Thursday, July 29, 2010

We Can Rebuild Him!

The Defensive Specialist has talked so much about aluminium bats over the past few weeks that he actually has a metallic taste in his mouth. That can’t be healthy right? Anyway, in an effort to move as far away from that debate as possible, the Defensive Specialist decided to delve into the world of baseball injury and rehabilitation. Graciously offering up his time (he has a whole bunch of it right now) and insight is Scott Mitchinson who began his professional baseball career with the Philadelphia Phillies before being traded to the Oakland A’s. Mitchinson has battled an assortment of injuries throughout his pro career (some baseball related, others freak accidents – shoulder dislocation while surfing) but the latest one may be the biggest. Mitchinson recently underwent an elbow reconstruction or as the procedure is commonly referred to – Tommy John surgery.

The Defensive Specialist asked the questions, Mitchinson provided the answers:

How did you first injure your elbow? Can you describe the pain or discomfort you felt?

I first started to feel pain midway through the 2009 season in the US; it was like a sharp pinch on the inside of my elbow when I started to bring my elbow forward to pitch. It was something that slowly got worse and worse over a couple outings, there was no one pitch that I can pin point it to.

Were there any warning signs leading up to the injury? Pitchers who’ve injured elbows before often describe elbow tightness.

No not really, the pain first started as something minor which I thought was just a little general soreness, but as a few days passed it got worse and worse to the point where I couldn’t lob the ball without pain.

You’ve previously had shoulder problems. In your opinion, do you think your arm problems are symptomatic of your throwing action or pitching motion?

I definitely think it is something I am going to have to look into now. In the past I have never really thought that my mechanics had anything to do with it, but I have had both shoulder and elbow surgery now so I guess there maybe something I’m doing that may be causing these problems.

Were you able to throw after the injury or was the pain too much?

At first I continued throwing when the pain wasn’t that severe, as I thought it might just be some general soreness that would go away on its own, but after a couple of outings the pain was too much.

Where were you diagnosed as requiring an elbow reconstruction?

The weird thing with my elbow is that none of the MRIs showed an actual tear in my ligament (I had 3 different ones) they all just showed some inflammation. The symptoms I was having were associated with possible ligament damage, but because the MRIs weren’t showing anything conclusive they first thought it may just be forearm tendonitis. Even when I went in for surgery they still weren’t 100% certain I needed a new ligament, so they went in with the idea of scoping it out and fixing what they saw. It turned out only once they were looking inside my elbow they could see the tear.

You’ve had your fair share of injuries, but the words ‘elbow reconstruction’ must have been a blow. How did you feel?

Well to be honest, I had already spent a lot of time trying to rehab this injury without success, so I just wanted it diagnosed and fixed. I really never knew for sure that I needed the reconstruction up until the point where I woke up after surgery. It’s obviously not something that any pitcher wants to go through, but I was just happy to have it fixed.

Can you explain why you had to return to the US for surgery?

I ended up choosing to go back to the US for surgery just based on advice from local doctors here in Australia. “Tommy John” surgery is a very baseball specific injury and there aren’t too many cases here in Australia. In the US, doctors see these on a daily basis, and as I was told, there are just some things about surgery you can only learn through experience. I was lucky enough that one of the top doctors in the US performing this surgery agreed to see me.

Can you step us through the surgery process?

I went in for surgery at the Kerlan Jobe orthopedic clinic in LA at 6am and probably got out of there at about lunchtime the same day. I didn’t have the correct tendon in my forearm which they would usually use as a first preference so they took the tendon graft from my gracilis muscle in my left leg. I think it’s about 50-50 as to whether you have the forearm tendon or not. So when I woke up I had a 90 degree cast on my right arm extending from my wrist to my shoulder and was in a sling. My left leg was also heavily bandaged around my knee. They gave me a cane to use as I walked to the car, but I needed it more for balance more than anything.

After I left the surgery center I went back to my hotel where I basically slept the rest of the afternoon, they gave me pain medication to take every 4 hours, but I only really took it for the first 2 days and then I was fine. My leg was sorer than my arm initially. The directions they gave me after leaving were basically not to do anything with my arm for 2 weeks until I came back and saw the doctor, but my leg was fine to do normal activity.

So for those first 2 weeks I basically did nothing that required using my right arm, just rested in front of the TV and did some touristy bits in California.

When I went back to see the doctor for my post-op appointment, they removed the cast and bandage from my leg. The stitches were all internal and didn’t need removing, so once I got the cast off all i was left with was a nice big scar on the inside of my elbow, around 10 cms long, as well as in incision on the inside of my left knee 3-4 cms long. They took a quick x-ray to make sure they were happy with everything and then I was sent on my way with a 10-12 month rehab protocol to follow.

For the next 2 weeks all I am supposed to be doing is trying to get full range of motion at my elbow. When I first got the cast off I could barely bend or straighten my elbow at all, but now I am at almost 4 weeks post-op and I am starting to get close to having full range. I have been seeing a therapist in Perth a few times per week as well as doing stuff on my own at home.

Don’t they usually take a ligament from a cadaver?

Not as far as I know

Can you give an overview of the rehabilitation process?

Basically the first 4-6 weeks is spent getting you full range of motion back at your elbow, and then you progress into the strengthening phases which include a lot of shoulder and scapular work as well. At around 5 months I can begin a throwing program, and at around 10-12 months they expect you back pitching in games

How has the pain been?

Pain has been pretty minimal so far. The only time it gets sore is when I’m doing my exercises which are aimed at trying to slowly stretch it out again. My leg was sorer than my arm straight out of surgery

How long until you can pick up a ball and throw again?

At 5 months post-op I can begin a throwing program

How long until you can get on a mound again?

Not sure exactly when I can start bullpens, a lot of that will depend on how my arm is feeling and progressing through the program. They say at around 10-12 months you should be able to be game ready.

Some pitchers have returned from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than before surgery. What can we expect from you?

I’ve got my fingers crossed; any extra miles per hours would be great. All I can do is do the rehab properly and give myself the best chance of coming back from this surgery, and getting back to the same level I was at. In the end I just want to be able to pitch again.

Ok, so that whole ordeal sounds fairly terrible! The work required to get back on the mound is significant AND tedious. Repetition after repetition required to build up the strength and range of motion that was once there in order to perform. Many thanks to Scott Mitchinson for sharing his experiences. The Defensive Specialist wishes you all the best in your quest to get back out on the field.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Precious Metal

Well the whole metal vs. wood debate has produced significant mileage for the Defensive Specialist. It could be that we’re flogging a dead horse but the comments and emails keep dropping in offering opinion both for and against. There’s nothing like sparking a healthy debate! Anyway, the Defensive Specialist’s old pal – The US Correspondent thought he’d chip in with some thoughts on metal and wood. Here’s what he had to say:


Just read the blog and have a couple random opinions about wood vs. metal although not necessarily pertaining to the subject you broached.

I was curious if you've debated before on why the NCAA* stays with metal. The typical response is that schools have bat deals with the major companies, it’s cheaper, etc. Don't all the major companies that supply metal bats, also make wood bats? Sort of kills that answer. The answer I came across this summer has to do with wood bats as a product. There simply is not enough good wood to go around. The discrepancy between a quality wood bat and a poor wood bat is higher then the discrepancy between a high quality metal bat and a bottom of the barrel model. The basis of the argument then would be that the high powered schools of the baseball universe (Arizona State University, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, etc) would be able to afford to pay for the high quality wood bats, where lower tier schools would most likely have to settle for lower quality wood bats (Rawlings Ash Big Sticks come to mind).

*Governing body of division 1 college baseball in the US that uses metal bats.

Therefore wood bats might actually create a larger gap in the competition rather than bringing it closer together (this flies in the face of proponents of wood who argue that the competition would be narrowed). Obviously part of that equation is that better schools with more talented players would be able to handle a wood bat compared to smaller school with less talented players. So now the more talented schools are armed with better equipment. The gap will become even larger.

I also wanted to comment on an observation that metal bats "eliminate the inside part of the plate". That statement is untrue in my opinion, if anything metal bats force pitchers to get to the actual inside part of the plate, pitching to wood bats gives amateur pitchers a false sense of what the actual inside part of the plate is. Pitching middle-in jams an average hitter with wood, where they can handle that pitch with metal. But a pitch truly on the inside corner might be the best weapon against a metal bat. Look at most college baseball coaches hitting philosophies and they would likely say to be able to handle the outer half fastball, because that is where people think they have to pitch because they are pitching to aluminum. 

The Defensive Specialist wanted to test the US Correspondent on one of the areas that had been hotly contested – that a youngster throwing 82 mph would get slaughtered and not have enough fastball to actually go inside on hitters. The US Correspondent had a theory on that too!

What do you mean they don't throw hard enough to get in there!? I say soft tossers have a better chance then anybody! Logic tells you that for a soft tosser to have success he is going to get a lot of roll overs (5-3, 6-3 putouts). So what's your approach as a hitting coach to a right-handed spinner who throws 80mph doo doo or a left handed pitcher with a change? I'm assuming you’re telling your guys to stay back and drill the ball through the middle of the diamond or stay in the "off gap".

So I think it is more important for the "soft" tosser to prove they can get on the inner half! Or else you have hitters who can comfortably stay back and dive to the outer part of the plate. The soft tosser has to make the hitter inside conscious or that hitter just sits away and eliminates one half of the plate. If they show they'll go in it makes the off speed stuff that much better. On the flip side soft tossers have to pick their spots when they go in, it’s obviously easier to turn around 83 than 93. I bet if you pulled up a video of Jamie Moyer when he's dealing he is effectively commanding the inside half with his fastball. Tom Glavine lived on the inside half.

The hard thrower occasionally gets burned on the inner half because bad hitters are so geared up for the FB that sometimes that's the only pitch they can run into. Clear the chest and turn and burn and hope it hits the barrel.
Location Location Location!

An interesting take from the US Correspondent although the Defensive Specialist isn’t so sure he’d like to sit and watch some 18-20 thumber try and go in on a decent hitter. The results could be catastrophic. Mind you, it is interesting thinking about approaches to pitching against metal bats. An anonymous reader did comment this week that they actually looked forward to the challenge of bearing down and really going after some of the better hitters, knowing full well that they had to be on their game in order to compete. It did sound like the commenter knew how to handle himself on the mound, which is one thing. The key point to remember in all of this however is the impact that metal bats will have on the younger players coming through. Yes, metal will undoubtedly help the young hitters, but what about the young hurlers. Those without the experience or mental capacity may not be able to bear down against the bigger bats in the line up and that’s when the fireworks begin!

In other news, a couple of ABL logos have drifted out into the open market. You may notice that nothing has shown up for the Perth Heat. The simple reason behind this is that kids have been on school holidays so there hasn’t been an available 6 year old to draw it just yet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crack Vs Ping of the Bat

One of the true advantages of operating Australia’s most popular baseball blog is the rigorous debate that often arises from posts. Monday’s post on aluminium bats making a return in the Western Australian State League competition sparked some serious discussion amongst readers and had the Defensive Specialist in the midst of a fairly long winded email back and forth with a number of baseball minds. Anytime a major change comes about you’ll always encounter several sides to the argument.

There really isn’t a right answer this time (ok, who are we kidding, switching to metal bats at that level is nonsensical) but it has been interesting to hear the many pros and cons to wood and metal in baseball.

The Defensive Specialist did make mention of Geoff Hooker who holds an interesting position in the Western Australian baseball universe – a senior baseball administrator and the owner of an extremely successful baseball retail outlet. The Defensive Specialist’s implication was that Hooker actually had a vested interest in the switch to metal from a business perspective.

Since we’re running a democracy here at Deep in the Hole, it was with pleasure that the Defensive Specialist noted an email from Hooker in the Deep in the Hole inbox. Here’s what he had to say:

Defensive Specialist,

Saw your post on the metal bats...
Since you mentioned me as a decision maker, I just thought I should let you know my opinions on the issue:

Because I am spending so much time at BWA and the Heat, I actually have very little time to work on stuff at Fielders Choice, but I'm pretty sure there is significantly greater margins and higher long-term revenue in wood bats.  While the changeover might be good for Fielders Choice in the short term, I think it will hurt us in the long term, in this specific context.

That said, my business motivation for supporting such a decision is based on overall market size (participants).  I essentially got into league management because the market (participation) had collapsed during the 2000 - 2005 period.  Since 2005, we've made a few charges to bolster participation and I think we've started to turn things around. Without question, a bigger market is good for Fielders Choice.  In that regard, I hope my business interests are aligned with WA State League.

While the metal bat issue has been raised, in the most part, by me, I have made it very clear that I am simply expressing my opinion and that I would not try and force the change on WA's State League. There does seem to be significant interest among club officials and it has become a "serious" issue much quicker than I expected.  Now that the issue is out there and being debated, I plan to remove myself from the argument, unless someone specifically asks my opinion.  So it certainly won't be my decision.

Taking off my BWA and Fielders Choice caps:

·      When I look back to my days as an entry level state leaguer (pre ABL v1), I really feel it was beneficial for the 16-20 year olds entering State League to be competitive immediately. I don't think I was physically up to swinging a wood bat in competition until my return from college at age 23 (some would argue I never could). I feel bad for the young guys now, who have it a lot tougher than we did.  
·      I think it keeps old guys in the league longer at the expense of younger players.
·      I also have an opinion on the offensive approach it creates for most young guys... but I could ramble on for ages, and who am I to preach that stuff...

Anyway, just wanted to clarify my position and motivation.  


The Defensive Specialist appreciates Hooker taking the time to outline his thoughts on the topic and some of his motivating factors.

As stated previously, the debate can rage on and on with no real end in sight. The Defensive Specialist doesn’t agree with a potential switch as it compromises the integrity of the game. Think back over the last 10 years, when we saw an explosion in offensive numbers and people were saying that Mark McGwire had saved the game because he had brought huge offensive output and excitement to the contest. Obviously the big leagues didn’t switch to metal bats but they did have a steady stream of performance enhancers coursing through it to assist in raising the offensive output.

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is one of the toughest things in the world to do from an athletic perspective. There is a reason that the best hitters in the world make an out 7 times from every 10 at bats. Why mess with the fabric of the game by making it easier for hitters through the use of metal?

Hooker did raise an interesting point in regards to participation. Did player numbers drop because it was tougher to get a knock with wooden bats? The Defensive Specialist is of the belief that if a kid can make the state league level, he’s normally in for the long haul. The factors nowadays that seem to pull them away from the game appear to be more social than an ability to hit a line drive to the gap with wood.

The Defensive Specialist has no problem with aluminium being used as players rise up through the junior ranks, but if they’re good enough to be considered for the higher state level baseball then wood is the next test. It should be an equal playing field for both pitchers and hitters. The Defensive Specialist just doesn’t see kids on the cusp of the top level thinking that it’s all too tough with wood and dropping out of the sport.

In the Defensive Specialist’s opinion, participation is down because there is no league for youngsters to aspire to. If the ABL gets up and popping, the Defensive Specialist anticipates participation numbers will rise. However and this is a big however, it’s unlikely that numbers will ever get back to the halcyon days of the mid to late 90’s simply because there are way too many other things for kids to do nowadays and the channels are too diverse to drive the numbers into teeball and baseball.

The Defensive Specialist is eager to hear from readers with their theories on participation numbers and drivers. Hit up the inbox or the comment section.

In the meantime, let the Defensive Specialist cherry pick a couple of great examples to support his case for wood:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

PING! – I think I just had a good idea!

Towards the end of every week, the Defensive Specialist makes a special effort to sort through the masses of emails that flood into the Deep in the Hole inbox. It’s a laborious task but it gives the Defensive Specialist a chance to tune into what the readers are thinking. Meticulously working through each email, the Defensive Specialist encounters hate mail, fan mail, marriage proposals, requests for advice and from time to time some solid little rumours that make for interesting thought.

Last week the Defensive Specialist stumbled across one such nugget from a chap going by the name of Victorian Flamethrower. Here’s what he had to say:

 Defensive Specialist,

Thought you might like to know that apparently your beloved WA / Perth State league competition is about to be announced as a tin bat league after a president’s vote in the last few days. It was said that wood bats have made baseball boring and tin is the way to revive it.

Apparently there will be restrictions on pro and ex pro guys using tin.

Interesting decision when the ABL, a wood league is about to start.

I’m sure your skills as a word wizz will be able to write a masterpiece.


Thank you

Victorian Flamethrower.

Of course the Defensive Specialist spent at least 30 minutes trying to figure out who the author was since no one has come out of Victoria throwing hard in quite some time! After deciding that the author must be playing a gag with the name, the Defensive Specialist began to chew over the core of the email.

Why on earth would a state association decide to go back to metal bats at their top level? Especially now with the all-wood ABL set to launch and the use of wooden bats firmly entrenched for at least 5 years?

The Defensive Specialist decided to ask the Victorian Flamethrower for his thoughts:

I think it’s a joke, it will be detrimental to the kids trying to make it and goes against the ABL’s efforts to grow the sport and develop kids / young men into solid pro guys. I agree it’s exciting but I think it may be dangerous after so many years of wood/composite. I wouldn’t want to throw my 90mph fastball to a Lachie Dale or Trent D’Antonio let alone Pat Maat, Luke Hughes or a Kennelly brother. Furthermore if they impose restrictions on pro guys or ex pro guys it becomes an unlevel playing field, games will be 15-25 blowouts, 3 + hours.

The Defensive Specialist was quick to add that the decision will serve to discourage a 17-year-old from taking the ball at that level for fear of giving up screaming line drives and 10 run innings.

The Victorian Flamethrower responded:

I completely agree, huge discouragement for a youngster, especially coming out of juniors where his 82mph is legit, it’s BP with tin. It also takes away the inside part of the plate and will encourage kids to pitch around, there will be no focus on strike/ ball ratios, 3 pitch or less counts or pitching to the hole (a philosophy of essentially pitching to between the shin guards of the catcher -lower part of the strike zone being our focus but the hole is also wherever your out pitch is expected to go, high and tight or bounced on the plate etc).

So the first thing the Defensive Specialist did was look into whether the ruling had been passed. Short of calling the league office (ok, it was lazy journalism to not do so), the general consensus was that the idea is yet to be voted on, but will definitely be tabled. The second thing the Defensive Specialist did was wonder why on earth such a decision would be made.

The statement that the game is boring and that metal bats will help revive it is a bit rich for a number of reasons. 1) The only people showing up to watch a state league baseball game other than parents are long-term club members. These people show up no matter what the players are swinging. Introducing 18-10 run ballgames is not going to see people flooding to local baseball fields to take in all the action. 2) If people want to see fireworks, show up for batting practice. High scoring games happen from time to time but if you enable good hitters even further by equipping them with metal light sabres, you are inevitably going to see pitchers nibbling more (in order to avoid solid contact) which will increase walks and guarantee that games drag on for longer. A 4 hour baseball game is not exciting unless its 1-1 in the top of the 14th inning with the go ahead run on second.

The decision to go away from wood is strange when you consider that we’re about to see the ABL launch. The state league may be somewhat depleted with players moving up to the ABL but it is also a feeder league to that competition. Why have players using a tool that they will not have access to at the higher level? Additionally the under 18 state team uses wood. Now all of a sudden we have our best kids using aluminium bats all season and then switch to wood for that tournament? Not the best preparation in any way shape or form.

There is an argument that perhaps kids are being lost to the game because they are having less success using wooden bats. So you arm those kids with metal and all of a sudden they can hit a fisted ball over second base for a rinky dink single. Is that what we want? And what about the young pitchers? As discussed above, imagine a 17-year-old kid and his 82 mph fastball going up against some of the better hitters in the league who’d feast on that with wooden bats let alone metal bats. The local baseball field ends up looking like an artillery zone as good hitters start teeing off. So a few young hitters feel better about themselves. What about the young pitchers?
The Defensive Specialist has had a really tough time coming up with any good reason to make the switch. It must be said however that one of the key decision-makers at Baseball WA is Geoff Hooker who also happens to own the number one baseball store in the state. After some cursory research, the Defensive Specialist found that composite wooden bats currently retail for $335. On the other hand, the higher quality Easton metal bats are on sale for $495- $525. It is safe to say that both the composite wood and the metal bats are good for about one season. So right off the bat (faster if the bat happens to be aluminium), it is fairly obvious that there is a significant financial windfall for Hooker and his business if this decision goes through*.

*Now before we all pile on to Hooker and Fielders Choice (his store), it should be acknowledged that he and his business have been MASSIVE supporters of baseball in Western Australia and his contributions shouldn’t be understated or undersold.

It just all seems like a backwards step to the Defensive Specialist. The ABL is a professional league that will have young players excited about baseball and aspiring to reach that level and beyond. We want young kids to flock to ABL games and beg their parents to sign them up for baseball. By the time they demonstrate the skill and ability to play at the highest level it’s time to separate the men from the boys anyway. Why give them false hope with metal bats when they should be measuring themselves with wood? Why would lessening the baseball at the level below the ABL be a good thing for the game? Why make it easier for the hitters and tougher for the pitchers?

As you can see, the Defensive Specialist has a lot of questions. If you have the answers, the Defensive Specialist is all ears…..

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meeting of the Minds (continued)

Continued from: Part 1

You recently wrote a post about up and coming players. Which player under 21 will have the biggest impact on the ABL this season?

BB: Yeah it's hard to see SA repeating their performance from this season, given that Collins will be gone and the fact that they really didn't have a stand out performance from a 'home grown' player as such (offensively anyway). They did have the biggest crowd numbers last season and it will be interesting to see what SA does in order to grab the interests of baseball fans and keep crowd numbers up. Agree with your assessment of the other teams as well, from the looks it will be a two horse race with NSW and Victoria leading the way.

In terms of the biggest impact from a young player, I'm going with SA's Angus Roeger. He managed to do fairly well last season in limited time, and given SA's roster, he will definitely be getting plenty of at bats this season. The at bats situation to me is the thing that stands out the most. Young guys from stronger states won't get the same opportunities, you only have to look at Matt Smith winning rookie of the year for a different state.

DS: I watched your Angus Roeger love fest video on your blog, were you holding the camera?? He's a big unit, I didn't realise he was so young! Another great point you make about opportunity - states like SA and Qld will have more of a chance to play their kids. If the league manages to stay afloat for a few years, these states will obviously benefit from the miles they got into their youngsters.

With that in mind i'm climbing on the back of Trent Baker. He hit in the 2 hole last year for Queensland and held down centrefield. Solid numbers for a young guy on a pretty average team. He hasn't played very much this year professionally so hopefully he can shake off whatever injury he may have.

What have you thought about the ABL's approach to kicking off the new competition?

BB: No I wasn't holding the camera, but have had some decent views of him from across the diamond in the past, he has quite a bit of pop! Good call on Baker, to play CF and pull those numbers on a fairly average team is very impressive and hopefully he manages to get some support.

I guess it's hard to say what the actual approach has been so far, given the lack of information! Although, the lack of information being released, for me, is a good move in itself. If the BaseballAustralia went out and told everyone every detail about the league, they may not be able to generate the same hype toward the start of the season as they would if they hold information off.

For fans like us, we will go and pay money to see baseball regardless of the marketing strategy. However, for those people out there that aren't really 'baseball fans' early marketing would not be effective. I'll use a real life analogy for this. Say you get invited to a party. You get the invitiation 6 months before the actual event happens. Then after 6 months, you have completely forgotten about the party. Come the night of the party, you don't actually remember to go. So what I’m trying to say is that from that standpoint, I don't think Baseball Australia have the funds to market the league to fans daily. I would assume that come closer to opening night, we will receive a lot more information to build up 'hype' for the league amongst new fans.

It also has to be said that the Home and Away Claxton format has been a real winner and definitely provided teams with a pro forma with how to run their teams for the coming season.

DS: Pay money to see baseball?? The Defensive Specialist doesn't pay! That's actually not true; the Defensive Specialist always hands over his hard earned to see baseball in Australia.

The lack of information can mean one of two things:

1) They’re not organised and are a long way behind schedule.
2) They want all their ducks lined up so when they launch, its a prime time (or as close to prime time as you can get in Australia) operation.

I’m hoping number 2 is the reason.

Another great point on the marketing budget restrictions. Why start pumping the tires up now when the kick off is still 3-4 months off? 

I do think the ABL would be well served to start drip-feeding some information to the public, though. People are genuinely excited to know what the team names are and what the teams will look like.

We keep hearing about things not going to plan (facilities, coaches, players) but we do need to remember that a monolith (MLB) is propping this thing up and they tend to run the big leagues fairly well.

We are at the stage where this performance is going to have to be split into two parts. Take this opportunity to talk up your site and what you’re planning to do

BB: Exactly, the fact that MLB is behind it all is a major positive. Coupled with the fact that there was the pro forma league last season there shouldn't be too much trouble (touch wood) with the format side of the league. From my site’s perspective, I think we covered a lot on stats early on and that will be a big focus with regard to how I will look at team and individual performances. I was essentially motivated by Deep in the Hole and I think it's going to have the same type of feel. With the anticipated lack of coverage (whether that be newspaper or television), I think that offering fans multiple blogs that will focus on reporting results/opinions can only be good. I know from my point of view I stumbled across Deep in the Hole after endless google searches on Australian baseball turned up many donuts.

So hopefully we can manage to work together and offer the Australian blog-o-sphere a couple of mediums that provide them with up to date baseball news, other than maybe a weekly newspaper article that is written by a someone who isn't really sure what they are watching.

Well there you have it folks, two passionate baseball fans going back and forth via email for 2 and a half hours! The Defensive Specialist enjoyed the experience and hopes that it can become a semi regular occurrence. Be sure to checkout the Backyard Baseballer out (new post up now).

The Defensive Specialist will be back next week with a dirty dirty rumour that is sure to elicit some reaction!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meeting of the minds

Recently the Defensive Specialist received an email from a young upstart indicating that Deep in the Hole had changed his life (ok perhaps this is a slight exaggeration) and served as inspiration to start his own blog on Australian baseball. The Deep in the Hole advisory staff warned the Defensive Specialist that Australia is a one baseball-blog town and that all competition should be annihilated. The Defensive Specialist didn’t get to the top of his game by following conventional thinking and with that in mind decided to do the opposite – unite.

With the ABL about to get cranking, the more voices talking about Australian baseball the better. The Backyard Baseballer can be found at: It would be easy for the Defensive Specialist to simply plug the website and leave it at that. Instead, the Defensive Specialist decided to talk baseball. Here’s how the first of potentially many email conversations unfolded: 

DS: You've recently started a blog focusing on Australian baseball and right off the bat you're spouting the virtues of hitters walking and things like OPS+. Why the interest in Sabermetrics and what value does it add to the game?

BB: I guess it's more or less another way to look at the game and evaluate performance more effectively. A few years ago I was like most people, thought a .300 batting average was good and that was about it. But then I read Moneyball (great read) and was hooked. I started researching people like Bill James and Tom Tango who are currently both in front offices in the Majors. It's definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but from my perspective the 'new age' stats add so much value. For instance, after looking at the stats from last year’s Claxton Shield, I can pinpoint needs for each team (I think). Now if you're in charge of putting players on the field, surely you want the most amount of information possible when making a decision on who to put on the diamond. By looking at Sabermetrics, you definitely give yourself the best opportunity to make the best decisions with regard to players. Given the failures of the previous league, the more information available for decision makers the better

DS: And it’s your line of thinking that gets under the skin of 'old school' baseball people who look at things like batting average, RBI's and runs and make decisions based on this information. Obviously having the ability to identify physical tools is an important part of building a team (meaning scouts will always have a place), but the ability to accurately measure defensive effectiveness and a player’s true value is critical - and even more so in this era where so much capital is invested in the sport. The same applies to the ABL, if you field a poor team, you lose fans, revenue and your franchise. It was interesting to read Joe Girardi's argument yesterday for choosing Paul Konerko over Kevin Youkilis for the all-star game. Girardi basically said that Konerko was hitting a bit better for average and had more homeruns, but a closer look at all numbers suggest that Youkilis is having the superior year offensively and destroys Konerko defensively. And we all thought Girardi was a 'modern manager'.

Which sabermetric measurement gets you all hot under the collar?

BB: Definitely, there is a sort of a feeling in baseball that 'well when I played we did this' as opposed to wanting to continually adapt to situations once new information comes to hand. I definitely think that scouts always will have a place as well; the reality is that it is a 'physical' sport as opposed to a sport played over a simulation. I couldn't agree more with the cost of capital, you only have to look at how cost effective the Oakland Athletics were from 2000 onward and maintained their performance to realise that effectively identifying players results in greater organisational performance. As for what metrics I love, for me I've definitely fallen in love with the defensive metrics coming out. So the recent developments in zone ratings have gotten me very excited. I love the thought that people can measure the difference in defensive between positions, and then come up with a conclusion that 'Franklin Guitierez is more valuable than Raul Ibanez'.

DS: Be careful referencing the Oakland A's nowadays, their GM seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel! Ben Sheets at 10 million a pop was a bit out of character.

The biggest problem with advanced defensive metrics is that they totally make the gold glove awards obsolete since rarely does the best defender actually win the award.

My favourite new fangled metric would have to be WAR - Wins Above Replacement. It measures both hitting and fielding contributions while considering the difficulty of the position played and makes for a great tool to compare players. We're probably a few years away from having it to evaluate the ABL however.

Before readers think that they've ended up on a mathematics convention, let's change tack. In your opinion, which hitter and pitcher will blow up the ABL in 2011 from a performance perspective?

BB: Billy Beane definitely has lost a bit, but again, that could be attributed to the rest of the league catching up with forward thinking.

From a performance perspective, I've already done a post raving about De San Miguel. But in terms of blowing up, and being an out and out star, it's hard to look past Mitch Denning. Has a great swing, and made a huge step last year and could be the face of the league given his age. While the power may not come straight away, it's hard to see it not coming. From a pitching standpoint, I'd be looking at the same roster with Cox, again just given his age and the fact that he has already managed to dominate Claxton Shield hitters for a few years now. Those two guys are probably the main reason I think that NSW will be the team to beat next season

DS: I've had a man crush on Denning's swing now for a full season and the lust and desire doesn't seem to be waning. Cox was a very safe pick, but you're right, he's carved the league up over the last couple of years and if he's available he’s likely to continue to do so.

Ok, I’m putting my money on Liam Hendriks to have a ridiculous year on the mound. There are a lot of 'ifs' with Hendriks who sometimes seems like he's made out of china (with the injury history he has). The Twins definitely treat him like he is, not letting him throw at all last year. BUT, the guy has a noodle arm and the ball gets on hitters real quick. He has made short work of the two professional leagues he's played in this year, and both his velocity and control have improved. He does have the worst technique for getting over the foul lines as he walks on and off the field though!

Offensively I’m staying in NSW and picking Trent Oeltjen. There have been a few whispers that he'll play in the ABL and if he does, he may tear it a new anus. His numbers at triple A have been very solid (despite switching teams) and he is of an age - 27, where man strength is fully established and you have an idea of what you're doing at the dish. If NSW can plug him into their lineup - watch out!

Considering Victoria won the whole thing last year, what makes you pick NSW?

BB: Oeltjen is a star and might end up stealing a million bases given the amount of hits he'll get. From what I've heard, each team will get about 4 players from overseas to fill their roster. Just looking at the rosters from each team, if NSW manage to find some players to fill holes (CF with Oeltjen), a corner outfielder and even one more dominant pitcher, it's hard seeing them be beaten in a series. I guess my opinion centers around the fact that Victoria’s line up performed very well last year, meaning that they may not be able to increase their performance on last year at all, despite gaining players. Whereas NSW has clear holes, that if filled, will result in clear gains. Although my opinion is pretty dependent on NSW being able to gain the services of these players and then them performing.

DS: You make some good points on NSW. There is also scuttlebutt that they'll be acquiring the services of New Zealand's lone professional baseballer - Scott Campbell who has ties to Sydney through family. That's another triple A bat to plug into the line up and play either second or third although he has been shelved through injury for much of this pro season. And if they can get some arms like David Welch and Brad Tippet going for them they'll be really strong.

I wasn't real high on the South Australian team and think they don’t have enough local talent to compliment any of the pro guys they bring out. The Defensive Specialist's boy D Wash is having a tough time getting a gig there again this season as well, which may reduce some of their ticket sales.

Queensland is really young and are a couple of years away.

Canberra looks like it will be made up of NSW discards although getting the services of Michael Collins, Nick Kimpton, Hayden Beard and Steve Kent will definitely help.

The Heat will lose arms like Kelly and Peacock through work commitments and Scott Mitchinson recently underwent his annual arm surgery.

If Victoria can add Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay for a full season and pluck Justin Huber out of Japan they have to be a red hot chance.

With a 4 game series, having 2 professional import arms is big since you should theoretically be in every game. I have a sneaking suspicion we're going to see some serious pitching as the Australian stocks are increased with pro guys wanting to participate and being complimented by US arms.

I’m getting your back and picking NSW too.

Part 2 on Thursday