Sunday Notes: Angels Angst, Astros, Colabello, more

The kerfuffle that led to Jerry DiPoto resigning as Angels GM has received plenty of attention, and for good reason. The reported power struggle is seemingly a clash of philosophies. Harkening back to the nascent days of Moneyball, more than a modicum of us-versus-them appears to be at play.

I’m certainly not privy to the club’s inner workings. Nor do I believe in taking sides based on conjecture. Until I learn more, I’ll question, but refrain from criticizing either faction.

Two things stand out from my most-recent time around the team. One is the length of the pre-series meeting the Angels had at Fenway Park earlier this season. It was notable for its duration, and apparently not atypical. According to an Anaheim beat writer, Mike Scioscia’s squad routinely spends a lot of time on scouting reports.

Reportedly, the DiPoto-Scioscia discord was related to Angels coaches not being willing to convey scouting information provided by the front office. That leads one to wonder what is covered in the meetings, and what type of information is being withheld.

A conversation I had with Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher also stands out.

“We gather data from multiple sources,” Butcher told me at Fenway. “I call what we use ‘digestible information.’ What I give to a player is stuff he can use in a game. To me, there is digestible information and there is absolutely useless information in respect to playing on the field. I try to give our pitchers what they need, and what they want.”

Butcher went on to say that not all pitchers want the same level of information. He talked about the importance of pitching to strengths and making adjustments on the fly. He also stressed the importance of dialogue in meetings.

How much DiPoto’s departure centered around pitching-related issues is a mystery. Maybe it was more hitting- or spray chart-related? Frankly, the entire matter is a mystery. I have a hard time believing any manager, or coaching staff, would withhold valuable information from players. That said, until we know what the information was – assuming this actually happened – determining said value isn’t even possible.

My guess is that the issue goes well beyond the distribution of data.

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Bo Jackson is a legend. Games he played on July 17 and August 26, 1990 are part of that legend. Pat Tabler was a Royal that year, and he remembers the feats of his former Kansas City teammate with awe and admiration.

“We were playing the Yankees, in New York, and he hit three home runs,” Tabler told me. “Bop, bop, bop, three home runs. In the (sixth) inning, he was playing center and I was playing right. Deion Sanders hit a gapper between us and Bo dove for the ball and separated his shoulder. Sanders ended up with an inside-the-park home run.

“I said ‘Jax, you have to get up. You have three home runs and a chance to hit four. That’s rarer than a perfect game.’ He said, ‘Tabs, I can’t. I separated my shoulder.’

“He was on the disabled list for six or eight weeks. When he got better, they told him they were going to send him on a rehab assignment. He said, ‘Bo doesn’t do rehab.’ So they told him, ‘OK, you’re in the lineup.’ We were facing Randy Johnson, in a day game in Kansas City.

“He hadn’t played in over a month, and the first pitch Randy Johnson threw to him, he hit into the fountains in straightaway center field. That made four home runs in four at bats. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I was in the on deck circle and I was bowing as he came in. I was like, ‘You’re unbelievable.'”

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A brief knuckleball tutorial from former knuckleballer, and current Houston Astros broadcaster, Steve Sparks:

Sparks: “I’d always struggled with throwing a slower knuckleball. Rick Peterson, my pitching coach in Oakland, told me, ‘On your slower knuckleball, think of it as a three-quarters swing in golf. It’s like hitting a 7-iron. Even though the stroke is a little bit shorter, you still have to accelerate on contact.’

“What he meant is that I had to accelerate on my release point to take off the spin. That was my problem for a long time. On the slower knuckleball, which wasn’t as comfortable for me, I would slow down at release point. For a lot of pitchers – you can take this all the way down to Little League – when anybody is talking about aiming the baseball, it means you’re decelerating on release. You’re speeding up early and slowing down on release. To have a consistent release point, you need to speed up on release.”

——

Lance McCullers will be on the mound for Houston this afternoon at Fenway Park. The 21-year-old righty is having an outstanding rookie season, and his curveball has a lot to do with that. As Eno Sarris pointed out last month, McCullers throws the game’s hardest hook.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom showered some glowing praise on his charge when I spoke to him on Friday.

“I’d say McCullers’ breaking ball is Kimbrel-like at times,” said Strom. “That’s as good as you can get. I haven’t seen everybody’s curveball, but I would say the young kid McCullers has a curveball as good as anybody in this game.”

——

Sticking with the first place Astros, I chatted with Pat Neshek yesterday. The righty with the funky delivery is having another good season, and as usual, his FIP is markedly higher than his ERA.

Neshek isn’t a fan of FIP.

“I wish there was a better way to measure weak contact,” said Neshek. “I can get a pop-up to the catcher and it goes against me as much as a line drive to the left fielder. Last year I had a great year, and a lot of people were, ‘Yeah, but his FIP – he’s pitching above his average.’ I was like, ‘No! You can’t say that. Nobody’s hit me hard.”

His opinion isn’t flippant. Neshek checks out FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball, and is well-versed on advanced stats. He’s learned a lot about his own pitches, including how his slider “moves a lot different than a lot of guy’s normal sliders,” and how his four-seam, which he assumed was straight, “kind of screwballs straight sideways, about 10 inches.”

Hitters often tell you that scouting reports and video are valuable, but what they see in the batter’s box is far more telling. Neshek shared a similar thought in reverse.

“I’ve always wanted to face myself,” said Neshek. “I think a lot of us would like to see what it would be like to face ourselves. If we did, we could maybe figure out a way to do something better.”

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People who have followed Chris Colabello’s career know he attributes much of his success to Rich Gedman. Colabello played seven years of independent ball before joining the affiliated ranks, and Gedman was his manager for six of them.

“I spent countless hours in a batting cage with him,” said Colabello, who is hitting a lusty .335/.374/.505 in 206 plate appearances for the Blue Jays in his third big-league season. “At the end of the day, that’s where we connected the most. He’s nothing short of wonderful as a hitting coach.

“With Rich, it’s not so much, ‘Hey, this is about your swing’ or ‘This about this.’ It’s more about the mental side of the game. He’s about learning everybody’s personality and becoming someone you can confide in. It’s about earning trust, and he does that in volumes. And as much as he knows about hitting, he doesn’t shove anything down your throat. That’s important, because while you listen to any advice you’re given, in the end, it’s your career.”

Ironically, Gedman – currently the hitting coach for Boston’s Triple-A afilliate – was no longer with Colabello when he finally turned the corner.

“The biggest defining season for me was 2011, my last year in indie ball,” Colabello told me. “That’s when I really got into the nuts and bolts of it, and really became accountable. Every swing I took in the cage, every pitch I saw in every at bat, I became accountable for.

“I was already a good hitter, but it was mostly instinctual. It’s not that I didn’t work at it, but at the same time, I didn’t love the work element of it. In 2011, I started to love the work.”

——

Here is a snippet of Gedman’s wisdom from an older conversation. It’s a good example of his straightforward, common-sense approach to hitting:

Gedman: “Everybody who goes up to the plate should want to swing. The problem is, pitchers don’t always cooperate. If you start swinging at their pitches and fall behind in the count, you’ll be forced to swing at more of their pitches. You want to be patient, but you need to be ready.”

——

Eno Sarris recently wrote about Josh Reddick’s improved plate discipline. If you’ve followed Reddick’s career, you know that was his biggest question mark coming up through the Red Sox system. Patience wasn’t a virtue in his developmental days.

The left-handed slugger is, of course, an Oakland Athletic now, having been sent west in December 2011. He’s come a long way since changing coasts. Reddick has a career-best .350 OBP this season, and just five more strikeouts than walks.

Reddick likes hitting at his original team’s ballpark – “who doesn’t?” – and the Green Monster is a big reason why. When I asked him why he often goes the other way at Fenway, he claimed it isn’t by design.

“If you go up there with that mindset, you’re going to get beat inside,” said Reddick. “You can’t take away the inside part of the plate, For me, it’s just recognizing the pitch away and putting a good swing on it, and getting just enough under it to bank it off the Monster. Hitting (at Fenway) has comfortability for me, but it’s a coincidence that I hit more balls the other way.”

It’s not a coincidence that Reddick is coming into his own. When you stop chasing and hit the ball where it’s pitched, good things happen.

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Reddick recently expressed displeasure over being platooned. He’s not the only player who’d like to see more action against same-sided pitchers. Last week, Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan – himself a left-handed hitter – shared a similar sentiment.

“One thing that frustrates me is the limited opportunities for lefties to face lefties.” Coghlan told me. “The game is turning into so much of a platoon that it’s actually bad for the players. If you talk to any hitter, whether he’s a righty or a lefty, he likes to face same-sided pitchers every once in awhile. It allows you to lock back in. Facing lefties helps you stay short and simple, and not be so aggressive, which you’re more likely to be against righties.”

Coghlan went on to cite Anthony Rizzo as an example of a hitter who scuffled against lefties, but now hits them well after bring given an opportunity to face them on a regular basis.

We’ll hear more from Coghlan on the subject of hitting later this week.

——

Kris Bryant going deep twice last night brought to mind something Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies said at last weekend’s SABR convention in Chicago.

“This kid has not even scratched the surface,” said Deshaies. “His best asset, from what scouts tell me, is his ability to hit the ball the other way with power. We saw a little early on, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of it yet. When he starts to do that, the home runs are going to come in bunches. Or, in Joe Maddon’s words, clumpy. He’s going to get clumpy.”

——

When I visited Detroit to cover the 2012 World Series, one of the highlights of my trip was playing catch on the site of old Tiger Stadium. The structure is long gone – it was demolished in 2009 — but thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers the field is playable for pickup games.

The Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) will be taking over the site in 2017. There is value in the acquisition, but not all is well from a historic-preservation standpoint. As the current caretakers, The Navin Field Grounds Crew, point out, “Baseball has been played on natural grass at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1896.” PAL has plans to install artificial turf on the space once occupied by Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline.

Standing on the field that October day, I closed my eyes and thought of the all-time greats who once touched the same plot of earth. They didn’t touch newly-installed artificial turf. That’s why I’ve taken the time to sign this petition.

——

I’ve never been one to yell “Kill the umpire.” The men in blue have hard jobs and, being human, they inevitably miss a call here and there (or, in the case of CB Bucknor, here, there, here, here again, there).

When instant replay was introduced, I assumed 99% of missed calls would be corrected. After all, trained eyes with access to slow-motion replays from multiple angles couldn’t possibly get it wrong more than once in a blue moon.

Who knew there could be so many blue moons?

Challenges not only take time – pace of game, anyone? — they don’t result in the right call nearly as often as they should. Replay needs to get better.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Frank Thomas has the most career plate appearances without a sacrifice hit (10,075). Next on the list are Harmon Killebrew (9,933) and Vladimir Guerrero (9,059). Thanks to the esteemed Adam Darowski of Hall of Stats for this tasty bit of don’t-waste-outs info.

Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Matt Kemp share the distinction of having been charged with the most outfield errors this season, five. Four of Kemp’s five errors have been of the throwing variety. Cespedes has a pair of errant tosses. Granderson hasn’t committed a throwing error.

As a team, the Brewers have committed 41 throwing errors, the most in the majors. The Dodgers have committed 10 throwing errors, the fewest in the majors (take a bow, Adrian Gonzalez).

According to STATS LLC, Jose Fernandez just tied the modern day record for most career home starts without a loss to begin a career. Fernandez has started 21 games at Marlins Park. Also per STATS LLC, the co-record holder is David Palmer, who did so with the Montreal Expos over multiple seasons.

Oakland’s Kendall Graveman, who was featured earlier this week, has allowed six runs over his last six starts. He’s tossed 43 innings over that span.

On this date in 1947, Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians became the first African-American player to play in the American League.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Angels Angst, Astros, Colabello, more by David Laurila!

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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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Ryan
Guest

Just a heads up, it looks like one of these Kemps should be a Granderson: “Four of Kemp’s five errors have been of the throwing variety. Kemp has had a pair of errant tosses.” Thanks for the interesting article.