This is part 2 of our 2 part interview, you can find part 1 here.
DTPR Exclusives: An Interview with Mud Hens' closer Chris Bootcheck (Part 2)
DTPR: Can you try and describe the differences between facing Triple-A level hitters and MLB hitters? Is it the fact that MLB hitters are better at fouling off tough pitches, are more able to punish any mistakes, don't give in as easily as AAA guys, or something else entirely?
CB: I think there are a lot of differences and similarities between facing AAA hitters and MLB hitters. It is probably hard to argue that one isn't better than the other, obviously. I can say that MLB hitters do face challenges that AAA hitters do not, just as AAA hitters face challenges that MLB hitters do not. AAA hitters may face a guy that's coming up from AA, that has major league stuff but maybe not major league command, that can certainly impact the comfort the hitter has during an at bat. Major league hitters probably won't face a pitcher like that, since guys without command rarely make it all the way to the majors. Major league hitters face much more polished pitchers with command of the strike zone, so they adapt to seeing more strikes that AAA hitters would, allowing them to work on their overall discipline of the strike zone. Also, the technology at the major league level, for both pitchers and hitters, is second to none. Let's be honest, it is a performance-based business, and every player at the MLB level is there to help their club win games. It is in every club's best interest to give their players the best opportunities and tools with which to succeed, including stuff like video, swing analysis, scouting reports, etc.
The AAA clubs have made great strides over the years to provide similar tools to their players, but it's not at the same level as the MLB clubs. One of the biggest differences between AAA and MLB players would have to be the travel factors at play. Yes, MLB teams have to go coast to coast and play a month longer than AAA teams, but when you compare a AAA schedule to an MLB schedule, you'll find that AAA teams don't get nearly as many off days. In AAA ball, there is usually one scheduled off day per month, rather than the two to four you'll find in the MLB. It's hard to say that the schedule and travel differences in AAA don't have a much more impactful effect on the players than they would on an MLB player. With all that being said, I think it's unfair to compare a AAA hitter to a MLB hitter, due to the factors that I mentioned, which most people don't even consider
DTPR: You've pitched for three different organizations. Did you notice a difference in pitching philosophy between Anaheim, Pittsburgh, and Detroit?
CB: Having had the opportunity to pitch for different organizations, I have noticed that each one is different from the other. Each organization believes in a different method, idea, or program for their coaches and players; all with the hope that their program will get the most out of their players and coaches, allowing them to win as many games as possible. As for pitching philosophy in particular, I have noticed one constant with all of the organizations: Throw strikes, trust your ability, and challenge yourself on a daily basis to become the very best you can be. I cannot argue that these should be the backbones of no matter where you are or who you play for. I have seen oftentimes that it's not a matter of lack of talent that holds a player back, but rather some other factor. The organizations and staffs that I have been with each helped me recognize that, and each has made me a better player in some way. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to play for several great organizations, and they have helped make me better over the last 12 years.
DTPR: Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, up by 1, and you're on the mound. Miguel Cabrera is stepping into the batters box. How do you attack him?
CB: Facing Miguel Cabrera in general, be it with a 10 run lead or a 10 run deficit presents challenges. He is one of those special players that people will read about for years and years to come, and I have had the privilege of seeing him work first hand. If I were facing him I would have to do what I have been coached to do my entire life: Go after him with my best stuff and whatever I throw, throw it with conviction. When in doubt, a pitcher always has to know that his defense is behind him, and that even the best hitters make seven outs out of every 10 at bats.
DTPR: During the 2012 season, you were Toledo's closer for most of the season. During 2009, when you were with Indianapolis, you closed as well. Do you pitch any differently when trying to get the final three outs of a game?
CB: When closing a game, you realize that your team has done a lot of things right. You have had good pitching to have a lead, you have scored enough runs to have a lead, and as a closer you know that your job is to preserve those efforts that have happened over the course of the game and to finish it. I have always taken a lot of pride in whatever role I am in on a team; and being a closer is no exception. If you do your job, your team wins. If you don't do your job, your team loses. I always keep in mind that my job is to get three or more outs and leave it all on the field. As a closer you have to realize your job is protecting a lead, even if you allow runs to score but in the end you are still ahead, you have done your job. I try to simplify that role and always be aware of the situation I am in and what I need to do to finish a game. Some say it is the hardest three outs to get, and sometimes it definitely feels like it. But you have to keep in mind how the other team feels that seeing a team's closer (sometimes dramatically) making his entrance into a game. I think you would be hard pressed to find a hitter that is looking forward to facing any team's closer at any level, and that is the type of mentality, intensity, and pride I have when I am in a save situation.
DTPR: Besides, obviously, baseball and training for the upcoming season, what activities do you like to do in the offseason?
CB: Being a baseball player, believe it or not, is a year round job. Once the season ends, you slowly begin to digest your years and it's ups and downs. Training for the next season for me usually begins about 10 days after getting home and settled. I have a wife and two wonderful daughters, and I use the offseason to catch up on all the subtle changes, joys, and experiences of being a husband and father. Usually my offseason is spent balancing training time and family time.
DTPR: Last question: Do you pay any attention to sabermetric statistics for pitchers, like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), etc? Who in the organization, if anyone, is big into the advanced metrics stuff like that?
CB: I am sure that with all of the advances in baseball, you can find some people that swear by sabermetrics and the new levels of analysis it can bring to the game. I am not familiar with the organizations who use them or don't use them, but I think sabermetrics can bring interesting facts, rations, and conversations to the game, as well as certain "can't-miss" projections for future successes with certain things. But, I am also an old school guy and I don't think you can substitute the dimension of a good human eye (scout) that knows what he has seen work for years past in this game, and will continue to work for many years to come. I was also always told that baseball is hard enough, and that there is no need to make it any harder, and regardless of how smart you are, you'll never figure it all out.
That's it for this segment of DTPR Exclusives, and we'd like to sincerely thank Chris Bootcheck for taking the time to answer our questions. We all wish him the very best of luck on his continued career, be it with the Tigers or another organization.