On 6/14 at 4:31pm Elite's MLB hitting consultant Joe DeMarco missed a call, after checking his phone he realized the call was from Chappy. As the return call followed a proud moment occurred for the 41 year old DeMarco, for the 2nd time in his career a home grown player was promoted to the Big Leagues. Chapman joins the Padres Austin Hedges as MLB clients that use the consulting services for professional hitters. "Good news Joe" was how the conversation began and he knew it was time for Chappy to get the call to join the big club in Oakland. The advice from the mentor was simple, "just do what you do and enjoy the moment." Matt grew up in orange county attending El Toro before playing for the Titans at Cal State Fullerton, he was a 1st round pick by the A's in 2014.
Elite Bullpen Tech Package
Make the most out of your bullpen training session with our new Elite Bullpen Tech Package!
Purchasing the Bullpen Tech Package gives you the most advanced technology to track pitcher's biomechanics and throwing metrics right at your fingertips. Here's what our bullpens consist of:
- Rapsodo Unit that captures velocity, location, horizontal and vertical break, spin rate, spin axis, spin efficiency, and 3-D trajectory. All information is stored and sent via email.
- Motus Sleeve that captures valgus arm stress, arm speed, arm slot, external arm rotation, and pitch count. The app also suggest high-effort throw limits for the next week based on prior throwing habits, future game days, and various factors related to the player's body.
- High Speed Video captured via the Motus Throwing app that can be viewed frame by frame at 1080 HD at 120fps or 720 HD at 240 fps.
- Email with relevant information and suggestions based on the data collected.
All of this data can be overwhelming to consume, so we've made it easy to digest. After your bullpen an email will be sent to you breaking down the information that makes sense and how to improve your training based on the numbers. We will not explore mechanical adjustments unless the player requests feedback during the bullpen.
- $30 Single Bullpen Session - Monthly Hitting, Pitching, or Performance member discount
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Elite Bullpen Tech Package Info:
- Purchase a 8-Pack, 4-Pack or Single Session package from the store. For current members choose either option or select Add-On Single Session for a discounted rate. Customers choosing the Add-On option that are not current members will be refunded or can purchase a monthly membership to lock in the discounted bullpen rate.
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- ***IMPORTANT*** - Bullpen sessions are 20-25 minutes maximum with one of our instructors evaluating and monitoring the technology. The time that is selected on the scheduling software is when your bullpen begins. You are welcome to arrive early to warmup and get loose before your bullpen session starts. We have the latest equipment to help the body and arm get ready to throw and will offer it to any player that wants to get ready.
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These days in baseball, every batter is trying to find an angle
With increasingly sophisticated data available, major league hitters are focusing on getting the ball in the air.
June 1, 2017
One day several years ago, as Chase Headley was still trying to establish himself as the San Diego Padres’ everyday third baseman, Padres management passed around a sheet of paper full of facts and figures on how its spacious ballpark, Petco Park, played for hitters. Flyballs were mostly swallowed up in the vast expanses of outfield, while groundballs and line drives played better than in the average stadium. The conclusion, as Headley recalls it, was clear: Padres hitters should keep the ball out of the air.
“I had more loft in my swing when I came up,” Headley said recently, “so I was trying to undo some of that, and I was trying to hit the ball down. It was a conscious thing: They wanted us to hit the ball hard but down.”
A few thousand big league at-bats later, Headley, now 33 and the starting third baseman for the New York Yankees, chuckles at how antiquated that sounds now — as the gospel of flyballs and high launch angles spreads across the game — and can’t help but kick himself for not resisting the Padres’ efforts to turn him into a groundball machine.
“I look back, and I’m like, ‘What was I thinking?’ ” he said. “I’ve had to try to get it back the other way now.”
In that period between the Padres’ hit-it-low memo and the first part of the 2017 season has been a shift in philosophy so dramatic it can safely be called a revolution, with more hitters, armed with better and more extensive data than ever, reaching the conclusion that not only are flyballs, on average, better than grounders but that the latter are to be avoided at all costs.
“No grounders,” Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP and one of the movement’s most vocal proponents, said earlier this year. “Groundballs are outs. If you see me hit a groundball, even if it’s a hit, I can tell you: It was an accident.”
How launch angles affect a hit
Hit probabilityMore likely to result in a hit
4080120 mphHit speed-70°-35°0°35°70°LaunchangleFly-ballsGround-balls
More batters are focusing not only on hitting the ball hard, but hitting the ball high into the air. The average launch angle — the angle at which the ball flies after being hit — rose from 10.5 degrees in 2015 to 11.5 degrees in 2016.
Balls hit with a high launch angle are more likely to result in a hit. Hit fast enough and at the right angle, they become home runs, like these 5,527 homers tracked directly by Statcast in 2016.
57 percent of these balls were in the “sweet spot”: hit between 25 and 35 degrees, and leaving the bat at more than 95 miles per hour.
Looking at the angle and speed combinations of 113,680 balls tracked by Statcast that resulted in a hit or an out in the 2016 regular season, the light-colored areas are more likely to result in an out, while balls hit in the darker areas are more likely to wind up a hit.
Many fly just over the heads of the infielders in what’s called a “bloop,” or fly over the fence for a home run. In the middle are flyouts: not fast enough to make it over the fence, typically caught by outfielders for an out.
Batters are adjusting their swings to hit the ball higher. Washington Nationals slugger Daniel Murphy's average launch angle rose from 11.1 degrees in 2015 to 16.6 degrees in 2016.
As a result, his batting average rose from .281in 2015 to .347 in 2016. He also hit eleven more home runs than he did in 2015.
Murphy’s teammate, Anthony Rendon, made a similar change, with an average launch angle that rose from 10.6 degrees in 2015 to 16.8 degrees in 2016, while his slugging percentage — the number of total bases divided by number of at-bats — rose from .363 to .450.
This year, Rendon’s slugging percentage is a career-high .508 as his launch angle has risen to 18.8 degrees. He already has nine home runs and 32 RBI.
This approach has helped batters hit more home runs this year, with 1,886 hit this season, easily passing last year's total of 1,705 at this date. At this rate, batters would set a record for home runs by the end of the season.
Note: Launch angles, hit speed and hit probability are from Statcast from Baseball Savant. The numbers in this graphic reflect only balls directly tracked by Statcast and do not include balls with projected hit speeds or launch angles. Player batting statistics are from baseball-reference.com. Numbers for 2017 are as of May 31.
Another proponent, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, put it another way: “You can’t slug by hitting balls on the ground. You have to get the ball in the air if you want to slug, and guys who slug stick around, and guys who don’t, don’t.”
There is a simple and airtight logic behind the claim: Slugging, for the most part, happens in the air. In 2016, for example, big league hitters batted .239 with a .258 slugging percentage on groundballs vs. .241 and .715, respectively, on flyballs — with much of the difference, obviously, attributable to home runs: Grounders produced zero, while flyballs produced 5,422.
“If you look at a baseball field and look on the infield, there’s a lot of players there,” Donaldson said, providing an even more elemental logic. “There’s not as much grass. But you look in the outfield, there’s fewer players and more grass. So if you hit it in the air, even if it’s not that hard, you have a chance. There are some outfielders who make it more difficult. But someone who has never seen baseball before would be like, ‘Oh, yeah. You’d probably want to hit it out there.’”
‘A transition lane’
The introduction in 2015 of Statcast — MLB’s camera-based analytics system, which can measure player movements and ball flights in intricate detail — has confirmed and perhaps accelerated the flyball trend in baseball by introducing “launch angle,” a measurement of a ball’s vertical trajectory, into the mainstream. While a launch angle of zero is essentially a line drive at the pitcher’s knees, a negative figure is a grounder and 90 degrees is a popup straight above home plate.
Analysts have been able to pinpoint the range of 25-35 degrees as the sweet spot for home runs, when paired with an exit velocity — a measure of the speed of the ball off the bat — of 95 mph or greater. The exit velocity is crucial: At lower velocities, those flyballs are simply outs.
“People see launch angle and think guys are just trying to hit it higher,” Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo said. “That is a part of it. But you also have to hit it hard.”
And while data is available for just the past three seasons, there is already evidence that players are catching on. In 2015 the average launch angle in MLB was 10.5 degrees, but in 2016 the league-wide average rose to 11.5, an increase of about 10 percent. This year, through May 21, the league average is up to 12.8 degrees, another year-to-year increase of almost 12 percent. Clearly, the notion is gaining traction.
“It’s a transition lane in which the game is going,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said this spring. “You’ve seen some very good hitters have very good success with it. More conversations are being had about it. We’re definitely having conversations.”
The increasing prevalence and success of flyball-focused hitters is a massively important development in the modern game because it can help explain — or at least illuminate — many of the major trends and issues confronting the sport.
●The increase in frequency and efficiency of defensive shifts. According to FanGraphs, teams are shifting at a rate nearly 10 times greater than six years ago (2,974 total at-bats against shifts in 2011 vs. 33,343 in 2016). Many hitters cite this as a primary reason they have chosen to take to the air. “Teams have more information about where to play their infielders,” Headley said. “But the one ball that can’t be caught is the one that lands in the seats.” Some baseball executives say the next logical step to combat the flyball revolution will be occasional four-man outfields.
●The overall increase in home runs. Hitters bashed 5,610 home runs in 2016, an increase of more than 14 percent from the year before and the most since 2000. That year turned out to be during the height of widespread performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. Maybe this new era of home-run hitting can be explained, at least partly, by more hitters simply concentrating on elevating the ball with power.
●Even the issue of pace of game is tied into the flyball revolution. It’s no secret games are longer and more bloated by inaction — one of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s pet causes — in part because hitters swinging for the fences are willing to trade strikeouts for home runs and thus are willing to go deeper into counts. Meanwhile, pitchers are taking longer between pitches, which some in the game attribute to the fact mistake pitches are being turned into home runs at a higher clip than ever.
Home runs on the rise again
The number of home runs in 2016 almost matched the 2000 peak set during
the steroid era. Experts say this is because batters are trying to hit the ball
higher more often.
Ball change from
Spalding to Rawlings
“You can see pitchers taking more time to gather themselves before every pitch,” Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. “There used to be a couple of hitters in each lineup where you needed to do that. Now it’s everybody.”
It’s not as if anybody has suddenly cracked a secret code about the optimum swing plane. Hall of Famer Ted Williams — in his seminal book, “The Science of Hitting,” published in 1971 when he was managing the Washington Senators — advocated swinging with a slight uppercut, a notion that went against the prevailing wisdom of the day.
“The ‘level swing’ has always been advocated,” Williams wrote. “I used to believe it, and I used to say the same thing. But the ideal swing is not level, and it’s not down.” Grounders, Williams acknowledged, put a “greater burden on the fielders.” But he added, “If you get the ball into the air with power, you have the gift to produce the most important hit in baseball — the home run.”
What is most important, Williams concluded, is that you hit consistently with authority. But Williams’s measured theory is a long way from the more radical approach of today, with some hitters swearing off grounders altogether.
Where did the modern gospel of the flyball originate? The Oakland A’s of the early 2010s are credited with identifying and exploiting a market inefficiency of undervalued flyball hitters, hoarding relatively cheap players with extreme flyball rates — such as Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie — and leading the majors in both 2012 and 2013 in flyball-groundball ratio, while winning the American League West both years.
But in terms of hitters purposely revamping their swings to become extreme flyball hitters, this modern trend is often traced to Marlon Byrd, the outfielder serving a 162-game suspension after a second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. In 2012, Byrd averaged two grounders for every flyball, a rate that was in line with his career numbers to that point. But in 2013, after working with an obscure, independent swing instructor named Doug Latta who runs a baseball training facility in Chatsworth, Calif., Byrd cut that rate in half and produced the best season of his career.
“Our first session was a tipping point for his career,” Latta said. “Basically, the whole idea of an uppercut was antithetical to what he’d been taught for his first 10 years in the majors. But right away, his first couple of swings, which he took using a little bit different movement, changed him, right there. And he was in. I could see the expression on his face. He told me, ‘Doug, I could never tell another hitting coach or player that I’m trying to hit under the ball.’ ”
But in 2013, while with the New York Mets, Byrd convinced another struggling hitter, teammate Turner, to work with Latta. Before that, Turner was a fringe big leaguer with a lifetime slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .260/.323/.361. Since joining the flyball revolution, he has hit .299/.367/.492 and was rewarded this offseason with a four-year, $64 million contract.
“He started drilling it into me,” Turner said of Byrd’s influence. “I started hitting with [Latta] in the [following] offseason, and then I just started running with it. . . . There’s no switch to turn on. There’s no trick. It’s just a lot of hard work, trying to get a better launch angle.”
Daniel Murphy, in his first season with the Nationals last year, hit almost 42 percent of the balls he put in play into the air, up from 36 percent in his final season with the Mets. His home runs shot up from 14 to 25, and his RBI from 56 to 104. (Photos by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)
Secret to success
Look around the majors now, at players who make significant year-over-year leaps in performance, and there is a good chance at least part of the improvement is a result of hitting the ball in the air with more frequency and authority.
In fact, all you have to do is look at the Washington Nationals.
In 2015, Daniel Murphy, in his final season with the Mets, had a groundball rate of 42.8 percent (of balls in play) and a flyball rate of 36.0 percent, and he batted .281/.322/.449 with 14 homers and 56 RBI. The next year, his first in Washington, he essentially flip-flopped his groundball-flyball ratio — to 36.3 and 41.9, respectively — and batted .347/.390/.595 with 25 homers and 104 RBI, while finishing runner-up in MVP voting. The change he made is illuminated by his average launch angle — 11.1 degrees in 2015, 16.6 degrees in 2016.
“It’s cool,” Murphy said this spring, “because with all the data we’ve been given now, [we have] some of the answers to the test.”
Teammate Anthony Rendon had a similar reinvention (from 45.3 percent grounders and 33.3 flyballs in 2015 to 35.7 and 43.8 in 2016) and had a similar boost in production, gaining 91 points of on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Not surprisingly, his launch angle went from 10.6 degrees in 2015 to 16.8 in 2016.
This year, it is Ryan Zimmerman who — at Murphy’s prodding — has converted to the gospel of the flyball, going from an extreme groundball hitter (48.6 percent vs. 34.6 percent flyballs) in 2016, when he suffered through the worst year of his career at the plate, to a balanced 38.1/38.1 in 2017. Perhaps not surprisingly, he is off to a sizzling start, hitting .368 /.409/.709 , with 15 homers in his first 50 games. His launch angle has gone from 7.8 degrees in 2016 to 11.2 this season, through May 25.
At least publicly, though, Zimmerman remains skeptical of advanced analytics such as launch angle, sounding more like Williams than Donaldson.
“For me, if I start to try to control those things, I start trying to do too much and think too much,” Zimmerman said. “It’s always been tough enough to just hit the ball hard. If you can do that, good things happen.”
Zimmerman scoffed at the notion that improvement is as easy as hitting the bottom half of the ball. “Good luck trying to hit the bottom of the ball when everyone’s throwing 95 or 100” mph, he said. “I think it’s more of a mind-set.”
But there is a growing bank of evidence that the approach is catching on and that it works. Eight of the 10 playoff teams in 2016 ranked in the top half of the majors in flyball percentage. The gospel has spread so far, even the Padres have embraced it — though in fairness, they have turned over their front office and moved in the fences at Petco Park since the days of the keep-it-on-ground memo.
“I’m doing a lot to not hit groundballs this year,” Padres first baseman Wil Myers told the San Diego Union-Tribune this spring. “When I [hit] off the tee, I do not hit anything that does not hit the top of the [batting] cage. Stay away from the groundball.”
Even the most ardent flyball evangelists acknowledge the approach has its limitations and caveats. It isn’t for every hitter. There may also be another reaction coming, in the form of hard-throwing sinkerball pitchers, who can better counteract hitters trying to drive the ball in the air. For now, at least, teams are finding it easier to acquire flyball hitters than to convert them during the season; most players only make major swing changes in the offseason.
“It’s difficult to tell a guy to change something based on a launch angle. It’s more about getting them to understand the best swing path for them individually,” Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said. “You never want to impose a higher launch angle on someone who’s not a power guy. A smaller guy, a speed guy, someone who’s not a power hitter — you could be asking a guy to be doing something that works against them.”
But it seems likely the gospel of the flyball will continue to grow as more struggling hitters resurrect their careers and more good hitters become great by embracing launch angles.
“It’s a career-changer,” Latta said. “The genie’s out of the bottle. Now, at the big league level, the key will be: ‘Do we really know how to instruct this?’ It’s not going away.”
If Williams was the oracle for older generations of hitters, perhaps Donaldson will be the same for this and future ones — a role he would relish. During an illuminating segment on his swing theory on MLB Network last year, Donaldson stopped at a crucial juncture and looked straight into the camera to address any kids who might have been watching.
“If you’re 10 years old and your coach says to get on top of the ball,” Donaldson said, “tell them no. Because in the big leagues these things that they call groundballs are outs. They don’t pay you for groundballs. They pay you for doubles. They pay you for homers.”
Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.
Hedges evolving as Major League hitter
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com | @AJCassavell | August 23rd, 2017
ST. LOUIS -- In his first season as a starting catcher, Austin Hedges has thrived defensively. Given his skill set, perhaps that was to be expected.
But it's also his first full season facing Major League pitching. And his results at the plate have been mixed.
"He's an asset to the team right now, almost regardless of what he does in the batter's box," said Padres manager Andy Green. "But you can still expect him to contribute in the batter's box ... and contribute more as the years go by. He's already a very good Major League player that's going to play himself into the upper echelon before all is said and done."
In some respects, Hedges, who turned 25 last week, already is exceeding expectations as a hitter. He's mashed 16 homers and was slugging .419 entering play Wednesday night.
Still, he's batting just .219, while reaching base at a .256 clip. Given his youth and defensive prowess, those numbers are easy to dismiss. But Hedges acknowledges his room for growth.
"It's a grind," Hedges said. "This season has been a good learning experience with me to understand the kind of hitter I am, so I can get some consistency going forward."
As for the power, Hedges adds, "I expect more to come." He never recorded more than 10 home runs in a professional season until last year with Triple-A El Paso. Now he could be poised for back-to-back 20-homer seasons, albeit at different levels.
With his three-run shot in the seventh inning Tuesday, Hedges pulled within six of Mike Piazza for the Padres' single-season home run record by a catcher. Piazza launched 22 in 2006.
"I'd love to keep hitting more," Hedges said. "But really, I'd love to just drive the ball more consistently the rest of the year. If they go out, they go out. But if they turn into some doubles, too, I'm pleased with that."
Hedges believes he's struck a perfect balance between his prep work on both sides of the ball. Upon his arrival to the ballpark, he dives straight into video and gameplanning for the Padres' starter. Once that's settled, he'll take swings in the cage. Then, shortly before gametime, he watches video of the opposing pitcher.
"It's definitely a lot more work [in the Majors]," Hedges said. "But by this point, it's become a comfortable routine for me. I know what I have to do to prepare my pitchers when I come to the field. And then I know what I have to do prepare my body to hit."
Despite the low average, Hedges has posted some impressive splits in high-leverage situations this season (as defined by baseball-reference). That fact hasn't been lost on his skipper.
High leverage: .299/.329/.582
Low/medium leverage: .197/.235/.372
"There's a ton of big hits in his back pocket that he's gotten for this team, time and time and time again," Green said. "For a guy that's struggled at times offensively, you look up, and there he is in the middle of another big rally, getting a big hit.
"Plate discipline is a big challenge for him going forward, seeing sliders, seeing spin, staying in the strike zone. If he takes those strides, he's going to turn himself into one of the elite players in the game. ... He's going to keep getting better, and from a home run perspective, it's easy to see 20 to 25 within that bat."
Elite 'Glue Guys' 101
JUL 19 2017
RETIRED / MLB
In 2008, after we had lost to the Rays in the ALCS, I was in the Red Sox clubhouse cleaning out my locker when Theo Epstein walked in and asked to speak with me. We ducked into Terry Francona’s office, which had already been cleaned out, for what amounted to an exit interview.
It had been a crazy two months for me. I had been released for the first time, by the Reds, and at that point, I thought my career might be over. But then Boston picked me up, and, after a deep playoff run, I was about to be a free agent.
Theo and I sat down, and he shot me straight: The Red Sox weren’t going to re-sign me. He said that he loved having me in Boston and that he’d be in touch, and he thanked me for everything I had done in my short time with the team.
Then, he dropped a bombshell on me.
He wanted me to know that I had a … reputation. I’m trying to remember his exact words, but basically, he said that I was known as a guy who didn’t understand or didn’t want to accept his role — a role that was basically that of a backup or role player.
That I was selfish.
A bad teammate.
That hit me hard because that’s not the kind of player I thought I was or wanted to be. That’s not the kind of player anybody wants to be. That’s the worst kind of player.
Theo reiterated that these weren’t things he had seen in me, only what he’d heard through the grapevine. And knowing that I was about to be a free agent, he wanted me to know. I appreciated his honesty.
“Reputations die hard,” he said.
Honestly, I’ve never been asked to write anything in my life, so this should be interesting. But when The Players’ Tribune asked me to write a little something highlighting the “glue guys” around Major League Baseball, the first thing I wanted to do was make sure you know that the guys I’m going to discuss aren’t the only glue guys around the league. That I’m not this all-knowing, all-powerful expert on the subject. I’m just a guy who — especially toward the end of his career — became one of those guys in the clubhouse. These are just the guys who stand out to me because I’ve either played with them or I’ve watched them from afar, and what they’ve done has resonated with me.
So … what’s a glue guy?
Well, it’s not the David Ross that Theo said he’d heard about back in 2008. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a guy who’s unselfish and who’s a goodteammate — the kind of guy I like to think I developed into. A guy who communicates well and who’s honest with his teammates and himself. Somebody the other guys can count on to offer advice or encouragement. He keeps everybody loose, but at the same time, focused.
Basically, it’s a guy who — in baseball clubhouses that often have age gaps, varying talent levels and even language barriers — just sort of keeps everything together.
You know, like glue.
I never set out to be a glue guy. But after that conversation with Theo, I wanted to make sure that nobody ever used the terms selfish or bad teammate in the same breath as my name again. So I started taking notice of other guys and how they positively impacted the clubhouse, and I learned a little bit from each of them along the way. These are some of the guys who really stuck out.
Most guys get to the clubhouse around 2 p.m. for a night game. But by that time, Dustin is already there … in full uniform, wearing his spikes, with eye black on, ready for batting practice. He’s been there since 11 a.m. watching film. Maybe by himself, maybe with a couple of other guys, trying to help them out.
His sole focus is winning, and he does everything he can to help his team win.
Here’s a story about Dustin that kinda sums him up: We were playing the Tigers in Boston in 2013. It was the bottom of the sixth and we had just scored five runs to take a 10–4 lead. We were blowing it open.
Then Dustin got called out on a borderline third strike, and he let the umpire have it. He came into the dugout ranting and raving, like, “That wasn’t a strike! They need to stay professional and not let the score dictate!”
I wanted to tell him to calm down, but that’s just who he is. Most guys would have been O.K. with giving an at bat away in that situation — where we pretty much had the game in hand, or at least we were in control.
But not Dustin.
He was so pissed that the umpire took the bat out of his hands.
That stuck with me. Dustin never gives an at bat away. He’s 100% focused on everything he does on the baseball field, regardless of the score or situation. It’s the only way he knows how to play. That’s a winner’s mentality, and seeing that firsthand showed me the focus it takes to win every day. And when you see a guy who plays that hard and cares that much every pitch, every day … that’s a guy you want to take the field with.
Adrian Beltre put me in a headlock once and almost squeezed my neck off.
It was my rookie year with the Dodgers, and I was sitting in a chair in front of my locker. Some of the guys were having a conversation around me, and I chimed in with a comment. I don’t remember what they were talking about or what I said — it was so long ago and I’ve been hit in the head too many times — but I popped off about something, and Belly was like, “Oh yeah, Rossy? You getting a little comfy over there, eh?”
I just kind of laughed, you know? Everybody was joking around, and so was I.
But I was the rookie.
And what I learned right then was … stay in your lane, rookie.
So I’m still laughing, and Belly comes over to me, puts his python of an arm around my neck, lifts me off my chair and gets me in a sleeper hold. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. I had nowhere to go. Everybody else was still laughing and joking — including Belly — but I was like, Oh shit … what have I done?
He finally lets me out of the choke hold, and everybody is still laughing … except me, because at this point, I don’t know if I’m allowed.
It wasn’t malicious or anything, and he obviously wasn’t trying to hurt me — though I’m pretty sure he could have if he wanted to. He just wanted to send a message: Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Like, Hey, I’ll be nice to you. But you’re gonna respect me.
I think Belly is the prime example of that.
I remember in L.A. when he was playing third and Cesar Izturis was at short. When there was a pop-up in the infield, if Izturis settled underneath it, Belly would get right behind him — almost underneath him — joking around like he didn’t trust Izturis to make the play, even though it was a gimme. You see Elvis Andrus do it to him in Texas now, and it’s always funny.
And that’s on the field, during a game, with a live ball in play … and they’re joking around.
But they always take care of their business.
With that sleeper hold, Belly taught me that you can be a good clubhouse guy without letting people walk all over you or disrespect you. You can be a nice guy and have fun, but at the same time, take your craft seriously and compete when it’s time to compete.
It’s a lesson that has always stuck with me.
You have your Dustin Pedroias and your Adrian Beltres … then you have a guy like Dexter Fowler, who just brings a different kind of energy to a clubhouse. He plays hard and prepares well, but with Dexter, it’s really just his presence that lifts a team up. He’s never dragging. And if you’re dragging, he has energy to spare. His smile is infectious, and every day it feels like he’s just happy that he gets to play baseball — and he’s like that for 162 games.
When he was leading off for us in Chicago, he set the tone every day that we were going to play hard and have a good time doing it. He always gave us that spark. Even when he walked into the clubhouse, he’s saying hey to guys, yelling nicknames across the room, saying good morning or good afternoon to everybody he passes. He’s always engaged.
He’s always in on what’s going on with the rest of the guys away from the field, too. That was one of Joe Maddon’s big things: Like, if we’re dressing up, we’re all dressing up. Dexter was always right there. Team dinner? He’s in. And he’s bringing that energy with him. He brings a consistent, positive attitude to everything he does.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that baseball is supposed to be fun and that we’re all fortunate to get to play a game for a living.
It’s hard to forget that when you play every day with a guy like Dexter.
I have to admit … Yadi is my secret catcher crush. He’s the perfect example you want set day in and day out for your team.
First, he’s always looking to help his pitcher — always looking to get an out. Like the pick-off throw behind the runner he used to do. He doesn’t do it as much anymore, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen him nail a guy at first who got too big of a lead. He’ll throw to any base, any time, if he thinks he has a shot at stealing an out.
And his work ethic is incredible. I’ve heard stories about him in spring training out there with the minor leaguers at 6 a.m. blocking balls. This is a guy who’s an established All-Star — a Gold Glover — yet he’s up early, right in the mix with the young guys, doing basic drills. Because he wants the young guys to know, Hey, I’m on the same level as you. We’re all trying to get better. That’s why we’re here.
He’s also out there because he just loves the game. I mean, this is a guy who plays every day, even day games, in St. Louis, in the heat of the summer.
A day game after a night game is usually a good opportunity to give a couple of guys a day off, and as a backup in Atlanta, I used to play day games to give Brian McCann a break. So we’re in St. Louis, and I see Yadi is in the lineup. So I walk over to him and say, “Hey man, what are you doing? It’s a day game. You’re supposed to take the day off.”
And he’s like, “Noooo, Papi, I gotta be in here. I love it, I love it, I love it!”
That’s it. He just loves the game. He loves competing. He loves winning.
And he’s always communicating — with his pitcher, with the manager, with the guys out in the field. Everything runs through him.
When it comes to catchers in this game — and I guess glue guys, too — he’s about as good as it gets.
I first noticed Justin a few years ago when he was with the Mets, when he was coming off the bench, pinch hitting, and always having great at bats — tough at bats, too, coming in late to face closers. Those are the toughest. You’re coming off the bench to face a guy who’s fresh and throwing 100 mph in a tight game where your at bat could be the difference between winning and losing. I learned a lot about the kind of player he is by watching those at bats.
I learned about the kind of guy he is when he went to Los Angeles.
He’s another guy who just has that presence — that energy factor. He looks like he’s always having the most fun on the field every time he plays. Plus he’s got that little Cali-style thing going on, with the long hair and beard, like, Hey, I’m here to have a good time. I like his vibe.
Just watch a Dodgers game. Any game. You’ll see him in the dugout and he’s in the middle of everything. He’s taking selfies with Adrian Gonzalez or doing a secret handshake with one of the young guys. He’s talking to everybody down the line, from Dave Roberts to the bat boy. They’re in the middle of a game that everybody takes seriously because … you know, it’s their job … and Justin pops up and starts talking to somebody, and you always see them laugh or smile as he walks away and bounces off to the next group of guys. He has that kind of impact on everybody in the dugout.
I mean, if your teammates step up and call out fans for not voting you into the All-Star game, like Justin’s did this season, you’re probably a glue guy. That right there not only shows me that he takes the game seriously, but it also shows me the kind of respect he commands in the clubhouse, and that his teammates just love him.
He’s the guy that makes the Dodgers’ engine run.
You can’t talk about guys having fun without talking about Hunter Pence, but it’s his focus, work ethic and passion that makes him one of the game’s truly unique guys.
I had some interactions with him in the batter’s box, and he’s not chatty or laid back like you might think. He’s ultra-focused. He’ll look back at me like, “Hey, how you doin’?” And that’s it. He locks in. And he seems to bring that work ethic and intensity to everything he does.
I’ve seen him out on the field before a game doing lunge-squats with 80-pound dumbbells — I’m talking at like four o’clock before a night game. And I’m watching him like, What the heck is this animal doing?
It feels like he’d be the guy that would run a marathon and either leave everybody in the dust, or he’d run until he passed out. He runs hard down the baselines and around the bases. In the outfield, I feel like he’s throwing as hard as he can every time he throws it. He swings for the fences and he never gives away an at bat. It always feels like his internal engine is running higher than anyone else’s on the field. I just love the way he plays the game.
You’ve probably heard stories about his speeches — whether it’s in the locker room before Game 7 of the World Series or in the dugout before a day game in the middle of June. But then when you see his interactions with the fans, like him leading the Yes! chant they do in San Francisco, it’s clear that he’s just one of those guys that everybody seems to rally around. Some guys just have that. You can’t teach it.
I wish I would have had the opportunity to play with Carlos Beltran. I always respected the way he played, and I hated when we were playing against him and he came up to bat in a big situation.
But I’ve also heard stories about him taking the younger guys under his wing — especially the Latino players. I don’t know Beltran personally, but from talking to Brian McCann and others who have played with him, he appears to be just one of the best guys to be around.
You know how sometimes you hear a guy described as a “student of the game?” Well, Beltran is a teacher of the game. He’s a veteran the young guys always know they can approach to talk about hitting — strategy, what a good at bat looks like, finding an edge against an opposing pitcher … anything.
I think he’s the perfect fit for this young, talented Astros team. When you get a winning player with his experience willing to share his time and knowledge with a core of young, talented players, that can only be a positive, and I think it will take the Astros a long way this season. I also think he’ll leave a mark on those young guys that will last long after he’s left the game.
To to be a glue guy, you have to be a good person first. There’s no way around it. And Brian McCann is genuinely one of the best human beings I’ve ever met.
After I left the Red Sox in 2008, I signed with the Braves to back up McCann, and I could see right away how he carried himself and the way he lifted everybody up around him. Whether he was dealing with the pitching staff or talking with me about game-calling, he would always put a positive spin on the conversation when you least expected it.
He could do that because he paid attention.
That’s the biggest key to being unselfish: You have to be aware of what’s happening with everybody around you — how they perform and how to get the most out of them. It seemed like Brian was always there to tell me, “Hey man, great swing,” or, “Bro, you’re one of the best at the exchange. I’ve never seen a guy as quick as you.”
And it always seemed to come right when I needed to hear it most.
It’s kind of a sixth sense, knowing what a guy needs to hear and when, and Brian had it.
When he had the day off and I was catching, he was the first one to high-five me at the top of the steps when I came off the field. Every time. You’d think the guy would take his day off and just hang back. But no … he was there, watching my at bats, noticing when I threw guys out and how I called the game. He was always there to lift me up.
All the guys on this list are the kinds of guys you want and need to have in a clubhouse. But out of everybody I’ve ever seen or played with, I don’t think anybody has ever had as big an impact on the kind of teammate and person I became as Brian McCann.
DAVID ROSS / CONTRIBUTOR