Sunday Notes: Loop, Cole, Battling Bucs, Bullpens, Tribe, more

The borderline balk move that Julio Urias used to pick off Bryce Harper on Thursday night had me thinking about a lefty reliever who has spent the past four seasons in independent ball. In 2009, Derrick Loop — pitching in high-A in the Red Sox system — picked off 17 runners in just 71-and-a-third innings. (I interviewed him about his move later that year.)

Loop no longer logs a plethora of pickoffs. Part of the reason is his reputation — runners rarely take liberties against him — and another is his approach. Once upon a time, the southpaw used his move as a primary weapon. When I caught up to him this week, Loop told me he used to “give up the count to the hitter in order to set up my pickoff.” Against a higher level of competition, that strategy was a recipe for disaster.

Loop has bounced around since his pickoff-heavy season, with stops in the Phillies and Dodgers organizations, as well as the Atlantic League. His last year in affiliated ball was 2012, when he appeared in 34 games — 13 as a starter — for Triple-A Albuquerque. Despite an 11-4 record and 101 hits allowed in 103 innings, he found himself on the outside looking in.

“With the year I had, it was devastating to have not received a spring training invite,” admitted Loop. “Not just from the Dodgers, but from any team at any level. I was playing winter ball in Venezuela that off-season, hoping and waiting for a call. From anyone. It never came.”

Loop headed back to indie ball — his third stint — in hope of earning another opportunity. It didn’t go well.

“I proceeded to have my worst statistical season of my career,” said Loop, who logged a 4.26 ERA with the Lancaster Barnstormers. “A large part of that had to do with my mental state. I was unable to get over the fact I couldn’t find an affiliated job, and was roiling in a combination of anger and self-pity.”

Following the 2013 season, he went to an independent league in Japan for a fresh start. Catching on with a team in the NPB was a goal, but that didn’t happen either. He returned stateside.

He also got back on track. Over the past two seasons, Loop put up 1.28 and 1.98 ERAs for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Last year he garnered 32 saves.

Two months shy of his 33rd birthday, he doesn’t expect to get another chance in affiliated ball. He’s not even sure if he’ll return for another year of indie ball. Loop is currently closing for the Tomateros de Culiacán in the Mexican League, and it might be his last hurrah. His big-league dreams and pickoff days are little more than memories at this point.

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Gerrit Cole has a bright future. If he stays healthy. The first-overall pick in the 2011 draft dealt with some elbow woes this season — not the only malady he’s encountered — but when he’s 100%, he’s a front-line starter. In four seasons with the Pirates, Cole has a 3.23 ERA and a 2.98 FIP.

The 26-year-old UCLA product has a cerebral approach to go with his plus stuff. That was apparent when I asked him how prepares for an opposing lineup.

“You have a game plan going in,” Cole told me in September. “You identify the strengths of the other team. You have an idea, based off how you’ve been pitching and how you anticipate attacking certain guys. In game, it’s more one pitch at a time. It’s reactionary. You’re reading the hitter in the heat of the moment. You log that at bat and adjust accordingly.”

Cole was especially interesting when I asked if teams have offensive identities.

“We don’t really have reports on team identities, but you start to understand how different lineups work,” said Cole. “There are different approaches. On one side you have Houston. You have a very fundamentally-sound offense in St. Louis. The AL East has its identity of power hitters. The NL Central seems to have a lot more balance.”

I asked the righty if he could elaborate on the Cardinals.

“They have kind of a get-the-next-guy-to-the-plate mentality,” answered Cole. “Situational hitting. They have weapons — extremely talented players — but a very team-oriented offensive approach. For example, if there’s a runner on first, Yadier (Molina) is probably going to be hitting behind the runner. If it’s a situation where they need some production, he’s more likely to be thinking double. But it’s not just specific to Yadier. Their whole lineup functions like that.”

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In September, Bryce Harper jammed a finger while sliding headfirst into third base at PNC Park, in Pittsburgh. The Nationals weren’t happy. The Pirates had no play — an errant throw was well wide of the bag — and Jung Ho Kang induced a late slide from Harper by faking a tag.

The following inning, Washington’s A.J. Cole threw a pitch behind Kang’s head. The benches emptied, and Cole, along with Pittsburgh’s Sean Rodriguez, was ejected.

After the game, Kang said through a translator that he “meant no harm,” adding that Harper said something to him, but he didn’t “remember fully what he was talking about.”

Rodriguez — never a wallflower when a fracas breaks out — opined that Kang did nothing wrong. He told reporters that, “Faking a flip on a double play, or pointing in the wrong direction on where the ball might be, is typically translated to baseball IQ.”

Clint Hurdle suggested that a man in foul territory bore much of the blame.

“I don’t think there’s a line drawn in the sand on what’s acceptable, and what’s not, with a fake tag,” said the Pittsburgh skipper. “There’s an awareness on a runner’s part and there’s an awareness on a coach’s part. The third base coach has a responsibility to read the play and help the runner.”

As for the melee that ensued, Rodriguez feels the Nationals were fully responsible.

“I was calmly sitting there, watching people coming out of their dugout like they were in the right,” said the always-emotional infielder. “How can you come out to defend someone throwing a ball behind someone’s head, for whatever reason? I guess that’s what got me going a little bit. Then Oliver Perez was chirping at me, saying, “What, you want me?” I said, “You want it, you can come get it. It’s up to you.”

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A few Josh Tomlin numbers:

Of the 36 home runs the Cleveland control artist gave up during the regular season, 21 were of the solo variety, 10 came with one runner on base, four came with two on, and one was a grand slam. Through July 1, he didn’t allow a home run with more than one runner on base. On the season, he had just five starts where he didn’t allow a home run.

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Prior to ALDS Game 3, I asked Terry Francona if Tomlin’s homer-prone tendencies would impact how long he’d remain on the mound — even if he was pitching well. I noted that we’d already had a couple of post-season pitchers’ duels decided by late inning home runs.

He began his answer with a Francona-esque, “If you would tell me that the guy we bring in isn’t going to give up a home run, yeah.” He went on to say that it was something he’d think about, adding that “If a guy is pitching really well and you take him out too soon, that doesn’t help either. You shoot for common sense, and it’s a hard thing to have sometimes during the middle of the game with all the emotions that are going on.”

Following the game, Francona was asked about removing Tomlin in the top of the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead and a runner on first base.

“I didn’t want to go get him too quick, because he was hitting his spots so well,” answered Francona. “But when they got to the top of the order, and a home run can tie it or take the lead, especially in this ballpark… it’s hard to have Andrew (Miller) up warming and not bring him in the game.”

Fast forward to yesterday: Francona did almost the same thing. He replaced Tomlin with Miller two outs into the sixth inning and Cleveland clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Through 10-and-two-thirds postseason innings, Tomlin has allowed two runs and hasn’t been taken deep. Miller has thrown three-and-two-thirds scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.

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Another Tomlin note:

During the regular season, Tomlin threw his curveball 14.9% of the time. In two postseason starts, he’s thrown his curveball 38.8% of the time (151 pitches, 59 curveballs).

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Despite baseball’s need to attract young fans, the start time of postseason games almost guarantees that pre-teens on the east coast are asleep before they end. Some kids in the central time zone are, as well. This is especially true on school nights, and given how often these games push up against the midnight hour, weekends can also be an issue.

Why not start the games at 7 p.m. EST instead of 8 p.m. EST? Yes, that is 4 p.m. on the west coast, which means many in California and nearby states would miss the early innings due to work (kids would be out of school by then). But is that not better than missing the later innings, which is what happens on the opposite coast?

If I’m Major League Baseball, I’m prioritizing young fans being able see innings 7-9. A current TV commercial features Bryce Harper claiming a walk-off home run. That’s the type of moment a 12-year-old shouldn’t have to wait until the following morning to learn about.

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Per PITCHf/x, only four of the 47 pitches Jeff Samardzija threw against the Cubs in NLDS Game 2 were splitters. In his previous start — on September 28 versus Colorado — he’d thrown 27 splitters in a 93-pitch outing. Why so few against Chicago? I don’t know the answer, but this is what the Giants righty said prior to the game when I asked if he weighs either feel or scouting reports more heavily in a big game.

“Mostly feel,” said Samardzija. “Scouting reports at this point are pretty much set, with how many times you’ve seen this guy hit off righties. Whether I use sinkers — and where I use sinkers — sliders and splits, ultimately comes down to feel. My split was working in the last handful of starts, so I was able to use it early to get guys off my fastball. But again, that’s day-to-day.”

Samardzija had a bad day against the NL Central champs. Making his first postseason start, he allowed four runs and was pulled after just two innings.

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Four years ago today, Phil Coke threw the nastiest slider of his life, in one of the biggest moments of his life. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees, he fanned Raul Ibanez with two on and two out in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2012 ALCS. The slider that earned him the save — I wrote about it two days later — dove more than five inches.

A few weeks ago, I asked the veteran lefty what he remembers about the pitch.

“It moved late, instead of moving out of my hand,” Coke told me. “It wasn’t sweepy like everything else I threw that year. It came out of my hand like a fastball, and went, Bam! Right as (Ibanez) committed to it, it wasn’t there any more.”

Is it the best pitch he’s ever thrown?

“It depends on what your definition of ‘best pitch’ is,” said Coke. “If you’re a radar-happy person, I’ve touched 100. That’s according to data I saw. I thought I’d only touched 99. That was cool news for me.

“But the World Series against the Giants, after that Yankees series, is memorable too. That section of time in my life is one of the most important of my career. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. Some days you have nothing, and some days you have everything. I had more of everything in those games.”

Coke had seven consecutive strikeouts over a three-game stretch in the World Series that year. (Andrew Miller matched that feat yesterday with his seventh consecutive strikeout in the ALCS.)

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked on Friday if he can foresee a time where bringing in your best reliever in the 7th inning is no longer considered unusual. Here was his response (edited for concision):

“I can see that. Obviously, Tito’s done a lot of that, and guys around baseball are being more aggressive. In theory, it’s phenomenal. And it’s really not outside the box. It really makes sense. But it’s more of communicating with players to understand, to buy in, to accept whatever situation is presented to them for that particular game.”

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In 1964, Dick Radatz went 16-9, with 29 saves, for the Boston Red Sox. “The Monster” made 79 relief appearances and pitched 157 innings. He pitched more than one inning on 56 occasions. He entered the game in the fifth inning once, the sixth inning six times, the seventh 23 times, the eighth 33 times, the ninth 14 times, and the tenth inning twice.

From 1962-1965, in 270 appearances out of the bullpen, Radatz logged 608 strikeouts. No other reliever had more than 400 strikeouts over that same period. His 100 saves also topped both leagues.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from an interview I did several years ago with Bill Monbouquette, who played with Radatz in Boston:

“Dick was one of the best relievers I ever saw, and he was big, too. He was nicknamed ‘The Monster.’ I used to wait for him on the mound when he came in to relieve me, and I’d tell him, ‘If you don’t get them out, I’ll kick your ass!’ He’d just snarl at me and say, ‘Just go get a Bud ready for me; I’ll be there in a few minutes.’”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Over at 2080 Baseball, Lisa Winston gave us LES DEBUTANTES: THE 2016 SEASON IN REVIEW.

Some of the notable prospects to debut this season will retain rookie eligibility in 2017. Matt Eddy of Baseball America tells us about 10 of them.

Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune delved into why Mike Dee is out as Padres president and CEO.

Juliet Macur of the New York Times was in the Nationals clubhouse after their Game 5 loss to the Dodgers. It was very quiet.

Also at the New York Times, James Wagner wrote about how Dodgers’ Dave Roberts Isn’t Managing Like a Rookie.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote about the Pirates will look to address their run prevention deficiencies.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The cost of qualifying offers for MLB free agents this offseason will be $17.2 million. That is an 8.9% increase from last year’s $15.8 million.

Wrigley Field (1914) and Dodger Stadium (1962) are the oldest ballparks in the National League. Rogers Center (originally SkyDome) opened in 1989. Progressive Field (originally Jacobs Field) opened in 1994.

Ernie Banks played more games as a first baseman (1,259) than he did as a shortstop (1,125).

Ozzie Guillen’s .750 postseason winning percentage is the highest of any manager with at least 10 wins. Guile’s teams have gone 12-4 in October.

Babe Ruth (136) had more triples than Pete Rose (135) in 5,652 fewer at bats.

On Saturday, the Hiroshima Carp advanced to their first Japan Series since 1991. Kenta Maeda’s NBP team will face either the Nippon Ham Fighters (Shohei Otani’s team) or the SoftBank Hawks in the championship round.

The eighth annual SABR Arizona Fall League Experience will be held Thursday, November 3 to Saturday, November 5, 2016.





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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Dan Greermember
5 years ago

Excellent as always, David. One nit-pick: when writing about Gerrit Cole you say “In four seasons with the Pirates, Cole has a 3.88 ERA and a 3.33 FIP.” Those numbers you quoted are from this year, not his career numbers.