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September 24, 2014

The Lineup Card

Best Baseball Player Idiosyncrasies, 2014 Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Miguel Cabrera appealing his own checked swings
I have been told that Adrian Beltre does this, too, and maybe there are others with high self-regard for strike-zone awareness. But Cabrera is the first batter I’ve noticed who will appeal his own checked swing.

For the uninitiated: A few times in a game, a pitcher will throw something out of the zone, and the batter will start to swing then try to hold up. The catcher will appeal to the first- or third-base umpire to ask if he swung. They’ll say yes or no.

When Cabrera tries to check his swing, he’ll appeal himself before the catcher does. Sometimes, the catcher does, too. Now, I’m no fancy GIF-crafting shaman but I drew a picture of what it looks like, frame-by-frame:

Matt Sussman

2. Jenrry Mejia's Save Celebrations and General Inability to Think Strategically About Them
I have this hypothesis that once a save celebration becomes a routine, a reliever can get away with anything. If the save celebration is disemboweling an umpire and throwing his organs at fans, and the closer has done that celebration more than once already, well, shoot, what can we do, that’s his jam. According to this hypothesis, we only get one shot to stop these monsters with their dancing and their demonstratin’ and their rock ’n’ roll.

Jenrry Mejia seems to challenge this hypothesis, because it wasn’t until his 26th save, and his 26th crazy pudknob celebration, that finally the world (including his manager) stepped in and said knock it off. But it actually strengthens the hypothesis, I’d say.

Here’s the first time Mejia saved a game:

It’s awfully bold for a first save (most first saves are timid affairs), but it’s within the rules. But instead of settling into a routine, Mejia gets bigger and crazier and—this is the key part—never does the same thing twice. Each crazy pudknob celebration is a different kind of pud, a different shade of knob.

Finally, he reached his maximum allotment, casting a friggin fishing line and reeling in the save. Reeling. In. The save.

Could he have gotten away with this? Yeah, I think he could have. A clearer continuum from start to fishnish (pun) probably would have snuck it past us until it was an established save celebration, immune to man’s laws. But he never demonstrated ownership of this move, flitting from one dumb thing to another. It’s crazy to think, but yes, we nearly had a closer casting a line and reeling in his saves for 15 years, but Mejia couldn’t keep his head in the game. Now he does the solemn point to the sky, just like everybody else. —Sam Miller

3. Sean Doolittle's unicorn backpack
It was supposed to be a rookie hazing ritual. In 2013, Sean Doolittle was supposed to carry the A's bullpen "candy bag" which contains candy, Red Bulls, first aid supplies, and "other things" (if you have to ask, you're not ready to hear the answer) that the A's bullpen members use while watching the first few innings of a game together. Not only that, but senior A's reliever Jerry Blevins bought a Hello Kitty backpack and a unicorn stuffed animal/book bag (a reminder that #ThereIsNoUnicorn) and somehow melded them together. And Doolittle has been carrying that bag. Doolittle got it. If they were going to make him carry this ridiculous contraption, he was going to OWN IT. He kept it for this year... because why not.

Sean Doolittle owned that backpack so hard that the A's marketing department sensed an opportunity. On August 24th at O.co, all fans in attendance got a unicorn backpack, in part designed by Doolittle. And that's awesome. For a season that takes six months, to play out every single day, you need a laugh once in a while. —Russell A. Carleton

4. Guilder Rodriguez and being rewarded for years of doing the little things
Baseball’s idiosyncrasies are wide-ranging and well documented, from sunflower seeds to certain players’ dislike of anyone touching their heads. One of them is that a player can spend a large number of years toiling away in the unheralded minors without ever reaching that big-league dream. Sometimes, though, the dream comes true. Sometimes, that cup of coffee, well earned if not promised, is delivered, and sometimes baseball’s magic makes even the crankiest of sportswriters turn out 400 words worth of flowery language. Sometimes, the little things are special.

Guilder Rodriguez played 1,095 games in the minor leagues before making his major-league debut. Last Monday night, Rodriguez’s father flew up from Venezuela to see his 31-year-old son play in his sixth major-league game, his second start. Coming into the night, Guilder was 0-for-6 with a walk, something that wasn’t unexpected for the journeyman utility player, but in the third inning, against a pitcher he’d seen several times in the minors, the moment he’d surely dreamed of since childhood arrived. A single, barely landing in front of a seemingly lethargic left fielder, and an entire stadium on their feet. Not just that, but his father, sitting in the stands, crying at the magic of that first major-league hit. Guilder looked like the happiest man on earth, standing on first base, taking in the little things.

Of course, it didn’t end there. After hitting nothing for six games, Guilder then hit a ball just over the leaping shortstop to bring in the game-winning run, because baseball sometimes lets us have the little things. The little things earned Guilder a Gatorade shower, a post-game interview, and a warm embrace from his father after the game, which makes sense, since Guilder spent the prior 13 years of his career doing the little things. —Kate Morrison

5. Henderson Alvarez's first-pitch Superman flex

Why don’t more pitchers do this? Everyone’s excited for the game, no one’s on base, you could flummox the hitter, at least his timing briefly… right? Alvarez’s first-pitch windup brings him low to the ground, arms swinging forward in parallel before he joins glove and ball, and together they rise above his head proceeding into his regular windup. It’s fancy, it’s unexpected, it’s Henderson Alvarez coming at you.

According to Pitch Info, since the first flex on May 6th, he’s thrown a four-seamer 20 times (averaging 94), a changeup twice, and once a sinker. No hitter has swung at the offering—11 times it’s been called a ball, 12 times a called strike. Sixty-five percent of first pitches are strikes, so maybe that’s why other pitchers stick to their regular windups. —Andrew Koo

6. Jayson Werth's slides
There is very little in the genre of Jayson Werth sliding to stop himself on wide turns that hasn’t been written. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post has something of a history in .gif form here, and that is a follow-up to his colleague Adam Kilgore’s feature on why Werth can’t stop himself like a normal person.

I have no idea what the physics says about whether that’s the right way to stop yourself. He’s gotten good enough at it that it probably doesn’t hurt much and comes with less chance of blowing a muscle in trying to do the work vertically. Mostly, they’re just fun to watch, though.

Zachary Levine

7. Fernando Rodney's invisible bow and arrow

Fernando Rodney's invisible arrow celebration is, unequivocally, the best thing about baseball. Rodney's familiar pose has been discussed ad nauseam over the years, and yet, it remains a thing of pure beauty. For the uninitiated, here is an image of Rodney firing his invisible bow and arrow. Please note the clear distinction here between "invisible" and "imaginary". The bow and arrow do in fact exist, it's just that mere mortals like ourselves can not see this legendary piece of equipment that Rodney employs to celebrate each save.

I'd like to take a few moments to clarify some misconceptions about Rodney and his invisible bow and arrow. Many people notice that Rodney has a habit of tilting his cap, something some fans claim is silly or disrespectful. It is in fact, neither of those things. Rodney also has an advanced invisible aiming device that clips to the corner of his brim. By tilting his cap to the left or right he can insure that he's always ready to fire away at a moments notice. Some believe that only Rodney can see the arrow once fired, but this is also not true.Here we have a rare photograph of Rodney and teammates admiring a successful shot.

We all saw when Albert Pujols and Mike Trout taunted Rodney by firing imaginary arrows at him. This is a bold strategy because their arrows are imaginary while Rodney's are simply invisible. In addition, it appears that Rodney has begun to recruit an army of invisible bow and arrow-wielding warriors, who he can call upon at will to defend his honor.

I reached out to some bow and arrow hunting experts to critique Rodney's mechanics, but they were unsurprisingly unwilling to go on record about his mechanics. This is possibly because Rodney also owns a plain old visible bow & arrow as well.

In conclusion, I hope that Seattle has insurance in case the imaginary arrows hit someone or something upon leaving the stadium. Additionally, Fernando Rodney is the best. —Jeff Long

8. Francisco Cervelli's resemblance of a generic Yankees fan
In his catcher’s gear, it is pretty clear that Cervelli is employed by the New York Yankees. At almost any other time, Cervelli looks as if he might just be a fan from one of the five boroughs, decked out in the gear of his favorite team. Just like the Yankees’ infamous fan base, Cervelli is not afraid to let his emotions show. You can almost hear Mike Francesa saying, “Alright, on the line we got Frankie from the Bronx.”


Even with the batting helmet on, he looks like he just won a “take batting practice at the stadium” fan contest.

Jeff Quinton

9. David Ortiz and watching home runs
Lots of players watch their homers. Not many do it with the frequency, panache, and dare I say, artistry of David Ortiz. Ortiz takes ownership over each homer. He doesn’t just crunch it, trust it to do its job, and go on his merry way. No! He treats each homer as if it’s his own small child, perhaps, on their way to kindergarten. Like any responsible parent, Ortiz watches over it from the batter’s box to be sure it reaches the safety of class. “Now, little home run,” you can imagine him saying just before clubbing the thing over the outfield wall, “don’t take candy from strangers and never settle into a stranger’s glove. Have fun in the bleachers. I love you, and don’t forget your Spiderman lunch box!”

Sometimes Ortiz hits one on a line over the wall. Even though the ball is out of the park before any batter could leave the box, he stands still anyway, frozen in backswing. Is he showing up the pitcher? Maybe (by which I mean yes, yes he is, yes a whole lot), but as some player said at some time once, showing up the pitcher is okay if you hit 400 something homers so he gets to be a jerk about it. And really, he’s not even being a jerk. Ortiz has no malicious intent, no ill will, nothing beyond a simple, “I took you deep, son,” combined with an implied knowing pat between the shoulder blades.

It’s a thing and it’s his thing and that thing is now expected, required, even desired. Forget showing up the pitcher, now if he doesn’t do it, he’s showing up the pitcher. “What, the homer I just gave up wasn’t GOOD enough for you? Next time up I’m putting one in your ear!”

Ortiz is the Rembrandt of home run watching, molding each in the classical style to fit his own perception of the human condition. Like Michelangelo, Ortiz has transformed the style, molded the method, and brought about a sense of awe and grandeur not present in the work of previous hitters. Also, watching his jacks is fun. —Matthew Kory

Related Content:  Detroit Tigers,  Save Celebrations

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