Friday, April 23, 2010

Scouting Trip #3 (cont'd)

Daisuke Matsuzaka

The enigmatic Dice-K was a total bitch to scout. He throws so many different pitches in the same velocotic range that you find yourself second guessing exactly what he is throwing. It got easier as his start went along and I became for familiar with the flight paths of his pitches. In the future I will try to find some video on pitchers that throw a wide array of pitches.

Dice has not lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Japan. He is a classic nibbler, hovering just outside the strike zone with his pitches because he doesn't trust his stuff enough to take his chances throwing strikes. Major League hitters are selective enough that they don't chase and as a result, Matsuzaka runs up tremendous pitch counts early in starts.

Looking at my chart, Dice-k showed an interesting trend in this start. He threw more pitches per inning as the night went on (1st- 12, 2nd- 13, 3rd- 17, 4th- 17, 5th- 18, 6th- 21) but was getting ahead in the count as the game went on as well (first pitch strike % by inning: 1st-33% 2nd-25% 3rd-50% 4th-33% 5th-75% 6th-80%). This relationship is counterintuitive. You would think getting ahead in counts would generate quicker outs. However, faling behind forced Dice to throw pitches in hittable places, which Lehigh Valley hitters offered at. Since the Iron Pig hitters aren't very good (3,4,5 hiters a combined 0-11 in this game), Dice-k didn't get hurt.

Matsuzaka got markedly better as his start drew on, garnering most of his 8 strikeouts later on. He got into a rhythym, saw a slight increase in velocity (Fastball went from exclusively in upper 80s early to hovering in the low 90s) and showed a more diverse mix of pitches later in his start.

Dice-K does a lot of different things with the fastball, cutting it, sinking it. All of it is pretty average to me. His changeup sits in the high 70s and is decent. I liked his curveball/slider, which he threw for strikes and got some outs with. He supposedly throws both but I had a hard time differentiating between them.

While he did strike out 8, Dice-k threw 99 pitches over 5 and 2/3 innings, which is a lot and will probably be more once he faces more selective major league hitters. I think he will struggle when he returns.

Scouting Trip #3: Pawtucket Red Sox at Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Wednesday night gave me a chance to look at two very talented and enigmatic pitchers: Red Sox righty Daisuke Matsuzaka and Phillies lefty Joe Savery. Both pitchers have struggled to throw strikes over the past two seasons, and many have soured on the once promising futures of each of them. Here is what I saw Wednesday night.

Joe Savery

Savery was the Phillies' first round pick back in 2007, selected out of Rice 19th overall. A star two-way player for the Owls, Savery was expected to rise through the Philadelphia farm system quickly. That hasn't happened. Savery is a shell of what he was coming out of college.

While he used to consistently pitch in the low 90s with his fastball, Savery's velocity is gone. He was in the high eighties early in the start, hitting between 86 and 89 in a first inning full of nothing but fastballs. I was encouraged by this because Savery's fastball was at 84mph when I saw him pitch last year. However, as his start went along, Savery lost velocity. His fastball would drop to as low as 82mph. A noticeable difference could be seen when he pitched from the stretch, and his average fastball velocity dropped every inning he pitched. Another interesting thing I noticed was this: Savery's arm is VISIBLY SLOW. The only way I can compare it to is the release speed of a QB. Go watch highlights of Byron Leftwich and Dan Marino. Joe Savery's speed of release is like leftwich's. His arm does not have that lightning fast snap and release that most pitchers have. This lack of deception allows hitters to pick the ball up before it leaves Savery's hand.

So why has this occured? Savery had shoulder problems in college which may contribute to his dead-looking arm. His legs may be heavy and out of shape, which lead to to significant velocity drop when he is pitching from the stretch and the importance of leg drive is amplified.

Savery has two secondary pitches; a slider and changeup. He shows a wide range of velocity for both of these pitches as well. The slider sits between 79mph and 75mph and the change between 76mph and 71mph. Neither is particularly infatuating,and Savery generated 0 (Zero) swings and misses them during this outing. He also has trouble throwing strikes.

You may say, "Eric, this range of velocity is abnormally wide and fishy. What if you're an idiot and couldn't recognize a different type of pitch?" If that is true, and Savery was throwing some sort of 4th pitch I could not recognize, then isn't it sad that the movement on this pitch is so poor that I couldn't differentiate it from his fastball?

Savery's delivery and secondary stuff are not deceptive or effective enough for him to even profile as a lefty specialist. He obviously has issues that need to be worked out, but the issues themselves are not too obvious. We can only theorize what they are. I say shoulder problems and poor lower half conditioning.

Due to the NFL Draft (which is keeping me occupied) I'm a little behind on writing these. I'll post my report on Dice-K later in the day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scouting Trip #2: New Britan Rock Cats at Harrisburg Senators

Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, PA is home to the Harrisburg Senators. A regular to the ballpark mentioned to a friend of mine that they usually have about 1,000 people at the stadium for any home game. On Friday night, they had almost 8,000. The stadium was ill prepared and they were running out of food, napkins and electricity (stadium suffered a power surge just before first pitch and totally blacked out). Why? Stephen Strasburg was pitching. I was there.

While my pilgrimage to Pennsylvania's capitol city was so tumultuous and eventful that it would make Odysseus blush, I'm just going to give my report on the much talked about right-hander.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg's fastball is great. Hitters who offered at the pitch either swung and missed or popped up. The lack of a radar gun at the stadium (seriously, people its 2010, get a radar gun) limits my ability to ascertain a few things. For starters, I can only rely on what was published to know his velocity. Scouts in the newspapers said his fastball was mostly at 98mph. With the naked eye it looked like he was adding and subtracting from it at times. My seats were not condusive of noticing things like armside run.

His Curveball is his best pitch right now. Sitting in the mid eighties, it breaks down and away from right handed hitters. He throws it for strikes and can bury it in two strike counts to get swings and misses.

The changeup is a work in progess. It since in the high eighties and low nineties and it seems like he overthrows it sometimes. When he overthrows it it lacks a pronounced fade/drop towards the end of its flight. It flashed once or twice as a truly plus pitch.

Due to rain, Strasburg only threw 2.1 innings and so I did not get to see other nuances of his game. How well does he hold runners? Does he throw strikes from the stretch? How does he deal with adversity? How often does he shake off the catcher? These are all tings I want to get to know about Stephen Strasburg. I will try to go out and see him again soon.

For now, he reminds me of a right handed Randy Johnson. Dominant fastball and a dominant and powerful breaking ball (though, The Unit had a low 90s Slider, not a curve). If the changeup develops (which is, along with financial interests, the main reason he is down in AA) then we are looking at a dominance on the Pedro Martinez level.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Running Diary: Phillies Bus Trip

Upon walking into my Legal Environment of Business class one Tuesday afternoon, a cut-off half sheet of paper with the Phillies logo caught my eye. I picked up the paper and read the following: "The Accounting Society would like to offer accounting majors the chance to win tickets to the Phillies vs Nationals game on Wednesday, April 14th. The first 30 students to sign up online will get the chance to go." It then supplied the URL where you could sign up. I am not an accounting major. This trip was not meant for me. I immediately borrowed a friends laptop and signed up right then and there. Sorry, accounting majors are idiots for leaving those sheets lying around. I won a free ticket and free transportation to the game. Here is a running diary of the day up until the start of the game:

6:30am: I wake up and feel TERRIBLE. I've been sick more in the past few months than I was for all of high school (my transcript may say otherwise but I wasn't really sick, I skipped). Hope this clears up by tonight.

9:00am: JRoll to DL, no Werth tonight, no Ryan Zimmerman tonight, Kyle and Kendrick and Craig Stammen are pitching. Yay

5:00pm: I'm doing 15 minutes of my radio show because I like to hear myself talk.

5:20pm: I am the first to arrive for the bus trip. Even the bus is not here yet. People with Phillies gear start to arrive. I don't know any of them so I start to look for someone to buddy up with (BUDDAY!) for the trip. This is going to be a 5 hour friendship so I don't care whether or not I get them sick. I'm looking for someone with whom I can have an intellectual baseball discussion. This may be interesting.

5:25pm: More people arrive and we get on the bus. There's not many of us so I don't have a lot to pick from. I hear a kid behind me ask "Who's pitching tonight?" and someone else say, "Where has Brett Myers been?". Take me now, Lord.

5:28pm: I alert my girlfriend of the geniuses on board. Her advice: "Tell them Jimmy Rollins was traded and that's why he's not in the lineup." Too easy.

5:30pm: Bus should be leaving right now but it is not because we are waiting for some more people, all of which are reportedly girls. Chances are at least one of them has her sorority's symbols sewn on her purse.

5:35pm: I notice one of the girls on the bus has a rather old, faded Phillies hat. Maybe she isn't an idiot (don't worry Hannah, she had a unibrow).

5:36pm: Nope, she's an idiot.

5:50pm: The late girls show up, 20 minutes after we were supposed to leave. "Traffic will be bad anyways.", one says. YES! TRAFFIC IS BAD! THAT"S WHY WE WANT TO LEAVE ON TIME! This trip is not off the an auspicious start.

6:02pm: Driving through the backroads of Philly to avoid as much traffic as possible. Avoiding traffic often means travel through...uh...neighborhoods with...character. In such a neighborhood we see a man riding an ATV on the street, weaving in and out of ONCOMING traffic. It was like being in a DMX video.

6:40pm: We arrive at the stadium, get our tickets and head inside. I see my ticket says "foul pole seat". I find a spot at the drink rail behind home plate to stad. The people two feet in front of me paid close to $70 for their seats. I can stand in the ame place for free.

6:45p,m: You know you've been to a sports arena a lot when you start to recognize vendors. Tonight, I recognized 5. Cotton Candy Here Guy, The program guy from Ashburn Alley, two beer guys I clearly remembered (one of them vended for the IronPigs at one point), and a lady that sells ice cream at every philly sporting event. This lady's voice is shrill and unforgettable and she looks like a witch. "ICECREAM!" It haunts me.

6:55pm: I make the acquiantance of a man in his 50s who introduces himself as Billy Walnuts. He is already rather intoxicated. "Let me axe you a question," he says "With his helmet off, what cartoon character does Raul Yabanyez look like?....Jimmy the Cricket." Do all old people mispronounce names? I always thought my grandfather was the only one. (Pop has had some memorable ones, including Bobby Eh-Brew, Albert Poe-jules, and my personal favorite: Sebastian Telafero)

Be sure to check back tomorrow for my scouting report from tonight's Harrisburg Senators game, which will include an in-depth look at Stephen Strasburg.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Searching for Keith Moon

As my evening winds down and I watch TV as I relax and prepare for bed, I do what every contemporary American male does: Flip through the channels incessantly. Upon doing so this evening I stumbled across yet another VH1 documentary featuring The Who. I rather like The Who, especially the earlier stuff, because many of their songs propagate a primal rush of adrenaline within me that makes me feel alive. I had not seen this particular documentary before (most of the other ones are lousy, or as The Who would say, rubbish) so I put the remote down and watched. I realized for the first time something my dad has been trying to tell me for years: Keith Moon is a sloppy drummer. I know it may be rock and roll blasphemy, but he really is.

Moon's place in the rock and roll drummer pantheon was built on a foundation of misunderstanding. We see his incredible energy, on-stage theatrics and highly entertaining personality and want desperately to like him. He are unable to see through this charming fog and look at Moon for what he truly was: erratic and sloppy. His skill as a drummer was limited.

I couldn't help but wonder if history has done the same thing with athletes. Who have we overrated as on-field performers because we happened to like some secondary characteristic about them? The first name that comes to mind is Joe Namath (I need to do some research to back it up). Conversely, who have we underrated because they were pricks? Rick Barry, maybe? I will think long and hard about candidates for the "Keith Moon All Star Team" and try to have a nice sized list by tomorrow evening. Until then, I am open to suggestions.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Scouting Trip #1: Portland SeaDogs (BOS AA) at Reading Phillies (PHI AA)

A beautiful Saturday afternoon was beginning to waste away and my friends and I were chomping at the bit to go out and do something different. Previous plans to go see a night of amateur boxing in Philly fell through so we scrambled for some entertainment. We decided to head out to Reading to see the R-Phils play the SeaDogs. As I can never pass up a chance to sharpen baseball observation skills, I brought along my notebook. Here's what I saw:

Reading Phillies


Mike Cisco- Cisco (that thong tha thong thong thong) is a small righty, just 5-11, 190lbs. The literature I checked out on him beforehand said his fastball would sit in the lower 90s and possibly touch 94mph. This assessment was optimistic, however, as he was mostly in the high 80s and peaked at 90 just a few times. He had difficulty throwing it for strikes during the first few innings on this night, and fell behind in the count several times. It certainly was not impressive enough to be an effective major league pitch, unless Cisco can locate it better. His changeup (low 80s) was fantastic, especially early on in the game. He garnered 4 swings and misses with it in the first inning alone, including 3 straight during the at-bat of touted Red Sox 1B prospect Lars Anderson. The first time he threw it I actually had to think twice about whether or not it was a breaking ball because it had so much fade/sink. Cisco's change got plenty of swings and misses from lefties, while right handed hitters often made poor contact. He mixed in a curve (which he actually threw for strikes a few times) and a cutter (weak slider maybe?). Neither was impressive.

Cisco was better earlier in the start, when most of the outs he acquired were via grounders. Balls started to take flight towards the middle of his start when the lineup turned over. He worked himself out of a few jams.

I think Cisco could add velocity if he pitched out of the bullpen. He needs to find a way to strike more people out. An improved fastball (by adding velocity or improving command) combined with his plus changeup would make him a viable middle relief candidate in the future. The changeup would allow him to keep lefties off balance and the two breaking balls would help against righties.

Cisco's final line: 6ip, 5 hits, 1 walk, 2Ks, 1 earned run


Tyson Gillies (CF)- Gillies came over in the offseason from Seattle as part of the highly controversial Cliff Lee trade. He is a lean 6-2 190lbs. He has hearing aids in both ears which may be a blessing in disguise if he ends up playing for the Phillies one day, since he can simply remove them when he has a bad game. The first thing I noticed about Gillies is that he runs EVERYWHERE. I would too if I could run as fast as he can because he can freaking fly. He runs from the dugout to the outfield and back in again at 75% speed at the start and finish of every inning. He has lots of energy and hustle which will play well if Philly.

At the plate, Gillies is a slap hitter (think Luis Castillo or Chone Figgins) with no power. He failed to hit a ball hard during the game, his two hits being a bloop single that he barely squirted past the second baseman and a sly drag bunt. His On Base Percentage numbers from the past two season are very impressive (both around .430) which means he most likely has a terrific feel for the strike zone. This selectivity combined with his speed can make Gillies a serious weapon at the top of the lineup. However, neither of the times Gillies was on base presented him with a chance to run, so I did not get to see if he had base stealing instincts/skills. He was also not forced to make any defensive plays that I could scrutinize (never had to throw anyone out or chase down a ball in the gap), although he does have the same sort of "hop" that Alfonso Soriano has when he catches a routine fly ball. Youtube it to see what I mean.

The biggest caveat with Gillies comes from his lack of power. At higher levels (AAA and MLB) pitchers will know he has no power and simply challenge him with pitches in the strike zone. He may be forced to put ball in play on more at bats then he would like and his walk rate will drop. About 70% of balls in play are recorded for outs. His OB% will drop and his speed will be kept off the bases.

I want to scout Gillies again and get a look at his arm, his defense, base-running and pitches per at bat tendencies.

Domonic Brown (OF)- Brown is universally regarded as the Phillies top prospect. I got to see why for myself. 6-5 and lean, Brown has the frame to add muscle without losing his baseball skills. He's a tremendous athlete and had a scholarship offer to Miami (Domonic Brown.....the U) to play baseball and football.

Each of Brown's at-bats (he went 1 for 4) ended with him drilling the ball, most of the time down the middle of the field. His final plate appearance culminated with a blast to dead center that was caught at the warning track. His has great bat speed (something I'm just starting to be able to discern) which he showed on this near-homer as he allowed the ball to travel very deep into the hitting zone. Brown seems to recognize pitches well.

Like Gillies, I he wasn't forced to make any plays in the field or on the bases. I need to see him more to get a better idea of what he can do.

Several other interesting players participated in this game, but I will not get into what I noticed with those guys right now because it is getting pretty late and I have an 8 o'clock class tomorrow (Chemistry). Next Friday we are heading out to Harrisburg to check out Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and more, Be sure to check back then for another installment. of scouting and all week long for other random things.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the Road

My first scouting trip will be to Reading tonight to see the R-Phils take on the Sea Dogs (aaargh! scurvey!). I'll certainly be watching Reading OF and top Phillies Prospect Domonic Brown, who I have not yet seen in person, as well as Top 5 Red Sox prospects Lars Anderson (1B) and Ryan Kalish (OF). Several other lesser prospects will be participating in this game (including both teams' starting pitchers) and I will be sure to take notes down on the ones that stick out. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Losing My (Blogging) Virginity

I'm taking the advice of a friend and starting a blog. This is the first time I have ever written anything that I won't receive a grade for. People that write recreationally are either very self-confident or are totally unaware that the people who are reading what they are writing are judging them. Judge away, America.

Blog is a strange word, and one that I don't particularly enjoy saying (my two favorite words: voodoo and sassafrass). Nonetheless, I feel as though now is a good time to start one. I have lots to say and am running out of people to say them to. Most of these things have to do with sports.

I like sports a whole lot, so much so that I had no sex life through high school and couldn't have cared much less. As I learn more and more about sports and life I have thoughts and ideas that John and Jane Doe Sportsfan are no longer interested in or, at times, able to comprehend. This blog gives me a chance to find an audience for these advanced thoughts. However, since I'm not an idiot, I know keeping this blog homogenously sport-centric will limit traffic to it. So, I plan on commenting on other things as well.

I take sports far too seriously and the rest of life not seriously will learn this quite quickly. Right now I have to go find something to write about.