Stephen Nogosek got one step closer to the big leagues when he was promoted from Double-A Binghamton to Triple-A Syracuse On May 24. The next rung on the ladder is New York, and the 24-year-old right-hander will be bringing more than a four-pitch mix with him when he arrives at Citi Field. He’ll bring a mule-deer mindset, as well.
Nogosek was a Duck before becoming a Met. In between, he was Red Sox property, having been selected by the AL East club in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Oregon. Thirteen months later, he was included in the trade-deadline deal that brought Addison Reed to Boston. The address change didn’t shake him up so much as wake him up.
“I was asleep on this bus,” explained Nogosek, who was with high-A Salem at the time. “We were our way to Winston-Salem, and Adam Lau nudged me and said, ‘Hey, you just got traded.’ I was like, ‘Whatever,’ and fell back asleep. When I kind of woke up a little, I was like, “OK, did I really get traded?’
Shenanigans were certainly possible — teammates can’t always be trusted on such matters — but this was no tomfoolery. Once the cobwebs cleared, Nogosek learned that he would indeed be receiving his paychecks (meager as they are in the minors) from another organization.
“We had like three guys rumor-traded that year, only to not get traded,” Nogosek told me. “Then Shaun Anderson got traded to the Giants — that was the first real one — and it turned out that I did, too. They said, ‘It’s not official, but it’s on Twitter,’ so initially I was like, ’It’s just a rumor.’ Then they were like, ‘Ken Rosenthal tweeted it.’ Well, all right. That sounded legit.”
Nogosek doesn’t look at life as a box of chocolates. In terms of ethos, the Roseville, California native is more akin to Henry David Thoreau than to Forrest Gump.
“I think of life, and baseball, like hunting,” explained Nogosek, who majored in environmental studies at Oregon. “Let’s say you’re hunting a mule deer. Their purpose in life is eat, sleep, reproduce, and survive. It’s easy to overcomplicate things. My wife and I keep things simple. We love each other, each and every day. We make sure we eat. We make sure we sleep. We survive.” (The young couple is not yet raising a family.)
What does any of that have to do with baseball?
“You go out and pitch, and get outs,” explained Nogosek. “The way you get outs is by executing your pitches. If you execute your pitches and get hit, so be it. Don’t overcomplicate things by trying to take control over things you can’t control. If you do that, you’re going to go crazy. This game will beat you up by itself. If you beat yourself up, it’s twice as bad.”
Nogosek smiled when I asked if he’d essentially referred to himself as a mule deer on the mound. Of course, he has reasons to smile. Along with the bucolic serenity, he has a 0.68 ERA.
Shane Bieber’s slider doesn’t have a good story behind it. He began throwing the pitch “probably early in high school,” and it’s evolved from there. Originally “more of a slurve,” it’s morphed into “more of a harder slider.” It was never a curveball. The Cleveland Indians right-hander didn’t start throwing a curveball until two years ago.
In terms of tinkering, Bieber is a believer in the idiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For that reason, his slider has “just kind of been where it’s been the last two, two-and-a-half years.” Rapsodo hasn’t played a role in his development of the pitch. His thought process is straightforward.
“I just try to command it and make it look like a fastball as long as possible,” said Bieber, who sounded almost contrite in explaining that there’s not a lot to say about his slider. “Your feel for a pitch can sometimes get better, and sometimes it can get worse, so you do mix some things up to get more comfortable as you go. But again, there’s not really anything notable about my slider. It’s just been a good pitch for me.”
Bieber has a 3.67 ERA and an 11.1 K/9 over 68-and-two-thirds innings this season. He’s thrown his slider 28.2% of the time.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Atlanta Braves southpaw Max Fried is among the 135 hurlers who have been featured in my ongoing pitch series. In April of last year, he told of how he learned and developed his curveball in an installment that also included Tommy Kahnle and John Smoltz. Twelve months later, I was guilty of a faulty memory.
Inexplicably forgetting his earlier inclusion, I approached Fried when the Braves visited Cleveland a few weeks into this season. He presumably didn’t recall our earlier conversation either. With insignificant differences among the details, he shared the same story… with one eyebrow-raising addition.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Fried told me.
Wait. Work in progress? Does he not routinely get rave reviews for his hook?
“It’s definitely good, but at the end of the day, every pitch can get better,” the 25-year-old clarified. “You can always refine it a little more. You can always improve the command.”
As for truly perfecting the pitch, the All-Star-bound hurler suggested that would be akin to finding the Holy Grail.
“All you can really do is focus on trying to get the same spin on it every time,” explained Fried. “Once you release it, you can’t control the break. You throw the pitch the best way you know how, and what it does is what it does. Sometimes it breaks better, and sometimes it doesn’t break quite as much. Hopefully it breaks with good results.”
Fried has a 3.19 ERA and has been on the winning end of seven of his 10 decisions so far this season.
Terrin Vavra, a 22-year-old middle infielder in the Colorado Rockies system, is slashing .319/.394/.519, in 220 plate appearances, with the low-A Asheville Tourists. A third-round pick last year out of the University of Minnesota, he is the son of Detroit Tigers quality control coach Joe Vavra.
Grayson Rodriguez, a 19-year-old right-hander in the Baltimore Orioles system, is a 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA over 43 innings with the low-A Delmarva Shorebirds. The 11th-overall pick in last year’s draft is the Orioles No.4-rated prospect.
Trey Supak, a 23-year-old right-hander in the Milwaukee Brewers system, is 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA over 68 innings with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2014 was acquired by the Brewers in December 2015 as part of the Keon Broxton–Jason Rogers deal.
Livan Moinelo, a 23-year-old left-hander from Pinar del Rio, Cuba, has a 0.41 ERA in 23 relief appearances for NPB’s Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He’s fanned 30 batters, and allowed just 11 hits, in 22 innings.
I ran a pair of Twitter polls this week, the first of which elicited an avalanche of reactions. The ones that came from Cubs fans were mostly of the derisive variety. More on that in a moment.
The second of the two polls asked who MLB’s top rookie has been so far this season. The four options were Peter Alonso, Brandon Lowe, Chris Paddack, and Mike Soroka. The Met came out on top with 44% of the vote, while the Padre garnered 30% of support. Somewhat surprisingly, the Brave received only 17%. At the time the poll was posted, Soroka boasted a 1.07 ERA and a 5-1 won-lost record.
The first poll asked which of Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, and Anthony Rendon is the best third baseman in baseball. A lot of people voted — 5,515 to be exact — with the Rockies stalwart finishing on top with 58%. His A’s contemporary got 22%, while the Astro (16%) and National (5%) rounded out the pack.
Fans of Chicago’s North Side team were apoplectic at the non-inclusion of Kris Bryant in the poll. As I explained to one commenter, Twitter only allows four options, and I went with the top four in WAR since the beginning of last season (the list would be the same had I gone back to the beginning of the 2017 season), save for Jose Ramirez, who is having a down year.
Had I included Bryant (or perhaps Manny Machado), who shouldn’t have been on the list? If you’re inclined to say Rendon, because of his fourth-place finish, be aware that his slash line over the past the two-plus seasons is .307/.394/.549, and he’s been worth 15.4 WAR.
There are a lot of good third basemen in the game right now. Whether or not Kris Bryant is among the four best is debatable.
The Houston Astros put prized pitching prospect Forrest Whitley on the minor-league injured list this past Wednesday. The 21-year-old right-hander has shoulder fatigue, albeit, per reports, no structural damage.
Over in Japan, the Yakult Swallows broke their 16-game losing streak earlier today. The NPB record for consecutive losses is 18, by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1998.
Not news, per se, but if you’re interested in the calls that happen on the field — especially ones you don’t see every day — check out Baseball Rules Academy. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll learn something.
In last Sunday’s column, I noted that the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of “side,” as pertains to baseball, is “the players on a baseball team batting in an inning.” Ergo, a pitcher isn’t striking out the side if any batters reach base; he is simply striking out some of the side.”
Airtight logic, right? Perhaps not. Intrepid Texas Rangers beat writer Levi Weaver — a.k.a @ThreeTwoEephus — countered with this: “So if someone gets a hit, you didn’t retire the side?”
Valid point. At the same time, that term is almost always presented as “He retired the side in order,” or in regard to the recording of a single, final out: “…to retire the side.”
The ball is back in your court, Eephus.
The subject of big-league debuts came up when Terry Francona met with the media prior to last Monday’s game at Fenway Park. I asked the Cleveland Indians manager how often young players ask him about his own first game.
“I’d say never,” the 60-year-old former first-round pick responded. “I wouldn’t expect them to. I’m getting to an age now where the guys don’t even know you played.”
Francona played in 707 big-league games, the first of them with the Montreal Expos on August 19, 1981. Pinch-hitting for Elias Sosa, he grounded out to first base, unassisted, against Houston Astros reliever Dave Smith. All told, he played parts of 10 seasons and logged 474 hits, 16 of which left the yard.
Tyler Kepner mentioned a not-widely-known detail from one of the game’s most-famous moments in his book K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches: Ralph Branca wouldn’t have given up “The Shot Heard Round the World” had one of his teammates shown sharper command in the bullpen.
As Kepner relates, Branca wasn’t the only Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher getting ready in the ninth inning of the 1951 pennant-deciding contest against the New York Giants. Carl Erskine was warming, as well.
Why Branca? When Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen called down to the bullpen and asked a coach, Clyde Sukeforth, which pitcher looked better. Sukeforth told him that Erskine was bouncing his curve. The rest, as they say, is history.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how Carter Stewart signing with the SoftBank Hawks has the potential to be groundbreaking for NPB and MLB alike.
Jim Moyes wrote about the recent passing of author Marc Okkonen — best known for “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century”— for The Muskegon (MI) Journal.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Over the last fifty years, fifty players have at least 500 plate appearances and a strikeout rate of 30% or higher. Of them, Aaron Judge (.274) has the highest batting average. J.R. Phillips (.188) has the lowest batting average.
In 1971, Montreal Expos infielder Ron Hunt reached base HBP twice in the same game on six different occasions. On the season, he was plunked 50 times.
In 1989, the Red Sox drafted Jeff Bagwell and Mo Vaughn, who went on to combine for 777 big-league home runs. Boston’s first pick that year was Greg Blosser, who went on have three big-league hits, none of them home runs.
Lemmie Miller flew out in the last of his 13 career big-league plate appearances on this date in 1984. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, who turned 24 years old that day, had motored around the bases frequently the previous season, batting .330 and crossing the plate 122 times in Triple-A.
On June 3, 1932, Lou Gehrig homered four times as the New York Yankees defeated the Philadelphia A’s by a score of 20-13 at Shibe Park. Also leaving the yard that day were Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri.
Nothing to do with baseball, but with the NBA Finals underway you might be interested to know that the father of Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love played for the Baltimore Bullets and the Los Angels Lakers in the 1970s. And not only was Stan Love himself a power forward, he is the brother of Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love.
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.