Casey Meisner is having a fairly decent season. The 21-year-old Oakland A’s prospect has allowed three or fewer earned runs in nine of his 12 starts. That’s even more impressive when you consider that he’s pitching in the hitter-friendly California League.
His W-L record is 0-10.
Fortunately for his sanity, the righty understands that wins and losses are largely out of a pitcher’s control.
“It’s obviously really bad to be (0-10), but I can’t do anything about that,” said Meisner, who has been taking the mound for the Stockton Ports. “I’ve deserved a few of the losses, but we’ve scored more than two runs in only two of my starts. As a team, we’re not having a very good season.”
Meisner projects to have a good career. A third-round pick by the Mets in 2013, he came to Oakland two years later in exchange for Tyler Clippard. Six-foot-seven with a fastball-changeup-curveball mix, he went 13-5 with a 2.45 ERA last season between two levels.
The Cypress, Texas product is satisfied with the quality of his pitches — “Everything is good on that end” — but he’s not pleased with his 4.9 walk rate. He attributes the free passes to two things, only one of which he can control.
“I was trying to be too fine, especially earlier in the season,” admitted Meisner. “I was trying to pick corners. Plus, the umpires in this league can be really bad with their zones. They’re either really small or they’re up and down. Some games you have to pitch up, and some games you have to pitch down.”
Meisner would like to lower his ERA, which currently stands at 4.55. At the same time, he knows where he’s pitching.
“I have a sub-par ERA — it’s over 4.00 — but when you look at my number of losses, you’d expect it to be 9.00 or 10.00,” said Meisner. “But I’m not sure my ERA is even that much higher than league average. The ball really carries in most of the places we play. This is just a bad luck streak that I’m on. Hopefully I can get off of it and get some wins.”
A few days ago, Jesse Winker played in a game with the wind “kind of howling out to right field.” The Reds outfield prospect swings from the left side, and “it’s hard to not try to go for it when that happens.” As a hitter who takes pride in his plate discipline, Winker focused on staying within himself and not getting too pull happy.
Two years ago, he spent half a season in the California League. One road trip brought him to Lancaster, which is known for its jet stream to right field. Balls hit in that direction tend to go a long way. But not always.
“On the bus ride there, all I heard was, ‘Oh my god, this place is a launching pad,” said Winker, who is now with Triple-A Louisville. ‘Guys were saying, ‘You’re going to be hitting balls on the highway.’ When we got there, the wind was blowing like that, but it was blowing dead in. For me, Lancaster stunk.”
Adversity shrugged off, Floyd is back on the mound and throwing curveballs with conviction. Pitching out of the Blue Jays bullpen, he has lowest WHIP (1.095) and highest strikeout rate (9.5) of his 13-year, big-league career.
Floyd pitched briefly in each of his injury seasons, but for all intents and purposes he was on the shelf for three years. I asked him how much impact a layoff of that length has on feel.
“It’s not like you’re reinventing anything,” replied Floyd. “As long as your nerves are the same, I don’t think there are any issues of getting it back. More than anything, you have to refine your mechanics again.
“It’s more of a mental thing. You can be paralyzed by the fear of what’s going to happen. But once you’re okay with how you feel — once you’re not restricted by the fear of being injured again — everything feels pretty natural. In your mind and body, there’s that simplicity of see-and-throw. It’s something you’re done your whole life.”
Not all pitchers are the same. When the Cardinals made him a first-round pick in 2013, Rob Kaminsky was considered to have the best curveball in his high school draft class. That changed in his first full season of pro ball. Focusing on his changeup, he lost feel for his signature pitch. Two years later, he’s in the Indians system and still struggling to regain consistent command of the offering.
“The curveball is a feel pitch,” Kaminsky told me earlier this year. “Some people say once you know how to throw it, it can only get better. I disagree. Once you lose feel for it, or your arm slot drops, it’s a totally different pitch.”
Twenty-one teams have a sport psychologist a or performance coach on their major league staff. That’s a lot by old-school standards. Conversely, it’s nine fewer than you might expect. Teams are always looking for an edge. As Yogi Berra famously said, “90 percent of the game is half mental.”
I approached one of the 21 with a question: Given that pitching is proactive and hitting is reactive, does working with pitchers differ from working with hitters? The response I received was as follows:
“In psychology, we talk about locus of control. Someone who feels they get to initiate things versus someone who feels like they’re reacting. For pitchers, there is that feeling of control and being able to perfect a craft. Hitting is more responsive in nature, with less feeling of total control. That impacts how they’re going to plan your approach, and in some ways how you’re going to respond to adversity.
“With hitters, there is the acceptance that you can hit a line drive and someone is standing there. You’ve done everything right, but you didn’t get a good result. The same is technically true for pitchers, but I think there’s less of that acceptance.
“When you feel you don’t control things, superstitions are a place some players will go. That may be a little easier for hitters, because of the relative lack of control. Pitchers are focusing on things that can help them control what they’re about to do. Superstitions might create the falsehood of doing that, of helping you control what happens, but they really don’t do that.”
I had an interesting exchange with Bob Melvin during spring training. I didn’t know it at the time.
The A’s manager told me that when Scott Kazmir was in Oakland, the southpaw “wanted information from our analytics department,” and “was pretty focused on spin rates.”
I made a mental note to ask Kazmir about that. A few weeks later I got the chance, and his answer wasn’t what I was expecting.
“I haven’t looked at spin rate, probably ever,” responded Kazmir, who now pitches for the Dodgers. “I’ve never got into that deal.”
Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register was there, and he asked Kazmir, “How did you spend time in Oakland and not get into that stuff?”
“I don’t know,” answered Kazmir. “I actually saw a little bit more when I was with the Astros. Maybe that’s because Lance McCullers was the campion of curveball spin rate? That’s all I know.”
Color me skeptical. I think Kazmir knows more than he was letting on.
MINOR LEAGUE NOTES
The West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers) have hit nine home runs, the fewest in the Midwest League. Their record is 35-23. The Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers) have hit 44 home runs, the most in the Midwest League. Their record is 25-34.
Tyler O’Neill, Seattle’s third-round pick in 2013, leads the Southern League in hitting (.326) and slugging percentage (.574). The 20-year-old native of British Columbia led the California League in home runs last year with 32.
Austin Meadows, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2013, has an 18-game hitting streak at Double-A Altoona. The 21-year-old outfielder is hitting .308/.365/.582 on the season.
Left-handed reliever Hoby Milner has allowed one earned run in 30 innings between Reading and Lehigh Valley. The 25-year-old Phillies prospect has 34 strikeouts and has given up 17 hits.
Some pitchers have fastballs that play better than their radar readings. According to Tigers infielder Mike Aviles, one of his current teammates is among them.
“I always thought Jordan Zimmermann had a good fastball,” said Aviles. “I mean, he was throwing mid 90s, but it was a different mid 90s. The first time I faced him, I came in after breaking my bat and said, ‘Why didn’t somebody tell me his fastball jumps halfway to the plate?’ His ball comes at a different speed than the gun says it does.”
Tyler Flowers is wearing a new, high-tech catcher’s mask this year. He described it to me as “basically a suspension system that absorbs the impact of foul tips.”
Flowers is involved with the company that makes the mask, Force3 Pro Gear, but he wasn’t able to wear it prior to this season. Due to contractual obligation, he donned a mask made by Under Armor. How long do equipment contracts typically run?
Cesar Cedeno hit .285/.347/.443 with 199 home runs from 1970-1986. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that his first 12 seasons were spent in Houston. Few ballparks have suppressed offense as much as the bygone Astrodome.
Cedeno’s accomplishments include 550 stolen bases, four All-Star berths, and five Gold Gloves. The Dominican centerfielder boasted a 123 adjusted OPS, the same number put up by Tim Raines, and a percentage point higher than Ernie Banks and Paul Molitor.
Some weren’t satisfied. According to Joe Sambito, who played with Cedeno for five seasons, his former Astros teammate was burdened by unreasonable expectations.
“Many thought he was going to a Roberto Clemente type of player,” said Sambito. “He fell a little short of that, and as a result some people were disappointed. They maybe thought he maybe failed, because he never blossomed into what they expected.
“Cedeno was a very blessed athlete. Of all the guys I played with, he probably had the most physical ability. His problem was staying healthy. He played so hard that he got hurt — I think the injuries he had over the years kind of wore him down — but he still had a great career.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Over at The National Pastime Museum, Mark Armour wrapped up his series on Topps baseball cards with The Best of the Best.
Is First Base Dead? Aaron Gleeman of Baseball Prospectus thinks it might be.
The list of featured speakers for this summer’s SABR convention is now out. It’s impressive.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Hockey great Gordie Howe, who passed away on Friday, played with the Saskatoon 55s of the Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League in 1951. Howe’s NHL numbers include 1,767 games played, 1,850 points and 1,685 penalty minutes.
Per Elias, when Kelly Johnson was traded from Atlanta to the Mets this week, he became the second player in MLB history to be traded from one team to another in consecutive seasons. Chad Kreuter was traded from the White Sox to the Angels in both 1997 and 1998.
On June 15, 1939, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired first baseman Elbie Fletcher from the Boston Bees in exchange for infielder Bill Schuster. The latter totaled 61 hits over a brief career. Fletcher went on to lead the National League in OBP in 1941, 1942 and 1943.
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.