Thoughts (both deep and shallow) inspired by Wednesday's games.
On Opening Day, I jotted down an assortment of thoughts and threw them all into this article, below which reader “cmyiii” commented, “Something like this every day—or even just once a week—is worth the price of admission.” Daniel Rathman’s column, What You Need to Know, delivers that daily fix, but by the request of at least one reader, I’ll be doing the same whenever I have enough disjointed observations from a single slate of games to add up to an article. Daniel covered Johnny Cueto’s complete game, the Yankees’ day-night shutout, and a couple other topics in today’s WYNTK; my topic grab bag is below.
Earlier this week, Angels starter C.J. Wilson threw a knuckleball—or so he said. Whether what left his hand was the genuine article is a matter of some uncertainty, which we’ll attempt to resolve before this article is over. Regardless of whether Wilson deserves induction into the knuckleball club, though, his claim made me wonder what other knuckleball news I might have missed. If a 33-year-old can break one out without warning in his 10th big-league season, who’s to say another knuckler hasn’t made an uncredited appearance at some point in the past several seasons? Knuckleballers, like ring-bearers, are entitled to retire to Valinor, so it’s important that we don’t leave anyone out.
Fortunately, pitch-tracking technology has made knuckleballs much easier to monitor. Over the seven-plus seasons for which PITCHf/x has been active, Pitch Info (aka Harry Pavlidis) has tagged 23, 922 pitches as knuckleballs, thereby establishing them as superior to every other offering. For those precious pitches, we have 11 men to thank, classified below by their relationship to and reliance on the pitch.
Notable minor-league careers that haven't led to cups of coffee...yet.
If you haven’t heard of Guilder Rodriguez, don’t beat yourself up. Until fairly recently, I hadn’t heard of him either. Rodriguez is a 30-year-old Venezuelan middle infielder in the Rangers system who just started his 13th minor-league season. In those 13 seasons, he’s played in over 1000 games, made close to 4000 plate appearances, and hit one home run, back in 2009 with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Rodriguez has played parts of the past five seasons in Frisco; if he were any good, either the fine folks of Frisco would’ve built him a statue by now, or he would have spent more time in Triple-A. But between his makeup and his ability to play shortstop, he’s soldiered on as an organizational guy, going weeks—and in one stretch last season, well over a month—without an extra-base hit.
Rodriguez really hasn’t had any competition for the title of “Least Power in Pro Baseball” since fellow career minor leaguer Carlos Rojas retired. And although Ben Reveremight be making a run, Rodriguez has no recent big-league equivalent. Among major leaguers of the last 60 years, only Duane Kuiper and Frank Taveras (who played in a lower-power era) showed the same sort of staying power without hitting more home runs. Only two major leaguers have made as many plate appearances with as high a ratio between their OBP and SLG as Rodriguez’ career minor-league line (.338/.283), and both played during the Deadball Era.
Is toughness a firm enough foundation on which to base a trade?
During an exhibition game against Brooklyn in the spring of 1942, then-Boston Braves manager Casey Stengel said something that seems, in retrospect, spectacularly wrong. A 20-year-old Warren Spahn started for Stengel against the Dodgers, whom the Braves believed had been stealing their signs all spring. Stengel, hoping to take the sign-stealers by surprise, switched the signs so that the old signal for a fastball would now indicate a curve. With Pee-Wee Reese up and a runner on second supposedly staring in for the sign, Stengel told Spahn to brush Reese back with his fastball when the batter would be expecting something slower.
As a 44-year-old Spahn recounted in 1965, when both he and Stengel were with the Mets in what would be their final season:
A number of notes from the first full day of the 2014 regular season.
There are only two possible stories to tell about Opening Day. There’s the boilerplate, “Boy, isn’t it swell to have baseball back” story, which is accurate (It is swell!) but nothing you haven’t heard after every other opener. And then there’s the small sample, confirmation-bias-based conclusion: Team X’s bullpen blew the game, so they’re bound to struggle to hold leads all season; Player Y had a three-hit day, so just as we suspected, he’s bound for a breakout. The fact is that there’s only so much about this season that we weren’t aware of before the first of Monday’s 13 contests kicked off, and we shouldn’t make too much of any occurrence (save for, say, a serious injury) just because five months of baseball withdrawal makes each pitch and swing seem momentous. It’s okay to let it all wash over us for a while, making the occasional mental note about things that could become significant, someday.
This article, then has no narrative. Behold, a bunch of bullet points from opening Day:
Have extensions killed the free agent star, or just the 2014-15 free agent class?
“I think the toughest thing facing all of us is the future of free agency and the limited resources that are going to be out there.” —Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, November 2013
Last week, the Braves signed Ervin Santana, which lowered the count of remaining top 50 free agents to three. One of these months, Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, and Joel Hanrahan will get jobs, at which point we can officially close the book on the 2013-14 free-agent class. Even with the book cracked open, though, we can come to one conclusion: Teams just spent a fortune on free agents.
Takeaways from the latest meeting of some of baseball's brightest minds.
When I got back from last year’s SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, I had a bunch of questions bouncing around in my brain. So I wrote 15 of them down in a piece for BP, as much to sort through them myself as to relay what I’d heard from the many presenters, panelists, and team employees who attended the three-day event. A year later, most of those questions are still stuck in my head. But the more I think about baseball, the more questions I collect, so those 15 have since been joined by many other mysteries.
The third annual SABR Analytics Conference wrapped up in Arizona on Saturday, and I’m back with a fresh batch of questions inspired by what I saw. (Because some presentations were scheduled opposite each other, I couldn’t attend them all, but I’ve at least seen the slides from the ones that I missed. You can listen to audio and/or view the PowerPoint from many of the panels and presentations at the SABR Analytics site.)
What does it mean when a moundsman can't make up his mind?
There's always adjustments that go on. From the time I came up, I can't even remember how many times I've had to try and change what I do.—Phil Hughes
You all have a milestone by which you mark the return of baseball: the day after the Super Bowl, Truck Day, pitchers and catchers report day, Kevin Towers Terrible Prediction Day, Final Qualifying Offer Free Agent Signing Day, Opening Day. Some of you can circle your milestone days on the calendar months in advance; others can’t pin them down precisely but know roughly when they’ll arrive.
Kendrys Morales is so money and you don't even know it.
On Sunday, Scott Boras negged the Blue Jays for not spending enough this offseason, calling the team “a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign.” Reeling from the public attack, Alex Anthopoulos choked out a single sentence in response, saying, “Our ownership has been outstanding and given us all the resources we need.” Both sides took Monday to celebrate wounds inflicted or lick wounds received, and it seemed like the war of words was over.
But on Tuesday, the full scope of the super-agent’s plan became clear: Calling the Blue Jays a car was just the opening gambit of a two-part attack. Having softened up Anthopoulos and team president Paul Beeston with the Bad Boras routine, he took pity and proposed a way for Toronto to banish that big corporate stop sign once and for all: Sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. “Those players are available to this franchise,” Boras told Toronto radio host Jeff Blair, explaining the way free agency works as one would to a small child.
Looking for the hitters with the most (and least) selectively aggressive approaches at the plate.
Last April, Astros manager Bo Porter was asked about the secret behind his team’s hot hitting during a three-game winning streak. “Selective aggression,” he said. And last October, before NLCS Game Six, Pete Kozma was asked to explain the Cardinals’ season-long offensive success. (All of the good hitters must have been busy.) His response: “selective aggression.” Spring or fall, worst team or best, the answer was often the same. Selective aggression was what every offense strove for.