Per the second edition of The Fielding Bible, “From 2003 through 2007, Everett was the best shortstop in the game. It wasn’t even close.”
Adam Everett, who played from 2001-2011, mostly with the Astros, was awarded no traditional Gold Gloves during his career. Omar Vizquel and Jimmy Rollins were two of the reasons. Everett’s pop-gun bat was another, but that’s a topic for another day.
He’s aware of his analytics-based accolades. In 2012, Everett was a special assistant in Cleveland, and he’s spent the past two seasons as the infield coordinator – and briefly the bench coach – in Houston. His reading and comprehension levels go well beyond “The Error of My Ways: A Dinosaur’s Guide to Defense.”
“The Fielding Bible kind of revolutionized things,” Everett told me earlier this week. “For a lot of teams, it became, ‘How much (measurable) value does this guy bring beyond an offensive standpoint?’ It put defense on the map a little more.”
Quantifying defensive value is one thing. Playing defense is another. Everett credits former Astros coach Doug Mansolino – “He’s the guy who got me over the hump” – for much of his development. He also acknowledged former managers Jimy Williams – “a tremendous infield teacher” – and Phil Garner. Each gave him free rein to position himself on the field.
Everett studied spray charts, but they didn’t serve as an end-all-be-all. He relied a lot on his knowledge of opposing hitters, as well his own pitching staff.
“If Roy Oswalt was on, I’d need to play this guy one way, and this guy another way,” explained Everett. “If Roy wasn’t on, I knew I’d need to switch that up. When we played the Cardinals, if Albert Pujols was struggling coming into our series, he’d be trying to hit the ball to right field. For me, it was a matter of being a student of the game and learning the league.”
His thoughts on shifting follow the same line of reasoning. Houston employed more shifts than any team in baseball last year, but Everett feels they can’t be fully effective without educated instincts. He isn’t an advocate of absolutes.
“I spent the last month in the big leagues and saw shifting work a lot,” said Everett. “But I think a lot has to do with your pitchers, how well they hit their spots and how hard they throw or don’t throw. It also has to do with your position players – their first steps and how much ground they cover once they get going – and the hitters’ percentages. It also depends on how you define a shift.”
Everett’s suggestion that some shifts are subtler than others is spot on. No longer do all teams position in a strictly traditional manner, with infielders evenly spaced between bases. I asked how Houston does it.
“We have our method, just like everybody has their method,” answered Everett, somewhat evasively. “I do think there’s a certain place you play a lefty for straight up, or a righty for straight up, but that’s also something many teams have always done. It’s just more magnified now.”
Players across the game – especially in the Astros’ system – know that metrics are influencing how they’re positioned. Some are being asked to play outside of their comfort zones. I asked Everett if buy-in is ever an issue.
“As long as everybody on the staff is on board with it, there’s no problem with buy-in,” said Everett. “One great thing about the Astros organization is that we all agree on it. We have some coaches with pretty good stripes – and they’ve earned their stripes – telling these guys what to do. The players trust us.”
They should certainly trust their minor-league infield coordinator. If they don’t – or even if they do – they should familiarize themselves with the Fielding Bible.
Daniel Norris has been in the news of late. Not because spring training looms and he’s in the best shape of his life (although he might be). Nor is the Toronto pitching prospect’s name on a police blotter (I’m trusting it’s not). Norris’ notoriety is a result of his taking up temporary residence in a van parked by a beach. A mountain-man beard adds to the image.
The popular press will inevitably label the lefty an oddball. By some standards, he is. Basketball great Bill Walton comes to mind. Upon entering the NBA in 1974 – unshackled from the conservative reins of John Wooden at UCLA – Walton let his proverbial freak flag fly. Thanks to his laid-back and free-spirited lifestyle off the court, he became a counterculture icon.
Based on my interactions with Norris, he wants to be himself. Unassuming to a fault, he is seemingly the polar opposite of the bushy-and-brash Brian Wilson, whose oddball persona is largely an orchestrated image. Norris is more like Walton – a talented athlete who hears a different drummer, yet quietly conforms within the white lines.
When I first interviewed Norris, he was at the tail end of a 2013 season that saw him win just two games between low-A Lansing and high-A Dunedin. Our second conversation came this past September after he made his big-league debut. As we parted ways, I volunteered how impressed I was with his down-to-earth carriage. The 21-year-old had rocketed through the prospect ranks and fanned the first batter he faced – David Ortiz, no less – yet he interacted with me as though I were an old buddy from back home in Tennessee.
I told Norris I hope he never changes – that the often ego-driven atmosphere of MLB clubhouses doesn’t eventually erode his humble ways. He said it’s unlikely to happen.
“I’ve been the same person since I was a little kid,” Norris told me. “There’s no point in changing the way I think.”
Sitting on my bookshelf is a battered old copy of the 1969 Zanger Baseball Preview. I pulled it down upon hearing of Ernie Banks‘ death at the age of 83. Banks’ bio began as follows:
“The man who brings a ray of sunshine into the lives of the Cubs each day is not Leo Durocher, but Ernie Banks. Ernie is the Cubs’ Mr. Everything. He’s their elder statesman, their happiest boy, and their most outrageous optimist.”
At the time, Banks’ 474 home runs was 11th all-time, and he would go on to finish his career with 512. But his legacy isn’t so much gaudy numbers as it is what he stood for. There’s a reason Jack Zanger wrote what he did: Ernie Banks – a true gentleman – loved baseball.
Let’s play two.
Brian Rose had a nondescript career, winning just 15 games over parts of five seasons. Before hurting his arm, he was Boston’s top pitching prospect. How promising was the right-hander? The Red Sox refused to deal him for Pedro Martinez.
In 1997, Rose went 17-5, 3.02 for Triple-A Pawtucket and was named International League Pitcher of the Year. That winter, Boston swapped Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, Jr. to Montreal for the future Hall of Famer. According to Rose, it could easily have been him going north of the border.
“Several years later, I was playing in the minor leagues for the Reds and the manager of that team was Rick Sweet,” remembered Rose. “He was a member of the Expos organization when the trade went down. He was involved in the scouting. Sweet said they wanted me bad, and that Pavano was their number-two option. The Red Sox said no, so they decided to go with Carl.”
In 2001, Rose was “all fired up” when he was claimed off waivers by the Devil Rays. “Not because I was going to Tampa,” explained Rose, “but because Wade Boggs was a coach there. He was my idol growing up.”
Rose soon learned that Boggs could put away cold ones like nobody else.
“I was sitting next to him on a plane and a flight attendant came by and gave him a case of beer,” said Rose. “He slid it under the seat and I was like, ‘What’s up with that? We only have an hour flight.’ He said, ‘That’s mine.’
“The whole flight, we were just shooting the shit, and he went one beer after the other. I said to him, ‘I’m impressed with the way you hit, but I’m more impressed right now.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, beer doesn’t affect me. I don’t get drunk unless I’ve had at least a case and a half.’ I don’t think he even went to the bathroom.”
WADE BOGGS FACTOIDS
In 1985, Boggs hit .390 with the count 0-2.
In 1986, Boggs faced 3,059 pitches and swung and missed 46 times.
Ryan O’Rourke told a good Miguel Sano story earlier this week. If you’re a Twins fan, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already heard it. Many readers here haven’t, so it’s worth passing along. It happened in 2013 while the two were teammates at high-A Fort Myers.
“Sano hit a home run and looked at it maybe a little too long,” explained O’Rourke. “He does that. Two weeks later, we face the same pitcher and he throws at his head. Then he throws at his head again. Now Miguel is barking at him. Our coaches are going at it. The umpire gives a warning. Kid throws a 2-0 fastball and Miguel hits the farthest ball I’ve ever seen in my life. Miguel gives kind of a bark, or a gorilla roar, at their dugout, then at the pitcher. Before he touches first base, the umpire throws him out of the game.
“That story shows how special he can be. When he wants to turn it on – when he gets mad – there is no limit to his ability. He was hurt last year, but he’ll be in the big leagues doing some very special things. I can guarantee you that.”
Sano, a powerfully-built 21-year-old third baseman and one of the top prospects in the Minnesota system, missed the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. O’Rourke, a 26-year-old left-handed reliever, advanced to Triple-A Rochester last season and will be in camp with the big-league club this spring.
Rico Brogna was one of the guest speakers this past Monday when the Boston chapter of SABR held one of its annual events. The former big-league first baseman – currently the quality control coach for the Angels – had an interesting response to a question from the audience. Asked which players a youngster should model his swing after, Brogna mentioned Mike Trout and Michael Brantley. He then cited someone who is both obvious and not-so-obvious.
“Watch footage of Babe Ruth,” said Brogna. “Pull up some grainy, black and white video of Babe Ruth where he walks into the swing. It’s the most fundamentally sound weight shift, weight transfer, dynamic balance… he had perfect swing mechanics.
“When I played with Philly, Gregg Jefferies and I used to talk about hitters. We loved watching Barry Bonds, we loved watching Tony Gwynn. He was like, ‘Dude, did you ever see Babe Ruth’s video?’ I asked what he was talking about. He said, ‘You’ve got to watch Babe Ruth’s swing. Study it. Go in slow motion, frame by frame.’ We pulled it up, and he was right.”
My favorite Tweet this week came from Joe Sheehan, a former colleague at Baseball Prospectus who currently writes for Sports Illustrated: “MLB wants to have its long commercial breaks, pay players 42% of the money they produce AND have the players make up for the added time.”
While I’m fully behind efforts to speed up the pace – I attended 17 nine-inning games at Fenway Park last year that lasted 3:30 or longer – I understand his quibble. Hitters stepping out to gather their thoughts, and pitchers pausing to process, are understandable. What irks me is seeing the umpire looking up at the TV booth for the signal that allows him to start an inning. Everyone else is ready, but the erectile-dysfunction ad isn’t done running.
It’s hard for me to understand why TV money has as much pull as it does.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn hit at least one home run in 17 seasons. He hit 35 in his career. Spahn also had 29 saves to go with his 363 wins.
Wes Ferrell hit 38 home runs, the most of any pitcher. He also holds the record for most home runs in one season, with nine. His career slash line was .280/.351/.446. On the mound, he won 193 games. His brother, Rick, a catcher who hit .281/.378/.363 with 28 career home runs, is in the Hall of Fame. Wes, aka “the better Ferrell” isn’t.
A reminder that this year’s SABR Analytics Conference will be held March 12-14 in Phoenix. Speakers include Jeff Bridich, Jim Callis, John Dewan, Brian Kenny, Tony LaRussa, Pete Palmer, Dave Stewart and John Thorn. A complete list, and registration info, can be found here.
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.