Shining a spotlight on the minor mental mistakes and successes that often go overlooked.
There was an axiom tossed about when I was in college, one that I and my other bench-warming teammates were only too happy to co-opt, which held that the dumber you were, the better you played. In other words, the less intelligent a player was, and the less he had going on in his mind (colloquially, the less "in his own head" he was), the more focused he'd be on playing to the best of his abilities. Some rebutted that we spent too much free time during games coming up with theories about why we weren't playing, but you get the idea.
The big leaguers we see on TV have found a way to circumvent this problem, if it even exists. Nevertheless, there remains a mental aspect of the game that often goes ignored, both by sabermetricians (because it's nearly impossible to measure) and by the players themselves (because these mistakes are usually too small to affect their club's opinion of them). I don't mean visualization or Pedro Cerrano's Jobu doll or Turk Wendell's animal tooth necklace—I'm talking about the nuts-and-bolts logic of baseball that, when ignored, costs teams outs and runs, which eventually cost them games.
Javier Lopez, Brad Lidge, and Henry Rodriguez all have unusual offerings you should be aware of.
When writers make lists of the best pitches in baseball, the list usually goes something like this:
1. (Go-to pitch of best pitcher in baseball)
2. (Mariano Rivera’s cutter)
3. (Go-to pitch of second-best pitcher in baseball)
4. (Go-to pitch of third-best pitcher in baseball)
5. (Go-to pitch of fourth-best pitcher in baseball)
Hunter Pence provided one of the only bright spots for the Houston Astros during a breakout rookie performance in 2007. Pence didn't quite match his output as a hitter in his follow-up act in 2008 but, with his defense, remained a valuable asset. The Houston right fielder has rebounded offensively this spring, playing well enough to enter the All-Star conversation at his position in the National League.
The shape of the blistering-hot performance of the Dodgers shortstop.
Past experience can generate expectations. Certainly, when they signed Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million deal following the 2005 season, the Dodgers believed that the former Braves leadoff batter would provide a significant spark to their offense. He did not disappoint in 2006, finishing 14th in NL MVP voting. Last year, however, a nagging ankle injury suffered in spring training kept him out of action for the first couple of weeks as well as the final weeks of the season; it also hindered his production level during the 138 games in which he played. A player whose modus operandi involves speed playing with an ankle injury is not a good combination.
Similarly, when Joe Torre signed on to manage the team this offseason, he was fresh off of managing a shortstop that happened to be the longtime face of the most prominent franchise in sports. He may have known his new shortstop could produce at an all-star level even, after that rough 2007. Suffice it to say he could not possibly have had any idea Furcal would be this productive.
A new season brings a new batch of PITCHf/x data from which to learn.
"With me, being a hard thrower ... no matter what, they're defending that heater, man. So the more confidence I have to throw that [changeup] in any count, I'm going to throw it. I'm just going to. I don't care anymore. It's going to help me and I realize that." --A.J. Burnett on his pitch selection. PITCHf/x has confidence in his fastball as well.
Popping the hood on King Felix as a demonstration of what's possible with PITCHf/x data
"Hell, yeah, I want to throw that pitch. They don't let me, though. They tell me I'm too young, that it's bad for my elbow. I told them I want to throw it."
--Felix Hernandeztalking about his slider before the 2006 season