Is changing a player's approach at the plate like getting someone to quit smoking? And how does learning ability affect development?
Once again, let's talk about player development from a scientific perspective. For the past coupleweeks, I've been looking at the "What Can Go Wrong" Series that BP's own Jason Parks wrote last winter the way that a trained developmental specialist would and discussing how certain problems that Jason identified can be measured, even if those data aren't publicly available.
I thought I might begin today’s entry with a fancy introduction involving Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, General Crowder, Pete Rose, a rogue elephant, a malfunctioning burglar alarm, and Richard Nixon, but the appropriate anecdote that draws those elements together escapes me, and instead I will cut right to the chase: Today marks the end of my tenure at Baseball Prospectus.
My first column for Baseball Prospectus appeared on June 20, 2003. Today, almost nine years later, I present my last. With great sadness, but also great excitement for the future, I have resigned as Editor-in-Chief. On March 19, I will undertake a new challenge, joining Bleacher Report as one of two lead baseball writers, contributing both my usual long-form pieces as well as quicker bits in which I get to indulge my inner hit-and-run commentator.
There is so much I want to tell you about my time here, about the many adventures I have had and the people I have known, many of whom you have read and enjoyed, but it’s hard to single out any one story. This “inside” tale from early in my tenure keeps coming to mind. It was approximately July 2005. In those days, BP’s principals had a yearly meeting someplace fun, like Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or Monte Carlo. I believe we stopped doing those because given the lack of entertainment options available at these remote, arid locations, the guys just got too much work done and were overly fatigued from all of their productivity once they got home.
Tradition has journalists putting themselves in strange situations and writing accounts of their exploits. Hunter S. Thompson did a lot of drugs and went to a motorcycle race in the desert. David Foster Wallace went on a cruise. George Plympton played sports against actual athletes. Me, though, I'm no journalist, so here's what I did: I went to Oakland A's FanFest at Oracle Arena posing as a journalist.
Those who don the tools of ignorance don't just need physical prowess.
When it comes to evaluating low-level talent behind the plate backbone of the process is formed from observing the body and the natural movement(s) of the body—just like all other position evaluation. Baseball isn’t black and white, and players don’t always arrive wrapped in prototypical packages. This is especially true for catchers. When you think of a catcher’s build, what body type comes to mind? Let me guess: Shortish, with bulbous aspects of the frame (stocky); thick wrists; fullback body. Sound about right? You might think this represents the ideal, but ultimately it comes down to how the body works rather than how it measures out.
When evaluating a catcher, I care more about the athleticism, coordination, and strength involved than the inherent physical characteristics [read: height/weight]. Not every player carries weight well, or projects to carry weight well, while others inhabit bad bodies that somehow allow the requisite quickness and agility for the position to shine through. You can’t judge the body in isolation; you need to see the body walk the runway to see how it moves. Basic point: Just because the body doesn’t look the part doesn’t mean the body can’t perform the role. Basic Point #2 (which is really Basic Point #1 repackaged): Catchers can be fat.
The Angels left-hander talks about the pressures of closing among a variety of subjects.
Brian Fuentes is a thinking man’s closer. The Angels left-hander has a deceptive delivery and underrated stuff, but above all he has a cerebral approach to the game. Originally drafted by Seattle, the 34-year-old Fuentes made a name for himself in Colorado, saving 111 games over a four-year stretch, before signing a free-agent contract with the Sons of Gene Autry prior to the 2009 season. Last year’s American League saves leader with 48, the laid-back and always-thoughtful Fuentes is a four-time All-Star.
The Cardinals' reliever, holder of some quirky records, talks about life as a LOOGY.
Trever Miller is more than just your everyday LOOGY. Entering his 12thbig-league season, and his second with the Cardinals, the 36-year-old lefty specialist holds three major-league records. In 2007, Miller appeared in 76 games without a decision, breaking Scott Aldred’s old mark. It was part of a 121-appearance stretch with no wins or losses, which eclipsed Bobby Seay. Last but not least, Miller went an even more remarkable 240 consecutive appearances without seeing his name in the loss column, far outdistancing Randy Flores' 176-game streak. Overall, Miller has seen action in 589 games, logging 466 innings. In his career, he has held left-handed hitters to a .223/.312/.360 slash line.
The Rockies' center fielder showed a lot this year, but forecasts say he'll get even better.
Now that the Colorado Rockies have locked up a playoff spot, it's time to turn our attention toward some of the players that they will depend upon if they want to keep playing baseball. The switch-hitting Dexter Fowler is one of these players, thanks to a rookie season that got stronger as the year went on. Today we'll take a look at what we can expect from Fowler in the future, both for the rest of 2009 and beyond.
A top prospect dealt twice, the player with the biggest smile in baseball found a home in Cincinnati.
Following a string of poor performances after promising low-minors work, Brandon Phillips was handed a chance to be the Reds' full-time second baseman in 2006. In a Cincinnati offense that often has troubles with scoring runs, Phillips has provided power and speed at a low cost. He's also one of the few successful acquisitions from the Wayne Krivsky era in Cincy--but that's a topic for another day. What slowed down Phillips' development, and why did he return to productive baseball upon his move to the Senior Circuit?
Adam Everett leads the majors with 10 sacrifice bunts. That's from the #2 hole, which means that Mr. Williams is shortening the innings in which his best bats come up. With slugging and on-base percentages in the threes (OBP low-threes), there's no reason to keep Everett up there, except for the stubborn belief that he's "changed." This concludes this week's Jimy Williams bash.
Moving from the mundane to the sublime, Roger Clemens is doing something that has very little in the way of precedent. Perhaps it's an obvious point, but most 41-year-old pitchers don't perform at this level. Heck, most 41-year-old pitchers aren't pitchers. The closest parallels are Cy Young, who posted a 1.26 ERA (LERA of 2.39) in 299 innings for the 1908 Red Sox, Ted Lyons' wonderful "Sunday Pitcher" performance of 1942, Warren Spahn's last hurrah in 1963, and, most appropriately, Nolan Ryan, who struck out 301 batters in 1989 at the age of 42. None of them had quite the year the Rocket has had to this point... There's a moment in "Bonnie and Clyde" where Clyde says: "Hi! We're Bunny and Claude. We steal carrots." Houston version: "Hi! We're the Houston Astros. We blow saves." GRADE: B-
I had the privilege of meeting Doug on a number of occasions and enjoyed his intelligence, knowledge and wit, and like so many I learned more than MLB would have cared for me for to by reading his many writings on the business of the game. However, the memory of Doug that I will cherish most is an e-mail I received about a run-of-the-mill installment of the Pinstriped Bible. I had made a reference to an obscure old radio show, "Vic and Sade." Doug was the only one who caught it. I knew then that we would be friends.
Statistics are a tool, not unlike a microscope. Statistics are a hammer, a speculum, a thermometer. A statistics-based approach to understanding of baseball is one of many paths to knowledge of the game. Calling those who take that path "freaks" or "Nazis" makes as much sense as calling a Ph.D. chemist a wimp because he tests the qualities of his cyanide compound by means of Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy rather than just drinking the thing.
In 1937, George and Ira Gershwin wrote a song for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers picture Shall We Dance that was an instant classic satire of the human need to scoff at the merest hint of progress: