Sunday Notes: Ross Stripling is a Nerd and Jesse Chavez Couldn’t Get High in LA

When I approached Ross Stripling at the All-Star Game media session, I knew that he was in the midst of a breakthrough season. The 28-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander went into the midsummer classic with a record of 8-2, a 2.08 ERA, and a 10.2 K-rate in 95-and-a-third innings.

I didn’t know that he was a nerd.

“Are you taking about things like spin rate and spin efficiency? I’m a believer in that for sure,” was Stripling’s response when I asked if he ever talks pitching analytics with anyone in the organization. “When I got called up in 2016, I thought that what made me good was my high arm angle leading to good downward angle on my fastball, so I should pitch down in the zone. But I tried that, and I was getting walloped.”

Then came a conversation that jumpstarted his career. Optioned to the minors in midseason to help limit his workload — “I was basically down there sitting on innings” — Stripling picked up a ringing cell phone and was soon standing at rapt attention. The voice on the other end belonged to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

“He was like, ‘Hey man, we want you throw up in the zone more,” recalled Stripling. “When he said that, I was like, ‘I don’t know. Angle is what makes me good. Blah, blah, blah.’ He was like, ‘Try it, because your spin rate is this, your spin efficiency is etcetera.’ I was like, ‘OK.’

“It changed my career. Now I can throw the high fastball with the curveball off of it. Like he said, it spins efficiently, so the hitter thinks it’s going to be here, but it stays up and he swings underneath it. We talk about things like that a lot. We throw our bullpens in front of TrackMan, in front of Rapsodo. We have these cameras that can do 500 frames per second and show exactly how the ball is coming out of our hand. I’ve certainly learned a lot since that call from Andrew.”

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A piece of advice for the Chicago Cubs, who acquired Jesse Chavez from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Tyler Thomas on Thursday: You might be best served by letting him be himself. The free-spirited 34-year-old righty has pitched for eight clubs previously — the 2016 World Champs are his ninth — and one of them stands out as a particularly imperfect fit.

Late last season, I asked the well-traveled hurler how much difference there has been, team to team, in how they want him to use his repertoire and attack hitters. (Of note, I recently asked Chavez if he minded my using the following quotes, despite their being nearly a year old, and he gave his OK.)

“With the exception of the Dodgers, I’ve really just been able to pitch my own game and not be told when, and when not to, to do certain things,” said Chavez, who was then with the Angels. “You want to be coachable — you don’t want a bad rap, and all that — and if something helps me get outs, I’m going to do it. At the same time, I know what works for me. Don’t just bring me a piece of paper saying ‘This guy is doing this with curveballs,’ because my curveball might be different than the curveballs he’s been hitting. Who’s to say this guy is going to take the same swing on mine as he will on somebody else’s?”

In the case of Chavez and the Dodgers, the issue was less about the curveball and more about fastball location.

“I like pitching down in the zone,” explained Chavez. “Sometimes they wanted me to pitch a lot up, and went I went up, my up wasn’t high enough. Pitching at the letters isn’t me. I now that analytics can be really, really good, but some philosophies match, and some philosophies don’t. Mine and theirs didn’t mesh.”

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Chavez’s repertoire has changed slightly. Last summer he told me that he didn’t throw a slider, but rather two variations of a curveball — one in the mid-to-high-70s range, and another in the low-to-mid-80s range. He said the latter would get misclassified as a slider despite “having 12-6 rotation.”

That issue no longer exists.

“I don’t really throw that one anymore,” Chavez said earlier this month. “I changed it to a different grip, which is now a slider, I guess. That’s because of where my arm is. I dropped my arm slot around the end of April, maybe early May. Actually, it was Mother’s Day.”

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Matt Manning has taken another step forward this season. Pitching in his second full professional season, the 20-year-old right-hander has allowed 54 hits, and fanned 96, in 72-and-a-third innings between low-A West Michigan and high-A Lakeland. His stuff has been electric, and while his command remains a work in progress — a 4.7 walk rate — he’s clearly living up to the title of my July 13, 2017 notes column: Tigers Prospect Matt Manning Is an Ace in the Making.

Prior to last Sunday’s Futures Game, I asked Detroit’s 2016 first-round draft pick about the strides he’s made since that time.

“My velo is up,” answered Manning, who told me he’s been sitting 92-95 and touching 97. “I’m also pitching the way I want to. I’m learning to be a pitcher. I’m finding out what works for me, and what I need to stay away from. Basically, I’m building on what I learned last year, and last year I learned a lot from where I was the year before that.”

One thing he’s learned is how to better manage his body and his arm strength.

“I didn’t have a great off-season throwing program going into last year,” Manning admitted. “I think I took too much time off. Now I have more of an idea of what to expect, including how much throwing I need to do. I prepared well for this season.”

That preparation, along with the further refinement of his secondary offerings, has helped take him one rung higher on the minor-league ladder.

“I think my offspeed is why I got a promotion to high-A,” surmised Manning, who joined Lakeland in late June. “Being able to keep hitters off balance, and showing that I can throw offspeed for a strike or for an out pitch, has been huge for me. I feel I’m continuing to get better and better.”

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Chris Sale took questions outside the clubhouse following his scoreless first inning in the All-Star game, and the first of them was actually a comment. A reporter told the Red Sox lefty that he has a lot of Chinese fans.

“I appreciate it,” Sale said in response. “I love it. I love that baseball is growing and expanding, not only in our country, but throughout the world. So thank you guys.”

The reporter followed up by asking something he claimed Chinese fans would like to know: “Players who always put gum, or something else, in the mouth. Why do you do that?”

Sale explained that he doesn’t chew gum, he simply licks his fingers to get a little moisture on them in order to grip the ball better.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Francisco Lindor is 10 for 22 against Chris Sale.

Giancarlo Stanton is 9 for 25 against Jacob deGrom.

Christian Yelich is 9 for 12 against Matt Wisler.

Matt Carpenter is 3 for 36 against Jake Arrieta.

Bryce Harper is 2 for 29 against Matt Harvey.

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I was standing alongside another reporter at the All-Star Game media session when he asked Houston Astros righty Charlie Morton for his opinion on potential rule changes. While the question wasn’t mine, I feel the thoughtful hurler’s response (condensed here for clarity) is deserving of the extra eyeballs it will reach at FanGraphs.

“You hope that changes occur organically, that it’s just the ebb and flow of the game, and there’s no overhaul of whatever,” said Morton. “What are they going to do? I don’t know what they would do. They’ve talked about doing away with the shifts. How would they do that? Would it be presetting defenders for an inning? Are they going to draw something in the dirt, or in the grass… a circle, or something like that? I just hope that the game remains enjoyable for everybody, that it remains revered and loved by the people who watch it. It’s actually kind of disheartening to hear all of these questions surrounding the game. It’s kind of discouraging.”

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A few weeks ago in this column I noted that Kansas City Royals outfield prospect Seuly Matias not only led the minors in home runs, he had more homers than singles. Prior to the Futures Game, I asked him about the latter of those still-true facts. His response came with a smile.

“It’s incredible,” said Matias, who now has 20 singles and 27 home runs with low-A Lexington. “It’s incredible.”

The 19-year-old Dominican also has an alarming 36.8% K-rate, with 114 strikeouts in 309 plate appearances. As you might expect, that’s something he’s striving to improve upon.

“I’m working on seeing the ball and contacting it,” Matias told me in work-in-progress English, with an interpreter on hand to help when needed. “I’m taking a two-strike approach, trying to eliminate strikeouts. I’m working on shortening my swing. My coaches are helping me with that.”

Matias’s batting practice routine now focuses on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, and the efforts appear to be paying dividends. In his first Futures Game at bat, the right-handed slugger went oppo over the fence against Yankees southpaw Justus Sheffield.

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NEWSY STUFF

The nominees for this year’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which honors “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” are Jim Reeves of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Patrick Reusse of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and Jayson Stark of The Athletic. The results will be announced during the winter meetings, in December.

The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame has announced its new inductees. Former big-leaguers Eric Byrnes and Adam Dunn, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell, and St. Paul Saints executive VP Tom Whaley will all be honored at Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant on Tuesday, August 7. Also being inducted are the late Chub Feeney, who formerly served as National League president, and the late Katie Feeney, who was a longtime MLB executive.

Kyle Drabek signed with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League earlier this week. A first-round pick by the Phillies in 2006, Drabek pitched for the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Diamondbacks from 2010-2016.

The Atlantic Leagues Sugar Land Skeeters traded Colin Walsh to the American Association’s Kansas City B-Bones earlier this month. The 28-year-old Stanford grad played in 38 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016 after being selected in the Rule-5 draft.

A reminder that the eighth annual saberseminar will be taking place on August 4-5 on the campus of Boston University, right around the corner from Fenway Park. The can’t-miss event will be preceded by a FanGraphs meet-up on Friday, from 7 to 10 p.m., at Meadhall (yes, that’s a brewpub), near M.I.T. in Cambridge.

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Touki Toussaint represented the Atlanta Braves in the Futures Game. The 22-year-old fireballer played for the World team — he grew up in both Haiti and Florida — and his high-octane heater isn’t the only reason he’s at the doorstep of the big leagues. Toussaint also possesses a plus curveball, which he learned at age 13 and began throwing with conviction as a junior in high school. His approach with the pitch is straightforward.

“I just throw it as hard as I can,” Toussaint told me. “I pick a spot and throw it.”

For awhile, he wasn’t throwing it at all, at least not in games. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who traded Toussaint to the Braves that same summer, had him put his bender in his back pocket in 2015 so that he could focus on his changeup. Getting it back didn’t prove to be a problem, although the process wasn’t instantaneous.

“There was a little bit of an adjustment, because if you don’t throw something a lot you kind of lose a feel for it,” explained Toussaint. “But after that it was like riding a bike again. I’d been able to throw my curveball on the side, but that in-game feel is different. It’s a way different animal than throwing it on the back field. It’s weird, but it’s true.”

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Continuing our appreciation of MLB players who give back to the community, today we’ll hear from Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson on two of his most-ambitious, and admirable, projects.

“We started the Grand Kids Foundation just over 10 years ago, while I was playing in Detroit,” Granderson told me. “The main purpose and focus of that was education. The graduation rate in the city at that time was only 50 percent. My mom and dad recently retired as educators in Chicago, and my sister currently teaches at the University level, in Mississippi. It’s also my degree (at the University of Illinois Chicago), so education has always been very important to us. Another part of it has been to try to increase the number of African-American kids in the game of baseball.

“That’s how we initially started it, and close to 11 years later it’s transitioned into not only showing the importance of education, and the baseball side of things, but also healthy eating, being active, helping fight childhood obesity. We’re doing fitness challenges with New Balance, which are taking place in seven different cities this year, including Toronto.

“There’s also the Chicago Baseball and Educational Academy, which we helped establish about two years ago. Initially, it was started with my head coach at UIC, Mike Dee. The main focus is giving kids opportunities to play baseball and softball year round, on a college campus. It’s primarily for inner-city kids who don’t have the means to go to a facility and pay the money to do so. There’s also an educational enrichment component. That’s obviously every bit as important.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Boston Globe, Alex Speier wrote about how defensive metrics — not all of which are publicly available — show that J.D. Martinez is a better outfielder than he’s generally given credit for.

Over at The Athletic, Zach Buchanan told us that D-Backs lefty Andrew Chafin is a whip-smart polymath, and somewhat of an engineering savant.

Writing for MLIve, Hugh Bernreuter shared how the World Championship ring on Jim Rooker’s finger is from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the chip on his shoulder is from the Detroit Tigers.

Jon Lester shared his thoughts on the Boston media with Chris Smith of MassLive.

At Forbes, Maury Brown ran down the prime-time TV ratings for each team as of the All-Star break.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Going into yesterday’s game, Oakland’s Bob Melvin had 1,085 wins and 1,085 losses as a big-league manager.

Rockies pitcher German Marquez is slashing .361/.361/.444 with one home run in 37 plate appearances this season. His 13 hits is tops among pitchers, as is his batting average.

Zach Britton is 5 for 8 with a double and a home run in eight MLB plate appearances.

On July 24, 1949, Cleveland Indians right-hander Bob Lemon homered twice in a win against the Washington Senators. On the season, Lemon went 22-10, 2.99 and slashed .269/.331/.556 with seven home runs in 123 plate appearances.

On July 21, 1935, Wes Ferrell clubbed a pinch-hit, walk-off home run to give the Red Sox a 7-6 win over the Tigers. The following day — along with pitching a complete game — he hit a walk-off home run in a 2-1 win against the Browns.

On July 22, 1975, Don Hopkins, a native of Benton Harbor, Michigan, singled off of Detroit’s Fernando Arroyo, at Tiger Stadium, for his only big-league hit. Hopkins went 1 for 25 in his career — he also stole 10 bases — exclusively with the Oakland A’s.

Fred McGriff had a .303/.385/.532 slash line, and 10 home runs, in 50 postseason games.

Sammy Sosa is the only player in MLB history with both a 30 HR/30 SB season and a 20 HR/0 SB season (per Aidan Jackson-Evans).

Mike Marshall made 106 relief appearances for the Dodgers in 1974, he worked more than one inning 74 times. He went three-or-more innings 22 times, including a six-inning effort.

Tom Sullivan was the first player born in Alaska to appear in a big-league game. In June 1925, the native of Nome caught three innings for the Cincinnati Reds and grounded out in his one and only MLB plate appearance.





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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Second paragraph in its entirity: “I didn’t know that he was nerd.”

Respectfully, what is happening to the editing/proofreading on this site?

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Note: It has now been fixed.

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This one’s still there, though…

A few weeks ago in this column I noted that Kansas City Royals outfield prospect Seuly Matias not only led the minors in home runs, he had more singles than homers. Prior to the Futures Game, I asked him about the latter of those still-true facts. His response came with a smile.

“It’s incredible,” said Matias, who now has 20 singles and 27 home runs with low-A Lexington. “It’s incredible.”

Seluy Matias Has More Singles Than Homers. Or Does He?