Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sanchez, With a Twist of Tiant

Aaron Sanchez was doing his thing against the Yankees the other night, hurling pitches on behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yanks appeared somewhat befuddled by his delivery.
"Sanchez does that Tiant Turn," said announcer Michael Kay. "It's a little disconcerting."
He was, of course, referring to Luis Tiant, who would spin toward second base before dealing a pitch. The Cuban Tiant won 229 games, many of them for the Red Sox, in the '60s, '70s and even into the '80s, generating extra power with his distinctive twist.
A discussion on Baseball Prospectus regarding Tiant mentions the "Tiant Twist". Said Doug Thorburn:
I wish that I could say that I had seen every manipulation of the Tiant twist, but I have only seen a handful of clips. But I dig it.
Perhaps Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati is the best known practitioner of the Tiant Twist. Here's what the Red Legs Baseball blog said on Opening Day last year:
Johnny Cueto looked great, but still uses the Tiant-twist. He'd better be right that the twist isn't causing his injuries, because we can't afford another oblique strain.
Tiant Twist seems more popular a term than Tiant Turn, but I do see a cocktail out there in the webiverse called the Tiant Turn. It's made of Brugal Anejo, Sherry, Mezcal and Orange Bitters, and garnished with an orange twist. 
I shall now raise a glass of Tiant Turn, and perhaps one of Tiant's trademark El Tiante cigars, to that colorful old pitcher. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BATTER CHATTER BOOK REVIEW: "Abused by the New York Yankees", by Paul Priore and Gary Toushek

I was approached by the co-author of Abused by the New York Yankees, Gary Toushek, a few months ago, the writer wondering if Batter Chatter might be interested in writing something about the book. In fact, I was interested. Authored by Paul Priore, former Yankees assistant clubhouse attendant, the book takes on one of the most imposing sports franchises in the world with some scorching allegations. Abused also takes on the most beloved player in franchise history, and tars him with a salacious sex scandal.
I didn’t know what to think.
And so I read.
Abused is not a good book.  First off, it’s self-published—not a surprise, given the subject matter, and not a bad thing; I’ve self published myself and tend to not discriminate against the DIY set. But it looks off-brand, more like a bound galley than a book, and reads as if it is in desperate need of an editor, in just about every paragraph. It reinforces the cynicism some readers have about self-published works.
A gay man, Priore has a giant bone to pick with the Yankees. He alleges that a prominent pitcher sodomized him with a baseball bat while several teammates cheered. He mentions walking into the clubhouse sauna and finding two of the Core Four—Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada—locked in a tangle of, shall we say, passion. (The phrase “erect paddywackers” actually sees the light of day in this passage.) He alleges a whole lot of things. Then he alleges more.
If he had spelled out a handful of incidents in which he was aggrieved, the book would’ve been much stronger. Instead, Priore blasts every darn player, manager and front office exec he ever came in contact with, which turns the book into a long-ass, scattershot screed. George Steinbrenner is “Ol’ Turkeyneck.” He suspects that two marginal players in the Nineties, both married men, share amorous affection for each other, and sees homosexual tendencies all over the game—from catchers flicking crotch-level signs to pitchers, to players joking about penis size in the shower. It becomes clear very early on in the book that he has an axe to grind with any and all aspects of the Yankee universe.
He constantly names names—players he says committed actual crimes in the clubhouse, and also others who simply acted like knucklehead ballplayers, with no idea that, two decades later, the assistant clubhouse attendant would out them for loutish behavior in a book.
In case you didn’t get your fill of dry writing across the first 500 pages, Abused concludes with a report from the man who administered a polygraph test to Priore. Included to establish Priore’s credibility, the report had the opposite effect on me—the author trying too hard to show us his far-fetched claims are legit.
Full disclosure, I root against the Yankees and, am sheepish to admit, take delight in their misfortunes. (Their best hitter is A-Rod! Hah!) But I derived no pleasure in Abused by the New York Yankees, and, in fact, found it grossly unfair.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to Make a Maddux

Master craftsman Greg Maddux retired seven years ago, but his legend lives on with a prestigious accomplishment that bears his name. Throwing a "Maddux" involves a complete game shutout, and a pitch total in the double figures.

The blogger Jason Lukehart coined the term. On his "Ground Ball With Eyes" blog, he writes:
In 1998, I came across a box score for a game in which Maddux had thrown a complete game shutout, and used fewer than 100 pitches. I LOVED it! Ever since then, I've kept my eye out for such games and calling such a pitching line a "Maddux."

Maddux, known as The Professor for his studious approach to pitching, rang up 13 Madduxes in his glorious career, notes Lukehart, who is also managing editor at 

In this era of three-hour games, Madduxes are the stuff of games that last two hours or less.

Here's the all-time Maddux leaderboard, led by a mile by, of course, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

1. Greg Maddux       13
2. Zane Smith            7
3. Bob Tewksbury     6
t4. Tom Glavine         5
t4. Roy Halladay        5

Lukehart's term has caught on, making him the envy of, oh, every baseball blogger out there. writes about Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins climbing up the Maddux chart.

The New York Times noted May 9:
Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves became the first pitcher with a Maddux this season, using 99 pitches to beat Philadelphia last week. It was the 290th Maddux since 1988.

The phenomenon even has its own hashtag. Tweeted Athletics Nation scribe Jeremy F. Koo (‏@jfkooAN) tweeted earlier this month,  "Jesse Chavez, exactly 77 pitches through 7 innings, no runs allowed. #MadduxAlert." (Alas, Chavez got but one more out that eve, though he did get the win.)

After typing "Maddux" several times in the last few minutes, I'm thinking "Mad Ducks" would make for a cool minor league franchise. That too would be a great way to commemorate the exceptional hurler.

Lukehart tells Batter Chatter (yes, we do a bit of original reporting every now and then) that seeing the "Maddux" catch on in the baseball lexicon has been a "great thrill."
"A lot of credit goes to [ baseball writer] Craig Calcaterra, who was the first person to mention it at a larger outlet than my little blog, and to [Grantland writer] Jonah Keri, who is a big fan, and has been gracious enough to mentioned it multiple times both in print and during Baseball Tonight. I owe Jonah a lot of drinks," says Lukehart. 
"Seeing MLB itself mention the Maddux has been awesome," he adds. "Now I just hope they mention me along with it one of these days. The ultimate though, that would be hearing Greg Maddux himself mention it. Fingers crossed."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

All A's On Ramirez's Report Card

A player whose skills go beyond the norm of a minor league player, yet fall a bit short of a major league athlete, is described as "4A"--a cut above a player competing in AAA baseball. SB Nation actually refers to these players as "Quad-A" and cites Wily Mo Pena and Brandon Moss among the patron saints of the Quad-A universe.
And then there's the "5A" player, which is how Red Sox first beardsman Mike Napoli describes new mate Hanley Ramirez.
Napoli told the NY Times:
“Hanley’s one of the best hitters I’ve seen. I always tell him he’s 5A — he’s above the big leagues. His swing, the way he backspins balls, it’s just different than how other people hit."
I have reason to believe Napoli has invented this term. Noodling around on the old Google, I see "5A" is a division of Texas schoolboy baseball. I see many mentions of five-tool players--guys who, as any fan of the game will tell you, can hit for average (1) and for power (2), throw (3), run (4) and field (5). I don't see any mention of 5A players.
I lived in apartment 5A in Manhattan's East Village for a dozen years; my email today, a decade since I moved out, has '5A' in it for that reason. To be a 5A player when referencing my old apartment would be to drink and smoke too much, to subsist primary on bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches from Cooper Diner, and to have surprisingly fit calves due to the sixth-floor walkup nature of our cramped digs.
But Ramirez, signed for $88 million over four years, is not living in a century-old tenement alongside a gaggle of elderly Ukrainian ladies and a few foreign-born NYU students, and hopefully is mixing in some salads with his bacon-egg-and-cheeses.
Napoli says his 5A teammate is one of a kind:
"Some people just got it. And he’s got it.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sorry to Quibble, But He's Called a 'Gribble'

We have starters.
We have relievers of all stripes--closers, set-up men, mop-up men.
But what about the guys who both start and relieve?
They are, or at least should be, called "gribbles," posits Russell Carleton of the "Just a Bit Outside" blog on
If you're wondering about gribble's etymology, I don't believe it has any. It's just a fun word. It's also "any of about 56 species of marine isopod from the family Limnoriidae. (pictured right) They are mostly pale white and small crustaceans," says Wikipedia. Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, says that "gribble," in Hawaii, means falling, or "eating it." 
So maybe there's a touch of etymology there--the sometimes starter/sometimes reliever simply eats innings.
Carleton, in a detailed essay making the case for six-man rotations, notes that those starters-relievers are at times called a "swingman." That's really a euphemism, he says, for:
...€œthe guy who made the team as a minor-league invite and who we mostly send out there as a sacrificial lamb when we'€™ve run out of other warm bodies and who will probably be sent to AAA at the next convenient opportunity."€
I wonder if teams would do this if they could say to a pitcher, "€œWe want you to be a gribble for us,"€ and everyone knew what that meant.

The gribble could revolutionize baseball, says Carleton:
A team that embraced this six-man rotation model and who could convince three guys to take on this new/old gribble/swingman role could probably find guys whom the league only valued as back-end starters and turn a bit of straw into gold as a result.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Higher the Slash Line, the Bigger the Contract

Kordell Stewart was known as Slash in his Pittsburgh Steelers days, for his ability to play quarterback, slash wide receiver, slash maybe another position, I don't know, it was 15 years ago.

Saul Hudson was dubbed "Slash" but his best friend's dad growing up in England; he later became the guitarist for Guns 'N Roses.

More recently, a ballplayer's true measure of offensive value is his slash line. Says Baseball Reference, it's a "short listing of a player's key offensive statistics. In the 1990s, it replaced the former Triple Crown stat usage, as it more aptly describes a player's offensive contributions."

Slash line is batting average, slash, on base percentage, slash, slugging percentage.

So entrenched in the baseball lexicon--why didn't we write about this sooner?--is the slash line that it's even got its own verb form.

Reports Fan Graphs back in 2011:

In 120 plate appearances, [Bobby] Abreu is slashing .271/.417/.375. The season is still young, but out-OBPing a slugging percentage after 80-100 PAs is strange to the eye. 

I bet it would go up further if Abreu was wielding Slash's Gibson Les Paul. 

[ADVERTISEMENT] Fantasy: In Troy We Trust

Derek Jeter is now officially retired, and that means a new era of shortstop is officially upon us. The Yankee captain was not a top five shortstop in the game his last few seasons, but here is a look at the best guys to keep an eye on in fantasy baseball.

Troy Tulowitzki

The Colorado Rockies look awful on paper going into the 2015 season, but they do have the best overall shortstop in the game when healthy. No one knows for sure if they will keep him on the roster or trade him away to try and rebuild the franchise. His ability to be a great all-around hitter and also play above average defense makes him highly sought after.

Ian Desmond

With so many stars on the Washington Nationals, Desmond seems to be overlooked by a lot of fans. He is a very solid all-around player for Washington, and he is a big reason why their World Series favorites. He is in the prime of his career, and he has been mostly durable which factors into fantasy baseball value as well.

Hanley Ramirez

Many people don’t care for the defense Ramirez brings to the table, but he is still a very solid hitter. He should be even better now that he is playing for the Boston Red Sox in a pretty nice ballpark. His homeruns should go up a little bit, and he has a chance to improve in other aspects as well. He is starting to get up there in age a little bit, but he still has at least a couple of years left to play at a high level.

Starlin Castro

A very solid 2014 campaign has Castro feeling very well about the future. This is a shortstop looked at by the Chicago Cubs as a face of the franchise. He is just 25 years of age, but it seems like he has been playing at the MLB level forever. He might just be entering his prime finally, and this has people intrigued.


--Matt Stevens