Author Archive

Luke Weaver Is Working on a Cutter. Or Is It a Slider?

When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Luke Weaver in the deal that sent Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals, they brought on board a 25-year-old right-hander with a crisp fastball and a plus changeup. What Weaver has lacked is a quality third option to augment his go-to offerings. While he went to his hook 12.7% of the time last year, the pitch was more of a show-me than a weapon. Improving it was a primary focus over the offseason, and it has remained one this spring.

It’s not the only pitch the former first-round pick has been working on. Weaver is also hoping to reintroduce a cutter-slider to his arsenal. The extent to which that qualifies as one or two pitches — i.e. cutter and/or slider — isn’t an easy question to answer. At least, that wasn’t the case when I sat down with Weaver a few weeks ago in D-Backs camp.

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David Laurila: It’s been a few years since we talked about your repertoire. What’s changed since that time?

Luke Weaver: “Fastball and changeup are still my primaries, but I’ve been developing a slider, and a better curveball. Both are turning into what they want to be. I’m not trying to force them into being any specific thing — I’m just seeing what the break is doing, trusting it, and going for it. With a cutter and a curveball to go with my main two, I have four legit pitches.”

Laurila: You first said ‘slider,’ but then called it a cutter. Which is it? Read the rest of this entry »


Drew Ferguson Talks Hitting

Last week’s ‘Talks Hitting’ interviews featured a pair of prominent big-leaguers. Daniel Murphy and Nolan Arenado have combined to make seven All-Star teams over the past five seasons. Today we feature a far-less-accomplished player. Drew Ferguson, a 26-year-old outfielder currently in camp with the San Francisco Giants, has yet to make his major league debut.

Ferguson has a finance degree from Belmont University, but his true passion is the biomechanics of hitting. He can definitely swing the bat. In 316 plate appearances last year — all but 24 at the Triple-A level — Ferguson slashed .304/.432/.443. He did so in the Houston Astros organization, from which the Giants selected him in December’s Rule-5 draft.

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David Laurila: I understand that you have a strong interest in analytics.

Drew Ferguson: “I’ve been interested in analytics for many years — dating all the way back to high school — but numbers can only tell you so much. From a player development standpoint, it’s more about the biomechanics of the swing. How does the body move? What are we trying to do as hitters? What are the angles of the pitch versus the swing? What is a good approach based on your swing, based on the pitcher’s repertoire?”

Laurila: Hitting analytics are obviously becoming a big part of the game.

Ferguson: “100%. A lot of [hitting] is intuitive to players — guys describe things in different ways — but with the technology we have to describe a swing … I was just talking to one of my teammates about how angles are going to line up. For example, your posture and the direction of your swing can tell you that you should probably hit four-seam fastballs at the top of the zone easier than a sinker at the bottom of the zone. You can see that by looking at video, and at the metrics of your swing. Read the rest of this entry »


Jon Gray, Mark Gubicza, and Garrett Richards on Developing Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Jon Gray, Mark Gubicza, and Garrett Richards — on how they learned and developed their sliders.

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Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies

“I started throwing a slider in probably 2012. I first learned how to throw a slurve, and that taught me how to throw a slider. I remember my uncle teaching me to throw one. He was like, ‘Don’t be throwing curves. You need to throw slurves and cutters, so you don’t mess up your arm.’ He didn’t want any action on my wrist.

“I learned how to throw that, a slurve, which is kind of the basics of a slider. In high school, I didn’t really have a grip. I didn’t know how to hold one, I guess. I just kind of made up my own grip and went with it. I didn’t watch baseball growing up — I watched none — so it was kind of hard. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Chuck Cottier’s Memorable Pro Debut Was 65 Years Ago

Chuck Cottier made his MLB debut in a star-studded environment. Playing second base, he was in the Milwaukee Braves lineup alongside the likes of Hank Aaron, Del Crandall and Eddie Mathews. The first ground ball he fielded on that April 1959 afternoon came off the bat of Roberto Clemente, on a pitch thrown by Warren Spahn. Harvey Haddix, who a month later would take a a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Braves, was on the mound for Pittsburgh.

Cottier’s first professional game was also memorable. Just 18 years old at the time — he’d signed at 17 out of a Grand Junction, Colorado high school — Cottier was playing for the Americus-Cordele Orioles in the Georgia-Florida League. It was 1954, and the minor league landscape was different than it is today.

“The lowest league was class D,” explained Cottier, who is now 83 years old and a special assistant to the general manager with the Washington Nationals. “From there it went to C, B, A, Double-A, Triple-A, and many of the organizations had two teams in each classification. We had three Triple-A teams at one time.”

Displaying a sharp-as-a-tack memory, the venerable baseball lifer told me that his first-ever game was played in Fitzgerald, Georgia, in a ballpark with a skinned infield. One play in particular stood out. Cottier remembers a “big left-handed hitter named Thompson” smashing a one-hop line drive that hit him just above the wrist, caromed over his shoulder, and rolled all the way to the fence.

Several hours later, his ride stopped rolling. Read the rest of this entry »


Nolan Arenado Talks Hitting

Nolan Arenado is one of the best hitters in the game. The 27-year-old third baseman has won four consecutive Silver Slugger awards, averaging a a 127 wRC+, 40 doubles, and 40 home runs over that stretch. Ensconced in the heart of the Colorado Rockies batting order, he’s driven in 503 runs, the most in MLB by a comfortable margin.

Like many players, Arenado has evolved. Unlike one of his new teammates, he’s done so in a more traditional —less nerdy, if you will — manner. On Tuesday we heard from Daniel Murphy on how he transformed himself into an elite hitter. Today we hear from Arenado.

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David Laurila: We first talked during your 2013 rookie season. How have you most changed as a hitter since that time?

Nolan Arenado: “When I’m going well, I’m good at staying on my back leg. I didn’t do that back then. I was a front-leg hitter. That’s why I wasn’t driving the ball out of the ballpark. I was good at putting bat to ball in 2013, but that’s it. I was just slapping the ball for a knock.

“I had to learn how to be quicker without jumping at the ball. I had to learn to control the middle-inside pitch, because they were beating me there. I was kind of drifting, and I was getting jammed. In 2014, I started focusing on getting the head out. Read the rest of this entry »


Daniel Murphy Talks Hitting

Daniel Murphy can rake. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2008, the 33-year-old infielder has slashed .299/.344/.458. Moreover, he’s become a better hitter — a more dangerous hitter — in recent seasons. While a knee injury limited him last year, Murphy’s left-handed stroke produced 146 extra-base hits and a 144 wRC+ between 2016-2017. And now he’ll get to play his home games in Coors Field. The Colorado Rockies signed him to a free agent deal back in December.

Murphy, who could accurately be described as a hitting nerd, talked about the art and science of his craft this past weekend at Colorado’s spring training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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David Laurila: Hitting analytics are becoming an important part of the game. To what extent can they translate into improved performance? I’m referring primarily to the swing.

Daniel Murphy: “I think we were doing that even before there was a measure for it. If you talk to any hitting coach, he’s going to say, ‘I want you to get a good pitch to hit. I want you to hit it hard.’ — that’s exit velocity — ‘and I want you to impact it in the gap.’ — that’s measurable by launch angle. What’s really changed is that we can quantify, and measure, exactly what hitting coaches have always been telling us to do: Hit the ball hard, in the gap.”

Laurila: Basically, what Ted Williams was preaching 50 years ago.

Murphy: “That, and it’s measurable. If you talked to Ted, he would probably say, ‘I don’t want the infielders to catch my batted balls.’ Maybe I’d be putting words in his mouth, but that’s something I strive to do. I don’t ever want the infielders to catch my batted balls. No strikeouts, no popups, no ground balls. I want to hit line drives and fly balls. Line drives would be Position A, and if I miss, I want to miss in the air, over the infielders’ heads. Read the rest of this entry »


Tony Barnette, Ryne Stanek, and Nick Tropeano on Developing Their Splitters

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Tony Barnette, Ryne Stanek, and Nick Tropeano — on how they learned and developed their split-finger fastballs.

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Tony Barnette, Chicago Cubs

“When I was in Japan, I had a changeup as a starter. It was getting hit. Working on it in bullpens, I remember a couple of Japanese coaches, through a translator, asking me, ‘Why do you throw that pitch?’ I told them that I needed something off-speed, something to use away to lefties. They were like, ‘You’re right, you do. But that’s not it. It’s awful. You need to get rid of it.’

“A lot of guys in Japan throw a split, so they got me on that. I started playing with different grips, and found one that worked for me. If you look at a baseball, the seams are crazy. They go all over. Basically, you split your fingers and find seams. You find seams that fit your hand. Then, one day you have that ‘aha’ moment where it’s ‘Oh my god, this works.’ From there, you working on it more. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Brad Ausmus Embraced Analytics, Aced His Angels Interview

The majority of Mike Scioscia’s coaches accompanied him out the door when the Angels made a managerial change after last season. Their replacements came both from other organizations — pitching coach Doug White (Astros) being notable — and from internal promotions.

I’m not privy to the conversations GM Billy Eppler and/or new manager Brad Ausmus had with the outgoing staff members, but they likely uttered some form of “We’ve decided to go in another direction” when passing out the pink slips.

According to Eppler, the revamping of the staff wasn’t reflective of a philosophical shift. The decisions were driven by a desire to travel north in the standings.

“I wouldn’t say that anything changed,” Eppler told me recently. “When we came over here in 2015, we implemented philosophies throughout the organization — how we’re valuing players, how we want to coach players, and so forth. Nothing new was implemented this year.”

The characteristics Eppler is looking for — not just on the coaching staff, but throughout the organization — can be encapsulated in a single, hyphenated sentence: Read the rest of this entry »


Rowan Wick Has a Short, Quick Arm and a Good Backstory

Rowan Wick has a short, quick arm and plus velocity. He also has a good backstory. The 26-year-old right-hander didn’t begin pitching until 2015, three years after he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Four years and two organizations later, he’s currently competing for a spot in the Cubs bullpen. Chicago’s North Side club acquired Wick from San Diego over the offseason in exchange for Jason Vosler.

A lack of power isn’t why he failed to make the grade as a position player. The problem was contact. In 2014, Wick swatted 20 home runs in just 298 plate appearances between short-season State College and Low-A Peoria, but he also fanned 94 times. He then ventured even further into blind-squirrel territory the following year. Prior to being converted, Wick went down by way of the K a staggering 50 times in just 133 plate appearances.

Midway through May of that 2015 season, Wick was informed that he would henceforth be standing on a bump. Given his travails with the stick, he was in no position to argue.

“When they told me I was going to pitch, it was kind of, ‘OK, this is my last shot,’” Wick recalled thinking. “At that point, you’ve got to buy in, right? I’d started as a catcher, then went to the outfield, and now I was a pitcher. After that, you really can’t make any more moves. It was either pitch or go home.” Read the rest of this entry »


Kyle Freeland Has a New Trick Up His Sleeve

Kyle Freeland isn’t satisfied with last year’s breakout season. That’s bad news for opposing hitters. The 25-year-old Colorado Rockies southpaw is coming off a 2018 campaign where he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting after going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and a 3.67 FIP. His 202.1 innings pitched — a workhorse total by today’s standards — were fifth-most in the senior circuit.

Continuing to get better is every player’s goal, so while Freeland isn’t looking to reinvent himself — that would be senseless— he does have a few new tricks up his sleeve. While his repertoire will remain static, where his talented left arm aims those offerings will have more variance than in the past.

“I’ve been working on new locations for pitches, kind of different ways to attack hitters,” explained Freeland. “I’m working on getting comfortable throwing left-on-left changeups, and on throwing a two-seamer inside to righties — that front hip shot. Throwing those two pitches will expand my arsenal a little more.”

The Denver native spoke primarily of his same-sided approach when describing the planned changes: “If you look at video from last year, you’re going to see a heavy amount of fastballs and sliders down and away to lefties. That’s the book on me. We feel that giving them another look won’t allow them to sit on that so much.” Read the rest of this entry »