After years of seeing poor receivers like Ryan Doumit cost them strikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin to the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history over the winter. According to Baseball Prospectus analyst Max Marchi’s pitch-framing statistics, Martin, a converted infielder who worked hard at becoming a better receiver, ranks fourth among major league catchers with more than 105 runs saved because of framing from 2008 to present, or roughly 0.23 runs per 100 pitches. Pittsburgh’s two-year, $17 million commitment is already paying dividends. With Martin behind the plate picking up extra strikes, the Pirates had their best April since 1992, the last season they were a winning team. I caught up with Martin to find out how he does it before a game at Citizens Bank Park.
With PITCHf/x in the past few years, people have tried to put a value on turning a ball into a strike, and what the best catchers are worth. Have you seen those stats? Have you noticed more emphasis on it from teams or coaches?
It’s been talked about more. It never really used to be talked about. I’ve always known that it makes a big difference, just looking at the greats over the years that have been really good receivers, but there’s never been an association with numbers. It’s kind of hard to put a value on it. It’s hard to illustrate.
This is a plot of the called strikes for all the Pirates pitchers. The first image is the last five seasons, and then the second image is this season. The red area is where the called strikes are. This season it’s been a much bigger blotch than the last five seasons, so that seems to suggest that might be you doing something.
Short sample right now, though.
But yeah, sure.
It seems like the main difference is on the top and bottom there. Is there an area that you feel like you’re most able to get those extra strikes?
Probably bottom-middle of the zone. I’ve always been pretty good at getting that pitch.
For as long as people have written words on the Internet, there's been a baseball snarkiarchy. This devoted group of provocateurs has made a sport of mocking numerous players over the years. Often analytically inclined, they home in on a certain kind of player, prolific outmakers who get too much playing time, too much money, or both, because some team doesn't recognize what an on-base percentage black hole can do to a lineup. For years, the snarkiarchy targeted Neifi Perez. Then it was Jeff Francoeur. And while Francoeur remains one of the biggest hackers and worst everyday players in the game, he may have ceded the throne as the baseball intelligentsia's most mockable player to Yuniesky Betancourt.
Last year, Jason Motte was one of the best and most reliable closers in the game, racking up 42 saves, nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.75 ERA. He signed a two-year, $12 million contract in January, and was widely expected to have another big year banking saves for a playoff-contending Cardinals team.
We'll let the excellent news and analysis site Rotowire.com take it from here:
MARCH 23: Motte has what the club is describing as a "mild strain" in his right elbow that will keep him off the mound for at least a week as the team explores the severity of the injury and potential treatments, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. General manager John Mozeliak said Motte will "likely" start the season on the disabled list with the flexor strain.
On Wednesday, I covered 15 players with compelling backstories who've been invited to spring training with American League clubs. Per that article: "These are the NRIs, the non-roster invitees promised almost nothing — not a job, not a major league deal, nothing more than a chance to come to camp, overcome often astronomical odds, and somehow make the Opening Day roster."
Even after they had contended all season, even after their starting rotation took off in the second half, even after a five-game winning streak in early August propelled them into a three-way tie for the wild card, the Orioles didn't have many believers. They had crushed preseason expectations, reaped surprise contributions from multiple players, but still had many question marks, especially with their leaky defense on the corners.
That's when Baltimore called up top prospect Manny Machado and the team took off from there. Wilson Betemit, the butcher who had taken over the starting third-base job from fellow butcher Mark Reynolds, got shoved to the bench. And while the 20-year-old Machado showed some holes in his swing, he also came through with some big moments, with the bat and especially withtheglove. The O's went 33-18 the rest of the way, storming to their first playoff berth in 15 years.
Finding two prospects who can dominate as quickly as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did last year might be a challenge. Still, this year's prospect crop is another impressive one, and one filled with players who could play a big role in this season's pennant races. With that in mind, we decided to count down the 16 players most likely to impact those races — the Machados, if you will.
Here, for the paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists in our midst, is a brief peek behind the journalistic curtain: Sometimes those of us in the press chase after stories because they are there at that moment, and we figure they might not be there forever. Sometimes we pursue the narrative of a certain player or a certain team while they are hitting .400 or leading the league in scoring, knowing full well that the magic cannot possibly sustain itself. But I swear on my life that this is not one of those cases. This is much sadder than that.
The Baltimore Orioles were a bad team in 2011. Terrible, really. They won 69 games, finished last in the AL East, and allowed 152 more runs than they scored. If anyone other than Dan Duquette and the players' moms figured the O's could storm back, win 90-odd games, and make a run at the AL East title and maybe even a World Series, those true believers certainly kept their opinions to themselves.
Last year's Baltimore team — along with fellow sub-.500 clubs turned 2012 playoff entrants Washington, Cincinnati, and Oakland — offer hope for those teams already eliminated from postseason contention this year. With that in mind, let's take a look at the 16 teams whose playoffs dreams had been dashed as of Monday (i.e. not these guys), and see if we can find a candidate or two to be next year's Orioles.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Adam Jones bashed an 11th-inning home run to lead the Orioles past the Mariners 3-1 and give the club its 15th straight extra-innings win, the longest streak in MLB since Cleveland won 17 straight in 1949. "I see what's happening here," said 1949 Indians manager Lou Boudreau, in hell. "My soul's not good enough for you anymore, is that it?" Satan sighed. "It's not like that, Lou," he said. "But I'm the devil and the devil gots to get his soul on, you know?" Boudreau frowned. "Oh, don't start talking like you're some big hot shot. Fine, run off with some younger soul, see if it makes you happy." Boudreau crossed his arms and turned away, and Satan fumed. "Maybe I will!" he shouted. "And maybe he'll actually put some effort into the meals he cooks for me! I'm sick of eating this creamed corn every goddamn night. This creamed corn is shit, Lou! It's shit!" At that, Boudreau broke down in tears and ran away when Satan tried to awkwardly apologize.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Matt Ryan threw his 100th career touchdown pass and the Falcons defense harassed Peyton Manning into three first-quarter interceptions in a 27-21 win over the Broncos. "Each turnover has its own story that no one really wants to hear," Manning said afterward. He then paused, looked in every reporter's eyes, and said, "Actually, let's do this. Turnover one was a lonely girl with big dreams who wanted to escape the drudgery of life in her tiny Nebraska town. Her father was an undertaker, but she longed for more, so she joined a traveling circus. She found joy and she married a carnie, but late one drunken night she died while riding the zipper and they sent her body back to her father. INTERCEPTION. Turnover two was a lot like the boy in Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer." Poor kid, ragged people, bleeding winter, dead from boxing. INTERCEPTION. Turnover three was just a bad pass. WRONG. TRICKED YOU. Each turnover has a story, never forget that. Turnover three was the look my father gave me one October morning, age 8, when I said I wanted to become an artist. "I hate football, Daddy. I love paints and oils." Old Archie threw me in the back of our pickup truck, drove me out to the woods, and left me with nothing but a football for six days. It worked. I fell in love with that football and named it Godfrey. My artistic dreams died with the midnight howling of the wolves. INTERCEPTION. COME BACK, GODFREY. But Godfrey's gone."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Good morning. In today's installment of About Last Night, we're lucky enough to have renowned sports comedy critic Fenwick Vaughnagan on hand to analyze and critique every one of Ryan's jokes. Vaughnagan was born in Caerwys, Wales, and earned international fame for his controversial first book, "You Can't Joke About Rugby, Mate." He moved to America in 1985, and has worked for the Miami Standard-Tribune ever since. Last year, he won the Chloe Herbst Memorial Humour Award for his debut novel "Field of Screams: A Murderous Romp Through America's Ballparks."
Note: Due to space limitations, we weren't able to include Ryan's joke and Vaughnagan's critique, so the actual jokes have been omitted.
Bryce Harper hit two home runs and was ejected for spiking his helmet — both career firsts — as the Nationals ended a five-game losing streak with an 8-4 win over the Marlins. CRITIQUE: "Ryan starts out a bit weak here, it must be said, with a tenuous and rather offensive connection between Harper and former president Jimmy Carter that wouldn't have drawn a laugh even among the yokels at the 1980 Republican convention. And at the risk of sounding like a prude, was it really necessary to use the word f--- 18 times in one sentence?"
In a romantic sense, a "clinger" is a person — maybe a significant other, maybe something a bit less — who won't leave you alone. Your classic clinger is needy to an extreme degree, and lives in a world where no public display of affection is too egregious. Every moment, he or she believes, should be spent in close physical proximity, and the concept of personal space is foreign. Clingers live in a world of emotional codependency, and grasp onto a potential partner like a leech. And it's not a nice name to call a guy in front of his friends when I just needed a hug, OK, hon? OK?!
In baseball terms, though, "clinger" has a different connotation. A clinger is a team that nobody expected to be any good. A clinger is a team that held onto a respectable record at the All-Star break, maybe, but was expected to fade before long. A clinger is a team that has defied expectations over and over, and still, with about 30 games left in the season, sits close to playoff position. In this case, it's more like a guy clinging to the edge of a cliff, waiting for help to arrive, and it seems almost impossible — even when you hear the sirens in the distance — that he'll hold on long enough.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
With a silver medal in the 200-meter butterfly and a gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay, Michael Phelps now owns 19 Olympic medals, surpassing Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina for the most medals of all time. When reached for comment via telephone, the 77-year-old Latynina couldn't be heard over my loud shouts of, "COLD WAR OVER! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
American swimmer Allison Schmitt won her third medal in London, and her first-ever gold, with a dominant, Olympic record performance in the 200-meter freestyle. She then enjoyed an awkward hot tub bath with a naked Kathy Bates. Hold on … am I thinking of Allison Schmitt, or the movie About Schmidt? It's definitely one or the other …
Fortunately for those teams still shopping with four days left until the trade deadline, there are plenty of valuable players still out there. You'll get plenty of analysis of Zack Greinke and other top talent elsewhere. We wanted to cover the second-tier players who could prove to be surprise contributors for contending teams.
Here are a few of those bargain-bin trade targets, and the teams best suited to pursue them.
It's not Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke or a good hitter. But the Pittsburgh Pirates traded prospects to land a quality veteran starting pitcher in late July. That, in itself, is a great sign.
The Bucs struck a deal with the Astros late Tuesday, sending outfield prospect Robbie Grossman and lefty pitching prospects Colton Cain and Rudy Owens to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros also pick up $12 million of the remaining hefty commitment to Rodriguez, with the Pirates on the hook for just under $18 million — $1.7 million this year, $8.5 million in 2013, and $7.5 million in 2014 now that Rodriguez's option has been activated with the trade.