David Ross was 38 years old and still strapping on the tools of ignorance when he was featured here at FanGraphs in February 2016. The title of the piece was David Ross: Future Big League Manager, and as many in the industry had suggested it would, that supposition soon came to fruition. The longtime catcher is currently embarking on what will be his fourth season at the helm of the Chicago Cubs. I recently asked Ross how he approaches the job philosophically now that he’s firmly in the trenches.
“My style — the way I approach being a manager — is leadership and direction, but I’m also still a player at heart,” Ross told me. “I understand what these guys are going through, competing for jobs and different roles. Communicating through that as a former player, someone who experienced it, I can relate to them. I try to keep a player’s mindset as part of my decision-making.”
Jed Hoyer was the club’s General Manager when the Cubs hired Ross following the 2019 season. I asked the now President of Baseball Operations about the process that informed that decision.
“We knew at the end of his playing career how he interacted with his teammates, and we saw how he prepared and held guys accountable,” said Hoyer, who was second in command to Theo Epstein in Chicago’s front office at the time. “It was very obvious that he was going to be a manager, so we talked about, ‘OK, how do we take these obvious tools [and determine] the best process to go through to put him in the right position?’”
According to Hoyer, a big part of that process involved melding Ross’s player’s mindset with one more akin to his own.
“He spent a lot of time in the front office, learning what the R&D staff does [and] what we talk about during games,” explained Hoyer. “He sat in on trade deadline stuff and draft stuff. Looking back, that was so incredibly valuable. Rossy will tell you that listening to how we talk about players, how we talk about building a team… if you’ve never been there and have only thought about it from a player’s perspective, then you’re not going to have a lot of [perspective] when I go in there and talk about what we’re doing. He learned how to think about it through both a player lens and a front office lens.”
Mindsets aside, the job can be anything but easy. Is being a big-league manager fun?
“It’s a blessing; I’ll say that,” was Ross’s response to that question. “I love my job. The fun, or the excitement and drive that wakes you up on a daily basis — wanting to be better, and to win championships — heck yeah, man. It fuels me. But I don’t know if ‘fun’ is the word. I know that winning is fun and losing sucks. You grind over the losses and you turn the page on the wins really fast. So I’m not sure what the word is. But it is a blessing.”
Back in October 2020, this column led with how Xander Bogaerts was on track to break the Red Sox franchise record for most games played at shortstop. The 30-year-old four-time All-Star proceeded to do so last June, eclipsing Everett Scott’s 1,093 games (from 1914-1921) before ultimately ending his Boston tenure with 1,192.
Now that Bogaerts is a San Diego Padre, I asked him about the distinction he now holds. More specifically, how nice is it to have left Boston with record in hand?
“It’s special,” Bogaerts told me on Thursday. “It’s something that will be hard to break, but records are meant to be broken. There are young guys coming up, yes, but the way the game is today, it’s hard to stay on one team for the rest of your career.”
That is especially true when another team — in this case Peter Seidler’s Padres — offers you $280M over 11 years. As for the organization that had been his professional home since 2009, the X-man admits that Boston has a special place in his heart.
“It was part of my life,” said Bogaerts. “Since I was a kid, right? Signing at Fenway, going to the Dominican Summer League, awards up in the big leagues… so it’s a place I’m going to miss. But I’m excited for this chapter of my life. I’m looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are looking forward to the arrival of 20-year-old shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer, who is No. 18 on our Top 100 and viewed by many as having all-star potential of his own. Whether Mayer can ultimately approximate what Bogaerts accomplished in Boston is a question that Red Sox fans will be watching closely.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Eddie Miller went 2 for 34 against Les Webber.
Frank Howard went 28 for 53 against Gary Peters.
Pete Rose went 17 for 32 against Warren Spahn.
Reggie Jackson went 21 for 51 against Doyle Alexander.
Jeff King went 15 for 45 against Steve Avery.
Jake McCarthy was one of baseball’s best rookies last season, albeit without a lot of fanfare. In the opinion of one of his former Arizona Diamondbacks teammates, the 25-year-old outfielder is a player who deserves more national attention than he gets.
“He’s a great clubhouse guy, a guy who brings energy every day,” opined Daulton Varsho, whom the D-Backs dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason. “He also understands baseball really well. Jake talks about luck. He hits a lot of ground balls and has a pretty decent batting-average-on-balls-in-play, and he knows that some nights he’s going to go 0-for-4, and some nights he’s going to go 4-for-4. That’s the way this game works. But Jake puts the bat on the ball and uses his speed — he’s got a really good tool with that — and I loved being around him.”
McCarthy had a .349 BABIP in 354 big-league plate appearances last year, as well as a .283/.342/.427 slash line, eight home runs, 23 stolen bases, and a 116 wRC+. The wheels are definitely plus-plus. As my colleague Michael Baumann pointed out earlier this week, McCarthy is in the 98th percentile in sprint speed, an attribute that not only benefits him at the plate and on the base paths, but also in the field.
Varsho covers a lot of ground himself. The converted catcher logged a plus-19 DRS as an outfielder (plus-14 in right and plus-5 in center) last season, making him as an elite defender. Asked what those numbers mean to him, the Badger State native was both humble and proud of what he’s been able to accomplish.
“Just the amount of effort and time I’ve put into it,” Varsho told me. “Moving from center field to right field was kind of a difficult transition. The angles, understanding how balls are coming off the bat… for a lot of guys it’s hard to move over and the play the corner well. To be able to do that was pretty special.”
Given his Marshfield, Wisconsin roots, there was one more question I felt compelled to ask: Would he like to see Aaron Rodgers return to Green Bay?
“It would be fun to see him come back for one more year and give it one more go,” replied Varsho. “But if he wants to move on, as a Packers fan, I’ll move on as well. I’m your typical Wisconsin-ite who loves the Packers and enjoys watching them, and that won’t change either way.”
Which player has appeared in the most regular-season games over the past 10 seasons?
The answer can be found below.
Andy Andres was honored with the 2023 SABR Analytics Conference Lifetime Achievement Award last weekend. A member of the Boston University faculty who developed and taught the Baseball Analysis and Sabermetrics course at Tufts University — multiple former students now work in MLB front offices — Andres is also a part-time MLB stringer and pitch clock operator at Fenway Park.
The Tampa Bay Rays have promoted Neil Solondz to radio play-by-play broadcaster alongside Andy Freed. Tampa Bays’ pregame and postgame host for the past decade, and before that the voice of the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Solondz replaces longtime play-by-play voice Dave Wills, who died unexpectedly this month at age 58.
Joe Pepitone, a first baseman/outfielder from 1962-1973 who spent his first eight seasons with the Yankees, died earlier this week at age 82. Colorful, and at times controversial — he was known to enjoy the New York City nightlife — Pepitone clubbed 219 home runs and was a member of two World Series-winning teams.
The answer to the quiz is Carlos Santana, who has appeared in 1,440 games since the start of the 2013 season.
Luke Bard has elite spin rate — the 32-year-old right-hander ranks in the 99th percentile for RPMs with his four-seamer — and at one point that mattered to him. Not anymore.
“For years, I knew I had a high spin rate and thought that was kind of a gift,” said Bard, who signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays in February. “Now I realize that it’s not very important at all. Now I just try to focus on the movement of my pitches and the vertical approach angle that goes with them.”
Armed with that knowledge, the veteran of 55 big-league games — 32 of them with the Los Angeles Angels in 2019 — is adding a second heater to his arsenal.
“I’m not just throwing one fastball and putting myself in a bubble,” Bard explained. “I also think the two-seam is actually my better pitch movement-wise. It comes kind of naturally and gives me some of that seam-shifted movement. With the four-seam, I’m not raising my arm slot to chase vertical carry. I may actually be lowering it, realizing that 15 inches of carry from a lower vertical approach is going to maybe play better than 18 or 19 from a higher slot. A hitter’s brain expects a pitch to come out a certain way, and your slot influences how it actually does, if that makes sense.”
The righty went on to say that his older brother, Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard, has mentioned “doing stuff like that.” The younger sibling has also bounced ideas off the pitching analysts/trainer at Tread Athletics, where he looked at vertical approach on a TrackMan. As for the learning environment at his new baseball home, Toronto is more than meeting his expectations.
“Now I’m a Blue Jay,” said Bard, who previously pitched with Angels, Rays and Yankees. “I really like it. Here it seems like a good blend of grasping the analytics and grasping that you need to be competitive. In order to win you need both elements. You need to be baseball players, and that’s what they want here.”
Preston Mattingly is bullish on Hao-Yu Lee, and for good reason. Eighteen months after being signed as an international free agent, the 20-year-old Taiwanese infielder now is one of the top prospects in the Phillies system. I recently asked Philadelphia’s farm director for a snapshot scouting report on the promising youngster.
“Hao-Yu is a strong kid with an advanced feel to hit,” said Mattingly. “A great baseball IQ. He’s very instinctual on the field, and he works extremely hard. We feel he has a good chance to have an above-average hit-power combo. He has a knack for offense.”
Lee is coming off of a first full professional season in which he slashed .284/.386/.438 with nine home runs in 350 plate appearances between three levels, with the bulk of his games coming with Low-A Clearwater. Defensively, he saw action at second base, third base, and shortstop.
“We challenged him by playing him everywhere [in the infield],” explained Mattingly. “Long term, it’s more of a second-base profile, but we’re not ruling out short. When guys are young like he is, you don’t want to rule out anything too early because defense is an areas you can really improve. Hao-Yu is a low-to-the-ground guy who we saw take some big strides last year, so I think his position is a little bit TBD right now.”
In terms of language, Lee is already positioning himself as someone who will fit well into a clubhouse environment.
“He’s a big trash-talker,” Mattingly told me. “His English is getting better, and it’s coming out a lot through his trash-talking.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At the Yonhap News Agency, Jee-ho Yoo wrote about how South Korean baseball faces a painful transition after a disappointing performance in the WBC.
Former Milwaukee Brewers and Chunichi Dragons catcher/outfielder Dave Nilsson is now the manager of Team Australia, and he’d welcome an opportunity to manage in NPB. Jason Coskrey has the story at The Japan Times.
Our Esquina’s Lorenzo Delgado told us about Duque Hebbert, whom the Detroit Tigers signed after the 21-year-old Nicaragua right-hander fanned Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez, and Rafael Devers in the ninth inning of a WBC game.
Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein has a story on how the New York Yankees — a team that Forbes estimates is worth $6 billion — doesn’t provide complementary in-flight Wi-Fi to their players.
Over at The Chicago Sun-Times, Maddie Lee wrote about how Chicago Cubs Senior Vice President Craig Breslow’s journeyman playing career is still paying dividends.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Dusty Baker’s 2,093 managerial wins are ninth-most all-time. The Houston manager is on tap to pass Joe McCarthy (2,125) and Bucky Harris (2,158) this year, and if the Astros win 102 games, he will also jump past Sparky Anderson (2,194). Every manager with more wins than Baker is in the Hall of Fame.
Trayce Thompson had 219 at-bats, three infield hits, and a .374 BABIP last year. Jordan Luplow had 205 at-bats, three infield hits, and a .185 BABIP.
Patrick Corbin allowed a most-in-the majors 210 hits last year, including 27 home runs. Josiah Gray, his Washington Nationals teammate, allowed 136 hits, 38 of which were home runs,
Mace Brown had a team-best 15 wins for the 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates, with all 15 coming in relief. The North English, Iowa native was charged with nine losses, one of them on September 28, when he surrendered Gabby Hartnett’s Homer in the Gloamin that propelled the Chicago Cubs into first place to stay. Pittsburgh finished two games back.
Harry Mace had an MLB career that comprised three pitching appearances for the American Association’s Washington Statesmen in 1891. His teammates included 19-year-old left-hander Buck Freeman, who logged a 3.89 ERA over 44 innings, then spent the next six seasons in the minors before returning to the big-leagues as an outfielder/first baseman. Freeman had a 133 wRC+ from 1888-1904 and was the top offensive performer for the 1903 Boston Americans, who went on to win the first ever World Series.
Joe Tinker of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame played for the Pacific Northwest League’s Portland Webfoots before joining the Chicago Orphans in 1902. The Orphans became the Cubs the following season.
The San Diego Padres signed Rickey Henderson to a free agent contract on today’s date in 2001. The 42-year-old outfielder slashed .227/.366/.351 with 25 steals in his return season with San Diego.
The Chicago Cubs released Fergie Jenkins on today’s date in 1983, effectively ending his career. The Hall of Fame right-hander had gone 6-9 with a 4.30 ERA the previous year in his age-40 season.
Players born on today’s date include Tim Corcoran, who logged 283 hits as a part-time player with the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, and New York Mets from 1977-1986. Per his B-Ref player-info page, Corcoran was nicknamed “Spring Training” for his uncanny ability to crush Grapefruit League pitching.
Also born on today’s date was Skyrocket Smith, who played for the American Association’s Louisville Colonels in 1888. Born Samuel J. Smith, in Baltimore, the first baseman had a 119 wRC+ in his lone big-league season.