BY KEVIN KERNAN
Half the battle in Major League Baseball is proving you have a serious approach to winning.
Sounds simple. But it isn’t. Winning doesn’t just happen. Like any skill it has to be built and must be developed.
The Padres have yet to get there this season and that is one of their major problems, but more on that later in The Story.
The Yankees sent a strong message to their players in spring training when rookie Anthony Volpe was made the everyday shortstop. Yankee veterans knew that they needed that extra energy a young player like Volpe brings to the party, and his ability to steal bases and score runs; but not just energy, baseball energy with a winning purpose.
There is a big difference between team energy and selfish energy.
On Saturday, in the news of the day, the Yankees sent another strong message to the rest of the team – finally DFA-ing Aaron Hicks, something I have been calling for over the past two years. Hicks had previously been untouchable no matter how badly he played because Brian Cashman sank $70 million into him before the 2019 season. At age 33, and batting .188 even with three more years and about $30 million left on his contract, it was time for him to go.
The Yankees analytics department wanted to show they were right about Hicks, just as they wanted to show they were right about Clint Frazier.
We all know two wrongs don’t make a right, especially in this era of baseball.
In their development of players, many organizations these days forget that winning is a part of development. Again, learning how to win is a skill like any other.
“You never sacrifice winning for player development – but part of player development is winning,’’ one longtime talent evaluator, who has been in a number of winning organizations, told BallNine.
That is genius.
“Anthony Volpe is a winning player,’’ he added.
“When you develop players that know how to play the game, and play the game the right way, and they come together, that’s how they win a championship,’’ he said. “They become positive. They know how to win games that are close.
“I think a lot of organizations forget that’s part of the thing. Look at Durham, every year it’s somewhere near the top of the International League standings,’’ he said. “That’s Tampa’s team. Their guys who come to the big leagues know how to win. They win at almost every level almost every year. That’s part of it.’’
What is the plan in San Diego, other than spending big money? Sixteen games already this season the Padres are hitless with runners in scoring position. Overall, they are hitting an MLB low .194 with RISP.
To that end, a scout who was looking at the Tampa organization the past few weeks told me he had just watched a minor league game in which the opposing team was swinging from their heels in extra innings with the fake runner at second base, while Tampa’s minor league team worked on moving the runner over and getting him home. The Rays affiliate won the game.
All that doesn’t just happen. The Rays minor leaguers, when they take batting practice, they have a round where they do just that, and that is a time tested tradition in the game. “Get ‘em over, get ‘em in.’’
Developing winning players can show itself in many forms and it can be helped along as well.
When Dan O’Dowd was a young farm director with Cleveland, he would sign veteran AAA pitchers to use as closers in the lower minor leagues. (By the way, in 1993, all six of Cleveland’s affiliates made the playoffs.)
Said another baseball man who was in the organization at that time. “That way we could push a young pitcher like Charlie Nagy and our other guys who were starters into the eighth inning of the game and try to get them to be a horse – but also have someone there to bail them out so at the end of the day those young pitchers would get a W next to their name.’’
Wins matter. It’s nice to get a “W’’ next to your name as a pitcher. Your confidence grows and you feel good about yourself after a win. In his 13 years with Cleveland, Nagy finished with a 129-103 record.
3/10/200: Pitcher Charles Nagy #41 of the Cleveland Indians winds up for a pitch during a Spring Training Game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Florida. (Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport)
You build a young pitcher’s confidence while at the same time building up his ability to go deep into games, so when he comes to the majors he is looking to do the same thing. That’s part of the reason why those Cleveland teams were so formidable back then.
To that end, I was informed this week that in the Giants organization there are teams that don’t throw their starters more than four innings as a strategy to try to keep them healthy; but starters who throw only four innings are not in line for the win.
“In essence, those guys who start, will never win a game all year,’’ the evaluator said. “At the end of the year, don’t you want to have some Ws next to your name?’’
Great point, and that got me thinking; so I looked at the pitching statistics for major league teams and the team with the most wins from its starters so far this year is the Rays with 21 – no surprise, considering how they develop that winning philosophy. And there it is in black and white.
Where do the struggling Giants stand with wins from their starters this year?
They have less than half of the win total of the Rays from their starters this season with only 10 victories coming from the starters, and that puts them at 23rd overall. Not good, fellas.
Organizational philosophies can show themselves in many ways, and this is just one example. That’s why there is so much that goes into building an organization that you may not consider. Clearly, the Rays believe in what I am calling the “W’’ effect, teaching a player how to win and be a winner so it is not just about talent level alone.
If it were about talent level alone, the Padres should not be having such a terrible season.
On Friday, the super talented Fernando Tatis Jr. tried to get the Padres going with a single to left to lead off the bottom of the first against the Red Sox – but he tried to stretch it into a double. Nothing wrong with the hustle, it was the decision-making that was not good.
SAN DIEGO: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres wears a sombrero after hitting a solo home run during the third inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox at Petco Park on May 19, 2023. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Tatis was easily thrown out at second and before the game was three innings old the reeling Padres were down 6-0 to the Red Sox at Petco Park; this after somehow losing two of three to the dreadful Royals at Petco. This is a team that is pressing, a team that has not lived up to the hype.
Tatis homered in the bottom of the third inning and was given the home run sombrero in the dugout by his teammates; but that only made the score 6-1. Really not a lot to celebrate, and that’s another problem I have with the goofy themed dugout home run celebrations.
A.J. Preller’s baseball parts are not fitting together well this season and many in baseball question why a team that has a number of shortstops went out and signed Xander Bogaerts, another talented shortstop, instead of filling another hole.
Was this simply a panic move after not landing Aaron Judge?
What is the plan in San Diego, other than spending big money?
Sixteen games already this season the Padres are hitless with runners in scoring position. Overall, they are hitting an MLB low .194 with RISP.
Bogaerts is having a solid year, and he is definitely a winning player, but other holes needed to be filled and the Padres are also 30th in batting average at a .225 mark.
If the Oakland A’s beat your team in any statistical category, your team is in trouble. The A’s are hitting .229 as a team.
So far this has been a big week for the Yankees coming together as a team as they got into it on multiple occasions with the Blue Jays and their manager John Schneider. The Yankees came out of that series winning three of four in Toronto – and also took apart Schneider and Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker.
The Blue Jays, as a result, have some confidence issues.
In that series both teams struggled mightily with runners in scoring position; but hey, it’s 2023, and that’s what is happening with a lot of teams. But the Yankees had the MVP advantage in Aaron Judge, who has hit seven home runs over his last seven games, going into Saturday; and is hitting .370 over that span.
TORONTO: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees looks on in the dugout before his at bat against the Toronto Blue Jays in their game at the Rogers Centre on May 17, 2023. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
It’s simple, but again so hard for this generation of baseball player.
You command the baseball. You throw strikes and you suddenly have the upper hand, but it’s not just about getting ahead 0-2, it’s about commanding that 0-2, 1-2 pitch. So many pitchers now are just heaving that pitch toward the plate. Command doesn’t just mean throwing strikes, it means putting the pitch exactly where you want it and not over the middle of the plate where the hitter is looking.
Take a look at the location on some of the pitches Alonso and Judge have hit out this week. The baseball is essentially on a tee and that’s because these pitchers are more concerned with sequencing than location.
Players like Volpe use the running game to get inside these pitchers heads as well, something that teams should do more. Baseball is forever a mental game as much as it is a physical game.
Learning how to win is a skill set.
“Some new blood, some winning blood, always does a lot for a team,’’ one baseball man said. “It’s not just about numbers; a player like Volpe could be hitting .216 but he does other things still that help them win. He walks, he is stealing bases, he is making plays when you need to make them.
“Guys who truly want to win, you can see that, and that separates itself out really quickly,’’ the evaluator said. “I always think back to Pat Burrell. Whether he was struggling or not struggling, he was the first guy out of the dugout when someone got a big hit and drove in some runs. You think back, he was a big part of Philly winning (in 2008), he went to San Francisco and helped them win (in 2010). He had a big career.’’
A winning career. Develop serious winners.