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October 23, 2013

Pebble Hunting

What To Talk About When the Red Sox Are Hitting

by Sam Miller

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The idea was that I was going to make like Vin Scully and try to find original things to talk about when each player comes up to bat this week. Originally, this was going to include something for each of the 50 players on this year’s World Series rosters. Then I started spending way too long on each of them, and ran out of time. So when you notice there are no Cardinals, don’t accuse me of bias; I simply started with the Red Sox and didn’t finish. When you notice there are no pitchers, don’t accuse me of bias; I simply started with the position players and didn’t finish. And when you notice there are no David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, or Will Middlebrooks, don’t accuse me of bias. You probably already have enough to talk about when they come up! And I didn’t finish.

Quintin Berry
Berry was acquired in a trade three days before the postseason-eligibility deadline, added to the 40-man and active rosters in September, and put in postseason play after getting all of nine big league at-bats this year. We’ve talked before about Freddy Guzman, the Mexican Leaguer the Rays quietly signed and stashed in case they needed a postseason runner, but Quintin Berry is the same phenomenon: A player with one weapon that is so valuable in October that it merits 4 percent of the postseason roster, but so easily found that a contending team can completely ignore it until August 27th.

Berry is notable because he has never been caught stealing. In the majors, at least; in the minors he has a pedestrian 80 percent success rate, though it’s improved to 87 percent over the past three seasons. But in the majors he entered the season 21 for 21; stole three more for the Red Sox in September; and, for good measure, is four for four in the postseason. Twenty-eight attempts, 28 steals.

Only two players in history have stolen more bases than he has with even an 88-percent success rate and, of course, nobody has stolen as many in a career without getting caught. (Josh Rutledge, 19; Christian Yelich, 10 are the closest.) Berry will get caught eventually and no longer be on top of that particularly specific leaderboard, but for now he’s the guy with the most career stolen bases without getting caught. Fun accomplishment! Others who have similar accomplishments:

  • Walter Tappan, most career plate appearances without a strikeout: 42. (.205/.225/.308 overall line)
  • John Paciorek, most career plate appearances without an out: 5. (At age 18, no less. Hit .209/.236/.386 in six minor league seasons.)
  • Tony Bartirome, most career plate appearances without a GIDP: 387. (.220/.273/.265 overall line. Kip Wells trails him by 16. Eduardo Escobar, still active, trails by 45.)
  • Timothy Jones, most career innings without allowing a run: 10.
  • Ed Taylor, most career batters faced without allowing a baserunner: 12.

Xander Bogaerts
There’s an interview with 295 views on YouTube in which Richard Visser, the quadrilingual minister of public sport and health for Aruba, talks about Xander Bogaerts. A photo is displayed showing what appears to be Visser congratulating Bogaerts for something related to being on the Red Sox. And, behind him, is the Rising Stars of Aruba wall:

This is a very sparse Rising Stars wall! There are about 15 spaces that we can see at least part of in this photo, and only four are filled. Aruba is a tiny countryabout the same as Tyler, Texasbut surely they knew that when they were building the wall. I wanted to figure out who the other three members are, but two are hopelessly blocked and Aruba's public sport and health ministry has almost no online presence. The one who can be identified, alongside Bogaerts in the top row, is Shawn Zarraga, a 44th-round catcher who has a .277/.364/.367 line in a slow climb through the Brewers’ organization. He’s 24, and this is the first time he has appeared on our site.

Mike Carp
One of the lies we tell ourselves about platooners is that they will actually be protected, by sound managing, from same-side pitchers. Inevitably, injuries or hot/cold streaks push them into the starting lineup when they shouldn’t be; or, relief specialists properly deployed ambush them in the late innings. Carp, though, was handled perfectly. He started 56 games, appeared as a sub in 16 more, and virtually never faced a left-handed pitcher when it mattered:

Player Platoon advantage
Garrett Jones 95 percent
Jason Giambi 93 percent
Travis Snider 91 percent
Xavier Paul 91 percent
Juan Francisco 91 percent
Ryan Flaherty 91 percent
Luis Valbuena 90 percent
Mike Carp 88 percent
Alexi Amarista 88 percent
John Jaso 88 percent

Depending on how you define “mattered,” Carp faced a lefty when it mattered six times (leverage index higher than average1.0), or 10 times (LI higher than 0.5), or 16 times (win probability added shift by at least 1 percent). He batted three times against a lefty in what Baseball-Reference defined as high leverage (LI higher than 2.0): once when he started in place of David Ortiz against J.A. Happ; once in the 11th inning of a mid-September game, because Jacoby Ellsbury was injured; and once in the seventh inning of a mid-May game, because Shane Victorino had crashed into a wall the night before and was unavailable.

Garrett Jones’ rate is absolutely insane, considering how many plate appearances he had this year, though Jones actually had a lot more significant at-bats against lefties than Carp did. He gave back about a half-win in win expectancy in just his 23 trips to the plate against lefties. Carp had few opportunities to do as much damage, and against lefties his win expectancy added was just about 0.

Stephen Drew
If Matt Bush is the Boondock Saints of modern baseball, then Stephen Drew is...Harvey Weinstein? Pulp Fiction? I’m not sure where anybody else fits in that analogy, but it’s at least a footnote that the Padres might never would have made Bush the no. 1 pick if they could have counted on Stephen Drew signing with them. Things could have been very, very different:

Jacoby Ellsbury
Nobody in baseball produced more runs with stolen base attempts this year than Ellsbury, who stole 52 bases and was caught just four timesthe best success rate ever for a 50-plus stolen base season. So you’ll be excited when he gets on and goes up against Yadier Molina, and you’ll wonder whether Ellsbury has ever stolen a base against Molina before, and the answer is that he hasn’t, but hasn’t really had a chance, either. The Red Sox and the Cardinals played each other in 2008, but Molina sat out one game, DH’d one game, and entered the third game late in the game. Ellsbury doubled to lead off Molina’s first inning behind the plate, but was bunted over to third. He struck out in his second at-bat.

That’s the extent of their matchups. Ellsbury struck out in both at-bats during the only All-Star game they were both in. They both spend their springs in the Grapefruit League so there may have been opportunities then, but who would really count those?

Jonny Gomes
On Effectively Wild the other day, Zachary Levine told us John Farrell’s reasons for playing Jonny Gomes instead of Daniel Nava have been slippery, and at times he has cited Gomes’ defense and baserunning. Gomes’ defense, if you believe the metrics, is very poor. But his baserunning is legitimately quite good, especially once you get past the fact that he doesn’t/can’t steal bases, on account of being slow.

Out of 810 players in the system for 2013, Gomes ranked 31st in runs added by advancing on hits. That is to say, he went first to third on singles, or scored from first on doubles, or the like, better than all but 30 other players in baseball. This is a player who has hit eight triples in the past eight seasons. A not-fast person.

He also ranked 82nd in air advancement runstagging up, basically. And he ranked 59th in other advancement opportunities (wild pitches and passed balls and the like).

Mike Napoli
Back in Anaheim, it was just considered a fact that Mike Napoli was too streaky to be an elite hitter. I never could figure out what that meant. Five hits in a row, followed by 10 outs, are just as valuable as five hits spaced out among 10 outs; more valuable, in fact, if it was actually an identifiable trend that could be leveraged. But whatever. That’s what they said. Is it true? An exceedingly quick investigation.

Over the past five years, Mike Napoli has a 129 OPS+; so do Adrian Beltre and Hanley Ramirez. So they’re roughly the same quality of hitters. I looked at each hitter’s OPS by month in that stretch. This isn’t very precise; hot streaks, real or imagined, don’t follow the Gregorian calendar, so they’re artificial parameters. It’s an exceedingly quick investigation, though. Here’s what those months look like, on a graph:

Maybe you see a pattern there, maybe you just see spikes and valleys. Mike Napoli has the three highest months from any of our three hitters. He also has the lowest month, narrowly. So that’s something. Two questions occurred to me to consider this information:

Q. Does Napoli’s performance over one month correlate more closely to the next, or less closely to the next, than the others?

A. Much less closely. Beltre’s month-to-month figures have a .12 correlation. Ramirez’s month-to-month figures have a .14 correlation. Napoli’s have a -.07 correlation. In other words, if Napoli was having a good month, it was a negative indicator for how he was going to do the next month. Napoli’s OPS moved, on average, 240 points from month to month; the other two hitters swung by about 170 points from month to month. Of course, this could be interpreted to suggest more streakiness or less streakiness. Does a higher correlation mean streakiness, because the hitter’s good month carries over into more good months? Or does a higher correlation mean less streakiness, because the player is steadier? So this A. is ambiguous.

Q. Does Napoli’s performance from month to month diverge from his average performance more than the other hitters’ performance does?

A. Yes, much more. On average, Napoli’s monthly OPS is about 170 points different than his average OPS. Beltre’s is about 140 points different, and Ramirez’s is about 130 points different.

Whether he’s actually streaky or not, it’s true that Napoli’s performance fluctuates wildly, and he rarely resembled the average Mike Napoli line that you imagine when you think of him. He’s usually performing at a very high or a very low level. That doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about what tomorrow is going to look like, but at least it explains where the knock on him came from.

Daniel Nava
As you know, Daniel Nava was nothing of a prospect in his early 20s, going undrafted and getting discovered out of the independent leagues when he was 24. After his lone season with the Chico Outlaws, Baseball America named him the top independent league prospect. That’s a pretty swell job of scouting by BA. Because, as it turns out, it’s really, really hard to find a good player in the independent leagues.

BA has now done eight of these prospect lists. Nava and Dane de la Rosa (no. 6 in 2007) are, so far as I can tell, the only players who have had any sort of impact in the majors. The other no. 1 independent league prospects since then:

2006: Mike Bille. Right-handed relief pitcher who had a 2.01 ERA that year. Never signed with an affiliated team.

2007: Nava. “The switch-hitting Nava showed an advanced mindset at the plate with a good two-strike approach.”

2008: Mike LaLuna. Right-handed relief pitcher who had a 2.79 ERA that year. Signed with Detroit, spent one year in short-season ball with a 4.96 ERA, returned to the indy leagues, and then was gone for good.

2009: Reynaldo Rodriguez. Righty-hitting first baseman, hit .335 without power for Yuma, got signed by the Red Sox and moved slowly through the system. Reached Triple-A in 2012, but spent 2013 playing Double-A in the Twins’ org, where he slugged a low-average .482 as a 27-year-old.

2010: Matty Johnson. Undersized switch-hitting outfielder was, like Nava and Rodriguez, signed by the Red Sox. Played one game in Triple-A this year but has spent the most time in High-A, where he has hit .258/.328/.342

2011: Marshall Schuler. Right-handed reliever with a 1.74 ERA that year, hasn’t signed with an affiliated club.

2012: Kevin Gelinas. Lefty reliever struck out 29 with just three unintentional walks in 2012. Marlins signed him but he didn’t pitch in 2013. He sells alarm systems as a day job.

2013: K.C. Serna. Serna’s behavioral issues disrupted his college and minor league careers, but his independent league coach says he has matured. “Serna hit over .300 while playing the best defense in the league,” BA wrote.

David Ross
The world has better things to do than uphold rigorous Wikipedia standards for David Ross’ Wikipedia page. Still, this is a particularly uncited/uncitable fact about David Ross: “He … can be seen encouraging his teammates almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout.” Where the heck did that come from, and how is it still up on his page? A brief history of David Ross’ Wikipedia page:

The full sentence is “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players in the clubhouse, and can be seen encouraging his teammates almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout.” The page was last edited on October 5th of this year.

The claim about Ross being well liked is under the Braves section of his biography. It is, strangely, in the present tense despite living in a past-tense section of his bio. The wording above has been untouched since November 10th, 2012, when he signed with Boston; before that, it said “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players on the Braves' bench, and can be seen encouraging his teammates almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout.”

In June of 2011, the sentence read, “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players on the Braves' bench, and can be seen encouraging his teammates or playing air guitar almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout. Ross really enjoys watching The Joy of Painting and cooking Norwegian cuisine in his spare time.” (A day earlier, the person who added those details had changed the bio to “Ross really enjoys watching television and cooking German food in his spare time.”) Two weeks later, somebody edited out that graffiti, but left the encouraging-his-teammates fact.

The sentence about encouraging his teammates was originally added by the user named 66.64.185.82, in early May 2011, who has also made edits to the pages of Chesty Puller (“one of the most, if not the most, decorated combat Marine in Marine Corps history”), Coal Miner’s Daughter (“Loretta married Doolittle "Mooney" Lynn ([[Tommy Lee Jones]]) when she was only 13 15 years old.) and Radioisotope thermoelectric generators.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia
You might recall that in 2010, just before he was traded to the Red Sox, Jarrod Saltalamacchia got the yips. While on a rehab stint, he began throwing wildly to the pitcher. In mid-May, “it all unraveled. He made 12 throws that landed short of the pitcher or sailed over his head, including five in one inning.” It doesn’t surprise me at all that this happens to players, but it floors me when they overcome it. So how did Salty overcome it? From Gordon Edes:

There are taps to the eyebrow, the side of the eye, below the eye, below the nose, below the lips. A tap below the armpit, below the collarbone, below the pectoral muscles. A tap to the top of the head, then repeat the circuit.

Even if people watch closely during the course of a game, they may never see any of these, because you are taught how to hide these motions. They are intended for you, only you, and for you they are intended to be empowering.

The system is simply called tapping, and while Tom Hanson, the man who teaches this form of what he calls "energy psychology," describes it as sounding "weird," Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a believer.

Hanson said all the counseling he did with Saltalamacchia was done over the phone. "I've never met Salty," he said, "but he became pretty functional, pretty fast."

Saltalamacchia said that tapping "has been very helpful," and he has maintained a relationship with Hanson. The two may finally get together, both men said, during camp.

Hanson acknowledges that his system represents a sharp break from his previous training in cognitive behavior. "This is below your conscious level," he said. "Tapping is in the family of energy psychology."

He also told reporters that he used to fire the ball back hard at the pitcher, “show the arm. Now it’s a more relaxed throw back to the pitcher, save some energy. I’m able to go deeper into the game and feel better the next day.” So there you have it, two things to watch for: Saltalamacchia tapping things, and throwing relaxed throws back to the pitcher. Hanson’s web site, incidentally, is yipsbegone.com, where he says he’ll “literally get 2 to 5 emails … every day” from people who have lost the ability to throw.

Shane Victorino
Victorino has developed quite a reputation for getting hit by pitches this year. He led the American League in HBPs this year. He has been hit six times in the postseason. That’s convincing. Funny thing, though:

  • He was hit 18 times this year.
  • He was hit 19 times in the previous three seasons combined.

He has been hit six times this October, which matches his season totals in 2012, 2011, and 2009. This is either a skill that is almost totally under his control, or one of the all-time great cases of October sample shenanigans. [Update: in the comments, mdangelfan notes that "Victorino's HBP explosion is more specific - just about all of them have come as a RHB facing a RHP after he gave up switch hitting.] All six of his October HBPs have been in important situations: four times with the game tied, twice with the Red Sox trailing by a run. If it’s a skill, he wields it effectively.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  World Series,  Boston Red Sox

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