Sunday Notes: Archer & Ono, De Leon, Medeiros, more

The lead article in this week’s column is a little off the wall. Indirectly, it celebrates Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, which opens today at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Chris Archer was unfamiliar with Ono when I approached him with this idea. That didn’t matter, because the 26-year-old Tampa Bay Rays pitcher is among the most thoughtful players in the game. The subject matter was in his cerebral sweet spot.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ono, she is more than an avant-garde artist. She is also a legendary singer-songwriter, and was married to the late John Lennon. One of her compositions is “Beautiful Boys,” which appeared on their album Double Fantasy. What follows is lyrics from the song (in italics), followed by Archer’s interpretation of them.

You’re a beautiful boy with all your little toys
Your eyes have seen the world, though you’re only four years old
And your tears are streaming even when you’re smiling
Please never be afraid to cry.

“To me, that means you may be young, but your life experience is still very valuable. People can tell you how the world is — how the world works – but it’s different for everybody. It’s not always just how the adults have led you to believe it is. You make your own definition of life — the value of it, what’s important.

“You may or may not trust people based off things that have happened in your life. You may be more comfortable with yourself based off your upbringing, or less comfortable with yourself based off your upbringing. Every line of the song ends with not being afraid to do something that’s kind of frowned upon.

“Don’t be afraid to cry, don’t be afraid to show your emotions. If it’s a negative emotion, you want to be a little more reserved, but you can still express sadness. What’s wrong with that? You can express happiness. What I’m trying to put into words, basically, is that I think it’s a positive. The first (stanza) is very positive, saying your life experience, and the way you see the world, is unique.”

You’re a beautiful boy with all your little ploys
Your mind has changed the world and you’re now forty years old
You got all you can carry and still feel somehow empty
Don’t ever be afraid to fly.

“People try to put life into a bubble, and it’s not that. It’s forever evolving and changing. Change, evolution of who you are. Maybe you’re missing something, like love, in your life. I can understand how you could feel empty, even if you’ve sparked change in the world. You’re helping other people, but maybe you don’t have anybody to help you? You don’t have anyone to lean on.

“Maybe she’s talking about not settling? Even though you’re doing a great job, there’s always more to strive for. Like flying. You can always go higher. Some people are content with hitting .270, because hitting .300 is so hard. But if you eliminate an expectation, you could hit .310. What if Jose Altuve was okay with hitting .300? That would be silly. But he goes out there and tries get a hit every single time, and his average is what his average is. Just like if your expectation is to have a 3.00 ERA. That’s not flying. Flying is taking away the expectation, doing your best, and letting the result be the result.”

All you beautiful boys creating multiple plays
You like to fence in your world and settle down when you’re old
You can run from pole to pole and never scratch your soul
Don’t be afraid to go to hell and back
Don’t be afraid to be afraid

“Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and go through a struggle in order to be successful. Go to hell and back. When you’re going through a tough time in life, it feels like hell, but when you come out of it, you’re better person. Really embracing a challenge is going to be tough — and it may be for an extended period of time – but once you let go of that fear, and let go of that temporary dissatisfaction, you can see that end goal and are willing to go through it to accomplish that goal.

“You can run from pole to pole and never scratch your soul. You see that a lot, because situations and circumstances happen in life. This line is basically that you’re just settling. Don’t settle. Try to go through life doing what you want, and being who you are.”

——

A while back, Jerry Weinstein, a coach in the Rockies system and a longtime catching instructor, told me the following:

“There’s a fairly broad standard deviation relative to what catchers do to get pitches called strikes. One thing is long arms. The closer you catch the ball to the plate, the more of a strike it is, and a guy with longer arms doesn’t have to move as much to catch a pitch that misses its target, yet stays in the strike zone. He has less movement, and the better catchers are the quieter catchers.”

I’d never heard anyone cite long arms as an advantage in catcher framing. Intrigued, I shared what Weinstein said with a handful of receivers. To varying degrees, they were skeptical.

“I don’t think how long your arms are has much to do with it,” said Joe Mauer, who caught nearly 8,000 big league innings for the Twins before moving off the position. “It’s more about soft hands versus not-so-soft hands, and where you’re positioned. I could have the longest arms in the world and be closer or further away from the hitter. As a bigger guy, I didn’t really go out to reach it. I kind of had my arm in a little closer. ”

Cody Stanley concurred, but with a caveat that backs up one of Weinstein’s points.

“Your arm is in a little tighter,” said Stanley, who catches for the Cardinals. “It’s almost like you’re trying to catch an egg. You don’t want it to break, so you’re real soft with it. We’re soft, yet we’re firm, if that makes sense. We’re receiving something; we’re taking it in.

“On lower pitches you do need to extend a little more. Up high, we can catch it a little closer to our body, but down low we want to catch it a little further out, so the umpire can see it better.”

Chad Epperson, Boston’s minor league catching coordinator, agreed that the location of the pitch is a primary determiner. Like Mauer, he questioned the importance of limb length.

“For most pitches, the closer we can catch the ball to our body, the better off we are,” said Epperson. “When I’m making an exchange, if I catch the ball with my arm (extended), I have to travel to get it back to my hand. If I let the ball travel, I’ve caught the ball where I’m strong.

“But there are definitely pitches where we need to go out and get them. For instance, there’s that slider away you’re trying to keep on the plate. That said, I don’t think being a long-armed guy gives you an advantage over a short-armed guy.”

Given the responses from Mauer, Stanley and Epperson, it was only fair that I went back to Weinstein for further clarification. Here is what he had to say:

“Catching is like a funnel. The more the ball moves away from the center of the funnel, the more extended the catch is made. This is especially true on pitches away from right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters. Look at (video) and stop the action at the catch; look at the extension when the ball hits the glove. These pitches are not caught close to the body. Ideally, when the ball hits the glove, all action stops.

“As far as arm length is concerned, is it a big factor? Probably not. But on backhand plays, the guys with longer arms can probably catch the ball without as much lateral slide, especially if they are sitting on the other side of the plate. For me, any time you can catch a pitch inside the zone without as much movement, you have a better chance of the pitch being called a strike.”

——

Twelve months ago, Jose De Leon was essentially a non-prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. A 24th round pick in 2013 out of Southern University, the right-hander began last season in extended spring training. Today, he’s a shooting star.

Few players have seen their fortunes rise as quickly as the 22-year-old native of Isabela, Puerto Rico. After beginning 2014 in the minor league equivalent of purgatory, De Leon put up a 2.22 ERA and struck out 119 batters in 77 innings between a pair of low-level stops. This year he’s been even better. Pitching for the Dodgers high-A affiliate in the hitter-friendly California League, he’s fanned 50 in 32 innings, with a 1.69 ERA.

When I talked to De Leon earlier this week, he admitted he had few expectations when he was drafted. He was simply happy to get an opportunity to play professional baseball, and pleased by how proud his family was of him. Beyond that, he had little idea of what to expect.

No one, including De Leon, expected his fastball velocity to jump from 91 to 96, occasionally touching 97. He attributes better conditioning for much of his breakthrough, as well as mechanical adjustments. De Leon straightened out his stride, so that he wasn’t throwing across his body, and also moved to the first base side of the rubber. Stretching back to last season, he’s walked eight and punched out 92 over his last 55 innings.

De Leon complements his four-seam fastball with a slider and a circle change. The latter is his best secondary pitch – “I have a lot of confidence in it and can throw it at any time” – while the former lacks consistency. De Leon threw “more of a curveball” in college, and is working on making his slider “tighter and sharper.” He won’t do so by radically altering the way he throws it.

“Just last week, our pitching coordinator (Rick Knapp) was talking to me about that,” said De Leon. “He said to use what I have, and try to make it better without changing anything. He said if you get too focused, or obsessed, with trying to improve something, you can forget about what you do best.”

What the fast-rising righty does better than anything is blow away hitters, and he’s not planning to stop. He tried pitching more to contact in his junior year at Southern, and “It didn’t go well.” He went back to a strikeout mentality, and thanks to improved conditioning and better mechanics, he’s getting them in bunches.

“It’s just the way I pitch,” De Leon told me. “It’s like how you have power hitters. They’re going to strike out, but they’re also going to hit a lot of home runs and get a lot of RBIs. It’s what they do. I’m a strike-out pitcher.”

——

Michael Pineda followed up his 16-strikeout effort on May 10 by fanning just one in his next start. Corey Kluber, who punched out 18 earlier this week, makes his next start on Monday.

Since 1900, there have been 30 games in which a pitcher has struck out 18 or more. Not counting the handful of times it happened in their final start of the season, the pitchers averaged 7.4 strikeouts in their subsequent outing. Randy Johnson had the most, with 13. Steve Carlton, Bill Gullickson, Ben Sheets and Don Wilson had just three.

——

Kodi Medeiros is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. The southpaw from Hilo, Hawaii won’t celebrate his 19th birthday until later this month. Milwaukee’s first-round pick last year is pitching for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Last winter, Brewers farm director Reid Nichols told me the youngster has a funky delivery and can be hard to catch because his ball moves so much. Medeiros more or less agreed with both assessments when I talked to him on Friday. He told me movement is a bonus if you can control it, and that he’s “gifted to have some life on my ball.” His delivery, which he said he hasn’t been asked to alter, is funky because “My arm kind of sits back and I throw from a low three-quarters slot.”

Medeiros alternates between four-seam and two-seam fastballs, depending on the count and which of the two he’s commanding better. He also throws a slider, which he feels has been effective against left-handed hitters. His changeup, which he throws to both righties and lefties, is “coming along well.” He rarely threw the pitch before reaching pro ball, because “A lot of guys in high school have slow bats, so they could make contact with it.”

When he was younger, Medeiros had opponents contacting the mat.

“I started with judo when I was five years old,” explained Medeiros. “I was consistent with it until high school baseball, but then strayed off of it because they were at the same time. My dad entered me and my brother in a lot of tournaments. In 2004, my brother won first place in the nationals, and I won second place. It’s a pretty competitive sport and our dad pushed us a lot. I’m glad he did. It really helped my flexibility and overall body strength, and also my discipline.”

——

Baseball America’s Logomania contest is ongoing, with 32 teams vying for the honor of being voted the best logo in the minor leagues. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and outside of a handful – I’m primarily looking at you, Tortugas and Chihuahuas – there are numerous worthy candidates. My short list would include the Carolina Mudcats, Portland Sea Dogs, Tennessee Smokies, and Toledo Mud Hens. Forced to choose, I’d go with the Smokies as having the best logo.

——

Last year, Red Sox prospect Travis Shaw told me that when he gets called up to the big leagues, his father, former all-star Jeff Shaw, “will be on the first flight to where I’m playing, He follows my career closely and is going to be absolutely thrilled.”

Dad was indeed thrilled, but he wasn’t there when his son made his debut in Toronto last week. Shaw was called up when David Ortiz served his one-game suspension, but didn’t find out he was activated until the morning of the game. By that time, it wasn’t possible for anyone in his family to book a flight that got to Toronto before 10 o’clock that night.

Communication was also an issue. Shaw initially couldn’t use his phone, because he didn’t want to incur international charges calling from Canada. Admittedly “kind of cheap,” he waited until he had WiFi at the team hotel before being in contact with most family and friends.

Another oddity came immediately before his first at bat. Xander Bogaerts, hitting in front of him in the lineup, was initially called out on a close play at first base.

“Bogie had a bang-bang play and there was a minute-and-a-half challenge where I was just standing there waiting,” explained Shaw. “I think the challenge actually helped. The nerves started getting to me when I was on deck, and in that extra time I was able to calm myself.”

Mookie Betts, standing with him in the on-deck circle, asked “Are you ready?” Shaw told his teammate, “I’m as ready as I’m going to be.”

Shaw grounded out twice, then drew a walk in his final plate appearance. Following the game, he was optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket.

——

Another Red Sox tidbit: Pitching prospect Pat Light grew up in New Jersey, and just like his mother he’s a Bruce Springsteen fan. The hard-throwing right-hander – he tops out at 97 – has never met “The Boss,” but he might someday get the opportunity. Springsteen owns a horse farm approximately half a mile from his family’s house, which is located in – you can’t make these things up – Colts Neck.

——

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Gus Schlosser has two losses and a no-decision in three starts for Double-A New Britain. The 26-year-old right-hander has also made six relief appearances for the Colorado affiliate. He has been credited with the win in all of them.

Per John Dewan’s Stat of the Week, the Detroit Tigers (as of Thursday) rank fourth-best among the 30 teams with 16 Defensive Runs Saved. Per Dewan, “Third baseman Nick Castellanos has improved from the worst defensive player in baseball (-30 DRS in 2014) to a positive contributor (3 DRS) so far this season.”

Per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Jonathan Papelbon owns the saves records for both the Red Sox and Phillies, making him one of two pitchers, along with Robb Nen, to own the saves standard for two different franchises.

Per Alan Nathan, the average elevation of the first 763 home runs hit this season was 88 feet.

This year’s Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball will be held August 22-23, in Boston. Multiple FanGraphs writers are among the presenters, as are Brian Bannister, Dan Brooks, Ben Cherington, Alan Nathan, Wendy Thurm, and many more.





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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K R Bordner
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A little blurb about Jose DeLeon appeared May 17 in the Archer & Ono article. The author may be familiar with DeLeon but I’m not. It never mentioned what MLB team’s system he’s in. I clicked on his name and it sent me to a short list of Jose DeLeons.
It’d be great if articles always list what MLB team’s system a player is in.
Thanks.