Sizing up offseason salary-dump market 

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
B. J. Upton Leon Halip/Getty ImagesIt's been another long season for B.J. Upton. Could he be on his way out of Atlanta?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- August may be over but these are the dog days of player evaluations, the time of year when teams are ready to turn the page, ready to say something hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work. They’re looking for something different.

It’s the time of year when executives are beginning to mull over the possible salary dump in the offseason, and some are scanning other rosters for matches. “Your trash contracts for somebody else’s trash contracts,” as one official noted the other day.

Here are 16 players (and contracts) who figure to be analyzed and perhaps discussed in deals after this season ends.

1. B.J. Upton | Atlanta Braves
Owed: $46.35 million over the next three seasons

He’s batting .205 this season after hitting .184 in 2013, and he’s already posted his sixth straight season of 150-plus strikeouts. The Cubs could again have interest after trade talks that involved Edwin Jackson crumbled earlier this season. There might be a match with the Indians, as well.

Time off was transformative for Duffy 

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
Danny Duffy Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAfter previously trying to overpower hitters, Danny Duffy now displays more nuance to this game.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rehabilitating an elbow after Tommy John surgery can be the working definition of monotony, and Danny Duffy's experience was no different than that of many who preceded him. When he was going through the process at the Kansas City Royals' facility in Arizona, he would arrive at the ballpark by 9:30 a.m., finish all the work he was allowed by midday, and then hang out by the pool.

The early evenings presented the best part of Duffy’s groundhog days; he would head to the same restaurant for Mexican food, always ordering carne asada to enjoy from the same seat, and he would watch the other Royals do what he couldn’t wait to do again: play baseball.

“I didn’t miss a game,” Duffy recalled. “As painful as it is to watch knowing you can’t play, it’s important to stay on that learning track.”

This was a crucial part of Duffy’s mental and physical makeover, and when he takes the mound against Cleveland on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), the Royals will either be a half-game ahead or behind Detroit in the AL Central. Duffy is well-suited to bear the responsibility of the moment.

Duffy ranks fifth in ERA (2.47) among all MLB pitchers with at least 130 innings. That's a little ahead of Corey Kluber and Jon Lester, a shade behind Johnny Cueto.

He absorbed a lot while eating rice and beans in baseball purgatory. Before that, Duffy was renowned for his big arm, but also for what he did not know about pitching efficiently, about controlling his effort.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Bud SeligAP Photo/Paul SancyaBud Selig was honored in San Diego this week in what turned out to be an unpopular decision.
Only five months remain in Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, and with his successor chosen (Rob Manfred), most of his remaining duties are ceremonial. After stopping at a few more parks in his farewell tour, he'll crown the champion at the World Series and move on shortly thereafter, perhaps to do the teaching that he has spoken of.

But in the days ahead, he has the opportunity to make a decision which, within the span of his time in office, wouldn't be nearly as important to the sport as a whole as the addition of the wild-card teams or the television contracts. For one set of executives with one franchise, however, a move by Selig could be absolutely crucial.

On Tuesday, Selig was in San Diego as the Padres announced that they will name a ballpark plaza at Petco Park after Selig. Mike Dee, the team's president and CEO, explained the rationale. From Corey Brock's story:
"It's tough to find something to give someone who has the experience and background he does," Dee said. "I think at this point in his career, his legacy speaks for itself. But to commemorate it here today was not only fun for us, but important for us to do."

Later in the article: "We wanted to do something to recognize his contributions here in San Diego because they are unique," Dee said. "Make no mistake, his contributions to the creation of Petco Park are profound. For those of us who were around and know the trips he made and conversations he had with local officials."

Selig said he was "very, very grateful," and as far as the Padres were concerned, this was a done deal.

But the backlash from Padres fans has been resounding -- overwhelmingly negative.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Andrew McCutchenAP Photo/Keith SrakocicThe banged-up Andrew McCutchen and his Pirates are just 1 1/2 games from an NL wild-card spot.
After Andrew McCutchen banged into the center-field wall making a catch Tuesday night, he paused for a moment, bent at the waist, and was probably doing one of three things:

1. Assessing whether his injured ribs had been knocked free from his body.

2. Catching his breath.

3. Managing the pain.

Maybe he was doing all the above, all at once, but McCutchen probably wouldn't tell you exactly what was going through his mind, because he seems to be another disciple of the Ripken-Jeter-Miggy Cabrera School of Grin and Bear It, where the mantra is that if you are on the field, you don't really acknowledge your injuries.

But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saw McCutchen hit the fence, and probably knows from precise trainers' reports how McCutchen is faring, and Hurdle removed the reigning National League MVP from the game in the late innings Tuesday. You wouldn't have blamed McCutchen if he had sat out Wednesday afternoon's game a mere 14 hours after the completion of Tuesday's game.

But McCutchen was back in the lineup in the third and final game of the series against the Cardinals, and he was hacking aggressively, as was Russell Martin, who had caught the night before.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jonny VentersPouya Dianat/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesIt's possible Jonny Venters never pitches effectively in MLB again. The league should consider why.
A couple of years ago, a longtime player noted the workload of one of his teammates, a reliever, who had been asked to work day after day after day, in keeping with the general credo of the bullpen. As a reliever, you do everything you can do to take the ball when you’re asked to take the ball.

“It’s not right,” the teammate said. “This guy is being worked until his arm falls off, and before he knows it, his career will be over.”

The teammate’s suggestion was that

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Robinson Cano and Lloyd McClendonBrian Blanco/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano, Lloyd McClendon & Co. enter Monday having won 14 of their past 18 games.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Garrett Richards rushed to cover first base and blew out his knee. Sean Doolittle, the best reliever in the AL West, is out indefinitely with a strained intercostal muscle. John Jaso struggled with concussion symptoms in the trainer's room before Sunday's game, needing assistance, and he's headed to the disabled list. Josh Donaldson has instability but not structural damage in his knee, and the Athletics are interpreting this as good news. As in, he's only a little broken.

What all this means is that Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton should be waking up today thinking: Anything is possible in the American League West. Anything.

On July 27, the Mariners trailed AL West front-runner Oakland by 11½ games. Less than a month later, the M's are just five games behind the A's, who lost to the Angels on Sunday, and they trail the first-place Angels by six games.

The Mariners have the second-best ERA since the All-Star break with a 2.39 mark, more than a half a run better than the Angels and almost a run and a half better than the A's. Hernandez is the front-runner to win the American League Cy Young Award, Chris Young is the probably the leader for AL Comeback Player of the Year, Iwakuma continues to be the best pitcher that casual baseball fans need to know, and Paxton has rounded out the rotation this month with his work.

As for the offense, the Mariners are the highest-scoring team in the division in August, averaging almost five runs per game. Cano has a .953 OPS this month, Logan Morrison is hitting .328, and Dustin Ackley has 10 extra-base hits.

And the bullpen? The Mariners have six relievers with at least 45 appearances and ERAs below 3.00. The Angels beat Fernando Rodney and his imaginary arrow-shooting on July 20, but for Rodney, his work has been mostly bull's-eyes lately.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Vogt's determination paying off for A's 

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
Stephen VogtKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsStephen Vogt has arguably been Oakland's best hitter since his call-up on June 1.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Vogt played eight years in the minors and knows what it feels like to ride a bus overnight all the way from Gwinnett, Georgia, to Norfolk, Virginia, only to be told the hotel rooms aren’t ready. He understands what it means to be 25 years old without having had a taste of Double-A.

He can vividly recall a conversation with his wife about walking away from baseball before the 2010 season, to go into coaching, and how she reminded him that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play and that he should keep trying until somebody rips the uniform off him.

Vogt knows how difficult it is to reach the big leagues, having made his debut at 27 years old, and waiting 14 months after that to get his first hit.

And Vogt can offer first-person anecdotes about starting every playoff game for the Oakland Athletics this past fall, following that with a great spring, only to be sent to the minors at the end of camp.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Tough standards for midseason trades 

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
Jon LesterJason Getz/USA TODAY SportsThe Jon Lester trade was a strong move, but it could be judged harshly based on the postseason.
Some midseason trades are remembered as the finishing adornment for success -- at least after the final pitch was thrown. The Blue Jays swapped a couple of prospects for David Cone in a stunning late-season trade in 1992, and because Toronto went on to win the World Series and the deal worked as designed, nobody ever cared that one of the two prospects surrendered was Jeff Kent, who went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

The Giants traded for Hunter Pence in July 2012, and because San Francisco dogpiled at the end of the World Series, we remember Pence as the perfect addition at the perfect time, and the aggressiveness of general manager Brian Sabean as pivotal. In 1996, the Yankees traded for Cecil Fielder, and he was important to what the team accomplished late that year. There’s almost no way the Yankees would’ve won the World Series in 2000 without a trade for David Justice that summer, because there were times that Justice seemed to carry them.

But there is the dark side of midseason moves, of course. Almost all of them are thought out and built on logic and sound analysis, yet many of them don’t work as intended.

I remember sitting on the set of "Baseball Tonight" after the trade deadline in 2007 and echoing the prevailing sentiment that the Red Sox were one of the big winners of the midseason dealing period, because they had landed the reliever perceived to be the best available -- Eric Gagne.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Where Phillies can make a bold move 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Ken GilesBill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsThe Phillies should promote Ken Giles to closer, despite Jonathan Papelbon's success.
Ken Giles will be the Phillies' closer one day because he appears to have a chance to be one of best relievers in baseball. Hidden amid the rubble of the Phillies' 2014 season, Giles made his debut June 12 and has been completely dominant, striking out 41 of the 104 batters he has faced -- Craig Kimbrel-like numbers, among others.

There are more.

Only Aroldis Chapman, Kelvin Herrera and the Reds' Jumbo Diaz have had a higher average fastball velocity than Giles' 97.1 mph.

He has allowed only four runs in 28⅓ innings. He has allowed one homer. Opposing hitters have a .541 OPS against him. Three baserunners have tried to steal against him, and all three have been thrown out. He has faced 60 right-handed hitters this season and struck out 26, with only three walks. Among relievers with at least 20 innings, only six have a better ratio of strikeouts to walks than Giles, whose mark is 6.83. He has a strikeout rate that places him in the neighborhood of Kimbrel and Dellin Betances, as David Murphy writes.

Giles has been so overpowering, so effective, that his presence has provided an opportunity for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro to turn Jonathan Papelbon

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jerry ReinsdorfAP Photo/David BanksJerry Reinsdorf won't have nearly the same power under new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Some of those who were in the room in last week’s contested election of the next MLB commissioner are still trying to figure out what happened, and why it happened the way that it did, with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf fighting with virtually no chance of success.

Reinsdorf pushed Tom Werner as a candidate when the vote was stacked heavily in favor of Rob Manfred by a 2-1 margin, and folks with other teams say they would’ve understood better if Reinsdorf had simply presented Werner as an alternative to Manfred -- and then quickly retreated, in the face of overwhelming dissent.

But that’s not how it played out. Reinsdorf kept the fight going, even as the Rays and Brewers jumped on board and joined the Manfred camp, putting him within a single vote of being selected. Reinsdorf then mentioned that there were other qualified candidates in the room who were not up for election -- and somebody then asked why Reinsdorf, a member of the search committee, hadn’t pushed forward those other would-be candidates before.

As it played out, rival executives say, there were only two sure outcomes:

1. Manfred would be elected.
2. At the end of the process, Reinsdorf lost a lot of influence.

For years, Reinsdorf has been regarded as the second-most powerful man in the sport, given his relationship with deal-making commissioner Bud Selig. But in the midst of the process for choosing the commissioner, the decision was made in the room to allow Manfred to choose his own executive committee -- which Reinsdorf has been a part of in the past.

“He’ll be treated like everybody else now,” one rival executive said.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

K.C. bullpen overwhelms, as a routine 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
Wade Davis, Salvador PerezAP Photo/Charlie RiedelNow a member of the bullpen, Wade Davis brings extra velocity.

The Royals' bullpen got some needed relief Sunday, in the form of 12 runs of offense. So Greg Holland wasn’t required to crank up and do the thing that's his equivalent of Superman jumping into a phone booth, and Wade Davis didn’t have to ease his way into his work. Kelvin Herrera, who hasn’t allowed a run in almost two months, did take an inning, his fastball reaching 100.2 mph, his sinker averaging about 95 mph.

“These guys are something to watch,” Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry said Sunday morning, and Henry gets to see them up close, all of their habits, their different routines.

The Kansas City bullpen is probably the difference

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

My first season in MLB - Spanish 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
Jose AbreuDan Hamilton/USA TODAY SportsAdam Dunn has been a strong presence for Jose Abreu during his rookie campaign.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item. Today's guest blogger is Chicago White Sox rookie outfielder Jose Abreu; this version is presented in his native language.

Primeramente debo comenzar por agradecer a Dios por haberme permitido alcanzar mi sueño, el sueño de toda mi familia: llegar y ser parte del mejor béisbol del mundo; por darme la oportunidad de mostrar cada día lo que soy capaz de hacer con las habilidades y condiciones con las que me bendijo; y por estar en una organización como la de los Medias Blancas y estar rodeado de tantas personas buenas que me han ayudado en todo este proceso que he vivido esta temporada.

La verdad es que no ha sido tan fácil como mucha gente piensa, pero tampoco ha sido tan difícil como me lo pude haber imaginado. La clave, como siempre he dicho, ha estado en mantenerse trabajando, en disfrutar lo que somos capaces de hacer cada día y en no conformarnos.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

My first season in the major leagues 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
Jose AbreuDan Hamilton/USA TODAY SportsAdam Dunn has been a strong presence for Jose Abreu during his rookie campaign.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Chicago White Sox rookie outfielder Jose Abreu.

First of all, I need to thank God for allowing me to reach my dream, the dream of my family: That is, being part of the best baseball league in the world; for giving me the opportunity to show every day what I’m capable of, thanks to the abilities given to me by him; and for being in an organization like the White Sox that has allowed me to be surrounded by so many good people that have helped me during the process this season.

Truth is, things haven’t been as easy as a lot of people might think. But they haven’t been too tough, either. The key, like I’ve always said, is to keep on working, enjoy the things you are capable of doing, and never settle for less.

Back when I was a kid and started playing baseball, my father always advised me that I had to be devoted in order to be good, to become whoever I wanted to be I had to work real hard every single day. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

That advice from my father, who is also named Jose, is like a Holy Scripture to me. I work intensely every day, to be prepared for every single game.

When I played with Cienfuegos or with the Cuban national team, I worked nonstop. Did it every day, even when I had a long trip ahead, traveling by guagua (bus), to every city in our schedule.

When I arrived in this country, my daily preparation became easier, because of all the training facilities that exist. In my first days here, I kept on working, preparing myself so I wouldn’t waste this new opportunity that the Lord gave me, to pay the team back for the trust they gave me, and to honor all the efforts and sacrifices made by my family.

Taking advantage of all the benefits that I’ve bumped into since I arrived in the big leagues has been an easy task, same thing as being able to keep my focus about the work I have to do, about all the positive things that have happened to me, and everything I’ve achieved in this time. Honestly, I never thought I could achieve all these things, like being Player of the Month, Rookie of the Month, an All-Star, but that’s what God has chosen for me, and I accept that in a humble way.

But like I said, despite having all these great things, I haven’t lost my focus, because I always remember another piece of advice from my father: “You must have a plan for everything you want to achieve. You must stick to that plan and work on it, so things can happen." And it’s been like that. I’ve always stuck to my plan, where hard work is everything.

I have met some great people that have helped me to improve all the resources in my work and preparation, people with great experience that have been gracious enough to provide some advice, and have also allowed me to use some of their examples.

Paul Konerko -- who unfortunately will retire after this season -- and Adam Dunn have been two key people that have guided me in this transition process.

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPaul Konerko's work ethic has provided a strong model to follow for Jose Abreu and other young White Sox hitters.
Konerko’s leadership has given me security and confidence. He is a person who never loses his temper, a hard worker who loves to study his batting with great detail. His work ethic has set an example for me, and it has helped me to keep my plan rolling, improving it every day.

From Konerko, I’ve learned how to take advantage of all the pitching analysis that is available, although I must confess that I’m not the type of guy who likes to read too much of that, since I’ve got my own method to analyze pitchers. But it’s a tool that we have, and eventually, it can help.

Both Konerko and Dunn have helped me to stay relaxed, to avoid feeling pressured when things don’t go my way, to avoid the frustration after failing to achieve something that I think I could have done easily.

Dunn is always looking for different ways to keep the team in good spirits, so we cannot lose the battle against pressure. I still laugh every time I see Phil, the toy chimp he’s got in his locker. There was one time when he brought a toy bird that made a very weird noise. The first time I heard that bird, it really scared me a lot. Now, I just laugh.

The way Konerko and Dunn handle every situation helps the team. It has helped me to control the different scenarios that might happen at this level, both on the field and inside the clubhouse.

I think that both Konerko and Dunn have provided examples that have helped me to complement my plan, the very same plan taught by my father that has been improved. I hope to be able to follow their examples, and continue to take advantage of every single opportunity, as long as the Lord allows me to do so.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes ...

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

A day in the life of a reliever 

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
Burke BadenhopTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsWhat's a day in the life of a reliever like? Ask Burke Badenhop.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Boston Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop.

“What time’s the national anthem?”

I always have to ask because I know I’m going to be late getting ready. Punctuality is something I’m working on. But missing the anthem is breaking a team rule and results in an earful from my teammate Craig Breslow. It's certainly not how I wish to start a game. After honoring America, a rookie grabs the candy bag and we head off to the pen.

At the onset of the game, every reliever hopes the starter is sharp, settles into the game and is economical with his pitch count. No one likes early phone calls down here. Short starts will wreak havoc on a pen. The wear and tear of today's game can easily haunt you for the better part of a week. On the other hand, a spectacular start or a complete game can put all the pieces back in place for a bullpen. So we all sit, sipping our energy drinks during the early innings, willing the starter to find his rhythm.

Somewhere between the third and fifth innings, the back end of the bullpen shows up. We seven pitchers assembled comprise the Red Sox's bullpen. The setup guys, the closer and other bullpen veterans greet everyone and find their places. These guys have earned their late arrival. They’re the ones the team leans on in the tight spots, when we need to get out of a jam, when tonight’s game is on the line. They get some extra time to prepare and relax in the clubhouse, knowing they won't be called upon in the early innings.

Although a team might have the same seven relievers from the night before, a manager's bullpen could be different every night depending on who's available. Some relievers might be “down,” meaning not available that night under any circumstance. A "down" guy could be nursing a sore arm or simply shouldn’t pitch because of his recent workload.

Others "could use a day" -- meaning they are available but hopefully won't be called upon. A day of rest would do them a world of good, but if the right situation occurs, they’ll pitch. Some guys are available for multiple innings because they’re fully rested, while others have enough gas in the tank for only a hitter or two. Every manager must take his relievers' availability into consideration and works with what they have that night.

There’s a saying that holds true for a reliever: "You’re pitching either too much or not enough." When you pitch, you tend to pitch a lot. When you don’t pitch, you tend to sit a lot. It’s these peaks and valleys that I believe lead to so much variability in reliever performances from year to year. The guys who can manage it the best are the ones who stay in this game the longest.

As the night progresses and our starter begins to tire and lose effectiveness, the phone calls start. Eventually bullpen phones are going to be the only land lines left in America. I usually have a pretty good idea who is going to be called on after assessing the situation on the field. Even if I don’t think my name is going to be called, I prepare like it will be. It’s best to always be prepared to pitch and be surprised when you don’t. The last thing I want is to be caught unprepared -- physically or mentally.

But it is my name that's called.

Whenever my name is called, I take a deep breath, blow it out and take a couple of seconds to “turn it on.” Turning it on is getting focused, getting a bit weird, getting my mind on the only thing that matters: making pitches.
Burke Badenhop
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBadenhop has his own little ritual to "turn it on" when his name is called.

I take my jacket off and grab a baseball. Most baseball players are completely different people on the field than they are off it. If I have to be ready quickly, I frantically fire fastballs and hope to get a slider or two in before being called into the game. If I have time and am preparing for a certain hitter two or three batters away, I pace myself more. All the while I’m taking inventory of how I feel. Am I staying tall? Am I on top of my sinker? Is my slider worth throwing today? Am I locating my changeup? As I loosen, I also try to make adjustments to get the most out of what I have that day. Maybe I need to loosen my grip on my changeup.

I might have to really focus on keeping pressure with my middle finger for my slider. Maybe my sinker is running too much that day and I need to pick a different spot to aim when throwing it away to a lefty. When the umpire signals for me, I chuck one last sinker, low and away, hopefully, and blow through the bullpen door to the outfield grass and toward the mound.

If the phone rings and someone else is called upon, I will continue to stretch and try to stay out of the way while they warm up. I certainly don’t take my jacket off at this point. If my jacket is on, I’m anonymous. No one knows who I am if they can’t see my name or number on the back of my jersey. As soon as someone takes his coat off, the fans loitering around the pen reach for their phones. Google is awesome, but not when you're sitting in the bullpen. Fans quickly discover many things about a player -- all providing ammunition for the local heckler. We hear all sorts of taunts and jeers while someone's warming up.

Some unoriginal fan yells, “My grandma throws harder than you!”

“Does she have an agent?” I reply.

The phone will ring some more. Some guys will warm up and get into the game. Others might warm up two or three times and never be called upon. We will protect a lead or do our best to keep our team close for a late-inning comeback. A win will lead to a happy clubhouse after the game. Everyone who pitched this night lines up to high-five the players coming in from the dugout. I’ll take care of a few things postgame to help me prepare for tomorrow. That might involve an arm stretch, icing or jumping in the cold/hot tub. It won't be long before I'll be asking what time the anthem is. And I swear I won’t be late this time.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Stats versus strengths for Kershaw 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Los Angeles DodgersAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA.J. Ellis, left, and Clayton Kershaw have forged an excellent working relationship.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis.

Almost exactly two hours before he takes the mound every fifth day, Clayton Kershaw lays out the precise game plan he intends to use for each hitter in the opposing starting lineup.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and I sit on each side of a training room table as Kersh runs through the batters. Honey and I always come to those meetings armed with information on the tendencies of our opponents: We not only look at what they have done against left-handed pitchers both recently and historically, but how they’ve approached at-bats against our ace specifically.

To fully prepare for his start, Kersh studies the scouting reports we print out prior to each series, and then he goes back and finds the two pitchers most similar to himself, such as Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels, and watches their starts versus the given opponent in their entirety. Although Honey and I have done the work and are prepared, Kersh leads the meeting. We try to help by offering up small tidbits on a particular hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, and by filling him in on any personal history that stands out. Kershaw’s tone is always serious. He keeps the conversation brisk. It’s now my job to remember his plan of attack and call pitches accordingly.

In the three years I have been humbled to catch Kersh, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not offer up information that goes against his typical arsenal of pitches. Even though the stats may lead me in a different direction, we are both keenly aware that his strengths are what separate him from the rest. Except for when we forget.

Interleague play usually takes away the most valuable tool of setting any game plan: data on head-to-head matchups. In the recent Freeway Series with the Angels, Kersh and I both fell victim to this trap. Kershaw hadn’t faced the Angels since 2011, and had a limited history with the majority of the Halos. It’s no secret across baseball that Kersh loves to pound right-handed hitters inside. His combination of angle, deception and command make it extremely hard to square up an executed fastball on the inside corner.

The trouble is the Angels have a bunch of great hitters who feast on pitches on the inner half. So in our pregame meeting, we decided to scrap Kersh’s strength and try to work the outer half of the plate toward those hitters' statistical weaknesses. Three innings and three earned runs later, we both realized we compromised our typical game plan in favor of the numbers our computer spewed out regarding hitters' results versus left-handed pitchers who probably do not own two Cy Young Awards or pitch with the will and ferocity Kersh does.

Realizing the error of our ways, we went back to what Kersh does well, and he cruised the rest of the way. After giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in his first three innings because of our dumb game plan, Kersh allowed no hits and struck out six in his final four frames. Lesson learned.

As a catcher who loves the cerebral side of this great game, I enjoy the patchwork process of preparing a series for each pitcher on his start date. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus set the example in his two years as a catcher with the Dodgers for exactly what I need to do. To avoid information overload, Brad taught me to run through this checklist:

1. How aggressive is the hitter on the first pitch?
2. Does that change with runners in scoring position?
3. Where exactly does the hitter do his damage?
4. On what types of pitches?
5. In or away?
6. Ahead in the count only?
7. What are the hitter's two-strike chase zones on both fastballs and off-speed pitches?

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images"He's a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he's always looking for more research to gain an advantage," A.J. Ellis says of Zack Greinke.
Whereas we've learned that Kershaw needs to stick with his strengths and do what he does best regardless of the situation, this is a checklist that intrigues Zack Greinke. He’s a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he’s always looking for more research to gain an advantage. He especially wants to know, and hopefully avoid, the specific areas where each hitter’s power is located. Zack is the most inquisitive student of the game I've ever met, and he breaks down video as well as anyone I've caught.

Zack studies the two-strike chase zone numbers intently. With the arsenal of pitches at his disposal combined with his ability to locate, he relentlessly attacks these zones with two strikes.

All of this information is vital to Honey and I as we try to determine a way to get major league hitters out. I mention Honey again because I must admit that I'm unable to memorize all of these figures as the game and series progress, so I rely on him to give me his notes mid-game. His help is invaluable.

But at the end of the day the question ultimately comes to this, as it did with Kersh versus the Angels: Am I going to rely on a set of numbers, or on my pitcher's strengths? Just because a hitter can do damage against a left-hander's slider in general doesn't mean I'm not calling Kersh's slider. If a hitter has great numbers against split-fingered fastballs, I am still going to work in Dan Haren's split. I've learned there has to be a marriage of stats and strengths. I try to find that balance every time I throw a sign down.

As the game progresses and relief pitchers trot in, the focus always seems to trend toward strengths. Most relievers don’t offer up a big variety of options in their repertoire, but they make it up for it with the velocity and movement of the pitches that they do throw. These last few crucial innings of a game usually turn into a battle of my best against your best. We don’t overthink it. Even if the best fastball hitter in the game is in the box with the game on the line. I’m still going to call for Kenley Jansen to throw his invisible fastball right by him. Those moments are what makes baseball so great.

The caveat in all of this is how fortunate I am to be on the receiving end of this incredible pitching staff. All of my starters have the ability to be creative and adapt from start to start. They can all locate multiple pitches, which affords me the ability to match up their strengths with the stats. Their strengths also change and can be adjusted as a particular game goes on. This speaks to the athleticism and pitch-making ability these starters have.

The relief corps is a collection of seasoned veterans who have each battled through every possible scenario. They each possess put-away weapons for all types of hitters. But when it comes down to it, and the bases are loaded with two out and it’s time to make a pitch, be assured the batting averages, slugging percentage and hard-hit stat rates are all pushed aside, as my teammate on the mound shuts out all the noise and sticks with his strength.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider