TWO “OUTLIERS”: Opportunity Knocks (Softly) for Jeremy Hefner & Josh Satin

outliersIn the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell does a tremendous job exposing the link between “success” and “opportunity.” Essentially (for those of you who haven’t read it), Gladwell looks at a variety of successful people and makes the point that many of them were given unique opportunities to practice their vocation, gain mastery, and achieve success. Talent alone rarely gets it done.

Of course, opportunity does not ensure success, but it does seem to be a critical component of it. In other words, without opportunity it’s awfully tough sledding.

Which brings us to baseball, and to life, I guess, and guys like Jeremy Hefner and Josh Satin, Juan Lagares and Jordany Valdespin, Zach Wheeler and Ike Davis. Ballplayers, just like everybody else, need opportunities. Real chances.

Unfortunately, opportunity is a rare gift, teams can’t hand them out to just anybody. There are games to win, and choices to make.

Unfairness — if that’s the word — is a fact of life, and it’s a fact of baseball. Begining in Little League on up, the big kid who can hit the ball a mile will continually get shots to succeed, even if he’s an overall unproductive hitter, with a crappy attitude, etc. Why? Because he can hit the ball a mile and you can’t teach that stuff. Same thing with hard-throwers. Try teaching a kid to throw 95 MPH and tell me how it goes.

In the professional ranks, it happens with draft picks. The guy taken in the 2nd Round will get a much longer look (read: opportunity to succeed) than the 12th Rounder. That’s life. It’s not exactly unfair, either, since the kid earned that slot through years of play. With the late draft pick, it’s the opposite; he begins with two proverbial strikes against him, almost no room for failure. That kind of player has to force his way into a team’s plans. The wonderful thing is that some of those late-bloomers develop a tough hide in the process. They compete harder, dig deeper, get tougher. They love proving the experts wrong.

And they are fun to root for, too.

That said:

After sitting out the 2005 season, Darren Oliver latched onto the 2006 Mets in long relief, hurling 81 IP and 45 G, with a 4-1 W-L record. Valuable guy.

After sitting out the 2005 season, Darren Oliver latched onto the 2006 Mets in long relief, hurling 81 IP in 45 G, with a 4-1  record. Valuable guy. And a total shock.

I have always liked Jeremy Hefner . . . as a long man. As a Darren Oliver type. As Mike would say, that’s no insult. I highly value that commodity, probably more than most GMs in the game today, considering that it’s something of a disappearing role in modern baseball. Maybe I just never got over having guys like Don Cardwell and Dick Selma around. Good for a spot start, good for 3-4 innings of relief when needed. Anyway, I never dreamed of the day that Hefner would fill out the bottom of the Mets championship rotation. I was ready to label him and confine him to a box. These days, he’s made a case for a larger role.

The beauty of baseball is that at the end of the day, what we think about a player is meaningless compared against actual performance on the field. After a while, our thoughts need to catch up with reality. It is time to recalibrate.

At the same time, there’s guys like John Buck. He hit .192 last season, and has enjoyed exactly one MLB season when he’s hit above .250. So when Buck was going batshit crazy in the first two weeks of April, it was not yet time to rethink things. It was time to remind ourselves about “small sample size” and wait, and watch, and hope we were wrong (in this case, nope: 33-year-old John Buck failed to magically transform into something other than John Buck).

I believe that almost no matter who you are, you will get a shot. No, not every one gets the same opportunities, not at all, but most of us get a chance to impress the boss, or meet an influential person, or come up with the game on the line (so to speak). Some chances are slimmer than others. Meet Jeremy and Josh (sounds like new Disney recording artists).

After struggling out of the gate, Jeremy Hefner has put up these numbers during his last 5 starts for the Mets: 31 IP, 6 ER, 28 K, 6 BB, 3 WINS, 0 LOSES.

Since his call up to the Mets, Josh Satin has stepped up to the plate 66 times and produced this triple-slash line: .382/.485/.600 for an OPS of 1.085.

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And that’s the thing with opportunities: You’ve got to make ‘em count. Even if you aren’t the right age, or your timetable is off, or maybe just nobody ever really believed in you. I’ve mentioned this before, it’s a lesson that keeps coming up for me, so it’s my big takeaway from blogging this season.

Hey, you never know, you never do know.

That’s baseball, that’s life, again and again. We have an idea of how things might turn out, and we plan accordingly, but you constantly have to readjust to the realities. If you are open-minded and alive, you learn that some guys will surprise you in all sorts of ways.

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And pardon the interruption, but I’ve got to share this. I’ve got two new children’s books coming out today — it’s pub day! — so check out this 44-second trailer. Maybe you know a kid who should be reading this summer and isn’t quite ready for The Bill James Baseball Abstract.

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13 comments

  1. I often wonder, is the swingman dead because starting in about 1997ish after the wild card had taken hold for a couple of years, managers began approaching every game as if it was a playoff game? Mix, match to the closer.

    In a 162 slog, to save those arms, to save that pen, to gain length from your starters for the long haul, you need that guy who can come in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th inning of dud. So you can say no matter what I need you to carry this game into the 7th or later.

    As the game slowly changes over the next half decade from PED candy store to, tired everyday players who are only as strong as the weights they can naturally lift, organizations who can identify a couple of Terry Leach’s or Darren Oliver’s in their midst are going to have great success I think (how is that for a no coffee run on sentence).

    Fascinating watching Hefner I definitely saw potential in him, but for the exact “lost” role/art of long man/swing man. Never saw the rotation for him. I have to dig deep to recall when I stopped thinking Rick Reed was a fluke. Maybe it was by second half of 1998. The way Hefner looks right now, as Reed was the poor mans Greg Maddux, Hefner is the poor mans Roy Halladay. Pounds the plate with strikes, can’t be quite as overpowering as Roy, but can keep hitters off the mark.

    • Michael Geus says:

      I know I bring up the long man thing a lot, I just find it so perplexing. To me the way bullpens are managed (so many short stints for everyone) leads to bullpen burnouts more than starters going less innings than in the past. And since starters do go less innings the teams with the strongest bullpens in September tend to get those same Wild Card berths you mention. We all see it, but not the teams? I just don’t get it.

      Now as to Hefner, I have had him pegged as a long man from Day One, but it’s becoming hard not to see him as a rotation guy now. As I am very suspicious of the words “mild rotator cuff tear” that might be the break we need as an offset.

    • Patrick, I’m in perfect agreement with every word — the long man and, especially, Rick Reed. It took me a while to understand how he was getting guys out (pinpoint control, late movement, smarts). Halladay throws so hard, and so heavy, I don’t think he’s the right comp for Hefner, though I can’t offer a better alternative at the moment.

      Hey: Did you see that Mike Pelfrey beat R.A. Dickey the other day? I wonder how many times in Mets history that kind of thing happened, if ever.

  2. Mack Ade says:

    Linking to post tomorrow morning.

  3. Michael Geus says:

    Thanks Mack.

  4. Eric says:

    I’d be interested to see some “deep stats” on Hefner. 2 specifically: BABIP…any significant change? Also, an overview of his VERSUS LEFTIES stats. He was getting Killed versus lefty bats early on. Has he added something?

    One thing he has added is some velocity—about a mile or two. Maybe it was always there?…

    This sounds like a job for.,….Brian Joura… ???

    • Michael Geus says:

      Not ready to do the heavy lifting on the statistics as I haven’t had a second cup of coffee yet, but as to the velocity…it has been up.

      Hefner has mentioned mechanical changes that added velocity, here is a link.

      http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/heffner-stays-hot-mets-brewers-article-1.1392409?pgno=1

      Since he added this velocity and seemed to lose zero control, it’s a big deal.

    • FanGraphs is the place for deep stats. With Hefner, there’s not a lot of track record to compare this season against, but the BABIP looks low. That said, I’m not a devotee of that statistic.

      BTW, Brian Joura is not your bitch! (I am.)

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1989&position=P

      • To expand on this, the 2013 Hefner is not any better than the 2012 Hefner except in two key stats: ERA (which is a “result” statistic) and HITS. He’s walking more, striking out less, more HRs (percentage wise). The big, big difference is BABIP, from — sorry, this is from memory, don’t have it in front of me — .319 to .268. Some guys would attribute that mostly to luck. I can’t go that far, especially without a baseline to compare it against. Overall, I like that the SABR folks have introduced the concept of luck into player evaluation — we’ve all seen the scorched liner hit into someone’s glove and the broken bat bloop that goes for a double. But we’ve also seen, I believe, pitchers who create their own luck by inducing pop-ups, weak grounders, etc. Years ago, I read all the original research on BABIP, the guy has a crazy name and I’m blanking on it — Voros McCracken? — it’s kind of interesting and counter-intuitive, but I can only go so far with it. Clearly, Hefner’s pitching better . . . of late. This run is crazy good. But is it representative? The season will tell us more.

  5. Eric says:

    I guess the big point of focus for me would be Left Hand Hitters….and I don’t know where I can find a quality stat over the most recent 6-10 start time frame. At some point (before this run) an announcer blurted something about lefties hitting .368 (or was it .380?) versus The Hef. That is an unsurvivable stat for a SP!!! End result I’m looking for is “has that changed?”…is it a result of something he’s doing?…something that he can Repeat doing?

    I’m looking at him like Lackey Lite right now…. a power contact strike thrower is a nice # 5 type of guy.

    • I think you are onto something there. Interestingly, this season (overall) he’s become dominant against RH bats, a huge improvement over last season (from like .270 BA to .200 BA), whereas the overall numbers vs. LH bats has not greatly changed. Like you, I can’t figure out a way to get that double-split (last 30 days, plus vs. LH vs. RH).

      Crazy thought: Maybe we should just try watching closely to see what he’s doing. More fun!

  6. Michael Geus says:

    By the way I’m going to pile on here for Scary Tales. When I start my “Essential scary kids books” page on the Internet someday it will get four stars.

  7. Eric says:

    Back to The Hef: He’s BOTH striking out and walking more batters. That may mean that he’s actually more in command of his pitches and his pitching situations. Maybe he’s refusing to “give up pitches” in hitters counts with some confidence about making great pitches with men on base. Measuring control and command by BB% is a bulk measure. Within reason, a few more bases on balls can mean a beneficial amount of “stubborn at bats” that a pitcher refuses to surrender to.

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