Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Interview With Chris "Disco" Hayes.

Some of you have already noticed, but for those who haven’t – I conducted a very long interview with my new favorite Royals minor leaguer, Chris Hayes, over at Baseball Prospectus. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and thanks to my bosses over at BP, both parts are free to the public – you don’t have to be a subscriber to read them.

If you’re not familiar with Hayes already, I suggest you start here. Before I read this blog entry, all I knew about Hayes was his stat line, that he was a sidearmer, and that he was not drafted out of college. After I read his AFL blog – and stopped laughing – I knew that this was a guy I needed to talk to. (Here’s another interview he gave, with Lisa Winston at mlb.com.)

As it turns out, the interview went better than I could have possibly expected. I knew this was going to be something special when, after he said he preferred “Angels and Demons” to “The Da Vinci Code” (a sentiment I agree with, not that anyone asked), I practically dared him to come up with an ambigram in his response – then nearly coughed up a lung when he did. (Although a little internet sleuthing reveals that his ambigram is suspiciously similar to the one you can create on this website. I’m on to you, Chris.)

If you’re not rooting for Hayes to make it, you don’t have a heart. It’s not just that he’s a Royal (though that helps) and that he’s a funny guy – it’s that he’s so normal. The guy is one of us.

Hayes had to walk on to make his college team – the not-exactly-CWS-bound Northwestern Wildcats. He served as the last man on the bench for two years, and didn’t get any regular playing time until he was a senior. He has a degree in computer science. He never got drafted. He has trouble breaking 80 on a radar gun. I’m willing to bet that a few readers here have a more distinguished amateur career than Hayes did, and I imagine that more than a few of you had more velocity on your fastball once upon a time.

Part of what has allowed baseball to maintain its grip on American culture for nearly a century and a half is that by its very nature, the game seems accessible to the average person. Even at its highest level, the game is played by people who, to the untrained eye, look no different than you or I. Basketball players are freakishly tall, football players are freakishly big. Baseball players can win MVP awards when they’re listed at 5’9”, 180 pounds, like Dustin Pedroia, and in reality he’s probably shorter than that.

Hayes takes that everyman image one step further. Pedroia may look normal, but obviously he has extraordinary skills lurking under the surface, the skills which allow him to swat 95-mph fastballs for home runs despite his small frame. Hayes looks normal – 6’1”, 195 pounds, nothing special for a pitcher – and he complements that normal appearance with commonplace ability. He doesn’t look like he throws hard because he can’t throw hard. We all have a brother or a friend or a high school classmate who could have done what Hayes did - or at least it's tantalizingly easy to think they could have.

Dan Quisenberry famously said, “I found a delivery in my flaw,” and like Quiz, Hayes owes his path to the majors to the very ordinariness of his talents. If he threw 88 mph overhand, he might have fashioned a decent college career, been a late-round draft pick, and endured a brief and painful minor league career. Instead, he threw 79, and that forced him to get creative. Necessity is the mother of inventive deliveries.

Hayes isn’t just one of us, he’s One Of Us: he’s a baseball stat geek too. A year ago Brian Bannister became an internet sensation for speaking about DIPS theory and about how he tried to use his knowledge to overcome it. (Of course, a year ago Bannister was coming off a season where his BABIP was .262; in 2008 his BABIP was .310 – ten points higher than the pitching staff as a whole – and it’s clear that he’s going to have to work with DIPS theory – by, say, increasing his strikeout rate, which he did last year – to sustain major league success.) Hayes shows the same awareness of sabermetric analysis and the same determination to use it to his advantage.

Bannister’s intelligence contributes to his success, but you’re still talking about a guy who touches 90, a guy was a seventh-round draft pick out of USC. Hayes is Bannister minus 10 mph, but with better minor league numbers (granted, as a reliever). You have to respect that.

But does that makes Hayes a prospect? More on that in my next column. Mind you, I wouldn’t have wasted this much time talking to (and about) him if I didn’t think he was.


Anonymous said...

Can we get Rowdy Hardy to throw sidearm/submarine???

Anonymous said...

I first read about him in the AFL blog and was cracking up... You have to love a self aware guy!!!

Anonymous said...

The existence of Rowdy Hardy and Chris Hayes in the Royals system says something good about the Royals front office. Most of the time, Moore and the Royals FO looks like an old school, tools-only shop. But it's good to see that occasionally, they are willing to go beyond traditional baseball orthodoxy and try something outside the box. Trying out Teahen at second base is outside the box. Old school traditionalists will tell you that Teahen has the "wrong body" for that position.

Similarly, Hardy and Hayes show that the Royals are willing to bring in some pitchers who don't just have "live arms" and "projectable bodies." These guys are as far outside the mould of a professional pitcher as you can get. But the Royals signed them, have given them significant playing time and moved them up in the system as their performances have warranted.

I think this FO has a long way to go and they do as many things poorly as they do well, but I like seeing at least a few glimmers of untraditional thinking.

Anonymous said...

Rany, that was an incredible interview on both sides of the microphone. What a delightful subject, and an interviewer who "gets it" to go with it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...


You've got it all wrong. the Royals aren't departing from the 'old school' ways by having guys like Hardy and Hayes in the organization, they're RETURNING to 'old school' ways. Exhibit a: Dan Quizenberry.

Quiz as your closer is about as far outside the box as you can get, yet it worked WONDERS for the Royals. The Royals were good back in the 70's because they thought outside the box (Quiz, the baseball adademy), and now they're starting to realize that thinking outside the box is a key to them becoming successful again.

Unknown said...

The ironic thing about Bannister, I think, is that his numbers declined specifically because he tried to increase his K numbers.

In his attempt to increase his K rate, he lost some control, and he lost some movement on his pitches. I feel that those two things are more important for him than his strikeout rate.

The movement on his fastball that he displayed in 2007 had hitters never getting a good piece of the ball. That's why, among other things, his HRs allowed rose dramatically in 2008 and his 2Bs allowed declined.

I know this wasn't the topic of the article but I felt the need.

Anonymous said...

On another note in regards to old school vs new school, I've never understood why teams and scouts are so hung up on BS like body types, velocity, etc for pitchers. Last I checked the pitcher's job was to GET BATTERS OUT, not throw 95 MPH fastballs.

I think that saving your best reliever for the 9th inning and ONLY the 9th inning is equally stupid, but that's an arguement for a different day.

Anonymous said...


Very astute observation. Somewhere along the line everyone forgot the fact that MOVEMENT can kill just as effectively as velocity can. That's probably even more true than ever now because of the fact that hitters make the bigs because they can hit a 95 mph fastball. Guys likr Chris Hayes can be effective because of the very fact taht they AREN'T another in a long like of cookie cutter pitchers.

Anonymous said...

I like him a lot. Just the fact that he could name-drop Drabowski and Hraboski is enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Great Interview, Rany. I wish BP still had people who could come up with stuff as interesting as you are, but Kahrl seems to be regressing to Olney-level (similar "grasp" on stats, but with more scholarly pretension), and Sheehan's schtick got old years ago.

But this is about you and Hayes. I fear that all the internet attention may ruin his "luck" a la Banny 2008, but if you look at Stat Corner's tRA, it does a better job of accounting for how groundballers "work" than ERA or even FIP, since it works off the run expectancies of not HRs or regressed FB rates but also line drives and grounders. Hayes looks pretty good, at least relative to league, on those numbers.

Prospectus would do well to call up Graham and see if he's selling...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely one of the best interviews I've read in a long time...Peter Gammons doesn't have anything on you. Lots of baseball, but I also laughed my ass off several times.

RickMcKC said...

Great interview. And the guy sounds like he has something good going on, too. I hope to get to see it in person when I go down to watch a little Spring Training in the first part of March.

It's a lot more fun to be a Royals fan these days.

Anonymous said...

Pitchers. Catchers. Tomorrow!

Nathan W said...

Angels and Demons can not be better that The DaVinci Code based solely on the ending. It was crap. I can't wait to see how terrible it is on the big screen when the movie comes out.

Anonymous said...

I dont agree with the "Chris Hayes is Everyman" meme.

I had the privilege of playing ball with Chayes in college for 4 years and we lived in a house together for 2.

First: He does throw 88 mph over the top, in fact he throws in the low 90s.

Second: He is very athletic. He was routinely dunking a basketball in high school.

Third: He is MUCH smarter than the average man. Um...comp sci plus Econ at NU... Not to mention the Chess thing...

This post is not meant to be a back-handed compliment. I like Chris and I have always enjoyed having him as a teammate, housemate, and friend. I just want to point out that just because a guy isnt drafted, and doesnt have the conventional delivery does not mean that he isnt a fiercely talented individual. Perhaps more talented than guys who "just throw 90 mph" because he can do that too.