Sunday Notes: Tim Mayza Was a Mystery to Me (He’s a Blue Jay)

Every now and again I’ll forgo my usual spot in the Fenway Park press box and watch a game in the stands, an overpriced adult beverage in hand. Such was the case last September when the visiting Blue Jays made a pitching change and the friend I was with asked what I knew about the left-hander jogging in from the bullpen. My response was something along the lines of, “Not a whole heckuva lot, but maybe I’ll talk to him tomorrow and see what I can learn.”

That’s exactly what I did. I approached Tim Mayza the following day, and as he’d thrown almost exclusively sliders, I began our conversation by inquiring as to why.

“It’s is my out-pitch,” explained Mayza, who’d come into the previous night’s game with 13-and-a-third big-league innings under his belt. “I’ll throw it at any time, in any count, and I faced two lefties. With deception and the different shapes of the slider, it tends to be more effective than a fastball, per se, left on left.”

For Mayza, those different shapes are “one with more depth and one that’s a little sweeper,” and both were baffling to Boston batters. The 25-year-old southpaw (he’s since turned 26) induced a ground-ball out from Brock Holt, then got Jackie Bradley, Jr. on strikes. His small sample size big-league splits certainly suggest LOOGY. Lefties went 7 for 34 against his slants, while righties went a robust 17 for 41.

Overall, Mayza threw his signature offering just over 50% of the time, which was a big departure from his days as a Marauder. When Toronto took him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft out of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, he was predominantly fastball-changeup. He’s now fastball-slider — “we scrapped my changeup a few years ago” — and he actually commands the latter better than the former. According to a member of the Blue Jays broadcast team, Mayza’s inability to consistently locate his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer was often problematic.

“My fastball command is definitely something that needs to be improved on,” admitted Mayza, who allowed 24 hits and 13 earned runs in 17 innings after his call-up. (On a more positive note, he fanned 27.) “It’s often said that fastball command is paramount, so it’s something I’m going to work on in the offseason. Hopefully it will be better the next time you see me.”

When that happens, I’ll have a much better answer than “not a whole heckuva lot.”

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A few months back, with technology and modern analytics in mind, I asked a number of big-league managers if today’s players understand the game better than those of previous generations. As you might expect, opinions varied.

I posed that same question to the top dogs within the Minnesota Twins brain trust.

“The key for me is, ’How do you make (the data) actionable?,’ stated executive vice president Derek Falvey. “How do you take the nuggets of information you gathered and translate it in a way the player can actually use it? That’s the blend of art and science in it.

“The modern-day player is more familiar with that process now, because of what’s out there, but it still gets down to good quality coaches being able to articulate what they think guys need to know.”

So… that means they are more knowledgeable? Or not necessarily?

“There’s just more information than there was before,” was Falvey’s response to the followup. “I don’t think the players are any more or less knowledgeable than they were back then, it’s just… PITCHf/x didn’t exist back then, so there was no way to track it. Radar guns didn’t exist at one point in time. They’re more familiar with things like that.”

Thad Levine proceeded to weigh in.

“It’s an interesting concept,” mused the Minnesota GM. “I would imagine that when we’re sitting here 12 years from now, there will be a new vision of evaluating the game of baseball. When we ask, ‘Are these guys now more knowledgeable?’… is it just the evolution of the game? Everyone (is trying to stay) on the cutting edge, but the cutting edge keeps moving.

“At one point we started talking more about on-base, and shifting away from batting average. Would we say those guys were much more knowledgeable? I don’t know. Maybe we’re just becoming more educated? Maybe that’s the same thing. And when virtual reality enters the game, we’ll learn even more. The finish line keeps moving. It’s just natural evolution.”

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Perusing my unused-quotes folder, I unearthed a conversation with Daniel Hudson from early last season. Somewhat inexplicably, it hadn’t seen the light of day — until now.

The Pirates righty “doesn’t necessarily have FanGraphs in (his) favorites,” but he does like to dig into data. And while the scope of those excavations only go so far, what’s been surfaced has proven valuable.

“The game is going toward all of that — it’s analytical; a data and numbers thing — and the sooner you embrace it, the quicker you’re able mesh it into what you do,” explained Hudson. “I remember in 2015, our bullpen coach (in Arizona) sat me down and said, ‘Look, guys are hitting .380 off your fastball when it’s down, and they’re hitting under .200 when it’s at the top of the zone.’ That kind of blew my mind a little bit. I was like, ‘Hey, maybe I should be one of those guys that works up there more often, especially with two strikes.’”

Hudson’s 95-mph four-seam fastball had a spin rate of 2,413 last season, roughly 60 points higher than the MLB average. Knowing why the pitch is effective obviously adds value, but come game day, it’s time to put down the shovel and pitch.

“At the end of the day, you have to go out there and play baseball,” said Hudson. “You can’t think about things like spin rate when you’re on the mound, you just have to trust that it’s there.”

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Franklin Barreto is the top position-player prospect in the Oakland system for the fourth year running, and that designation is about to come to an end. The 21-year-old infielder dipped his feet into MLB waters last season — 25 games and 76 plate appearances — and he’s poised to make the Bay Area his full-time baseball home.

Barreto formally began his path to the big-leagues in 2012, when the Blue Jays signed him out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He began attracting the attention of scouts a few years earlier.

“When I was 14, someone asked if I wanted to work out with them and hopefully get signed,” Barreto told me last September. “I was really young, and just practicing, so I didn’t know what would come of it. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I started realizing (how good he had a chance to become.)”

Baretto estimated that five team offered to sign him, and the one that did subsequently shipped him to Oakland as part of the Josh Donaldson deal. Ever since, high expectations have followed Barreto up the minor-league ladder. He’s done his best to ignore them, ditto any stumbles he’s encountered in the climb.

“Failures are a part of learning, so I don’t let them get my confidence down,” expressed Barreto, who put up a meager .602 OPS in his initial MLB action. “I don’t let the game get to me. I don’t worry about the hype, either. I just keep trying to get better at my craft.”

How does he feel he’s improved most?

“My game has changed a little bit because of my strength,” opined Barreto. “Now that I’m getting a little bit bigger and stronger I’m hitting the ball harder than I did in the past. I’m still a line drive hitter, though. My game is more to get on base and steal bags, not to be hitting the ball out of the park.”

Defensively, Barreto didn’t express a preference between playing shortstop or second base, although he did point to the hard work he’d been putting into the latter. Bob Melvin suggested that might be his best position when I asked him about the youngster’s glove. Qualifying the Barreto hadn’t been with the club for very long, the Oakland skipper said he “probably looks a little more comfortable at second right now than he does at short.”

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NEWSY STUFF (MICHIGAN EDITION)

Mike Hessman and Ken Schnacke are the newest members of the International League Hall of Fame. Hessman, currently the hitting coach for Detroit’s Double-A affiliate, is minor league baseball’s all-time home run leader (433), and he also holds the International League record, with 288. Schnacke, the president and general manager of the Columbus Clippers, has been with the club since 1977.

The Detroit Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens have extended their player development contract through the 2020 season. The team whose logo adorned Corporal Klinger’s cap has been the Motown club’s Triple-A affiliate since 1987.

The West Michigan Whitecaps, the Tigers low-A affiliate, are planning to employ a live organist for games at Fifth Third Ballpark this coming season. Auditions will he held on March 3.

NEWSY STUFF (NON-MICHIGAN EDITION)

The Red Sox have promoted Greg Rybarczy to Senior Analyst, Baseball Research & Development. The creator of “Hit Tracker” joined the organization as a baseball operations analyst in 2014.

Mike Pelfrey has retired and is now an assistant coach at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. Former Cy Young winner Jack McDowell recently became the first-ever head coach for Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pete Palmer will be honored with the second SABR Analytics Conference Lifetime Achievement Award. Palmer is the co-author, with John Thorn, of The Hidden Game of Baseball, and Total Baseball.

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Last Sunday’s column led with Pirates prospect Taylor Hearn, who grew up in a family of rodeo cowboys. As his background formed the crux of the story, his pitching acumen was mostly glossed over. We’ll touch on two aspects of it here.

The southpaw was predominantly “a football and basketball guy,” growing up in Texas, but then “Dontrelle came on the scene.” Suddenly, Hearn found himself focusing on baseball, following the Marlins, and modeling his game after Dontrelle Willis’s.

Along with changing his sport of choice, he developed a choice change-of-pace. Hearn is often lauded for his plus fastball, but that’s not what he considers his go-to offering.

“Without a doubt,” Hearn responded when asked if his changeup is his best pitch. “No one really knows this, but I’ve been throwing it since I was about eight years old. I was never a fastball-curveball guy, because my pitching coach wouldn’t let me throw a curve until I was older. He would force me to throw my changeup, and be good with it. It’s funny to hear people say ‘we think your fastball is your best pitch’ or ‘your slider is your best pitch.’ It’s like, ‘well, you think that, but the guy out there throwing the pitches thinks it’s his changeup.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Happy Felsch went 11 for 27 against Sad Sam Jones.

Cotton Tierney went 1 for 4 against Pea Ridge Day.

Klondike Smith went 1 for 4 against Boardwalk Brown.

Jewel Ens went 1 for 5 against Mule Watson.

Fritz Mollwitz went 0 for 5 against Ben Tincup.

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Some Great Lakes State esoterica:

Chick Lathers — his given name was Charles Ten Eyck Lathers — appeared in 70 games for the Tigers between 1910 and 1911. Born in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Lathers signed with his hometown team after being expelled from the University of Michigan. An infielder during his playing days, he eventually became a dairy farmer up north, in Burt Lake. Lathers is buried in Petoskey.

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Now that the Indians are finally saying goodbye to Chief Wahoo, is it not also time for the Braves to do away with the Tomahawk chop, and the chant that goes with it? Along with being every bit as offensive, it is far harder to ignore. If you’ve ever attended a game in Atlanta — or even watched one on TV — you know what I mean. Unlike a logo, it is not only in your face, it is very much in your ears.

Ending the tradition would take time — a segment of the fan base would likely find it hard to quit cold turkey — but the organization could easily begin phasing it out. No longer encouraging the practice with audio and visual cues on the scoreboard would be a good way to start. However long it might take, the chopping and chanting needs to follow Cleveland’s toothy caricature out the door.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Jerry Howarth announced his retirement this past week, and Richard Griffin paid tribute to the legendary Blue Jays broadcaster at The Toronto Star.

In their Pursuit of Pennants blog, Mark Armour and Dan Levitt take us through baseball’s “bonus rule,” which had a huge impact on the game in the 1950s. Among those effected was Roberto Clemente, who was originally signed by the Dodgers.

Major League Baseball is ludicrously difficult, Ryan Flaherty is a tremendously gifted baseball player. and Dan Connolly wrote about those facts at The Baltimore Sun.

Over at Bleacher Report, Scott Miller wrote about how Jake Peavy is picking up pieces of a shattered life — and planning a comeback.

Elizabeth Bloom of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette talked to David Freese, who feels the Pirates have lacked a winning culture.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Wally Moon, who dies earlier this week at age 87, captured National League Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1954. The other players garnering votes that year were Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Gene Conley.

John Patsy Francona, who died earlier this week at age 84, played six of his 15 seasons with the Indians. “Tito” was traded from Detroit to Cleveland in 1959 for Larry Doby.

Albert Pujols needs 32 hits to reach 3,000, and 82 RBIs to reach 2,000. Hank Aaron, Cap Anson, and Alex Rodriguez are the only players in history to have reached both milestones.

Don Mattingly had a .360 OBP and 2,021 hits prior to his 34th birthday. Nick Markakis, who turned 34 in November, has a .358 OBP and 2,052 hits.

Hughie Jennings reached base via walk 347 times and via HBP 287 times.

Mickey Mantle reached base via walk 1,733 times and via HBP 13 times.

Mark Lemke came to the plate 3,664 times and never reached base via HBP.

On February 19, 1935, Lou Gehrig — coming off a season where he hit .363 with 49 home run and 165 RBIs — re-signed with the Yankees for $30,000.

Pickles Dillhoefer, a 28-year-old catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, died of typhoid fever on February 23, 1922.

John T. Brush, who owned the National League’s New York Giants from 1903-1912, was nicknamed “Tooth.”





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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Josh
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Josh

Even if one does not find the Chop offensive, I think most people feel the games would be more fun to attend in person if the Chop music wasn’t part of them. It’s similar to any annoying noise. If a team played the sound of a ringing telephone or an alarm clock 20-30 times per game at screaming-top volume, that would be a non-starter for me, too. I don’t even turn the sound on if I’m watching a Braves game on TV, because it seems as though the Chop music is played at least 5 times per inning. It’s both irritating and boring.

dl80
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dl80

Have you seen a Reds game on TV? The constant Ric Flair “wooooos” are awful.