David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“I think it’s one of the best pitches in baseball,”

 

 

Earlier this week, Jeff Sullivan wrote about how Kevin Gausman is learning to elevate fastballs. Intrigued, I went to directly the source for a more complete lowdown. Some of what the flamethrower told me echoed the second-hand quotes in Jeff’s article. Some of it was fresh.

“I think it’s one of the best pitches in baseball,” said Gausman. “Chris Tillmanmakes a living out of throwing an elevated fastball off his curveball. It’s a tough pitch for hitters to react to, and to lay off of.”

Just like his teammate, Gausman is augmenting his high heaters with hooks. He still throws a slider, but feels “really comfortable with my curveball right now.” A decreased comfort level in the pitch he’s reintroduced to his arsenal wouldn’t deter the Oriole from elevating fastballs. According to Gausman, the former isn’t predicated on the latter.

Elevated fastballs were a big part of Gausman’s game when he was an LSU Tiger. That changed when he got to pro ball and was continuously told, “Throw strikes down and away, down and away.” With the blessing of pitching coach Dave Wallace, and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, he’s once again climbing ladders.

The catcher’s mask is his key when he goes upstairs, and the goal is enticement, not called strikes.

“I like to throw at the mask,” explained Gausman. “At the mask, my fastball has a little rise to it at the end. I also don’t throw it in or out, because guys won’t swing at that, especially up and in. But a fastball right down the middle, above the strike zone, is a really good pitch. Hitters will go after that, and if you have plus velocity, and it’s up enough, it’s tough to hit.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-bryce-on-stats-storen-gausman-eflin-almora-more/

 

“He’s a guy that can really help your players get better.”

 

M.L.B. Teams Nurture Players’ Mental Health

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSAPRIL 11, 2015

CHICAGO — For Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer, Josh Lifrak is just like the hitting coach John Mallee or the pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Lifrak is the director of the team’s mental-skills program, while Mallee and Bosio are two vital members of Manager Joe Maddon’s coaching staff. Hoyer looks at each of them in a similar way, and he knows what that means in terms of a shift in thinking when it comes to mental health and major league baseball.

“I think that it used to be the kind of thing that people would talk to people. They didn’t, like, advertise it,” Hoyer said. “Some guys were ashamed of it, and some people didn’t want to have any part of it. I think now it’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t understand that your mental-skills coach is no different than a hitting coach or a pitching coach. He’s a guy that can really help your players get better.

“That’s a shift from, like, partial acceptance to, like, total acceptance in a very short amount of time.”

Long gone are the days when mental health was a taboo subject in major league locker rooms, and the days of a lone sports psychologist appear to be waning. While individual players have sought help with the mental side of the game for years, teams are responding to the changing attitudes by offering more assistance to their players in that area.

At least three teams — the Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals — announced major changes in their approach this year.

“I think, as a whole, the industry is far more comprehensive,” said Doug Harris, an assistant general manager for the Nationals who also serves as their vice president for player development and pro scouting. “People are being more creative now, trying to help their players in any way they can.”

Harris played a major role in Rick Ankiel’s joining the organization in January to work with minor leaguers as a life-skills coordinator. He first broached the idea with Ankiel at a spring game last season, and the two had a running conversation that eventually pivoted to more specific details.

“I hope he affects our kids,” Harris said. “With his background he has, both personally and professionally, it’s a broad range. He’s been through a ton in his life. That’s what we’re looking to tap into.”

Ankiel was one of baseball’s top pitching prospects when he broke into the majors with St. Louis in 1999. But he struggled with his control in the playoffs in 2000, throwing five wild pitches in his first postseason appearance, and was never the same pitcher again.

He restarted his career as an outfielder and made it back to the majors, finishing with a .240 batting average, 76 homers and 251 runs batted in through 11 seasons. He played his final game in 2013 with the Mets.

“For me, I’m a resource and a confidant for these guys,” Ankiel said when asked to describe his new role. “Anything they need help with. If they want to talk about stuff on the field, or if they need help with stuff off the field, whatever it may be. I’m just here for them to lean on and pass along all the things I’ve learned along my way.”

Ankiel worked with the pioneering sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman during his playing career and plans to pass along much of what he learned.

The Red Sox announced in January that they had hired Dr. Richard Ginsburg to run their new behavioral-health program. Ginsburg is also a co-director of the Paces Institute of Sports Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Bob Tewksbury, Laz Gutierrez and Justin Su’a were named mental-skills coaches. Tewksbury, who won 110 games in 13 seasons in the majors, had the same position with Boston for nine years before he spent last year with the players’ union.

Chicago unveiled its new mental-skills program in February, with Lifrak joining the team after spending 10 years as a mental-conditioning consultant at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The former major league outfielder Darnell McDonald and Rey Fuentes are coordinators for the department, and Dr. Ken Ravizza has agreed to take on a consultant’s role.

Ravizza also worked with Maddon during his time with the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I think that everyone can use someone to talk to about how to improve their focus, how to deal with failure, how to deal with stuff off the field,” Hoyer said. “It makes a lot of sense, and we’re hardly alone. I think a lot of teams have gone the route we are. It just makes sense. It’s kind of another tool in your toolbox to deal with playing baseball at a high level.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/sports/baseball/mlb-teams-nurture-players-mental-health.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=2

 

“Trying harder is not always trying better”

Sunday Notes: Bryce Harper on Stats; Storen, Gausman, Eflin, Almora, more

by David Laurila - April 19, 2015

When I first met Drew Storen, his train had yet to reach Big League Station. The Stanford product was 22 years old and pitching in the Arizona Fall League, his Nationals debut still six months away. Since that time he’s ridden a roller coaster.

The 27-year-old right-hander has a 43-save season on his resume, but also an elbow injury and a crushing post-season loss. Briefly demoted to the minors in 2013, he bounced back to the tune of a 1.12 ERA in 65 games last year. With everything that’s transpired since our initial conversation, a glimpse in the mirror was in order.

“You try not to reflect when you play,” said Storen. “It’s human nature to do so, but you try to go day-to-day – every cliché possible – in baseball. You have to go forward, because the train is moving.

“But it’s been a good journey. There have been challenges, and good times as well. I feel I’ve grown as a pitcher. Trying harder is not always trying better, and I’m not as pedal-to-the-medal as I used to be, When I came up, I was more of a bar-fighter than a boxer. I’ve learned that you need to be a tactician; you can’t just go out there and out-stuff people.”

Analogy aside, Storen has never possessed a troglodyte mentality. He was already familiar with PITCHf/x when I interviewed him five-and-a-half years ago. He still utilizes the tool, typically to review his release point, and relies heavily on video to “make sure everything is in tune.”

Monitoring his mechanics and the depth he’s getting on his deliveries is an off-the-field endeavor. His mind’s eye is equally attentive on the mound.

“I see the pitch in my head when I get the sign,” said Storen. “Mentally, I’m already throwing it. Some guys just throw to a target, but I’ve always seen the whole pitch. I visualize it relevant to the hitter, especially a breaking ball. I want it eating the strike zone for as long as possible as it gets to the plate.”

More often than not, Storen’s offerings chew up opposing batters. Last year’s 1.8 walk rate was a career low, and despite not being overpowering, he logs his fair share of punch outs. Part pugilist, part chess master, he goes with the flow.

“You think ahead, but you also make a move at each point,” said Storen. “You obviously try to set pitches up, but it’s kind of like golf. You have to make the most of the situation you’re in. Sometimes you have to hit it around a tree.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-bryce-on-stats-storen-gausman-eflin-almora-more/

 

“Trying harder is not always trying better”

Sunday Notes: Bryce Harper on Stats; Storen, Gausman, Eflin, Almora, more

by David Laurila - April 19, 2015

When I first met Drew Storen, his train had yet to reach Big League Station. The Stanford product was 22 years old and pitching in the Arizona Fall League, his Nationals debut still six months away. Since that time he’s ridden a roller coaster.

The 27-year-old right-hander has a 43-save season on his resume, but also an elbow injury and a crushing post-season loss. Briefly demoted to the minors in 2013, he bounced back to the tune of a 1.12 ERA in 65 games last year. With everything that’s transpired since our initial conversation, a glimpse in the mirror was in order.

“You try not to reflect when you play,” said Storen. “It’s human nature to do so, but you try to go day-to-day – every cliché possible – in baseball. You have to go forward, because the train is moving.

“But it’s been a good journey. There have been challenges, and good times as well. I feel I’ve grown as a pitcher. Trying harder is not always trying better, and I’m not as pedal-to-the-medal as I used to be, When I came up, I was more of a bar-fighter than a boxer. I’ve learned that you need to be a tactician; you can’t just go out there and out-stuff people.”

Analogy aside, Storen has never possessed a troglodyte mentality. He was already familiar with PITCHf/x when I interviewed him five-and-a-half years ago. He still utilizes the tool, typically to review his release point, and relies heavily on video to “make sure everything is in tune.”

Monitoring his mechanics and the depth he’s getting on his deliveries is an off-the-field endeavor. His mind’s eye is equally attentive on the mound.

“I see the pitch in my head when I get the sign,” said Storen. “Mentally, I’m already throwing it. Some guys just throw to a target, but I’ve always seen the whole pitch. I visualize it relevant to the hitter, especially a breaking ball. I want it eating the strike zone for as long as possible as it gets to the plate.”

More often than not, Storen’s offerings chew up opposing batters. Last year’s 1.8 walk rate was a career low, and despite not being overpowering, he logs his fair share of punch outs. Part pugilist, part chess master, he goes with the flow.

“You think ahead, but you also make a move at each point,” said Storen. “You obviously try to set pitches up, but it’s kind of like golf. You have to make the most of the situation you’re in. Sometimes you have to hit it around a tree.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-bryce-on-stats-storen-gausman-eflin-almora-more/

 

“At some point, every athlete is confronted with wondering who they are and what their purpose is. “

What Are You Playing For?

APR 9 2015

PHOTOGRAPHS BY AP IMAGES

JEREMY AFFELDT 

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

It was at the trade deadline on July 31, 2006, when I wanted to quit baseball. I hated the game. I went from struggling on a losing team with the Kansas City Royals to being traded to the Colorado Rockies. When I got there, I was staying in a hotel because I had just been traded and didn’t yet have a place to live.

I remember walking out of my hotel one morning to a local Starbucks and there was a 16-year-old girl on the corner of the street. She had a split lip, a black eye, torn clothes and she just looked scared to death sitting there with a Cup Noodles with no water in it, just eating the dry noodles.

I reached out to touch her and she kind of jumped away from me. I said, “I don’t want anything from you and I don’t want to hurt you.”

She’d obviously had a really rough night. I told her, “I just wanted to know if you want something to eat.” She said, “Yes please, I would really appreciate that.” So I walked into Starbucks and got a juice drink for nutrients and another item with a ton of sugar.

I gave her the food, and she looked at me and said, “Thank you.”

Then there was a weird connection that was made. I could almost see into her soul. She was not just thanking me for the food. She was saying, Thank you for realizing that I exist. Everyone walks around me and pretends I’m not there.

The truth is, people looked at me as this athlete who had everything in the world, but at that moment, I was lost. I was scared. I was frustrated with my life and thought I had no purpose. There I was, looking at this girl who looked lost and scared, like she had no purpose. It was almost like our worlds met. Even though to everyone else, on the surface, we were completely different — a millionaire MLB pitcher and a homeless teenager — we were in the same boat mentally and spiritually.

That connection and the joy I felt from helping that young lady changed my outlook forever.

Shortly after, I was sitting in the outfield at Coors Field and I was praying. I was thanking God for the opportunity to meet that young lady. I felt such joy from such a simple act of compassion. That was the day I said, “This is why I play the game. This is why.” I understood that there are people off the baseball field and outside this fantasy world of big lights, money and fame. Outside, there are people who are hurting and dying, and they have no ability to dream big. This gives me purpose — a reason to enjoy doing what I do.

Whether I’m doing well on the field or not, I’ve been given the resources to help other people.

At some point, every athlete is confronted with wondering who they are and what their purpose is. No matter who they are, they’ve all been in bed at night wondering, “Why am I doing this? Who am I?”

Even when we succeed, we lay in bed wondering, “Well, can I do that again tomorrow? Can I continue my success, or will I fall off? What happens then?” I don’t care who blasts me over that comment. It’s true, whether you’re the best athlete in the world with more accolades than you can count or a bench player that only gets on the field sparingly.

I have the same questions and fears, but I also know that no matter what happens on the field, I still have the ability to make a huge impact on the lives of people off the field and across the globe. Whether I’m doing well on the field or not, I’ve been given the resources to help other people. Having a purpose for being a professional athlete will actually help you immensely on the field because you’re free from self-absorption. You have a purpose far bigger than yourself, and for me, that purpose is making sure other people have a chance to be successful.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have that view my whole life. I was in the camp with most people who were making fun of homeless or poor people, telling them to get a job, ignorant to their background and how they got to that point. I didn’t have a lot of compassion for them.

It’s a sense of selfishness and self-absorption that’s common in our society today. This applies to the vast majority of privileged people, whether they’re athletes or not. We are naturally selfish people. On a broader scale, a sense of helplessness plays a major factor into why we fail to care for our fellow man and woman as much as we should.

It’s a sense of selfishness and self-absorption that’s common in our society today.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry. The average person says, “Well, how am I going to stop a $32 billion business? I can’t do that.” They feel there’s no way to help, so they give up or don’t try at all. It’s too overwhelming.

What most people don’t realize is that it’s not about saying you’re going to stop a $32 billion immoral industry, it’s about saying, “I’m going to try to do my best to understand that there are bad things going on in the world and I want to help where I can.”​

Many people often say, “Well, I can’t help others. I have my own bills to take care of.” That’s true, and I completely understand the importance of getting things in your own home in order first. However, understand where you come from and remember how you found success. Realize the people that poured resources into you to allow you to become successful. Think back to the employer that gave you the opportunity to interview for your job and the institutions and teachers that gave you the necessary knowledge to get to where you are today.

Now think of people in and outside of our country that never had those opportunities.

 

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had thus far is witnessing the pure joy that comes from simple resources we take for granted. One of the focuses of my charity, Generation Alive, is to provide clean water in third-world countries where it’s a scarce resource. I’ve seen wells pop. I was at my house and I was watching it on a live feed on my computer. I saw 1,500 kids run across a field and dance under fresh water, and I remember, I literally just started crying.

I’m like, “What? I get that in my toilet bowl!” It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

I saw 1,500 kids run across a field and dance under fresh water, and I remember, I literally just started crying.

I don’t get that joy from having a great outing or winning a World Series. Getting the win in Game 7 of the World series last year — with a huge help from my teammates, of course — was an amazing feeling. Despite the adrenaline from that moment, though, the sun still came up the next day and people still went about their lives. Even the parade lasted only one day. When you went to the city the next day, people were back at work doing their deals — they’d moved on.

The lives of those 1,500 kids who didn’t have access to clean water are changed forever, though. Their outlook on life is changed. Playing baseball has given me the resources to make that kind of impact.

To me, this is why I play the game. To be able to do stuff like that.

Virtually everyone — whether you’re a multimillionaire athlete or an elementary school student — can change the lives of others. It costs about 25 cents to feed someone. I tell that to children at schools, and these kids say, “Well, I can do that!” It’s true, you can. That is empowering the kids to create ideas, raise money and to understand what compassion is.

I’ve seen elementary kids raise money for 30,000 meals. I’ve seen college students raise money for 600,000 meals in one day.

 

For athletes, it’s really about connecting on a relational level. It’s one thing to just write a check to an organization you’ve only heard a little about, but when you know the stories about communities in need and how your money is helping, it makes a huge impact on your view of what it means to help.

If someone comes up to me and asks me for money, and I don’t know them, I’m not going to give it to them. I’m a relational guy. I need to know who you are. If I feel like you’re just out for my money, then I don’t want anything to do with you. If I care about you as a human being, I try to learn about you and I know who are you, then I’m all for helping you as best I can. When it comes to the ballplayers that I’ve asked to become a part of this, I know that kind of compassion lives in their hearts. Those who have passions outside of their sport are the ones who thrive and don’t burn out.

We all have a responsibility to our teams to focus and do the best we can on the field. However, if that’s all you have in life, then it can be detrimental to your career and personal well-being.

If I don’t use the talent God gave me to accomplish what I can on the mound — whether it be a regular season game or Game 7 of the World Series — for some greater good, then what’s the point? To have a ring in my jewelry box at home? I don’t live or die by wearing that ring. It was a fun accomplishment, but there’s no impact after it’s done. Once it’s over, it really is over.

What remains are the opportunities given to me to be able to do something off the field. Why not utilize those opportunities and make an impact?

http://www.theplayerstribune.com/jeremy-affeldt-giants-what-are-you-playing-for/ 

 

 

 

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