Danny Coulombe features a lot of breaking balls, and he does so with scant fanfare. In 28 relief appearances and one outing as an opener, the 32-year-old Minnesota Twins southpaw threw 41.8% sliders and 24.8% curveballs last year. He was also quietly effective. Taking the mound for a team that performed well below expectations, Coulombe logged a 3.67 ERA and a 3.75 FIP while fanning 33 batters and issuing just seven free passes in 34-and-a-third innings.
Emblematic of the lefty’s lack of fanfare is that I talked to him last August, and while I did include a few of his quotes in a September column — these on an online project management class that had him regularly visiting FanGraphs — I am just now sharing the crux of our conversation. What we delved into was the evolution of his breaker-heavy repertoire.
“I was predominantly four-seam/curveball when I got drafted,” said Coulombe, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers took in the 25th round out of Texas Tech University in 2012. “Coming up through the system I was mostly a curveball guy, and in 2014, a pitching coach I had, Scott Radinsky, told me that I needed something that looks like a fastball and moves. He said, ‘Right now, if a hitter sees a pop he knows it’s a breaking ball, and if he sees it straight he knows it’s a fastball.’ So we worked on developing a slider that year. I’ve always been able to spin a baseball, and now I’m probably about 70% breaking balls, curveballs and sliders.”
For Coulombe, maintaining a consistent differential between the two is a matter of mindset and grip. The latter required an adjustment, which was necessitated by unwanted blending.
“That happened in 2015,” explained Coulombe. “My slider was about 82 [mph] and it was getting kind of big, kind of curveball-ish. My curveball was 80, so they were too close. I wanted to make my slider more cutter-ish — around 85, with more horizontal and less vertical — and spreading my fingers is what allowed me to do that. When I put my fingers together, I want to turn it over like a curveball. Pulling my fingers apart and staying behind the ball keeps it as a slider.”
Scouting reports help dictate his usage in a given game. Coulombe shared that his curveball is generally better against right-handed hitters — “depth tends to be better for opposite-handed” — but he’s also learned that some righties struggle with pitches coming in on their hands. Against them, he’s more apt to go with his slider. And then there are lefties who struggle with depth curveballs. An example Coulombe gave was Houston Astros slugger Yordan Álvarez, “who is really good at hitting the slider, and doesn’t do as well on curveballs.”
As for his 90-mph fastball, Coulombe isn’t deterred by its lack of velocity. Not only does he need to throw it to keep hitters honest, it’s what sets up his bread-and-butter breaking-ball combination. And vice versa.
“My fastball doesn’t grade out well velo-wise,” admitted Coulombe, who was non-tendered by the Twins at the end of November, then re-signed to a minor-league contract the following day. “But if I have a guy sitting off-speed and I throw a fastball, it plays well. Regardless of what you throw, it’s all about executing your pitches.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
John Perrotto was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the subjects addressed by the longtime Pittsburgh Pirates beat writer was the team’s famously parsimonious ownership. The penny-pinching ways date back to the departure of Barry Bonds via free agency in 1992. I asked Perrotto if there was there any chance that the the reigning NL MVP was going to stay in Pittsburgh.
“No, the Pirates weren’t going to pay him,” Perrotto said on the podcast. “The picture that has been painted here over the years is [that] Barry hated it in Pittsburgh and couldn’t wait until the minute he could get out of town. That’s not true…. In fact, during the 1992 season — this was some time after the All-Star break, probably in August — I talked to him after a game. Let me set a little background here before I get ahead of myself.
“The two Pittsburgh newspapers were on strike, so you didn’t have as much media as you normally would in the clubhouse after the game,” continued Perrotto, who was covering the team for the suburban Beaver County Times. “He’d been the star of the game… and after we talked about that, I said, ‘Hey, what would it take for you to stay here?,’ thinking he was going to say, ‘I don’t know. That’s something for my agent to discuss.’ [Instead], he goes, ‘Five years/25 million and I’ll sign tomorrow.’ I said, ’Is that on the record?’ He said, ‘Yeah, man. Write it. Five years/25 million and I’ll sign tomorrow.’”
Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons was the Pirates GM at the time. Perrotto walked back to the press box, picked up a phone, and called Simmons to pass along what Bonds had said. Simmons — equal parts excited and pleasantly surprised — proceeded to call the team’s president.
“Mark Sauer had been brought in to cut costs.” Perrotto said of the former Pittsburgh executive. “I know people will find this hard to believe, but the Pirates had the sixth-highest payroll in baseball in 1991. They weren’t always cheap; they weren’t always at the bottom of the payroll standings. They did spend money in the early ‘90s, when they won three division titles in the National League East from ’90 to ’92. But they were on a payroll-reduction kick, and Mark Sauer told Ted Simmons, ‘No, we can’t do that.”
Bonds went on to sign a then-record six-year/43.75M contract with the San Francisco Giants in December. As Giants owner Peter Magowan put it at the time, “It’s a lot of money, but there’s only one Barry Bonds.”
Nolan Ryan walked 2,795 batters, the most of any pitcher in big-league history. Which pitcher has issued the second-most walks?
The answer can be found below.
Registration for SABR’s 50th annual convention, which will be held in Baltimore from August 17-21, will begin this week. Tim Kurkjian is slated to give the keynote address, while Sig Mejdal is scheduled to provide the opening remarks. More information can be found here.
The 2022 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards were announced earlier this week. Emma Baccellieri, Brittany Ghiroli, and Eno Sarris are the honorees.
MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reported that Riley Pint has returned to the Colorado Rockies organization after retiring last summer. The 24-year-old right-hander was the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Kazuma Okamoto went deep twice on Thursday as the Yomiuri Giants beat the Seibu Lions in an NPB preseason game. The 25-year-old third baseman has led Japan’s Central League in home runs and RBIs for the past two seasons. The NPB regular season begins on March 25 (per jballallen.com).
Al Autry, who appeared in one game for the Atlanta Braves in 1976, died late last month at age 69. A right-handed pitcher, Autry started the second game of a September 1976 doubleheader against the Houston Astros and allowed three runs over five innings. He was credited with the win. (per RIP Baseball.)
Which of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, and Seattle Mariners will be next to reach the World Series? I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, and there was a clear separation. Voters were bullish on the Tigers (49.2%) and Mariners (37.7%), while the Marlins (8.5%) and Royals (4.5%) received scant support.
My own vote would have gone to the Mariners, but it’s not Seattle polling below Detroit that stands out to me. What does stand out is the Tigers getting ten times as many votes as Kansas City. Not only do the Royals play in the same division, they have an equally-good farm system. Given their promising young pitching and high-ceiling position-player prospects such as Bobby Witt Jr., the Dayton Moore-led club appears to have a bright future. Moreover, that success could come sooner than a lot of people might think.
Another poll that I ran this week featured two of the most-underrated pitchers in recent generations. Prompted in part by @baseballtwit — a.k.a. B-Ref’s Adam Darowski — championing of Rick Reuschel, I paired Reuschel and Dave Stieb in the most-recent of my “Who Was Better?” matchups.
Before getting to the results, here is a snapshot comparison:
RR: 3,548 IP, 3.37 ERA, 114 ERA+, 3.22 FIP, 68.2 fWAR, 68.1 bWAR
DS: 2,895 IP, 3.44 ERA, 122 ERA+, 3.82 FIP, 43.8 fWAR, 56.5 bWAR.
Here are their best single-season ERA+ numbers:
RR: 159, 158, 149, 131, 129.
DS: 171, 146, 142, 140, 138.
And their best single-season fWAR numbers :
RR: 6.5, 6.1, 5.2, 5.0, 4.8.
DS: 5.6, 5.1, 4.8, 4.5, 4.3.
As for their JAWS scores, Reuschel is 56.5, Stieb 50.4.
The poll results ran counter to what the above numbers suggest. Stieb won going away, garnering 82.8% of the vote, while Reuschel received just 17.2%. The disparity is striking. Moreover, a strong argument could be made that Rick Reuschel was better than Dave Stieb.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Michael Cunningham wrote about how the Negro leagues are major league, but MLB can’t claim them.
Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman — a.k.a. the Céspedes Family BBQ team — ranked the 50 states based on baseball.
MLB.com’s Matt Monagan wrote about Point Loma Nazarene University’s Carroll B. Land Stadium, which has been called “America’s most scenic ballpark.”
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Christy Mathewson pitched all but one of his 636 games, and had all but one of his 373 wins, with the New York Giants. The Hall of Fame right-hander’s last career appearance — a complete-game win, no less — came with the Cincinnati Reds, who had acquired Mathewson, Bill McKechnie, and Edd Roush in the same July 1916 trade. All three have been enshrined in Cooperstown.
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Hal Finney went 0-for-35 in 1936. Eugenio Vélez ignominiously broke Finney’s record for most at bats in a season without a hit by a position player when he went 0-36 in 2011 — although the San Francisco Giants utilityman did reach base via two walks and a HBP. Finney had finished his inglorious campaign with a .000 OBP.
Chicago Cubs right-hander Bob Buhl went 0-for-69 in 1962. He drew six walks, reached on a HBP, had seven sacrifice bunts, and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Sammy Sosa had a pair of 30/30 seasons. In 1993, he had 33 home runs and 36 stolen bases. In 1995, he had 36 home runs and 34 stolen bases.
Goose Goslin had 107 home runs, 109 triples, and 109 stolen bases over his first eight seasons, which were spent with the Washington Senators.
Mike Donlin batted .333 with a 139 wRC+ while playing for six teams, most notably the New York Giants, from 1899-1914. Nicknamed “Turkey Mike,” the Hollywood native drew 312 free passes and fanned 311 times. Married to a vaudeville star, Donlin doubled as an actor and appeared on stage, and in numerous movies.
The Brooklyn Dodgers acquired Dolph Camilli from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Eddie Morgan on today’s date in 1938. Morgan never played in a big-league game going forward. Camilli had a 149 w/RC+ and 28.3 WAR with the Dodgers over the next five seasons, and was named NL MVP in 1941.
The Oakland A’s signed Nomar Garciaparra to a free agent contract on today’s date in 2009. The 35-year-old six-time All-Star went on to play in 65 games and be worth -0.1 WAR in his final big-league season.
Players born on today’s date include Pete Gray, who appeared in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945. A one-armed outfielder — his right arm was amputated at age six — Gray had 51 hits in 234 big-league at bats. A year earlier, Gray batted .333 and homered five times with the Southern Association’s Memphis Chickasaws.