Is it really that time already? The end of the regular season? It feels like it was just Opening Day, then the team clinched a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year, and then John was chronicling events from the All-Star Game in Dayton, and now we’re one game shy of most Minor League Baseball teams calling it quits until 2014. Fortunately that is not the case for the play-off bound TinCaps, who will take on the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the first round.
Last night, in the penultimate game of the 2013 regular season, Fort Wayne defeated Great Lakes, 6-1:
Side note: I would like to give a short ode to the word penultimate. What a great word. I first heard it in ninth grade from my track coach, Mr. Furry (seriously, that’s his name) while he was teaching me the triple jump. Not only did I have no idea what the word meant and thought that he was mispronouncing something, but I was also terrible at the triple jump. He coached me all the way into a fifth-place finish in the pentathlon at the county track meet that year. Sadly, there were only five participants. Fortunately in one of the events, the 110m high hurdles, I was the penultimate finisher! (The guy who came in last place tripped over one of the hurdles and I only beat him by 0.1 seconds, but let’s move on.)
So it’s the last day of the regular season and both teams are in the playoffs. Nothing to play for, right? Wrong! Here’s what’s at stake:
-A win today would tie for the fifth-highest win total in franchise history. Both the 2000 team, which lost in the first round of the playoffs, and the 2004 team, which also lost in the first round of the playoffs, had 72-win seasons.
-TinCaps OF Mallex Smith stole two bases in Sunday’s game, bringing him to 64 for the season. His total is the second-highest in Fort Wayne’s franchise history, trailing the 65 stolen by Jeremy Owens (1999) and Rymer Liriano (2011). Smith’s 64 stolen bases are first in the Midwest League (Andrew Toles of Bowling Green has 62) and are the sixth-most in all of Minor League Baseball this season.
-The TinCaps are just 2,487 fans away from drawing 400,000 for the second straight year and for the fifth time in five seasons at Parkview Field. Also, there’s one other attendance number you might want to know about…
A CHANCE TO WIN $2 MILLION
Today the TinCaps also expect that the 2,000,000th fan in Parkview FIeld history will walk through the gates, meaning someone in attendance at the game will be given the chance to win $2,000,000.
With the team just 3,564 fans away from reaching the 2,000,000-fan milestone, it’s bound to happen today. The only eligibility requirement to have the opportunity to win the money is to have a ticket to the game and to be at Parkview Field.
“We can say that the TinCaps 2,000,000th fan can be from 2 to 102 years old and still have a chance at taking home the $2,000,000 jackpot,” said TinCaps President Mike Nutter. “You won’t have to hit a home run or throw 100 miles per hour.”
Barring extreme weather that might cancel or postpone a game, anyone present at the milestone game with a valid TinCaps ticket will be eligible to be selected as the 2,000,000th fan.
Tickets are still available at TinCaps.com, by calling 260-482-6400 or at the Parkview Field Ticket Office.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
John Nolan recaps the regular season and looks ahead to the playoffs with Manager Jose Valentin:
Green Day…take it away!
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:
“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?
Drake…take it away!
After avoiding a four-game sweep at the hands of the West Michigan Whitecaps Friday night, the TinCaps return home tonight to open a regular season-ending three-game series against Great Lakes, which very well may be their first-round playoff opponent. The Loons currently trail the Bowling Green Hot Rods by 1.5 games for the second-half crown. If the Loons win two out of three, or all three games here in Fort Wayne, the could ascend to first place.
The TinCaps, having qualified in the first half as the wild card, play the second-half champion in the first round.
Tonight’s first pitch is at 7:05, and you can catch the game on XFINITY 81 and The Fan 1380 or TheFanFortWayne.com.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Prior to Friday night’s series finale at West Michigan, I chatted with TinCaps shortstop Tyler Stubblefield. We talked about his season, as he went from Padres farmhand, to indy-ball guy, then back to Padres farmhand, his role in the locker room, and how he thinks the team looks right now:
Former Wizards pitcher Dirk Hayhurst has a good column up on sportsnet.ca about the debate on what it takes to keep pitchers’ arms healthy. The “new school” approach seems to be innings limits, scientific research and careful monitoring of health. The “old school” approach from the “back in my day” camp, comes off, at least to Hayhurst, as wrong at best and ignorant at worst.
“I hate when old warhorses say the best way to prevent injuries to players today is to have them go back in time and do what the players of old did. Then, to prove their point, they highlight all the old-timers who threw mindboggling amounts of innings compared to today’s totals, and did it simply because they threw a lot, and always threw a lot.
Bull. The reasons these old-timers threw a ton of innings is because they were genetic freaks, pure and simple. Throwing is an unnatural motion. It’s going to cause some guys to get hurt faster, or get hurt more severely than others. But, in the end, throwing always hurts you.
When I had my medical screening upon coming to the Blue Jays, I was told that ALL pitchers have damaged arms from throwing. Every. Single. One.
Why? Because the process breaks your arm down. Humans are not meant to throw a ball overhand, let alone as hard as professional pitchers do it, for as long as they do it. Throw long enough to get the pros and you have damage. The only questions are, how long can you do it, and how much damage can you take?
Back in Tom Seaver’s day — A day that started before Tommy John surgery was even a thing; when medication for pain was high-proof booze, repeated cortisone injections, Butazolidin and codeine (Koufax took the stuff in the fifth inning); when hundreds of bodies were brought into spring training and, if they broke, were sent home because there was no way to fix them — baseball was different. Different as in medically ignorant, not different as in full of real men and not little babies.”
The Black Keys…take it away!
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.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
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:
KAPLER DOES IT AGAIN
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!
The TinCaps lost both games of a doubleheader Wednesday night at West Michigan, dropping the opener, 5-2, and picking up just four hits in a 2-0 loss in game two. Bryan Rodriguez takes the hill tonight after being reinstated from the disabled list earlier in the day. In a corresponding move, reliever Josh RIchardson was placed on the disabled list.
With just five regular-season games remaining, the TinCaps take the field tonight at 7:10 take square off against West Michigan. The Whitecaps are vying for a playoff spot, so they’ve got to keep winning to try and catch Great Lakes for a wild-card spot.
TINCAPS REPORT PODCAST
Before game one of the doubleheader I chatted with Mallex Smith and found out he’s a big fan of cartoons. However, he thinks that “Spongebob” is an “old” cartoon. That show first aired in 1999. When I think of old cartoons, I think of shows like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” or “George of the Jungle”, the latter airing in 1967.
Here’s my chat with Mallex, in which we also discuss his physical and mental state at this point in the season, among other things:
Between games one and two yesterday, I caught up with hitting coach Morgan Burkhart. He weighed in on the progress of Gabriel Quintana, Reynaldo Bruguera, Alberth Martinez, and Hunter Renfroe. I also asked him how he keeps his teaching approach fresh after 135 games:
AN ANGRY BALLPLAYER
Very interesting situation yesterday in Cincinnati.
Brandon Phillips, the All-Star second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds took issue with Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter C. Trent Rosecrans’ question to him about his slip in on-base percentage this season. Phillips yelled several expletives directed toward Rosecrans, as outlined in this recap from hardballtalk.nbcsports.com (non-family friendly language included).
One commenter (dangerous territory, I know) made a good point regarding Rosecrans’ question:
Of course there is a little fluctuation year to year in the average, but the league average on base percentage is usually around .330 to .335 percent.
Brandon Phillips career on base percentage is only .321% and so far this season he’s only getting on base at a .311% clip.
He is well below the league average in this respect. This isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact based on numbers and it’s a fact whether one is a fan of Brandon Phillips or not.
The Reds as a team have a .325% on base percentage which isn’t good for a team average and it’s even worse when they have the top two on base percentage leaders in the National league right now in Votto and Choo.
Some players don’t particularly appreciate what they perceive to be a jab at their numbers, in this case Phillips is a prime example. This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened, as it played itself out between now-ESPN broadcaster Jon Sciambi (then with the Atlanta Braves) and Chipper Jones:
“[Sciambi] said the second-highest percent of first-pitch balls thrown to a hitter was me and that I was right behind Albert Pujols,” Jones said. “And you know I’m a notorious first-pitch fastball hitter and I really couldn’t believe that was true. So I took the first pitch I saw that night and it happened to be a fastball down the middle.
“So I looked back up [at Sciambi in the press box] and I just started cussing him so hard. Meanwhile, he’s just laughing his tail off.”
Not that Jones was entirely unappreciative of Sciambi engaging him in a hitting discussion.
“He was just talking about me being overly aggressive, but yet I still drew 100 walks last year. They get mad at me because I don’t take enough pitches. But if I’m drawing 100 walks and hitting .300 … “
That discussion was a bit more lighthearted.
This brings me back to last night’s broadcast, in which I started to talk a little about advanced stats, and why the win assigned to the pitcher probably has a little too much value, an idea that has been pushed heavily by MLB Network broadcaster Brian Kenny. I still am in the nascent stages of starting to grasp advanced baseball stats and how they can be applied to a broadcast in a way that people understand. Sciambi went on Jonah Keri’s podcast recently to talk about how he introduces on-base percentage in a broadcast. Essentially, he gives what OBP means, and then gives the player’s number vs. the league average. If it’s higher, you know the player is good at getting on base. If it’s lower, well, you know what the deal is, too. Why is OBP better than batting average? FanGraphs explains:
OBP is considered more accurate than Batting Average in measuring a player’s offensive value, since it takes into account hits and walks. A player could bat over .300, but if they don’t walk at all, they’re not helping their team as much as a .270 hitter with a .380 OBP.
I’d like to introduce more advanced numbers on the air, but Sciambi, in his Baseball Prosepctus piece, explains why that’s a challenge:
Let’s not forget “it’s the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” The goal is not unveiling newfangled stats; it’s about getting people to understand basic ideas and concepts. To achieve that, we can’t just slap stats up on the screen and explain them. Understanding has to come in the form of analysis. We have to use the stat and explain it. Sometimes it needs to be the PBP guy playing analyst and getting the color guy to react:
If Ryan Howard is up, I can talk about RBI and why dependent stats don’t evaluate individual performance well; RBI aren’t what reflects Howard’s greatness, his SLG does. I can mention that Howard’s massive RBI totals may be due to the fact that no player has hit with more total men on base than Howard since 1492 (I believe this is a fact but didn’t feel like looking it up). Point is, there are dead people who could knock in 80 runs hitting fourth in that Phillies lineup. (OK, I probably wouldn’t say that on-air.)
The metrics are getting so advanced that we’re in danger of getting further away from the masses instead of closer. We, as broadcasters, have to find better and entertaining ways of explaining the math in bite-sized terms. Simplified, we need to explain that one of the problems with batting average, as opposed to slugging percentage, is that batting average values a single and a home run equally. We can’t assume that’s understood just because we understand it. And the only way it gets embedded is to keep beating the audience with it so that it becomes ingrained the way ERA eventually did, even though that once passed for advanced math. That, and we should all wear blue blazers with an emblem that reads, “OBPis life.”
I also believe, as it relates to the masses, the PBP guys can’t move the analysis needle much. The masses will always find former players more credible, period, and the BP base needs to be more open to that-if the goal is indeed to inform the masses and not be “right.”
And just look at the battle Kenny went through against Billy Ripken with the infamous 2012 AL MVP debate between MIke Trout and Miguel Cabrera (via Grantland):
Since Kenny joined MLB Network, in 2011, his anger has flashed in the service of advanced stats. Since the publication of Moneyball, sabermetrics has colonized large tracts of the print media. Even an idiot can write OPS into his copy instead of batting average. But TV guys — particularly color analysts — have held out. There are a few reasons for this. Former athletes aren’t interested in advanced stats; they don’t want their careers reevaluated with new metrics; they don’t like the idea of the strongbox of baseball wisdom passing from their hands into Dave Cameron’s.
Kenny is a post-Moneyball announcer. He thinks Rock Raines should be a Hall of Famer and that Mike Trout was the rightful 2012 American League MVP. “Bill James,” he has said, “was the first person I saw who opened my eyes to logical thinking.” Kenny welcomed statheads like Rob Neyer and Joe Sheehan onto his show, Clubhouse Confidential, and gave the opening address at the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference.
MLB Network deputized Kenny to pin down ex-jocks on stats the way he’d once pinned down Mayweather on Pacquiao. Last November, the network put Kenny and Keith Olbermann against Billy Ripken. Kenny and Olbermann supported Trout for AL MVP. Ripken admitted Trout was the best player in the league but thought the MVP should go to Miguel Cabrera because of, among other factors, his clubhouse “presence.” “His presence in the locker room allows somebody …” Ripken must have seen Kenny raise his eyebrows, because he stopped short. “Oh, yeah,” Ripken said. “Presence.”
“Presence!” Kenny moaned. It’s telling that Olbermann was the calm one.
So, it’s an on-going effort to try and make those numbers and ideas mainstream. Where it’s more difficult for Minor League Baseball is that sites like FanGraphs don’t provide those numbers for MiLB and the rate of turnover in addition to the lack of experience in playing time can be a hindering factor in trying to mathematically or statistically analyze a player. How can I tell you much about anyone in Fort Wayne’s starting rotation when a majority of those pitchers haven’t played one full professional season? It wouldn’t be a fair analysis. But in the meantime, trying to understand the numbers that are applicable at this level is a worthy cause.
And now, to play us out, here’s John Mayer with a cut off his new album.
It’s hard to believe that there are on six days remaining in the regular season, but here we are in Comstock Park, Michigan. Or Walker, Michigan, if you want to be technical about where the team hotel is. Or Grand Rapids, Michigan, if you want to be one of those people who, when asked where they’re from, just says the name of the biggest city nearest to where they are actually from.
Anyway, it was at West Michigan where the TinCaps played their second series of the season, and it’s here where tonight they’ll start their second-to-last series of 2013. The TinCaps, as you know (I hope by now) are headed to the playoffs. The Whitecaps are 4.5 games back of a wild-card spot in the second half. With seven games to play (a doubleheader today) their hopes of making the postseason are slim. Last year West Michigan was elimintated by Fort Wayne right at the very end of August. This year could spell the same fate for Detroit’s Midwest League farmhands.
Tonight’s twinbill makes up for the rainout these two teams endured on July 26th at Fifth Third Ballpark. That night the TinCaps and Whitecaps waited for nearly three hours before a decision was finally made to call off the game. After that, the rest of the season trickles down to two more games here, and three at home against Great Lakes before the regular season is over. The Loons, meanwhile, are 1.5 games back of Bowling Green for the second-half championship crown, and currently hold the wild card spot. That last series of the year will prove particularly interesting for Great Lakes, as they may have a chance to beat the TinCaps, and if the Hot Rods lose, snag first place in the process.
Fort Wayne made a roster move today, as it swapped one catcher for another with the Eugene Emeralds, the Padres’ short-season affiliate in Oregon. Joining the club and replacing Miguel Del Castillo is backstop Ryan Miller, selected by the Padres in the 14th round of this year’s draft. He attended San Bernadino (CA) Valley College, and was slated to go play at Nebraska this coming year had he not been drafted. With Eugene, he hit .245 in 43 games.
I’ll have the call of both games tonight on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com, with coverage starting an hour earlier than normal due to tonight’s doubleheader. I hope you’ll join me.
With the recent injury to the Mets’ Matt Harvey, who’s got a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (that’s the one that forces Tommy John surgery, The Wall Street Journal, took a look at the most durable pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Here’s what they found:
“The names Mark Buehrle and Bronson Arroyo may not evoke Cy Young, but they epitomize the “take the ball every fifth day” cliché. Buehrle has gone 396 starts without a DL stint, easily the most among active pitchers; Arroyo is second at 323. Cain, Justin Verlander and James Shields also have been top-notch starters and workhorses.
Conversely, who are the least durable starters? Josh Beckett, who is out for the season following surgery for a nerve impingement—the 15th DL stint of his career—tops the list. Not far behind, with 12 appearances, are Chris Carpenter and A.J. Burnett, who is now healthy after spending a month on the DL with a calf injury earlier in the season.
A common criticism of pitchers these days is that they’re babied to the point that they can’t match the workloads carried by starters of old. That is true in terms of 300-inning seasons with double-digit complete games, which simply don’t happen anymore. But there are still starters who reliably show up every fifth day.”
The interesting thing about pitchers having Tommy John surgery, from conversations that I’ve had with athletic trainers, is that the UCL can go at any time, regardless of pitch counts or innings limits. The act of throwing a baseball and doing it with as much force as pitchers do is so unnatural that it could tear the ligament every single pitch.
Here’s a story I put together in 2011 on Tommy John surgery, talking to Tommy John himself, former Major League pitcher Tony Fossas, and Dayton Dragons medical liaison Aaron Faucett:
BASEBALL OR NASCAR?
Elliot Johnson of the Atlanta Braves decided to have some fun with the team’s in-game reporter, Tom Hart, in a recent postgame interview, turning a question about baseball into an answer about NASCAR. How? By blatantly ignoring the question and going for the comedy points. By virtue of complete absurdity, he’s achieved his goal:
Ellie Goulding…take it away!
After the TinCaps totaled one run in the first two games of their series at Bowling Green, Fort Wayne had something of a coming out party Monday morning/afternoon. At least three TinCaps did.
Second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum equaled his RBI production from the first 25 days of August with a three-hit, four-RBI game. (Note: He did spend 11 days on the disabled list this month.) Gabriel Quintana and Hunter Renfroe each had two hits, with ‘Q’ blasting a two-run homer and ‘Fro’ ripping an RBI double.
So Jose Valentin’s team left the Commonwealth of Kentucky with a win to salvage the sevenish-hour ride there and making the sevenish-hour ride back more pleasant.
Monday’s game started at 10:35 a.m. locally in Bowling Green, making it the TinCaps’ earliest game of the season. (The early start was a favor for Fort Wayne’s travel and also a day for school field trips, which made it bigger than a Monday night crowd at Bowling Green Ballpark.)
Matthew Shepherd shares with us how such an early game affects the team’s preparation. He also opens up about his transitions this season from the bullpen to the starting rotation and most recently, back to the bullpen.
And no matter when you wake up, Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes suggests you do these 16 things at the start of every work day.
Personally, I’ve never considered myself a “morning person.” I’d say I’m more wired to be up late, and it’s often a struggle for me to get up at the buzz of the first alarm. Last week was an exception, though. On the road at Great Lakes, Loons broadcasters Brad Golder and Jared Sandler are early risers who a few days a week start their day playing basketball and working out at the Midland Community Center. They invited Mike and me to join their pickup games Monday and Tuesday. The chance to play ball is one of the few things that can motivate me to get up before 6:00. Not only was it nice to start those days with exercise, but it was refreshing to then have a “head start” on the day.
Two sidenotes to that:
(1) If you’ve ever played pickup basketball, I dare you to watch the video below and not laugh.
(2) Saturday night I left my phone on the bus after the game, which meant I needed to use the hotel room’s alarm clock to make sure I was up on time for Sunday morning’s bus. Maybe this is a millennial thing, but it’s been years since I actually used an alarm clock. Pretty much ever since I got a cell phone, I’ve used that as my alarm. It sounds silly, but it felt quite unnatural to go to bed without my phone by my side.
HITTING THE LINKS
* Good to read in the New York Times that the Negro League Museum is thriving again after it nearly was shut down.
* Fort Wayne’s own, Eric Wedge — manager of the Seattle Mariners — is back in the dugout after a health scare. The 45-year-old Wedge suffered a stroke in July and tells ESPN how he’s had to make sure to take better care of himself and be less consumed by managing. Wedge’s story is one that applies to all — whether you’re job is being an MLB manager or a manager at Small Business X. If those articles above about getting up early have you inspired, just make sure you’re going to bed earlier, too, because our bodies can only handle so much.
* Yesterday we talked about how Mallex Smith had the misfortune of breaking his brand new Louisville Slugger bat. Turns out, broken bats had become something of an epidemic in Major League Baseball recently. NPR’s All Things Considered reported earlier this month on how baseball has alleviated its broken bat problem.
* With college football season starting in just a few days, Louisville is ranked in the Top 10. The Cardinals are coming off an athletic season that saw the men’s basketball team win the national championship, the women’s hoops squad finish national runners up, the baseball team reach the College World Series, and the football team go 11-2 and beat Florida for the Sugar Bowl. (Necessary Note: 1 of those 2 losses came in the Carrier Dome to Syracuse, which thumped the ‘ville 45-26). Those accolades are just off the top of my head. I know Louisville’s soccer team recently made the Final Four as well, and softball has had a winning program. You get the picture. Their athletics program is at an all-time high. The New York Times examines how the university’s willingness to play weekday games on ESPN and subsequent relationship with the WWL is largely to credit for its rise.
John Legend, covering Bruce Springsteen, take it away!
You wouldn’t know it from going to just one Minor League Baseball game, or even a handful of games, but there are more than just nine men on the baseball field trying to make it. Perhaps you’ve missed this pair, the two on the diamond not wearing uniforms with names on the front or the back. One is masked and the other usually has a hat slung low over his eyes and sunglasses on. While the players show up to the park around 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., these two show up hours later, but are vitally important . Their focus is on one thing: the game. Their goal is to get the call right every time. They are the umpires of the Midwest League.
If there’s one image to sum up the first two games of the TinCaps’ series in Bowling Green, this would be it: a broken bat.
After the TinCaps had the unique experience of touring the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory on Saturday, they proceeded to score one run combined Saturday night (7-0 loss) and Sunday afternoon (2-1 loss). Apropos to Fort Wayne’s struggles at the plate, Mallex Smith broke his brand new Louisville Slugger bat when weakly grounding out to second base for the final out in Saturday night’s loss. In what would prove to be tragically ironic, on the bus before the game, Mallex joked that it better not break in his first game with it. Eventually it might, but he couldn’t have thought it would actually happen that night. But that’s the series in a nutshell so far for Fort Wayne, which has gone 0-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 runners on base.
TINCAPS TALK SLUGGER EXPERIENCE
During the TinCaps’ aforementioned visit of Louisville Slugger on Saturday, a videographer followed the team to shoot footage that will air during a Padres TV broadcast on FOX Sports San Diego. At the end of the tour, I asked Mallex Smith, Hunter Renfroe, Walker Weickel, and José Valentín what they thought about the experience.
A couple of good lines in there from Mallex, who likened a baseball player at the Louisville Slugger factory to a kid in a candy factory, and Walker, who joked that it’s tough to say if it’s more fun touring Louisville Slugger or as a pitcher getting to break those bats. Also, found it interesting how hitters like Mallex, Hunter, and even José are so precise in talking about the characteristics they seek in their bats. Perhaps a fan may think a ballplayer goes to the factory and just says, “I want the black one.” Na’ah. It’s much more of a science than that.
FAILING ON THE JOB
Here’s an interview that begins with the question, “How do you motivate your team?” But no, it has nothing to do with the TinCaps, or sports at all for that matter. It’s a Q & A from Harvard Business Review Magazine with Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of Saturday Night Live. Michaels sheds light on what he looks for in talent and the relationships he has with those he hires. He also talks creativity and performing.
“I think Malcolm Gladwell’s point about the 10,000 hours of practice is valid. For almost everybody, SNL is their first job. They pretty much live in the office, because it’s usually nicer than their apartments. It’s in no way natural to be performing at 11:30 on a Saturday night in a skyscraper in Rockefeller Center, so to get comfortable, to get loose, to feel that it makes perfect sense, takes just doing it. Sometimes you blow a line, or that thing you’re completely confident about falls apart. There’s no blaming the marketing campaign. You just weren’t good. They didn’t laugh. It was a big moment and you weren’t there for it. And it’s really hard to deal with, but you go through it, and you learn, and you do it again next week. That’s the resilience of the show and these people. You love it and you endure it and you slowly but surely get better.”
Last night I also re-stumbled upon (but not by using StumbleUpon.com) a short video narrated by Ira Glass, story-teller extraordinaire from This American Life on public radio.
Similar to Michaels, Glass makes the point that those in creative fields take some time to reach their potential. And until they do, there’s a feeling of frustration for not being better. Glass says this is normal. For him, the key is to continue putting in the work and fighting through the failure until eventually, you have a breakthrough. On a personal level, I can relate to this as I attempt to develop as a play-by-play broadcaster.
And even though Michaels and Glass come from creative fields, while baseball in its essence is more physical than it is creative (not that it doesn’t have a mental component, too), their words are good to keep in mind when we see players struggle at the minor league level. The current crop of TinCaps may not have their breakthrough moment come in Fort Wayne, or it may unfortunately never come at all, but right now, it’s just too soon to pass judgment. (That goes for broadcasters, too.)
It’s the 38th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album. It’s Boss Time…
Christmas is four months away from tomorrow. (Sorry, not that I’m looking fastforward to cold weather.) But right now for the TinCaps, it’s beginning to look a lot like the first half.
With a hard-nosed win over South Bend in front of 7,777 fans at Parkview Field Friday night, Fort Wayne swept its in-state rival at home for the first time since 2009. The Silver Hawks may have still won the season series 14-5, but it’s the TInCaps who made the final impression heading into the playoffs. Jose Valentin’s team has now won six of its last seven with only 10 to go in the regular season.
After the game, Mallex Smith told me the team has regained its confidence.
RACE FOR THE RECORD
Speaking of Mallex, if you watched the interview then you also heard his take on the fact that he is only four stolen bases away from tying Fort Wayne’s franchise record of 65 (and, thus, six off setting the record).
Should be fun to see Smith on the bases against Bowling Green. Last time the TinCaps played the Hot Rods, Smith was 0-for-3 in stolen base attempts. Not to mention, the Midwest League’s second-most prolific base stealer, Andrew Toles, will be on the other side. Both are leading off and batting first tonight.
LOUISVILLE SLUGGER MUSEUM & FACTORY VISIT A HIT
We’ll have more on this in tonight’s pregame and an upcoming post here, but the TinCaps broke up their seven-hour bus road to Bowling Green today with a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Apropos to the venue, it was a hit. Some guys picked up some new lumber on the visit. Let’s see if they have some hits in them tonight.
In line with today’s headline, T.I., M.I.A., Jay, Yeezy, and Weezy, take it away…