Sunday Notes: Khris Davis, Naquin’s Pop, Reds, Rockies, more

The numbers suggest that Khris Davis should be labeled a power hitter. Since the beginning of last season, the Oakland outfielder is hitting .244/.308/.504 with 39 home runs in 603 plate appearances. This past week, he had a three-homer game capped off by a walk-off grand slam.

A few days before his heroics, I opined to Davis that he’s best described by said label. He demurred.

“That’s arguable,” answered the 28-year-old former Brewer. “It’s just what everybody’s judgment is of me. I don’t think I’m a power hitter.”

Color me a skeptic. Not only is Davis among the league leaders in home runs this year, he went deep 21 times over the second half of last season. If he’s not a power hitter, where are the bombs coming from?

“They come from me mimicking a certain swing,” Davis told me. “It’s just the way my swing works sometimes.”

His swing mechanics aren’t run-of-the-mill.

“I’d describe them as unorthodox,” said Davis, “Kind of step-in-the-bucket and handsy. That’s not something I can really change. What I can do is control it. The better I control it, the better it is for me. But my swing will be the same forever. It’s a muscle memory thing.”

Davis insisted that going from homer-friendly Miller Park to Oakland’s spacious environs has had no impact on his approach. After saying he hasn’t put much thought into it, he told me that he “just goes out there and tries to play the game with a lot of honesty.”

Truth be told, Davis has his limitations. His walk and strikeout rates leave a lot to be desired, as do his OBP and batting average. The latter is something he said he’d like to improve upon, although “You can only control what you can control, and I can’t really control how many hits I get. All I can do is try to square the ball up.”

Does he consider himself a free swinger?

“No,” said Davis, after a pregnant pause. “I just look at myself a hitter. I try not to know too much. I think ignorance is bliss when it comes to hitting.”

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Tyler Naquin expects to hit for power. Two years ago, when he was in Double-A, the Indians outfielder said he sees himself hitting 20-25 home runs annually in the big leagues. He hasn’t backed off from that belief.

“I still feel the same way,” Naquin told me recently. “It’s going to come. You see guys who aren’t huge hitting plenty of home runs. It comes with experience and learning yourself more.”

Scouting reports haven’t been bullish his power. Naquin’s smooth left-handed stroke produced a pair of Big 12 batting titles at Texas A&M, but he’s shown limited juice since being drafted 15th overall by the Indians in 2012. He has just 21 round-trippers in 1,491 minor-league plate appearances, and he’s yet to leave the yard in 63 big-league at bats.

Power aside, the 25-year-old is off to a solid start in his rookie season. He’s slashing .317/.338/.413 at baseball’s highest level while riding the have-options-will-travel shuttle between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus.

Naquin doesn’t feel he needs to change anything to eventually hit for more pop. He acknowledges that subtle adjustments are part of the game — “You’re always making minor tweaks” — but he’s also comfortable in his own skin.

“I just need to stay consistent with what I do,” said Naquin. “There’s also no one way to hit. If there was, there would be a picture of it in every clubhouse. Everybody has to follow their instinct and do what feels best for them.”

Naquin was slashing .315/.327/.426 at the time we talked. Is that who he is as a hitter?

“I mean, it is me,” said Naquin. “I don’t know how else to answer. It’s what I’m hitting.”

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Yesterday, I had a chance to ask Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo about Naquin’s power potential. This is what he said:

“He can drive a baseball. He barrels a lot of balls. I think he’s going to have the ability to hit some home runs. I think he’ll eventually be capable of hitting at least 15-20. The ball comes off his bat well.”

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Bryan Price doesn’t have time to dig deeply into pitching analytics. It’s not for lack of interest. He simply has his hands full as a manager. The former pitching coach leads a Reds team that lost 98 games last year and remains very much a work-in-progress.

This spring, Price said he mostly relies on Mark Riggins, his pitching coach, and Mack Jenkins, his bullpen coach, when it comes to technical matters. That doesn’t mean he’s not tuned in. Price may be deferential, but he doesn’t stray too far from his pitching roots.

“We talk a lot,” Price told me in Arizona. “We talk about the importance of all quadrants of the plate. We’re very aware of what hitters hit in certain counts and what our pitchers have the most efficiency with — curveball over slider, changeup over breaking pitch, fastball over cutter. We understand where the successes and failures lie with our pitching staff. For a long time, the right-on-right cutter wasn’t giving us much value.”

It takes more than eyeballs to accurately examine that information.

“When you’re watching a game from the side, you can’t always differentiate a changeup from a slider, or a sinker from a cutter,” explained Price. “When you go back and look at a pitch on video, sometimes you’ll be surprised at what was actually thrown, or which side of the plate is was on. The ability to see that on video, and to see the data, the statistical evidence, is extremely relevant to solving the equation.”

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Oakland catcher Josh Phegley pitched in a blowout loss to the Orioles earlier this month. He retired both batters he faced, including Adam Jones by way of the K. The following morning, Bob Melvin texted Phegley to see how he was feeling. As the A’s manager later told reporters, “He said he felt good. You worry about (a position player) trying to overdo it and try to throw too hard. Knock wood, all good with him.”

Melvin has put a non-pitcher on the mound numerous times, including Ike Davis twice last season. Davis likely wasn’t complaining. As Melvin put it, “Ike actually thinks he’s a pitcher. He’s got quite the assortment of pitches.”

Not every position player with an itch to pitch has received Melvin’s blessing. In 2003, with Seattle, he rebuffed a strong-armed outfielder.

“My first year, Ichiro Suzuki asked,” said Melvin. I said ‘absolutely not.’”

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Dom Nunez has yo-yoed back to where he belongs. The 21-year-old Colorado prospect grew up a middle infielder, only to be introduced to catching as a junior in high school. After selecting him in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, the Rockies returned him to the infield. A year later, he was once again strapping on the tools of ignorance.

Nunez remains behind the plate, where he continues to thrive. Rapidly progressing as a defender, the Elk Grove, California native has a line-drive stroke and a high-OBP approach. Playing in Modesto — arguably the California League’s least-hitter-friendly venue — Nunez is hitting .269/.384/.317.

The youngster is playing the position he’s best-suited for. His rookie-ball infield time was never intended to last.

“I pretty much knew I was going to be a catcher when I got drafted,” said Nunez, who gets high marks for his leadership skills. “I hadn’t caught that much and they pretty much didn’t want to throw me in the fire until after instructs. Catching is 100 percent what I’m wired to do. I want to have an impact on every play.”

Nunez takes a catcher’s perspective with him when he steps into the batter’s box. He’s a patient hitter, but he also knows the numbers.

“I feel I know the strike zone, and I like to work counts, but I also try to take care of the first two pitches of an at bat,” said Nunez. “Pitchers want to get a hitter out in as few pitches as possible, so I’ll be aggressive early in the count. The ball-strike ratio in the first pitches means about .150 points in batting average.”

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MINOR LEAGUE NOTES

Chance Sisco, the top position player prospect in the Orioles system, is leading the Double-A Eastern League with a .337 average. The 21-year-old catcher has slashed .327/.407/.434 since being taken in the second round of the 2013 draft.

Hunter Dozier, who the Royals took eighth-overall in 2013, hit just .213/.281/.349 in Double-A last year. This year, the 24-year-old third baseman is hitting a far-lustier .317/.391/.662, with 12 home runs, between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.

Jameson Taillon, one of the top prospects in the Pirates system, has a 1.82 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Indianapolis. The 24-year-old right-hander has 51 strikeouts and five walks in 49-and-a-third innings.

In his first outing this season, Blue Jays pitching prospect Jon Harris retired just two of the eight hitters he faced. Since that time, the 22-year-old right-hander has thrown 25 scoreless innings. A first-round pick last year out of Missouri State, Harris is with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts.

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Tim Wakefield hit 186 batters with pitches in his long career. The vast majority of them were knuckleballs, a number of which could have been avoided. It wasn’t uncommon to see batters become statues when Wakefield floated a ball just off the inside edge.

The retired hurler is conservative in his estimate of how many times batters went out of their way to be plunked. Wakefield put the number at “five to 10,” adding that his knuckleball would sometimes sail into a hitter. He does admit to being frustrated on the occasions where an elbow was thrust into the path of the pitch.

Having seen a large percentage of Wakefield’s games, I’m skeptical about the “five to 10.” There were a lot of elbows and statues.

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Four weeks ago in this space, Brandon Guyer discussed — sidestepped, actually — his ability to get hit by pitches at a consistent clip. It’s his most-talked-about talent, but it’s not his only talent. The Tampa Bay outfielder is hitting a productive .308/.402/.516. Notably, some of that damage is starting to come against righties.

Guyer has primarily been used in a platoon role, but Tampa Bay’s other outfielders aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. The more he heats up, the more it makes sense to put Guyer in the lineup versus same-sided pitchers.

“I’d obviously like to be out there every day,” Guyer told me. “The first couple years I had this role, whenever I would start against a righty I’d put a lot of pressure on myself. I was, ‘I have to do well here; I have to prove that I can hit righties.’ I don’t do that anymore. I know I can, and I think they know too.”

Guyer went into yesterday’s game hitting .277/.352/.489 in 54 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers.

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According to his autobiography, Pedro Martinez was forced to pitch in September 2005 game after being told by manager Willie Randolph that he was shut down for the season. Martinez, then with the Mets, was hobbled by a foot injury and the club was out of contention. Ownership didn’t care. They wanted him to pitch against Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins in a game at Shea Stadium.

Per Pedro, Jeff Wilpon came into the clubhouse and said, “Guess what Pedro?
You’re pitching on Thursday… I’m the boss here, you’re going to have to do what I say.”

Martinez pitched and took the loss in front of 25,093 fans.

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Twice last weekend, A.J. Hinch decided not to walk David Ortiz in a crucial situation. Twice Ortiz came through with a clutch hit. Notably, the Astros manager had suggested earlier in the series that he would pitch around Ortiz with the game on the line.

After the fact, I asked Hinch if he’d ever consider intentionally walking a hitter with the bases loaded.

“It would have to be a circumstance that calls for it,” answered Hinch. “Obviously, it would be where one run is acceptable. It’s a dangerous play, but it’s certainly a viable option.”

Solid answer, albeit a little vague. So what is it, A.J., yes or no?

“I would do it,” said Hinch. “Circa Barry Bonds, 2000-whatever. Maybe David Ortiz, 2016.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Writing for ESPN, Marly Rivera took a look at Fredi Gonzalez’s ousting and the overall lack of diversity among MLB managers.

Mark Armour continued his fun and informative series on baseball cards at The National Pastime Museum.

Over at MassLive.com, Chris Smith talked to Andrew Miller about Henry Owens’ command issues. The Yankees lefty can relate to the young Red Sox lefty.

Per MiLB.com’s Benjamin Hill, the Mets’ Double-A affiliate may soon be known as the Stud Muffins or the Gobblers.

In case you missed this when it ran a week ago, Andy McCullough of the LA Times talked to the recently retired Dan Haren about inner turmoil.

Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register asked players if they’d like to see human umpires replaced by robot umpires.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Among catchers with at least 440 plate appearances, Francisco Cervelli (.373) has the highest OBP since the start of last season. Nick Hundley (.473) has the highest SLG.

Bryce Harper walked 28 times over a 12-game stretch from May 5-18. Per Elias, Barry Bonds, in 2004, is the only other player with that many walks over a 12-game stretch.

The Cubs had won Jake Arrieta’s last 22 regular season starts. Per STATS Inc., three other pitchers since 1913 have had their team win at least 22-consecutive games they started: Carl Hubbell (22) in 1936-37, Whitey Ford (22) in 1950-53, and Kris Medlen (23) in 2010-12.

On May 19, 1925, Walter Johnson hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run to give the Washington Senators a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. The Hall of Fame pitcher hit 24 home runs in his career.

Monty Stratton went 36-23 with the White Sox from 1934-1938. He then missed the next seven seasons after after accidentally shooting himself while hunting rabbits. At age 34, Stratton returned to action and pitched in the minor leagues from 1946-1953 with a wooden leg.





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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Ebenezer
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Ebenezer

Great column, as always.

With his arm strength, I would have loved to see Ichiro pitch.

Joser
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Joser

Well, then you’re in luck: Ichiro pitched against the Phillies in the Marlins’ last game last year. His line: 1.0 IP 2H 1 ER 0 BB 0 K (3.13 FIP).

Of course, 2001 Ichiro pitching might have been a very different animal, more like his 1996 Japanese All-Star Game form.