Sunday Notes: Olmos, Omar, Desmond, Marte, Mazara, more

Edgar Olmos had a tumultuous offseason a year ago. From November 2015 to March 2016, he went from the Mariners to the Cubs to the Orioles to the Cubs to the Orioles. It was waiver claim yo-yo, although the 26-year-old southpaw equates the experience to a table game.

“It was like a ping pong ball,” said Olmos. “It just went back and forth, back and forth. I’m married — I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters — so it was a difference of us renting a spring training place in Arizona or in Florida. It was, ‘We need to look rent there, no, we need to look rent there, no, wait, we need to go back to looking there, no, not again.”

Olmos originally changed organizations in November 2014. Prior to being selected off waivers by Seattle, he spent seven years in the Marlins system. He made his big league debut wth the Fish in 2013, and the outing was especially memorable. The lefty entered a game with two outs and the bases loaded, and Ryan Howard at the plate.

“I walked out to the mound and the manager said, ‘Well, here you go; go get ‘em,’ remembered Olmos. “Being there was a dream come true, but I was able to kind of block out the noise, block out the lights and the fans, and block out Ryan Howard, pretend he wasn’t there. I knew I had to just stay with my strength, which was my fastball. I was pumping 98-99 at the time.”

Olmos got Howard to ground out to second on a slider. The next day didn’t go quite so well.

“I faced Howard again and got him to pop out,” explained Olmos. “Then Domonic Brown hit a little squibbler down the first base line, and I went over to pick it up and scoop it. As I came up, the ball wasn’t in my glove. Then I got an out on a bunt, walked a guy, and then another guy. That loaded the bases. (Catcher Rob) Brantly came out and told me to relax, stick to who I am, pound the zone, and everything would be OK.”

It wasn’t OK. Olmos got too much of the plate with a two-seam fastball and John Mayberry took him deep for a walk-off grand slam.

“It barely went out — it was first row, right on top of the flower bed — but it was still gone,” said Olmos. “The way I looked at it was, ‘I’ll live to fight another day.’”

Three-plus years later, the lefty has 11 big league games under his belt and a 5.21 ERA in 19 innings. He spent last year in Triple-A, in the Orioles organization, and fashioned a 2.88 ERA in 42 relief appearances. More of a pitcher now than a thrower — “I was 23 when threw 98” — Olmos signed a free agent contract with the Red Sox in November.

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In an interview that ran here on Tuesday, Rockies GM Jeff Bridich said the organization has been “talking a lot about athleticism and positional flexibility” in recent years. Ian Desmond, who came to Colorado as a free agent in December, is that type of player. A shortstop in his time with the Nationals, he manned centerfield for the Rangers last season.

Barring unforeseen developments, Colorado plans to play him at first base. Not surprisingly, this has perplexed both pundits and the club’s fanbase. Being curious myself, I asked Bridich if taking advantage of Desmond’s positional flexibility would be more of a value-add than stationing him at the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

“I don’t necessarily look at it that way,” answered Bridich. “We want to turn as many ground balls into outs as we possibly can, and having a good first baseman — an athletic first baseman — is extremely important to us. I believe that Ian is going to fit that mold.

“We have infielders that get to a lot of balls and make athletic, off-balance — and at times awkward — throws. We need to have an athletic first baseman who can handle that. Mark Reynolds did a good job for us that way last year, and we look for Ian to do the same.”

I can’t argue with Bridich on the value of having a good defensive first baseman, especially one proficient at reining in errant throws. Even so, a more-versatile role would better optimize Desmond’s value to his new team.

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Jim Leyland shared some of his thoughts on pitching when I spoke to him last summer. Among the former skipper’s beliefs is that not everyone can hit a good fastball.

“Not everybody can,” said Leyland. “I think you’d be surprised. There are a lot of hitters in the big leagues right now that can’t hit a good fastball. Because of their status, everybody thinks they can crush a fastball, so pitchers are reluctant to throw it to them. They don’t have to be.”

Leyland saw a lot of pitchers during his managerial tenure. He was at the helm for 3,499 MLB contests between 1986-2013. Along the way, he learned that if you don’t understand them, you’re probably sunk.

“As a manager, you better like pitchers,” said Leyland. “If you don’t, you’re in trouble. They control everything. Pitching has been, and always will be… you might out-slug somebody in a given year, but the law of averages says you’re not going to out-slug teams all year long. You better have pitching.”

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Francis Martes is the top pitching prospect in the Houston Astros organization. In the opinion of some, he’s one of the top pitching prospects in the game. MLB.com recently ranked him fifth among right-handers, and Baseball America says he has “the raw profile of an ace with two pitches that grade near the top of the scale,.” Along with a mid-90s heater, the 6-foot-1, 225-lb. Dominican features a knee-bending hook.

Astros assistant GM Mike Elias described his secondary stuff in glowing terms.

“He has a fast, power curveball that’s deep,” Elias. “It’s got a lot of lateral break, too. He’s also got a good changeup. That’s something he’s improved upon more recently. His curveball has always been kind of his thing, and in the last year or two the changeup has come together for him really well. When he gets to the big leagues, it’s going to help him quite a bit to have both of those weapons.”

When I asked Elias how good the burly right-hander can be, I didn’t get a close-to-the-vest response.

“He’s got as high a ceiling as probably as any righty in the major leagues,” opined Elias. “He has such a gifted arm, and such a weapon breaking ball, plus the changeup as a third pitch. Something that can be lost sight of is how young he is. He went to Double-A (late in the 2015 season) and held his own. In and of itself, that says something. If you look at the list of guys who have pitched well in Double-A at age 19, it’s a really, really impressive list.”

How soon can we expect to see Martes in the Astros rotation?

“He’s got time on his side — we’re certainly not going to rush him — but if things go well for him this year, his road to Houston could be a very fast one,” said Elias. “We’ve got high hopes for him.”

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Nomar Mazara had a strong rookie season for the Texas Rangers in 2016. Debuting as a 20-year-old — he turned 21 in late April — Mazara bashed 20 home runs and put up a creditable .739 OPS over 145 games. He exhibited massive power along the way. One of the outfielder’s bombs traveled an estimated 491 feet.

According to Rangers assistant GM Josh Boyd, the youngster’s strength of character is every bit as impressive as his ability to lose baseballs.

“His maturity stands out above everything else,” said Boyd, who previously served as the team’s director of professional scouting. “Behind the calm demeanor you see an intelligent, mature young man. A lot of it comes from his upbringing and his strong family unit. When he was coming up in the system, he quickly established himself as a leader by taking it upon himself to make sure other young players had an easier time with some of their needs adapting to life in the minors. While he was making his own adjustments he was a big brother and a good teammate. He often put others first, which speaks to his character.”

Mazara, who was signed by the Rangers out of Santo Domingo at age 16, is the son of a former high-ranking officer in the Dominican Navy.

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For the second year in a row, Yangervis Solarte put up solid numbers with San Diego. The 29-year-old third baseman slashed .286/.341/.467, with a 118 wRC+. Not surprisingly, he produced more power away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Just four of his 15 dingers came in front of the home crowd, and his slugging percentage was .97 points higher on the road.

While the results differed, his hitting approach remained much the same.

“I never change my approach,” Solarte told me recently. “I just try to hit the ball good, and that’s it. I never try to get it to go out, or anything like that. But I know my park. I know the San Diego park is a little complicated. I have a couple of home runs there, but I have to keep your mind like, ‘Hit the ball hard.’”

Solarte does see some difference in how he’s attacked in certain venues.

“In Colorado, they use more fastballs,” said Solarte. “Breaking pitches don’t break like normal there. In Arizona… I think maybe they pitch me inside more. I don’t know.”

Solarte does know that he enjoys playing for his current manager, and hitting coach.

“Oh my god, that’s unbelievable,” said Solarte. “I love Andy Green. He’s always a positive guy. He talks to me happy. He talks to everybody happy. He’s a smart guy. My hitting coach (Alan Zinter) , same thing. He loves when I attack the pitch. He loves when I say to him, ‘Hey, let me see a pitch, stay balanced, and swing hard. We’re always on the same page.”

Solarte heads into 2017 looking to turn the page on a bittersweet season. The native of Venezuela missed time in September to be with his wife, who ultimately succumbed to cancer. Yuliett Pimentel Solarte was 31.

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I admired Craig Edwards’ writing even before he came to FanGraphs, and continue to enjoy his work. That said, I disagree with his recent column suggesting that Omar Vizquel doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. This should come as no surprise, given that I advocated for the long-time shortstop in a recent Notes column.

Craig’s arguments against are certainly valid. By no means am I attempting to question his analytic chops. But I do want to augment what I wrote earlier with a few points I consider salient.

Vizquez was a shortstop, and thus should be judged as a shortstop. It is true that his offense compares unfavorably to that of almost every position player in the Hall of Fame, and yes, that includes the 22 shortstops.

But let’s look at some of those positional peers. Of the 22, only six played as recently as 1960, and three of them — Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken, and Robin Yount — combined to play over 3,400 games at positions other than shortstop. That leaves Luis Aparicio, Barry Larkin, and Ozzie Smith as the only career-long shortstops over the last 50-plus years with a plaque in Cooperstown.

(This is a good time to point out that I’m more of a big-Hall guy, and that Alan Trammell is among those who are deserving of enshrinement.)

Overall, Vizquel was a below-average hitter. Historically, he wasn’t a below-average hitter at his position. Over the past 100 years, 314 shortstops have logged 2,000-plus plate appearances. Of them, Vizquel is tied for 125th in wOBA, and 138th in wRC+. Not good, but not exactly chopped liver, either.

One last thought on Omar’s offense. That he ranks 42nd on the career hits list — and has more total bases than Edgar Martinez! — is largely due to his longevity. Few would argue otherwise. But longevity is meaningful. You don’t last 24 seasons, and play more games at shortstop than anyone in history, without being supremely talented.

Take another look at the number of shortstops with 2,000 plate appearances listed in the paragraph above. There aren’t many, and there’s a reason for that — it is the most athletically-demanding defensive position in the game. Vizquel played it better than all but a handful in history.

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I missed this when it was announced last month, and it merits mention here in the Notes column. Dan Dickerson, the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers, was named the 2016 recipient of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association Ernie Harwell Lifetime Achievement Award. The 2017 season will be Dickerson’s 18th in the booth, and his 15th as the lead play-by-play voice. He made his Tigers debut in 2000, working alongside Harwell. The honor is well deserved. Dickerson is one of the best in the business.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium is 17 years older than any other Triple-A ballpark and 46 years older than any other park in the International League. According to Tim Britton of The Providence Journal, its days are numbered.

At Vice Sports, Rian Watt delved into how self-assessment by teams fires the MLB hot stove.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had polio and spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair, won’t be the Nationals’ latest Racing President. Scott Allen has the story at The Washington Post.

Writing for The Japan Times, Jim Allen explained why Tuffy Rhodes, who 462 home runs in nine NPB seasons, could face a long road to Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

What is the baseball atmosphere like in Cuba? Bernie Pleskoff went there to find out, and wrote about it for FanRag Sports.

Former big-league infielder Carmen Fanzone grew up idolizing both Al Kaline and jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. As Bruce Markuson explained at Detroit Athletic Co., Fanzone refused to choose between music and baseball.

At The Dallas Morning News, Evan Grant wrote about how Yu Darvish’s father might not be able to enter the US to see son pitch because of new border restrictions.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Among pitchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Brandon Backe has the highest OBP (.317) in the past 50 years. Micah Owings has the highest SLG (.502).

In 1930, Babe Ruth became the first player to strike out 1,000 times in his career. In 1966, Mickey Mantle became the first to strike out 1,500 times. In 1983, Reggie Jackson became the first to strike out 2,000 times, and in 1986 he became the first to strike out 2,500 times.

Ellis Burks in the only player in history to appear in exactly 2,000 games. Ichiro Suzuki is the only player to appear in exactly 2,500 games. No one has appeared in exactly 3,000, although Cal Ripken played in 3,001 games.

The Marlins have had losing records in 18 of their 24 seasons. They’ve won two World Series titles and are undefeated in six post-season series.

On this date in 1961, Max Carey and “Sliding” Billy Hamilton were elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee. Combined, they led the National League in stolen bases 15 times.

The 2017 SABR Analytics Conference will include a StatCast panel featuring Mike Petriello, Tom Tango, and Daren Willman. The conference will be held March 9-11 in Phoenix.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Olmos, Omar, Desmond, Marte, Mazara, more by David Laurila!

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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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mjlewis
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mjlewis

“Take another look at the number of shortstops with 2,000 plate appearances listed in the paragraph above. There aren’t many, and there’s a reason for that — it is the most athletically-demanding defensive position in the game.”

for what it’s worth, there are 313 first basemen with 2,000 plate appearances in the same time frame, so maybe it’s not because of the athletic demands.