Colt Keith started to tap into his power last year. After going deep just twice in 2021 — his first professional season — the 21-year-old third baseman homered nine times in 48 games with High-A West Michigan before landing on the injured list with a dislocated shoulder in early June. Returning to action in October, Keith proceeded to hit three bombs in 19 Arizona Fall League games.
The increased power production by one of the top position-player prospects in the Detroit Tigers organization was by design.
“I changed my approach a little bit,” Keith told me during his stint in the AFL. “I started trying to hit balls out in front, and backspin them to all fields, looking for a little bit more power. A lot of people had told me I just needed to keep doing what I was doing, but looking at guys in the big leagues that I want to play like, they’re hitting 25-30 homers a year. I felt like I needed to move in that direction. At the same time, I want to keep my hit tool. Batting .300 with some home runs is what I’d like to do.”
That is what he did this past season. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound infielder — Keith has added meaningful size and strength since entering pro ball — augmented his regular-season round-trippers with a .301/.370/.544 slash line. In 2021, he’d slashed .320/.437/.422 with Low-A Lakeland before scuffling over the final month as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League.
Asked about the hitters he is trying to emulate, Keith cited fellow infielders Corey Seager, Austin Riley, and Francisco Lindor.
“Looking at how those guys play — how they approach their at-bats — they’re more aggressive and tend to be early rather than late,” said Keith. “What that does is create backspin and let them hit balls out of the park. My first year, I was just catching balls deep and getting base hits — which is great — but I figured out that if you’re aggressive and catching it out front, you’ll run into homers. I knew that I had the strength for it, so yeah, just a little approach change.”
When I’d spoken to Detroit’s 2020 fifth-round pick late in the 2021 season, he’d hinted at what has since transpired. While acknowledging that he’d primarily been focusing on contact, he also opined that “you have to hit first, and then the power comes as you mature and get your man strength.”
Based on his injury-shortened 2022 campaign, that corner is already being turned. Moreover, it is coming not with a major change, but, as he’d explained, “just a little approach change.”
“The common theme is that I’m basically trying to do the same thing as before, which is to hit the ball hard,” said Keith. “I’m not trying to swing harder, or anything like that, because that leads to strikeouts for me. Again, all I’m doing is catching it more out front and creating loft — I’m creating exit velocity with some launch angle on it.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Brian Jordan went 3 for 4 against Pat Mahomes.
Andrew Benintendi is 4 for 8 against Jalen Beeks.
Bo Jackson went 4 for 8 against Oil Can Boyd.
Deion Sanders went 6 for 10 against David Cone.
Frank White went 10 for 12 against Jim Umbarger.
Chris Antonetti cited an often-overlooked fact when I talked to him during November’s GM Meetings: Cleveland was a good defensive team in 2020.
The Guardians are known primarily for the quality of their pitching, while on the offensive side of the ball it was their MLB-best 18.2% strikeout rate that drew the most attention last year. My asking about about the latter — more specifically, the degree to which it was philosophically-achieved — is what led Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations to bring up the glove work.
“I think it had less to do with that and more to do with the players who were coming through our system,” said Antonetti, who brought up names like Steven Kwan and Jose Ramirez. “But it wasn’t this grand plan where we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring these guys in, and in 2022 we’ll have this team full of contact-oriented hitters,’ It was more of assessing the players that we had in spring training, and which roster gave us the best chance to be successful. And I think what often gets lost is that those same players not only hit, they play defense. One of the big stories of why we were able to be successful is that those players not only contributed offensively, they were huge contributors defensively.”
The Guardians finished the year with 79 Defensive Runs Saved, the third-highest total in MLB. They ranked second in UZR.
Two New York Mets have won a National League batting title. One is Jeff McNeil, who did so last year. Who is the other?
The answer can be found below.
The Minnesota Twins have hired Sung Min Kim to the position of Baseball Technology Fellow at their complex in Fort Myers. The former FanGraphs contributor has a Master’s Degree from NYU and previously worked in R&D for the KBO’s Lotte Giants.
The Midwest League’s Great Lake Loons have named Daniel Nava their new manager. The 39-year-old former big-league outfielder remains in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, having served as the bench coach for Rancho Cucamonga last year.
Pete Koegel, a catcher/outfielder/first baseman who appeared in 62 games while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies from 1970-1972, died last weekend at age 74. Koegel’s lone home run came off of Tommy John.
Conference and hotel registration for SABR 51 — scheduled for July 5-9, 2023 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago — is now available. Information can be found here.
SABR’s Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference will be held in Detroit from July 20-23. Registration and hotel information will be available shortly.
The answer to the quiz is José Reyes, who hit an NL-best .337 in 2011.
Ian Kinsler was inducted into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, and earlier this week it was announced that he has been hired as a special assistant to General Manager Chris Young. The social media response to the news caught my attention. While some of it was complimentary, a not-insignificant percentage of it was critical. The brickbats ranged from the mild — “overrated” — to the harsh: “He was a butcher in the field.”
Kinsler, who spent eight of his 14 big-league seasons as the team’s second baseman, finished his Texas tenure with 29.4 fWAR (35.0 bWAR), 156 home runs, a 111 wRC+, and three All-Star appearances. He would later win two Gold Gloves as a Detroit Tiger — and he should have won at least twice as many over the course of his career. From 2009-2018, Kinsler had 100 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of any player at his position.
Why do some Rangers fans have a low opinion of Kinsler? I asked that question to a person who his finger firmly on the pulse of the team and its fanbase. Adam J. Morris, whose work can be found at Lone Star Ball, was gracious enough to share the following perspective:
“Ian Kinsler was, throughout his time in Texas, one of the most polarizing players on the roster, and seemed to encapsulate the conflicts between the stat folks and the eye-test folks. The stat folks, like me, see someone who was a terrific all-around player. If you were an eye-test person, Kinsler had a number of strikes against him. Early in his career he struggled defensively, particularly with errors on routine plays, and while he became a top-notch defensive second baseman, he never shook the ‘bad glove’ rep with some fans. He was also a launch-angle guy before launch angle was cool, so he was derided as someone who was always trying to homer rather than make contact, someone who supposedly popped up all the time rather than hitting the ball on the ground.
“Compounding the problem was what was perceived as bad ‘body language’ — unlike his stoic double-play partner, Michael Young, to whom he is often (negatively) compared by fans, Kinsler wore his emotions on his sleeve out on the field, which led to fans claiming that he pouted and was selfish. Kinsler’s relationship with the media — described as ‘prickly’ — didn’t help, especially when once again compared to Young.”
Kinsler and Young played together in Texas from 2006-2012. Over that span, Young had 14.6 fWAR and 15.6 bWAR. Kinsler had 26.8 fWAR and 30.0 bWAR.
Fans at NPB stadiums will once again be allowed to cheer in the upcoming season — provided they are masked — thanks to a loosing of COVID restrictions. Opening Day in Japan is March 30.
The KBO is following MLB’s lead by introducing new pace-of-play rules in an attempt to speed up games. Games in Korea averaged three hours and 11 minutes this past season.
As Kyle Kishimoto wrote earlier this week, the Seattle Mariners have held on to their utility knife, signing Dylan Moore to a three-year extension. For a former seventh-round pick whom my colleague described as a late bloomer, the arbitration-avoiding deal qualifies as a memorable accomplishment in a professional career that began in 2015.
As Tim Hagerty wrote in his new book, Tales from the Dugout, the versatile 30-year-old had a game he’d like to forget while in the low minors:
On May 15, 2016, Single-A Hickory first baseman Dylan Moore went 0-for-8 in a 19-inning home game against Rome. When his team ran out of pitching, Moore moved from first base to the mound and allowed seven runs to lose the game.
Hagerty is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, and a former guest on FanGraphs Audio. Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational & Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball is a fun read. (Please support your local bookseller).
Sig Mejdal was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the subjects addressed by the Baltimore Orioles Vice President and Assistant General Manager was his analytics background within professional baseball. When it comes to MLB front offices, Mejdal was a pioneer.
“When I got in, in 2005, I was maybe the fourth analyst in baseball,” Mejdal said on the pod. “That meant that 26 of the teams thought the perfect number of analysts to have was zero. Not too many. Not too few. Zero was perfect. Now there’s got to be close to 500.”
I asked Mejdal to compare his three employers — the Cardinals, Houston Astros, and Orioles — in terms of what the front office looked like upon his arrival.
“I have a bias when you ask what a front office was like,” replied Mejdal. “My attention goes to the analytical firepower they had. In 2005, in St. Louis, there were zero analysts. In 2011, when we went to Houston, there was also zero analysts. And then, in 2019, in Baltimore, they also didn’t have any. So it was similar in that regard, but I think a big contrast was the amount of analysts in baseball. In 2011, maybe there were 50 or 60, but by the time we got here to Baltimore, there had to be 400-something. For whatever reasons, they had not adopted what was widespread by that time. That makes things really difficult in my opinion.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Eli-Ben Porat explained why batting average is important at Eli’s Baseball Research blog.
At Prospects Live, Tyson Tucker looked at how MLB organizations are quantifying deception in their draft models.
Our Esquina’s José de Jesus Ortiz wrote about Fernando Valenzuela, and the Dodgers’ finally retiring his number.
Lars Nootbaar’s mother, Kumiko, played softball at her high school in Saitama Prefecture. As explained at The Japan Times, she is now hoping that her son can help bring the WBC title back to her homeland.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey wrote about how Bradenton — the Pirates’ Florida hub — has been defined by a century of baseball.
With third base now covered, the Cardinals can arguably fill a complete Cooperstown lineup. Derrick Goold explained how at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
John Elway slashed .318/.432/.464 in 185 plate appearances with the short-season Oneonta Yankees in 1982, his lone season in professional baseball. The football Hall of Famer’s teammates in Oneonta included Jim Deshaies, while his manager was longtime big-league outfielder Ken Berry.
Tony Gwynn batted .338 with a .388 OBP; he had seven games with three or more walks. Eddie Yost batted .254 with a .394 OBP; he had 110 games with three or more walks.
The six teams that comprised the Class D Cotton State League in 1911 were the Greenwood Scouts, Hattiesburg Woodpeckers, Jackson Drummers, Meridian White Ribbons, Vicksburg Hill Billies, and Yazoo City Zoos. Notable players in the circuit included Klondike Douglass, who had played with the National League’s St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Phillies from 1896-1904, and Jim Bagby, who went on to win 127 MLB games, including 31 with the 1920 Cleveland Indians.
Christy Mathewson had a 150 ERA+ from 1901-1913, a thirteen-year stretch in which his second-lowest ERA+ was 125. A lone outlier to his excellence was his 1906 season, when he followed up a career-high 233 ERA+ with an 89 ERA+. His 1905 season had included a 31-9 record, plus three shutouts in as many starts in the World Series.
The Oakland Athletics signed Hideki Okajima as a free agent on today’s date in 2013. The southpaw pitched his final five MLB games that season — the previous 261 were with Boston — and finished his career with a record of 17-9, six saves, and a 3.09 ERA. Okajima won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2007.
The Pirates signed Rennie Stennett as an amateur free agent on today’s date in 1969. The Panama native finished second to Pittsburgh teammate Dave Parker in the 1977 NL batting race with a .336 average. Six years earlier, Stennett became the only player in the modern era to record seven hits in a nine-inning game. He went 7-for-7 as the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 22-0 at Wrigley Field,
Players born on today’s date include Don Wilson, a right-handed pitcher who went 104-92 with a 3.15 ERA for the Houston Astros from 1966-1974. A National League All-Star in 1971 when he went 16-10 with a 2.45 ERA, died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning at age 29.
Also born on today’s date was Gene Krug, whose big-league career comprised six plate appearances, all as a pinch-hitter, with the Chicago Cubs in 1981. Krug singled off of St. Louis’s Lary Sorensen in his first-ever time at the plate, then was pinch-run for by pitcher Rick Reuschel. Played at Wrigley Field, the nightcap of a daytime doubleheader finished in a 2-2, 11-inning tie.