Earlier this week, I chatted wth Red Sox manager Alex Cora about the relative value of contact skills versus hunting pitches that you can drive. Not surprisingly, the 2017 American League batting champion’s name came up.
“People might be surprised by this, but Jose Altuve isn’t afraid to make adjustments even when he’s getting his hits,” said Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach last year. “When Jose is really, really, really good — because he’s good, always — his strike zone shrinks. He doesn’t chase his hits. Sometimes he’s getting his hits because he’s unreal with his hand-eye coordination — he gets hits on pitches that others don’t — but when he looks for good pitches he’s even better.”
Cora was a contact hitter during his playing days, and looking back, he wishes he’d have been more selective. Not only that, he wouldn’t have minded swinging and missing more often than he did.
“I had a conversation with Carlos Delgado about that,” Cora told me. “When you commit to swinging the bat — I’m talking about me — it often doesn’t matter where it is, you end up putting the ball in play. It’s better to swing hard and miss than it is to make soft contact for a 4-3.”
Does that mean hitters with good bat-to-ball skills and limited power should be especially selective? Cora didn’t disagree with that suggestion, but he did opine that speedsters like Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre could be effective without squaring balls up. Jose Reyes was another example he cited.
“Early in his career, (Reyes) was a guy who had some juice, but he could also put the ball in play and be a speed demon,” said Cora. “But the thing with Jose is that he’s like a blend, He can do that and get his hits, but he can do damage, too. He’s a special one.”
Meanwhile, Cora is no fan of the idea that a single can be better than a dinger. I asked his opinion of the notion that when a team is down by four runs, it’s more preferable to set the table than it is to hit a solo home run. Cora’s response was a matter-of-fact, “That doesn’t make sense. I don’t agree with that at all.”
How often do hitters stray away from their plan in the batter’s box? In the opinion of Christian Vazquez, the answer is “a lot.” According to the Red Sox catcher, no small number of hitters find themselves — subconsciously or otherwise — “trying to get homers more than get base hits.” The reason is pretty straightforward: “They see a lot of pay going to the homer guys and want to be like them.”
Vazquez strives to suppress that temptation. Recognizing that he’s no thumper — seven long balls in 730 MLB plate appearances are ample proof — the 5-foot-9 backstop smilingly expressed to me that he’s happy with bloopers as long as they fall.
The catcher for Boston biggest rival is a different story.
“If Gary Sanchez hits a homer, he’s going to go up there the next time trying to hit another one,” Vazquez said of the Yankees long-ball artist (53 in 756 plate appearances). “I’ve played against him since the minor leagues, and he’s always trying to get a homer. He likes to hit homers. That’s him.”
Eight weeks ago in these electronic pages, Thad Levine (yes, we quote him often here in Sunday notes) weighed in on future managerial trends. The Twins GM predicted that “15-20 years from now, you’ll see a handful of people who haven’t worn uniforms before, but they’re wearing uniforms now in dugouts.”
Chaim Bloom doesn’t necessarily disagree, but he does see a lot of value in on-the-field experience.
“I think a big part of a manager’s job is to understand what his players are going through,” said Tampa Bay’s senior vice president, baseball operations. “They need to understand the dynamic in the clubhouse, and be able to create an environment where they can get the most out of the group of guys they have in there. The experience they had at the major league level helps with that.”
That doesn’t mean the Rays executive is an old-school traditionalist. Far from. He does, after all, help run one baseball’s most-progressive clubs.
“We have seen some very successful managers who didn’t play in the major leagues,” acknowledged Bloom, who graduated from Yale with a degree in classics (Latin). “Through their own life experiences, including some of their coaching experiences, they have that understanding. It’s ultimately about gaining the trust of players, and if you can do that, you can lead a group.
“With a lot of things there is a degree of inertia. Something has been a certain way for a long time, so there’s a hump to overcome if you want change. In many cases, things are the way they are until… it often takes somebody, usually somebody special, to be successful in a different way.”
Here are two imaginary teams. Which you like better?
What do you think? Regardless of your preference, one notable thing differentiates them. The answer can be found below, after the news items.
The Minnesota Twins announced on Friday that Johan Santana has been elected to their Hall of Fame. The 21st player (and 31st person overall) to be so honored, Santana played for the AL Central club from 2000-2007, making three All-Star teams and capturing two Cy Young awards. From 2003-2007, Santana had more wins, and a lower ERA, than any starting pitcher in the game.
Per reports out of Japan, Koji Uehara hopes to play one more season in MLB, then call it a career. If only offered a minor league deal, the 42-year-old free agent says he plans to retire.
According to team president Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox are petitioning the city of Boston to rename Yawkey Way. The stretch of street outside of Fenway Park is named after former team owner Tom Yawkey, a key figure in the franchise’s troubled racial history. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate.
Registration is now open for this summer’s national SABR Convention, which will be held in downtown Pittsburgh from June 20-24.
Here is the answer to the aforementioned question:
Each player on Team A (which includes three Hall of Famers) finished his career with a batting average of .300 or higher.
Each player on Team B (which has no Hall of Famers) finished his career with a batting average of .250 or lower.
As for their cumulative WAR totals, the margin is… not particularly close.
Team A is worth 242.2 WAR.
Team B is worth 397.8 WAR.
With Hall of Fame results being announced on Wednesday, we should all tip our proverbial caps to two people whose work is invaluable. Ryan Thibodaux diligently keeps us informed with his Ballot Tracker each year. Jay Jaffe, my former Baseball Prospectus colleague, and the creator of JAWS, has arguably become the preeminent expert on Hall-worthiness. Jaffe’s new book, The Cooperstown Casebook, is a gem.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Last Sunday’s column led with outfield prospect Dylan Carlson, whom the St. Louis Cardinals took in the first round of the 2016 draft out of a Sacramento, California-area high school. Not included in the article was his response to the following question: Did you grow up rooting for the Giants or the A’s?
“I was actually more of a (Triple-A Sacramento) River Cats fan,” answered Carlson. “As far as MLB, I guess I was more of an A’s fan, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I grew up a fan of baseball. Just watching the game, learning about the game… I’ve always had a strong passion for it.”
Last weekend’s column also included a short segment with Ken Korach. The longtime radio voice of the Oakland A’s told of how he filled in on White Sox broadcasts prior to establishing himself out west. East Coast listeners heard him call a few games as well.
“I did some with the Orioles, back in 1983,” explained Korach. “John Miller was doing the Sunday Night games on ESPN and I would fill in for him. Another time I filled in for Chuck Thompson, who by then was basically retired and just working a small number of games. He was supposed to be filling in, but he’d just gotten the Frick Award and couldn’t make it. I was the fill-in for the fill-in.”
Sticking with broadcasters, but jumping sports, count me among those who haven’t climbed aboard the Tony Romo bandwagon. I expect that I will in time — the former Cowboys quarterback clearly has a bright future in the booth — but to me he comes off as unpolished, and at times overbearing. Does he know the ins and outs of the NFL like the back of his hand? Without a doubt. Does he also sometimes sound a little too much like the over-zealous, know-it-all fan one barstool over? I’m of the opinion that he does, although that may be part of his appeal. To each his own, I guess.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Dan Hasty, the voice of the West Michigan Whitecaps, will be doing radio play-by-play for a pair of Detroit Tigers spring training games this year. Peter J. Wallner wrote about the up-and-coming broadcaster’s opportunity at MLive.
Over at The Miami Herald, Walter Villa introduced us to Melissa Mayeux, who grew up in France and is slated to be the starting shortstop at Miami Dade College in her freshman year.
In 1950, The San Francisco Chronicle ran the headline: SEALS SIGN SEA LION; TERMS UNDISCLOSED. This past week, the chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub explained why.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Randal Grichuk, who the Blue Jays acquired from the Cardinals on Friday, was drafted 24th overall by the Angels in 2009. The next player taken, also by the Angels, was Mike Trout. The 25th overall pick that year originally belonged to the Yankees, who ceded it by signing Mark Teixeira as a free agent.
Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews is the only player to have worn a Braves uniform in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.
In MLB history 308 players have struck out 1,000 or more times. Only 118 players have walked 1,000 or more times.
The Philadelphia Athletics won more World Series titles (3) between 1910-1913 than the Philadelphia Phillies have won (2) in their 135-year history.
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.