Sunday Notes: Ryan McMahon Heads Into April Having Scorched In March

Spring training numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s no denying that Ryan McMahon has been a monster in the month of March. In 59 Cactus League at bats, the Colorado Rockies infielder banged out 25 hits while slashing a behemothic .424/.470/.763. His 1.233 OPS led the leaderboards in Arizona and Florida alike.

No, he isn’t about to approach those numbers in games that count — this isn’t Ty Cobb we’re talking about — but the 24-year-old is being counted on to provide value to the Rockies lineup. Three games into the regular season, he’s done just that. McMahon has four hits, including a pair of doubles, plus two walks, in a dozen plate appearances. Lilliputian sample size? Sure, but it’s nonetheless a nice start for the 2013 second-round pick.

His 2018 rookie season was a disappointment. In 202 big-league PAS, he fanned 64 times, and logged a .683 OPS. That came on the heels of spring training numbers which, while not as heady as this year’s, suggested he was ready to rake at the highest level. Instead, he scuffled.

McMahon is self-aware enough not to have forgotten last year. Asked a few weeks ago about his scorching spring, he reminded reporters that it had only been a few dozen at bats — spring training at bats, no less — and that “Baseball is a very humbling game. You never have it all the way figured out.”

McMahon was swinging a hot stick with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats when I talked to him a month into the 2017 season. At the time, his focus was on fine-tuning his hand positioning, and staying on plane with the ball. On my recent visit to Rockies camp, I asked if his left-handed stroke has changed since the Eastern League.

“I’d say my best swing now is similar to my best swing then,” McMahon replied. “My approach, and the pre-pitch stuff — kind of getting into that mental zone where you can just react — is what’s different.”

Staying in the right “mental zone” is seemingly the key to his future success. McMahon has had no shortage of ebbs and flows since turning pro, and not because his physical tools have been lacking. As he’s matured, he’s come to realize that what happens from the neck up is paramount for most any hitter.

“In a roundabout way, you have your A swing, and you have your A approach,” McMahon told me. “You just need to learn different ways to find it again if you lose it. Hitting is a very difficult thing, and we have a tendency to make it even harder than it already is. This is a mentally tough game. I think we block ourselves a lot. The more free that we can get, the more free that we can play, the more better things are going to happen. We can relax and ride things out.”

I mentioned to McMahon that a player once told me that it might be easier to hit in the big leagues than in the minors, for much that reason. Along with having more data on the pitchers you’re facing, you’re not putting pressure on yourself to prove to the organization that you deserve a call-up. You can just relax and play baseball.

He wasn’t buying it. “Whoever said that was extremely wrong,” McMahon said with a shake of the head. “The pitchers up here are good. Really good.”

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Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Justin Dunn learned his slider while playing catch as a teenager. His friend, Keven Pimentel, threw the pitch to him, and Dunn’s response was, ‘I need to learn that.’ So he did. In roughly two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Within the same throwing session, Pimentel — now a pitcher at the University of Tampa — tossed Dunn’s question right back at him: “How did you do that?” Displaying an uncanny knack for the pitch, Dunn had a sharper slider than his friend almost instantaneously.

It’s gotten better over the years. The now-23-year-old has since learned to “manipulate the baseball better, and get a little more out of it.” Even so, there’s nothing unique about how he grips or delivers the pitch. “I’m just right on the horseshoe — the bottom of the horseshoe — and pull my thumb out,” he explained. “I guess I was just blessed with being able to throw a slider.”

Drafted 19th overall by the Mets out of Boston College in 2016, Dunn was shipped to Seattle this past offseason as part of the Robinson Cano deal. He currently ranks fourth on our Mariners Top Prospects list.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Bill Mueller went 13 for 25 against Kent Bottenfield.

Don Mueller went 13 for 25 against Jim Wilson.

Heinie Mueller went 13 for 25 against Mule Watson.

Ray Mueller went 11 for 25 against Johnny Sain.

Rick Miller went 11 for 25 against Doug Bird.

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Two Sundays ago, this column led with Chuck Cottier telling the story of his professional debut. It happened in 1954, at the lowest rung of the minors, and included a bruised wrist, a cold shower, and a terrifying ride in a pickup truck.

Six years after that eventful introduction to pro ball, the erstwhile infielder hit the first of his 19 big-league home runs. It came against Don Newcombe, who was at the tail end of a career that saw him make four All-Star teams and capture a Cy Young Award. Cottier, who would later go on to manage the Seattle Mariners, was in his first full season with the Milwaukee Braves.

“The game was in Milwaukee [on July 9, 1960] and we went to a TV station that night for a sports show,” recalled Cottier. “I didn’t know [Newcombe], and he didn’t know me. I just happened to be a rookie who’d hit a home run, so we were sitting there. It was probably a 15-minute show, and he didn’t look at me one single time. And I didn’t look at him.”

Congenial banter wasn’t the only thing missing that evening. There was a dearth of actual baseball talk.

“Being in Milwaukee, they were trying to get me to say a lot of things,” said Cottier. “You know, what’s it like? Media stuff. I kind of just said, ‘I was lucky; I hit a home run off of a great pitcher.’ And when they asked Newcombe a question, of course he’s not going to say anything about the pitch he’d thrown. He spent his whole time talking about the fear of flying. He was scared to fly. I don’t know if that was known throughout the league or not, but one of the better pitchers in the game didn’t like to get on an airplane.”

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NEWS ITEMS

The Carolina League’s Fayetteville Woodpeckers announced earlier this week that Maura Sheridan will be part of their 2019 broadcast team. A Syracuse grad, Sheridan has been the radio voice of women’s basketball at the University of Vermont. She has also called games in the Cape Cod League. The Woodpeckers are a Houston Astros affiliate.

A total of 251 foreign-born players, representing 20 countries and territories, were on opening-day rosters. The Dominican Republic [102] had the most, followed by Venezuela [68], Cuba [19], and Puerto Rico [18].

The NPB season got underway on Friday. Notable early-game performances include Yuki Yanagita hitting a grand slam to lead the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to a 6-5 win over the Seibu Lions, and Taylor Jungmann holding the Hiroshima Carp to one run over six innings in a 5-2 Yomiuri Giants win.

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A few days ago I ran a Twitter poll. The heading was “Better MLB career,” and the options were Ichiro Suzuki and Dwight Evans. To my surprise, the results weren’t close. The just-retired Mariners icon received 76% of the vote, while the erstwhile Red Sox right fielder garnered just 24%.

Recency bias and relative level of “fame” suggested that Ichiro would come out on top. Even so, the gap was far larger than it should it have been. Frankly — and I mean no disrespect to Ichiro in saying this — Evans probably deserved the nod. A few numbers:

Ichiro had 10.724 plate appearances, reached base 3,791 times, and had 3,994 total bases. Dwight Evans had 10,569 plate appearances, reached base 3,890 times, and had 4,230 total bases. Ichiro homered 117 times and was awarded 10 Gold Gloves. Evans homered 385 times and was awarded eight Gold Gloves. Evans comes out on top in WAR, 65.1 to 57.9.

Historical importance is another story. Given Ichiro’s combined MLB-NPB hit total, and his cultural impact on the game, he’s clearly superior. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. As for Ichiro having had a “better MLB career” than Evans… I’m not so sure.

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Aaron Nola has been hired as a brand ambassador for Pennsylvania-based Yuengling — MLB having relaxed its policy on alcohol endorsements by players — so I also ran a Twitter beer poll. The results for “Yuengling” were: Quality beer [28%], Not great; not terrible [54%], Swill [18%].

On that note, the 1975 Miller Lite commercial featuring Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford is a classic.

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Tripling up on Twitter polls, I also asked if a pitcher who faces four-or-more batters in an inning, and strikes out three of them, “strikes out the side.” A definitive 62% voted no. I concur with the majority.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Does Red Sox manager Alex Cora — a bilingual native of Puerto Rico — think in English or Spanish when making key in-game decisions? Chris Cotillo explored that question at MassLive.

At The Athletic, Jen McCaffrey wrote about how scouting in Venezuela — a country with a wealth of baseball talent — has become increasingly dangerous.

Padres director of player personnel Logan White had a hardscrabble early life — “We were very, very poor, almost like migrant farm workers” — before becoming one of the game’s most-respected scouts. Bryce Miller has the story at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

At SBNation, Steven Edelstone told us about “Oscar Gamble’s Afro,” a long-running fantasy league where the teams are run by rock stars and other notables within the music business.

According to Ron Darling, his former New York Mets teammate Lenny Dykstra unleashed a racist tirade at Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd during the 1986 World Series. Darling wrote about the alleged episode at The New York Post.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Rick Porcello has pitched 160-or-more innings in all 10 of his big-league seasons.

In 2014, Mike Trout had 36 home runs and 184 strikeouts. From 1946-1949, Ted Williams had 138 home runs and 180 strikeouts.

Babe Ruth holds the record for most multi-homer games, with 72. Barry Bonds had 71 multi-homer games.

On this date in 1996, the Mariners hosted the White Sox in the first MLB regular-season game played in the month of March. Seattle prevailed 3-2, in 12 innings.

Albert Pujols recorded his first career hit — a ground-ball single off Mike Hampton — on April 2, 2001. He was subsequently thrown out attempting to steal.

Kevin Youkilis went a combined 21 for 62 with 15 walks against Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia.

Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew went a combined 26 for 128 [.203] with 45 strikeouts against “Sudden Sam” McDowell.

Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, and had a 112 adjusted ERA. Bob Feller threw three no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, and had a 122 adjusted ERA.

Counting the postseason, Rick Wise logged 190 wins and 181 losses over a career that spanned the 1964-1982 seasons. He went 10-1 as a reliever, with the most notable of those decisions coming with the Red Sox in October 1975. Think Carlton Fisk.

Brothers “Kid” and “Lew” Camp played for the National League’s Chicago Colts in 1894. Kid’s given name was Winfield Scott Camp. Lew’s given name was Robert Plantagenet Llewellan Camp.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Ryan McMahon Heads Into April Having Scorched In March 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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Fun Christian Yelich Fact:

Since last Independence Day, Christian Yelich has played 81 games, exactly one half season. His stat line over that span:

.358/.439/.723, 28 HR, 81 RBI, 70 R, 12 SB, with a .482 wOBA and a 204 wRC+