Sunday Notes: Synced Up and Simplified, Mick Abel is Watching in a New Way

In terms of rankings and projection, Mick Abel is much the same pitcher he was 24 months ago. When the now-22-year-old right-hander was featured in February 2022 during our annual Prospect Week, he was No. 1 in the Philadelphia Phillies system and No. 20 on our Top 100. Fast forward to the present, and he is No. 2 in the Philadelphia Phillies system and No. 22 on our Top 100. As Eric Longenhagen explained in his recent writeup, “Abel didn’t have an especially good 2023… [but] still has most all of the ingredients needed to be an impact starter, he just isn’t totally baked yet.”

How has the 2019 first-rounder out of Beaverton, Oregon’s Jesuit High School matured the most since our conversation two years ago? I asked him that question at Philadelphia’s spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida on Friday.

“I’d say it’s the separation of over-the-rubber and over-the-plate mentality, knowing how to distinguish between the two,” replied Abel, who had a 27.5% strikeout rate but also a 13.5% walk rate in 108-and-two-third innings with Double-A Reading last year. “Whether it’s in the bullpen or on the game-mound, knowing when and how to make adjustments without getting too deep in my head about it.

“Staying more direct and knowing that if I get too long with my arm action in back I’m going to be a little later to the plate,“ Abel said when asked to elaborate on the actual mechanics. “I want to make sure that everything is on time going down the hill.”

Not consistently staying in sync is something the high-ceiling righty attributes to not knowing his body well enough and “not paying too close attention to how it was moving.” He feels that he’s been making good progress with both tempo and timing, “shortening up a little” being a factor in the strides he feels he’s making.

As for repertoire adjustments, Abel added a two-seamer last year, and this past offseason he tweaked his best breaking ball.

“The slider has gotten more into a gyro shape,” Abel explained. “We were kind of indecisive last year on whether or not we wanted a sweeper or a gyro, and I kind of had the final say. I decided, ‘All right, I’m much more comfortable with the gyro.’ I’m not concerned with how it’s going to sweep, and can control it a lot more in the zone.’”

He’s also not over-stressing on how many inches of carry he’s getting on his four-seamer… or on pitch metrics in general. That’s another change from two years ago. Paying too much attention to analytics tended to “get into [his] head a little bit” so now he’s mostly just focusing on “getting outs,” an endeavor which includes learning from observing. How he’s going about that is yet another way he’s evolved.

“I’ve always watched pitchers when I’m watching baseball,” explained Abel “Normally, I would look at the mechanics, thinking about how they move and how I could potentially incorporate some sort of movement pattern to make me move better. Now I know what I need to do better, so it’s more about pitch selection, understanding how to pitch to hitters in certain counts. Basically, I’m looking at what they’re throwing and why they’re throwing it. That’s the focus now.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Claudell Washington went 4 for 25 against Reggie Cleveland.

Scott Brosius went 3 for 25 against David Cone.

Dave Henderson went 2 for 25 against Bert Blyleven.

Bob Aspromonte went 1 for 25 against Tom Seaver.

Torii Hunter went 0 for 25 against Roger Clemens.

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Matt Krook had a crazy 2023 season. The now-29-year-old left-handed reliever was called up by the New York Yankees in late May, only to be returned to Triple-A on the first of June without having gotten into a game. Then came a second call-up, on June 8, and another stint of sitting in the bullpen waiting for an opportunity. When it finally came on the 16th, he’d spent a combined 12 days on a big-league roster, chomping at the bit to make his long-awaited debut.

The Yankees were at Fenway Park when the University of Oregon product finally took the mound, and it so happened that I spoke to him prior to that game. In doing so, I learned that he relies primarily on a sinker and a sweeper-slider, the latter a pitch he began developing in 2019 when he was in the Tampa Bay Rays system. I also learned that his attitude toward his inactivity was admirable.

“I’m just trying to stay as ready as I can, treating every game as, ‘All right, this is the game I’m going to be in,’” Krook told me. “I’m keeping that mindset. You can’t go out there, get beat, and say, ‘Oh, I spent 12 days just sitting.’”

Results-wise,he took a beating — albeit one in which bad luck played a part. Krook entered with none out and runners on second and third, and proceeded to retire the first two batters he faced without a run scoring. Then came a low-exit-velocity infield single followed by another low-exit-velocity infield single… after which the roof caved in. Krook gave up a grand slam to Justin Turner, whose 105.6-mph blast traveled 429 feet and into the centerfield bleachers.

At season’s end, Krook had a sparkling 1.32 ERA over 27 relief appearances with Triple-A Scranton, and an unsightly 24.75 ERA over four relief appearances with the Yankees. His BABIP-against in four big-league frames was .412.

The Baltimore Orioles acquired Krook from New York in exchange for cash considerations last week.

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Hearing the news that Eric Hosmer has decided to retire after 13 big-league seasons elicited this thought: Is he one of the most underrated-by-advanced-metrics players of his generation? A good argument could be made.

A first baseman by trade, Hosmer accumulated just 9.9 fWAR over his career, and while his 18.6 bWAR is nearly double that total, it is nonetheless nothing special given his baker’s dozen years in MLB. His 107 wRC+ is also unimpressive given his position.

Those things said, Hosmer had a five-year stretch where he hit 157 doubles and 94 home runs, had a 115 OPS+, won four Gold Gloves, and was worth 14.4 bWAR. Moreover, he played a big role in a World Series-clinching game, was an All-Star Game MVP, and by all accounts was a respected team leader on the teams he played for.

Hosmer had a good career. A very good career.

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A quiz:

Three managers who were at the helm for 3,000 or more games never played in the big leagues. Jim Leyland and Joe McCarthy are two. Who is the third?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Ben Wagner — inexplicably let go by the Toronto Blue Jays in November — has joined the Baltimore Orioles broadcast team for 2024. Former Orioles Brad Brach, Mike Devereaux, Dave Johnson, and Brian Roberts are also new additions, all as guest analysts.

The full schedule is now out for the SABR Analytics Conference, which will be held in Phoenix from March 8-10. It can be found here.

Tom Qualters, a right-hander who went without a decision while making 34 appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox from 1953-1958, died on February 15 at age 88. Known as “Money Bags,” due to his having been a bonus baby, Qualters debuted as an 18-year-old and was taken deep by the first batter he faced, minor-league legend Steve Bilko.

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The answer to the quiz is is Buck Showalter. Joe Maddon and Earl Weaver, who also never played in the majors, managed 2,599 and 2,541 games respectively.

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It’s well known that Wade Boggs’s 24-homer 1987 season was an outlier. The Hall of Famer’s second-highest total was 11, and that was the only other time he reached double digits. All told, Boggs left the yard just 118 times in 18 seasons.

And then there is Wally Moses, who went deep 89 times in a 17-year career that stretched from 1935-1951. Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1937, the left-handed-hitting outfielder not only batted .320, he hit a team-best 25 home runs. It was his only double-digit season and, curiously, it came in a year that wasn’t homer-happy for either the league or his home ballpark. Only two of his teammates — “Indian Bob” Johnson (also 25) and Frankie Hayes (11) — joined him in the 10-or-more category.

It wasn’t Moses’s only outlier season. In 1943, playing for the Chicago White Sox, he swiped 56 bases, 40 more than his previous high. Take away his theft-happy season, and Moon averaged just 7.4 steals annually. An interesting career indeed.

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Henry Davis, Jack Leiter, Jackson Jobe, and Marcelo Mayer were the first four picks in the 2021 draft. Which of them will go on to have the best career?

I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and much as I expected, the No. 3 and No. 4 picks dominated the voting. Davis and Leiter received just 15.1% and 11.2% respectively, while what was initially a horse race between Jobe and Mayer finished with the pitcher at 40.2% and the shortstop at 33.5%. That health played a part in the results stuck me as particularly interesting,

Mayer was hampered by a shoulder injury last season, and trying to battle through it contributed to an underwhelming stat line and ultimately a dampening of enthusiasm for his potential stardom. Conversely, Jobe returned to full health and displayed a power arsenal that has top-of-the rotation-starter written all over it. The righty’s dominating array of offerings earned him a 55 FV and a No. 16 ranking in our recently-released Top 100.

Drafting pitchers — especially high school pitchers in the first round — has long been considered risky. And for good reason. The volatility of young arms is well known, leading many teams to be hesitant, if not averse, to going that route.

Longtime Oakland A’s scouting director Eric Kubota knows the do-we-or-don’t-we conundrum as well as anyone.

“If you look at our history, we haven’t taken a ton of pitchers in the first round, and that reflects our feelings somewhat,” Kubota told me. “That being said, you still need pitchers. You really need pitchers. Sandy Alderson used to always say that they’re like dollar bills. You need to have a lot of pitchers, and you can use them to get whatever else you need.”

Kubota’s team didn’t have an opportunity to take either Jobe or Mayer — both were gone before Oakland made its first pick in 2021 — but what if they had been available? Which of them might the A’s have gone with?

“I mean, there is evaluation, and then there is the history of how we draft,” replied Kubota. “If you look at our history, we probably would have taken Mayer. But that doesn’t mean we won’t take a pitcher.”

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Steamboat Struss — his given name was Clarence — was tagged with the loss in his only big-league appearance, a 7-5 Pittsburgh Pirates defeat at the hands of the Chicago Cubs on September 30, 1934. The right-hander allowed five earned runs over seven innings and helped his own cause, albeit to no avail, with a two-run double. His brief time with the Bucs was bookended by minor-league seasons with teams including the Rock Island Islanders, Peoria Tractors, Fort Worth Cats, and Dallas Steers.

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Freddie Freeman is a seven-time All-Star who has won a Gold Glove and an MVP Award.. Joey Votto is a six-time All-Star who has also won a Gold Glove and an MVP Award. Moreover, their résumés include these numbers:

FF: 2,114 hits, 1,142 RBIs, 142 wRC+, 58.3 fWAR.
JV: 2,135 hits, 1,144 RBIs, 145 wRC+, 58.3 fWAR.

Freeman is still going strong at age 34, while the 40-year-old Votto may or may not have played his last game. In all likelihood, the separation between their respective numbers will grow, giving the former a clear career edge. For now, the left-handed-hitting future Hall of Fame candidates are strikingly similar in several meaningful categories.

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Corbin Burnes fielded standard-fare questions following his first outing of the spring yesterday afternoon… with one notable exception. The Baltimore Orioles right-hander was asked about MLB’s new uniforms, a subject that has not only elicited criticism, but also created a buzz on social media.

“The only thing that’s different for me would be the pants,” said Burnes. “They’re definitely lighter [and] definitely much more transparent than I’d want them to be. Players have, for years, asked about lighter, breathable jerseys. They may have taken it maybe a little bit too far.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Women outnumber men as fans at professional sporting events, including baseball, in South Korea. Jason Coskrey has the story at The Japan Times.

Hyun Jin Ryu is heading back to the KBO, having signed an eight-year contract with the Hanwha Eagles. Jee-ho Yoo wrote about the the 36-year-old southpaw’s return home for the Yonhap News Agency.

At Bleed Cubbie Blue, Mike Bojanowski presented us with a comparison of the baseballs used in MLB and NPB.

MiLB.com’s Josh Jackson wrote about Birmingham, Alabama’s historic Rickwood Field, which opened in 1910 and went on to host Negro League greats for years to come.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Vida Blue faced 13,837 batters and allowed 2,939 hits and 1,185 walks. He had 209 wins and a 3.27 ERA. Billy Pierce faced 13,853 batters and allowed 2,989 hits and 1,178 walks. He had 211 wins and a 3.27 ERA.

Pablo Sandoval had 1,279 hits, a .278 batting average, and a combined runs scored/RBI total of 1,185. Keith Moreland had 1,279 hits , a .279 batting average, and a combined runs scored/RBI total of 1,187.

John McGraw, whose 2,763 managerial wins are third most in MLB history, had a .586 winning percentage. Connie Mack, whose 3,731 managerial wins are the most in MLB history, had a .486 winning percentage.

In 1962, Willie Mays had 49 home runs, 130 runs scored, 141 RBIs, a 163 wRC+, and 10.5 WAR. Maury Wills had 104 steals, 130 runs scored, 48 RBIs a 103 wRC+, and 5.3 WAR. The Giants won the NL pennant. Wills won NL MVP.

The Cincinnati Reds claimed Dernell Stenson off waivers on today’s date in 2003. The erstwhile Boston Red Sox top-rated prospect went on to make his MLB debut with the Reds in August, only to lose his life two months later while playing in the Arizona Fall League. Stenson was murdered in an attempted car-jacking.

The Red Sox signed Mark “The Bird” Fidrych to a free agent contract on today’s date in 1982. The eccentric right-hander — a sensation with the Detroit Tigers before hurting his arm — spent two uninspiring seasons with Boston’s Triple-A club, never again taking a big-league mound.

Players born on today’s date include Ken Szotkiewicz, a shortstop whose career comprised 47 games and 98 plate appearances for the Detroit Tigers in 1970. The Wilmington, Delaware native went 9-for-84, with his .108 batting average ranking as the lowest in franchise history among non-pitchers with as many at-bats.

Also born on today’s date was César Cedeño, an outfielder who played from 1970-1986, primarily with the Houston Astros. A four-time All-Star, Cedeño had a nine year stretch where he amassed 43.5 WAR, logged a 135 wRC+, and had 141 home runs and 438 stolen bases. He played in the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.





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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fjtorres
1 month ago

Connie Mack the manager’s biggest challenge was that Connie Mack the owner was a skinflint. A tradition A’s owners have maintained for over a century in three cities. Las Vegas beware.

Of note, his proper name was Cornelius McGillicuddy (December 22, 1862 – February 8, 1956).

Last edited 1 month ago by fjtorres