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!


“one of the most consistently barren farm systems in all of baseball”

With ‘retirement’ of head of development, GM Brian Cashman must overhaul feeble Yankees minor-league system  

Mark Newman, whose player procurement and development talents produced such notable first-round draft busts as Cito Culver, Slade Heathcott, Andrew Brackman, C.J. Henry, Eric Duncan, Brandon Weedon, David Parrish, John-Paul Griffin and David Walling, announced his retirement

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

 

September 13, 2014

Mark Newman around anymore after his scouting system failed to produce a star position player through the draft since 1996.

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

Yankee fans should rejoice. Finally, the Mark Newman era as head man of the Yankees’ minor league operations has come to an end. Newman, whose player procurement and development talents produced such notable early-round draft busts as Cito Culver, Slade Heathcott, Andrew Brackman, C.J. Henry, Eric Duncan, Brandon Weeden, David Parrish, John-Ford Griffin and David Walling, announced his retirement last week after realizing he was not going to be given a new contract. He has been senior VP of baseball operations since 1996, overseeing the entire scouting and player development departments, during which time the Yankees failed to develop a single All-Star caliber position player or frontline starting pitcher from the draft.

But getting rid of Newman alone isn’t going to solve the Yankees’ problem, which is one of the most consistently barren farm systems in all of baseball; a talent dearth that has forced them to continually dip into the free agent market and grossly overspend on contracts such as those for CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Brain McCann, Carlos Beltran — and, of course, A-Rod — that are choking them now. What has to change are the policies of Newman, and for that to happen the Yankees are going to need to overhaul the entire player development and scouting department. The question is: Who will do that? It’s looking fairly certain GM Brian Cashman will be back — it’s hard to fault him for any of the moves he made in an effort to improve the team this year. Where Cashman can be faulted, however, is the minor league system. Back in 2005, he threatened to leave as GM if Yankee owner George Steinbrenner didn’t put an end to the longstanding separate fiefdoms in both Tampa and New York and give him control over the entire baseball operation. But once in charge, Cashman did nothing to change the way the minor league system was run. Newman remained and was allowed to continue hiring his cronies as scouts and coaches, many of whom never even played professionally (while at the same time running off, among others, Dick Groch, the scout who signed Derek Jeter, and Fred Ferreira, the scout who signed Bernie Williams), and Damon Oppenheimer continued as scouting director. I’m told the morale throughout the Yankees’ minor league system was at an all-time low this year as Newman had minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson calling minor league managers in the middle of ballgames and ordering them to remove pitchers with rising pitch counts. Yet in spite of all the failed draft picks, and pitchers who were never allowed to pitch out of jams, and the absence of any impact position players coming through the system, Cashman nevertheless approved Newman’s policies and all his hires — which makes you wonder about his own judgment and whether he should be the one to conduct the needed overhaul of the Yankee player development and scouting systems.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/madden-gm-brian-cashman-overhaul-feeble-yankee-system-article-1.1938637

 

“there have been more shortstops in Baseball America’s top 100 than any other position since 2000”

Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and a Nice Problem to Have

by Eno Sarris - September 12, 2014

It seems like top up-the-middle prospects like Francisco Lindor don’t come around very often. It seems like you can’t get enough shortstop prospects, especially if you run the Cubs. It seems like a building team like the Indians shouldn’t trade their top prospect. It seems like a team like that should hold on to their prospects like they were precious baubles to be hoarded in dark places.

Maybe all of that is wrong. Maybe the Indians should trade Francisco Lindor.

First up, are shortstop prospects in the top 100 any rarer than other positions? No. Actually, once you remove pitchers and outfielders, there have been more shortstops in Baseball America’s top 100 than any other position since 2000. 130 of them. The multiple eligibilities of many prospects does confound things, but you’d have to count every “slash-third-baseman” as an actual third baseman in order to find an equal among the positions. And there were only 297 outfield-only prospects, so it seems legitimate: we love shortstop prospects.

Should we? By bust rate, only second base produces worst outcomes than shortstop. As recently as 2011, 69.3% of top 100 shortstop prospects had bust, a full ten percent worse than the number of top third baseman that failed to become more than one-win major leaguers. Perhaps it’s because we dream so heavy on their shoulders, and put so many shortstops on our lists, but it really looks like it’s the iffiest position on the diamond when it comes to prospects.

The reason this is even a question is Jose Ramirez. Ramirez has played regularly since the Indians sent Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals, and has opened some eyes. Sure, his .256/.298/.339 slash line and resulting weighted offense (82 wRC+) doesn’t look great at first glance, but there are reasons to find him intriguing nonetheless.

For one, once placed in the context of his peers at his position, Ramirez isn’t as offensively anemic as it may first appear. Shortstops this year have only collectively managed a .250/.306/.362 line (86 wRC+). Suddenly, his bat is passable.

His glove is getting rave reviews. The small-sample defensive numbers have him as a plus-20 shortstop in just under 350 innings, elite numbers despite the short sample. Manager Terry Francona has praised his active defense, and even when admitting that he perhaps doesn’t have the best arm, the manager has been near effusive with his regular comments on the player.

“I don’t think we were surprised,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Ramirez’s play. “I just think that when people in our industry look at somebody and don’t see maybe a big arm, they immediately go, ‘Second base.’ Well, his range is tremendous and he moves his feet really well and he’s got a good clock.

That’s all eye-test and small samples. Francisco Lindor‘s defense has no qualifiers, not according to the scouting reports. Our JD Sussman called him “one of the Minor Leagues’ best defenders” last year. That part isn’t in question.

The bat on Lindor, though? Take a look at the current projections from Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs system for the two players in question.

 

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Jose Ramirez

0.265

0.306

0.345

86

Francisco Lindor

0.244

0.297

0.351

84

Huh. Jose Ramirez might have a better bat than the top prospect coming up behind him. He has the love of his manager already. The defensive stats love him so far, and a query for ‘Jose Ramirez defense’ on MLB.com’s video search toolprovides a nice return, even ones with good range:

Of course there are reasons to keep the top prospect. Szymborski’s peak projection for Lindor (.256/.316/.401 with a 103 wRC+) might be better than Ramirez can put up. We have to assume Lindor’s defense is superior to what Ramirez would put up at short, even if Lindor’s defense is a complete unknown at the big league level and Ramirez’s only slightly less so. You could move Ramirez to second and push Jason Kipnis (a -6 defensive second baseman) to the outfield, and you’d keep everyone under team control. These are all good reasons, and they make it likely that Lindor will remain an Indian next year.

But if the Indians are looking to get more offense at a different position, or perhaps a starter with the upside to push the rest of the rotation down a spot, they may want to think about trading Francisco Lindor. His bust rate is still high, they may have a replacement on hand, and there’s nothing that gets us (and other teams) as hot as a top-100 shortstop prospect.

That much we know, paradoxically, from the sheer number of shortstops we designate with that label.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/jose-ramirez-francisco-lindor-and-a-nice-problem-to-have/

 

"but this is deep-seated stuff.”

A harsh reality: Parents of black sons believe troubles seek their boys

  By David E. Early San Jose Mercury News

     SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s the time of year when hundreds of thousands of American parents are shipping their children off to college for the first time. For most, it’s a time of celebration. But for the black parents of college-bound sons, the rite of passage has long come with a quiet, unique sense of dread.

   These parents grapple with a scary open secret: Young black males — more than any other demographic group — are haunted by cultural stereotypes that foster fear, discrimination and police harassment. Sending sons away to other parts of the country greatly magnifies those fears, particularly since last month’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.  

   The uneasy preparation for life as a young African-American male often begins when black males are in their early teens, and goes on for years. Black parents simply call it “The Talk.”

   “I taught him to keep his hands where cops can see them,” said Amelia Ashley-Ward of San Francisco, whose son, Evan, says he has been stopped three times by police for no apparent reason in the Tennessee town where he attends college. “I taught him that police are not your friends and that every traffic stop can lead to damage that can never be undone.”

   Evan Ward said each time he was stopped, he had passengers. “We were not speeding, or playing loud music or bothering anyone,” said the 22-year-old, who attends Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “We got pulled   over for being young African-American males riding in a decent automobile.”

   But Ward, remembering his mom’s advice, gave “Yes, officer” responses, even when the cops were brusque. So all three times, Ward said, he drove away without so much as a ticket.

   Steven Millner, a professor in the Black Studies Department at San Jose State University, says stereotyping young black males began   during slavery and has piled on over the decades.

   “Unfortunately, people have not evolved on this issue, and that puts young black men into numerous circumstances that can quickly turn tragic,” Millner said.

   He pointed to Trayvon Martin, 17, who was shot dead in 2012 in Florida by a neighborhood watch commander, and Oscar Grant, 22, shot and killed by a Bay   Area Rapid Transit officer in 2009 in Oakland. Like Brown, both young men were unarmed.

   According to Millner, young black males are tainted by broad-brush images — that they are undereducated, undisciplined and hypersexual; athletic, entertaining and promiscuous; violent, brutish and irresponsible. Even their appearance — from dreadlocks to baggy pants to hooded sweatshirts

   — is used to tag them as troublemakers and thugs.

   Some stereotypes are perpetuated by ugly facts, such as the high   rates of inner-city black-on-black crime.

   Even civil rights activist Jesse Jackson once told an interviewer, “There is nothing more painful to me, at this stage in my life, than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

   But millions of young black males who don’t reflect such   archetypes must also deal with the widespread fears sparked by the negative images.

   Worried African-American parents strenuously warn their young sons to always stand down to police and authority figures.

   Phyllis Daugherty, of Ferguson, attended Brown’s funeral and found herself overwhelmed by incredible sadness   as she thought about her college-bound son, Pierre, 18.

   “I tell him to always pull over for police in a public place, never … on a side street,” Daugherty said. “You must never give them any reason to harass you, lock you up or shoot you.”

   Barry Krisberg, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said young black males tend to be prejudged almost everywhere by cops and hosts of others. But when it comes to dealing with police, the message is: “To leave that situation alive, you have to accept   second-class citizenship. If they assert their constitutional or civil rights … terrible things can happen.”

   Some black parents point to the 2008 election of the nation’s first African-American president as the reason behind some of the racial animus. Many hoped a “post-racial” peace would ensue. Instead, African-Americans largely believe the election rekindled old hatreds and set off unapologetic venom in politics.

   “How deep-seated is this negative image of black men that they would not show respect for someone like President Obama,” said Amos Brown, senior pastor of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. He said treatment of the president “reflects how hateful they feel about all of us.”

   Police officers in California are trained in community relations, racial profiling and ethical street tactics, in the hopes of giving fair treatment to everyone, said Alan Deal, executive director of POST (Peace Officer Standards and   Training) in Sacramento.

   “The approach in basic training is completely colorblind,” he said. “We focus on the specific behavior or the crimes reported.”

   But Krisberg said the reality is far more complex. The trouble, he said, comes with the countless individuals, including cops, deeply imbued with stereotyped beliefs.

   When many officers look at a young black male, Krisberg said, scientific research shows “they are subconsciously seeing a dangerous animal and experiencing an increased heart rate and fear levels. Training could help a little, but this is deep-seated stuff.”

http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_26472490/scary-open-secret-parents-black-sons-believe-troubles

“he’ll need to be more than a one-dimensional pitcher to get there”

KEVIN GAUSMAN’S ONE-DIMENSIONAL ATTACK

ALEX SMITH — SEPTEMBER 6, 2014 

There’s no doubting that Kevin Gausman is a talented pitcher.  He features a fastball in the mid to upper 90’s, a split-change to fluster lefties with, and a slider with good depth to attack righties.

He even looks the part too, with a 6’3’’, 190 lb. frame, an athletic delivery, and an incredibly fast arm.  And therefore, it was for good reason that the Baltimore Orioles made him the 4th selection of the 2012 Amateur Draft and he’s risen quickly to the big leagues.

However, Gausman’s career up to this point, at the major league level, has seen its fair share of ups and downs.  He struggled in a brief 47.1 IP in 2013 and in 2014 has hovered around mediocrity.  His ERA is alright at 3.83, but a mere 6.82 K/9 and 3.27 BB/9 is likely not what Baltimore was hoping to see from their former elite pitching prospect.

Heading into the postseason, Baltimore can expect solid performances from Chris TillmanBud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen, but Gausman could be their biggest X Factor.  His stuff gives him a chance to dominate a playoff game and serve as a stopper down the stretch, but he’ll need to be more than a one-dimensional pitcher to get there.

By one-dimensional I’m referring to Gausman’s strong tendency to pitch only down and to his arm-side. See his FanGraphs pitcher heatmaps below vs. lefties and righties.

 

Notice, despite batter handedness, Gausman’s pitch location tendencies stay the same, as he works down-and-away from left-handers and down-and-in to right-handers.

Some of this is by probably by design. With Gausman and the Orioles trying to expose holes underneath righties hands and staying away from the lefty power zone of down-and-in.

However, a large reason for this tendency is Gausman’s inability to consistently pitch to his glove side.

In the video linked here, watch how Gausman reaches on the back side of his arm action. This reach makes it more difficult for him to command his pitches by limiting his ability to stay tall on his back side, keep a loose arm, and maintain balance.

Second, watch how he steps across his body.  By having a “crossfire delivery”, in order for Gausman to get a pitch to his glove-side, he must over-rotate and power his arm across the rest of his frame.

Gausman has the arm speed to do this, but the process of doing so, inhibits his ability to command pitches to that side of the plate, and he often misses in the strike-zone where hitters can do damage.

A great example of this was during the third inning of Gausman’s start this afternoon versus Tampa Bay.

With 1 out and Ben Zobrist on 3rd, Gausman tried to beat David DeJesus with a fastball low-and-in.  But Gausman’s fastball was never able to get to the inside part of the plate, and the left-handed DeJesus roped a single.

Now with 1st and 3rd, Gausman faced Evan Longoria and after throwing two split-change-ups down, he tried to beat the right-hander away with a fastball. Once again, Gausman couldn’t get the pitch to his glove side and Longoria smoked the ball to center for a sac fly.

Left-handed hitting James Loney came to bat next and immediately lined the first pitch fastball down-and-away to left field for a single.  The ease at which Loney stroked Gausman’s mid to upper 90′s fastball on the low, outside corner to left indicates he likely was cheating on a fastball there.  And judging from Gausman’s heatmaps and the previous two sequences, there was little reason for Loney to believe Gausman was going pitch him anywhere else.

This was a particularly unfortunate series of at-bats for Gausman and there are going to be times he can better locate to his glove-side. He’s a good enough athlete to overcome his delivery and arm action for periods of time, but consistent command to his glove-side is going to be difficult to achieve.

A simple question to ask at this point is why can’t Gausman make the mechanical adjustments to fix these issues?

Yet, changing a pitcher’s arm action and delivery at this stage of his career is extremely difficult. Gausman has likely been pitching this way his entire life and any changes now would probably result in a major setback first before progress could be made (and if progress could be made is even debatable).

This delivery and arm action is what Gausman is comfortable with and it’s worked well enough to make him a successful professional pitcher. Most major league pitchers do not have perfect mechanics, but rather are athletic enough to make up for mechanical flaws.  Gausman fits into this category.

However, there is an adjustment Gausman could make without changing his mechanics, and that’s better utilizing the top part of the strike zone, even if he stays arm-side. Let’s return to the heatmaps shown above once again. Take a look at the red on the bottom part of the zone and blue on the top.

Kevin Gausman has elite fastball velocity and life. His four-seam fastball has averaged 95.9 mph in 2014, which would put him 3rd amongst starting pitchers if he qualified.  Compare his FanGraphs heatmaps to those of Yordano Ventura and Nathan Eovaldi, the starting pitchers with the most similar average fastball velocities to Gausman.

More-so Ventura than Eovaldi, but see the increased use of the upper part of the strike-zone, as well as the more diverse use of the entire plate. Ventura has been rewarded accordingly as per Brooks Baseball, hitters are only batting .196 against pitches he’s thrown in the top third of the zone in 2014.

At the very least an increased use of the upper third of the strike-zone will give Gausman another dimension to his arsenal. Hitters, like James Loney, won’t be able to cheat to get to certain pitches in specific locations.

Gausman has the dynamic stuff to be a front-line starter, it’s just about expanding the ways he can deploy his weapons and becoming more consistent in his ability to command them.

The Orioles are hoping he can improve at a rapid rate, as he could be the key to their potential success in late September and October.

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball

Featured Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

http://battingleadoff.com/2014/09/06/3839/

 

“IS ALL THE ADDITIONAL time players spend on BP and working in the cage as beneficial as it is expected to be?”

September 11, 2014
Batting practice: Swings and misses


By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

It's late afternoon, and as you glance again at the clock and wonder whether the workday will ever end, your favorite players are where you want to be -- at the ballpark beginning a daily ritual almost as comforting to them as the sound of Vin Scully's voice is to you. Scully has been calling Dodgers' games for 65 years; this ritual goes back much, much further than that, back almost to baseball's beginnings.

The scene: As music fills the air, the grounds crew wheels a large, netted cage to the plate. A coach pushes a cart filled with baseballs from the dugout to a low platform in front of the pitcher's mound. Another coach twists his arm like a windmill as he prepares to throw. Antsy hitters tuck their bats under their arms and pull on their gloves as they approach home for the routine that will prepare them to face 95 mph fastballs, biting curves and nasty sliders.

It's time for batting practice, a pregame convention ballplayers have been doing practically since Old Hoss Radbourn was a young pony. It is as familiar as stirrup socks, with the additional bonus that BP viewing is still available to those of us who can get out of work and to the stadium early enough. (Well, part of it is. More on that later).

Basketball players have shootarounds. Tennis players have warm-ups. But no sport's pre-competition drills compare to the importance, history and beauty of baseball's batting practice. And with the chance to catch home run balls in the bleachers, BP is infinitely more entertaining than watching football players stretch and do jumping jacks. You don't find fans chasing footballs outside Soldier Field like they chase baseballs outside Wrigley Field.

Batting practice is reliably consistent from the start of the season through the playoffs, with only the slightest change as we roll deeper into September and call-ups add to the number of players taking part or veteran players scale back slightly on the number of swings they take to rest their bodies.

"You only have so many bullets in those hands," Seattle manager and former Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said. "It's just that time of year where we cut it down two or three minutes per group."

Which isn't to say this baseball constant hasn't changed. Like many timeless traditions, batting practice has evolved over the decades.

"I can't put a timeline on it, but it has changed significantly," Hall of Famer and 3,000 Hit Club member Paul Molitor said. "Batting practice was primarily done on the field when I started. In Milwaukee, I don't know how many days we didn't have it. If it rained or they covered the field, you couldn't go in the cage -- you just had to come on the field and play."

Now, much of BP is done off the field. There are batting cages out of the fans' eyesight where players work on flip drills or hit against pitching machines. There are better, more varied, iterations of those pitching machines. There are extensive video libraries -- available in the video room or on their smart phones -- that allow players to review whatever they want: an opposing pitcher's fastballs, curveballs and changeups, their pitches in certain counts, the hitter's swings against specific pitches on any count in any previous at-bat. There is early BP and extra BP and occasionally even in-game BP. There are, simply, more swings taken, and there is more time and more thought put into those swings (which some say isn't always a good thing).

What hasn't changed much over the years, though, is the essential routine of pregame BP's main sessions. It begins roughly two and a half hours before game time and lasts 45 to 50 minutes per team. Usually, four groups of players take several rounds of swings, beginning with a few bunts followed by 25 to 30 total cuts for each hitter.

Some players swing for the fences. Some work on hitting the other way. Some do both. Some spray balls to all fields. Some wait patiently for a pitch in a specific part of the strike zone. Some swing at anything and everything. Some are at an utter loss if their BP routine is disrupted. Some can let it go without a care.

"I remember once Cecil Cooper didn't take BP for a month -- he just felt he was in a good place and didn't need to do anything," Molitor said. "The other extreme was when you played the Yankees: There was Don Mattingly, who took 250 swings in a cage almost on a daily basis."

"Some guys need to swing and swing. Other guys have one swing and say 'I'm good' and just walk out of the cage," 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen said. "Everyone knows guys who hit until they're sweating. Everybody is different. It's a comfort thing."

As Raul Ibanez said, batting practice "is what you make of it."

The great and comforting thing about it? It's always there for the making -- for them and for us.

IN "BULL DURHAM," CRASH tells his teammates on the bus that in the majors, "You hit white baseballs for batting practice" rather than blemished, soiled old balls in the low minors. This is true. And big league teams go through a lot of them -- I mean, a lot.

Each day, the Mariners place 240 new baseballs into the big basket that coaches wheel onto the field for BP. They also fill up another basket for the visiting team. (All home teams do that so the visiting teams don't need to pack their own.) When those baskets are wheeled off the field after BP, they hold far fewer baseballs.

The Mariners estimate they go through 35,000 baseballs in batting practice over the course of a season. Yes, 35,000. Throw in the baseballs used in the games, and they figure they go through 50,000 baseballs a year. The balls cost $84 a dozen (and the price is likely to rise to $91 a dozen next year), so that's $350,000 in baseballs, including about $245,000 for batting practice alone.

Where do all the baseballs go? Many go over the fence, of course, either hit by batters or tossed by players to fans in the stands begging for them. ("'Please' goes a long way," Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen said of how to get a player to flip one to you.) Others are scuffed-up enough (and it doesn't take much scuffing) that they are dispatched for cage work or to minor league affiliates. Wherever they go, those baseballs all have to be replaced, every day.

Thirty-five thousand batting practice baseballs. No, I don't know how many cows that is.


One major change in batting practice over the decades is the availability of hitting cages in the newer, larger stadiums. In the old days, a separate batting cage wasn't always available, particularly for the visiting players, who sometimes had to simply hit into a net, if there was anything to hit into at all.

"It's much better now than it was before," said Ibanez, who made his major league debut in 1996. "Now, pretty much every ballpark has a cage in it. The ones that don't have one for the visitors are few and far between." (Wrigley Field has a shared cage under the bleachers in center field.)

Extra cages mean it's easier for players to work on other hitting drills off the field. There is front toss (in which a ball is tossed softly to a batter from just a few feet away) and side toss (same thing, but the ball is tossed from the side) and hitting off a tee or off a machine. Front toss, side toss, soft toss, whatever -- this caught on as a BP routine in the early to mid-1990s.

"Even back then, Lee Elia was flipping in the cage to every player from about 2 or 2:30 to our 4 o'clock stretch," Ibanez said. "I would say the difference is you can go in during the game and hit now. I don't think you saw that as much back then."

McCutchen said he spends about five to 10 minutes every day in the cage working on flip drills and hitting balls off a tee.

"It doesn't take long," he said. "Get in, get the feeling, get out."

Baseball is a game of routine, and getting that feel is a big part of BP, but there are other goals. Asked what he tries to accomplish with batting practice, Mariners DH/outfielder Corey Hart shrugged and said, half-seriously, "Hit home runs."

Perhaps that (plus his injuries) is why Hart is hitting .202 with six home runs this season. Batting practice home runs are entertaining to see -- Mike Trout said he loved to watch former Angels teammate Mike Trumbo hit long bombs to all fields -- but that isn't what hitting coaches say batters should stress in BP.

"Batting practice has become, at times, home run shows and a 'gig me' period. It's not," Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis said. "It's a time to create and foster good habits. The guys who do it and do it right are the ones who are more successful. You watchMiguel Cabrera in BP. He can hit the ball as far as anyone. But in batting practice, he's all about hitting to right-center field, right-center field, right-center field. He might have one round where he goes in there and tries to feel his extension, but not with the intention of hitting the ball in the seats. He's trying to square the ball up."

More evidence this is the correct approach: Trout and Robinson Cano also said they focus on hitting the ball to the opposite field.

"I'm just hitting the ball to right-center," Trout said. "Maybe I'll pull the ball a bit to left-center sometimes, but pretty much, I stay hands inside the ball."

"I always try left field only," the left-handed-hitting Cano said. "After that, I try to hit line drives."

Davis said there were players who treated BP as home run shows when he was a young player as well, but he preferred watching two-time MVP Dale Murphy hit hard grounders and line drives.

"Try telling a kid to hit hard groundballs today," Davis said. "'Hard groundballs? Those are outs.' No, this is batting practice. There aren't any outs in batting practice. It's a practice habit. You preach discipline of taking the same habits in the batting cage -- where there is no yellow line and no home run fence -- into BP."

Maybe having Davis as a coach is the reason only one team has scored more runs than Oakland over the past two years. And maybe having Cabrera around is the reason Detroit is that one team.

MARINERS THIRD BASE COACH RICH Donnelly has been throwing batting practice for 46 years -- well, not continuously for 46 years, but pretty much every day each season since he started in pro ball. Now 68, he normally throws one 15-minute session each day, down from the hour he once threw regularly. He figures he throws eight to 10 pitches a minute, or 120-to-150 pitches a session, or close to 25,000 pitches a season (including spring training). Donnelly said someone he met recently calculated the coach had thrown 1.2 million pitches in his career.

No, there is no pitch limit for coaches tossing BP.

"When I started managing, you threw to the pitchers," he said. "You threw to the extras. You threw to the guys who weren't on the team who were there. Then you threw to the starting lineup. I threw an hour a day. But I was 25. Right now, I could throw a half-hour on a hot day. But some guys can throw an hour."

Granted, coaches aren't firing the ball up there at Aroldis Chapman velocity. Most throw about 60 to 62 mph, but it seems faster to the hitter because the coaches are throwing from well in front of the mound.

"When I first started, we threw from a foot in front of the rubber. If I did that now, I would never make it to home plate," Donnelly said. "Each year over the past 46 years, that sucker has moved closer and closer and closer. Which is wonderful. Because if you move back, you can't get the velocity. If you throw 62 from there, it's like 85 to the hitter."

The key to throwing batting practice, Donnelly said, is to throw strikes so batters can hit them. He said he has a gift for throwing strikes, such a gift that he gets mad when a batter hits a foul ball because he assumes that means he threw the ball in the wrong spot. He is so good at throwing the ball where batters want it that he has thrown in five All-Star Home Run Derbies, including 1994, when he threw to every hitter in the multi-hour competition.

"I throw all strikes," Donnelly said. "If I went to a carnival, I would come home with a truckload of stuffed animals."


For all the evolution in batting practice, here is one BP change that baseball needs: The hitting times should be reversed for the home and away teams.

It's been the tradition for as long as anyone can remember: The home team bats first, from around 4:30 to 5:20 for night games. The visiting team then takes over.

There are a couple of major flaws with this arrangement. Baseball players spend far too much of the season away from home as it is, so when they are playing at home, why not let them stay there an hour longer each day by holding their batting practice after the visiting team's? When they're on the road, ballplayers rarely have much to do other than go to the ballpark early, so why not let them hit first?

Ibanez sees the logic in that change, but doesn't want to see it implemented.

"I think it's advantageous for the home team to hit first," he said. "Then you have more time between batting practice and the game. Sometimes on the road, you can get a little rushed. Sometimes you're done taking batting practice at 6:15 and you have to be back on the field getting ready at 6:45. So you feel a little rushed. I like the way it is. I think it has more to do with the preparatory phase of the game. You can go take BP as the home team, then go have your meetings, eat, rest up, shower, change and go out and play."

That makes some sense, but do players really need to shower before a game? The obvious counterargument is teams play half their games at home and half on the road, so flopping the times wouldn't alter the number of times the players feel rushed or relaxed.

More importantly, flopping times would allow hometown fans to see their own players hit. As it stands, fans generally aren't allowed into the stadium until the home team is just finishing up batting practice, so they never get to see their favorite players bat.

Occasionally, over the decades, people in baseball have made attempts to change this. So far, no luck.

"There have been discussions about that, but I think it was nixed," McClendon said. "It almost makes sense to change so your fans can see the home team hit. We're coming off the field from batting practice when the gates open. So I think there is something to that. But some things are hard to change."

Particularly in baseball. But this idea is a win-win that makes too much sense for even baseball to not do it.

Of course, seeing the home team hit might not hold much appeal in San Diego.

IS ALL THE ADDITIONAL time players spend on BP and working in the cage as beneficial as it is expected to be? Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who led the way in utilizing defensive shifts, said no.

"What we're doing differently is we're not taking as much of [BP]," Maddon said of his Rays. "I'm not a big believer in it. I think it's very overrated. Because No. 1, I think too many guys go out there just trying to hit homers. No. 2, they swing way too much in the day.

"I think there's a point of diminishing returns that sets in, arm-weariness-wise, by hitting too much. I think it's an overrated concept. I'm not saying it's unnecessary, and it's good like 70 percent of the time, maybe 75 percent of the time. But the other 25 percent is not necessary. It's a ritual."

Maddon also said the advances in video, metrics and defensive analysis mostly favor the pitcher and work against the hitter. He said batters need to keep their minds clear and their eyes open, which allows them to react more quickly to the ball. He said visualization techniques, such as spotting the numbers written on a tennis ball thrown at 90 to 100 mph, are more important than practice swings.

"You don't even have to swing at it," Maddon said. "Just look at it to train your eye to see it and pick it up sooner. To me, that's not trained enough while the swing is trained way too much. Just seeing the ball can be as important as swinging at it.

"You can have all most wonderful theory, the most erudite, simplistic theory thrown at you, and it's not going to help you a bit unless you feel it as a hitter."

Maddon, in fact, suggested aroma therapy -- say, wearing his father's favorite cologne -- can be just as helpful for a batter.

"That, to me, can be much more beneficial than 25 extra swings," he said.

Molitor, now a coach with the Twins, agreed too much information can sometimes be overwhelming for a hitter.

"We can try to prepare guys and help them gain confidence through practice," he said. "But when they get out there, it's a whole different dynamic. The mental side is as important or more important than the mechanics."

Davis recommends that hitters, particularly those who don't play every day, stand in during pitchers' bullpen sessions. They won't swing the bat. They don't need a bat. But they need to see the ball thrown in a game-like situation.

"The key is to see what's coming at you and make that decision to swing or not swing," he said. "Go down to a bullpen when you've got three or four guys throwing, and track the pitches. If you close your eyes, you're not seeing it. If you're not seeing it, you're not going to hit it. Because there are too many pitches. Sinkers, cutters, changeups, curves, sliders, splitters -- you've got to track the ball. You've got to read the ball as quickly as possible to react."

McClendon began his pro playing career in 1980. He, too, thinks there is a little excess of BP these days.

"When I played, we didn't have soft toss," he said. "We looked at film, we took batting practice and we played the game. Today's players, it can almost be a crutch, all the cage work. It can sometimes be overkill. It's like anything else in life -- you can overdo it. Sometimes, you just need to take a step back. I get all the technology stuff. But what I tell my players is Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron didn't have all that stuff. They took good old-fashioned BP and went out and played the game."

Just as players will do for as long the game continues. Batting practice is a constant, a comfort and our national game's own wonderful pastime.

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/11503846/mlb-batting-practice-game-game

 

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 412 Next 5 Entries »