Sunday Notes: Badenhop & Perez, Weinstein on Framing, Cowart, Renda, more

Burke Badenhop signed with the Reds yesterday, and he’ll bring more than a sinker with him to Cincinnati. The 32-year-old (as of today) righty will arrive with a sabermetric suitcase stuffed with theories and thoughts.

Badenhop has an economics degree and a track record of pitching well in a variety of relief roles. Usage and value were on his mind the last time we spoke.

“I’ve been thinking about something you might term bullpen clustering,” said Badenhop. “With the randomness of a baseball season, there is going to be an ebb and a flow to the wins a team ends up with, and what those wins look like. How you use your bullpen is going to vary by how close the game is.

“Say you’re a reliever and pitch in 12 games in a month. In those 12, are you throwing five games out of seven in the beginning, and then not pitching for a week? A long winning streak is good, but it can also be taxing if all the games are close and you are using the same high leverage guys on a nightly basis. A blowout or a complete game can be huge.”

Badenhop made a career-high 70 appearances last year and threw 70-and-two-thirds innings. I asked how hard it would be to take on an even heavier workload.

“I could pitch 81 games if I knew I was pitching every other day,” answered Badenhop. “And that’s more than from a physical standpoint. Right now, I have to be mentally prepared 150 times a year, and there are mental juices required to prep for a game.

“There was a time this past year where I threw an inning, the next day I faced a batter, and the next day I threw two innings over the course of three innings. That’s tough to do. But if you gave me an inning, a day off, then two innings, then two days off, then two more innings – that’s five innings over six days, and a lot easier. Spacing out your outings makes a big difference.”

Usage patterns are one thing: results are another. Not being a strikeout pitcher – his career k/9 is 6.3 – Badenhop realizes the BABiP gods are going to influence his outings.

“Some of what happens is out of my control,” said the Bowling Green University alum. “You can give up three or four soft hits and end up being charged with multiple runs. You can completely do your job as far as inducing weak contact, but if you don’t get outs, did you actually do your job? I would say yes. Inducing weak contact is part one of my job.”

The newest addition to the Reds pitching staff will be expected to limit liners, and recent history suggests he will. He’s not going to be Aroldis Chapman, but he’s going to get outs that matter. According to his suitcase, they all do.

“Wins and Saves are sexy, and easy to figure out, but there are no innings that aren’t valuable,” said Badenhop. “There is a certain synergy throughout the pen. While we’re all individuals, at the same time we’re meshed into a group. Every pitch I throw is one someone else doesn’t throw. The nature of a win is a weird thing, and there are different ways to go about getting one.”

——

Chris Perez will head into spring training looking to make a name for himself – preferably a moniker not muttered under one’s breath. He’ll do so with the Brewers, who inked the formidable-turned-combustible closer to a minor-league deal earlier this week.

Perez didn’t pitch well last year. In 49 games with the Dodgers, he logged a 4.27 ERA and a 5.07 FIP. He also didn’t pitch in his familiar role. After averaging 31 saves over the previous four campaigns, all with the Indians, he garnered just one with LA.

The 29-year-old righty regrets not performing better, but despite his uneven season, Tinseltown was better than being beleaguered in Cleveland. La-La Land produces game shows, but “Booing Chris Perez” isn’t one of them.

“Playing there was fun,” Perez told me this week. “It was a 180 from playing in Cleveland. The market, the team, the league, the expectations – everything was totally different. It was the first time in a long time I was just a reliever, pitching whatever inning they needed, and I learned from that.

“I threw really good in April and September, and in between it was a combination of bad luck and some really bad pitching. I was trying to find my mechanics and get hitters out at the same time. Results-wise, I didn’t perform how I wanted to.”

Bone spurs in his right ankle contributed to his woes. Perez wouldn’t use that as an excuse, but he’s a power pitcher and power pitchers need to push off. His mechanics were clearly compromised. After spending most of August on the disabled list, he threw seven scoreless innings in September. His fastball topped out at 95.6 mph in his final appearance.

Despite the strong finish, Perez found himself in no-man’s land for much of the off-season. Teams weren’t beating down his door with offers, and he ultimately settled for a make-good deal. I asked if going from All-Star closer to reclamation project is a humbling experience.

“I don’t feel humbled,” responded Perez. “It is what it is. I’m the same guy, maybe just a little hungrier, a little more eye-on-the-prize. In a way, I feel more like I did when I was coming up through the minors and trying to make a name for myself. I have something to prove again.”

——

Framing has been accentuated more and more in recent years, with data the driving force. The gap between the best and worst receivers is striking. According to Stat Corner, Miguel Montero was 24 runs above average last season, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 24 runs below average. Even if those numbers lack pinpoint accuracy, there’s no denying a backstop’s ability to buy calls can be crucial.

Jerry Weinsten is a highly-regarded catching instructor and a member of the Colorado Rockies player development staff. I asked him if the influx of framing data is impacting teaching. His answer began with an analogy.

“It’s all about goal-based performance,” said Weinsten. “A famous Russian physiologist named Nicolas Bernstein once said the body organizes itself based on the goal of the activity. If you tell someone to hammer a nail into a piece of wood, that’s different than telling them to hammer a nail into a piece of wood with one swing.

“With all the data on leverage – how OPS swings relative to counts – catching coaches have a heightened awareness of framing. So, it’s definitely being emphasized more from a development standpoint. The reality is, receiving is the most important catching skill. You’re a catcher. Catch the ball. But it’s more than just that – it’s catch the ball and make sure that every pitch that’s a strike is called a strike.”

Fewer than half of pitches thrown are offered at, and takes aren’t insignificant. As Weinstein put it, “On a given day, three people are going to decide who wins the ballgame: the pitcher, the catcher, and the umpire.” The bottom line is, you need to get calls.

“A lot of guys in pro ball don’t like the term – they prefer ‘receiving’ – but you are framing the strike zone,” said Weinstein. “With fastballs, pitchers only hit their target 24% of the time. A catcher’s job is to help the pitcher any way he can.”

——

Kaleb Cowart is about to embark on what might be a make-or-break campaign, As recently as two years ago, the switch-hitting third base prospect was rated the top prospect in the Angels system. Coming off a season where he hit .223/.295/.324 – in his second stint at Double-A Arkansas – he’s now ranked 24th

As precipitous as the plummet – as ugly as the numbers have been – Cowart isn’t a lost cause just yet. Still only 22 years old, there’s time for him to find himself. According to Angels assistant GM Scott Servais, that’s exactly what needs to happen.

“Ultimately, it comes down to players being able to coach themselves,” said Servais. “I think that’s where Kaleb is right now. He’s kind of at the point of, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go be me. I’m not going to be the guy my hitting coach wants me to be, or that my manager wants me to be, I just need to play and see what happens.”

Servais stressed that the former first-round pick has been open to trying different things. His seemingly stalled progress isn’t not a matter of stubbornness or lack of effort. And while it’s hard to be bullish on Cowart given his struggles, he’s continued to flash potential.

“Last year, he went 5 for 6 on opening night, and that was coming off a pretty good spring training,” said Servais. “You’re thinking, ‘OK, here we go.’ But then it just petered out.

“It takes some guys longer to find themselves. As much as people want to predict, ‘This guy is going to be the next Chipper Jones,’ it’s not easy. But I think Kaleb is actually in a pretty good spot. Part of player development is giving players the tools to understand themselves, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Kaleb can do this year.”

——

Tony Renda is 5-foot-8 and predictably gets a lot of questions about his size. As a rule, I’m averse to low-hanging fruit, so I largely eschewed physicality when I talked to the Nationals second base prospect. Inevitably, it came up anyway.

Renda raised his profile in 2014, hitting .307 with a .381 OBP at high-A Potomac. The Cal-Berkeley product provided little pop – 25 extra-base hits, none of them home runs – but he stroked plenty of well-struck singles. For good measure, he managed to get plunked 10 times, placing him among the league leaders in HBP.

“I’m an on-base guy,” Renda told me late in the Arizona Fall League season. “My job is to set the table for the big guys behind me.”

Renda doesn’t see himself as strictly a small-ball guy. He said he was satisfied with his batting average last year, but would like to hit for a little more power. He can lay one down when asked, but appreciates that the Nationals are allowing him to “just play his game.”

I asked Renda – the 12th-rated prospect in the Washington system – what he wants people to know about him.

“You’re never too small to play this game,” responded Renda. “It gets put on me that I’m a small guy, and I am, but you don’t have to let that hold you back. I get to compete on the same field as a guy like (Yankees prospect) Aaron Judge, who is 6-foot-7, 260 lbs. Our games may be a little different, but there’s a place for both of us out there. Young, old, tall, short, skinny and fat guys – you can be anything to play this game, as long as you can play it.”

——

Billy Bereszniewicz had a solid season for a 28th-round pick. Playing mostly at rookie-level Ogden, the 23-year-old outfielder hit .290/.347/.374 over 151 plate appearances. He didn’t leave the yard.

The Dodgers didn’t draft the 5-foot-8, 170-lb. fly chaser for his power. Bereszniewicz went homerless in four seasons at SUNY-Binghamton. He didn’t go deep in high school, either. Summer leagues? Nada. American Legion? Zip.

“I haven’t hit a home run since Little League,” Bereszniewicz told me. “And I only hit one in Little League. It was a fence scraper – it barely went out – and I haven’t hit one since. That’s not my game. I guess it goes to show you don’t need power to make it to pro ball.”

It does take perseverance, and the scrappy Bereszniewicz has plenty of that. He’s broken a hip, a hand, and his collarbone twice. He’s had a stress fracture in his back and has torn a patella tendon. He’s also had thoracic outlet surgery. Still, he keeps on keeping on.

——

I’ve asked a multitude of moundsmen about their grips over the years. Some are more forthcoming with detail than others, but as a rule, it’s rare for a pitcher to treat the subject like classified information.

Zeke Spruill has seemingly been sworn to secrecy.

Originally in the Braves system, the 25-year-old starter-turned-reliever was acquired by the Red Sox from the Diamondbacks in December. When I caught up to him last month, he was polite but covert about how he holds a baseball. That’s well within his right – no disparagement intended – but it struck me as interesting. Spruill’s repertoire and movement aren’t unique. Outside of adding a curveball in 2013, nothing has changed according to the reserved righty.

Spruill, who has made a dozen big-league appearances over the past two seasons, developed his curveball under the watchful eye of Mike Parrott. His former mentor has helped shape his development.

“Most pitching coaches have a general philosophy they adhere to, but Mike Parrott is a little bit outside the box,” said Spruill. “He’s not cookie-cutter with his approach. He doesn’t try to use a mold for each pitcher; he takes what you have and builds on it.”

Spruill has a bulldog attitude – “I don’t believe in quit” – and a tunnel-vision approach. He said he lives in the moment and focuses on the mitt, because “That’s what I’m trying to hit. I’m not trying to hit the batter’s bat; I’m trying to hit my spot.”

As for how he grips the baseball, Spruill isn’t saying.

——

Tom Cheney holds a record many of you may not be familiar with. On September 12, 1962, pitching for the Washington Senators, Cheney struck our 21 batters in a complete game 2-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Played in front of a diehards-only crowd of 4,098, the contest took 16 innings to complete. According to his SABR Bio Project entry, the right-hander threw 228 pitches, including screwballs and knuckleballs.

Cheney, who was 27 years old at the time, finished the year 7-9 with a 3.17 ERA. The ensuing season started off with a bang. His first four starts in 1963 were nine-inning complete-game wins, including a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts. Cheney allowed a grand total of one earned run over the span.

Then it all fell apart. Cheney went on to win just five more games before hanging them up. His career mark was 19-29.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

In 2014, Kenley Jansen had a 1.91 FIP and a .350 BABiP. Francisco Rodriguez had a 4.50 FIP and a .216 BABiP.

Per Bill Chuck of Gammons Daily, pitchers threw 118 complete games in 2014. The only season with fewer complete games was 2007, when there were 112. The 1914 season saw 2,066 complete games, the most ever.

David Cone, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina and John Smoltz combined to play 96 seasons and log 268 complete games. Fergie Jenkins pitched 19 seasons and had 267 complete games.

One of my favorite Tweets this week came from @AceballStats: “Babe Ruth (1920 & 1921) & Barry Bonds (2001) are the only players in baseball history to at least double the #MLB slugging percentage.”

SiriusXM is teaming up with the Society for American Baseball Research to launch a new show focused on examining and interpreting the statistical analysis that plays a critical role in baseball today.





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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Fat Jokes
Guest
Fat Jokes

Chris Perez doesn’t look any hungrier to me.

Keeper
Guest
Keeper

Maybe hungier isn’t the right phrasing. Maybe “has the munchies.”