Corey Dickerson’s numbers with the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t as good as they were last year with the Colorado Rockies. That’s not surprising. Coors Field is an extreme hitter’s park and Tropicana Field leans pitcher.
For Dickerson — acquired over the offseason in a trade for Jake McGee — his new ballpark hasn’t simply leaned. It’s tilted precipitately. The lefty-swinger is slashing a robust .280/.313/.576 on the road, but only .205/.262/.367 at home. Only seven of his 23 home runs have come at The Trop.
There is also a chasm in his positional splits. In a close to identical number of plate appearances, Dickerson is hitting a healthy .278/.325/.511 as a left fielder, but only .216/.262/.457 as a designated hitter. Paired with the pressure of wanting to thrive in his new environs, the unfamiliar role proved burdensome.
“It was tough at first,” admitted Dickerson, who downplays his change of venues. “I was DHing a lot, which is something I wasn’t used to. You have all this time between at bats, and what happened is that I started critiquing every at bat. You have expectations for yourself, and because I wasn’t having success, I was trying to change. I was trying to be perfect, and this game isn’t perfect.”
Dickerson remains far from perfect, but he’s been better in the second half. From April-June, he slashed .230/.283/.456. From July onward, those numbers have been .260/.297/.498. All in all, his comfort level — not to mention his confidence level — has improved markedly.
“I believe in my ability,” said Dickerson. “The game is hard — you have to realize that — so everybody is going to struggle at times. But I’d never really struggled in baseball. This is the first time I’d gone through a real slump, and it was hard to get out of my own head and deal with it. I’ve finally progressed out of that.”
Early this season, I talked to Dillon Gee about his transformation from Mets starter to Royals reliever. The move came out of necessity. He was no longer needed in New York and not good enough to crack the Kansas City rotation. The latter part of that equation changed, at least somewhat, due to attrition. Injuries to Kris Medlen and Chris Young have afforded Gee opportunities to start, which has been a presumptive boon to his future.
“I think it plays a little more into my repertoire,” Gee told me in late August. “Your bullpen guys are normally your power guys, and I have multiple pitches and try to hit locations. I’m embracing whatever role they put me in — I’m just rolling with the punches — but I think (starting) gives me more of a chance to reestablish myself as a major league pitcher.”
Gee signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent over the winter, and is arbitration eligible. Whether or not the Royals tender him a contract at season’s end remains to be seen. The 30-year-old right-hander is 4-8 with a 5.55 ERA in 14 starts. In 18 relief appearances, he’s 3-1 with a 3.28 ERA.
Truth be told, those numbers present a huge challenge when paired with his pitching profile. Gee recognizes that.
“We’re evolving into a power-pitching game,” said the righty. “Teams are running guys out there who are throwing 95-plus. That’s not me. Everybody is in love with velocity right now, so for the guys who don’t throw 95, it’s tougher to get that extended opportunity.”
Casey Janssen didn’t get a big-league opportunity this year. The 35-year-old former Blue Jays closer — 81 saves from 2012-2014 — was in spring training with the Padres but didn’t make the team. Rather than accept a minor-league assignment, he returned home and did a weighted-ball program in hopes of building more arm strength.
Janssen subsequently signed with the Red Sox, who sent him to their short-season team. From there to he went to Triple-A where, according to manager Kevin Boles, he threw the ball well. The minors weren’t to his liking. With no open spots looming in the Boston bullpen, he exercised an opt-out clause for the second time in four months.
Janssen agrees with Gee that the lack of plus heater is a negative when it comes to opportunity.
“The game is changing to velocity, velocity,” said Janssen, whose fastball sat 89-92 in his best seasons. “It’s crazy. The principles of the game have been around forever. Disrupting the hitter’s timing, hitting your spots and changing speeds. If you can locate, you can get anyone out. That’s not going to change.
“It’s tough to get jobs if you don’t throw mid-90s, and it’s not necessarily a product of your success or lack thereof. It’s more a product of the preference from an organization’s standpoint. Right now, the fad is velocity. The guys who don’t blow you away are more on the outside looking in.”
That’s where he’s ended up. Janssen spoke those words during his stint in the Red Sox system, so they weren’t sour grapes. He was still hoping for another shot at the highest level. Perhaps he still is. Given his age and current trend toward velocity, the odds would be against him.
In J.J. Hardy’s opinion, increased velocity is a big reason home runs totals are through the roof. High-octane heaters are hard to square up, which is a double-edged sword for hitters and pitchers alike.
“The game is changing toward more power,” said the Orioles shortstop. “Pitchers are throwing harder, and it’s harder to string together a bunch of hits, so the best way to score runs is to hit home runs. As a result, you’re seeing guys swing for the fences and you’re seeing guys strike out a lot more.”
Mark Melancon had a nice run as Pirates closer. In three-plus seasons, he crafted a 1.80 ERA and was credited with 130 saves. He’s with the Nationals now, having been swapped to Washington at the July 30 trade deadline.
I asked Melancon how the playoff vibe in the nation’s capital compares to the one he experienced in Pittsburgh.
“It’s different,” said Melancon. “D.C. is a very political city. People are in and out on a daily basis. I don’t know. I’m still getting grasp on the feel of the fans and how much they’re into the game. Here in Pittsburgh, people are just so sports-oriented. You drive through the streets and you see TVs have the game on. It doesn’t matter who’s in the house. It could be an 80-year-old grandma to a six-year-old boy. That was really cool. Everybody… the game is generational here. I’m not sure if it is in D.C.”
San Diego acquired highly-regarded pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza from Boston in exchange for Drew Pomeranz at this summer’s trade deadline. The deal prompted a 30-game suspension for less-than-upfront Padres GM A.J. Preller. It also brought a precocious, potential future front-line starter to his club. Here is how Burt Hooton — Espinoza’s pitching coach at low-A Fort Wayne — assessed the youngster shortly after he joined the San Diego system.
“He’s a good young talent,” Hooton told me. “He’s 18 years old, but throwing-wise he’s pretty mature. He’s a little more polished than guys his age, as far as delivery, how the ball comes out of his hand, his repertoire and the command of his repertoire. There’s obviously still a lot for him to learn. It’s going to take him time.”
Mitch Keller met with members of the Pittsburgh media on Friday prior to being feted as the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year. A year removed from arm woes, the 20-year-old right-hander exhibited power stuff while putting up a 2.46 ERA at low-A West Virginia.
Keller features a mid-90s four-seam fastball — he doesn’t throw a two-seamer — and a curveball that he called his put-away pitch. He referred to his changeup as a work-in-progress, elaborating that “You have to throw it just like a fastball. Sometimes you want to slow it down in your mind and you slow down your arm. That’s when it gets all over the place.”
I’m at PNC Park this weekend, and took the opportunity to ask Keller about sequencing and organizational pitching philosophy. He said the former wasn’t emphasized in low-A. He said the following about approach:
“Start away with strike one,” described the 2014 second-rounder. “We attack with our fastballs in the minor leagues here. We’re always taught to pitch inside, too. We go in for effect and then away again. They don’t really teach up and down very much. We’re always looking to paint fastballs down at the knees.”
Back in spring training, I talked to Rick Porcello about his four-seam spin rate and the mixed results he had with the pitch in 2015. The Red Sox righty explained that he hadn’t been elevating it enough. August Fagerstrom touched on the since-corrected issue a few days ago.
What is the Cy Young award candidate’s sight line for his four?
“I basically pick out a straight line at the top of the strike zone,” Porcello told me. “I try to power through that.”
Phil Coke remembers standing on the bullpen mound at Fenway Park in the 2013 ALCS, watching David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam off Joaquin Benoit. It was the biggest hit of the series — and an epic moment in Ortiz’s career — and it came in an at bat that arguably should have come against Coke. The soon-to-retire slugger was surprised it didn’t happen,
The following day, Ortiz asked the lefty, “How come you no pitch against me last night?’ Coke told him he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his call.
A month earlier, Coke had introduced Ortiz to his wife prior to a regular-season game. The soon-to-retire slugger looked at her and said, “I hate facing your husband.”
In 22 career at bats against Coke (including the postseason), Ortiz has two hits.
Brian Kenny mentions something in his book, Ahead of the Curve, that most of us have forgotten about — or maybe didn’t even notice. In Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called for a sacrifice bunt with a runner on first and none out, in a tie game, in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. They didn’t score in any of the three innings, and went on to lose the game and the series.
The Angels and Royals (36) are tied for the most sacrifice bunts in the American League this season. The Red Sox have the fewest, with seven. In the National League, the Braves have the most, with 61. The Dodgers have the fewest, with 28.
Digging deep into my unused-quotes folder, here is something from the Kubitza bothers. I talked to Austin — a pitcher in the Tigers system — at the tail end of last year’s Arizona Fall League season. I asked Kyle — an infielder in the Angels system — about his younger sibling during spring training.
“(Pitching coach) Paul Abbott is helping me develop my changeup,” said Austin. ”We’ve messed with a couple of grips, but there’s also the mental side of it. I told him ‘My third pitch is my changeup’ and he said, ‘Don’t think of it as your third pitch. Think of it as a primary pitch. Think of it as a fastball with a different grip.’”
Older brother also accentuated the mental:
“I’ve never pitched — in my total experience of playing baseball, I maybe have 10 innings on the mound — so I’m not the one to tell him, ‘Hey, do this, do that,’” said Kyle. “But I will check his pulse after certain starts. I’ll let him now, ’Hey, this is baseball. As you go up, everybody gets better, not just you.’
“Beyond that, we mostly have normal hitter-pitcher dialogue, like what pitchers have done to me in the past that helped, and what they’ve done to me that was dumb. Stuff like that.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Over at the Seattle Times, Matt Calkins wrote about how Blue Jays fans hijacked Safeco Field when Toronto visited Seattle earlier this week. “Chants of ‘Let’s go Blue Jays!’ blared throughout the evening.”
At BP Milwaukee, Julien Assouline looked at Miller Park attendance, which is higher than that of several contending teams.
Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times wrote about ESPN’s first bilingual sports news show, Nación ESPN, which will feature Marly Rivera, Bernardo, Osuna and Jorge Sedano.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Of the 217 former major league players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, 134 have been on a World Series championship team.
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph has come to the plate 138 times this season and has yet to drive in a run. The record for most plate appearances in a season without an RBI is 150, by Brooklyn pitcher Oscar Jones, in 1904. Joseph now ranks second, ahead of Boston Beaneaters outfielder Gene Good, who went 135 RBI-less PAs in 1906.
Dellin Betances has thrown 245 innings over the past three seasons, the most of any reliever. He has 14 wins and 23 saves over that stretch. From 1972-1974, Mike Marshall threw 503 innings as a reliever, with 43 wins and 70 saves.
Denny Doyle had his team’s lone hit in two one-hitters (against California’s Nolan Ryan in 1970 and Cincinnati’s Gary Nolan in 1971). In 1972, Doyle broke up a no-hitter by San Diego’s Steve Arlin with two out in the ninth inning. A Padres pitcher has never thrown a no-hitter.
Given the early success of Pitch, it’s worth noting that Susan Petrone’s Throw Like a Woman, which came out 18 months ago, is one of the best baseball novels in recent memory. The protagonists and several plot-line details differ from the new Fox drama, but there are enough similarities that if you like the show, you’ll love the book.
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.