Sunday Notes: Tigers Introduce Pitching Analytics to Player Development

The Detroit Tigers are a rebuilding team with a plethora of promising pitching prospects. As of a few weeks ago, they also have a director of pitching development and strategies, and a coordinator of player development analytics. Each is a new position within the organization, and both are a step in the right direction. Dan Hubbs was hired to fill the first of those roles, Jordan Wergiles the last.

Who are Hubbs and Wergiles, and what will be their primary responsibilities? I asked those questions to Al Avila during the recently completed GM Meetings.

“Dan came from the University of Southern California, where he was the head baseball coach,” answered Avila. “Before that he was the pitching coach there for 12 years. He comes with a good knowledge of the technology that’s being used now. He understands the analytics that can help a pitcher get better. Basically, his challenge is to set up our pitching system.”

Addressing Wergiles — a recent Wake Forest University graduate who’d been interning for the Tigers — Avila spoke of the organization’s attempts to keep up with an ever-changing game.

“There are obviously some things that your average instructor, or pitching coach… those guys aren’t analysts,” said the GM. “Those guys don’t work with numbers. They work with human beings, so it’s more of, ‘Hey, here is what the numbers are telling us about this pitcher.’ [Wergiles] can be deciphering that to the coaches, so that they can make those adjustments with the pitchers.”

Requests to speak to Wergiles and Hubbs about their new roles were declined by the Tigers.

Avila name-checked another of his new hires — several have been announced — when asked to elaborate on the ramping up of his team’s analytical efforts.

“It’s a full-blown situation where you’re working with strength and conditioning, you’re working with trainers, you’re working with biomechanics,” said Avila. [Director of performance science] Georgia Giblin has got all the gadgets to put on the players, to test them for fatigue and whatnot. Then there is the video and what the numbers from Rapsodo are saying. It’s a pretty involved process. We’ll have all these people working as a unit, with Dan Hubbs in charge.”

That’s on the pitching side. The Tigers have also brought on board a new director of player development whose responsibilities will skew heavily to the offensive side of the ball. Kenny Graham spent the last four years as Milwaukee’s minor league hitting coordinator.

“It’s the same as what led to our pitching changes,” Avila explained. ”Kenny’s expertise is in hitting. He’ll set up our hitting systems, just like Dan Hubbs will be challenged with the pitching. Kenny’s first order of business is going to be hitting, and from there it will spread out to the other areas of player development. We’ll have a system for basically everything.”

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The Oakland A’s have made a notable change. Last month it was announced that Ed Sprague will be replacing Keith Lieppman as the team’s director of player development. The latter had been in that role for nearly three decades.

I asked David Forst how the change came about, and how it might impact Oakland’s prospect pipeline.

“Keith came to me and said, ‘I think it’s time to take a step back,’” the GM told me. “This will be his 50th year with the organization, so he’s entitled to take whatever steps he wants. But he’s still going to be involved — he’ll serve as an advisor to Ed — so it’s as seamless a transition as you can have. It will just be a different look without Keith running the farm system.”

Sprague has been the team’s assistant director of player development, so the transition should indeed be smooth. That doesn’t mean that the department will be run in exactly the same manner.

“Any time there is a different voice at the head of a department, some things are going to change,” agreed Forst. “Ed has already come to me with ideas about managing people, and some of the technology he wants to use. He was really involved in all of our technological exercises over the last couple of years, so I think that’s something he’s going to push heavily. He’ll do some different things within our system.”

Sprague played 11 big seasons after being drafted out of Stanford University in 1988, and later served as the head baseball coach at the University of Pacific from 2004-2015. He joined the A’s player development department in 2016.

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How soon do the Seattle Mariners expect to contend? Jerry Dipoto didn’t answer that question directly, but he did hint at a timeframe during the GM Meetings.

“Through our own intentions, [2019] was going to be measured by what we were doing developmentally,” Dipoto told a small group of reporters. “Much less so than by what we were doing in the big leagues. Our owners understood that. There’s going to come a point in time where that’s no longer the case. I don’t know when that point in time is, but I suspect that it’s sometime in the next year, year and a half. That’s when we believe that our young players will be better prepared for us to go out and add to them.

“Our payroll was about 136 [million],” added Seattle’s GM. “Over the last four years we’ve probably been 11th or 12th in MLB in overall payroll, and we’re probably not going to be too dissimilar from that next year.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Babe Ruth went 1 for 21 against Gordon Rhodes.

Homer Smoot went 2 for 7 against Charlie Rhodes.

Carlos Pena went 0 for 10 against Arthur Rhodes.

Tuffy Rhodes went 0 for 10 against Ken Hill.

Dusty Rhodes went 5 for 10 against Brooks Lawrence.

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Ashton Goudeau was one of four players the Colorado Rockies added to their 40-man roster this past week. Had that not happened, the 27-year-old right-hander would have been eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, which will take place in San Diego on December 12, at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings.

He’s come a long way in a short time. Twelve months ago, Goudeau was signed as a minor-league free agent on the heels of a 5.79 ERA, which he put up in his first season in the Seattle Mariners system. Prior to 2018, he spent six wholly nondescript years as a Kansas City Royals farmhand.

He found a new level in 2019. Working as a starter for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, Goudeau logged a 2.07 ERA and a 2.64 FIP, and more strikeouts than baserunners allowed. He then punctuated his breakout campaign with 13 scoreless innings in the Arizona Fall League.

Asked about the acquisition of the former 27th-round pick, GM Jeff Bridich said that while Goudeau’s track record had been spotty, Rockies scouts liked “some of his measurables,” as well as his sturdy 6-foot-6 frame. It was a matter of adding polish, and Yard Goats pitching coach Steve Merriman provided plenty of it.

“The work he did with [Merriman] put him in a position to throw harder, and to locate his fastball better,” explained Bridich. ‘He’s always had a plus breaking ball. The added consistency, due to the mechanical stuff, and some of the sequencing we worked with him on, have put him in position to where he can be thought of as a guy who could get to the big leagues in the near future.”

The righty now relies on a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, whereas “he used to be a four- or five-pitch guy.” Bridich said that Goudeau — his repertoire simplified and more-refined — will report to spring training as a starter.

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NEWS NOTES

Renowned baseball historian Dorothy Seymour Mills died a week ago today at age 91. Along with her late husband, Harold Seymour, she researched and wrote the groundbreaking “Baseball: The Early Years,” which was followed by “Baseball: The Golden Age,” and “The People’s Game.” In 2017, SABR established a lifetime achievement award in her name, to honor women’s contributions to baseball.

The Milwaukee Brewers have hired Ed Lucas as their new minor league hitting coordinator. A Dartmouth graduate and former big-league infielder, Lucas spent this past season as a player information assistant with the Phillies. He was featured in Sunday Notes on September 2, 2018.

Kristopher Negron has been named as the new Assistant to Director of Player Development for the Seattle Mariners. The 33-year-old former infielder played parts of six big-league seasons, appearing in 30 games for the Dodgers this past season.

The Baltimore Orioles have hired Eve Rosenbaum as their new director of baseball development. A Harvard graduate, Rosenbaum has spent the past two years as the international scouting manager for the Houston Astros.

Omar Vizquel will no longer be a part of the Chicago White Sox player development system. The former shortstop, and current Hall of Fame candidate, managed high-A Winston-Salem in 2018, and Double-A Birmingham in 2019.

The Yomiuri Giants, a team that has historically eschewed the posting system, have reportedly agreed to post pitcher Shun Yamaguchi. A 32-year-old right-hander, Yamaguchi is coming off a season where he went 15-4 with a 2.91 ERA. More information, including a breakdown of his pitch mix, can be found here.

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The following paragraph appeared in my July 21 Sunday Notes column:

Tim Mayza has appeared in 99 big-league games, all with the Toronto Blue Jays, and has a won-loss record of 3-0. Over the past century, only Clay Rapada (8-0, 152 games) and Buddy Boshers (3-0, 100 games) have more pitching appearances without incurring a loss.

It took all of zero days for the jinx to rear its ugly head. That very same afternoon, Mayza allowed a walk-off home run — on the only pitch he threw, no less — and suddenly his unblemished record was history. Then it was Boshers’ turn. Called up from Triple-A by the Blue Jays on July 31, the lefty suffered his first defeat less than a week later.

Rapada is immune from any such jinxes. The former journeyman southpaw threw his last professional pitch four years ago, and is now a coach in the San Francisco Giants organization.

What does he think of his obscure big-league record?

“It’s a crazy record,” Rapada told me earlier this week. “’But I’ve always believed that relievers shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses, or on ERA. If I gave my team a chance to win by keeping us in striking distance, I felt that I did my job. I also had a lot of good relievers coming in behind me, who saved my butt.”

Used almost exclusively as a LOOGY, Rapada threw just 93 innings in his 152 appearances. His splits were striking. Lefties logged a .486 OPS against his deliveries, while righties scorched him to the tune of 1.074. Would he have pitched in the big leagues, which he did for parts of seven MLB seasons, had that role not existed?

“I’d like to think I still would have,” said Rapada, who likened situational-relievers to football kickers. “When I was coming up, that’s all they told me to focus on — getting lefties out. Now that relievers are going have to face three hitters, there will be a need for a different focus.”

There will also be more opportunities for relievers to incur losses, as an increased number of batters faced means more baserunners allowed. Rapada’s record is likely to remain unbroken for a long time.

——

A Twitter poll I ran earlier this week asked the following question:

A player is considered elite, a probable Hall of Famer, throughout his playing days. Some years later, to his detriment, value is being measured differently. Is he a Hall of Famer?

The poll received 735 votes, with an overwhelming majority — 73% to be exact — choosing Yes. The result isn’t what I expected, but I agree with said majority. Today’s standards aren’t yesterday’s standards. Moreover, they are tomorrow’s standards either.

———

Another Twitter poll I ran this week asked which of Dwight Evans and Larry Walker had the better career. Walker won in a landslide, garnering 87% of the support.

Some of their numbers are quite close. To wit, Walker had 383 home runs, 3,904 total bases, and 68.7 fWAR, while Evans had 385 home runs, 4,230 total bases, and 65.1 fWAR.

Expanding on the above, Evans has a slight edge in doubles (483 to 471), triples (73 to 62), and RBIs (1,384 to 1,311). Walker has a clear edge in wRC+ (140 to 129) and wOBA (.412 to .375). If awards float your boat, Walker has more All-Star berths (five to three), Evans more Gold Gloves (eight to seven).

Which of the former right fielders would I give the nod to? Quite honestly, I think it’s a coin flip. Are they both Hall of Fame worthy? In my opinion, yes.

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Bat Flips and Nerds, Ben Carter talked to Twins outfielder Max Kepler about baseball in Europe, past and future.

At Beyond the Box Score, Sheryl Ring opined that Roger Clemens doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, and PEDs aren’t the reason why.

Baseball America’s JJ Cooper wrote about Major League Baseball’s proposal to dramatically, and injuriously, change the shape of Minor League Baseball.

Who was the greatest first baseman in Kansas City Royals history? Bradford Lee offered his opinion at Royals Review.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jose Abreu came to the plate 693 times this year and grounded into a league-high 24 double plays. Yoan Moncada came to the plate 559 times and grounded into one double play.

Nick Markakis has 499 career doubles. Sixty-three players have hit more, including John Olerud and Goose Goslin, with 500 each.

Nicholas Castellanos has 140 doubles over the past three seasons, the most in the majors. JD Martinez has the most home runs (124). Charlie Blackmon has the most triples (280).

Curtis Granderson leads all active players with 95 triples.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have gone the longest with a league leader in RBIs. Willie Stargell led the senior circuit in that category in 1973. (per @JamesSmyth621)

Barry Bonds had 12,606 plate appearances and 5,976 total bases. Stan Musial had 12,718 plate appearances and 6,134 total bases.

On this date in 1953 it was announced that Walter Alston would be the new manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, replacing Chuck Dressen. The Dodgers were coming off a season where they went 105-49 before falling to the Yankees in the World Series for the second year in a row.

The Dodgers have played in 20 World Series and come out on top six times. Their 14 Fall Classic defeats are the most for any franchise.

Mickey Lolich slashed .110/.215/.121, with no home runs, in 1,017 regular-season plate appearances. He homered his first time up in the 1968 World Series.

Dave Righetti played 16 seasons and had 16 career plate appearances. The first of his two hits came as a pinch-hitter.

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