Fans of prog rock are well familiar with Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9.” The song, which is on the seminal 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, includes the line, “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.” Nearly 30 minutes long, Karn Evil 9 has been described, thematically speaking, as a battle between humans and computers.
Which brings us to the first major league free agent signed by the Orioles new-and-geeky front office regime. On Thursday, Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and Co. welcomed Nate Karns back to The Show, inking him to a reported $800,000, one-year deal.
Karns has been a good pitcher when healthy. He hasn’t been healthy very often. The righty had labrum surgery back in 2010, and more recently he’s had thoracic outlet surgery and elbow issues. He didn’t pitch at all in 2018, and in 2017 he was limited to just 45-and-a-third innings. In the two years preceding the more recent of those, ahem, evil injuries, he showed plenty of promise. Pitching with Tampa Bay and Seattle, he went 13-7 with a 4.25 ERA and a 4.17 FIP.
My colleague Rain Watt will have more on Karns’s comeback tomorrow, so I’ll keep the rest of this look contained to the 31-year-old’s curveball. It’s his primary secondary, and a pitch he refined while going through a shoulder program after having his labrum repaired.
“Before, I’d always thought it was about spinning the ball out of my hand,” Karns told me last year. “It basically went to, ‘Let’s change this concept to thinking about my wrist and the flat portion of the back side of my hand.’ Rather than trying to spin it with my fingertips, I stared thinking of it as trying to chop — like a karate chop — when I’m throwing my curveball.”
Another analogy Karns brought up was shaking a hand. While he wasn’t 100 percent certain — this was no elephant’s-memory moment — he recalled seeing a video where Clayton Kershaw cited that particular thought process.
He also made a physical adjustment. Reflecting back on the grip used by Eric Surkamp back when they were teammates at Texas Tech, Karns began throwing a one-finger spiked curveball. There was trial and error involved, but in time he realized that he could “spin it better with one finger than with two.”
Karns also told me that video technology had been serving as an important tool — high-speed cameras allowing him to monitor his wrist angle and how the ball is spinning off his fingers. Assuming he can stay healthy, that will continue unabated in Baltimore. The humans now populating the Orioles front office don’t do battle with computers and machines; they work with them hand-in-hand.
Brandon Guyer is known for reaching base the hard way. The former Rays and Indians outfielder has jogged to first 85 times via a HBP in fewer than 1,500 at bats. The team that inked him to a free agent contract earlier this week is well aware of that proclivity. White Sox pitchers have plunked Guyer 12 times, the second-highest total of any staff. Only the crimson-colored Sox (a baker’s dozen) have done so more often.
His overall numbers versus Chicago’s South Side squad stand out. Guyer has slashed .311/.431/.500 in 110 plate appearances, and his OPS is especially eye-catching. It’s more than 200 points north of his .727 career mark, and the highest he’s put up against any team (minimum 30 PAs).
His right-handed stroke stands out for its compactness. Late last season, he described it to me as “a short, cut-myself-off kind of swing.” Stretching back to Little League, that’s what it’s always been. He’s worked to refine it over the years, but “at the end of the day, your swing is your swing.”
Power has never been Guyer’s forte — he has 32 career home runs and a .388 slugging percentage — and the aforementioned cutting off plays a part in that.
“I think my swing can go both ways,” said Guyer, who cited Chase Utley and Jayson Werth as hitters with short follow-throughs. “It can help me be short and quick to the ball on the inside, but it can also hurt me. If I’m not getting through the ball, I’m not able to drive it.”
The message he’s received most often from hitting coaches?
“Through the ball,” repeated Guyer. “Through the ball. It’s kind of like imagining my right hand punching through, rather than cutting off. It’s about getting enough extension.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
I’m not in favor of the proposed rule change where a pitcher would need to face at least three batters, barring injury or the end of an inning. Much like banning shifts — i.e. dictating where fielders can be positioned — this strikes me as an unnecessary doing away with a strategic option that has existed for 100-plus years. That said, I have an idea regarding how the rule should be written, if it were to be put into place:
I’d propose that a pitcher be allowed to face fewer than three batters if he remains in the game. In other words, a lefty could come in to face a lefty, then move to another position for the next batter(s). A manager would thus retain the option of going lefty-righty-lefty if he were willing to sacrifice a position player and accept the risk of a pitcher playing, say, first base or left field. This is, of course, something we’ve seen happen a handful of times over the years under the current rules.
Pace-of-game is the primary driver behind the three-batter-minimum proposal, but while the above would still entail mid-inning pitching changes, they would be somewhat shorter in duration — especially if the pitcher-turned-temporary-fielder isn’t allowed warmup pitches upon returning to the mound. Moreover, this is a stratagem that would seldom happen.
Or maybe it would. Could an emergence of two-way players such as Tampa Bay Rays prospect Brendan McKay make this type of move almost commonplace in the years to come? It would be fun to see.
Which pitchers have the most career appearances in which they faced just one batter? What about two batters? Glad you asked. Thanks to FanGraphs number-cruncher-supreme Sean Dolinar, here are the short lists for each:
Not surprisingly, all of those pitcher are lefties. If you dig even deeper… well, let’s just say your shovel would get quite the workout before you reached a righty. On the more-extensive one-batter list, you have scroll down through a full 46 southpaws before you get to Peter Moylan, who has gone one-and-done 89 times. The two-batter list isn’t quite as extreme. Righty Jeff Nelson ranks 12th, with 96 such appearances.
The Double-A Reading Fightin’ Phils have hired Kirsten Karbach as their new radio broadcaster and director of media relations. Karbach, who was featured here in Sunday Notes 14 months ago, had been calling games for the Clearwater Threshers.
The Hartford Yard Goats, Colorado’s Double-A affiliate, announced this week they will no longer be selling shelled peanuts or Cracker Jack at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. They are reportedly the first professional sports team to adopt a peanut-free policy.
Former Pirates pitcher Bob Friend died a week ago today. A mainstay in the Pittsburgh rotation throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he is the franchise’s all-time leader in games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Friend was 88.
Recent signings in the independent Atlantic League include James Loney by the Sugar Land Skeeters, and Lew Ford by the Long Island Ducks. Loney will reportedly be used as a two-way player. The 42-year-old Ford is heading into his 21st season of professional baseball.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will formally add four new members this summer. Inducted on June 15 will be Jason Bay (Trail, British Columbia.), Ryan Dempster (Sechelt, British Columbia), Rob Thomson (Sarnia, Ontario.) and Gord Ash (Toronto, Ontario).
Rocco Baldelli has received some valuable advice from Kevin Cash since being named manager of the Minnesota Twins in late October. Call it mentorship if you will. This is Baldelli’s first managerial job, while Cash has been at the helm in Tampa Bay for each of the past four seasons — all with “The Woonsocket Rocket” as a member of his coaching staff, no less.
Baldelli had nothing but good things to say when I asked him recently about his former colleague. Some were in regard to the helpful advice. Others were in regard to his leadership skills and baseball acumen. And then there was his away-from-the-field personality.
“He’s a kid,” the 37-year-old Baldelli said of the 41-year-old Cash. “He likes to do things like throw wet naps at people on the plane. Childish things. Kevin gets a kick out of doing things like that. Childish things. Before you know it, everyone else is acting like a child. Then he’s happy.”
Stay tuned for a Cash-on-Baldelli rejoinder at some point down the road. The proverbial ball is now in Kevin’s court.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Orange County Register, J.P. Hoornstra expounded on how a Dodger fan’s death is more than a cautionary tale about foul balls.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince talked to several executives about the influence of WAR on modern front offices.
Which NCAA teams have produced the most impact big leaguers? Using WAR as the determining factor, Matt Eddy has the answer at Baseball America.
Over at SABR’s Baseball Card Blog, Tim Jenkins explained why the Seattle Pilots — a team that existed for just one season — had TOPPS sets printed in both 1969 and 1970.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
On August 26 of last year, Mets left-hander Steven Matz threw seven strong innings against the Nationals and left with a 1-0 deficit. Washington proceeded to torch three New York relievers for 14 runs over the final two frames. The final was 15-0.
In 1958 there were 11 MLB games in which a starting pitcher was removed before pitching five innings or allowing a run to score. There were also 11 in both 1968 and 1978. There were 15 in both 1988 and 1998. In 2008 there were 32. In 2018 there were 125. (Per Bill James Online.)
Over his career, Charlie Morton has a HBP for every 49.9 batters faced. That’s the highest percentage of any pitcher — minimum 1,000 innings — in the modern era. (Per Tampa Bay Rays director of communications Dave Haller.)
Vladimir Guerrero reached base 3,440 times, made 6,000 outs, and had 449 home runs to go with a 140 adjusted OPS. Jason Giambi reached base 3,556 times, made 5,530 outs, and had 440 home runs to go with a 139 Adjusted OPS.
Bill Freehan hit 200 home runs — 100 at home, and 100 on the road — in a 15-year career spent exclusively with the Detroit Tigers.
Cass Michaels, an infielder for four teams — primarily the White Sox — from 1943-1954, was born Casimir Eugene Kwietniewski, in Detroit. The Hamtramck High School product made his MLB debut at age 17.
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.