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December 30, 2007
Best of 2007
The Prospectus Q&A series became a regular Sunday feature in 2007, so as the year comes to a close it seems appropriate to finish with a "best of" collection of quotes from those interviews. While "best" may not be the optimal word--these choices are purely subjective--they are representative of what 50 personalities from within the game of baseball shared with the readers of BP over the past 12 months. Being the primary author of this series, I hope that you found them to be an entertaining and informative group. From January to December, here are some of their best quotes:
"Park factors are a part of the record, just like other environmental factors. Fifty home runs now is not like fifty home runs in 1950."
"Barry Bonds is one of the nicest guys I've ever met; one of the best teammates I've ever had. I wasn't intimidated by him, so we got along well…I've played with elite players before, and Barry just wanted to play the game and be his own person. In some ways we're a lot alike."
"Most people understand that you can increase the distance you hit a baseball with increased strength, but what isn't understood is that increases in skeletal muscle power increases the speed of muscular contraction. That improvement in quickness would increase bat speed. While he was on his run in 1998, Sammy Sosa was interviewed and said that he had learned to wait on pitches longer. Those words were really code for 'I can swing the bat faster.'"
"The curve is all about mechanics. Extension is really important--you don't want to drop your arm. It's like spinner bait if you do. But if I extend well, I get a good sharp downward bite."
"It's nice to see that at the major league level we have three guys in the infield who came through the system: Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy. They're premium players, and Ryan Braun could end up being the fourth."
"When I was in (Double-A) Erie, our hitting coach, Pete Incaviglia, started a contest with us. Every time we took a strike on a fastball, we owed him a dollar. If we got a hit on a fastball, or a two-strike hit, he owed us a dollar. What he wanted was for us to be aggressive rather than waiting for a pitch we may not even get."
"I certainly rate Raines as a Hall of Famer, but I think he is not considered that way by many writers. I suspect he will fall short of election in his first try."
"By visualizing, you are programming your body to respond accordingly to an imagined action. If you think and picture good things, there is a good chance they will happen. The opposite side of that is also true. Ask any golfer who hits the ball in the water off the tee! I'll bet nine times out of 10 that happened because the golfer had a quick mental picture; he visualized it happening…and as much as he tried to not do it, his body (and his mind) led him there!"
"My opinion is that Billy Beane thinks his philosophy is the only way, but it's not the only way. There are other GMs who have been successful, too. His scouting director was Grady Fuson, and he thought that I was worthy of being picked when I was. ...Since the trade, I've wanted to prove that Grady Fuson was right--high school pitchers can be successful."
"You see guys with good arm action end up with arm trouble, and you get guys with questionable deliveries who don't. You could have sworn Kevin Appier would end up needing to get his arm Black and Decker'd (from the start), but he's generally been healthy. Not that you want to take chances on guys with questionable deliveries all that often."
"Of course, scouts dream and are often wrong because they believe in the tools but the ability to hit or throw strikes consistently isn't there. That said, if you make a decision based solely on numbers, you'll make a lot of mistakes that way, too."
"One thing is that it's amazing how quickly you get labeled in this game. I never did get to play every day after that first year. Instead, I became known as a platoon-bench guy. We're seeing it change a little today, but a lot of times back then it was more of a "follow the herd" mentality. It takes a guy like a Billy Beane or a Theo Epstein to stick their necks out and say, 'I don't care what everyone else says. This guy can do some things to help out a team.'"
"In the Deadball Era, fielding was a much larger percentage of defense (a combination of both pitching and fielding) than it is today…Observers at the time recognized the importance of fielding, and held star defenders in high regard."
"The control he has of his hands is incredible, and coordinated with outstanding footwork he is a top performer. And Omar [Vizquel] uses his glove like it's part of his hand, while most guys use it more like a net."
"I have to admit that I had no idea what a loon was when I got here. Once I learned it was a duck… or is it a bird? I guess I still don't know exactly what it is. A loon is a loon, I suppose."
"Now one time we had lost four or five in a row and Marge [Schott] comes down and sticks an envelope in my pocket and says, "Good luck honey." So I go into the clubhouse and take it out, and it's filled with dog hair. Then we lose three or four more, and here comes another envelope in my pocket. After awhile I had more hair in the clubhouse than there is in a dog pound."
"He's one of the best players in Japan, and as far as I know he's interested in playing over here. He's won two batting titles, and he hit 31 home runs last year, so he's good. I can see him starting for a major league team. I've also told him that he wants to have 'Kosuke' on his uniform if he plays here. He doesn't want to have 'Fukudome.'"
"In Oakland, field personnel have zero influence on the roster. Management has 100 percent control. But regardless of who is making the personnel decisions, you need the pieces to fit."
"Today's athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster, but I don't know if their baseball skills are as good as they were in my generation--at least not when they're younger. We all spent our time in cow pastures playing ball, while today's modern athletes have so many different things to occupy their time besides baseball."
"Mechanics come into play, sure, but it's usually more their thought process. Look at all of the so-called instructional manuals. They all say essentially the same thing, but if it was that simple, why isn't everyone successful? You can't clone hitters."
"I'm willing to admit that Ben Revere wasn't a name a lot of teams were looking at in that part of the draft, but we think he's a legitimate player with a lot of upside. A comparison I'll make is when Tim Wilken drafted Alex Rios and Vernon Wells. They were somewhat higher picks, but they were still out of the box to many people in the industry. They weren't looked at as guys who were going to be taken quite as high as they were."
"Being the rookie guy in this year's draft, I've certainly sat back in my chair and looked at what other teams did, but Tim Wilken gave me some good advice a long time ago. He said that in this business, it's best to take an approach of "Don't laugh at mine, and I won't laugh at yours." I'm pretty sure that there are 29 other scouting directors who are happy with how their drafts came out."
"Sure, but a lot of people don't understand just how good he is, or how smart he is. Not only is he a great hitter, he's a real student of the game. I have the utmost respect for Matt LaPorta, and I think Milwaukee made a really good decision in taking him. He's going to be a successful major league player for a long time."
"Not being allowed to swing at the first pitch was frustrating. An analogy would be a writer whose pencil keeps breaking--he can't write efficiently because he has to keep sharpening it. Or maybe it's like being a cook who doesn't have any seasoning--you don't have all of the ingredients you need."
"To use an analogy, when Kirk Gibson had the big home run against Oakland in the World Series, the A's had no problem with him doing it on one leg. I was starting off at a disadvantage, not an advantage."
"Jim Leyland was more hands-on and fidgety in the way he went about things. He was also very knowledgeable, and very, very close to his players. Maybe not to the extent of a Dick Vermeil, who would cry on the sidelines, but he cared about you."
"Both physically and mentally, catching wears on you. Let's say you take a Pudge Rodriguez and put him at first or third for his whole career--I'd bet you that his offensive numbers would go up. So I think it's just the nature of the position. With me behind the plate, I think our team is better as a whole."
"On the 3-2 count to Pedroia, just in my own research, my own study of him, it was a case of where throwing a strike doesn't always mean throwing a pitch in the strike zone. If you know that a hitter has a tendency to swing at a pitch out of the zone, to a pitcher that's a strike… He hit the pitch I was trying to throw."
"I'm a right-handed pitcher in a left-handed pitcher's body."
"Honestly, I was not a very good student. With economics, "ubiquitous" was probably my favorite term. I guess that the number-crunching is something I liked. I've always been into that. I've always like analyzing statistical information, even before it was fashionable."
"Overall, I feel that I was as good of a hitter as I was a guy on the base paths. I think that kind of gets lost to a lot of people though, because there were guys who hit for a higher average than I did. But I feel that I was a guy who could do it all. My on-base percentage was pretty high, which is what gave me an opportunity to be so successful on the base paths. That's one thing about on-base percentage--it helps you to score runs. You can't steal first base."
"That's kind of the way the game of baseball is now. It's such a media-driven sport. That's a good thing though, because the media coverage is a reason baseball is such a popular sport, and so lucrative, but every move you make gets picked apart, right or wrong, and some of your best moves backfire, and at times, with your worst ones, you come out smelling like a rose."
"What we're trying to establish here, and what we are establishing, is a philosophy and an identity of what the Baltimore Orioles are and what the Baltimore Orioles will be. What that is, is a blue-collar approach; a basic approach of fundamentals and doing things right. It's a little bit of a National League style of play in the American League, with good pitching and defense, running the bases, and timely hitting."
"Hitting is just like building a house; you have to work from the ground up. If something's not feeling right, you start with your feet."
"I know that guys who have reached the highest levels of athletics, like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, they were able to keep it simple and focused, but still relaxed and fun where they were in their own little world. That's what I'm saying. It's what we all strive for as hitters, and as athletes--how simple can we keep it?"
"You see a pitch coming inside and the guy turning on the ball, so your instincts tell you: "Go right! Go Right!" Your mind is telling you to go right before the ball is even hit. You know where he's going to hit the ball, so you're taking a step before you're even taking a step."
"The franchise. He's the face of our organization--he has been…How do you replace Torii Hunter with everything he's brought to this franchise and organization? How do you do it?"
"They might see the stats, but we're not working with robots, we're working with human beings. We have to allow them to play this game as a game. It's not on TV, it's not Strat-O-Matic, or whatever else. We're dealing with egos; we're dealing with a lot of things. We're dealing with people."
"It's a circus, and I'll stand by that statement forever. It's just a circus atmosphere. There are four thousand media people here, there are 50 players here, and the people enjoy the show that we have when we play the Yankees. It's not really a blood rivalry, so to speak, but the media and the fans really take it to that level."
"We kind of have a different philosophy here. We're more possessed on getting to the 0-2 count or 1-2 count, because we know that there are so many hitters who are aggressive early. Obviously, you like your guy in the 60-70 percentage range, first-pitch fastballs, but there are hitters who are such good first-pitch hitters that there are times you're okay backing them off or missing with an off-speed pitch. Then you get back into the count at 1-1 with a fastball or a good down-and-away pitch. So our philosophy is getting to 0-2, 1-2, more than preaching the first-pitch strike."
"We have a program here in the organization--and I don't think we're unique in that regard--where we use computer analysis to break down data. For instance, if a pitcher likes to throw curveballs to left-handed hitters on 2-1 counts in the first three innings of a game, we can isolate that."
"I started getting pretty good at throwing it 20 feet in the air, and throwing it for strikes, so, kind of on a dare, I used it in a game…I'd turn around to Nettles, Randolph, and Dent, and they'd all have their glove over their face so people couldn't see that they were laughing."
"The "Fossum Flip" is one of the most unusual pitches in the game today. I've seen him throw it in the 50-mph range. It is simply too slow to hit."
On today's gun, I'm sure Ryan threw over 100, probably 103-104. Now those guys threw really hard, but I don't think anyone threw harder than Dalkowski. If he came to the big leagues today, and didn't worry about his control, just turned it loose, I would guess he could throw 105-106."
"Walking onto the stage is a little more nerve-wracking for me. With baseball, I noticed everything at first, but after that I was just kind of out there and it was just me, the hitter, the catcher and the umpire. With music it's tough, because you have a microphone in your hand and everybody is staring at you."
"I'll be the first to tell you that there's no way to have a successful player development department without good scouting and without talented players coming into the organization. Minor league and major league staff members and coaches can't make major league players--major league talent is drafted."
"I was a 34th-round pitcher, so I've been a guy who has had to dance around in the shower to get wet his whole life. I've just been a fungo with ears. So I'm just happy to have made it to the big leagues."
"In terms of advanced metrics, we are trying to utilize equivalences and adjusted performance numbers as well as percentile ranks to deepen the objective evaluation of the player. An interesting development has been the objective evaluation of defensive performance and the overall impact on a player's value. The overall role will be as a supplement to our subjective evaluations to provide us with the best information to increase our probability for success."
"A guy who gave me trouble was Mike Cuellar, and he couldn't break that glass. He threw everything up there. Sometimes it seemed like the ball stopped before it reached the plate! One time he struck me out three times, and I told Gates, "He ain't going to strike me out no four times." I remember that Nestor Chylak was umpiring behind the plate--it was either the seventh or eighth inning--and Cuellar threw me a pitch and I caught it! Wasn't no way he was going to strike me out four times. That day he could have rolled the ball to the plate and I wouldn't have hit it."
"Deception is somewhat of an elusive component of a pitcher's delivery. The reaction of a hitter, because of some movements in that pitcher's delivery--this is what we mean when we're talking about deception and having swing-and-miss ability with his fastball. What is the exact reason? I think that's a constant chase--to identify, and scout, and bring into our system, that natural ability of a pitcher to generate a different action on the flight of a baseball."