Sept. 13, 1992:
Twenty-three out of 30 first-pitch strikes, four first-pitch outs, one first-pitch hit, 17 resulting outs.’ Against Sandberg: ‘F9, F7, HR on 2-1 fastball in, 6-3; Stay away early, in late; when in doubt, stay away, show change down and away.’ See, Sandberg was a guy who — I never threw a lot of right-on-right changeups — but he was a guy I could have done that to. My changeup wasn’t a strength — it was probably my fourth pitch — but he was on the fastball. I couldn’t throw it by him, so I should have thrown another pitch that looked like a fastball, to offset his timing.

Pitched well but battled. Didn’t have good stuff or command but found a way.’

“It looks like they had a lot of first-ball swings, Sandberg swung at a first pitch. I threw a lot of fist-pitch strikes — and 90 pitches in seven innings — and didn’t walk anybody. I probably mixed it up well, but I didn’t feel like I was my normal, self command-wise. I wasn’t sharp, but they only scored twice, so I managed to get outs anyway.”

On his fifth start against the Cubs, on Sept. 18, 1992:Worst game of season. Just didn’t make pitches when I had to. Need to really concentrate on keeping the ball down in this place.’ This was another back-to-back start. It was at Wrigley, and my ERA went up to 2.27.

Sandberg — hit the SOB! Maddux .203 BAA, 12 HBP.’

“I don’t think I hit many batters that year, and I was mad at myself. Sandberg was on the plate and I never made him uncomfortable. I can’t remember what he did that day, but I wrote: ‘Curveball down and away, hadn’t thrown many to him this year; when you come in, go in hard and if you hit him, you hit him; when you go in, go in with seams to get movement.’

“It looks like I should have gone with two-seamers. He probably hit me again. After all that season, I’m pissed off that he had been wearing me down. I didn’t like facing him, but I shouldn’t have been afraid to go inside. If I hit somebody, I hit somebody. I think I was really conscious of not wanting base runners. I already had enough of them, because I pitched to contact, so I didn’t want hit anyone when I could let them get themselves out.

“I’m not sure exactly where I got Maddux’s batting-average-against, but it’s not like we were cavemen back then. It might have come from the game notes.

“How many times has Miguel Cabrera been hit the last two seasons? He’s a great hitter, so you have to show him in. Not that you want to go head-high, but you have to go inside. I think I did this better later on. Remember, this was just my second full season in the big leagues. I didn’t have my first full season until 1991, so I’m still a young pitcher there. I was 31 years old, but experience-wise, I was younger. Later on, I started to aim at their belt buckle; I threw at the space between the plate and their belt buckle, so they moved their midsection. That was something I should have been doing to Sandberg in this game. I still had things to learn about pitching.”