Mike Shawaryn hadn’t put much thought into it. Finger pressure is instrumental in his success, both as a pitcher and as a musician, but how the two intertwine isn’t a subject he’d addressed. Not until I broached the subject this winter.
A 22-year-old right-hander out of the University of Maryland, Shawaryn is one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system (Baseball America has him No. 8; Eric Longenagen expects to rank him similarly when he puts together his forthcoming Red Sox list). Displaying a power arsenal, he fanned 169 batters in 134-and-two-thirds innings last year between low-A Greenville and high-A Salem.
When he’s not blowing away hitters, Shawaryn is playing the piano and the saxophone — and he’s a neophyte with neither. Boston’s pick in the fifth round of the 2016 draft has been tickling the ivories and blowing on a sax ever since his elementary school days in South Jersey.
Both instruments require dexterous fingers. Ditto pitching, where you’re gripping and releasing an object whose movement is influenced by the placement of digits on seams. Is there a direct correlation?
“I’ve never really thought about it like that, but the feel of the ball in your hand is obviously important,” Shawaryn said after first contemplating the idea. “Now, kind of connecting the dots, I’d say it’s the piano more so than the saxophone. The pressure you put on the keys determines the sound of it, the shape of the music. That’s probably helped me develop a type of feel in my fingers for the seams on the ball — what fingers I need to put pressure on to influence the shape of a pitch.”
And then there are rhythm and tempo. Pitchers change speeds within an at bat, and musicians change speeds within a song.
“There is the pressure of the keys from loud music to soft music,” said Shawaryn. “It’s all on your fingertips, which is also the bread and butter of throwing a pitch. And just like you feel the rhythm of the music, if you’re going good you’re feeling rhythm on the mound. At the same time, you don’t want the batter to feel that same rhythm. There’s a fine line. If the batter starts feeling that rhythm, you have to deviate from it. You have to change tempos.”
When Shawaryn needs a change of pace from the piano, he goes into Bird-mode. But as for whether he equates his pitching style to the bebop legend he most admires… let’s just say baseball and music have only so much in common.
“I play jazz on the saxophone, and I love playing Charlie Parker,” explained Shawaryn. “He had a faster-tempo type of style, but I don’t know if I’d consider my pitching style to be like that. It’s not something you can really compare.”
A few days ago it was reported that bullpen carts could be returning to big-league ballparks, and while the stated purpose — relievers would reach the game mound more quickly— seems a bit silly… by all means, bring them back! The handful of seconds saved by riding, rather than jogging, may be meaningless, but introducing a little color to pitching-change dead time wouldn’t be a big plus. Bullpen carts are fun.
The Phillies signed Adam Rosales earlier this week. What can Philadelphia expect from the 34-year-old veteran? For one thing, the mindset that comes with being a 34-year-old veteran.
“I’m not 25 anymore,” Rosales told me late in the 2017 season. “In many ways I’m the same guy, but I have to figure out what my body can still do, and how I can sustain myself over the marathon of a long season. As much as anything, it’s about learning how to work smarter, and not harder.”
Rosales strikes out a lot — his 31.8% K-rate over the last three seasons is 11th highest among the 341 players with at least 600 plate appearances — and while he’s not happy with that fact, he’s not about to let it turn his mind sideways.
“You have to be comfortable with who you are,” rationalized Rosario. “I strike out more than I would like, and you don’t like striking out, but you can’t dwell on it. One thing I’ve learned over the years is how to have a short-term memory. I’m able to let things go, knowing that it’s not going to help me — or help the team — if I dwell on things like strikeouts. As a veteran player, I’m able to be more patient with myself.”
Last summer, I asked Ryan Flaherty how he determines whether or not to cut off a throw when a runner is trying to advance an extra base. The Orioles infielder answered with a pigskin analogy.
“That’s where instincts come in,” said Flaherty, a native of Maine and a lifelong New England Patriots fan. “It’s a baseball play, but it’s kind of like running out of bounds in football. It’s about knowing the situation and having a feel for what you should be doing. Sometimes the smarter move is to go out of bounds.”
Last Sunday’s column included a look at the percentage of catchers-turned-managers in MLB over the past 50 years. It was lower than I expected, particularly in the decades that preceded the turn of the century. And while it climbed as high as 50% three years ago, it’s begun to trend down. None of the last 14 managers hired wore the tools of ignorance during their playing days.
Meanwhile — this was mentioned last week, as well — very few pitchers have become MLB managers. Perusing the spreadsheet sent to me by ace intern Bailey Winston, the current group of three (Bud Black, Mickey Callaway, and Bryan Price) is higher than normal. There were two in 1960, 1970, and 2000. There was one in 1980, 1990, and 2010. In 2005, there were none.
Dave Roberts was indirectly praised by Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen last summer, and the Dodgers skipper may not even be aware of it. The compliment was passed along recently by Alex Cora, who was asked what type of team he wants to have in Boston.
“When people talk about the Red Sox, I want them to say they’re a team that pays attention to detail; they play team baseball,” Cora a group of reporters. “I had a conversation with Mike Hazen last year about the Dodgers, halfway through the season. It was the biggest compliment I heard about a team. He said they don’t beat themselves; you have to be on top of your game to beat them. That’s what I want from us.”
Max Rieper of Royals Review did a yeoman’s job of digging up a piece of data this past Friday. Prompted by a Twitter exchange between yours truly and Jayson Stark, Rieper found the following:
Clubs that signed at least one position player to a MLB deal worth at least $5 million by February 2 (the years listed are for the just-completed season):
2013 — 16 teams
2014 — 17 teams
2015 — 17 teams
2016 — 19 teams
2017 — 11 teams
NEWSY STUFF (DIAMONDBACKS EDITION)
The Arizona Diamondbacks announced personnel moves this week, and several of them stand out. On the former player side, Burke Badenhop, who had been working as an analyst, was promoted to special assistant to the general manager. Daniel Bard has joined the organization in a newly-created player mentor role. Jonny Gomes is the new hitting coach for their rookie-level AZL affiliate.
The D-Backs also brought in a trio of former writers on board. Jason Parks, who spent the last three years with the Cubs after leaving Baseball Prospectus, was named director of professional scouting. Tucker Blair, another BP alum, was hired as a professional scout after spending two years in that role with the Astros. Hudson Belinsky, formerly of Baseball America, will be an area scout in Georgia.
Last but not least, Jack Goin is coming on board as a professional scout after spending the last nine years in the Twins organization, most recently as their director of baseball research.
NEWSY STUFF (NON-DIAMONDBACKS EDITION)
Nori Aoki, who finished last season with the New York Mets, is returning to Japan to play for the Yakult Swallows. The 36-year-old outfielder spent the past six seasons in MLB, slashing .285/.350/.387 for seven teams.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has inducted three new members. Two of them, Pedro Martinez, a former Montreal Expo, and Lloyd Moseby, a former Toronto Blue Jay, are widely known. The third inductee isn’t as familiar a name — certainly not south of the border — but he’s every bit as deserving. William Humber is not only the author of several books, and a prominent SABR member, he is regarded as Canada’s premier baseball historian. The induction ceremony will be held June 16 in St. Marys, Ontario.
The upcoming SABR Analytics Conference has added an MLB Advanced Media Statcast Presentation, featuring Mike Petriello, Tom Tango, and Darren Willman. The conference will be held from March 9-11 in Phoenix, and more information can be found here.
Equipment trucks are heading to spring training sites in Arizona and Florida, and the cargo contained in each is both plentiful and diverse. Take for instance the one that will travel from Boston to Fort Myers beginning tomorrow. According to the Red Sox public relations staff, it will include: 20,400 baseballs, 1,100 bats, 200 batting gloves, 200 batting helmets, 320 batting practice tops, 160 white game jerseys, 300 pairs of pants, 400 t-shirts, and 400 pairs of socks. No less importantly, it will also carry 20 cases of bubble gum, and 60 cases of sunflower seeds.
Those of us who love both baseball and poetry are familiar with A. Bartlett Giamatti’s ”The Green Fields of the Mind.” Penned after the 1977 season, it begins with the classic lines: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
Many, but certainly fewer, of us are also familiar with Robert Fitzgerald’s “Cobb Would Have Caught It,” which was written in 1943. Here are the first few lines, plus this link to the entire text.
“In sunburnt parks where Sundays lie,
Or the wide wastes beyond the cities,
Teams in grey deploy through sunlight.
Talk it up, boys, a little practice…
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Was Roy Halladay better than Sandy Koufax? In terms of peak, certainly not. Koufax had arguably the most-dominant six-year stretch in history. But overall, and with Hall of Fame credentials in mind, Halladay stacks up pretty well.
Koufax had 165 wins, a .655 winning percentage, and a 131 adjusted ERA. He won three Cy Young awards and was an All-Star six times. Halladay had 203 wins, a .659 winning percentage, and a 131 adjusted ERA. He won two Cy Young awards and was an All-Star eight times.
A more-accomplished career than Koufax? Maybe not, but Halladay has an iron-clad argument for Cooperstown.
As Jay Jaffe points out in The Cooperstown Casebook, the five-year waiting period for Hall of Fame eligibility wasn’t enacted until 1954. A notable exception occurred just a year later. As Jaffe explained, “any candidate who had previously received 100 or more votes in a single election… was grandfathered.” The only player who met that criterion, Joe DiMaggio, was elected in 1955, four years after his career ended.
The other exception came into effect in 1973. Shortly after Roberto Clemente lost his life in a plane crash, the BBWAA voted to waive the five-year period in the case of an active player’s death. As Jaffe informs us, Clemente was elected, while Thurman Munson and Darryl Kile became eligible but were not elected.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Major League Baseball is working through the Dominican Ministry of Education to aid young Latin players, and MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote about how emotions ran high as seven Colorado Rockies graduated the program.
At The New York Times, Ben Shpigel explained how the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles used analytics, including EdjSports’s predictive tools, to help them reach the Super Bowl.
Over at the Courier & Press, Chad Lindskog wrote about how Darin Mastroianni — recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame — considered quitting baseball before attending the University of Southern Indiana.
What are the origins of baseball’s trade deadline? Daniel Levitt has the answer in Part 5 of the Pursuit of Pennants “Important Moments in Team Building” series.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania has produced seven big-leaguers: Marc Cambell, Wilbur Good, Nick Goulish, Billy Hunter, Devin Mesoraco, John Mizerock, and Al Verdel. Verdel’s only MLB appearances came in 1944, when he threw a perfect inning for the Phillies. The last batter he faced was Gene Mauch, who would later manage the Phillies from 1960-1968.
Gene Mauch’s 1,902 wins are the most of any manager not in the Hall of Fame.
Frank Thompson, who played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Homestead Grays from 1945-1948, was nicknamed “Groundhog.”
On this date in 1969, Bob Gibson appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and suggested that the MLBPA, which was seeking concessions from the owners, would consider striking.
On February 3, 1979, the Minnesota Twins traded seven-time American League batting champion Rod Carew to the California Angels for Ken Landreaux and three other players. Carew batted .314 in seven seasons with the Angels, and made six All-Star teams.
Jack Morris is the only person to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player without having recorded a hit.
The 1967 All-Star game went 15 innings, with the NatIonal League winning by a score of 2-1. Detroit’s Bill Freehan caught all 15 innings for the American League.
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.