Grayson Greiner hit the first home run of his brief big-league career two weeks ago Friday. He then banged out number-two the following Tuesday. What did the blasts have in common? I asked the Detroit Tigers catcher that very question a day after the second dinger.
“They were similar pitches,” Greiner told me. “They were kind of down in the zone, and middle-in-ish. Both fastballs. One was off Ryan Burr, a right-hander for the White Sox, and yesterday’s was off Chris Sale. The one off the righty was on a 2-2 count, and the one off Sale was 1-1 count. I think the counts being even is a reason they were both home runs. I wasn’t sure what was coming, and that made me stay back a little bit longer, instead of getting out front. I was in a good, strong hitting position.”
Greiner and Burr know each other, having played summer ball together when they were collegians. Baseball friendships being what they are, Greiner received a text after the April 19 game saying, ‘Congrats on the first homer. I wish it wasn’t off of me.’ He didn’t hear from Sale after taking him deep. “He probably doesn’t know who I am,” was Greiner’s guess as to why that didn’t happen.
The fact that Sale is Sale, and Fenway is Fenway, made Greiner’s second-ever home run even more meaningful than his first.
“I would have to say yesterday’s was cooler,” opined the former South Carolina Gamecock. “As a kid, everyone dreams of hitting a home run over the Green Monster — it’s probably the most iconic structure in our game — and to do it off of one of the best pitchers in the game over the last several years was a thrill. Plus, we got the win. That made it even more special. When I hit the first one we were down by six runs.”
Greiner has since added a third round-tripper to his resume. It came off White Sox lefty Carlos Rondon in a game the Tigers lost 12-11. Where it ranks compared to his first two is a question I don’t have an answer for.
Mike Soroka is fast establishing himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game. Just 21 years old, the Atlanta Braves right-hander boasts a 2.37 ERA, and a 2.56 FIP, in 49-and-a-third MLB innings. His command is exemplary, his future as bright as the summer sun shining over the Canadian prairies.
Soroka hails from Calgary, Alberta where he reaped the benefits of having a former big-pitcher as a tutor. Chris Reitsma was the youngster’s primary pitching coach from his early teens until he was taken 28th overall by Atlanta in the 2015 draft.
Reitsma helped mold Soroka, but he didn’t build him. The foundation was there from an early age.
“It was always little tinkers here and there,” explained Soroka. “A lot of pointers. Really, a lot of it was just, ‘What works for you.’ There wasn’t any one thing that we focused on. There’s pitch design nowadays, but I really haven’t done any of that.”
Not yet. Given his aptitude, it may just be a matter of time.
“At a certain point, for sure,” said Soroka. “But right now, it’s about going out there and being consistent. I need to establish myself first. I can worry about that other stuff down the road.”
Last night, Soroka held the Miami Marlins to a pair of unearned runs over seven innings. In four starts this year, he is 3-1 with a 1.14 ERA.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Teams commonly play no-doubles defense late in games when one run is likely to determine the outcome. According to a manager I talked to April, there are exceptions to that practice. For instance, if a Mike Trout is on deck, why worry about a two-bagger? If that happens, you simply walk the elite hitter intentionally. A similar situation would be having a serious stolen-base threat at the plate, with a pitcher with a slow delivery on the mound. If there is a good chance someone will steal second after reaching first base, guarding against a single is arguably the smarter move.
Taking the thought a little farther, should the on-deck, and in-the-hole, batters influence defensive positioning beyond those late-game scenarios?
The fact that fewer balls are being put into play suggests that guarding against extra-base hits is a good strategy — a single and a double often plates a run, while it typically takes three singles to do the same time. Meanwhile, more balls are leaving the yard, so surrendering a few extra singles could result in more multi-run dingers. Taking those things into consideration, the extra-base-hit capabilities of the ensuing batters should at least be a consideration. Right? Maybe.
The manager I spoke to suggested that I’m probably guilty of overthinking this.
Boston’s Triple-A affiliate is slated to relocate from Pawtucket to Worcester, Massachusetts following the 2020 season. What would it take for the Rhode Island city to bring another minor league team to McCoy Stadium after the take-the-money-and-run move is completed? According to Brendan McGair of The Pawtucket Times, a lot more than you might think.
In order for Pawtucket to house a new affiliated team, permission would have to be granted by the Larry Lucchino-led PawSox ownership, the International League, the Single-A Norwich [Conn.] Navigators, the New York-Penn League, the Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball, and Minor League Baseball.
The Pawtucket Red Sox franchise was established in 1970 as an Eastern League affiliate, and became an International League affiliate in 1973.
Nick Madrigal, whom the White Sox drafted fourth-overall last year out of Oregon State University, has struck out just four times this year in 107 plate appearances. The 22-year-old second baseman is slashing .277/.355/.383 with the high-A Winston-Salem Dash.
Justin Toerner is slashing .378/.514/.512, in 110 plate appearances, with the high-A Palm Beach Cardinals. The 22-year-old outfielder was drafted by St. Louis in the 28th round last year out of Cal State Northridge.
Lansing Lugnuts righty Jackson Rees has allowed seven hits and one walk, with 25 strikeouts, in 14 innings of relief. The 24-year-old University of Hawaii product was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent last June.
Over in NPB, 26-year-old Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada is slashing .318/.493/.600, with seven home runs, in 150 plate appearances. He’s stolen 10 bases in as many attempts.
Kohei Arihara, a 26-year-old right-hander for the Nippon Ham Fighters, has allowed 17 hits, and just two earned runs, in 35 innings over five starts. He’s walked four and fanned 35.
The Oakland A’s have had some pitching issues this season [more on that below], but there have been some bright spots. Frankie Montas is one of them. The 26-year-old right-hander has a 2.97 ERA, and he’s garnered a win in four of his six starts. Replacing a so-so changeup with a stellar splitter is a big reason.
“I laugh about it, because at one point in time Frankie was talking about how he had a good changeup,” said Oakland pitching coach Scott Emerson. “I told him, ‘Well, if you only throw it four percent of the time, it’s not really a good changeup. You’ve got to have something you really want to throw.’
Hence the suggestion of a split.
“He’s a grip-and-rip type pitcher — he’s a two-seam fastball guy with velo — so we took the two fingers and we split the ball a little bit,” explained Emerson. “That was toward the end of last July. We eventually got him into a good split-finger fastball, and while he did throw a couple of them [last season], we weren’t there yet. He’s there now.”
Montas has gone to his new weapon 16.6% of the time so far this year.
And then there is Jameson Taillon. The Pittsburgh Pirates righty has a changeup in his repertoire, but it mostly resides on the back burner. He’s thrown the pitch just 5.4% of the time this year, and last year that number was even lower. For all intents and purposes, it’s a show-me, and little more.
When I chatted with Taillon last month, he happened to mention that no one ever asks him about his changeup. So I did.
“For the most part, I’ve always had an easy time spinning the ball,” said Taillon, who augments his heater with a curveball and a slider he developed last summer. “Throwing a changeup has always been a lot tougher. Manipulating the ball the other way — turning the ball over — is a lot harder for me.”
Taillon told me that he’s probably tried “five or six” different grip variations since last spring. At age 27, he thinks he might finally be getting closer to something he can rely on.
“I’ve been going back and forth between a two-seam changeup and a four-seam changeup for a long time,” he explained. “I’ve finally settled on more of a two-seam — a one-seam, two-seam changeup — and the grip helps me turn the ball over. I’m still messing around with it, but I’ve got it to a place where I can at least throw it for a strike and put another thought into the hitter’s head. It may never grade out as an above-average pitch, but it’s something I can put in the game plan.”
Much to the chagrin of Pirates fans, his game-planning is now on hold. Taillon was just put on the injured list with a flexor strain in his elbow, and reportedly won’t throw for at least four weeks.
Gene Stephens, an outfielder for four teams from 1952-1964, died last weekend at age 86. Stephen’s most-notable game came in June 1953, when as a member of the Red Sox he logged three hits in a single inning. Boston scored 17 times in the seventh that day on their way to a 23-3 win over the Detroit Tigers.
Tim Mead has been named President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The VP of Communications for the Los Angeles Angels for the past 22 years, Mead has worked for the AL West team since 1980.
Ila Borders, Rachel Robinson, Justine Siegal, and Janet Marie Smith are the finalists for this year’s Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award. Presented by SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee, the award honors important contributions promoting the participation of women in baseball, on the field and off.
If you’re planning to attend this summer’s national SABR convention, and want to save money, tomorrow is the deadline for the early-bird registration. Details can be found here.
When he met with the media following his team’s sixth-consecutive loss — a 7-3 clunker at Fenway Park this past Wednesday — Oakland manager Bob Melvin twice uttered the words, “We need to do something.” Following his second usage of that phrase, I asked if there’s a need to shake things up, or if standing pat is the better option.
“We have a two-man bench right now, and one of them is a catcher, so it’s not like there’s a lot we can do,” Melvin responded. “We have guys who can play through this. We have guys who are going to hit; it’s just a matter of time before we do it. We’d just like it to be sooner rather than later. As far as shaking it up, we’ve moved the lineup around a little bit. We’re trying to do whatever we can.”
Truth be told, more problems exist on the defensive side of the ball. While the offense isn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders, the A’s then ranked fifth in the junior circuit in runs scored. Meanwhile, they’d allowed the third-most runs. Marco Estrada, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and Jesus Luzardo are on the injured list, while Daniel Mengden — a reliable starter a year ago — underwhelmed this spring and is currently working out the kinks in Triple-A. Ouch.
Of course, the offense is missing important pieces, as well. Matt Olson is on the shelf. So is Mark Canha. There are myriad reasons Melvin was a bit morose as his team prepared to depart Boston. Losing isn’t fun.
Last Sunday’s column led with Daniel Norris, who shared the unique relationship he has with the pitches in his repertoire. Left on the cutting-room floor was his answer to something I asked as our conversation wound down: What is the good question reporters never ask you?
“Are you having fun?” was the Detroit Tigers southpaw’s response. “I am having fun. We’re sitting here in a beautiful park [Fenway Park] right now, and I get to play baseball. This is such a blessing. No doubt you can get frustrated — you have good days and bad days — but I always have fun. I love having fun.”
Norris enjoyed a strong outing this past Wednesday, holding the Phillies to a lone run over five inning. Mitigating the fun-quotient was Detroit’s bullpen coughing up a late lead. Norris got a no-decision.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
An excerpt from Dick Cramer’s When Big Data Was Small: My Life in Baseball Analytics and Drug Design ran at the University of Nebraska Press blog.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Jesse Winker has 22 career home runs. He has at least one in all nine spots of the batting order.
Going into yesterday, Cubs catchers were slashing .321/.438/.660. Pirates catchers were slashing .175/.236/.228.
Chris Sale’s win on Friday night was his 100th as a starting pitcher. The Red Sox lefty is 100-64 in that role, 4-3 as a reliever.
On this date in 2000, the Texas Rangers rallied from an eight-run, seventh-inning deficit to defeat the Oakland A’s by a score of 17-16. Mike Lamb’s walk-off single plated Ivan Rodriguez for the deciding tally.
This past Thursday, Noah Syndergaard became the eighth pitcher since 1908 to throw a shutout and homer in a 1-0 game. Previously turning the trick were Bunning, Gene Packard [in 1915], Red Ruffing , Spud Chandler , Early Wynn , Juan Pizarro , and Bob Welch .
Rick Wise is known for homering twice while throwing a no-hitter for the Phillies, against the Cincinnati Reds in 1971. Wise also threw four one-hitters in his career. The most batters he fanned in any of those five gems was five.
Rube Waddell led his league in strikeouts six times, and in K/9 eight times. He had 2,316 career strikeouts. CC Sabathia has never led his league in strikeouts or in K/9. He has 3,002 career strikeouts.
Minnie Minoso got his first big-league hit on May 4, 1949. He got his final big-league hit on September 12, 1976.
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.