Let's open with a rather long note from Buster Olney's column on Michael Bourn. Since it's protected by the ESPN Insider firewall and I don't know how many of you subscribe, I'll reprint the high points:
Before joining Aguilas in winter ball, in the Dominican Republic, he started to unravel the puzzle of his swing. Besides pulling ground balls to the right side of the infield, Bourn also was hitting the ball off the end of his bat a lot -- clues, he felt, that told him his swing was too quick, and that his bat wasn't in the hitting zone long enough. He liked to watch Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee take batting practice, and he admired how their level swings seem to be pulled through the plate for so long, giving them a greater chance for better contact. Bourn's swing, on the other hand, was just too quick, which is why he kept hitting harmless grounders to second base.
Late in the 2008 season, Astros coach Dave Clark gave Bourn a suggestion -- Bourn should try hitting with his weight shifted forward at the outset of his swing, rather than with his weight back, on his left hip. Ultimately, Clark said, Bourn would need to get back to hitting with his weight back -- but this change would allow Bourn to focus on how he used his hands in his swing path.
Imagine swinging a Wiffle ball bat with your hands only, and without shifting your weight from your back hip to your front hip; this is what Clark did in September of 2008. And he could feel, in his swing, a solution evolving. He began to hit the ball to the left side of the infield, or through the middle. The progress continued in winter ball, and in spring training, Berkman suggested to him that he should work off a tee daily, develop a routine in which he practiced his level swing path, using his hands and the shift of his weight in concert.
And in spring training, Bourn noticed the foul balls he was hitting were going into the stands along the third-base line. A good thing, he felt.
"What this told me was that I was doing better at letting the ball get deeper in the strike zone," Bourn said. "I was a little behind the ball, and all I needed to do was to be a little quicker."
No wonder Dave Clark was such a popular figure with the player...
Since the Astros' top prospect Jason Castro was sent home from the Arizona Fall League because of fatigue, this interview with Giants catcher Buster Posey is relevant, though not especially enlightening. Posey doesn't really say anything we couldn't have surmised ourselves but it is worth looking at Houston's future catcher to see how many innings he's racking up on those knees.
The following are rough estimates on the number of innings played for Castro in the past five seasons. You can see the huge spike in the season he got drafted. It's also worth noting that for the first few years there, those innings were spread out through the entire year, as Castro played in the Alaska Baseball League, the Area Code Games, the Cape Cod League and other events throughout his career that made playing baseball year-round a possibility.
2005 - ~500 (mostly infield)
2006 - 673 (mostly first base)
2007 - 536 (mostly first base)
2008 - 900 (first season full-time at catcher)
2009 - 1,100 (including spring training, minors, World Cup and AFL)
Castro is used to playing year-round, but tired out right around the time he hit the 1,000 inning mark. The Astros top two catchers last season combined to catch 1,175 innings. Maybe Castro just needs to get his legs underneath him. He's only caught for two seasons now, much like Posey and should be fresher than someone who caught all through high school and college. Still, if we're thinking of using Castro at some point next season, it's worth asking if he'll have anything in the tank when he is called up.
- Farmstros is already on top of this one, but Zach Levine posted all the minor league coaching moves that trickled down from a new big league skipper being named. The only real eyebrow-raiser for me was Mark Bailey being named hitting coach after spending all those years in Houston as bullpen coach. He used to be a catcher, but isn't that a bit weird?
- Fangraphs updates us on how awesome Michael Bourn was on the basepaths last season. Though the best baserunner in the league was only worth eight runs last season, it shows how versatile Bourn was and how his value really transcends his pedestrian OPS.
- Here are a couple of posts from Chris Jaffe's new book on managers. Since we discussed the relative merits of different managers quite extensively leading up to Brad Mills' hiring, it's interesting to look at the factors that distinguish a good manager from a bad one. If I have some time this winter, I'm definitely reading up on this book to see how we can start better evaluating the skipper. It's also interesting to think about the 'hometown hero' concept in relation to Houston's managers. Of course, the only real example was Dierker, but with all the talk about Bagwell and/or Biggio being candiates for the job, looking at how other guys fared is pretty neat.
- Here's a twitpic from Alyson Footer of Bud Norris. Footer has been on a tweeting rampage with her camera, taking some candid shots of Berkman and Hunter Pence at a MMP event for 20 homeless families transitioning to non-homelessness. A very good cause and a very neat anecdote that Footer shares on her blog about how Missus Puma wanted her kids involved with this.
- Don't know what to get that baseball fan you know for Christmas? How about a super-cool DVD pack full of World Series games?
- Good news for the baseball bloggers of the world...Yahoo has the highest number of media credentials at the Winter Olympics so far. It makes sense, no? Just because newspapers die out doesn't mean people will stop wanting news. They just have to figure out how to log onto the InterWeb now...
- Finally, a little piece of non-baseball goodness...if anyone here hasn't watched The Wire yet, I highly recommend it.