One key contributor in the Netherlands’ upset victory over Korea in the World Baseball Classic on Saturday wasn’t anywhere near the stadium in Taichung, Taiwan.
In fact, he’s not even Dutch.
Ryan Sadowski is a Miami-born, right-handed pitcher with six games of major-league experience, all with the San Francisco Giants in 2009. He’s back with the Giants this year as a non-roster invitee to their spring camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. He woke up at 4 a.m. local time Saturday and logged into the online broadcast of the Netherlands-Korea game.
“I had to watch it live,” he said over the telephone later Saturday.
What would explain Sadowski’s interest in a group-stage WBC matchup played on the other side of the world? Let’s just say he’s one of the best advance scouts in baseball — albeit an unofficial one.
See, in between his ’09 stint in San Francisco and his return this year, Sadowski spent three seasons with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization — the country’s highest league. Through that experience, Sadowski competed with or against the hitters and pitchers who make up the Korean national team. He observed tendencies. He exploited weaknesses. Above all, he paid attention.
And it just so happens that the manager of the Dutch national team is Hensley Meulens — who spends the rest of his year as the batting coach of the San Francisco Giants.
Meulens, in the course of preparing for the WBC, asked Sadowski if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of his knowledge. As someone who has contemplated working as an international baseball executive when his playing career is over, Sadowski was happy to oblige. And he didn’t offer a cursory analysis of the movement on Suk-Min Yoon’s fastball. No. He prepared a seven-page — single-spaced — document for Meulens, then offered more details on the hitters’ spray charts.
Sadowski shared a copy of his report with FOXSports.com. To describe it as thorough would be a gross understatement. Of the shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, Sadowski wrote, “Defensively Kang has all the tools to be a major league shortstop but seems to goof up on routine plays too often. Consistently putting pressure on him could cause him to make errors and get his bat out of the lineup.”
Jung-Ho Kang committed a throwing error Saturday … on a ball hit by Dutch leadoff man Andrelton Simmons in the bottom of the first inning. “I laughed,” Sadowski said. “I’m not that good.”
How valuable was this information? Well, consider that four Taiwanese advance scouts posed as umpire trainees as a way to watch a scrimmage game involving the Korean team. (Chinese Taipei also is in Pool B.) The incident forced the governing body of baseball in Taiwan to issue an apology to their Korean counterparts. And to think: The Taiwanese scouts could have avoided the espionage by putting in a call to the 30-year-old Sadowski.
It’s hard to quantify Sadowski’s impact on the Dutch team, other than to say the Netherlands’ defensive players were impeccably positioned throughout their 5-0 win.
Facing many of the same hitters who came within one victory of winning the entire tournament in 2009, Dutch starter Diegomar Markwell held Korea’s lineup to two hits over four innings. When asked what he saw, Sadowski was quick to credit Markwell’s command — not his own scouting report.
Markwell, a 32-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the last decade pitching for Neptunus Rotterdam of the Dutch Honkbal Hoofdklasse. He’s the nephew of Andruw Jones. But after Saturday, the Korean hitters must figure that “Markwell” is Dutch for “Koufax.”
Yes, Meulens sent Sadowski a thank-you message.
“I was very happy to see Bam-Bam do well,” Sadowski said. “Obviously, I was surprised no one from the Korean team contacted me for a report on the Dutch hitters I’ve seen. I would have been happy to send them a report in Korean. I can’t imagine they have many people who are bilingual, with access to baseball here, who could have given them detailed reports on the players here. I would have been more than happy to make it an even playing field.”
Advance scouting reports assume a greater importance in tournaments like the WBC, since one unfamiliar starting pitcher can knock a superior team off balance if hitters are unable to make rapid adjustments. Sadowski’s report was particularly valuable because the Korean WBC team includes no current Major League Baseball players, so the degree of unfamiliarity is heightened.
“Baseball is a series of adjustments,” Sadowski said. “And it’s almost impossible to make an adjustment in nine innings when you have no idea who you’re playing against.”
Sadowski said this year’s Korean team has an older roster than the one that reached the championship game of the ’09 tournament. Sadowski pointed out that first baseman Byung-Ho Park — the reigning KBO Most Valuable Player — isn’t on the roster because more senior players were chosen ahead of him. Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee isn’t playing in the WBC, either, perhaps because his participation on the national team could have implications on South Korea’s compulsory military service program.
But Sadowski also said Yoon “could start in the big leagues.” He believes Team Korea’s lineup has a number of major-league-caliber hitters, including third baseman Jeong Choi. So, it won’t surprise him if Korea advances out of pool play. The Koreans wouldn’t face Team USA until the semifinals or finals. If that happens, Sadowski might get a phone call from American manager Joe Torre, wondering if he might have time to talk a little baseball.