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Part of the beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. We need only look as far as the last two World Series winners to demonstrate that. Baseball interviews can be unpredictable, too.

John Sickels had agreed to conduct the interview through e-mail, and he and I had started exchanging some basic information when John threw me a curve. John had visited Da Box, read all of your questions, and decided to answer a number of them himself. I was out of a job! Later that day, John delivered a set of answers, and we then concluded with a discussion about some Blue Jay prospects and his latest books.

So without further ado, here is an interview with the person many consider perhaps the premier minor-league expert of his time. The part of John Sickels is played by himself. The part of BB (the interviewer) is played by many of you -- you know who you are.


Part 1: Meet John Sickels

Most of us know by now that that John worked as Bill James' research assistant from 1993 to 1996. Bill hired him initially because he needed someone who knew about the minor leagues to help him write his Player Ratings Books; Bill was more familiar with the major-league players. Studying the minors had always been a hobby for John, so it was a perfect fit.

When that "gig" ended, John went out on his own in 1996, and ever since then, things have worked out extremely well. He authored the Minor League Scouting Notebook for Stats Inc. for six years, and now writes (and self-publishes) The Baseball Prospect Book. John also writes the weekly "Down on the Farm" prospect reports for ESPN.com, the attendant "Down on the Farm" mailbag, and produces his own subscription newsletter. John feels he doesn't really do anything different today than he did when this was all just a hobby -- although he certainly knows more about how to evaluate players than he did back then.

John possesses a BA in European history and philosophy from Northwest Missouri State University in 1990, and a MA in Modern European History from the University of Kansas in 1993. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Jeri; their son, Nicholas, and their cats, Toonces and Spot.


Part 2: Answering Da Box

You asked, he replied: here are John's responses to many of the questions that Batter's Box readers posed in an earlier thread. Take it away, folks!

BB: How do you prepare your ratings? Do you try to see as many prospects as you can?

JS: Yeah, I get to as many games as I can, but unless you have an unlimited travel budget (which I don't), you can't see everyone. For players I can't see, I rely on press reports, my network of friends and colleagues, and phone calls to teams. My ratings are based on subjective, traditional scouting, mixed with a heavy emphasis on statistical analysis. So I try to look at players with both sabermetrics and a more traditional approach in mind.

BB: In terms of the games you see, do you go to spring training? To the AFL?

JS: I haven't been to spring training in several years, but I will be heading there this year. I go to the Arizona Fall League every year, which is an excellent place to see prospects.

BB: Do you attend mainly AAA and AA games?

JS: In the past, I've gone to mainly AA and AAA contests. But over the last few years, as my ability to travel has improved, I've been going to more and more A-ball games. In 2004, I'll probably go mostly to A-ball.

BB: Can you rely on team's comments about their players? Are they not prone to being overly positive about their prospects, or trying to hype them for trade purposes?

JS: I'll talk to teams when I need information about a particular player that I can't get from another source. Talking with scouts at games is helpful, and you're more likely to get an honest answer. When you talk with a farm director or someone like that on the phone, you have to take at least some of what they tell you with a grain of salt.

It's not like they lie to you or anything, but some of them will try to spin things. They know that other teams read press reports, and sometimes they'll want to drop some information about a player into the public consciousness that may or may not be completely true. Some teams will give you a more honest answer than others. Some teams are very close-lipped and hard to pry information out of.

BB: What have been the most significant changes to your methodology (if any) over the years?

JS: Well, as I've gotten more experience on the subjective side, I'm more willing to make projections based on personal scouting of a player. Numbers-wise, I pay more attention to strikeouts than I used to. For hitters, I used to concentrate mostly on BB/AB, but now I look at BB/AB and K/AB and K/BB, all in relation to each other. For pitchers, I still use K/BB and K/IP as the primary focus. All these numbers have to be adjusted for league/park context and competition level, of course. I think I'm more aware of that than I used to be, too.

BB: When you watch a prospect, are you looking for the same things that traditional scouts do -- the five tools for hitters, and velocity, movement, control, etc. for pitchers?

JS: Essentially, yes. I've never had formal scout training, but I've been doing this stuff informally or otherwise for over 20 years now. You do it long enough, you know what to look for. I do pay close attention to plate discipline within games -- does the batter swing at bad pitches, that sort of thing. One of the reasons I was so impressed with Hank Blalock when he was in the minors was due to this. I saw him play three games in two days once. He saw over 50 pitches, and not once did he swing at an offering outside the zone. I'm still not very good at analyzing hitting mechanics per se, but I can pick up how good a hitter's mental approach is.

For pitchers, I look for velocity, movement, and control. I also look for consistency of mechanics, plus I look for signs of unusual stress in his delivery. Kerry Wood's elbow was the best example -- I saw that injury coming, due to all the torque he put on his elbow.

BB: How much validity do you put in A-level statistics?

JS: Well, the closer you get to the majors, the easier it is to make projections. So A-ball numbers are, by nature, less reliable than Double-A or Triple-A. But they can't be ignored. You just have to know how to put it in context. But yeah, I do put some validity into them.

BB: What's new in the book for 2004?

JS: The main change is better editing. We were very rushed last year, having never self-published before, and we made a lot of sloppy, amateur mistakes. This year, we allowed a lot more time for editing. We changed the page font to a more readable size, fixed some production issues, etc. But the content and analysis should be the same as ever.

BB: The cool thing about last year's book was its simplicity. The cover is maroonish and all it says is The Baseball Prospect Book, by John Sickels on the cover. I read that the book is going to be more polished and professional-looking this year.....too bad.

JS: Well, you'll be happy to know that the cover is the same, though we changed the background color to a dark green. We also changed the size of the book from 8"x 11" to 7"x 9", in keeping with the old STATS book. It's still a simple, elegant look, but less messy on the inside.

BB: Do you believe there is any fail-proof scouting, drafting, and development plan to allow a club to maintain a top minor league system indefinitely, or is luck (or a whack of money) absolutely necessary?

JS: Well, it certainly takes luck. And money. But there are ways to load the odds in your favour. Don't draft high-school pitchers in the first round, or at least don't do it very often. Concentrate on college pitchers, college hitters, and high-school hitters who have faced good competition. If you can afford it, draft a mixture of college and high-school talent, leaning to the college side, but occasionally pulling the trigger on an occasional high school player. I'm something of an Aristotelian in that regard all things in moderation. At least that's the way I would run it. I generally prefer college guys, but sometimes there are high schoolers that are worth the risk, in my view.

I don't think there is any way to be fail-safe about it, though. The Oakland/Toronto approach can work. But the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves have good farm systems too, and they take a much more traditional approach. I do think that teams with severe financial constraints are better off taking the Oakland/Toronto tack, since the risks are not as high. No matter your philosophy, you always run the risk of a busted draft. The key is to limit that risk as much as possible.

BB: What skills do you view as ones that can be "learned" and ones that cannot? I often read baseball people talk about strike-zone judgement and defensive footwork as examples of skills that can be learned (and hence things that, when you see a player in the minors not doing well, you can still project them to acquire those skills).

JS: Well, I think strike-zone judgment, in a certain sense, can be learned, at least at an early age. But pitch recognition is something you either have or don't have. Note that strike-zone judgment and pitch recognition, while related, are not the same thing. One GM told me this summer that his club is attempting to identify young players who have excellent vision and pitch recognition, but who swing at pitches they should not swing at. His idea is that if you get hold of someone like that early enough, you can teach him to lay off the bad pitch. It's a fuzzy distinction, but I think it's worth additional study.

I do think that defence is something that can be improved with experience and work, at least for some players. I mean, you can't teach someone to run faster than they organically can. But you can, I believe, improve the mental side, improve accuracy of throws, clean up footwork. It takes a lot of practice, and not everyone can do it. But some people can.

The best thing that a young player in the low minors can have defensively is range. Reliability can be improved with experience, but pure range generally can't.


Part 3: Your Toronto Blue Jays

John answered a number of Blue Jays-related question in his Q-and-A session, and we followed up with some additional conversations about Toronto prospects. Here's what he said.

BB: Dustin McGowan's hits allowed are quite high in AA. Is it a flaw, or do you think the Jays are trying to teach him command of the strike zone by forcing him to throw strikes?

JS: This is a good example of the need to look at things in context. McGowan's H/IP was actually better than Eastern League average last year, even at more than one-per-inning. So I'm not really worried about it.

BB: Can you comment on a couple of the surprises who have become Blue Jays? What was your assessment of Chris Woodward and Reed Johnson during their minor-league careers?

JS: I never had a great feel for Woodward, not having a strong opinion about him one way or another. As for Johnson, in the 2002 book, I wrote that he "was a better player than a dozen guys making a million bucks a year." That looked stupid after he got hurt in '02, but his performance in '03 makes it a good call.

Of course, I have plenty of bad calls in my books, too, and most of the time I'm far more aware of the players I was wrong about (George Arias, Ruben Rivera) than the ones I was right about. But when one pans out, you have to be happy.

BB: Do you agree that Kevin Cash initially seemed overmatched as a hitter at each new level, before eventually improving? Do you think he will ever contribute with the bat in the big leagues?

JS: Yes, I agree with that. Cash tends to struggle at first, then make some adjustments. In his case, I'm not sure he'll ever be more than an adequate offensive player. But given his glove, that's OK. At the least, he'll have a Kelly Stinnett-like tenure in the Show, and he might be able to get beyond that.

JS: Thanks for all the questions. I wish I had time to answer each one.

Here are John's thoughts on some other Jays prospects.

Russ Adams
His prospect status has been debated as length here at the Box. John does not think Adams will hit enough to be a superstar, but he does think he'll be a solid leadoff guy, someone who can hit .280+, draw some walks, steal some bases and hit some doubles. John gave Adams a Grade B in his book this year, which means "future regular," but not a star.

Jason Arnold
John is worried about him. His numbers really tailed off at Syracuse, and he heard from several different sources that his velocity was down at the end of the year. This could be temporary, of course, but it could also be a sign of an upcoming injury. We'll just have to see. John has spoken with Jason before, and as many others have said, Jason is a really good kid, with a strong idea of how to go about his business on the mound. John hopes he rebounds.

David Bush
John likes him. David doesn't have quite the ceiling of guys like McGowan or Brandon League, but John think he's going to be fine. Good number-three guy in the rotation.

Others
John agrees that Chad Pleiness has lost his prospect status and has to show something this year to get back on track. DJ Hanson and Jesse Harper are both Grade C+ type guys, useful role pitchers. He wants to see what they do at higher levels: will they step up to the competition, or fade?

We asked John about his Blue Jays' Top Ten list. Here's what he said:

"I haven't sat down and figured out a top Blue Jays prospect list, but I'll go ahead and share some grades from my book with you. There are 985 prospect reports in the book. Here are some of the Blue Jay grades. This is not a complete Blue Jay list I have to leave something out to tempt you guys to buy the book, after all. [grins]

Dustin McGowan RHP A-

Josh Banks RHP B+
David Bush RHP B+
Gabe Gross OF B+
Aaron Hill SS B+
Alexis Rios OF B+

Russ Adams SS B
Jamie Vermilyea RHP B

John-Ford Griffin OF B-
Adam Peterson RHP B-

Jason Arnold RHP C+
D.J. Hanson RHP C+

Jesse Harper RHP C
Talley Haines RHP C
Jayce Tingler OF C

Obviously, John left Guillermo Quiroz off the list he shared with us. He rated McGowan ahead of Rios, and he is high on Josh Banks.


Part 4: Buy the Books!

We would be remiss if we didn't promote John's latest works. As mentioned, his 2004 Baseball Prospect Book should ship in the first week of February. The cost of the book for US residents, including shipping, is US$24.95. You can pay by PayPal or by cheque or money order.

The cost to Canadian residents is US$27.95; we need to send a money order to John to order the book. With the declining value of the US dollar, the book is actually about C$7 cheaper this year than last. Full details are at www.johnsickels.com.

Finally, John's latest work (and first non-statistical baseball book) is a biography of one the all-time great pitchers. Coming out at the end of the month, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation is, in John's own words, "the first balanced, historical portrait of this controversial player whose commitment and talent inspired his teammates, and whose outspoken opinions just as frequently exasperated them." It can be ordered on Amazon.com; check John's Website for more publication details.

A big thank you! From Batter's Box to John Sickels for generously giving us his time and opinions today. When you buy the book, say thank you to John for helping us out.
An Interview With John Sickels | 45 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 09:40 AM EST (#79735) #
Thanks, John and Gerry.
Pistol - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 09:50 AM EST (#79736) #
I concur, thanks to John for taking the time. I'm a big fan of his work and look forward to receiving his book shortly.
Coach - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 12:25 PM EST (#79737) #
Great job, Gerry, and thanks to John for agreeing to talk to us. While I appreciate the player evaluations, I really enjoyed his remarks about scouting and draft philosophy.

I'm still not very good at analyzing hitting mechanics per se, but I can pick up how good a hitter's mental approach is.

That's all you need. A lot of great hitters have had unorthodox mechanics, going back to Stan Musial and Mel Ott. Dramatic improvements by hitters aren't necessarily due to tinkering with their stance, stride or hand position; a change of philosophy is often far more important. It's different with pitchers, because no matter how confident and mature their approach, flawed mechanics, even if consistent, can lead directly to injury.

Note that strike-zone judgment and pitch recognition, while related, are not the same thing.

I completely agree that you can't teach pitch recognition. It's genetic; a combination of eyesight and the ability to make mathematical calculations at an almost subconscious level. A batter has four-tenths of a second to determine spin, speed and location, commit to the swing and put the bat head in the right spot. So that's a fifth of a second, tops, to "recognize" the pitch.

Frank Catalanotto usually sees the ball as well as anyone and knows exactly what to do with it, but when he had blurred vision last summer, he could no longer discern the spin on a curve ball, and started a lot of fastball swings at pitches that ended up in the dirt. To the casual observer, his impeccable strike-zone judgement suddenly disappeared, but in reality he lost the "edge" that makes him a great hitter -- superior pitch recognition.

Can you teach strike-zone judgement, or the wisdom of using the whole field, driving fastballs into the opposite gap? Absolutely, but only to someone who is willing to learn it.

I do think that teams with severe financial constraints are better off taking the Oakland/Toronto tack, since the risks are not as high. No matter your philosophy, you always run the risk of a busted draft. The key is to limit that risk as much as possible.

This is encouraging to hear from an independent expert. Those skeptics who disdain the Beane/Ricciardi style of drafting because it is less likely to produce the next Halladay, Wells or Delgado tend to ignore that risk factor. The cost of a "busted draft" isn't the same for the Yankees as for the Jays, for whom every personnel move is about maximizing talent while minimizing risk.

Of course, there was also an urgency to fill a lot of holes in the farm system, and in addition to being safer, drafting college players was the fastest way to improve. I remain confident that the Toronto scouting staff and front office will be able to identify the appropriate time, and the right players, to justify taking a few more risks in upcoming drafts.
_S.K. - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 12:44 PM EST (#79738) #
Great write-up, Gerry, and a huge thanks to John. This was one of those interviews (like the JP one) where I almost had difficulty enjoying it because I spent the whole time wishing it was longer =)
_sweat - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 01:42 PM EST (#79739) #
All things considered, I'm gonna have to comment on the most important part of this article/interview. TOONCES is the best name for a cat ever.
http://www.wrona.com/toonces.html
_sweat - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 01:48 PM EST (#79740) #
And just so the other cat doesnt feel left out.
http://www.actioncat.com/startrek.html
_Roger Davis - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 02:45 PM EST (#79741) #
http://www.immune26.tv
Very enjoyable, BUT

Rios B+..... B+?

Good Grief Charlie Brown, I think the guy is going to be a hall of fame stud. The only conceivable knock on him I can think of is his POWER, but obviously that is comming fast and POWER is almost always the last tool to bloom.

Mr Sickles: Rios B+... say it ain't so!
_Dr. Zarco - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 03:02 PM EST (#79742) #
Great interview!! But I must agree with Roger--Rios probably should be higher than a B+. The logic of Bush no higher than a B+ because of his low ceiling makes sense...so by that same standard, Rios, while clearly no guarantee to be a star, certainly has "star potential" and a ceiling high enough to warrant a higher grade. But great work on the interview, excellent read.
_pete_the_donkey - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 03:54 PM EST (#79743) #
It's nice to see someone else with a less than stellar opinion of our current shortstop.
_S.K. - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 03:59 PM EST (#79744) #
What are you talking about? Sickels specifically said that he "did not (have) a strong opinion about (Woodward) one way or the other." Did I miss something?
_peteski - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 04:20 PM EST (#79745) #
I have not encounetered one "stellar" opinion of Woodward here. As far as I can tell, everyone thinks he's average which is good enough until Adams or Hill are capable of taking over. It would be downright stupid to waste our scarce resources going after a shortstop at this stage, unless he came cheap and was significantly better than Woodward. This combination is difficult to find.
_pete_the_donkey - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 04:24 PM EST (#79746) #
"No strong opinion one way or the other".
In my book, that spells mediocre.
Which, co-incidentally, is exactly what Woodward is as a MLB SS - mediocre.

I hope these numerous rants of mine are archived - you'll all agree with me come June when Woodward is hitting .125, has 17 errors, and is sent packing to Syracuse - for good.
The guy is an outright bum.
Good riddance.
_Kristian - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 04:46 PM EST (#79747) #
We have just one problem with getting rid of Woodward right now or even in a year.Neither Adams nor Hill project to be a major league shortstop defensively and obviously Chris Gomez isnt the long term solution. Great interview though although I concur that it seems rather unusual to have Rios at "only" a B+.
_pete_the_donkey - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 04:50 PM EST (#79748) #
Woodward doesn't 'project' top be a major league shortstop in my books, either.
Give me Dave Berg - at least I know what I'm getting with him.
_S.K. - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 05:22 PM EST (#79749) #
I know what I'm getting with Berg, too.. and it's less than Woodward, for sure. So I don't understand what you're saying.
_Jabonoso - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 05:29 PM EST (#79750) #
We are going to have an above average utility IF for the championship years with Woodward. Sequea could spell at second. And lets just hope that Adams holds at SS, and we keep O'Dog at second, and Hill takes over at third and...
Craig B - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 05:32 PM EST (#79751) #
He's saying he doesn't like Woodward. He doesn't have an actual reason that would convince anyone else, just a lot of ranting.

When Woody is hitting .275 with 12 home runs at the All-Star Break, pete, will you still be down on him?
Named For Hank - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 06:00 PM EST (#79752) #
you'll all agree with me come June when Woodward is hitting .125, has 17 errors, and is sent packing to Syracuse - for good.

It's obvious: Woody ran over Pete's dog.

C'mon, enough with the ridiculous predictions -- let the guy play some baseball in '04 before saying "He'll suck in '04". Otherwise you'll look like those "Myers will cool off this month" guys, and we're still waiting for that to happen.
_Nigel - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 07:22 PM EST (#79753) #
Not to be too picky but Myers can't cool down too much more from his .252/.286/.412 post all-star game "production"! :)

I say that not to poke fun at Aaron, but to say that 14 seasons of history will tell you a lot about a player's ability. Myers will still be a solid contributor next year and maybe he is having some strange late career surge but anybody expecting a .300/.350/.550 season like his first half last year is crazy. What Myers did in the second half is entirely consistant with his previous 13 years - and its sufficient stopgap production but don't get too carried away here!
_Robbie Goldberg - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 07:51 PM EST (#79754) #
Great interview Gerry! The questions, quality and depth of interviews such as this on Batter's Box surpasses anything baseball on the net, especially for an avid Blue Jay fan. While a B+ does seem low for a player that is regarded by most to be Top 3 in baseball, I really have no qualms about the rest of his analysis on Blue Jay players.
_greg rogers - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 08:42 PM EST (#79755) #
thanx for posting that gerry....i enjoyed the read...interesting that he has both gross and rios rated the same...after all the rios hype this winter i thought rios would be ranked higher

love the blog...regards
_Steve Z - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 08:51 PM EST (#79756) #
Thanks John and Gerry!

Alexis Rios OF B+

Has Sickel ever given an A or A- to a hitter with a BB/AB as low as 1/13?
_Dr B - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 09:27 PM EST (#79757) #
Alexis Rios OF B+

And it's not just the BB/AB. John Sickels seems to use his grading system to measure risk as well as return. Of Gabe Gross and Alexis Rios, who has the higher ceiling? One would probably say Rios. Who has the most risk? One would again say Rios. As fans we assume that everything that can go right will go right; Sickel's approach is more cautious, and I would say more pragmatic. Rios has demonstrated dominance for perhaps a year. If he does the same in AAA then I have no doubt that his "Sickels rating" will skyrocket. Don't forget that he pegged Rios as a possible star MLB player on ESPN so it's not as if he's down on him or anything.

What interests me is his rating of Dustin McGowan, who I would have thought was higher risk than a position player like Rios. (Consider how quickly Arnold's star has fallen.) McGowan is obviously rather good.
_Jordan - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 09:52 PM EST (#79758) #
Just for fun, here's a year-over-year comparison of the Jays prospects John rated in both '03 and '04:

Dustin McGowan: up
B+ to A-

David Bush: up
B to B+

Gabe Gross: up
B to B+

Alexis Rios: up
C to B+

D.J. Hanson: up
C to C+

Adam Peterson: up
C to B-

Russ Adams: steady
B to B

John-Ford Griffin: down
B+ to B-

Jason Arnold: down
B+ to C+

Keep in mind that Rios started off 2002 as just a C, and justifiably so. I can understand John's reluctance to push him from a C to A after just one season. I'm as jazzed by Rios' winter league performance as anyone, but it's a very small sample size and it's not a top-flight competitive environment. I think a little caution still in Lexi's case is probably a good idea.

Overall, based on just the sample grades John provided, this certainly bodes well for the Jays' system. Last year's Baseball Prospect Book included guys like Pasqual Coco, Gary Burnham and Neomar Flores, guys who wouldn't make it in this year's class.

BTW, last year John gave Aquilino Lopez a B-. Here are some excerpts:

"His prospect status was eliminated when three years were addded to his birthday during Age-Gate. The Mariners soured on him and the Blue Jays picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft. I think they'll be glad they did. He has a 90 mph fastball, a couple of different breaking balls, and a great track record. He can start or relieve. He has experience closing games. There's really nothing here not to like, and I think he'll prove to be one of the more astute Rule 5 picks."
_Jonny German - Wednesday, January 21 2004 @ 10:22 PM EST (#79759) #
Not to be too picky but Myers can't cool down too much more from his .252/.286/.412 post all-star game "production"!

Come on Nigel, we all know how to mess with stats around here... Myers had 1 extremely bad month (August, .190/.238/.224), not an entire bad half as you're implying. His second worst month was April, .271/.364/.438. I doubt anybody here expects another .307/.374/.502 season line out of him, but I for one do expect something subtantially better than his career .256/.314/.396, health permitting. 2003 wasn't just a statistical aberration, Greg changed his fundamental approach.
Named For Hank - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 10:23 AM EST (#79760) #
I'll admit that yes, Greg Myers only hit .297 in September/October, so yeah, he cooled down at the tail end from his .307 season average. It was a really big drop at the end, so I apologize. All those people who kept saying that he wouldn't hit over .300 for the whole season were right. ;)

I say that not to poke fun at Aaron, but to say that 14 seasons of history will tell you a lot about a player's ability. Myers will still be a solid contributor next year and maybe he is having some strange late career surge but anybody expecting a .300/.350/.550 season like his first half last year is crazy.

And I say that calling it a fluke is a serious disrespect to Greg Myers. He worked hard and made some changes to his game and was rewarded with a great season. Will I be shocked if he doesn't have another great season this year? Not totally. Do I have high hopes? Yes I do.

Here's a pair of questions for those who believe that he can't do it again: Do you believe that it was just a freak occurance, or do you believe that Myers made changes to his game for the better? And if you believe the second (which I do), why on Earth do you believe that he's forgotten them or that he'll be unable to make those same changes this year and go back to the way he was batting before?
_Nigel - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 01:04 PM EST (#79761) #
Johnny and Aaron,

I take it that you're both concerned about my use of stats and a selective bias. Actually, you're both as guilty of that as I am. You're taking the results of one season (300 AB's) and saying we should disregard the previous 14 seasons and (2700 AB's). Here are his last 5 seasons:

.265/.348/.370
.224/.271/.344
.224/.313/.447
.222/.341/.382
.307/.374/.502

Which one of these is not like the others?

As for a change in approach. I'm not sure how you measure that but his walk rate actually dropped last year. If you go onto the hitting charts from both MLB.com and ESPN.com there is nothing there to suggest a noticeable change in approach. In fact, its pretty clear that Myers has been "going to all fields" for a while now. From the perspective of having watched him for all of his 15 years I can't say I noticed a difference in approach last year. I always felt he made excellent contact going to left centre.

The funny thing is, my point was that if Myers puts up a line consistant with everything he's done over 15 seasons (other than last year) - something like .250/.325/.400 - people should be happy because that makes him a perfectly useful player and that people shouldn't be unhappy with him and say the sky is falling when that happens. I like Myers as a player a lot. I also am willing to admit the small possibility that maybe something weird has mutated him into a much better player at 37 or 38 than he ever was before. I just don't think you should crap on me for saying that when I look at all the evidence there is a very strong possibility that last year, and particularly the first half of last year was a fluke.
_R Billie - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 01:27 PM EST (#79762) #
Myers also had about twice as many at bats in 2003 as he did in the prior three seasons so some additional weight has to placed on recent performance.

Also, the big step forward in 2003 was batting average but his power and patience were comparable to the years in which he was hitting .230.

ISO (SLG - BA) from '99 to '03: .105, .120, .223, .160, .195

ISOP (OBP - BA) from '99 to '03: .083, .047, .089, .119, .067

He didn't do anything vastly different from his prior years in those respects so the only question is the spike in batting average. Did Myers make a real adjustment in his hitting last year which will allow him to post consistently higher batting averages?

If so, expect him to still do well though I'm not expecting a .300 average again. Outside of that only physical wear and tear from age and too much playing time could hurt Myers. I think he has one more decent season in him but I still expect Cash to play a lot as the Jays want to see what he can really do.
_Jonny German - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 01:50 PM EST (#79763) #
.265/.348/.370
.224/.271/.344
.224/.313/.447
.222/.341/.382
.307/.374/.502
Which one of these is not like the others?


The second one is most dissimilar. And it's a strange exercise since it takes no account for park effects (5 different home parks) or the large variation in playing time from season to season (ranging from 125 to 329 AB).

You're taking the results of one season (300 AB's) and saying we should disregard the previous 14 seasons and (2700 AB's)

Nice assumption. If it were true, I'd be predicting an .850 OPS. I didn't explicity say so in my previous post, but what I do expect is something around .750 OPS.
Named For Hank - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 01:54 PM EST (#79764) #
I just don't think you should crap on me for saying that when I look at all the evidence there is a very strong possibility that last year, and particularly the first half of last year was a fluke.

No crapping intended. As a big believer in positivity, I just like to put the best face and outlook on things like this, and for me, believing that it was just a fluke is pretty much the most destructive line of thinking.
_Nigel - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 02:09 PM EST (#79765) #
Aaron, fair enough. For what its worth Myers is my favourite current Jay after Delgado. I always thought he got a bit of a raw deal the first time around in Toronto.

Johnny, I'm not sure we actually differ on what we expect from Myers. In your first post when you said you expected something substantially better than his career .710 OPS. I was assuming based on that that you expected something much closer to his '03 .876 OPS and not the .750 you mentioned. As I said, I expect something like .250/.325/.400 from him this year. Which is basically what he did after the all-star break last year (.256/.286/.412) with a few more walks (more in line with his historical walk rate).

Sorry if I ruffled any feathers!
Named For Hank - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 02:19 PM EST (#79766) #
No worries.

I love the guy. I can't wait to see him put the fear into some pitchers this year.
_Jonny German - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 02:48 PM EST (#79767) #
No worries here either. We're further apart on the spelling of my name than our projections for Myers.
_Nigel - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 02:56 PM EST (#79768) #
Touche !
Craig B - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 03:08 PM EST (#79769) #
Did Myers make a real adjustment in his hitting last year which will allow him to post consistently higher batting averages?

Yes, he did. In fact, that was the difference between 2002 and 2003... Mike Barnett and Myers invested a lot of time and effort in changing Myers's approach at the dish.

Myers used to be an all-or-nothing uppercut pull hitter, who tried to wrap his wrists around every pitch and blast everything over the rightfielder's head... resulting in an inordinate number of infield grounders when he got over a breaking ball - as he usually did - or got under the high outside fastball. A lot of power hitters who hit .220, like Myers used to, do exactly the same thing.

So how the hell did he hit .307? He completely changed his approach to his at-bats. Instead of fruitlessly trying to get all the way around on the outside pitch, Myers used a more compact swing
(and his powerful lower body - years of catching!) to slam it the opposite way into the left-centerfield gap. Suddenly, Myers didn't have to guess on pitches anymore, because he had the extra split-second to identify pitch types and locations. The changed style meant he also had more bat control. The result? Many more singles, many fewer strikeouts, more hard-hit balls on the infield, and much more work for the defense generally. If he could run, he'd have hit .340... but he couldn't outrun Mohandas Gandhi's arm, so the infielders play him somewhere in the vicinity Bloor St.
Craig B - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 03:12 PM EST (#79770) #
Coach, who is a master student of batting techniques, can actually explain Myers's transformation better than I can. Coach, when you have a moment, can you give us 250 words on The New Crash?
_benum - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 03:51 PM EST (#79771) #
RE: Myers
His GB:FB ratio was 2.23 compared to his career 1.47 mark. I don't know if that hints at a change in approach. Interestingly, it was 2.10 the year before in Oakland in less then half the PA while every year before that he was a more extreme flyball hitter. Maybe changes were started in the Oakland org?

His Pitches per PA was the same as years past and well, pretty much everything else looks normal compared to his career numbers as well.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=4093

It would be cool to see his spray zone chart for the last few years but I don't think that kind of content is available free online.
_Nigel - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 04:08 PM EST (#79772) #
Actually, his spray zone chart for the last few years is on mlb.com. While it may not be completely accurate, it does not suggest that anything has changed. It indicates that he was using the whole field for each of the last 3 or 4 years.

Craig, I agree with your description of Myers approach. He lined a good number of singles over the SS position last year. The thing is, I think he was always pretty good at that. By pure subject observation and memory I would never have described him as a huge pull hitter but maybe my memory is faulty (just about everything else about my aging body is these days!).
Coach - Thursday, January 22 2004 @ 06:00 PM EST (#79773) #
can you give us 250 words on The New Crash?

Naw, I'd rather let Mike Barnett talk about his prize pupil. First, the overall philosophy for the team:

"They're hitting off the fastball, up out over the plate, reacting down and in. If we're sitting on the fastball, we can cover that speed, we're in a hanging breaking-ball range, we're in a hanging changeup zone."

Translation -- assume every pitch will be a fastball, belt high, on the outer half. Be prepared to drive that pitch into the opposite-field gap for a double. If it's lower, you might settle for that single over the shortstop's glove; further inside, it's a rope up the middle. If it's a hanger, it's obviously not at fastball speed, so you've got a good chance to pull it, hard. That's how Frank Catalanotto, who you would certainly not describe as a pull hitter, got all of his homers last year -- by turning on off-speed pitches.

Part two of the concept is not to swing at all strikes, but wait for the hittable ones. Barney again:

"With the thought process of staying up the middle the other way, it gives you a chance to adjust to anything the pitcher can throw you. Ideally, pitchers would like to pitch you up-and-in, low-and-away. If they execute those pitches, you're going to have a tough time getting hits. So we try to change those tables -- we look up and out over the plate, react down and in. Those are more mistake zones, and our guys have done a fantastic job maintaining that approach and waiting for their pitch."

When I asked him about Crash specifically, the hitting coach beamed.

"I think he's having fun. He's up around .350 and doing a great job. Instead of being a dead-pull guy, he's taking what the pitcher's going to give him. If they make mistakes inside on him, he's going to turn on them, and run the ball out of the ballpark. Greg's very selective at the plate; you don't see him swing at many bad pitches. Now, he's able to cover the whole zone."

It's what I've been teaching my high school hitters for years. If you are looking for that up-and-away strike, keeping your front side closed and your hands back for an "inside-out" swing, all you have to do with the down-and-in strike is open your hips. Depending on your bat speed, you'll hit it sharply up the middle or pull it deep. As soon as you get pull-conscious, conceding two-thirds of the field, you'll turn those very hittable middle-out pitches into popups or double-play balls.

One of the things that may have worked in Myers' favour is that the "book" on him would have been "be careful, he can kill you inside." In 2001, he hit 11 HR in just 161 AB. So he was seeing a lot of the very pitches Barney now has him looking for, and he had a more specific plan of what to do with them.

Nigel, I beg to differ on Myers' hitting charts at MLB.com -- they illustrate exactly what I'm talking about. Until 2003, the primary thing Greg "used" left field for was fly ball outs, when he was late getting to those same up-and-away heaters he began to anticipate and drive hard last season.
_Will Carroll - Sunday, January 25 2004 @ 07:21 AM EST (#79774) #
Great interview - good to see John's still doing great work. I'm not near the guru he is, but I had the chance to see Jason Arnold a couple times last year here in Indy and I'm not worried about his health. He was wearing down, yes, but his mechanics are insanely repeatable and he said he was "more concerned with hitting spots than blowing people away - which I can't do." Great kid, good pitcher, interesting prospect.
_Ben NS - Sunday, January 25 2004 @ 10:37 AM EST (#79775) #
Great interview. As for Myers, I've got fairly low expectations from him in relation to last season and I'll take whatever we get. The guy can't really field but is a Bordick'like prescence in the clubhouse and for youngsters like Cash and Quiroz.
_Kristian - Sunday, January 25 2004 @ 11:40 AM EST (#79776) #
I wonder if people are hesitant to rank Bush higher due to the similarities between him and Arnold. Both former college closers, both moved into the rotation and both put up very good low minors and Double A numbers. With Arnold struggling a bit this year in Triple A maybe some experts are not quite sold on Bush yet so thats why we see quite the range of rankings for Bush from different experts. Just a thought. I still think it is way too early to discount Arnold yet anyways.
_Jabonoso - Sunday, January 25 2004 @ 12:34 PM EST (#79777) #
Great hit getting this interview Gerry!
Thank you for sharing with us your views John!
This season will let us see what we have with the older boys down the farm: Arnold, Griffin, Bush and Godwin. Their age is against them now and all of them have a relatively short professional career.
The younger and brighter prospects like Rios, Quiroz and Mc Gowan should have a solid AAA season and be ready for the big jump in 2005.
Regards
_R Billie - Sunday, January 25 2004 @ 01:11 PM EST (#79778) #
I think Bush has better command than Arnold and his stuff has held up a bit better after moving to the rotation but I agree there are some interesting parallels between the two. I think if they chose to do so both could move to the bullpen and be valuable relievers if their velocity gains a bit. For now let's see what an off-season of rest does for Arnold's arm.
Pistol - Wednesday, February 04 2004 @ 10:11 AM EST (#79779) #
Got the book yesterday in the mail. Good stuff.

Some tidbits:

* Even though he said Hill would likely have been a 2nd or 3rd rounder in most drafts he liked him and gave him a higher grade than a lot of players taken ahead of him.

* Still thinks Adams will be a good player

* Was more bullish in the book on David Bush than I would have guessed (and moreso than the comments in the interview)

* Really high on Josh Banks. Thinks he'll move through the minors fast.

* Keith Law was one of the people thanked in the book. Maybe Keith is getting him to pump up the ratings of the Jay's prospects so they have better trade value (j/k).
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