Sunday Notes: Winter Dealings and Assorted Tidbits

Chili Davis is now the hitting coach in Boston. Josh Donaldson is now a Blue Jay. For the past three seasons they were together in Oakland, where they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

Davis is a note-taker. He logs how his hitters are being pitched to, as well any bad habits they might be getting into. He also logs conversations. If Davis sees a player getting away from what he does well, he can reference his notebook and address the situation from there. There was a certain amount of push-back when he approached the club’s all-star third baseman.

“Donaldson was stubborn,” Davis told me earlier this week. ‘Donaldson was, ‘This is how I do things.’ And that’s fine if you’re swinging it good. But if you’re not swinging good, and not implementing what you told me you like to do, I need to bring you back to when you were doing things right.

“Donaldson, at times, would say things that contradict how I think. I’m not saying he’s wrong – that’s just how he thinks – but I had to adjust to that.”

According to Davis, Donaldson’s mechanics – he utilizes a leg kick – require “more rhythm and sync” and can “get violent at times, too aggressive.” He said Donaldson needed to focus on being under control, and not jumpy.

Davis made clear that while Donaldson could be stubborn, he wasn’t inflexible.

“He’s very committed to what he feels makes him a better hitter,” said Davis. “If I had something to say to him, he’d listen. He might say, ‘Yeah, but,” but later on I’d go in the cage and he’d be working on it. If something makes sense to him, and he can apply it to what he likes to do, he’ll try it.”

One of Davis’ messages addressed Donaldson’s setup in the batters’ box. Pitchers were pounding him inside, and – in Davis’ opinion – he needed to make an adjustment.

“I told him he was becoming too rotational,” explained Davis. “His response was, ‘Well, they’re pitching me in and (the umpire) is calling strikes.’ I said, ‘JD, they’re not all strikes. Back off the plate a little bit and think out-over-the-plate. Try to get more extension instead of being so rotational.’ He just kept going. ‘Dude, they’re pitching me in.’

“I told JD, ‘You don’t have to swing at those pitches in. They want you to, that’s why they’re in there all the time. They don’t care if it’s a strike. They just want you to see it in and create that first-twitch move, to where you’re trying to get to that pitch. Then it’s cutter away, slider away. They’re setting you up to finish you off. You don’t have to allow them to do that. Back off, so you can be directional and not so rotational.’

“Next day, he was off the plate. I was like, ‘What are you doing, man?’ He said, ‘I’m just backing off the plate a little bit.’ He’s a guy who wants adjustments to be his idea.”

——

Rico Brogna is big on bio-mechanics. The Angels quality control coach (he discussed his role here) studies swings and deliveries, and knows what works and what doesn’t work. He recognizes that it’s possible to be unorthodox and efficient at the same time. In the cases of Tim Lincecum and Dustin Pedroia, it’s all about the uncoiling.

“Good athletes have the ability to uncoil with devastating force, from a coiled position,” explained Brogna. “If you’re non-athletic, you can’t do that. You end up off balance and will probably fly open.

“Tim Lincecum, especially when he first came up, had this wicked delivery. He was extremely coiled – more than just about any other pitcher – but he had loose hips, loose limbs, and was flexible. Because he was so athletic, he was able to maintain balance throughout his entire motion. Picture a snake, wrapped up and then uncoiling and striking its prey. It’s loose and flexible, and the movement is explosive.

“Dustin Pedroia’s swing looks unorthodox, but most of the length is after contact. When he takes the bat head to the ball, it’s efficient and tight to the body. What he does after contact is a way for his body to finish his weight transfer. He looks like he might fall backwards, but at contact he’s transferring his weight forward into the ball. Bio-mechanically, he’s doing it right.

“Pedroia lands with his front foot closed. Sometimes it’s so closed that at contact it has to flip open. It’s pointing to the first base dugout, and then at contact it flips open toward the third baseman. It’s kind of a violent move, but when he’s on time and correct, it works for him. His ability to coil and uncoil isn’t unlike Lincecum’s in many respects.”

——

When it comes to trades and signings, a manager’s involvement varies team-to-team. Some have little say in the matter and simply play the hand they’re dealt. Others are given more input, but even then, it’s ultimately the GM making the decision.

Earlier this week I broached the subject with a pair of former managers. One shared his thoughts on the record, while the other chose to remain anonymous.

“The level of involvement is just marginal,” said the anonymous former manager. “They just run the names by you to see how much you know about the player involved. There are cases where you can influence a little, but only when you’re very familiar with the guy and makeup might be an issue. For the most part, the front office feels it’s their job to put the roster together.”

Dave Trembley, who managed in Baltimore, had a somewhat different experience. His answer focused on the winter meetings.

“Appointments are scheduled with officials from other clubs,” said Trembley. “The meetings are attended by three or four from each club: the general manger, the assistant GM, the manager, and maybe a special assistant. Proposals are made, such as ‘We want this player and will offer these players in return.’

“General managers meet with the agents of free agents. I was present at some of those meetings, and I’m sure that’s the way it is for most clubs. As the manager, you may be asked to make a phone call to a free agent and talk to him about signing with your team. I remember being at the winter meetings with Andy MacPhail. We wanted a certain player and he asked me to attend the meeting with him and the agent. Toward the end of the meeting, I said how much I would like this player — what great makeup he had, what a good fit he would be on our club, etc. When the agent left, MacPhail said to me, ‘You just cost us another $500,000 with what you said; next time just listen and let me do the talking.”

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I recently asked Red Sox pitching prospect Brian Johnson about dreams. Not his goal of pitching in the big-leagues, but rather the ones that happen between the sheets. With hot stove season in high boil, does the highly-regarded left-hander ever change teams in his sleep?

“I’ve never had a dream about being traded,” responded Johnson. “To be honest, I don’t really remember my dreams at all. Even if I did, I think people tend to dream about things they’re worried about – things they’re subconsciously thinking about – and getting traded never really crosses my mind. I don’t worry about things I can’t control.”

Johnson, who is celebrating his 24th birthday today, was in full control this season. The former first-round pick went 10-2 with a 1.75 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Portland. Morpheus may not engage Johnson in trade talk, but you can rest assured teams have asked Red Sox GM Ben Cherington about him.

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I suggested a few Sundays ago that the Cincinnati Reds should approach free agent Justin Masterson with the idea of turning him into a power reliever. According to a source, that hasn’t happened – nor has any team approached him with that in mind. If it were to happen, Masterson wouldn’t be interested. The big righty’s inconsistencies can be attributed to minor injuries, and he’s expected to be fully healthy in 2015. To this point in time, Masterson has received several inquiries but no formal offers.

——

Burke Badenhop is likewise in conversations-only territory. The veteran sinkerball reliever won’t be breaking any banks this offseason, but he promises to provide value to the team who signs him. Badenhop made 70 appearances for the Red Sox in 2014 and logged a 2.29 ERA. His ground-ball rate was 61.0% and he allowed just one home run in 70-and-two-third innings.

In late September, with free agency looming on his horizon, I sat down with Badenhop to discuss reliever value. (Expect much more from our conversation in the coming weeks.)

“I think you should value guys who get outs,” Badenhop told me. “Strikeouts are better than balls in play, ground outs are better than fly outs, and you kind of go from there. That said, Kevin Gregg was our closer my first year in the big leagues (2008 Marlins), and he used to say everyone’s job is to put up zeroes. Some guys put up zeroes at the beginning of the game, some guys put up zeroes in the middle of the game, and some guys put up zeroes at the end of the game. All outs are valuable.

“Some years I’ve been valued because I can throw multiple innings. Other places I’ve been valued because I can come in and get ground balls. Some places I’ve been valued because I can do both. This year, I think I increased my value because I did a lot better job against lefties. I adapted. I mixed up how I attacked lefties and that helped me out.”

Badenhop clearly made strides against opposite-side hitters. Lefties hit .245/.333/.388 against him this year (114 total batters faced). In 2013, those numbers were .325/.393/.525 (91 batters faced). An improved changeup was a big reason. Badenhop threw the pitch 16.8% of the time, as opposed to just 5.2% in 2013. When I spoke to him in spring training, he said regaining the feel for his changeup could be a key to his season.

——

It isn’t uncommon for a manager and an umpire to go nose-to-nose in a heated argument. It’s been a part of the game for as long as there have been managers and umpires. Certain rules apply. Magic words will result in a heave-ho. Making physical contact with an umpire will result in a heave-ho followed by further disciplinary action.

In 1987, while managing Double-A Harrisburg, Dave Trembley was involved in a physical-contact incident. He wasn’t the guilty party.

“We were playing Williamsport and there was a play at the plate,” Trembley told me. “Tom Prince was catching and there was a swipe tag. The umpire called the runner safe and I came out to argue. I’ve never sworn at an umpire – ever – but I did get real close to the him. He pulled his fist back and punched me right in the chest.

“When I got back to the dugout, Spin Williams, my pitching coach, said, “You know, the umpire punched you.’ I had lost it so much that I almost didn’t realize it. Spin said, ‘You have to protest the game.’ I went back out there and kept yelling, ‘Do you know what you did to me? Do you know what you did to me? Do you know what you did to me?’ The first base umpire came down and said, ‘Dave, I’m so sorry.’”

According to Trembley, the umpire was taken off the crew the next day, and subsequently fired. A local television station had footage of the incident and the tape was shown at umpire schools for a number of years.

——

Like all who knew him, I was saddened by the death of longtime Red Sox employee Dick Bresciani. The team’s official historian, and former head of media relations, passed away recently due to complications from leukemia. Bresciani was 76.

“Bresh” was known for his warm, engaging personality and for his encyclopedic knowledge of Red Sox history. In a 2005 interview, I learned he had a deep appreciation for statistics.

Bresciani was Boston’s “stat-guy” for over 20 years, beginning in 1972. Long before analytics became en vogue, he supplied the team with numbers far beyond batting average and RBI. According to Bresh, the Red Sox were one of the first teams to keep pitching charts, in the early 1970s. His in-house reports included situational-hitting charts. He recorded information like “how many base runners were advancing in which situations (and) where balls were hit against certain pitchers.” He added that keeping up with trends was important.

Bresciani understood context – “If someone drove in 72 percent of runners from third base with less than two out, was that good, poor, or average?” – and long hours went into accumulating and deducing data. As he explained, “In those days, you couldn’t just go on the Internet to find out.”

RANDOM STATS AND FACTS

* Four players have won a Three True Outcomes triple crown, leading the league in home runs, walks and strikeouts. Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt and Hack Wilson did so once each. Babe Ruth did it four times. His adjusted OPS in those seasons ranged from 206-239.

* Babe Ruth was named MVP only once, in 1923. From 1915-1921, there was no MVP award. From 1922-1929, previous winners were ineligible.

* ESPN’S Mark Simon can always be counted on for great stat data. Yesterday he produced a leader board for first-pitch swingers. The Brewers and Braves topped the list at 33.2% and 30.0%, respectively. No team swung at fewer first pitches than the Red Sox (20.2%) and Twins (22.6).

* Some good changeup data from Bill Chuck of Gammons Daily:

White Sox pitchers threw the most changeups this year: 3,734.
Felix Hernandez threw more changeups than any other starter: 1,120
Jean Machi threw more changeups than any other reliever: 422
Justin Upton had a 1.401 OPS against changeups.
Jason Kipnis had a 0.236 OPS against changeups.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Winter Dealings and Assorted Tidbits by David Laurila!

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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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DEEVER'S Apples
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DEEVER'S Apples

You tell them Donaldson! You fixed your own swing!!! Good luck with Lawrie!!!

Danny Knobgobbler
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Danny Knobgobbler

In fairness to Donaldson, he was conditioned at an early age not to trust male authority figures:

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10675670/oakland-josh-donaldson-beat-all-odds-become-star-third-baseman-espn-magazine

Harry P Flashman
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Harry P Flashman

Apparently, Donaldson is an ass. That “Billy Boy” traded him for a dubious gaggle of players just helps define how big of one he must be.

eno's revenge
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eno's revenge

that’s what you took from that story? let me guess, you work in human resources.

grant
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grant

Wow, that’s quite a story.