Sunday Notes: Blood, Britton, Cherington; Player Development in a Pandemic

The cancellation of the minor-league season has presented teams with a huge challenge. Player development is being compromised, and the deleterious effects extend beyond the grooming itself. Prospects need to be evaluated, as well. With no games being played down on the farm, an integral part of the process has been lost.

As circus ringmasters were known to say, “The show must go on.”

Ben Cherington runs the show in Pittsburgh, and he’s less bearish on the quandary than you might expect. Technology, paired with the player-pool activities taking place at the club’s Double-A facility, is a big reason why.

“I’m not going to say it’s the same as professional games, because it’s not,” the Pirates GM said on Thursday. “But through video and technology, and the need for our pitchers in Altoona to get actual game experience, we do have an opportunity to evaluate pitchers and hitters in a way that’s not too different than a game setting. We have professional pitchers facing professional hitters [and] we can measure that through high speed video, through Rapsodo and TrackMan. We can pretty much measure all of the things we would in a in a normal minor-league game… we just don’t have a box score at the end of the night.”

Matt Blood, Baltimore’s first-year farm director, sounded somewhat less enthusiastic when addressing the subject earlier in the week.

“It’s really hard to replicate live competition, live speed-of-the-game adrenaline, in
an offseason type of mode,” said Blood. “Hitters not getting live at bats, pitchers not getting live hitters to face with runners on base when it matters, with stats being kept. All of that is definitely not ideal. We’ve done everything we can to help the players get better, both on the field and off the field, but you just can’t replicate what a season is without a season.”

Blood went on to say that progress is being made “in some areas that would have been more difficult to make if there had been a season.” When I asked if he was referring to tech-based strides, he said that wasn’t the case. Blood pointed to video-based group discussions —“educational-webinar type of stuff” — with mental skills among the topics. (Unlike Cherington, Blood was likely referring to players outside of the 60-man player pool; his comments coming via a Zoom conference call — hello 2020 media sessions — so following up for clarification wasn’t practical.)

Technology is unquestionably a big part of the process for the ‘these aren’t your father’s Orioles.’ Buck Britton, who manages Baltimore’s Double-A affiliate (and is also Zack Britton’s brother), brought that to the fore when I asked which aspect of player development is most-compromised by a cancelled minor-league season.

“I would say the offensive side of it,” Britton replied. “We have a pretty good pitching system here that can show guys the shapes of their pitches, and how their pitches will play at the next level, so even though they’re losing the aspect of facing those hitters, they have a chance to sharpen up. For the hitters, there’s nothing that substitutes live game action. We can use technology to see how guys’ bodies are moving throughout their swing, and we can clean up some swings, but that game atmosphere where the adrenaline is pumping and you’re facing a guy that’s not on your team… you can’t simulate that.”

Cherington doesn’t disagree, but again, he’s more bullish than not. Which isn’t to say he’s not concerned.

“Look, there’s no way that I could, with a straight face, say that losing a full season of minor-league games is is helpful for development,” said Cherington, who once served as Boston’s farm director. “I think we can all agree that presents a challenge. On the other hand, improvement doesn’t just happen during the minor-league season. Games need to happen, players need to face competition — that’s part of getting better — but improvement can happen in all kinds of ways, at all kinds of time, in all kinds of places.

“Aside from the guys who are in Altoona right now, who are a part of formal programming, we have players all over the states, in the Dominican and Venezuela… and we’re still coaching them. They’re still training. In some cases that’s in an environment where they’re facing close to game-like competition. In some cases it’s probably not — they’re not getting that kind of challenge — so we’ll have to make up for it somehow down the road. We just have to be committed to not letting this have a long-term negative impact on any player in our system.”

——

Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy was asked on Thursday about Mookie Betts having agreed to a reported 12-year, $365 million extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kennedy was predictably circumspect in his response.

“Mixed emotions,” expressed Kennedy. “Obviously we think the world of Mookie Betts; I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody. Incredible young man, incredible baseball player. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say there was a sense of disappointment, and maybe closure, or finality, to it. But look, we have a plan… We wish him well, and we now move on as a group.”

Only time will tell if Boston’s decision to cut ties with Betts this past winter was prudent, or if it was, as most believe, pure folly. On Friday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said, “It’s always difficult to trade a talented player of Mookie’s caliber, but let’s revisit this conversation in 12 years.”

It’s safe to say that decision — ditto the one made by the Dodgers — will be revisited on an annual basis for many years to come.

———

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jose Altuve is 0 for 10 against Wade Davis.

George Springer is 0 for 10 against Ryan Dull.

Trevor Story is 0 for 10 against Kyle Hendricks.

Mike Trout is 0 for 10 against Hyun Jin Ryu.

Christian Yelich is 0 for 10 against Jake Odorizzi.

———

Are we likely to see a higher percentage of complete games this season? Kyle Hendricks threw one in the Cubs’ opener on Friday, and while not every pitcher is stretched out, that will soon change. Moreover, there is now a DH in the NL, and a 60-game schedule largely alleviates any workload concerns.

The San Diego Padres are one of four teams sans a complete game over the past two seasons — the others are the Brewers, Rays, and Tigers — and while their bullpen ranks among the best in baseball, their starters aren’t exactly chicken feed. Barring strict adherence to a times-through-the-order philosophy, it’s easy to imagine a Chris Paddack or a Joey Lucchesi (to name just two) recording 27 outs.

I asked San Diego’s first-year manager Jayce Tingler about this on Thursday.

“I don’t think we’re going to cap anyone, by any means,” Tingler said of the possibility. “It’s going to be day-to-day. If we’ve got somebody that’s built up and looking good, looking strong, and is rolling through his innings… we’re probably going to let that starter go.”

The last Padres pitcher to log a complete game was Clayton Richard, in August 2017.

———

A quiz:

Only one player has batted first in the order while starting on the mound that day. Who was he?

Th answer can be found below.

———

NEWS ITEMS

This year’s opening-day rosters included a record 288 internationally-born players (28.1% of the total pool). The Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins had the most internationally-born players, with 15 each. All told, 20 different countries and territories are represented, with the Dominican Republic (109) and Venezuela (75) leading the way.

The American Baseball Coaches Association has honored Jerry Weinstein with its 2021 ABCA/Wilson Lefty Gomez Award. The award is presented annually to an individual who has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally and internationally.

New dates have been set for the SABR’s next national convention. To coincide with Orioles home games, SABR-50 will take place on June 16-20, 2021, at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Information can be found here.

Koyo Aoyagi has been on of NPB’s best pitchers so far this season. The 26-year-old Hanshin Tigers right-hander has allowed 15 hits over 30 innings, and has a 1.80 ERA. Nao Higashihama, a 30-year-old right-hander with the SoftBank Hawks, has allowed 19 hits in 33 innings, and has a 1.91 ERA.

Bob Sebra, who pitched for five teams from 1985-1990, died earlier this week at age 58. A right-hander from Ridgewood, New Jersey, Sebra made 53 of his 94 appearances with the Montreal Expos.

———

The answer to the quiz is Cesar Tovar. Batting in the leadoff position for the Minnesota Twins on September 22, 1968, Tovar began the game on the mound and proceeded to play all nine positions in a 2-1 win over the Oakland A’s.

———

Hal Newhouser would have been a worthy inclusion for my currently-on-hiatus Learning and Developing a Pitch series. The late Hall of Famer left-hander said the following about his 12-to-6 curveball in a 1984 interview for Norman L. Macht’s excellent book They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers:

Very few pitchers could throw an overhand drop. You need a long arm, long extension to come way up over the top, and that’s what I had. The spin you gotta get is like a tire on the road, over and over. But if you hang it above the waist, there’s no velocity; it’s just turning — it’s bye-bye… I was a gambler on the mound. I’d gamble on curves or fastballs or changeups. When you shouldn’t throw it, I threw it.”

Newhouser shared a great anecdote about the legendary Bobo Newsom in the same interview:

Once, when he was with the Philadelphia Athletics, he told the press, ‘If Hank Greenberg ever hit a home run off me, I’ll shake hands with him at home plate.’ One day Greenberg hit one, and Bobo met him at home plate to shake hands. Of course, Greenberg wouldn’t do it. That was Bobo.”

———

A recent conversation with former Minnesota Twins reliever Ryan O’Rourke yielded some interesting observations on the club’s current closer. According to O’Rourke, Taylor Rogers is good on the links, and stubbornly traditional when he drinks. Moreover, he’s in line for a place in Twins lore.

“We played together at every level and have always been good friends,” O’Rourke said of Rogers. “He’s got a decent little golf swing, too. He’s a great golfer. I never expected him to be a closer — I always thought he’d be a starter his whole career — but they gave him the relief role and he ran with it. It was kind of the passing of the torch from one lefty closer to another. Rog slid in a few years after [Glen Perkins], and if he has a career like Perk’s, he’ll be forever a Twins legend.”

Don’t expect to find Rogers celebrating saves — nor making waves — in any of the Twin Cities’ many craft beer venues.

“There aren’t any wild stories about him that would go viral,” O’Rourke told me. “He’s just sneaky funny — he has a dry sense of humor — usually when you’re not expecting it. One thing I can say is that I’ve always tried to get him on IPAs and some different beers. He just looks at me in disgust. It’s Bud Lites forever for Rog.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Boston Globe, Julian McWilliams endeavored to tell us everything we need to know about the ‘opener’ concept, including why the Red Sox will employ it this season.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Tom Avril looked into the science of baseball’s home run surge.

Writing for Athlon Sports, Anthony McCarron delved into how batting average has become baseball’s forgotten stat.

Baseball is offering Starling Marte a respite from tragedy, and Jesse Sanchez wrote about it for MLB.com.

At The Miami Herald, Jordan McPherson wrote about how right-hander Pablo López excelled in Marlins camp while mourning his father’s unexpected death.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jacob deGrom went 21-17 while winning consecutive Cy Youngs in 2018-2019.
Sandy Koufax went 53-17 while winning consecutive Cy Youngs in 1965-1966.

Mookie Betts has had 300+ total bases in three of his five full seasons.
Pete Rose had 300+ total bases three times in 24 seasons.
Hank Aaron had 300+ total bases 15 times in 23 seasons.

Darryl Strawberry finished his career with exactly 1,000 RBIs. He reached that round number on his last-ever hit, a home run.

Luis Castillo and Vern Stephens each played in 1,720 games and scored 1,001 runs. Castillo had 28 home runs and 370 steals, Stephens had 25 steals and 247 home runs.

In 1999, New York Mets infielder Matt Franco had a .237 batting average in 80 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. His OBP was .425, as he drew 20 walks.

In 1990, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Eddie Murray led all qualified MLB hitters with a .330 average, yet didn’t win a batting title. Willie McGee won the National League crown with a .335 average, but also spent time in the American League and hit .324 overall.

In 1980, Cal Ripken Jr. slashed .276/.367/.492 in the Double-A Southern League. Terry Francona slashed .300/.333/.395; Buck Showalter slashed .324/.387/.375.

On this date in 1994, Charlie Hough pitched his final big-league game at age 46. The Honolulu-born knuckleballer finished his career with 216 wins and 216 losses.

Players born on this date include Hoyt Wilhelm, who pitched his final game two weeks before his 50th birthday. The knuckleballer finished his career with 143 wins and 228 saves.

Arquimedez Pozo 포조 hit his only career home run on July 28, 1996. His ninth-inning grand slam off “Everyday Eddie” Guardado wasn’t enough, as the Red Sox fell to the Twins by a score of 9-8.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Blood, Britton, Cherington; Player Development in a Pandemic by David Laurila!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




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.

newest oldest most voted
tz
Member

Top 10 in career total bases:

5539 – Carl Yastrzemski (#10)
5752 – Pete Rose (#9)
5793 – Babe Ruth (#8)
5813 – Alex Rodriguez (#7)
5854 – Ty Cobb (#6)
5863 – Albert Pujols (#5)
5976 – Barry Bonds (#4)
6066 – Willie Mays (#3)
6134 – Stan Musial (#2)
.
.
.
.
.
.
6856 – Hank Aaron (#1)