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Daniel Robertson played in last night’s Arizona Fall League All-Star Game. The 21-year-old Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect – potentially the team’s second baseman of the future following the recent trade for Brad Miller – was in the lineup for the AFL East.
Acquired by the Rays from Oakland in last January’s Ben Zobrist deal, Robertson is in the desert recouping lost at bats. The former first-round pick broke a hamate bone in early June and was out until August. He felt soreness for a few weeks after returning – “I’d grimace a little bit taking swings” – and he still considers himself in the transition period from the surgery. His admission aside, he claims to feel fine.
Toughness isn’t an issue. Robertson values OBP, and he’s more than willing to get drilled to reach first base. In 359 plate appearances this year, he was hit by a pitch 12 times. Last year he was hit 16 times.
“I wouldn’t say I crowd the plate,” responded Robertson, when I asked about his proclivity to get plunked. “I don’t totally hug it. People ask, ‘Why do you keep getting hit?’ but it’s just one of those things. I like to see the ball middle-away and drive it to the right-center field gap, and because I have that mindset, maybe I lean over a little bit. They’ll come inside, knowing my approach, and they end up clipping me. But that’s OK. I’ll take my base any way I can.”
“it’s not always easy to read makeup, especially before a player enters your organizational foxhole”
Dave Stewart was an outstanding pitcher. A tough-as-nails workhorse, he won 20-or-more games four years in a row and twice led the AL in complete games. He was beast-like in the postseason. In 10 ALCS starts, with the Athletics and Blue Jays, Stewart went 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA. In an equal number of World Series games, his ERA was 3.32.
The death stare that once intimidated hitters has been replaced by a desk job and an eye for talent. Stewart is now 57 years old and the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Compared to his GM brethren, Stewart is pretty old school. He professes to incorporate analytics into his decision-making process, but the self-described “baseball brat” acknowledged that “Watching the game with my own eyes is always going to be important.”
When it comes to acquiring and developing pitching talent, what he can’t see presents a challenge. When I suggested that one of the young pitchers on his staff strikes me as his polar opposite – deer-in-the-headlights instead of death stare – Stewart admitted that it’s not always easy to read makeup, especially before a player enters your organizational foxhole.
“Unfortunately, there is no real way to recognize that,” Stewart told me in Boca Raton. “When Orel Hershiser was coming up through the minor leagues, and even in his earlier years in the big leagues, you’d have never known that he was going to turn out to be the competitor that he was later on. It’s tough to look at a guy and say, ‘This guy is going to be a bulldog’ or ‘This guy is going to be a chihuahua.’ Of course, you want the bulldog. You want the guy who is going to be the last guy standing.”
The Silver Standard for National League Pitchers
NOVEMBER 16, 2015 BY FRANK JACKSON
The end of the postseason and the beginning of the offseason heralds the revelation of awards for the past year of baseball. The objective awards (most home runs, highest batting average, etc.) based on statistics are determined the last day of the regular season. The subjective awards (e.g., Cy Young, MVP) are based on those statistics but subject to interpretation. As with political elections, there are numerous candidates, sometimes clear favorites and sometimes not.
The Silver Sluggers, awarded by Hillerich & Bradsby to the best offensive player at each position in both leagues since 1980, are not the most anticipated awards. The voters — major league managers and coaches (who cannot vote for players on their own teams) — are well-informed and well-qualified. Since one need consider only a player’s performance at the bat, it is relatively easy to arrive at a decision. How the player performs in the field is irrelevant (the obverse is true with the Gold Glove awards). Nevertheless, the results are hardly headline news. (You might not have noticed that this year’s awards were announced last Thursday,)
Probably the least anticipated Silver Slugger award is the one for NL pitchers. After all, when it comes to outfielders or corner infielders, most seasons will offer a fair number of candidates. But ho-hum offensive stats for a position player could be outstanding when generated by a pitcher. Most years the Silver Slugger award for NL pitchers falls into this “not bad for a pitcher” category; other seasons the stats are impressive by any standard.
While there have been a number of one-and-done award-winning pitchers, there are a surprising number of multiple winners. In 1981 Fernando Valenzuela won both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards. Less well known is that he also won the Silver Slugger award that year – and in 1983. For a pitcher, the stats are not bad (.250 based on 16 for 64 with seven RBIs in 1981; .187 based on 17 for 91 with nine RBIs in 1983). One suspects that the competition was weak those years. One also suspects that a pitcher’s performance on the mound might induce voters to pay more attention to his offensive prowess.
The winner of the award in its inaugural year (1980) was also a two-timer. That year, Bob Forsch hit .296 (23 for 78) with three home runs and 10 RBIs for the Cardinals. The next six seasons were less stellar (curiously, in 1986 he batted a mere .171 but had a career high 12 RBIs), but in 1987 (at age 37) he came alive again, batting .298 with two homers and eight RBIs, and won his second Silver Slugger award. Forsch’s career stats were 12 homers and 84 RBIs to go with a .213 average. Had the award been around in 1975, Forsch might have won it then, as he hit .308 (24 for 78).
Forsch was not the only multiple winner with a seven-year gap between awards. Don Robinson first won the award with the Pirates in 1982 when he hit .282 (24 for 85) with two homers and 16 RBIs. The results were not bad for the next six seasons, but since Robinson was starting fewer games and coming out of the bullpen more often, his at-bats were many fewer.
After Robinson was traded to the Giants during the 1987 season, he began to accumulate more at-bats. In 1989 he started a career-high 32 games. He hit just .185 but it was a heavy .185, as he slugged three home runs. He wasn’t through; he hit two more home runs the next season, winning his third and final Silver Slugger, despite a batting average of just .143.
Only two pitchers have won three Silver Sluggers in a row. One was Robinson’s Pittsburgh teammate, Rick Rhoden, who did so from 1984 through 1986. The 1984 award was certainly warranted, as he hit .333 (28 for 84). Some years even the league batting champion doesn’t achieve that average. He was probably coasting on his reputation in 1985, when he hit just .189 (14 for 74), but he rebounded in 1986 with a .278 average (25 for 90) with 10 RBIs. Rhoden’s chance for a fourth straight award was thwarted after the 1986 season when he was traded to the American League. Due to the DH rule, he had just one at-bat in two seasons with the Yankees.
Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs came close to winning three in a row, starting in 2006, ending in 2009, but missing out in 2007, when Diamondbacks rookie Micah Owings copped the award on the basis of a .333 average (20 for 60) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. This was Owings’ best season in seven, and he retired with a highly respectable .283 (58 for 205) with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. Had his pitching stats over that time period been better than 32-33 with a 4.86 ERA, he might have stuck around longer and had the opportunity to really pad his offensive stats.
As for Zambrano, during his career he hit a remarkable 24 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .388. In 2006, he hit a mere .151, but it was a robust .151 with six home runs and 11 RBIs. His slugging percentage was .397. He improved on this in 2008 with a Ruthian slugging percentage of .554. His batting average (.337) was also his career best, as were his RBIs (14), to go along with four home runs. He dropped off a bit in 2009 with a .217 batting average and a .464 slugging percentage to accompany his four home runs and 11 RBIs.
The Braves’ Tom Glavine was not the only Hall of Fame pitcher to win a Silver Slugger (the other was his teammate, John Smoltz), but he is the only one to win the award more than once. He is also the only pitcher to win both the Cy Young Award and the Silver Slugger more than once (1991 and 1998).
During the 1990s, Glavine had a nice run, winning the award four times (in 1995 and 1996 in addition to his Cy Young Award years) mostly based on hitting singles. He hit just one home run in his career, and in his first Silver Slugger season, the differential between his batting average and his slugging average was minuscule (.230/.243).
Glavine’s 1991 award suggests that the field must have been weak that year. The same goes for his 1995 and 1998 seasons, which were pretty much the same (.222 with eight RBIs in 1995; .239 with seven RBIs in 1998). His best season was 1996, when he hit .289, albeit with just three RBIs. On the whole, however, one has to wonder if the voters favored Glavine because of his exploits on the mound. They were paying more attention to him than lesser pitchers, so they were more likely to notice him than a pitcher with similar offensive stats but a less impressive record on the mound.
The gold standard for Silver Slugger pitchers is definitely Mike Hampton, who won five consecutive awards (1999-2003). Notably, he did this with four different teams (in order, the Astros, Mets, Rockies for two years, and Braves). His first award was well-deserved, as he hit .311 (23 for 74) with 10 RBIs. His work on the mound wasn’t too shabby either, as he went 22-4 for the Astros. Those 22 victories, his 2.90 ERA, and 239 IP were all career highs. He also led the league in victories and winning percentage (.846). The Sporting News named him the National League Pitcher of the Year but he missed out on the Cy Young Award (which went to Randy Johnson).
Hampton dropped off a bit in 2000 (.274 based on 20 for 73 with eight RBIs), but muscled up in 2001 to .291 (23 for 79) with seven home runs, 16 RBIs, and an astonishing .582 slugging percentage. Granted, this was a limited number of at bats, but a position player who slugged at that rate for a career would end up in ninth place between Albert Pujols andManny Ramirez.
In 2002 Hampton’s power was down a bit ( a “mere” .516 slugging percentage) but he had his best batting average (.344, based on 22 for 64). By 2003 he was likely coasting on his reputation, as his stats were much less impressive: .183 batting average (11 for 60) with two home runs and eight RBIs.
But let’s not overlook the one-time-only winners. In addition to the aforementioned Smoltz (1997) and Owings (2007), they are:
Tim Leary (1988), Dwight Gooden (1992), Orel Hershiser (1993), Mark Portugal (1994),Livan Hernandez (2004), Jason Marquis (2005), Yovani Gallardo (2010), Daniel Hudson(2011), Stephen Strasburg (2012), and Zack Greinke (2013).
Of all the one-timers, special mention should go to Livan Hernandez, the 2004 winner, who set the record for consecutive hits by a pitcher with eight safeties during the Expos’ final season. Hernandez pitched a career-high 255 innings that season (he started a career-high 35 games, a total he matched the next season with the Nationals), so he afforded himself ample opportunity to swing the bat. He hit .247 (20 for 81) with 10 RBIs. Without that eight-hit streak, however, his batting average would have been just .164.
There must be something about starting pitchers outdoing themselves with the bat during the final season of a franchise, as Hernandez broke the record of seven straight hits set by the Browns’ Don Larsen, who did so in 1953 before the team moved to Baltimore. Both pitchers had the misfortune to play for last-place teams so their achievements remain relatively obscure.
Larsen’s reputation is based largely on his 1956 perfect game in the World Series, but it is not often appreciated that he was a pretty good hitting pitcher, finishing his career with a .242 average and a .371 slugging percentage. He hit 14 home runs and 72 had RBIs. With 596 at-bats, that was more or less the equivalent of a decent season for a full-time position player.
Of course, Larsen plied his trade before the Silver Slugger awards were established, so his offensive exploits do not loom large in the record book. The same is true of a number of other pitchers (e.g., Ken Brett, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn). No matter how proficient they were with the bat, there was no official recognition of their deeds.
In the years to come, Hudson, Strasburg, and Greinke may win more Silver Slugger awards. Gallardo is still active but now plies his trade with the AL Rangers, so unless he returns to the NL, he will remain a one-shot winner.
But NL pitchers may have to take a back seat to Madison Bumgarner. In 2014, Bumgarner’s postseason heroics overshadowed his Silver Slugger status (.258 batting/.470 slugging with four home runs and 15 RBIs). There was no postseason for Bumgarner and the Giants in 2015, but Bumgarner’s regular season stats were remarkably similar to his 2014 stats – both pitching and batting.
In 2014 he was 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA in 217.1 innings; in 2015 he was 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 218.1 innings. His offensive stats also kept pace, as he hit .247 and slugged .468 with five home runs and nine RBIs. So he won the 2015 Silver Slugger award also. What is remarkable about Bumgarner’s offensive stats is how he exploded on the scene in 2014. From 2009 to 2013, his stats were unremarkable (31 for 224, good for just a .138 batting average).
However he acquired his offensive mojo, Bumgarner is now in a position to go for three in a row in 2016. If he remains healthy and consistent, he could challenge Mike Hampton’s record of five in a row.
Admittedly, Bumgarner’s Silver Slugger awards are not the stuff of headlines. But as is the case with a lot of news, some of the most interesting stuff is often put on the back burner and the heat turned down.
Thanks to the Hot Stove League, we can turn the heat up.
Lucas Sims, one of the top pitching prospects in the Atlanta Braves system, is playing in the Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old is doing so on the heels of an up-and-down season that saw him miss a month and a half due to a hip contusion suffered when the team bus overturned while he was playing for the Carolina Mudcats.
Sims told me that his AFL focus is on repeating his delivery and “being in sync.” He explained that it was “brought to (his) attention that he needed to make a couple of adjustments to be more consistent.” Asked to elaborate, the 2012 first-round pick told me that direction and timing and are the key points.
The hard-throwing righty struck out over a batter per inning between high-A and Double-A this season. He did so with a repertoire consisting of a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.
“I guess you could say I am (a power pitcher),” said Sims. “At the same time, an assumption comes with that: You go out and just wing it, and overpower guys. Really, that’s nice, and it’s fun, but the higher up you go, the harder it is to overpower guys. I’m try to learn, and refine the control all of my pitches.”
Sims believes in controlling the inside portion of the plate. When I asked him aboutNoah Syndergaard knocking down Alcides Escobar with the first pitch of World Series Game 3, his initial response was to say the pitch “was maybe a little too close to his head.” After clarifying that he didn’t feel the Mets’ pitcher was trying to hit Escobar, he opined that “The message was pretty clear, and I didn’t see a problem with it.”
He also doesn’t have a problem with the controversial trade that sent shortstop extraordinaire Andrelton Simmons to the Angels – at least not that he’s willing to admit.
“We got some good players back, so I think it was good for the organization,” said Sims. “We have a great front office. There’s a method to everyone’s madness, and hopefully it pays off.”
“If there’s such a thing as a secret sauce in this industry, it’s how you blend all of the information, from scouting to analytics to medical information, in your decision-making process.”
by David Laurila - November 15, 2015
Matt Klentak is more analytical than Ruben Amaro. Unless you’re a stark traditionalist, that’s a big positive for Phillies fans. Philadelphia’s new general manager – a 36-year-old Dartmouth College graduate with a degree in economics – is committed to bringing one of baseball’s least saber-friendly teams out of the dark ages.
Klentak’s approach is information-driven. He came back to the word “information” again and again when we spoke at this week’s GM meetings in Boca Raton.
“Philosophically, I am very much of the mind to use all of the information to make every decision that we make,” Klentak told me. “I’m not a huge fan of operating under any sort of absolutes, but I want to make sure that we’re managing all of the information as well as we can.
“In order to use and manage all of the information, we have to have that information in the first place. We’re going to make sure – particularly this offseason, as we’re rolling things out – that we are bringing in the best data, and the best people to analyze the data, that we can. We’ll incorporate all of that into our decision-making process.”
“Rolling things out,” refers to the analytics department Klentak is building, something that didn’t exist under Amaro. That’s not to say the Phillies lacked what Klentak referred to as “analytically-capable” people – they simply didn’t have a dedicated department and a proprietary system to go with it. The latter is already being built, and an influx of analysts is expected.
Scouting remains crucial to a team’s success, and I asked Klentak what he has planned for that area of the organization. He told me that he doesn’t plan to make “sweeping changes” to that department. What he wants to do is “bring all the information together.” In his opinion, “If there’s such a thing as a secret sauce in this industry, it’s how you blend all of the information, from scouting to analytics to medical information, in your decision-making process.”
Klental clearly has a vision for the new-era Phillies. Will the people he’s answering to give him the resources he needs?
“We have a very committed ownership,” said Klentak. “We have very aggressive goals. That’s why I’m here. It’s why this group is here.”