Sunday Notes: Nick Wittgren Almost Caught For the Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals played Friday night’s game in Boston with one catcher. Iván Herrera had been called up from Triple-A to replace the newly-sidelined Yadier Molina, but cancelled flights delayed his arrival. The highly-regarded prospect didn’t get to Fenway Park until the final inning of a 6-5 Red Sox win.

Asked who would have been used in an emergency had Andrew Knizner been injured, St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol named three possibilities: Edmundo Sosa, Brendan Donovan, and Nick Wittgren. That Marmol added, “Not necessarily in that order,” is intriguing, if not suggestive. Sosa and Donovan are infielders. Wittgren toes the rubber.

Might we have seen Wittgren, a 31-year-old pitcher with no professional experience at any another position, donning the tools of ignorance? It’s a definite possibility. Prior to the game, Marmol approached Wittgren and asked, “How do you think you’d do catching?” Wittgren replied that he’d be perfectly fine. Marmol responded with “I think so too.”

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, Wittgren isn’t the first Cardinals pitcher to be designated (or at least hinted) as an emergency catcher. Jason Motte, who worked out of the St. Louis bullpen from 2008-2014 previously claimed that distinction. Even so, Motte had caught in the minor leagues. Wittgren would have been a novice.

He has little doubt that he could have done it.

“I was an all-state shortstop in high school,” explained Wittgren. “But I would fool around with catching on the side — I’d have guys throw to me — so I feel like I could go back there and just be athletic and react. I’d have a decent sense of calling the game, as well.”

Wouldn’t it be — for lack of a better word — “scary” to squat behind the plate in a big-league game?

“It’s baseball, man,” was Wittgren’s response to that suggestion. “I mean, a baseball is coming at me one way or another, whether it’s getting hit or thrown. Just react and catch the ball. Plus, I’d be wearing padding.”

Postscript: Research suggests it is likely that no full-time pitcher has ever entered a game at catcher in an emergency situation, at least not in the modern era. A handful may have been at the ready — Motte and Wittgren being known examples — but none have actually been thrust into action.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ron Fairly went 3 for 6 against Catfish Hunter.

Curt Flood went 6 for 7 against Larry Jaster.

Don Baylor went 5 for 5 against Andy Messersmith.

Tito Francona went 7 for 11 against Dave McNally.

Terry Francona went 5 for 9 against Joe Price.

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A glove is the most important piece of a defender’s equipment, and for an obvious reason: it is what he or she uses to catch batted and thrown baseballs. With few exceptions, professional players will carefully choose, and take care of, their game glove(s). A cherished piece of leather needs to be treated with love.

What about managers, the vast of majority of whom are former players? What type of relationship do they have with their gloves? I asked that question to erstwhile infielder, and current Cincinnati Reds manager, David Bell.

“As a player, I was very protective of my glove,” said Bell, who typically used one per year. “But as a manager, I’ve actually lost a couple, because it’s not a big part of my job. I kind of forget about them. I’ve left it on the field a couple different times.

“I still love the feel of a good glove,” continued Bell, whose one-year-only usage as a player was based on a preference of firm over flimsy. “The fungo [bat] probably comes into play a little bit more than my glove, but I will get out there and take ground balls every now and then. Everybody kind of rolls their eyes when I come off the field.”

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A quiz:

Since 1970, a total of 16 players have at least 5,000 plate appearances and an OBP of .400 or higher. Of them, Rod Carew has the highest batting average, at .333. Which of the 16 has the lowest batting average?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the charismatic radio voice of the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts, called his first three regular season MLB games at Fenway Park earlier this week. Goldberg-Strassler was filling in for Oakland Athletics broadcaster Ken Korach, who was taking the series off.

Frank Cipriani, an outfielder who played in 13 games for the Kansas City Athletics in 1969, died last earlier this month at age 81. Cipriani had nine career hits, the first coming against Jim Kaat in his MLB debut.

SABR has added nine new interviews with baseball’s sabermetric pioneers to its oral history collection. Conducted by Brian Hall, the conversations are with Dick Cramer, John Dewan, Sean Forman, Gary Gillette, Bill James, Steve Mann, David Neft, Pete Palmer, and David W. Smith. They can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Jim Thome, who had a .276 batting average and a .402 OBP.

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Len Kasper was among the contributors to a recent FanGraphs article that featured nine MLB broadcasters answering the question, What is the Best Pitching Performance You’ve Seen? As an addendum to what he shared for that piece, the radio voice of the Chicago White Sox gave a nod to a Michael Kopech outing from earlier this season.

“It’s been a long journey for Kopech, who was a Red Sox first-round pick in 2014,” Kasper said of the ChiSox right-hander. “That Sunday night start — in front of an exclusive national TV audience — was just the 16th of his career. He was facing arguably the best, and at the time the hottest, offense in the league. He took a perfect game into the 6th inning, extending a stretch of 30 consecutive batters dating to his previous start against the Yankees. He would go a career-high seven innings, allowing one hit in a 5-0 win. His game score of 79 wouldn’t head a list of best-ever, but the circumstances — the big stage, the difficult opponent, the backstory — make it the best start I’ve seen so far this season.”

Kopech, who has a 1.92 and a 3.12 FIP in 51-and-two-thirds innings this year, left his most-recent start after facing just two batters due to knee discomfort. He is expected to be on the mound tonight when the White Sox play in Houston.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Yoshinobu Yamamoto threw the fourth no-hitter of the NPB season on Saturday as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Seibu Lions 2-0. The last time four no-hitters were thrown in a single Japanese season was 1943. Yamamoto, a 23-year-old right-hander, is 7-3 with a 1.55 ERA over a dozen starts.

Keita Sano is leading NPB’s Central League with a .332 batting average. The 27-year-old Yokohama BayStars outfielder/first baseman batted .303 a year ago, and a league-best .328 in 2020.

Adam Brett Walker is slashing .295/.313/.552 with 13 home runs for NPB’s Yomiuri Giants. The 30-year-old former Minnesota Twins prospect spent the previous three seasons with the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen.

Sócrates Brito is slashing .336/.379/.584 with the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 29-year-old former Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder signed with the Gwangju, South Korea-based club last winter.

Ji-Chan Kim has 19 stolen bases in as many attempts for the KBO’s Samsung Lions. A 21-year-old, left-handed-hitting middle infielder who is listed at 5-foot-4, 141 pounds, Kim is slashing .280/.356/.350.

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Mark Kotsay and Oliver Marmol are first-year managers, the former with the Oakland Athletics, the latter with the St. Louis Cardinals. I recently asked both if they’re managing much as they envisioned — reliance on data, decision-making as a whole, and whatever else — or if there have been any surprises.

“It’s become pretty consistent with how I thought it would go,” said the 35-year-old Marmol. [That’s] as far as how I’d want to come across with this group — the daily communication with our fanbase through the media, and how I would communicate to our staff. And then overall presence and communication with our players. That’s gone exactly the way I thought it would, up to this point. As for data and preparation, it’s no different than the job I previously had as bench coach — how I interpret, and like to use it. So it’s been fairly seamless as far as what I thought it would be.”

Marmol’s Oakland counterpart answered in much the same manner.

“I think I’m doing it kind of how I envisioned,” said the 46-year-old Kotsay. “ Obviously, being with the A’s since 2016, I’m very familiar with how this organization likes to do things, and has had success doing things. I also mentored under Bob Melvin and watched him navigate information, [including] in-game information, and utilizing all aspects of what the game is telling you, what the players are telling you. and what the data is telling you. That makes for the best decision-making process.”

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I also asked Kotsay about Julio Rodríguez, who had gone 3 for 12 with a pair of home runs when Seattle hosted Oakland in late May. What were his initial impressions of the 21-year-old Mariners outfielder?

“A pretty electric kid,” replied Kotsay, who spent 17 seasons as a big-league outfielder. “The things that stand out from my memory are explosive bat speed, and that he can really run. I didn’t see the defend enough to really evaluate that, but he’s definitely a talented young player.”

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FARM NOTES

Derek Bernard has 14 hits in 41 at bats (.341) for Colorado’s Dominican Summer League team. The 16-year-old, left-handed-hitting shortstop from San Pedro de Macoris was signed to a professional contract by the Rockies in January.

Edwin Arroyo is slashing .309/.376/.508 with 10 home runs in 266 plate appearances for the Low-A Modesto Nuts. The 18-year-old shortstop, a native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is No. 7 on our Seattle Mariners Top Prospects list.

Brandol Mezquita is slashing .324/.392/.451 with three home runs in 232 plate appearances for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets. The 20-year-old outfielder from Imbert, Dominican Republic is No. 17 on our Atlanta Braves Top Prospects list.

Dahian Santos has a 2.88 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 40-and-two-thirds innings with the Low-A Dunedin Blue Jays. The 19-year-old right-hander from Acarigua, Venezuela is No. 12 on our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects list.

Austin Vernon is 8-0 with a 1.45 ERA over 49-and-two-thirds innings with the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. The 23-year-old righty was drafted in the 10th round last year by the Tampa Bay Rays out of North Carolina Central University.

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Austin Davis was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and one of the subjects I broached with the Boston Red Sox southpaw was the first home run he surrendered in the big leagues. Eighteen outings into his 2018 rookie season with the Philadelphia Phillies, Davis was taken deep by Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta.

The circumstances and venue made it especially notable. The gopher was a 14th-inning walk-off, and with family and friends on hand, Davis was pitching in his home state as a big-leaguer for the first time.

“There was a whole lot of emotion,” the Scottsdale native said on the podcast. “I came into the game and ended up striking out Paul Goldschmidt. Growing up in Arizona, he was ‘the guy’… so to strike him out, I was kind of, not on top of the world, but it was like, ‘All right. I’m in the big leagues, I’m feeling it, I just struck out Paul Goldschmidt. This is awesome.’ And then, next pitch, walk-off homer. It humbles you real quick. I’m pretty sure it hit off the top of the wall in left-center and skated over. I just sat there on the mound and kind of watched it unfold.”

Davis’s cheering section witnessed it, as well. To the southpaw’s recollection, they were among the few who did.

“14th inning on a Monday night at Chase Field,” said Davis. “It was [mostly] only family left in the stadium.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Hartford Yard Goats (Double-A, Colorado Rockies) PA announcer Jared Doyon isn’t allowing Tourette syndrome to stop him from doing the job he loves. Benjamin Hill told us about the 28-year-old Connecticut native at MiLB.com.

Today is Juneteenth, and it is also the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s rejecting Curt Flood’s challenge to MLB’s reserve clause. William C. Rhoden wrote about the parallels at Andscape.

Orlando Hernández is among the expatriates lobbying to have a Cuban dream team participate in the 2023 WBC. Maria Torres wrote about those efforts at The Athletic (subscription required).

Which of Chicago’s four baseball broadcast booths is the best? The Chicago Sun-Times ran a Twitter poll asking that question, and Steve Greenberg shared the results.

Prior to attending West Point and becoming the 34th president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower played professional baseball under a pseudonym in the Class D Central Kansas League. Joe Guzzardi has the story at the Greeneville (TN) Sun.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Blue Jays have won 25 of Alek Manoah’s 33 career starts. Manoah has allowed 15 earned runs in the eight losses.

Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease is 10-0 with a 1.91 ERA in eleven career starts against the Detroit Tigers.

Yadier Molina passed Ivan Rodriguez for most career putouts by a catcher when he recorded 11 in the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday. The St. Louis Cardinals catcher ended the day with 14,870. “Pudge” had 14,864.

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds went into the weekend slashing .380/.440/.611 over 257 career plate appearances in the month of June.

Rod Carew had 334 hits and a .297 batting average through his first 300 games. Luis Arraez has 340 hits and a .320 batting average through his first 300 games.

On today’s date in 1999, Mike Bordick hit a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning to give the Baltimore Orioles an 11-9 win over the Chicago White Sox. Will Clark had given the birds a 9-7 lead in the tenth with a two-run homer of his own, only to see the ChiSox even the score in the bottom half on a two-run, pinch-hit double by Jeff Liefer.

On today’s date in 1929, Mel Ott doubled home the winning run in the top of the 11th inning to give the New York Giants a 15-14 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Baker Bowl. Ott finished the day 4 for 6 with two home runs and six RBIs, while Lefty O’Doul had five hits for the losing side. O’Doul finished the season with 254 hits and an NL-best .398 batting average.

Players born on today’s date include Bob Aspromonte, who in 1962 recorded the first hit, and scored the first run, in Houston Colt 45s/Astros franchise history. A third baseman who made his big-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers at age 18, Aspromonte played seven of his 13 seasons with Houston.

Also born on today’s date was Bob Gibson, who pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1983-1986, and for the New York Mets in 1987. Notably less formidable than his famous namesake, Gibson went 12-18 with a 4.24 ERA over 98 career big-league appearances. He attended Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania before turning pro.

Dad Meek had 18 plate appearances with the St. Louis Browns over parts of the 1889 and 1890 seasons. One of five players in MLB history born in the Czech Republic, Meek slashed .333/.333/.333.





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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Left of Centerfield
12 days ago

Fun fact: So far this season, Cleveland has a grand total of 8 home runs from their outfield. Oscar Mercado has 4, Franmil Reyes has 2, and Josh Naylor and Steve Kwan have one a piece.

I mean, that’s just incredible. They’re on pace for a total of 21 OF home runs for the whole year. It’s hard to know if that would be a poat-deadball record but it certainly could be. I found that some of the 60s and 70s Houston teams had 25-30 OF home runs. Otherwise…no idea. At the very least, it has to be close to a record.

And it’s unlikely to change unless Cleveland trates for a power hitting OFer. Guys lile Kwan, Straw, Clement, and Palacios aren’t going to turn into power hitters. Mercado only plays against lefiies. Reyes amd Naylor rarely play the OF. That leaves Oscar González who hit 31 home runs last year in the minors but has yet to hit one in approximately 100 ML PAs.

And yet somehow, due to OBP, defense, and baserunning, they rank 7th in the AL in OF WAR. In fact, they’re not that far behind the Yankees (3.9 vs 3.1), even though the Yankees have a little guy named Aaron Judge who had 3x as many home runs as the entire Cleveland OF.

MikeSmember
12 days ago

They are dead last in Barrel% and Hard%. 27th in average EV. They are 22nd in BB% and only 19th in BABIP. I haven’t watched a lot of Cleveland baseball so I have no idea how they are scoring any runs at all with those numbers. They lead the league in dRAR, so that is probably contributing a lot.

Left of Centerfield
12 days ago
Reply to  MikeS

Easy. With runners in scoring position, they’re second in the majors in BA, 1st in OBP, and 3rd in SLG. No idea why, but they turn into completely different hitters with RISP.

MikeSmember
12 days ago

So it’s luck. In general, all hitters hit better with RISP, so if a team is average in general but elite in certain situations, that’s probably luck.

Left of Centerfield
12 days ago
Reply to  MikeS

Luck??? That’s pure skill baby!!!

Seriously though, here’s how they’ve performed relative to league average in various situations (OPS):

Overall:-0.010

No one on: -0.039

Runner on first only: -0.052

RISP: +0.083

Overall they’re roughly average but that’s a balance of underperforming in some situations and overperforming in others.

sadtrombonemember
12 days ago
Reply to  MikeS

Yes, a lot of that is defense. They’re 15th in wRC+. But even then, it’s kind of amazing. A lot of that is because in contrast to every other team that is underperforming their xwOBA, many of their players are roughly playing to it. Some are a little lower, and Franmil Reyes is way, way lower, but for the most part it’s about the same. And Jose Ramirez is way, way beyond it.

tz
11 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It looks like Ramirez, when batting left-handed this year, is pulling the ball less often and hitting fewer hard bit balls than he normally does. If xwOBA reflected spray angle, I think it’s likely to be a good bit higher for Ramirez because of his elite bat control.

formerly matt w
11 days ago

So, I haven’t been able to answer the exact question, because I can only search on Fangraphs by the “OF” tab and not the “as OF” split. This captures players who spent at least one-third of their time in the OF (I think?) so in some years it’ll capture too many and others it’ll miss some; for instance, right now it has the Guardians as having 6 HR from outfielders, since it counts Franmil as a DH and misses his 2 as an OF (he hit one more as a DH).

That said:
not counting this year, the fewest HR from the OF since 1920 are mostly 1920s, which may still count as deadball era, and WWII, which shouldn’t count either. The 1933 Reds had 9 and the 1937 Pirates had 11.

The 2020 Clevelands had 11 which definitely doesn’t count, this is in fewer PA credited than the Guardians already have this year. (This isn’t due to tab weirdness, they had 11 as OF.)

The 1981 Twins had 13 in a strike-shortened season.

For full seasons post-WWII I believe the mark to aim for is the 1948 (Philadelphia) Athletics with 17. Oddly, their outfield was also offensively competent, with Sam Chapman and his 13 HRs being the worst of the starters! Chapman had a 99 wRC+ and 1.6 WAR, while Elmer Valo rode an amazing 17.1%/2.7% BB/K to a 127 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR in 475 PA, and Barney McCoskey had a 114 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR by walking three times as often as he struck out. Admittedly the league rates were 12.0 BB% and 8.6% K.

More recently we have the 1992 White Sox with 18 HR; Tim Raines had 7, Dan Pasqua 6, Lance Johnson 3, Shawn Abner and Warren Newson 1 each. (Their teammate Frank Thomas had 24 HR that year by himself.) Another outfield that was valuable mostly through defense though Raines had a 125 wRC+; Raines, Johnson, and Abner (in 228 PA) combined for 10.5 WAR, with Abner and Johnson each having a 14 TZ (Abner did it in 514 innings which looks kinda like a statistical fluke), and Raines having 15 which is also way out of his norms.

So they aren’t on pace for any kind of post-deadball record, but the record this century (outside 2020) seems to be the 2007 Royals with 23, and they’re on pace to beat that! The 2007 Royals outfield also got some value from fielding but they were Not Good with the bats.

JoeyVottoIsGodmember
10 days ago

Sadly I would hazard the outfield of the Reds is not too far behind that HR total, even with the contributions of Tommy Pham.