Adam Eaton had an excellent defensive season in right field for the White Sox. The 27-year-old former centerfielder had 20 Defensive Runs Saved, the third most of any outfielder. His 22.1 UZR was second to none. He gives his teammates a lot of credit for those for those numbers.
“Metrics see it as individual effort, but it’s not,” opined Eaton. “The addition of Austin Jackson early in the season really helped. When he was in the outfield with me, I had complete confidence that my back was covered. I could be more aggressive to the gap. Same thing with (JB) Shuck. His speed and defensive ability allows me to make plays I wouldn’t otherwise make.
“Same thing with assists,” added Eaton, whose arm rating ranked as best in both leagues. “I can throw the ball as well as I want to, but if the guy cutting it off doesn’t make a perfect throw on the relay, I don’t get an assist. If the catcher doesn’t make a perfect catch, and make the tag on time, I don’t get an assist. Stats can’t see that. I’m happy that I look great in the metrics, but without the guys around me, I’m just another average ballplayer.”
Eaton doesn’t feel the White Sox were good defensively as a unit in 2015. He does feel that this year’s outfield would have been just as good with him in center and Jackson and Shuck in right.
When it comes to defensive positioning, the former Miami University RedHawk prefers shallow to deep.
“For me, if a ball is hit over my head and hits the wall, for lack of a better term it’s the pitcher’s fault,” exclaimed Eaton. “I want to take away the singles. A good percentage of balls land in front of outfielders, and those are the ones I want to take away. If one gets past me, I know I have Austin or Shuck backing me up.”
Francisco Liriano was great in Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card game. He retired all five batters he faced, one via strikeout and the other four on ground balls. Strikes were a big reason. When he’s going well, he’s commanding his pitches, particularly his slider.
That’s not always the case. The 32-year-old southpaw can be erratic at times, as evidenced by his 4.69 ERA and his 4.7 walks per nine innings. According to the Pirate-turned-Blue Jay, his bouts of wildness can be attributed to overthrowing his signature pitch.
“Sometimes I walk too many guys,” admitted Liriano. “I start missing my spots, because I’m trying to throw (the slider) too hard and it doesn’t break that way I want it to.”
Liriano recognizes when he’s out of whack. Getting back on track is often easier said than done.
“Sometimes you know what you’re doing wrong, and you just can’t help it,” said Liriano. “You’re also out there competing, so you don’t want to hang it down the middle.”
Nerves are never the issue. Prior to this year, he pitched well in the postseason for the Pirates, in 2013.
“I’m always calm,” said Liriano. “Nothing changes (in big games). Sometimes I just try to create something I don’t have that day. For me, overthrowing just happens.”
David Price’s outing on Friday begs a question that comes up in most Octobers: Are good players with poor postseason results the victims of small sample size, or are they wired in such a way that they’re less likely to perform well under the bright lights? I asked Bruce Bochy that question on Friday.
“It’s a little of both,” said the San Francisco skipper.“Some guys feel the pressure a bit more than others. You have to have the talent, but you also have to have that emotional control (to) perform under pressure. That’s what the good ones, the great ones, have. Some guys put a little too much pressure on themselves. They try to carry the load a little bit too much. Not just pitchers, but position players. They get out of who they are. For the most part, the great ones play better.”
Joe Maddon touched on the subject on the eve of the NLDS.
“It’s about tomorrow night and how we react to it,” said the Chicago skipper. “We’re going over the scouting information, (so) we’re concerned about the Giants, but I’m more concerned about us. It’s about how we play, how we react to the moment. So much is made of who you’re playing. That’s wonderful, but it’s more about how you react to the moment. For the last couple of days, I’ve been more concerned with talking to our guys about us, and as little about the other side as possible.”
Jarrett Parker was on deck to hit for Madison Bumgarner with two on and two out in the top of ninth inning of Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game. He never got the chance. Conor Gillaspie hit the biggest home run of the Giants’ season, and Bumgarner stayed in and finished off the Mets in the bottom half.
“I was ready for the opportunity,” Parker told me prior to Friday’s NLDS opener. “The situation obviously changed after he hit the home run — I didn’t hit — but when I’m in the on deck circle, I’m ready for that moment.”
Is it safe to say he has never been less disappointed to not get an opportunity?
“Absolutely, of course” agreed Parker. “Once he hit that ball, it was absolute elation. It was an awesome time.”
When the Giants visited Fenway Park this summer, Johnny Cueto and Red Sox legend Luis Tiant had a long pregame conversation in the visiting dugout. When Cueto met with the media on Thursday, I asked him what they talked about.
“It was just a normal conversation about pitching,” answered Cueto, through an interpreter. “Our techniques are similar — how he used to pitch, and how I pitch — and he actually likes how I pitched this year.”
He pitched extremely well in Friday night’s NLDS opener, allowing a lone run — Javier Baez’s game-deciding solo — in eight innings of 10-strikeout work. It was a departure from his earlier postseason work. Successful at home, he’d been abysmal in three previous October outings on the road. How was he able to handle a hostile Wrigley Field and its “Quay-toe, Quay-toe” chants, when he was seemingly rattled in Pittsburgh and Toronto?
“It was normal,” claimed Cueto. “I don’t think about being away or being at home. You just have to come in and try to do your best.”
Cueto had even less to say when asked about the pitch he threw to Baez: “He hit a home run.”
Carlos Santana’s game is all about patience and power. On the season, he homered 34 times and drew 99 walks. The switch-hitting designated hitter out of Santo Domingo led the Indians in both categories.
His role model growing up was a free-swinging middle infielder who had limited power.
“When I was a kid, I watched Neifi Perez,” Santana told me. “He played a lot of winter ball in the Dominican. I tried to be like Neifi Perez, because I liked him. That’s why I’m a switch hitter.”
In Mike Napoli’s opinion, it’s not just about the numbers. The Cleveland basher is a big believer in intangibles when it comes to assessing a player’s value to his team.
“There’s more to it than stats,” said Napoli. “You have to know the game — know how to play the game — and you have to be good in the clubhouse. A lot of people don’t understand that. Everybody just wants to look at the big stats. You obviously want to put up numbers, but a lot more goes into being a good player.”
The Red Sox opted to go with Christian Vazquez over Ryan Hanigan or Bryan Holaday as the second catcher on their ALDS roster. The reason was defense. Vazquez, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, hit a paltry .227/.277/.308 this year in limited action. His Triple-A numbers were nothing to write home about, either.
But he can catch and throw with the best of them. Earlier this season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi offered this assessment:
“(Vazquez) does a great job back there. You watch him and you see a guy who frames extremely well. He blocks. He’s very agile. He throws. He has a really good idea of what pitchers need to do to be successful. I’ve been impressed.”
Teams develop starters and expect them to go 100 pitches. They also develop short relievers — closers if all works out well — who are expected to go one inning.
Why not also put an emphasis on grooming multi-inning relievers in the minors? If a young pitcher isn’t viewed as a future starter — maybe he lacks a quality third pitch — but he has a resilient, quality arm, why not get him used to two-inning stints?
What Andrew Miller did in ALCS Game 1 doesn’t need to be such a unique event. Are there limits to how many innings you want your better relievers to throw over the course of a season? Sure, but why limit them to the 65-70 range? If you have a Chris Devenski who can throw 83-and-two-thirds (plus 24-and-two-thirds more as a starter), isn’t he more valuable?
Earlier this season I chatted with Rangers manager Jeff Banister about how pitchers are developed in the minor leagues. In his opinion, the individual — and the accountability of the individual — is every bit as important as coaching and organizational philosophy.
“A pitcher has to take control of his own career,” said Banister. “How does he work and what is he putting into his craft? There is the exercise physiology part of it, the throwing programs and nutrition, their education of what they do well and what they don’t do well.
“There’s a difference between the individual and comprehensive. Yes, every organization has philosophies on teaching, what their beliefs are, and how to get to the end result. But that doesn’t mean it works for every single player. You and I are different. Why would we be treated the same?
“The first line of defense is the pitching coach. He looks at it from a one-on-one perspective. Then there’s a pitching coordinator who looks at it more globally. He’s seeing the entire picture. But I think you’re always going to give the accolades to the player. He’s the one in control. He’s the one out there doing all the things he needs to. Either he is, or he’s not. They’re not robots. They’re human beings.”
A Hall-of-Famer popped into my mind when Paul Swydan wrote about Eric Hosmer’s sub-par 100-RBI season. He didn’t make it onto Paul’s list of players with comparable campaigns — he didn’t have negative WAR — but Tony Perez came close.
Perez is known mostly for his time with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, but the season in question came in 1980, with the Boston Red Sox. Perez had 161 hits and 25 home runs — identical to Hosmer’s 2016 totals — and his 105 RBI were one more than the Kansas City first baseman. Their slash lines were in the same ballpark.
Digging a little deeper — but not too deep — Perez owns a 108-101 edge in adjusted OPS. Hosmer has an edge of his own. Perez hit .278/.362/.444 with RISP, while Hosmer hit .309/.363/.500 with RISP.
Is there anything particularly meaningful about the comp? Not really. I simply found it interesting.
Francisco Liriano — struck by a line drive on Friday — has been replaced on Toronto’s ALDS roster by right-hander Danny Barnes. In most cases, such a move would result in Liriano not being eligible for the ALCS. The Blue Jays petitioned MLB for an exception, which was granted. Here is the official explanation:
The injured player being replaced shall be ineligible to play for the remainder of such series, as well as the next subsequent post-season series that year. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a replaced player, who has suffered an acute concussion during a post-season series, may be eligible to play in the next subsequent post-season series that year, provided that the player has been ineligible to play for a minimum of seven days, and Major League Baseball’s Medical Director has reviewed a Return to Play form and supporting information and approved the reinstatement.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Baseball Prospectus, Rob Mains gave us Five Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the 2016 Season.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Washington’s Daniel Murphy slashed .355/.432/.532 with RISP this yer. The former Met slashed .413/.444/.773 against his old team.
The Cubs had 81 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of any team. The Giants committed 72 errors, the fewest of any team.
The Giants have never lost a postseason series with Bruce Bochy as their manager. They are 11-0.
Rod Carew had 42 home runs and 175 steals as a first baseman. He had 44 home runs and 169 steals as a second baseman.
On October 8, 1956, Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history as a member of the New York Yankees. Two years earlier, Larsen went 3-21 with the Baltimore Orioles.
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.