Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch three times on Thursday, twice by David Price and once by Noe Ramirez. The Tampa Bay outfielder also had a pair of singles, reaching base a personal best five times as the Rays bested Boston 12-8.
The triple HBP feat tied a MLB record. It had happened 22 times previously, and Guyer was no stranger to the list. Last October, he hobbled to first base courtesy of three Mark Buehrle inside offerings. On the season, he was hit 24 times, the most of any American League player.
Following Thursday’s game, I asked the University of Virginia product about his proclivity to get plunked.
“There’s no art to it,” I promise,” responded Guyer. “It’s not something I’m out there looking to do, it just happens. I don’t know how to get out of the way. It’s just instinctual that I don’t move. I’m not afraid.”
Unlike many players, Guyer doesn’t don a suit of armor. Finding it uncomfortable, he eschews padded protection. Sometimes he pays the price. Boston’s left-handed ace was reportedly sore about Guyer’s refusal to get out of the way, and Guyer was sore himself. One of the pitches hit him in the elbow — “I’d rather get hit where there’s a lot of meat” — and another got him near his left kneecap. “That one actually made my leg go numb; it hit a nerve.”
Guyer wears his bruises with pride. They greatly contributed to last year’s .359 OBP, and this season he’s reached base at a .485 clip while being hit five times. Of course, his willingness to take one for the team has its limits. He’s not afraid, but he’s also not crazy. As Guyer put it, “I would think if it’s coming at my head, I’ll have the instincts to get out of the way.”
James Harris is off to a good start with the Stockton Ports. In 16 games with Oakland’s high-A affiliate, the 22-year-old outfielder is slashing .387/.420/.533. He’s swiped six bases.
If you’re a Tampa Bay Rays fan and the name rings a bell, yes, this is the same James Harris your favorite team drafted 60th overall in 2011 out of Oakland Technical High School. After three-plus seasons of spinning his wheels at the bottom rungs of the minors, he was released last spring.
“That was a humbling experience,” admitted Harris, who was subsequently picked up by the A’s. “I didn’t develop as fast as they wanted, and I ended up having to turn the page. I can’t make excuses. The Rays gave me a good opportunity, but at the end of the day it comes down to performance. I kind of hit a wall.”
So far this season, he’s hit a lot of baseballs. The biggest reason for his turnaround?
“Maturity,” said Harris. “I came in thinking I knew a lot. I talked a lot. I was young. Now I’m better at listening. I’ve grown up and learned that nothing is going to be given to you; everything has to be earned.”
One of the people he’s been listening to is Rickey Henderson, who is serving as a roving instructor for the A’s and is in Stockton this weekend. Like Harris, Henderson attended Oakland Technical. So did Curt Flood and Frank Robinson. Not surprisingly, he views them as role models.
“I know where they come from and the impact they had on the game,” said Harris. “Oakland was very strong for producing baseball players, but it’s fallen off quite a bit. I’d like to be a part of rebuilding that environment and get more kids interested in baseball. One of my goals is to get to the big leagues with Oakland and reach out in the inner city.”
Harris was introduced to the game shortly before his sixth birthday — “I was more interested in basketball, but my mother convinced me to try baseball” —and he now plays in honor of his first coach, and his grandfather, each of whom is now deceased.
Thanks to a healthy dose of humility, Harris’s career is once again alive and well.
A quick follow up on last Sunday’s piece on Darwin Barney.
When I asked him about his career path, Barney told me the hardest thing was getting traded from the Cubs to the Dodgers (in July 2014). He was ‘leaving a bunch of friends who all had the same goal in mind, to win a championship in Chicago.” He recovered quickly — “you have to look forward” — and learned from the experience.
“You get better at acclimating yourself once it happens for the first time,” said Barney. “You’ve now seen what baseball can bring. It can change so fast.”
Another notable changed had occurred a few years earlier. Barney was a shortstop in the minors, and a very good good one. Being moved to second base was an early lesson in adaptability.
“I’d spent my whole life at shortstop,” said Barney. “It was my love. Moving to second base…. it took a little time to get used to, but I got comfortable over there. Obviously, you’re going to be happy with any job you get in the big leagues.”
Jeremy Sowers is back in baseball. The 32-year-old former Indians left-hander is working as a major league operations assistant for the Tampa Bay Rays. One of his primary responsibilities is instant replay. It’s a straightforward process.
“I’m manning the replay station from inside the clubhouse and we get the broadcasts home and away,” explained Sowers. “Through a couple of computer buttons I can pause the game and go back and forth, frame by frame. We have twelve camera angles. It’s up to me, in a really small sliver of time — maybe about a 30-second window — to figure out if there’s a chance to get the call overturned. Basically, they pick up the phone in the dugout and ask me, ‘What have you got? Challenge or no challenge?’”
Yesterday’s radar gun readings in Pawtucket had Mark Appel’s fastball topping out at 92 and sitting a few ticks lower. Truth be told, he was probably throwing harder than that. It was suggested to me that the McCoy Stadium gun “can be a little funky” and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Regardless of his true velocity, Appel was effective. The 24-year-old Phillies prospect allowed five hits and a pair of runs in five innings. He walked one and fanned three. In the words of PawSox manager Kevin Boles, he did so with “a steady diet of off-speed.”
Asked about his heavy slider usage, Appel pointed to scouting reports. He told me that Pawtucket hitters hunt fastballs early, so he wanted to keep them off-balance and guessing. As for his fastball, he wouldn’t venture a guess at its velocity. He did say it felt like it was coming out pretty good.
“One pitch was the difference between a scoreless outing and a two-run outing, so at the end of the day I’m pretty pleased,” assessed Appel. “I didn’t give up too many hard hit balls.”
In the fourth inning, Justin Maxwell pulled a towering home run over the left field wall. It was on a first-pitch changeup that Maxwell “did a great job of keeping fair.”
Right-on-right changeups are nothing new for Appel — “I’ve been throwing them since college” — but his grip has evolved somewhat.
“I initially learned a fosh that took me a coupe of years to figure out,” explained Appel. “I’ve kind of modified the grip. The best way to describe it is a split circle change. I circle my pointer finger and my thumb and then I split the ball between my pointer finger and my third finger.”
Boles had never seen Appel pitch prior to Saturday afternoon. This was his post-game take:
“I like Appel. He’s got pitchability. It’s a little bit different delivery; he’s got a lot of moving parts. But it looks like he has command of the zone. He threw strikes. He’s aggressive. He utilized that mix. And his stretch times were good. He’s a guy that’s going to hold the running game together. He does a lot of things well.”
We’ve discussed changeups fairly frequently here at FanGraphs. Eno Sarris recently wrote about the increased popularity of right-on-right changeups. A few days ago we ran an interview I did with Marco Estrada, who has one of the best in the game.
Late in spring training, I asked Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy for his thoughts on the pitch.
“Typically, you want a changeup to be between 10-12 mph different from the fastball,” Lucroy told me. “The bigger the difference, the more effective it’s usually going to be. That said, a lot depends on the pitcher’s arm speed. I like a big differential, but big-league hitters can see the difference if a pitcher doesn’t keep his arm speed up.
“A guy like Marco Estrada, or Chase Anderson… Kyle Lohse has a good changeup. Shaun Marcum. The guys who have the best changeups throw it and it looks just like a fastball. It creates deception. It’s not the slowness of the pitch that makes the difference so much as the arm speed.”
How should a hitter attack a pitcher who possesses a good changeup? Here is how Boston’s Travis Shaw, who was facing him for the second time in a week, approached Marco Estrada last Saturday.
“I pretty much sat soft the entire day,” said Shaw. “He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, and he doesn’t throw it a ton, especially to lefties. His fastball gets on you — it kind of jumps out of his hand — because he elevates it and everything else is so slow, but he used it more for show today, at least to me.
“The last time I saw him, he threw me a lot of changeups and I was able to lay off a lot of them. Today, his first pitch to me was a changeup that just happened to be in the zone. On my second hit, I had two strikes and it was actually a breaking ball. I slapped it the other way, because the left side was wide open. Basically, I continued to sit soft.”
According to Pedro, Manny Ramirez once came up to his locker and put on his socks and underwear. He then went over to David Ortiz’s locker and put on his undershirt. Ramirez’s reason? He told Pedro that he had three little midgets in his head and they needed different clothes to wear.
“That’s the way Manny would pass his time,” wrote Pedro. “That’s how he clipped his flowers.”
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Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated offered some thoughts on possible MLB expansion cities.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
At .302, Jose Iglesias has the highest batting average among shortstops since the beginning of the 2013 season (minimum 850 plate appearances).
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has five hits in 55 career at bats at Comerica Park.
Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Jacoby Ellsbury’s daring feat earlier this week was the first straight steal of home against the Rays in 2,930 games.
On July 9, 1971, the Oakland A’s defeated the California Angels 1-0 in 20 innings. Four Oakland pitchers combined to strike out 26 batters (Vida Blue had 17). California’s Billy Cowen and Tony Conigliaro combined to go 0 for 16, with 11 strikeouts.
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.