Interviews Rumors

Brian Bannister Q&A, Part 3

Royals starter Brian Bannister recently answered some questions for MLBTR readers.  This post concludes the series; also check out Part 1 and Part 2 Q&A.  Brian clearly took extra time out to answer thoughtfully, and we thank him for it.

MLBTR: Since you originally went to college as a position player, how do you use your experience in the batter’s box and in the field to your advantage when you’re pitching? Playing in the AL, do you miss hitting?

Bannister: I think it is as important to know how a hitter thinks and operates as it is to be able to throw major league quality pitches. One area I have done a lot of work on is how a hitter sees a pitch, determines its speed and location, and decides whether or not to swing depending on the situation.

To me, there are three types of pitchers that can be successful in the major leagues, each for different reasons. The one thing they share in common is that they all have a deception that makes it difficult for hitters to visually predict where the ball will be when it enters the hitting zone. If you think about it, a hitter does not actually see the ball hit his bat, he loses the ball a certain distance out in front of him and has to "guess" where it will end up. This is why repetition and good eyesight are important for a hitter, and why as pitchers we don’t want to pitch in patterns. Hitters spend hours hitting off of pitching machines and BP pitchers, where there is no deception, and they are very good at it. Here are the three types of pitchers I have seen that can "deceive" Major League hitters and be successful:

1. "Late Movers" – These pitchers have the ability to make the ball move in the zone after the hitter visually loses the ball either more than the average pitcher, in a different manner than the average pitcher, or in a completely random manner altogether. These are pitchers that throw cut fastballs ("cutters", such as Mariano Rivera), sinking fastballs ("sinkers", such as Chien-Ming Wang & Fausto Carmona), split-fingered fastballs ("splitters", such as Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, J.J. Putz & Dan Haren), knuckleballs (such as Tim Wakefield), or from an arm angle that puts more sidespin on the ball than backspin (such as Jake Peavy). If I could throw any pitch, it would be the split-fingered fastball, because the movement on it is unpredictable and is impossible to hit squarely every time. Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous on the arm and requires large hands to take the strain off of the elbow. All these pitchers share the ability of having good "stuff", but their ball moves late in the zone more than anyone else in the game and is never straight.

2. "Risers" – These pitchers are the most exciting to watch in baseball, because they have the appearance of "blowing away" hitters. To be a "riser", you have to have exceptional lower body flexibility and be able to pitch under control with a long stride. What "risers" do that other pitchers can’t is they throw the ball on a plane with more upward tilt than average. In other words, their fastball appears to "rise" as passes through the hitting zone. What is actually happening is the hitter sees
the ball, and he predicts that it is going to be lower based on past experience than it actually is. Pitchers that have this unique ability include: Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, John Maine, Scott Kazmir, Chris Young, Pedro Martinez, and my all-time favorite in this category, Nolan Ryan.

3. "Deceivers" – These pitchers have a unique pitching motion that hides the ball longer than the average pitcher or makes it difficult for the hitter to determine the actual speed of the pitch. Most often, these pitchers are left-handed and stride across their body more than the average pitcher. Young pitchers can work on their deception by trying to keep their front shoulder closed longer, bringing their lead arm/glove in front of their release point, and making sure their throwing arm stays hidden behind the body. Pitchers that have mastered the art of deception are: Johan Santana, Tom Glavine, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia, Oliver Perez, and my favorite deceiver/late mover hybrid, Greg Maddux.

After studying and watching the best pitchers in the game for years, I have come up with these three categories that I believe all good pitchers fit into. If a pitcher is not having success, despite having great "stuff" I believe it is because he is not deceiving hitters the way that the pitchers above do. Major League hitters are in the big leagues for a reason, and it is our job as pitchers to find ways to get them out. Finding out which category you naturally fit into and working hard on developing that deception is the best way for a young pitcher to be successful in the long run.

And yes, I do miss hitting.

MLBTR: Are you familiar with the Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) stat?  It’s been suggested that the percentage of batted balls that drop in for hits may be largely out of a pitcher’s control.  What are your thoughts on that?

Bannister: I think a lot of fans underestimate how much time I spend working with statistics to improve my performance on the field. For those that don’t know, the typical BABIP for starting pitchers in Major League Baseball is around .300 give or take a few points. The common (and valid) argument is that over the course of a pitcher’s career, he can not control his BABIP from year-to-year (because it is random), but over a period of time it will settle into the median range of roughly .300 (the peak of the bell curve). Therefore, pitchers that have a BABIP of under .300 are due to regress in subsequent years and pitchers with a BABIP above .300 should see some improvement (assuming they are a Major League Average pitcher).

Because I don’t have enough of a sample size yet (service time), I don’t claim to be able to beat the .300 average year in and year out at the Major League level. However, I also don’t feel that every pitcher is hopelessly bound to that .300 number for his career if he takes some steps to improve his odds – which is what pitching is all about.

One thing that I work a lot with, and that is not factored into common statistical analysis, is what counts a pitcher pitches in most often – regardless of what type of "stuff" he has. Most stats only measure results, not the situations in which those results occurred. In the common box score, an RBI is an RBI, but it doesn’t show the count, number of outs, and number of runners on base when it occurred. For me, the area where pitchers have the most opportunity to improve or be better than average is in their count leverage.

Let me give the fans and young pitchers out there one example of a way that I try to improve my performance, this time with regards to BABIP.

Question to myself: Does a hitter have the same BABIP in a 2-1 count that he does in an 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 count? How does his batting average and OBP/SLG/OPS differ when he has two strikes on him vs zero or one strike?

These are the type of questions that I will come up with and employ in my starts to see if I can improve my outings. For example, here are my career numbers in the counts mentioned above:

2-1: .380 (19/50)
1-2: .196 (20/102)
2-2: .171 (18/105)
0-2: .057 (3/53)

It is obvious that hitters, even at the Major League level, do not perform as well when the count is in the pitcher’s favor, and vice-versa. This is because with two strikes, a hitter HAS to swing at a pitch in the strike zone or he is out, and he must also make a split-second decision on whether a borderline pitch is a strike or not, reducing his ability to put a good swing on the ball. What this does is take away a hitter’s choice. If I throw a curveball with two strikes, the hitter has to swing if the pitch is in the strike zone, whether he is good at hitting a curveball or not. He also does not have a choice on location. We are all familiar with Ted Williams’ famous strike zone averages at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is well-known that a pitch knee-high on the outside corner will not have the same batting average or OBP/SLG/OPS as one waist-high right down the middle. Here is a comparison of the batting averages and slugging percentage on my fastball vs. my curveball:

Fastball: .246/.404
Curveball: .184/.265

The important thing to note is that, with two strikes, if I throw a curveball for a strike, the hitter has to swing at it (and I like those numbers). How does a pitcher use this to his advantage? By throwing strikes and keeping the advantage on his side as often as possible. It seems like such a simple solution, yet so much more emphasis is placed on "stuff" nowadays and this is often not reinforced. When a pitcher who has great "stuff" employs this line of thinking, his numbers will improve to an even greater degree.

So, to finally answer the question about BABIP, if we look at the numbers above, how can a Major League pitcher try and beat the .300 BABIP average? By pitching in 0-2, 1-2, & 2-2 counts more often than the historical averages of pitchers in the Major Leagues. Until a pitcher reaches two strikes, he has no historical statistical advantage over the hitter. In fact, my batting averages against in 0-1, 1-0, & 1-1 counts are .297/.295/.311 respectively, very close to the roughly .300 average.

My explanation for why I have beat the average so far is that in my career I have been able to get a Major League hitter to put the ball in play in a 1-2 or 0-2 count 155 times, and in a 2-0 or 2-1 count 78 times. That’s twice as often in my favor, & I’ll take those odds.

Brian Bannister Q&A, Part 2

Royals starter Brian Bannister was kind enough to answer questions for MLBTR readers.  Check out Part 1 and Part 3 of the Q&A, also.

MLBTR: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of succeeding in baseball by typical fans, sportswriters, and announcers?

Bannister: There are two things that make baseball unique from other sports. One, baseball is a game of skill that is accentuated by the physical tools of the person performing those skills. Most people superficially judge a position player solely on size, strength, and speed, when his eyesight, balance, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, and mental makeup are much more influential factors in his future success. It is when a player embodies all of these qualities that we get our superstars and hall-of-famers. I would much rather face a hitter with "80" power and "80" speed but bad strike zone discipline than one with no power and a .400+ OBP. Over the course of time, the hitter with the .400+ OBP is going to hurt me much, much more, especially if he is surrounded by other good hitters.

Secondly, whether you like it or not, baseball is a game of randomness. We play outdoors (mostly) in changing elements and field dimensions, and each pitch results in a series of events that can go in either teams favor. One thing that I have have come to accept is that just because I train hard physically, I practice perfectly, I prepare diligently, and execute a pitch exactly as I wanted, it can still result in a home run. In golf, if you analyze all the variables correctly (lie, distance, slope, wind, etc.) and execute your swing perfectly, it will result in a great shot. Not so for a pitcher or a hitter. A hitter can swing the bat perfectly and it will result in an out more than six times out of ten. Therefore, as a pitcher, I study and play to put the percentages in my favor more than anything because I know that I can’t control the outcome in a single game or series of games, but over the course of a season or a career I will be better than average.

MLBTR: How will you prepare to face the Tigers’ everyday lineup?

Bannister: I have a good knowledge of and also a healthy respect for the Tigers’ lineup, and I have faced new additions Miguel Cabrera and Jacque Jones before. Edgar Renteria is the one new player that I don’t have any experience against.

I think the most important thing when preparing to face a lineup of this caliber is to be realistic and to recognize how they have been playing recently, because confidence level is everything with a good offense. If you look at good lineups, they tend to be extremely streaky, but their cold streaks will be much shorter than their hot streaks over the course of a season. During the hot streaks, teams and opposing pitchers tend to be intimidated by their offensive prowess, and games can be blowouts. In contrast, during the cold streaks they can seem to be a totally different team because they have very high expectations placed on them by the fans and media, and when they’re struggling, it tends to snowball.

When a good lineup is hot, the only thing you can do is throw strikes and not allow yourself to put hitters on base unnecessarily. They are going to get their hits, and when they get them, you don’t want a lot of runners on base. By keeping yourself ahead in the count, you can reduce your pitch count and hopefully their slugging percentage as well.

When a team is struggling at the plate, a pitcher can take advantage by expanding the strike zone, especially with runners in scoring position. Hitters that have had a drought of home runs/RBIs tend to press in those situations, and they will underperform their historical OBP because they are anxious to drive in runs and break out of their slump.

I will also apply this strategy to individual hitters within the lineup. I choose my spots to try and get outs while avoiding the hitters that are hot. A lineup is a constantly changing dynamic that requires a mix of planning, psychology, and quick adjustments in order to be successful.

Brian Bannister Q&A, Part 1

We’ve done some Q&As with players before – Curtis Granderson, Jason Hirsh, and Michael Barrett.  This time, for our Brian Bannister Q&A, we had readers submit the questions.  Brian really went the extra mile to accomodate, providing thoughtful and elaborate answers.  Great stuff – many thanks to him for participating.  We’ll break this up into several parts. (UPDATE: Read Part 2 and Part 3).

MLBTR:  What was your initial reaction when you heard that the Mets had traded you to the Royals? Where were you when it happened, and who told you?   

Bannister: As baseball players, all we want is an opportunity to play. I don’t know what plans the Mets had for me in 2007 before the trade, but I knew that the Royals wanted me to step up and be in the starting rotation right away, and that’s all I could ask for. The Mets will always be very special to me. They took a chance and drafted me, they invested a lot of time and resources in me over the years in the minor leagues, and they let me represent their organization in 2006 at the major league level. I have a lot of respect for the Wilpon family and the way they run their organization, the coaches that made sacrifices for me, and the fans that supported me. I will be eternally grateful to the Brooklyn Cyclones and their fans, because my career began there, and at the end of 2006 they retired my number 19 at Keyspan Park.

Ironically, the day before I was traded I was at a card show in New York City, and was signing autographs at a table in between my friend (and Mets pitcher) John Maine and Royals great Bo Jackson, whom I had known as a child when my father played for the Royals but had not seen in over 15 years. Bo and I talked for a while afterwards, and we told Royals stories from the 80′s. Little did I know I would be a Royal the next day.

MLBTR: How much of your success in this game so far do you contribute to having a father who was a successful Major Leaguer? Do you have any kind of rivalry with him, hoping to put up better numbers than he did in his time?

Bannister: One thing I’ve always appreciated about my father is that he never forced me to play the game of baseball. Instead, he always made himself available to practice with me if I felt like it, and that’s what made me want to work even harder at the game.

I attribute a lot of my success to the simple fact that I grew up with a baseball and a bat in my hands at all times. I believe that the human body develops coordination and skill in the early years much easier than in the adult years, and that is a reason you see so many fathers and sons in the big leagues. I also was able to watch Major League players practice, train, and prepare for games, and I have carried those principles into my own career.

There is no competition between my father and I, but I will openly admit that I am envious of his power left arm. We pitch in a totally different style, and I think we have learned a lot from watching each other pitch.

MLBTR: Have you ever talked to Greg Maddux?  Who was your favorite pitcher growing up, outside of your father?

Bannister: I have never had the privilege of talking with Greg Maddux, but I have spent plenty of time watching him on video. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Tom Glavine, who is from the same mold as Maddux as a pitcher. The one thing I appreciate about both is their mental toughness and unwillingness to give in to hitters. My favorite quote from Maddux is:

"When they’re in a jam, a lot of pitchers…try to throw harder. Me, I try to locate better."

I have pitched with that quote in the back of my mind for my entire career. Every pitcher is going to give up walks and hits, but the only thing that matters at the end of the day is how many runs you give up.

Greg, if you’re reading this, I’d love to play golf with you someday. Just let me know when and where, and good luck this season.

Keith Law Q&A

I realized recently that I don’t know a lot about how trades and discussions between GMs actually go down.  Fortunately, ESPN’s Keith Law was able to fill in the gaps for me in our Q&A below.  Keith was formerly the assistant GM in Toronto under J.P. Ricciardi.

What steps does a team take to ensure that trade discussions don’t leak out to the media or to other teams? 

You limit the number of people who are know the details of the discussions. There’s not much more you can do, and you’re always trusting the other side to keep offers and discussions to themselves.

About how many people from each team are privy to a trade discussion with another team?

Depends entirely on the FO. In Toronto, it was usually around a half-dozen people, sometimes as many as ten. I think most FOs play it closer to the vest.

Are intentional media leaks common?

Absolutely, and they’re not all true.

What are the logistics of trade discussions – is it typically one GM on the phone with another, followed up by consulting with the GM’s inner circle before a callback is made?

Every trade discussion that happened while I was with Toronto either came about as a GM-to-GM phone call, or as something that came up at the winter meetings, usually where the two GMs would meet in one team’s suite, occasionally with the assistant GMs there too.

Are emails or conference calls between front offices common?

Not while I was with Toronto, but Ricciardi wasn’t a big email guy. I know of some GMs who are much more comfortable with email and so I’m sure they’re more willing to at least start a discussion on email. But for what is essentially a negotiation, phone beats email, and in-person beats phone when you can swing it.

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Mike Plugh On Koji Uehara: Part 2

Have you heard about 32 year-old righthanded starter Koji Uehara?  He’s a free agent likely to come over from Japan to MLB this winter (no posting fee).  I wanted to learn more about him, so I consulted the authority on such matters: Mike Plugh.  Mike runs the Uehara Watch blog.  He also has Matsuzaka Watch and writes for Baseball Prospectus

You can read Part 1 of our Q&A here; a few additional questions are below.

Do you know of any specific teams that are expected to pursue Uehara?  I’ve read that the Angels like him.

I think the Angels are the team to watch with Uehara, simply because the drafted him out of college many years ago. He almost came to the Majors as a 23-year old, but the lure of the Yomiuri Giants proved too strong to pry him away. There’s a relationship there, albeit one from the distant past. Other than the Angels, I think you’ll see a lot of teams trying to get in on the action. There’s a huge market for Japanese players around the Major Leagues that is only growing. The Mets are very eager to get into Japan again. The Cubs seem to be active as well, and perhaps the Braves. The list may include every MLB club, so it’s a matter of money in the end, just like every other free agent. Would he play for the Mariners with Ichiro in center and Johjima is his backstop? Maybe. A lot of intriguing scenarios are out there.

Tell us a little bit about Koji as a person.

As for his personality, Uehara is very easygoing. He’s a funny guy by all accounts with a good sense of humor. He likes to keep things relaxed, but he’s extremely professional as are almost all Japanese athletes. He has a typically disciplined work ethic and is very focused in practice and on the field. He’d fit in virtually anywhere, although I think he’ll want to play on a winner if given a reasonable choice. He’s over 30 and may have a small window of opportunity to contribute to a championship ballclub.

Mike Plugh On Koji Uehara: Part 1

Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome is going to be a big deal this winter. He’s the next big thing from Japan, and you can scroll through multiple posts on him here.

But there’s another name surfacing on the radar: 32 year-old righthanded starter Koji Uehara.  He’s a free agent likely to come over to MLB this winter (no posting fee).  I wanted to learn more about him, so I consulted the authority on such matters: Mike Plugh.  Mike runs the Uehara Watch blog.  He also has Matsuzaka Watch and writes for Baseball Prospectus

Our Uehara Q&A ran long so I’m breaking this up into two posts.

You’ve described Uehara as having an 88-90 mph fastball as well as many other pitches.  Is his forkball his bread and butter?  Is there anyone in MLB past or present you’d compare him to?

Koji Uehara has a fastball that tops out at 94-95mph, but he rarely hits that velocity anymore. His hallmark is control and he uses a slower fastball, at about 88-89 on the corners, more effectively as a veteran. His plus pitches include a knee-buckling forkball, a nice curve, and an effective slider.  If I had to compare him to a Major Leaguer, I’d go with a more sturdy Brad Radke. He’s about the same size, right-handed, and has such amazing control that I’d be comfortable with that kind of expectation.

Given the apparent failure of Kei Igawa in the AL East, do you think American League teams will shy away from Uehara this winter?  Is Uehara better than Igawa?

I think there are a number of teams that will be scared away from Uehara based on having seen Kazuhisa Ishii, Hideki Irabu, and Kei Igawa coming out of Japan’s Central League. Those teams probably will have made a mistake by not doing their homework. Uehara is one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. Where the other players had good numbers in Japan, Uehara also brings the same type of translatable ability that Daisuke Matsuzaka has. He knows how to pitch.

Uehara has been used as a reliever this year.  Was that a surprise to you, and which role do you think he’ll fill for an MLB team?

The shift that Yomiuri has made this season hurts his potential value. The Giants used Uehara as their closer to break him in during a late start, the result of a lingering hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training. The team raced off to a fast start and management decided to keep him there. He’s excelled in the role, but he’s not happy. He’s one of the premiere starters in Japan and shouldn’t be in the closer’s role. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Giants are doing it to spite him, as they know he will be gone next year. In no way, shape, or form should he be considered anything but a starter in the Major Leagues.

Many thanks to Mike Plugh for the interview.  I’ll post a couple of closing questions in Part 2 on Friday.

Curtis Granderson Interview

Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson was kind enough to answer a few questions for  He seems like a smart guy; I was impressed by the content and honesty of his answers.  I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him in a Cubs uniform ten years from now.

Curtis writes an MLBlog and has a MySpace page as well.  On to the Q&A:

When did you first realize that you might one day play in the Major Leagues?

Honestly the first time was when I got called up in 2004 after our final game in AA Erie.  Up until that point, I thought about and hoped I would be able to, but never thought I would get a chance to do it so fast.

You grew up near Chicago.  What would it be like for you to play for the Cubs or White Sox one day?

For me it would be a little rough to play for one of the Chicago teams, because I know so many people there.   A lot of the people that I know there are also big fans of one or both of those teams, and would try to get a lot of information out of me.  I’m not sure if I would want to play there, but towards the end of my career I could see it possibly.   I know I will always have a house in Chicago, so you can never discount anything.

Do you have any lineup preference?  Do you take a different approach leading off than if you are hitting in another spot? 

Honestly my favorite spot to hit is the second spot, but I haven’t done that in almost two years.  The second spot gives you a lot of freedom especially if your leadoff hitter gets on.  The second hitter can move a runner over by bunting, hit and run, or getting a hit through the hole at 1 st base.  In the leadoff spot my approach really only changes in the leadoff spot later in the game when our team really needs me to get on base.   I have to try my best to get on base any way possible.  That is really the only time, and when I lead the game off, I’m not trying to draw a walk, I’m not trying to see pitches, I’m trying to get a hit and get on base.

I’ve read that you’re trying a new batting stance.  How is that going so far?  Do you think you’ll stick with it?

The new stance is very simple.  All we (Lloyd McClendon and I) did was try to eliminate a lot of wasted movement before I swing at the baseball.   Hopefully this will make me quicker to the ball and allow for easy correction if something wrong starts happening over a period of time.  It has worked out pretty well for the most part this spring, but it is only spring training.   Pitchers aren’t at 100 percent yet, so when the season starts and we get a month into it, we will see how it is.  I like it right now though.

Are there any players on the club who serve as mentors for you?

I’m not sure if there is one particular mentor for me on this team because a lot of people have been teaching me different things since I made my debut in 2004.   Nate Robertson and Vance Wilson have taught me different things about the Players Union.  Craig Monroe, Gary Sheffield, and Marcus Thames are teaching me different things about hitting situations.   Andy Van Slyke has taught me a lot about baserunning and also playing the outfield.  Kenny Rogers teaches me different things about how opposing pitchers might pitch me.   So you can see that everyone has been taking a role in trying to develop and build me into a better player.

Jason Hirsh Interview

Rockies starter Jason Hirsh was recently ranked the 42nd best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. Recently, he was kind enough to answer some questions for MLB Trade Rumors via email.  Jason and his brother Matt maintain a website called Brothers In Arms; check it out.

It appears that you were nearly traded to the White Sox in early December for Jon Garland.  Did that possibility take you by surprise?  What are your feelings on the city of Chicago?

I had heard about the ChiSox rumor and then it was finally in USA today and I really didn't think anything of it.  I called my agent and asked him if he had heard anything and he said no, it was just a bunch of talk from the winter meetings that someone from the media got hold of and ran with it.  I thought Chicago would have been cool, everyone I know says the town is awesome and I know the fans are very loyal.

Did the near-White Sox trade give you a chance to prepare mentally for the eventual deal to Colorado about a week later?

I took the ChiSox deal with a grain of salt so I was completely blindsided by the deal to Colorado.  I don't think anything could have mentally prepared me for that bombshell when it was dropped on me.

The Rockies have an "organization guided by Christianity" (see article here).  Is this drastically different than your past clubhouses?  Do you feel comfortable in this environment as a member of the Jewish faith?   

Being in the clubhouse now for the last few weeks here in Spring Training I have never felt more comfortable around a group of guys in my professional career.  Everyone is very accepting of me and they are all friendly, even the seasoned vets.  I feel as though I've been with this organization my whole career so its definitely comforting to know that everyone gets along even though some of us come from different backgrounds.

Colorado has more starting pitching depth than ever…would you be disappointed not to make the starting rotation right away?  Are you comfortable in the bullpen?

I think I would be disappointed for sure if I didnt make the rotation out of Spring Training.  I was told when the trade went down that I was going to be a vital part of this rotation this year and then they went out and signed like 4 more starting pitchers.  I understand that they are trying to create competition and get the most bang for their buck, but I think that I can outdo them all and win a spot in this rotation.  I'm not very comfortable in the bullpen, I've  been raised as a starter my whole life/career so coming from the pen is not my cup of tea so to speak.  I have a difficult time getting loose and getting into the mindframe of a reliever, but if the pen is where I'm destined to go then so be it, but I believe I'm better suited for starting.

How do you feel about your changeup these days?  Do you have confidence to throw it at any time?

Personally I feel like my changeup is my second best pitch right now behind my fastball.  My confidence in it has swooned the last two years.  I've really got a feel for it and I'm definitely not afraid to throw it in any count to any hitter.

Do you think you'll ever get a chance to pitch against your brother Matt?

I hope that at some point down the line in my career that both Matt and I will have the opportunity to pitch against each other, but I know he still has a lot of development ahead of him, but I know he'll make it!

Michael Barrett Interview

Yesterday, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett kindly answered some questions for  Michael has a new website up called Barrett Baseball; check it out.

What’s it like working with Lou Piniella?  Any major differences compared to years past?   

Lou is a professional. He expects a lot of stuff from everyone and that’s a good thing. It’s too early to talk about the differences between this year and last year, but everyone is really excited for the year to begin.

What do you see as the Cubs’ biggest obstacle in making the playoffs this year?

Staying healthy.

Do you have any preference as to which spot you hit in the batting order?

No, not really. I just want to help the Cubs win. Wherever Lou wants me to bat, I’m going to hit in that spot.

Based on what you’ve seen so far in camp, what are your thoughts on new additions Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis?

Those are two veterans who have been around the game for a long time and I’m very excited to work with both of them. They both came in to camp looking like they are ready to go and I can’t wait to see how they pitch in the beginning of the season. I know everyone here is happy to see them both.

Do you ever say anything to opposing hitters to rattle their cages?

I don’t like throwing gas on the fire. If I say anything, the hitter ends up turning that against me and hits a home run. If I say anything, it gets them more excited and focused on performing well. If anything, I’ll say something to the pitcher.

What’s the best clubhouse prank you’ve seen?

Will Ohman walked out of the Cubs clubhouse after a game to find his Yukon on cinderblocks, courtesy of Ryan Dempster. Greatest prank ever.

Troy Renck Interview Part 2

Troy Renck is the Rockies/MLB beat reporter for the Denver Post.  You see his name here often with exclusive rumors and info from his columns for that paper.  Troy was kind enough to answer a bunch of my Rockies-related questions for MLBTradeRumors.  Below is the second half of the interview; you can read the first half here.

Which pitcher is more likely to be traded this spring, Josh Fogg or Byung-Hyun Kim?

This will play out slowly, not unlike how the Rockies originally ended up with Kim two years ago just as camp broke. Kim is cheaper and his funky arm angle can neutralize a hitter’s park. He hasn’t shown consistency as a starter and is only comfortable in the bullpen as a closer. Fogg’s contract — $3.625 million — complicates any trade. The Rockies brought up his name when acquiring Lopez from the Orioles, but quickly pulled him back. 

There was a lot of interest in Chin-Hui Tsao after the Rockies non-tendered him.  What do you think of that decision?

From the outside looking in, Tsao’s departure is a headscratcher. He only got $100,000 guaranteed from the Dodgers. But having watched his rehab play out last season, it was clear that Tsao wanted a fresh start. He’s the most talented Rockies’ prospect I have ever seen. But it just didn’t seem like he was every going to escape the black cloud if he stayed in Denver. I’d like to see him have a career given his talent, hardly certain given his two serious surgeries on his shoulder and elbow. Anyway, he definitely wanted a fresh start somewhere else.

The Rockies have more young talent than ever.  In your opinion, when does it all gel to create a playoff team?

The farm system, barren for years, is starting to churn out impact players, like Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday. The key will be able to win and regenerate the young talent as the kids start to make money. If the payroll remains low and Todd Helton isn’t traded, the Rockies are going to face some difficult choices on which young players to keep this offseason. So, it’s difficult to answer when they will make the playoffs because of the roster issues looming. If they win, attendance theoretically increases, inflating the payroll. That would point to 2008 as a playoff year. But it’s too fluid right now for me to predict that with any certainty.