Sunday Notes: Series, Sveum, Pitching Coaches, Rays, more

A lot has been written about the Royals’ hitting approach. Not enough has been written about their hitting coach. A moribund offense became a much more dangerous one after Dale Sveum stepped into the role last May.

As you know, Kansas City hitters don’t strike out very often. Their 15.9 K-date was the lowest in both leagues. Aggressive to a fault, they put more balls in play with no strikes on the batter (1,475 times) than any other team.

Not surprisingly, Sveum likes contact, especially when his team is rallying.

“You get three outs in an inning, and if you strike out for two of those outs, your odds of coming back aren’t going to be very good,” said Sveum. “But if you put three balls in play, something might fall and you keep the line moving.”

Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist have been KC’s best line-movers this postseason, and preparation-wise, they’ve done so with polar-opposite approaches. According to Sveum, Zobrist “will probably watch four hours worth of video on the pitchers,” while Escobar “doesn’t watch anything.”

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Last night, Zobrist was running from second to third on an eighth-inning ground ball to the right side. The Royals trailed 3-2 at the time, and were five outs from seeing the Mets even the World Series at two games apiece. In Buckner-esque fashion, the ball went through Daniel Murphy’s wickets.

“I looked over my shoulder and saw the ball getting past him,” said Zobrist after the game. “I had a clear vision of it.”

Zobrist came around to score the tying run, and two singles later the Royals had a 5-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was Royals Magic.

“This ball club is writing their own story,” said Zobrist. “We’re finding a way to win late in games, scoring runs off the tough bullpens we face.”

Jeurys Familia threw the pitches that lost New York the lead. They weren’t bad pitches – he induced soft contact – but the results were abysmal. Again, Royals Magic.

“We have one of the best closers in the game,” David Wright said in the aftermath. “But you never feel comfortable with a one-, or even a two-run lead, late, against these guys. They keep coming.”

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Ned Yost had some interesting things to say about Sveum prior to Friday’s game. When Yost was managing in Milwaukee, he hired Sveum, sight unseen, on the advice of Robin Yount. The Brewers legend guaranteed that Sveum would be the best coach he’s ever had. According to Yost, Yount was right.

A few years later, Yost was managing the Royals when Sveum was let go by the Brewers. Upon hearing the news, Yost “waited like two minutes” before calling and offering him a job. He wasn’t yet sure what the job would be, but he knew he wanted him on his staff.

Sveum was hired as a third base/infield coach, but eventually moved into his current role. According to Yost, “The best coaching move I’ve ever made was putting Dale into the hitting coach (role).”

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Like many of you, I was surprised to hear that Mike Maddux won’t be returning as Rangers pitching coach. The Maddux brother who resembles the late Frank Zappa was less accomplished on the mound – Greg had 355 wins, Mike had 39 wins – but he’s every bit as cerebral. He knows pitching, so unless there was something going on behind the scenes – maybe he was out looking for Cheap Thrills? – it was a curious dismissal.

Meanwhile, the Tigers’ hiring Rich Dubee to replace the retiring Jeff Jones wasn’t surprising. Atlanta’s minor league pitching coordinator the past two seasons, Dubee was the pitching coach in Philadelphia from 2005-2013. Much like Maddux, he doesn’t employ a one-size-fits-all approach, and that will come in handy given the hodgepodge makeup of the Tigers staff. To put it bluntly, Dubee has his work cut out for him.

Mike Butcher faces a challenge, as well. The erstwhile Angels pitching coach will serve in the same capacity with the Diamondbacks, who brought him on board a few days ago to replace Mike Harkey. Butcher will be entrusted to buoy a boatload of promising-yet-unpolished arms who play their home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Butcher spent the past nine seasons in Anaheim, working under the opinionated eye of Mike Scioscia.

Earlier this summer, I talked to Butcher about the importance of communication and avoiding predictability. How to attack hot hitters came up in the conversation.

Butcher told me that he likes to get the pitcher’s perspective between innings – ditto the catcher’s – especially when the game plan isn’t fully effective. As he put it, “We know how we want to attack hitters, but if we’re getting beat in those particular situations, we’ll have a nice little talk and say. ‘Let’s do this next time around.’

“We try to stay away from patterns,” elaborated Butcher. “And sometimes it depends on who’s hot coming into a series. There are guys you don’t want to have beat you, and there are certain things you have to do to get them out – part of that is how you set them up – in critical situations. In less critical situations you might pitch them a little differently, so you can save those pitches for when the game is on the line.”

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New York’s season is on the line. Down three-games-to-one, they are in a true must-win situation, not the exaggerated version that’s been spouted in recent weeks. As Michael Conforto put it last night, “Our backs are against the wall; we’re going to be playing to keep playing.”

In all likelihood, they’ll also be pressing. Michael Cuddyer acknowledged as much, but he didn’t seem overly concerned.

“Everybody knows the magnitude,” said Cuddyer. “Human nature is that you’re going to press a little bit, but at the same time, when you get out there, the natural competitor in you takes over. There’s going to be a sense of urgency, but we can win three games.”

As Terry Collins put it, “We’re in a tough situation, but we’re not dead yet.”

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As a FanGraphs reader, you probably know that Kansas City’s Chris Young consistently induces pop-ups with a pedestrian fastball. You’re probably also aware that his spin rate is high and that his BABiP (a best-in-baseball .209 this year) is low.

According to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, Young is even more remarkable than many of us thought. Chatting with my former FanGraphs colleague before Saturday’s game, I learned that the 6-foot-10 righty has an average extension of 5.99-feet on his fastball. Remarkably, that ranks just 333rd among pitchers who threw a minimum of 2,500 pitches.

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C.J. Riefenhauser’s primary role is to retire lefties. He didn’t do a very good job of it this year with the Tampa Bay Rays. Same-sided batters posted a 1.229 OPS against the 25-year-old portsider, in 31 plate appearances.

Riefenhauser feels his atypical splits – lefties went 1 for 9 against him in 2014, and he’s been effective against them in the minors – are largely due to small sample size. Even so, he recognizes the challenge of pitching in the big leagues.

“It’s a tough league up here, man,” Riefenhauser told me in late September. “I’ve given up some tough hits to left-handed hitters this year. Some have been bloopers, but some have been BBs.

Three of them left the yard, and the lefty remembers each of them in detail.

“The home run I gave up to Bryce Harper was on a slider,” recalled Riefenhauser. “I struck him out on a slider the night before, but this one I kind of hung. The ones to Travis Shaw and Brandon Moss were on fastballs. Shaw’s was on a pitch down and away, and Moss’s was on a pitch I tried to elevate. He’s a low-ball hitter, but he caught up to it. He just beat me.”

The Chipola College product – Tampa Bay’s 20th round pick in 2010 – is undaunted by his bumpy campaign.

“I can see a career in getting lefties out,” said Riefenhauser. “I’ve never really had an issue with getting lefties out. Everybody runs into a little speed bump, and I guess this was mine.”

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Charles Nagy loved pitching against Boston. When I caught up to the erstwhile Indians starter this summer, he told me, “I don’t know if it’s like a golfer, where the course suits your eye, but I was always just comfortable on the mound at Fenway.”

He was also successful. Nagy had won all five of his decisions at Fenway Park – three in the regular season and two more in the postseason – and had allowed just nine runs in 64 innings.

Then came his Waterloo (in Cleveland). In the 1999 postseason game where a hindered Pedro Martinez strolled out of the Red Sox bullpen and pitched six hitless innings, Nagy gave up eight runs over three innings. (Four days earlier, he’d given up one run in seven innings.) It was one of the rare times he’d failed to bamboozle Boston batters.

“It was just one of those days,” explained Nagy, who currently serves as a pitching instructor in the Cleveland system. “I made some bad pitches at bad times and they capitalized. I never thought I could just throw my glove out there and beat them.”

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At the risk of sounding old fashioned, I think the World Series was better when it was simply the team with the best record in the American League versus the team with the best record in the National League. There were no layers of postseason series to fight through, no chances the better squad would be prematurely ousted due to the foibles of five- and seven-game sets. You earned the berth by conquering the six month slog.

That’s not to say the current system isn’t highly entertaining. It is – especially for fans of the teams involved – and a few extra weeks of baseball is certainly a good thing. (There’s also extra revenue to take into consideration, but that’s a subject for another day.)

We’re never going back to the pre-divisional-play format. Nor should we. Time marches on, and the current structure works just fine (OK, maybe not the part where the teams with the second- and third-best records play a one-and-done.)

Of course, not every team that reaches the postseason is as good as the 2015 Cubs and Pirates. Is it fair to win 100 regular season games, only to get knocked out early by a team that won 85 in a weak division? It depends on how you look it. Personally – and I’m saying this as someone who enjoys every October game – I think the World Series was more appealing when fans knew they were getting the best versus the best.

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I’d have to ask him to be sure, but I think Theo Epstein might agree with me on purity. After being knocked out by the Mets, Cubs president of baseball operations said he wished they could play the NLCS over, He added that,“You don’t get to play these series 100 times and see how they would turn out.”

Would the 97-win Cubs come out on top of the 90-win Mets if they did play multiple seven-games series against each other? We’ll never know. We do know that some teams peak in the playoffs – Hello Kansas City – and when you go up against them, you’re swimming against the tide.

“It’s a great feeling when you’re the tidal wave,” explained Epstein. “It’s not such a great feeling when you’re the dinghy getting pushed around by that tidal wave. The Mets were that tidal wave. It happens in the postseason – you get hot at the right time. All those teams are good, and if you get hot at the right time, you become the tidal wave. And it will be arbitrary from one year to the next.”

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The BBWAA announced its 2016 officers yesterday. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the new president. Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post will serve as vice president. Jack O’Connell remains secretary-treasurer. The board of directors will be Tyler Kepner, Jonah Keri, Bill Shaikin, and Susan Slusser.

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According to Major League Baseball’s official historian, the record Raul Mondesi set on Friday night is subjective. The Royals’ rookie is officially credited with being the first player to make his MLB debut in the World Series, but he was arguably the second.

John Thorn explained that while 1903 is technically considered the first World Series, the top teams in the American Association and the National Association played a championship in the 19th century. One of those “World Series” was played in 1885.

Bug Holliday, a star in the amateur realm, was plucked from the St. Louis sandlot to play for the Chicago White Stockings, because of an injury,” explained Thorn. “He was 18 years old. Holliday went on to hit over .400 the next year in the minor leagues, but he didn’t make his Major League debut until 1889.”

Bug Holliday – the precursor to Raul Mondesi – went 0 for 4 in the 1885 Series.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Major-league hitters struck out a record 37,446 times this year. It was the tenth straight season in which strikeouts went up.

The Cubs are 6-15 (.286) in NLCS games, the lowest winning percentage of any team in a League Championship Series.

The 1980 Oakland Athletics had 94 complete games and finished 83-79. The 1980 New York Yankees had 22 complete games and finished 103-59.

Per Elias, Friday night marked the third time the first two batters in a team’s lineup both homered in a World Series game. Curtis Granderson and David Wright joined Baltimore’s Don Buford and Merv Rettenmund (1971, Game 1) and Atlanta’s Lonnie Smith and Terry Pendleton (1991, Game 4) in the record books.

Both managers in this year’s World Series – Terry Collins and Ned Yost – have career winning percentages under .500. The winningest manager of all time, Connie Mack, had a winning percentage of .486.

On this date in 2001, the Yankees beat the Diamondbacks in 12 innings to win Game 5 of the World Series. It was the first time a MLB game was played in the month of November.





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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James

That Pedro game was Oct. 11, 1999 and it was in Cleveland.