Sunday Notes: Mendoza-Hendricks Nerdiness, Selsky as Dangerfield, Edwards Evoked ’86, more

Jessica Mendoza’s ears perked up while she was conversing with Kyle Hendricks yesterday afternoon. The ESPN analyst was doing game prep for this evening’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when the Chicago Cubs right-hander mentioned effective velocity.

“I interrupted him,” Mendoza told me later. “I said, ‘Can we talk about that?’

If you read this Sunday Notes column from last August, that won’t surprise you. The Stanford-educated Mendoza is a baseball nerd. So is the Dartmouth-educated Hendricks, who was more than happy to oblige her request.

“It was refreshing, because that’s (the type of subject) we love talking about,” said Hendricks. “We started talking about bat paths, two- and four-seam fastballs, how to attack hitters. That was the first time I’d met her, and it was great to talk baseball with her. You can tell she’s very knowledgeable, especially about hitting.”

How Hendricks is avoiding bats is what Mendoza wanted to address when she approached him in the clubhouse. She was especially curious about his velocity, which has been down this year. That’s where the ear-perking subject came up.

“He’s such a body awareness guy, and that’s what he went straight for,” Mendoza told me. “He doesn’t actually look at the numbers — he’s not looking at 88 or 86 — he’s feeling his effective velocity. He’s reading that the hitter is seeing the ball longer, because he’s fouling off a pitch he’ll usually swing and miss at. That tells him he’s showing the ball too long, and needs to make an adjustment to where he’s hiding it better.

“The reason Kyle Hendricks is so good isn’t his stuff. He’s not going to be a Chris Sale and blow it by you with crazy movement. It’s that he has such a great feel, and read, of the hitter, and of what his own body is doing. And he does pay a lot of attention to things like effective velocity and pitch sequencing. He’s aware of things that a lot of pitchers aren’t.”

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Joe Maddon didn’t talk to Mendoza yesterday, but he’s done so previously, mostly about hitting. He’s impressed with her knowledge — “she knows the game as well as any guy’ — and her softball background is of particular interest. When the Cubs skipper was 20 years old and playing in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, he did double duty as a shortstop on a fastpitch softball team. He considers it a harder game than baseball.

“I’d love to have a fastpitch pitcher throw batting practice to major league hitters,” said Maddon. “There’s less time, so it would definitely make them shorter and quicker, and stay through the ball longer. There are positives that could be derived from that.”

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Maddon doesn’t see many positives in anger, but that’s arguably less the case when it comes to John Lackey. The veteran hurler isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality, especially when he’s on the mound. His demeanor might be better described as a cross between pugnacious and bellicose.

“Johnny definitely orbits in a different manner,” opined Maddon. “He’s always been that guy. I’ve know him since 2001 or 2002 — whenever it was — and back in the day when I was a bench coach, I was able to go have a beer with him afterwards and settle him down a little bit. I did in the dugout today, also, when I took him out of the game… You know he’s not happy. You know it. So I went at him with my logic, and he accepted it.”

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Steve Selsky didn’t get much of a chance before being sent down to Pawtucket on Thursday. The 27-year-old infielder-outfielder spent three weeks on the Red Sox roster and got off the bench just eight times. He came to the plate a grand total of nine times.

He’s gotten used to being treated like Rodney Dangerfield.

Selsky was originally drafted by the Rockies in 2010, but it’s unclear why. The draft-eligible sophomore was prepared to put his name on a dotted line, but Colorado never put an offer on the table. With no contract to sign, he returned to the University of Arizona for his junior year.

Selsky was drafted and signed by the Reds a year later, but they didn’t exactly put him on the fast track. The 33rd-rounder slugged 18 home runs and logged a healthy .892 OPS in his first full professional season, but then he got lost in the shuffle.

“I broke camp (in 2013) as a fifth outfielder,” explained Selsky. “I was in Double-A, behind a couple of 40-man outfielders and high-round picks. That kind of made me the odd man out, and when you don’t get to play, everyone kind of forgets about you.”

Resilience paid off. Selsky “kind of stuck around long enough for someone to notice.” Playing time was often at a premium, but when he did get at bats, he usually produced. That was despite a slow-to-diagnose eye issue — “a weird stigmatism, a weird axis problem” — that ultimately resulted him getting custom contacts.

There was also a knee injury to deal with, and it likely impacted his post-baseball career as much as it did his big league aspirations. Selsky took business courses while he was rehabbing, which was a departure from his previous course of study: physiology and anatomy. What he plans to do after hanging up his spikes is “slowly changing.”

How soon that day comes remains to be seen. Selsky made the most of his first big-league opportunity, slashing .314/.340/.471 in 24 games with the Reds last year. His reward was being designated him for assignment over the winter. Now, after barely getting a chance in Boston, he’s back in the minors. Respect is hard to come by.

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Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer is well aware of launch angle data. But while he’s “kind of dug into some analytics,” he’s not particularly big on them. At least not in terms of his swing or overall approach.

“Those haven’t changed too much,” Mercer told me a few weeks ago. “I’m still a gap-to-gap guy. I don’t have a lot of power — some, but not a lot — so I’m more about moving the ball around, using the opposite field, being a hit-and-run guy. I can hit it out of the park, but if I get too home-run happy, I create a lot of holes in my swing.”

Over the past three-plus seasons, Mercer has the lowest pull rate (38.4%) and highest opposite-field rate (25.7%) of Pirates hitters with at least 600 plate appearances. His 15.5% strikeout rate is second-lowest on the club, bested only by Josh Harrison’s 14.8%. Mercer has 37 home runs in 2,090 career plate appearances.

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Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post posed an interesting question on Twitter a few days ago: If a pitcher never throws a pitch for an intentional walk, why should it be an earned run? Shouldn’t the run be charged to the team?

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Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi benefitted from a scoring change earlier this week. It was made by the league office in New York, which routinely reviews decisions that are challenged. In this case, an official scorer at Fenway Park had charged a Pirates infielder with an error for not handling a throw. Here’s what happened.

With a runner on first base and less than two outs, Benintendi blooped a ball that fell safely in short centerfield. Wary that the ball might be caught, the runner got a late jump, and the throw from the outfielder — in the opinion of the official scorer — would have been in time to force him at second had it not been muffed.

New York thought otherwise. After reviewing the play, they erased the error and awarded a hit to Benintendi.

How does the challenge process work? It’s pretty straightforward, and according to Red Sox senior director of media relations Kevin Gregg, it’s changed for the better.

“It used to be that the team would ask the PR director to lobby for something to be changed,” said Gregg. “Now the player can go to the team to argue on his behalf — that’s the most common way it’s done — or to the Players’ Association to argue on his behalf. Either way, the plays in question need to be submitted to the league office for review within 72 hours of the game.”

The media relations/PR director does still play a part in the process. If a scoring decision is made that his, or her, team may not like, he/she will typically ask the official scorer for an interpretation. That can then be communicated to the league office (Joe Torre is the ultimate decision maker for scoring reviews) which wouldn’t otherwise receive that piece of information. Because a scoring change would affect players on both teams, the league office informs each of the two media relations directors when a review is being conducted.

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APRIL NOTES

Minnesota Twins batters had drawn 98 walks, the most in the majors. Miami Marlins batters had drawn 53 walks, the fewest in the majors.

Milwaukee Brewers pitchers have walked 94 batters, the most in the majors. New York Yankees pitchers have walked 58 batters, the fewest in the majors.

In last Sunday’s column, I noted that Ivan Nova has four complete games and has walked three batters since joining the Pirates last August. He now has five complete game and has walked four batters.

On Friday, Albert Pujols became the all-time leader in RBI for a foreign-born player, passing Cuba native Rafael Palmeiro. Pujols, who hails from the Dominican Republic, has now driven in 1,839 runs, the same number as Ted Williams. Only 13 players in history have more.

Eric Thames hit eight home runs against the Cincinnati Reds in April. Three other players have hit that many against a single opponent in a single month: New York’s Babe Ruth vs the Athletics in May 1930, Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell vs the Braves in April 1971, and Philadelphia’s Deron Johnson vs the Expos in July 1971.

This past Wednesday, Aaron Judge became the first Yankees batter to homer at Fenway Park on his birthday since Roger Maris in 1966 (per Mike Shalin of The New Hampshire Union Leader).

Aaron Judge’s home run on Saturday was his 10th of the season, making him the third player in franchise history with at least that many in the months of March and April. The others are Alex Rodriguez (14 in 2007) and Graig Nettles (11 in 1974).

Arizona’s 11-3 start matched the franchise record for their best 14-game start at home. This past Wednesday, the D-Backs drew 12,215 fans against the Padres, the lowest one-game attendance in Chase Field history.

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Six months ago, Carl Edwards Jr. was on the mound in the 10th inning of World Series Game 7. He claims he was calm. As the 25-year-old Chicago Cubs reliever told me on Friday, “No matter how big the stage is, it’s still baseball. I felt normal.”

Edwards said he actually had more nerves when he came in to face the middle of the Cincinnati Reds’ order in the 11th inning of a tie game, back in June. With just seven-and-a-third big-league innings under his belt, he wasn’t yet used to “that kind of pressure.” By the time the postseason rolled around, he was ready for anything. Plus, the Cubs “were up by two runs.”

Which brings us to the early-morning hours of November 3.

Edwards retired the first two Cleveland Indians batters he faced, then allowed a walk, which was followed by a defensive-indifference advancement and a run-scoring single. Suddenly it was a one-run game and the rookie right-hander was being replaced by Mike Montgomery.

Flash back to October 1986. The Red Sox led the Mets by two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning, and with a young righty named Calvin Schiraldi having retired the first two batters, they were an out away from breaking a curse. Schiraldi then gave up three straight singles to bring the Mets within a run, and was lifted from the game. A wild pitch and Bill Buckner later, the unraveling was complete.

Edwards is familiar with that game, although not every detail. He didn’t know who Calvin Schiraldi was when I mentioned his name. As for whether he’s allowed himself to ponder what could have been — a 1986-like disaster — let’s just say he wasn’t going there.

“It didn’t happen,” said Edwards. “There’s no need to think about what-ifs.”

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Bruces Miles has been covering baseball in Chicago for nearly three decades. He’s seen a lot, so I asked the Daily Herald scribe if he’d like to share a few anecdotes from his early years on the beat. Here is what he gave me:

“When Terry Bevington was manager of the White Sox, things were going bad for a stretch. The media didn’t like him, and he didn’t like the media. One day before a game I asked him if the ‘drumbeat of negativity’ was getting to him.

“He said: ‘Huh?’ I said: ‘Is the drumbeat of negativity getting to you?’ He paused and said: ‘You mean that guy in Cleveland?’ He was referring to the guy who beats the drum at the Indians games.

“In the spring of 1998, Kerry Wood was trying to make the club out of spring training. He was impressing everyone, especially his teammates, who all wanted him to come north with the team. After a game against the Brewers at the Maryvale complex, I asked catcher Scott Servais where Kerry ranked, in stuff, with guys that he had caught. Servais didn’t say a word. All he did was hold up his index finger, meaning No. 1.“

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Jacob Wheeler, the older brother of Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, is a poet and photographer whose heart condition squelched his own athletic aspirations. Kevin Kernan has the story at The New York Post.

Billy Witz of The New York Times profiled Austin Romine, whose circuitous journey hasn’t dulled his ambition.

Long before Vin Scully and Harry Caray became baseball-broadcast legends, there was Graham McNamee. Jacob Pomrenke wrote about him at The National Pastime Museum.

MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian covers the bases after most Indians games, and he does so as analytically as anyone on the beat. This past Wednesday’s effort is a fine example.

The Rays know that defensive shifts can be a double-edges sword. Marc Topkin wrote about it at The Tampa Bay Times.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Billy Hamilton is 24 for 26 in stolen base attempts with Yadier Molina behind the plate. The only other player with double-digit steals against Molina is Carlos Gomez (12 for 13).

Firpo Marberry, who pitched from 1923-1936, mostly with the Washington Senators, led the American League in saves six times. He finished with a career total of 99 saves.

Drew Storen’s next save will be the 100th of his career, while Cody Allen needs three more to reach the century mark. There are currently 148 players in the record books with 100-or-more saves.

On this date in 1961, Willie Mays had four home runs and eight RBI as the San Francisco Giants beat the Milwaukee Braves 14-4 at County Stadium.

On this date in 1967, Baltimore’s Steve Barber and Stu Miller combined to no-hit the Tigers. The Orioles lost 2-1 when Detroit scored twice in the top of the ninth inning on three walks, a sacrifice, a wild pitch, and an error.

In 1927, Washington Senators right-hander Sloppy Thurston — his signature pitch was a screwball — went 13-13 with a 4,47 ERA. He was far better at the plate. Sloppy slashed .315/.351/.467 and drove in 17 runs.





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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John Autin
5 years ago

About that 4/30/1967 no-hitter … Baltimore had scored its run in the home 8th without a hit: walk, sac bunt, IBB, walk to Steve Barber, sac fly. Barber was a bad-hitting pitcher, suggesting that skipper Hank Bauer left him in just because had a no-no going. That backfired after Barber began the 9th by issuing his 9th and 10th walks of the game.

Bauer’s decision was consistent with contemporary practice, but may have been further influenced by seeing Barber fall 2 outs short of a no-hitter just two starts before.

Also, since the O’s got just 2 hits themselves, that is the last MLB game that totaled 2 hits or less.