Sunday Notes: Murton’s Return, Archer, Angels, Twins, more

Matt Murton had a lot of success in NPB after fading out in MLB. In six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, he slashed .310/.352/.437. Now, at age 34, he’s back stateside, trying to win a job with the Chicago Cubs.

Murton’s path to Japan and back is a curious one. A first-round pick by the Red Sox Sox in 2003, he went to the Cubs a year later in the Nomar Garciaparra deal. From 2005-2007, he hit a solid .303/.370/.462. From 2008-2009, he appeared in a grand total of 57 games with three organizations. In 2010, he changed continents.

“It was either fight for a spot in a situation where I was out of options, or take something that was more of a guarantee,” Murton said of his decision. “I was 28 years old, and as crazy as this might sound, I came to the realization that this is what I do for a living. I have a family to provide for, and it was a good opportunity to do that.”

Murton has mixed feelings on his initial big-league tenure. He did his best and feels he was reasonably successful. He also feels he could have done a better job. He has a lone regret.

“If there’s anything I would have done differently, it was in 2008,” Murton told me. “I was sent back to Triple-A to start the year, and being young and not having been put in those circumstances before… I wish my mindset would have been different. I would have controlled more of what I could control, and not allowed myself to worry about factors outside of that.

“I’m human and I have emotions. Whether it’s circumstance or expectations — whatever it is — they can start dictating how you think. Not that I was mad, but I think I allowed it to creep into my game a little bit.”

In his first year with Hanshin, he crept into the record books by breaking Ichiro Suzuki’s NPB single-season record for base hits. Acclimating to baseball in Japan was made easier by his ability to embrace change without changing too much.

“Whether you’re going from A-ball to Double-A, or from the big leagues to Japan, there is always an element of the game forcing you to make adjustments,” said Murton. “You can’t forget who you are — the foundation has to remain similar to what you’ve done to be successful — but you also have to find a way to adapt to the environment.”

Re-acclimating to baseball in America should be smooth from a cultural standpoint. Quality of play could be an issue. Murton isn’t a s young as he once was, and he’s coming off one of his least-productive seasons in Japan. He’s ready for the challenge, but he’s also pragmatic.

“My perspective is different, but at the same time it’s like I’m starting over,” said Murton. “I feel good physically. The biggest thing is just finding a way to get the most out of myself. I’m just going to take things a day at a time and see where it goes.”

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Phil Clark’s career was similar to Murton’s. A first-round pick by the Tigers in 1986, he played parts of five seasons (1992-1996) with three big league teams, then spent four productive years in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He’s spent the last decade as a minor league coach in the Cleveland and Detroit organizations.

Last summer, when I talked to Clark about Tigers prospect Christin Stewart, I squeezed in a question about his own career: Was he satisfied?

“Sometimes it’s just the opportunities,” responded Clark. “There were opportunities granted and there were opportunities not granted. I started out as a catcher and had to learn other positions while playing in the major leagues. There were a few injuries. There were all kinds of things. I could go on, but let’s just say I feel good about what I did.”

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Rod Carew and Tony Oliva were great hitters. Carew slashed .328/.393/.429 on his way to the Hall of Fame. Oliva, who is one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, slashed .304/.353/.476.

One had a lot of success against John Hiller. The other didn’t. Carew was 9 for 25; Oliva was 1 for 21.

Oliva can’t explain why he struggled against the former left-handed relief ace. He doesn’t remember Hiller specifically, nor most other pitchers he faced. His approach was “see-ball-hit-ball,” and it “didn’t matter” to him who was on the mound.

When I told Oliva what his numbers were against Hiller, his response was,“Oh, congratulations to him.” He then laughed and why I was asking about someone who got him out.

Carew wouldn’t venture to guess why his former teammate didn’t hit Hiller. But he knows why he did.

“I used to eliminate one pitch with him,” explained Carew. “He was fastball-curveball, and his curveball was good, so I eliminated that and sat on his fastball.”

Hiller’s career was remarkable. Four full years into his big-league career, he missed the 1971 season after suffering a heart attack at age 28. He returned to pitch nine more seasons, two of which were notable. In 1973, he had 10 wins and 38 saves in 125 relief innings. The following year, he had 17 wins and 13 saves in 150 relief innings.

The 70-year-old Carew is currently recovering from a heart attack of his own. As you might expect, he has a deep respect for Hiller.

“What he did was remarkable,” said Carew. “And not only that, he’s a nice guy.”

———

Most pitchers understand the value of defensive shifts. Jered Weaver is among the exceptions. When I broached the subject with the veteran right-hander at Angels training camp, he segued from diplomacy to disdain.

“Our coaches have a pretty good grasp on the charts and where guys normally hit the ball,” Weaver told me. “But it depends on what kind of shifting. The third baseman is moving all over the place and all that kind of stuff.

“I’m not really a fan of that. I don’t think you’re guaranteed the guy is going to hit the ball there all the time. If there’s a 75 percent chance he will, there’s still a 25 percent chance he won’t.”

What about rockets hit into the shift that result in outs?

Weaver’s response to that question would best be described as a non-verbal whatever.

———

Following his first spring training start, Chris Archer told reporters that the scoreboard showed some of his changeups as sliders. He interpreted that as “mission accomplished,” due to the late action and depth.

I asked the Rays’ ace to elaborate. Wouldn’t he want more separation between the two pitches?

“It’s good when it’s hard to tell which one it is from 100 feet away in the press box,” explained Archer. “If you’re watching from a closer angle, you can see. But from the standpoint of Jim Hickey not being able to tell (from the dugout) because of the depth… they have different action, but from the side and from the top, all you can see is depth. In regard to that, yes. But I obviously don’t want them to have the same action at the plate.”

———

As Jeff Sullivan wrote on Thursday, Tyler Duffey was essentially a two-pitch pitcher in his 10 starts the Twins last year. The righty prefers to parse and say it was three pitches — along with his curveball, he throws two- and four-seam fastballs.

Duffey has a split change in his repertoire — he said the grip is similar to Ervin Santana’s — but after Jose Bautista took one of them out of the yard in his first big-league start, he retired it for the season.

Duffey thinks he can succeed with just fastball-curve — “I did it for a brief period last year” — but he’s planning to reintroduce the changeup to his arsenal. He threw four (out of 35 pitches) in his initial spring outing, and 10% is a plausible ratio going forward.

———

Eddie Guardado was a bullpen workhorse. Known as “Everyday Eddie” during his time with the Twins, the lefty appeared in 908 games between 1993-2009. He was also a bulldog wielding a paintbrush. Featuring a fastball that wasn’t particularly fast, he had a pair of 40-save seasons and 187 saves overall.

Not surprisingly, he espouses attitude and command in his role as Twins bullpen coach.

“Velocity has nothing to do with anything,” Guardado told me. “I know a lot of people are worried about velo, but I’m not worried about velo. If you establish and execute your pitches, velo has no factor. You can throw Nolan Ryan-hard and it’s going to get hit if you don’t execute and it’s up.

“I threw 90, 92 at best. But I spotted the ball. Is it good to have 98 in the tank? Absolutely. But if don’t locate it, it ain’t going to do you no help.”

———

Last Sunday’s column led with three general managers talking about their first trades. Left on the cutting room floor were Jon Daniels’ thoughts on a trade he made shortly thereafter, in December 2005.

“I traded Alfonso Soriano for Brad Wilkerson, Armando Galarraga and Terrmel Sledge,” recalled Daniels. “Soriano was 40/40 with (Jim) Bowden and the Nationals, so it turned out to be a huge win for them. The irony is, we probably could have turned around and traded Wilkerson for anything we wanted to. He had so much value at that point. We held onto him and he struggled, which was a little bit of a lesson as far as valuing your own.”

Wilkerson was 27 years old at the time and had accumulated 11.3 WAR over the previous three seasons. He was worth -0.2 WAR for the remainder of his career.

———

Dayton Moore has made a number of great moves since becoming the GM in Kansas City. He’s also made some that were ill-advised. It’s inevitable.

Moore strives to limit errors of the bad-apple variety.

“You’re always drawing on your experiences and making adjustments to the mistakes you make,” Moore told me. “Failure is for learning if you accept it properly.

“Once your evaluation from a talent standpoint has been processed, it comes down to the makeup of the player. The good choices he makes off the field allow his naturalness as a player to play out on the field. That’s a high priority for me.”

———

Terry Ryan was recently asked about his club’s success hitting with runners in scoring position last year (.280/.352/.440). If you’re a Twins fan, his answer was somewhat sobering.

“That’s cyclical,” the Minnesota GM said of those numbers. “Some years you get it done and some years you don’t. Last year we were pretty darn good in that area. But it’s about scoring runs, and when you look at our total last year (696) we weren’t even at 700. That’s not exactly what you’re looking for.

“Heck, we’d love to have 750 runs scored, or 800, like some of those bomber teams do. What did Toronto score last year? (the Blues Jays led both leagues with 891). Everybody points to their offense. OK, we’d love to have that. We don’t. We didn’t.”

In all likelihood, the Twins will need to up their 28th-ranked OBP if they hope to at least replicate last year’s run total. According to Ryan, cutting down on strikeouts would help attain that goal. Twins hitters fanned 1,264 times, fifth most in the American League.

———

Tim Britton of the Providence Journal unearthed a great Craig Kimbrel factoid a few days ago. After breaking a foot when he was 18 years old, Kimbrel began a throwing program that had him throwing from his knees. It might not work for everybody, but t helped turn Kimbrel into an arm-strength beast. According to the article, “After about eight weeks, Kimbrel could throw the ball from third base to the right-field foul pole — from his knees.”

———

Perusing USA Today in the lobby of my Fort Myers hotel, I stumbled across some fun baseball-card news. A family in Southern California found seven Ty Cobbs in “a neglected paper bag at the run-down house of a deceased great-grandfather.” The cards, which are from 1909-1911, have been authenticated. According to the article, approximately 15 others are known to exist.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Justin Verlander (157) has more wins than any pitcher over the last 10 seasons. Aaron Harang (111) has the most losses.

Jose Reyes (94) has more triples than any player over the last 10 seasons.

In 1929, Mel Ott hit 42 home runs, the most ever by a player 20 and younger. In 1987, Darrell Evans hit 34 home runs, the most ever by a player 40 or older.

In 1961, Roger Maris hit .269/.372/.620, with a then-record 61home runs, and was named American League MVP. Norm Cash, who finished fourth in MVP voting, hit .361/.487/.662 with 41 home runs.

Cannonball Titcomb went 14-8 for the 1888 New York Giants. Six of his teammates — Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Jim O’Rourke, John Montgomery Ward, Mickey Welch — are in the Hall of Fame. Alas, Cannonball is not.





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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Twitchy
6 years ago

Jered Weaver is just too much for me. He’s the “so you’re saying there’s a chance” guy. “I’m not really a fan of that. I don’t think you’re guaranteed the guy is going to hit the ball there all the time. If there’s a 75 percent chance he will, there’s still a 25 percent chance he won’t.” Let’s defend against the 25% chance he won’t hit it in that spot instead of shifting to the 75% chance he will hit it there.

Oh, Weaver, never change.

Bryzmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Twitchy

Agreed, he’s so worried about the failures that he doesn’t realize the successes occur far more often.

Matt
6 years ago
Reply to  Bryz

Nobody claims these guys are rocket scientists, but yeesh those are some pretty bad thinking skills.

LHPSU
6 years ago
Reply to  Matt

To be fair, he’s also not real familiar with the concept of a groundball.

Bipmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Twitchy

Weaver seems like the most aggressive curmudgeon of any baseball player playing right now. I don’t know if losing velocity has made him insecure or what. The dude seems to have no sense of humor of any kind when anywhere near a baseball field.

comment image

And there is the Kyle Seager thing. I’m sure he’s a delight when relaxing at home but if I was a reporter I would do my best to never talk to him.

wubbie075
6 years ago
Reply to  Bip

That GIF is awesome! He looked like someone punched his mom in the face.