Sunday Notes: Cards Bowman, Kinsler, Span, SABR Miami, Moore, more

Matt Bowman isn’t your stereotypical baseball player. The St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander majored in economics at Princeton, and his senior thesis looked at how much a win is worth in free agency. He doesn’t fit the physical profile, either. A slender 6-foot-even, he looks more like… well, an Ivy League economist.

Last year he pitched like one. In 140 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, Bowman went 7-16 with a 5.53 ERA and a 4.95 K/9. To little surprise, he was left unprotected by the Mets, who had selected him in the 13th round of the 2012 draft. The last thing he expected was for a team to gamble on him in the Rule 5.

“I was surprised that I got picked up,” admitted Bowman. “I didn’t feel that I deserved a 40-man spot with the Mets and I certainly didn’t think that any team would be looking at me as someone who could contribute, or even hide, on a major league roster. When my agent said the Cardinals picked me up, not a whole lot of it made sense. These guys are perennial contenders and I was coming off a terrible year in Triple-A.”

The 25-year-old’s level of honesty and humility are also atypical. When I asked if he’s surprised at how well he’s pitching, I received an answer I wasn’t expecting.

“I’m definitely surprised I’m pitching well,” said Bowman. “It was a tough year last year. You can’t make 26 starts and barely get out of the fourth inning as often as I did, and not take a hit to your confidence. I knew that it was possible to swing back, but I certainly wouldn’t have bet on it.”

In 35 relief appearances for the Cardinals, Bowman has a 2.84 ERA and a 3.36 FIP.

———

Prior to this season, Ian Kinsler has either hit for power or had a high batting average. This year he’s doing both. A career .277 hitter who has hit 18 home runs annually, the 34-year-old Detroit second baseman is slashing .288/.341/.490 and has 20 long balls.

Is he a better hitter now than at any point in his career?

“Probably,” Kinsler told me. “The game slows down more with the experience you get. You settle into the type of player you want to be, and the type of player you can be.”

A few days before my conversation with Kinsler, I talked to Twins second baseman Brian Dozier about his own evolution and self identity. (We’ll hear from Dozier in detail in the coming week.) When I told Kinsler that Dozier feels extra-base power makes him more valuable than a higher batting average, he shied away from approach-related assessments.

“I’m not worried so much about that, man,” said Kinsler. “That’s probably a little too much in depth for me. I just want to score runs and hit the ball hard. I try to hit the ball on the barrel, and if you can do that, most of the time something good is going to happen.”

Kinsler — a Texas Ranger prior to coming to Detroit three years ago — does own up to having made some adjustments. His swing has “flattened out a little” since his high power, low average seasons (2009 and 2011). He’s also more pleased with his overall approach. The way he sees it, “Sometimes you have to take a couple steps back to be more of a complete hitter. Then, once you get comfortable with the changes you made, you can start adding more power.”

———

On the surface, Matt Moore took a big step forward in 2013. He followed up an 11-11 season by going 17-4. Beneath the surface, there wasn’t a marked difference in the Tampa Bay southpaw’s performance. His ERA dropped from 3.81 to 3.29, but his FIP was two percentage points higher. His strikeout rate fell while his walk rate rose, and he threw 27 fewer innings.

When I addressed the subject with him last month, Moore told me he’s more of a live-in-the-moment guy and hasn’t put much thought into those seasons for some time. Looking back, he feels he was “definitely better” in his 17-4 season.

“I don’t know what the analytic stats say, but I was a more confident pitcher,” said Moore. “I know we won a lot more of the ballgames I pitched in, which means I was giving our team a chance when I went out there. As a pitcher, that’s important.”

Moore was “riding a pretty good high from 2013” when he reported to spring training in 2014. He felt healthy, but “sure enough, the second start of the season ended up not being too good for the elbow.” He underwent Tommy John surgery in mid April, then suffered plenty of ups and downs after returning last June. His ERA over 12 starts was an ugly 5.43.

“I maybe came back a little before I was ready physically,” admitted Moore. “My stuff wasn’t the same. I was 90-92, my breaking ball wasn’t crisp, and the changeup wasn’t there. I was also throwing a cut fastball, trying to create something to make up what I didn’t have. This year is completely different, in a good way.

Moore is 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 21 starts.

———

This weekend’s SABR conference in Miami included a presentation by Shane Piesik, who recently graduated with a degree in economics from Keene State and is currently pursuing an M.S. in analytics from the University of New Hampshire. Using an economic theory called Marginal Revenue Product, Piesik calculated (among other things) Chris Sale’s value as follows:

Sale’s market value is $27.1 million.
Sale’s remaining contract value is about $46 million
If Sale were to be traded, the acquiring team will be paying him approximately $14 million below his yearly market value, therefore…
The White Sox must receive $49 million worth of assets to justify trading Sale.

Piesik’s article, from which the presentation was taken, will be published in SABR’s forthcoming Baseball Research Journal

———

Denard Span has made changes since breaking into the big-leagues with the Twins in 2008. His stance and mechanics aren’t the same, and his 32-year-old body doesn’t feel as fresh as it once did. He’s also changed addresses, going from Minnesota to Washington and now San Francisco.

Span feels the men standing sixty feet, six inches away from home plate have changed as well. As a result, he’s needed to adjust his approach.

“There’s more velocity now than when I first came up,” said Span. “And everybody is throwing cutters, so the ball is moving more. You don’t want to get to two strikes against a lot of these pitchers. because they’ll put you away. For them, one strike is like two strikes. You can’t waste time; you need to attack earlier.”

Span feels pitchers are coming after him more aggressively than they once did. The reasons are twofold.

“Teams started to realize I was taking pitches, trying to get on base any way I could, and I began finding myself down 0-2 right off the bat,” explained Span. “I also go deep 5-6-7 times a year, so pitchers are more apt to challenge me. Worst case scenario is a double or a triple.”

He does hit a lot of doubles. Span had an injury-plagued 2015, but from 2012-2014 he averaged 35 two-baggers per season. While he’s not a home-run threat, he’s also not the slap hitter the Twins once envisioned he’d be.

“I have driven the ball more the past three, four seasons,” said Span. “It’s just not over-the-fence more.”

———

According to Jorge Ebro, who covers baseball for the Spanish-language publication el Nuevo Herald, the family of Cardinals infielder Aledmys Diaz deserves a lot of credit for Marlins’ ace Jose Fernandez being where he is today. Ebro shared the following during the Media Panel as this weekend’s SABR conference:

“Why is Jose Fernandez now a star? He’s a star because the father of Aledmys Diaz convinced his mother to let him take (Fernandez) to the playing field. Had he not convinced her, he might still be in Santa Clara (Cuba), doing who knows?”

A night before the Media Panel took place, Fernandez gave up a home run to Diaz in a 5-4 loss to the Cardinals. Cuban journalist Reynaldo Cruz, who shared the stage with Ebro, pointed out that Ebro’s game story was titled “Was Fernandez Mistreated in his Own Home By Childhood Friend?”

———

Jarrod Saltalamacchia explored uncharted territory this past week in Boston. The switch-hitting Detroit catcher opted to bat right-handed against righty knuckleballer Steven Wright. It was the first time in his career he’d gone right-on-right.

After the game, Saltalamacchia and manager Brad Ausmus (who made the suggestion) cited the Green Monster as the primarily reason for doing so. Saltalamacchia added that a lot of switch-hitters bat right-handed against knuckleballers. Even so, he hit left-handed the one time faced R.A. Dickey, and he’s historically been weaker from the right side. When I brought up his splits, he responded somewhat saltily.

“I’ve had rare at bats right-handed,” said Saltalamacchia, who began his answer with a thanks. “When you get 60 at bats, your numbers are going to look like that. But I felt comfortable tonight and was able to put some at bats together.”

Saltamacchia had a pair of singles against Wright and later stroked a third off lefty Tommy Layne. That also elicited a first. He’d never before totaled three hits from the right side in the same game.

———

Last Sunday’s column included mention of Buster Posey’s nuanced ability to read hitters. It’s an invaluable skill for backstops, even when they’re catching butterflies.

“Steven (Wright) throws different speed knuckleballs, so we’re trying to read what the hitter’s timing is,” said Boston catcher Ryan Hanigan. “He throws a normal one, a hard one, and a slow one. We need to make sure I know which one is coming, because the hard one moves differently than the slow one.

“If it looks like the hitters is early, I’ll call for the slow one. If it looks like he’s waiting back, I’ll go with the hard one. We’ll throw the normal one to get a read on his swings. We’re always reading swings.”

Hanigan needs more than knuckleball signs when Wright is on the mound. The All-Star right-hander mixes in fastballs (16.3% this year) and the occasional curveball (3.8%).

“We look for times to throw the fastball and that’s usually based on what the hitter is doing as well,” explained Hanigan. “Same thing with the curveball, although that’s more a strike pitch to get into a count. Mostly it’s the fastball-knuckleball combination in terms of reading swings and timing.”

———

Miami manager Don Mattingly addressed a large contingent of SABR members at Marlins Park on Friday. One of his comments raised a few eyebrows. According to the former Yankee, (Marlins owner} “Jeffrey Loria is a great guy to work for, because he loves baseball. Like (George) Steinbrenner, he wants to do it, and he wants to do it now.”

———

Last weekend I posed a question: Should Exit Velocity Factor Into Official Scoring? I did so after a 109-mph laser off the bat of Minnesota’s Max Kepler was ruled an E-6 by an official scorer in Boston.

Back home in Minnesota, longtime Twins official Stew Thornley was watching on TV. He would have ruled differently.

“I thought it should have been a hit,” Thornley told me. “That was from just seeing it, and not from looking at the speed off the bat. An official scorer also doesn’t have time to wait for that number.”

Thornley would be hesitant to base a scoring decision on exit velocity, but he’s not averse to taking it into consideration. While he’s yet to do so, he could see himself changing a call based on that information.

“It’s out there, and I do find it useful,” said Thornley. “I might use it after the fact if I get challenged on a call. A team may come and say, ‘That ball was hit at this velocity and you called it an error.’ I’ve already seen it happen.”

Of note: On Friday, Thornley was presented with SABR’s highest honor, the Bob Davids Award.

———

On July 29, 1945, the Cubs purchased Hank Borowy from the Yankees. The sale was controversial. At the time, Borowy was 10-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 18 starts with New York. After coming to Chicago, he went 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 15 games, 14 of them starts.

Borowy started Game 1 of the 1945 World Series for the Cubs and threw a complete-game shutout against the Detroit Tigers. Four days later, he started Game 5 and got the loss, giving up five runs in five innings. The following day (!) he came out of the bullpen and threw four scoreless frames in an extra-inning win.

Then came a decision every bit as controversial as his late-July acquisition.

Chicago manager Charlie Grimm opted to start Bowery in Game 7 on one day of rest. It didn’t go well. Borowy gave up hits to the first three batters — all of whom would score — and was promptly pulled. The Cubs lost the game, and the Series.

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Continuing his stellar work on all things Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe weighed in on much-needed Era Committee changes.

Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the Finnish sport pesäpallo, “If you dropped acid and decided to go make baseball, this is what you would end up with.” (The article is a year old, but well worth revisiting.)

Over at American Prospect, Terry Cannon and Peter Dreier wrote about the unfortunate undoing of Detroit’s Field of Dreams.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times looked into the Mariners’ questionable new policy regarding visiting-clubhouse dues.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Ten St. Louis Cardinals have hit seven-or-more home runs so far this season. According to the club’s Twitter account, that’s the most in franchise history.

The triple play turned by the Nationals on Friday was the first in franchise history, and the first 3-5 triple play in big league history.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin lost 20-or-more games 10 straight seasons from 1879-1888.

Gavvy Cravath hit 81% of his 119 career home runs in home games, the highest percentage in history. An outfielder for (mostly) the Philadelphia Phillies, Cravath played from 1908-1920.

On this date in 1997, the Red Sox traded Heathcliff Slocum to the Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, and the A’s traded Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Cards Bowman, Kinsler, Span, SABR Miami, Moore, more by David Laurila!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




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.

newest oldest most voted
Petey Bienel
Member
Petey Bienel

You’ll catch this, but the Slocumb trade was in 1997, not ’77.