Lars Anderson likes to experience new things, and he’s currently doing so on the other side of the world. One year removed from a season in the Dodgers system, the 29-year-old former top prospect in the Red Sox organization is playing with the Kochi Fighting Dogs, an independent team in Japan’s Shikoku Island League. One of his teammates is Manny Ramirez.
Anderson — featured in this column a few years ago — had gone from shooting star to minor league role player, and riding the pine wasn’t his cup of tea. As he told me recently, “I love playing baseball. I do not love watching it.” He began daydreaming about places that interested him culturally, and also had professional baseball. Japan was at the top of his list.
Conversations with Terrmel Sledge and John Bowker — each of whom had played in both MLB and NPB — followed. The Fighting Dogs made an offer, and come the third week of March, Anderson arrived in Kochi.
Things have gone well. The Shikoku Island League plays a split season — “there are no official games in June and July due to the rainy season” — and Anderson finished the April-May first half leading the league in home runs. Facing pitchers “with a wide range of ability” he was second in RBIs, and in the Top 10 in batting average. The second half of the Fighting Dogs schedule begins tomorrow.
Along with Anderson, Manny Being Manny will remain with the team. The two have known each other since they were teammates with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2014, and not surprisingly Anderson has an appreciation for the enigmatic one-time superstar.
“He was, and still is, a joy to be around and share a clubhouse with,” opined Anderson. “Manny operates with the levity of a child and a work ethic befitting one of the greatest players to ever do it. He still demonstrates steadfast dedication to his craft. He’s 45 years old, playing independent baseball, and probably making the same amount of money this entire year as he did in a couple of at bats in the big leagues,
“Manny is a really, really sweet, gentle and giving human. He regularly gives players batting gloves and bats, shirts and shoes, etc. It’s common for him to walk into the locker room and say, ‘Hey Lars, I got you something!’ and drop a bottled coffee in my lap. And he’s still the best hitter on the field.”
When Anderson hasn’t been hitting, he’s been traveling. Over the two-month break, he visited Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Kooriyama, and the northernmost island of Hokkaido. We’ll hear about some of those adventures — and about some of what happens on the field in a Japanese independent league — in the coming weeks.
Joe Biagini is a left-hander in a right-hander’s body. Not in terms of craftiness — the Blue Jays reliever is more power than finesse — but rather the way he goes about life. Biagini travels to the beat of a different drummer.
A few weeks ago, I asked him about his two-month stint in the Toronto rotation.
“The luxury of starting is that it gives you time to turn off and tune out a little bit,” said Biagini. “The day after your start is busy, workout-wise, but once the game gets going you can kind of sit there and daydream — you can just be a blob. You can allow yourself to talk to the bugs and the grass, and see if you can recognize the cloud formations.”
From 1904-1916, (according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary) the term “bug” was synonymous with “fan.” When I informed Biagini of that fact, his response was a wry, “I think a few of our players would feel that way.”
He’s not among them. Biagini is usually happy to accommodate requests from his adoring public. After all, he was once a bug himself.
“I’ll sign autographs, or whatever,” Biagini told me. “If they want me to sign a check, or sign a language… but it’s mostly signatures. I’m still kind of amazed that anyone would want my autograph. Whenever I’m signing someone’s shirt, I can’t help but think “I’m ruining this person’s shirt; I’m devaluing it.’ On the other hand, if that’s the one interaction ‘the bug’ gets to have with me, and it’s meaningful to them, then it’s meaningful to me too.
“It’s funny how your perspective changes. For most of my life, I was on the other side — I was the bug; I was a little caterpillar who hadn’t yet metamorphosed. So the interactions are fascinating to me. I grew up having this mysticism, this legendary aura, surrounding a Major League Baseball player. Now I’m here, and I don’t feel like I thought I’d feel. I’m the same guy. I’m the same idiot I’ve been my whole life.”
Chris Gimenez shared an interesting scouting nugget after Jose Berrios pitched in Boston earlier this season. I was talking to the Twins catcher about the righty’s breaking ball when he touched on the Red Sox lineup.
“We felt the depth of his curveball was going to play better than the lateral movement,” Gimenez told me. “A lot of these guys have kind of same-plane swings. Cutters aren’t necessarily the greatest pitch to them. Depth curveballs, or depth sliders, are a little bit better.”
Jason Hammel is 4-8 with a 4.81 ERA in his first season with the Kansas City Royals. Compared to last year’s 15-10, 3.83 with the Chicago Cubs, those are pretty abysmal numbers.
Many of his other numbers aren’t so abysmal. The righty’s FIP is more than a run lower than it was in 2016, and his home-run rate and hard-hit rate are lower as well. His walk rate is essentially the same. All in all, he’s been better than many people realize.
Hammel believes he has, but not because of what his peripherals suggest. When I asked if they’re something he pays attention to, his response was that he “just knows the numbers that are the numbers, not the extra stats.” He also knows that he’s been throwing the ball pretty well since some early-season doldrums.
“There’s maybe been a little bad luck in there,” acknowledged Hammel, whose BABiP is up .35 from last year. “I don’t know exactly where it would be, but some things are hard to see when you’re looking at basic box scores. Those don’t tell the whole story. There have been games where I’ve thrown really well and the box score didn’t say that. It didn’t tell the true picture.”
Sig Mejdal — arguably the most analytically inclined member of the Houston Astros front office — is on unique assignment this summer. As was reported this spring, the well-educated special assistant to the GM is on the coaching staff of the short-season Tri-City Valley Cats.
I was chatting with Mejdal prior to a recent game when he suggested I might enjoy talking to the one player who had yet to return to the clubhouse following BP. Taking Mejdal’s advice, I approached Colin McKee once he had completed the conditioning drill he’d been doing nearby.
The 23-year-old right-hander — a 16th round pick last year out of Mercyhurst — struck me as a candidate to one day follow in Mejdal’s footsteps. His choice of reading material is one reason why.
“Right now I’m reading Thinking Fast and Slow, which is kind of a psychological book about the human mind,” McKee told me. “I studied biology in college, and and I’m interested in that stuff. Last year, I found that I kind of stopped using my brain — it was all baseball, all the time — and I made a decision to start being more academic again, to keep my mind active.”
The Mercyhurst graduate also reads FanGraphs — he’d perused Eno Sarris’s article on Jeff Samardzija earlier that same day — and transitioning from the playing field to a baseball operations role is among his possible future options. So is becoming a physician, but first things first.
“Before baseball turned into a thing, I was planning on hopefully going to med school after college,” explained McKee. “That’s probably Option A when baseball ends, but I’d also love to work in a front office. I’m into the analytics side of the game, so that would be a really cool position to get into. But right now I’m just taking things a day at a time. I’m a realist — I’m 23 and playing short-season ball — but I need to see where this takes me.”
Victor Martinez had 900 hits, 103 home runs, a .297 batting average, and grounded into 110 double plays as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He has 899 hits, 104 home runs, a .299 batting average, and has grounded into 109 double plays as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
On Tuesday, Hunter Renfroe became the third rookie to reach 20 home runs this season. Per Elias, this is the second season in which three rookies had at least 20 home runs prior to August 1. Mark McGwire, Matt Nokes, and Bo Jackson did so in 1987.
Masahiro Tanaka’s 14 strikeouts on Friday were his career high in MLB. Tanaka had 18 strikeouts pitching for the NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles on August 27, 2011.
The Seattle Mariners are 3-36 when scoring three-or-fewer runs, and have lost 29 consecutive games when scoring fewer than four.
The White Sox and Indians lead the American League with 25 outfield assists. The Reds and Pirates lead the National League with 24 outfield assists.
Colorado Rockies infield prospect Ryan McMahon has slashed .358/.399/.587, with 16 home runs, between two levels this season. In 216 plate appearances at Triple-A Albuquerque, the 23-year-old former second-round pick has a 1.041 OPS.
In 100 innings split between low-A Kane County and high-A Visalia, Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Jon Duplantier is 10-1 with a 1.44 ERA. He’s allowed 70 hits and fanned 111 batters.
At 72-31 (.699), the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in the National League through 103 games since the 1944 St. Louis Cardinals, who went 75-27 (.735).
Adrian Beltre will go into Sunday with 2,999 hits. Since joining the Texas Rangers in 2011, the future Hall of Famer is slashing .308/.359/.517.
Mo Vaughn has had a successful business career since retiring in 2003. His most notable endeavor is OMNI New York LLC, a real estate company which focuses on the revitalization and development of neighborhoods. He’s proud of the work they’ve done. As he told reporters recently, “Any time you can turn somebody’s living conditions around, it’s a great thing. It’s very rewarding.”
Vaughn met with the media last weekend prior to being inducted into the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame. He played for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate before going on to become one of the best hitters in the American League during the 1990s.
Vaughn had a presence, and not just on the field. The “Hit Dog” was well-respected off the field, as well. I asked him if he ever wonders how much of a difference he could have made had he stayed in the game.
“I do,” responded Vaughn. “Maybe I regret that a little bit. When I left in ’03, I just walked out. I knew I was hurt, and I didn’t owe anybody anything. It was time for me to move on in life, and I needed to get myself going in that direction, as hard as it may be. Do I think I could have given some positive things back to the game? Of course I could have. But it was a choice I made, and you move on.”
Another reporter asked Vaughn about his decision to leave Boston and sign a free-agent contract with the Angels following a 1998 season where he slugged 40 home runs and put up a .993 OPS.
“Listen, things happen,” responded Vaughn. “If I’d have stayed in Boston… yeah, of course you think about it. I went to Anaheim, I slipped in the dugout, and five years later I was out of the game. But there are all these things that… I probably talked too much trash when I was in Boston, fighting the media and doing certain things. I probably said way too much that I probably never should have said. But there are reasons things happen, and you have take what’s given to you, and move with it.”
Ryan Lefebvre has been broadcasting Kansas City Royals games since 1999, which means he’s said a lot of things about a lot of players. As he’s not an unapologetic homer, they haven’t all been of a positive nature. As Dennis Eckersley experienced recently in Boston, that can result in pushback — even if the offending comment was seemingly unworthy of umbrage.
“In my first season, Jose Offerman confronted me on the field about something I said about him on the air,” recalled Lefebvre. “He was with the Red Sox at the time. I didn’t really understand what he was referring to, as I didn’t remember saying anything ultra-critical about him the night before. But he was very upset.”
Lefebvre appreciates the fact that Offerman didn’t approach him in front of an audience — there was no attempt to show him up in front of teammates — but it was still uncomfortable. He was being called out for doing his job.
“We just want to do the games and be fair to the players,” said Lefebvre. “We’re being critical at times, but it’s not personal. We’re analyzing the game. It’s no different from when they go home in the fall and are watching their favorite football team on TV, and the quarterback throws eight consecutive incomplete passes, and maybe a couple of interceptions. When they start yelling at the television, they don’t want to hear the announcer saying, ‘Well, he’s really doing his best. He’s trying hard.’ They want honest analysis. They want praise when it’s deserved, and criticism when it’s deserved.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Detroit Free Press, Mike Isenberg wrote about a big challenge for Tigers broadcasters this year — how honest to be with the fans.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Mike Hargrove had a .396 OBP over 12 big-league seasons. “The Human Rain Delay” coaxed 965 walks and fanned 550 times in 6,693 big-league plate appearances.
As a team, the 1935 Washington Senators hit just five home runs in their home ballpark, pitcher-friendly Griffith Stadium. On July 31 that year, Red Sox right-hander Wes Ferrell homered twice against Bobo Newsom in a game at Griffith Stadium.
On July 31 1997, the Boston Red Sox traded Heathcliff Slocum to the Seattle Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Slocum was subsequently worth 0.6 WAR, while Lowe and Varitek combined for 65.5 WAR. (Some may be surprised to know that 41.2 of it belonged Lowe.)
On August 1, 1941, Lefty Gomez of the New York Yankees walked a career high 11 batters in a game against St. Louis Browns. Despite the free passes, Gomez twirled a complete-game shutout.
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.