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Sunday Notes: A Hall of Fame Ballot Explained

I have the honor of casting a Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Jay Jaffe does as well, each of us having joined the BBWAA in 2010 while colleagues at Baseball Prospectus. A decade later — and in Jay’s case, countless words written on the subject at hand — we are the first FanGraphs writers to be granted voting privileges.

I’m sharing my ballot in this column, but before doing so, it’s only appropriate that I tip my hat to my fellow first-time voter. As most everyone reading this knows, Jay’s JAWS system is invaluable when assessing Hall of Fame credentials, as is his must-read Cooperstown Casebook. Given his extensive research and analysis, there may not be a greater authority on the subject.

That being said, the question of what defines a Hall of Famer is inherently subjective. Following Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker will tell you as much. With barely over a dozen made public, we’ve already seen ballots with 10 checkmarks, while others have been left blank. As a “Big Hall” guy, I’m clearly not in accord with the latter camp.

Jay and I disagree on at least one player. Barring an earth-shaking surprise, Omar Vizquel won’t get his vote. Conversely, the iconic-yet-polarizing shortstop was a no-brainer for me. The first names I checked on my ballot were Vizquel and Scott Rolen. Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Vikander on Steve Dalkowski and the 110-MPH Fastball

The legend of Steve Dalkowski is well known. Arguably the most famous player to never reach the big leagues, the Connecticut-born left-hander is said to have thrown harder than anyone alive… and he had little idea where the ball was going. Pitching primarily in the Baltimore Orioles organization, Dalkowski walked 1,236 batters — and fanned 1,324 — in 956 minor-league innings. His star-crossed career, which spanned the 1957-1965 seasons, inspired the “Bull Durham” character Nuke LaLoosh.

Dalkowski died this past April, and a handful of months later a biography of his roller-coaster baseball life was published: Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher, by Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas, and Brian Vikander. In late October, Vikander — a longtime pitching coach with expertise in both biomechanics and mental skills — was a guest on Justin McGuire’s always-insightful Baseball by the Book podcast. What I heard prompted this interview, which was conducted over the phone last week.


David Laurila: How hard did Steve Dalkowski throw?

Brian Vikander: “In my opinion, he threw over 110 mph. I base that on a couple of things. The first is that there’s not one individual — not one — who has ever come forward and said that he was not the hardest thrower, the biggest arm, in the history of baseball. You’ve got guys who saw ‘Rapid Robert’ Feller, Ryne Duren, Rex Barney, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax…and everybody says it was Dalko. You can debate 2-10 in any fashion that you want, but he’s No. 1. Hall of Famers said it. Earl Weaver said it. Pat Gillick said it.”

Laurila: A lot of people reading this are going to think, “That’s anecdotal; where is the proof?” They’re going to doubt that Dalkowski ever threw that hard.

Vikander: “Well, right now we’ve got 108.1 on Nolan Ryan’s release point on a fastball, so we’re asking people, credibly, to give us two miles an hour. That’s not that big a stretch. I went down to ASMI, in Birmingham, Alabama — they are the consultants for Major League Baseball on all things kinematic in the sequencing and energy production for arms — and spent a few days. I was with seven PhDs from MIT, and they were all telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But then on the third day, everybody came around. They said, ‘That theory that you have proposed, Brian, doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does put forward the possibility that this guy could have been in that rare air and actually done it.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Brian Vikander Likens Greg Maddux and Jered Weaver to Boris Spassky

Why was Greg Maddux as good as he was? In the opinion of longtime pitching instructor Brian Vikander, the biggest reason is that Maddux took baseball-is-a-chess-match to whole new level. Moreover, he did so in much the same manner as that with which Boris Spassky tackled the likes of Bobby Fischer.

That Vikander and I happened upon that particular subject is somewhat ironic. When we spoke earlier this week, it was to discuss his assertion that Steve Dalkowski threw 110 mph. Vikander is the co-author of a book about the legendary left-hander, who along with having extraordinary velocity was the antithesis of Maddux when it came to command. “Dalko” walked 1,236 batters in 956 minor league innings.

(We’ll hear from Vikander on Dalkowski and velocity in the coming week.)

“A big part of pitching is preventing on-time contact,” said Vikander, whose three-plus decades of experience includes working with Tom House and a plethora of professional hurlers. “Maddux was able to take all of the components — pitch selection, sequencing, location, and movement — and put them together to do that. It wasn’t any different than a Grandmaster in chess; it was like Boris Spassky. Most people don’t understand how that unusual opening would be used in a World Title game. Bobby Fischer did, but there aren’t many who are capable of that level of thinking.”

Vikander cited Miguel Cabrera as an example of a hitter capable of thinking along with pitchers in grandmaster fashion. He offered Ted Williams, with whom he’d conversed with over the years, as second example. In Vikander’s view, it’s that ability which separates “the truly great ones” from mere mortals. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation With Arizona Diamondbacks Prospect Drey Jameson

Drey Jameson is one of the more-intriguing pitching prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system. Drafted 34th overall in 2019 out of Ball State University, the 23-year-old right-hander possesses a lean frame — he is listed at six-foot-even and 165 pounds — yet he consistently pumps mid-to-high-90s gas. Moreover, the secondary pitches he throws from a deceptive delivery all grade out as plus. A native of Greenfield, Indiana, he entered the year ranked 13th on our 2020 D-Backs Top Prospects list.

Jameson discussed his repertoire and how COVID-19 impacted what would have been his first full professional season during the final week of Arizona’s fall instructional league, which wrapped up earlier this month.


David Laurila: What should people know about you as a pitcher?

Drey Jameson: “I’d say I’m kind of electric, kind of fast-twitch with a really fast arm. It’s more like [deception]; I’m not a guy who is standing tall on the mound and has that straight downhill with his fastball. And my stuff separates. With my changeup… I’m a probation guy, so my changeup works really well for me. Outside of that, I consider myself a fierce competitor who goes out and attacks guys.”

Laurila: You’re listed at six foot and 165 pounds. Is that still accurate?

Jameson: “I’m six foot, but I’m ranging anywhere from 170 to 178. I guess I’m usually around 175.”

Laurila: When our 2020 Diamondbacks Top Prospects list came out, your writeup included, “His high-maintenance delivery is hard to repeat.” Is that accurate? Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Torey Lovullo Revisits His Greatest Hits (and a Damaged Axle)

Torey Lovullo didn’t have a lot of game-changing hits over the course of his career. The Arizona Diamondbacks manager finished his playing days with just 60 RBIs in parts of eight big-league seasons as a utility infielder. But he did have a handful of memorable knocks, three of which he recounted in a conversation earlier this week.

The first of Lovullo’s standout moments came in his second-ever game. Called up by the Detroit Tigers in September 1988, he plated a run with an 18th-inning single against the New York Yankees. Adding to the thrill was the fact that the Tigers were in a three-team pennant race with the Bombers and the Boston Red Sox. The balloon burst in short order. Claudell Washington walked off Detroit southpaw Willie Hernandez with a two-run shot in the bottom half, negating Lovullo’s heroics in blunt fashion.

Five years later, the Santa Monica native turned the tables with an extra-inning walk-off of his own. Lovullo had signed with the California Angels — a team he’d grown up cheering for — prior to the 2013 season. On a July afternoon, he made the most of a second chance.

“In the bottom of the 11th inning, [Yankees manager] Buck Showalter walked the bases loaded in front of me and I popped up with one out,” recalled Lovullo. “We ended up going deeper into the game, and in the 14th inning he did the exact same thing [issued two intentional walks to load the bases]. This time I got a base hit. That was a proud moment for me, because I didn’t want it to happen again. A manager targeted me, and I came through.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Look at One Writer’s American League Rookie of the Year Ballot

I had the honor of voting for this year’s American League Rookie of the Year award, and the biggest challenge was — not unpredictably — how to weigh performances over a 60-game season. Adding a layer of difficulty was the fact that some of the best numbers were put up by players who weren’t with their team for the duration of the campaign.

Willi Castro and Ryan Mountcastle excelled with the bat — especially Castro — but each had only 140 plate appearances. Sean Murphy, who augmented his solid offense with strong defense behind the plate, had exactly that same number. Are 140 plate appearances enough in a truncated campaign? Following a fair bit of deliberation, I decided that they aren’t. As a result, all three players fell off my consideration list.

And then there were the pitchers. Not a single rookie in the junior circuit threw as many as 65 innings, and the most dominant of the bunch totaled just 27 frames. This made for an especially difficult dilemma. Would it be reasonable to give one of my three votes to a lights-out pitcher whose relative workload was akin to that of the position players I’d chosen to discount? Moreover, had any of the higher-innings hurlers done enough to preclude me from making what amounts to a contradictory choice? We’ll get to that in a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Pittsburgh’s Joe Block Broke into Broadcasting With a Blind Man

Like most big-league broadcasters, Joe Block got his start down on the farm. The radio and TV play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates broke into the business with the South Atlantic League’s Charleston RiverDogs back in 2000. That part of his story is isn’t unique. What is unique is that Block first shared the booth with a blind man.

Looking to break into baseball, Block traveled to Anaheim for the 1999 Winter Meetings after graduating from Michigan State University. Charleston had posted a broadcast intern position, and the fresh-faced Spartan secured an interview with the club’s then-broadcaster. The sit-down went well. Block hit it off with Dave Raymond — now the TV voice of the Texas Rangers — and was offered the job.

As fate would have it, they never got to call games together. Later that winter, Raymond took a job with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Replacing Raymond in Charleston was a duo that had worked together with the St. Paul Saints.

“I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but Jim Lucas and Don Wardlow had been in the minor leagues for a number of years as a tandem,” explained Block. “Don was born blind. He never saw anything in his entire life.”

As an intern, Block’s primary responsibility was doing the pre- and post-game shows. Most appealing among his other duties was the opportunity to do play-by-play when Lucas took time off. What he learned was invaluable, and the unique circumstances played a big part in that. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation With Former Orioles Pitcher Dick Hall

Dick Hall had a long and remarkable career, and at 90 years young, his memory remains strong. There’s a lot for him to reminisce about. Originally an infielder/outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates — he debuted in 1952 — Hall converted to the mound in 1955 and went on to pitch for 16 big-league seasons.

A right-hander who both started and relieved, Hall had his best years with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he had 65 wins, 60 saves, and a 2.89 ERA over two stints and nine seasons. His career culminated with three consecutive Fall Classics, the middle of which saw Baltimore beat the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 World Series. All told, Hall pitched eight-and-two-thirds postseason innings without allowing an earned run.

Hall discussed his career shortly before becoming a nonagenarian in late September.


David Laurila: You pitched for a long time, but only after starting your career as a position player. How did that come about?

Dick Hall: “Well, there was no draft when I signed with the Pirates in the fall of 1951. I then started playing in their minor league system in 1952, and after my
second season — after the 1953 season — they sent me down to Mazatlán, Mexico
to get further experience. I was a second baseman/outfielder in those days. Mazatlán almost sent me home, but then I changed the grip on my bat and started hitting home runs. Mazatlán calls Pittsburgh and said, ‘We’ll keep him after all.’

“I set the league home run record, so they welcomed me back the next year. I told the manager, ‘Look, I pitched all the time in high school, college, and semi-pro,’ so if he wanted, I could pitch. One Sunday we were up in Hermosillo, which is a few hours from Arizona, and we played a four-game series which included a doubleheader on Sunday. We carried four pitchers. We had a Cuban pitcher, a Mexican pitcher, and two from the United States. Anyway, on Sunday they scored a couple runs early. Our starting pitcher ran into huge trouble, so the manager called me in from center field. I ended up pitching six-and-a-third innings and gave up one single. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: A Scandal Haunting, AJ Hinch is the New Manager of the Detroit Tigers

A number of you reading this will share the same opinion: A.J. Hinch was suspended for his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal, and for that reason he has no business managing a major league baseball team. It’s a reasonable stance. The integrity of the game matters, and while Hinch wasn’t fully on board with the shenanigans — he twice smashed the monitor used to steal signs — he nonetheless shares in the blame. That he didn’t put a stop to the outlawed actions is an indelible stain on his reputation.

On Friday — freshly freed from MLB’s sanctions — Hinch was named the new manager of the Detroit Tigers. Speaking at his introductory press conference, the club’s one-time catcher was understandably contrite.

“I’ve reflected back… from something that was very wrong,” Hinch expressed to a bevy of reporters. “As I told Mr. Ilich, and Al, that’s part of my story. It’s not the Tigers’ story… it’s not a part of the players I’m going to be managing. I’m sorry that they’re going to have to deal with it, [but] that’s our reality. Wrong is wrong, and I feel responsible, because I was the manager. It was on my watch.”

Mr. Ilich is Christopher Ilich, the Tigers’ Chairman and CEO. Al is Al Avila, the club’s Executive VP, Baseball Operations/General Manager. The latter, who’d phoned Hinch 30 minutes after the conclusion of the World Series to request he get on a plane to Detroit, was already well-acquainted with the now-free-to-negotiate candidate. Based on his history with Hinch, Avila wasn’t overburdened by what had happened in Houston. Read the rest of this entry »

Pirates Righty JT Brubaker Reflects on His Rookie Campaign

JT Brubaker had a satisfying summer. The 26-year-old right-hander didn’t dominate the stat sheet — neither his 4.94 ERA nor his 4.08 FIP was anything to write home about — but the fact that those numbers came in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform was a reason to smile. A sixth-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Akron, Brubaker debuted in late July and went on to throw 47.1 solid innings. Initially used out of the bullpen, he finished the season having made nine of his 11 appearances as a starter.

Brubaker was somewhat of a question mark coming into the campaign. He tossed just 27.2 minor-league innings in 2019 due to an arm ailment, and as a result garnered no better than a 40 FV and a No. 25 ranking on our 2020 Pirates Top Prospects list. As Eric Longenhagen opined back in February, the Springfield, Ohio native, “should fit in the back of a rotation or in a relief role [and] his health may dictate which.”

Brubaker discussed his debut, and his impressions of a season played amid a pandemic, following his final start of the year.


David Laurila: How would you describe the 2020 season?

JT Brubaker: “It’s been fun for me. It’s my first year in the big leagues, so I’ve enjoyed it. I feel like players have shown a little bit different side of bonding in baseball. They’re having fun with each other. I’ve seen more teammates laughing and joking with each other. The Cubs, for instance. That’s one team I’ve noticed just hooting and hollering in the dugout — stuff you might not be able to hear when there’s a crowd there.” Read the rest of this entry »