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!


“They’re setting you up to finish you off” 

Sunday Notes: Winter Dealings and Assorted Tidbits

by David Laurila - December 7, 2014

Chili Davis is now the hitting coach in Boston. Josh Donaldson is now a Blue Jay. For the past three seasons they were together in Oakland, where they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

Davis is a note-taker. He logs how his hitters are being pitched to, as well any bad habits they might be getting into. He also logs conversations. If Davis sees a player getting away from what he does well, he can reference his notebook and address the situation from there. There was a certain amount of push-back when he approached the club’s all-star third baseman.

“Donaldson was stubborn,” Davis told me earlier this week. ‘Donaldson was, ‘This is how I do things.’ And that’s fine if you’re swinging it good. But if you’re not swinging good, and not implementing what you told me you like to do, I need to bring you back to when you were doing things right.

“Donaldson, at times, would say things that contradict how I think. I’m not saying he’s wrong – that’s just how he thinks – but I had to adjust to that.”

According to Davis, Donaldson’s mechanics – he utilizes a leg kick – require “more rhythm and sync” and can “get violent at times, too aggressive.” He said Donaldson needed to focus on being under control, and not jumpy.

Davis made clear that while Donaldson could be stubborn, he wasn’t inflexible.

“He’s very committed to what he feels makes him a better hitter,” said Davis. “If I had something to say to him, he’d listen. He might say, ‘Yeah, but,” but later on I’d go in the cage and he’d be working on it. If something makes sense to him, and he can apply it to what he likes to do, he’ll try it.”

One of Davis’ messages addressed Donaldson’s setup in the batters’ box. Pitchers were pounding him inside, and – in Davis’ opinion – he needed to make an adjustment.

“I told him he was becoming too rotational,” explained Davis. “His response was, ‘Well, they’re pitching me in and (the umpire) is calling strikes.’ I said, ‘JD, they’re not all strikes. Back off the plate a little bit and think out-over-the-plate. Try to get more extension instead of being so rotational.’ He just kept going. ‘Dude, they’re pitching me in.’

“I told JD, ‘You don’t have to swing at those pitches in. They want you to, that’s why they’re in there all the time. They don’t care if it’s a strike. They just want you to see it in and create that first-twitch move, to where you’re trying to get to that pitch. Then it’s cutter away, slider away. They’re setting you up to finish you off. You don’t have to allow them to do that. Back off, so you can be directional and not so rotational.’

“Next day, he was off the plate. I was like, ‘What are you doing, man?’ He said, ‘I’m just backing off the plate a little bit.’ He’s a guy who wants adjustments to be his idea.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-winter-dealings-chili-on-donaldson-lincecum-uncoiling-umpire-aggression-much-more/

 

“Right now, they’re the gold standard of our industry”

All of MLB clamors: Do the Giants have a secret for success?

By Ken Davidoff

November 22, 2014 |

Baseball’s quarterly owners’ meetings proceed, always, as if some higher power is pushing the fast-forward button.

Senior representatives from all 30 teams and Major League Baseball — nearly all of them male, many of them eligible for senior discounts at the movies — zoom from one conference to the next. The executives take their suitcases with them to the closing general session so that, the moment Commissioner Bud Selig dismisses them, they can dash for the exits, to their limousines and their private jets.

There isn’t enough time for extended bonding, or enmity, or much of anything, really. Yet you didn’t need to observe the most recent meetings this past week in Kansas City to know which team official drew the most admiration. You only had to watch baseball in October.

“Right now, they’re the gold standard of our industry in terms of doing what we start every season trying to do, and that’s to win the world championship,” John Schuerholz, the Braves’ president, said of the Giants. “They’re going to have to make smaller rings for them so they can wear them all of the time.”

The Giants get to preen once again, thanks to their amazing third World Series title in five seasons. It’s a most unusual pattern: Never before in baseball history, not even when just one team per league advanced to the World Series as the entirety of the postseason from 1903-68, has a team captured precisely three championships in five seasons while failing to qualify for the playoffs in the other two years.

The success of the Giants, as Selig heads toward retirement touting competitive balance as one of his finest achievements, has only further intensified a discussion throughout the game: Is it possible to build a team specifically to thrive in October? Or is it simply a matter of getting hot at the right time, as the Giants have managed to do three times in five years?

“The most important thing is to get there,” said Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who has won three World Series since buying the team in 2002. “At least, I’m not a believer in trying to build for the playoffs.”

 “I don’t know how that would be different than building a team to sustain your opportunity to win over 162 games,” Schuerholz said. “Because if you’re building a team for a short spurt, you’ve got an awfully long spurt that you have to successfully travel before you get to the short spurt. So I don’t know that anybody can do that.”

This is a particularly relevant subject for Schuerholz, a slam-dunk to be inducted into the Hall of Fame once he steps down from his active front-office role. Schuerholz worked as the Braves’ general manager from 1990-2007, and that term included the team’s remarkable run of 14 straight division titles (the NL West from 1991-93 and the NL East from 1995-2005, with the 1994 campaign cut short by the work stoppage).

During that streak, the Braves won just one World Series, in 1995. They repeatedly fell short despite deploying many of the elements veteran baseball people view as crucial: Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox established a strong clubhouse culture, and for the bulk of the reign, fellow Cooperstown honorees Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux anchored the starting rotation alongside John Smoltz, who will be on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.

“The most frustrating thing about that great run for me is that too many sentences end with the word ‘but,’ Schuerholz said. They say, But they won only one world championship. Except those who know baseball and understand how difficult it is and understand the sort of vagaries of short-season, postseason play and what can happen.

“Three times, we had better teams than in ’95. Three teams were better than that team. I’m not sure Cleveland wasn’t better than we were [in ’95]. … But it takes luck, You have to plan well. You have to construct well, that’s for sure.”

“Obviously, you need great starting pitching in the playoffs, and so you need that during the regular season as well,” Henry said. “They somewhat go hand in hand.”

Tony La Russa, now the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer, reached the postseason 14 times as a manager and won it all three times — in 1989 with the A’s and in 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals.

“What the Giants have continued to prove is that a team that plays the game correctly in all phases [succeeds],” La Russa said. “They pitch and they defend. They take good at-bats. That’s an old-fashioned formula. And they come together as a team. It still works. That’s how we won in ’06 and ’11. We had good teams.”

 

They did, ultimately, but the 2006 Cardinals won just 83 games to capture a weak NL Central, while the 2011 St. Louis team settled for the NL wild card with a 90-72 record and made the playoffs only because Schuerholz’s Braves (with then-GM Frank Wren) collapsed. And the 2014 Giants won it all only because baseball added the second wild card two years prior.

In 2006, Baseball Prospectus introduced a measure called “Secret Sauce,” designed to predict which playoff entrants were best equipped to win it all. Pitchers’ strikeout rates, the quality of the closer and the caliber of the team’s defense constituted the sauce’s ingredients.

After four years, BP dumped the data point because it just didn’t work well enough. Teams with superior “sauce” won just 54 percent of postseason series during that span. The Royals surely would have ranked higher than the Giants using this rating, yet San Francisco prevailed in seven games thanks largely to the brilliance of Madison Bumgarner, who tallied a 0.43 ERA in 21 innings, five of them in relief, while the other three Giants pitchers (Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong) combined for a 9.35 ERA in 17 ¹/₃ innings, one in relief.

 

Giants president and CEO Larry Baer pondered our big question as he departed the meetings.

“I think the biggest part of it is the culture. Because the culture is sustainable,” Baer said. “So I think it’s not just having the pitching for October, but it’s the culture [with] the can-do spirit.

“Because it’s such a long season, it’s easy to feel defeated in baseball. It can be a game of failure. … Through the manager, the coaches, the team leaders, they kind of get you through the horrible slumps, get you through the horrible downturns. Because you’re going to have them.”

The Giants, with manager Bruce Bochy at the helm since 2007 and a core of veterans, undoubtedly can boast of a strong culture. Of course, that culture couldn’t compensate for significant underperformance in 2011 and 2013.

Baer and his team deserve industry-wide appreciation. Industry-wide emulation, however, is harder to pull off when we still are not certain exactly what the secret formula is. Or, more to the point, whether there is one at all.

At the general managers’ meetings, Schuerholz made a point of congratulating Giants GM Brian Sabean.

“If he’s got a way, he’s not going to share it,” Schuerholz said. “I don’t think he’ll let anyone else know what they’re doing.”

http://nypost.com/2014/11/22/all-of-mlb-clamors-do-the-giants-have-a-secret-for-success/

 

“given the circumstances, it’s hard to envision it being much easier”

4 reasons replacing legendary Jeter is overblown

By Ken Davidoff

December 5, 2014 | 11:23pm

So this is the point when the wizened and wise among us, those who have been around the block before you could find the block using your Google Maps app, put our collective arms around Didi Gregorius, sit him down and offer some grandfatherly cynical counsel:

“Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”

There’s just one problem with that line of thinking: In being anointed the man to replace Derek Jeter, thanks to Friday’s three-way trade with Arizona and Detroit, Gregorius already has good luck.

Succeeding an icon ranks among the most imposing tasks in sports, yet the baseball gods have provided Gregorius with a safe harbor in this potential storm. He couldn’t ask for better external factors. If he performs up to the level the Yankees project, then he should clear this considerable hurdle.

What are those external factors? Thank goodness you asked. If you hadn’t, this would be a very short column:

1. The low bar

“No one can replace Derek Jeter,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Friday in a telephone conference. “He was one in a billion. [Gregorius] is not replacing Derek. He’s just now going to come in here and obviously compete to hold down that position at shortstop, and assist us with Brendan Ryan, and provide some excellent defense and offense to the back of that lineup.”

Eh. He’s replacing Derek Jeter. But he’s replacing the 2014 Jeter, not the guy who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020 with his plaque portrait sporting a half-Yankees, half-Marlins cap.

The 2014 Jeter was awful. There’s no sugarcoating it. Of the 20 men who played at least 120 games at shortstop last season and also qualified for the batting title, Jeter ranked 15th with 1.4 offensive wins above replacement and 17th with -0.5 defensive wins above replacement (Thanks, Baseball-Reference.com).

If Gregorius lives up to his reputation as a strong defender and matches his career .680 OPS in 724 major league plate appearances, he’ll easily exceed what the Yankees received from the shortstop position not only from Jeter’s curtain call, but also from the 2013 campaign.

2. Knowledge is power

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think baseball’s information age has dramatically altered the emotional quotient of this particular situation. Remember the pressure Tino Martinez faced when he took over Don Mattingly’s job? If that situation moved from 1996 to 2015, it would have been far easier for Tino, given how clearly superior a player he was to Mattingly at that juncture.

While Jeter earned his victory lap, many Yankees fans communicated to me — be it through email, Twitter or actual conversation — their readiness to move on from his captaincy. The many numbers didn’t lie, and many customers embraced those truths. A slow start by Gregorius won’t fuel the haters the same way Martinez’s anxious April did nearly 19 years ago.

3. Bile limit

Yankees Universe features little happiness nowadays. Two straight seasons missing the playoffs, while sporting sky-high payrolls and selling tickets for exorbitant cover charges, will create an impressive amount of enmity.

For Gregorius, it will create massive coverage. He should rank near the bottom of headache-triggers for Yankees fans. They can’t stand Mark Teixeira, they’re ready to pounce on Carlos Beltran if he can’t rebound and they wonder whether CC Sabathia has anything left to give. And should Alex Rodriguez actually play his way onto the active roster, he’ll absorb enough body blows to give Gregorius an extended honeymoon.

4. Yankee Stadium

There’s little in Gregorius’ professional history to make us think he’ll be any sort of a power threat. He never has hit more than seven home runs in any season. However, if there’s anywhere that the lefty-swinging Gregorius could provide even a little pop, it’s The Bronx and the Stadium’s ultra-friendly right-field porch.

This won’t be easy for Gregorius. Nevertheless, given the circumstances, it’s hard to envision it being much easier.

http://nypost.com/2014/12/05/4-reasons-replacing-legendary-jeter-is-overblown/

 

“the MLB population has significantly higher rates of stimulant-managed ADHD than the general population”

 

The use of prescription stimulants in Major League Baseball

By Joe Schwarz  @stlCupofJoe on Dec 5 2014, 9:00

According to this press release of the annual drug report, the MLB issued 113 Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) in 2014, and all but one were for prescription treatments associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

After reading a Yahoo! Big League Stew article titled "MLB players were given 2,500 additional drug tests last season" published on December 1st, I decided that now was the time to finally write an article on prescription stimulant use in Major League Baseball. As many of you already know, I am in my sixth (and final) year of pharmacy school and will graduate with a Pharm.D. from Butler University in May 2015. In previous posts related to the medical field, I have looked at cortisone shotsand Tommy John surgery, but this time around, I will be discussing the use of prescription stimulants in baseball—with the main focus being on Adderall, the most-prescribed prescription stimulant in America.

Before delving into the details on Adderall, though, it is necessary to define Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) per the MLB/MLBPA Joint Drug Agreement:

A Player authorized to ingest a Prohibited Substance through a valid, medically appropriate prescription provided by a duly licensed physician shall receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption ("TUE"). To be "medically appropriate," the Player must have a documented medical need under the standards accepted in the United States or Canada for the prescription in the prescribed dosage.

Also important is detailing what must be present in order for a physician to diagnose a patient with ADHD:

Criteria needed for the diagnosis of ADHDSix or more of the following symptoms (in either category) must be present for at least six months before turning 12 years old with significant impairment in at least two settings.

A. Inattention (statistically more common in girls)

  1. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in school work, occupational, or other activities
  2. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or activities
  3. Doesn't seem to listen when spoken to directly
  4. Doesn't follow through on instructions and fails to finish duties at work/school/home
  5. Difficult organizing tasks and activities
  6. Avoids or is reluctant to engage in activities requiring sustained mental focus
  7. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
  8. Easily distracted
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities

B. Hyperactivity (statistically more common in boys)

  1. Fidgets or squirms in seat
  2. Leaves seat when remaining seated is expected
  3. Runs or climbs in situations where it's inappropriate
  4. Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  5. Often "on the go," acting as if "driven by a motor"
  6. Talks excessively
  7. Blurts out answer before question completed
  8. Difficulty waiting his or her turn
  9. Interrupts or intrudes others

So, what about Adderall, a first-line ADHD treatment legally taken by 109 MLB players in 2014?

Generic name: dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate (mixed salts)

Chemical structure:

 

Mechanism of action: Promotes the release and inhibits the reuptake of norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA), thus extending the effects of these two neurotransmitters on receptors in the brain; Some data suggests that high doses affect serotonin levels as well, yet another stimulatory neurotransmitter

Net result: Improvement in attention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, self-control, physical/verbal aggression, and academic performance; Also produces a decreased sense of fatigue, increased motor activity and mental alertness, and leads to brighter spirits

Pharmacodynamics (what drug does to body) & pharmacokinetics (what body does to drug)

Adderall Dosage Form

Time Until Effect

Duration of Effect

Elimination Half-Life

Immediate-Release (IR)

~1 hour

4-6 hours

~10-14 hours

Extended-Release (XR)

~1 hour

10-12 hours

~10-14 hours

After a patient first proves tolerability to the immediate-release form of Adderall (yes, there are still side effects present in what many seem to believe is a "wonder drug"), a common practice by physicians is to prescribe extended-release Adderall to be taken every morning followed by an immediate-release form to be taken in the afternoon or early evening to serve as a "boost" when the effect of the morning dose is "wearing off." This regimen provides for morning, afternoon, and evening management while not affecting the patient's sleep at night. Thus, based on the information included in the table above, taking IR Adderall one hour before a game should allow for a player to receive the prescription's benefits for at least the full duration of a three-hour game.

Discussion

With 30 teams and 40 players per roster, 112 TUEs for Adderall means that roughly 9% of the "MLB population" has prescription stimulant-managed ADHD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 4% of the U.S. adult population has ADHD. Though ADHD is more common in boys (and subsequently continuing into young adult males) than girls (important to note in an all-male MLB population), it is still interesting that its presence in the MLB more than doubles its presence in the general population. Even more notable is that this 9% accounts for those being treated with prescription stimulants specifically. Though prescription stimulants are considered the gold standard of treatment, many patients with ADHD either have never been diagnosed by a physician, are given other options (such as non-stimulant Strattera), or manage it without prescription medications.

There are many things I wish were made public though are clearly and understandably protected by law, such as the symptoms present at diagnosis as well as the age at diagnosis. As noted above, statistics show that hyperactivity symptoms are more common in boys/males, the MLB population. Thus, technically speaking via official diagnosis criteria, the 112 players taking prescription stimulants experienced six or more of the 18 listed symptoms before the age of 12 and were statistically more likely to have experienced hyperactivity symptoms over inattention symptoms.

The next thing I found interesting was that in 2006, only 28 MLB players were granted ADHD-related TUEs. Just one year later, this number jumped significantly to 103, when MLB officials began cracking down on illegal amphetamine use. Seven years later, the number of ADHD-related TUEs has remained relatively steady, but I am still intrigued by the vast increase in 2007 TUEs and by the fact that the MLB population has significantly higher rates of stimulant-managed ADHD than the general population, despite the reasoning given that it is more common in boys/males.

The last thing I would like to know more about is why all of these players seem to be taking Adderall (and presumably its generic equivalent) exclusively. I could not find access to Dr. Jeffrey Anderson's official drug report (if one of my readers somehow has access to this, I'd love to see it), but many major news sites (including the Yahoo! one I linked to in the opening paragraph) seem to be reporting that the 112 TUEs were for Adderall specifically, when in actuality, there are many other viable prescription stimulant options for ADHD such as Vyvanse, Ritalin, Focalin, and Concerta. They all have basically the same mechanism of action, so it does not matter all that much for the average fan, but as a passionate fan of both baseball and pharmacy, I really am interested in knowing the exact details, something that wasn't made available in the MLB.com press release.

Credit to the drug's package insert (at DailyMed) for Adderall's chemical structure as well as drug databases such as Clinical Pharmacology and Micromedex.

http://www.vivaelbirdos.com/st-louis-cardinals-sabermetrics-analysis/2014/12/5/7336959/the-use-of-prescription-stimulants-in-major-league-baseball

 

“none of these contracts make much sense”

 

THE MISSING INGREDIENT IN THE NELSON CRUZ FORMULA

Rob Neyer

3

Rob Neyer@robneyer

Joe Sheehan got me thinking about Nelson Cruz’s new four-year, $58 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. Joe, as some of you might easily guess, isn’t a big fan of the deal. But I thought I should look around, see if maybe Joe missed something important.


In the Seattle Times, Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish acknowledges the possible pitfalls for the M’s, but also writes the deal “was a necessary move.” Thanks to Divish, I also found Jeff Sullivan’s long essay ... and also Jeff Sullivan’s other long essay; they add up to nearly 4,000 words. Just about Nelson Cruz.

From one of those essays:

The Mariners were blessed with Edgar Martinez. Between 1995 – 2004, the Mariners had the best DH slot in the American League, and they were the best by a lot. Then, of course, Edgar retired, and while there was nothing wrong with his retirement, one could say he didn’t do much to help the team to identify a worthy replacement. Between 2005 – 2014, the Mariners had the worst DH slot in the American League, and they were the worst by a lot. You know the stat wRC+? It’s a measure of offense, where 100 is league-average. Over the past decade, the second-worst team DH slot has had a wRC+ of 100. The Mariners came in at 84.

Now here’s the part you really won’t believe. Red Sox DHs — David Ortiz — have led the way, with 32 WAR. Then you’ve got the Indians, at 15.6. The Blue Jays, at 10.4. The Yankees, at 9.0. Keep going down. The Orioles, at 1.0. The Astros, at 0.2. The Mariners, at -11.7. Read that again. The Mariners, at -11.7. Over the past ten years, since Edgar called it a career, Mariner designated hitters have been worth a combined dozen wins below replacement level. This might be the most incredible thing I’ve seen all year. I can’t tell. I objectively recognize it as incredible, but it doesn’t pack the same punch to me since it’s not really a surprise. We’ve all lived it. We just didn’t look at it so cumulatively.

It’s amazing how bad the Mariners have been there. At what’s supposed to be the very easiest spot to put a hitter, the Mariners have posted the same collective positional wRC+ as Ben Revere...

We humans think we’re so rational, so smart. We’re really not. If your DH did well last season but is leaving, you probably don’t commit $58 million to Nelson Cruz. Because you can easily remember having a productive DH, and so you can easily imagine finding another productive DH. In fact, this seems to be exactly what the Orioles (who had the actual Nelson Cruz) are doing. They went out and found a Nelson Cruz, for not a great deal of money, and figure they can find another Nelson Cruz, also for not a great deal of money.

But because the Mariners cannot remember a productive DH since Edgar Martinez—instead, the visions of Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales and Jack Cust and Eduardo Perez and Jose Vidro and Jesus Montero and Wily Mo and Old Junior Griffey and Old Carl Everett and Old Mike Sweeney dance about in their heads—they naturally have come to believe that no, maybe you can’tjust sign any old hitter and expect him to hit 30 homers and drive in a hundred runs. In fact, in the post-Edgar era, only Raul Ibañez has more than 80 RBI in one season, and only Kendrys Morales has more than 20 home runs.

Now, it should be said that part of the problem is Safeco Field. It’s just hard to hit there. Always has been, probably always will be. Last season the M’s ranked 12th in the American League in slugging percentage ... but 9th in roadslugging percentage. Which is not, for them, atypical. In fact, they did exactlythe same thing in 2013. Not that 9th is good, either. But in a 15-team league it’s not terrible. Like the Padres, the Mariners will often have little choice but to get the best hitters they can, and tolerate what seem like lousy numbers (but aren’t really so lousy).

One wonders, then, if anyone in the Mariners’ front office will be shocked when Nelson Cruz’s numbers drop off, perhaps in a big way, because a) he’s getting old, b) he’s coming off his career season, and c) he’ll suddenly be playing half his games in an extremely unfriendly ballpark.

Maybe nobody will be shocked. Nothing I’ve written here qualifies as a trade secret, and everybody does look at the Internet every day. So what’s going on? How does Nelson Cruz get a contract that might pay him more than twice what he’s supposedly “worth”? According to Lookout Landing’s Scott Weber, “Cruz fills a need at a non-crippling cost.”

And there you have it! Is there a need? Yes. Can we fill that need withoutcrippling the franchise in the near future? Yes. Fine, then. Contract is justifiable.

And remember, it’s not just the Mariners. The A’s just invested $30 million in Billy Butler. The Red Sox just invested $95 million in a 245-pound third baseman. If you assume that a “win” is worth seven or eight million dollars, none of these contracts make much sense.

So what’s nonsensical? Our analysis, or the contracts? Because it seems like a bunch of pretty smart people are perfectly willing to spend significantly morethan $7 million per win.

Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if we’ve got all these nifty equations but something’s missing. I wonder if maybe it’s ... love?*

* That’s a movie reference! But I won’t spoil anything by telling you which movie.

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/nelson-cruz-contract-signed-seattle-mariners-120514