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Dodgers lead NL West, but seem to be a picture of instability
By Bruce Jenkins Wednesday, August 19, 2015
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Dodgers just dropped all pretense and opened up a hotel — not for special visitors, but for the team. They could call it Just Passing Through. The Giants must be relieved to know that the wealthiest franchise in baseball has a gambler’s heart and rarely a shred of continuity.
It was announced Wednesday that the Dodgers have acquired Chase Utley, trading a couple of mid-level prospects for the Phillies’ second baseman. It’s a solid move for the National League West leaders, but nothing that should bother the Giants. The Dodgers haven’t been scary all season, and nothing changes with this development.
If the Dodgers had brought in a reliable starting pitcher, or a reliever who could extinguish fires instead of wielding a blowtorch, we’d have an entirely different story.
That Mat Latos deal was a real game-changer, wasn’t it? In case you missed it, Latos is already out of the rotation. The Dodgers are skipping over his next two starts to go with a four-man group (aided by a couple of off-days) because Latos has allowed 11 runs in his past 82/3 innings. Alex Wood, the other starter in that trade, has been more effective, but left Wednesday’s game trailing the A’s 3-2 and took the loss. The bullpen, an ongoing disaster with 18 blown saves, was in vintage form Tuesday night when the A’s rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win in the 10th.
Utley cannot pitch, so nothing really changes in the West. And it’s very possible he’s just passing through, in town only for the season’s final six weeks. But he does lend some character and experience to a franchise known for relentless transition since the uber-wealthy Guggenheim management took control.
Heading into the L.A. clubhouse on a hot streak — 14-for-26 with five doubles for the Phillies since Aug. 8 — Utley will probably be the starting second baseman until Howie Kendrick (hamstring) returns in a couple of weeks. He figures to give L.A. some designated-hitter flexibility in their final interleague series of the season: this weekend against Houston and Sept. 7-9 against the Angels. Another plus for the Dodgers is that utility man Kiké Hernandez, who has filled in for Kendrick, can replace slumping center fielder Joc Pederson (.217) against certain pitchers.
Still, it’s a good thing Utley grew up a Dodger fan in Long Beach and attended UCLA; the familiar surroundings might ease his mind if he finds only sporadic playing time in September. (Kendrick is too accomplished, especially as a hitter, to be knocked out of the lineup entirely. And the Dodgers recently traded for second baseman Jose Peraza, who had been an elite prospect in the Atlanta system.)
How crazy does it get at the Dodgers’ hotel? Even the doorman can’t keep track of things. Earlier this week, the team decided to replace third-base coach Lorenzo Bundy with an outsider, Ron Roenicke, the former Milwaukee Brewers manager. Roenicke broke in as a player with the Dodgers in 1981 and has Southern California ties (yes, he was Mike Scioscia’s third-base coach when the Angels broke San Francisco’s heart in the 2002 World Series), but what does that say about manager Don Mattingly? Is Roenicke being prepped to take over the team at some point?
This called for some furious backtracking. General manager Farhan Zaidi, the former A’s executive, said the move was all about the Dodgers’ dreadful baserunning this season. Roenicke said that he wouldn’t have joined the team without Mattingly’s blessing and that, in fact, it was Mattingly who first contacted him about the job.
Gracious man, that Mattingly. Still, this is really tacky. Very modern-day Dodgers. “It’s a race of opposites in the N.L. West,” Buster Olney wrote on ESPN.com. “If you spend time around the Dodgers, it’s like being in an office full of temps, with so many of the folks in uniform unsure about who’s staying and who’s going. The backbone of the rival Giants is their stability.”
The Dodgers are a team on edge, and not in a good way. Before pulling up with a hamstring injury (reportedly not serious) Tuesday night, Yasiel Puig was seen arguing with Mark McGwire and then showing up the hitting coach by angrily pointing at him on his way to the on-deck circle. Pederson called an inexcusable timeout in the middle of a crucial 10th-inning at-bat against Fernando Abad, abruptly backing out of the box with a two-strike count and forcing Abad to throw an awkward pitch that wouldn’t count (Abad eventually struck him out). Clayton Kershaw was fired up to the extreme that night, so frustrated over his own fielding flub that he spiked the ball onto the grass, then picked it up and fired it on a few hops into the L.A. dugout.
One notable aspect to the rotation shuffle: It enables Mattingly to pitch Zack Greinke against the Giants at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 1 and Kershaw the following night. That’s when the Dodgers look intimidating. Otherwise, they’re just taking room-service orders.
The Physics of Sound at the Ballpark
AUGUST 17, 2015 BY DAVID KAGAN
Major League Baseball recently noted the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. His words have become iconic because of their simple dignity in face of the grave misfortune befallen a man known for his personal strength and dedication – The Iron Horse.
I have always found added poignancy in the strong echoes emphasizing the word at the end of each pause. “Today-day, I consider myself-self, the luckiest man-an on the face of the Earth-rth.”
As the sounds at the park have changed from the organ airs of old to the rock and hip-hop of today, the echoes from the speakers seem to have also faded into the past. But before I speculate on the death of the echo, let’s examine the physics of sound at the ballpark.
Most of you know the old adage about lightning and thunder. For every five seconds between the flash and the sound, the lightening is one mile away. This works because the light travels as fast as anything possibly can. I can always remember the speed of light because it takes a billionth of a second to go past a ruler. In other words, the speed of light is about a billion feet every second or 186,000 miles per second.
So, the lightning flash reaches you almost instantly. However, the speed of sound is only a little over 1,000 feet per second. In five seconds it travels a bit more than 5,000 feet, or one mile. The time between the lightning and the thunder can then be used to find the distance to its source.
According to Baseball Almanac, the first public address system in a big league ballpark was used in New York on July 5th, 1929 during a game between the Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a child I remember huge speakers placed out in center field – often in the batter’s eye. This was in the early sixties, not the thirties!
Sitting in the bleachers you would hear the sound directly from the speaker. A bit less than a second later, you would hear the echo as the sound returned to the cheap seats after bouncing off the stands behind the plate. The distance between my seats and the grandstand was about 500 feet. Since the sound had to get there and back, it traveled about 1,000 feet, so it took about a second.
You can still hear these echoes in ballparks today, but mostly during batting practice when the park is relatively empty and the PA system gives you a moment of quiet. The crack of the bat echoes throughout the yard. However, once the game is going there seem to be no echoes produced by the sound system.
There are interesting implications of the speed of sound for a great running outfield catch. So often the announcer will describe the fielder as “taking off at the crack of the bat.” The physics of the matter makes this simply impossible.
Just like the lightning and thunder, the fielder sees the batter hit the ball almost instantly because the speed of light is so very high. However, an outfielder is over 300 feet away, so it will take about one-third of a second for the sound to reach him. By that time, he better already be moving toward the ball. Indeed, StatCast data seem to confirm that most fielders are in motion within a third of a second.
It always helps to have some actual opinions to match that data, however, so we put the question to some of the outfielders on the Giants and A’s. Well, three questions, actually:
- Do you hear the crack of the bat before, during, or after you see the ball hit the bat?
- Do you begin moving toward the ball before or after you hear the crack of the bat?
- How does the crack of the bat influence your route to the ball?
Gregor Blanco of the Giants agrees that he hears the crack of the bat after he sees the ball hit it, and felt it definitely helped him with his route. Sam Fuld of the A’s concurs, “Reality. Absolutely use it. It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s absolutely usable…It’s all instinctual, but if I hear good contact, I’m naturally going to break backwards. Especially on the corners, if you see a full swing and you can’t tell if he got all of it or not, the sound can help.”
San Francisco’s Angel Pagan has a different point of view. “I never go by the crack of the bat, sometimes [the crowd is] so loud you can’t hear it. You have to go by instincts.” Blanco concurred, especially when it comes to going from park to park. “Sometimes, the crowd is really loud and you can’t hear it. In some parks, you are able to hear it [and it] can let you know how good that person hit the ball. You can’t always hear it in San Francisco.” Fuld thirded that motion. “Yeah, I have noticed it’s different. Especially in Tampa, the crack of bat is as loud as it’s going to get. No crowd, the roof’s there. Ben Zobrist talked about playing the outfield in Oakland, and it’s hard to hear the ball. The crowd is part of it, but [there’s] something to the air quality as well. [It’s] easier to hear in any place that’s closed.”
Blanco also commented on echoes, “Good ballparks to hear the echo are Arizona, Milwaukee, because the roof is closed and you can hear it in the outfield.”
That’s not to say everyone takes advantage of these echoes. “I just use the trajectory,” says Giants outfielder Justin Maxwell. His teammate, Hunter Pence kind of sums it up, “I don’t really know. I don’t know. I think you do use it subconsciously, and you don’t even realize it…Subconsciously you do it, but you don’t consciously use the crack of the bat.”
So where does that leave us. Unfortunately, still speculating about the demise of echoes during the game in today’s ballparks. Don’t worry, I have an explanation for you – let me know if you have a better one.
In most (all?) parks, the gigantic set of speakers in center field has been replaced by hundreds of smaller speakers placed around the park. Since there are so many smaller speakers around, each one can have a lower volume then a single set in center. The smaller speakers at lower volume aren’t loud enough to create any noticeable echoes.
You may not realize this, but the electrical signal sent to all of these speakers travels at nearly the speed of light. So, the sound comes out of all the speakers everywhere in the park at essentially the same time. All the fans hear the same hip-hop beat at the identical instant with no echo.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Am I correct? Well, I’ll have to go with Hunter Pence on this one – “I don’t really know. I don’t know. I think…”
Trades, movement hard on baseball families
Zach Buchanan, azcentral sports August 15, 2015
Taylor Ray remembers hearing a story about the pregnant wife of a professional baseball player, like herself. As the husband changed teams and levels 11 times, the woman entered into the care of four different doctors. She met the physician who would deliver her child just 24 hours before she gave birth.
That story, perhaps apocryphal, is on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to the challenges facing a baseball wife. But it’s not atypical either. Ray and her husband, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray, had spent the past three years in three different cities as Robbie was traded from the Washington Nationals to the Detroit Tigers to the Diamondbacks in successive offseasons.
For those first two years, which Robbie spent mostly in the minors, the two conducted their relationship long distance. When they were married last offseason and Robbie was acquired by the Diamondbacks — just a few days after their honeymoon — they lived together for the first time, first in Reno where Robbie pitched for the organization’s Triple-A affiliate, and later in Phoenix after he established his big-league bona fides.
Even living together didn’t mean there would be a ton of time together. Robbie spent 12 hours a day at the park during homestands, then would disappear for a week at a time on road trips.
Time apart is just one of several challenges baseball wives and girlfriends face, especially before their ballplayer husbands or boyfriends are established at the major-league level. Is his minor-league salary enough to live on, or should she work? When baseball directs him to a new city, how does she adjust to a place knowing no one and nothing about it? If it’s hard for her, what happens when kids are involved?
If that sounds like a complicated way to conduct a relationship, welcome to the life of the baseball family.
“I would say mine is very similar to other baseball wives’,” Taylor said.
THE MINOR-LEAGUE MARRIAGE
When Taylor and Robbie met at a birthday party in his hometown of Nashville in the winter of 2012, she had no idea what she was getting into. She’d never attended a big-league baseball game, and thought he was a soccer player when he said he played for the Nationals.
They talked all night and were “inseparable” after that, Taylor said, but in truth during the majority of their courtship they were separated a great deal. As Taylor remained in Nashville trying to get a foot in the door of the music industry, Robbie was bouncing from town to town in the minors.
Robbie played at two levels in 2013, neither of which was close to Nashville. When she planned to visit him during his time with the High-A Potomac Nationals in Virginia, he was bumped up to Double-A Harrisburg, Pa., before she could get on a plane.
An offseason trade to Detroit made things a bit easier for Taylor, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. She moved home with her family and commuted to Detroit or to Toledo, Ohio, for Triple-A games as Robbie bounced between the two levels. She sang gospel with her family, but music no longer seemed like a realistic career goal.
“Nashville is Music City. Grand Rapids is not,” Taylor said. “It’s totally different. I definitely took a big step back from what I was pursuing.”
Many baseball wives and girlfriends are forced to make the same decision — spend time with your significant other and be at the mercy of his profession, or maintain your own career. Many choose the former, but it can come at a cost. According to a USA Today report, minor-league salaries have increased just 75 percent since 1976 while the rate of inflation has been 400 percent in that same span.
“I know some guys say, ‘If my wife wasn’t doing something, making an extra $1,500 a month, we couldn’t make it on our own,’ ” Diamondbacks pitcher Chase Anderson said. “‘We couldn’t be together. She’d be back home having a normal job.’ ”
Anderson and his wife, Anna, crossed that bridge last year. When Chase was sent to Double-A to begin the 2014 season, he told Anna he felt God was telling him that it was important for their relationship that she join him. Anna admitted to dragging her feet, but eventually put in her notice and left her demanding real-estate job in Dallas.
“Two weeks later he was called up to the big leagues almost to the day,” said Anna. “I ended up having to travel a lot those first six weeks to see him, whereas if I would have trusted him and the Lord completely, I would have been with him for that whole journey. I still miss working from time to time, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t give up to be able to be with him daily.”
Daniel Hudson’s wife, Sara, worked as a labor and delivery nurse back home in Virginia during the offseason before they were married, and even looked into becoming a traveling nurse so she could work while following Hudson around the country. Hudson was in his first few years in the majors at that point, and when he and Sara were married in the 2011 offseason and moved to Arizona, she quit her job.
It’s half luxury and half necessity in order to build a healthy marriage.
“I think it’s definitely a big thing,” Hudson said. “Wives have to decide whether they want to stay home and work or travel a little bit.”
WELCOME, HERE ARE YOUR NEW FRIENDS
Taylor Ray considers herself adventurous. She estimates she’s moved eight to 10 times before she ever met Robbie, so picking up and relocating to follow his career is no big deal. But she’s had to make a lot of new friends, and because she spends so much time at the park her social circle is a bit predetermined.
“It’s almost like they’re forced to be friends, because they’re around each other all the time,” Hudson said.
The Rays have become close with the Andersons and with Nick and Amanda Ahmed. Anna and Amanda both reached out to Taylor when Robbie joined the Diamondbacks, making her feel welcome.
Still, it can be intimidating. Right after her husband was promoted to the majors, Anna Anderson remembers being prodded by the wives of Paul Goldschmidt and Trevor Cahill — Amy and Jess, respectively — to accompany them to a baby shower for Sara Hudson, whom she’d never met.
“I ended up going, but they really encouraged me to get involved with everything that the wives were doing,” she said. “I came in probably a little more jaded because I had a career and friends back home. It was kind of scary for me to think I’m quitting my job and leaving all of my friends and coming in. They made it so easy. It was almost like I wasn’t given a choice. It was, ‘C’mon, you’re going to friends, let’s start doing things.’ ”
The wives do many things as a group, such as volunteering for charities and other events, or congregate for bible study once each homestand. Those without children will travel on about 50 percent of road trips.
“Some of them, if they’re having a baby next year like I am, I’m going to travel a little more because I don’t know how things are going to go next year,” Taylor Ray said.
CHILDREN AND A SENSE OF PERMANENCE
The Rays will have their first child in December, and they know everything will change. They’re looking for a place to call home now, and are close to settling on a place in the Valley.
Others need that break, a clear delineation between the baseball world and the family world. Both the Andersons and Cliff and Missy Pennington have offseason homes in Texas, where all four of them grew up.
“We tried to do one offseason in the minor leagues where we stayed here in the Phoenix area for the whole offseason, and it just felt like two seasons that just never ended,” said Cliff, now with the Toronto Blue Jays after an early August trade. “To disconnect and go back home is huge for both of us.”
The Hudsons accomplish the same thing by being plugged into their Phoenix-area neighborhood, which is filled with young married couples with young children like them. Daniel Hudson has spent more time at home than most, though, considering he missed two calendar years because of consecutive Tommy John surgeries.
Now he’s adjusting to being gone half the time, seeing his young daughter Baylor for only a few hours each morning. Cliff Pennington tries to bring his son, Brady, to the park as often as he can to give his wife a breather, but “he’s the easy one.” Missy still has two more under two years old to corral at home.
“When we’re on the road, it’s almost like they’re a single mom,” Cliff said. “They have to do a lot of work raising our kids when we’re not there.”
Just like in the non-baseball world, having children puts a dent in one’s social life, even when it’s pretty much organized for you like with baseball wives. With a young child and her husband not appearing in a baseball game for nearly two years, Sara Hudson was often playing catch-up when she did come to the park for a game.
“When I got injured, it was tough for her to stay in the loop,” Daniel said. “She’s not going to come to a bunch of baseball games if I’m not going to play.”
STARTING ALL OVER
A few years ago Lory Ankiel, wife of former major-leaguer Rick, had the germ of an idea that there had to be a way to help baseball families cope with the realities of constant upheaval. In seven years of marriage the Ankiels endured 11 moves, none more stressful than a trade deadline move from Kansas City to Atlanta.
Lory was pregnant at the time, and felt in no condition to be organizing a cross-country move while Rick was pulled away from home to play baseball. Her idea — creating some sort of database for baseball families having to start over in a new city — finally clicked in her mind.
“It really cemented the fact that this is something that’s definitely needed because I need it right now,” she said.
The result is The Athletes Guide, LLC, an app that acts as a sort of Angie’s List for baseball families. Any baseball player can join — new member applications are screened by Lory personally — and receive recommendations when it comes to living in any major-league city.
There are instructions on how to get to the park, where to pick up tickets, where to park. Baseball families can find business and services like pediatricians, realtors and accountants, all of whom are submitted and reviewed by the guide’s nearly 600 members.
The guide comes with a corresponding website, OurBaseballLife.com, and Lory has since expanded to add sites for the NFL and Major League Soccer. She hopes it will take a burden both off baseball families tasked with a sudden move, and teams trying to both win games and ease the upheaval in their players’ lives.
“(Teams are) trying to help you as best they can, but you’re not going to be calling the traveling secretary every day saying, ‘Have you found that pediatrician for me yet?’ ” Lory said.
Robbie and Taylor Ray have heard of The Athletes Guide, but haven’t used it in the three years they’ve known each other. They hope they don’t have to going forward — staying in one place usually means a successful career.
But if circumstances change, they’ll deal with it. Taylor has been a baseball wife for less than a year, but by now understand what it entails.
“I got a lot of advice in Detroit from a lot of those veteran wives,” she said. “They told me to take it day by day and not get too bent out of shape if something changes. Because that’s how it’s going to be and there’s really nothing you can do about it.”
“a scout shouldn’t allow data to unduly influence his opinions. Utilize it, but ultimately trust your eyes.”
I’ve been asking scouts about spin rate lately. Do they see value in it? For example, say a pitcher in the low minors lacks plus velocity but is consistently getting soft-contact outs with elevated fastballs. Will he be able to do the same against more-advanced hitters? Probably not, but then again, if he has Chris Young-quality spin rate, there’s a decent chance that he can.
Two of the scouts I spoke to told me they have no need for such data. In their view, a good scout can adequately assess and project that type of fastball. Each has decades of experience and a strong track record, so their opinions are certainly valid.
Two other scouts I spoke to feel differently. Both opined that knowing a pitcher’s spin rate is helpful, adding that their organizations are tuned in to it. To them, all available information is valuable. One did offer a caveat: a scout shouldn’t allow data to unduly influence his opinions. Utilize it, but ultimately trust your eyes.
Under The Hood: A Look at David Price’s New Mechanics
With the trade deadline ticking down, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos made a huge statement when he traded 3 prospects for 2 months of starting pitcher David Price. It was no secret that the Jays were desperate for starting pitching, and AA was able to pick up one of the best in the game. Blue Jays fans have seen immediate return from Price, as after two starts he has beaten the Yankees once and has an ERA under 1.00. After reading fellow BJP writer Joshua Howsam’s breakdown of Price’s pitch usage and sequencing, I couldn’t help myself from digging into any mechanical changes Price had made. As Josh points out, there are have been number of changes to Price’s repertoire over the last few years: Curveball movement, velocity, pitch usage etc. So what changes, if any, has David Price made the last few years to his delivery?
Price has always been a model of consistency with his mechanics. Luckily for him, he had the pleasure of pitching during his college days for a well-regarded, progressive pitching school in Vanderbilt. After his college days were done, he moved onto another progressive organization, the Tampa Bay Rays.
He takes a rather simplistic approach to his movement patterns. One of the first things people often point out about Price is his lack of a normal full windup. I love seeing this! Over the years, I’ve heard endless arguments about big leg lifts being attached to velocity in pitchers. A common phrase I hear from pitching coaches I speak with is “it worked forNolan Ryan.” Unfortunately this is typical correlation behavior in this sport. The truth is, pitchers can throw with the same velocity whether throwing from the stretch, slide step, or using a massive leg lift. In the end, the leg lift is a timing mechanism, so it’s all about personal feel for an individual pitcher.
When Price was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he was part of an organization that clearly focused on posture and simplicity with their pitchers. He fit the mold with his lack of wind up and upright posture. With the upright posture and paltry amount of trunk tilt, Price was able to easily repeat his mechanics for years, contributing to his elite status as the Rays staff ace.
The above picture is a perfect example of that upright posture that the Rays organization tries to instill in their pitchers.
When I loaded up video of Price as a member of the Detroit Tigers, I discovered a slight change that I found odd. He was no longer as direct to the plate as he once was, landing closer to the first base side and throwing cross body. In the picture below you can see the difference in placement of his stride foot at contact. You should also be sure to notice the difference in trunk tilt and as a result, arm slot change.
At first I thought it was merely a position change on the rubber:
However, after watching every start I discovered the rubber placement was pretty consistent. So that wasn’t where it started.
I decided to dig even deeper and discovered that some of the roots of his changes began in his somewhat frustrating 2013 season. Price also faced his first significant injury as a pro in 2013. A triceps strain cost Price 47 games that year. Before he hit the disabled list, he was off to somewhat of a rocky start by his own standards, pitching to a 5.24 ERA over his first 55 innings. Despite having a trunk tilt consistently under 100 degrees, he occasionally found himself higher in his final season as with the Rays.
I can’t help but wonder if adjustments were made to compensate for arm pain, decrease in velocity, or even both. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that he’s continued with the adjustments after leaving the Rays organization. The trunk tilt and artificial higher arm slot are apparent in every start I watched of his while he with the Tigers.
I also noticed a lower half change since leaving the Rays. Price appears to be attempting to increase the activation of his glutes with a slight increase in drop and drive.
As you can see with the Tigers there is increased knee flexion (bending of the knee) in his back leg. You will also notice how his front side is closed off compared to his Tampa days.
Now let’s compare the stride foot contact:
You can see where the trunk tilt begins. He is landing closed, which forces him across his body. What interests me the most about this is not to start a debate of new vs old school mechanics. Rather, that the Toronto organization works to eliminate closed strides and attempts to have their pitchers in a direct line to the plate. Obviously the Jays won’t touch Price for the remainder of the season, but if by some miracle he winds up back in Toronto next year, I will be anxious to see any further adjustments. I’m also curious to see where these trends lead him. As Josh and I point out, Price has changed his pitch usage and mechanics yet remained a top ace within the game. He isn’t lost without a fastball and despite the mechanical adjustments, he continues to be a model of repeatability and consistency. If anything, this ability to adjust to changes in his mechanics could actually suggest that he’ll age better than some of his contemporaries (I’m looking at you, Justin Verlander). They had trouble once they couldn’t do some of the things to which they were accustomed, but Price just keeps chugging along.
This is the mark of a true ace.