Sunday Notes: Zack Littell Climbed Out of the Reliever Boat in Tampa Bay

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Again in August, my colleague Ben Clemens crafted an article titled Wait, Zack Littell is a Starter Now?! It was an apt headline. Not solely had the 27-year-old right-hander been DFA’d by the Crimson Sox a number of months earlier — Boston having been his third group in as a few years, and his sixth general — he’d logged a 4.08 ERA over 145 big-league appearances, all however 4 out of the bullpen, with simply three saves. As Clemens identified, Littell “wasn’t even a dominant reliever.”

After all, this was the Tampa Bay Rays who’d moved him into their rotation. A lot for that motive, Clemens certified his skepticism by saying, “What else can we do however wait and see the outcomes?”

The outcomes have remained largely constructive. Littell has a not-so-great 6.75 ERA in 14 appearances out of the bullpen this yr, however in the identical variety of outings as a starter his ERA is 3.41. Furthermore, he’s persistently gone five-plus innings. As Rays beat author Marc Topkin advised me for an article that ran right here at FanGraphs on Friday. the under-the-radar righty “has principally saved the beginning rotation.”

How did the chance come about?

“It was type of an ideal storm,” mentioned Littell. “We had guys taking place with accidents and I used to be already beginning to get stretched out, in order that they introduced it to me. They requested how I felt about it, and clearly I used to be all-in.”

An expanded repertoire — “I’ve 5 pitches now, versus the three I had earlier than” — was additionally a part of the equation. Augmenting the improved pitch combine was a transfer from the third-base facet of the slab to the first-base facet of the slab.

“He added the sweeper,” defined Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder. “He added a two-seamer. The cutter… we moved him all the best way over to the glove facet of the rubber to permit his launch level to be considerably à la Oliver Drake. That allowed his stuff to stay within the zone longer.”

Littell started throwing a sweeper across the All-Star break — this a number of months after the Rays claimed him off of waivers — partially as a result of efforts to enhance his previous slider weren’t bearing fruit. Snyder prompt the brand new grip, advised him to throw the pitch as exhausting as he might, and the remaining is historical past. It’s grow to be certainly one of his greatest pitches.

For Littell, his surprising breakthrough is proof that what you see isn’t essentially what you’re going to get. Gamers can and do evolve.

“You develop a popularity after you’ve performed within the main leagues a bit of bit,” mentioned Littell. “You’re this sort of pitcher, whether or not it’s a sinker-ball man, a carry man, a command man, a strikeout man. No matter. I’ve additionally type of been in a ship the place it’s ‘He’s a reliever.’ That is an instance of how growth by no means actually stops, regardless of how lengthy you’ve been doing it. In 5 extra years I’ll most likely be a totally completely different pitcher than I’m right this moment, similar to I’m a totally completely different pitcher now than I used to be 5 years in the past. I’m adapting with the sport, which is one thing that can all the time go on.”

Snyder agrees with these sentiments.

“I believe there are most likely extra alternatives on the market for guys equivalent to himself, and for Jeffrey Springs, to transition lengthy after they’ve been labeled a failed starter,” mentioned the pitching coach. “You do should be accountable doing it, particularly in the course of the season, and the depth of the connection issues. You want transparency when it comes to the best way he feels. I requested him when the final time was that he historically began a recreation, and he mentioned 2019. I then requested if he’d be open to doing it, and he mentioned 100%.”

Littell’s earlier expertise as a starter features a pair of profitable seasons within the minors. In 2016, he went 13-6 with a 2.66 ERA between Low-A and Excessive-Some time within the Seattle Mariners group. The next yr he went 20-1 (together with a postseason begin) with a 2.12 ERA between Excessive-A and Double-Some time within the New York Yankees system. It made sense that he would soar on the alternative Snyder offered him with. On the similar time, his high priorities have been to put on a big-league uniform and assist the Tampa Bay Rays win baseball video games.

“Most guys wish to be starters, however it’s not one thing the place I used to be pondering, ‘Man, I’d somewhat be beginning,’” mentioned Littell. “It’s all the time been about what retains you within the main leagues, and I’d been doing it as a reliever. I’ve clearly bounced round, so I’ve been attempting to carry a job, no matter it’s. However beginning is one thing I’ve missed doing. It’s fairly enjoyable. I don’t wish to say that I assumed it was off the desk endlessly, however in the event you’d have advised me that at first of the yr that I might be beginning for a contender, in September, I most likely would have referred to as you loopy. But right here we’re.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Hubie Brooks went 11 for 19 in opposition to Rick Honeycutt.

Mandy Brooks went 3 for six in opposition to Dazzy Vance.

Bobby Brooks went 3 for five in opposition to Jim Rooker.

Kevin Pillar went 2 for 3 in opposition to Brooks Pounders.

Brooks Robinson went 36 for 91 in opposition to Camilo Pascual.

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Andy Freed is a Maryland native who grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. I not too long ago requested the radio voice of the Tampa Bay Rays who his favourite participant was again in these early life.

“It’s not distinctive — I believe everyone cherished him as a result of he so good — however it was Eddie Murray,” mentioned Freed. ”The explanation I cherished Eddie Murray a lot is that the primary recreation I ever went to, on August 9, 1979, in opposition to Milwaukee, he homered. It was the primary homer I noticed in individual, and one thing about it was simply wonderful. It might have been Kiko Garcia hitting it. It might have been Rick Dempsey. However it occurred to be Eddie Murray, and since he hit that house run I type of fell in love with Eddie. I’ve by no means met him to today, though I’ve all the time needed to. I like the prospect sometime to only to say hey.”

Freed did get to say hey to Brooks Robinson, who died earlier this week at age 88. The Corridor of Fame third baseman had moved into the Orioles broadcast sales space by the point the now-Tampa Bay broadcaster fell in love with baseball, and it was in that position he grew to become an admired determine for Freed. He paid homage to the Baltimore icon on social media upon listening to of his dying.

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A quiz:

Robin Yount is the Milwaukee Brewers franchise chief in whole bases, extra-base hits, doubles, and RBIs. Which former Brewer ranks behind Yount in every of those classes?

The reply might be discovered under.

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NEWS NOTES

Tyler Clippard introduced his retirement earlier this week. One of the vital under-appreciated relievers of our era, the 38-year-old right-hander logged 56 wins, 74 saves, and a 3.16 ERA — in addition to a .241 BABIP — over 807 appearances. Solely 50 pitchers in MLB historical past have taken the mound extra instances.

Danny Morris, who pitched in three video games for the Minnesota Twins in every of the 1968 and 1969 seasons, died on September 23 at age 77. A local of Greenville, Kentucky, the right-hander went 0-2 with a 2.81 ERA over 16 innings.

Dick Beverage, a famend Pacific Coast League historian — he’s within the PCL Corridor of Fame — and a former president of the Society for Baseball Analysis, died final weekend at age 87. Beverage acquired SABR’s highest honor, the Bob Davids Award, in 2013.

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The reply to the quiz is Ryan Braun. For those who guessed Paul Molitor, he ranks third in all 4 classes.

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Common readers of this column know that I’ve not too long ago been asking MLB managers which opponents most impressed them this season. Final weekend, I addressed that query to a participant.

“That’s a straightforward one,” Chicago White Sox infielder Elvis Andrus replied to my query. “The Braves. It’s exhausting to have just about the entire group hitting like they’re, and taking part in the best way they’re, at such a excessive degree for the entire yr. What they’ve completed is a large accomplishment.”

Most spectacular American League membership?

“One factor that type of stunned me… possibly not stunned, however you may see an enormous soar from final yr to this yr with the Texas Rangers,” Andrus mentioned of his former group.” They invested and made some sensible baseball strikes. To me, these guys have been most much like Atlanta.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Katsuki Azuma is 16-2 with a 2.03 ERA for NPB’s Yokohama DeNa BayStars. The 27-year-old left-hander went eight scoreless innings in his final outing, a 1-0 DeNa win over the Yomiuri Giants.

Kohei Arihara is 10-4 with a 2.27 ERA for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The 31-year-old former Nippon-Ham Fighters right-hander returned to NPB this yr after pitching for the Texas Rangers in 2021 and 2022.

Kensuke Kondoh is slashing .298/.425/.524 with a career-high 25 house runs for Fuluoka. The 30-year-old outfielder has a .414 OBP in a dozen NPB seasons.

Sócrates Brito is slashing .286/.349/.469 with 19 house runs in his second season with NPB’s Kia Tigers. The 31-year-old, erstwhile MLB outfielder had 17 house runs and a .311/.354/.494 slash line final yr.

The LG Twins, who at 80-51 have the circuit’s greatest document, lead all KBO groups in runs scored, OBP, stolen bases, walks, and fewest strikeouts. They’re sixth within the 10-team league in house runs.

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Junior Caminero has an opportunity to be a star. Presently having fun with a September cameo with the Tampa Bay Rays, the 20-year-old infielder is coming off of a minor-league marketing campaign the place he slashed a precocious .324/.384/.591 with 31 house runs and a 156 wRC+ between Excessive-A Bowling Inexperienced and Double-A Montgomery. Described as “highly effective and explosive’ by our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen again in January, Caminero has since climbed to No. 11 on The Board, the place he boasts a 55 FV.

The gamers that Caminero most loved watching whereas rising up within the Dominican Republic are infielders with productive bats. Requested about his favorites previous to a latest recreation in Boston, he cited Hanley Ramirez and Manny Machado. He additionally mentioned that attending to play in opposition to Rafael Devers at Fenway Park was “very cool.”

To what does he attribute his capability to do injury on the plate?

“I thank God for the expertise,” Caminero mentioned in response to my inquiry. “Generally I even take into consideration why I hit so good. However even with the gifted expertise I’ve, I do know that I nonetheless should put within the exhausting work.”

Does he think about himself an influence hitter?

“Sure,” mentioned Caminero, who’s 4-for-23 with a double in his cup of espresso. “I think about myself a house run hitter. An influence hitter.”

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FARM NOTES

Stiven Flores slashed .391/.456/.477 with one house run and a 152 wRC+ in 147 plate appearances for the Chicago White Sox’ entry within the Dominican Summer time League. The 17-year-old catcher was signed out of Cumaná, Venezuela by the ChiSox in January.

Maick Collado had 12 sacrifice flies, probably the most within the minors. The 20-year-old nook infielder within the Cleveland Guardians system slashed .279/.367/.348 in 297 plate appearances with Low-A Lynchburg. He was an ideal 11-for-11 in stolen base makes an attempt.

Edwin Arroyo got here to the plate 554 instances and didn’t floor right into a double play. The 20-year-old switch-hitting shortstop within the Cincinnati Reds system slashed .252/.324/.443 between Excessive-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga.

Chase Petty posted a 1.72 ERA and a 2.32 FIP over18 outings between Dayton and Chattanooga. The 20-year-old right-hander threw 68 innings and didn’t enable a house run.

Manuel Mercedes had a 62.9% ground-ball fee, and surrendered simply two house runs in 106-and-a-third innings, with Low-A San Jose. The 21-year-old (as of September 21) right-hander within the San Francisco Giants system had a 3.64 ERA and a 4.26 FIP.

Robby Snelling went 11-3 with a 1.82 ERA and a 3.07 FIP throughout Low-A Lake Elsinore, Excessive-A Fort Wayne, and Double-A San Antonio. The 19-year-old left-hander within the San Diego Padres system had 118 strikeouts in 103-and-two-thirds innings.

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Writing for Baseball America, the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier mentioned in July that then-17-year-old shortstop Yoeilin Cespedes “appears like one of many high hitting prospects to return by way of the [Red Sox] group’s academy since Rafael Devers a decade in the past.” Nothing has modified since that point. At season’s finish, Cespedes had a 145 wRC+ to go together with a .346/.392/.580 slash line and 6 house runs in 209 Dominican Summer time League plate appearances. He was named Boston’s Latin Program Place Participant of the Yr.

Cespedes was certainly one of seven minor-league award winners honored at Fenway Park this previous week, and among the many questions he fielded from the media was which participant he most tries to emulate. His reply was Xander Bogaerts, who “makes the sport look simple.” Cespedes is constructed in another way than the Crimson Sox-turned-Padres shortstop — he packs 185 kilos on his 5-foot-9 body — however they do share a number of the similar attributes. Perspective is amongst them. Requested how he’d describe his recreation, the teenager mentioned, “Coronary heart and soul is how I play.” As for the way he’d describe himself as a hitter, he smiled and mentioned, “Tremendous good. Tremendous unhealthy.”

In line with Crimson Sox farm director Brian Abraham, the recently-turned-18-year-old is “athletic, sturdy, and superior for his age.” As his 6.7% stroll fee and 11.5% strikeout fee attest, he’s additionally aggressive on the plate.

“I believe a few of that’s the Dominican setting, which permits for a bigger strike zone and fewer of a possibility to work counts and anticipate pitches he ought to be aggressive on,.” reasoned Abraham. “That tends to occur, regardless of us pushing swing choices and method. However he has the information to enhance in that space, and he can positively impression the baseball.”

As for whether or not Cespedes might doubtlessly observe within the footsteps of fellow Dominican Junior Caminero and attain the massive leagues earlier than he can take a authorized drink stateside… let’s simply say he’s prepared to dream.

“I solely know him from afar,” Cespedes mentioned of the up-and-coming slugger who was standing a number of hundred toes away close to Fenway Park’s visiting dugout. “However sure, after all. [Seeing him here] is one thing that makes me suppose, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Tampa Bay Rays are defying odds whereas emphasizing knowledge and suggestions like no different group. Bruce Schoenfeld has the story at Sports activities Enterprise Journal.

Good Beer Searching’s Bryan Roth wrote about the baseball-and-beer lifetime of previous pal Eno Sarris.

The Denver Submit revealed a four-part particular report on Colorado’s three a long time of mediocre baseball, and Purple Row’s Joelle Milholm subsequently weighed in on the significance of native sports activities journalism.

MLB.com’s Sara Langs gave us 12 wonderful Miggy stats and details.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl heads into the ultimate recreation of the common season having not grounded right into a double play in 551 plate appearances. In 1968, Detroit Tigers second baseman Dick McAuliffe had 658 plate appearances with out grounding right into a double play. A yr earlier, he got here to the plate 675 instances and grounded into simply two — the second of which not solely ended the ultimate recreation of the season, it quashed the Tigers postseason hopes.

Adam Wainwright’s 4.90 Okay/9 this yr was the bottom amongst MLB pitchers who threw at the very least 60 innings. The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander fanned 55 batters in 101 innings.

Jim Palmer gained 20 or extra video games in every of the 1975-1978 seasons. The Corridor of Fame right-hander had a 4.9 Okay/9 over that four-year span.

Chris Martin completed the season with a 1.05 ERA, the bottom amongst MLB pitchers who threw at the very least 30 innings. The Boston Crimson Sox reliever went 4-1 with three saves whereas showing in 55 video games and tossing 51-and-a-third innings.

John Dagenhard holds the MLB document for many profession innings pitched with a 0.00 ERA. The Magnolia, Ohio native labored 11 frames over two appearances for the Boston Braves in 1943. He received a win in his solely choice.

Babe Ruth made the final of his 163 pitching appearances on right this moment’s date in 1933 because the New York Yankees beat the Boston Crimson Sox 6-5 on the ultimate day of the common season. The Bambino went the space for the win and completed his profession 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA.

On right this moment’s date in 1952, Joe Black grew to become the primary Black pitcher to be credited with a World Sequence win because the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees 4-2 in Recreation One among that yr’s Fall Traditional. The fitting-hander had completed the common season — his first in MLB after six with the Negro Nationwide League’s Baltimore Elite Giants — with a document of 15-4 and a 2.15 ERA.

On right this moment’s date in 1976, Invoice Campbell was credited together with his seventeenth win of the season because the Minnesota Twins topped the Kansas Metropolis Royals 4-3. The fitting-handed reliever completed the yr 17-5 with 20 saves and a 3.01 ERA over a league-high 78 appearances comprising 167-and-two-thirds innings.

Gamers born on right this moment’s date embody Buzz Capra, who was credited with 37 wins and 5 saves whereas pitching for the New York Mets from 1971-1973 and the Atlanta Braves from 1974-1977. The fitting-hander went 16-8 with an NL-best 2.28 ERA in 1974.

Additionally born on right this moment’s date was Alan Brice, whose big-league profession comprised three-and-a-third innings over three appearances with the Chicago White Sox in 1961. The fitting-hander went 0-1 with a 0.00 ERA, the loss coming courtesy of a Nellie Fox throwing error.





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