Sunday Notes: Josh Winckowski Likes Quick Outs (and Frosted Flakes)

Josh Winckowski has been an invaluable piece in the Boston bullpen this season. Pitching in multiple relief roles — he’s entered games in the each of innings five through nine — the 24-year-old right-hander has a 1.57 ERA to go with a 2-0 record and one save. Acquired by the Red Sox from the New York Mets in February 2021 as part of a three-team, seven-player trade that featured Andrew Benintendi, Winckowski has tossed 23 frames over a baker’s-dozen outings.

He’d primarily been a starter prior to this season. All but six of Winckowski’s 90 minor-league appearances came as a starter, as did all but one of the 15 he made last year in his first taste of MLB action. That he’s thriving as a former 15th-round pick whose repertoire lacks power is also part of his story.

“I went through every level of the minor leagues and had to prove myself at all of them,” said Winckowski, whom the Toronto Blue Jays drafted out of Estero (FLA) High School in 2016 and subsequently swapped to the Mets in the January 2021 Steven Matz deal. “Somewhere in the middle there was a pitch-to-contact-and-miss-barrels.’ That’s the sweet spot for me. Quick outs — two or three pitches for outs — is definitely my game. It’s where I’m at my best.”

Winckowski does have the ability to strike batters out. While his K/9 is a modest 7.04 — last year it was just 5.6 — he fanned 9.2 batters per nine in Triple-A. Moreover, he’s not a soft-tosser. But while his sinker averages 95.1 mph, reaching back for more juice isn’t how his punch-outs come about.

“The way I miss bats is through location, execution, and tunneling,” explained Winckowski. “It’s not from trying to puff up, throw harder, and whatnot. That doesn’t do a lot of good for me. The cooler, the more calm and collected I am, the better the ball comes out. When I try to muscle up, it comes out worse.”

A better understanding of sequencing is playing a big role in the Toledo-born hurler’s success.

“Cutter glove-side, and then sinker glove-side, is a good tunneling combo that I started figuring out toward the end of the season,” explained Winckowski, whose repertoire comprises a starter-esque five offerings. “One thing I realized is that my pitches, isolated, weren’t performing like I needed them to. I don’t look at [pitch data] too much, but it pops up here and there and you can’t avoid it. I was bottom of the league in pretty much everything.” (Winchowski’s 2022 Savant breakdown can be found here.)

The righty has also found himself on the bottom of more than a few breakfast bowls. When I asked for any final thoughts, I got an answer better befitting a stereotypically-eccentric left-hander.

“I like cereal a lot,” Winckowski told me. “I go to cereal a decent bit. I like Frosted Flakes.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Alfonso Soriano went 10 for 15 against Lance Cormier.

Bill Pecota went 5 for 8 against Rheal Cormier.

Bobby Valentine went 5 for 7 against Chris Short.

Ralph Houk went 5 for 9 against Stubby Overmire.

Freddie Patek went 6 for 7 against Paul Thormodsgard.

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Xzavion Curry was described as a “prospect-on-the-rise” when he led Sunday Notes on September 12, 2021. Pitching at two A-ball levels, he’d gone 8-1 with a 2.30 ERA after beginning the season unranked in the Cleveland system. He’s now working out of the Guardians bullpen. Over seven outings comprising 19 innings, the 24-year-old right-hander has a 2.37 ERA and a 3.46 FIP.

I recently asked Curry, Cleveland’s seventh-round pick in 2019 out of Georgia Tech, what’s changed since we spoke two years ago.

“I would say I’m the same pitcher, I’m just better,” responded Curry, who made his first two MLB appearances last year. “I’m getting more experienced, especially at this level — the major league level — but I’m still the same pitcher who is attacking guys, trying to fill up the strike zone.”

Curry credits improved consistency with his delivery for “better pitch profiles,” including more power and depth to his curveball, which has jumped from 70-71 mph to 75-76 mph. As for his move from starter to reliever — at least for now — he’s mostly just happy to be in the big leagues.

“That’s my role with the team right now,” said Curry. “I’m a starter by nature, but I’m also a baseball player by nature. Whatever I can do to get on the field, whatever I can do to help the team, that’s what I would like to do. To experience this lifestyle every day, to come here with a great group of guys who have the same mindset of winning games, has been nothing short of a blessing. Being here is the most amazing thing ever.”

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A quiz:

“Toothpick” Sam Jones became the first African American pitcher to throw an MLB no-hitter when he did so with the National League’s Chicago Cubs on May 12, 1955. Who was the first African American pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the American League? (A hint: he hit one of his 35 career home runs in that game.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Society for American Baseball Research announced this week that Mark Armour was re-elected as President, and Dan Levitt as Treasurer. Dan Evans, Tom Shieber, and Kat Williams were elected as SABR Directors.

Roger Hambright, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 18 games for the New York Yankees in 1971, died last month at age 74. The Sunnyside, Washington native won three of his four decisions and logged a pair of saves.

This year’s Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball seminar (a.k.a. Saberseminar) will be held in Chicago on August 12-13. FanGraphs is among the sponsors, as are several MLB teams. Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Earl Wilson, who threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox on June 26, 1962. The big right-hander helped his own cause with a solo home run in Boston’s 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Trevor Bauer made his NPB debut on Wednesday and allowed one run over seven innings as the DeNA BayStars beat the Hiroshima Carp 4-1. The controversial former Cy Young Award winner fanned nine batters and allowed seven hits and one walk.

Nik Turley is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in 14 relief appearances for the Carp. The 33-year-old former Minnesota Twin and Pittsburgh Pirates southpaw is in his second NPB season after 11 professional seasons stateside.

Hirokazu Sawamura got the win when the Chiba Lotte Marines beat the Rakuten Golden Eagles 2-0 in 10 innings earlier this week. The former Boston Red Sox reliever is 3-1 with two saves and a 5.11 ERA in his first year back in NPB.

Addison Russell is slashing .340/.391/.505 with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. The erstwhile Chicago Cubs infielder has three home runs in 105 plate appearances.

Jin-yong Seo has made 15 appearances and is 1-0 with 13 saves for the KBO’s SSG Landers. The 30-year-old right-hander has thrown 15-and-a-third scoreless innings.

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Anthony DeSclafani played for the Cincinnati Reds before signing as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2021 season. Earlier this spring, I asked the 33-year-old right-hander how the two organizations differ in terms of pitching philosophy and instruction.

“I wouldn’t say there’s much of a difference at all,” replied DeSclafani. “They’re all really smart. We had guys in Cincinnati who knew what they were doing, and here they maybe have a little bit different way of relaying stuff, or some different ideas on how to throw certain pitches.”

One particular pitch-usage suggestion stands out.

“When I got here, they emphasized throwing my slider more,” explained
DeSclafani. “Trying to get the slider back to the times during my career that it was effective was something they relayed to me, and that helped me be successful in 2021. Now I’m just trying to get that back.”

DeSclafani threw his slider a then-career high 35.7% of the time in 2021 while going 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA. After being limited to just 19 innings last year due to injuries, he’s now throwing his slider 45.2% of the time. Over six starts, DeSclafani is 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA over 38 innings.

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FARM NOTES

Luisangel Acuña is slashing .316/.362/.462 and has 14 stolen bases in as many attempts with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. The 21-year-old middle infielder — the younger brother of Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. — was signed by the Texas Rangers out of Venezuela in 2018.

Ryan Bliss is slashing .385/.407/.615 with four home runs in 108 plate appearances for the Double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles. The 23-year-old middle infielder was drafted 42nd overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2021 out of Auburn University.

Shane Drohan is 5-0 with a 0.62 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just six walks
in 29 innings for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. The 24-year-old left-hander was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 draft out of Florida State University by the Boston Red Sox.

Cristian Mena has a 3.96 ERA to go with 42 strikeouts and just six walks in 25 innings for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. The 20-year-old right-hander is No. 8 on our Chicago White Sox Top Prospects list.

Seth Keller has allowed nine hits and one run in 15 innings for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets. The 18-year-old right-hander was drafted in the sixth round last year out of Mechanicsville, Virginia’s Hanover High School by the Atlanta Braves.

The independent Atlantic League’s Lexington Counter Clocks signed Dakota Mekkes. The 28-year-old Michigan State University product pitched in the Chicago Cubs system from 2016-2022 and spent last year with Triple-A Iowa.

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Craig Lefferts pitched in the big-leagues from 1983-1994, appearing in 696 games and being credited with 58 wins and 101 saves. Born in Munich, Germany and raised in multiple U.S. locales — his father was a a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force — he had his best seasons with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, serving both as a southpaw setup man and as a closer.

Were it not for a childhood birthday gift, he might have been making a living with his other hand. Lefferts — now a pitching coach and rehab coordinator in the Oakland Athletics organization — told me the story prior to an Arizona Fall League game last October.

“I was a left-handed pitcher, so my nickname is obviously Lefty,” Lefferts said. “But the truth is, I’m not left-handed. I’m really right-handed. When I was a youngster, I loved baseball, but I was asthmatic and didn’t play any sports. It was my eighth birthday. My grandmother, who lived in San Diego, flew out to Kansas and gave me this old Spalding mitt, which she’d bought for a nickel at a Salvation Army. It was the best birthday present I could ever ask for.

“I put it on, and heard my dad’s voice: ’Oh, mom. You got him the wrong glove.’ It was for the wrong hand, but I didn’t care. I loved it. I took it to bed with me. I wore it every day, and I learned how to throw left-handed because of that glove.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson wrote about how baseball’s next unionization effort could come from MLB front offices.

At The Chicago Tribune, Shakeia Taylor wrote about how White Sox pitcher Keynan Middleton always felt ‘different’ in baseball.

Erstwhile MLB pitcher Casey Kelly — now in his fifth season with the KBO’s LG Twins — stays levelheaded with the help of his father, former big-league catcher, and current Louisville Bats manager, Pat Kelly. Jee-ho Yu has the story at Yonhap News Agency.

At Fish Stripes, Alex Krutchik wrote about how Miami Marlins outfielder Peyton Burdick might be ready to take advantage of his second year in the big leagues.

Xander Bogaerts had his 30-game on-base streak end earlier this week despite hitting a line drive that one-hopped into an outfielder’s glove. Ben Fadden explained how at Gaslamp Ball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Xander Bogaerts became the first player in MLB history to homer in four different countries when he went deep in last weekend’s Mexico City Series. The Aruba native homered in the London Series in 2019, and has also left the yard in both the U.S.and Canada.

Eduardo Rodriguez has allowed two runs in 34-and-two-thirds innings over his last five starts. The Detroit Tigers southpaw had allowed seven runs in 10 innings over his first two starts.

Longtime Detroit Tigers left-hander Mickey Lolich batted .110 with no home runs in 1,107 regular-season plate appearances. He went 3-for-12 with a home run in the 1968 World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nolan Ryan walked 204 batters in 1977. The second highest total in the junior circuit that year was 99, by Jim Palmer.

Babe Ruth had a pair of hits, including a home run, while playing first base for the Boston Red Sox on May 6, 1918. The game marked the first time Ruth, then in his fifth big-league season, was in the starting lineup as a position player.

On today’s date in 1996, Eric Anthony and Eric Davis hit back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Cincinnati Reds a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Todd Worrell surrendered the gophers.

On today’s date in 1941, Reds shortstop Eddie Joost handled a modern-era record 19 chances in Cincinnati’s 1-0 win over the New York Giants. Joost had 10 assists and nine putouts.

On May 8, 2010, Jody Gerut hit for the cycle as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 17-3. Eighty years earlier, on May 8, 1930, Freddie Lindstrom hit for the cycle to help lead the New York Giants to a 13-10, 10-inning win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Players born on today’s date include Claude Raymond, a right-handed reliever who logged 46 wins and 82 saves while appearing in 449 games for four different teams from 1959-1971. The first Québec native to play for the Montreal Expos — he was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu — Raymond later served as a French-language analyst on Expos broadcasts from 1972 to 2001.

Also born on today’s date was Art Doll, whose big-league career comprised seven games — four as a catcher and three as a pitcher — with the Boston Braves/Bees from 1935-1938. Doll went 2 for 13 at the dish, and 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA over 12 innings on the mound.





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.

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sadtrombonemember
9 months ago

Sod Poodles are a new one for me. According to the local internet it was an old fashioned name for prairie dogs, but I can’t find any sources to support that. I suspect someone just made up the name and the origin to create a Trash Pandas-style hook. According to Wikipedia, alternative names included the Bronc Busters and Boot Scooters, which were ridiculed by the residents of Amarillo.

Last edited 9 months ago by sadtrombone
Jon L.member
9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

An excerpt from ChatGPT:

The term “sod poodle” is primarily associated with the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), which is found in the grasslands of central and western North America. The term is often used in a playful or colloquial context. It’s believed to have originated from the early settlers who observed prairie dogs popping up from their burrows in the grassy sod-covered prairies, resembling small popping poodles.

MikeSmember
9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

They came up on yesterday’s White Sox broadcast for some reason. Benetti asked “what’s a sod poodle?” and Stone immediately replied “it’s a prairie dog.”

They didn’t exist when Stone was playing, so I am forced to conclude he reads “Sunday Notes.”

Last edited 9 months ago by MikeS