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'I'm 27 years old,' but then I saw a couple of people that were older than me, and I was like, 'All right, I'm cool,'"
Former UCF, NFL standout Kevin Smith returns to school eager to start new chapter of life
By Shannon Owens-Green Orlando Sentinel
Few things have the ability to rattle the nerves of former UCF running back Kevin Smith.
Fear tends to melt once you've made a living thrusting your body into a human wall of 1,600 pounds before thousands of adoring fans day after day.
But four months ago, Smith feared a different kind of body: the student body.
He returned to the UCF campus in August to complete his bachelor's degree after leaving Orlando seven years ago following his junior season to pursue a career in the NFL. And here he was, 27 years old ― young by the world's standards yet older compared to most college students he saw ― walking toward class armed with books and no football to shield him.
What would people think?
"I was kind of nervous walking to my first class on campus like, 'I'm 27 years old,' but then I saw a couple of people that were older than me, and I was like, 'All right, I'm cool,'" said Smith, breaking into that signature 24-karat smile.
After all, you could say Smith, the Miami-born kid who built a public identity with his golden smile and eccentric wardrobe, likes to stand out.
Life after professional sports is often a difficult chapter for athletes, but Smith is eager write his own story on how to redefine personal identity beyond competing in sports. He's currently serving as an intern in the football office, learning the behind-the-scenes ropes of coaching, but he's not limiting himself to one road.
"I feel like this was a great opportunity," Smith said. "Everybody who I told I was coming back said that was probably the best decision you ever made. I don't think I've ever gotten any love anywhere as much as I've gotten in Orlando."
The love from his adopted city of Orlando wasn't always there. Unlike Oviedo's hometown hero Blake Bortles, Smith was not widely celebrated for his jump to the NFL following a 2,567-yard rushing performance his junior year, the
second-best all time in major college football behind Barry Sanders' 2,628. Smith originally told UCF fans he would stay for his senior season during a news conference, but he says he knew he always wanted to leave.
Pressure mounted on both sides. Coaches wanted him to stay, but there were concerns about his safety now that a 2,500-plus season put a national target on his back. His mother, Pam Smith, has been an educator for 24 years, but the benefits of his degree couldn't trump her concern about his safety if he returned for his senior season.
"If Kevin didn't get hurt himself, somebody was gonna be out to hurt him, and we knew that things were getting paid to make sure that that happened," she said. "And so from the mother's perspective, 'Y'all aren't gonna kill my child over a game.'"
Smith knew he was a target, but he said he didn't fear bounties as much as his mother. He did have concerns about his body holding up for another season, during which defenses would surely stack the box against him every game. He carried the ball 450 times in 2007 and made history as the first player in the state of Florida to register 2,000-plus yards in a single season.
So he left. But Smith soon learned that Orlando's cold goodbye was nothing compared to the even colder reception of life in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, where he played five seasons. Injuries coupled with a front office struggling to assemble a strong roster marred a promising start for Smith, who rushed for 1,723 yards in his first two seasons in Detroit.
He got lost in the shuffle in a league constantly searching for new stars in every NFL Draft. Smith could accept the fact that his time in the pros would be short, but he struggled to understand why his career stalled.
"It kind of hurt because I wanted my son to see me play," Smith said of his 4-year-old son, Kevin Smith Jr. "He still remembers, but now would have been a pivotal time for him to see it."
". . . When I look back at like why am I not getting a shot, I just came to the conclusion that I did my time. I know I was good enough. I'm good enough to play right now. I had my injuries here and there, but if you put on the film, the proof is in the pudding. I can ball with the best of them."
A small part of him, however, was relieved. The pressures of NFL success weighed on him as people questioned why he didn't buy his mother a new house or why he felt responsible for picking up the check at the end of every meal spent with a group of friends. Smith signed a $1.79 million contract for three years in Detroit as a third-round selection in 2008.
Once he had kids and finished his time in the NFL, people stopped pushing their financial expectations.
The transition was also made easier because Smith didn't have NFL dreams as a child.
"He said, 'Mom, when I grow up, can I be an entrepreneur?' And I said, 'Yeah, boy, if you can spell it,'" his mother laughed.
While training last year, he started taking online classes at the advice of UCF football adviser Kristy Belden, the Knights' director of player development.
But when he failed an online course last summer, Smith knew he needed to move his family, which includes his son and 2-year-old daughter, Paris, from Miami to Orlando.
"I don't learn well on the Internet," Smith said. "I need to be able to go to an open lab if I need extra help. I need to be able to utilize all the resources that the university has to offer."
Smith usually studies for his three classes at night after he's cooked dinner and put his kids to bed around 7:30 p.m. He's juggling school along with the responsibility of being a single dad.
"The biggest sacrifice is my social life," Smith said. "I take them to their moms on Fridays. But Monday through Friday, until I drop them off, don't call me for anything."
UCF just gained final approval last week to build a multimillion-dollar Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership on the east side of the football stadium. It will house various programs geared toward supporting current and former players like Smith.
Aside from taking classes, senior associate athletic director for student services Jessica Reo and other school leaders are trying to help Smith develop a career path. UCF, which just ranked No. 1 in graduation rates of athletes among public schools, is invested in helping former athletes like Smith complete degrees and develop post-athletic careers.
Before interning in the football office, Smith spent some time working in the ticket office during the summer to learn the marketing and promotions side of sports. Smith has a passion for business and has part-ownership in a budding T-shirt company called Lyfegasm.
Being around the camaraderie of a football team, though, filled a void he'd missed. He's considering the possibility of becoming a coach one day.
"He has a lot of dues to pay as far as coaching is concerned. You can't know one position, you gotta know all the positions is what you're supposed to do. Everybody wants to be a specialist, but in the college ranks you know you gotta be able to coach all the positions if you're gonna move ahead and be a very good coach," said UCF coach George O'Leary. "I think Kevin has, no question, the background. I think he has the temperament for it, and I think he's well-respected by the players, but again, it's the knowledge factor. I always tell him power is knowledge."
Whatever path Smith ultimately chooses, he takes pride in the fact that he'll start it with a college degree that he's expected to complete in less than a year. And he's hopeful his journey will send an important message to other athletes.
"Enjoy it and never take a second for granted," Smith said of playing football. "But don't make that just your life. Be more than just an NFL player. Do more."
Davidson Relishes Instructs Experience
November 8, 2014 by Bill Ballew
ATLANTA—Less than two weeks after returning home to North Carolina, Braves first-round pickBraxton Davidson was itching to get back on the field.
Nabbed with the 32nd overall selection last June, Davidson hit .243/.400/.324 in 37 Gulf Coast League contests before batting at a .167/.348/.222 clip in 36 trips to the plate in the Appalachian League late in the summer. He then spent more than a month in instructs, where he showed why Atlanta took him with its first pick.
“Everything went great, but instructs was awesome,” Davidson said. “I learned a lot about the game and a lot about myself. I also learned a lot by being around guys who have been in pro ball for two or three years. The entire experience really helped me in so many ways. I’d love to go back and do it again.”
Click on the link to read the entire article
by David Laurila - November 9, 2014
Clint Coulter is no longer a catcher. The 21-year-old Milwaukee Brewers prospect is currently playing right field in the Arizona Fall League, and it’s not a temporary assignment. According to farm director Reid Nichols, “The plan is for him to stay in the outfield.”
Based on this summer’s performance, his bat will play anywhere. Playing for the low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Camas, Washington native hit a husky .287/.410/.520, with 22 home runs. It was a breakout season for the 2012 first-round pick, but only on the offensive side of the ball. In 61 games behind the plate, Coulter was plagued by passed balls (17) and errors (10). He was in the lineup 64 times as a designated hitter.
One year ago, in his first full professional season, Coulter looked like a bust in the batter’s box. A sculpted 6-3. 225, he was solid in an Arizona-rookie-league cameo but failed to hit his weight in the Pioneer and Midwest leagues. His power numbers and walk-strikeout rate were sub par.
I asked Coulter about his 2013 struggles at the tail end of the current campaign – specifically, did the challenge of simultaneously developing as a hitter and as a catcher take its toll?
“Absolutely,” Coulter admitted. “And not only physically. You can have a great day at the plate, but also clank a few balls [behind the plate] and affect the game that way. Both mentally and physically, I’d never experienced that kind of rigor, day in day out. It was a lot, but it was a great experience. You learn the most from failure, so I’m glad it happened.”
There was less failure this year, but the Brewers clearly feel Coulter’s future will play out best at a position less burdensome on the bat. The former high school wresting champion can certainly impact a baseball, and he did a better job of it this year by reining himself in.
“Before, I was so anxious to hit that I was swinging at pitches I couldn’t really do much with,” explained Coulter. “This year I was better at being patient and hitting the pitches I wanted to hit.” Milwaukee’s player development staff saw the improvement, but also saw a work in progress. After saying, “Clint has done a good job converting to the outfield,” Nichols added that Coulter’s AFL objectives include “working on pitch recognition and slowing down at the plate.“
One thing Coulter doesn’t need work on is an already-impressive appreciation for good quotes. His Twitter page includes the following from 19th century French novelist Gustave Flaubert:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
What do those words mean to the heady youngster?
“To me, it means be humble in your lifestyle, but when it comes to competing – or whatever your true passion is – you have to be confident,” said Coulter. “Don’t be afraid to be different. Just go out there and get after it.”
Greg Bird caught Kevin Gausman as a teenager, but his backstop days ended shortly after he was drafted by the Yankees out of an Aurora, Colorado high school. The 2011 fifth-round pick played only a smattering of professional games behind the dish before becoming a first baseman.
His early-career positional switch has been widely attributed to back issues, but the 22-year-old as of today – Happy Birthday Greg Bird – downplays the health angle.
“We just agreed it was going to be the best thing going forward,” Bird told me earlier this week. “I think it was more about my tools than anything. It was basically, ‘Why spend time catching when we could progress forward faster playing first base?’
Bird has unarguably progressed playing first base. Two years ago, the left-handed hitter put up a .938 OPS at low-A Charleston. This year he had a .937 OPS at Double-A Trenton following an early-August promotion from the Florida State League. He’s emerged as one of the top hitting prospects in the organization.
For Bird, the comparative difficulty of hitting as a catcher or as a first baseman can’t be accurately defined. He acknowledges the difference, but points out he’s never had to handle the rigors of pro ball wearing the tools of ignorance. “My high school season was only 18 or 19 games, and that’s three weeks here,’ he told me.
Bird had an 18.7 walk-rate in 2013 and while it dipped slightly this year – 13.8 in high-A and 15.5 in Double-A – it was still solid. He’s also had a K-rate north of 22 the past two campaigns. There’s swing-and-miss to his game, but he’s a smart hitter. How much of that has to do with his catching experience is relative.
“People ask that a lot – does it help me as a hitter? – and I think maybe it does, but I’m more of a cerebral hitter anyway,” said Bird. “As far as, ‘Is he going to throw this or is he going to throw that,’ I was that way growing up, so I’ve kind of always had that mindset. I don’t really sit on pitches, but if you’re not thinking along with what’s going on, you’re not playing the game.”
What did Bird learn playing high school ball with, and catching, Orioles flamethrower Kevin Gausman? Did the two spend much time breaking down the nuances of their crafts?
“In high school, we were younger and kind of naïve,” admitted Bird. “We talked about things like that, but it would be a lot different if we did it now. We’re a lot more advanced than we were at 17-18 years old. He’s come a long way, and I’ve come a long way too. It would be fun to go back there and catch him one more time, but I don’t think that will happen.”
Bird is right in that regard, but there’s a good chance he’ll be hitting against his high-school battery mate in the not-too-distant future. It promises to be a good match-up. Gausman has a power arsenal, and the converted catcher has some of the best raw power in the Yankees system.
Sam Tuivailala used to be an infielder. He’s now a pure-power reliever. Two years after being converted, the 22-year-old righthander put up an eye-popping 14.6 K/9 between three levels in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
St. Louis selected Tuivailala in the third round of the 2010 draft and stationed him at third base. He didn’t stay there long. The San Mateo, California native hit .220.332/.306 in a pair of Gulf Coast seasons, committing 28 errors in 86 games along the way. As Tuivialala put it, “We all have a time clock here, and my time ran out.’
Fortunately, there was a backup plan. Tuivailala had pitched in high school and was drafted into an organization with a recent history of turning position prospects into power arms.
“He was an infielder when he came into the system, but like we do with all players, we kept evaluating where his best fit is, “ said Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque. “The one thing that always stood out was his arm strength, so we felt a conversion was in his best interest. We’ve had players like that before, like Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal,”
Motte was a catcher for three professional seasons before being moved to the bullpen. His fastball flirted with triple digits after the conversion. Rosenthal was primarily a shortstop at Cowley County Community College, but St. Louis drafted him as a pitcher. His fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.
Tuivailala’s fastball also reaches 100 mph, so why wasn’t he drafted as a pitcher?
“I had a pretty good arm, but I was sitting maybe low 90s,” Tuivailala told me. “I didn’t expect to be one day sitting high 90s and touching triple digits. A lot of teams saw me as a pitcher, and others liked me as a position player. I was willing to do whatever the team who wanted me wanted me to do.”
Respecting an organization’s opinion on that matter is standard fare for most two-way players. I asked him what he really wanted.
“In the back of my head, I knew there was a good chance I’d become a pitcher,” answered Tuivailala. “I just had that feeling. My first year, I’d make these inside jokes. I’d tell my coaches that if we were losing by a lot, I could throw them an inning.”
That eventually happened in 2012, when the Cardinals – in Tuivailala’s words – “told me I’d be on the bump.” It was a move he welcomed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy.
“When I first transitioned, I kind of felt like a third baseman on the mound,” said Tuivailala. “I had to get that rhythm back. I had to get back in touch with my mechanics and get the feel for everything again.”
The hard-throwing righty’s mechanics are better than they were in high school, with improved tilt and more extension. His secondary pitches, both of which need polish, are a spike curveball and a circle changeup. Ultimately, how well he commands his high-90s heat is what will determine whether he becomes the next Motte or Rosenthal.
I asked LaRocque if he sees similarities between Tuivailala and the Cardinals’ current closer.
“The first thing you see is they both have pure arm strength,” said LaRocque. “The paths are a little different in some respects, but the similarities are clear. Both have great work ethic and are focused young men. If you ask Tui, I’m sure he’ll tell you he feeds off seeing guys like Rosie doing what they’re doing.”
Mike Foltynewicz is another member of the 100-mph club. The righthander debuted with the Houston Astros this summer at the unpolished age of 22 and put up a 5.30 ERA in 16 relief outings. He didn’t look ready for prime time – his transition from thrower to pitcher isn’t yet complete – but there’s no disputing the potential.
Drafted 19th overall in 2010 out of a Minooka, Illinois high school, Foltynewicz has been groomed as a starter in the minor league. It’s the role he aspires to, but he’ll need to do a better job of commanding his pitches in order to earn a spot in the rotation. To his credit, he recognizes that.
“It’s not just about throwing hard,” Foltynewicz told me late this season. “It’s about location, so I can’t go out there trying to throw 99-100 every pitch. I don’t have great control when I do that. But if I’m toning it down to 94-95 and hitting my spots, I’m going to get guys out. I definitely haven’t lost the power package, though. I can dial it when I need to.”
I asked Astros catcher Jason Castro to describe Foltynewicz’s fastball.
“In one word, I’d say explosive,”said Castro. “He’s got a little variation to it, too. He’s got one that’s straighter and then he’s got one with a little bit of movement to it. The straighter one is upper 90s and has touched 100. The one with a little movement is more mid 90s.”
Like most high-velocity hurlers, Foltynewicz is especially effective when he’s throwing his secondary pitches for strikes. He has three in his repertoire, including a changeup he threw 10.7% of the time in his 18-and-two-third big-league innings. He also throws a curveball and a slider, which wasn’t the case from 2010-2012.
“I had both when I was drafted, but they told me I had to pick one,” explained Foltynewicz. “They said we’d start there, and I could bring the other one back later if I needed it. Last year, in Corpus Christi, I brought the slider back. It works well with my curveball, because they’re different speeds and shapes. I throw hard, and if I can use my off-speed pitches effectively, my fastball is going to be even better.”
The first of those moves came before the 24-year-old, power-hitting catcher was born. His father, who had pitched at Western Michigan University, moved to Miami, Florida. So did O’Brien’s mother and grandmother, from Cuba in 1986. Also coming over was his mother’s brother, who O’Brien describes as “a huge student of the game of baseball.”
Another meaningful change came in his teenage years. An undersized shortstop as a high school freshman, he played third base as a sophomore and junior while undergoing a growth spurt. He started catching his senior year – “I’d always thought putting on the gear was pretty cool,” he explained – and that’s where he’s remained.
There are questions as to whether the 6-foot-3, 215-lb slugger will stay behind the plate. He’d prefer to stay there, and the D-Backs have told him that’s the plan, but right now his offense is well ahead of his defense. O’Brien hit 34 home runs this year between high-A and Double-A, and many were tape-measure shots. His raw power is matched by only a handful of minor-league prospects.
O’Brien has seen time in the outfield and at the infield corners, which gives the D-Backs options if his receiving ability ultimately falls short of big-league quality. If he does remain a catcher, his greatest asset might be his communication skills. He’s well-spoken in not one, but two languages.
“My grandma – my mom’s mom – has always lived with us, and I actually spoke Spanish before I spoke English,” O’Brien explained. “To this day, it’s been a huge help, not only in my everyday life, but also in baseball. In the heat of a game, you can get your point across a lot clearer if you’re speaking the same language and using the same terminology. That’s big when an adjustment needs to be made in a hurry.”
As for the possibility of O’Brien one day having to adjust to a new position, he’ll cross that bridge when, and if, he comes to it.
“I see my mentality as a baseball mentality,” O’Brien told me. “I’m a baseball guy and love being on the field. I’m a catcher, and I want to be a catcher, but at the end of the day, wherever the big club wants my bat to play, that’s where I’m going to be. Right now I’m behind the plate.”
A number of notable players were once seen as backstops, only to move to other positions. In 2002, the Reds used the 44th overall pick of the draft to take catcherJoey Votto. In 2003, the Pirates took catcher Neil Walker with the 11th overall pick. Josh Donaldson, Paul Konerko and Jayson Werth were all drafted as catchers.
That is by no means a complete list of converted catchers, but it is sufficient to show how challenging it can be to assess a young amateur’s best position on draft day. Equally challenging is predicting a player’s future success once he enters a minor-league system. Baseball America has long done that as well as anyone, and their 2005 Prospect Handbook includes an extreme example.
In 2005, the Red Sox minor league system was ranked 21st among the 30 teams. Their top six prospects that year were: 1. Hanley Ramirez, 2. Brandon Moss, 3.Jonathan Papelbon, 4. Jon Lester, 5. Anibal Sanchez, 6. Dustin Pedroia. They’ve since gone on to accumulate 164.4 WAR. The Chicago Cubs were ranked 11 spots ahead of the Red Sox, at No. 10. Their top prospects were; 1. Brian Dopirak, 2. Felix Pie, 3. Ryan Harvey, 4. Angel Guzman, 5. Billy Petrick, 6. Renyel Pinto. They ended up being worth minus 1.1 WAR.
“does their way still work or must they alter their approach to compete in today’s leaner, scrappier game?”
Hot Stove series: Red Sox must adapt to MLB's changing ways
Game's drug policy, financial sharing, rule changes all affect recipe for building contender
Thursday, November 6, 2014 By:John Tomase
The Red Sox Way has served the team well over the last decade. But it’s not the only way. And it may no longer even be the right way.
The Sox constructed their 2004 and 2007 World Series winners around a relentless lineup of 1-through-9 on-base machines, a rotation fronted by at least two aces, and a deep bullpen clearing a path to an indomitable closer (even if it took a while to get there in 2004). The 2013 club embraced many of those tenets, but it was a super-group assembled for one killer tour and not built to last.
The baseball landscape has inexorably shifted over the last five years, however. It used to take a complete team to win a World Series, but not in 2014.
The eventual champion Giants, for instance, rated below league average in on-base percentage and steals, and were only slightly above average in slugging and defense. They won behind an unbeatable postseason ace (Madison Bumgarner), a strong bullpen, and via consistent late-game heroics.
The runner-up Royals, meanwhile, rated below league average in virtually every meaningful offensive category except steals, lacked an ace atop their rotation, and finished dead last in home runs. They won with a lights-out bullpen, tremendous outfield defense, and a number of stunningly clutch October moments.
Some of this is simply a function of the vagaries of the postseason, when anything can happen in a seven-game series, and the best team doesn’t always win. No one thought the ’06 Cardinals or ’03 Marlins were championship material until they raised the trophy, either.
But it also undeniably points to broader shifts across the game, with revenue sharing and TV money leveling the financial playing field, rule changes making it harder to exploit the draft, stricter steroid policies eliminating an entire class of late-30s slugger, and a larger, lower strike zone swinging the balance of power to pitching and defense.
That leads to an obvious question as the Red Sox embark on their most important offseason in a decade — does their way still work or must they alter their approach to compete in today’s leaner, scrappier game?
“It’s a great question,” general manager Ben Cherington said at the end of the season. “The game has changed, offense has changed, power in terms of home runs is down, and even on base is down across the league. We can talk about reasons for that, there are all sorts of reasons.
“We know we need to build a better offense and produce more. We also have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
As Cherington intimates, the answer isn’t simple.
Money can’t buy happiness
The first issue is what Randy Moss would call, “straight cash, homey.” A decade ago, only four teams boasted $100 million payrolls. The number ballooned to 15 at the start of this season and approached 17 by the end of it.
With more money than ever to spend, teams are locking up their core talent. The mid-major Brewers spent over $100 million to extend former MVP Ryan Braun, and the small-conference Rays did likewise for Evan Longoria.
Young players who might have once reached free agency — think Alex Rodriguez at age 25 in 2000 — are now staying put, a la Mike Trout and his $144.5 million extension in Anaheim.
The simultaneous crackdown on steroids has left the free agent market thinner than ever, with players in their early 30s sometimes representing risky investments. The Red Sox prefer to avoid long-term deals there as a result.
The effect is a greatly diluted talent pool, making it difficult to acquire a four- or five-tool player in his prime.
The days of landing Manny Ramirez at age 28 in free agency are basically over. Ditto for acquiring someone like Pedro Martinez at age 27 from a cash-strapped team like the Expos. Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton will probably be moved in the next year — though Miami has signaled its intentions to re-sign him — but fewer such players need to be dealt anymore, because even mid-sized markets can afford to keep them.
That leaves the Red Sox with fewer opportunities to acquire top-end talent, which complicates the team-building process considerably. That makes now a good time to re-examine some of the principles the Red Sox hold dear.
Down with OBP?
Ever since the publication of Moneyball in 2003, the ability to reach base has widely been recognized as the most important offensive skill in the game.
Nothing is more precious than an out. A walk, as the old Little League adage goes, is as good as a hit. Except, what happens if hitting is so down that batters who walk become more likely to be stranded?
It’s interesting to note that every playoff team except Oakland finished above league average in batting average, but three of them finished below it in on-base percentage.
Red Sox senior advisor Bill James has never studied the issue explicitly, but wrote in an e-mail he wouldn’t be surprised if, “when offense becomes more scarce, batting average becomes a better indicator of a hitter’s overall quality.”
“I would think that this would have to be at least somewhat true,” he wrote, “because when runs go down, what I call secondary average always drops more rapidly than batting average. Secondary average is basically ‘everything that goes into runs creation, other than batting average.’”
The Red Sox are just one example, but their inability to hit clearly impacted their ability to score. They finished third in walks (535) and 14th in on-base percentage (.316), but just 21st in average (.244).
Until scoring in double digits in three of their final five games, they ranked in the bottom 10 in runs in baseball. They ended up 17th.
“If what we need to do to build a better offense is just to have a deeper group, one through nine, one through 13, one thru 20, however you want to look at it, then I think our trades at the deadline get us closer to that,” said Cherington, “and the emergence of some young players get us closer to that, and a return to health from veteran players will get us closer to that.”
The clubs that struggled in OBP this year compensated with either speed or power. The Royals led the league in steals and aggressively took extra bases. The Orioles led the league in homers and could turn a single and walk into three runs instantly.
The Red Sox neither ran well (63 steals) nor efficiently (25 CS), and their .369 slugging percentage ranked second-to-last in the American League.
It was telling, then, that they acquired slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline for Jon Lester. Cespedes owns a lifetime .316 on-base percentage (.298 the last two years) and on the surface doesn’t fit the Red Sox mold.
He does, however, homer (24 a year) and hit with runners in scoring position (.303 average). Citing the latter stat will make a sabermetrician blanch, since it’s just considered white noise, but it speaks to Cespedes’ ability to put bat to ball, a skill the 2014 Red Sox lacked on the whole.
Whatever the Red Sox do this winter, Cherington doesn’t plan on being reactionary.
“If we can see pitches and grind at-bats and get on base and still hit for power and hit with runners in scoring position, that’s a formula to score runs and more runs than our competition,” Cherington said. “Certainly some of it has to do with the personnel you have. There are examples of teams that have been successful this year that don’t see a ton of pitches and maybe don’t get on base as much as we’re used to getting on base here, so I’m not saying there’s one way to do it. I just think we have to be careful of moving too far away from what we’re good at. I’d rather try to fix the things that just didn’t work this year and start there.”
Bring the heat
The offense isn’t the only part of the team that needs re-examining. According to Fangraphs, 36 relievers averaged at least 95 mph on their fastball last season and another 21 averaged at least 94 mph. No Red Sox made either list.
Right-hander Junichi Tazawa led the way at 93.9 mph, but that was it, once left-hander Andrew Miller (93.9 mph) was traded to the Orioles.
While Red Sox relievers were by no means the problem last season — their 3.33 ERA ranked 12th in baseball and sixth in the American League — they suffered a distinct lack of firepower.
Red Sox relievers struck out 452, good for 15th in baseball. It was hard to watch the flame-throwing brigade in Kansas City, though, and not be amazed at the difference. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland bringing serious heat, the Royals decimated opposing lineups in the late innings, particularly in the postseason.
The Red Sox, however, lacked strikeout pitchers in their setup corps, which gave them less margin for error in tight situations with runners on base. Closer Koji Uehara is the rare reliever with tremendous strikeout rates (10/9 IP) despite underwhelming velocity (90 mph fastball).
“It’s common that many of the best performers in the bullpen happen to throw hard, but I don’t think there’s one way to do it,” Cherington said. “We’ve seen Koji get the best hitters out in baseball now consistently for several years, including at the most crucial times. So we obviously feel very good about him and the way our bullpen is coming together, and if we can add in a way that makes sense, we’ll do that.”
The Red Sox aren’t about to overhaul the way they build a roster, and with good reason. The approach has helped them win three titles in the last 10 years.
But some tweaks are in order.
The available talent pool isn’t what it used to be, and there’s more competition than ever for good players. The Red Sox can no longer sit back, flex their financial muscles, and build the “uber-team” Theo Epstein used to talk about.
They need to adapt with the times and assemble a team capable of winning in multiple ways. If that means sacrificing on-base ability for power, speed, or even batting average, they’ll find themselves better able to compete, especially if the trend towards pitching and defense continue next year.
Likewise, their bullpen could use a turbo boost in the velocity department.
That leaves the rotation, which we examined in yesterday’s paper. The ace-less model took Kansas City within a run of the title, but having an ace brought the Giants all the way home.
How the Red Sox answer these questions over the next three months will go a long way towards deciding what kind of team they have come April.
Matching Success In San Francisco Will Be A Giant Challenge
November 6, 2014 by John Manuel
These prospects, it was hoped, could surround Barry Bonds and help San Francisco win its first championship by the Bay since the franchise moved from New York City after the 1957 season.
But what has happened to the Giants just doesn’t happen in other sports. Willie Mays played parts of 15 seasons in San Francisco, but his only World Series championship came at the Polo Grounds in New York. Willie McCovey (19 seasons in San Francisco) and Bonds (15) played literally thousands of games for the franchise and couldn’t win a World Series ring, though both came agonizingly close.
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