David's Blog

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"That stuck with me for the rest of my career."

 

 

 

 

The Art of Catching

MAY 26 2016

PHOTOGRAPH BY RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES

JORGE POSADA

RETIRED / NEW YORK YANKEES

Yogi Berra sat down right next to me on the bench. He had his pinstripes on, of course. It was a sunny day in Bradenton during spring training in ‘98. Not a cloud in the sky. We were between innings. This was always my favorite time of the year.

Yogi used to sit in the same spot and talk to the fans in the front row. He loved that. He was always trying to make people smile. They actually installed a big net right in front of his spot so he wouldn’t get hit with a foul ball while he was chatting with the fans.

So he sat down next to me, and we started watching one of the pitchers warm up. In Yogi’s day, they didn’t have all the advanced analytics that we have now. They didn’t even have computers. So I wanted to know how he scouted opposing pitchers. How did he prepare back then?

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY KATHY WILLENS/AP IMAGES

I said, “Yogi, how did you know what the guy wanted to throw?”

“Well,” he said, “I looked at what pitches he was throwing.”

I said, “… Yeah?”

But that was it. Yogi just kind of shrugged.

I said, “Yogi, what do you mean?”

“Well, when he’s warming up between innings, what’s he throwing?” Yogi said. “If he’s throwing curveballs and fastballs, those are his pitches. I eliminate everything else from my head. Why would I be thinking about his changeup? He’s telling me what he’s going to throw today.”

I thought about the thick book full of scouting reports we got before a series on a pitcher’s tendencies and sequences. I thought about how much information was going through my head when I stepped to the plate.

“Curveball, fastball,” Yogi said, smiling. “He’s tellin’ ya.”

That stuck with me for the rest of my career.

Yogi was telling me to keep it simple. Now the game is so dissected and there’s so much information available to you that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. This was especially true for me. See, I didn’t start out as a catcher. I was a second baseman for most of my life, and there were a lot of doubts when I was coming up in the minors. I was following in the footsteps of legends like Yogi and Thurman Munson. Was this kid from Puerto Rico really up to it?

PHOTOGRAPH BY DIAMOND IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

In ’95, after three years playing minor league ball, I knew I had to prove that I could be a big league catcher. The Yankees had even put me in a few trade deals that fell through. Then Scott Kamieniecki came down from New York on a rehab assignment, and my coach and mentor, Oscar Acosta, told me something that changed my life.

“You have to show this guy who you are,” he said. “Show him.”

“What I do every day behind the plate is a lot more important because it touches so many more people.”

Those words meant the world to me. I had an itch to prove myself, and Oscar brought it out even more.

So I caught Kamieniecki, and I did my best to show him that I could take command of the game and be a leader behind the plate. When he got reassigned back to the Yankees, he told Buck Showalter that they should think about bringing me up. Soon after that, I played my first game in pinstripes.

Still, I was pretty raw. For a few years I was up and down, just trying to figure out the position. Then, in 1998, I was working out in the tiny gym at Fenway Park that both teams shared when I saw this framed picture on the bulletin board. It was a quote from Thurman Munson, who died in a plane crash during the 1979 season. (I have no idea why there was a quote from a Yankee hanging in the Red Sox’ gym.)

“I like hitting fourth and I like the good batting average. But what I do every day behind the plate is a lot more important because it touches so many more people and so many more aspects of the game.”

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY AP IMAGES

I loved the quote so much that I asked the personal trainer in Boston to make a copy for me, and I put it up in my locker at Yankee Stadium.

From that day on I started thinking about the position a little differently. As a catcher you are managing a game within the game, and it’s constantly changing. You have to keep adapting your plan over the course of nine innings. You have to be completely in sync with the guy on the mound. Not just about what pitches he throws best statistically, but also what’s working for him right now, and how he’s feeling.

When we started a new series, our pitching coach would give us a huge book filled with scouting reports on the opposition. The hardest thing was when you were facing a new guy who you had no history with. Let’s say we were playing the Astros and I had never seen Carlos Correa before. I would have no idea how to pitch him. So the homework would be really important. I’d go to the film and look at three or four of his at bats, maybe against Justin Verlander or another top guy, to see how they attacked Correa.

Then I’d look at the scouting report, and see how Correa likes the ball. I’d go to the pitching coach, and ask how he would pitch him. Then I’d talk it over with my pitcher. In fact, we would go down the entire lineup before a series — all nine guys — and ask, “How are we getting this guy out?”

But, you see, this is just the homework. There’s also the human element. When I got to the bullpen during warmups, I’d catch my pitcher for 20 minutes to feel out what was working for him that day. Maybe his cutter was sharp, but his changeup wasn’t working as well. This is where it got really interesting. A perfect example is Andy Pettite. From the first inning, Andy was always very good at pitching on the inside to righthanded hitters. His fastball, cutter and curveball I could always count on.

The last pitch Andy would get was his changeup. But I needed that changeup. That’s the pitch that we could get a ground ball on if we needed a double play. So we couldn’t just abandon it. We had to work it in slowly, in situations where Andy couldn’t get hurt.

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES

Two outs, nobody on, 1-and-2 count? Sure, maybe we could get the guy to strike out with Andy’s curveball. But instead, I’d call for a changeup so Andy could get a feel for it. We might need it later.

Same thing with David Wells. I could never call a changeup before the fourth inning, because he was just too strong and he would throw it too hard. I needed him to be a little tired so he had a nice 10 mile-per-hour difference between his fastball and changeup.

In order to strike out the best hitters, you need to rely on your scouting to come up with a plan, and you also need to have a feel for the game as it goes along.

I’ll give you another example.

I know Mariano Rivera like he’s my brother. I would set up behind the plate, and I knew exactly where he wanted to throw the ball in every situation. It was that kind of relationship. I was reading his mind. Some of my favorite moments were catching Mariano when he went up against David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez.

Derek Jeter used to say he had Jedi powers.

Ortiz had a hole. It was a very small, little hole, right underneath his hands. If you missed down, he would hurt you. You had to keep it right underneath his hands because he wouldn’t swing higher, and he likes the ball down and in. Same thing with Manny. A strike in the middle of the plate? Manny Ramirez would crush you. Anything — curveballs, sinkers, sliders — it didn’t matter what you threw. If it was on the plate, he was deadly. So we had to come inside at his letters on the first pitch in order to back him off the plate a little bit, and then we would have some room to go down and away on him the next pitch.

Mariano, mentally, was above any pitcher I knew. You would go to the mound, and he would just say, “Let’s go.” He already knew what he was going to do, and he had the pinpoint control to do it. It was ridiculous. Derek Jeter used to say he had Jedi powers.

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY ELISE AMENDOLA/AP IMAGES

There’s only one guy in MLB who could consistently throw to Ortiz’s hole. Only Mariano could do it. But with every other pitcher, even Hall of Fame pitchers, you had to do something a little more difficult. You had to use the hitter’s instincts against him.

Mike Mussina was great at this. Mike is probably the smartest pitcher I’ve ever caught. The way he would attack Ortiz and Manny was a little different.

Let’s say the Sox had runners on second and third. Ortiz is at the plate with two outs. He’s gotta hit Mussina’s pitch. We know he wants to be the hero — it’s just his nature. There’s no one on first base. So we take that aggressiveness and use it against him. We almost throw him what he wants, except it’s a little outside, or a little in the dirt. We throw him some balls and see if he has the patience to take them.

With Ortiz and Manny, you could never pitch them the same way twice, because they would sit on pitches. Especially if you struck them out on that pitch and made them look bad. If you got them out on a hanging curveball the last inning, they would hunt for that pitch during the next at bat. They would set you up. So you had to play a cat-and-mouse game with them.

These battles against David and Manny were some of my favorite, because they weren’t just physical battles. They were psychological, too.

It’s the little things that make this game so interesting. And you don’t stop thinking about it when the game is over. I used to go to dinner with Derek Jeter after almost every game, and if we lost we would go over every little moment when the game might have turned.

We would ask, “Where did it go wrong? How could we have done it differently?”

If I didn’t go to dinner, I would be up all night overthinking things.

Did I make a mistake calling that curveball?

Should I have gone to the mound to calm my pitcher down in the seventh?

My brain would be going in circles if we didn’t talk it out and dissect the game over dinner.

In order to play this game a long time, you have to obsess over it, but you also have to be able to let things go.

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES

I didn’t always know this stuff. It takes a lot of reps and a lot of learning to be an everyday catcher in Major League Baseball, especially over the grind of a 162-game season.

The only way I was going to learn was if my body was in the best possible shape.

There were days that I’d puke, that I didn’t want to be there, doing six 200-meter sprints under the blazing sun in Puerto Rico.

As a catcher, you’re not going to feel good every day. Some days you have to get to the park several hours before the game because you don’t feel 100%. Maybe you took a foul-tip off your thumb. Maybe you took one off the mask and you woke up with a sore neck. Well, not some days — pretty much the whole year. You just have to find a way to trick your body into playing. I had to do it because I needed to be there for my pitchers — for Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. It was my responsibility to be there.

If you look at my numbers, my best months were always toward the end. Everyone was tired, but I still felt good because I had put my body through intense workouts during the off-season. After the season ended in October, I wouldn’t work out for three weeks. I would just ride the bike and stretch, letting my body catch up and recover.

Once those three weeks were over, I would go through a brutal three-week period of lifting and sprinting on the track. Every three weeks I would switch up my workout and do something completely different. There were days that I’d puke, that I didn’t want to be there, doing six 200-meter sprints under the blazing sun in Puerto Rico.

I wouldn’t even start swinging a baseball bat again until about a month before spring training. Everything I did was to enable me to crouch behind home plate for nine innings and experience the greatest feeling in baseball — even better than hitting a home run:

Full count.

Bases loaded.

Two outs.

Pop! You catch the last strike. You run to the mound to celebrate with your pitcher.

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD MANGIN/MLB PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

I’ll never forget May 17, 1998, when David Wells was working on a perfect game and I was behind home plate. Every sign I put down that day, he went right along with me. He probably shook me off four times at the most. I know David claims he was pitching with a big hangover that day, so maybe that had something to do with it. After the fifth inning, he didn’t miss my spot once. I’ve never seen anything like it.

As the game went on the crowd was getting really loud. I was nervous. Nobody was talking to me or David when we were in the dugout. I was like 0 for 4 that day because I was so locked into calling the game that I just couldn’t hit anything.

In the seventh, Paul Molitor came up to the plate with two outs. He always hit David pretty well. We fell behind in the count 3 and 1. We had been pitching Molitor the cutter inside all day. So I called something down and away and David threw a great strike. As Molitor put his foot down to stride when the pitch was coming in, I noticed his hips were open like he was expecting something inside. I could just feel it.

Full count. I put the sign down. Same pitch. Same location.

He wants it inside. Let’s throw it outside. Keep it simple.

David threw it, and I felt the glove pop. The crowd exploded. We got him.

The last batter in the ninth inning was Pat Mears. As he was coming to the plate, the announcer on TV actually said, “How nervous is Posada behind home plate? He’s the one making the calls.”

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID SEELIG/THE PLAYERS' TRIBUNE

I was so nervous that when Mears popped up to right field, I threw off my mask and started running to the outfield like I was going to field the ball myself.

When Paul O’ Neill caught it, I turned around and the whole dugout was already mobbing David at the mound. When I ran back to him, he said, “Where the hell were you, man?”

There’s nothing like that feeling. Everything I did offensively was a plus, a bonus. The real reward was how I could influence the game defensively. Thurman was exactly right.

Thurman’s widow, Diana, was a big supporter of our team. About a year after I put her husband’s quote up in my locker, Diana found out about it and came up to me at Old-Timers’ Day. She said that for a long time it was too painful for her to watch baseball, but she started following the Yankees again because I reminded her so much of Thurman. Those were the best words anyone could say to me.

Thurman’s words had come full circle.

“… what I do every day behind the plate is a lot more important because it touches so many more people.”

JORGE POSADA / CONTRIBUTOR

http://www.theplayerstribune.com/2016-5-26-jorge-posada-yankees-art-of-catching/

 

“I’m going up there hoping to swing and hit something hard,”

 

 

Once upon a time, second basemen and shortstops who could clear fences were the exception and not the rule. That’s no longer the case. With more than two months left to go in the season, 31 middle infielders have reached double figures in home runs. Eleven more have at least seven home runs.

Brad Miller is among them. In his first season with Tampa Bay, the former Mariner has already left the yard 15 times. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s getting more respect. According to the 26-year-old shortstop, “Pitchers are still coming right after me; they’re not trying to trick me.”

To some extent, that might help explain why a career-low walk rate (6.8%) accompanies Miller’s career-high home run total. But pitchers not pussy-footing around the plate against him isn’t the only reason. Free passes aren’t part of his plan.

“I’m going up there hoping to swing and hit something hard,” explained Miller. “One thing that’s always baffling to me is people saying, ‘Work your walks.’ You’re never looking for walks. They just come.”

So do home runs and respect. Again, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand.

“As a young player, I always thought it worked that way,” admitted Miller. “They’re going to challenge you until you do something about it, then once you’ve earned respect — once you’ve shown you can hit balls hard — they’re going to be a little more careful. I’ve been able to move some balls lately, but they’re still pretty much attacking me.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-giants-law-twins-may-millers-pop-january-more/

 

“He gets you to think a different way about the game"

 

 

 

 

 

The Guru: How Skills Coaches Are Changing Sports Forever

More and more pro athletes are turning to independent skills coaches for guidance and the results are starting to show

 

Jul 27, 2016  


When the 2012 NHL lockout left hockey players scrambling for ice time, then-Vancouver Canuck Ryan Kesler made a phone call, as one does, to Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger, whose nearby house had a private rink big enough for 3-on-3 skating. The work stoppage also barred team coaches from working with players, so Kesler asked elite skills coach Ron Johnson—who holds a master’s degree in hockey biomechanics—to give him an evaluation.

After an hour of drills, Kesler asked Johnson for his honest opinion. Johnson replied, “You’re not explosive. You’re not a deceptive skater. You don’t have any agility. And your deceleration is poor. You’ve got good power and speed.”

On Johnson’s drive home, Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, called and said, “Now you’re in trouble.” But not for the expected reason. “He won’t work with anyone else,” the agent told Johnson.

“He gets you to think a different way about the game, about shooting, about skating,” Kesler said in a telephone interview. “Usually guys [say], ‘Skate as fast as you can, shoot as hard as you can,’ but with Ron, it’s different. It’s all about deception, getting a guy to think that he has you and then going the other way and creating that extra half-foot to a foot where you can get your shot off.

“He said there’s seven different ways to shoot a puck. I think I knew three of them.”

The increasing sophistication and professionalization of sports has led to the rise of personal skills gurus not only in hockey—where Johnson, known as the Shot Doc, counts Hall of Famer player Adam Oates as a peer—but also with quarterback instructors in football, hitting and throwing coaches in baseball, and basketball trainers like Idan Ravin, who has worked with the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant.

These coaching consultants lurk outside the framework of the player’s professional organization; most of their work is done remotely, communicating by phone, text, and email with lessons imparted via video annotations.

Oates was watching the 2015 NBA Finals when the broadcasters mentioned James’ work with Ravin. Oates had been head coach of the Capitals and co-coach of the Devils but was passed over for a few other jobs, so this new line of work appealed to him. He now tutors a few dozen NHL clients including Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Minnesota Wild stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

“And I started a business—right there, that day,” said Oates, who also works with amateurs through the site My Pro Hero. “Our game is getting more complicated, and I’m helping with that.”

Kesler’s partnership with Johnson has grown and last winter expanded to include his line mates with the Anaheim Ducks, Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano. The trio was often pitted against opponents’ top lines and, by Kesler’s admission, had trouble sustaining an attack in the offensive zone. The three split the cost of flying Johnson down to Anaheim twice for four-day midseason sessions, once in January and once in February, working with him on specific skills for 30-to-60 minutes before practices. Kesler said his knowledge of Johnson’s instruction was helpful, but the benefit rose exponentially when they were all on the same page. Johnson likened line play to a rock band’s guitarist, bass player, and drummer “working together to make sure the orchestration happens.”

After scoring just three goals in his first 41 games, Silfverberg netted 17 in the season’s second half (tied for fifth-most in the Western Conference) while Kesler added 13. All told, the three had 89 points after the midpoint, compared to only 35 before it, an increase of more than 250 percent.

“The game almost slowed down,” Kesler said.

Not every organization would be receptive to an outside solution. Kesler acknowledged that the coaching staff was initially “standoffish” but came around, with assistant Trent Yawney particularly interested; he added that general manager Bob Murray was very supportive and made sure the line got the necessary ice time.

A few people around the sport have criticized Oates‘ methods, but he makes sure not to interfere with team systems and strategies, emphasizing the minutiae on which he focuses. Oates gave a couple examples. He described teaching a defenseman how to better go back into his zone to retrieve a puck bouncing around the boards while an opponent chases—“the hardest thing in our sport,” he said—and explained the magnitude of even a four-percent increase in face-off percentage, given that each team takes about 5,000 per season.

“Anybody who wants to make it more than that—no, no, that’s pretty much it,” Oates said, admitting that his work is “not sexy.”

Some skill instructors begin as sporting outsiders, bringing a creative and unorthodox approach to training. When Ravin, a lawyer by trade, first worked with James, as recounted in Chris Ballard’s excellent book, “The Art of a Beautiful Game,” he convinced the superstar that he needed to work on his ball-handling by tapping James’ chin every time he looked down. Quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, whom ESPN has tabbed the “most powerful QB coach in football,” completed just one pass in his professional career—with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Canada. (By contrast, there is also the Manning Passing Academy run by the family’s three NFL quarterbacks, who are as insider as it gets.)

Self-taught baseball hitting coach Bobby Tewksbary, whose own career stalled in independent ball, learned his craft by watching YouTube videos of swings from Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams; he now counts AL MVP Josh Donaldson among his clients. Driveline Baseball founder Kyle Boddy—known for his weighted baseballs and biomechanical analysis—is a highly sought-after pitching trainer and consultant to MLB teams, yet his pre-baseball professional background was as a data consultant.

Blue Jays performance coach Steve Springer, who works with minor leaguers on the mental side of hitting, is a career baseball man. He played 14 minor league seasons—making a pair of big league cameos with four career hits—before becoming an agent. In that role, he taped a cassette with advice on approach to distribute to his clients, later entering a recording studio to preserve his advice on CDs. Roughly 15 years later, Springer’s “Mental Side of Hitting” remains in regular use among big leaguers, a cadre that includes All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, A.J. Pollock, and Mark Trumbo.

“Yeah, it’s vintage,” Trumbo, whose 30 home runs for the Orioles lead the majors, said of the CD, which he has digitized. “Some guys listen to it daily. I think I have it more or less memorized myself.”

Trumbo and Springer see each other a fair amount in their native Southern California, where they’ll often play a round of golf, but otherwise call and text a fair amount. Trumbo, who is with his fourth organization in as many years, appreciates the continuity of a longtime confidant. (Because Springer is employed by a rival, they don’t communicate when the Blue Jays and Orioles play each other.)

“You rely first and foremost on the coaches within the team, but every now and then, maybe somebody’s who has seen you for a lot longer can be a nice reference,” Trumbo said.

When Johnson isn’t on-site, he breaks down his clients’ play remotely. With Kesler, for instance, he’ll analyze film overnight and then send emails with video attachments to break down what he sees. He’ll often attach metrics of his own device, such as results of play when the puck is 20 feet from the board compared to 10 or 5 feet. Johnson emphasizes a logical and cohesive language while discussing skills and notes that mistakes can occur so sporadically that the underlying cause isn’t readily apparent.

“There’s a very holistic connection between all of the skills and, really, there’s a correct way to do everything,” Johnson said. “If you do the proper skating mechanics, the proper stick-handling, and the proper passing, then your shot actually gets better every day.”

The rise of this skill-development niche can be attributed to the increasing professionalization of sports.

“No question because, No. 1, money,” Oates said. “No. 2, this generation of athlete is a more dedicated 24/7/12-months-a-year athlete to their sport.”

The mentoring model extends to amateurs, too. Oates, fellow Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, and seven-time All-Star Theo Fleury are among the coaches working with My Pro Hero, which Oates described as an opportunity and platform for younger players to receive instruction that hasn’t always been accessible.

“It allows people from all over to get this information,” Oates said. “You know what, I think it’s going to make coaching better.”

Similarly, Springer said Twitter—where he can be found @qualityatbats—“changed his life” by allowing him to connect with more people in and out of the game. In addition to the recordings he peddles, he is a regular on the speaking circuit.

“I give the same spiel to major league All-Stars that I do to a 12-year-old,” Springer said. “I’m all about today. I’ve got a new game, new pitcher, new hitter with every single day.”

The impact such gurus can have on a player ranges from supplementary to transformative.

“Before, I was all about speed and I feel like my game has evolved into being more of a complete player,” Kesler said. “That’s because of Ron.”

http://www.vocativ.com/343938/the-guru-how-skills-coaches-are-changing-sports-forever/

 

“It Was Moneyball Before ‘Moneyball"

 

Danny Kelly

Staff Writer, The Ringer

 

‘Major League’ Is Baseball

How Jake Taylor, Ricky Vaughn, and the rest of the fictional Cleveland Indians present the most accurate version of the sport to ever hit the big screen

Cleveland is demanding our attention. From the Republican National Convention to the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, the Indians’ recent dominance to a surprising tech scene, we’re thinking about the city more than ever. This week,The Ringer is exploring why Cleveland matters.

It was 1988. The Cleveland Indians hadn’t come close to winning a pennant in 34 years. So when Major League director David S. Ward set out to make a movie about the team he’d grown up rooting for from his hometown of South Euclid, Ohio, he realized it would have to be a comedy for anyone to take the concept of the Indians being part of a playoff race seriously.

Yeah, Major League is absurd at times, and for some reason Jake Taylor (played by Tom Berenger) can just walk into any apartment at any time. (Several times throughout the movie, he just enters private residencesuninvited, like some sort of antivampire.) But even with a few plot holes, it’s still one of the best baseball movies of all time. And despite Ward’s reasoning behind making it a comedy, Major League is also the most accurate baseball movie ever made. The Sandlot is a classic, but it’s told through the lens of fantastically distorted childhood memories. Field of Dreams is about a bunch of ghosts that came out of a cornfield. The Bad News Bears and Bull Durhamare certainly in the conversation, but they don’t depict the sport at its highest level. Moneyball is amazing, but it’s told through a narrow lens; it just can’t match the scope of what Major League got so right.

‘Major League’ Captured the Spirit of Every Downtrodden Fan Base

One of the defining elements of fandom is hope. Every season ushers in a new opportunity: Maybe, just maybe, this could be the year.

This flicker of expectation exists at the beginning of every baseball season, but the 162-game schedule tends to iron out the surprises you get in other sports. So, there’s a unique kind of mistrust among the fans of hard-luck franchises.

Despite the length of the season, though, you’re still going to watch. You know it’s not going to work out because it never does, but some vague, reluctant obligation — or maybe just boredom — keeps you tuning in.

Anyone who’s lived through lean years knows the feeling, and Major Leaguesets the tenor. The fans aren’t falling for the team’s attempts to create opening day excitement. The beat writers are settling in for another long slog covering a terrible team, and even the faithful radio play-by-play announcer knows that no one really cares. They’re all bound to this team, but they’re not exactly happy about it.

It Was Moneyball Before ‘Moneyball’

Granted, it has a slightly different tone than the Brad Pitt film, but Major League illustrated the Moneyball approach to building a winning roster almost a decade before Billy Beane’s revolutionary sabermetrics-based method took hold. It proposed that even if you’re stuck in a midsize market with limited resources, a shitty stadium, and ownership that doesn’t much care about winning, you can compete for a pennant with a little creativity.

Instead of spending big money on players with five tools, general manager Charlie Donovan, manager Lou Brown, and bench coach Pepper Leach went about finding players with one or two marginally special skills: Willie Mays Hayes and his ridiculous speed, Pedro Cerrano and his power against fastballs, Ricky Vaughn’s amazing velocity, Eddie Harris and his junk balls, and Taylor’s game-calling and trash-talking wizardry.

It Showed Baseball From Every Angle

In part, HBO’s The Wire was compelling because it delved into every perspective of crime in Baltimore, exploring the relationships between drug organizations, police, the judiciary, city leadership, unions, and everyone in between. Major League … is not The Wire. (Although Jimmy McNulty and Ricky Vaughn do share some things in common.) But Major League celebrates baseball from all perspectives. It examines the relationships between ownership and the front office, the front office and the coaching staff, and the coaching staff and the players.

Donovan has to put together a coaching staff and spring training roster while being actively sabotaged by the Indians’ new owner, Rachel Phelps, who wants to move the team; Brown has to go about cutting down the roster, then coaching up a bunch of players with obvious deficiencies, all while testing their boundaries and seeing what they’re made of. He uses the threat of push-ups to get Mays to hit the ball on the ground, brings Roger Dorn to heel by literally taking a piss on his contract, and figures out that Vaughn’s faulty eyes can’t see far enough for him to know where to throw his fastball.

The movie also explores the dynamics between players, whose perspectives vary greatly: You’ve got the vets mailing it in on their big contract, the over-the-hill former stars trying for one last shot at a ring, the midlevel players just looking to keep their job, and the rookies trying to break out. These players come from different backgrounds, cultures, and creeds. Maybe they even practice voodoo:

Taylor, the veteran catcher and team glue guy, is ostensibly the main character, but Major League is really more of an ensemble cast. Ward supposedly cut out Taylor’s wedding scene from the ending to drive this point home. The movie is about the team — the off-field stuff the players go through; the grind of being on the road in dumpy planes, buses, and hotels; what it’s like to deal with fans and the media; and how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of performing on the highest stage. It captures the anxious pregame tension, the nerve-racking calm before the storm: players fidgeting at their lockers, getting lost in their thoughts as they stave off the creeping self-doubts. The entire closing scene, which takes place during the Indians’ one-game playoff with the Yankees, reproduces the internal battle athletes go through in the biggest moments of their career.

It’s Not Too Serious About Baseball

No, a hitter, third-base coach, manager, and runner on second base probably couldn’t have a long, wordless discussion about a zany idea for a bunt hit-and-run. But Major League gets baseball right when it comes to a lot of the eccentricities and nuances of America’s national pastime. Harris bends the rules with little tricks of the trade (using Vagisil, Crisco, and snot to load up his curveball). Cerrano’s (and later Harris’s) belief in the powers of Jobu do a great job of illustrating the tradition of extreme superstition in baseball. (The real-life Cleveland Indians offered a raw chicken to Jobu just this week).There’s hazing. There are fights with teammates, umps, other teams, and even the manager.

The examples are often over the top, but still feel strangely authentic. Much like how Veepportrays a more realistic version of Washington, D.C., than House of Cards does, Major Leaguereminds us that baseball is a game that many people care about — but most of those people are huge goofballs. Wearing stretch pants with a belt and swinging a piece of wood for a living is absurd in some way, so why wouldn’t a movie about baseball be just as ridiculous?

This makes the depiction of the players themselves feel genuine, too. Whetherthey’re in the major leagues, or just playing softball on Friday nights, a good amount of players still respect and uphold one of the most important, time-honored traditions of the sport: carte blanche to be a disgusting dirtbag.

Major League’s de facto villains are the Yankees (as they should be). Their leader? AL Triple Crown winner and the awesomely gross Clu Haywood, whose favorite pastime, apart from hitting dingers, is to call rookies Hayes and Vaughn “meat” whenever he gets the chance. Clu is played by former real-life major leaguer Peter Vuckovich, an 11-year veteran pitcher, most notably for the Brewers. The “how’s your wife and my kids?” line was improvised by Vuckovich, who was told by Ward to say something that a big leaguer might say in that situation. Baseball players are the best.

It Nails the Importance of the Radio Play-by-Play Announcer

Major League’s de facto narrator is Harry Doyle, played by the real-life Hall of Fame Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker. The whiskey-swilling play-by-play announcer ties everything in the movie together, waffling between weary dejection and relentless positivity during the most beautifully euphemism-laden narration of baseball you’ll ever hear.

Uecker’s “juuuuuust a bit outside” call was also an off-script improvisation — and probably became the most ubiquitous line from the movie — but it just scratches the surface of the importance of the radio play-by-play caller to a franchise’s fans. Baseball play-by-play guys have to be storytellers, and they have to be bullshitters. It’s not the fast-paced world of basketball or football with a few fleeting breaks in the action; it’s three hours of yarn-spinning punctuated by a couple of moments of exhilaration. Whether it’s Harry Caray,Vin Scully, Dave Niehaus, or any number of legendary broadcasters, the game’s biggest moments — a team’s most legendary plays — are inextricably linked to their calls. Major League gets this just right with Uecker as the voice of the Tribe.

It Recreates the In-Game Experience

If you’re lucky, you’ve had the chance to experience a crucial postseason game for your team. The scenes from Cleveland’s one-game playoff with the Yankees capture the raw emotion of that type of crowd. Most famously: Ricky Vaughn’s slow, epic walk to the mound to the chorus of “Wild Thing.” Although it’s a comedy, Major League — with the help of 27,000 extras filling the stands — still manages to create that feeling of electricity in the stadium:

It Reminds Us That Sometimes a Division Title Is Enough

The ending of the movie is a freeze-frame of the players celebrating their glorious one-game playoff win, giving them the city’s first the AL East title in decades. Left unclear is whether or not they’d go on to win the ALCS or the World Series — because who cares? It doesn’t matter what happened next.

Only one team wins a championship each year, and we’re only on this rock for a limited amount of time; you’ve got to take your glory where you can.

As a lifelong Mariners fan, I saw my team recreate the fictional Indians’ late-season pennant run just a few years after Major League was released. The 1995 season didn’t end in a World Series for the Mariners, but it will nonetheless go down in history for the team, which still hasn’t won it all. The Mariners’ magical “refuse to lose” hot streak erased the then-California Angels’ 13-game divisional lead , setting up a one-game playoff with the Angels for the AL West division title. After winning that, the Mariners faced the Yankees in the divisional round, and after falling being in the series 2–0, they rallied to force a decisive Game 5 showdown. It went to 11 innings, and then:

The play has a name: the ’95 Slide. Edgar Martinez’s double is burned into the collective memories of every Mariners fan alive. The image of Ken Griffey Jr.on the bottom of a dogpile is iconic. Niehaus’s call of the play is legendary, and it didn’t matter what happened after that.

But if you have to know, the Mariners went on to the ALCS, and they lost. To whom? The Indians.

https://theringer.com/major-league-is-the-most-accurate-baseball-movie-5472fd5c27a0#.kji36ncli

 

 

 

"And that’s bad news for opposing hitters."

 

 

 

 

Not So Fast: Three Pitchers Surprisingly Building Success on Breaking Balls

Standard operating procedure on the mound dictates that a pitcher should throw a fastball for strike one, then another fastball for strike two, and then switch to a breaking ball as his “out pitch” for strike three.

But not every pitcher is blessed with a heater that supports that sort of scheme, and the unfortunate arms that lack one have the choice of remaining constrained by their imbalanced skill sets or embracing the unorthodox by — wait for it — using their best pitch more.

As The Ringer’s Michael Baumann recently detailed, Oakland’s Rich Hill has enjoyed a late-career surge by pivoting to rely predominantly on his curveball in lieu of a fastball-oriented approach.

The veteran Hill isn’t alone in inverting his plan of attack; some younger pitchers have adopted a similarly intuitive strategy of using their best pitch as both hammer and anvil. Here are three more starters who have enjoyed an extreme shift in approach and whose breaking balls are taking them — and their strikeout totals — to new heights in 2016.

(Note: All pitch usage numbers in this piece come from Brooks Baseball.)

Lance McCullers, Astros

Considering how many headlines he generated last year, McCullers is having a rather understated sophomore season. Which is strange because the Astros’ right-hander has spent his year essentially alternating between striking out and walking every batter in sight.

Currently, both his strikeout rate (11.52 K/9) and walk rate (5.37 BB/9) are the second highest in baseball (min. 60 innings pitched). Over a full season, those figures would be unprecedented; the only pitchers in history to come close are Nolan Ryan and the hatchling versions of Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

The walk totals are skewing high because McCullers’s fastball command has abandoned him in 2016. In response, he’s scaled back his use of the four-seamer and is throwing a knuckle curve on around 50 percent of his pitches — he’s nearly flipped his fastball-to-curveball ratio from a year ago.

The knuckle curve averages more than 85 mph, making it the fastest curveballfor any starter over the past decade, and opponents can’t seem to touch it. The pitch dives low and away from righties and in on lefties’ hands. That kind of placement is what makes an All-Star like Robinson Canó look like this.

Canó had no chance at this pitch the entire way. When he started his swing, the ball was already well off the plate (it’s the blurry white dot just above his knee in the below screenshot) — but thanks to McCullers’s velocity, he can mask what’s just average movement on the pitch.

Only Miami’s José Fernandez has earned more strikeouts with his curveballthis season. Overall, McCullers’s opponents are hitting .136 and slugging .181in at-bats ending in a curve; against all other pitches, those rates balloon to .422 and .606, respectively. That’s the difference between the average pitcher’s performance at the plate and the production of Ty Cobb at his peak. With that kind of split, even if McCullers can regain command of his fastball down the stretch, he might do well to stick with the curve as his primary pitch.

Aaron Nola, Phillies

Another second-year pitcher spinning curveballs for Ks, Nola spent the first two months of the season conjuring images of Roy Halladay, collecting a 2.65 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning and avoiding walks. Even after a rough stretch before the All-Star break, Nola remains a top-10 pitcher in the NL and still projects as a top-of-the-rotation arm.

In his rookie season, Nola used a typical mix of pitches: a four-seam fastball 40 percent of the time, with a sinker, curve, and changeup rounding out the rest. But he’s dropped his fastball frequency to 15 percent this year, largely replacing his worst pitch with an improved sinker and an elite curve, which Nola tosses more than any pitcher aside from the aforementioned Hill.

All curveballs are technically breaking balls, but Nola’s is the sort for which the term “break” should be reserved — and not just because it breaks batters’ spirits. Per Baseball Prospectus’s PITCHf/x leaderboard, among starting pitchers, Nola’s breaker has the most horizontal movement of any curve or slider over the past decade.

Look at this pitch dance away from Kurt Suzuki’s bat. It seems to sit in the strike zone, inviting the Twins catcher to swing, before floating just beyond his reach.

Nola has notched strikeouts in 45 percent of the at-bats that he has ended by throwing curveballs, and even when opponents don’t swing and miss, they struggle to square up a pitch featuring such extreme movement. Batters hit Nola’s curveball about as hard as they hit Clayton Kershaw’s, which means a lot of weak grounders for the Phillies’ infield and a lot of easy outs for their budding ace.

Last year, even when he was ahead in the count, Nola threw a four-seamer more frequently than his curve; when he trailed in the count, he barely ever tossed a breaking ball. But this season, he has grown more confident with the pitch and uses a curve more than a straight fastball regardless of the ball-strike situation. And he relies on it even more with runners in scoring position; it has become his clear go-to offering.

And that’s bad news for opposing hitters.

Matt Shoemaker, Angels

Blind résumé comparisons can be a silly exercise, but in this case it’s illuminating: Which 2016 pitching line belongs to Matt Shoemaker — a pitcher with a career 101 ERA+, meaning he has been almost perfectly average — and which belongs to $217 million–man David Price?

Pitcher A: 9.19 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, 1.24 WHIP, 3.29 FIP in 112.2 innings

Pitcher B: 9.62 K/9, 1.99 BB/9, 1.06 HR/9, 1.28 WHIP, 3.36 FIP in 135.2 innings

The innings totals might give away that Price is the second guy, but the rest of the numbers look positively identical. Considering Shoemaker’s ERA sat above 9 until mid-May, the Angel has come a long way in the past two months — and he’s done it with a splitter whose development represents the only positive for Los Angeles’s staff all season.

In 59 career games before his start on May 16 — which came soon after he was recalled from Triple-A, where he tinkered with his pitch sequencing — Shoemaker had thrown more than 30 splitters in a contest once. In 13 starts since, he’s failed to surpass that number once; over that span, he’s posted a 2.56 ERA and the four highest-strikeout games of his career.

While the specifics of Shoemaker’s splitter are nothing special, the pitch’s subtler by-products are fueling his success. Before May 16, he rarely threw his splitter to open at-bats, but it’s been his most common pitch in a 0–0 count since, and he’s getting ahead of hitters better than any other qualified starter.

The splitter’s evolution has also allowed him to throw both his fastball and his other off-speed stuff less. Instead of attempting to fool batters with those lackluster offerings, he can throw his splitter — which fades back toward right-handers, unlike the other pitches on this list — to escape tough spots.

In at-bats ending with a Shoemaker splitter, opponents are hitting .184 and slugging .274 on the year; against all other pitches, those numbers jump to .318 and .519, respectively.

The Angels haven’t actually found right-handed David Price. But until Shoemaker’s arm falls off — between his splitter-heavy approach and the Angels’ recent luck, that date might be close — Mike Scioscia will be happy to have at least one arm in his rotation that can get batters out.

https://theringer.com/mlb-pitchers-breaking-ball-success-78c2d356e08c#.g12u80tsv

 

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