Author Archive

Rule-5 Eligible, Patrick Murphy Made the Blue Jays’ 40-Man

Patrick Murphy won’t be available in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Along with four other players, the 23-year-old right-hander was added to the Toronto Blue Jays’ 40-man roster yesterday. His addition was well-earned. A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Murphy has been a picture of perseverance. As noted in the feature we did on him last February, Murphy has undergone Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and had a nerve moved in his elbow.

This season, he went from question mark to fast-mover. In 27 starts — all but one with High-A Dunedin — Murphy fashioned a tidy 2.64 ERA and fanned 141 batters in 152.2 innings. Those numbers earned him an accolade; Murphy was named the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Year.

The innings total was especially meaningful to him, as was the fact that he made all of his scheduled starts. Calling it “a big step,” the Chandler, Arizona native was able to show the organization — and prove to himself — that his am and body could hold up over a full season.

He also showed that he could hit triple digits. But while he considered it “pretty cool” to have hit 100 mph on the radar gun, Murphy was more enamored with a pitch that traversed 60-feet-six-inches in a comparably meandering manner. Read the rest of this entry »

Ray Black on 100-Plus Heat, Health, and Embracing Analytics

Ray Black hasn’t received much attention here at FanGraphs. That’s understandable. The 28-year-old San Francisco Giants reliever has consistently been clocked at over 100 mph, but only when he’s not on the shelf. And he’s spent a lot of time on the shelf.

Black had Tommy John surgery as a high school senior, a knee issue in college, then missed his first two-plus professional seasons after undergoing labrum surgery. A seventh-round pick by the Giants in 2011, Black didn’t take the mound until 2014. More obstacles followed. Notable among them were a second elbow surgery — this time to remove a bone spur — which resulted in him missing almost all of 2017.

This past season he missed a lot of bats — and not just down on the farm. Black made his long-in-coming MLB debut in early July and went on to fan 33 batters in 23.1 innings. He was even more overpowering in the minors, logging 66 punch-outs in 35.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Not surprisingly, velocity played a big role in that success; he reached triple digits numerous times.

His heater and a return to health weren’t the only reasons he reached the big leagues this summer. With the help of San Francisco’s minor league pitching coordinator, and the Giants analytics staff, Black has become a bit of pitching nerd.


Ray Black on technology and his slider: “The increase of technology in the game is incredible. StatCast. TrackMan. The Rapsodo machines. They show you your release point, the way your fingers come off the ball — all of this in super slow motion. You can break it down to so many frames per second.

“After one game against the Diamondbacks, they showed me the side-by-side of my fastball and my slider. If I throw my slider correctly, it’s mimicking my fastball — I’m keeping it on the same plane long enough that the hitter can’t recognize it. The technology can basically tell you if you had a good one or a bad one, and I had it working that day. This was after I got sent back down to Triple-A in late August.

“I’d given up a walk-off home run on my slider, in Cincinnati [on August 17]. When I went back and looked at that one, side by side with my fastball, I could see a big hump. I looked at the velo as well, and it had gone from an 88-90-mph pitch down to an 83-84-mph pitch. It was slurvier, with a hump, and it got tagged. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Kieran Lovegrove is Loquacious (and Available)

Kieran Lovegrove is among the plurality of players currently available in the minor league free-agent market. That should change in the not-too-distant future. The 24-year-old right-hander throws gas, and while his location is sometimes scattershot, he’s moving in the right direction. Six years after being drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of a Mission Viejo, California high school, he finished this season in Triple-A Columbus.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa — he came Stateside at age five — Lovegrove made giant strides this year. Pitching out of the bullpen, he punched out 10 batters per nine innings and put up a career-best 2.73 ERA in 41 appearances. Two months after being promoted to Double-A, he represented the World Team in July’s All-Star Futures Game.

It’s taken the 2012 third-round pick time, but he’s finally begun to figure things out — at least when it comes to what works for him, and what doesn’t. While he’s no dum-dum, his attempted deep dives into the hows-and-whys of his chosen craft have only served to muddy the waters.

“I’m a thinker, and if I’m given too much information I start to think about it,” reasoned Lovegrove, whose level of familiarity with Yogi Berra is unknown. “Because of that, I’ve kind of had to avoid the analytics thing. But I have found out that when my ball is down in the zone it tends to sink, and when it’s up in the zone it four-seams. When I can throw up is when I’ve been going down. It’s all about setting up hitters, and actually pitching as opposed to just throwing the ball.”

His heater has a mind of its own. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Skepticism Aside, Steven Brault Would Clone Ohtani

Does Shohei Ohtani’s success portend more two-way players in MLB? Opinions vary, albeit with the bears clearly outnumbering the bulls — at least in terms of expected production. While a certain amount of copy-catting seems inevitable, the presumptive American League rookie of the year paired a .925 OPS with a 3.31 ERA and a 10.95 strikeout rate. He was dominant on both sides of the ball in a way that’s unlikely to be replicated by anyone other than himself.

A pair of former two-way players I spoke to this season are among the skeptics. Which isn’t to say they hate the idea. Nor do they feel the Brendan McKays of the world don’t deserve every opportunity to show they can follow in Ohtani’s footsteps (hopefully without elbow surgery being part of the equation).

Steven Brault created a bit of a buzz by going his first 33 big-league plate appearances without striking out. On the heels of that eye-opening accomplishment, I asked the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander for his opinion on why a player should, and shouldn’t, be able to play both ways at the highest level.

“The reason you should is that you’re good enough,” responded Brault, who’d excelled as a two-way player at Division II Regis University. “If you’re a good enough hitter, and a good enough pitcher, it stands to reason that your team would want you to do both. The reason you shouldn’t is that you can’t play every day. That’s been the case with Ohtani. On the days he pitched he didn’t hit, and on the day before he didn’t hit. Same for the day after. They had to make sure his body was ready to pitch. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation with Cardinals Hitting Coach Jeff Albert

Jeff Albert brings a combination of common sense and analytic know-how to his new job as St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach. He also brings with him a degree of familiarity. Prior to joining the Astros organization in 2013, Albert spent five years tutoring up-and-coming hitters in the Cardinals’ farm system.

Last season was his first at the big-league level. After four years as Houston’s minor-league hitting coordinator, the 38-year-old spent the recently completed campaign as the Astros’ assistant hitting coach. His expertise is multi-faceted. Along with being a new-age hitting guru, Albert is a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist with a master’s degree in exercise science.


Jeff Albert on hitting: “From a coaching perspective, I think you could make the argument that art and science are the same thing. The art is the way you apply the objective information — the scientific information — within the context of the human element and the environment. So, I don’t look at it as being one or the other. I look at it as having information that will help an individual player perform better.

Ted Williams gets a lot of credit for his book [The Science of Hitting], and rightly so. Wade Boggs had one I really liked — The Techniques of Modern Hitting — and he’s talking about many of the same things. The two are considered different types of hitters, but both are talking about things like swing path, hitting line drives, and making solid contact to the outfield.

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Sunday Notes: Rays Prospect Brock Burke Is On The Rise

Brock Burke was nowhere to be found on top-prospect lists when he was featured here at FanGraphs last June. But he did merit our attention. Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in the 2014 draft had one of the lowest ERAs in the minors at the time. While the sample size was small — just nine starts on the season — his dominance was undeniable. He’d begun to put himself on the map.

The southpaw out of Evergreen, Colorado wasn’t nearly as good after a mid-summer promotion from low-A Bowling Green to high-A Charlotte. His ERA as a Stone Crab was exponentially higher than it was as a Hot Rod — a Brobdingnagian 4.64 as opposed to a Lilliputian 1.10.

This year he flip-flopped his ebbs and flows. The 22-year-old lefty started slow, then got on a serious roll after earning a promotion to Double-A Montgomery in July. In nine starts for the Biscuits, Burke put up a 1.95 ERA and punched out 11.9 batters per nine innings. If win-loss records are your cup of tea, six of seven decisions went his way.

He blames this season’s slow start on a confluence of timidity and anger. Read the rest of this entry »

Scott Radinsky Is Bullish on Anaheim’s Bullpen Arms

This past Sunday’s notes column led with Scott Radinsky’s evolution as a pitching coach. Admittedly old-school when he first started out, the former big-league left-hander has since incorporated a heavy dose of new-age into his approach. TrackMan and the Angels’ analytics team were his allies as he served as Anaheim’s bullpen coach each of the past three seasons.

Today we’ll hear from Radinsky on several of the team’s relievers going forward. He won’t be with them — along with a few other Angels coaches, he won’t be returning — but he certainly knows each of them well. Having been hands-on with their development — particularly the youngsters of the bunch — he sees plenty of blue skies ahead for the club’s bullpen.


Radinsky on Hansel Robles: “Sometimes it takes awhile for a guy to buy in to what we’re sharing with them, but once he does, he can make real strides. It’s not the Bible, but it is well-thought-out information. This isn’t like back in the day when a pitching coach was on his own island and relying on the naked eye. It’s valuable data that is given to us as coaches, and it’s our job to translate it and pass it along to the players. We can use it to make them better.

“We had guys come [to the Angels] and buy in. They would realize, ‘Damn, man.’ Hansel Robles, from the Mets. This guy was headstrong about using his fastball. His fastball is a great pitch — he can really backspin it at the top of the zone — but our encouragement was, ‘When the catcher puts down slider, you don’t always have to shake. Utilize the thing.’ And do you know what? The more he used it, the better it got. Not only that, the more respect his fastball got. The next thing you know, he became more of a complete pitcher, and we were able to use him in higher-leverage situations.

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Let’s Talk About Detroit Tigers Baseball

The Detroit Tigers have a rich history. The franchise has claimed 11 American League pennants and four World Series titles since being established in 1901. An “Olde English D” has emblazoned the jerseys and caps of numerous all-time greats.

The fan base is reliably loyal. The club is coming off a pair of 98-loss seasons, and there hasn’t been a championship to celebrate since 1984, but people in Detroit, and throughout the state of Michigan, continue to show their support. They love their Tigers.

In celebration of the iconic franchise, I asked a cross section of people within the game if they could share their thoughts — and perhaps a few anecdotes — on baseball in Detroit.


Michael Fulmer, Tigers pitcher: “With the new renovations and Little Caesars Arena, it’s cool to have all four major sports teams in a four-block radius. And I feel that Detroit is a diehard baseball city. Michigan as a whole. The fans are unbelievable. They’ll let you know when you’re doing good, and they’ll also let you know when you’re not doing so good. That’s OK. You can’t blame them for that. They want us to win, and we’re doing everything we can for them. But they are sticking with this team through thick and thin. They’re excited about the younger players. The feedback we’ve gotten, and the high energy we’ve gotten from this team, is cool to watch.

Mr. Kaline and Alan Trammell bring a lot of history. Willie Horton. Those guys are around the clubhouse quite a bit, and it’s really cool to be able to talk those guys. They’re legends. I grew up hearing those names, so to be able meet them in person and talk baseball with them… it’s really cool.

Jack Morris isn’t around as much as some of the other guys, but I have talked to him a few times. They’re obviously retiring his number this year, and last year I got to catch a first pitch he threw out. That was pretty cool, too.”

Dave Dombrowski, former Tigers GM: “It’s a great baseball city. It’s a historic franchise — Detroit is one of the original baseball cities — with a lot of great players in different eras. Detroit supports all sports, including baseball. The fans are very passionate. They love their Tigers.

“I remember when I first took the job. They weren’t drawing very well, but people who had known the city for a long time were telling me what a sleeping giant it was. That’s because of the love people had for the team. And that’s what it turned out to be.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win a championship while I was there. We won everything short of that a couple of times. But again, the fans are very supportive. You see Tigers memorabilia items everywhere. They welcome the old-timers, the guys who were part of the franchise in the past.”

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Ron Darling, Jack Morris, and Tyler Thornburg on Developing Their Change-of-Pace Pitches

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 this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Ron Darling, Jack Morris, and Tyler Thornburg — on how they learned and developed their change-of-pace pitches.


Ron Darling, Former All-Star

“When I first started throwing a split, I was one of those pitchers who could never develop a changeup. I was in the minor leagues with Al Jackson, who was a crafty left-hander in his day, and he taught me a screwball. He used to throw one. I got very adept at it, but it made my arm hurt. I had to develop a change-of-pace pitch that didn’t hurt my elbow, and that’s how the split-finger came to be.

“It was an era where the pitch was popular. Roger Craig taught it to a lot of pitchers, but it was a split-finger fastball for those guys. For me it was more of a forkball. It was something soft that I could combine with my fastball and hard curveball.

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Sunday Notes: Scott Radinsky Bought In To Angels Analytics

Scott Radinsky came into coaching with an old-school approach. That was to be expected. His playing career spanned the 1986-2001 seasons, and he honed his craft under the likes of Moe Drabowsky, who came of age in the Eisenhower era. Analytics were in their infancy. Radinsky was hired by the Indians in 2005 — initially to tutor pitchers in the minors — on the strength of his nuts-and-bolts knowledge and his communication skills.

The 50-year-old went on to serve as Cleveland’s bullpen coach in 2010-2011, and then as their pitching coach in 2012. From there he moved on to the Dodgers organization, and he spent the last two years as the bullpen coach in Anaheim. Along the way, he’s learned to embrace analytics.

“The information wasn’t as eye-opening to me when I was first getting exposed to it,” admitted Radinsky, who now monitors TrackMan data throughout the season. “I wasn’t resistant; it just didn’t make complete sense to me. But over the years, because of how much better it’s being explained — and a lot of it seems more quantifiable — it makes perfect sense. I’ve completely bought in, which makes it easier for me to sell something to a player.”

Radinsky gave examples of that salesmanship — we’ll share specifics in the coming week — including convincing Blake Parker to up his breaking ball usage, and getting Justin Anderson to better utilize his fastball. In each case, the data provided by Anaheim’s analytics department was delivered to Radinsky in “an awesome” manner. Just as importantly, it didn’t arrive heavy-handed. Read the rest of this entry »

Rich Hill, Ross Stripling, and Alex Wood on Learning and Developing a Pitch

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 this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers — Rich Hill, Ross Stripling, and Alex Wood — on how they learned and developed an important pitch in their repertoire.


Rich Hill on His Curveball

“I remember learning how to grip and spin a breaking ball from my brother, Lloyd, who had a really good curveball when he was pitching. From there it’s just developed over the decades. I changed the grip after talking to Clayton [Kershaw] when I came here from Oakland. I believe that the spin got a little bit tighter, but it’s really more how the ball comes out of my hand. It mimics my fastball, then has that late break to it.

“I placed the horseshoe in a different position in my fingers. It’s how the seams get closer on a baseball, as opposed to having your fingertip on the outer half of the seam, the larger part of the seam.

Read the rest of this entry »

The World Series That Participants Watched as Kids

Being baseball fans, the vast majority of us will be tuning in to the World Series. From coast to coast and beyond, it’s must-watch television for everyone who loves the greatest game on earth. The best of the American League versus the best of the National League. The Fall Classic.

The participants themselves grew up watching. As kids, they sat in their living rooms and dens, enjoying the World Series with their families. A lucky few even got to enjoy October baseball live and in person, at the ballparks themselves. What do they remember about those bygone days? I asked that question to several Red Sox and Dodgers players and coaches. For good measure, I queried three notable media personalities as well.


Matt Kemp, Dodgers outfielder: “Joe Carter, Toronto Blue Jays. My dad was best friends with his brother and he always had us watching Joe Carter play. That was the 1993 World Series and I was like, ‘Whoa! That’s pretty awesome.’

“I always watched baseball. Baseball and basketball were the two sports I loved to watch. I was always a Braves fan growing up. As a kid, me and my cousin always dreamed of playing on the Atlanta Braves. I wanted to be like David Justice. Otis Nixon. Ron Gant. All those guys who were just straight ballers. Maddux. Smoltz. Jeff Blauser. But the Justice home run… I remember that all day long. Heck yeah.”

Jackie Bradley Jr, Red Sox outfielder: “I couldn’t tell you what the first one was, but 2011 stands out: Cardinals versus Texas. The Cardinals were my team growing up, and they won. David Freese had a great postseason. Tony LaRussa was the manager. It was a pretty exciting series.

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Sunday Notes: Will Flemming is Next Up in the PawSox Pipeline

Gary Cohen (Mets), Dave Flemming (Giants), Andy Freed (Rays), Aaron Goldsmith (Mariners), Dave Jaegler (Nationals), Jeff Levering (Brewers), and Don Orsillo (Padres) share something in common. Each began broadcasting for a big-league team after honing his play-by-play skills with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. The pipeline runs deeper still. Dan Hoard (Bengals) and Bob Socci (Patriots) came to the NFL via the PawSox radio booth.

There’s a good chance that group will grow in the not-too-distant future. Will Flemming — Dave Flemming’s younger brother — has been calling PawSox games for the past four seasons, and many in the industry feel he’s of MLB quality.

He passed an important test this summer. Filling in for Tim Neverett, who was away for his father’s funeral, Flemming was alongside Joe Castiglione when the Red Sox hosted the Phillies on July 30. The game was a thriller, with Boston winning 2-1 in 13 innings.

“There were no low lights,” Flemming.said of his MLB debut “Not one. All of us in this profession dream of that moment, and to have it realized in that ballpark, with this Red Sox team against a good Philadelphia team — Price versus Nola — it was more than I ever could have dreamt of.”

He’s been imagining the moment for years. Despite his relatively young age — Flemming has yet to reach the big 4-0 — he’s no neophyte. His journey has included stints in Lancaster, Potomac, and Indianapolis. At each stop along the way — this is something all minor-league broadcasters can attest to — the frills have been few and far between. Read the rest of this entry »

Seth Lugo, Collin McHugh, and Ryan Meisinger on Developing Their Sliders

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 this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Seth Lugo, Collin McHugh, and Ryan Meisinger — on how they learned and developed their sliders.


Seth Lugo, Mets

“I’ve pretty much developed my pitches through repetition, especially my breaking pitches. My sinker, as well. I didn’t have them coming out of high school. I didn’t learn my sinker until Low-A. All of my pitches really came after that season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Brewers Broadcaster Jeff Levering Looks at Bullpens, Sees Value

Jeff Levering has had a bird’s-eye view of bull-penning at its best. Perched alongside Bob Uecker in the Milwaukee Brewers radio booth, he’s gotten to watch Craig Counsell adroitly shuttle relievers in and out of games, most notably since the calendar turned to October. One thing he hasn’t seen — at least not often — is starters going deep into games. Brewers starters threw just 847 innings in the regular season, the fewest among teams that advanced beyond the Wild Card round.

A few months ago I asked Levering if he could share any observations, and/or opinions, on the current state of the game. He brought up pitcher usage.

“Baseball is trending to specialization, especially with how bullpens are being constructed,” said Levering. “You’re asking starting pitchers to give you five or six innings. You don’t have many guys like Max Scherzer where you can say, ‘All right, he’s going to give us seven or eight innings today, no matter what.’”

Levering proceeded to mention last winter’s free-agent environment. Rather than being priorities, as they had been in the past, starting pitchers were almost an afterthought. Lucrative offers were neither plentiful nor quickly-coming. Read the rest of this entry »

Lance McCullers Jr. on Being Studious and Not Throwing to Blank Spaces

Lance McCullers Jr. put up some pretty good numbers during the regular season. The Houston Astros hurler had a 3.86 ERA and a 3.50 FIP and punched out 10 batters per nine innings. It wasn’t all peaches and cream — a forearm strain limited him to 128 innings — but he was nevertheless a stalwart on one of baseball’s best teams.

He still has room to grow. McCullers turned 25 years old earlier this month, and in terms of consistency, he remains a work in progress. Borderline unhittable when on top of his game, he’s prone to implosions. Four times this year he allowed five or more runs in fewer than five innings. McCullers readily admits he needs to learn how to limit such damage.

To a large extent, he’s already learned how to best utilize his plus stuff. Tapping into technology and the attained knowledge of veteran teammates — plus the study of others — he’s evolved into a thinking-man’s power pitcher. Thanks to a mid-90s heater and a hammer curveball, augmented by that studious approach, he’s on the doorstep of becoming elite.


Lance McCullers, Jr.: “To [learn and develop] a pitch, you need to have a knack for putting what you see, and what you study, into real life. You have to be able to put it into action. I’ve spent a lot of time with Dallas Keuchel. He’s been a huge mentor for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Clevinger, Will Harris, and Brandon Workman on Developing Their Curveballs

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 this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Mike Clevinger, Will Harris, and Brandon Workman— on how they learned and developed their curveballs.


Mike Clevinger, Indians

“My curveball was pretty inconsistent in the past. I would get kind of slurvy with it — it was sloppy the past couple of years — but I’ve tightened it up. It’s more 12-6 now. I’ve been able to find a more consistent up-to-down break.

“There was a lot of process involved. It literally started as… it was almost like we were trying to catch a bass, just flipping it with a tight wrist. A reversed stance — my right foot forward, almost like a pickoff — and just flipping it, flipping it. We were kind of getting the feel for that, coming down and pulling out in front.

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Rick Porcello on Elevating and Evolving

Boston’s Rick Porcello enters tonight’s ALDS Game Four at Yankee Stadium — a potential clincher for the Red Sox — having recorded the second-highest pitching WAR and most innings for a Boston club that won 108 games. The 29-year-old right-hander also goes in with 10 full seasons of big-league experience. He’s learned a lot in those 10 seasons.

Porcello is savvy — in a number of ways. Fully at home with analytics — terms like “spin axis” are part of his vernacular — Porcello is equally reliant on his instincts. The 1,800-plus major-leauge innings he’s authored have taught him that an ability to adjust on the fly is invaluable. He knows that hitters have just as much access to data as he does.

He’s evolved since debuting with the Detroit Tigers in 2009. Primarily a ground-ball specialist in his earliest seasons, Porcello now relies heavily on elevated four-seam fastballs. He’s not a flame-thrower — his heater sits in the low 90s — but thanks to an above-average spin rate and an array of offspeed offerings, he’s become increasingly effective upstairs. Changing eye levels is a key. When he’s on his game, Porcello is adept at getting hitters to chase pitches both above and below the strike zone.


Rick Porcello on learning what works: “Through experience, I’ve acquired knowledge of what it takes to be a starting pitcher at the big-league level. That includes what it takes to go out there every five days as a starting pitcher. There’s a learning process involved. There’s mental preparation and physical preparation.

“As far as attacking hitters, there have been ebbs and flows since I first got to the big leagues — which pitches are effective, which zones to throw to. For example, the high fastball. Nobody threw that when I got here. The high fastball was just to change eye levels, then you’d get back down and try to command the ball at the bottom of the zone. It’s completely different now.

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Sunday Notes: The Voice of the Indians Flirted with a Pigskin Tiger

Tom Hamilton has been the radio voice of the Indians since 1990. Very early into that tenure there was a chance — albeit a small one — that he would move on and spend the bulk of his career elsewhere. How might that have happened? In the winter following Hamilton’s second year in Cleveland, the Detroit Tigers inexplicably informed iconic broadcaster Ernie Harwell that 1991 would be his final season in the booth.

“Ernie told me that I should apply for the job, or at least go if I got called,” Hamilton explained. “I felt uncomfortable about that — nobody wanted to see Ernie have his career end that way — but he came to me and said that I should. The Tigers did call, so I interviewed even though I didn’t really have an interest. Not only was I happy in Cleveland, I didn’t want to be the guy following Ernie.”

Rick Rizzs, who is now in Seattle, ended up getting the job. Predictably, he wasn’t well-received. While Rizzs was, and remains, a quality baseball play-by-play announcer, that means little when you’re stepping into the shoes of a legend.

Another Wolverine State sports legend made Hamilton’s reluctant interview more than worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation with Cleveland Pitching Coach Carl Willis

The Indians have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball. Carl Willis can’t claim all of the credit — his 2015-17 seasons were spent in Boston — but he’s certainly played a meaningful role. The veteran pitching coach has done an exemplary job since coming to Cleveland one year ago this month.

An understanding and appreciation of analytics is a big reason why. At the age of 57, Willis possesses an admirable blend of old-school acumen and the new-school applications that augment the ABCs of the craft. His resume includes a stint as a special assistant to baseball operations, as well as 15 seasons as a big-league pitching coach. Four different hurlers have captured a Cy Young Award under his tutelage.


Carl Willis on notable changes in the game: “There have been two major changes. The first one is that swings have changed. Because they’ve changed, how you pitch — how you attack those swings — has changed. Certainly, when I played, and when I first became a coach, it was always, ‘You’ve got to command the bottom of the strike zone. You have to pitch down. It’s money.’

“Nowadays, with the evolution of launch angle, we’re seeing the top of the strike zone, and above, becoming much more of a weapon. That’s how we’re attacking those swings. Of course, there are still pitchers who pitch at the bottom of the zone. It depends on your repertoire and, obviously, the action you get.

“Because of how hitters are being attacked now, velocity has probably become more important. But velocity doesn’t matter if you can’t command it. Nowadays hitters see velocity every day. It used to be Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden, J.R. Richard. Those guys separated themselves with their velocity. They had other pitches as well, but they had that superior velocity. Now, every time the bullpen door opens, it’s 97-98. Hitters are acclimated to it.

“The other major change is analytics. For me, it’s really more the science and understanding of what the baseball is doing. And it’s only how we’re able to evaluate pitchers in that regard. It’s how we can help them create some of those actions, some of that spin. And I think it’s [spin] axis more so than [spin] rate. There’s a better understanding of what a pitcher is going to be and what he’s going to have to do to succeed with what he brings to the table.”

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