Hooton on Pitching, Off-Schedule, Kapler Does It Again

Today, with the TinCaps in the throes of a three-game losing streak and a scoreless streak of 20 innings, we open with baseball haiku:

Four more games to play

Postseason looms imminent

Who will win the crown?

Unless you’re a Whitecaps fan, yesterday wasn’t a good day. Well, even if you are a Whitecaps fan yesterday wasn’t a good day. Yes, West Michigan did defeat Fort Wayne, 2-0, buutttttt the Whitecaps were eliminated from playoff contention as Great Lakes held its four-game lead in the wild-card race. In yesterday’s ballgame the TinCaps pieced together only three hits, none of them after the fifth inning. And yet, it’s Fort Wayne that’s headed to the playoffs.

If I were to tell you there is team A and team B, and team A is on a seven-game winning streak while team B is on a three-game skid, I think you’d take team A every time right now. Team A is West Michigan, which rallied for too little, too late down the stretch. Fort Wayne’s got to find a way to become Team A in this equation and get on a roll before the postseason gets rolling on September 4th.

Tonight they’ll get that chance, with first pitch scheduled for 7:00. However, don’t be alarmed if it changes to 7:10 later on today. The Whitecaps did that last night in an effort to let more fans get into the building on a busy night, and may do so again today so long as rain isn’t in the forecast. As always, let’s hope for no rain.

A quick programming note: Due to high school football airing on The Fan 1380, tonight’s game will be heard in crystal-clear FM on WOWO 92.3 (and also on 1190 AM). You can also listen on WOWO.com.


Prior to yesterday’s game I talked with TinCaps pitching coach Burt Hooton, asking him about some of the pitchers on his staff, but also about things on a bigger scale like innings limits and pitch counts. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:

What do you feel the proper way to manage innings and pitch limits is?

“I’m probably a little more old school than these guys, but when I pitched guys in my era we pitched a lot before in amateur ball also. We pitched a lot, but we took a lot of time off. We played different sports in different seasons so we didn’t play baseball year round. Sometimes I think there’s too much throwing, sometimes I think there’s not enough throwing. It’s not necessarily the innings count, just how much they throw between outings.

I would probbaly back off of that a little bit and save more throwing for bullpen days and game days.  There’s no science to it, but my theory is if a guy’s destined to get hurt, he’s going to get hurt no matter how many innings he throws. I don’t know that we can prevent it as much as you can just watch out for it and take care of it. I know a lot, a lot, a lot of guys who have thrown lots and lots and lots of innings and have never been hurt. I’ve never had surgery on my arm and I’ve been throwing ever since I can remember. Maybe it’s just the Lord’s blessing, but I’ve certainly pitched with a lot of guys and been around a lot of guys who have pitched a lot more than I have who’ve never had arms problems, so maybe we ought to study those guys.”

Should there be innings limits?

“For instance Zach Eflin, he’s pitched 118 innings this year and I think he said the most he’s ever pitched in a full season is 35 or 40 or somewhere around there. That’s quite an extra load all of a sudden to lay on a guy. The other thing (pitchers) have to get used to is the everyday-ness of all this. That’ll wear on you. The big-league season, the minor league season wears on you after a while. Your arm not only gets tired but your body gets tired. If your body gets tired it’s going to affect your arm to a certain degree. A lot of it is getting used to the length of the season. They’re still young. 18 and 19-year-olds aren’t used to playing 140-game schedules, 144-game schedules or 162-game schedules. One of the biggest things amteurs have to overcome is just getting used to the length of the season.”

This late in the season how do you keep your teaching approach fresh?

“I’m not a full-court press coach. I try to get them to think as much as they can thing. To me, the individual is their own best coach if you can get them to think about things. Know why the ball does what it does, and if it doesn’t do what you want it to do, read what it does, figure out why it does what it does and correct it. You teach them things like that. Most of coaching is watching and leaving them alone and seeing where they carry themselves and where they carry themselves. If something needs to be said, then you say it. A lot of times you can’t really get something across–I had an old pitching coach say, ‘You can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached’–and the worst thing a kid can come up against is a coach who thinks he has to coach, and I’m somewhere in between there. When they’re having problems, you have a receptive audience. When they’re not having many problems you’ve got to know when to back off or step in. It’s not really rocket science. I don’t know if it’s fresh or not, but I think a lot of it is a hands off approach more than a full-court, hands-on approach.”

I feel like I saw Burt’s approach on display in yesterday’s fourth inning, which was the game’s deciding frame as West Michigan scored its two runs. Bryan Rodriguez, Fort Wayne’s starter, left a fastball up to Whitecaps slugger Lance Durham, and he pounded it for a double. The next three batters all ripped base hits, hard-hit balls, to the outfield, knocking in two runs in the process. After the fourth batter of the inning, Hooton, having let Rodriguez teach himself, made a visit to the mound. After that visit Rodriguez started off the next batter with a slider, seemingly moving away from a fastball-first approach, and got a strikeout. And then another strikeout. And then the third out of the inning. All in a day’s work.

To hear our full conversation, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:



If you’re a fan of seasonal beers, you’ll enjoy this following tidbit from Charlotte (NC) Magazine on why certain beers are being released earlier and earlier. Just like “back to school” shopping now gets advertised as early as July and Christmas ornaments deck the halls of CVS and Walgreens in late October, fall beers are being released now…in August! The humanity! It’s still summer, people! What are we doing here?

“For one, the demand is high. When Good Bottle owner Chris Hunt posted Instagram photos of the store getting in its first pumpkin beers, it took only five minutes before two customers arrived to make a purchase. Some pumpkin beers also have more of a following than others, which creates a mad dash to local stores when it does get released. (The best example here is Southern Tier’s Pumking, which I saw a lot of people asking about on social media over the last couple weeks.)

There’s also the business side of things from a brewery standpoint. When someone sets the pace, there are consequences of not keeping up and following the lead. That was one reason why NoDa Brewing Company ramped up its release date and production of its pumpkin beer, Gordgeous, this year.

In 2012, Gordgeous was released in early October, which many consider the traditional time for pumpkin beers. However, NoDa co-owner Suzie Ford said by that time, most local restaurants, bars and other establishments had already committed to buying their pumpkin kegs for the year. And as a result, NoDa’s sales of Gordgeous weren’t as high as what they could have been.

“So this year, we didn’t have a choice but to get ahead of the curve and roll it out one month before fall even officially starts,” Ford said.”

No! You do have a choice! Stand up to the early-beer-season-ruiners and hold off fall beers until, oh, I don’t know…fall?!? Why are we rushing everything nowadays? We get one midly cool day in August and all of a sudden I see on Facebook and Twitter, “Can’t wait for fall!!!”, “Looking forward to wearing boots and scarves <333”. Stop it, people. Stop. It’s nice out now. It’s summer. Enjoy it. If you don’t like summer, stay in the air conditioning, turn the temperature down to 50 and wear a scarf in your own home. Boom, you can have fall all on your own. You’re welcome.

Soon enough it’ll be winter and you’ll be scraping ice off your car and wishing you were on the beach again.

For more on this subject, I direct you to the 2:00 mark of this video. Louis C.K. nails it:


Gabe Kapler, who’s been writing as a guest author on Baseball Prospectus, has proven himself a terrific writer with his pieces on the site. He recently published another about player development and the behind-the-scenes decision making that happens within organizations. He writes about his friend and former Double-A hitting coach, Matt Martin:

“Martin, 44, is currently responsible for overseeing the Baltimore Orioles organization’s defense as the minor league Infield/Latin American Field Coordinator. The O’s are his sixth organization. He’s been coaching since 1995. Prior to getting his foot in the door as a coach, he had a short playing career in the Cincinnati Reds organization, reaching high A-ball.

In contrast, (Dodgers Manager Don) Mattingly was one of the greatest hitters of his generation. When he walks into a clubhouse, images of pinstripes, eye black, and upper-deck blasts flood the collective memories of the players present. He has their undivided attention, but that’s where his advantage ends. After that he has to prove his value with substance, and he delivers. Don is somehow able to maintain a level of humility that allows him to remain totally approachable, an often-overlooked leadership quality. He remembers how hard the game was, and players can exhale knowing that their manager is patient and empathetic to their struggles. From my vantage point, Don is more the exception than the rule.

Teaching is the name of the game in player development, and the lessons are all encompassing, not limited to baseball skills. It’s human development—the shaping of men. Being a superb player doesn’t qualify you to be a successful coach. Part of what makes a special teacher is his or her own struggles and tinkering, which provides the foundation for relating to a player who is having a rough go. If something comes particularly easy for you, it may be more difficult to convey methods of repair when your student gets out of whack. After all, you likely didn’t spend much time scrambling and searching for ways to fix yourself.

In my career I’ve had former MLB hitters as batting coaches who attempted to plug me into another hitter as their main method of counsel, which is not a formula for success. “You see how player X does it? Do it like that!” It’s difficult to buy into the equation that me plus an attempt to hit like someone else equals success.

On the flip side, I’ve worked with a Southern California-based hitting coach, Craig Walenbrock, who has progressive, applicable ideas about swing mechanics and attempts to back each of his theories up with hours of video. Craig never played professional baseball and is better equipped to teach hitting than dozens of MLB all-stars.

In my own experience, baseball men, when challenged, often lean on undependable data such as the success of a counterpart’s playing career. Today’s professional baseball culture gives too much credence to coaches’ playing success, which really isn’t indicative of the ability to help current players get better. Matt and other coaches like him can teach regardless of the limited information on the backs of their baseball cards.”

Kapler’s writing is certainly worth your time. You can find all of his Baseball Prospectus work, including thoughts on PED’s, and thoughts on baseball front offices, here: http://bbp.cx/author/gabe_kapler/


Armin van Buuren…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


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