Sunday Notes: Berberet Brewer, Katy’s Hart, Red Sox integration, Orioles, Cubs, more

The fact that Parker Berberet has a 0.77 ERA and has struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings isn’t particularly meaningful. Not only has he thrown just 11-and-two-thirds frames, he is 27 years old and pitching in low-A. He’s a long shot to reach Milwaukee, or any other big-league city.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t come a long way. The Oregon State product spent his first six professional seasons behind the plate, and while he’s been a fringe prospect, he’d reached Double-A and played a smattering of games in Triple-A. But the writing was on the wall, and Barberet could see it. The view is plain as day from a perch at the end of the bench.

“I went to the Brewers last year, at the All-Star break, and asked if I could do it,” Berberet said of his position switch. “I was on the phantom DL at the time, and I wasn’t getting into many games when I (was active), so I was like, ‘Let’s see if I can strengthen my arm and convert to the mound.’”

The Brewers decided to let him try. Berberet began by throwing bullpens, and he showed enough promise to be invited to instructional league, and then back to spring training. Had he not requested the move, he isn’t sure he’d be wearing a uniform.

“I was definitely close (to getting released),” opined Berberet. “I was barely getting to play, so who knows if I’d have gotten an opportunity this year?”

Somewhat surprisingly, he doesn’t have much of a pitching background. The Yorba Linda, California native didn’t pitch much in high school, and not at all in college. Even so, he’s made a smooth transition. His fastball sits low 90s, and he augments it with a curveball, a slider, and a splitter he learned a few years ago from former teammate, and fellow catcher, Tyler LaTorre.

He feels his former position works to his advantage.

“I think the mentality has helped me as a pitcher,” said Berberet. “The first few times I got on a mound I was maybe a little amped up, but after that initial adrenaline, my years as a catcher told me, ’OK, you can’t be trying to throw as hard as you can; what you need to do is locate.’”

Berberet is happy with where he’s at. Toiling in the low minors with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers is far from sexy, especially at his age, but that’s not the attitude he’s taking. His glass is half full, not half empty.

“The Brewers are giving me an opportunity,” said Berberet. “That’s how I’m looking at it. It’s not, ‘Oh, man, I have to go back to A-ball.’ It’s more like, “This is fun, and who knows?”

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Koji Uehara has been an outstanding reliever for years, and his splitter is a big reason why. It dives off the table with the best of them. The weapon he augments his signature pitch with is every bit as interesting. When he locates it upstairs, Uehara’s four-seam fastball induces yawns from radar-gun aficionados, and yowls from opposing hitters.

An above-average spin rate has a lot to do with it, but according to Joe Maddon, the righty’s delivery is at play, as well.

“The thing that’s more apparent to me is the deception,” said the Cubs manager. “He’ll throw that elevated fastball and they’ll swing through it, even though it’s not high velocity, and you wonder, ‘What’s going on here?’ He kind of jumps at the plate when he throws the ball. I think that has some kind of impact on the hitter who is trying to time him out.”

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Steven Souza Jr. is swatting a lot of baseballs this season. The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder has 32 safeties and an .859 OPS. He’s also drawn 17 free passes, although while he views patience as a virtue, he’d much rather hit his way on.

“Walks come and go,” said Souza. “Sometimes you swing at pitches you think are a little better than they actually are, and sometimes you take them. At the end of the day, I just look for a good pitch to hit. I’ve never tried to walk.”

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In a feature story that ran here on Tuesday, Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Jon Duplantier professed to not being superstitious. Discussing his minuscule ERA wasn’t off limits, because the righty knows that giving up runs is inevitable for any pitcher.

That includes an equally un-superstitious southpaw who matriculated from the same Katy, Texas high school. And just like his fellow Seven Lakes alumnus, Donnie Hart is stingy with how many he allows. The Baltimore Orioles reliever boasts a 0.95 ERA in 37 appearances. He’s thrown 28-and-a-third innings since debuting last summer, and has been charged with a run in just two of them.

Hart was 19 outings into his big-league career before being charged with an earned run. When asked about it, his response was similar to Duplantier’s.

“I was doing pretty good there, for a long time, and when it happened, it happened,” Hart told me. “It was bound to happen. Nobody is going to go through their career without giving up a run.”

According to Hart, none of his Orioles teammates brought up the streak until it was over. Once it was, they congratulated him and told him to start another one.

He’s doing his best to heed their wishes, but he’s not taking anything for granted.

“I don’t think about it in terms of (scoreless streaks),” said Hart. “This game is a whole lot about, ‘What have you done for me lately?’, so I try to stay in the present as much as possible.”

As for the young pitcher from his hometown, Hart considers it “kind of crazy what he’s been able to do” since entering pro ball. Even crazier is what the two have combined to do since Duplantier was drafted last June. In 54-and-two-thirds innings, the Seven Lakes High School products have allowed a grand total of six earned runs.

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Buck Showalter has been reluctant to take Jonathan Schoop out of the Orioles lineup. The 25-year-old second sacker has started in 190 consecutive games. Only Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar, at 199 straight games, has a longer current streak.

I asked Showalter about Schoop’s dearth of days off earlier this week.

“There are a lot of ways to keep fresh,” Showalter told me. “You DH one day. You don’t take BP; probably half of our BPs are optional. I’ll tell them to show up at 6 o’clock. There are ways around it. But he’s not going to play 162. An injury, or something else, will happen at some point.

“There is a point of lessened return. It’s like pitchers and workloads. You have to eyeball test. Is he fresh? Is his personality fresh? You can’t just throw a blanket over it and say that everybody should play X number of games.”

Did Cal Ripken Jr. play too many games without a day off?

“Not at all,” opined Showalter. “That’s why they were so good. There was the message it sent to everyone around him.”

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The Adam Jones incident at Fenway Park — a fan(s) directing racial epithets at the Orioles outfielder — isn’t without irony. During his time as Red Sox general manager, Baltimore executive vice president Dan Duquette did as much to integrate baseball in Boston as anyone in franchise history.

“When I got here in 1994, the Red Sox were the least diverse club in Major League Baseball,” explained Duquette. “By the time I left, in 2002, they were the most diverse club in Major League Baseball. What we did was look at the talent of the people we were hiring. We didn’t get players based on their heritage, we got them based on their ability to help the club.

“We also built up our international scouting network. We recruited from all over the world. We got players from Japan, Korea, the Dominican, Venezuela. One of the byproducts of acquiring the best talent from around the world was that we were building a brand on an international basis. But again, our intent was to get the best talent we could, from wherever we could get it.”

Years after Duquette departed, the Red Sox remain what they shamefully once weren’t. The franchise that turned its back on Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays — both received faux tryouts — had 20 non-white players on the roster last year. The current squad isn’t much different.

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NPB is suffering from a WBC hangover. Three players who starred in the World Baseball Classic are off to sluggish starts in Japan’s top league.

Wladimir Balentien, a 1.793 OPS for Team Netherlands, is slashing .254/.325/.351 for the Yakult Swallows.

Sho Nakata, a 1.074 OPS for Team Japan, is slashing .208/.321/.306 for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Tetsutu Yamada, a 1.004 OPS for Team Japan, is slashing .211/.358/.376 for the Yakult Swallows.

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MAY TIDBITS

Oakland’s Yonder Alonso has eight home runs this year in 97 plate appearances. His career high is nine, which came in 619 plate appearances, in 2012.

Albert Pujols, who is 37 years, 111-days old, hit his the 595th home run of his career on Friday night. Prior to reaching that exact age, Barry Bonds had 536 home runs.

On Wednesday, Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez became the first player in the modern era to homer in four straight starts, each at a different position. The starts came at second base, third base, left field, and first base. Gonzalez homered again on Thursday, but while he finished the game in right field, he was in the lineup as a left fielder when he went deep.

As of yesterday, 93.9% of runs driven in by Miami Marlines batters have been by players 30 or younger. The San Diego Padres, at 93.7%, have second-highest percentage this season.

Red Sox third baseman have been charged with 12 errors this year, the most in the majors. Rockies third basemen — take a bow, Nolan Arenado — have been charged with no errors.

Cleveland Indians prospect Thomas Pannone, who was featured here in late April, has gone 45-and-two-thirds consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. The 23-year-old left-hander was promoted to Double-A Akron on Friday.

Dane Dunning, who the White Sox acquired from the Nationals as part of the Adam Eaton deal, has allowed one earned run in 31 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander — Washington’s first-round pick last year — was promoted to high-A Winston Salem prior to his last start.

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Prior to joining the Red Sox radio team, last year Tim Neverett spent seven seasons as the play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of his fondest memories from that time is getting to know Ron Santo. The two crossed paths often, as the Hall of Fame third baseman was a longtime color commentator for the Chicago Cubs before his death in 2010.

A few months before he passed away, Santo was a guest on the Pirates pregame show. Neverett remembers it well.

“One of my broadcast partners was Steve Blass, who was a contemporary of his,” said Neverett. “I asked him — this was on the air — ‘How did you hit Blass?’ He gave a respectful answer, something like, ‘Well, Steve was pretty good.’ When we were done, I said, ‘So, how did you really hit Blass?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I used to kick his ass. I just didn’t want to say that on your pregame show.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. In 78 plate appearances against the erstwhile Pittsburgh hurler, Santo slashed .433/.513/.776, with five home runs.

That’s the same number of home runs Santo hit with Chicago’s South Side team. As fans in the Windy City know all too well, the beloved Cubs legend spent the last of his 15 seasons with the White Sox. He did so reluctantly.

“We talked about him getting traded to the White Sox,” Neverett told me. “He hated it. He didn’t want to be in a White Sox uniform. He hated it, because he was a Cub.”

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The recent shenanigans between the Red Sox and Orioles bring to mind the only on-field fatality in MLB history. On August 17, 1920, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians died hours after being beaned in the head by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees.

As historians are aware, Chapman was more than a tragic figure. He was one of the best shortstops in the American League. In the three-plus season preceding his untimely death — Chapman was just 29 years old — he slashed .294/.373/.401, and was worth 18.6 WAR.

Despite the loss of one of their top players, the Indians went on to win the 1920 World Series. Their besting of the Brooklyn Robins included three notable Fall Classic firsts, each of which came courtesy of a Cleveland player. Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam, Jim Bagby hit the first home run by a pitcher, and Bill Wambsganss turned the only unassisted triple play in Series history.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Luis Olmo, the first Puerto Rican position player in MLB history passed away last week at 97 years old. Richard Goldstein wrote his obituary for The New York Times.

Over at The Los Angeles Times, Bill Shaiken wrote about an emotional Vin Scully having his microphone retired at Dodger Stadium.

The Rays lead all teams in Defensive Runs Saved, and by a large margin. Mark Simon delved into the details at ESPN SweetSpot.

Donavan Tate, whom the Padres drafted third overall in 2009, has given up baseball and will attempt to walk on as a quarterback at the University of Arizona. Kyle Glaser has the story at Baseball America.

Also at Baseball America, Matt Eddy provided us with park factor tables for each venue in professional baseball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Chris Sale has 62 HBPs since 2012, the most of any pitcher.

On this date in 1957, Kansas City’s Vic Power became the first player in history to lead off a game with a home run, and later hit a walk-off home run. His first- and tenth-inning blasts both came off Baltimore’s Hal Brown.

On this date in 1966, the Indians were 15-2 and held a two-game lead over the Orioles for first place in the American League. Baltimore went on to capture the pennant with a record of 97-63. Cleveland finished fifth with a record of 81-81.

On this date in 1997, Montreal’s Mike Lansing hit a pair of home runs — a two-run shot and a three-run shot — in a 13-run sixth inning as the Expos beat the San Francisco Giants 19-3.

The last time a pitcher went nine innings, struck at 10 or more, didn’t allow an earned run, and lost, was Cincinnati’s Fred Norman on May 7, 1974. (Per Tim Britton of The Providence Journal.)

Per Elias, when Boston’s Chris Sale (1.38) and Minnesota’s Ervin Santana (0.66) match up this afternoon, it will be the third time since 1982 that each of a game’s starting pitchers has an ERA below 1.40 (minimum six starts). The earlier instances were Cleveland’s Cliff Lee and Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez in May 2008, and Washington’s Livan Hernandez and Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez in May 2010.





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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snowybeard
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snowybeard

I have no idea how old David Laurila is (can’t find anything about him on Wikipedia), but I’m disappointed that keeps using the term “passing away” to describe somebody’s death.
Even the link he provided to the NYT obituary about the death of Luis Olmo uses the correct term: it says he “died.”
Everybody and every organism on this planet dies; it’s part of the natural cycle of life. You wouldn’t say an ant or a rat “passed away”, so why contribute to this absurd meme that’s come into vogue roughly the last 25 years?
If he was a funeral director I could understand that. Some people need consoling when a loved one has died.
But David is not. He’s an educated writer who now lives in Cambridge MA, an area full of very educated people.
I can say this much: I’m nearly 63 and nobody used the term “passed away” when I was young. And that includes T.V. anchors, sportswriters and even family members (many of whom are religious).
When Walter Cronkite announced the death of President Kennedy (I watched the announcement because I was sick that day) in 1963 he didn’t say he “passed away.” He said he died.
Pardon my rant about this. But I felt compelled to say this because our society seems so obsessed with denying that death is the natural end point of living organisms, including human beings. Have we become so afraid of death that we can’t even use the word when it’s appropriate?
I expect more of David—for whom I have a lot of respect as a writer and to whom I’m grateful for taking me down memory lane about some of my favorite players during the ’60s and ’70s—so that’s why I had to voice my displeasure about this.

One final note: Cal Ripken Jr. definitely played too many games in a row. He even said that he couldn’t wait until the streak was over because his back was killing him. You can’t help your team when your back is really hurting. In his case, it’s forgivable because he was chasing a record that was once considered unbreakable. But we shouldn’t expect players—as Buck implies—to play when they’re really hurting. Even Mike Trout took off a day last night; nobody questions his toughness.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

I literally cannot imagine a more inexplicable thing to get upset about.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I understand why people would be annoyed by this, even if I’m not and I don’t really agree with this logic. But bothered this much? On a sports site? Let’s take a step back and remember that the author is using a phrase that supposed to be considerate, and even if it is inconsiderate or offensive in some way it’s not widely known that it is.

JoseAbreusRaft
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JoseAbreusRaft

Frig off, Ricky!

MLB Showdown Successor
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Member
MLB Showdown Successor

This is the stupidest comment I have read all season. Show some darn empathy. There is nothing at all wrong with saying someone passed away. And in fact the phrase does get used about animals too.

snowybeard
Member
snowybeard

You’ve read dumber comments than that, I can assure you. “Show some darn empathy.”
Why? Whenever somebody dies, I give my condolences but I don’t say: “I’m sorry your dear wife, sister or other loved one passed away.” I say: “I’m sorry that (fill in the blanks) has died. Please accept my condolences.”
That’s how people did it for generation after generation and nobody objected then.

bjsguess
Member
bjsguess

Well somebody objected – that’s the whole reason why “passed away” became the preferred method of communicating someone’s death.

Hate to break the news to you but a lot has changed in 50 years. Griping about things being different than it used to be probably isn’t going to get you much sympathy.

chuck e
Member
chuck e

“passing away” is a metaphor, meant to be respectful which conveys, with absolute clarity, the idea that someone died. In tone it is different from “kicked the bucket” , “has gone to meet his maker” or, cue “the Norwegian Blue”, other metaphors. But the crucial point which you seem to miss is that it is not like a Red Sox hat that you put on to advertise your opinions on the subject of dying. That is something that you do by writing a rant, or using a term which, to a broad swath of the population, carries with it a rant which is known by heart by the readers to whom it is directed.

baltic wolf
Member
Member
baltic wolf

With “absolute clarity”? What’s clear about “passing away”?
I probably wouldn’t go on a rant about this subject, but I do agree with gz that words have meaning.
There’s nothing clear about the meaning of “passing away.” Are you passing on to heaven and hell? Does any serious thinker believe that gibberish?
Perhaps you’re passing on to another universe? There are cosmologists who believe our universe is one of many (the multiverse theory); like bubbles of soap in an infinite bath.
There’s a good scene in the movie “Conspiracy” (an in-house production by HBO, which is truly excellent).
A number of soldiers, bureaucrats and Nazi officers are sitting around a table talking about what to do with the “Jewish problem.” And when one of the SS men uses the term “evacuate” to describe the killing of Jews in Eastern Europe, another officer gets up and says: “I have the real feeling I just evacuated 30,000 Jews in Riga by shooting them.”
Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M0w51aPJ8w
Like that soldier, I agree that words have meaning.

chuck e
Member
chuck e

So do I and to die means to stop living. What happens after that is another topic. Your contention that to say someone died is to expressly deny that they passed on is nonsense. You are simply adding meaning to a word that most people do not think is there.

John Autin
Member
John Autin

I support using the straightforward “died” instead. But I wouldn’t knock any particular writer for using “passed away,” given how common it is.

FWIW, common usage of “passed away” is not a recent development. I’m 53, and it’s bugged me since I was a kid. Here’s a column suggesting (anecdotally) that the vogue began in the early ’70s (no other endorsement of the column is implied):
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-b-bradshaw/died-passed-away-or-passed_b_6240282.html

baltic wolf
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Member
baltic wolf

Good column! I read it when it first came out.