Andrew Heaney was pitching in the Arizona Fall League when I first talked to him. A member of the Marlins organization at the time, he was 17 months removed from being drafted ninth overall out of Oklahoma State. This was in 2012, and Heaney had a clean delivery and a bright future.
He still has a bright future, although it’s now with the Angels. Anaheim acquired the 24-year-old southpaw from Miami, via the Dodgers, last winter. As for his delivery, it’s back after a brief hiatus.
“I went through a little funk last year,” Heaney told me earlier this month. “It’s hard to say exactly when it happened, but I developed some mechanical issues. It was also gradual, so I didn’t even feel it. I wasn’t pitching as well as I could, and I wasn’t sure why.”
Film from his time in the Fall League provided the answer.
“I was throwing across my body,” explained Heaney. “We picked that up in spring training by pulling up some old video. Because it had happened so gradually, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. The video showed I wasn’t as direct to the plate as I was before, and the difference was pretty significant.”
Everything else is pretty much the same. Heaney still throws a four-seam fastball – “No twos” – and a two-seam changeup. His breaking pitch is “maybe a slurve, kind of a soft slider.” He dabbled with a cutter in Triple-A, but “it wasn’t really a great pitch for me; what I’m throwing is more comfortable.”
The numbers suggest he’s feeling pretty good. Heaney has won five of seven decisions and has a 3.11 ERA in a dozen starts for the Halos. Bouncing back from his worst outing of the season, he hurled six shutout innings on Friday.
With his team fighting for a wild card berth, Heaney will be counted on to deliver more strong performances. The expectations are welcome. Given his druthers, he’d much rather be on the mound when it counts.
“I want to be one of those guys who can make the big pitch when he has to,” said Heaney. “I want to thrive in pressure situations. I want to be pitching in a pennant race, 100%.”
Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan told me the following in late June:
“If you talk to any hitter, whether he’s a righty or a lefty, he likes to face same-sided pitchers every once in awhile. It keeps you honest and allows you to lock back in. Facing lefties helps (a left-handed hitter) stay short and simple, and not be so aggressive, which you’re more likely to be against righties.”
A few weeks ago, Red Sox rookie Travis Shaw told me something similar. That had me wondering: Was Coghlan correct?
I decided to explore the subject, and based on my small sample, there’s a good chance that he was. I asked five left-handed batters if facing left-handed pitchers impacts their at bats against righties, and four of them said that it does.
Michael Brantley told me that it gets him “back on the ball” and helps him “stay within my swing more and go the other way better.” Lonnie Chisenhall said “there are certain things you can’t get away with against a lefty that you can with a righty – the margin for error is smaller – so I focus more on being ready on time and taking a shorter swing.”
Jason Kipnis said much the same as his Cleveland teammates, as did Boston’s Jackie Bradley, Jr. The outlier in my five-player sample? Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas told me he has “the same swing and approach against both righties and lefties, so it doesn’t affect me; nothing really changes.”
Orioles rookie reliever Mychal Givens is a converted infielder. The 25-year-old former second-round pick moved to the mound in 2013, and the transition has been a rousing success. Givens put up a 1.73 ERA in 35 games at Double-A Bowie this summer, and he’s been even better since reaching Baltimore. In 15-and-a-third innings, he’s fanned 18 and allowed just two earned runs.
Givens delivers pitches from the same “three-quarters sidearm slot” he used when winging balls across the infield. According to the righty, he threw from the identical angle as a high school hurler in Tampa. He wasn’t about change when the Orioles opted to have him try his hand at pitching.
“Changing your arm slot from what it naturally is takes a beating on your muscles,” Givens told me earlier this summer. “That’s because your muscles are used to the way you throw. The Orioles took trust in my arm slot and athletic ability, and simply pointed me in the right direction.”
Hitters know where the ball is coming from when he uncoils, but that doesn’t mean they see it well. Givens is deceptive – “I’ve been told that I hide the ball pretty well, especially to righties, and that I have heavy sink” – and the results are bearing that out. Two-plus seasons after flaming out as a hitter, Givens is throwing mid-90s heat from a big-league mound.
Two things stood out when I attended the press conference introducing Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations in Boston.
First and foremost, the former Tigers GM will be calling the shots. The general manager he hires to replace the departed Ben Cherington will be more than a “yes man,” but he’ll still play second fiddle. Dombrowski made that clear when he said, “It’s important to know… that the final decisions when it comes to trades, or the personnel aspects, will need to fall into my hands.”
Dombrowski’s claim that he’s “not here to blow up the operation” is every bit as meaningful. Red Sox ownership wasn’t about to bring in a decision-maker who is averse to analytics, and they didn’t. Despite the assumptions of pundits, no sea change in philosophy looms on the horizon.
“In today’s world, you’re basically termed analytical or not analytical,” said Dombrowski. “I don’t really agree with that at all. The reality is, you use all the information you possibly can to come to the best decision that you can. We didn’t have as big of an analytical department (in Detroit) as some other organizations, but I did have people in the office who would give you any analytics you wanted. I asked for a lot of information. If there’s some edge we can get from a statistical perspective, we should use it.”
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dombrowski will undoubtedly move pieces around – it’s his prerogative – but in the grander scheme, the perception of how much the Red Sox philosophy will change is likely much greater than the change itself.
A few thoughts on managers:
Would Jim Leyland be interested in managing the Red Sox, and would Dombrowski consider hiring him? There’s also the question of whether Dombrowski and Company would be willing to weather the backlash of jettisoning John Farrell as he undergoes treatment for lymphoma. It might be the hardest decision Dombrowski has to make.
Meanwhile, is it set in stone that Mike Scioscia’s job is safe? It’s easy to assume it is, given that ownership took his side in the foofaraw with Jerry DiPoto. But maybe it’s not. What if the Angels fail to make the postseason and end up with a losing record? Falling short of expectations can be fatal for managers, even ones with long track records.
Rumors have Indians president Mark Shapiro making a lateral move to Toronto, where he would replace the retiring Paul Beeston. General manager Chris Antonetti would step into Shapiro’s spot, and assistant GM Mike Chernoff into Antonetti’s.
Regardless of whether this happens, Chernoff is a hot commodity. Teams have reportedly been kicking the tires on the cerebral second-in-command, and it’s only a matter of time until he’s running a club.
Given a choice, would Chernoff choose Cleveland over a team he views as more committed to win, and with the financial wherewithal to do so on a consistent basis? Stay tuned.
Earlier this week, rumors began circulating that Barry Larkin could replace Bryan Price as manager of the woebegone Cincinnati Reds. It’s an interesting idea, and one that would be well-received by the fan base. Larkin has never managed, but he’s charismatic and one of the best players in recent team history. Unlike Price, who has one year left on his contract, the Hall of Famer would help sell tickets.
Frankly, that might be the best he could do, at least in the short term. Thanks to inept decision-making by the front office, the once-proud franchise is 22 games under .500 and taking on water faster than the Titanic. The Reds don’t need a new manager so much as they need a new general manager. I’m not privy to what ownership is thinking, but Walt Jocketty has to be on thin ice. The team is going backwards and much of the onus is on him.
The announcement that Vin Scully plans to return for his 67th (!) season next year was welcome news, not only for fans in Los Angeles, but for everyone who enjoys baseball on the radio. Scully is a national treasure.
On the other side of the country, the talented and popular Don Orsillo won’t be returning as the television voice of the Red Sox. The controversial decision (and bungled announcement) by his employer does have a silver liming. Dave O’Brien will reportedly move over from the radio booth as Orsillo’s replacement. He’s one of the best in the business.
Who will take O’Brien’s place alongside Joe Castiglione on the radio? My suggestion would be Dan Hoard, who is going into his fifth year of doing play-by-play for football’s Cincinnati Bengals, Hoard was the voice of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox from 2006-2011, and in the opinion of many was the best minor-league broadcaster in the country. I’m not aware of Hoard’s contract status in Cincinnati, but he did once tell me his dream job is calling baseball in the big leagues.
Backup sliders were a subject of last Sunday’s column, with baseball physicist Alan Nathan among those weighing in on the accidental-yet-effective pitch. When I talked to Nathan at Saber Seminar, he also shed some light on the curveball.
According to Nathan, sliders have a mixture of bullet spin, which doesn’t contribute to movement, and side spin, which does. Conversely, useful spin is pretty much the same as the total spin for fastballs.
“When I did this analysis, I was surprised to learn that curveballs sort of fall into a median between (fastballs and sliders),” Nathan told me. “Not all curveball spin is useful spin. I think that’s a little-known fact, and it could lead to some useful diagnostics for pitchers. Ideally, you would help them improve their deliveries to reduce the amount of bullet spin in favor of more topspin, which is what you want.”
If I had an American League MVP vote, and had to fill out my ballot today, Josh Donaldson would be my pick. How do you argue with a .300/.369/.580 slash line, 35 home runs, and Gold Glove defense? As for the Blue Jays third baseman leading the league in RBI, feel free to hold that against him if you’d like. I’m not about to.
Unless it ends in a four-game sweep, this year’s World Series will stretch into November. Weather-wise, this won’t be an issue if the games are played in California, Texas or under a dome in Toronto. In many other locales, we’re likely looking at game-time temps in the 30s and players wearing balaclavas. (remember Detroit three years ago?)
Baseball is a summertime game and shouldn’t be played after the Halloween candy is passed out. Let’s hope MLB is smart enough to not replicate this mistake in future years.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Kansas City’s Kendrys Morales leads all players with 47 two-out RBIs.
The Mets (61) and Dodgers (63) and have attempted the fewest steals this season. The Mets have been successful 46 times, the Dodgers 35 times.
The Tigers (42) have had the most runners caught stealing this year. The have also grounded into the most double plays (121).
In April 1960, the Indians traded Norm Cash to the Tigers for Steve Demeter. Cash went on to win a batting title and hit 373 home runs over 15 seasons in Detroit. Demeter – the grandfather of Marlins infielder Derek Dietrich – went 0 for 5 as an Indian and had two hits in 23 career at bats.
Eight teams qualified for the post-season in the strike-shortened 1981 season. The Cincinnati Reds, who had the best overall record (66-42) in both leagues, weren’t one of them.
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.