Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side.

“For me, the hitting part comes so much more natural,” said Mendoza. “My eyes will tell me if a guy’s bat speed is slower or faster, or if he’s hitting the breaking ball better. I still do research for that, but pitching is where I absolutely have to go to the data. Watching Ventura, I wondered ‘Is that his slider?’ so I researched it. He throws one that is more back-foot to a lefty and one that has more straight-down depth to it.

“We can have that on the broadcast. I especially want to hone in on the grip and the slot. We can split-screen it and say, ‘Hey, look; this is in one game and he’s throwing one pitch from either here or here.’ We can show the different slots.”

If you’re like most FanGraphs readers, you’re probably nodding your head and thinking, ‘I want that.” Conversely, if you belong to the casual-fan segment of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball’s audience, you might be more prone to nod off. Mendoza believes visuals are the key.

“This is where my producer helps me a lot,” said Mendoza. “I get really, really nerdy and want to dive into a lot of numbers. If I start throwing out vertical and horizontal movements, a lot of people won’t be into that. But we can be more visual. If we can go to the split screen and show the audience where he’s releasing the pitches from — how dramatic that is — and where they’re ending up… that’s really good.”

———

Stubby Clapp had a short big-league career. The 5-foot-8 second baseman had 26 plate appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001. The rest of his time in pro ball — he played 11 years — was spent in the minors, including two final seasons in the independent Northern League.

He mellowed as he aged, but the chip never completely left his shoulder.

“I played hard and aggressive,” explained Clapp, who now coaches in the Blue Jays organization. “I played to kill. I wouldn’t talk to anybody on the bases; I wouldn’t talk to the catcher. That started to change after I played with Eduardo Perez, in Triple-A. Eduardo was always smiling and laughing — he was having fun — and I decided I needed to do that too. Enjoying the game took a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

The new attitude helped springboard Clapp to St. Louis, but it didn’t get him much playing time once he got there. Called up in mid-June, he became well-acquainted with the term “riding the pine.” As a result, some of the edginess returned.

“I didn’t know how to come off the bench,” explained Clapp. “I’d been playing every day for my whole career, and while I obviously loved being there — I enjoyed the paychecks every two weeks — I forgot how to ask questions and learn new things. I also forgot to look in the mirror. That was my demise.”

Clapp was 29 when he returned to Triple-A in 2002. A few years later he was concluding his career with the Edmonton Cracker Cats.

———

A lot of Pirates fans were perplexed when the club traded Francisco Liriano and a pair of prospects to the Blue Jays for Drew Hutchison. Parting with the erratic and well-compensated left-hander wasn’t the issue. That made sense. Giving up the promising youngsters — Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez — was downright curious.

It will be especially interesting to see if McGuire lives up to his potential. The 21-year-old catcher is regarded as a top-flight defender, but he’s done little to impress in the batter’s box. In 1,393 professional plate appearances — 340 of them this year in Double-A — he’s slashed a punch-and-Judy .268/.324/.331, with four home runs

The 2013 first-round pick is unfazed by the questioning of his offensive potential. If he’s feeling pressure to perform better with the bat, he’s not letting on.

“I’m just trying to find something that feels good, to where when I step into the box and have all the confidence in the world,” said McGuire, who is now playing with Toronto’s New Hampshire affiliate. “But I don’t necessarily need to hit better to play in the big leagues. I feel I have a big-league glove and can manage games and call pitches. Not that I’m satisfied. Being a competitor, I want to be able to contribute with the bat. I think I can do that.”

What does Fisher Cats hitting coach Stubby Clapp see in the young backstop?

“I see something,’ said Clapp. “From a short glimpse, his timing is decent and he has an idea of what he wants to do. He’s ready to hit — he puts the ball in play — and once he gets more comfortable at the plate, I think we’ll see him drive the ball more.

“He’s young and power develops as you get older. He just needs to develop some bat speed and better understand what he’s doing at the plate. He’s already hit a couple of doubles. As far as the ball leaving the park, we won’t know that until he starts to mature a little more.”

———

Zack Littell is beginning to receive more attention. The 20-year-old Seattle Mariners pitching prospect deserves it. Since being promoted from low-A Clinton, he has a record of 7-1 and a 1.86 ERA for Bakersfield in the hitter-friendly California League.

The attention the 2013 11th-round pick is getting isn’t just coming from fans and the media.

“I’m getting calls from different agents,” said Littell. “CAA (Creative Artists Agency) has contacted me. All Bases Covered has contacted me. A few others have called as well. They’re reaching me at the hotel on the road, or they got my number somewhere. In the past, that hadn’t been the case.”

It isn’t uncommon for players to change agencies. Littell may eventually go down that road, but for now he seems happy with where he’s at.

“My agent has been awesome,” said Littell. “He’s helped me so much, ever since the draft. I’m definitely happy with him. You never want to burn any bridges, nor do you want to close any doors. All of the people who have contacted me have been incredibly respectful of that.”

Littell is represented by Joe Kohm of the Diakon Baseball Group.

———

Prior to getting called up a month ago, Royals left-hander Matt Strahm had only been to two big-league ballparks. One was Kaufman Stadium, when the West Fargo, North Dakota native was attending Neosho County (Kansas) Community College. The other was the Metrodome, where he rooted for his boyhood favorites, the Minnesota Twins.

Coming to Fenway Park on Friday was a thrill. Strahm arrived early and walked around with teammates Brian Flynn and Peter Moylan, taking it all in.

“This place is a piece of baseball history,” Strahm told me prior to Friday’s game. “I haven’t been inside the Green Monster yet — I hope to over the weekend — but I did go out to the red seat (in the right field bleachers). That’s an absolute bomb. This place is unbelievable.”

———

The Twins sent Jose Berrios to Triple-A Rochester a few days ago. The 22-year-old right-hander had been struggling with his command, walking nine over his previous two starts. In nine appearances — his first in a big-league uniform — Berrios allowed 50 hits and 23 walks in 37 innings.

In the opinion of a teammate with a 3.54 ERA and 132 career wins, the rookie has a bright future.

“He has a lot of good stuff,” said Ervin Santana. “I think it’s better than mine. He’s going to be an ace in this organization.”

———

Earlier this season I asked a handful of hitters about pitchers whose fastballs are better than their radar readings suggest. One of the responses came from Jason Kipnis.

“A guy whose fastball plays up is Phil Hughes,” said the Indians second baseman. “He’s in that mix of guys who have a sneaky fastball and will pitch at the top of the zone a little bit. It’s hard to get the bat all the way around on him even though it’s only showing 90-92 on the gun. You wonder why guys are fouling pitches off instead of hitting them.

Max Scherzer is another. He throws 96-97, but it’s still a sneaky fastball. You see it really well, but you can never quite get the barrel to it. It has that good late life that pushes past your barrel, even when you think you’re about to square it up.”

———

Mauricio Dubon had five hits for Double-A Portland on Friday, which was the culmination of a 14-for-22 stretch for the 22-year-old Red Sox shortstop prospect. He’s slashing .328/.385/.467 on the season, which is especially notable given that he’s been known more for his glove than for his bat

A native of Honduras who moved to California as a teenager, Dubon lasted until the 26th round of the 2013 draft. Expectations weren’t exactly sky high. Not that he lacked confidence.

“I’m not surprised by how far I’ve come — I’ve never doubted my ability — but I am surprised by one thing,” admitted Dubon. “In spring training, I got to play in a few games. I got to share the field with big-leaguers like David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts. I wasn’t expecting that.”

The outgoing young infielder wasn’t shy about picking the brains of the veterans. He was particularly interested in advice from Bogaerts, with whom he’s become close. The two remain in communication — “Bogie is like a big brother to me” — mostly via text. Their messaging often ends with each of them telling the other, “Get three hits today.”

Both are good listeners. Bogaerts has had three-or-more hits 18 times this season. Dubon has had three-or-more hits 13 times.

———

Looking through my reporter’s notebook, I came across a haphazardly-scrawled quote on an otherwise blank page. I can’t say for sure who spoke the words — it may have been AJ Hinch — but regardless of who is was, they were wise:

“Sometimes the threat of a pitch is more effective than the pitch itself.”

It makes sense. If a pitcher can effectively show his curveball — even an average-at-best curveball — the hitter is more susceptible to a fastball in what is typically more of a curveball count. Even if the curveball stays in the back pocket.

———

Chip Hale knows his limitations. On back-to-back days in a recent series at Fenway Park, the Arizona manager declined to answer a pitching-specific question from a Diamondbacks beat writer. He wasn’t dismissive; he simply said he wasn’t “a pitching guy” and it would be better answered by pitching coach Mike Butcher.

I asked Hale about his deferential approach to questions of that ilk.

“When we hired a pitching coach, we wanted somebody who could handle that side of it,” responded Hale. “I decide on when the pitcher goes into the game and when he comes out of the game — those things — but the mechanical stuff of pitching, that’s definitely not my expertise.

“The managers I’ve been around… that’s the way I learned it. You communicate constantly with your pitching coach on pitching and your hitting coach on the different parts of hitting. I do have my own ideas on the hitting side. But on the pitching side, those guys know pitching better than I do.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon — with the help of StatCast data — broke down the highlight-reel catch Billy Hamilton made on Tuesday.

At Excelle Sports, Andrew Kahn has an interview with former Dodgers and Yankees assistant GM, and current MLB senior vice president, Kim Ng.

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press talked to Billy Bean, who is still spreading his message of inclusion.

Over the Washington Post, Kent Babb and Jorge Castillo collaborated on a story about how minor leaguers pursue their dreams below the poverty line.

Writing for Vice Sports, Sung Min Kim delved into the difficulties American players encounter in the Korean Baseball League.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Per the Atlanta Braves press notes: Since his debut in 2006, Nick Markakis ranks third among all MLB players with 149 games of three-plus hits. Miguel Cabrera has 169, Adrian Gonzalez 159.

Per the Colorado Rockies press notes: For the first time in club history, the Rockies had starting pitchers record double-digit strikeouts in consecutive games. Jon Gray had 10 on Tuesday. Tyler Anderson had 10 on Wednesday.

Last night, Ryan Howard played in his 1,552nd game, moving him into seventh place on the Phillies all-time list. Chase Utley appeared in 1,551 games in a Philadelphia uniform.

In 1901, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Bill “Wagon Tongue” Keister led the American League in both triples (21) and errors (97).

On August 24, 1919, Indians pitcher Ray Caldwell was hit by lightning and knocked unconscious with two outs in the ninth inning of a game at Cleveland’s League Park. Caldwell recovered a few minutes later and recorded the last out of the game in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Athletics.





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.

newest oldest most voted
JaysSaskatchewan
Member
JaysSaskatchewan

Reese Mcguire has faced LHP in roughly 25% of his at bats and has an OPS about .200 points lower vs LHP. Is it fair to ignore his results vs LHP when evaluating his offensive performance, since he is unlikely to face much LHP in the majors?

jdbolick
Member

It is worth noting, yet he is likely to face LHP in the majors because catcher is one position where it’s rare to have a straight platoon. Your catcher is usually determined by which of your pitchers is on the mound, not the opposing pitcher.

JaysSaskatchewan
Member
JaysSaskatchewan

I would have thought the opposite actually. I don’t remember seeing a lot of personal catchers (excluding knuckleballers). For example, catchers usually rest for a day game following a night game, iregardless of who is pitching for their team.

jdbolick
Member

It’s pretty common. It allows pitchers to develop a rapport with the catcher and establishes a regular schedule of rest.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip

The Dodgers were doing a kind of platoon, where they generally gave Grandal his days off against left-handed pitchers.

JaysSaskatchewan
Member
JaysSaskatchewan

Generally, jdbolick is correct though. Left-hand hitting catchers face a lot of LHP. I wonder if part of it is having one catcher defined as the starter and the other defined as backup. Jason Castro is a comp for a left hand hitting catcher with large platoon splits. He still faces a tonne of LHP though. Is that proper usage?

jdbolick
Member

That had more to do with Ellis being hopeless against RHPs, as each of the last two seasons, Grandal has had a higher wRC+ against LHPs than RHPs.