Sunday Notes: Melvin’s Dialogue, Cecchini’s Failed Launch, Hickey, Hill, more

Bob Melvin is up to date on advanced stats and baseball’s technological advancements. As the manager of the Oakland A’s, he has to be. The game’s original Moneyball club is in much the same position they were when Kevin Youkilis was being dubbed “The Greek God of Walks” — monetarily challenged, they need to be as progressive as possible to compete.

When it comes to communicating ideas with his players, Melvin is careful not to introduce sensory overload. After all, not everyone on the roster is a Brandon McCarthy or a Jed Lowrie.

“It’s our job, as a staff, to be able to reach the players who want this type of information,” said Melvin. “Some can handle it, while for others it might be a distraction. Certain guys need information in layman’s terms. You have to take the principles and present them in a language they can grasp, because when you’re in a game, you can’t have too much clutter in the your brain.

“We’re a cutting edge organization that is always looking for advantages. With things like exit velocities and spin rates… we hire people to look at that. The people above me — David (Forst) and Billy (Beane) and these guys — do a good job of helping spoon-feed it down to the people we feel can handle it, and benefit by it.”

According to Melvin, more than aptitude is at play. In some situations, a player will treat a suggestion like a marching order, and go forward without fully grasping why the adjustment might be to his benefit.

“Some guys ask why, but others don’t really have any dialogue with you, even if they’re trying to do something that’s uncomfortable for them,” explained Melvin. “That’s usually a younger player who is trying to appease the coaches. You have to know your players. It’s usually more the cerebral guys, or the veteran guys who have seen the evolution of the game to where it is now, that grasp it a little better. The younger players you maybe need to spoon feed it to a little more.”

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Heading into the 2014 season, Garin Cecchini was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 6 prospect in a strong Red Sox system (one spot in front of Mookie Betts, no less). A smooth left-handed stroke and a discerning eye were the primary reasons. He subsequently slashed .258/.361/.452 in a September cup of coffee, further suggesting that he was on the cusp of big-league success.

Then he tinkered with his swing, and went from OBP machine to standing on the precipice of oblivion. After slashing .213/.286/.296 with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2015, he was summarily swapped to the Brewers in exchange for cash considerations.

“I wanted to see if I could tap into some power,” explained Cecchini, who is now in the Kansas City Royals organization. “I tried to do all that launch angle stuff — I tried to get under the ball and hit it in the air — and that’s not me. My swing wasn’t right, and I wasn’t right mentally, because I didn’t know what adjustment to make to get it right. That was the most frustrating part.”

When I asked the 25-year-old third baseman who instigated the failed adjustment — the Red Sox or himself — he hesitated before answering.

“It wasn’t club driven,” claimed Cecchini after the pause. “You always want see how you can take that next step, but not everybody can be like a Josh Donaldson and work on things like launch angles. I mean, if you talk to Mookie Betts, he doesn’t think about that stuff. Eric Hosmer doesn’t think about that stuff. Looking back, I shouldn’t have changed anything.

“What made me successful before is what’s going to make me successful at the big league level. I just need an opportunity to prove that. But it has been frustrating at times. You have one bad year and people are like, ‘Can he hit?’ I mean, I’ve played six seasons, and only one of them was bad. It’s crazy to think I can’t hit.”

Cecchini hit .271/.325/.380 for Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate last year. He signed a free agent contract with the Royals over the winter.

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Last fall, I chatted with Aaron Hill as he was packing up his gear at the conclusion of his 12th big-league season. We talked about how hitters see the ball better against some pitchers than others, and what that means from a mental standpoint. Not surprisingly, he had a good take.

“Knowing that you hit a guy well helps your confidence,” Hill told me. “It can change your mindset. Instead of going up to the plate, ‘Oh, man, I’m struggling right now, so I’m just going to try to put the ball in play,’ you’re thinking ‘I’ve got this guy.’

According to the veteran infielder — currently in camp with the Giants — some match-ups can have a lingering effect.

“Sometimes that will trigger you going forward,” said Hill. “But it can also work the other way around. There are some guys where, after you face them, you seem to go into a slump. They mess you up that bad. Other guys help bring back those positive thoughts.”

I asked Hill how often managers ask hitters about certain hurlers when making lineup decisions.

“I think they mostly go off the numbers,” responded Hill. “They’ll look at the sheets and see how much success you have, or haven’t, had. At times, they might ask an everyday player, ‘Hey, do you see the ball well against this guy?’ You tell them yes or no, and that can sway their opinion. Maybe.”

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Earlier this week, Travis Sawchik wrote about how the Tampa Bay Rays like the high fastball. Doing double duty on the data-driven AL East club, he followed up with a look at their changeup philosophy — or, as pitching coach Jim Hickey preferred calling it, their changeup lineage.

Whatever terminology you choose to use, the Rays do have pitching philosophies in place. Many of them were detailed in this interview with Neil Allen, who coached in the organization for several years before moving on to Minnesota.

Dick Bosman and Dewey Robinson, who work in concert as the club’s minor-league pitching coordinators, set the organizational tone. Hickey still has some fine-tuning to do, but he’s not pulling strings down on the farm.

“I’m aware of things, but I’m not involved with what they do,” Hickey told me. “I don’t sit down with Dick and Dewey and say, ‘Listen, at this level we’re going to make sure guys have the ability to command the glove side of the plate, and then the next step is going to be to add a changeup.’ They see the guys, and they decide to add or subtract pitches as they see fit.

“I think that’s the way it should be. When I was a minor league pitching coach, very little was mandated to me. You always did what you thought was in the best interest of a kid. Obviously, you’d run it up the chain of command — you’re not going to take away Blake Snell’s curveball, and have him add a cutter, without consulting with somebody. We all need to be on the same page, and we pretty much are. Of course, things are different at the different levels. You’re trying to accomplish certain things at the lower levels, whereas at the higher levels you’re finishing guys up.”

———

Derek Hill hit a bump in the road last summer when he underwent Tommy John surgery. When he returns later this season, he’ll continue his quest to be the next Torii Hunter.

Detroit’s 2014 first-round pick is a defensively-gifted centerfielder, and he grew up admiring the erstwhile Twins, Angels, and Tigers fly-catcher.

“I model myself after Torii Hunter” Hill told me shortly before suffering his injury. “His aggressiveness, his desire for the ball. He was a nine-time Gold Glove winner. How could you not love that?”

Hill had an opportunity to learn from his hero prior to last season, when he spent a week-plus at Hunter’s house. The advice he received was golden.

“He talked to me about trusting my instincts and not getting too caught up in the mechanics of the game,” explained the 21-year-old former California prep. “He said to just go out there and have fun, and don’t press too much. He said to pretty much act like it’s a high school game.”

The speedy youngster looks up to current big-leaguers as well, but for him, none can match up to his longtime idol.

“I like Mookie Betts a lot,” said Hill. “He’s another guy who is aggressive and trusts his instincts. He’s kind of a role model, but for me, no one will be more of one than Torii. Growing up, I always wore his number. I tried to tailor my game specifically to his.”

———

Dick Williams is pleased with Joey Votto’s attitude. The sweet-swinging first baseman’s name came up in our recent conversation about the Reds rebuild, and Williams’ words suggested equanimity, if not serenity, in what could potentially be a volatile situation.

“Everything he’s said has been very supportive of where we are,” said Cincinnati’s top executive. “He seems to be really enjoying it, and he’s helping a lot of the young guys now. It’s great.”

Statements aide, it’s hard to believe everything is peaches and cream. Votto knows better than to kvetch — that would be a bad look given his handsome salary — but being a superstar on a cellar-dweller isn’t fun. His chin may be up for the public eye, but inside, he’s presumably quite wistful.

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Writing for The Ringer, Ben Lindberg explored why fantasy baseball clings to archaic stats in an increasingly-analytic era.

At The New York Times, James Wagner wrote about how Venezuelan baseball players love their chaotic country from afar.

ESPN’s Bruce Schoenfeld took a detailed look at Haitian-Dominicans in MLB, and why discrimination has them flying well under the radar.

According to The Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan, the Astros are planning to put Sig Mejdal, their lead analysts, in uniform as a development coach for their short-season affiliate.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

From 1924-1929, Red Ruffing went 39-93 with a 4.57 ERA and a 4.08 FIP. From 1934-1939, Ruffing went 117-55 with a 3.37 ERA and 4.08 FIP.

Juan Marichal went 37-18, with a 2.36 ERA, versus the Dodgers. He went 0-1, with a 13.50 ERA, with the Dodgers . (Yes, Giants fans, Marichal finished his Hall of Fame career in a Los Angeles uniform.)

Pitching for the Senators, Indians, and Tigers from 1948-1954, Dick Weik issued 237 free passes in 213-and-a-third innings. His 9.98 walks per nine innings is the highest of any pitcher to throw at least 100 career innings.

Pitching for the Orioles, Reds, Red Sox, Angels, and Devil Rays from 1993-1998, Brad Pennington issued 89 free passes in 75-and-two-thirds innings. His 10.59 walks per nine innings is the highest of any pitcher to throw at least 40 career innings.

Counting his postseason appearance, Cleveland rookie Ryan Merritt has tossed 15-and-a-third innings without walking a batter. Over the last 100 years, no pitcher has as many innings, without at least one walk, on his career ledger.

Jack Spring pitched 186 big-league innings, most of them with the Los Angeles Angels. Spring was briefly a Chicago Cub, and in 1964 he was part of the infamous trade that sent Lou Brock to the Cardinals in exchange for Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz.

Rock and Roll legend Charles “Chuck” Berry, who passed away yesterday, was born on October 18, 1926. Charles “Charlie” Berry, a big-league catcher from 1925-1938, was born on October 18, 1902





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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