December 12, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Friday, March 29, 2013
In my last year's article about Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, I said:
...I kept thinking to myself, "If you have a 96-98 mph heater but can't reliably command it, do you really have it at all?" It's to his credit that he has the intelligence and humbleness to understand when he can't throw his best bolt where he needs it, but that's a trait you want to see from the fringe guys who have to maximize their stuff, not necessarily big-time prospects.
Well, take a look at his 2012 stats vs. his 2013 stats so far:
2012: 2.56 ERA, 0.22 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 9.51 K/9
2013: 1.18 ERA, 0.24 HR/9, 1.66 BB/9, 12.79 K/9
Though Pac-12 play is still in the early stages, Stanford's schedule has not been a cakewalk. As of March 29, it ranks 78th in all of Division-I.
I've been watching Stanford games on the Internet, and the only mechanical difference between 2013 and 2012 is that Appel is a little faster to the plate and has a bit better rhythm. That would dovetail nicely with the reports I hear from pro scouts about his average velocity being up a tick, more like 94-96 rather than 92-94 with your occasional bolt. I've heard that he's been throwing his four-seam fastball on a more downward plane instead of relying on his two-seam/sinker to get groundball outs, and that could be a big reason that his strikeout rate has jumped.
He still has fastball command issues: When he unleashes his best at 97-98, it is likely to miss up and to the arm side. He doesn't command his best bolt very well and doesn't seem to be able to reliably throw it for strikes, which was the case when I saw him against Washington in 2012. The big difference is that he won't abandon this pitch anymore; he'll just shave off a bit and still aggressively attack the zone with it.
Prior to 2013, I wasn't buying the first pick, first round hype on Appel. But now that I've seen his changed approach and the increasingly ridiculous statistics (remember, he got shelled in his first start against Rice), I've got one leg solidly on the bandwagon of Mark Appel going 1-1 in the draft to the Houston Astros.
40 years ago today, a very different kind of baseball game was played. Well, the game itself was the same—but the baseball itself was rather distinctive. 40 years ago today, the sport of baseball tried something different—playing a game with orange baseballs.
The idea was the brainchild of maverick Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley. He was never one to care much for tradition. In fact, at one point he suggested changing the four-ball, three-strike count to three balls and two strikes. It would save on time and make the game go faster, he argued. That was too radical a change and so never happened. But changing the color of the ball isn’t as big a deal.
Finley thought using white baseballs was for the birds. He figured, hey, orange baseballs might be more popular with the fans and thus good for the game. After all, orange stands out better and if it stands out better, then hitters might be able to see it clearer. If they see it clearer, more runs might follow. And if baseball history teaches us anything, it’s that fans like offense.
As it happens, in early 1973 Finley had enough pull in the game to allow for the experiment. Though never the easiest person to get along with or the most popular man with his fellow owners, in 1972 his A’s did win the world title, and being world champion owner gave him the clout he needed for baseball to try it.
Baseball traditionalist owners might have minded, but they could be placated by the fact that it was just a preseason exhibition game, not a real contest.
And so it came to pass on March 29, 1973. The game featured Finley’s A’s (of course) taking on the sad sack Indians, who finished last in the AL East in 1972. Sadly for Finley, the experiment was not a success. However easy it might be to see an orange ball against a green background, there was one way the new ball was distinctly worse for offense. Hitters complained that they couldn’t make out the spin of the red seems on the ball, and so had more difficulty figuring out what was coming. For their part, pitchers complained that the ball was slippery.
Also, there was no explosion in offense. The orange balls were used for two games, and then Finley agreed to end the experiment. Heck, for Finley half the point of trying something different was just to try and see what happened.
It became part of his legacy, though. A few years later when Time but Finley on their cover, the accompanying article on him featured his orange balls. Orange balls became part of his legacy 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball event today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones is bold if you’d rather skim.
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