Mike Clevinger has been channeling Trevor Bauer. Not just in terms of effectiveness — the long-maned righty has a 3.11 ERA and a 9.3 strikeout rate — but also with competitiveness and ingenuity. While the Cleveland Indians teammates aren’t exactly two peas in a pod, Clevinger is certainly being influenced by his mad scientist of a rotation mate.
“He’s a wealth of knowledge, and a really good resource, especially with our new cameras and stuff like that,” Clevinger said of Bauer, who uses 2,000-frames-per-second video to parse the movement and spin of pitches. “We have the same mindsets and goals on the mound. It’s never going to be a completed process. For us, it’s always going to be ‘What’s the next step? What’s the next move to get better? What’s the next level to take it to?’ Throw harder. Make it nastier.”
An 80-MPH slider is one of Clevinger’s nastiest pitches, and while Bauer didn’t play a role in its development, he has broken down its nuts and bolts.
“The slider I had in college was more so breaking out of my hand than at the plate,” Clevinger told me. “It was more loopy. My pitching coach (at Seminole Community College) was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try holding it with a two-seam grip, more of a fastball grip, and just throw it?’ From there it kind of developed into what it is now, where it will have an axis that reads almost like a two-seam, then it goes left. The way TB put it is that it’s like gyroscopic spin, and kind of like a reverse two-seamer.”
As Bauer explained in a July installment of the Learning and Developing a Pitch series, Clevinger was one of a handful of pitchers he studied when he decided to engineer himself a slider. After he’d done so, he explained what he’d discovered while going through the process.
“You’d have to go to TB for specifics, but he couldn’t exactly replicate whatever it is that I do,” said Clevinger. “My arm slot is a little different than his. But because mine is one of the ones he looked at, he had the information on it. I’d always kind of just thrown it, and he came back from the offseason and told me what it was doing. I’m definitely learning a lot from talking pitching with him.”
The Red Sox will host the Astros in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game, and one thing you can count on during the broadcast is some nerdy commentary from Jessica Mendoza. The Stanford-educated analyst is especially attuned to hitting and a few of this evening’s match-ups strike her as particularly intriguing.
“The dichotomy of Keuchel and Porcello,” Mendoza responded when I asked what she’ll be focusing on come first pitch. “Rick Porcello has thrown a higher percentage of pitches in the upper quadrant of the zone than anyone, and then you have Dallas Keuchel, who is known for throwing everything at the knees and below. You’re going to see two very different approaches of how to attack. You’re going to have a guy who is going to be elevating, elevating, elevating, trying to hammer swings that are launch angle, launch angle… except for Alex Bregman. Bregman loves hunting high fastballs — he’s got a flatter swing — and Porcello loves attacking high in the zone. Will Porcello try to go down to offset that? We’ll see.
“And then you have Keuchel going against J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, who do really well at the knees. That’s kind of where the game is right now. You don’t see a Dallas Keuchel very often. With the way so many pitchers are elevating, you see more of a Rick Porcello.”
If you watch Red Sox-Astros tonight, you’ll see both. You’ll also hear some nerdy commentary from one of the game’s best analysts.
Bregman is slashing .299/.401/.563 with 48 doubles and 30 home runs, and at age 24 he’s rapidly emerging as one of the players in the game. Astros manager A.J. Hinch had glowing praise for him following Saturday’s 5-3 win at Fenway Park.
“He’s very comfortable being Alex Bregman,” Hinch told reporters. “He loves baseball. I’ve never seen anyone that loves baseball more than him. He works. He thinks. He takes something from everybody that’s crossed his path. He’s kind of what a baseball player is supposed to be like.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Five years ago, Austin Meadows signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school after committing to Clemson University. He did so as a first round pick.
Three months ago, his younger brother did much the same thing. Drafted in the second round by the Detroit Tigers, Parker Meadows opted to ink a professional contract rather than attend Clemson. There are other parallels as well. Most notably, the Loganville, Georgia siblings are tall, lanky outfielders with sweet swings from the left side of the plate.
Parker, who debuted in the Gulf Coast League before getting into six games at short-season Connecticut, believes he has more pop than his older brother.
“We’re a little bit similar, but not much similar,” Parker Meadows told me prior to a recent New York-Penn League contest. “To be honest, I feel like I have a little more on the power side. And I always dog him about that when we’re out there taking BP, too.”
Younger brother delivered those jabs with a smile, adding that he’s learned a lot from Austin, who is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. He’s also learned from their father, and from the hitting coaches he’s worked with since graduating from Grayson High.
“We’ve been cutting down on my swing — my coaches in summer ball, and my dad, especially,” explained the 18-year-old. “My hitting coach in the GCL, Rafael Gil, as well. “We’ve been working on being shorter to the ball and on not flying open, which I was doing a little bit earlier this season. I was maybe trying to get a little too big, and was too anxious to the pitch, rather than just staying quiet with the pitch. You know, just staying calm.”
Parker Meadows slashed a smooth .290/.377/.473, with four home runs, in his first 106 professional plate appearances.
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly was recently asked if he enjoyed hitting at Fenway Park. Not surprisingly, his response included an astute take on the craft itself.
“I’ve always thought of it as a left-handed-hitting ballpark,” Mattingly told a small group of reporters amassed in Fenway’s visiting dugout. “That wall is like a magnet for the front shoulder, and keeping the front side in there. That’s really what hitting is. The guys who can keep that front side in there are the better hitters.
“And a righty has to know what he’s doing, because you have a tendency to know it’s there and want to pull the ball a little more. But for guys who know how to use the whole ballpark, and use their swing, it’s good for righties, too.”
The Society for American Baseball Research announced the hiring of Scott Bush as their new Chief Executive Officer. Bush has been the Senior VP for Business Development at the Goldklang Group, which operates both independent clubs and MLB affiliates. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Bush will move into his new role on October 1.
The Astros announced that Houston Chronicle photojournalist Karen Warren will be inducted into their Baseball Media Wall of Honor on September 14. Warren has been a staff photographer for the team since 1997.
On Friday, Scott Schebler became the ninth different Cincinnati Reds player to hit a grand slam this season. Per STATS, the only other team in MLB history to have at least nine different players hit a grand slam was the 2000 St. Louis Cardinals, who had 10.
Terrance Gore got his first MLB hit last night in his 53rd career game. Used almost exclusively as a pinch-runner during his career, the 27-year-old speed demon is now 1 for 13. Currently with the Chicago Cubs, Gore has crossed the plate 15 times and pilfered 23 bases.
This year’s Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball (Saberseminar) raised $40,000, of which $33,000 will go to Angioma Alliance, $2,000 to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and $5,000 to scholarship winners for minority and female students who want to work in baseball analytics. The can’t-miss event is held annually in Boston.
“As pitchers continue to throw harder, there are fewer and fewer guys available who, bio-mechanically, can create both velocity and spin efficiency. Usually there’s a tradeoff. As they try to throw harder, as their hand travels in this elliptical path, they actually start to lose spin efficiency. There are fewer available from a supply perspective who can satisfy all the requirements, so you see the elite teams kind of hoarding those guys. They’re valuing them. The rest of the pitchers are trying to figure out how to get hitters out… with an arm that doesn’t have the capability to spin the ball at an elite level. There’s this very binary dynamic happening all over the game.”
A few weeks ago we heard from Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, who for each of the last 10 seasons has done an annual re-creation game with the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts. Not included in that column was a story he shared with me about a baseball broadcast legend who did several such games back when they were far more common.
“Ernie Harwell once told me of when he was re-creating games for the Atlanta Crackers as a young broadcaster,” related Goldberg-Strassler. “A talent scout came to visit and asked him, ‘Would you like me to watch you re-create the game here, or would you like me to listen from outside so I can hear what your listeners hear?’ Ernie opted for the latter. After the broadcast was finished — it had apparently been a long game — Ernie walked over and found the scout sound asleep on the couch.”
It’s safe to say that Harwell enjoyed a successful post-Crackers career.
Terry Byrom grew up in Northern California listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, and later Hank Greenwald, call games for the San Francisco Giants. He also heard Bill King and Monty Moore call games for the Oakland A’s.
Earlier this summer, after 2,200-plus games behind the mic at the minor-league level, Bynum got to follow in the footsteps of those bygone broadcasters — albeit just for a few days — with the Washington Nationals. Dave Jaegler was away to attend his son’s high school graduation, and Bynum got the call-up from Double-A to fill in.
“That was a pretty amazing experience,” said Byrom, who is in his 14th season as the play-by-play vice of the Harrisburg Senators. “Getting to the big leagues after all the years of doing this, and getting to do four games, was a lot of fun. One of the terms I’ve used to describe it is ‘surreal.” Radio broadcasting and playing are obviously very different, but Matt LeCroy has been the manager (in Harrisburg) for five years, and when I got back, he said, ‘Now you really understand what these guys are striving for.’ The difference between playing in the minor leagues and playing in the big leagues… I certainly understand the difference now.”
His chances of landing a full-time job in a big-league broadcast booth? Unlike Seattle’s Aaron Goldsmith and Milwaukee’s Jeff Levering, who were hired while in their late 20s and early 30s, Byrum is no spring chicken. He recognizes that his chances probably aren’t all that good.
“Everybody tells me I’m a pessimist for this, but I’m 55 years old, so I doubt that I’ll get hired by anyone,” admitted Byrom. “There are some exceptions. I think Matt Hicks (Texas Rangers) was in his 40s when he got there. I would hope that I have an opportunity to go back, even if it’s just when the Nationals need someone to fill in again.”
Since late May, this column has devoted a handful of paragraphs to the charitable efforts of MLB players and managers. Today we hear from Tony Kemp, who is slashing a solid .283/.371/.413 in a utility role with the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros.
“I’m starting my own foundation; it’s going to be in Nashville, as well as in Texas and Memphis,” the 26-year-old infielder/outfielder told me. “It’s called Kemp’s Kids — we’re working to get a website up — and it’s pretty much for kids who can’t afford baseball equipment. It can get pricey, and we want to give those kids an outlet. We raised $5,000 for the Astros Youth Academy through the Hugs For Homers shirt — I jump into Evan Gattis’s arms for Hugs For Homers — and there’s also the Dream Crushing shirts, with all of us staring into the camera. Some of the proceeds — a good little portion — for that, and for the Kempin’ Ain’t Easy shirt, are going to charity.”
On the field, Kemp is an energizer bunny. Off the field, he’s a humanitarian at heart. His charitable efforts are genuine.
“Ever since I was in college and seeing guys that were able to use their platform for the greater good… it was just second nature to me,” said Kemp, who hails from Franklin, Tennessee and attended Vanderbilt. “It wasn’t even a question of if I wanted to help out. It wasn’t ‘if,’ it was was pretty much ‘when.’ In my heart, it’s the right thing to do. I want to do some good for the community.”
Philadelphia Phillies prospect Spencer Howard threw a no-hitter for the Lakewood BlueClaws in the South-Atlantic playoffs on Friday. The right-hander had a 3.78 ERA and a 2.61 FIP in 23 regular season starts.
Among pitchers to throw at least 100 innings, Houston Astros prospect Abdiel Saldana had the lowest FIP (2.38). The 22-year-old right-hander out of Panama pitched for Buies Creek in the high-A Carolina League.
The Charlotte Knights led all minor league teams in overall attendance this year, drawing 619,639 fans to BB&T Ballpark. The Chicago White Sox Triple-A affiliate also led in average attendance, with 8,980 coming through the turnstiles on a per-game basis.
The Frisco RoughRiders had the highest attendance among Double-A teams, drawing 468,259 fans to Dr Pepper Ballpark. The Texas Rangers affiliate also led in average attendance, with 6,886 coming through the turnstiles on a per-game basis.
According to MiLB.com’s Danny Wild, the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate is looking to move from New Orleans to Wichita, Kansas.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Lowell (MA) Sun, Chaz Scoggins wrote about how the Red Sox short-season affiliate since 1995 could be moving in the not-too-distant future, and corporate greed is the reason why.
Emma Baccelliari took us inside the Women’s Baseball World Cup, at Sports Illustrated.
Over at The New York Post, Ken Davidoff filled us in on how the next generation of sports nerds are ready to take over baseball.
Tigers broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen have been suspended for the remainder of the season after getting into an altercation, and Anthony Fenech of The Detroit Free Press wrote about what it means for their futures.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Ducky Detweiler debuted with the Boston Braves on September 12, 1942 and went 3 for 7 in a doubleheader against the Pirates. The following day he went 4 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Cubs. After finishing the season 14 for 44, he missed the next three years while serving in the Army and went on to log just one more MLB plate appearance.
Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker made their big-league debuts for the Detroit Tigers on this date in 1975. The game was played at Fenway Park and each member of the iconic double-play duo recorded a hit in his first plate appearance.
Bo Jackson had his first multi-hit game, and recorded his first stolen base, on this date in 1986. In June of that same year he’d been drafted in the fourth round by the Kansas City Royal. Six weeks earlier he’d been taken first overall in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On September 12, 1969, the New York Mets swept a double-header from the Pittsburgh Pirates by identical 1-0 scores. Jerry Koosman got the win in the opener and drove in the game’s only run. Don Cardwell got the win the second game and drove in the game’s only run.
From 1914-1919, Babe Ruth faced 4,749 batters and allowed nine home runs. He came to the plate 1,332 times and hit 49 home runs.
Ichiro Suzuki hit 118 home runs in NPB and 117 home runs in MLB.
In 1902, his only big league season, right-hander Ike Butler went 1-10 with the Baltimore Orioles. The following year he logged 27 losses for the Pacific Coast League’s Portland Browns. The year after that he finished with a record of 17-32.
Vanity Rushing played in the Red Sox system from 1961-1964, mostly with Waterloo, and holds the Midwest League record for walks in a season, with 150. (thanks to Jesse Goldberg-Strasser for bringing this to my attention).
Happy Townsend, a native of Townsend, Delaware, went 5-26 for the Washington Senators in 1904.
Pop Joy hit .215 for the 1884 Washington Senators.
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.