Sunday Notes: Cactus League Meanderings (Mostly)

Chris Young is in camp with the San Diego Padres, looking to extend a pitching career that began in 2000 when he was drafted out of Princeton University. It may be a tall task. The 6-foot-10 right-hander turns 39 in May, and he put up a 7.50 ERA last season in 30 ragged innings with the Royals. This could be his last hurrah, a fact he readily acknowledges.

“At some point my career will come to an end, as it does for everybody,” Young told me earlier this week. “I’m realistic about that. Over the offseason I had some of those conversations with people that I respect and admire within the game, but right now my focus is on playing. I feel good physically and the ball is coming out well, so I’m excited to compete for a spot.”

The conversations Young was referring to — with the exception of one coaching opportunity — were all in regard to front office work. Several organizations approached him about the possibility, and while no specific roles were discussed, there will undoubtably be follow-ups in the future. How soon that happens is the question that may be answered by opening day.

“This spring is going to determine that,” stated Young, who would ideally like to play two more years. “I’m either going to show that I’m back to being myself, or that my stuff isn’t playing. If my stuff isn’t there and I can’t get outs, the time will have come to move on from the playing side.”

Young is unlikely to accept a Triple-A assignment, but he does have an opt-out clause in his contract. That could mean an opportunity elsewhere if he is throwing well but doesn’t win a spot with the Padres. If not, his phone will still be ringing. The job offers will simply be of the polo-shirt variety.

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The Seattle Mariners have been rebuilding their medical and training programs with a goal of keeping their players healthier and fresher. Part of that initiative is to begin their spring training workdays later in the morning than they have in previous seasons — and later than most every other team is currently doing.

“We’ve been doing our morning meeting with the players at 10:30,” GM Jerry Dipoto told me prior to the start of Cactus League action. “Then, for one o’clock games we’ll bump it to 9 a.m. We want our players to have more time to recover. Science tells you that if you sleep more — if you’re better rested — you’re going to perform as a better form of yourself. Let’s let them do that. Scott (Servais) announced at the very get-go that no one is going to make the team by showing up at 6:45.”

Another spring-training change the Mariners have made needed to be negotiated with MLB. They requested as many night games as possible, and will ultimately be playing 12 under the lights. Being better prepared come April is the reason.

“Night games better represent the way the regular season goes,” explained Dipoto. “We’ve been fairly slow starters the last couple of years, and baseball is about routines, so let’s let our players get into their routines.”

Slow starts have indeed been an issue. Last year Seattle lost eight of their first 10 games. In 2016 they lost six of their first eight. In 2015 they lost seven of their first 10.

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Terry Francona played a role in Bryan Shaw’s decision to sign with the Colorado Rockies in December. Appreciative of the free-agent reliever’s five strong seasons in Cleveland, Francona graciously shared helpful information regarding possible new homes.

“I talked to Tito a little bit about the teams that had interest in me,” said Shaw. “I got his opinion of the organizations — the managers and others with roles within those organizations. He had nothing but good things to say about Bud Black and the guys who are here.”

Francona wasn’t the only one offering support.

“Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and all the guys over there in the front office wished me well,” said Shaw. “They told me that if there was anything they could do to help, if I wanted any insight into different organizations — how things are run in certain places — to just give them a call and they’d do whatever they could.”

The 30-year-old reliever inked a three-year, $25M contract with the Rockies that includes a fourth-year team option with a buyout — a hefty payout too rich for the Cleveland coffers.

“Long story short, they said they couldn’t afford me,” said an appreciative Shaw. “Not with what I was going to get in the open market. They would have loved to have me back. We talked mid season about a possible extension, but from a numbers standpoint it never got there. But there was no bad blood. I think highly of everyone in the Indians organization.”

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According to Joe Maddon, he and Rick Renteria have something in common besides running big-league clubs in Chicago. In his opinion, there are managers, and there are managers who are also good coaches. Maddon views both himself and his White Sox counterpart as examples of the latter.

“He and I both came up the same way,” said the Cubs skipper. “He understands how to run a game, and he could also go out there and conduct the whole practice if you asked him to. He can teach every facet of the game. I (also) had a really broad background in coaching before I became a manager. There’s a total difference between managing and coaching, and not everybody can do both. (Renteria) can coach it, and he can manage it.”

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Al Avila was able to admire J.D. Martinez’s ascent to stardom up close. He was Detroit’s assistant GM when the Tigers signed the slugger off the scrap heap four years ago, and unlike Martinez he still calls Motown home. But while the adjustment-fueled power barrage was music to Avila’s ears, he isn’t an advocate of cloning.

“Not every player is going to change their swing and all of a sudden hit 25 home runs,” Avila said during December’s general managers’ meetings. “There are a lot of different factors that go into it. J.D. Martinez starts doing something different and all of a sudden he hits 40 home runs. Well, you’re not going to get Jose Iglesias to go through the same process and do that.”

Avila paused briefly as the small audience he was addressing chuckled appreciatively.

“But he might,” continued the genial GM. “I’m not saying he couldn’t, but there are a lot of factors that tell you he probably won’t.”

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If you’re skeptical about Avila’s opinion, let it be known that A.J. Preller agrees with his premise.

“If there’s something you can learn from a hitting philosophy standpoint, you want to entertain and explore it,” said the Cornell-educated Padres GM. “That doesn’t necessarily mean what works for Justin Turner is going to work for another player, or what works for Chris Taylor is going to work for somebody else. Not every player can make that kind of change.”

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When the Padres signed Eric Hosmer, they brought on board a player whose high ground-ball rate is viewed by many as a shortcoming. Earlier this week, I asked San Diego skipper Andy Green for his thoughts on the subject.

“I don’t think we’re concerned about his offensive approach at all,” claimed Green. “He was a very productive hitter last year who drove balls out of the ballpark and drove runs in. He puts balls in play with two strikes. There are a lot of players in the game with punch-out rates that are close to double his (15.5% in 2017). They get lauded as three-true-outcome players, and he’s putting balls in play which, the last time I checked, gives you a better chance of getting on base than a punch out.”

Which isn’t to say that Green wouldn’t want to see Hosmer hit more balls in the air. He hinted at that when asked if the Padres might consider tinkering with their shiny new toy.

“We signed him because of who he is, not because we thought we were going to be able to do something radically different, or even wanted to do something radically different,” replied Green. “We like him where he is, and we would expect that over time (hitting coach) Matt Stairs would offer him things. From my brief time with him, I think he will respond favorably to any kind of suggestion to help him improve. I think he’s hungry to have an unbelievable career.”

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In 1972, Steve Carlton went 27-10 for a Philadelphia team that finished 62-94. Which Phillies pitcher had the second-most wins that season? The answer can be found below.

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NEWSY STUFF

Stu Scheurwater has been named to the full-time MLB umpiring staff. The native of Regina, Saskatchewan has worked 268 MLB regular season games in a call-up capacity, and he is first full-time umpire to hail from Canada since Jim McKean, who retired after the 2001 season.

Joe DeMers threw the first perfect game in University of Washington history on Saturday in a 2-0 win over UC-Riverside. It took the junior out of Martinez, California just 84 pitches to record the 27 outs. The last no-hitter for the Huskies had been a combined effort by Tim Lincecum and Nick Hagadone in 2006.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has named Jefferson Burdick, Bob McConnell, Tom Shieber, and Andrew Zimbalist as its 2018 Henry Chadwick Award recipients. Established in 2009, the award honors “baseball’s great researchers—historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists—for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.”

The full schedule for this year’s SABR Analytics Conference is now out. The conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix in Phoenix from March 9-11 and is open to the public.

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The answer to the 1972 Phillies question is Bucky Brandon, who finished with a record of 7-7. All of his wins came in relief. Carlton was the only starter with more than four wins.

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With my recent Andrew BenintendiAlex Cora article in mind, I asked Milwaukee Brewers infield prospect Mauricio Dubon about how he gets into, and out of, slumps.

“I get too big,” responded the 23-year-old Dubon. “I try to muscle everything up and that gets me out of whack. And sometimes when I’m going bad I press and press, trying to hit a five-home-run bomb. You can’t do that. But a couple of teammates and family members will tell me, ‘You’re doing this and this,’ and I’ll go back to nice and easy, with a smooth swing.”

The majority of the family advice comes from his older brother, Danilo, a 29-year-old engineer without a professional baseball background.

“He watches every game on the internet, and he knows my swing better than anybody,” explained the native of Honduras. “He can tell when something isn’t right. Sometimes he can tell from my mannerisms, and sometimes it’s how I come off the ball with my swing. It’s just a mucho connection that he has with me.”

Older brother could apparently connect with hurled horsehide as well, even though his hopes of getting signed went to naught.

“He was one of the best hitters back home,” Dubon told me. “To this day, people say he was a better hitter than I was.”

Dubon slashed .274/.330/.382 last year between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs. He logged 37 extra-base hits — eight of them of the long ball variety— and swiped 38 bags.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Dixie Leverett went 0 for 3 against Skipper Friday.

Carson Bigbee went 0 for 5 against Epp Sell.

Clyde Kluttz went 0 for 7 against Cookie Cuccurullo.

Sibbi Sisti went 0 for 9 against Monk Dubiel.

Muddy Ruel went 0 for 12 against Firpo Marberry.

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Steven Souza, Jr. hasn’t faced Clayton Kershaw, but that’s about to change now that he’s been dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s looking forward to going up against his new NL West rival.

“It’s just like how I looked forward to facing Chris Sale every time we came to Boston,” the former Tampa Bay Ray told me on Friday. “Luis Severino when we went to New York. Marcus Stroman when we went to Toronto. (Kershaw) is another guy who is an awesome pitcher — he’s been doing it for years — and any time you get to face one of the greats of the game, it kind of shows you where you’re at. I’m excited for the challenge.”

Souza has had success against two of the pitchers he mentioned. The other… not so much. He is a combined 11 for 30 in his career against Severino and Stroman. He has gone 1 for 21 with 13 strikeouts against Sale.

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The hot corner is no place for the meek, as evidenced by D-Backs third-sacker Jake Lamb taking a wicked shot off the lower leg in yesterday’s game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Told later that the ball had an exit velocity of 114 MPH, his smiling response was that it felt like 214 mph and he didn’t see the ball off the bat, but rather he saw it off his ankle.

I asked Lamb if the perils of the position have him every bit as concerned with velocity coming toward him as he is with the velocity of ball off his bat.

“I couldn’t care less about the exit velocity coming toward me,” was his reply. “I want exit velocity off my barrels.”

And what about those barrels? Does he ever check the data to see just how hard he hit a ball?

“It’s more on the outs,” answered Lamb. “A home run is a home run, so I don’t care how far it goes or how hard it was off the bat. But on the balls that you rope at a guy — you absolutely crushed it — and it’s an out, it’s kind of interesting to know.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold wrote about how Mike Matheny would have loved to catch Bob Gibson, even though the feeling probably wouldn’t have been mutual.

Alex Avila doesn’t like the word “framing,” and Nick Piecoro explained why at The Arizona Republic.

R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports wrote about how baseball believes in Jeff Mathis, and the hidden value of game-calling.

Over at The Ringer, Ben Lindbergh laid out how baseball’s economics aren’t as skewed as they seem.

At The New York Times, Keith Williams wrote about the geography of segregated baseball in New York.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Colorado Rockies have gone 13 straight seasons without a losing record in the Cactus League.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have made the postseason six times in their 20-year history (30%). Per the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the second-highest percentage behind the Yankees (53 playoffs berths in 113 seasons; 47%).

Bill Klem (5,375) and Bruce Froemming (5,163) have umpired the most regular season games in MLB history. Cowboy Joe West became the third member of the 5,000 club last summer, while Gerry Davis and Dana DeMuth are the only other active umpires with more than 4,000.

Mike Moustakas struck out swinging 66 times in 2017 before he first struck out looking, which was a record to start a season (thanks to Aidan Jackson-Evans for the stat).

Al Kaline was 20 years old when he won the American League batting title in 1955. Ted Williams was 40 years old when he won the American League batting title in 1958.

Julio Franco slashed .290/.361/.421 in his age 42-47 seasons.

Don Sutton started 756 games. Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez combined to start 723 games.

Harry Stovey hit 176 career home runs, 101 of them by the end of the 1890 season.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Cactus League Meanderings (Mostly) by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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LHPSU
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LHPSU

J.D. Martin strikes again.

Johan Santa
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Lol.