"Pennington Station...Now boarding..."
At 27 years old, with 3 major league seasons under his belt, Cliff Pennington finds himself in the role of "grizzled veteran" on a very young A's team. Interviewed alongside the cerebral Brandon McCarthy, Pennington fielded -- cleanly I might add -- a blend of "thinking man's questions" and questions around his role as the captain of the infield and one of the few potential captains of the clubhouse.
Question: How much do you get involved with things that aren't just -- presumably you do video work -- but do you look at other metrics, besides just "do you get on base"?
Pennington: Yeah I definitely do a little bit. A lot of the stuff I've looked at, and learned, is (people) showing me stuff online: We look at "catcher's stuff" and how good catchers are at throwing.
Editor's note: Pennington was just 14/23 (61%) stealing last season and is 54/74 (73%) for his career.
Nico: If I recall, you had said earlier in your career that the biggest problem you had was rushing (defensively), that you wanted to let the ball come to you. And it seems like that's one of those things that's easy to know and then, in the heat of the moment, still not be able to do in game conditions. I'm just curious, what can you do, if that's a goal, to get there defensively?
Pennington: A lot of it is just getting comfortable and slowing the game down, being able to control the game. You see the best players, like in the NBA you see Kobe (Bryant) when he's "in the zone" and the game just looks slow to him, that's kind of the same idea. When you can slow the game down and get comfortable enough, you trust yourself and you're confident in your ability and the game kind of "slows down," then that happens. And you start to get out of control because either you get overwhelmed with the situation or just something out of the ordinary happens and you're not able to slow it back down, and that's when that kind of stuff happens.
Nico: How much does your middle infield partner, the familiarity, matter in that regard -- in terms of helping to "slow the game down"?
Pennington: It means a lot, actually. Just the consistency, and knowing what each other wants to do and what we're going to try to do, especially on double plays: How he's going to feed it, stuff like that. When I had Ellis, he was the exact same way every single time, so it made my job really easy, and Weeks has a lot of great attributes but he's a little athletic guy that does things differently a lot and so the chemistry's having to grow.
Nico: There's not too many Ellises out there. (Pennington laughs and wistfully ponders the magic of unicorns. Note: I could be inferring some stuff here.)
Question (was posed to McCarthy and Pennington together): There's a debate about whether or not pitchers can control the quality of contact on hitters. Last year, for instance, Guillermo Moscoso had a very low batting average on balls put in play.
Pennington: The "balls in play" batting average plays in, I definitely think that matters some -- it's the good pitchers who get the softer contact. Like Cahill, with his "power sinker" that he has, they were chopping it into the ground: They might have squared it up, but it was straight down in the ground, and it became a two-hopper to an infielder and that's a routine play. So it definitely plays in: The better guys are able to execute pitches to where you're not squaring it up as well. You might be hitting it, but you're hitting it off the end (of the bat), or you're hitting the top of it, or it's jamming you a little bit, and it results in a softer contact. So (those pitchers) might not be getting strikeouts, but they're getting balls where the defense has a much better chance to make a play. (Editor's Note: McCarthy's answer is the 3rd to last answer here)
Question: Shortstop is always the "quarterback of the infield," but you're actually now the oldest, most experienced infielder with Ellis gone, Sizemore at 3B -- do you have thoughts about how that may change your role?
Pennington: I don't think there's more "pressure" but I do think there's an increased role that I'm going to have to take on and embrace: I guess be the "quarterback of the infield" and really "position players" in general. We're going to have to have more leadership this year, and better understanding of what a team needs to do to win ballgames. It's going to be big for us: If we're going to be good this year it's going to be because of those kinds of things, that people stepped up.
Question: When we asked Bob (Melvin) about leadership, he specifically mentioned both you guys (McCarthy and Pennington). Did you guys ever see yourselves as "that guy" on the team?
Pennington: I actually personally find that I do. I really do. I don't think, tenure-wise, that it fits, but with our team that's a reality. So you put that stuff aside, and you go "We've got some good young players, but we've got some things we've got to get better at," and we're going to have to do it as players.
Part V, with A's manager Bob Melvin, is the longest interview and contains a lot of information both overtly and between the lines. I should have that one up by the end of the week!