All posts by Brandon Curry

How Russell Martin Calls Games

This quick feature on Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin gave us some insight into how he calls games. J.A. Happ had struggled in an outing against the Angels and had to face them again less than a month later. Happ was much better the second time around, so many assumed adjustments were made. Martin said he couldn’t remember much about that first Happ outing against the Angels and continued:

“That’s pretty much how baseball is,” Martin shrugged, when asked about his head-scratching Happ-nesia.

“It’s really not that complicated. You go out there and he’s going to pitch to his strengths and do what he’s comfortable with and what works for him, and that’s it. You know a well-located pitch is going to be tough for anybody to hit, whether you’re an MVP or a September call-up.”

“Just because you have a bad start against somebody the last time has no bearing on the result of what the next game’s going to be,” Martin said. “Different ballpark, different conditions. One day is one day.

This is very much a process-over-results approach to calling games as a catcher. Martin continued in explaining his strategy:

“Obviously there are times where you look at a sample and then you say, ‘Okay this guy is 15-for-20 off this guy with five home runs, you might want to be careful.’ But you can’t have a one-game impact. If he gets hit by one team you can’t be like, ‘We’re going to do things completely different here.’ (Happ’s) strength is his fastball and you kind of go off that.”

Martin argued that, yes, it’s important to know a hitter’s weaknesses but it’s more important to know his pitcher’s strengths. There is so much video available now, with opposing hitters studying the next starter, looking for tendencies in counts and situations, that a starter like Marco Estrada might actually benefit from having Dioner Navarro and Martin catching him at different times.

Martin also discussed how no two catchers are the same and what made former Blue Jay starter Mark Buehrle successful.

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Pirates’ New Rehab Technique for Pitchers

I stumbled across this article from June where the Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage have turned to a different rehab technique for their pitchers. Searage is known as one of the best pitching coaches in the Majors and worked on the idea with head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. At the time of writing, both Gerrit Cole and Ryan Vogelsong were returning from different injuries. Both were able to return to the mound without any major issues.

Cole (strained right triceps) and Vogelsong (facial fractures) are throwing on flat ground from various distances and off the bullpen mound. As they throw, head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk monitors their velocity with a radar gun.

”You can’t go over a (specific velocity) number,” Searage said. “That means you’re getting extension but you’re not over-using your arm or trying to overthrow the ball, so your mechanics are (the same as when) you pitch on the mound.”

The method allows pitchers to build arm strength as they heal without the risk of altered mechanics that can come from long toss.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Todd. This is an epiphany. You’re a frigging genius,’ ” Searage gushed.

On flat ground, Cole throws from 60, 70, 80 and 90 feet. At every distance, he is not allowed to exceed about 75 percent of his maximum fastball velocity.

 

Rusty Kuntz on Scouting Opponent’s Hitters and Outfield Defense

Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz recently sat down with Baseball Prospectus to talk how he scouts hitters and how that plays into aligning his outfield defense. Kuntz discusses multiple other things as well, such as the 162-game grind for coaches, the enduring process of shrinking books of data down to the most important details, and other duties as a first-base coach in the Bigs. I found his advice for younger coaches particularly interesting.

I tell young coaches, when you’re looking at a guy for the first time—like, I looked at Ozuna for the very first time. There’s a couple of things you want to look for right off the bat if you’ve never seen the guy and want to know where to play this guy. Obviously my pitcher’s velo is going to play in. Ventura’s throwing 101, I’m going to play you oppo. I don’t give a shit if you’re dead-pull.

Once I get past a pitcher’s velo, now I look at the player. The first thing is if he’s got an elbow or shin guard on. The elbow means he’s close to the plate, and the shin is he likes to pull. If I don’t see either one of those, that means he’s off the plate and likes to go the other way. Why would you have a shin guard on if you stay inside the ball and go that way, and why would you have an elbow guard on if you’re not on the dish? Those are the first two things I look at. If I see those two things, he’s a pull guy.

The next thing I look at is, where is that third-base coach or first-base coach? If Big Papi gets up, where is Ruben Amaro, Jr.? If he’s back [on the dirt], this guy’s a pull guy. That isn’t going to lie. If he’s not comfortable here [in the coach’s box], he’s back there—probably because [the hitter] pulls.

You look at the guards and where that base coach is standing, and that gives you an idea.

Kris Bryant’s Work Ethic

This short gamer from Carrie Muskat of MLB.com has some quality quotes from both Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward about each other. Both delivered in a Cubs victory over the Dodgers back in August and it sparked Heyward to speak about Bryant’s work ethic and approach to the game for such a young player. Bryant, 24, leads the National League in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as of Sept. 7. He also talks about how the 26-year-old Heyward has inspired him as well.

“He doesn’t quit,” Heyward said of Bryant. “He doesn’t want to stop, and that’s special in the makeup of somebody young, and special in the makeup in a player in general. … You can talk about why he’s hitting the ball well, and he has a good approach. It’s that simple. He works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win. When you have that gift and that work ethic, a lot of good things can happen if you stay positive.”

“We all know what he can do at the plate,” Bryant said. “Everybody knows what he can do in the field. He’s a huge asset to this team. If it wasn’t for him getting it started there, we wouldn’t have won the game.

“It inspires me. It makes me want to be like him — always keeping your head up, always being a great teammate. I can’t say enough about him.”

Joe Maddon’s Experiment is Changing Baseball

One of the more fascinating themes surrounding the Chicago Cubs this season hasn’t been their dominance over the National League, but rather how versatile their roster is. At least for me anyways. Joel Sherman of the NY post chronicles that exact thing here. Manager Joe Maddon has never been afraid to go against common thought, spawning from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs’ success with the constant rotation of players around the field has caught the league’s attention. The Yankees have begun shifting players around in their farm system.

Maddon has been a chess master, moving pieces all around the board. There were 21 players who had started at least 10 games at three different positions, and the Cubs had two (Bryant, Baez). Plus, in June they re-acquired Chris Coghlan, who is the only player to start at least 10 games at four positions (none of this includes DH and all stats were provided by Bob Waterman of Elias Sports Bureau).

And it does not end there. Contreras was promoted to play left, first and catch — the same trio expected for Schwarber. Zobrist, a Swiss Army knife during his career, has started at second, left and right. Baez has started at all four infield positions. Jason Heyward flips from right to center when needed. Heck, Maddon has used three pitchers in the outfield to exploit a platoon advantage with another reliever, but not lose the previous pitcher from the game. The athletic Travis Wood, in particular, is used in this manner.

 

Jonathan Lucroy’s Influence on the Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy’s influence on the Texas Rangers has gone beyond his offensive production as a catcher. The Rangers, who acquired Lucroy at the Deadline via trade, were desperately seeking pitching to bolster their staff. When no favorable options appeared, they turned to Lucroy, who they figured would help their current pitchers with his superb ability to call games. That has been the case, as highlighted by this article from Shannon Drayer. The importance of having a quality catcher behind the plate can never be overstated. And it often involves more than what you see in the individual’s box score.

“This is a guy who has a great reputation as a pitch framer, a great reputation for temperament behind the plate, for having control of the game, and just in watching a month of Jonathan Lucroy doing prep for games, I’ve been blown away,” Grant said. “How much he puts into it, how hard he studies, this is a guy who doesn’t waste effort.

He spends the right amount of time doing the things he needs to do to get this team very ready and he’s been an offensive plus at the plate.”

Joey Votto (Hitting Clips)

I’ve recently added multiple clips of Joey Votto’s swing, which can all be found here. I’ll be slowly (but surely) adding much more hitting clips of numerous players in the near future. My goal is to make them easily accessible and convenient to watch, whether you’re on your computer, tablet, or cell phone.

The full catalog can be found here. Players are sorted by last name.