Sunday Notes: Eaton’s Pop, Rules, Brewers, Cubs, more

It’s not entirely surprising that Adam Eaton has nine home runs. The White Sox outfielder used to be a three-hole hitter with passable power. He homered 24 times in 434 at bats over his final two seasons at Miami University, and 13 times in his first 470 professional at bats.

Then the team that drafted him took away his bite.

The Arizona Diamondbacks moved Eaton to the top of the order – and sometimes near the bottom – when they promoted him to Double-A, in 2011. It was at that point they asked him to start developing a lead-off hitter type of approach.

“They wanted me to work my hands inside the ball consistently and drive the ball the other way,” explained Eaton. “Being a smaller guy on the left side of the plate, you definitely get tailored to your speed, and Arizona wanted me to ‘get on base, get on base.’ I’ve always been a guy who likes to hit the ball the other way, but that was still a completely different mentality.”

Eaton is 5-foot-8, so it makes sense that a team would want him to eschew swinging for the fences. To their credit, the White Sox realize it also makes sense to let him take advantage of his sneaky pop.

“Here in Chicago, it’s more ‘hit the ball where it’s pitched,’ said Eaton. “It’s not bad to pull the ball; it’s not bad to get the head out every now and again. I still stay inside the ball and hit it the other way, but if they throw me in, I’ll try to pull some baseballs. Every now and again, I’ll get enough barrel to produce some power.”

Eaton homered just once last year – his first season in Chicago – so there’s more to the power surge than freedom and philosophy. There’s also growth and oppositional approach.

“Pitchers are throwing me in a lot more, and I’m learning and evolving as a hitter,” said Eaton. “I’m also getting stronger again. In college, I was benching, squatting, doing Olympic lifts. Arizona has a different philosophy of weight lifting and I lost a lot of mass. Over here, I’ve continued to build muscle. That has something to do with the home runs I’m hitting now. At the same time, a lot of it is just getting the barrel to the ball.”

I asked the 26-year-old if we can expect to see even more home runs going forward.

“I don’t know,” answered Eaton. “That’s like asking me if I want to hit .300. Of course. Home runs are fun, and if the pitch is there and I make a good swing, they’re going to happen. But you can’t dictate something like that. Baseball is a fickle game. But yeah, I’ll definitely take them when they come.”

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Javier Lopez has appeared in 56 games and has neither a Win nor a Loss. That puts the San Francisco Giants lefty reliever within range of a record. In 2007, Houston’s Trever Miller – himself a LOOGY – appeared in 76 games without earning a decision.

Like Miller before him, Lopez pitches often, but not for long. Over the past three-plus seasons, he’s worked 144 innings over 260 games. He’s in, he gets outs, and he’s gone. This year he’s been especially effective, allowing just 13 hits over 31-and-a-third innings.

Last week, I asked Lopez for his thoughts on the record he’d previously been unaware of. His response was both thoughtful and tongue-in-cheek.

“If it comes, it comes,” said Lopez. “The numbers take you where they take you, but I suppose it would be kind of funny if it happens. Someday I can look back at it and tell my kids, ‘Daddy is in the record books.’ I guess it beats the Hall of Fame.”

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An interesting rules question was posed a few days ago on the SABR-L mailing list. Chuck Hildebrandt, who chairs SABR’S Baseball and the Media committee, offered up the following scenario:

Runners on second and third, one out. Fly ball is caught for second out, with runner at third tagging and coming home. Runner on second doesn’t tag; he takes off for third and outfielder throws behind him, successfully doubling him up for third out. Runner who tagged crossed plate before out was recorded at second.

Does the run count?

I queried a handful of people in the Fenway Park press box on Friday and Saturday. Three of the five, including a big-league executive, thought probably no.

The majority was wrong. Using rule book terminology, the occurrence would be a “time play” as opposed to a “force play.” The runner at second was not compelled to advance, and while he was technically “forced,” the rule book differentiates between a force play and a force out.

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I’ve been asking scouts about spin rate lately. Do they see value in it? For example, say a pitcher in the low minors lacks plus velocity but is consistently getting soft-contact outs with elevated fastballs. Will he be able to do the same against more-advanced hitters? Probably not, but then again, if he has Chris Young-quality spin rate, there’s a decent chance that he can.

Two of the scouts I spoke to told me they have no need for such data. In their view, a good scout can adequately assess and project that type of fastball. Each has decades of experience and a strong track record, so their opinions are certainly valid.

Two other scouts I spoke to feel differently. Both opined that knowing a pitcher’s spin rate is helpful, adding that their organizations are tuned in to it. To them, all available information is valuable. One did offer a caveat: a scout shouldn’t allow data to unduly influence his opinions. Utilize it, but ultimately trust your eyes.

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Last December’s Rick PorcelloYoenis Cespedes deal wasn’t a straight one-for-one. The Tigers also acquired Alex Wilson, and the righty has been a pleasant surprise. The Hurricane, West Virginia product has logged a 1.83 ERA in 44 relief outings.

There was a fourth player involved as well. Detroit also acquired Gabe Speier, who projects as more than a throw-in. The 20-year-old southpaw sports a 2.72 ERA working out of the bullpen at low-A West Michigan.

Relief is a temporary role. Drafted by Boston in 2013, Speier had Tommy John surgery after throwing just four professional innings. He returned to the bump last summer, but this being his first full season as a healthy hurler, he’s being treated with kid gloves. Beginning next year, he’ll be groomed as a starter.

The trade came out of the blue, and roused the youngster from bed.

“It was about seven o’clock in the morning and the phone call from the Red Sox woke me up,” said Speier. “They told me I was involved in a trade to Detroit. Five minutes later, I got a call from (Tigers farm director) Dave Owen. He said, ‘You’re involved in a trade over here and we’re happy to have you.’”

In his somewhat somnolent state, Speier hung up from both phone calls without asking who else was involved in the trade. After driving home – he’d spent the night at a friend’s house – he went online and saw that it was Cespedes, Porcello and Wilson.

“My dad and I were both shocked,” said Speier. “Probably the biggest shock was the magnitude of a trade. We weren’t expecting it to be three big-leaguers.”

The lefty has big-league bloodlines. His uncle, Chris Speier, played 19 seasons as an infielder, mostly for the Giants. His cousin, Justin Speier, was a journeyman reliever for 12 seasons.

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Danny Farquhar is back in the Seattle bullpen. The 5′ 9” righty was called up from Triple-A over the weekend, and his return elicited some entertaining quotes.

Prior to yesterday’s game, a Mariners beat writer told Lloyd McClendon that Farquhar “mentioned that his cutter wasn’t very sharp.” He then asked the Seattle skipper “What did you see when he wasn’t right?”

McClendon’s response was, “Command, cutter. All of the above.”

A few minutes later, Farquhar explained his sub-par performance as “a little bit of bad luck and a lot bit of bad pitches. It’s been a weird season.”

I asked how he’s gone about recapturing the feel on his go-to offering.

“It was in Los Angeles, during God Bless America in the seventh inning,” deadpanned Farquhar. “(Mike) Zunino said, ‘Hey, I found your cutter,” and he handed me the ball.”

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Two weeks ago in this space, Tyler Flowers offered catcher’s-eye commentary on Chris Sale’s repertoire. Speaking on Sale’s slider, he said, “Occasionally, I’ll call for a slower one.”

I didn’t include the following exchange in the earlier column, but I’ll share it here.

“How do you call for a slower breaking pitch?”

“It’s a secret sign.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Nah, I just wiggle the three.”

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It will be interesting to see who the Brewers hire to replace departing general manager Doug Melvin. A variety of names have been bandied about, including Indians assistant GM Mike Chernoff and Athletics assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz. They, as well as others who might be considered, have analytic pedigrees.

So does the club’s manager, Craig Counsell. Prior to taking the job in May, the cerebral former infielder spent time in the Milwaukee front office as a special assistant. Earlier this week, I asked Counsell about the relationship between manager and GM.

“It’s important,” said Counsell. “The general manager is selecting the players in a way that he things they’ll succeed if used in a certain manner. As a manager, my biggest job is to put them in a position to succeed. Organizationally, we should be trying to find ways to put pieces together in a way that they can succeed. To me, there has to be some synergy to those decisions.”

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I know people who don’t want the Cubs to win a World Series. Not just this year. Ever. Some of them are White Sox fans. Others have no Chicago allegiances; they simply like the lovable-losers storyline and want it to continue ad infinitum.

Based on my recent visits to Wrigley, none of those people were in attendance at The Friendly Confines. The atmosphere was electric, and there was little sign of the “They mostly come here to drink beer” dynamic that is often foisted upon Wrigley Field crowds (Not that drinking beer at the ballpark is a bad thing, mind you). Fans were frequently hanging on every pitch.

The ninth inning of last Sunday’s 2-0 win against the Giants epitomized the passion. It was a nail-biter special, with closer Hector Rondon fanning the side after allowing the first three hitters to reach. Exaltation. Exhalation. Visions of exorcising a goat.

Joe Maddon’s team has won nine straight and 15 of their last 16. They’re 19 games over .500 and in line for a postseason berth. Could they conceivably do what some hope will never be done? Yankees fans no longer chant “1918,” so anything is possible. Yes, even the Cubs.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

According to The Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan, the wind blew in 37 times, and out 12 times, in the first 56 games at Wrigley Field this year. Last year, it blew in 47 times and out 22 times.

Yesterday, the Red Sox became the first team to score at least 15 runs on 21 or more hits since the 1950 Red Sox. Boston has outscored Seattle 37-11 over the past two games.

Indians pitchers have thrown eight complete games this season, the most in the majors. Five teams – the Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Pirates and Rays – don’t have any.

Since 2000, James Shields is the only pitcher in either league to have 10 or more complete games in a season. He had 11 in 2011.

On this date in 1920, Indians shortstop Ray Chapman suffered a fractured skull when hit by a pitch from Yankees hurler Carl Mays. Chapman died the next day.

A reminder that this year’s Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball seminar will take place next weekend in Boston. Information, including the impressive list of presenters, can be found here.





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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jdbolick
6 years ago

One did offer a caveat: a scout shouldn’t allow data to unduly influence his opinions. Utilize it, but ultimately trust your eyes.

That’s good stuff. Last night I saw a lefty with a lot of downward break (and therefore I presume a strong spin rate) on his curveball, but because he was throwing it from a low three quarters delivery it was really easy to pick up out of the hand and hitters had no problem squaring it up despite the movement. That said, I think letting the eyes unduly influence opinions is much more common than letting the data do so. When you see a player you like who has a good frame and obvious potential, it’s easy to overlook or even dismiss troubling peripherals. Ultimately, the more information you have access to the better, which is why I’m sure the player development people those veteran scouts report to are looking at the spin rate and as much other data as they can get even if the scouts themselves downplay it.