Sunday Notes: HoF Balloting, Managers, Pitchers Hitting, Spud, more by David Laurila January 1, 2017 I was one of the large majority of BBWAA members who voted for transparency in Hall of Fame balloting. On the off chance you missed the news, all ballots must be made public beginning next year. I’m fully behind this decision, albeit with one concern. More and more writers are making their ballots public well in advance of the January announcement, and they are being scrutinized ad infinitum on social media. While mostly a good thing, this could unduly influence a small yet meaningful percentage of voters. Say you’re on the fence between two players for your tenth checkmark. You’re leaning one way, but your peers — not to mention the online community — are bullish in the other direction. Following the herd is a safer option than following your heart (and mind). No one likes to be lambasted for being a black sheep in the BBWAA brethren. We’re already seeing this with increased support for the “steroid guys.” In many cases, these are hold-your-nose, when-in-Rome votes. That’s not to say Barry Bonds doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, but if you truly believe a black mark should mean no check mark, would integrity not demand you stick to your guns? (Meanwhile, the idea of it now being OK to vote for PED users because Bud Selig supposedly condoned such behavior seems a bit absurd. The commissioner isn’t the official determiner of right and wrong in regard to the character clause. At least he shouldn’t be.) I say this reluctantly — I’m a huge fan of Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker — but I wonder if it might be a good idea to not allow ballots to be made public prior to the official announcement. Voters will still have plenty to read and digest, they simply won’t be as susceptible to the herd mentality. ——— On a related note — this is a positive — unanimous first-year enshrinements are inevitable. It is hard to imagine even the curmudgeons withholding support for no-brainer Hall of Famers when they first become eligible, simply because Willie Mays wasn’t unanimous. This has always been an absurdity, and not allowing voters to hide behind a cloak of anonymity should essentially erase the practice. ——— Pete Mackanin is pragmatic. When it comes to pulling strings, the Phillies skipper doesn’t believe in trying to fit square pegs into round holes. “Over the years, people have asked me, ‘What kind of manager are you?’ and my reply has always been that I manage the people I have,” Mackanin said at the winter meetings.” If I have power, the Earl Weaver wait for a three-run homer. If I have speed, Whitey Herzog with St. Louis where everybody could run like crazy. Handle the team the way it was best suited.” That philosophy extends to the pitching side. Mackanin admired the way Terry Francona used his relievers in the postseason, but copycatting that approach requires a stable of able arms. “The deeper you are in the bullpen, the easier it is,” explained Mackanin. “I remember back in ’90 when the Cincinnati Reds had Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers — all three legit closers — so it was pick your poison. It’s easy to do when you’ve got the talent.” ——— The Orioles stole just 19 bases in 2016, by far the fewest in either league. According to their manager, the lack of a running game wasn’t by design so much as it was a preponderance of tortoises and a lack of hares. “You’ve got to understand who you are, and I understood who we weren’t,” said Showalter. “We’ve tried pushing it a little bit, trying to make it happen, and it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t in our skill set.” Showalter went on to say that GM Dan Duquette has “talked a lot about” the issue, but he clearly hasn’t done much about it. With few exceptions, the O’s are slow. ——— It didn’t come as a complete shock when Travis Wood homered off of San Francisco’s George Kontos in Game Two of the NLDS. The Cubs southpaw has gone deep nine times in 280 regular-season at bats over his career. He’s considered one of baseball’s best hitting pitchers. Wood approaches his plate appearances with a purpose. “You’re still a baseball player,” Wood told me in October. “You’re not going up there to make an out. I try to have a plan, and there are times I’ll make adjustments. Different pitchers are different. This pitcher likes to throw fastballs, this pitcher will throw the kitchen sink at you.” Unlike some pitchers, Wood isn’t fed a steady diet of heaters due to offensive ineptitude. Because he can square up the horsehide, he’s respected by opposing hurlers. “I think I have been (pitched to more carefully), especially when I was starting,” said Wood. “I felt like they didn’t challenge me as much, because I had a reputation for being able to hit. I think that’s the case with any pitcher — if you show you can handle the bat, they’re going to start thinking of you more as a hitter, and not as a pitcher.” ——— Clay Buchholz will have to swing the bat now he’ll be doing his pitching for the Phillies. It will be a challenge for the former Red Sox righty, as he’s spent his entire career in the American League. He has just 15 professional plate appearances. He doesn’t project to be a a lost cause. Buchholz is highly athletic, and he saw time as a shortstop and an outfielder in high school and junior college. Swinging from the left side, he more than held his own against amateur hurlers. Since getting paid to play, he has a pair of hits, a free pass, and a sacrifice. When I asked Buchholz about it this summer, he said he doesn’t earn his money with the bat, so he doesn’t worry about it too much. Given how rare his PAs have been, he’s mostly gone to the plate and looked for a fastball he has a chance to handle. That doesn’t mean he expects to be overmatched. “As a pitcher, sometimes you can give a hitter too much credit,” mused Buchholz. “But you can give a pitcher too much credit, too. If he makes a mistake, I can still hit a baseball.” ——— During the winter meetings, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was asked about Carlos Beltran, who had just inked a one-year contract with the Astros. In 2004, the two were together in Houston — Ausmus the veteran catcher, Beltran the athletic 27-year-old centerfielder. “He was possibly the most talented player I ever played with, just in terms of speed, power, arm strength,” opined Ausmus. “He was a five-tool guy.” That has, of course, changed. Beltran turns 40 in April and is no longer a spring chicken. But he can still hit, which is what the Astros are banking on. As for what he once was, his former teammate’s words were high praise. Ausmus played 18 big-league seasons. ——— Spud Chandler — born Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler — went 109-43 for the Yankees from 1937-1947. His .717 winning percentage is tops among pitchers with at least 100 wins (post 1900), and his 132 ERA+ is tied for 30th-best all-time. Chandler’s best year was 1943, when he was named AL MVP after going 20-4 with a league-best 1.64 ERA. He then had a pair of complete-game wins in the World Series, including a shutout in the Game 5 clincher against the Cardinals. Chandler subsequently missed most of the 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the Army. ——— The 2016 incarnation of the Angels shifted a lot more than they had in previous seasons. I asked manager Mike Scioscia about that during the winter meetings — more specifically, how satisfied was he with the results, and does he foresee any tweaks. His answer focused on implementation vis-a-vis familiarity. “There’s twofold to that,” said Scioscia. “The data we get that suggests shifting, we have the utmost confidence in. What we’re wrestling with now, in the last three, four years, is really the whole application of that — cutting off relays, how do we turn a double play, maybe tweaking some of the sets according to the situation. “I have 100 percent confidence in the data we get and the suggestion of shifting. Now we’re trying to get players comfortable with, really, playing out of position from where they’ve played for their whole lives. Very rarely did you see a second baseman 30 feet on the outfield grass ten years ago. Very rarely did you try to turn a double play with one guy on the left side of the infield who has the responsibility of covering halfway between short and third, but also the responsibility of getting to the bag on a double play. “We’ve done it for the last four years throughout our minor league system, so there’s less… I think it’s less culture shock when a young player comes to the major leagues. He’s familiar with the neighborhood of where we’re playing on shifts and what the responsibilities are. “The biggest thing, starting probably six, seven years ago, when we started to look at more shifting and it was thrown onto the desks of managers and coaches, was have the task of figuring out, ‘OK, when the ball is hit, how are we covering bases, how are we setting up cutoff of relays?’ It’s great to sit down and put it on paper, but to get players used to this, that takes some work. It’s an ongoing process.” ——— Earlier this month, we ran an interview with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the duo now in charge of running the Twins. Levine, who is the team’s new general manager, came to Minnesota from Texas, where he had been an assistant GM. I recently asked Rangers manager Jeff Banister for his thoughts on Falvey. “It was fresh to come into that atmosphere,” said Banister, who coached in Pittsburgh before joining the Rangers in 2015. “First, he brought tremendous levity to our front office. He helped me with the culture and chemistry of our team. “He’s a guy who continues to look at both sides — the analytic side, but also the human side of this game. He’s a well-balanced evaluator. It’s tough to lose a guy like that to another organization. I’m proud to have worked with him.” ——— Terry Collins has pondered mortality. Asked about his future during the winter meetings, the sexagenarian skipper delved into a subject far more somber than managerial tenure. “All of us standing here today, who knows if we’re going to be here next year?,” the Mets manager told reporters. “You don’t. At the end of the year, you sit down and analyze how you are — how you feel — especially when you are 67 years old. I (recently) had two friends pass away who I went to high school with. All of the sudden you’re looking in the mirror saying, ‘Holy cow.’” ——— Harry Caray’s first broadcast partner was Gabby Street. The two called games for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1945-1950. Decades earlier, Street was Walter Johnson’s primary catcher with the Washington Senators. In 1908, Street famously caught a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. ——— LINKS YOU’LL LIKE When it comes to the Hall of Fame, few opinions are more respected than those of Jay Jaffe. The creator of JAWS broke down his virtual ballot at Sports Illustrated. Did Curt Schilling tweet his way out of Cooperstown? ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick explored the question. At Press Box Online, Rich Dubroff opined that it’s a question of when, not if, Mike Mussina gets into the Hall of Fame. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times wrote about Thyago Vieira: The 103-mph throwing Mariners relief prospect who learned how to locate. At SABR’s Baseball Card Blog, Mark Armour explored the mystery of why “Houston,” and not “Astros,” was printed on Topps cards in 1968 and 1969. RANDOM FACTS AND STATS Hank Aaron went 17 for 88 as a pinch hitter, while Barry Bonds went 15 for 77, and Babe Ruth went 13 for 71. Fred Heimach, who pitched for four teams from 1920-1933, went 20 for 55 as a pinch hitter (per Retrosheet). Per MLB.com’s Daren Willman, Gary Sanchez called an off-speed pitch on 48% of first pitches in 2016, the highest percentage of any non-knuckleball catcher. Also, Sanchez saw the second most first pitch off-speed pitches as a hitter, 47% (Sean Rodriguez had the most, 48%). Cy Young walked 1,217 batters in 7,356 innings. Matt Young walked 565 batters in 1,189 innings. In 1928, Taylor Douthit of the St. Louis Cardinals had 547 putouts, the most ever by an outfielder in one season. Philadelphia’s Richie Ashburn has the second-most, 538 in 1951. The Phillies Hall of Famer has six of the top 10 seasons for putouts by an outfielder in a season. The New York Mets lost at least 109 games in each of their first four seasons. Past-their-prime players to suit up for the Mets from 1962-1965 include Richie Ashburn, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Jimmy Piersall, Duke Snider, and Warren Spahn. Charlie Brown, Cupid Childs, Nig Cuppy, and Chief Sockalexis all played for the 1897 Cleveland Spiders.