Sunday Notes: Can the Astros’ Secret Sauce Spice Up Orioles’ Pitching?

Pitchers in the Astros organization were K-happy this past season. Thanks to a bevy of power arms and analytics-based attack plans, each of Houston’s full-season minor league affiliates led its respective league in strikeouts. So did their short-season and, most notably, their big-league club.

Given that he’d spent the last six seasons as a high-ranking member of Houston’s front office, I asked Mike Elias if that’s something that could maybe be replicated in Baltimore.

“We’re very much hoping to replicate even a semblance of that success here,” answered the Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager. “The fact that we have (Assistant GM, Analytics) Sig Mejdal here, and Chris Holt, who was our assistant pitching coordinator in Houston, makes me feel really good about our chances of doing so. There is a little bit of a secret sauce behind that. I’m not going to explain it fully, but we had a great program there. We took a lot of time developing it, and we want to get it in place here as well.”

Hoping to glean at least a little insight into the secret sauce’s ingredients, I suggested that both draft and player development strategies are involved in the process.

“It’s a combination of both,” the Yale-educated exec acknowledged. “It’s the end result of achieving synergy between those two departments, and with the R&D department. It took a lot of work — it wasn’t an overnight thing — and the results were pretty special. We did a good job of getting all of those functions on the same wavelength.”

Eric Longenhagen feels that Elias and company have their work cut out for them. Asked for his opinion, my colleague opined that “the means by which they’ve identified pitchers can be replicated, but probably not with this kind of statistical dominance because other teams are on those types of players now, too. Houston was way out in front, like three years ago, and now those guys are 19-21.”

As for the pitchers currently in Orioles pipeline, none of the Baltimore affiliates finished better than middle of the pack in strikeouts. The big-league club came in third from the bottom among the 30 teams.

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In Tuesday’s interview with Brian Anderson, the Marlins’ third baseman/outfielder strongly suggested that more home runs are in his future. He’s not alone in that belief. Don Mattingly, who knows a thing or two about hitting, fully expects it to happen.

“The power is there,” the Miami manager told me late in the 2018 season. “He’s a guy that has hit for power in the minor leagues, and when he learns to pull the ball the right way a little bit more, and gets that ball in the air, that’s when the home runs will start happening.”

The introduction to the aforementioned interview stated that Anderson’s relatively-low home run total was “partly the result of playing in pitcher-friendly Marlins Park.” In Mattingly’s opinion, that would qualify as an understatement.

“Our park has probably cost him seven or eight home runs,” estimated the former batting champion. “If he was playing in a different place, he might be a 20-guy right now. He’s hit eight or 10 balls that are out in probably 60-70% of the ballparks we play in.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Rick Auerbach went 2 for 10 against Ken Holtzman.

Jo Jo White went 6 for 32 against Sam Jones.

Bill Russell went 2 or 7 against Doug Bird.

Gus Williams went 4 for 15 against Marty McHale.

Danny Ainge went 1 for 10 against Dennis Leonard.

Lance Parrish went 2 for 18 against Randy Johnson.

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In a recent Boston Globe article, Nick Cafardo listed the criteria that can be used, per the collective bargaining agreement, in an arbitration hearing. One thing in particular jumped out at me:

Statistics and data generated through the use of performance technology, wearable technology, or ‘STATCAST,’ whether publicly available or not, shall not be admissible.”

I reached out to a well-connected source to ascertain why StatCast data isn’t allowed. This is what I was told:

1) As MLB developed StatCast, they have more information at their fingertips than does the Players’ association. 2) At the time of the most recent CBA (November 2016), some of the data points were relatively new, thus the sample size behind them was insufficient for them to use in salary arbitration.

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Orioles prospect Cadyn Grenier met with the Baltimore media — yours truly was on hand as well — during last month’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Grenier didn’t have to travel far to do so. The 2018 second-round pick grew up, and still lives, in the Nevada city.

Asked if this was his first time attending professional baseball’s annual get-together, Grenier said that it was. He did so with a touch of humor, accompanied by some pertinent background information.

“They were here back in 2008, but at that time I was like, ‘Why would I need to go to the Winter Meetings?,” the 20-year-old said to laughter. “But it’s funny, because my dad worked for the Triple-A team here for 15 years. He got his start by going to the Winter Meetings in 1984 or 1985 — I think they were in San Diego — and he got the job here.”

Mark Grenier went on to serve in different positions with the Las Vegas 51s, including sales and Assistant GM. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As the youngster put it, “I’ve been having a pro experience my whole life, and now I’m a pro myself.”

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NEWSY STUFF

According to Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Connor — per an interview with Baseball America — the locations for the next three Winter Meetings are, in order, San Diego, Dallas, Orlando.

The Detroit Tigers announced several promotions earlier this week. Notable among them were Jim Logue being named the Director of Baseball Analytics, while Drew Jordan, Maggie O’Hara, Shane Piesik and Danny Vargovick are now senior analysts.

Lenny Green, an outfielder for five teams from 1957-1968, died a week ago today on his 86th birthday. A native of Detroit, Green played 700 of his 1,136 career games with the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins. Briefly a member of the Tigers’ 1968 championship squad — he appeared in just six games — Green reportedly received a $200 World Series share.

The 2019 SABR Analytics Conference will be held in Phoenix from Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 10. If you’re planning to attend and want to save money, early registration ends tomorrow.

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As most of you know, Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker is an invaluable resource for Hall-of-Fame followers. Checking out the latest updates, it occurred to me that most voters who put a check mark next to Omar Vizquel’s name didn’t do the same with Scott Rolen’s, and vice versa. Seemingly, it’s one or the other.

Wanting to know if that’s actually the case, I checked with in with Thibodaux, who passed the question along to the equally-resourceful Anthony Calamis. It turns out that my assumption was pretty accurate. The breakdown is as follows:

55 ballots with Vizquel but not Rolen.
28 ballots with Rolen but not Vizquel.
Six ballots with both Rolen and Vizquel.

The voters who checked off both names are Bob Kuenster, Bruce Miles, Mike Peticca, Adam Rubin, Bernie Wilson, and a voter who requested anonymity. There are also 79 known ballots which don’t include either player.

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Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson posted a fun-and-informative note on social media earlier this week. He wished “a full and speedy recovery” to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, adding that she’s “a fan of the game and its social history (and has) been to Cooperstown many times.” Idelson said that he has twice given her a tour of the museum.

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MINOR AFFAIRS

Gift Ngoepe has signed a minor league deal with the Phillies. The native of South Africa is currently competing in the Australian Baseball League where he has a 1.011 OPS in 30 games with the Sydney Blue Sox.

Barry Enright has been hired as the pitching coach for the Hillsboro Hops, the short-season affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Drafted by the D-Backs out of Pepperdine University in 2007, the now-32-year-old right-hander went on to pitch parts of four big-league seasons, two each with Arizona and the Los Angeles Angels. This Enright’s first coaching job at the professional level.

Mack Jenkins has been hired as the pitching coach for the Hagerstown Suns, the Low-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. A longtime member of the Cincinnati Reds organization, Jenkins was the NL Central club’s pitching coach from July 2016 until April 2018. His resume includes six seasons as a minor league pitching coordinator.

Dominic Cotroneo, the son of Oakland A’s broadcaster Vince Cotroneo, has been named the new play-by-play voice of the High-A Salem Red Sox. Other recent hires on the minor-league broadcasting front include Trey Wilson by the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, Garrett Mansfield by the Double-A Altoona Curve, Matt Present by the High-A Down East Wood Ducks, and John Kocsis by the Low-A Hagerstown Suns.

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When news broke on Thursday that Yasmani Grandal would be signing with the Brewers, many people were surprised. They shouldn’t have been. As David Stearns recently pointed out, players want to play in Milwaukee.

“Over the last two years, I’ve felt a change in our desirability,” the Brewers GM told a small group of reporters at the Winter Meetings. “Lorenzo Cain wanted to come here last year. He’s a good example. This year it’s certainly been the case. A number of players have directed their representatives to reach out directly to us, to see if we’re a good fit.”

Multiple factors go into a ”fit,” and they extend beyond stat lines and positional needs.

“There are attributes that players bring to a team that aren’t quantifiable,” said Stearns. “We do our best to put a process around how we evaluate those attributes — not everything can be boiled down to a number — and there’s also the culture we’ve created. The culture that Craig (Counsell) and his staff have instilled in our clubhouse is a positive one. The players have fun and enjoy playing with each other. You add winning to that, and this is an attractive place to be right now.”

When Stearns was hired in September 2015, the Brewers were limping toward the finish line in a season that saw them go 68-94. In 2016 they went 73-89. In 2017 they improved to 86-76. This past year they won the NL Central with a record of 96-67.

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Procuring quotes is a big part of my job here at FanGraphs. Here are a pair of somewhat quirky ones from conversations this past summer.

Dino Ebel, who is currently coaching with the Dodgers, said the following about the proliferation of home runs and strikeouts in today’s game:

I don’t think there’s one person who goes up there thinking, ‘I’m going to strike out or hit the ball out of the park.’ They don’t think that way. When it happens it happens. But it is happening more than usual.”

Itinerant right-hander Jesse Chavez explained why a backup slider is often an effective pitch:

It’s a different kind of spin. It’s a little bit lazier, I’d say. You’re waiting for it to come down, and it never comes down into the swing path. The hitter is anticipating something that doesn’t happen. He’s in that moment of, ‘All right, it’s coming, it’s coming… no it didn’t.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Alex Stumpf had some fun at Bucs Dugout, building a Pirates lineup out of the club’s coaches and special assistants.

Jonny Miller, who has covered the Red Sox for WBZ Radio since the early 1970s, suffered a stroke enroute to Los Angeles for Game 3 of last year’s World Series. The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn wrote about how Miller is already on his way to Fort Myers for what will be his 45th spring training.

The Braves have fired scouting director Brian Bridges and plan to go into the 2019 draft without anyone in that position. Carlos Collazo has the story at Baseball America.

Writing for Forbes, Maury Brown delved into how economic data shows that MLB spent less on player salaries compared to revenues in 2018.

Over at SBNation, the venerable Grant Brisbee wrote about how it stinks to be a free agent second baseman in 2019.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson were elected into the Hall of Fame on this date in 1982. Eleven future inductees, including Juan Marichal and Harmon Killebrew, failed to receive sufficient support.

Carlton Fisk was an All-Star 11 times and won one Gold Glove. Gary Carter was an All-Star 11 times and won three Gold Gloves. Bill Freehan was an All-Star 11 times and won five Gold Gloves.

Ernie Banks (1,226) started more games as a first baseman than both Harmon Killebrew (930) and Willie Stargell (802).

Juan Pierre had more hits (2,217) than Joe DiMaggio (2,214) and more stolen bases (614) than Maury Wills (586).

In 1976, Randy Jones fanned 93 batters in 315 innings and won the NL Cy Young award. Jim Palmer fanned 159 batters in 315 innings and won the AL Cy Young award.

Bruce Sutter had 300 saves, a 7.4 strikeout rate, and a 136 adjusted ERA. Billy Wagner had 422 saves, an 11.9 strikeout rate, and a 187 adjusted OPS.

In the 1960 and 1961 seasons combined, Roger Maris logged 300 hits, 100 of which were home runs. He had 155 singles, 34 doubles, and 11 triples.

Detroit Tigers left-hander John Hiller suffered a heart attack on January 11, 1971, at age 27. He returned to the mound in July 1972 and went on to play eight more seasons. From 1973-1978, Hiller made 312 appearances, had 58 wins and 100 saves, and posted a 2.45 ERA.

Ty Pickup, a 20-year-old outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1918, singled in his only big-league plate appearance.

Charles Dickens Bold struck out against Hall of Famer Eddie Plank in his only MLB plate appearance. A native of Karlskrona, Sweden, Bold got his cup of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1914. His nickname, ironically, was “Dutch.”

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