Author Archive

Sunday Notes: Nick Markakis Has His Timing Down

Nick Markakis is having a marvelous year. Now in his 13th big-league season — his fourth with the Atlanta Braves — the perennially-underappreciated outfielder is slashing .323/.388/.489, and he leads the senior circuit in base hits (119) and doubles (29). On Tuesday, he’ll take the field as an All-Star for the first time.

With the possible exception of a splashy 2008 campaign in Baltimore, this has been the lefty swinger’s best season from a statistical standpoint. (Given the Braves’ better-than-expected record, it’s been a boffo one from a team perspective, as well.) The secret to his age-34 success hasn’t been a springboard so much as it’s been cumulative. Fifteen years after he was drafted out of Young Harris (GA) College, he’s finding himself in full stride.

“My timing has been really good,” Markakis responded when I asked why he’s been swinging such a hot stick. “Hitting is all about timing. What I’ve learned over the years is that this game is constantly about adjustments, and timing is everything. If you’re not on time and can still hit, you’re a pretty damn good hitter. If you can figure out timing, you’re going to be a great hitter. Being on time with the fastball and being able to adjust to off-speed pitches is really the key for me right now.”

Markakis hasn’t radically changed his timing mechanism — there is no new leg kick, for instance — but there are some nuanced adjustments. According to the outfielder, they’re equal parts subtle and continuous. Read the rest of this entry »


Broadcasters’ View: Who Have Been the Top Players in the Midwest League?

Who have been the best players in the Midwest League so far this season? I recently posed that question to some of the circuit’s broadcasters, with an important qualifier: I requested that they base their selections on what they’ve seen with their own eyes and not on reputations. I also asked for snapshot observations on each player named, which the respondents graciously took the time to provide.

As noted in last season’s year-end survey, the Midwest League comprised two divisions, with an unbalanced schedule. Couple that with the fact that this is a midseason look, and the respondents will have seen some players more than others (or not at all). For that reason, notable prospects may not appear on a particular list.

Six broadcasters participated, three from the Eastern Division and three from the Western Division. Their respective lists were put together within the past month.

———

Nathan Baliva, Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)

1. Royce Lewis: Smooth in the field when we saw him in April. Hit the ball hard and to all fields. Consistent and you can see why he went 1-1.

2. Hunter Greene: So raw but so much fun to watch. His first 20-some pitches, and 45 of the first 46, were fastballs against us, so he wasn’t working on offspeed stuff that game — but when the fastballs were all 97-101, it was fun to watch the radar gun. He threw strikes — no walks, two hits, five Ks in four innings against us — and seems to have figured things out after a rough start. Will be fun to watch how he grows.

3. Alex Kirilloff: At least we aren’t the only team he crushes. What he has done coming off injury is awesome and very impressive after missing a full season of development at his age.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Craig Counsell on Probabilities and the Big Picture

Craig Counsell spent time as a special assistant to then-GM Doug Melvin before taking over as the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in May 2015. That experience has proven to be valuable. Gifted with a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, the cerebral former infielder can better go about the job of leading a team on the field — not so much in terms of the Xs and Os, but rather the ability to see the big picture.

That doesn’t mean strategic decisions, or the statistical probabilities that go with them, don’t matter. They matter a lot, and Counsell approaches them with care. Even so, knowing that something has a slightly better than 50/50 chance to work doesn’t mean it’s an obvious choice. One can embrace analytics — which Counsell certainly does — and still let the gut play a role.

———

Craig Counsell: “It was a little scary, frankly, to go into the office every day. It was something that had never been a part of my life. As a player, you felt like you were lucky that you never had to go into an office and sit behind a desk. But I’m so glad I did that, because I learned a lot about different people’s perspectives and about how everybody is trying to help create an organization that wins baseball games.

“I worked for Doug Melvin. Is he [an old-school baseball guy]? I wouldn’t say it like that. What I learned from Doug is how he put a staff together, how he created a culture, how he treated people, how he treated his team — ‘his team,’ meaning everybody that worked around him — and how he welcomed opposing views and allowed them to be heard. And his patience as far as making decisions and letting things play out, which was probably a trait of experience… It was really valuable to watch him use that to his advantage.

Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: What Ballplayers Talk About When They Talk About Baseball

As a fan, you engage in baseball talk with family, friends, and acquaintances. What those conversations consist of will vary, depending on a number of factors. Level of interest. Overall (or nuanced) knowledge of the game. Current hot topics. Favorite teams and players. They all play into the baseball-related interactions you have on a day-to-day basis.

What about the players themselves? What do they talk to each other about when they’re talking baseball? I posed that question to a cross section of players — a dozen in all — over the course of the last month or so. Here is what they had to say.

———

Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles pitcher: “With pitchers, it’s usually, ‘What do have on this guy? How would you pitch him?’ With hitters, I like to hear about their approaches against other pitchers. It’s interesting to hear how they go after certain relievers. For instance, how do they approach facing Craig Kimbrel? I’ll also compare myself to certain other pitchers and ask how they approach them.

“We’ll talk about players around the two leagues, although it’s more that we’ll bring them up. We won’t necessarily talk about them in much depth. How they’re doing this year and stuff like that. Josh Hader came up when I was talking to Mark Trumbo and Danny Valencia on the bus. It was, ‘Did you see what he did last night? He struck out six straight guys.’ We talked about how he’s having a ridiculous year.”

Charlie Culberson, Atlanta Braves infielder: “What’s going on in the game. Different things happening in the game, maybe players who are doing really well. Guys who are always hitting home runs. Pitchers who are striking everybody out. I’m taking with other guys on the bench about the game and different situations.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: C.D. Pelham’s Heater Does Just About Everything

C.D. Pelham has had a good couple of weeks. On June 22, the 23-year-old southpaw was promoted from the high-A Down East Wood Ducks to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Two days ago he got even better news. Thanks in large part to a fastball that has a mind of its own, Pelham learned that he’d be representing the Texas Rangers in next Sunday’s All-Star Futures game.

A few short years ago, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound Pelham had little idea where his pitches were going. In his first two seasons after being selected in the 33rd round of the 2015 draft out of Spartanburg Methodist College, he walked a staggering 56 batters in 56-and-a-third innings.

The lefty reined in his wildness by getting his mind right. Pelham pointed to the mental side of the game as having been the biggest issue, explaining that he lacked confidence and spent too much time dwelling on his previous pitch — “whether it was good or bad” — rather than focusing on the one he was about to throw. Conversations with a “peak performance guy” in the Rangers organization (Josiah Igono) helped him turn a corner, and while no one is ever going to mistake him for Greg Maddux, Pelham no longer needs a GPS to find the strike zone. In 32-and-a-third innings this year, he’s issued a much more respectable 15 free passes.

He’s also missed a lot of barrels. Pelham has fanned 40, held opposing batters to a .197 average, and he’s yet to be taken deep. Squaring up his heater is hard for two reasons. Not only does it sit in the mid-to-upper-90s, it moves… well, in pretty much whichever direction it pleases. Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Rick Renteria on Mentoring Young Players

In many respects, Rick Renteria wears multiple hats as manager of the Chicago White Sox. The AL Central team he’s leading is in full-rebuild mode, its roster populated with a plethora of inexperienced players. That makes him a good fit for the position. As Cubs skipper Joe Maddon opined at the outset of spring training, “There are managers, and there are managers who are also good coaches. Not everybody can do both. [Renteria] can coach it, and he can manage it.”

The 56-year-old former big-league infielder has 20 years of both under his belt, the majority — but not all — in the minor leagues. He was at the helm for Chicago’s NL entry in 2014 — Maddon replaced him the following year — before moving across town in 2016 to serve as Robin Ventura’s bench coach. Last season, he took over as manager, where his job is less about winning now than it is to mold young players into winners. That requires patience and an ability to instruct, and along with good leadership skills, Renteria possesses each of those attributes.

———

Rick Renteria: “Coming up through the system… every organization is different in terms of their philosophy, yet they’re all the same. We all want a player to understand, fundamentally, how to go about playing the game — how to run the bases, how to have an approach at the plate, how to defend, when to throw to what base. Things of that nature.

“Until you get here, though… you can be very well taught, but there’s a different dynamic in the big leagues, and it involves emotion and your mindset. No matter how well prepared, you’re going to make a mistake or two. Of course, that could be said for guys who have been in the big leagues for years.

“When you get here from the minor leagues, you continue to understand, and get a feel for, who you are as a player — what you’re supposed to be and what you can and cannot do. That comes through experience. And again, a lot of it has to do with emotions and your mindset. The emotions can speed the game up for you and take you out of your normal element.

Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 15

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the 15th installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers —Justin Anderson, Archie Bradley, and Brent Suter — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Justin Anderson (Angels) on His Spiked Slider

“Some people might think it’s a curveball, but it’s a slider. It kind of has the same plane as my fastball. That’s the idea. You want one pitch going one way, and one going the other. My thought process is to throw it as hard as I can and try to get break on it with my wrist flipping.

“It’s not a traditional slider grip by any means. It’s a grip I was always curious about. There’s a guy we’d always watch in the minor leagues — I played against him coming up — and we were like, ‘This guy has one of the best sliders ever.’ His name is Dean Deetz. I stole it from him. I finally saw his grip on a picture, on Twitter, last October or maybe in November. I was like, ‘OK, so this is how the guy throws it. I’m going to give it a go.’ That’s what I did. I ran with it.

Anderson’s spiked slider grip.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Torey Lovullo on Conferring with His Coaches

Torey Lovullo relies a lot on his coaching staff. Each has his own role and responsibilities, and the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper is well aware of the value they provide. He’d be the first to tell you that 2017 NL Manager of the Year honors — ditto the D-Backs’ playoff berth — wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of his coaches.

He interacts with them frequently. Communication is vital to any relationship, and Lovullo is a big believer in getting input before making a decision. It’s common to see him conferring with one of his coaches during a game, and behind-the-scenes conversations are a constant. Managers may ultimately have the final say — that’s the case here — but when Lovullo makes a move, there’s a pretty good chance collaboration was part of the process.

———

Torey Lovullo: “[Bench coach Jerry Narron] understands the strategy of the game — the moving parts of the game — as well as anybody I’ve been around. He understands the rules as well as anybody. And Jerry’s ability to communicate is something I’m really thankful for. We can hit on any range of our daily communication and not miss.

“I rely on him mostly as my backbone. He’s watching the game in much the same way I am, projecting a lot of moves. I can throw an assortment of things out there — machine gun five thoughts — and he’ll quickly find the information whether it’s on one of the iPads or something we have on paper in the dugout. He’ll give me his thoughts on a particular move.

“He’s projecting what’s happening inside their dugout, or in their bullpen, and then giving me options — two or three options at a time — of what we should do. They’re thoughts I’m having, but I haven’t quite got there. And his timing is perfect. He know when, and how, to say things for a given situation.

Read the rest of this entry »


Colin Moran on How He Turned a Corner

Colin Moran was at a crossroads. The 2016 season was over, and the left-handed-hitting third baseman had just slashed .259/.329/.378, with 10 home runs and 124 strikeouts, in Triple-A. His pair of big-league cameos had been every bit as abysmal — in 25 plate appearances for the Houston Astros, he logged three base hits and one free pass. Truth be told, the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 draft had essentially gone from prospect to suspect due to his lack of production.

Moran recognized that fact. Moreso, he did something about it. As Tony Kemp, his former teammate, related to me last fall, Moran came to the conclusion that his “swing doesn’t play in the big leagues,” and told his hitting coordinator, “I need to switch something.”

He did just that, and the results speak for themselves. Moran returned to Triple-A in 2017 and slashed an eye-opening .301/.369/542, with 18 home runs in only 350 at-bats. (A facial fracture, courtesy of a foul ball, knocked him out of action for six weeks.) His turnaround season included seven games with the eventual World Series champs, for whom he went 4-for-11 and hit first MLB long ball.

The 25-year-old University of North Carolina product is now a Pittsburgh Pirate, having been traded from Houston to the Steel City this past January in the five-player Gerrit Cole deal. In 248 plate appearances for his new club, Moran is hitting .265/.347/.419 with seven home runs. He shared the story of his career-altering adjustments prior to a recent game at PNC Park.

———

Colin Moran: “In a perfect world, I would have made the changes earlier. That’s something I think about a lot. It often takes a bad year to get to, ‘Alright, let’s change some stuff, let’s figure out what works,’ and unfortunately that’s what happened with me. It’s preferable to think forward rather than wait for that bad year.

“My swing was off when I got called up in 2016. Things didn’t feel all that great with it — I didn’t know why — and I got exposed, especially at the top of the zone. I remember my first at-bat. You kind of know in the batter’s box when guys are attacking a weakness, and the first few pitches were up and in. It was like, ‘Man.’ Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 14

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the fourteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Yoshihisa Hirano, Joe Musgrove, and James Paxton — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks) on His Splitter

“I started throwing it when I turned pro in Japan. The truth is, when I was in college, I was able to get hitters out without having a splitty. A fastball and a slider was enough. When I got to the pros, there was a lot of talk of needing a pitch that comes down and about how there’s more success with that pitch. I started toying with it a little bit my last year of college, and when I got to the pros I started using it.

Kazuhiro Sasaki was a big splitty-forkball thrower. There are some books about him, and I studied those. No one really taught me anything. I just went out and started playing with it, checking the books on how he grips it. I found a grip that was comfortable for me. There are some guys who throw it the same way, but there are other pitchers in Japan who grip it differently, too. They have a different placement within the seams.

Hirano’s splitter-forkball.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Snapshots from SABR 48 in Pittsburgh

A pair of PNC Park official scorers spoke at SABR’s 48th-annual national convention on Thursday, and both shared good stories. One came from Evan Pattak, who explained why beat writers are no longer hired into the position. The precipitating incident occurred on June 3, 1979.

Bruce Kison took a no-hitter in the late innings against San Diego,” recounted Pattak. “A Padre (Barry Evans) hit a ball down the third base line that the third baseman (Phil Garner) couldn’t handle. The official scorer was Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press, and he ruled it a hit, ending the no-hitter. Everybody at the park agreed with the call except Kison.

“This created a very awkward situation for Dan, who had to go into the locker room after game. He asked Kison, ‘What did you think of the call?’ Bruce let him know, in no uncertain terms. At that point, the newspapers realized they were placing their beat writers in untenable situations. At the end of the 1979 season, they banned beat writers from scoring, a ban that exists to this day.”

Bob Webb told of a game between the Brewers and Pirates on August 31, 2008. In this case, he played the role of Donovan, albeit with a notably different dynamic. Read the rest of this entry »


Orioles Outfield Prospect Ryan McKenna Is Owning the Carolinas

Ryan McKenna has been pounding Carolina League pitching. Playing for the Frederick Keys, the 21-year-old Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect is slashing a lusty .377/.467/.556 with 18 doubles and eight home runs. He leads the High-A circuit in batting average by a whopping 57 points. (Milwaukee Brewers 2017 first-rounder Keston Hiura ranks second.)

McKenna, who started in center field and went 1-for-2 in last night’s Carolina League All-Star Game, was taken in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of a Dover, New Hampshire, high school. He bypassed a scholarship offer from Liberty University to sign with the Orioles. The decision was an easy one to make.

“I was ready to play,” explained McKenna, who grew up in Berwick, Maine, a short drive from the Catholic school where he excelled as a raw-but-promising prep. “I had a good opportunity at Liberty, a Division I school with a great program, but this path was meant for me. Ultimately, my gift has been athletics, so solely focusing on that was the right journey.”

He had little idea what to expect when the journey started. Having “no reference point to go off of,” he was simply excited that “one of the 30 ball clubs believed in me.” (And, based on his breakthrough, they certainly haven’t stopped believing.)

McKenna knew going in that the Orioles were interested, but when and where he would ultimately go in the draft remained a mystery.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Buck Showalter on the Changing Game

Buck Showalter has been around the game for a long time. He’s been at the helm in Baltimore since 2010. Before that, he skippered the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers. After five years of managing in the minors, he got his first big-league job in 1992. It’s safe to say that Showalter has seen baseball evolve, and it’s equally safe to say that he’s evolved along with it.

At his core, though, Showalter has remained much the same. He’s smart, and to his credit — although sometimes to his detriment — he’s rarely shy about expressing an opinion. At 62 years old, with four decades in the game, he’s earned the right to do so. Buck being Buck, that’s usually a good thing.

———

Buck Showalter: “One thing about analytics is that we all question what we don’t understand. You need to learn, so during the spring we do Analytics for Dummies. That’s what we call it. We take our most veteran baseball people, our on-the-field lifers, and bring them upstairs to go over every analytic there is and find the [equivalent of a] .300 batting average in every one of them. We take the black cloud of unknown away from it.

“What we’ve found is that most of our veteran people go, ‘Oh, really? That’s all it is?’ They’re not demeaning it, they’re just saying, ‘Now I understand.’ Know where the .300 batting average of WAR is, and what it tells you. Just as important, what doesn’t it tell you that you have to be aware of.

“There’s also the environment you create. You need an environment where you’ll respect what they bring and where thy’ll respect what the field personnel can bring. The best organizations are the ones that branch those together to make evaluations.

“A problem you run into now is that the players feel almost robotically evaluated. The sixth tool is not… it’s only evaluated by the people that are with them every day. The makeup, the want-to, the crunch-time guys: everybody on the field knows who they are.

Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 13

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the thirteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Dennis Eckersley, Michael Fulmer, Miguel Gonzalez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Dennis Eckersley (Hall of Famer) on His Slider

“I couldn’t throw a curveball because of my angle. I couldn’t get on top of it. That’s all they’d ever tell me. Every time somebody would whistle at me, it would be, ‘Get your arm up! Get your elbow up!’ But a slider came pretty easy. It was just, ‘Turn your wrist a little bit.’

“I went straight from high school to pro ball [in 1972], and all of a sudden my fastball didn’t play. I was in the California League when I was 17, and they could hit. The next thing you know, I’m throwing a lot more breaking balls than I ever did in my life. I didn’t have any choice.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Jeimer Candelario is Palm Up, Gap-to-Gap, a Talented Tiger

Jeimer Candelario is establishing himself as one of the best young players on a young Detroit Tigers team. Playing in his first full big-league season, the 24-year-old third baseman is slashing a solid .251/.346/.476 with 10 home runs. His 2.0 WAR leads all Tigers.

Acquired along with Isaac Paredes in the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at last summer’s trade deadline, “Candy” is a switch-hitter with pop. His M.O. is gap-to-gap, and the orientation of his top hand is a focal point of his swing.

“I want to hit the ball with palm up,” explained Candelario. “If you’re palm up and you hit the ball, you finish up. I try to be connected. My back side, my hands, my hips, and my legs come in the same moment. That way, when I hit the ball I hit the ball with power, with palm up.”

Candelario credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Andy Haines — at the time the club’s hitting coordinator — for helping him develop his stroke. Now that he’s in Motown, he’s heeding the advice of Lloyd McClendon, who is emphasizing “How to load and then follow through, which helps me have some doubles and homers. If I just concentrate on hitting line drives, the ball will carry.”

McClendon is bullish on the young infielder’s future. Ditto his here and now. Read the rest of this entry »


Phillies Prospect Darick Hall on Learning to Launch

Darick Hall was leading the Florida State League with 11 home runs when he was promoted to Double-A Reading on the first of June. That should come as no surprise. One year ago, the 22-year-old first baseman led the South Atlantic League with 27 bombs in first full professional season. In 2016, he went deep 20 times at Dallas Baptist University prior to being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round.

Hall, who was slashing .277/.367/.538 at the time of his promotion, began thriving after he adopted a high-launch-angle swing in his final collegiate season. And he’s certainly not turning back. While the 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-handed hitter is off to a slow start in the Eastern League — a .497 OPS and a pair of home runs in 12 games — he profiles as one of the best young power hitters in the Phillies system.

Hall talked about his game, including his power stroke and improved plate discipline, shortly before moving up to Double-A.

———

Hall on becoming a more complete hitter: “Any time you’re labelled a power hitter, your power tool is kind of what shines. But you always want to be a complete hitter. You don’t want to sacrifice at-bats just to hit home runs. Your goal is to hit the ball square as many times as you can, and you definitely want to walk. Power hitters sometimes have a high strikeout rate, a low walk rate, and a low average. That’s not something you aspire to. You obviously want the home runs, but you also want to get on base.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Ron Gardenhire on Players from His Past

Ron Gardenhire’s experience in the game extends far beyond his 14 seasons as a big-league manager. The 60-year-old “Gardy” has also spent time as a coach and a minor-league manager — and, before that, he played nine seasons as an infielder in the New York Mets system. Primarily a shortstop, Gardenhire appeared in 285 games with the NL East club between 1981 and -85.

He’s also a lifelong fan of the game. The bulk of Gardenhire’s formative years were spent in small-town Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where he collected bubble-gum cards, religiously tuned in to The Game of the Week, and cheered for his heroes. Then he got to live his dream. Gardenhire played with and against the likes of Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, and Pete Rose. As he told me recently at Fenway Park, “I’ve been fortunate.”

———

Ron Gardenhire: “I was an Okie, so I followed the guys who were from Oklahoma more than anything else. Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Bobby Murcer. I also watched the Dodgers, Don Drysdale and those guys, because my dad was in the military and we were out in Arvin, California when he was overseas in Korea. That’s when I really got into baseball. I collected bubble-gum cards, and all that stuff, with my cousins out there.

“Every Saturday we would hunker down in front of the TV and watch the Game of the Week. In our area — this is when we were back in Oklahoma — a lot of the time it was the Cardinals. They were prominent there. We’d also get to see the Yankees quite a bit, and the Dodgers.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation with Eric Thames

Eric Thames was activated from the disabled list yesterday, which makes this a good time to unearth a conversation I had with the Milwaukee Brewers slugger in spring training. It was originally going to run a handful of weeks into the season, but then Thames went down with a thumb injury. Consequently, the interview was shelved, as well.

Prior to landing on the DL — he was hurt diving for a ground ball on April 24 — the 31-year-old first baseman sported a .976 OPS and had gone deep seven times. The start was reminiscent of last season, when he’d been even better in the early going. Back from a four-year stint in South Korea, Thames had 11 bombs and a 1.276 OPS when the 2017 calendar flipped to May.

His summer wasn’t nearly as sunny. Thames scuffled more often than not, and by the time September rolled around his slash line was down to .235/.349/.510. Then came a late-season surge. With the Brewers battling for a playoff berth — they ultimately fell a game short — Thames reached base 12 times in his final 23 plate appearances. After closing August on a 2-for-27 skid, he logged a 1.004 OPS in September.

———

Thames on his up-and-down 2017 season: “After my hot start, Ryan Braun went down [from May 25-June 27] and I had no protection in the lineup. Guys started pitching around me a little bit and I responded by being more aggressive. I wanted to hit a home run every time — I tried to do too much — and that doesn’t work too well. I became my own enemy, right then and there.”

Read the rest of this entry »