Sunday Notes: A.J. Hinch Knows the Value of an Out (and Doesn’t Fear Twitter)

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch addressed the importance of being aggressive on the base paths during his Saturday morning media session. What he shared included the following, which I quoted on Twitter:

“Your WAR gets dinged whenever you get thrown out on the bases. It’s not valued. People are very aware… players are very aware of that. Winning baseball is good for your WAR too, even if it’s not quantifiable.

Almost immediately, people began responding critically, opining that Hinch was (pun intended) off base. Feeling that more context was in order — I’d prefaced the original Tweet by noting the subject at hand — I added that Hinch also said that if you’re safe every time, you’re probably not being aggressive enough.

No matter. Commenters went on to suggest that Hinch doesn’t understand the value of an out, sometimes in a snarky, condescending manner. (On Twitter! Imagine that!)

Hinch had a second media session following the team’s workout, so I took the opportunity to bring up the minor foofaraw I’d caused at his expense. Would he like to elaborate on, and clarify, what he’d said, lest a faction of the Twitterverse continue to question his sanity?

“You can’t play with an expectation that you’ve got to be perfect,” explained Hinch. “When you’re trying to win a game, you’re going to have to risk some outs in order for you to maximize your 90 feet. I understand the value of an out. I think it’s ridiculous. I’m not going to respond to a lot of Twitter anger. I absolutely know that it’s bad when you get thrown out. I’m not an idiot.”

Following up, I asked the former catcher how much he monitors the success rates and percentages of his batters-turned-runners.

“I’ll look at percentages a little bit, but I also look at opportunities quite a bit, too,” responded Hinch. “We’re not going to be perfect, and you never quite know how far you can take your successes until you try more than you’re comfortable with. Everybody’s upset when you get out, and I totally get it. But we’re not just going to play in fear of making an out.”

Or, I suggested, play in fear of Twitter.

“Definitely not in fear of Twitter.”

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The Colorado Rockies stole 42 bases last year, which was seventh-most among the 30 MLB clubs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Trevor Story swiped a team-high 15, and he looks forward to upping that total by a good bit in 2021. Moreover, he’d like to see his teammates become a lot more theft-happy.

“It’s a big part of my game, and I think it could be a big part of our game as a team,” said Story, who had 27 steals in 2018, and 23 in 2019. “We have a lot of great team speed. With Hampy [Garrett Hampson], [Sam] Hilliard, [Brendan] Rodgers, [Raimel] Tapia… these guys can fly, and I think we need to use that.”

Much as A.J. Hinch extolled the virtues of being aggressive on the base paths, the 28-year-old shortstop feels that approach — assuming it’s not reckless in nature — is a plus-positive.

“Younger in my career, I was a little more timid and not so sure of myself,” Story admitted. “With experience, I got more comfortable. I saw the patterns, saw things that I was looking for that gave me more confidence in stealing bags. I think it’s really just a mindset [with] stealing bases and taking the extra bag. It has to be an aggressive mindset. It can’t be a timid one.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Luis Aparicio went 7 for 12 against Jack Sanford.

Vince Coleman went 7 for 12 against John Burkett.

Kenny Lofton went 7 for 12 against Kirk Saarloos.

Otis Nixon went 7 for 12 against Randy Tomlin.

Tim Raines went 7 for 12 against Jeff Dedmon.

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Adam Frazier batted just .230 last year, but at .246 he also had one of the lower BABIPs in the National League. I brought that up to the Pittsburgh Pirates infielder, then asked if, results aside, he was satisfied with how he’d swung the bat.

“I’m glad you brought that up, because a lot of times, as hitters, we get hung up on the result when, really, you hit the ball OK,” replied Frazier, “You’re just not having any results…. good results, I guess. So it’s nice to hear things like that. But it does come back to the numbers. You’re not satisfied with anything. You can improve on a lot of things. I guess when you think about it that way, you weren’t doing as bad as it says you are on paper. But yeah, it’s just trying to hit the barrel as consistent as I can. When you go three or four at bats a game hitting the barrel, then you can be satisfied.”

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Ke’Bryan Hayes had a lot to be satisfied with last season. The rookie third baseman slashed .a robust 376/.442/.682 in 95 plate appearances, and unlike his Pirates teammate, the BABIP gods were firmly on his side. No player with as many PAs posted a higher BABIP than the .450 mark on the up-and-comer’s ledger.

Having asked Frazier about his misfortune with balls in play, it only seemed right that I pose the same question to Hayes: Results aside, how satisfied was he with how he’d swung the bat?

“I feel like that’s one of the best stretches, as far as getting the ball hard consistently,” Hayes said. “There were times where I kind of sprinkled them in, but I mean, that’s the crazy thing about baseball… You just can’t control it. You can’t worry about it, because it’ll eat you up. I mean, you hit two balls in a game at 110 [MPH] and both get caught, you can’t say you had a bad day… You know whenever you square balls up, and when you hit it and it’s like ‘smoke, smoke.’”

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Antonio Senzatela was asked about having had more success in 2020 than he did in 2019 despite logging a lower strikeout rate.

“I’m not the biggest strikeout guy,” said Senzatela, who had a 5.03 K/9 and a 3.44 ERA. “Usually in my career I don’t strike out a lot of people. I keep the ball on the ground, and last year was the same. I was just more successful. They hit it into the ground slowly, I think, because I mixed my pitches better.”

The 26-year-old Rockies right-hander did indeed induce more weak contact, as his hard-hit rate dropped from 44.0% to 37.9%. Duly impressed, the aforementioned BABIP gods nodded in approval. Senzatela’s BABIP fell from .333 to .268.

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A quiz:

Which Hall of Famer hit the most home runs in his final season?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Stan Williams, who pitched for six different teams from 1958-1972, died this past week at age 84. A starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers early in his career, he had arguably his best season as a reliever for the Minnesota Twins in 1970. The big right-hander made 68 appearances and went 10-1 with 15 saves and a 1.99 ERA.

Lew Krausse, Jr, who pitched for five different teams from 1961-1974, died earlier this month at age 77. A right-hander who started the first game in Milwaukee Brewers history, and the first home game in Oakland A’s history, the Media, Pennsylvania native was the son of Lew Krausse Sr, who pitched for the Philadelphia A’s in 1930 and 1931.

Eric Nusbaum’s Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between is the winner of the 2021 Seymour Medal, which is presented by SABR and honors the best book of baseball history or biography published during the preceding calendar year.

The forthcoming SABR Analytics Conference has added a panel: “The Varying Roles and Skillsets of Baseball Analysts.” Panelists include Ehsan Bokhari, Senior Director of Player Evaluation, Houston Astros; Maggie O’Hara, Senior Analyst in Baseball Operations, Detroit Tigers; and Josh Ruffin, Advanced Scouting Analyst, Minnesota Twins.

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The answer to the quiz is Ted Williams. “Teddy Ballgame” homered 29 times in 1960, his final big-league season.

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Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvey asked Christian Yelich about his 2020 season on a Zoom call earlier this week, and the Milwaukee outfielder didn’t pull any punches with his response. His self-appraisal was fraught with disapproval.

“I was all-around terrible,” stated Yelich. “It wasn’t good. But hey, it is what it is, man. It’s baseball. That stuff happens. You can’t change it now, you can’t do anything about it. The previous year doesn’t really mean anything. Whether you were an MVP, or you sucked, everybody starts at zero. We live in a business where it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and what I’ve done lately is play terribly. I’m looking forward to a fresh start.”

Yelich was named NL MVP in 2018 after putting up a 167 wRC+, and he finished second in the balloting in 2019 after logging a 175 wRC+. Last season, that number was 113, which is indicative of the lofty standards that come with being one of the best hitters in baseball. When you’re Christian Yelich, an above-average wRC+ can qualify as terrible.

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Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are both new to the San Diego Padres’ rotation, and the latter was asked earlier this week about the former’s deep repertoire.

“I’m a guy that has multiple pitches, as well,” Musgrove said. “He’s got a handful more than me, and I thought I had a lot. I’m throwing six pitches. Some stay real strong, and some start to fade throughout the season, so be able to talk to him and find out what he’s doing to manage the eight, nine pitches that he has, and how he keeps all of them sharp from outing to outing, is one of the biggest things I’m trying to learn. His experience, man. He’s been around so long.”

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Darvish was asked by a San Diego scribe about having talked pitching with Hideo Nomo in Padres camp. The question, which was posed over Zoom, included mention of his countryman’s old tornado windup.

“We haven’t gone into the tornado windup,” Darvish told 30-plus reporters, approximately half of whom work for Japanese media entities. “It was more about getting a feel about how he throws his splitter. He’s so knowledgeable about how to use it, and when to use it. Just having that conversation with him has been very beneficial for me.”

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Kolten Wong changed more than teams when he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers this spring. The erstwhile St. Louis second baseman stepped into a philosophically-different environment, as well.

“Obviously, the aggressive shifting,” Wong said when asked what stands out about his new club compared to his old. “The analytics, understanding how to play a different way. The newer way. Coming from the Cardinals, we were old-school. I’m excited to learn from these guys and see how they look at the game, how they’re attacking the game, and how that can work for me.”

Per StatCast, the Brewers had 969 total shifts in 2020, fifth-most in the majors. The Cardinals had 376, which ranked second from the bottom. Only the Atlanta Braves, with 172, had fewer.

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On Thursday, I asked San Diego Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth about his alma mater’s stellar basketball season — the University of Michigan is ranked third in the country — and what he expects to happen come March Madness. The erstwhile Wolverine responded with a smile.

“I love that question,” said Cronenworth, who was a two-way player at Michigan from 2013-2015. “Big game tonight against No. 9 Iowa, at 7 pm Eastern! They had the two weeks off with the COVID situation, came back, and have been playing great since. I think I might be the only guy in the clubhouse right now that has them going all the way. But I take them going all the way every year.”

So, is that an actual prediction?

“That’s my prediction,” affirmed Cronenworth. “If I’m not wrong, it would be their first national championship since 1989. Obviously they lost to Louisville in 2013. Hopefully they can put it all together this year.”

Michigan thumped Iowa 79-57 on Thursday, then proceeded to beat Indiana 73-57 on Saturday to run their record to 18-1.

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I Tweeted the following on Friday (No further commentary is necessary.):

“Few sounds are better than baseball on the radio.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz filled us in on Rogers Sports’ brain-dead decision to simulcast TV broadcasts of Toronto Blue Jays games rather than having a distinct radio broadcast.

AZSnakepit’s Isaiah Burrows looked at four D-Backs farm system questions heading into 2021.

“Baseball Bugs,” the 1946 Looney Tunes classic that spurred the term “Bugs Bunny Changeup,” turns 75 this month. Frederic J. Frommer wrote about it for The Washington Post.

At The Undefeated, Andrew Maraniss wrote about Glenn Burke, the first openly gay player in MLB.

Over at JapanBall, Coop Daley delved into the history of Black ballplayers in Japan.

Shin-Soo Choo received advice from longtime KBO infielder Keun-woo Jeong before deciding to continue his career in Korea. Jee-ho Yoo has the story at Yonhap News Agency.

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RANDOM STATS AND FACTS

Mike Trout has 151 home runs and 26 sacrifice flies in home games. He also has 151 home runs and 26 sacrifice flies in away games.

Albert Pujols has a .546 slugging percentage in home games. He also has a .546 slugging percentage in away games.

Luke Appling is the only player in MLB history with at least 1,000 career RBIs and a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage. (Per Hidden Ball Trick, The Baseball Stats You Never Thought to Look For From 1920-1969.)

Ed Hock had one big-league hit, which he recorded with the Cincinnati Reds in 1924. An infielder who hailed from Franklin Furnace, Ohio, Hock had 3,474 hits down on the farm. His 2,944 singles are the most in minor league history.

The Dodgers hit their 4,000th and 5,000th home runs in franchise history off the same pitcher. No. 4,000 was Roy Campanella off Robin Roberts on May 20, 1955. No. 5,000 was Wally Moon off Robin Roberts on June 10, 1961. (per @PassonJim)

Home run leaders on the 1919 Boston Red Sox: 1. Babe Ruth, 29, 2. Harry Hooper, 3. Home run leaders on the 1935 Boston Braves: 1. Wally Berger, 34, 2. Babe Ruth, 6. (@ajacksonevans)

Jim Palmer’s win totals from 1970-1978 were 20, 20, 21. 22, 7, 23, 22, 20, 21.

Bill James was the losing pitcher in a July 4, 1914 loss by the Boston Braves, the defeat dropping the right-hander’s record to 7-6. James finished the regular season 26-7, then went 2-0 for the “Miracle Braves” in the World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies purchased Bob Seeds from the New York Giants on today’s date in 1941. An outfielder who played for five teams over nine big-league seasons, Seeds was nicknamed “Suitcase Bob.”

Players born on today’s date include Lil Stoner, who went 50-57 for the Detroit Tigers from 1922-1929. A native of Bowie, Texas, the right-hander’s given name was Ulysses Simpson Grant Stoner.





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 December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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“if you’re safe every time, you’re probably not being aggressive enough.”…

Anybody who has read MGL’s chapter on game theory in The Book will understand that there’s a value in making the “unsafe” choice every now and then. It’s based on an equilibrium between the odds of making the “wasted” out vs. the expected gain from the aggressive play.