Nine Things I Learned This Spring Training

1. Melky Cabrera is sorry…. that he won’t be giving any more interviews until the first question is about something he did ON the field.

2. Colby Rasmus has a custom glove with the word ‘Razzle’ written on it. I don’t know if he has had ‘Dazzle’ tattooed anywhere on his body. I suspect that he does.

3. The only ribs I ever want to have to hear about from Brett Lawrie are the full rack of baby back that he just devoured. Eat ‘em, don’t tweak them.

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Fastballs Illustrated

I like baseball on TV. Not that going to a game isn’t a thrill, because the arc of the ball, as viewed from field level, is unique to me. There is something special about the tumbling seams on a pop-fly, or the rapidly receding circle of a double into the gap. I think that those views are special to me because I only go to a few games a year, at most. My season tickets are with my LCD tv.

Pitching, on television, is nothing like pitching live. I know, because I umpired minor (kids and teenagers) baseball for three years. It is the closest you can possibly get to pitching and catching, and not be responsible for touching the ball. There is a very real hiss to a baseball coming in at anything over 50mph. The impact into the mitt of a 60 or 70 mph fastball is something that reverberates in your ears. You can feel it when it hits the mitt. To lean into that at MLB game speed would make me flinch.

I know that my eyes and ears could not tell me the whole story as an umpire. All I had to focus on was where the ball was when it hit the front edge of the plate. That isn’t really hard to do, with a little practice. Measuring what happened before and after that never really entered my head at the time.

I also know that the single outfield camera does not convey or measure what is going on at home plate. It just isn’t in the right place, or at the right distance to really tell how and where a pitcher releases the ball.

Combine these methods with the play-by-play and colour announcers on TV, and everything gets jumbled up. Some fastballs have ‘late life’, some have ‘hard sinking action’, some are ‘backdoor cutters’. Cute, but how do you tell which of those descriptions is anywhere near accurate? None of the guys in the booth has crouched down to catch the pitcher in question, they are relying on a story from someone else. And if you’ve ever tried to convey a story through two or three people, you know how any description can get jumbled up.

Pitch f/x to the rescue. If you are not familiar with pitch f/x, there is a primer here. All of my data comes from the very comprehensive data at Very briefly, 2 cameras are positioned in each park to give accurate data about the behavior of every pitch thrown in the Major Leagues.

I have 2 charts to compare the fastballs of the current five members of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. As of this writing, they are Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison.They are identified by their initials in the charts.

Behold, Chart 1

Speed and Spin Direction

Taken as an average from all pitches thrown in 2012. This is pretty much just speed differences. I was hoping, when I input the data for spin direction, that the sinkers would cluster apart from the four seamers. Not so lucky. And can you tell I haven’t made any charts since my second year at community college? But enough about me. Four seamers are blue data points, sinkers (usually thrown with 2 seam grip), are in red. Kyle Drabek is the only one who throws enough cutters to be of any note. That’s the yellow diamond. Notable points, Henderson Alvarez is the hard thrower of the bunch, not Brandon Morrow, as you may have guessed. Drabek next, then Morrow. These are all above 94mph and are very good fastballs, especially for MLB starters. The other odd thing is Drabek’s two data points are very close together in the MPH, unlike a typical pitcher, changing to the sinker grip doesn’t cost him even 0.5 mph.

Behold, chart the second.

Movement, including gravity.

This chart shows us movement from the catcher’s perspective. It tells us that Rickey Romero may, in fact, be left-handed. I’ll check into that later. Also, the two purple circles are Romero’s and Alvarez’s sinkers. Getting ground balls happens naturally, as even mistakes are carried down under the bat quite often. The green circle is Morrow’s ‘rising’ fastball, and it makes it easy to see why he’s a natural fly ball pitcher. Here we can cross-check if Drabek’s sinker (which we saw him throwing extremely hard, above) has had any of its movement cancelled out by his extra velocity. I would have to say no. The distance between his straight and sinker data points is similar to both Morrow’s and Hutchison’s. Also, Drabek’s cutter does, in fact, cut its way back across the middle of the chart with a little reverse break.

So, next time somebody tells you who they think throws the hardest, now you’ve got some pictures to back up your own arguments. This also gives an idea of how far from straight even a ‘straight’ four-seam fastball can be.

If anybody would like to see any other pitch types broken down this way, or two pitchers and their pitch mixes put head-to-head, put it in the comments, and I’ll try to cook something up.

Slumps can’t bust Jose Bautista

Everybody’s favourite all-star vote leader is in a bit of a slump. It’s been 12 games since he last went deep. While I enjoy his particular brand of mashed potatoes and look forward to when he’ll start serving them again, Jose Bautista has not been unproductive in his 12 consecutive popless games.

Yes, since he’s last hit a home run, Bautista has posted a slash line of .316/.480/.342/.822. The missing power shows up in the third number there (slugging percentage, if you’re like me and are prone to things like slash-line brain farts), but the second number (on-base percentage) is just totally ridiculous.

Despite his almost complete lack of power, Bautista is still getting on base 48% of the time he comes to the plate.

To put that in a little bit of perspective: Bautista leads the major in OBP this season at .498. Joey (Can’t Wait Until He Comes Home) Votto is second overall at .463. In other words… sorry, this deserves its own line:

A slumping Jose Bautista is still better at getting on base than anybody else in the game.

Unbelievable, yes, but that realization is not even the best thing that’s come out of the slump. Check out what Ricky Romero had to say:

“He’s a human being, man. He’s not Babe Ruth out there,” said Ricky Romero, the Blue Jays starter.

Take that, John Danks.

10 bold predictions

We interrupt your regularly scheduled postings from Chris to bring you a post from me, Cole, formerly a member of the yearly roundtable, now a contributing member of the blog.

Throughout the time that Infield Fly has been around, Chris has periodically asked me if I would write for it. After all, I have been called by many people the biggest Jays’ fan they know, and considering Chris and I met at journalism school, he knows I’m a writer.

I’ve always thought there was nothing I could really add to the blogosphere that isn’t already out there in other Jays blogs I love.

However, at about this same time last year I recall trying to motivate myself to write a blog post and the idea I came up with was to make a prediction/observation that the Jays squad was going to hit a lot of home runs in the 2010 season. Of course we all know that in fact turned out to the truth, but it’s also a fact that the aforementioned blog post never made it out of my brain and into words.

Too bad, I could have been a prognosticating genius (just like seemingly every major media outlet last year that predicted the Jays would be in the cellar and likely lose 100 games, *ahem*)

At any rate, I figured this year, I won’t let my predictions go undocumented. I will put them here and when October rolls around and the Jays are getting ready for their ALDS matchup (Let’s hear it for optimism???) I can look back and see how accurate I was.

I should also note that I’m by nature an optimist when it comes to the Jays, especially in the spring. Not all of my predictions are cheery and rosy, but for the most part you’ll notice I’m not hoping for the train to fall off the tracks here.  Continue reading

Why would Toronto want Slowey?

Should Alex Anthopoulos trade for Kevin Slowey? The gut reaction is definitely no. The Blue Jays don’t need more starting pitching. And Slowey’s no stud who’s worth bumping people for.

But gut reactions are no way to run a team and there are reports that Toronto is interested in bringing in the Minnesota right hander, they even had soem scouts watching the Twins the other day when Slowey was pitching. According to MLB Trade Rumours, Slowey might even be had for some bullpen arms, which the Jays have more than enough of.

So, should the Jays trade for Kevin Slowey if it only costs them some bullpen arms? That scenario’s a lot easier to agree with, but is it the right move?

Right now, Toronto’s set to break camp with a starting rotation of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, probably Kyle Drabek and one of either Marc Rzepcynski or Jesse Litsch.

Slowey’s a decent pitcher, but he’s an extreme flyball pitcher — his flyball rate tends to hang out in the 50% range.

The SkyDome, as we all know, is a park that’s very friendly to flyball hitters (Jose Bautista!) so Slowey’s flyball rate is a pretty big strike against the case for him to pitch in Toronto. Combine that with the starting pitching depth Toronto’s already got and a trade for Slowey doesn’t make sense.

Unless Anthopoulos is getting ready for a deal with another team that’s crying for starting pitching (St. Louis? Rasmus? We can dream.)

Then again, there may be nothing at all to these reports. We all know Anthopoulos doesn’t talk about rumours, so the Jays get connected to every player that was ever discussed in any sort of rumour. And those scouts who watched Slowey pitch? Well, could be as simple as doing a bit of recon; Toronto opens the season against the Twins.

(UPDATE: I’ll often try not to read other blogs before writing a post. Sometimes this means that another blog will have written a similar post previous to mine. This is one of those times. For a much more thorough look at these rumours, you really should check out Getting Blanked.)