Sunday Notes: New Brewer Eric Lauer is a Cutter-y Craftsman in Search of Depth
Eric Lauer is a Brewer now, Milwaukee having acquired the 24-year-old left-hander from the Padres on Wednesday as part of a four-player swap. He remains a work in progress. Two years into his big-league career, Lauer is still refining a five-pitch mix that was good enough to make him a first round pick. San Diego drafted the Elyria, Ohio native 25th-overall out of Kent State University in 2016.
Lauer leaned heavily on his fastball and his cutter this past season. The former, which he threw 53% of the time, is a four-seamer that averaged 92.1 mph. The latter, which he threw 22.2% of the time, is four ticks slower and delivered without undue effort. Unlike his other secondaries, it comes naturally.
“The angle my hand is at when I deliver a pitch is very cutter-y,” Lauer explained. “It’s on the side of the ball, so I can cut it easily. That’s why my changeup has never been a great pitch for me; I throw on the outer side of the ball, rather than the inner side, or directly behind it.”
His changeup is a two-seam circle he used just 4.4% of the time. He wasn’t tinkering with the grip when I spoke to him this summer, but he was trying to find the right release point to consistently get the angle he wanted. As he erstwhile Golden Flash put it, “Changeups and sliders come out of your hand two completely different ways. I have to focus on different keys for each.”
Laura’s slider is a pitch that has required continual tinkering. He told me that he used to grip it loosely, but on the suggestion of since-replaced pitching coach Darren Balsley, he’d begun putting it deeper in his hand. The result is a slider that “spins harder, but is a little harder to control.” In other words, it is a pitch that has remained, frustratingly, a work in progress. Last year’s usage rate dipped to 6.5%
“It comes and goes for me,” admitted Lauer. “It tends to get a little too cutter-y. I’ve always wanted more depth on it than I can consistently get. That’s still the goal. We’re trying to get more depth action, rather than slide.”
The fifth of his offerings isn’t an issue. The curveball Lauer uses roughly 15% of the time is not only his “most-comfortable” off-speed pitch: he’s increased its velocity and is throwing it “with better spin, and in different locations” — this despite “not doing anything crazy different” with the grip, nor with his delivery.
The fact that his repertoire will now be on display in a different city isn’t a huge surprise. When I asked A.J. Preller about the Padres’ projected starting rotation in 2020 — this during the GM meetings — Lauer was the fifth pitcher he mentioned. He then added Cal Quantrill to the list, and went to say the team will “continue to see what else is out there in terms of additions from outside the organization.”
That’s not to say that San Diego’s general manager views Lauer in a negative light. Along with having made him a first-round pick, Preller has watched the youngster make the second-most starts, and throw the second-most innings, of any Padres pitcher over the past two seasons. Lauer’s 3.1 WAR is equal to that of fellow lefty Joey Lucchesi, who sits atop the other two categories.
“Eric has shown that he’s a major-league pitcher,” Preller told me. “His fastball plays well. He continues to develop his secondary pitches. And he’s had success. He was the D-1 Pitcher of the Year, at Kent State, and after spending just one year in the minor leagues he’s been up here competing, and kind of learning at the big-league level. The big question for him is whether he can continue to sharpen up, and refine, some of the things that would allow him to solidify a spot in the rotation, and show that he pitch in a major-league rotation on a winning club.”
Lauer will now get that opportunity, as he’s joining a team that has played October baseball in each of the past two seasons and fully intends to return in 2020. What the Brewers are getting is a southpaw who, along with still refining his varied repertoire, has a studious understanding of his craft.
“It doesn’t really matter how good your individual pitches are,” said Lauer. “You can pitch at a really high level with very average stuff if you throw pitches that complement each other well, and you sequence them well. Tunneling is crazy important. Hitters swing based on how the ball comes out of your hand. If they can’t see anything telling, on any pitch, you’ve already won.”
The St. Louis Cardinals took Zack Thompson with the 19th-overall pick of this summer’s amateur draft. Some had expected the University of Kentucky left-hander to come off the board even earlier, and that includes the team that ended up calling his name.
“We saw an arm that we felt had the potential to have been taken well above where we picked,” said St. louis scouting director Randy Flores, when asked why they tabbed Thompson. “When you factor in the performance he had in the SEC, his velocity, his spin profile, his makeup… Zack still being there when we picked is something we were excited about.”
Addressing the 22-year-old’s repertoire, Flores told me that Thompson possesses “a really good curveball, a growing cutter/slider, and [a fastball] he can get up to 97 mph.” As impressive as that pitch profile sounds, it isn’t indicative of a cookie-cutter wish. Come draft day, what the Cardinals care most about is talent.
“We look at each spot in the draft as being unique,” explained Flores. “We try to not typecast, or to eliminate certain types of players. One year we’ll draft a guy like Dakota Hudson, who is an extreme ground-ball pitcher with a sinker profile. Another year it’s Zach Thompson. Another year it’s a guy like Griffin Roberts. We’re open to multiple types of profiles, in hope that we can be opportunistic at multiple spots in the draft.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The Miami Marlins are in rebuild mode, and you don’t need to look any further than their won-lost record for evidence. A glance at the 2019 standings shows that the Derek Jeter-fronted club finished 57-105, a full 40 games out of first place in the NL East. As the saying goes, ‘There’s nowhere to go but up.’
They do have promising young talent in the organization. What they don’t have is promising young talent that many people know about. That’s certainly the case from a national perspective, and it’s not as though fans are flocking to Marlins Park, either. Miami was the only MLB team with an attendance under one million this past year.
I recently asked Michael Hill what it will take to rejuvenate interest in MLB’s southern-most team.
“Winning is obviously a big part of it,” said Miami’s GM. “And we’ve been true to the process of what we’re building. It’s not a secret recipe. There are scouting and development, and you make good trades. The talent will be visible as we get into our championship cycle. People will get to see exactly what these players represent.”
Seymour Siwoff, the president of the Elias Sports Bureau since 1952, died yesterday at age 99. Per ESPN, Elias was started in 1913 by brothers Al Munro Elias and Walter Bruce Elias, and became the official statistician of the National League in 1919. It is now the official statistician for MLB, MLS, the NFL, the NBA, and the WNBA.
Ryan Westmoreland announced on Twitter this week that he’ll be joining the coaching staff at UMass-Dartmouth. The 29-year-old Rhode Island native was the top prospect in the Red Sox organization prior being diagnosed with a cavernous malformation at the back of his brain in 2010.
NPB’s Hanshin Tigers have reportedly reached an agreement to acquire Justin Bour. The 31-year-old first baseman spent this past year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
In related news, the Hansin Tigers are reportedly set to release Pierce Johnson. The 28-year-old right-hander, formerly with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, logged a 1.84 ERA over 58 relief appearances in his lone NPB season.
The SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization will reportedly post Kwang-Hyun Kim. The 31-year-old left-hander was previously posted in 2014, only to remain in the KBO when he couldn’t come to terms with the San Diego Padres.
Per multiple reports, Japan’s National High School Baseball Federation will begin limiting players to 500 pitches per week. The rule goes into effect next spring, at the annual Koshien tournament.
The Phillies have made numerous newsworthy personnel moves in recent years, both on and off the field. Inking Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330M free-agent deal is an obvious example of the former. Joe Girardi replacing Gabe Kapler in the manager’s chair stands out among the latter.
There have also been below-the-radar moves throughout the organization. Hoping to get a glimpse under the hood, I addressed the subject with Matt Klentak during last month’s GM meetings.
“We’ve made some significant changes, and investments, in those areas,” Philadelphia’s VP/General Manager told me. “Starting with the leadership level in player development, we’ve hired a couple of guys from Driveline. Jason Ochart is our hitting coordinator, and we also had Eric Jagers until he left to go to the Reds. We’ve hired an impressive collection of what we call, ‘player information guys,’ including Ben Werthan, Rob Segaden and Ed Lucas.” (As noted in last Sunday’s column, Lucas has been hired by the Milwaukee Brewers as their new minor league hitting coordinator.)
At the time Klentak and I spoke, the Phillies were already “knee deep in hiring season for scouting and player development.” Filling vacancies was only part of that initiative.
“We have spots to fill, just from the natural departures that happen in this game, but we’re also always on the lookout for opportunities to add good people,” explained Klentak. “Sometimes you find a good person and figure out where they’ll fit, rather than identifying a role and then looking for the best person. [Director of Player Development] Josh Bonifay and (Assistant GM} Bryan Minniti, who lead a lot of those efforts, are really good at identifying good people.”
As evidenced by the aforementioned hires, Klentak’s club isn’t focusing on old-school baseball acumen as the Phillies add and replace. That’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate more-traditional methods — “I absolutely believe in balance” — but eyes are clearly on the future.
“The game is constantly evolving,” said the 39-year-old Dartmouth College grad. “The team that does it the same way every single year is likely to not achieve sustained success. You have to be willing to adjust to new technologies, to new player needs, to the changing baseball environment. This happens every offseason in terms of personnel. We pride ourselves on our willingness to evolve.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At NPR’s “It’s Only a Game,” Karen Given wrote about Teddy Roosevelt and a president’s ‘cold war’ with baseball.
Vince Guerrieri addressed the possible demise of the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, at Belt Magazine.
Eric Oas is stepping away from his job as the play-by-play voice of the Midwest League’s Clinton LumberKings to join the Bernie Sanders campaign. Wells Dusenbury talked to Oas about his career-altering move for The South Florida Sun Sentinel.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are the only players who have both scored, and driven in, more than 500 runs over the past five seasons. Arenado has 519 runs scored and 621 RBIs, Goldschmidt has 518 runs scored and 505 RBIs.
Cincinnati Reds pitchers have been charged with 46 balks over the past five seasons, the most of any team. Chicago Cubs pitchers have been charged with 11 balks over the past five seasons, the fewest of any team.
Phil Niekro (5,044) is the only pitcher in the modern era to have given up 5,000 or more hits.
From 1929-1937, Wes Ferrell fanned 918 batters and walked 917 batters. Over that stretch he logged 175 wins, and had a 123 adjusted ERA.
The Houston Colt 45s were rebranded as the Houston Astros on this date in 1964.
On December 3, 1969, the Kansas City Royals acquired Amos Otis from the New York Mets in exchange for third baseman Joe Foy. Otis played 14 seasons with the Royals, making five All-Star teams and accumulating 42.1 WAR. Foy played two more seasons and accumulated 2.6 WAR.
As a franchise, the Dodgers have had 42 seasons with 90 or more wins. They’ve had 11 seasons with 90 or more losses, with six of those coming prior to 1913.
Hub Perdue, who pitched for the Boston Braves and St. Louis Cardinals from 1911-1915, was nicknamed “The Gallatin Squash.”
Players born on this date include Red Badgro, Buddy Dear, Cookie Lavagetto, Charlie Ripple, and Lefty Sloat. Also born on this date was Larry Walker, whose 68.7 WAR ranks right in front of Hall of Famers Johnny Mize, Carlton Fisk, and Paul Molitor on the all-time list.