Luke Carlin learned a lot in his rookie season, and the lessons began in full force when he made his MLB debut on May 10, 2008. Adorned in the tools of ignorance and a San Diego Padres uniform, Carlin caught both “The Professor” and a closer who entered to the sound of “Hell’s Bells.”
An orientation session with the former preceded his first game. It was then that the Northeastern University graduate discovered that being familiar with Greg Maddux is one thing; understanding how he went about schooling big-league hitters is another.
“When I got called up, Buddy Black was like, ‘Hey, make sure you talk to Greg, because you’re going to catch him on Saturday,’” recalled Carlin. “So I had a day or two to get with Greg, but the funny thing was, everything I’d learned about game-calling and reading swings was basically useless until I started watching video with him. He had a simple, deliberate process. Greg was patient with me, making sure that I was on his page as much as possible.”
Carlin, who now manages in the Cleveland Indians system, used military and football analogies to describe Maddux’s tactical-planning acumen. And going into a game with nuanced knowledge of his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses was only part of his M.O.
“Greg was very interested in what the hitter was trying to do, and what that swing looked like,” said Carlin. “That told him what he wanted to throw. It wasn’t just about throwing to his strengths. He’d obviously do that, but at the same time he was about swing-recognition. Calling games with him, I needed to learn to both recognize swings and read people.”
To a not-insignificant degree, the Hall of Fame hurler called his own games. And not only that, he would sometimes throw an off-speed pitch when Carlin had called for a fastball. Because of how precise Maddux was, that wasn’t a problem.
“If I got the location right, he could throw a changeup, a cutter, or a fastball,” Carlin explained.” So as we got going, we really only had a few signs. We had inside and outside, and from there he would throw whatever he wanted and I would catch it. There were times I would call a pitch, he would say yes, and then it was just, ‘Catch the damn ball.’”
That practice came with a caveat. While Maddux’s elite command allowed for a certain amount of not-knowing, there are limits to what a catcher can handle. As Carlin explained, “The one exception is that if I called for a curveball, he wouldn’t throw a fastball. That’s not going to work too well.”
Working with Trevor Hoffman was a different animal. Carlin quickly learned that the Hall of Fame reliever had a particular quirk that demanded adherence to. A gentleman off the field, Hoffman was a bulldog-on-his-own-island once he’d climbed the hill.
“As you know, when a new pitcher comes in the catcher goes out there and they have a little talk,” said Carlin. “Then the catcher goes back behind the plate and catches his warmups. Josh Bard had told me, ’Hey, here are Hoffman’s signs if somebody gets on second base. Do not go out to the mound when he comes in.’
“First day, first game, Hells Bells, and I’m like, ‘This is awesome.’ Hoffman comes in, I run out to the mound. OK. He looks at me and says, ‘Do you not remember the signs?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, crap.’ ‘Yep!’ I turned around and ran back with my tail between my legs. And I didn’t know the signs! I’d completely blanked on what they were. I panicked. It took a batter or two for me to gather that memory.”
Memories. Everyone who’s played the game has them, and few, if any, stand out as much as a big-league debut. In Carlin’s case, that was catching a pair of wholly-unique Hall of Famers. It was an experience — and an education — he won’t soon forget.
Jaylin Davis turned a corner this year. Moreover, he moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Intrigued by his late-bloomer potential, the Giants acquired the 25-year-old outfielder from the Twins at the trade deadline as part of the Sam Dyson deal.
A mid-level prospect coming into this season, Davis ran roughshod over Triple-A pitching prior to receiving his first big-league call-up earlier this month. In 256 plate appearances between Rochester and Sacramento, he slashed .331/.391/ 708 with 25 home runs. Counting time spent in Double-A, the Appalachian State product has gone deep 35 times on the season.
Asked about his breakout, Davis pointed to a video session he had with Peter Fatse, Minnesota’s first-year hitting coordinator, at the outset of spring training.
“He introduced himself and said, ‘I’m not trying to jump on you too fast, I just want to show you what I saw on video from the [Arizona] Fall League.’” Davis told me. “He said that while my upper half was fine, he wanted me to use my legs more and try to hit more balls in the air. We worked on that all spring, and it kind of took off from there.”
Davis went on to explain that he’s now more spread out at the plate, whereas before he was not only “standing too straight up,” his head tended to “bounce a bit.” He couldn’t recall anyone ever having brought those things to his attention, but during his sit-down with Fatse he “could actually see it in the video.”
No similar skull sessions have happened since he changed organizations. The Giants have basically just told him, “Hey, we don’t want to mess with you too much; just go out there and keep doing what you’re doing.”
He admittedly hasn’t done much since his call-up. Davis has appeared in 10 games with the Giants and has three hits in 27 at bats.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Pop-boy Smith was credited with his only big-league win on September 21, 1919 when the Cleveland Indians edged the Washington Senators 3-2 in a game that went 13 innings. The home team won, with Al Gould, who pitched the final four innings in relief of Smith, getting the save.
How is this possible? According to two experts I queried — SABR’s Jacob Pomrenke and Retrosheet’s David W. Smith — the answer to that question is both simple and complicated. Moreover, the occurrence wasn’t all that uncommon at the time.
Per Pomrenke, the official scorer was likely using Henry Chadwick’s original, archaic logic for awarding wins, which is the pitcher that “pitched the most innings” or “did the bulk of the work” in the game.
Also per Pomrenke, “Before official scoring became truly official around 1920, there was often no rhyme or reason to how wins and losses were awarded. American League president Ban Johnson had a bad habit of overruling the local official scorers, who could only ‘recommend’ scoring decisions to the league office, which had final approval. Johnson was extremely inconsistent in when and how he overruled the AL’s official scorers.”
The modern rule for pitching wins, which includes the starters’ needing to go at least five innings, was formalized in 1950.
As for how Retrosheet (which is the source of box scores at Baseball-Reference) handles the assignment of retroactive wins and saves. Smith informed me that their position on wins has been “to follow the officially recorded totals (in the daily player ledgers at the Hall of Fame) even if they would clearly be different today.” Saves are a different story.
“The first save rule became official in 1969 and there have been four versions of it,” Smith explained. “For games from 1969 to the present we follow the official totals, just as with the wins, even though there are some strange cases. The 1974 rule was a real mess. For games played before 1969, we chose to agree with Pete Palmer, who first calculated these. For these games, the following criterion was used: The last pitcher on the winning team gets a save, no matter the score, how many innings he pitched, or how effective he was.”
Pop-boy Smith earned his only career save by dint of Retrosheet’s pre-1969 criteria. On September 1, 1969, the erstwhile hurler entered in a tie game and pitched the final two innings of a 3-2 Indians’ walk-off win. In other words, “Pop-boy” got his only career save in a game where by modern rules he’d have gotten a win. Then, six days later, he got his only career win in a game where by modern rules he’d have gotten a save.
Edmond Americaan, a 22-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder in the Chicago Cubs system, slashed .271/.343/.414 between short-season Eugene and low-A South Bend. A native of Curacao who attended high school in Florida, Americaan was drafted by the Cubs last year out of Chipola College in the 35th round.
Johnabiell Laureano, an 18-year-old outfielder in the Chicago White Sox system, slashed .357/.437/.543 with six home runs in the Dominican Summer League. A right-handed hitter from San Pedro de Macoris, Laureano was signed by the ChiSox in February of last year.
Jose De La Cruz, a 17-year-old outfielder in the Detroit Tigers system, hit a Dominican Summer League-best 11 home runs. Ranked 19th on MLB Pipeline’s Top International Prospects list when he signed last summer out of Fantino, Dominican Republic, De La Cruz slashed .307/.375/.556, and had 16 stolen bases.
Yuki Matsui, a 23-year-old left-handed reliever for NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles, has a 2.00 ERA to go with an NPB-best 36 saves. He’s logged 104 strikeouts while allowing just 37 hits in 67-and-two-thirds innings. Matsui has 30-plus saves in four of the past five seasons.
Alan Busenitz, a 29-year-old right-handed reliever for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, has a 1.43 ERA in 53 appearances covering 50-and-a-third innings. Drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of Kennesaw State University in 2013, Busenitz came out of the bullpen 51 times for the Minnesota Twins between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Parker Meadows is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Tigers system. Detroit’s second-round pick in the 2018 draft is blessed with good genes — his older brother Austin has 32 home runs with the Tampa Bay Rays — and Parker has the potential to bash plenty of baseballs himself. His profile in our 2019 Tigers Top Prospect list noted “plus raw power” and his track record of hitting elite prep pitching.
Work-in-progress would be a good description for the 19-year-old outfielder’s offense. In 504 plate appearances with low-A West Michigan, Meadows went deep just seven times while slashing .221/.296/.312. As disappointing as those numbers seem on the surface, Whitecaps manager Lance Parrish didn’t sound too concerned when I talked to him in mid-August.
“Young players take awhile to mature and get things rolling,” Parrish told me. “I don’t expect miracles right now. It’s not like he’s going to the big leagues tomorrow. He has plenty of time to work out the bugs and fix the things he needs to fix. The great thing I see in Parker is the potential. He can hit. I’ve seen him do it, so I know he can do it. Just like anybody who eventually ends up in the major leagues, he has to do it on a more consistent basis.”
And then there’s his defense. While also a work-in-progress, it likewise has a chance to be plus. Maybe even plus-plus. Parrish comped Meadows’s defensive ceiling to that of a seven-time Gold Glove winner.
“He has the ability to run like Devon White, who I played with in Anaheim and Toronto,” said Parrish. “He takes those big strides. When he opens it up, he can cover as much ground, in a hurry, as anybody out there. He’s extremely fast. Devon White was like that. Parker is gifted in that he’s tall (6-foot-5), and he can run like a deer.”
The Cubs go into the final week battling for a postseason berth, and Joe Maddon’s future is hanging in the balance. If the north-siders fall short — or even if they do reach October, only to get vanquished in the NLDS — Maddon’s five-year tenure in Chicago will almost certainly come to an end. At least that’s the scuttlebutt. Both he and his team are fighting for their proverbial lives.
Back in spring training, when hope sprung eternal for (almost) every team, Maddon uttered words that are especially pertinent today.
“I like the word ‘compete,” Maddon told a group of reporters. “I think we get caught up too much in mechanics, and all sorts of stuff that is being thrown at these guys. At some point you almost forget to compete. All the nuggets, and all the work that you do, is stuff that happens prior to the game. And you should build up a nice plan; when you get out on the field you might grab a nugget now and then. But you’re competing to beat the guy in the other uniform. Period. I don’t know that we talk about that enough.”
It may be all over but for the shouting. The Cubs haven’t “beat the guy in the other uniform” very often of late, and as a result they’re now three games in arrears of the second Wild Card with seven left to play. Hope remains, but the math is against them.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Ringer, Michael Baumann wrote about six wild stats that define the 2019 MLB season.
At Bless You Boys, Ashley MacLennan wrote about how the Detroit Tigers don’t have their own Hall of Fame, and suggested five players not enshrined in Cooperstown who should be recognized if/when the team ever rights that wrong.
Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson is battling more than hitters, as last month he was diagnosed with colitis — the onset of the condition likely related to his having come down with E. coli while on a charitable mission to Haiti. Patrick Reusse has the story at The Star-Tribune.
Rusney Castillo is stuck in Triple-A, not because of performance, but rather the seven-year, $72.5 million contract he signed with the Red Sox in 2014. Stephanie Apstein wrote about the situation for Sports Illustrated.
Over at The LA Times, Bill Shaikin wrote about how many try, but few finish, the world’s toughest baseball quiz.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich has been hit by pitch 25 times this season. He has 18 singles and 19 home runs.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has both the highest batting average (.336) and the lowest walk rate (2.4) among qualified MLB hitters.
Houston Astros batters have a 10.1% walk rate, the highest in MLB. Chicago White Sox batters have a 6.3% walk rate, the lowest in MLB.
Detroit Tigers batters have a 6.6% walk rate, the second lowest in MLB. The team’s 26.3% strikeout rate is the highest in MLB.
Kenley Jansen has the highest career batting average (.375) among players born in Curacao. Jansen has three hits in eight at bats. Randall Simon (455 for 1,609) ranks second with a .283 batting average.
Al Kaline became the 12th player to reach 3,000 hits when he doubled off of Orioles southpaw Dave McNally at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on September 24, 1974. Kaline, who recorded all 3,007 hits of his 22-year career with the Detroit Tigers, is a native of Baltimore.
Cotton Nash recorded the first of this three career MLB hits on September 25, 1969. Playing for the Minnesota Twins, he singled off of Seattle Pilots southpaw Steve Barber. Nash was a small forward for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors in 1964-65, and the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels in 1967-68.
Lu Blue had a .403 on-base percentage and a .403 slugging percentage in 4,133 plate appearances with the Detroit Tigers from 1921-1927.
Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio had 11,230 plate appearance and 10,230 at bats.
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.