Sunday Notes: Trevor Story Hovers, Then Explodes

Trevor Story has always been a good hitter. He’s never been as good of a hitter as he is now. In his third big-league season, the 25-year-old Colorado Rockies basher is slashing .291/.346/.555 with 40 doubles, five triples, and 33 home runs. In short, he’s been a beast.

According to Story, he hasn’t changed all that much mechanically since the Rockies took him 45th overall in the 2011 draft out of an Irving, Texas high school. But he has changed a little.

“I think you’d see something very similar (if you compared then to now), but there are some differences,” Story told me earlier this summer. “I had more of a leg kick when I was younger, and I was kind of bouncing my hands instead of resting them on my shoulder. Outside of that, my movements are basically the same.”

Story felt that having a higher kick resulted in him getting beat by fastballs from pitchers with plus velocity, and as he “didn’t really need a leg kick to hit the ball far,” he changed to what he considers “more of a lift than a kick now; it’s almost more of a hover.”

Leg kicks — ditto lifts and hovers — are timing mechanisms, and as not all pitchers are the same, nor is Story always the same. The differences are subtle, but they’re definitely there.

“If the guy on the mound (is a soft tosser), I’ll maybe start a little later,” explained the hot-hitting shortstop. “That or I’ll just slow my body down. The timing is mostly the same — maybe a fraction earlier or a fraction later — but I’m really big on the tempo of my body and the slowness of my load.”

What follows is often an explosion of power. Story is anything but a banjo-hitting infielder. Befitting the launch-angle revolution, his stroke does damage.

“I usually try to work out front and drive the ball,” said Story. “I might be catching it deep at times, but I’m always looking to be out front. I need to think out there, because if I’m thinking ‘let it get deep,’ I tend to jam myself. I’m not necessarily trying to hit the ball in the air, though. I’m really just trying to hit the ball hard, although ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a little lift in my swing. That just comes naturally.”

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The three games Toronto played in Boston this week were likely the last ones John Gibbons will manage at Fenway Park — at least with the Blue Jays. Talking to him after the Thursday night finale, it was apparent that Gibbons doesn’t expect to be back next year. He isn’t planning to fade into the sunset, though. At age 56, he intends to stay in the game.

My chat with Gibbons included a brief back-and-forth on pitcher usage, with me suggesting that teams might be well-served to have a Chris Gimenez on the roster to provide bullpen-saving mop-up innings. Primarily a backup catcher, Gimenez has made 11 career pitching appearances, including six last season, with the Twins a year ago. Gibbons countered by saying Matt Davidson — three appearances this season with the White Sox — could also fit that bill.

Catching up on social media after returning to the press box, I learned, courtesy of Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher, that the team who employs Shohei Ohtani is planning to “teach two outfielders how to pitch” in instructional league… “not to convert them, but to see if they can find more two-way players.”

Mitch Moreland was once the subject of such an experiment. Drafted as a first baseman by the Texas Rangers after being a two-way player at Mississippi State, he was asked to dabble in double duty at the conclusion of his first full professional season — this despite having slashed .324/.400/.536, with 18 home runs, in the Midwest League.

“I did really well in Clinton, Iowa that year (2008),” Moreland said on Friday. “But I’d thrown a late-inning mop-up inning and done well, so they decided to send me to instructs to see what I could do as a pitcher. They liked what I did there and asked me to come back and do both, but I told them, ‘Listen, I want to train as one or the other.’ I didn’t think my body would hold up to the grind of a full season doing both, and my preference was to stick with hitting. The Rangers honored that for me.”

As for the Angels and the here and now, color Moreland curious.

“Maybe this is turning the page to something new,” the Red Sox slugger told me. “They’ve had a little experience with Ohtani doing it, so if they’ve got some guys that can do it… I’ll be interested to see what happens.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Aaron Cook went 0 for 7 against Adam Eaton.

Cookie Lavagetto went 1 for 4 against Pretzel Pezzullo.

Spud Davis went 1 for 4 against Pea Ridge Day.

Pie Traynor went 1 for 5 against Pete Appleton.

Darryl Strawberry went 1 for 28 against Bob Welch.

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Danny Jansen has a good bat for a backstop. The 23-year-old Toronto Blue Jays rookie slashed .285/.379/.488 in Triple-A, and his OPS in 70 big-league plate appearances is a respectable .764. Plate discipline is a forte, and expectations are that he will remain an above-average offensive player at his position.

That said, what a catcher does behind the dish is paramount. Jansen has been working hard on the defensive side of the game since being called up in mid August. I asked him about the strides he’s making prior to a recent game.

“Coming up here, the biggest challenge has been learning the staff,” Jansen told me. “I’m grateful to have Russell Martin and Luke Maile here. I’ve asked them a bunch of questions, and to have those guys in my corner has been amazing.”

The input the young backstop has been receiving from his veteran colleagues isn’t entirely verbal. As a matter of fact, some of it has come with neither of the two within earshot or eyesight.

“I look at a lot of video on Russell and Luke,” explained Jansen. “If it’s a starter I haven’t caught very much, I look at things like how they set up. For instance, I’d never really caught Aaron Sanchez before, so I watched video on Russell to see what he did well. Sanchez has a lot of run on his fastball — it moves a lot — so I watched a bunch of batters to see how Russell was setting up. You don’t want to set up on the corner and have Aaron throw it there, then have it finish way off the plate. I wanted to see the action on his pitches, and where Russell set up to receive them.”

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Talking to David Price earlier this summer, I learned that he started throwing a two-seam fastball in 2010. Before that, he’d been four-seam only. The addition to his arsenal came when his then-team, the Tampa Bay Rays, acquired Chad Qualls via trade.

“He was in the outfield playing catch, and I was watching how he threw his two-seam,” the Red Sox lefty told me. “I asked him how he held it, then played catch with it. I fell in love with it and started throwing two-seams in games. I’ve continued to throw it.”

The veteran hurler had a definitive response when I asked if he’s often learned from other pitchers.

“Absolutely,” stated Price. “All of my repertoire I’ve kind of learned from other guys.”

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NEWSY STUFF

On Wednesday, Seattle’s Nelson Cruz became the 286th player in MLB history to reach 1,000 RBIs for his career. Since inking a four-year contract with the Mariners prior to the 2015 season, Cruz has 406 RBIs, 162 home runs, and a .916 OPS.

On Thursday, Javier Baez became the first Chicago Cubs middle infielder to reach the 100-RBI mark in a single season since Ryne Sandberg turned the trick in 1991.

Per Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions, Thursday marked the first time in New York Mets history that they hit a game-tying home run and a walk-off home run back-to-back when down to their final out. Michael Conforto and Todd Frazier did the honors, victimizing Miami Marlins righty Kyle Barraclough, in a 4-3 win at Citi Field.

Billy O’Dell, who won 105 games in a career that spanned the 1954-1967 seasons, died this week at age 85. Representing the Baltimore Orioles in the 1958 All-Star game, O’Dell threw three perfect innings, retiring five future Hall of Famers — Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Bill Mazeroski — along the way.

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Given the way the game has changed, would it not make sense to do away with the rule requiring a starting pitcher to go at least five innings to qualify for a win? It made sense when complete games were common, but in today’s era it really doesn’t. Starters are going fewer and fewer innings, and that trend is unlikely to be reversed any time soon.

Suppose a starter goes four scoreless innings and is followed by a succession of bullpen arms who each give up multiple runs. The reliever deemed to have been most effective is the one who gets the win — not the pitcher who was most effective. (Whether pitcher wins should continue to exist is another story, for another time.)

Given pitch limits, deep bullpens, third-time-through-the-order considerations — not to mention the introduction of “an opener” — pitcher roles have become increasingly blurry. The five-inning rule makes far less sense than it once did.

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The New York Yankees had what turned out to be a reliever-heavy draft in 2006. That year they took Joba Chamberlain as a first-round supplemental pick, then went on to select Zach McAllister (3rd round), George Kontos (5th), Dellin Betances (8th), Mark Melancon (9th), Daniel McCutchen (13th), and David Robertson (17th). The seven hurlers have combined to make 2,631 appearances, all but 127 out of the bullpen.

Meanwhile, Ian Kennedy, the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2006, has a pair of relief outings on his resume. Tyler Ladendorf, an infielder who was taken in the 34th round but opted to not sign with the Bombers, has made one mop-up relief appearance in the big leagues.

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

The San Antonio Missions lost to the Tulsa Drillers in Texas League championship series on Friday. Now they’ll travel north. The Padres’ Double-A affiliate is moving to Amarillo in the offseason, with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox relocating to San Antonio, where they will continue playing in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The city of San Antonio had been home to a Texas League team for most years since 1988.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nashville Sounds have informed the Oakland A’s that they won’t be renewing their affiliate agreement. Nashville has been Oakland’s Triple-A home for each of the last four seasons.

Charlie Eshbach has stepped down from his position as team president of Boston’s Double-A affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs. Eshbach has spent 45 years in professional baseball, 25 of them with the Eastern League club. He will remain as a senior advisor.

Next year’s Midwest League All-Star Game will be hosted by the South Bend Cubs. The game will be played on June 18, 2019 at Four Winds Field.

———

Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. had one of the best quotes of the year this week. Per Chicago baseball scribe Phil Rogers, Edwards said the following about the control issues he’s been experiencing: “It’s funny. Y’all are writers. If all of a sudden you wanted to say something and forgot what you wanted to write about, and you’re just looking around like I know I had something on my mind but I just forgot, that’s how I look at it.’’

———

Corey Kluber and his wife have started a charitable foundation, and I had an opportunity to ask the two-time Cy Young Award winner about it when the Indians visited Fenway Park a few weeks ago.

“Amanda and I have done a fair amount with the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital over the last few years,” the Indians right-hander told me. “We were making an impact by going on visits and having kids out to the ballpark, and we decided we should make even more of an impact. Pediatric cancer is what we want to focus the majority of our efforts on. Seeing those kids and what they go through, and how strong and tough they are, makes us want to do anything we can to help them out.”

The Kluber Family Foundation will hold their first-ever fundraising event, Curveball for a Cause, tomorrow night (Monday, September 17) in downtown Cleveland. A number os Indians players, including Kluber, will be on hand. Information can be found here.

——

Mickey Callaway is in the final weeks of his first season as a big league manager. It’s been a challenging season. The New York Mets are 10 games under .500, which is far worse than what was expected coming in. As for their future, the man in the manager’s chair sees progress being made.

“No matter what our record has been, no matter what this season will look like at the end, we’ve become a better organization this summer,” Callaway told me prior to yesterday’s game. “We’ve become a significantly better organization. And that’s always the goal.”

We’ll hear much more from Callaway this coming week in an installment of the Manager’s Perspective series.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Collin McHugh and Christin Stewart are the only alums of Georgia’s Providence Christian Academy to make it to the big leagues, and their former coach traveled to Detroit this week to see them play. Jordan Horrobin wrote about it at The Athletic.

Jose Iglesias’s season is over, and according to Chris McCosky of The Detroit News, his tenure with the Tigers may be over as well.

Writing for SABR’s statistical analysis blog, Mark Armour crunched some aging-curve numbers and, borrowing from the Rolling Stones, gave us What a Drag it is Getting Old.

Who has the bat Bucky Dent used to hit his famous 1978 home run at Fenway Park? Steven Marcus has the answer (maybe) at Newsday.

Why is baseball a hit in Japan but striking out in China? Meaghan Tobin explored that question at the South China Morning Post.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Arizona Diamondbacks have hit 46 triples so far this year, the most in the majors. The Baltimore Orioles have hit 30 triples since the start of the 2016 season.

Joey Gallo has 37 singles and 37 home runs.

David Wright went a combined 36 for 53 with 11 home runs against Brad Penny, Kevin Correia, and Horacio Ramirez.

Jose Ramirez is receiving well-deserved accolades for his performance this season. Along with some other impressive numbers, the Cleveland Indians third baseman is slashing .280/.393/.574. How good was Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett in 1980? He slashed .390/.454/.664 that year.

In 1987, Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson hit 49 home runs and walked 32 times. In 1991, he homered 31 times and had 22 walks.

Babe Ruth holds the record for most extra base hits in a season, with 119. He set it in 1921, with 44 doubles, 16 triples, and 59 home runs. His 457 total bases that year is also a record.

On this date in 1924, Jim Bottomley went 6 for 6 with two home runs and 12 RBIs as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Brooklyn Robins by a score of 17-3.

On September 18, 1977, Ted Cox made his MLB debut with the Boston Red Sox and went 4 for 4. The following day he stroked hits in each of his first two at bats, making him 6 for 6 . Four years later, Cox concluded his career with nine hits in his last 24 at bats, with the Toronto Blue Jays. In between… not so good. Cox slashed .245/.298/.324 in 847 big-league plate appearances.

Denny McLain made his MLB debut on September 21, 1963 and got a complete-game win as the Detroit Tigers defeated the Chicago White Sox by a score of 4-3 at Tiger Stadium. McLain hit the only home run of his career in his second plate appearance.

Per the band’s official Twitter page, the Go-Go’s 1984 single “Turn to You” was written about former Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s pitcher Bob Welch.

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