Monday, May 31, 2010

Under the Legal Limit.

Here in Australia, we’re not big into ‘drafts’ when dispersing our young talent to the various codes of sport that we know and love. Cricket and both forms of rugby have systems in place where local players develop through the ranks and then graduate to the highest level. Australian Rules Football is the only major sport that uses a national draft and it has only been in recent years that footy fans have started to take notice of the process since young players are having a greater impact on the sport and a wise draft choice can mean immediate dividends.

The United States on the other hand, well that’s a completely different story. The NBA and NFL drafts are broadcast live on television (The NFL draft ran over 3 days!) with endless amounts of coverage, breakdowns and mock drafts showing where potential draftees may end up. Major League Baseball has begun to lift the profile of it amateur draft by televising the first round (with coverage still in-depth and unrelenting in the lead up). The NBA and NFL draft is a little showier because prospects can actually have an instant effect on their teams. Baseball prospects tend to require a little seasoning in the minor leagues before they are ready to step on the big stage and make an impact (The Cincinnati Reds may beg to disagree as they drafted Mike Leake last year and put him straight into the Major Leagues without a single inning of minor league baseball). Drafting baseball players has also proven to be wildly unpredictable with first round draft picks flaming out and 62 round draft picks like Mike Piazza putting together Hall of Fame careers.

You may be asking yourself, why the hell is the Defensive Specialist going on about drafts? Well the Major League draft is rapidly approaching (first week of June) and this year’s event features one of the most unique prospects in it’s history – Bryce Harper. Before the Defensive Specialist gets going on Harper, some key pieces of information on the MLB draft: 
  • Also known as the Rule 4 Draft.
  • Draft order based on previous season’s win loss record.
  • Teams that lose free agents in the previous off-season are awarded compensatory picks.
  • First held in 1965.
  • Held mid baseball season.
  • Features 50 rounds (upwards of 1500 players selected).
  • Steven Strasburg holds the record for highest signing bonus, signing with the Washington Nationals in 2009 for 15 million. 

According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, to be eligible players must fit the following criteria: 
  • Be a resident of the US or a US territory (Puerto Rico).
  • Have never signed a major or minor league contract.
  • High school players are eligible only after graduation, and if they have not attended college.
  • Players at four-year colleges are eligible after completing their junior years, or after their twenty-first birthdays. The exception to this is Division III schools, where players can be drafted before their junior year.
  • Junior college players are eligible to be drafted at any time. 

So why is the Defensive Specialist talking about Bryce Harper? Because the kid is a freak of nature and you need to know about him! Born in 1992, the 6’3 Harper dominated high school baseball to the tune of a .626 batting average with 14 homeruns and 55 RBI’s. This ridiculous output led Harper to taking his GED (General Education Development) test and graduating high school early so that he could enrol in junior college and play baseball at that level. By graduating early and enrolling in a junior college, Harper is now eligible to be drafted. He also featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, being touted as the next Lebron!

Take the time to watch this: Bryce Harper E:60

Sure, he wont be able to pimp on high school chicks anymore, but he is now staring down the barrel of signing a bonus surely close to 10 million! (Which will help with the lady situation anyway)

Harper is blessed with unbelievable tools. Hitting from the left side, he generates violent bat speed and projects as an 80 on the scouting rating scale (80 being the highest rating). This power was best showcased during batting practice at the Tropicana Dome (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) where he hit the longest ball in the facilities history (500 feet +).

Harper’s position of choice is catcher where his arm strength grades out as a 70 and he hits 92-93 mph. He even rates as an average to slightly above average runner!

Many people were sceptical when Harper made the choice to eschew his last two years of high school to chase his baseball dream saying that he’s missing out on developmental opportunities and the experience of high school. The Defensive Specialist has reflected on his own high school experience and feels comfortable that he could have done without the awkward inability to get women and endless amounts of homework if it meant chasing the baseball dream (and uber dollars). Others worried that jumping into a solid junior college league against players 2-3 years his senior and using wooden bats would see his numbers and output diminish significantly. Would a kid be ready for the weight of expectations and increased competition?

Well after a sluggish start, lets just say that he handled things reasonably well:

62 games
.442/.524/.986 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
88 runs scored
29 home runs
89 RBIs
18 SBs,
1.510 OPS.
Even more amazing was his performance in the playoffs where he started off by going 6-7 with 5 RBI’s and went for the cycle. The next day he went 2-5 with a double and then backed that up by going 6-6 with 4 homeruns, a triple and a double*. 
*It must be said that he is playing against decent competition (although nothing like what he’ll see in the pro game). 
And it’s that sort of output that will undoubtedly make Harper the number 1 pick in the 2010 Major League draft.  As a pro, he’ll need to work on competing against better talent, improve himself defensively and deal with the expectations that come with being a baseball prodigy. The road is littered with talented young men who weren’t able to make the necessary adjustments to their game in order to maximize their prodigious gifts or who let the hard work slide once the many zeros hit their bank account.
Harper is a rare talent who may reach the Major Leagues before he hits 20 or who may fizz out and not get out of the minor leagues. Either way, the Defensive Specialist felt that you needed to know about him because talent like this doesn’t come along all that often.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Let Bud pick up the tab!

Even for a finely tuned athlete like the defensive Specialist, the allure of a nice dessert is often too much to resist. Fortunately, the Defensive Specialist’s pow wow with ABL CEO Peter Wermuth just happened to take place on a Wednesday night which also happens to be “cheat day” where the Defensive Specialist can step away from his rigidly controlled diet and indulge in whatever it is he so desires. It’s at dessert that we resume our free-flowing conversation from yesterday:

The Defensive Specialist was interested to ask Peter how Australian players would be allocated to teams, since surely there would be some savvy GM’s out there trying to snag big names off other rosters.

We expect Australian players to play for their home states. The ABL actually has an advantage over minor league teams in that we can create heroes with profiles in Australia. If you think about the minor leagues, team rosters are in a constant state of flux as players move from level to level and rarely spend more than one year in a location. If we have Australians playing in their hometowns we can build up their profiles and market the same players so that kids aspire to be like them - a real opportunity to get to know your team.

The Defensive Specialist has spoken with likely ABL players who’ve inquired about player salaries in the coming season. It made sense to pose the question to Peter.

Each team will have a salary cap and players will be paid under this. Teams have discretion to scale salaries according to various criteria but it wouldn’t make sense to have one player drawing a large proportion of it. I cannot divulge what the salary cap figure is but we need to be conscious of control around financials, as this was a problem area in the last ABL.

The Defensive Specialist took time out from licking his bowl to ask about coaches. There had been scuttlebutt that the ABL was pushing high profile former Australian baseballers over perhaps more experienced coaches.

There is a wealth of talented coaches in Australia and franchises have control over whom they appoint into the roles. MLB may bring over American coaches to assist and be involved which is a good thing for the league because they will bring a different perspective.

The Defensive Specialist was at this stage considering a second dessert while at the same wondering how the ABL head office was going to be able to oversee the league with such a relatively small staff.

We are definitely growing. We have added a couple of interns and have recently appointed a Marketing and Media Manager, which has yet to be announced publicly (DEEP IN THE HOLE SCOOP). This role will be instrumental in increasing the profile of the league and releasing information to the community.

Deciding against gorging on sweet desserts, the Defensive Specialist ordered a selection of cheeses and a Limóncello. The ABL playing schedule was a burning topic of conversation.

This has yet to be finalised and is subject to change but at this stage we would look to play 40 games with 20 at home and 20 on the road.  There will be a combination of series – some being over 3 days (with a double header) and others running over 4. Teams are also looking into combining games with other events or working around activities that may be taking place on that date.

The Defensive Specialist finished his last bite of Caciocavallo Podolico and then asked the big question, “so when is the league launching?”

(Peter choking on his own mouthful) Well I cant give away too much on that issue but what I can tell you is that we have worked with Major League Baseball’s design support team to come up with names, logos and colours. The first series is tentatively scheduled to commence on November 11th (subject to change).

The Defensive Specialist was obviously not satisfied and pressed for more.

Ok, we are potentially going to host an opening game as part of the launch, which we hope will be pretty big and really announce the league. The location of the game and the participants is something that I can’t share at this stage.

As the espressos were delivered to the table, the Defensive Specialist asked if Peter had anything else he wanted to share?

The main message is that the Australian Baseball League absolutely needs the support of the baseball community. Some of the stuff that is launched or takes place wont please everyone, but it is done with the best intentions and it is what it is. We need to make the league work by getting behind the teams and showing support in numbers through crowd participation.

Things may not be as grand as people expect but there have been a lot of people working hard and making sacrifices (players, state associations, volunteers, Major League Baseball) to get it off the ground and make it work.

My door is open and I am happy to accommodate anyone who is interested in what is taking place.


So there you have it folks.

The Defensive Specialist attempted Jedi mind tricks to get Peter to tack the bill on to Bud Selig’s expense account but that wasn’t forthcoming so the Deep in the Hole credit card took a flogging. It was a small price to pay for the chance to sit down and hear it from the top.

Many thanks to Peter Wermuth for taking the time to chat with the Defensive Specialist. It would be fantastic to make it a semi regular occurrence as we get closer to the season and throughout the inaugural campaign.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

With Compliments of the Chef

The Defensive Specialist was faced with a conundrum on Wednesday evening – attend a sneak preview of Sex and the City 2 or sit down with the new CEO of the Australian Baseball League Peter Wermuth.

And what a movie it was! Full of glitz, glamour and high fashion….

Ok, so you know the Defensive Specialist well enough to know that Carrie Bradshaw wasn’t going to stand in the way of shooting the breeze with the head honcho of the league we’ve all been waiting for. The Defensive Specialist slipped on a strappy pair of Jimmy Choo’s as a concession for missing the film and sat down with Wermuth to get a handle on how things are shaping up.

You may notice that the following give and take doesn’t match the Defensive Specialist’s usual format. That’s not because the Defensive Specialist plied Peter with copious amounts of booze so he’d spill the beans, rather the conversation just became a good old-fashioned 8-hour rambling discussion over a sumptuous meal. The Defensive Specialist did not record the conversation so what transpires is the Defensive Specialist summarising key topics (and adding in numerous references to how awesome Deep in the Hole is)

But first, some background on the new CEO.

Peter Wermuth came from Germany to play college baseball in the United States, returning to Deutschland to play and coach after graduation. As is often the case, matters of the heart (cue Air Supply) drew him back to the US where eventually the real world knocked and he entered the work force. His first stint with MLB was in 2005 as an advisor to what was essentially the CFO. This role involved working with the powerful player’s union to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement (focusing heavily on revenue sharing).

Peter was always interested in International baseball and had wanted to set up a professional league in Germany. With this in mind he moved into Major League Baseball International where he worked on new league development. The ABL evolved as a realistic opportunity and as it began to take on a life of its own it required more resources. In 2008 he became part of the joint venture between MLB and the ABL.


As we kicked off our feast with a tasty amuse-bouche, the Defensive Specialist delved into why MLB would want to pump millions into baseball in a country on the other side of the planet.

There are number of reasons, but primarily to showcase Australian baseball talent. With so many young Australians playing professional baseball, what better way to showcase their talent and use this to draw more people into the game.

It was important for the Defensive Specialist to get an update on how the franchises were shaping up, specifically Canberra. After the entrées were cleared away Peter had this to say:

Canberra is still looking for a General Manager, after an initial offer was turned down. The key is to find the right person. The role of the GM is primarily sales and marketing with player interaction handled for the most part by the coaching staff. The GM has to be in the market, promoting the team and increasing the profile of the product. That person has to be able to draw new fans into the game. That’s why it is critical to have the right person in the role.

In better news, the government has provided a million dollars to upgrade the Narrabundah facility which may very well turn out to be one of the nicer facilities when it is completed. Player safety is critical so upgrades to lighting and the field are important.

Perth is without a GM but we are close to appointing someone in that role.

Queensland has Paul Gonzalez in the General Managers role. Facilities are still somewhat of a question mark. We’d like to have them at RNA showgrounds but can use Windsor (the facility used last year) if we can get the necessary upgrades. It may be a situation where Queensland splits time between facilities.

Victoria is the biggest question mark and perhaps the biggest challenge. Victoria Park is a ground that would be good to play on but we have to make sure that local residents are comfortable. Residents and the council need to be convinced that hosting an ABL franchise won’t be a disruption. We would need to demonstrate security and crowd control as well as monitoring the impact of the lights.

Geelong is a great baseball facility but does not have the infrastructure (seating, club rooms etc) to support a professional league. 

With main course arriving, the Defensive Specialist was keen to know MLB’s expansion plans.

We’d like to expand but quick and aggressive growth will absolutely depend on crowd support. The league must get to a breakeven point before any additional teams would be considered. There are a number of areas that could conceivably support ABL franchises – Geelong, Newcastle, Sydney (2 teams), Lismore. But the big determinant is crowd support. A crowd of 2500 per game is required to break even which means that we either grow junior baseball because these are the additional people who will be attending or we will have to draw from outside the baseball community.

The Defensive Specialist shook his head at no mention of Tasmania. 

Major League baseball began its investment last year so the Defensive Specialist wanted to know what did and didn’t work in Peter’s opinion.

Norwood (South Australia’s home field) was by far the biggest success story. The field was central to the city and enclosed which gave it a real baseball feel. South Australia had great support and atmosphere. The council there needed to be shown that baseball in this facility could work and they absolutely did. A partnership was created with the council and the football club which was great.

We learned a lot of little operational things like scheduling but having the teams work collaboratively and share best practice was a real benefit.

Not a great deal of branding and marketing went into the Claxton Shield last year and that really showed in the crowds that we drew. We definitely expected to draw more crowds and in places like Victoria where there wasn’t a full time facility it was tough to get people to come along. We were wondering if it was viable and what more we could do.

Main course was delicious and the Defensive Specialist was having a tough time maintaining Peter’s focus as he devoured his meal, however the Defensive Specialist pressed on asking about the Assistant GM’s that each team had last year, all of which had a minor league baseball background.

It worked in some instances and not in others. Using people on a temporary assignment didn’t work but provided fresh thoughts and knowledge transfer. We’ll probably scale it back this year and have one or two people working with all of the franchises with a greater mix of Australians and Americans. MLB is supporting and utilising available expertise to run the league.

The Defensive Specialist was very interested to know how US professional players will be allocated or assigned to teams in the ABL. After polishing off his palate cleansing sorbet  (compliments of the chef) the Defensive Specialist posed the question to Peter:

Professional players will be allocated on a needs basis. There will not be a one-on-one affiliation and the reason for that is that there are so many Australians playing professional baseball that we would have multiple MLB teams represented on each franchise. We want to keep local players playing in front of their home crowds and family and friends. If a team requires 3 starting pitchers, then we will guide starting pitchers to that team no matter what Major League club they belong to.

Every state has players and coaches who have links to Major League teams so there will be situations where clubs may want their players to head in certain directions.

The Defensive Specialist probed on the interest levels of Major League teams sending their prospects to Australia:

Almost every club would be interested. In fact, I don’t think we could accommodate all of the requests for player placements. It is important to remember that we will not be displacing local professional talent.


With only dessert to come, the Defensive Specialist’s mouth began to water at the sweet treats to follow. Your loyal reader will have to tune in again at Deep in the Hole to get your treats as part 2 contains thoughts on Aussie player allocation, player salaries, coaches, the schedule and of course the ABL launch. Stay hungry.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When not being Australia’s preeminent authority on baseball, the Defensive Specialist spends time in the business sector. One of the Defensive Specialist’s favourite expressions heard in business management is the expression “we don’t know what we don’t know” which is a really wanky way of saying that you screwed up because you didn’t take the time to research or think about the task at hand. However, there are situations where it actually holds true…. such as when discussing the new Australian Baseball League. 

The Deep in the Hole mailbox takes a pounding on a daily basis with questions and enquiries about the status of the ABL and its franchises – it seems that Australian baseball fans have a palpable hunger for information about this exciting occurrence. Information hasn’t exactly flown to the masses and even a plugged in dude like the Defensive Specialist doesn’t have too much to share.

So it seems like a good idea that we identify what it is that we don’t know.

Before we do that, lets talk about what we do know. First off, we have a logo for the new league:

And the framework of a new website:

And that adverisements have started to run showcasing the league.

So that’s got to be a sign that the league is actually happening right?

Aside from that, a lot of other details are a tad sketchy. Let the Defensive Specialist toss out a few questions that we could do with some answers for, as well as some learned comments:

What are the team names, logos, colours and uniforms?
A competition was run during the past baseball season for fans to suggest team names with lucky winners getting the chance of a major prize. Those winners have been named, but their suggestions not broadcast. A simple solution would be to locate the telephone numbers of these people and call relentlessly until they cough up their winning response. That wouldn’t be the most sociable thing to do however and the Defensive Specialist is a fine upstanding citizen who cannot condone that sort of thing.

Fans want to know the ins and outs of their teams, and the announcement of team names and logos is an exciting time. The Defensive Specialist was given the heads up that one franchise may have had a licensing issue that was holding up the process but now that has been rectified, these announcements aren’t too far off.

What’s the status of the franchise in Canberra?
We all know that Canberra sold its soul to the Baseball Gods to get a franchise. We just don’t know who’s running it. The Defensive Specialist is loathe to Google Canberra too much for fear of overloading the Deep in the Hole super computer with links to Australian porn sites or worse yet federal politics, but a cursory search doesn’t turn up a great deal related to the ABL in the nation’s capital.

Word on the street is that a ‘consultant’ is heading up the show until a full time general manager is put in place and that decent chunks of change are being contributed by the government to get facilities up to speed.

How are player allocated to teams and how will players be paid?

It’s all well and good having a team in your town, but it’s even better if it has players! Many fans would assume their team’s rosters will be made up primarily of local guys. But what if a franchise from another state makes a play for players from other states? Will franchises get the first crack at players who played on their Claxton Shield team or will it be a free for all?

On top of that, what about foreign players. Each GM who’s spoken to the Defensive Specialist has indicated that they would love to have professional players on their squads (both American and Asian). How will franchises source these players? In the first incarnation of the ABL, many teams had an affiliation with MLB teams that then sent down prospects to take part in the offseason league. Will that happen in 2010 and if so, how will teams form this affiliation?

It has been widely stated that the ABL went belly up the first time because expenditure got out of control. Obviously player payments will be tightly controlled which begs the question, “What sort of money can players hope to make?” The Defensive Specialist is fairly confident that it’s not going to be enough for players to use as a basis for a mortgage. Since it’s likely to be a minimal salary, that will control a lot of player movement across states. Who’s going to pack up shop and move to another state if they aren’t making a princely amount? That leads to another interesting scenario whereby teams potentially offer players jobs off to the side (through deals with sponsors etc) as a means of attracting talent to their clubs. Will this behaviour be governed by some sort of salary cap?

We saw during the Claxton Shield that travel rosters often caused problems with depth – especially in the bullpen. If professional pitchers are participating in the league surely they’ll be on strict pitch counts which will also impact roster depth. Will rosters be expanded to combat these depth issues? With a likely expanded season, non professional players who have to work will be impacted. Will there be flexibility for adding and subtracting players from rosters?

What state are the various franchises in at present?

Well we know that two of the franchises (Perth and Queensland) recently lost General Managers, which is an odd development 6 months before the league is about to start up. It’s pure speculation but the Defensive Specialist would have to suggest that remuneration or budgetary issues were the cause. It’s still not clear if replacements have been found for either franchise, which is cause for concern.

Aside from that, we haven’t really had too much information on what each team is up to and how things are progressing

Does each team have a suitable facility?

It’s known that both Queensland and Melbourne had major issues finding suitable facilities to conduct ABL calibre events on. Not only are playing surface and conditions critical, but also the fan experience. Both franchises require a permanent home base that can support the fan numbers required to make each team financially viable.

Perth, Adelaide and Sydney are well placed facility wise and Canberra appears set to use the Narrabundah facility (that will require upgrades)

How many games will the season consist of?

The Defensive Specialist is led to believe that the season will be approximately 40 games and the schedule is being finalised at the moment. What the Defensive Specialist is unsure of is how the games will be spread across the season. Will double headers take place or will teams play 4 game series across Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday?

When will the league launch and how will it be promoted?

Well it would be nice for Bud Selig (Commissioner of Major League Baseball) to fly down with a big set of scissors (obviously not stored in his carry on luggage) and cut a big ribbon to launch the season but statistics show that approximately 30% of Americans have passports so Bud may not be able to scramble one in time. The Defensive Specialist is assuming that an official launch will come closer to the season start date – lets speculate late September.

Television ads started today (Tuesday) and a highlights show is rumoured to be in the mix that is likely to be short, sharp and entertaining. It would be nice if full games were shown on Australian television in the first season but unlikely due to the cost of production.

Ok folks, that’s a broad spectrum of stuff that the Defensive Specialist doesn’t know. If there is anything else that you don’t know, send an email in to the Deep in the Hole inbox or leave a comment and the Defensive Specialist will do his damndest to find an answer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Principles of Construction

Hi Mr Defensive Specialist,

I was on one of my favourite websites today and came across a post by someone using his experience as a baseball coach to critique the coaching/game plan of Matthew Knights who coaches the mighty Bombers!

Like this person I am a coach (and player) of a baseball team and I would like to believe I have a better than average understanding of the game, I found his comments on constructing a side a little wrong.  Can you give me a breakdown on constructing a baseball side from putting your side on the field to constructing the lineup.

This what he had to say.

"There seems to be this unwritten rule in baseball, pitcher and catcher aside, that all your best players absolutely have to be your middle infield (shortstop and second base) and your strongest arm goes at 3rd, your best hands at 1st. With this team, those rules were certainly engrained in them. Also the rule that you hid your worst players in the outfield"



Dear Team,

Thank you for your email and commiserations to you for supporting the woefully inconsistent Essendon Football Club. You often can tell your team is approaching struggle town when couch commanders like the bloke you’ve mentioned start trying to break down the decisions of the coaching staff by using tactical examples from a different sport. Without viewing the context in which this chap was making this statement, it is hard to know what he was trying to get at (and before anyone suggests it, The Defensive Specialist is not prepared to risk his street cred by logging onto a fanboy chat room to find out).

Either way, it is plainly obvious that he has missed the mark and that’s why the Defensive Specialist is here – to kick the big goals.

Back in the day, there was a basic formula for trying to build a strong defensive team although it took a back seat as the game was overcome by offense. In recent times, with a crackdown on performance enhancing drugs and a greater emphasis on defensive metrics such as Probablistic Model of Range, Defensive Regression Analysis, Special Aggregate Fielding Evaluation and Ultimate Zone Rating, things have shifted back to the basic formula of constructing a defensive lineup.

So what does it look like?

Well, first and foremost you want a solid defensive unit up the middle. A catcher who can receive, control the running game (good catch and release time, strong arm) and manage a game is important. It’s definitely a position where you may consider carrying some offense although if you stumble into a Joe Mauer you thank the good Lord. The Boston Red Sox are feeling the effects of a poor defensive catcher as we speak, with the combination of Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek unable to shut down a running game. Teams are running with impunity, meaning that runners are forever in scoring position and pitchers are having to work harder to keep runners off base or closer to the base.

Second base and shortstop were positions that you would trade rock solid defence for offense but that has changed and now you require bats in both these positions. Typically the shortstop will be a premium athlete with exceptional range and arm strength in order to make the throw from the 5.5 hole. The shortstop is responsible for the longest throw in the infield and the vast majority of relay plays so they require great hands (quick and secure) and the aforementioned arm.

The second baseman should have good range but arm strength is less of a factor (although Roberto Alomar who many say changed the way the position was played had a cannon). The double play turn at second base is difficult because it often requires a second baseman to make a play with a runner barrelling in and no vision of it. Good hands for a quick turn is imperative.

Centrefield is typically a premium athlete with exceptional foot speed to cover the outfield gaps and a good arm. BJ Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays was an error prone shortstop who was moved to centre in order to make use of his physical tools and he has blossomed into a gifted defender. The centrefielder must cover a great deal of territory, hence the need for speed and athleticism. Players like Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury have been moved off centrefield as their arms didn’t cut the mustard (Johnny Damon actually looks like he was never taught how to throw).

When our boy suggests that you hide your worst players in the outfield, he has completely underestimated why the designated hitter was invented. Leftfield and rightfield do tend to be more offensive positions where lesser defenders can be hidden, however in the modern game a poor defender is more likely to find himself on the bench DH’ing rather than patrolling the outfield. The rightfielder generally has the strongest outfield arm as the throw to third is the longest outfield throw. If you have a noodle-armed outfielder, left field is the place to put them as they have shorter throws to make. Either way with pitching and defence such a focus in today’s game, no team can afford to have two plodders in the outfield.

Third base does require a strong arm and a steel nerve – also, potentially a healthy dose of stupidity as evidenced by Adrian Beltre who manned the hot corner without a cup. (He did take one off the plum last year, which ruptured the sucker!) Third base requires solid reaction times as balls get on the defender in a hurry. Premium defenders have good range, which enables them to cut off balls down the line and into the 5.5 hole. A third baseman can be less athletic than a shortstop as they do not need to move into the hole at pace. Their movement is often short and explosive.

Your first baseman used to be a hulking slugger who didn’t like to jog out to the outfield. This mentality has been rethought as the value of defenders at first base has increased. A sure handed first baseman (that is, someone who can pick balls in the dirt) can be invaluable to a team by cutting down on throwing errors. A defender like Mark Teixeira who has great range also provides value by taking away base hits to right field. You can still hide a slower footed player at first base, but you definitely want a guy who can scoop a throw out of the dirt and who has the coordination to flip a ball to a moving pitcher as he covers first base.

That’s a fairly basic overview of how you’d typically construct a defensive team. Of course, in most instances a coach is hamstrung by the talent that he has and must work around those factors.

In terms of building your offensive line up, it should look something like this:

1) Typically your leadoff hitter is a gifted runner, however you want to combine this with an ability to get on base through either hit or base on balls (or preferably both). Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest lead off hitter of all time, was blessed with great foot speed the ability to hit and an uncanny eye for the strike zone. The most important part of the leadoff role is getting on base. Other things like making the pitcher throw a number of pitches and stealing bases is a bonus.

2) Managers like to have a left handed contact hitter in the 2 hole as it enables them to pull the ball through the hole created by the first baseman holding the leadoff hitter on. Being in the left-handed hitter’s box may also impede or intimidate the catcher as he throws to second. In the old days when small ball was more prevalent, you’d also want a guy who could handle the bat by being able to bunt or hit and run as a means to move the runner up. Once again, a hitter who can work the count and get on base is what you’re after in order to have runners on ahead of the heart of your line up.

3) The 3 hole hitter is your best hitter. You want your best hitter here in order to get him maximal at bats with runners on base. This hitter should hit for average and power and be a run producer. See Albert Pujols as the best example of this.

4) Cleanup hitter. The Yankees employee Alex Rodriguez in this position which some may say doesn’t fit with what the Defensive Specialist statedabove, but when you have as many quality hitters as they have, you can put A Rod here in order to increase his at bats with runners on. Traditionally, this hitter has been more of a bomber (homerun or strikeout), but nowadays the position has evolved to one in which the hitter will have solid on base percentage numbers

5) You want another solid run producer in this position, preferably with some power.

6) From 6-8 you’re really just placing your hitters from best to worst

9) If you have a light-hitting dude who can run, stick him in the 9 hole in the hope that he may be able to get on for the top of your order. If you have a light-hitting dude who cant run, trade him for a bag of baseballs.

You will also see managers try to alternate between right handed and left handed hitters as you move down the line-up. The purpose of this is to break up the line-up and avoid situations where a specialist reliever (say left handed) can come in and work to consecutive hitters (left handed) who may have difficulty.

So there you have it, a simple insight into the world of line up construction. If Matthew Knights and the Bombers need any further assistance, please have them call the Defensive Specialist directly!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Defensive Specialist catches up with Allan De San Miguel

The Deep in the Hole Player Blogs have been immensely popular thus far and it has been a real treat to get an insight into the day to day life of college baseball players in the United States. Today, something a little different, our first professional blog! Allan De San Miguel, a catcher in the Minnesota Twins organisation has taken the time to put aside the shin guards and sit down with the Defensive Specialist to answer some key questions.

Allan played at 4 levels in 2009 within the Twins minor league system and this year finds himself at the AAA level, playing on the Rochester Red Wings. Here’s what he had to say: 
  • Last year at age 21 you played at 4 levels. A, A+, AA, AAA. What are some of the adjustments you had to make at each level?
Last year was a crazy year for me moving up and down the system. Over the last few year I’ve primarily been a backup catcher for our top prospect Ramos, so last year was more moving around to back up guys in our system in AA, AAA and got more at bats in A ball. The adjustments I had to make was just getting to know the pitching staff in every level on my team. Understanding what they can do, what they like to do and their tendencies. As for hitting, not much changed just gear up for fastballs and be ready for it.
  • How do things differ at each level from a playing perspective?
As you move up each level everyone gets better. Hitters are harder to pitch to – smarter, patient and a lot more mature. Pitchers on the other hand - the ball is never straight, always moving either sinkers, cutters etc. Guys throw a lot more off-speed for strikes and can throw it whenever they want and the speed of the game moves along a lot quicker as you move up.
  • How are things different off the field at each level (i.e. travel, facilities, ball parks)?
At the lower levels you play in average stadiums with really average clubhouses and the worse thing overall - you don’t get spreads before and after the game in A ball so you have to fend for yourself. A lot of long bus trips in A ball too!. Once you get to AA you get spreads before and after the game so that makes things easier and the facilities are pretty good, still have plenty of long bus trips! In AAA we fly to a lot of places but still bus it from time to time. Some fields are awesome, really nice.
  • As you progress through levels how does the pitching change (from a catching perspective and a hitters perspective)?
From a catching perspective you have to learn the hitters straight away and have to remember how to get them out. Moving up the levels, pitchers have to throw the off-speed pitches for strikes in any count, locating pitches - spotting up more. As for hitting, like I said before I just want to jump on the fastball get my licks in because I’m a back up catcher here in the Twins system so when I do get in there I’m gonna be hacking! The guys pitching are a lot smarter when you move up, throwing back door curveballs and sliders and throwing change ups in offensive counts.
  • As a catcher, what sort of preparation do you do with pitchers prior to their starts in readiness for each line up?
When I get to the field I’ll check and see if I’m in the line up. If so then I’ll go check the stats book. There will be one on the table everyday when you get there, updated every day on stats from the other team. I’ll check stolen bases, walks to strike outs, homeruns and doubles just to get a feel on who has been doing what during the season, who’s hot and not. Then before the pitcher goes out we will talk about how to pitch to every guy and what to do in certain situations then go out there, stretch, catch his bullpen and start the game.
  • Your reputation is as a solid defender. What percentage of your time goes into catching and hitting?
I would say probably 70 percent catching 30 percent hitting
  • You’re not always in the starting line up, how tough is it to adjust to coming off the bench?
I’ve gotten used to it over the last few years. Earlier in my career I got frustrated a lot and didn’t take it that well. Now I’ve gotten used to it more, I relax and go out and have fun. Like many people have said to me I’m projected to be a back up catcher in the bigs.
  • You have Charlie Zink on your roster- a knuckleballer. How do you go about catching a knuckleball?
Get a bigger glove, squat side on to the pitcher, let the ball dance and be as patient to as you can - don’t stab and snatch at the ball.
  • Best pitcher you have caught and why?
Johan Santana. He’s a Cy Young winner and he’s got a filthy change up.
  • Toughest pitcher you’ve hit against and why?
Probably Charlie Zink the knuckleballer you just never know what you’re going to get.
  • Can you describe a typical day for a professional player at the AAA level?
Wake up, get some breakfast, go to the field around 1 or 2. If I’m not in the line up I’ll work out at the field, then that take some bp, do an infield- outfield and play. Really laidback - if you want extra hitting you go and do it on your own, noone tells you that you have to do this or that. After bp and infield, we come back in, get some food and go and play. After the game have some dinner at the field and that’s your day.
  • Can you explain how clubhouse dues work?
Club house dues - you pay 12 dollars a day and you get food spreads before and after the game and fruit and snacks - whatever you need they got it.
  • Catcher is a physically demanding position. What sort of workout program do you adhere to?
A lot of body weight stuff. Lots of squats, push ups and chin ups. A lot of the work comes in the off-season to get your body through the season.
  • How do you deal with nutrition on a minor league salary?
Well we get fed pretty well up here in AAA - good food before the game, cold meats, fruits and nutrient bars - they got it all up here. After the game we have good dinners that change from night to night. In ‘A’ ball different story! Get none of this, bring your own food to the game and after the game got to go out and eat somewhere, it gets really tough.
  • Favourite minor league promotion?
That’s a tough one. Bird Zerk always puts on a great show, I’ve seen him do a lot of funny stuff so I think that would have to be my favourite
  • Favourite minor league ballpark and why?
Don’t really know, I have a few. Dayton Ohio was pretty cool with a huge dragon in center field, if you hit a homerun a loud ass siren goes off and it fires out smoke everywhere! Another park is Durham - yes Bull Durham was one of my favourites - a big blue monster in left field with the bull on top.
  • How do you see the new ABL helping your career as a professional baseballer?
Will be great, get plenty more at bats for myself as I don’t get 500 at bats here in the season like other starters do. I think it will be great to play more games, it’s the only way to get better.
  • Do you think American pros would be interested in playing offseason baseball in the ABL?
Most definitely. I have talked to a few guys and they would love the chance to come down under and play
  • What challenges do you see for the ABL?
A lot of things, where do I start? Facilities - need proper ball parks to play at . From a personal experience, playing in Campbelltown this year and getting drilled in the head with no batters eye - that cannot happen. We need the fans so huge promotions. Salaries. Travelling, especially for us Perth boys - we got screwed around a lot last year not being able to fly the red eye flight we would have to fly in the morning get to whereever and go straight to the field, I think that’s bullshit just because they want to save a few dollars. 
  • How will the ABL affect Australian baseball in your opinion?
I think it could be the best thing they have done. I remember when I was a little kid going to Heat games and I loved it. We need to get off on the right foot because this might be our last chance for baseball to really take off in this country again.
  • Have you ever told a pitcher to “Hit the Mascot”?
No, sorry.

Ok, so it was a little disappointing that Allan had never instructed one of his pitchers to dose the mascot in true Bull Durham fashion, but aside from that it was a fantastic insight into the world of a minor league catcher – and one who experienced a broad array of baseball in just one year. Many thanks to Allan for taking time out of his schedule to let the Defensive Specialist pick his brain.