The Urena Express: 5/28/22

Steven Urena
“Don’t you know we’re riding on the Urena Express…”

By Steven Urena

Cal Hanley: But, you know, you had an edge on Buster last night that you won’t have next time.
Ted Bell: What’s that? What do you mean?
Cal Hanley: The White Sox didn’t have a book on you.
Ted Bell: A book?
Cal Hanley: Sure, a book. Don’t you know what I mean?
Ted Bell: No, I don’t think so.
Cal Hanley: When you walked up to the plate you were a high school kid that nobody had ever seen before. Neither Buster Krump nor anyone else in the ballpark knew how to pitch to you. High or low? Inside or Outside? Curve or fastball or slider? Or what? Nobody knew. So Buster Krump did the only thing he could do with the first pitch. Do you remember it?
Ted Bell: Sure. A curve.
Cal Hanley: Right. That is the best bet against a kid who’s never seen a major league curveball. You stood right up to it. So Buster tried something else.
Ted Bell: Uh-huh. A fastball, low and outside. And then a high fastball.
Cal Hanley: Yes and about the time the high fastball was leaving the infield, still on the rise, headed for the seats in left field, the first line was being written in the book on Ted Bell.

Excerpt from “The Rookie Arrives” by Thomas J. Dygard

If you have a child that likes baseball, “The Rookie Arrives” is a great baseball book. It’s so good, I’ll buy you a copy. The first person to reach out to me is the winner. 

The ability to successfully hit major league pitching is the hardest thing to do in all sports. Round ball. Round bat. The slow pitchers throw 90 mph. The freaks throw over 100 mph. Balls sink, cut, break, split, curve and knuckle. It doesn’t surprise me when hitters slump. Heck, they’re human. Get a hit 3 out of 10 times and you’re an all-star. Get a hit 4 out of 10 times and you’re a legend. Imagine getting 200 hits in 500 at-bats? That’s a .400 batting average. That’s absolutely insane. 

Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Cedric Mullens, Marcus Semien, Adam Duvall, Yasmani Grandal, Jesse Winker, Matt Chapman. What do these gentlemen have in common? They couldn’t hit a jackpot with three 7s. What’s the strange part? They’ve had their fair share of success at the major league level. 

Teams are constantly writing “the book” on players. The great ones adjust and continue to have success. The others, well, are forgotten. They write books quite differently now than they did in Ted Bell’s day (1988). One tool utilized by today’s technology is heat maps. Heat maps are basically a strike zone with “hot” and “cold” areas. The hot areas are where a hitter is successful and the blue areas are where a hitter is not successful. Pitch velocity, pitch type and pitch location is charted as well. 

Pitchers, catchers, coaches and the rest of the team now have heat maps on every hitter they will face. They use these heat maps to figure out a game plan. The team can see at which speeds fastballs are being blown by the hitter, where to spot curveballs and which areas of the strike zone the hitter is not successful. It’s amazing the data that is available to major league clubs. 

Back in the day, it was literally a book. An old crusty coach would “analyze” hitters swings and figure out where the holes were. Advance scouts watched opponents days before their club played them and compiled scouting reports for the team to use. 

The data also reveals hitters’ tendencies.  Examples are hitters that like first pitch fastballs, hitters that sit off-speed early in counts, hitters that choose one side of the plate and just about everything in between. Not to mention the tangible data such as a hitter’s success on sliders low and away, a hitter’s success on fastballs over 95 mph or a hitter’s success on 2-1 change ups. These examples are very small pieces of the equation. The data illustrates the perfect game plan for attacking hitters. You don’t need 30 years of experience in professional baseball to know how to attack hitters. You just need an iPad. You can see why the old timers hate the baseball nerds.

This is why some young hitters burst onto the scene and quickly fade out. Remember Yasiel Puig, Todd Hollandsworth, Chris Coghlan, Chris Davis and many more. The book, the heat maps, the use of applicable data, old crusty coaches catching flaws in swings and dynamic pitchers with ungodly stuff. The odds are not in your favor. Successfully hitting major league pitching is the hardest thing to do in all sports. Period. 

As I stated, the great ones adjust. I firmly believe Max Muncy will adjust. Take a quick look at the stats below.

Since 2018…
Dodgers leader in home runs: Max Muncy.
Dodgers leader in RBIs: Max Muncy.
Dodgers leader in runs: Max Muncy.
Dodgers leader in wRC+ (I got you…weighted runs created plus…quantifies runs creation and normalizes it between players who play in different ballparks and teams): Max Muncy.
Dodgers leader in fWAR (fangraphs wins above replacement): Max Muncy.

Max Muncy is off to a horrendous start this season. My first question, is he healthy? It seems as though he might not be. My second is, can we cut the guy some slack? I’m worried too but I am nowhere near panic mode. He’s our guy. He’s had huge moments for us. Get behind Muncy and let him get out of it. He will.

Available on Amazon
(Click the pic)

New York Ouchies
Has it begun? Giancarlo Stanton is on the IL with a bum ankle. DJ LeMahieu is out with a sore wrist. Jonathan Loaisiga has shoulder inflammation. Who’s next? Are the Yankees destined to underachieve again because of injuries? It’s one thing to lose your 7 and 8 hole hitters but it’s another thing to lose your big studs. They say New York is the city that never sleeps. That must be because they’re nervous about injuries. 

Face of the MLB
Right now it’s Juan Soto. Change my mind. 

Sure, the usual suspects are still out there. Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts. Vladdy Jr has been a little quiet this year. Hurtnando Tatis is, well, hurt. 

So far, Soto is the guy. 

He might be traded this season so, naturally, there’s a lot of buzz around him. He’s the best hitter in baseball. He’s young. He’s got swagger for days. He’s the complete package. 

What’s Soto worth in a trade? I say 4 players. An infielder, outfield, pitcher and something else. Either young, proven big leaguers or highly touted prospects. I’m excited to see where he lands and for what.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved Joc Pederson. He fit in well with the Dodgers. However, I was not upset to see him go. He was clutch, he had power and he was JocTober for a reason but he simply did not prove to me that he was a valuable everyday player. Dodger fans are freaking out because he just hit 3 home runs in one game and he has 11 for the season. That’s Joc. Feast or famine. If you like Disneyland, you’ll love Joc. He’s a rollercoaster. Love the guy but it’s show business not friend business. I’ll stick with my guys.

Last add for Joc…can they let us in on what advice Barry Bonds gave him? Apparently he talked to Barry and went out and hit 3 home runs the next day. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

The Urena Express Power Rankings

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Houston Astros
  4. New York Mets
  5. San Diego Padres
  6. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  7. Milwaukee Brewers
  8. Tampa Bay Rays
  9. Minnesota Twins
  10. San Francisco Giants

Best That Never Was
It was fun watching Tom Brady take batting practice on Twitter. Funny, watching Rob Gronkowski take fly balls and throw. In case you didn’t know, Brady was drafted by the Montreal Expos out of high school in the 18 round. Not bad. Word is he would have gone even higher had football and a scholarship to Michigan not been in the equation. 

(Click on Pic)
In high school, we all knew the cool kids, the jocks, and the prom queen stereotypes. But how many of us remember the quiet ones, the outcasts? Meet Darren Bradford, a polite, amiable, young man, who returns to his high school day after day, year after year…half a decade after graduating. “The Dark Norm” opens doors and picklocks memories we’d all prefer to keep stored in the past.

Who’s the best baseball player drafted by a major league club that did not play baseball? I think of guys like Michael Vick, Jameis Winston, Dan Marino, Kyler Murray, Jack Del Rio, Charlie Ward, Colin Kaepernick, Golden Tate, Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes, and countless others. Lots of football players.

Who do you think would have been the most successful of the bunch? My pick is Tom Brady. Just because of what he did in football, outside of his abilities. That determination and drive would have translated to baseball. My second pick would have been Dan Marino. When he was born the gods turned his right arm into a thunderbolt. I compare him to Roger Clemens. 

Contact Steve Urena at:
Twitter/IG: @theurenaexpress

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