The Orioles don't have the record they had this time last year, but they're a stronger team.
On Tuesday night, the Orioles flashed some of their 2012 magic against the Yankees at Camden Yards, winning on a 10th-inning walk-off homer hit by Nate McLouth that brought an end to a battle of the bullpens. For last season’s Orioles, who went 16-2 in extra-inning games and 29-9 in games decided by a single run, winning one-run games with walk-offs was a way of life. For the 2013 Orioles, who entered last night 3-3 and 6-6 in such situations, respectively, those victories have been as difficult to come by as they are for the typical team.
“Run differential” was the frequent refrain in any conversation about the Orioles’ success in 2012 and outlook for 2013. Good teams tend to outscore their opponents by a comfortable margin. The Orioles, who went 93-69, outscored their opponents, but barely—their run differential was that of 82-80 team. Some said it was luck and assumed it wasn’t sustainable, while others credited a good bullpen and Buck Showalter, both of whom the O’s brought back.
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The Diamondbacks GM on the importance of catcher receiving skills.
A former minor league pitcher, pitching coach, and scout, Kevin Towers served as the General Manager of the San Diego Padres from 1995-2009. After spending 2010 as a special assignment scout for the Yankees, he was hired as the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a role in which he remains today.
The pitches pitchers don't throw for strikes, to try to get strikes.
There’s a story about Gene Bearden in Veeck as in Wreckthat I’ve written about before. As a 27-year-old rookie in 1948, the knuckleballing Bearden posted a 2.43 ERA in 37 games and 29 starts for the Indians, winning 20 games and finishing second to Alvin Dark in Rookie of the Year voting. But he couldn’t sustain his success. In Bearden’s sophomore season, Casey Stengel, who had managed Bearden during his successful 1947 PCL campaign with the Oakland Oaks, was hired to manage the Yankees. Stengel, the story goes, knew that Bearden’s knuckleball “usually dipped below the strike zone after it broke, which meant that [he] was totally dependent upon getting the batter to swing.” So he instructed his hitters not to swing at the knuckler until there were two strikes, forcing Bearden to elevate it or throw his unremarkable fastball or curve. The scouting report spread around the rest of the league, Bearden became more hittable, and his walk rate rose. Working primarily out of the bullpen, he posted a 90 ERA+ from 1949 on and was out of the majors after 1953.
It’s an interesting story, and the stats mostly support it. Bearden was probably due for some regression, Stengel’s advance scouting aside—his BABIP in 1948 was some 40 points below the AL average (low even for a knuckleballer), he walked more batters than he struck out, and he allowed only nine home runs in 229 1/3 innings. But in 1949, his walk rate rose by more than two batters per nine, and he allowed 11 runs in nine IP against the Yankees, posting a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio (0.17) against them than he did against any other team. (Admittedly, Bearden struggled against the Yankees in 1948, too. The Yankees were good.)
A former umpire and umpire supervisor weighs in on the influence catchers have over calls.
Jim McKean worked as an MLB umpire from 1973-2001, serving on three World Series crews. He became one of MLB’s umpire supervisors after retiring from active duty and has since served as an umpiring consultant for ESPN. He offered his thoughts on the influence a catcher’s receiving skills can have on an umpire’s calls.
What the cerebral Diamondbacks starter thinks about the importance of framing pitches.
Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy is known as one of baseball’s most thoughtful, analytical pitchers; two years ago, he famously embraced advanced statistics and remade himself as a pitcher by perfecting a two-seamer that helped him get groundballs more often. As a result, he’s pretty popular on the internet. I asked him to provide the pitcher’s perspective on the importance of pitch framing and receiving skills.
Catching instructors and coordinators comment on the importance of receiving skills.
While working on a feature on catcher framing for Grantland, I spoke to many catching instructors and coordinators about what makes a good receiver, what receiving skills are worth, and to what extent they can be improved. Many of their most interesting insights didn't make it into that story, so I've collected them here.
The best and worst framers of the week and the season, plus framing-related links.
Framing-related links of the week
It’s been an eventful week for framing on the internet. If you're here because you’re interested in catcher receiving skills, you might also want to take a look at these three articles:
Estimated historical framing: More great work by Max Marchi, who used Retrosheet pitch-by-pitch data to estimate framing performance going back to 1988. He also took a look at how receiving skills age. Next on his to-do list: estimated framing for minor leaguers, and the quantification of game-calling.
The latest on the longest season-starting walkless streaks.
It’s appropriate that Jeff Keppinger’s first walk of 2013 was a game-winner. After 140 plate appearances without one—150 dating back to the end of last season—it would’ve been a shame if the walk we’d all been waiting for hadn’t helped the White Sox win.
Starling Marte makes Bobby Parnell throw 13 pitches.
Last Friday, I started a new series in which I'll be breaking down, marveling at, and ruminating on the longest plate appearance of the preceding week. This is the second installment of that series. The inaugural edition featured a 12-pitch showdown between Mike Moustakas and Chris Sale that remains exactly as interesting as it was when it was published, so if you want to watch that plate appearance, click this link. If you’ve already seen it, or you’re interested only in the latest longest plate appearance, read on.