Manny Margot upped his launch angle more than any other player in the second half of the 2017 season. Eno Sarris wrote about that fact in January, and as he did so with data alone, a not-insignificant piece of information remained unaddressed: How purposeful was the change, and what (or who) prompted it?
The answer to the latter question is Johnny Washington. San Diego’s assistant hitting coach made the suggestion, and knowing that “hitting the ball in the air gives you more chances in the gaps,” Margot took it to heart.
The 23-year-old outfielder confirmed that “right around the halfway point” is when he began trying to hit more balls in the air. The ways in which he accomplished that goal were twofold.
“A lot of it was swinging at better pitches,” Margot told me earlier this spring. “That was something I focused on, and starting to get to know the pitchers a little better helped me do that.”
The other alteration, which was more subtle than pronounced, was with his swing. Asked if it remained the same throughout the season, Margot said that it didn’t. But while any tweaks were made with elevation in mind, there was by no means a complete revamping of his bat path.
“For me, it’s still about maintaining a line-drive approach and trying to shoot the gaps,” explained Margot. “I don’t think (launch angle) is something you can put too much focus on, or try to control. I can’t go up there thinking I’m going to hit the ball out of the park. That’s not who I’m trying to be. My primary job is to get on base and put pressure on the defense.”
Andy Green agrees. While the Padres skipper “wouldn’t place a number limit on what he could do from a power perspective,” he views Margot as more of a jackrabbit and a table-setter than anything else.
“What we’re looking for Manny to do is score 100 runs,” explained Green. “The No. 1 thing we’d like him to focus on is getting on base. That’s our main driver. I do think there is more power in there, but it’s not at the top of our list to try to tap into that right now.”
Nor is it on the top of Margot’s list, but there’s reason to believe his his extra-base totals — that includes home runs — will be increasing in the years to come. As Margot put it, “If you put your best swing on the ball, the results will take care of themselves,” and that best swing, and the intent that accompanies it, is now tailored toward lift.
Analytics came up in a chat with Jeff Hoffman earlier this spring. In our brief discussion on the subject, I learned that the Rockies right-hander has a complicated relationship with data.
“I don’t use it, I just know about it,” Hoffman claimed. “I try to keep myself off of that kind of stuff. I just focus on my work every day. I don’t really look at numbers, or spin rates, or anything like that.”
After uttering those words, Hoffman paused, then told me with a smile that he mostly just tries to throw the balls straight. But as a young big-league pitcher, he is intrigued by such things, correct?
“It is interesting,” admitted the 25-year-old. “It’s interesting to see things like the correlation between spin rate and how your ball moves. I know what pops up on the TrackMan after each pitch, and what my averages are, but outside of that I don’t pay too much attention to it. I leave all of that up to our analytics guys. If they see something they think is worth bringing up, they’ll bring it up.”
Like all pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez has a routine for his between-starts bullpen sessions. The batters he’ll be facing in his upcoming outing aren’t part of that process. Jimenez will visualize either a left-handed or right-handed hitter in the box — “probably for the last 10 pitches” — but the imagined opponent is typically of the generic variety. The bullpen catcher tells him left or right, then gives him a sign.
Jimenez said that if he does imagine anyone specific, it will be the leadoff hitter — “he’s the first guy I’ll be facing” — but for the most part he relies on scouting reports and video for his player-specific preparation.
Ben Gamel was a pleasant surprise for the Seattle Mariners last year. Getting extended big-league action for the first time in his career, the blond-maned 25-year-old slashed .275/.322/.413, with 11 home runs, in 550 plate appearances.
While the overall numbers were solid, his 2017 was a tale of two seasons for the lefty swinger. From April-June, Gamel’s OPS was .828. From July-September, it was .629.
Gamel didn’t have definitive explanations when I inquired as to the flow and the ebb of his season, but he did say that plate discipline is something he needs to improve upon. Not adequately “deciphering those pitches on the edges,” he drew just a dozen free passes and fanned 54 times over the second half.
Conversely, confidence was his friend early on.
“That was an adjustment I had to make going into the year,” said Gamel. “A lot of people press too much. They stress about things instead of letting the game come to them, and I did a better job of that. I felt comfortable out there.”
Anthony Bemboom is your classic catch-and-throw backup catcher. A 28-year-old native of St. Cloud, Minnesota who entered pro ball in 2012, he’s thus far filled that role on the farm. Last season — his first in the Colorado Rockies system — he appeared in 45 games with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Bemboom was a 22nd-round pick out of Creighton University, so in terms of upward mobility he’s been behind the 8-ball from the get-go. That’s not the attitude he took when the Angels inked him to his first contract.
“If someone let me put a jersey on, I was going to do everything I could,” Bemboom told me at Colorado’s big-league camp, where he was a non-roster invitee. “I didn’t put too much thought into the politics long-term. I just took each opportunity at face value and basically went step by step. It can be hard to look at the big picture — especially when you’re younger — but I tried to not look past my short-term goals.”
Bemboom has performed well since being claimed off waivers in December 2016. He slashed .278/.390/.459 in 160 plate appearances with the Isotopes, and this spring he went 5 for 14, with a pair of home runs. Bemboom was returned to minor league camp on Saturday.
There are two affiliate changes in minor league baseball this season, both in the Appalachian League. The Greeneville Astros are now the Greeneville Reds, meaning that Cincinnati has added a farm club, while Houston has dropped one. Separately, the Florida State League’s Tampa Yankees are now the Tampa Tarpons, and the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves are the Gwinnett Stripers.
Brian Roberts and Fred Manfra have been inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame and will be honored on August 11 at Camden Yards. Roberts played second base for the Orioles from 2001-2013. Manfra spent 24 years with the Orioles Radio Network.
The third edition of The Baseball Thesaurus is now available. If you want to know why a bullpen is called a bullpen, a bunt is called a bunt, and a southpaw is called a southpaw — or maybe you want to learn about Napoleon Lajoie’s double knob — this is where to look. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the play-by-play voice of the Lansing Lugnuts, is the book’s author.
Time for a little amazing-but-true history:
Ray Caldwell of the New York Yankees hit a home run on three consecutive days in June 1915. The first two came as a pinch hitter in games against the Chicago White Sox. The third came as he hurled a complete-game win over the St. Louis Browns.
Four years later, Caldwell was struck by lighting while pitching for the Cleveland Indians against the Philadelphia A’s. The right-hander, who was reportedly fond of alcohol and female companionship, threw a complete game that day, as well.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Bob Tewksbury and Scott Miller’s newly-released Ninety Percent Mental includes a great Ted Simmons anecdote. Early in his career, the former all-star catcher attended classes at the University of Michigan during the offseason, and one cold, winter weekend he was hitch-hiking home to Detroit. The van that picked him up had a drum kit in back, so Simmons asked the driver if he played in a band. He did. The driver, who had yet to hit the big time, was Bob Seger.
I wrote about Dan Vogelbach this past Thursday, with his new drive-the-ball-in-the-air approach the focus of the article. Left on the cutting room floor from our late-February sit-down were his thoughts on the mental side of the game.
“I like to hit, and one of the biggest things about hitting is confidence,” shared the 25-year-old Mariner. “If you have any doubts when you step in the box, you’re already defeated. You can work on mechanics, you can work on your swing and your bat path, but what it comes down to is thinking in your head that you’re better than the guy on the mound.”
Vogelbach admitted that self-doubt has sometimes crept into his psyche.
“I think it does for everybody,” he said. “Sometimes you’re in a slump and… it’s hard to be confident sometimes. But the best hitters limit how many times they feel that way. I try to step in there feeling that I’m better than him, and if he gets me, he gets me. I’ll get him next time.”
Is it just me, or do others also feel that the “Save America’s Pastime Act” is an absurdly-named proposal? Regardless of what one thinks of the proposal itself (I’m not a fan), does anyone actually believe that the future of baseball would be endangered by it not passing? Give me a break. “Help Protect the Profit Margins of Deep-Pocketed Owners” might be a more accurate name.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Athletic, Jake Kaplan wrote about Sig Mejdal’s dual role with the Astros — he’s both an analyst and a roving minor league coach.
Oakland A’s prospect Jesus Luzardo was running late for a pitching session at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when he received a text telling him there had been a shooting. Tyler Kepner provided the details at The New York Times.
Charlie Pride played in the Negro Leagues before becoming a country music legend — he’s had 36 No. 1 hits — and Jack Dickey wrote about him at Sports Illustrated.
A 73-year-old Philadelphia Phillies scout has stayed in the same Scottsdale hotel, in the same room no less, for each of the last 38 years. Bob Nightengale has the story at USA Today.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Rod Carew had a BABiP of .350 or higher 11 times in his career.
Over the last 10 seasons, Pittsburgh Pirates batters have been hit by a pitch 647 times, the most of any team. Colorado Rockies batters have been hit by a pitch 435 times, the fewest of any team.
Over the last 10 seasons, Detroit Tigers batters have grounded into 1,390 double plays, the most of any team. Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres batters have each grounded into 1,089 double plays, the fewest of any team.
In his first 10 big-league seasons, Eric Davis had 301 stolen bases and was caught 45 times. His 87% success rate was the highest in the game over that period of time (1984-1993).
In his last four full seasons, Shoeless Joe Jackson hit 72 triples and struck out 74 times.
Ben Shields, a left-handed pitcher for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies from 1924-1931, finished his career with a record of 4-0 and a 8.27 ERA. Along the way, he issued 27 free passes and logged nine strikeouts.
Frenchy Bordagaray, who was famous for having a mustache in an era where players were expected to be clean shaven, went 22 for 53 off the bench for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938. As a member of the starting lineup, he went 22 for 109.
Phil Marchildon, a native of Penetanguishine, Ontario, Canada who spent nine months in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1944, walked an MLB-high 141 batters while going 19-9 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947.
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.