Saturday Notebook: New Posting System, More LOLria, Defensive Shifts, Preventing Arm Injuries and More

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Saturday Notebook looks at my softball game at Target Field last night, a new posting process that may be introduced for players going from the NPB to MLB, Jeffrey Loria doing more Loria things, the Pirates using a ton of defensive shifts to their advantage, and a couple methods that may be successful in preventing injuries to pitchers.

If you recall, nearly a month ago I got to play in the Pohlad company co-ed softball tournament. Made up of teams from many Pohlad-owned businesses, it's the largest charity donation to the Twins Community Fund every year after private donations. My usher team, the One Inning Wonders, won the loser's bracket and we ended up getting a chance to play at Target Field, and the game was held last night.

We were playing against the tour guides of Target Field, and it was a very close game. We weren't allowed to play on the actual basepaths (well, we weren't allowed to do much of anything*) but it was still plenty of fun even though it was raining the whole time. We ended up getting walked off in the bottom of the 7th when the tour guides strung together 2 hits and a sacrifice fly, and though the loss stunk, I still couldn't help but have a smile when we lined up to shake hands.

* No sliding or diving, on offense you would be ejected from the game, and on defense if you made the play, the batter would be ruled safe and your offense would start the next inning with an out. Only water was permitted on the field, no Gatorade, sunflower seeds, etc. You couldn't walk on the infield grass, and on the bench you couldn't stand on the grass in foul territory. No cleats were allowed, even my rubber cleats. Our home plate was set up at shallow shortstop, so half of the infield was dirt and the other half was grass. Our foul lines were a couple of cones, and the umpire totally blew the call on a single of mine (it was foul but she called it fair). To quote a teammate, it was still technically softball, but not....

Certainly this was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because I don't know if our team will have the ability to repeat next year. Still, it's something I'll always remember for the rest of my life. Way to go, One Inning Wonders!

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  • For years, the posting system has been in place for MLB teams wanting to add a Japanese player from the NPB. MLB teams submit a blind bid in an auction process, and the NPB team picks the winning bid. That winning MLB team then gets the chance to negotiate with the NPB player with no competition from anyone else. While it often succeeds in getting the NPB player a chance to play in the majors, he gets no say on which team he joins, unless he goes the Hideo Nomo route and "retires" from Japanese baseball so he can become an MLB free agent. Well, it sounds like there will be changes made to the posting process. Instead, the posting NPB team will choose the top three bids, and then those three MLB teams will compete for the services of the Japanese player. This will in turn give the player a better contract as the teams will fight to sign him, and he also gets a little more choice in where he ends up. It sounds like a good idea and it's very possible the changes will be in place this offseason, which then would likely make top Japanese pitcher Masuhiro Tanaka the first to take advantage.
  • It's not like we needed more reasons to hate Jeffrey Loria, but I find it fun to read about it anyway. In addition to being extremely hands-on with roster transactions and hiring / firing coaches, he's also been yanking around president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest for quite a while now. Whereas Beinfest would have a say with the on-field product for the team, Loria has often overruled his decisions which has caused Beinfest to be "miserable" according to Ken Rosenthal. While Loria has been quick to fire someone like Joe Girardi (who actually did a solid job managing the Marlins in his lone year), he's dragged Beinfest along even though Beinfest is a perennial candidate to be fired. Still, Loria keeps him on the staff, perhaps because he knows Beinfest would be a hot commodity if he were to become available. Yet that still doesn't stop Loria from deciding which players earn call-ups, such as earlier this year when he vetoed bringing up Chris Valaika and Derek Dietrich because they were two players that feuded with former hitting coach Tino Martinez over accusations of abuse, eventually leading to Martinez's resignation. Bud Selig, Loria is a joke, and it's a joke that you thought Mark Cuban would be a poor MLB owner. Get him out of baseball now.
  • In one way, the Pirates have adopted the Twins' strategy of accumulating groundball pitchers, as their starters have ranked #1 this year in groundball rate at 52.7% (the Twins are 8th at 46.2%). But the Pirates starters have been far more successful because of their emphasis on defense. No, that's not necessarily by having better defenders in the field, but rather by placing them at better positions in the field. Looking at the infield in particular, the Pirates have made a significant change this year with infield shifts, defined as having three infielders on the same side of 2nd base at a time. Once reserved for the plodding sluggers like Adam Dunn, more teams have implemented these defensive alignments as they've realized that many players actually hit grounders to the same place over and over again, such as Joe Mauer and his tendency to ground out to 2nd base. The Pirates used this radical change as a counter to spending very little in free agency, and it has made a big difference as they're fighting to go to the playoffs for the first time in two decades. The defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned to outs) with Pirates starters on the mound is 11th in the league at 70.7% while the Twins rank last at 67.7%. That doesn't seem like much, but once you've thrown in the Twins' starters' league worst strikeout rate of 4.92 and compare it to the Pirates' 5th rated 7.81, you see that the Twins have gotten hurt with far more balls in play along with a higher percentage of them dropping for hits. I recommend reading that article about the Pirates to get an idea as to what the Twins can do next year to help out their pitching staff, as anecdotally it feels like the Twins rarely ever use defensive shifts.
  • Anthony Castrovince has an article up about pitcher injuries, and I think he has a great take on what can be done to prevent them. He first focuses on the fact that pitchers aren't necessarily getting hurt more often despite the pitch counts and restricted innings, but that we look at Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan longevity as the norm back in the day rather than as the supernatural. Then he focuses on two people that might have figured out how to increase the chances of keeping a pitcher healthy. First he interviewed Dr. Marcus Elliot, a Harvard-trained physician, who once worked with the Seattle Mariners over who was most at risk for arm injuries. Elliot developed a list of 10 pitchers, and at the end of the season 7 of them had spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. The next year he identified 10 more pitchers that were at risk for arm injuries and had them stay in extended spring training to start the year, and he worked with the coaching staff to iron out mechanical flaws that each pitcher had that was putting unnecessary stress on the arm. While it sounded like they were successful in preventing injuries, Elliot's methods would be too costly for teams to use for all of their pitchers in their organizations. Next, Castrovince also interviewed Arizona State head baseball coach Ken Knutson, who proudly boasts that he's had only one player require Tommy John surgery in the past 13 years, and even then that one player refused to use Knutson's warmup program. Knutson's training focuses on the whole body and also looks to get the arm working at a high level in practice, so it's not going from 40% while training to 100% in game situations. The entire article is excellent and it very well could provide insight as to what organizations will do in the future to prevent injuries to pitchers in the future.
Now for our Lightning Round.
  1. Thanks for the free beer, Glen Perkins!
  2. Prince Fielder didn't catch the foul ball, but he did get a fan's nachos.
  3. Todd Helton pulled off the hidden-ball trick on Matt Carpenter.
  4. Wladimir Balentien is the new single-season HR record holder in Japan, as he currently has smashed 58 homers, breaking the record of 55 shared by Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera, and Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh.
  5. Brandon Phillips could have just run into the tag of Yuniesky Betancourt, but Phillips instead decided to high-five him.
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