VALPARAISO | Gary native Lloyd McClendon has been employed by Major League Baseball for most of his adult life. As a player, coach and manager, he's seen a lot of trends and has learned how to accept a few of them — although sometimes grudgingly.
"I imagine there are things about sabermetrics that are useful," McClendon said of the specialized analysis based on unconventional statistics and "objective" evidence. "But you're going to tell me that the Cubs' second baseman (Gold Glove winner Darwin Barney) is more valuable to his team than Miguel Cabrera?
"Call me old school, but who would you pick first?"
McClendon still finds value in simple, cut-and-dried stats like batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Last season, Detroit Tigers third baseman Cabrera led the American League in all three of those categories, becoming the first MLB player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown.
"He has come a long way, not only as a player but as a person," said McClendon, who's Cabrera's hitting coach in Detroit. "He's managed to put the alcohol and family problems he had several years ago behind him and straighten himself out."
During the offseason, McClendon trained other "Triple Crown" players, offering lessons for all ages at Triple Crown Valparaiso Baseball and Softball Training Center.
"It's been a joy working with these kids," said McClendon, who gave his final lessons of the offseason on Feb. 4 before leaving for Lakeland, Fla., to get ready for spring training. "They actually energize and inspire me with their passion for the game."
One of the players McClendon has been working with at Triple Crown is Purdue North Central NAIA All-American catcher Ched Gaskin.
"Before I came to Lloyd, I was just a free swinger," said Gaskin, a Breighton, Mich. resident, who was named PNC Athlete of the Year last spring after hitting .412 (.612 slugging percentage) with eight home runs and 73 RBIs for the Panthers.
"He has since helped me channel my aggression more efficiently."
Mike Ritthaler, who co-owns Triple Crown with his wife Kari, said McClendon's hitting lessons had been booked solid throughout the winter.
"We also already have a good response for Steve Trout," Ritthaler said of the former Chicago Cubs and White Sox pitcher, who was due to give one-and-one and small group lessons at Triple Crown.
"The business they attract has helped us to continue to grow," Ritthaler said while referencing the renovation project in progress to add more space to the center's original building. Two years ago, Triple Crown added another building for team training and practices.
"We have four (Triple Crown) softball teams, and three baseball teams," Ritthaler said. "They've all been doing real well."
Last season, McClendon's team did real well, although the Tigers seemed snake-bitten while being swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
"Some people attributed it to rust and the long layoff," McClendon said of the Tigers' downtime after sweeping the New York Yankees for the American League pennant and then watching the Giants battle back from a 3-1 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
"But really, let's give the Giants their due. They earned it," McClendon said. "Things didn't turn out the way we liked, but we still had a wonderful season being one of two teams left standing out of 30.
"That being said, yes, we are anxious to get back at it. We've just got (all-star outfielder) Torii Hunter ... we're going to have (all-star second baseman) Omar Infante for a whole season. We've got (2012 MVP Miguel) Cabrera, (three-time Silver Slugger winner) Prince Fielder, (2011 Cy Young winner Justin) Verlander ... "
Things could be worse.