Author Archive

Sunday Notes: Brent Strom Ponders the End of the Road

Brent Strom may or may not be calling it a career. The 73-year-old Houston Astros pitching coach said earlier this week that he’s been considering retirement, adding that a decision will be made “when the season ends.” With his team battling Boston in the ALCS, that determination could come as soon as next week, or it could extend into November. Regardless of when he ultimately steps away, Strom will have made a meaningful mark on the game of baseball.

A southpaw whose playing career saw him take the mound for three big-league teams, Strom had his best seasons in 1975 and 1976 when he cumulatively logged a 3.02 ERA over 331 innings with his hometown San Diego Padres. In 1978, he became the second pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The guidance that he’s subsequently provided is what’s garnered him the most respect. For the past three decades, Strom has tutored hurlers at the minor- and major-league levels, serving as both a coordinator and as a pitching coach. Prior to being hired by Houston in October 2013, he spent six years with St. Louis.

I asked Adam Ottavino about Strom prior to ALCS Game 1.

“We had ‘Strommy’ with the Cardinals toward the end of my time in the minors,” said the Red Sox right-hander, who spent five seasons in the St. Louis system after being drafted out of Northeastern University in 2006. “He worked with me when I was struggling in Double-A, and I really liked the way he talked about there being many different ways to go about pitching. You didn’t have to fit into some small little box. At the time, a lot of people were preaching one way of pitching — kind of pitching to contact and throwing fastballs low in the zone — and he wasn’t afraid to challenge that idea.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dillon Tate Talks Fastballs

Dillon Tate’s fastballs were primarily sinkers this season. Per Statcast, the 27-year-old Baltimore Orioles reliever threw 615 of them in total, versus just 16 four-seamers. Delivered with a one-seam grip at an average velocity of 95.5 mph, and with a spin rate that ranked in the third percentile, the offering has evolved into Tate’s signature pitch. Buoyed by its increased effectiveness, the right-hander appeared in a career-high 62 games, logging a 4.39 ERA and an almost-identical 4.40 FIP.

Tate discussed the evolution of his fastball(s) when the Orioles played at Fenway Park in mid-September.


Dillon Tate: “I’d always thrown a four-seam, but the evolution of my fastball changed throughout the years. When I was in high school, I would grip a standard four-seam, like so. But the way I was grabbing it… when you grab it with the horseshoe facing in — it’s making a “C” — and you throw it, the Magnus effect takes over; it will start to bring the ball down, and more so in to a right-handed hitter. When you flip it over — make it a backwards “C” — it fights gravity a little bit more, so will stay truer. I learned that in 2017 from one of my rehab coaches with the Yankees, Greg Pavlick.

Dillon Tate’s four-seam grip.

“So, I’d been grabbing it [with the horseshoe facing in], and then with the Yankees switched over. I had a little bit of success, but then towards the middle-end of 2018, my fastball was getting hit pretty hard. That’s when I started switching over to a sinker, to a one-seam fastball. On a traditional two-seam fastball, a lot of guys will split the seams. I found comfort in going across the seam, and throwing my fastball with [the pointer finger] on one seam. I started to see my groundball rate go up. It’s turned out to be pretty good movement profile-wise — it dances more than my four-seam fastball did — so it’s been a better option for me. Read the rest of this entry »

With a Second-Straight Walk-Off Win, Boston Advances to the ALCS

BOSTON — Unlike Sunday’s ALDS Game 3, this one wasn’t quite an instant classic. But it was nonetheless a drama-filled contest that culminated in a final swing of the bat that sent Fenway Park into a state of euphoria. When all was said and done, the Boston Red Sox had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, thereby winning a hard-fought series in four games and advancing to the ALCS. The final score was 6-5.

Randy Arozarena led off the game by driving a 3-2 pitch from Eduardo Rodriguez up the gap in right center, the trajectory taking it close to the same spot where a pinball-carom caused controversy on Sunday night. This time, Hunter Renfroe made a clean catch, robbing the Tampa Bay outfielder of what looked like a sure double with a lunging, backhanded grab. More spectacular to the naked eye than the .500 expected batting average calculated by Statcast, the catch set the tone for the first two frames.

It was Tampa Bay’s defense that shone after Rodriquez recorded a one-two-three top half. Arozarena and Wander Franco made stellar plays in the bottom half, and Kevin Kiermaier did what Kevin Kiermaier does in the following inning, stealing a hit with a diving catch.

Rodriguez continued dealing. Coming off a Game 1 start in which he didn’t get out of the second inning, the 28-year-old southpaw fanned five over the first three frames with nary a Rays batter reaching. The last of those punch-outs, which came against Austin Meadows leading off the third, was notable for its longevity. A 17-pitch at-bat that featured eight consecutive foul balls after the count went full ended with Meadows waving at an 81.7-mph Rodriguez slider. The next two batters were retired on just three pitches. Read the rest of this entry »

Buoyed By a Break, Red Sox Win ALDS Game 3 With Walk-off Blast

BOSTON — It’s a shame that one team had to lose. In a game that will go down as a postseason classic, the Boston Red Sox walked off the Tampa Bay Rays, 6–4, on a 13th-inning home run by Christian Vázquez to win Game 3 of the ALDS and take a 2–1 series lead.

Now, on to what transpired.

The eventful first inning epitomized modern-era baseball. Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi fanned three Rays batters in the top half but also gave up an Austin Meadows home run — a 406-foot shot off the back wall of the visiting bullpen — that followed a Wander Franco single. In the bottom half, Rays right-hander Drew Rasmussen was taken deep by Kyle Schwarber — this one at 390 feet — but then fanned Rafael Devers after giving up a 104.8-mph single off the Green Monster by Enrique Hernández.

Eight batters into the game, we had four strikeouts, two home runs, and a pair of singles, one of which would have been a double in 29 other ballparks. Moreover, all four batted balls were hit with triple-digit exit velocity. Again, modern-era baseball: whiffs, dingers, and Statcast readings to measure it all. A three-strikeout, one-walk top of the second only added to the three-true-outcome mix. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Arozarena’s Steal Would Have Been Nullified By a Strike

In what might be the most-thrilling play we’ll see all October, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena successfully executed a straight steal of home in Game One of the ALDS. Moments later, I shared the following on Twitter:

Instead of calmly throwing a ball right down the middle for strike three to end the inning, Taylor panicked.”

Journalist friend Bruce Schoenfeld responded as follows:

That is exactly right. I kept waiting for the announcers to say it. I wrote a [Sports Illustrated] piece on straight steals of home & talked to every active player who’d done it. They agreed that nobody should ever try with two out and two strikes, All the pitcher has to do is throw a strike.”

In other words, Arozarena’s theft could have been nullified.

I checked with a rules expert to make sure Bruce and I weren’t mistaken. According to Chris Welsh — a former big-league pitcher and current Cincinnati Reds radio and TV analyst who runs the website Baseball Rules Academy — we had it right. Had Red Sox reliever Josh Taylor simply remained on the rubber and thrown a pitch that landed in strike zone, the batter would have been out and the inning would have been over. Instead, he made the mistake of stepping off, thereby making himself a fielder and not a pitcher. His hurried heave toward home plate wasn’t nearly in time.

Again, there were two outs and two strikes on the batter. Read the rest of this entry »

Bobby Bradley Talks Hitting

Bobby Bradley is both a power hitter and a work-in-progress. Swinging from the left side, the 25-year-old Cleveland first baseman swatted 16 home runs this year in 279 plate appearances, but he also fanned 99 times. At 35.5%, his K-rate was fourth-highest among major league batters with at least 250 PAs. But again, Bradley hits for power. Despite an uninspiring .208/.294/.445 slash line, his 99 wRC+ was a mere tick below average. With further maturation and improved contact skills, Bradley could very well emerge as a force in the middle of the soon-to-be-Guardians lineup.

Bradley talked hitting when Cleveland visited Fenway Park in early September.


David Laurila: Do you view hitting as more of a science, or as more of an art?

Bobby Bradley: “More of an art. Personally, I don’t look at it from the scientific side; I don’t get into all the data and all that. It’s more something that I take pride in, and I try to take care of my swing. So I’d say that it’s a work of art to me. I obviously haven’t perfected it, but at the same time, it’s like my masterpiece.”

Laurila: Do you have the same swing now that you did as a younger player?

Bradley: “It’s pretty close. For instance, it’s not entirely different from when I got drafted [in 2014]. There are maybe a couple of things, like where I put my hands. I also have a little bit bigger leg-kick now. But overall, it’s pretty close to where I was in high school.”

Laurila: When did the bigger leg-kick come about? Read the rest of this entry »

With the Wild Card in the Books, an Imperfect Boston Team Advances to the ALDS

BOSTON — The American League Wild Card matchup that few fanbases wanted turned out to be… well, not quite everything that anyone could have asked for. There were big plays and some sixth-inning drama, but by no means did it qualify as a Red Sox-Yankees classic. As much as anything, it was an Alex Cora-managed team showing that it was worthy of a postseason berth despite the skepticism that came with an up-and-down second half. In front of 38,324 fans at Fenway Park, Boston beat New York by a score of 6-2 Tuesday night.

The tone was set early.

Giancarlo Stanton came into the game with a .389/.451/.689 slash line and a 208 wRC+ in 102 career plate appearances at Fenway Park. He’d gone deep six times, and two outs into the first inning it looked like that number would become seven. Stanton certainly seemed to think so; standing in the box, he briefly admired what ended up being a 345-foot single — exit velo 94.8 mph — off the Green Monster. Joey Gallo then fanned to end the inning.

The top half served as an omen. Instead of an early New York lead, the game remained scoreless. But not for long. With a runner on in the bottom half, Xander Bogaerts blasted a Gerrit Cole offering 427 feet into the center field bleachers, a bomb that was preceded by a bit of mano-a-mano electricity. Rafael Devers swung out of his shoes early in the count during his at-bat, and the veteran right-hander responded by buzzing him with a fastball on the next pitch. Undaunted, the young slugger kept his composure and worked the Yankees ace for what turned out to be a fruitful walk. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Ralph Garza Jr. Looks Back at His Non-stereotypical Debut

Ralph Garza Jr.’s MLB debut was both forgettable and impossible to forget. The 27-year-old right-hander took the mound for the Houston Astros in a May 29 home game against the San Diego Padres, and the circumstances were anything but ordinary. Rookies rarely get their feet wet with games hanging in the balance, and Garza entered in the 12th inning with the score knotted at eight runs apiece. Moreover, the Friars — their eventual free fall still far in the future — had won 14 of their last 16 games. A hornet’s nest awaited.

“It wasn’t your stereotypical debut,” acknowledged Garza, who two months later was designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins. “But it’s funny, because as a reliever you’re told to always prepare for the worst. And it was something, especially against that lineup at that time. They were hot. Basically, I was being thrown into the fire. It was extras, last guy available, ‘There you go.’”

When the bullpen phone rang, he knew that his debut was nigh. It was a moment where Garza needed to remind himself to “stay calm and remember what you do, and how to do it.” Easier said than done. As the Edinburg, Texas native aptly put it, keeping one’s emotions in check when climbing a big-league bump for the first time is “like trying to tell water not to be wet.”

Garza entered with a ghost runner on second and promptly issued an intentional walk to Fernando Tatis Jr. A harmless fly-ball out followed, but soon things went south. A few pitches later, Wil Myers launched a mis-located heater into the cheap seats, turning a coming-out party into a nightmare. Garza knew it right away. Read the rest of this entry »

Kansas City’s Kris Bubic on the Art of the Changeup

Kris Bubic leans heavily on his changeup. The 24-year-old Kansas City Royals left-hander has gone to his signature pitch 30.9% of the time this year, the fourth highest percentage among hurlers with at least 120 innings. Low velocity and low spin are two of its attributes. Bubic — a Stanford product whom the Royals drafted 40th overall in 2018 — throws his change-of-pace 80 mph on average, with a 1,602 rpm spin rate.


Kris Bubic: “At the end of Little League, around 13 [years old], I had a club coach — his name was Erick Raich — and I tried to throw a changeup. At that point you’re not really developed enough to throw a breaking ball, at least not in my opinion. Your hand speed isn’t there, and the ball is bigger than your hand, so it’s tough to hold it and whatnot. Even a changeup. But the changeup was the first off-speed pitch I learned, and he showed me a standard circle grip. I threw a four-seam fastball, and [the changeup] was just a four-seam circle. It was pretty simple.

“As I developed it, I would play catch with it constantly, at 90 feet, at 120 feet, just to get the feel for it. I’d feel myself releasing it out front to get that good extension. But I think the separator for me… there are two things, actually. One is the velocity difference I’m able to create off my fastball. Two is that it essentially spins the same. There is variability with changeups — some have sidespin, some guys have split grips and whatnot — but mine essentially spins the same as my fastball. The axis is a little tilted toward more sidespin, but not enough that you can really tell from the eye. Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan Mountcastle Talks Hitting

Ryan Mountcastle has a relatively straightforward approach to hitting. To say that it works for him would be stating the obvious. Since debuting with the Baltimore Orioles in late August of last year, the 24-year-old first baseman/outfielder has gone deep 37 times in 706 plate appearances. There are admittedly swing-and-miss issues — Mountcastle’s 26.1 K% is less than ideal — but his .273/.326/.492 slash line and 118 wRC+ are rock solid for a player with barely more than a full season under his belt. Power is Mountcastle’s calling card. Earlier this month, the former first-round pick set an Orioles rookie record for home runs in a season when he left the yard for the 29th time. He’s since added three more.

Mountcastle talked hitting on a recent visit to Fenway Park.


David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite ice-breaker questions: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science?

Ryan Mountcastle: “Man, that’s tough. I would say more of an art. Everybody’s got their own swing, and everybody’s got their own mindset when it comes to hitting. So I think it’s more of an art for each person, how they picture it in their minds.” Read the rest of this entry »