Sunday Notes: Mets, Cubs, Mounds, Manager Musings, more

Mounds are set to specifications. They need to be elevated 10 inches above the rest of the field and slope at a rate of one inch per foot over a span of at least six feet. The front edge of the rubber has to be exactly 60 feet, six inches from the rear point of home plate.

They may be the same, but they don’t all feel the same. Jonathan Broxton, Steve Cishek and Jason Motte told me that each one is a little different. Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist opined that they’re all the same, but then compromised his claim by saying “some can change your feel, change your mechanics a little bit.”

But again, they’re set to specifications. Motte told me he saw the grounds crew measuring the Wrigley Field mound as the team was preparing to travel to Pittsburgh for the Wild Card game. As Lilliquist put it, “At the end of the day, it’s still 60 feet, six inches, with the same slope.”

Motte also told me that “It’s not like you can do anything to try to gain some kind of home field advantage by giving pitchers an advantage, or a disadvantage.”

Why then the different feel?

Footing is part of it. Motte explained that “The clay may be a little harder, or it may be a little softer and give a little more.” Cishek agreed on the surface, then added an especially thoughtful perspective.

“I think the biggest difference is probably depth perception,” said the St. Louis sidewinder. “It’s because of the way the backdrops are set. In Arizona, it feels like home plate is a mile away, whereas in Milwaukee it feels like you’re right on top of the plate. At Wrigley Field, I’d say it’s normal to a little closer. It feels a little farther away at (Busch Stadium).”

For Cishek, spatial feel also exists within the 18-foot diameter of dirt.

“The mound at Fenway Park feels a lot smaller to me than any other mound,” said Cishek. “Conversely, the mound at Citi Field feels enormous.”

Then there are bullpen mounds.

“Those tend to be more different,” said Lilliquist. “Some look like the plate is off a little bit, and some look like they’re totally different from a game mound. But I think that’s basically depth perception, too.”

Motte – a former Cardinal, now with the Cubs – offered a similar opinion, accompanied by a caveat.

“Here at Wrigley, in the visiting bullpen, it always felt like you were a little bit off,” said Motte. “But I think a lot of that is because the (bullpen) mounds are on the field. I don’t think teams can do anything super crazy out there, either. They have to be within guidelines. You can’t have it six inches higher or lower, just to mess with the visiting team. Maybe I’m wrong.”

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In Game 3 of the NLCS, New York scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. With two out in the sixth inning, Trevor Cahill struck out Michael Conforto on a curve in the dirt, only to have the pitch elude Miguel Montero. The previous two pitches – both breaking balls – also bounced, but were blocked by the Chicago catcher.

After the game, Joe Maddon was asked if was “maybe not the smartest to go back to (the same pitch) a third time.”

Maddon replied that it was, “because he struck him out… it played well, we just didn’t block the ball.”

In other words, it’s all about execution.

Tommy Hottovy focuses on run prevention in his role. The Cubs’ coordinator of advance scouting works with pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching coach Mike Borzello on game planning against opposing hitters. Prior to Game 4, Hottovy told me about how another well-thought-out pitch sequence failed to get the intended result.

“We had a certain hitter where we thought a certain pitch would be effective, and we threw it back-to-back,” explained Hottovy. “The first one was an 0-0 chase pitch and the second one just caught a little too much of the zone. He got a hit on it.”

The same principle applies to holding runners, which is something the Cubs did poorly the whole series. The Mets – a team that swiped just 51 bases in the regular season – had several key thefts. Again, it was a matter of execution.

“If we know a team wants to steal second on a 1-1 count, but we don’t hold the runner, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” said Hottovy. “We knew the counts and outs they liked to run in, we just didn’t execute.”

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Speaking of sequencing, Hottovy stressed that you need to be careful when you throw a pitch back-to-back. His opinion reminded me of a conversation I had with Adam Loewen this season. According to Loewen, a hitter might be anticipating a pitch away after consecutive pitches in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his body will respond accordingly.

“It’s a reaction and something you can’t really prevent,” said Loewen, who has been both a pitcher and a position player in the big leagues. “Within an at bat, if you’re swinging at multiple pitches in, and then he paints one away, it will look even farther away. Part of your brain is telling your body, ‘They’re pitching me this way,’ and that gets your swing path going to the first base side (if you’re a left-handed hitter). As a result, the outside corner opens up.”

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Making it to the World Series is a dream come true for players and managers alike. David Wright and Terry Collins made that crystal clear in the aftermath of New York’s win on Wednesday.

Collins talked about being in the fifth grade and begging his mother to stay home from school to watch the 1960 World Series (Yes, they played in the afternoon back then). On Wednesday, what went through Collins’ mind was, “Holy crap, now you’re in it after all these years.”

Wright said he spent what seems like thousands of summer afternoons in his back yard, pretending that he was playing in the World Series. In the ninth inning of Game 4, he “couldn’t stop smiling” and had to remind himself the game wasn’t over yet.

The Mets captain gushed about how proud he is to be part of one of the best teams in franchise history. He takes equal pride in how they defied expectations.

“We said in spring training that we have a good team,” said Wright. “There were a lot of people who kind of giggled at us, maybe laughed at us, but we were able to back that up. I don’t like playing the underdog card too much, but what this team was able to accomplish was kind of a combination (of) the ‘Miracle Mets’ of ’69 and the ‘You Gotta Believe’ of ’86.”

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The best under-the-radar trade of last offseason? It might be the Reds acquiring Anthony DeSclafani from the Marlins in exchange for Mat Latos. The latter went an abysmal 4-10, 4.95 and wore out his welcome in both Miami and Los Angeles. DeSclafani led Cincinnati pitchers in innings pitched and WAR. The 25-year-old also contributed to a major-league record, as the Reds started rookies in 64 consecutive games.

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Earlier this week, I asked Kris Bryant how he evolved as a hitter throughout the course of this season. The rookie sensation told me that he got more comfortable facing big league pitching – “the sharpness of the sliders, the movement on the fastballs” – but that’s about it. He elaborated that he’ll “look back at some things” in the offseason and “learn from what worked for me, and what didn’t work for me.”

Needless to say, a lot worked. Bryant put up an .858 OPS and set a Cubs rookie record by clubbing 26 home runs. He does need to smooth out a few rough edges – the slugger fanned 199 times – but that shouldn’t be a problem. According to club president Theo Epstein, Bryant has displayed an aptitude for making adjustments.

“The guy doesn’t have many weaknesses,” Epstein said the day after his team was eliminated in the NLCS. “But (the Mets) attacked him a lot with right-on-right changeups, and the numbers show that maybe he hasn’t adjusted to that pitch yet. They got him out a few times with it. He made a great adjustment in his last at bat of the 2015 season. He took a right-on-right changeup and hit it 410 feet for a home run.”

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The Cubs have a rich tradition of day baseball at Wrigley Field. The Blue Jays play in a retractable dome. This past week, Toronto hosted the afternoon games and Chicago hosted the night games. Weather turned out to not be an issue – it was unseasonably warm in the Windy City – but it easily could have been frigid.

Final score: TV Money 2, Logic 0.

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The first 10 picks of the draft are protected, which means those teams can’t lose a future first-round pick by signing a free agent who has rejected a qualifying offer. The top of next June’s draft order is: 1. Phillies, 2. Reds, 3. Braves, 4. Rockies, 5. Brewers, 6. Athletics, 7. Marlins, 8. Padres, 9. Tigers, 10. White Sox.

Just missing out in the protection category are the Mariners. Seattle and the White Sox both finished 76-86, but because they had a better record in 2014, the Mariners get the short end of the stick and pick 11th.

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Jason McLeod – the Cubs’ senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting – has run drafts for Chicago (since 2012) and Boston. During the NLDS, I asked McLeod if any current members of the St. Louis Cardinals were ever specific targets. He said no, but did toss out a few names.

McLeod said “A lot of the teams that passed up on Michael Wacha (19th overall in 2012), us included, probably kicked themselves.” He added that Lance Lynn (39th overall in 2008) was “a guy we liked quite a bit; he was high up on our board.”

I asked about Randal Grichuk, whom the Angels took 24th overall in 2009. McLeod said he probably wouldn’t have taken him, for good reason. The player who went 25th overall that year was Mike Trout. (The Red Sox picked 28th and selected Reymond Fuentes.)

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Musing about managers and coaches:

What if Joe Maddon had followed Andrew Friedman to Los Angeles instead of going to Chicago? Would the Cubs have won 97 games and advanced to the NLCS? Would the Dodgers have been a better team than they were under Don Mattingly? It’s an interesting what-if to ponder.

If the Dodgers were to hire Dave Martinez – Maddon’s longtime bench coach – as their new manager, how much fun would an LA-Chicago NLCS be next year? Don’t be surprised if that actually happens.

Terry Collins is 66 years old. If the Mets win the World Series, would Collins consider calling it a career and going out on top? And if he does, what would the reaction be if Mattingly, a Yankees legend, became the Mets’ new manager?

The Scott ServaisTim Bogar pairing in Seattle has wondering if a Gabe KaplerBud Black combo would work well in Los Angeles. I think it would.

Ruben Amaro (reportedly) being hired as Boston’s new first base coach is intriguing. Will the recently-deposed and oft-criticized Philadelphia GM have Dave Dombrowski’s ear when it comes to personnel decisions, or will he simply advise base runners not to make poor decisions?

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

David Price threw 220.1 innings this year and didn’t allow a stolen base. Only three pitchers have thrown more innings in a season without allowing a steal: Whitey Ford (283 in 1961, and 244.2 in 1964), Luis Tiant 258.1 in 1968), and Bob Porterfield (244 in 1954).

Kelly Johnson is playing in the postseason for the third straight season. The Mets infielder has played for six different teams in the last three seasons.

Scott Servais – Seattle’s newly-named manager – was behind the plate for the Cubs in the game where St. Louis’ Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris‘ record with his 62nd home run.

Terry Collins played shortstop at Eastern Michigan University and led the team in stolen bases in each of his four collegiate seasons.

The Mets won seven or more games in a row four times this season. The only other years they’ve had four winning streaks of that duration were 1969 and 1986.

On this date in 1986, Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball in the direction of Bill Buckner.





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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Jon L.
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Member

This is a great collection. On the subject of Ruben Amaro, is there any precedent for a GM to become a first-base coach? Do first-base coaches often have influence in management? They often seem to be former players hired for nostalgia, but that’s just an impression.

tz
Guest
tz

This might be Amaro’s best chance to keep working in baseball after his stint as a GM. Who knows, his knowledge of the game from his playing day might be better suited for a day-to-day role in clubhouse than it was for the front office.