Top 100 Baseball Blog

Friday, June 15, 2018

Former Pitcher Russ Ortiz Recalls His Baseball Career


Pitching is one of the most difficult endeavors in baseball. It was particularly daunting in the early 2000s, as offenses were operating at high-octane levels. That makes the career of Russ Ortiz all the more impressive, as the right-hander won 99 games in one six-year stretch on his way to a wildly successful 12-year major league career.
Ortiz was primarily a reliever at the University of Oklahoma before being selected in the fourth round of the 1995 draft by the San Francisco Giants. He was virtually unhittable from the get go, posting a 0.67 ERA with 11 saves and a 1.85 ERA with 36 saves in his first two minor league seasons, respectively—while striking out better than 13 batters per nine innings.
The Giants decided to try and strike lightning in a bottle and converted Ortiz to a starting role. He took to it quickly and debuted in the majors in 1998. His 4-4 record and 4.99 ERA in 22 games (13 starts) that year indicate the typical transition experience of a rookie, but was more than enough to earn him a permanent place on the San Francisco pitching staff.
Ortiz won 18 games in 1999; the beginning of his 99 wins in six years stretch. The Giants were annual contenders during those years; losing the 2002 World Series to the Anaheim Angels; a year in which Ortiz won 14 games. His best season came in 2003 after he had been traded to the Atlanta Braves that previous off-season. That year he went 21-7 with a 3.81 ERA (leading the league in wins). He finished fourth in Cy Young voting and was named to the National League All Star team.
Unfortunately, injuries played a significant part in the latter half of Ortiz’s career. He went on to play for the Arizona D-Backs, Baltimore Orioles, Giants again, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring following the 2010 season. All total he finished with a 113-89 record and 4.51 ERA. A good hitting pitcher, he also batted .205 for his career with seven home runs.
Keep reading for Ortiz’s reflections on his career and to find out what he is up to today off the baseball diamond.
Russ Ortiz Interview
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Will Clark and Nolan Ryan. Will Clark because he played the game hard and had a sweet swing.  Nolan Ryan because he threw hard and was a great pitcher.
Can you describe your draft experience with the San Francisco Giants in 1995- How did you find out you had been selected?: I was at the College World Series with the University of Oklahoma and when I got back to my hotel room there was a message on the phone. My roomie got the message and he told me I better listen to it. It was Mike Keenan with the Giants. He told me they drafted me in the fourth round. It was an incredible feeling because that is what I worked for all my life.
You began your professional career as a reliever; how did it come about that you were turned into a starter?: The Giants came to me and told me they thought I could be a good starter. They wanted me to start the following year. I was hesitant because I thought it would slow down my route to the big leagues. But I trusted them and it worked out great.  
What do you remember most about your professional debut? (Striking out the side against the Houston Astros)?: Dusty Baker told me after I finished my warm ups to look around and take it in. When the hitter gets in the box, give him his due respect and get to work. I went to work and wanted to show everyone I could pitch up there
In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Played with- Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, Miguel Tejada, and Roy Oswalt. They all had tools that were better than the rest.
What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My first appearance, pitching Game 6 in the 2002 World Series; All Star Game; winning my 20th game in 2003.
What was it like, especially as a pitcher, being part of the 2001 Giants and observing Barry Bonds' 73 home run season first hand?: Well, the night before I believe he hit  number 72. That was a more special night. The real record night. Seeing him hit homer after homer during the year was incredible, especially because he was walked so much.
If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: Nothing. I prepared as hard as I could, played as hard as I could and loved every minute of my time in baseball.
You played for some great managers (Dusty Baker, Bobby Cox, Bruce Bochy, Joe Torre, etc). Pick one, and please explain your choice.: Oh man, that’s tough. I got to know Dusty best. He was my favorite because I spent the most time with him. He was a great player’s manager. He trusted his players, he believed in his players, and he got to know his players and their families. He was such a fan of the game that was fun to have him in the dugout
What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I am spending as much time as I can with my family and running a golf apparel business (2GG Apparel). I started that 5 years ago. We craft men’s and women’s golf apparel and give the net proceeds to charity. I started this with the heart to help others. And it’s been a blast.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, June 11, 2018

Has Boston Red Sox Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez Made the Leap?

The Boston Red Sox gambled they were making a shrewd move when they traded star reliever Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 for prospect left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Although he had flashes of promise over the ensuing three seasons, injuries and inconsistency made him into somewhat of an enigma. Now 25, the southpaw is in the midst of what may end up being his best professional season—and on a path to the stardom Boston envisioned when they first acquired him.
Being healthy so far this year is obviously a primary factor in Rodriguez ‘s success. Thus far he has made 12 starts and gone 7-1 with a 3.68 ERA. He has struck out 77 in 66 innings and is posting the highest strikeout rate (10.5/9) of his career while simultaneously having his lowest rate of hits allowed per nine innings (7.9). The 1.8 WAR he has produced in the early going matches the figure he posted in 25 (24 starts) 2017 games. These are all the signs you want to see from a young pitcher who has been expected to bloom.
Taking a look at his stuff at FanGraphs, the most obvious thing that jumps out is that Rodriguez has reduced using his fastball, which was previously thrown in about two-thirds of his pitches, to just over half of them this year. He has also cut back a bit on his slider, while throwing a cutter 18.5 percent of the time, which is more than three times more often in previous years.
His cutter has gone from being a negative value pitch for him last year to positive value this year. He has also seen a leap in the effectiveness of his fastball, which he is showing in the same average range (93 MPH) as he has in past years. This data suggests that while his stuff may have gotten better, he may have also incorporated what he has learned and simply put it into practice.
If the starting thing doesn’t work out for Rodriguez for some reason, his numbers against left-handed hitters this season suggest he would be quite the LOOGY. He has fanned 22 of the 47 lefty swingers he has faced this year while allowing a measly six hits. By comparison, lefties hit .284 off him last year. This massive jump in production is no doubt in large part because of his increased use of the cutter, which if deployed effectively by a pitcher can be a terror on batters with the same swing orientation as the hurler’s throwing hand.
The Red Sox are still treating Rodriguez cautiously. At 100.8 pitches per game, that’s down almost two pitches from last year’s average. It’s completely understandable that they want to keep him upright and off the disabled list, so that number may continue to climb as the seasons progresses and they get more comfortable with his health.
He is also averaging a career-high 18.3 pitches per inning and 4.34 per batter. His walk rate is a very respectable 2.9 and better than any season since his rookie campaign. 12 starts isn’t a huge number, but those numbers could suggest he may be nibbling a bit too much still while at the same time acknowledging that his increased strikeouts also can pile up pitches.
It’s clear that the Red Sox made a great move when they acquired Rodriguez, although Miller was a steep price to pay. Rodriguez has already shown he can be a productive pitcher when healthy, and is putting everyone on notice in 2018 that he may well be a star. Under team control through the 2021 season, he still has a lot to prove as fans continue to see exactly how far a leap he can make.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Minor League Baseball Announces its May Players of the Month (Press Release)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced the Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 10 full season leagues for the month of May. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor.

Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) third baseman Ronny Rodriguez led the International League batting average (.383), hits (44) and RBI (24) before being promoted to Detroit on May 31, where he promptly doubled and tripled in his major league debut. Rodriguez hit safely in 25 of 28 games in May and hit in 18 straight games from May 4–22. He hit for the cycle May 30 against Syracuse. Rodriguez, 26, was originally signed by Cleveland out of Santiago, Dominican Republic, on Oct. 5, 2010.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies) outfielder Mike Tauchman led the Pacific Coast League in hits (44), runs (31) and total bases (81), while finishing second in average (.379), extra-base hits (19), slugging (698), OPS (1.125) and RBI (24). His eight home runs were tied for third in the league and Tauchman posted 12 multi-hit games in May. Tauchman, 27, was selected by Colorado in the 10th round of the 2013 draft out of Bradley University.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays) third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the Eastern League in average (.438), hits (49), extra-base hits (19), total bases (86), runs (29), RBI (28), slugging (.768), OPS (1.248) and tied for first in home runs (nine). Guerrero posted 16 multi-hit games in May and had separate hitting streaks of seven, eight and 10 games as he reached base in 28 of his 29 games. Guerrero, 19, signed with Toronto on July 2, 2015.

Birmingham Barons (White Sox) right fielder Eloy Jimenez led the Southern League in hits (40), total bases (71), extra-base hits (18), doubles (11), slugging (.664) and OPS (1.082). He finished second in average (.374), RBI (25) and tied for third in home runs (six). He began the month with eight consecutive multi-hit games (part of a streak of nine straight) and posted 14 multi-hit games in the month. Jimenez, 21, was originally signed by the Chicago Cubs out of Santo Domingo Centro, Dominican Republic, on Aug. 1, 2013.

San Antonio Missions (Padres) shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. batted .336 in May and led the Texas League in doubles (12), runs (30), extrabase hits (21) and total bases (78). He finished second in slugging (.639) and third in hits (41), home runs (seven) and OPS (1.054). Tatis, 19, was originally signed by the Chicago White Sox out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2015.

Lancaster JetHawks (Rockies) first baseman Roberto Ramos batted .345 in May and led the California League in home runs (nine), RBI (23), extra-base hits (17), total bases (64) and slugging (.762). Ramos finished the month second in OPS (1.201). Ramos, 23, was selected by Colorado in the 16th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of the College of the Canyons Junior College in Santa Clarita, California.

Carolina Mudcats (Brewers) second baseman Keston Hiura led the Carolina League in hits (46), runs (29), extra-base hits (21), total bases (81), doubles (13), slugging (.664) and OPS (1.101). He was second in home runs (six) and third in average (.377) and on-base percentage (.437). Hiura, 21, was selected by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California-Irvine.

Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays) first baseman Nate Lowe is a repeat winner in the Florida State League as he led the league in hits (32), extra-base hits (13) and OPS (1.053) and was second in runs (21), total bases (55), doubles (eight), home runs (five), RBI (19) and slugging (.611). He finished third in the league in average (.356) and on-base percentage (.442) and walked as many times as he struck out (14). Lowe, 22, was selected by Tampa Bay in the 13th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Mississippi State University.

Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins) outfielder Alex Kirilloff batted .360 in 31 games in May and led the Midwest League in hits (41), RBI (25) and total bases (73), was second in extra-base hits (19) and triples (three). Kirilloff finished third in the league in doubles (11), slugging (.640) and OPS (1.063). Kirilloff, 20, was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Plum High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) shortstop Manuel Geraldo led the South Atlantic League in average (.384), hits (38) and runs (23), and was second in total bases (62) and RBI (20). Geraldo finished the month third in slugging percentage (.626) and OPS (1.040). Geraldo, 21, was signed by San Francisco out of Azua, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2013.

About Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2017, Minor League Baseball attracted 41.8 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information visit MiLB.com.

Follow Minor League Baseball on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Alou: My Baseball Journey- A Review

Baseball can get in the blood of some so much that they find ways to stay around even after their playing days are behind of them. One of the most prodigious and tenured baseball lifers is Felipe Alou, who has spent nearly six decades in baseball as a successful outfielder, manager, scout and front office man. His story has been captured in Alou: My Baseball Journey University of Nebraska Press-2018), by Felipe Alou with Peter Kerasotis.
Alou, a right-handed hitter, batted a combined .286 with 206 home runs during a 17-year major league career. He also won 1,033 games in 14 seasons as a big league manager, including skippering the renowned 1994 Montreal Expos, who seemed destined for World Series glory until derailed by a shortened season because of an unresolved labor agreement.
From reading Alou, it seems to know the subject one must first know his origins. A native of the Dominican Republic, he takes great pride in his country of his birth and of his family which has produced a number of major leaguers, including two of his brothers (Matty and Jesus) his son (Moises), and a nephew (Mel Rojas). While none have made the Hall of Fame, the family has cumulatively made quite an impact on baseball from many facets of the game.
Many young Latin players were starting to break into the majors when Alou came up with the San Francisco Giants in the late 1950s. He does an excellent job of detailing the struggles he and others experienced. This not only included the discrimination, but also language barriers and unequal treatment from front offices. If they were lucky, some players might have a coach or manager who had played in a Latin country and had picked up some Spanish. Otherwise, many were coming to the States and the game with limited or no ability to speak English, which hampered anything from communicating with teammates to ordering breakfast at a restaurant.
To hear Alou tell it, he is really a fisherman at heart, who once wanted to be a doctor, but was coerced into baseball because of the money his talent was able to attract. His career tells a slightly different story, as every time he was about to transition from one phase of his career, he inevitably found a new baseball-related vocation.
The pinnacle of Alou’s career should have been the 1994 Expos. They tore through the rest of the league and looked like locks for 100-plus victories and an excellent shot at the World Series. However, labor unrest kept them from actualizing either. Ominously, an aging stadium and ownership with differing priorities contributed to the team leaving Montreal just a decade later.
What’s special with Alou is that his career has spanned such a length of time and breadth of contemporaries. From Willie Mays to Barry Bonds and many in between, Alou has seen and done a lot. He and Keratosis nicely keep his narrative on track. In a number of cases it would have been nice for them to let loose just a little bit and inject a bit more personal feelings about various individuals and situations. However, it’s also understandable for the need to tread more carefully there given Alou is still working in the game as a special assistant with the San Francisco Giants.
Alou is a fine baseball biography of one of the game’s most tenured figures. More efforts like this, specifically in regards to Latin players, are desperately needed in this literature genre. As someone who has been deeply immersed in baseball for more than the past 60 years, Alou’s insight goes a long way in deciphering the game during that time.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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