The Team of the 2010s: Second Baseman

Over the next 11 weeks we’ll be running polls to determine the Harrisburg Senators’ Team of the 2010s. When we’re done, we’ll have starters for every position on the field including a designated hitter, utility player, right-handed and left-handed starter, and reliever.

Did a player turn into a MLB superstar? Or maybe he was a legend on City Island? Or just maybe he was your favorite because he was a better person than a player? How you make your selection is solely up to you.

Mondays we will post that week’s poll and Fridays we will announce the winner. You can only vote once a day, but that means you get five opportunities to stuff the ballot box.

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The Team of the 2010s: 1B Tyler Moore

(Will Bentzel / Harrisburg Senators)

Tyler Moore (2011 – .270/.314/.532, 70R, 90 RBI, 31 HR)

When Moore launched a bomb over the center field wall in the second game of an August 26th doubleheader, he became only the second player in modern Senators’ history to reach the 30-home run plateau. A pretty impressive number for a guy who physically pales in comparison to a specimen like Giancarlo Stanton or a big guy like Joey Gallo. But Moore is cut from the same “country strong” mold as a guy like Jim Thome.

It’s that kind of strength and bat speed that gives him the ability to hit tape-measure home runs onto the roof of the team store as well as opposite field doubles into the deepest recesses of right-centerfield at Metro Bank Park. Moore was one of the few constants in the Senators’ lineup day in and day out during 2011 as he played in a team-leading 137 games and always found his name in the cleanup spot. It was a role he clearly relished and thrived in as he wrote his name in the Senators’ record books for numerous offensive categories.

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The Team of the 2010s: First Baseman

Over the next 11 weeks we’ll be running polls to determine the Harrisburg Senators’ Team of the 2010s. When we’re done, we’ll have starters for every position on the field including a designated hitter, utility player, right-handed and left-handed starter, and reliever.

Did a player turn into a MLB superstar? Or maybe he was a legend on City Island? Or just maybe he was your favorite because he was a better person than a player? How you make your selection is solely up to you.

Mondays we will post that week’s poll and Fridays we will announce the winner. You can only vote once a day, but that means you get five opportunities to stuff the ballot box.

First up, fittingly, we have the first basemen.

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Strike one proves to be the most valuable pitch in Wil Crowe’s arsenal

Monday afternoon at FNB Field, Wil Crowe showed why the 24-year-old right-hander is believed by many to be a future cornerstone of the Washington Nationals’ rotation.

Crowe picked up his fifth win against three losses pitching into the eighth inning for the first time this season. The 2017 second round draft pick out of South Carolina held Reading to one run through seven innings before the Fightin Phils plated two more runs on three hits in his final frame of work.

Despite allowing just one run in the early going, Crowe was struggling to command his pitches and get through the Fightin Phils’ order without much traffic on the bases.

“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Crowe said. “My two-seam fastball wasn’t very good. My change-up wasn’t very good. Usually, I can rely on those. My teammates behind me deserve all the credit because I didn’t have my best stuff. I was trying to keep the ball down and get ground balls, and it was working for me today.”

But Crowe found his rhythm, retiring ten straight batters at one point.

“After that third inning, I just got really comfortable flipping in curveballs, flipping in sliders, change-ups, and keeping them off-balance,” Crowe said.

The Tennessee native’s success in 2019 is a return to the basic tenet most pitching coaches preach – throw more strikes, and especially on the first pitch of the at-bat.

Comparing Crowe’s ten starts this season to his five at Double-A at the end of last year, the numbers back it up.

Crowe is throwing more strikes overall (56.8% vs. 67.0%), and getting ahead in the count is allowing him to limit the damage on balls put in play. Last year, Eastern League batters hit .307/.403/.505 off Crowe while this year he’s pitching to a tidy .244/.300/.316 slash line.

“There’s a chart we have that shows 0-1 to 1-0, and it’s so crazy different,” Crowe said. “For me to be as effective as I want, it’s getting to 0-1 and then not going deep. I think when I’m going at my best, it’s early contact and attacking guys going after them.”

As evidence of the success, Crowe threw 21 first-pitch strikes to 30 batters in Monday’s victory, his tenth start of the season for the Harrisburg Senators.

“When you fall behind, you have to throw the ball over the plate,” pitching coach Michael Tejera said. “It’s not good when you’re in a negative count as a pitcher. The hitter is always going to take advantage of that.”

“He wasn’t as sharp as early, but then he had a good mix going, but he kept attacking them,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “Even at the end, he went after them. He didn’t shy away from it. I think last year he would have picked, picked, picked, and instead of them hitting, it would have been a walk.”

Crowe echoed his skipper’s sentiment and added how batters at Double-A take advantage of being ahead in the count.

“I think last year I picked at the zone instead of pounding the zone,” he said. “A lot of times last year I was behind, and then guys at this level can spit on some pitches, they can foul some off, and hit what they want.”

Living in the strike zone and challenging hitters with his best stuff has made a huge difference for Crowe in 2019.

“To get ahead in the count is a big key for me this year,” Crowe said. “I think that’s the turnaround, the reason why I’ve been able to be successful here.”

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Five-run outburst caps another comeback victory for Senators

At some point, the 27-10 Harrisburg Senators will stop surprising me with how they keep pulling victories out of their collective hats.

No deficit is too insurmountable. No challenge is too impossible.

The Senators did it again on Tuesday night at FNB Field. After being held to only two hits through seven innings, the Senators exploded for five runs on their way to a 6-4 victory over the Trenton Thunder.

“They believe no matter what that we have a chance to win,” Senators’ manager Matt LeCroy said. “These guys compete every night. They pull for one another. No matter what the situation is each guy thinks they can do it. They believe in each other, and I think that’s the key to what we’re doing right now.”

Down 3-1 entering the eighth inning, the Senators’ rally began as Thunder shortstop Kyle Holder airmailed a throw on a routine grounder putting Hunter Jones on second base. 18-year-old Luis Garcia (at least for two more days) followed with a bases-loaded walk when he laid off an eye-level fastball from Trenton reliever Joe Table (Jose Mesa Jr.).

Ian Sagdal, who had one of their two previous hits and the lone RBI up to that point, singled through the box scoring Jones and advancing Garcia to second base. Cleanup hitter Drew Ward lofted a fly ball to left field, and Garcia took a chance tagging up on the play to position himself 90 feet away from tying the game up.

Southpaw Trevor Lane replaced Mesa on the mound and in doing so switched Chuck Taylor to the right side of the plate. Taylor hits for average a little better as a right-hander, but the big difference is his ability to drive the ball as evident by a nearly 100 point difference in his slugging percentages. Also, Taylor had gone 0-for-3 with three strikeouts previously in the game off right-handed pitchers Albert Abreu and Mesa.

It was a decision that would come back to haunt Trenton manager Patrick Osborne as Taylor doubled off the left-centerfield wall to give the Senators the 4-3 lead.

“In that situation, it helped us,” LeCroy said. “He had a tough night left-handed, and he came in, they turned him around. He got one up in the wind for a huge hit.”

After Rhett Wiseman walked, catcher Tres Barrera doubled into the gap to score Taylor and Wiseman adding a couple of insurance runs to the tally.

The extra breathing room was necessary as Joan Baez, working his second inning of relief, allowed a run and put the tying runs on base before inducing a game-ending double-play.

***

Washington Nationals’ reliever Trevor Rosenthal pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his rehab appearance for Harrisburg. The right-hander who struggled with his command in seven appearances with the Nationals didn’t look much better for their Class AA affiliate on Tuesday.

Rosenthal walked two, and threw only 12 strikes out of 26 pitches including two that went all the way to the backstop.

Whatever’s ailing the 28-year-old, whether it’s mental or physical, isn’t corrected yet that’s for sure.

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How many strikeouts are too many?

How many strikeouts are too many?

I’m not talking about how it affects the pace of play or the number of balls put in play for the overall good of the game. I’m specifically asking for an individual player. How often is too often to strike out?

For example, Player X is slashing .298/.354/.623 with 11 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, and a 178 wRC+ in 32 games. He has had 127 plate appearances so far this season and has made out 80 times. 

Do you care how many of those outs were by striking out?

If the offensive production remains at this level (and I give you that’s a big if), does it matter if all 80 outs were by strikeout? I’m honestly starting to think it doesn’t.

That way of thinking is a cultural shift in the game not only from when I grew up but from even 20 years ago.

There have been 27 Major Leaguers who’ve hit over 500 home runs, and only four (Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Reggie Jackson) have strikeout rates above 20%. Thome has the highest at 24.7% which means he struck out nearly once every four times he came to the plate.

But in the short amount of time since Thome retired, strikeouts have gone through the roof across the board. Wil Myers is tops on the leaderboard this season with a 36.0% K rate or once every 2.78 plate appearances.

The poster boy in MLB for this movement (or lack of one if you will) has to be Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound slugger has a career strikeout rate of 37.7% but is also coming off back-to-back 40 home run seasons. 

On Friday night in Hartford, Player X, better known as Harrisburg Senators third baseman Drew Ward, went 1-for-5 with a three-run home run and four strikeouts. That night at the plate encapsulated his year pretty perfectly.

The 24-year-old is second in the Eastern League with 44 strikeouts with a K rate of 34.6%. But Ward has also been tearing the cover off the ball when he makes contact this season to the tune of eight home runs, 11 doubles, and a .623 slugging percentage.

To put that in perspective, the league leader in strikeouts with 50, the Yard Goats’ Brett Boswell, is slugging only .244 with six extra-base hits. Hartford’s Vince Fernandez and Altoona’s Hunter Owen are the other two batters in the top 30 in the league in strikeouts that have slugging percentages over .500 and both fall woefully short of Ward’s current mark.

So again I ask the question from before, how many strikeouts are too many?

The deeper we get into the dog days of summer and Ward keeps this pace up, I’m not sure there’s an answer that matters.

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A change in Erick Fedde’s release point shows promising results

A change in Erick Fedde’s release point shows promising resultsA change in Erick Fedde’s release point shows promising results

On an individual level, the minor leagues are more about development than they are about results.

Implementing adjustments made in the batting cage or a bullpen session during a game is often more critical than a stat line. Players will separate the work that they do on the side and hope that it translates in the heat of competition.

Erick Fedde’s first four starts of the season have been more than just his 2.66 ERA, 0.930 WHIP, and .207 batting average against. It’s been more than his part in the combined no-hitter against Bowie or the 11 strikeouts in only 5.2 innings this past Tuesday night.

For the 26 year-old right-hander, it’s about getting back mechanically to where he was during the 2017 season when he made his MLB debut. Last year, the Nationals identified his release point had lowered throughout the campaign, and they made it a focus this spring for Fedde.

“He was dropping his arm slot a little more than we wanted, and it was flattening out his pitches,” minor league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart said. “It was taking his sinker away and we wanted more vertical movement.”

Looking at the Statcast data on Baseball Savant for Fedde’s MLB appearances, you can see where his release point was at when he was first called up to where he finished last season for both sliders and sinkers.

The most significant drop in the height of his release point occurred towards the end of June 2018 for both of those pitches.

Before 6/28/2018
6/28/2018 and after

“I think last year I got caught in-between a curveball and a slider,” Fedde said. “I kind of lost the feeling for what has always been my good pitch in the slider. Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on that and get back to what I’m good at, and I’ve seen success.”

There isn’t publicly available data for the minor leagues like this, but the Nationals’ organization which gathers those metrics during his starts has been pleased with Fedde’s progress.

“He’s been consistent with his delivery and his arm slot,” Harrisburg Senators’ pitching coach Michael Tejera said. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on with him, especially getting a little behind with his arm slot so he can maintain his finish on top of the baseball. That’s when you create the good movement on the slider and the good life on the fastball.”

“He bought into it, and the outings have proven it’s going to be successful at any level,” Menhart said.

Watch the third strike on each of his 11 strikeouts from Tuesday. Five of them come off the slider that is showing some increased vertical movement that wasn’t there late last year.

“I’m really happy with where I’m at right now in being consistent with the slider,” Fedde said. “At this point, it’s just commanding both sides of the plate. I feel like I have a really good feel for the inside of the plate and I need to keep working on my glove side a little more.”

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