Notes: ‘Fastball’ documentary a home run for fans
The film begins with Justin Verlander talking about the first time he threw 100 mph, and musing about how his fastball might have compared to Bob Feller’s. For the next 85 minutes, the subject is fastballs and only fastballs.
Hard-core fans will be spellbound. Even casual fans will be enthralled. The filmmakers, in their own words, explore "how the magic of baseball can boil down to the 396 milliseconds it takes a 100 mph fastball to reach home plate." Kevin Costner is the narrator. But current stars, 20 Hall of Famers, writers and even scientists tell the story.
The documentary — not surprisingly called, "Fastball" — premieres Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. I’ll admit to a certain bias — I went to the University of Pennsylvania with the writer and director, Jonathan Hock. But Jon already has won nine Emmys without my endorsement. And you can trust my recommendation on this one, as opposed to say, my preseason picks.
Honestly, I can’t pick out out my favorite part of the film. It’s cool to hear Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and David Price talk about their art. It’s also cool to hear a panel of five Hall of Famers — George Brett, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the late Tony Gwynn — banter about the toughest pitchers they faced.
Rich Gossage, Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan reflect in great detail about their careers. Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron show more personality than we’re perhaps accustomed to seeing. The rarely interviewed Eddie Murray shares his thoughts, as do fellow Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs and the late Ernie Banks.
I loved not only the rare footage from Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, but also the section about Steve Dalkowski, the Orioles’ hard-throwing minor-league legend; the first manager I covered, the late Cal Ripken Sr., told great stories about Dalkowski, as did many others with the Orioles at the start of my baseball-writing career.
The most compelling aspect of the film, though, might be its science. Aaron, Gibson and Verlander talk anecdotally about whether a fastball can rise, and scientists try to explain the phenomenon. Even more intriguing, scientists make corrections on the past measurements of certain greats, and try to determine who threw the fastest pitch of all time.
The film, produced by Thomas Tull, a board member of the Hall of Fame, will be screened four times this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. After that, it will hit the festival circuit, and a national release is expected around the time of the World Series.
TOO EARLY FOR A FISH FRY
Here we go with the Marlins. Manager Mike Redmond already is on the hot seat due to the team’s 3-10 start, according to the Miami Herald. And right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is trying to be a vocal leader when, in the view of one former club official, that is not his style.
Stanton, perhaps acting out of a sense of obligation due to his $325 million contract, said Friday that "the fire was not there" with the Marlins. That might be all owner Jeffrey Loria needed to hear, and it’s no surprise that the fiery Wally Backman, the Mets’ Triple-A manager, could be a candidate to replace Redmond, according to the Herald.
When will Loria recognize that the unstable culture he fosters is part of the problem? Never mind that he signed Redmond to an extension through 2017 last Sept. 28. He dumps managers as if they are glasses of water, and based upon the Herald report, his frustration already is palpable.
The season is less than one-tenth complete. Dumping Redmond, who is widely respected in the industry, would be a foolish overreaction. It’s quite possible that the Marlins are not as good as many of us thought.
Consider the rotation: Jose Fernandez is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Henderson Alvarez recently joined him on the disabled list and Mat Latos has struggled after arriving in an offseason trade.
Not the manager’s fault.
GOOD NEWS ON PACE OF PLAY
On Saturday’s broadcast, I expressed skepticism about the decrease in the average time of game, noting that offense also was down, likely contributing to a quicker pace.
Well, after reviewing the actual numbers from baseball and STATS LLC, the trend is more encouraging than I thought.
Through last Thursday, the average time of game was 2:54:33 — nearly eight minutes faster than through the second Thursday of last season. The average time then was 3:02:24, and three seconds faster when the season ended.
Offense, meanwhile, only had dropped from 8.46 runs per game on the second Thursday of 2014 to 8.29 rpg this season. The difference of 0.17 runs per game is indeed rather minimal, averaging to one run every six games.
Here is another interesting observation from STATS: Through last Thursday, the average game-time temperature was 64.3 degrees — exactly four degrees warmer than at the same point last season.
Warmer weather should lead to more offense, right? Not necessarily. While warmer temperatures tend to correlate to increased run production, so do lower temperatures, implying that colder temperatures may affect pitchers even more.
Consider this table of the combined runs per game in March/April by game-time temperature since 2009:
OMAR THE OMNISCIENT
Former Mets GM Omar Minaya recalls the moment he knew he wanted to draft right-hander Matt Harvey — and it came on a day that Harvey got pounded while pitching for the University of North Carolina.
The date was April 16, 2010. Harvey, pitching on the road at Miami, allowed seven runs (five earned) and three homers in the first five innings. But he lasted until the seventh, still attacking, still throwing 97 to 98 mph. Minaya loved his moxie.
At the time, the Mets were weighing whether to take Harvey with the seventh overall pick, or go with lefty Chris Sale out of Florida Gulf Coast University. But, like many teams, the Mets had concerns about Sale’s delivery, and feared that he might only turn out to be a reliever.
As it turned out, Sale fell to No. 13, where the White Sox grabbed him. Sox officials sensed that he might go at No. 5 to the Royals, but the Royals selected infielder Christian Colon instead.
The Mets’ decision to draft Harvey cannot be attributed to Minaya alone; nor would he would want sole credit. Marlin McPhail was the area scout at the time, Rudy Terrasas the scouting director. As Terrasas told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman in 2013, veteran scout Bryan Lambe wrote a report suggesting that Harvey could be another Justin Verlander.
ABOUT THE ORIOLES …
Some things I learned about the Orioles while preparing for Saturday’s FOX Sports 1 broadcast from Fenway Park.
● Third baseman Manny Machado says his surgically repaired knees feel brand new, and he’s working hard to make sure those knees remain strong.
Before every game, Machado performs muscle activation techniques to help correct imbalances and ensure that his muscles are functioning properly. Such diligence is necessary — Machado’s body structure from the hips down puts him at a disadvantage, exerting pressure on his knees and making him susceptible to injury.
It’s not as simple as Machado having spindly legs and needing to build up the muscles around the knees — that would only make a bad situation worse. Building strength is just part of what he is doing.
● Delmon Young, the first pick (No. 1 overall) by the Rays in the 2003 draft, once was quite athletic; the Orioles, checking some old scouting reports, noted that he had above-average speed and an above-average arm.
Young told the O’s he wanted to regain that athleticism, and he has worked hard with Brady Anderson, the former outfielder who is now a member of the team’s front office.
Anderson travels and works out with the club, and is still in great shape at 51. Young was the first player in the clubhouse every morning in the spring, and is now the fastest Oriole in the 10-yard dash, according to manager Buck Showalter.
● Infielder Everth Cabrera says he is learning things from the Orioles coaches that the Padres never taught him. Perhaps Cabrera is simply trying to get in the Orioles’ good graces — he served a 50-game PED suspension in 2013, and in February agreed to a plea deal for resisting arrest. It’s true, though, that Cabrera is adding new elements to his game.
He had a tendency to retreat with his hands on grounders and baby the ball, but Orioles coach Bobby Dickerson has talked to him about securing and controlling the ball. Cabrera knew he was a below-average defender according to advanced metrics, and he volunteered as much to Dickerson. Clearly, he wants to get better.
IMPACT PLAYER RETURNS TO UNION
Some player agents have expressed concern that the union lost legal muscle when Tony Clark, a former player, replaced the late Michael Weiner.
Weiner was a brilliant attorney, as were two previous union executives, Don Fehr and Gene Orza. One union official, in fact, compared their collective skill and impact to that of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA.
The union, however, should benefit from the return of Virginia Seitz, who served 2½ years under President Barack Obama as the Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice before rejoining Sidley Austin LLP as a partner in 2014.
Seitz has resumed working for the union as an outside counsel, a role that she filled for more than 20 years before joining the government. She is not on staff, but will work with the union on a number of issues moving forward, including collective bargaining, Clark said.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
It’s early — too early, really, to extract meaning from any statistical trends. Still, a few developments are at least worth noting.
● The AL East, perceived to be weaker than in the past, still boasts four of the top eight teams in the majors in runs per game – the Blue Jays are third, the Yankees fourth, the Red Sox fifth and the Orioles eighth.
Even the Rays, who are tied for 16th, look better offensively, in part because they are third in walk rate.
The Tigers and Royals are the two top-scoring teams in baseball. But the other three teams in the AL Central — the White Sox, Twins and Indians — rank 23rd, 24th and 25th, respectively.
● The Rockies’ early success was not simply attributable to their potent offense; their bullpen ranks fifth in strikeouts per nine innings and third in fewest walks per nine.
The Dodgers’ revamped, largely anonymous bullpen ranked first in strikeouts per nine and second in opponents’ OPS, and had not allowed a home run in 37 1/3 innings.
Relievers from the Mariners (43 1/3 innings), Cardinals (28 2/3) and Tigers (27) also have yet to allow a home run.
● The Athletics kept their pitching strong even after losing left-hander Jon Lester to free agency, trading right-hander Jeff Samardzija and starting the season without injured closer Sean Doolittle.
The A’s rank third in ERA, fourth in opponents’ OPS and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, they are only 13th in fielding-independent pitching, hinting at possible regression.
ORLANDO FINALLY DAWNS
Got to love the Royals’ Paulo Orlando, the 29-year-old Brazilian rookie who has hit four triples in his first 21 major-league plate appearances.
The Royals acquired Orlando from the White Sox for left-hander Horacio Ramirez on Aug. 9, 2008. It took more than 4,000 minor-league plate appearances, but at last Orlando has arrived.
“He’s really just hung in there,” Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo said. “He turned the corner a few years ago, but keeps getting better. It’s a classic case of a guy who works hard and goes to winter ball every year. He’s a great athlete who has just taken time.”
AROUND THE HORN
● Great idea from one of my Twitter followers, Matthew Graub: Alex Rodriguez should announce that he will donate to charity his $6 million bonus for tying Willie Mays at 660 homers.
That way, Rodriguez could flip the script on the Yankees, who continue to indicate that they will not pay any of of A-Rod’s milestone bonuses because he is unmarketable after serving a one-year suspension for PEDs.
● Hanley Ramirez’s transition to left field for the Red Sox has been predictably bumpy, but remember — the Sox signed him to protect David Ortiz, and their priority is to keep Ramirez in the middle of their lineup.
Ramirez, 31, has had numerous physical issues in recent seasons. The Red Sox are delighted with his effort in learning a new position, but the simple fact is that he cannot physically handle as much early work as a younger player such as Mookie Betts.
It’s a tricky spot for Ramirez — he needs to play aggressively while also protecting himself physically in front of the Green Monster. He wants to be good. The last thing he wants is to be embarrassed. But no one should be surprised that he does not look like a young Barry Bonds.
● During spring training, some Mets officials suggested that if catcher Travis d’Arnaud started slowly, the team might not wait long to promote Kevin Plawecki from Triple-A.
It turned out that d’Arnaud got off to an excellent start, but Plawecki will get his chance, anyway — d’Arnaud fractured his right hand Sunday after getting hit by a pitch from Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos.
The two catchers bring different strengths, one Mets official said. Plawecki does not hit for as much power as d’Arnaud, but he is more consistent at-bat to at-bat and a leader behind the plate.
● Asdrubal Cabrera is making the routine plays for the Rays at shortstop, but he looks like an old 29 as the team’s No. 3 hitter, batting .192 with a .472 OPS. Especially alarming: Cabrera, in theory, should be getting plenty of pitches to hit in front of Evan Longoria.
The Rays signed Cabrera to a one-year, $7.5 million contract only after they were unable to pry away Brad Miller or Chris Taylor from the Mariners in a trade. They remain encouraged that another former Mariners infielder, Nick Franklin, will eventually be part of their middle infield.
Franklin, 24, is only 10 months older than Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. He started the season on the disabled list with a strained left oblique, but the Rays like his switch-hitting ability and remain high on his upside.
● The Astros’ offense has been a disappointment, ranking first in the AL in strikeout rate and last in runs per game. But their bullpen is performing well and left-hander Dallas Keuchel and righty Collin McHugh are building on their breakout performances from last season.
Keuchel and McHugh have combined to allow just four earned runs in 31 2/3 innings (1.14 ERA) while the rest of the Astros rotation has allowed 21 earned runs in 37 1/3 (5.06). Righty Scott Feldman, though, has produced quality starts in two of his three outings.
● The White Sox have not been as successful upgrading at catcher as they have at other positions, but at least for now they’re content with Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto — in part because better options are difficult to find.
Some clubs do not view the Blue Jays’ Dioner Navarro as an everyday player due to his defensive shortcomings. The Cubs’ Wellington Castillo also is thought to be available, but the Cubs and White Sox rarely make trades.
● Some in the industry wonder whether Angels owner Arte Moreno is jeopardizing his chances of signing future free agents with his apparent desire to recoup at least part of the $83 million remaining on Josh Hamilton’s contract.
I doubt it.
Perhaps a free agent or two might question whether Moreno would seek to void future guarantees. Most, however, likely would view Hamilton as a unique case due to his substance-abuse issues.