Sunday Notes: Snider’s Swing, Starting Matusz, Backstop Academia, Grapefruit Nuggets

Travis Snider is a breakout candidate. Sound familiar? He’s owned the label for years, and maybe – just maybe – this will be the season he finally explodes. It’s not implausible. Somehow, Snider is still just 27 years old.

Skeptics will surely scoff at the idea, but the 2006 first-round pick feels ready to come into his own. Acquired by the Orioles in the off-season, the former Toronto and Pittsburgh outfielder is settling into his swing after nearly a decade of trying to reinvent the wheel.

‘I think I’ve had about eight different swings in eight years,” Snider told me on Friday. “In the last two years, I’ve been working toward recreating the same swing as much as possible.

“It’s about trying to create a consistent swing through the zone that can cover pitches in different quadrants, and not just be a low-ball hitter, or an inside hitter, or an outside hitter. Understanding, and being able to adjust to, the way pitchers are attacking you is often more important than mechanics.”

Mechanically, Snider said he’s concentrating on allowing his hips to clear and his hands to flow through the zone. He cited Miguel Cabrera as a hitter who can generate torque with his lower half, thus allowing his top half to uncoil. Snider admits to sometimes falling into the habit of trying to use every muscle in his body instead of taking a smooth, effortless swing.

The left-handed slugger also owns up to having not always stayed on his legs. Surgery on the big toe of his back foot, following the 2013 season, helped him right his back side and recreate torque.

Circling back to what he said about eight swings in eight years, I asked how often the changes have been orchestrated by coaches, as opposed to of his own volition. He told me it’s been “mix-and-match” and that getting sent down to Triple-A has a way of making a player question his process. Better usage of video – “It gives me a visual key to help me solidify what I want to work on” – is helping provide answers.

Not to be underestimated are the seeds of Snider’s big-league progression. He debuted as a fresh-faced 20 year old, barely a month removed from having won the home run derby at the Eastern League All-Star Game. I was in attendance that night, and Snider was a man among boys, jettisoning baseballs vast distances. He reached Toronto with lofty expectations, but had a lot to learn.

“As a young kid, I was emotionally attached to the mechanics of my swing,” admitted Snider. “My swing is what got me to the big leagues. But pitchers started to adjust to me, and there are so many things that go into being a good hitter, from mechanics to rhythm to timing. I’ve started to simplify all of that. I have checkpoints and keys I can go to. I consider myself a student of the game, and I’m constantly learning more about who I am as a hitter.”

Snider finished strong last year, hitting .288/.356/.524 in the second half. He has nine hits in 32 at bats this spring.

——

The Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez from Tampa Bay this past winter in exchange for Buddy Borden. The 29-year-old came to his new organization equipped with an array of gloves – he plays every position but pitcher and catcher – but also a maddeningly-inconsistent bat.

Rodriguez has pop – 38% of his hits have gone for extra bases – but while he’s shown flashes, his career .225/.297/.372 slash line speaks of a hitter in search of an identity. Based on a conversation I had with him yesterday, his hitting approach is rudimentary.

“I think it mostly just comes down to keeping your eye on the ball,” said Rodriguez. “You need to simplify things. Mechanics can sometimes be a factor, but mechanics are just how you get ready to hit. How do you actually hit the ball? You try to see the ball to the barrel, and you swing.”

When I asked Rodriguez what his new team saw when they looked at video of his Tampa Bay Rays days, he said it was “a lot of good and a lot of bad.” He pointed to his inconsistency, then said it would be hard to nitpick particulars, as a lot of variables come into play when his swing is off.”

As for where he’ll see most of his action this year, Rodriguez told me that’s up to his manager. He understands all positions are seemingly set, and he’s simply hoping to get as many opportunities as he can. He knows his versatility can only help.

——

Brock Holt took versatility to an extreme last year. The Red Sox dynamo started at least seven games at seven different positions. And while he couldn’t find a permanent home, he produced enough with the bat to shoehorn himself into the lineup on a consistent basis. Despite a late-season downturn, Holt hit .281/.331/.381 in 492 plate appearances.

Holt will head into the 2015 season with the same role, and if he continues to perform well, he’ll once again see a lot of action. A new descriptive might be in order.

“Maybe we can invent a term,” suggested Boston Bench coach Torey Lovullo. “You can’t really categorize Brock as a true platoon player; it’s not your typical left-right and he gets everyday at bats. With Brock, it’s more of a “give guys a day off” platoon. Maybe we could call it a hybrid platoon?”

——

Brian Matusz is reportedly being shopped by the Orioles, and the 28-year-old left-hander is unlikely to complain if his address changes. He hasn’t said so publicly – at least that I’m aware of – but it’s not hard to read between the lines.

Speculation is that a team acquiring Matusz would use him as a starter. That was his role as recently as 2012, and it’s clearly what the former first-round pitch would prefer. Matusz pitched the first four innings of Friday’s game against Boston, and when I asked him afterward if it’s more fun to start than relieve, his response was, “Absolutely. No question.”

Matusz has had success out of the pen, frequently as a lefty specialist. Same-sided batters have a .620 OPS against him in his career (versus .861 for right-handed hitters). David Ortiz has been especially bedeviled, going 3-for-24 with 13 punch outs.

Following Friday’s game, Matusz used variations of “All I can control is what I can control,” when addressing his status. He also said he mixed all four pitches and worked up and down, in and out. Those are a starter’s words.

——

A few months ago, Rico Brogna said something that caught my attention. Speaking at a SABR Boston event, the Angels’ quality control coach mentioned that Chris Ianetta studied math at the University of North Carolina. He went on to say, “If there’s a place to have a math major, it’s probably catcher. (Ianetta) wants information. He’s got a math mind.”

I subsequently shared that with Jerry Weinstein, a long-time catching instructor currently coaching in the Colorado organization. He didn’t disagree, although he did put math down his list of valuable areas of academic study for backstops. For him, Spanish would be on top, followed by psychology.

“Math is a language, and mathematicians are logical thinkers,” said Weinstein. “In my opinion, being a logical thinker is always a good thing. But if you’re thinking of math in terms of game-calling and probability, the only probability you should be concerned with is the probability of the moment. Pitching is very liquid. It’s always determined by the moment.”

As for Ianetta, aspects of both perspectives were present in his own take.

“With math, you’re dealing with a ton of variables,” Ianetta told me. “You’re processing the information of scouting reports. You’re matching up a lot of different individual components. I guess my analytical background – the problem solving – kind of helps.

“But I also think you could study history or pre-med, and acquire some of the same qualities of processing information and handling a large set of data. It’s not that different from a lawyer in the courtroom, where you’re using every piece of information to your advantage.”

“Information is king,” said Weinstein. “The man with the most information – who uses it wisely — usually wins.”

——

Milt May doesn’t like strikeouts or a a pull-heavy approach. Currently coaching rookie-level hitters in the Orioles organization, the former catcher is a proponent of putting the ball into play. May shared his views on the subject when we chatted on the back fields a few days ago.

“That’s the big change I see,” said May, who played in the big leagues from 1970-1984. “There are more guys striking out, because there’s a premium on home runs. The problem is, there aren’t really more home runs. Guys are trying to pull the ball and hit the ball out of the ballpark, and consequently, they’re striking out a lot. Nothing good ever comes out of a strikeout.”

In May’s opinion, putting balls in play early in the count isn’t necessarily the best way to cut down on Ks.

“Organizationally, we’re trying to make our guys better two-strike hitters,” said May. “It’s not about not getting to two strikes. Good hitters don’t worry about getting to two strikes, because they have confidence they can put the ball in play. A lot of times, guys who aren’t good hitters are overanxious, trying to avoid getting to two strikes.”

I asked May if he’s of the mentality that players shouldn’t consider a strikeout “just another out.”

“I’m of the mentality that nothing good comes from a strikeout,” answered May.

—-

The Giants have a good reputation for developing pitchers. Heath Hembree – now with the Red Sox – came up through the San Francisco system, so I asked the 26-year-old right-hander what his experience was like.

“They were a great organization,” said Hembree. “They do a good job with young pitchers, giving them opportunities to develop. A lot of it is just throwing kids on the fire and letting them pitch and learn who they are.”

The 2010 fifth-round pick learned well enough to reach San Francisco in 2013, where he made nine scoreless relief appearances. Hembree told me the organization “maybe tweaked a little bit of stuff” when he first signed, but “didn’t really touch (his) mechanics.”

Two people who get a lot of credit for the club’s development process are assistant GM Dick Tidrow and pitching instructor Lee Smith. Hembree had more direct with the latter.

“Tidrow kind of just watched,” said Hembree. “There were guys he was a little more hands-on with, but for me it was, ‘Throw your slider more, or ‘Throw your changeup more.’ I talked to Lee a good bit, mostly getting tidbits of advice here or there. You could always go to him for his perspective. Lee was also a guy who could really lighten the mood.”

——

In 2002, playing for the Seibu Lions, Alex Cabrera hit 55 home runs, tying Japan’s single-season record. In 2013, playing for La Guaira, Cabrera hit 21 home runs, a single-season record in the Venezuelan Winter League.

The 43-year-old slugger has left the yard 452 times in his multinational professional career. Five have come in the big leagues, with the Diamondbacks in 2000. His most-recent blasts came last year, in the Mexican League.

According to Ryan Reid, a former Pirate now pitching in the Marlins system, one of Cabrera’s winter league round trippers was pure theater.

“He hit a home run in a game where his son (Ramon Cabrera) was catching for the other team,” Reid told me recently. “After rounding the bases, he took his jersey off and gave it to his son. Then he walked off the field and told everybody that he was retiring.”

Cabrera, who seems to have a little Julio Franco in him, didn’t make good on his proclamation. He was back playing the next day.

——

Mark Armour and Dan Levitt’s new book, In Pursuit of Pennants, highlights the history of front offices. I haven’t had a chance to dig in, but I did peruse a few pages upon picking up a copy earlier this week. Not surprisingly – the authors are accomplished baseball historians – every page-flip unearthed a nugget.

One of the gems occurred in 1976, in the infancy of free agency: California Angels general manager Harry Dalton outsmarted a long-since-changed regulation and turned Tim Nordbrook into Bobby Grich.

At the time, teams were only allowed to sign two free agents annually. There was an exception: You could sign as many free agents as you lost. The Angels – out of contention and in no particular need of his services – purchased Nordbrook, a utility infielder and free-agent-to-be, from the Orioles in early September. He became the third player on the roster whose contract would expire at the end of the season.

After initially inking Don Baylor and Joe Rudi to free-agent contracts, the Angels used the Nordbrook exception to sign Grich. One of the most underappreciated players in baseball history, Grich went on to play 10 seasons with the Angels.

——

RANDOM STATS AND FACTS

Roberto Clemente had a .359 OBP, 846 extra-base hits, and won 12 Gold Gloves. Dwight Evans had a .370 OBP, 941 extra-base hits, and won 8 Gold Gloves.

Per Bill Chuck of Gammons Daily: No team has allowed more three-run homers over the last two decades than the Orioles (448), No team has hit more three-run blasts than the Yankees (486).

In 1973, Wilbur Wood allowed 381 hits, the most given up by a pitcher since 1904. He issued 91 free passes. The White Sox knuckleballer won 24 games and finished fifth in A.L. Cy Young voting that year.

Yes, we live in a digital world, but getting rid of paper All-Star ballots is still a slap in the face to tradition. They’re archaic, but a certain amount of archaic is good for baseball. I’ll miss filling them out at the ballpark, and I’m sure others will as well.

Enjoy baseball, coding and creativity? The fourth annual Baseball Hack Day will be held on Saturday, March 28 in Boston, Montreal and Philadelphia.





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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Peter
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Peter

Great stuff. Thanks…

DelawareRiverRat
Guest
DelawareRiverRat

How about an article about what teams did after signing a new TV deal?

The Dodgers bought their division title.

The Angels bought their division title.

The Phillies sign one of the largest TV deals in the history of professional sports coming off a decade of sitting atop the attendance rankings in MLB and the Phillies……

Announce a REBUILD

And SLASH their PAYROLL

The Phillies roster and farm system are crying out for position talent so the Phillies refuse to pay any of the elite Cuban position players that trickled into MLB at a time when, with the availability of each, the Phillies had the crying need for their services.

Yoenis Cespedes
Yasiel Puig
Jose Abreu
Jorge Soler
Rusney Castillo
Yasmany Tomas
Yoan Moncada

The Phillies have been rumored to be trying to sell Cole Hamels to the Red Sox for young position talent. Yet, if you look at the list above, the Phillies had the ability to get all the position talent they need without selling Hamels or any other player. The Phillies simply refuse to BUY players.

This is not new for this ownership. J.o.h.n M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n and crew in the past 34 years have purchased exactly TWO starting level impact free agents.

JIM THOME and CLIFF LEE

Other than that those two it has been nothing but old men on short contracts.

J.O.H.N M.I.D.D.L.E.T.O.N
SOLD

CURT SCHILLING -Three Rings

HUNTER PENCE – Two Rings

SCOTT ROLEN – One Ring

SHANE VICTORINO -One Ring

BOBBY ABREU
CLIFF LEE

for

VICENTE PADILLA

That’s SEVEN Rings in 14 years while the Phillies have won two World Series in 125 years.

Now the Phillies are at it again. Refusing to BUY players and demanding that other teams give them a plane load of stud prospects and MLB young players in exchange for their best MLB pitchers.

Where did all the money Phillies fans gave these criminals go to?

It’s not the GM stupid.

It’s @j.o.h.n.m.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n

You didn’t renew your season tickets? @j.o.h.n.m.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n says you are “disloyal”. That’s a quote. This is what he tweets to Phillies fans.

@j.o.h.n.m.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n loves Ben Revere.

He and his father are business robber barons. They have sucked our blood. They’re stealing everything and hurling pejoratives at us when we challenge them.

J.O.H.N M.I.D.D.L.E.T.O.N, S&P, father and son, should be stripped to their shorts by the FBI, shackled, cuffed and then perp walked like that on TV.

_

Highlight and Google: J.o.h.n P.o.w.e.r.s M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n Felony Fraud
_

Google: J.o.h.n P.o.w.e.r.s M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n Weekly Online

24 pictures of J.P. M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n’s Hollywood Hills mansion

J.P. M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n’s kitchen is as big as the first floor of my
house.

I wonder where the $6 BILLION that Comcast gave
J.o.h.n M.i.d.d.l.e.t.o.n to buy players went to?

Joseph
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Joseph

Oh god can you shut the hell up.