Bud Black believes Mike Scioscia became more progressive this past season. According to the newly-named Colorado Rockies manager — a special assistant with the Angels in 2016 — Billy Eppler was a big reason why. Eppler replaced Jerry Dipoto as Anaheim’s general manager 13 months ago, and according to Black, he had his manager’s ear.
“His relationship with Billy, and the guys Billy brought over, especially some of the analysts — those guys really hit it off,” Black told me. “I think it was very educational for both sides. Mike and his coaches got some great insight from Billy, and from some of the ideas he brought over from the Yankees. Mike reciprocated with some great core principles of baseball. That made for a great dynamic.”
The data bears that out — to an extent. The Angels more than doubled their number of defensive shifts, although they also continued to give up outs with the sacrifice bunt. That ignominious total dropped by just one from the previous year.
At last spring’s SABR Analytics Conference, Eppler called Scioscia an ”information savant.” Based on my interactions with the long-time skipper — including this conversation about analytics — I’m inclined to concur with that claim.
“Mike is open,” said Black. “At times, people have said that he’s not, but believe me, Mike is open. I’d like to think I’m progressive enough to be open as well. Very open. The managers I know, my closest guys — Tito (Terry Francona), John Farrell, Joe Maddon, Mike — we all want to be educated on why. The last decade has taught all of us managers and coaches to be more curious than we ever were before. Times have changed.”
Of course, openness to new ideas is one thing, and implementation is another. Scioscia has seemingly made strides in both areas, with more room to grow in the latter. As for Black — his approach to analytics, and how he plans to implement them in Colorado — stay tuned. We’ll hear more from him in the coming week.
My conversation with Black brought me back to an old, unused, interview I did with Jeff Mathis. It wasn’t date-stamped, but I believe I talked to the veteran backstop midway through the 2015 season.
Mathis — most recently a Miami Marlin —spent his first seven big-league seasons with Scioscia’s Angels. While he was there, his former skipper “preached the importance of the relationship a catcher has with his pitchers.” Valuable lessons were also gleaned from older teammates.
“When I first came up, Bengie Molina and Jose Molina taught me that you can learn a lot from the bullpens, and the preparation, of a pitcher,” said Mathis. “That’s why, from Day One, I’ve always caught every bullpen before the game I was playing in. I want to have an idea of what is going to be working best for him on a given day.”
Mathis is known as a good game-caller, but he doesn’t mind deferring to his pitcher. He’s gone over the hitters with him, and most — especially the veterans — know how to read swings. There are, however, some hitters who need to be approached with an extra level of caution.
“I don’t think there are a whole bunch of them, but some guys are able to set pitchers up,” Mathis told me. “I could name a few off the top of my head. Adrian Beltre is a guy I’ve always thought tries to set pitchers up. Manny Ramirez used to do it. I would say David Ortiz does, but not to the same extent as the other two. You have to be careful not to think you have them set up for something, and have it be the other way around.”
Twelve months ago, Atlanta traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar and a pair of well-regarded pitching prospects. Braves fans were apoplectic. I interviewed the club’s general manager John Coppolella about the deal after it was announced, and the reaction to his reasoning wasn’t copacetic. It was downright vitriolic.
The extent to which opinions have changed is something you’d have to ask Atlanta fans. Presumably some have been placated, while others continue to be chagrined.
Simmons played 124 games this past season and was worth 3.1 WAR. As usual, his defense was stellar. His bat wasn’t. In a season where middle infielders suddenly became power threats, the 27-year-old shortstop left the yard four times and logged a .690 OPS.
Aybar did even less, but Simmons’ long-term replacement sparkled. After being called up in August, 22-year-old Dansby Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442.
As for the pitching prospects, Chris Ellis has seen his stock drop, but Sean Newcomb — despite lingering questions about his command — continues to have a high ceiling. If all goes as planned, he’ll reach Atlanta at some point next summer.
Over the last three seasons, no pitcher with at least 100 innings has thrown a higher percentage of curveballs than Brett Cecil and Rich Hill. The southpaws have utilized the pitch 42.7% of the time, albeit at different velocities. Hill’s hook has averaged 74.2 MPH. Cecil’s has been a firm 84.2. Only Craig Kimbrel, Cody Allen, Lance McCullers, and Wade Davis have a higher curveball velocity over that time.
Cecil — a Blue Jay for the past eight seasons — signed with the Cardinals yesterday for a reported $30.5 million, for four years. Hill remains a free agent.
The San Diego Padres added four players to their 40-man roster this week. The youngest of the group was 21-year-old shortstop prospect Javier Guerra, who was acquired from the Red Sox in last winter’s Craig Kimbrel deal. Or, one might say, Kimbrel steal.
The All-Star closer was erratic in his first year in Boston — he walked 5.1 batters per nine innings — and he’ll be paid $13.25 million next season. He then has a $13 million team option for 2018, which will be his age-30 season.
Guerra scuffled last year in high-A, but his addition to the 40-man is proof of his promise. The three youngsters who went west with him excelled. Nineteen-year-old left-hander Logan Allen had a 3.33 ERA in low-A. Outfielder Manuel Margot slashed .304/.351/.426 in Triple-A as a 21-year-old before earning a September call-up. Infielder Carlos Asuaje, who turned 25 a few weeks ago, hit .321/.378/.473 with El Paso and also finished the year in San Diego.
Asuaje almost qualifies as a graybeard. The oldest player on San Diego’s 40-man roster, left-hander Ryan Buchter, is 29 years old.
Mike Trout, whose Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim went 74-88, was just named American League MVP. Deservedly so. The game’s best player bears no fault for his teammates’ mediocrity.
Flash back to 1987. Andre Dawson was named National League MVP despite playing on a team, the Chicago Cubs, that went 76-85. Dawson impressed the voters by slashing .287/.328/.568, with 49 home runs. Despite the power numbers, he finished with the 10th highest OPS in the NL.
Kris Bryant was well-deserving of this year’s NL MVP. The voters got this one right. At the same time, a few of them got something very wrong.
Joey Votto, whose Cincinnati Reds won just 68 games, slashed .326/.434/.550, with 29 home runs. He led the circuit in OBP, wRC+ and wOBA, and was one percent point away from leading in OPS. His slugging percentage and home run total were identical to Trout’s.
In the opinion of two voters, Votto wasn’t one of the 10 most valuable players in the National League this year. The down-ballot support he received was reasonable — there were some outstanding candidates — but leaving him off entirely? C’mon.
This year’s BBWAA awards voting included a lot of new blood. MLB.com writers were eligible to cast a ballot for the first time, and according to ESPN’s Christina Kahrl, 42 did so. With 240 ballots cast, that’s 17 percent of the electorate.
Also per Kahrl, 14 of this year’s votes were cast by women. Of them, four are MLB.com employees.
Like most of us, Ty Van Burkleo is intrigued by this year’s home run explosion. Balls flew over fences at a peak-of-the-PED-era rate, with a record number of middle infielders topping the 20-home-run mark. More than anything, the Indians hitting coach attributes the influx to talent.
“Look at who’s come up in the last few years,” said Van Burkleo.” These are some of the best young players I’ve seen come up to the big leagues in quite some time. These are kids with ability and they’re going to increase that power output. Maybe some guys are swinging harder, but I think it’s more about the talent.”
He went out of his organization to cite an example.
“Look at a guy like Javier Baez,” said the Cleveland coach. “He’s gotten more control of his swing. Not necessarily in this environment, but over the past couple of years, he’s more in control it. When he first came up, there was a lot more movement. He looks like he’s trying to tone it down, and at the same time, be aggressive. He still attacks with his swing.”
Much like the Cubs, the Indians have brought a number of young players to the big leagues in recent years. How have they done in regard to controlled aggression?
“I haven’t had any guys who are out of control and trying to hit everything out of the park,” opined Van Burkleo. “They haven’t been trying to pull everything. For the most part, they’ve done a good job of staying within themselves.”
There is speculation that the new CBA will include an increase from a 25-man roster to a 26-man roster. In all likelihood, this extra spot would be used for be a relief pitcher more often than not. That would increase the number of pitching changes, negatively impacting pace of game. This is probably not a good idea.
Over the last three seasons, Washington’s Bryce Harper has played in 400 games and slashed .284/.400/.515 with 79 home runs. Detroit’s J.D. Martinez has played in 401 games and slashed .299/.357/.540 with 83 home runs.
Gleyber Torres, a 19-year-old shortstop in the Yankees system, led the just-completed Arizona Fall League in batting average (.403), OBP (.513) and OPS (1.158). Acquired from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal, Torres was named the AFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Curtis Pride, who played for six teams over parts of 11 big-league seasons, debuted with the Montreal Expos in 1993. Called up in September, he went 4 for 9, with all of his base knocks coming as a pinch-hitter. They weren’t all insignificant.
Pride’s first hit was a two-run double in the seventh inning of a game the Expos would go on to win in 12 innings. His second hit was a triple in a 6-3 loss. His third hit was two-run, ninth-inning home run that gave his team a 5-3 win. His fourth hit was a single in a three-run seventh in a 6-3 win.
With the double, triple, home run, and single, Pride — who has been deaf since birth — hit for the cycle with his first four MLB safeties.
His next two big-league hits, which came with the Expos in 1995, were also of the pinch-hit variety. The next four came in games he’d entered as a defensive replacement. It wasn’t until Pride’s 37th big-league appearance that he recorded the 11th hit of his career, and his first as a member of a starting lineup.
On September 22, 1954, Brooklyn Dodgers southpaw Karl Spooner threw a three-hit shutout against the New York Giants in his big-league debut. He had 15 strikeouts. Four days later, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This time he had 12 strikeouts.
The following spring, Spooner hurt his shoulder. Pitching with discomfort, he went 8-6, 3.65 in 29 appearances, 14 of them starts, for the pennant-winning Dodgers. He started Game Six of the 1955 World Series, but retired only one of the six batters he faced. Spooner never threw another pitch in a big-league game.
Spooner’s 15 strikeouts in his debut established a new MLB record. On September 5, 1971, Houston’s Astros righty JR Richard equaled that feat with 15 strikeouts against the San Francisco Giants in his first big-league game.
Miami’s Triple-A affiliate will no longer be known as the New Orleans Zephyrs. Beginning next year, they will be known as the New Orleans Baby Cakes. The announcement, which came a few days ago, unfortunately didn’t come on April 1.
“Unfortunately” is, of course, an opinion. There are obviously people who like the moniker — beauty is in the eye of the beholder (here is the logo) — but they appear to be in the minority. The reaction on social media has been largely negative, with no shortage of snarky guffaws. Twitter suggestions for future name changes have included Kalamazoo Sweet Cheeks, Grand Rapid Shnookums, and Staten Island Schmoopies.
Are the slings and arrows fair? In many respects, they’re not. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and while it’s a little strange, Baby Cakes is certainly catchy (one might say “tasty”). Plus, it has put the team in the news, and minor league affiliates need all the attention they can get.
That said, count me among those who prefer old-school names like Mudhens.
Emerson Pink Hawley — that was his given name — threw 3,012 innings for five teams from 1892-1901. The right-hander’s twin brother was Elmer Blue Hawley. Pink won 31 games, and batted .308, for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1895.
According to his SABR bio, Pink Hawley was nicknamed the “Duke of Pittsburgh” and was known to wear diamonds and other items of high fashion.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Baseball America, J.J. Cooper wrote about how MLB catchers’ workloads keep decreasing.
Longtime Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth — one of the nicest people in the game — will be undergoing prostate cancer surgery this week. Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star has the story.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2016 recipient of the Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic Excellence. The team is being recognized for their commitment to the fight against ALS.
In 1925, Washington Senators shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh was named AL MVP in a season where he had a 91 OPS+ and 2.4 WAR. Peckinpaugh went on to be charged with a record eight errors in the World Series. The Senators lost to the Pirates in seven games.
The Toronto Blue Jays grounded into 153 double plays this past season, the most in the majors. The Tampa Bay Rays grounded into the fewest (88) double plays, and also had the fewest singles (797). The Miami Marlins had the most singles, 1.031.
Cincinnati Reds pitchers threw 9.523 pitches that were called balls, the most of any team. New York Mets pitchers threw 8.023 balls, the fewest of any team.
Three years ago today, the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. Since coming to Detroit, Kinsler has slashed .286/.332/.443 and been worth 15.2 WAR. Fielder battled injuries after going to Texas and retired earlier this year.