Christian Yelich is one of the best young hitters in baseball. He’s not one of the best when it comes to talking about his craft. Twice I’ve tried, and twice I’ve failed to draw much out of the Miami Marlins outfielder.
Yelich is unfailingly polite — this by no means a criticism of his character — but he’s swatted away my queries like errant curveballs. The 24-year-old batting-champion-in-waiting is “up there trying to hit the ball hard, and whatever happens, happens.”
One thing happening is increased power. Yelich has gone yard 12 times — he had seven long balls all of last year — and he’s slugging a robust .496. As for his home-run production going forward, that’s another subject to be sidestepped.
“We’ll find out, man,” Yelich told me. “If the power comes, it comes. Projections and all that stuff — the batting averages on balls in play, the launch angles — are for you guys. My job is just to go out and help us win, whether it’s with a base hit or a homer.”
Yelich has been “working on some things” with his hitting coaches, but the specifics are “something that’s between me, Barry (Bonds) and Frank (Menechino).”
Fair enough. Yelich is under no obligation to expound on his offensive game, and his .320/.390/.490 slash line says plenty on it’s own. The kid can hit, and he’s only going to get better.
When I talked to Braden Shipley in 2013 — the Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander’s first professional season — he told me that he holds his changeup with “a really light grip” and pronates to get sinking action. That hasn’t changed, but Shipley is doing something different. Yesterday, he explained that he now will “add and subtract on it a little bit.” The way he slows down his changeup is unique.
“It’s something I do in my delivery when I’m freeing my leg up,” said Shipley. “I also use a method where I curl my toes. Curling your toes doesn’t allow you to push off as hard, but you can still generate the same arm speed, so it looks the same coming out of your hand and is a couple of MPH slower.”
Drew Pomeranz has also changed since he broke into pro ball. After being drafted fifth overall by the Indians in 2010, the southpaw told me his signature pitch, a spiked curve, would sometimes have screwball action.
“I doesn’t go the other way anymore,” Pomeranz told me recently. “My arm angle used to be higher, so when I’d really get on top of it, it would kind of drift the other way. Now it just breaks right, hard.” And often. Pomeranz throws his curveball 40.3% of the time, the highest percentage among qualifying pitchers. The reason behind the high usage is straightforward.
“Guys aren’t hitting it,” said Pomeranz, who now does his pitching for the Red Sox. “If you have something guys aren’t hitting, keep throwing it. I also don’t throw the traditional curve. I kind of flick it straight forward, so it’s not as stressful on my arm. The thought process against throwing this many curveballs might be that you’d beat your elbow up, but I don’t throw it like everybody else.”
Burt Hooton featured a knuckle curve from 1971-1985. The pitch helped him win 151 regular-season games, and six more in the postseason, in a career spent with the Cubs, Dodgers and Rangers. It wasn’t your run-of-the -mill knuckle curve.
“Mine was an unusual grip,” said Hooton, who is now a minor league pitching coach in the Padres organization. “I learned it trying to throw a knuckleball when I was 14 years old. Without benefit of coaching, I assumed you put your knuckles down on it, which of course you don’t. I heard on a TV game that you push it out, so I started pushing it out.
“I did it with two fingers. I put my knuckles down, two fingers on the seam, and spun it. It had good rotation to it, and and nobody could hit it, so it became my curveball. I wouldn’t call it a spiked curveball. I’m not aware of anyone else who has thrown one like that.”
“Wake was different,” said Saltalamacchia, who caught Wakefield in 2010 and 2011. “He would always go away from the hitter until there were two strikes. Then, with two strikes, his ball would always go down and in. Every time. That was against lefties or righties. Didn’t matter. I don’t know why.
“It took me probably three months to realize that. Until I did, I would get caught off guard. (Bullpen coach) Gary Tuck told me, ‘Listen, dummy, listen dum dum, with two strikes, the ball is going down and in. Every time.’”
Tom Tippett took questions from the audience after speaking at this weekend’s Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball seminar in Boston, and one in particular caught my attention. Boston’s senior baseball analyst was asked to compare Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski, all of whom he’s worked for as a member of the Red Sox front office. His response (edited here for concision) was as follows:
“Theo was very analytical,” said Tippett. “Very creative, always pushing the envelope on new ideas, open to complicated things. Dave keeps things simple. I think that’s a virtue. Sometimes you can make things more complicated than they need to be. Dave is very straightforward.
“Dave has a good feel for what needs to be done and he quickly gets to a short list of options for dealing with a problem. He quickly acts to address a problem. That simplicity is a big plus. I’m not saying that’s a negative for Theo. A lot of the good stuff we did was based on his creativity and willingness to look at things in very different ways.
“Ben came up through the scouting and player development ranks, and the wave of young players we have right now is his doing. That’s his strength. He was more corporate than the other two. His personality is more reserved.
“Dave has a smaller inner circle that he works with when he’s making his decisions. Under Theo, it wasn’t uncommon for 20 people to be in the room. When it got to decision time he would shrink that down to a smaller group.”
Dombrowski shared a fascinating what-if at Saberseminar. Had the Colorado Rockies not selected Brad Ausmus in the 1992 expansion draft (note: this was originally misquoted here as Rule 5 draft), Mariano Rivera may never have pitched for the New York Yankees.
Dombrowski was the general manager of the Florida Marlins at the time, and his club was planning to take Rivera with the ensuing pick. As fate would have it, the Ausmus selection “closed out the Yankees from losing any other players.” Had Colorado taken a player from any other organization, Rivera would have been a Marlin.
Austin Allen was slashing .425/.510/.538 when he was profiled here in early May. The 22-year-old San Diego Padres prospect inevitably cooled off — his average was .299 on July 8 — but then he got hot again. Allen is 37 for his last 94 and is currently riding a 24-game hitting streak (a HBP in a lone plate appearance on Tuesday doesn’t count against the streak).
Last week, I caught up to the left-handed-hitting catcher to ask about the statistical dip and his subsequent resurgence.
“I think I’ve done a good job of sticking with my approach,” said Allen, who was drafted in the fourth round last year out of Florida Institute of Technology. “I don’t really believe in slumps. You can have four quality at bats in a game and all anybody who looks at the box score sees is 0 for 4. So I don’t look at it like that. Maybe some balls that were falling earlier in the year were hanging up, and I’ve probably given away a few at bats, but that’s baseball. You lose focus for a little bit, then you get it back. I feel I’ve had a successful first full season thus far.
On the year, Allen is hitting .323/.368/.435, with seven home runs.
John Baker was paired with Brian Bannister in one of SaberSeminar’s most-entertaining-and-informative panels. The former catcher is now a baseball operations assistant with the Chicago Cubs, a team that is anything but old fashioned in their approach.
“Our guys have access to a website,” said Baker. “They can click on filters to get rid of anything they don’t want. They start out with access to all the information — a database of everything, ever — and find the stuff that works for them.”
Baker also brought up how manager Joe Maddon doesn’t believe in having his team taking batting practice very often, and how “the practice schedule is as light as it can be.” The idea is to cut down on the wear and tear of a long season, and make it easier to focus on the field.
Why the influx of oblique injuries in baseball? According to a pair of strength-and-conditioning coaches too many repetitions is a big part of it. Ditto the number of arm injuries. In a nutshell, pitchers are throwing too much and hitters are swinging too much.
Regarding hitters and obliques, the coaches said you’re not doing your body any favors by taking 50 swings in the cage day after day after day. Over the course of a long season, the wear and tear adds up, increasing the chances of injury. Something as simple as cutting 10 swings a day off your cage routine can help decrease those chances.
David Aardsma is attending this weekend’s SaberSeminar. The 34-year-old right-hander hasn’t given up on his pitching career, but he’s nonetheless looking to the future. Once his playing days are over, he’d like to follow in the footsteps of Brian Bannister, who is now the director of pitching analytics in Boston.
Aardsma was with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate for the first two months of this season, then exercised his opt-out clause. Unhappy with how he’d been throwing, he traveled to New Orleans to work out with his trainer, Brent Pourciau of Top Velocity. Aardsma was able to tighten up his mechanics, but “unfortunately, no one was looking for an old right-handed reliever,” so he’s now focusing on next year. The plan is to “hit it from all angles, understanding biomechanics and how my body plays at this age, trying to attack next year and ‘be a beast.”
He’s also taking college classes and “learning how to better understand biomechanics and analytics, in order to apply them to my career aspirations.” Aardsma is impressed by what Bannister is doing, “particularly with TrackMan data,” and hopes to follow a similar path.
Longtime Minnesota Twins official scorer Stew Thornley brought up a not-so-well-known rule at last month’s SABR convention. The game he used as an example was played on June 1, 2001. CC Sabathia started for the Indians against the Yankees and received credit for a win despite pitching just four innings.
“The rule book says a starting pitcher needs to pitch five innings in a game that lasts six-or-more innings,” explained Thornley. “That game got rained out before six innings were completed, therefore Sabathia qualified for a win with four innings pitched. It’s one of those quirky rules.”
The rule has been implemented eight times since 1950, most recently on May 16, 2009 when Philadelphia’s Drew Carpenter was awarded a win after going four-and-a-third. To this date, it is Carpenter’s only big-league win.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Patrick Saunders of the Denver Posts thinks the Rockies might be putting together the best rotation in franchise history.
Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote about the Padres are forging a new identity on the base paths.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Cecil and Prince Fielder will have each finished his career with 319 home runs.
On Friday, the Brewers scored in all eight innings of an 11-3 win over the Braves at Miller Park. In doing so they became the 16th team to score at least once in every inning in which they batted.
Per Tom Tippett, the 2013 Red Sox had a .327 BABiP, the highest any team has had in a single season.
On this date in 1962, Mets left-hander Al Jackson, on his way to a 20-loss season, pitched all 15 innings in a 3-2 loss to the Phillies. Jackson reportedly threw 215 pitches.
On this date in 1932, 49-year-old John Quinn became the oldest pitcher to be credited with a win, as the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Giants 2-1.
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.