September 2013

MWL Walks Leader Ogle: “The whole season I’ve never tried to walk one time.”

The TinCaps returned to Parkview Field Saturday night, playing at home for the first time in eight days. Unfortunately, a homecoming didn’t mean a win, as the team lost, 4-3, to the Great Lakes Loons:

Luis Tejada’s powerful ninth-inning homer was a highlight. It was his first home run since May 12th, and just his second of the season. The headline from the game was undoubtedly Max Fried, who threw seven innings for the first time in his career, struck out two, and for the first tine in 23 starts this season he did not walk a batter. In five prior starts he had walked just one batter. Additionally, 13 of the 21 outs he recorded were via the ground ball, a great number. Only one of the last 15 batters to face him picked up a base hit. There was a noticeable difference from the first three innings he threw to the last four, as his curveball started to move much better, which foiled Great Lakes hitters.

Tonight is a special 7:05 first pitch because of Labor Day weekend. Colin Rea will make his final regular-season start (just his third with the TinCaps) as he faces the Loons’ Zachary Bird. At stake tonight is the second-half championship spot in the Eastern Division. Great Lakes trails Bowling Green by 1.5 games with two games to play. If the Hot Rods win or the Loons lose tonight, Bowling Green will have clinched the second-half crown and will take on the TinCaps in the first round of the playoffs.

You can see the game on XFINITY 81 and hear it on The Fan 1380 in Fort Wayne and TheFanFortWayne.com everywhere else.

TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST

Jose Valentin laments a second-inning fielder’s choice that could’ve gotten Max Fried out of a jam, and hopes Luis Tejada’s home run will help fuel his bat for the playoffs:

JOEY VOTTO HAS A PLAN

If you’ve listened to or watched a TinCaps broadcast this season, you’ve probably heard me or one of the other broadcasters talk about hitters having a plan at the plate. As recently as August 11th, Jose Valentin criticized his team for its lack of a solid attack when hitting:

“Overall, I don’t think our approach at home plate was good enough. (We) swing at too many first pitches, bad pitches, chasing a lot of bad pitches. I don’t think (our plan was good). No focus, no concentration at home plate,” he said after a 4-3 win against the Dayton Dragons.

So what better example to study than one of the best hitters in the game, Joey Votto? The Cincinnati Reds first-baseman leads the National League with 105 walks and also has the highest on-base percentage at .435.

The Sporting News recently published an article on Votto, in which he talks about his plate discipline and how although he’s only driven in 61 runs, he’s not going change what has been a successful approach at the plate.

“I try not to let the situation dictate what I do,” Votto told Sporting News. “I’m not trying to do something in particular each at-bat, I’m just trying to get the most out of that at-bat, do something that helps the team in the long run. There are some instances where I don’t have an opportunity to do anything but walk. There are instances where I get pitches to hit and I can hopefully do something good with it, and I try not to give anything away.”

“I’d like to continue to reduce the amount of balls I swing at outside the strike zone,” Votto said. “I’ve been told I have a really low number, one of the lowest percentages in the game, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be the lowest. Beyond that, being even more particular in the strike zone, taking it from not just the strike zone to within the strike zone, being more particular. There’s only a certain percentage of the strike zone that you can do extra-base hit, barrel damage with the ball. Just because it’s in the strike zone doesn’t mean you have to take a cut at it.”

Votto has gotten correct information about his swing rate outside the strike zone – in all of baseball, only Marco Scutaro swings at the bad ones less often. When Votto is ahead in the count, like most hitters, he is at his most dangerous, with a .350 average, .600 slugging percentage, and a .583 on-base percentage that is fueled by all of those walks.

The author talks to pitchers David Price and Paul Maholm about facing Votto and what their approaches were when they faced him. Both pitchers remembered those encounters with vivid detail. As players rise through the minors and up to the majors, not only with they be able to better discern what type of a hitter they are, but they’ll also (hopefully) learn to better utilize the information they have, scouting, anecdotal, or otherwise.

In the TinCaps dugout there is a chart that has notes on each pitcher from the opposing team. It lists what pitches he throws, where he likes to throw them and in what counts, and what kind of velocity he has on each pitch. Other players do more to try and gain an edge. Fort Wayne outfielder Mallex Smith keeps a notebook with all of his observations, listing each team by affiliation and not by nickname, so if he sees the same pitcher again at a more advanced level, it will make organization of those thoughts easier.

Here, the article continues with thoughts from Vott’s teammate Ryan Ludwick:

“Joey has that ability to go up to the plate with a game plan, look for a pitch in a certain location, and if it’s not there, he spits on it. When he gets to two strikes, he might expand a little bit, but he doesn’t expand to the point where he gets himself out a lot. You don’t see him take a lot of bad swings. You don’t see him swing at pitches in the dirt early in the count. He’s just got that knack for drawing walks, getting on base. He’s been tops in the league in on-base percentage for four years, and that says something. The great hitters are cool, calm, collected, and they go in 100 percent confident in belief of what they’re going to do, what their game plan is – and they do not deviate whatsoever.”

And Votto has no plans to deviate, regardless of what anyone else thinks he should do. Changing his approach would change who he is as a hitter, and Votto has turned patience at the plate into an art form.

“I can go a game or two without seeing a meaningful pitch to hit, something I can do something with, something an average hitter can do something with,” Votto said. “Fortunately, for me, we have the walk!”

That’s remarkable that he can go a game or two–eight or nine plate appearances–with the discipline to not like a pitch he sees. It’s really almost unheard of at this level.

Down the hall from the TinCaps clubhouse this series are the visitors, the Great Lakes Loons. On their roster is C/1B Tyler Ogle who, like Votto, also leads the league in walks. Ogle has drawn 93 of them. His on-base percentage, .399, is third in the league.

“This is the truth: the whole season I’ve never tried to walk one time,” Ogle told me this afternoon. “That’s hard to believe. Honestly I have not tried. If it’s 3-1 and he’s throwing a strike, I’m swinging. I’m not wanting it to go to 3-2. If I get the green light 3-0, I’m swinging. I’ve gotten out plenty of times this year trying to crush a 3-0 pitch.”

“It’s very frustrating for me to take all these walks, but a lot of people say it’s a good thing, so I’m doing it. I don’t like to walk because I don’t steal second base. I don’t normally steal second. It is good to be on first. The next guy gets a double in the gap or a home run, I’m scoring,” he said.

Ogle, a 9th-round selection of the Dodgers in 2009, is in his first full season in the Midwest League, but also spent some time with the Loons last year and used that experience to develop his approach at the plate.

“It’s not swinging at pitchers’ pitchers. I try to hit my pitch. I don’t mind taking a fastball off the plate low and away for strike one because knowing this league, normally pitchers are going to miss. I’m not scared to hit with two strikes. “

He goes beyond not being scared to hit with two strikes. He prefers it.

“I’m actually more comfortable 0-2 than 2-0 for some reason,” Ogle said. “2-0 I feel like I’m more obligated to swing. If it’s there I’m need to crush it, while 0-2 I’m going to make sure it’s a strike. It’s kind of a double-edged sword in that aspect because I don’t want to be 0-2…but as far as approach goes, I don’t swing at a lot of curves and sliders first pitch because you’re not going to throw a strike. Later in the count I’m like, “Ok, I’ll swing at your pitch, but you’ve got to throw it in the zone.”

Similar to the way that Votto and many major-leaguers will remember the way a pitcher worked against them in prior at-bats or games, Ogle makes those same observations to build upon for his coming at-bats.

“I hunt pitches. A lot of guys don’t teach that, but I do. If it’s a 1-1 count and I have (information) on him throwing offspeed 1-1 and I’ve seen him do it earlier in the game, I might sit on a 1-1 curveball or a changeup if he’s lefthanded. If he throws the fastball, I have no problem taking it and going to 1-2 because now it’s more of an adjust, shorten-the-swing-up mentality for me.”

Ogle has had the second-most at-bats on the team with runners on base (199), which is only eight behind team leader Jeremy Rathjen. Part of his high walk total, he says, is having seen so many at-bats with men on base.

“You want to get on base and you also want to drive runs in. If there’s someone on base and a base open, (the pitcher) might not give you a pitch to hit, so you have to take that walk.  You don’t want to walk, you want to drive that run in, but you have to take that walk. You can’t be swinging out of the zone and end the inning early because you chased a bad pitch,” Ogle said.

True to this word, he’s drawn a team-best 41 walks with runners on base. Rathjen? He’s got 21.

Experience, patience, discipline and situational knowledge, along with a slight dislike for his league-leading category have given Tyler Ogle the title of most-walked batter in the Midwest League.

THE MORAL ARGUMENT WITH PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS

As I am wont to do, I scoured Twitter this morning when I woke up to see what interesting things the overnight tweeters may have left behind. In their sleepless wake, I found this article in The New York Times Magazine: “There Are No Sound Moral Arguments Against Performance-Enhancing Drugs.” In the piece, NYT Magazine “Ethicist” Chuck Klosterman, an author of several books on American pop culture, writes a response to this question from a reader:

“The argument against performance-enhancing drugs in sports is that the drugs give players an unfair advantage. But how do P.E.D.’s differ from Tommy John surgery? Or pre-emptive Tommy John surgery? What about rich kids? Is their access to superior coaching, facilities and equipment a similarly unfair advantage? In a society that embraces plastic surgery, Botox injections, Viagra and all kinds of enhancements, what moral line do P.E.D.’s cross? “

He says, in part:

“The notion that P.E.D.’s are “unnatural” isn’t that distant from making the same argument against elbow surgery or insulin or eyeglasses. Any impulse to criminalize steroids in the name of player safety is absurd (collision sports are more dangerous than the illegal drugs used within them). 

There is, however, an ethical argument.

Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create the framework for how a culture operates. Sports, unlike life, need inflexibly defined rules. Any game (whether it’s the World Cup or Clue) is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. Even the Super Bowl is fundamentally an exhibition. So how do we make an unreal exhibition meaningful? By standardizing and enforcing its laws, including the ones that don’t necessarily make sense. Three strikes constitute an out; four balls constitute a walk. In order for baseball to have structural integrity, we all have to agree that this is the system we’re using. “

So I finished reading the piece and thought, “You know what, Chuck? I think you’ve got a pretty interesting argument here. Maybe you’re on to something.”

And then….and then I read the comments section. As I’ve alluded to in prior blog posts, the comments section of a website can be a dangerous place. Although I suppose making that disclaimer is like saying speeding can be dangerous–I think it’s fairly obvious for those of us that have been using the internet for more than 48 hours.

When I read articles on The New York Times‘ website, I always go to the “Reader Picks” section so I can see what the public has voted to be the best comments. Well, this is where it gets interesting:

Siobhan New York 
All the comparisons here are just silly. Glasses, elbow surgery, and insulin are all used to bring a person up to “normal.” You don’t get superhuman vision with bifocals. Taking insulin does not create a super metabolism.Elbow surgery is like knee replacement surgery–to fix something that’s broken, and no longer working normally.PED’s are not about bringing people up to normal due to a problem or physical defect. They are about giving people an extra edge that is not due to human effort, talent, or training.

Flo Ridge, NY
I don’t understand the insulin comparison. While the insulin sold in a drugstore may be synthetic, insulin is in fact a hormone produced by the pancreas of every human being. If your pancreas stops producing insulin, you die. There is nothing “unnatural” about insulin. Chuck, have you thought of hiring a fact-checker who can comprehend a sixth-grade biology textbook?

Theodore New York City
I disagree with the argument that a civilized society is different from sports and therefore does not need defined rules. A case in point is the penal law which is essentially a codification of thousands of years of moral behavior setting the standard for specific rules of socially acceptable behavior. Ethics, on the other hand, more appropriately relates to behavior applied to a particular class such as where the state grants a license to practice medicine or law. These ethical standards give society confidence in the actions of licensed professionals. To live without clear moral rules of conduct would invite chaos and would be unacceptable to any civilized society.Taking PEDs are individual choices, as compared to the benefits received from parent to child, which does not involve any individual moral choice on the part of the child. The fact that a parent or money may give a child an advantage in sports is not the moral equivalent of an adult making his or her own choice to play by the rules. Without a moral compass any choice we make has the potential to violate society’s need for civilized order.
polymath British Columbia
It is silly to use the argument that just because the sports playing field is not level in some other respects (like rich parents affording private coaching for their kids), that makes it OK to add to the unfairness, violating almost every sport’s rules in the process.By this reasoning it would be just fine to commit a crime because, in the scheme of things, so many people are already committing crimes that it would hardly be noticed.It is always better to make the *attempt* to improve things, to make the world fairer and more ethical, even if the result won’t be perfect.
There were two points in those selected comments that really stood out to me. First, was the fact that taking PED’s is very different from Tommy John surgery or taking insulin; the latter two are a return to a state of normalcy for the recipient, while performance-enhancing drugs are a step above normal in an attempt to clear the playing field.
The second point is the one made by reader polymath, who says that just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t make it ok to do it.
When a player is faced with the choice of whether or not to take the performance-enhancing drug, I would think it rare that he considers the ethical implications. Gabe Kapler, whose writing I’ve featured here several times in recent weeks, writes about exactly that decision:

“Fame and fortune were still mine for the taking if the devil on my shoulder had a loud enough voice. He did not. PEDs have been the topic of a plethora of philosophical conversations at home with my wife. She was the one person in my life with whom I could safely and whimsically fantasize about what might be if ever I were to open Pandora’s Box (600 plate appearances, 30 homers, millions of dollars?). Despite the potential fairytale, I never really got close to the decision to use PEDs.

I made the choice to play clean for a myriad of reasons. Most importantly, I have an obnoxiously loud conscience. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest while cheating. When I do something, anything, of which I’m not proud (and I’ve displayed my fair share of selfish behavior), I experience guilt. I carry it around like a ton of bricks and was able to anticipate my inability to live with the decision to take the shortcut.

I was also able to predict future conversations with my more mature children. I figured that ultimately I would be in a position in which I’d be forced to impart one of two lessons: “don’t do it like dad” or “follow in my footsteps.” I chose the latter.”

But let’s say a player comes from an impoverished city in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in Latin America, and one big contract in the majors gives him the opportunity to make tens of millions of dollars and provide for his family for the next couple generations? Why wouldn’t he take the drugs? The first suspension for a positive test is 50 games. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. When I talked with Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes last month, I asked him if the risk was worth the reward for players from impoverished backgrounds: “It could be…I think it puts a greater burden on education (on PED’s) from the club’s side, agent behavior, and everything we can do…with these kids, so that their support system is sending them in the right direction,” he said.

There’s no easy answer here, that’s for sure.

What’s your take?

MUSICAL GUEST

Drake…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.

MCsig

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