Sunday Notes: Cesar Valdez’s Powerful Paralyzing Perfect Pachydermous Percussion Pitch

Cesar Valdez’s name has graced this column a handful of times over the past year, most recently a month ago when I asked him about his powerful paralyzing perfect pachydermous percussion pitch. (No, the Baltimore Orioles reliever doesn’t actually call it that, but given that Bugs Bunny changeups make up the lion’s share of his deliveries, he arguably should). Since the start of last season, Valdez has thrown the mesmerizing offering an eye-popping 83.1% of the time.

The Red Sox have faced the 36-year-old slow-baller on three occasions so far in April, so I asked Boston hitting coach Tim Hyers what kind of advice he gives his charges when Valdez is on the bump.

“First, it is totally different in the batter’s box than it is watching video,” responded Hyers. “I can tell you that.The first time we faced him, the hitters were like, This is not your typical changeup.’ It’s almost like a unique curveball, because it gets to home plate and just dives. And at times it can dive both ways; it can break in, or break out. The guys have probably talked about him more than anybody else so far this season.

“It’s kind of an illusion,” continued Hyers. “You have to wait one tick longer in the contact point to get your swing off. It’s been helpful for us to face him [multiple times in a short time period], but it’s definitely very unique and challenging for hitters to face a guy like that.”

Valdez’s changeup averages 78 mph, and it tantalizes in come-hither fashion before, as Hyers noted, falling off a table. Per StatCast, Valdez’s chase rate currently ranks in the 88th percentile. Those things in mind, I asked the outfielder-turned-coach if the approach should be akin to when facing a knuckleballer: “If it’s high, let it fly; if it’s low, let it go.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Hyers replied. “I mean, guys are thinking it has to start at your chest before you swing. And it’s hard for hitters to think that way. So you’re correct, although it’s probably a little faster than most knuckleballs. But the movement is similar in how it just dives and takes off out of the strike zone, especially if it starts low. It’s really difficult to put the ball in play.”

Valdez has come out of the Baltimore bullpen six times this season and is 2-0 with three saves. He has a 1.25 ERA and a 2.11 FIP since joining the Orioles last year.

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The Red Sox got off to a sluggish start offensively, scoring just five runs while getting swept by the Orioles in their season-opening series. Only once did a Boston batter leave the yard in what might be best-described as a three-game debacle. On the heels of a moribund 2020 campaign, concerns were rampant.

Then they began slugging. Alex Cora’s club scored 67 runs while winning their next nine games, hitting 15 dingers in the process. Count Xander Bogaerts among those who saw it coming.

“I’ll be honest; I think we’re a team that’s going to hit a lot of homers,” the veteran shortstop opined at the onset of the season. “I don’t say that often. I’ve been on some great teams, but these guys hit the ball hard, and they hit the ball far — especially the new guys we brought in. Those guys had some good spring trainings, man. I know spring training doesn’t count, but an impression like that goes a long way. I’m looking forward to cheering them on as the balls go out.

More than mere cheering is carrying those moments. In celebratory fashion, the fun is continuing after the bases have been circled. Continuing a ritual that started last year, the player who just went deep is getting a ride in a laundry cart upon returning to the dugout. Christian Arroyo was asked about it prior to a recent game.

Kevin Plawecki was kind of the guy who started it,” Bogaerts’ infield teammate told reporters. “Tek [Jason Varitek] had a little bit to do with it, too. It was one of those things where we were trying to have some fun in a situation that wasn’t the most ideal, and we carried it over to this season. We’re going to keep rolling with it, and hopefully there are a lot more.”

It was unclear if “keep rolling with it” was delivered pun-intended, or no-pun-intended.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Dan Gladden went 12 for 32 against Mark Gubicza.

Kent Hrbek went 14 for 40 against Bert Blyleven.

Roy Smalley went 16 for 40 against Gaylord Perry.

Justin Morneau went 17 for 42 against Paul Byrd.

Kirby Puckett went 19 for 68 against Jack Morris.

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Tyler Glasnow brought up one of his hobbies during a Zoom call on Friday afternoon. The Tampa Bay Rays are playing at Yankee Stadium this weekend, and the 27-year-old right-hander shared what he likes to do — in normal times, of course — on visits to The Big Apple.

“Coming to New York, before COVID, I would always go to Washington Square and play chess,” said Glasnow. “I used to live down there in the offseason; I was there for parts of three years, in Chelsea and the West Village. I would go to the park and get beat by all the chess players. But it was still fun.”

Rays reporter Tricia Whitaker asked the cerebral hurler how good his chess game is.

“It depends on what your scale of good is,” responded Glasnow. “Like, I could probably beat people who don’t play chess very often. I’ve played for a lot of years, but I don’t study it or anything. It’s just something I do on my phone to pass time. I was in chess club in elementary school. I think that’s where it started.”

Yes, Glasnow watched The Queen’s Gambit, on Netflix.

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A quiz:

Trevor Hoffman holds the San Diego Padres franchise record with 552 saves. Who holds the franchise record for wins?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Trayvon Robinson has signed with the Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers. The 33-year-old outfielder played for the Seattle Mariners in 2011-2012

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum announced on Friday that Tim Mead will be stepping down as President next month. The former Vice President of Communications for the Los Angeles Angels had assumed his current position 24 months ago. Mead cited family reasons for his forthcoming departure.

The Colorado Rockies have hired Shelby Craven as their Coordinator of Digital Communications and Media Relations. The University of Utah graduate has spent the past five seasons as the Director of Media Relations for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

Cory Schindler has been hired as the new play-by-play voice of the Peoria Chiefs, the high-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. A graduate of Bradley University, Schindler joined the Chiefs as a Media/Production Assistant in 2019.

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The answer to the quiz is Eric Show, who was credited with 100 wins while pitching for the Padres. Randy Jones and Jake Peavy are tied for second with 92 wins each.

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A.J. Hinch was effusive in his praise when asked about Oakland’s corner infielders on Friday. The Detroit Tigers manager called Matt Chapman and Matt Olson “elite defenders,” adding that the A’s home ballpark makes their glove acumen all the more important.

“A lot of bad things can happen in and around the corners there,” said Hinch. “There is so much foul territory for them to navigate. The range on pop-ups, foul balls, keeping balls in front of them. Olson is ridiculously good at first base. Nothing really gets past him. If it does, it can be two bases because of how much foul territory there is behind him. They don’t make mistakes. They’re cornerstones of this team.”

The accolades back up the plaudits. Chapman has captured two Fielding Bible awards — a tall feat considering that Nolan Arenado plays the same position — while Olson has copped those honors three times running. Over that time, Olson leads all first-sackers in Scoop Runs Saved (Runs saved from handling difficult throws).

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MID-APRIL NOTABLES

On Wednesday, Yadier Molina became the first catcher to catch 2,000 games exclusively with one team. Molina debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals on June 3, 2004 with Woody Williams on the mound.

Kohei Arihara was credited with his first MLB win when the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 on Wednesday. The 28-year-old right-hander signed with the Rangers over the offseason after six seasons with NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters.

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Tim Locastro made news recently when he stole his 29th base without being caught, the most ever to start a career. Less newsworthy, but nonetheless worth noting, is the fact that his streak ranked as the 23rd longest all-time. Vince Coleman’s record of 50 steals without being caught isn’t in peril — at least for now — as Locastro was thrown out on Friday.

Also on Friday, Lance Lynn became the first pitcher in Chicago White Sox history with 10-plus strikeouts and no walks in back -to-back starts.

Chicago Cubs hitters went 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position yesterday. They went into the game 7 for 82 with runners in scoring position.

Atlanta’s Pablo Sandoval is 3 for 8 with three home runs and two walks this season. All 10 of his plate appearances have come as a pinch-hitter.

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Earlier this week I ran a Twitter poll asking which of two controversial calls was the most egregious. One was Philadelphia’s Alec Bohm being ruled safe at home despite missing the plate. The other was the Mets’ Michael Conforto being the beneficiary of a HBP despite extending his elbow into the strike zone. Both plays decided games.

The results of the poll weren’t as close as I expected. Of the 936 votes cast, 69.8% were for “Walk-off HBP on a strike,” while “Safe call on a wide slide” received just 30.2%.

My initial inclination was that the HBP call was worse, although as a few commenters pointed out, the wide slide was reviewable while the HBP wasn’t. As such, the arbiters got the Bohm call wrong twice and the Conforto call wrong just once. That’s a valid argument in favor of the former being the more egregious of the two.

On a related note, many people on social media — players included — subsequently opined that replay-review should be done sans knowledge of the call on the field. That way bias could be avoided, as the umpires reviewing slo-mo video in New York wouldn’t know if they were reversing the call of one of their on-field brethren. Logical as that may be, it brings to mind another issue: By and large, fans agree that if a replay-review decision can’t be made within a minute’s time, the call on the field should stand. That’s a stance I’m on board with — whether New York knows the call on the field or not.

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This one is arguably not worth sharing as it received fewer than 100 votes, but I’ll do so anyway given the surprising-yet-predictable result. In a poll asking which was better, Justin Morneau trounced Mike Hargrove by a count of 81.4% to 28.6%. He shouldn’t have. The Canadian former Twin garnered an MVP award and went yard far more frequently, but the “The Human Rain Delay” boasts the statistical edge. In careers of similar duration, Morneau had a 116 wRC+ and 22.7 WAR, while Hargrove a 124 wRC+, and 31.0 fWAR. Buoying the latter’s bona fides is a .396 OBP.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Carter Stewart made his NPB debut yesterday, pitching a scoreless inning for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The 21-year-old right-hander — drafted eighth-overall by the Atlanta Braves in 2018 — had previously pitched in the Japanese minor leagues. According to Tokyo-based scribe Jim Allen, Stewart drew attention for his curveball, as well as forvwearing the No. 2 on the back of his jersey. Pitchers typically don’t wear single digits in Japan.

Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs over five innings yesterday in his first NPB appearance since 2013. Tanaka, who had won his last 28 decisions pitching in Japan, took the loss as the Rakuten Golden Eagles fell to the Nippon Ham Fighters by a score of 4-1.

Ryosuke Tatsumi leads all NPB Pacific League hitters with 46 total bases. The 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting Golden Eagles outfielder is slashing .304/.368/.582 with five doubles, a triple, and five home runs.

Shugo Maki leads all NPB Central League hitters with 49 total bases. The 22-year-old, right-handed-hitting Yokohama DeNa BayStars infielder is slashing .360/.415/.653 with five doubles, a triple, and five home runs.

Hiroya Miyagi is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three starts for the ORIX Buffaloes. The 19-year-old left-hander has allowed 11 hits over 22 innings. He has 21 strikeouts.

Justin Smoak and Eric Thames joined the Yomiuri Giants earlier this week. The DeNa BayStars activated Tyler Austin and Neftali Soto.

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Pete Rose turned 80 on Wednesday, a full three decades after the game’s all-time hits leader was permanently banned from baseball by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti. Gambling was of course the reason for Rose’s banishment, an irony given the all-too-cozy relationship MLB now has with a certain industry. Should the Cincinnati icon hence be reinstated, and thus eligible for a plaque in Cooperstown? One couldn’t be blamed for holding that belief.

I’m not of the opinion that Rose should be reinstated, for the simple reason that two wrongs don’t make a right. MLB’s powers-that-be valuing the pocketbooks of billionaire owners over what previous commissioners have called “the best interests of the game” doesn’t in any way undo Rose’s malfeasance. What he did was clearly a black eye for baseball.

Apples-to-oranges? Absolutely. MLB getting too cozy with gambling entities and a manager’s wagering on games are two different things. That said, both involve money changing hands based on what transpires between the white lines. Baseball had kept a safe distance from odds-makers and their ilk since 1919 for that very reason, and the short-sighted belief that another scandal won’t one day unfurl is itself a risky proposition. Moreover, it’s a bet the commissioner’s office can’t afford to lose.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis must be rolling over in his grave.

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Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler was a guest on episode 918 of FanGraphs Audio this past Friday, and his segment concluded with some fun baseball-isms. Goldberg-Strassler being the author of The Baseball Thesaurus, it was only fitting that our banter would include “can of corn” and “threw me a cookie.” The book comprises 200-plus words of sayings and terms of that ilk. It also includes a section on home-run catch-phrases, some of which are well-known: “Get up, get outta here, and gone!” from Bob Uecker is a classic, as are Jerry Howarth’s “And there she goes!,” and Harry Caray’s “It might be, it could be, it is!”

And there was one from Jim Britt, who called games in Boston and Cleveland in the 1940s and 1950s. Britt was fond of saying, “That’s one ball we won’t see again” — words that came back to bite him one day in 1946. An anecdote in the book explains how a Bill Nicholson blast had cleared the bleachers, and when Britt returned to his car following the game, a surprise awaited. There was a hole in the windshield, and Nicholson’s home run ball was resting on the front seat amid shattered glass.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Len Kasper is making a seamless transition to the White Sox’ radio booth, and Jeff Agrest wrote about it at The Chicago Sun-Times.

A number of players do crossword puzzles to pass the time. Zach Buchanan talked to some of them for The Athletic.

Beyond The Boxscore’s Randy Holt wrote about how Byron Buxton is reaching his potential.

Sports Info Solution’s Mark Simon gave us some numbers on Kevin Gausman’s splitter.

The Washington Post’s Hayden Higgins told us about Niv Shah and Ottoneu.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Shoeless Joe Jackson played in 1,332 games and accumulated 62.2 bWAR.
Jackie Robinson played in 1,382 games and accumulated 61.7 bWAR.

Satchel Paige made his MLB debut at age 42 and went to represent the St. Louis Browns in the All-Star game in his age 45 and 46 seasons. Paige’s last professional appearance came at age 60, with the Carolina League’s Peninsula Grays, in 1966. The Grays’ primary catcher that season was 18-year-old Johnny Bench.

Nolan Ryan walked 2,795 batters in 5,386 innings.
Juan Marichal walked 709 batters in 3,507 innings.

Barry Bonds had four seasons (min. 400 PAs) with an OBP of .490 or higher.
Babe Ruth had seven seasons (min. 400 PAs) with an OBP of .490 or higher.
Ted Williams had nine seasons (min. 400 PAs) with an OBP of .490 or higher.

Christy Mathewson won 373 games, all but one with the New York Giants. His brother, Henry Mathewson — also a Giant — lost his only career decision.

White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle no-hit the Texas Rangers on today’s date in 2007. The game — a Chicago 6-0 win — was played in a time of 2:03.

On today’s date in 1993, Matt Williams’s second home run of the game gave the San Francisco Giants a 13-12 walk-off win over the Atlanta Braves, in 11 innings. The Braves had scored five times in the first, and the Giants plated four runs in the ninth to send the game to extras.

On today’s date in 2000, Anaheim Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy drove in eight runs as the Halos topped the Toronto Blue Jays by a count of 16-10. Kennedy had four hits, including a bases-loaded triple and a grand slam.

Players born on today’s date include Vince Ventura, who played in 18 games for the Washington Senators in 1945. An outfielder during his brief big-league stint, Ventura had his best professional season as a pitcher when he went 10-4 for the Canadian-American League’s Amsterdam Rugmakers in 1939. He batted .310 while manning the hot corner for the Oswego Netherlands in 1940.

Al Gallagher was traded from the San Francisco Giants to the California Angels on April 14, 1973. Nicknamed “Dirty Al,” the third baseman’s given name was Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher.

Buttercup Dickerson batted a team-best .316 for the National League’s Worcester Ruby Legs in 1881.





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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What’s up with the title, Doc? 😉