Keeping a Notebook, Re-thinking BP, The Life of a Pro Athlete
With a little bit of extra time prior to yesterday’s game because of a 30-minute rain delay, perhaps the TinCaps reflected on how they’ve struggled against the Silver Hawks this year, perhaps they didn’t. It was game 114 after all, just another day in what can be a long, arduous baseball season. Whatever they did during that thirty minutes didn’t change much, though, as they lost, 5-2, to South Bend in the opener of a three-game series.
South Bend, which has won 12 of the 14 meetings between the two teams this season, didn’t allow Fort Wayne to score a run until the ninth inning. And even then, they truly allowed the TinCaps to score a run, as two bases-loaded walks were issued and the TinCaps scored without the benefit of a run-scoring hit.
I talked with Manager Jose Valentin earlier today and he said, as he has many times here in the second half, that his team has not made adjustments and lacked the will to win yesterday’s game. The larger point that he made was that therein lies the difference between his team and players at the big-league level. In the majors, he said, players will realize who they’re facing on the mound, and whether they’ve gone against that pitcher before.
That called to mind an article that appeared in The New York Times in 2006, written about then -Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, who used to keep a notebook detailing his every at-bat:
While other players mope after strikeouts and celebrate after home runs, Delgado goes right to his notebook, often bypassing the Gatorade cooler. He writes the name of the pitcher he faced, how many runners were on base, how many men were out and what pitch sequence he saw. The words are translated into baseball shorthand — fastball outside is “fb away,” curveball inside is “cb in.” Finally, Delgado adds how he did.
Although scouting reports can show the different ways that pitchers attack left- and right-handed hitters, they rarely show how pitchers attack specific batters. Delgado’s notes give him some idea of the game plan against him. If a pitcher traditionally tries to get ahead of him with a fastball away, he can compensate accordingly. If a pitcher usually tries to strike him out with a slider, he can prepare for it.
“I like this better than the scouting reports because it makes you recognize how they are pitching to you,” Delgado said. “I can go back and see patterns.”
I’ve not heard of any hitters on the TinCaps doing anything like this, but I’m interested to find out how hitters do go about trying to recall previous at bats. Tonight’s starter for South Bend, Kyle Winkler, faced the TinCaps on June 20th and threw three scoreless innings of relief. A small sample size, but a body of work nonetheless.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Mike Maahs caught up with Max Fried yesterday. To hear their conversation, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:
RE-THINKING BATTING PRACTICE
Former MLB player Gabe Kapler, who spent 12 years in the big leagues and one year as an MiLB manager, is now offering his baseball insights on WEEI.com, the website of a Boston sports radio station. In his latest piece, “Our Turn to Learn: A Baseball Tradition Reconsidered“, Kapler takes a look at the ritual of batting practice and how it’s done in the US vs. how it takes place in Japan:
“I’ll expose myself a bit by saying I loved every minute of batting practice. I loved the controllable element of it. I knew I was getting a juicy, fat pitch and I was strong enough to put the ball in the seats at will on most days. Yeah, I’d get as much out of it as possible by envisioning scenarios like moving a runner from second to third base or scoring a guy from third base with less than two outs.
But was I actually getting better? I think the answer is yes, but only marginally so, and I know there is a better way.
I remember my first Japanese batting practice session as overwhelming and simultaneously exhilarating. Rather than our style, where a single turtle (a portable batting cage rolled in in an effort to save balls) is placed behind home plate, the Japanese have two of these devices side by side on the left and right of home plate. Each turtle has a catcher and two pitchers stand around 50 feet from the hitter, side by side, one left-handed and one right-handed.
The session was like a dance, similar to the rhythmic drums that became familiar in the stands during games. As one pitcher released the ball, the hitter on the other side made contact. “CRACK, pause, CRACK,” echoed throughout the park.
The fielders were blessed with consistent opportunities to take live balls off the bat, arguably the most valuable element of American B.P. Defenders need ground and fly balls at game speed as well, which are nearly impossible to simulate with a coach-hit ball smacked by a fungo bat. As you can imagine, swings are more plentiful and time is saved with the Japanese system.”
Here’s a picture of the dual-turtle setup:
“Casey McGehee, currently playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, reminded me, “The B.P. throwers are animals. They throw from about 50 feet and are letting it eat (throwing hard)! Also, hitters will have the throwers mix in sliders, changeups, curveballs — whatever you want. I really enjoy the way that they do B.P. because I feel it is much more game-like than what you get in the States.”
Batting practice pitchers in Japan are often former professional pitchers. I was shocked to find out, as Casey mentioned, that not only could I request middle-middle sinkers (like I did the day of my rare, stuffed-animal-yielding homer) and hanging breaking balls in BP, but I could request a located off-speed pitch, and the guy throwing had the ability to deliver on the request.
It all made more sense when I found out that these men are sometimes paid in excess of the equivalent of $100,000 a year to take good care of the hitters’ needs as they prepare themselves for battle. They don’t have additional responsibilities, like our coaches do, and they can focus on being great at presenting as close to game situation practice as possible. They are highly incentivized to excel. If they’re unable to satisfy the needs of the hitter, they might find themselves in another line of work.”
Would this ever catch hold in the United States? Probably not. But it is an interesting perspective on what is a long and perhaps ineffective ritual in the U.S.
THE LIFE OF A NON-MILLIONAIRE PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
Clint Irwin, a pro soccer player with the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, recently took to his keyboard to let people know about the not-so-glamorous life of being a professional athlete when you’re not playing at the highest tiers of your sport.
Journaling his travels, he wrote the following in 2011:
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a road trip this much. For one, it’s probably not good when you stay at a hotel and it’s an improvement on your current living situations. Instead of six people with one shower, its one shower between two. The mattresses and pillows on the bed were heavenly compared to the IKEA bunk beds we sleep on at the house. Free meals don’t hurt either. On a sidenote: The preparation for the first game could not have been more unprofessional. The night before the game, we were served Chinese takeaway food. Not ideal. As we looked forward to a nice continental breakfast Saturday morning, we were greeted with assorted yet meager pastries, apples and oranges and juice. No sign of eggs, sausage, bacon or any sort of protein. No cereal or oats either. For lunch (keep in mind kickoff is at 6pm) at 3pm we were served the left over Chinese takeaway in the staff breakroom in the basement of the hotel. Welcome to professional soccer in Canada.
Later, he discusses the challenges of what it means for your life holistically when deciding to pursue a sport full time:
Actual life in the minor leagues means moving back in with your parents or living in a house with more than a few teammates, working another job, taking on some coaching responsibilities, and not spending your money. Most pro athletes engage in a high-intensity, two- to three-hour workout and have the rest of the day to recover. Then they wake up and do it again. I did the three-hour workout—and then went to my desk job at noon, attempted to switch gears to normal work, then headed out at 6 p.m. to coach youth soccer. It’s asking a lot to reach optimal performance when you do this every day. For many players at that level, this is life. And if you get married and have to support a family, it’s basically time to retire.
All of this sounds very familiar to the life of a Minor League Baseball player, except that soccer players probably make more than baseball players do, at least with the $35,125 he lists as the salary he takes in from his current contract. A list of all MLS salaries is posted here. Players in the Midwest League make about $1,100 per month and don’t get paid in the off-season, so their haul is considerably less than the rookie contract for an MLS player. Then again, the structure of soccer is different in that teams aren’t having to pay hundreds of minor leaguers in an effort to fill 25 spots on the roster of their top team.
As is my stance with the whole “Should college athletes be compensated?” debate, I think we should be cognizant of all the things that go into a professional athlete’s decision to play their sport, no matter how much they make. For instance, a college athlete receives a free education, valued somewhere around $200,000 to $250,000 along with tons of free food, travel, clothing and educational assistance. Most students in America cannot afford that. I don’t think college athletes should be paid. They’re choosing to play that sport and are generously compensated in ways other than with money.
When it comes to professional athletes at the bottom of their sport, and Low-A baseball is a perfect example, no one is forcing them to play. They know going into it that a) the odds are against them and b) that the pay they’ll receive isn’t great. It’s their choice. Sure, it’s jarring to hear that a salary can be $1,100 a month, but they’re also getting the opportunity to do something that so many people would love to do if given the chance. Why do we watch sports and attend sporting events? Some go for the drama of the event, but others go to live vicariously through the athletes. So, yes, does it make life hard to not make a lot of money? Sure. But don’t tell that to someone who works an hourly gig at a retail store or a fast-food restaurant. There won’t be any sympathy there.
John Mayer…take it away!