Sunday Notes: Niko Goodrum Got Comfortable and Became a Tiger

Niko Goodrum has been a find for the Tigers. His 232/.297/.435 slash line is admittedly ho-hum, but he’s providing plenty of value with his versatility and verve. Reminiscent of Tony Phillips, the 26-year-old former Twins prospect has started games at six positions. In his first Motor City season, he’s served as both a spark plug and a Swiss Army Knife.

He came to Detroit on the cheap. After toiling for eight years in the Minnesota system, Goodrum arrived as minor league free agent with just 18 MLB plate appearances under his belt. He’s more than earning his league-minimum money. While the aforementioned offensive numbers are pedestrian, the switch-hitter has driven his fair share of baseballs up gaps. His 24 doubles and 12 home runs rank third on the team, and he’s legged out two triples to boot.

Goodrum recognizes that his ability to play all over the field is a major reason he’s getting an opportunity with the rebuilding Tabbies. Another is that he’s finally found himself.

“I’m not searching anymore,” Goodrum told me. “I think that when you’re trying to find your identity of who you are, including what type of hitter you are, the game is a lot harder. When you believe in the things that are in you, your ability will start to show.”

Goodrum feels that corner was turned two years ago.

“I let them know what I was comfortable with, rather than having somebody telling me what I should be comfortable doing,” explained Goodrum, who at the time was returning from a broken foot. ”When your career is over with, you want to go out how you want to go out. I had time to think about that when I was rehabbing. I decided that I wanted to do it my way, and whatever happened from there, I could live with that.”

Goodrum harbors no hard feeling for how he was coached in the Twins system. He understands that his original organization was doing some searching of their own, trying to figure out how to make him more productive. It simply reached the point where the tweaks had become tribulations. Career-wise, he was essentially spinning his wheels.

“The older you get, the more willing you are to voice your opinion,” said Goodrum, who went back to being athletic at the plate, as opposed to trying to mold a specific swing. “That’s what I did. Again, it was basically, ‘This is what’s comfortable for me.’ That’s a big thing. If you’re comfortable you’re going to be confident, and once you have both of those things you can relax and play a little bit.”

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Adam Jones and Bob Melvin had similar things to say when I asked them earlier this season about the thought-versus-reaction dynamic. The Oakland manager said that players reach a point where something becomes natural and “the things you’re thinking about, you don’t have to think about anymore. It becomes a part of who you are.” The Orioles outfielder put it this way: “The more you think, the worse you’ll be in this game. Bad hitters think about hitting. Good hitters don’t think about hitting. Bad fielders think about fielding. Good fielders don’t think about fielding.”

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Back in early June, I asked Ron Gardenhire how good his team is. The Tigers were only a handful of games under .500 at the time, which was far better than most people anticipated going into the season. Every bit as pragmatic as he is positive, the veteran skipper took care to be measured in his response.

“That’s something we honestly don’t even try to think about,” Gardenhire said. “We know the expectations weren’t very high for us. We talked right out of spring training that we can’t worry about what people are saying. We just have to put the bubble on and just play. Yes, we have some holes, but it’s a group that works hard, pushes each other, and has a lot of fun together. That’s all I can ask for at this time.”

Gardenhire’s ball club is now 48-69, and without Leonys Martin and Mike Fiers, who have since been dealt for prospects. The rebuild continues. The growing pains continue.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Branch Rickey went 1 for 9 against Cy Young.

Lefty Grove went 1 for 25 against Lefty Gomez.

Lefty Gomez went 4 for 33 against Lefty Grove.

Whitey Herzog went 0 for 3 against Whitey Ford.

Casey Stengel went 7 for 22 against Bill James.

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Nate Freiman was equal parts entertaining and informative when he spoke at last weekend’s Saberseminar, in Boston. The former Oakland A’s first baseman presented on minor league strike zones, then fielded questions from the audience. Among the observations he shared — sometimes with self-deprecating humor — were the challenges that come with being a platoon player.

“I’d see right-on-right sliders, which would dive out of the zone,” said the 31-year-old Freiman, who is heading back to school to pursue a graduate degree at Duke University. “I was susceptible to chasing pitches. Very susceptible to chasing pitches. From lefties, I saw a lot more curveballs, which I tended to pretty well, because there wasn’t the focus on tunneling that there is now. A lot of these curveballs would pop up (out of the hand) and you could see pretty early on that it would be a breaking ball. The pitch I struggled with (from lefties) was the back-foot slider. I swung at it in low-A. And I continued to swing at it my entire career.”

The number of swings he took against lefties relative to the swings he took against righties had a marked impact on his splits.

“I had about 300 plate appearances in the big leagues, and maybe 60 of them were against righties,” estimated Freiman (the actual numbers were 301 and 68). “When you’re in the box, it becomes a repetitive visual exercise of seeing the release point. My body and my eyes were timed up to see (the ball) come out from a lefty, so when I saw a righty it was a different look. It was unfamiliar.

“It’s actually very difficult to play sparingly against righties, or against lefties, and I think people’s splits tend to confirm that. I hit lefties better my entire career, but I think the splits were exaggerated a little bit because of how sparingly I faced righties.”

Freiman had a .444 OPS in his limited looks against same-sided pitching. His OPS versus opposite-hand hurlers was a far-more-respectable .796. All nine of his home runs came against southpaws.

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Speaking at Saberseminar, Greg Rybarcyzk told of how a few year’s worth of data he analyzed showed that 30 percent of home runs clear the fence by 10 feet or less. As the Red Sox analyst put it, “That gives you an idea of how sensitive offense in a particular ballpark can be with the movement of a fence by just a couple of feet… It can have a very dramatic impact.”

With the construction of current-day MLB baseballs in mind, Rybarcyz went on to paraphrase, in question form, from an earlier presentation: “How much of a change in the drag coefficient do you need to change home runs?… It turns out to be a very small, a very subtle change.”

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NEWSY STUFF

Albert Pujols got his 1,000th hit as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Friday, making him the ninth player to reach the 1,000 mark in each league. Pujols had 2,073 hits with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Red Sox centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was charged with an error on Friday night when he failed to handle a ball that, per StatCast, had a 6% catch probability. Bradley ran 60 feet in 4.2 seconds before having the ball carom off his glove.

After a double-header sweep of the Orioles on Saturday, the Red Sox have a record of 84-35. The 1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees were 82-37 at the same point in the season.

With seven scoreless innings yesterday, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams has allowed two runs in 29 innings over his last five starts.

The Society for American Baseball Research celebrated a birthday on Friday. The first-ever SABR meeting was held on August 10, 1971 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, in Cooperstown.

New York Times baseball columnist Tyler Kepner has a book coming out next spring — “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” — and it’s now available for preorder.

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According to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Doug Melvin was the first to ask for Mookie Betts in trade talks with the Red Sox. This is back when Betts was an under-the-radar prospect and Melvin was Milwaukee’s general manager. Then-Boston-GM Ben Cherington rebuffed the Brewers, as he later did the Phillies when they wanted Betts as part of a proposed deal for Cole Hamels.

Cherington is now the Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from the Nick Markakis piece that led this column a few weeks ago were snippets on All-Star teammate Freddie Freeman, and on how he hasn’t joined the launch angle revolution.

“Some guys don’t need video,” said Markakis, who often goes to it between at bats to monitor his timing. “Freddie doesn’t stride much, and gets his front foot down early, so his timing is a little different than other guys. Guys with big leg kicks have to go a little earlier to be on time with certain pitches.

“I haven’t changed anything. All I’m trying to do is hit the ball hard. If you catch a ball out front you’re going to have a good launch angle, and if you catch it deep you’re not going to have a good launch angle.”

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Dayton Dragons broadcaster Tom Nichols called his 4,000th game on Wednesday. Nichols has worked for seven teams since beginning his career in 1988, and this is his 11th season with Cincinnati’s low-A Midwest League affiliate.

The Arkansas Travelers and Seattle Mariners have extended their player development contract through the 2020 season. The Travelers compete in the Double-A Texas League and have been a Seattle affiliate since the start of last season.

The Fresno Grizzlies beat the Memphis Redbirds by a score of 15-14 on Tuesday. Twelve years ago to the day, on August 7, 2006, the Grizzlies beat the Redbirds by a score of 17-16.

On Friday, Fresno’s home game against the Albuquerque Isotopes was delayed for 28 minutes due to poor air quality related to the wildfires currently burning in California. The temperature at first pitch was 98 degrees.

Seuly Matias now has 31 home runs and 29 singles on the season. The 19-year-old Kansas City Royals prospect is slashing .223/.299/.550 with the high-A Lexington Legends.

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A recent Notes column included the story of how Washington Nationals prospect Sterling Sharp learned his two-seam grip from an internet video of Blake Treinen. Not mentioned in the Sunday segment were Sharp’s secondary offerings, one of which, his slider, flashed plus when I saw him pitch in Portland late last month.

“I’ve been working on it with Jharel Cotton in the offseason,” Sharp said of his slider. “We both work out at the All Fields Baseball Academy (in Southfield, Michigan). That’s the third pitch I’ve kind of been lacking.”

Sharp told me that his circle change is a pitch he’s had since a young age. He throws it with a similar grip as his sinker, “to get the same spin out of my hand, but have it 10 MPH slower.”

On the season Sharp is 9-5, 3.49 in 23 starts between high-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

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Sam Fuld has an economics degree from Stanford, eight years of experience as a big-league outfielder, and he’s now on the Philadelphia Phillies coaching staff as a major league player information coordinator. During the offseason he puts his efforts into helping others.

“In 2011, my first year with Tampa, I got invited to go check out the new University of South Florida diabetes center,” explained Fuld. “I’d been thinking about hosting a diabetes sports camp, so I brought that up with them and they really liked the idea. We got the ball rolling from there, and that winter we held our first one. These are kids age 8 to 17 — we’ve had over 100 kids each year — and the last camp was our seventh, all of them at USF.

A related event revolves around a game many of us have played in our back yards.

“Four years ago, a guy by the name of Jeff Kolok, who runs SlamT1D, connected with me and we started these wiffleball tournaments,” shared Fuld. “He had been doing them in the New England area for a couple of years, and we decided it was a logical fit, so we’ve doing one in Tampa. We had our fourth one this past winter, with 20 teams taking part. The tournament raises awareness for Type 1 diabetes, and helps fund the camp.”

Fuld isn’t the only former big-leaguer who displays his wiffleball skills in the annual fundraiser. The list of previous participants includes Chris Archer, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Kevin Kiermaier, and Andrew Miller.

“I’ve been Type-1 diabetic since age 10, so this obviously near and dear to my heart,” Fuld said. “It feels really good to be able to do this. It’s one of the best weekends of my year, every year.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

A fan who missed a game in 1966 because of a near-fatal accident attempted to exchange the tickets — they were priced at $2.50 — to see the Indians play in July. She was successful, and Marc Bone wrote about it At cleveland.com.

Andrew J. Shea came up with the legal strategy that helped save the Twins from contraction in the early 2000s. John Reinan wrote Shea’s obituary for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Over at The Ringer, Bryan Curtis shared how the Cape Cod League can be an important step for aspiring professional baseball broadcasters.

At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how Rakuten Golden Eagles infielder Japhet Amador became the fifth player in NPB history to be suspended for using a banned substance.

Robin Ventura was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame earlier this week, 35 years after being infamously pummeled by Nolan Ryan. Barry Tramel talked to the former White Sox third baseman for The Chicago Tribune.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

White Sox infielder Matt Davidson has made three MLB pitching appearances and has allowed one hit and one walk in three innings of work. He hasn’t allowed a run.

As of yesterday, 52 pitchers had appeared in 50 or more games this season. Eleven of them had thrown more than 55 innings. In 1980, 51 pitchers appeared in 50 or more games. All of them threw more than 55 innings.

Dee Gordon has 101 singles and has walked eight times. Bryce Harper has 46 singles and has walked 90 times.

Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. combined to hit 782 home runs and steal 384 bases. Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds combined to hit 1,094 home runs and steal 975 bases.

Hank Aaron’s combined home run (755) and stolen base (240) totals were 995. Willie Mays’s combined home run (660) and stolen base (338) totals were 998.

Ron Allen went 1 for 11 in his brief big-league career, with his lone hit coming with the St. Louis Cardinals on August 17, 1972. His older brothers, Dick Allen (1,848) and Hank Allen (212), combined for 2,060 hits.

On this date in 1966, Cincinnati’s Art Shamsky homered in the eighth, tenth, and eleventh innings in a 13-inning, 14-i1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Shamsky entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth inning.

On this date in 1987, the Detroit Tigers acquired 36-year-old Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for 20-year-old pitching prospect John Smoltz. Alexander proceeded to go 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA, helping the Tigers win the AL East by a two-game margin over the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 1958, Milwaukee Braves southpaw Warren Spahn went 22-11 with a 3.07 ERA and finished second in NL Cy Young Award balloting. As a hitter, he came to the plate 122 times and slashed .333/.381/.463 with a pair of home runs.

In 1930, Erv Brame of the Pittsburgh Pirates went 17-8 and led NL pitchers with 17 complete games. At the plate, he went 41 for 116, for a .353 batting average.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Niko Goodrum Got Comfortable and Became a Tiger 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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5 Comments on "Sunday Notes: Niko Goodrum Got Comfortable and Became a Tiger"

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Good stuff, but I believe you’ll want to fix the heading “Mon-MLB Notables.”

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Psychic... Powerless...

Thanks for fixing.