Sunday Notes: Detroit’s Eric Haase Caught on to Tech in Cleveland

Eric Haase is having a breakout season with the Tigers. Acquired from Cleveland in January of last year, the 28-year-old catcher has a 128 wRC+ and a team-leading 18 home runs. Opportunity has helped fuel the production. Coming into the current campaign, Haase had appeared in just 26 games at the big-league level.

As impressive as Haase has been with the bat, it’s his background that drove a conversation that took place at Comerica Park on Thursday. I began by asking the Detroit-area native about his old organization’s well-earned reputation as a pitching-development machine.

“I think it starts with the guys you’re taking the draft,” opined Haase, who was in the Cleveland system from 2011-2019. “Obviously, there some are high-upside guys, and some organizations pick those top guys and kind of say, ‘Go out there and pitch.’ They think they’ve got themselves more of a finished product. With Cleveland, it was more about picking guys that already had a good feel for pitching, and then implementing things that would give them little spikes in velocity. They were big on weighted balls, big on strength and conditioning. Basically, they’d take guys who already had good command and give them some more legitimate weapons to get hitters out.”

Haase cited Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Mike Clevinger, and Zach Plesac as prime examples, and technology played a big role in their respective development paths. Drafted out of Dearborn Divine High School in 2011, Haase was there when the organization began transforming itself.

“I was right in the heart of it turning over from being super old school,” Haase said of his time with Cleveland. “When Trevor Bauer got over there [in December 2012] it really started that revolution of tech. They bought in on technology leaps and bounds before some other organizations, and then began integrating it system wide. From Triple-A on down, pretty much every midweek bullpen for the starters there was Rapsodo data. Sometimes they’d throw on the game mound and get TrackMan data.”

The Tigers were far from the forefront of that revolution. When Haase first reported to his new club in the spring of 2020, he encountered the same old-school ways he’d initially experienced in Cleveland. Much to his approval, that has begun to change as well.

“Coming here was a little bit of a culture shock for me,” admitted Haase. “It wasn’t what I was used to, but now we’re starting to get the tech. Obviously, hiring [pitching coach] Chris Fetter was a huge step for what we’re trying to do going forward. I know that a lot of these guys had it in college, and to get someone like ‘Fet,’ who has been there and done that, and knows everything there is to know about it, kind of streamlines the process a little bit.”

Tools like Rapsodo and TrackMan aren’t just assets for pitchers and pitching coaches. They are for catchers as well. Working with a number of guys he was unfamiliar with in spring training, Haase used data to help build his knowledge base.

“I could look at their bubble charts,” explained Haase. “I could look at the XY axis and see, ‘OK, this guy’s fastball is so many inches of vertical break, and his slider is moving this much.’ In my head, it would be, ‘These are the guys I’ve caught with similar looking stuff, and how they pitched.’ That would give me a good idea of how we should attack hitters based on their strengths.”

Which isn’t to say that Haase is wholly reliant on tech-based data. What his eyes and intuition are telling him is equally important. A final inquiry brought that to the fore. I shared with Haase that I’ve asked hitters and pitchers if they view their craft as more of an art or more of a science, but I’d never asked that question to a catcher. Until now.

“There’s a little give-and-take, but I would definitely err more on the side of art,” replied Haase. “All the data in the world is out the window sometimes. You can put down stuff that doesn’t make any sense, a pitcher executes it to a tee, and you get the guy out. That’s ultimately what the game is about. And there are also times you go with the data and do everything right — the pitcher executes — and a hitter clips you for three runs. Regardless, you have to rely on both. It’s the same in the [batter’s] box. We play a game that’s individualized. There’s not one way, or one stat.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Cecil Espy went 7 for 10 against Don August.

Richie Zisk went 9 for 16 against Jerry Augustine.

August “Augie” Bergamo went 8 for 13 against Nick Strincevich.

August “Augie” Galan went 7 for 12 against Clint Hartung.

August “Gus” Suhr went 7 for 14 against Bud Teachout.

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Nick Castellanos received a two-game suspension earlier this year for taunting. Javier Báez deserves…?”

I asked that question in a Twitter poll on Tuesday, and the results were telling. A relatively modest 23.6% people felt that Báez deserved two games, while 25.2% felt he deserved five or more. Topping the poll, with 51.2%, was no suspension at all.

In retrospect, I maybe should have cited Amir Garrett’s earlier five-game suspension in the poll rather than Castellanos’s two-gamer. After all, Castellanos’s relatively-mild impropriety came in a game against the Cardinals, while Garrett and Báez were primary antagonists in the May 1st fracas between the Cubs and the Reds.

Regardless, would it be reasonable for Báez to go unpunished for a display of over-the-top taunting, while both Castellanos and Garrett were sanctioned? In my opinion, no. A precedent had been set, and for that reason, letting Báez slide would be hypocritical. Moreover, it would be a slap in the face to Castellanos, who compared to Báez did next to nothing.

MLB didn’t do enough when they ultimately chose to fine, but not suspend Báez.

Let the kids play? Absolutely. But don’t change horses midstream. I disagree with the ruling, and with the 51.2% who voted for no suspension.

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A quiz:

George Brett has three of the top five single-season batting averages in Kansas City Royals franchise history. Which player has the other two?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Joey Votto’s infield single on Thursday broke a streak of eight straight hits for the Cincinnati first baseman that went for home runs. Per the Reds’ press notes, that is the second-longest streak in the expansion era (since 1961). Mark McGwire had 11 consecutive hits that were home runs in 2001.

On a related note, Votto homered in his seventh consecutive game on Friday. The big-league record is eight, co-held by Dale Long (1956), Don Mattingly (1987), and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993).

Miguel Cabrera hit his 496th and 497th home runs on Thursday night. He then recorded career hits 2,940 and 2,941 on Friday. Cabrera went into yesterday needing two more hits to tie Frank Robinson for 35th on the all-time list.

Tim Talton, a catcher/first baseman for the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and 1967, died on July 22 at the age of 82. A native of Pikeville, North Carolina, Talton slashed .295/.344/.438 in 123 career plate appearances. According to his RIP Baseball obituary, Talton went on to work for the Keebler Cookie Company.

The Seattle Mariners have hired Catie Griggs as their new President of Business Operations. A graduate of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, Griggs spent the last four years as the Chief Business Officer for Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United.

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The answer to the quiz is Mike Sweeney. The former first baseman/DH batted .340 for the Royals in 2002, and .333 in 2000. Brett’s top seasons were .390 (1980), .335 (1985), and .333 (1976). For those of you who guessed Hal McRae or Willie Wilson, their highest averages with KC were each .332.

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Ethan Evanko is low-profile as far as prospects go. The 26-year-old left-hander has advanced to Triple-A, yet he’s unranked on our Philadelphia Phillies list. His background is one of the reasons why. The Grand Canyon University product entered pro ball after being bypassed in the 2018 draft.

Evanko’s repertoire comprises two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup, and a breaking ball he identifies neither as a curveball or a slider.

“The break is more like a slider, but it’s a little slower; it’s in the 78-to-80 [mph] range,” Evanko told me when the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs visited Worcester last month.” I think it gets categorized as a curveball, but from the eye test it’s more in the middle of those breaks. So I call it a slurve. It has more depth than horizontal movement.”

Evanko has thrown the pitch, which he throws with a curveball grip, since high school. It’s a swing-and-miss offering for him, in part because of solid sequencing. Acknowledging that he’s more finesse than power, the southpaw stated that his usage is split fairly evenly between fastballs — “more twos than fours” — slurves, and changeups. Sans a power arsenal, unpredictability is a key to his success.

The Gilbert, Arizona native has already exceeded expectations by going from un-drafted to one level below The Show. But while the odds have been stacked against him from the get-go, all he needed was a chance. To his good fortune, the Phillies have given it to him.

“They called me a couple days after the draft and asked if I would be opposed to signing a free-agent contract,” recalled Evanko. “Obviously, I told them that I would love to do it. It was my only option.”

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FARM REPORT

Indigo Diaz has a 0.80 ERA and a 0.86 FIP in 33-and-two-thirds innings between High-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi. A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, the 22-year-old right-hander was drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of Michigan State University in 2019. Diaz has allowed 13 hits and punched out 65 batters.

Luis Curvelo has a 1.86 ERA and a 1.99 FIP in 38-and-two-thirds innings with the Low-A Modesto Nuts. A native of Higuerote, Venezuela, the 20-year-old right-hander was signed by the Seattle Mariners as an international free agent in 2018. Curvelo has 58 strikeouts and has issued just nine walks.

Hyun-il Choi has 75 strikeouts and has walked just seven batters in 65-and-a-third innings with the Low-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. A native of Seoul, South Korea, the 21-year-old right-hander was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an international free agent in 2018. Choi has allowed 47 hits and has a 3.17 ERA and a 3.88 FIP.

Jack Dashwood has 69 strikeouts and has walked just eight batters in 57-and-two-thirds innings with the Low-A Inland Empire 66ers. A San Diego native, the 23-year-old left-hander was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of UC Santa Barbara in 2019. Dashwood — promoted to High-A on July 28 — has a 3.43 ERA and a 3.41 FIP.

Taj Bradley is 9-3 with a 1.76 ERA and a 3.39 FIP with the Low-A Charleston River Dogs. A 20-year-old right-hander from Stone Mountain, Georgia, Bradley was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. He’s allowed 37 hits, and fanned 81 batters, in 66-and-two-thirds innings.

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Jumping back to Twitter polls, I asked if Bryce Harper is, 1. Overrated, 2. Underrated, or 3. Neither of the above.

Highly subjective? Sure, but nonetheless an interesting question to ponder.

A slim majority — 50.2% to be exact — straddled the fence, deeming Harper neither overrated or underrated. As for those with stronger opinions, only 13.5% chose overrated, while 36.3% went with underrated.

Harper — still just 28 years old — has a 139 wRC+ and 40.0 WAR over his 10 big-league seasons. With two months left in the current campaign, those numbers are 151 and 3.2. Subjectivity aside, Harper has not only had an outstanding career, he remains a top-notch talent.

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Softball returned to the Olympics this year, with Japan winning the gold thanks to a 2-0 win over Team USA. The Canadian women took home the bronze.

Notably, the games were played at a baseball stadium that was temporarily converted to a softball field (and then immediately converted back). Why didn’t softball get its own dedicated venue? The Boston Globe contacted the Tokyo 2020 International Communications Team to find out. Per the Globe’s Gary Washburn, the response was as follows:

“The existing venues are being used to hold the Baseball and Softball at the Tokyo 2020 Games.”

Needless to say, the non-answer was disrespectful, and not just to the media entity that posed the question. It was disrespectful to the sport, and to the athletes who play it at an elite level.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Yahoo Sports, Hannah Keyser wrote about how one Olympic pitcher thinks he just found a solution to MLB’s sticky stuff problem.

At The Metro Times, Vanessa Ivy Rose — the granddaughter of Hall of Famer Norman “Turkey” Stearnes — shared her thoughts on the Detroit Tigers’ Negro Leagues weekend.

FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wrote about how Hideo Nomo paved the way for a generation of “damn good Japanese ballplayers.”

MLB.com’s Michael Claire shared how baseball’s first agent was also its best legend maker.

At Sports Stories (Substack), Eric Nusbaum and Adan Villacin told the story of Eddie Feigner, whose King and His Court were barnstorming softball royalty.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Seattle Mariners went into the weekend 56-48 with a minus-54 run differential. The Atlanta Braves were 51-53 with a plus-43 run differential.

The Toronto Blue Jays went into the weekend with an MLB-best 153 home runs. That total is second most through 99 games in club history (168 in 2000).


In 1969, Houston Astros outfielder Jimmy Wynn had 22 hitless games between May 21 and August 2. He reached base in all of them. According to StatHead’s Adam Darowski, that’s a big-league record, Ted Williams having had a 21-game streak in 1946. Wynn drew an MLB-best 148 walks in his 1969 season.

Ted Williams had a .378 BABiP when he batted .406 in 1941. Babe Ruth had a .423 BABiP when he batted .393 in 1923.

Barry Bonds had a nine-year stretch in which his BABIP was identical to his batting average on four occasions: 1990 (.301/.301), 1991 (.292/.292), 1995 (.294/.294), and 1998 (.303/.303).

The Boston Red Sox scored six times in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Seattle Mariners 8-7 on today’s date in 2013. Daniel Nava, who’d led off the frame with a walk, plated the game-winner with a bases-loaded single.

On today’s date in 1972, Nate Colbert homered five times to lead the San Diego Padres to a doubleheader sweep of the Atlanta Braves. The slugging first baseman went 7 for 9 with 13 RBIs on the day.

Players born on today’s date include Pep Rambert, who got cups of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1939 and 1940. A right-hander who allowed 12 runs in the same number of big-league innings, Rambert was a two-way player in his 14 minor-league seasons.

Also born on today’s date was Slim Love, who pitched for the Washington Senators, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers in a career that spanned the 1913-1920 seasons. A native of Love, Mississippi, the southpaw was a gargantuan-for-his-time 6-foot-7.





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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MikeS
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MikeS

I don’t think Baez should have been suspended, but I don’t think Castellanos should have been suspended either. You can call what MLB did “consistent,” but I’d say it’s just them not learning from prior mistakes.

Also, I can see why the women might feel disrespected over playing softball games in a baseball stadium and it did look weird. But the IOC’s insistence on host cities building new, single purpose facilities, many of which will see little use after the Olympics are over, is one reason so many cities and countries have suffered economically by hosting the Olympics and the IOC uses it as a source of graft and kickbacks. So any time a country can resist that, I’m generally OK with it. One reason Rio was picked over Chicago for 2016 was that they were more willing to build new facilities. Brazilian taxpayers reportedly spent $11.6B and Brazil lost two billion dollars hosting those Olympics.

MikeS
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MikeS

Ugh. Meant to say that you could call it inconsistent, but maybe they just learned from their mistakes.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The Olympics are great but since it often means bulldozing slums and making a ton of people homeless like in Rio I’m pretty over it. It’s just a disaster in terms of governance.