'Smartest man in baseball' knows how to pitch, too
Yale grad Breslow resident expert on all subjects, including late-game escapes
In the Red Sox's clubhouse, Craig Breslow tries to blend in, to just be another ballplayer, and he looks the part, from his long pants to his beard. He does his best to keep his baseball IQ and his sky-high regular IQ separate, and subscribes more to the "Keep it simple, stupid" school of baseball thought.
But "stupid" hardly applies to Breslow.
The lefty reliever graduated from Yale, where he double-majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and led the Ivy League with a 2.56 ERA his senior year. He's done genetic research in offseasons. In 2004, when he was released by the Brewers, he applied and was accepted into medical school at New York University. "A contingency plan," he called it. But he caught on with the Padres and stuck with baseball instead.
While with the Twins during parts of 2008 and '09, he was nicknamed "the smartest man in baseball" by La Velle E. Neal III, a beat writer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the name stuck, mostly because it's undeniably true. Breslow was named the smartest athlete by The Sporting News in '10. Men's Fitness named him one of the 10 smartest athletes in professional sports in '12. This postseason, he's writing a blog for WEEI.com. Read it -- if baseball and biochemistry don't work out, Breslow could easily snag a job as a sportswriter -- and take note of all the big words.
"Breslow uses words in a normal conversation that I'm not used to," says Red Sox manager John Farrell. "When he starts to speak, some guys might not be thinking along with him."
But they certainly like Breslow to think for them. Because of his braininess, Breslow is subjected to some pretty eclectic lines of questioning from his teammates on a day-to-day basis. "I find that people probably ask me questions anytime they're unsure of answers," he says. "Like, is it going to be cold tomorrow? Or, how do I get my iPad working? I'm certainly not an expert on these things, but if you can give someone an answer and you can get it out fast enough, they'll believe it's true."
And, of course, he does get some baseball questions about X's and O's, and how to pitch certain hitters, but more often than not, the game-related questions involve math. "I'll be sitting on the bench, and someone will come up and say, 'OK, I'm hitting .298 right now, I probably have 20 at-bats left, how many hits do I need to hit .300 for the season?'" Breslow says. "I say, 'Just go out and get them all. Get all the hits and worry about the numbers later.'"
This season, Breslow's numbers have spoken for themselves. He had a 1.81 ERA in 59 2/3 regular-season innings. In his three appearances in the American League Division Series, his first playoff action in eight big league seasons, Breslow pitched 3 2/3 innings, struck out four and did not allow a run.
His teammates have been watching, because they know the smartest guy in baseball has a lot to teach.
"He's the guy I go to for advice about everything, from how much to tip certain people to what I'm supposed to wear on the plane to how I need to get myself ready to pitch in a game," says Red Sox rookie reliever Brandon Workman. "In the bullpen, he's taught me to find a routine that works for me and do it every single day, so I can stay consistent and know how I'm going to feel out there on the mound every day."
Like any smart guy, Breslow knows the importance of preparing for any kind of test, of getting into a routine and sticking to it.
"I watch him do his stuff before the game, and it's exactly the same every day," Workman says. "What inning he stretches, what he throws before the game and what time he does it."
|"He's the guy I go to for advice about everything, from how much to tip certain people to what I'm supposed to wear on the plane to how I need to get myself ready to pitch in a game."|
|-- Rookie Brandon Workman|
Breslow's routine has contributed to his exceptional fastball command, which has turned a pitch that tops out at 92 mph into a weapon and allows him to be successful against both lefties and righties. For Breslow, that pitch is always the same, be it three hours before game time off flat ground, in the bullpen warming up before the seventh inning, or throwing live against sluggers like Miguel Cabrera, who flew out to lead off the eighth inning against Breslow in Saturday's Game 1 of the AL Championship Series.
Even when Breslow misses with his fastball, he misses smart. Pitches may be farther outside or inside than intended, but they rarely hang over the middle of the plate.
And because of that routine and his trust in the repeatability of his mechanics, Breslow rarely gets rattled. He kept his cool Saturday after walking Prince Fielder, giving up a two-out ground-rule double to Jhonny Peralta and intentionally walking Omar Infante to load the bases, forcing Alex Avila to fly out to center field and preserve his perfect postseason ERA.
"Obviously, I understand the situation and the implications, but my job doesn't change," Breslow said after the 1-0 loss. "When you concentrate on the execution of the pitches and not getting bogged down or overwhelmed by the contest, you have the best chance to be successful."
That's a sound perspective from a very sound mind.
"I think his intelligence clearly plays out on the mound," Farrell says. "This is someone who's been a very good performer for us, whether it's against right-handers or left-handers. His ability to keep things emotionally under control on the mound is another reason why he's so trusted, by all of us, late in the game and in some high-leverage situations."
The Red Sox will undoubtedly be putting the smartest man in baseball into some more of those.