Sunday Notes: Cards, Red Sox, Outspoken Perez, Extended Stats, more

In the early 1990s, a cerebral New Hampshire native was the best starting pitcher on the Cardinals’ staff. A control artist who relied more on on guile than on gas, Bob Tewksbury went 33-15 over a two-year stretch and made an All-Star team.

Last summer, St. Louis drafted a cerebral New Hampshire native who shares several of Tewksbury traits. Carson Cross is all about changing speeds, sequencing, and hitting spots.

A 14th-round senior sign (Tewksbury was a 19th-round pick), Cross went 10-2, 2.29 in his final season at the University of Connecticut. He then logged a 2.70 ERA in 10 outings with the Cardinals’ State College affiliate.

Cross’s game is “more mental than physical” and command is a strength. Not being a flamethrower, he considers location vital to his success.

“I’m not blowing the doors open like some kids,” explained Cross. “Fastball command is big for me. If you’re out there hoping you have that pitch working and it isn’t, then you’re kind of stuck in the back seat.”

Cross throws a cross-seam fastball, and not always at the same speed.

“I don’t throw a true four-seam,” said Cross. “I throw across the seams, with the horseshoe on the left side of my index finger, and get pretty good movement. I’ve also incorporated a true sinker grip to mix off of it.

“I’ll throw a fastball at 85, and then I’ll throw one at 91. It’s not by mistake. Every pitch I throw has an intention. I think I do a good job of understanding when to change speeds with my fastball, and a lot of hitters have trouble squaring it up because of that.”

Cross studies hitter’s swings, and like most hurlers, he also studies other pitchers. Chris Carpenter, another right-hander from New Hampshire, has been a favorite. “My style is similar to his in that I’m going to come right after you, but around the edges and down in the zone, with a lot of movement.” He’s also paid close attention to Lance Lynn, who throws harder but “isn’t afraid to change speeds on his fastball.”

Cross also throws a slider, a curveball, a split-change, and he’s working on a cutter.

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Red Sox GM Mike Hazen doesn’t believe there’s “any one blueprint” when it comes to high-leverage reliever usage. It’s a subject his club “has kicked around a lot,” and it’s not as simple as knowing “the last three outs of the ninth inning can be the same as the last three outs of the seventh inning, and the seventh inning can be a higher leverage situation than the ninth inning.”

Hazen brought up workloads and routines. He also pointed to the psychological component, saying “Losing a lead in the ninth has a more lasting effect when you walk into that clubhouse.”

He doesn’t dispute the idea that using your best reliever — your closer — in the highest-leverage situations has merit. It’s more a matter of feasibility, and the way his team is hoping to go about this year could be every bit as effective. The Red Sox have added Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to a bullpen that features Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.

“The guys Ned Yost has been marching out there are all elite relievers,” said Hazen. “The Yankees, too. You could be skinning the cat the same way, without having it being the “closer” pitching those innings. I think having as many quality relievers as you can is optimal. In my opinion, that’s more important than taking one guy for all of your high-leverage spots.”

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Spring training is sunshine and puppy dogs for the media-player dynamic. A snarky innuendo might raise an eyebrow here and there, but for the most part, criticism is light. Everyone is in the best shape of his life (OK, not the writers) and poised for a good season.

“It’s a fun time of year for everybody,” said former Indians closer Chris Perez, who is now retired. “The media is happy to be there covering the team. The players are happy to be back together with their teammates. Spring training is mostly the fluff pieces. You have’t done anything yet, so there’s nothing for anyone to criticize.”

Perez was no stranger to criticism. He saved 133 games over a four-year stretch and made a pair of All-Star teams, but there were some tumultuous moments along the way. Not only did he cough up a few leads, he put his foot in his mouth more than once. The latter was inevitable. Perez was accountable to the media, and he almost always spoke his mind. As a result, he became a lightning rod.

“Had I been less outspoken, maybe a little more politically correct, would I still be playing? — I don’t know,” said the 30-year-old Perez. “But I do know I’d still be playing had I performed better. What I had to say probably affected my relationship in Cleveland, and it maybe gave some teams pause after I left Cleveland, but it mostly came down to performance. I had a few opportunities to make teams and I just didn’t perform well.”

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Spring training means plenty of PFPs, and Luke Weaver is ready. The highly-regarded Cardinals pitching prospect handles comebackers with aplomb.

“I take a lot of pride in fielding my position,” said Weaver. “I put a lot of work into that. Along with throwing the ball to the plate, I need to be able to defend. A lot of outs can come from there, so I strive to be the best I can in that respect.”

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Speaking of defense, teams continue to shift more and more each year. The reason is fairly obvious, and it was once described to me this way by Burke Badenhop:

“If there weren’t bases, you’d play where a guy hits the ball.”

Badenhop inked a free agent deal with the Nationals a few days ago. Washington will be the ground ball specialist’s sixth team in six seasons.

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A few months ago, shortly after the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons, an interview with Atlanta general manager John Coppolella appeared on these pages. The comments section exploded. Braves fans were livid, loudly proclaiming that their beloved team was being destroyed, and the decision-makers were clueless.

Things appear to be going as planned.

Projections have Atlanta more or less matching last season’s abysmal 67-95 mark. Given the moves they’ve made, both before and after the interview ran, that qualifies as progress.

How much young talent have Coppolella and Company imported? One year ago, Baseball America ranked the Atlanta farm system second from the bottom. Now they them rank them third from the top. ESPN’s Keith Law is even more bullish, ranking the Braves No. 1 overall.

All in all, the pitchforks that were out in December belong back in the barn.

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Boston fans of a certain age remember it as “The Jeff Stone Game.” The date was September 28, 1990 and the venue was Fenway Park. Going into the contest, the Red Sox and visiting Blue Jays were tied atop the American League East with six games left to play.

In the top of the ninth inning, Junior Felix hit a two-run homer to give Toronto a 6-5 lead. Boston then tied the game in the bottom half and had the bases loaded against Jays closer Tom Henke. Up came Stone, who had pinch run for Dwight Evans an inning earlier. A journeyman speedster not known for his stick, Stone had spent the season in Triple-A.

The unlikeliest-of-heroes promptly stroked a single up the middle, putting the Red Sox in first place to stay. It was Stone’s first big-league plate appearance that season, and the final big-league hit of his career.

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Charlie Snow might have had the most unique career in baseball history.

Snow played in one game for the Brooklyn Atlantics, in 1874. He singled in his only plate appearance. Defensively, he played three innings behind the plate and didn’t record an assist or a putout. He was, however, charged with three errors.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS (EXTENDED VERSION)

Per Daren Willman, Miguel Cabrera was 98 for 222 last year when swinging at pitches in the strike zone. The associated .441 batting average was the highest since PITCHf/x was introduced.

In 2005, as a 17-year-old catcher playing for the Dodgers’ Gulf Coast League affiliate, Kenley Jansen hit .304/.339/.441in 110 plate appearances. Jansen threw his first professional pitch in 2009.

In 1925, in his age-36 season, Walter Johnson hit .433/.455/.577 in 107 plate appearances.

Per Ace of MLB Stats, Johnny Sain — a four-time 20-game winner for the Boston Braves — struck out 20 times in 856 big-league plate appearances.

Max Bishop, a second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics, finished among the league leaders in bases on balls every year from 1925-1933. Bishop’s nickname was Camera Eye.

In 1982, Bob Stanley had 12 wins and 14 saves in 48 games out of the Red Sox bullpen. He threw 168 innings, an average of 3.5 innings per appearance.

Three pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame — Pud Galvin, Mickey Welch and Amos Rusie — had 30-loss seasons. Rusie had two 30-loss seasons.

Maury Wills stole seven bases in his first big league season, and one in his last. Bump Wills stole 28 in his first, and 35 in his last. The father (586) and son (196) combine to swipe 782 bags over their careers.

Per Baseball-Reference, Tony Phillips had the highest career WAR (50.8) in the All-Star era by any player who never made an All-Star team.

On this date in 1968, baseball’s first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was ratified. The agreement raised the minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Cards, Red Sox, Outspoken Perez, Extended Stats, 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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Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

You can dislike the Simmons trade while approve of the other moves that the Braves have made. It doesn’t have to be a one or the other situation where the other moves justify what could be selling low on Simmons.

jdbolick
Member
Member

Absolutely, and Coppolella’s comments to the media justifying that trade merited the harsh response. Furthermore, I’m also not as impressed by the Braves’ system as BA or Law. I like Swanson and Blair, but neither projects for as much impact as the stars of last year’s ridiculous rookie class, while I’m extremely pessimistic about Newcomb.