Professor Pentland and the Homer's Odyssey
Jeff Pentland played with Reggie Jackson and has tutored Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp, to name-drop just a few. He has advanced degrees in biomechanics. His playing days were on both sides of the chessboard; pitcher and hitter. What he doesn't know about the art/science of hitting may not be worth knowing.
No wonder the Dodgers fired him as their hitting coach last year.
It's not like there wasn't a precedent. But gurus like Pentland are never out of work any longer than they care to be. This year he signed on with the Seattle Mariners (again) as the hitting coach for their Triple A affiliate, Tacoma of the Pacific Çoast League. The Rainiers hit only .235 in April but this month they're banging away at a better than .300 clip and carrying a 13-game homer streak as Pentland settles in. He stepped away from the batting cage while the Rainiers are in Des Moines taking on the Iowa Cubs and talked with TCR.
Pentland said he's still occasionally in touch with Bonds but has no contact with Sosa. In fact, he parlayed his history with Bonds, dating to Arizona State where he coached while Bonds played, into a breakthrough with Kemp when Pentland was trying to establish a rapport after joining the Dodgers.
"I just mentioned something I'd once worked on with Barry," Pentland said. "Matt's eyes lit up. He said, 'You worked with him?' I had instant credibility." With Kemp maybe, but not enough with the Dodgers when the brass went looking for a scapegoat despite the breakout success of the latest Pentland protege.
Ask Pentland if any of his former star pupils got carried away with experiments in home remedies for slumps like brainiacs who cheat on exams without needing to and he gets circumspect. Inasmuch as he didn't blow any whistles when investigators interviewed him for a couple of hours during the compilation of the Mitchell Report it's no surprise that Pentland didn't confide anything while he sat and spat there in the confessional of the visitors' dugout at Sec Taylor Field. Whatever personal suspicions he may harbor are kept to himself.
"I didn't make judgments one way or another," he said when asked specifically about Sosa's power surge. "He was a grown man and I treated him that way." Read into that what you will.
Pentland joined the Cubs midseason in 1997. Over the following winter he had a heart-to-heart with Sosa, convincing him to swing easier to make more contact. The following summer Sosa and McGwire mugged Ruth and Maris in what's since become a dark alley of the record book.
"Sammy had very big, very strong hands," Pentland recalled. "He liked to use a bat that was thicker-handled than sluggers usually use." And lighter-barreled?
Pentland was gone from Chicago by the time Sosa's infamous corked bat incident occurred but he seems sympathetic about it, recalling that equipment used to come at Sosa in bunches during his seasons in the sixties.
"I used to check out his bats because he got 'em all the time from manufacturers and I never found one that was altered. You can tell a corked bat just by the sound the ball makes coming off of it," Pentland said, adding that if he'd found a suspicious weapon in Sosa's arsenal he would have pointed it out to him.
He brought up the juiced balls conspiracy theory during the discussion of enhanced performance.
"I remember George Brett at that time saying how the balls bounced twice as high as they used to," he said.
Pentland's been in the game for decades now. He says the same approach doesn't work for everybody and believes players are generally more sensitive than formerly due to the increased pressures that come along with increased paychecks. Besides PEDs and turbocharged gear, Pentland notes the modern player has tools at his disposal that are completely legit and equally accessible to pitchers and hitter alike.
"All of the videotape and the computerized spray charts and tendency data are so sophisticated now," he said. "You really have to take advantage of that stuff. I tell the guys here about guys I know in the big leagues that got there and stayed for 10-12 years, more by working hard than raw talent."
He may look and sound like just an ol' country batting coach spouting his accumulated wisdom like tobacco juice but it's more complicated than that. He's a biomechanic who tinkers under the hoods of living, breathing machines. Just picture him talking applied physics to Sammy Sosa and try to imagine how many bombs Einstein might have hit with a database, juiced balls, weight training and a good video tech backing him up.
Baseball might have been very, very good to him, too!
Meh. He only got one hit today. Maybe give him a rest?
Good thing the Cubs have five left-handed batters in the lineup. Velasquez is just tearing thru the righties [edit - doesn't seem to faze Bryant!]
ben zobrist gets to ride up front tonight cause he's a good guy at sports.
cubs with a 5 run lead and a lackey shutout through 3ip \m/
HAGSAG: I have not seen Joe Nathan out on the field, but he is supposedly at the UAPC.
ERIC S: Best outing I've ever seen from Manny Rondon, and I've seen most of his outings since the Cubs got him from the Angels.
M. Rondon is competing with six others (Dylan Cease, Bryan Hudson, Jose Paulino, Pedro Silverio, Jesus Castillo, and Erling Moreno) for a starting slot at Eugene, and (as you can probably tell from the EXST box scores) the competition has gotten fierce over the last couple of weeks, With the exception of Moreno, the Eugene SP candidates have upped their game lately, and M. Rondon's outing yesterday was especially impressive/dominating.
E-MAN: Pierce Johnsion was mixing a 92-94 MPH fastball with a plus-change-up AND curve, and he threw strike-after-strike-after-strike with all three of his pitches. I believe that was the best command and pitch-efficiency I've ever seen from Johnson, who often pitches from behind in the count and issues too many walks.
Of course now he has to avoid a recurrence of the lat strain (whch he has had previously in his career) as well as all of the other miscellaneous physical problems he's had over the last three years (hamstring, quad, back, etc).
PHIL: Any movement on P. Johnsons pitches? What was his "out" pitch? I know he was working on a 4th pitch, so wondering what he is looking like these days. Thanks.
AZ Phil, has Nathan showed up in Mesa yet? Thanks.
Eickhoff looks like a good young pitcher. Lets steal him!
Manny Rondon faced 13 batters ... and got 10 to K. Not a bad day's work.
With several other Cubs hitters bailing out on curves today I think overall it wasn't being seen well. It for sure looked silly but a good breaking pitch coming at you and then breaking down isn't the easiest thing to see and has made many hitters look silly. Also Soler should have more walks this year but for quite a few called strikes that were actual balls and even the called strike he bailed on was borderline.
it's not like we're talking about a guy who's never had issues with pitch selection and seeing the ball over here. we're talking about a guy who has some rather legendary swing-and-misses at breaking stuff who's been exploited low. going forward it's worth paying attention to seeing if he can be exploited inside, too. he seriously bailed out of the box on a called strike. sure it was a good curve, but he obviously didn't see that well at all.
It would seem like he is figuring it out now and it's really coming together. Really happy for him. Joe was really protecting him from the 3rd time through the order, but as you allude to, he is earning trust to go deeper.
Wondering if has potential to become a #3 pitcher? His current stats certainly support it.
That doesn't count b/c CRUNCH didn't see it on his 60" HDTV 5 times in replay.
I have seen many players "bail out" when the ball looked like it was gonna hit them.
Especially with the advent of the splitter and pitchers that can really get the ball to dance. Marmol, Sutter, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Smoltz, Arrietta...
These guys have made the best bail out only for the ball to come over the plate and be called a strike.
No shame in that. The same way players whiff hard enough to cause them to drill a hole in the ground from spinning.
a 60" TV with slow-motion replay and multiple looks on that replay helps...a lot...
it's one thing to shy away like he did the 2nd time, it's another to bail out of the box on a called strike. that happened in the 1st one he pulled away from. he misjudged that one by a foot or so...