Sunday Notes: Acta’s Analytics, Banister’s Fire, Phillips’ Folly, Porcello Up Down, Rowdy, more

Manny Acta was managing the Cleveland Indians when I first interviewed him, in 2010. He’s now the third base coach for the Seattle Mariners, and while many things change over the course of seven years, others will stay the same. Acta continues to embrace analytics as much as anyone who wears a baseball uniform to work.

When the Mariners visited Fenway Park last week, I asked Acta what he’s been observing as the club hopscotches across the league.

“Everybody has the same access to all the analytics,” answered Acta. “It’s about who has the courage to actually use it to their advantage, and to push the envelope. Some teams are still a little bit more old-school than others. You can notice the difference when teams come through town. Some are more aggressive with shifting, and some do different things against different players. Everybody in the league knows which teams are the more proactive with how they use analytics.”

Playing devil’s advocate, I proposed that in some cases it may not be a lack of courage, but rather a belief that traditional strategies are more sound. His response suggested that while that may be true, it isn’t particularly smart.

“It is part philosophy, but there are still a lot of guys who aren’t 100% behind the whole analytical movement,” opined Acta. “Front offices obviously know that’s the way to go, but some (managers) don’t want to go against the beliefs they’ve always had. They think some of this is just stat-head stuff, geek stuff, whatever.

“To me, it’s reality. We have so much information available to us now, so why wouldn’t we use it? I wouldn’t be surprised if one day teams play an infielder short and put four outfielders back there. I could definitely see that happening.”


I was recently in a pregame media session where Jeff Banister uttered the words, “There are little things that light a fire.” The Texas Rangers manager was referring to a specific player and a specific situation, but it was the idea itself that piqued my interest.

In a long season with many ebbs and flows, teams will sometimes find themselves in need of a pick-me-up, whether it’s a pep talk, a motivational speech, or an expletive-filled turning over of the postgame spread. I asked the always-thoughtful skipper, ‘To what extent do teams need a fire lit under them to get back on track?’

“The personality of each team is different,” answered Banister. “It’s predicated by the personnel, and what they need. I don’t think there is a comprehensive point of, ‘This is when.’ I was watching the MLB channel and somebody was talking about the quarter pole where Bobby Cox would come in and say, ‘All right boys, this is the time.’ But I don’t believe you need those moments. It’s a continual, gradual, buildup, all year long.

“Look, when you lose games… it’s tough to find the look you’re looking for when you lose games. You go watch any team that loses. You can pick apart their base running. You can pick apart how they track balls. You can pick apart their pace and tempo. But to say that a team responds to a fire being lit… I think there are different fires that get lit every single day, as long as teams, and personnel, pay attention to them. If the culture is built strongly, there’s not as much sense of urgency to find those moments.”


Brandon Phillips told reporters this week that it was “a slap in the face” to see Scooter Gennett wearing No. 4 on his jersey. Apparently, the erstwhile Cincinnati second baseman feels the Reds should be well into the process of retiring his old number.

Phillips might want to use that slap in the face as a wakeup call. Yes, he had a good career in the Queen City before being exiled to Atlanta. ‘Dat Dude’ has every right to be proud of what he accomplished as a Red. But to suggest that no one should be allowed to wear his number — the same one that Hall of Fame catcher, and Cincinnati legend, Ernie Lombardi wore? In my opinion, that comes off as a little arrogant.

I’m not saying the Reds shouldn’t honor Phillips, nor am I saying that retiring his number would be a bad idea. Frankly, it’s likely to happen down the road, and I’ll be among those applauding from a distance. Even so, complaining about a perceived slight is a bad look.


On a related note, Phillips currently has 31.1 WAR, which ties him with Frank White for 21st place among second baseman over the past 50 seasons. Combined, their WAR totals are less than that of Bobby Grich (69.2), Lou Whitaker (68.1), and Chase Utley (63.9).

Grich and Whitaker are, of course, well-known Hall-of-Fame snubs. It will interesting to see what kind of support Utley gets when he hits the ballot. Comparing him to a player currently on the ballot, his chances aren’t particularly good.

Jeff Kent, who received 16.7% of the vote this past year, finished with 56.1 WAR, 2,461 hits, and 377 home runs. Utley, now 38 years old and in the final year of a contract, currently has 1,805 hits and 253 home runs.


Tim Bogar played for the Larry Dierker-managed Houston Astros teams that reached the postseason each year from 1997-1999. According to the former shortstop, and current Seattle Mariners bench coach, Dierker’s insistence that his pitchers not take early showers contributed to the club’s success.

“One thing I remember about Larry is him telling our starting pitchers, ‘You’re going (at least) six innings, regardless of what you do, because I’m not going to let you kill our bullpen,’” said Bogar. “There were plenty of times where they’d give up two or three runs in the first inning, or four or five runs through four or five innings, and they’d stay in the game and end up getting the win. They learned how to pitch through adversity that way. It benefitted the staff quite a bit.”


Rick Porcello was one of the pitchers quoted in this past week’s Player’s View article on two-seamers and sinkers. The Red Sox right-hander has had a lot of success with the ground-ball-inducing offering(s) over the years, and he’s also shown an ability to work effectively upstairs with a four-seamer. With that in mind, I asked Porcello a follow-up question: Is it hard to consistently command both a two and a four, working both up and down, over the course of a game?

“It’s two different ways to throw a pitch,” explained Porcello. “With the four-seamer, you can kind of drop and your chest can fly open. You’re basically throwing as hard as you can, often at the top of the zone. For a sinker, I have more of a relaxed approach. I have to stay tall on my back leg, and keep my front shoulder closed to have something to throw against to create the ball to sink. There’s also the finger placement on the ball. My four-seamer, I’m directly behind it, and on the sinker I’m kind of tilted off to the side.

“It can be a challenge to be consistent with both, because, again, you’re throwing the ball two different ways. With a four-seamer, you’re trying to generate as much backspin as possible. With a sinker, you’re trying to generate the least amount of spin as possible, and have an angle so that the seams are spinning at kind of a 45-degree axis. It basically sinks because of the lack of spin, and gravity pulling it down.

“Sometimes throwing one after the other comes naturally, and other times I have to really concentrate on what I’m doing. Keeping my sinker down is the key, because I need to have enough separation (in location) between the two. When I’m executing both well… that’s a great weapon to have.”



Last night, Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels became the ninth player in history to hit 600 home runs. Of the nine to have reached that milestone, only Pujols (49 in 2006) and Hank Aaron (47 in 1971) are without a 50-plus home run season.

Eric Hosmer recorded his 1,000th career hit on May 31. It was his 40th hit of the month, making him the first Kansas City Royal to record 40 hits in May since Rey Sanchez in 2001. On the month, Hosmer slashed .367/.421/.560.

On Friday, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera became the 39th player in history to record 1,000 extra-base hits. Three other current players have also reached that mark: Albert Pujols (1,223), Adrian Beltre (1,074) and Carlos Beltran (1,052).

Also on Friday, Jimmy Nelson became the first pitcher in Milwaukee Brewers history with consecutive games of 10-or-more strikeouts and no walks.

Oakland Athletics batters struck out 59 times in their four-game series with the Cleveland Indians earlier this week. Per ESPN Stats and Info, that is the most strikeouts in a series in franchise history.

The Houston Astros set a franchise record for wins in the month of May, finishing with a record of 21-7. The 1969 Astros went 20-6 in May.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Thursday marked the first time in franchise history that the St. Louis Cardinals won a game with the pitcher accounting for all the team’s RBI via a home run. Adam Wainwright did the honors in a 2-0 win.

Yadir Drake, a 27-year-old native of Cuba who spent part of the last two seasons in the Dodgers system, is slashing .405/.457/.698 for Durango in the Mexican League. Drake has 13 home runs in 205 at bats.

Following last night’s four-hit performance for the Lansing Lugnuts, 19-year-old Toronto Blue Jays infield prospect Bo Bichette is slashing .402/.459/.664 in 292 professional plate appearances. He was featured here earlier in the week.

Nolan Arenado leads all players with 13 Defensive Runs Saved. The Colorado Rockies third baseman is also the only qualified third baseman yet to be charged with an error.


Common usage of the word ‘eephus’ has changed markedly over the years. The term once referred to a pitch thrown with a high arc — Rip Sewell famously threw one to Ted Williams in the 1946 All-Star Game — and now it includes tantalizingly-slow curveballs thrown with no arc. Personally, I find this to be a conundrum. When I hear that a pitcher threw an eephus, I’d like to know, without visual evidence, whether it was a 60-MPH hook or something akin to this. Needless to say, they are very different pitches.

Meanwhile, it seems high time people stop using the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) when they’re referring to sabermetrics. While a relationship exists, they are clearly two different things.

I asked SABR president Vince Gennaro for his thoughts.

“I rarely see the reference to sabermetrics as ‘SABR’ anymore,” claimed Gennaro. “Perhaps it’s because as baseball analysis proliferates, thanks to new data sources and new analytical tools, it’s more often referred to as ‘analytics’. Since baseball analysis is much more mainstream today than even 5-10 years ago, ‘analytics’ is much more commonly used to describe it.”

Gennaro is correct that the misuse has lessened, but based on my observations, it is by no means uncommon. People still confuse the two, and they shouldn’t.


Toronto Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim sees good things ahead for Rowdy Tellez. The stocky, left-handed-hitting first baseman is slashing a sluggish .222/.309/.358 with the Buffalo Bisons, but Kim isn’t worried.

“Rowdy is 22 years old, and he’s in Triple-A,” Kim told me recently. “Last year, as a 21-year-old in Double-A, he got off to what some people thought was a slow start, as well. Things turned out pretty well.”

They did indeed. After failing to impress early in 2016, Tellez finished the season with a .297/.387/.530 slash line, and 23 bombs. He’s left the yard just four times since reaching Buffalo, but given his power profile, that total could rise precipitously as the weather warms.

Eric Longenhagen recently ranked Tellez as the No. 8 prospect in the Blue Jays system.


The timing of this mention is random — the event happened last September — but I was reminded of it a few days ago, and proceeded to re-watch the video.

Dee Gordon has one home run in his last 579 plate appearances. It came in his first at bat after his teammate, and friend, Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident.

Watching on TV as it happened, I wept openly. I’m guessing you probably did as well.



In the opinion of Detroit Athletic Co.’s Dan Holmes, replacing Brad Ausmus with Jim Leyland would light a fire under lackluster Tigers.

At The New York Post, Joel Sherman looked at some 2017 stats that will make you question your baseball sanity.

The Paris Review’s Dan Piepenbring took notice of Mr. Met’s middle finger, and gave us When Mascots Go Mad, and Other News.

A Midwest League player was hit with a 30-game suspension for his role in a nasty brawl between the West Michigan Whitecaps and Dayton Dragons. Lynn Henning has the details at The Detroit News.

Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America, and the former home of the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons, is getting a makeover. Owen McCue has the story at Baseball America.

Over at Sports Illustrated, the always-insightful Jay Jaffe wrote about how Minnesota’s Chris Gimenez did something that has only happened six times since 1969.


Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the San Diego Padres have won 96 consecutive home games in which they’ve led entering the ninth inning, the longest active streak in MLB.

In June 1973, Philadelphia Phillies southpaw Ken Brett homered in four consecutive starts, and was the winning pitcher in all of them.

In 1959, Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Roy Face went 18-1 with a 2.70 ERA. In 1970, Washington Senators reliever Darold Knowles went 2-14 with a 2.04 ERA.

Dazzy Vance led the National League in strikeouts every year from 1922-1928. Included in that seven-year stretch was a season in which the Brooklyn Robins right-hander went 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA, and another where he went 9-10 with a 3.89 ERA.

The no-hitter Miami Marlins righty Edinson Volquez threw yesterday came exactly 22 years after Pedro Martinez threw nine perfect innings for the Montreal Expos. On June 3, 1995, Martinez retired the first 27 San Diego Padres batters he faced before allowing a double to Bip Roberts to lead off the 10th inning.

On this date in 1974, the Cleveland Indians forfeited to the Texas Rangers in a game that was stopped in the ninth inning with the score knotted 5-5. It was Ten Cent Beer Night at Cleveland Stadium.

A reminder that the annual Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball seminar will be taking place in Boston on August 5 and 6. Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and New York Yankees senior vice president and assistant general manager Jean Afterman will be among the featured speakers.

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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6 years ago

The issue seems to revolve around Yu Darvish. What he throws is not an eephus pitch, or as Rip Sewell called it – in a minute and a half video on YouTube – a
“Blooper Ball”.

There are some other videos too including Gorman Thomas striking out on a Rip Sewell style blooper ball.