Kramer Sneed Has Developed Winning Algorithm for St. Paul Saints
There are some people you will come across in life where you know that whatever they decide to do they will succeed. It is the drive in them and the way that they approach life that makes them reach a high level of success within their profession of choice, no matter what that career pathway looks like. What makes them so unique is that they understand the process it takes to become an exceptional teacher, doctor, astronomer, or manager, and they look the part in whatever role that is.
There is a man for the St. Paul Saints baseball team who is that kind of unique personality. A player who understands that there is a process that leads to success, and a commitment it takes to meet the standards of that process. That man is pitcher Kramer Sneed.
While it is likely that he would have succeeded in whatever career path he chose, the young left-hander knew that sports was going to be more than just a passing fad. It was going to be something that was going to be a passion and a driving force in his life. His parents were aware of this revelation as well.
“As my parents tell it, I was picking up baseballs, basketballs, footballs, anything I could get my hands on since I was a little kid. So they started me in t-ball since I was age four and I just loved to it. It helped that my brother, who is a year-and-a-half older than me loved it as well, and he really helped me to enjoy it and have more fun playing baseball.”
Kramer’s passion for the game grew and he knew that he wanted baseball to be part of his college experience as well.
“I wanted to play a sport in college, so that is what took me to Barton (College). I really didn’t have any other scholarship offers. Todd Wilkinson, my coach, was the only one who offered me a scholarship, and I was so happy it went that way. My brother went there as well, he was my catcher for two years. He was kind of the reason I went there and so getting to pitch to him for two years and having him on the team with me was pretty cool.”
In the summer following his sophomore year the possibility of playing professional baseball started to become a serious reality for Sneed. During the summer he noticed that scouts were starting to take a closer look at his performance and that was starting to build his confidence. He took that confidence into his junior season where he went 6-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 75.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 71, and found himself on the New York Yankees radar. They drafted the lefty in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft and later that season he made his professional debut.
“I am very thankful to the Yankees for drafting me. I met a lot of great coaches along the way, and learned a lot from the organization.”
In his three seasons with the Yankees organization, Kramer moved from rookie league to High-A Tampa. In 2013, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels organization, where he made it to AA-Arkansas in 2014. This past season he began at Arkansas, but the organization made it clear that they may not have room for him, and wanted him to have a chance to pitch. After making one appearance he was released and found his way to the St. Paul Saints.
“After talking with (manager) George (Tsamis) he was very sincere with his offer. I liked what I heard. I liked his baseball mentality, his no nonsense approach. The fans are great here. It was really a no-brainer after I did all of my research. I am very happy with my decision.”
It isn’t hard to see why the St. Paul Saints starter is enjoying his choice so much. He is tied for the American Association lead in wins (7), is seventh in ERA (2.20) and, after his next start, he will be tied for first in games started (with 10). He has been everything that Tsamis could have asked for.
“He’s a real competitor. He knows how to pitch and to make adjustments as the game goes along,” the Saints manager explains. “It’s great having the confidence when he takes the mound that I can get at least six innings from him each start.”
Being a competitor is only a small piece of the giant puzzle that comes together to make the left-hander such a formidable competitor on the mound. To Sneed the art of pitching is a process. A process that uses a very special and unique algorithm that works quite well for the St. Paul Saints starter.
“It’s a day-to-day process to get better. I just try to focus on doing the little things to get better for each start. It’s that day-to-day process that I really try to focus on to ensure that I am pitching to the very best of my ability.”
The process comes with a formula that focuses on key components of his game to be a success on the mound. While wanting to have his own success on the mound, his primary focus is to perform well enough to put his team in a position to win games.
“If we are all winning then we are all happy. I just want to make sure the team wins when I start, so I don’t worry as much about my wins as long as the team is winning. It’s cool that we are all up there in wins, but that is more of an indicator how good our offense is, because you usually don’t get decisions in every single outing, but because of how our offense plays it makes getting wins a lot easier here.”
With a clear goal in mind of what he wants to accomplish, Kramer sets his process in motion. It begins with an understanding of what he needs to do to put his team in that position to win. It begins with him tapping into his inner-James Brown.
“It’s all about rhythm and timing with me. That is incredibly important. I just want to compete as long as George will let me have the ball. That is all I try to do. Be efficient on the mound, try to get our team off the field and back up to bat as quick as I can. That happens when I keep my rhythm going with each hitter.”
To develop that rhythm and timing, he spends a good deal of time before each start talking with his catcher for that day about how best to attack each hitter. Part of that discussion always centers around a key portion of his game and how best to deploy it for that game.
“Me and my catcher will talk before the game about what we want to accomplish as the game goes along, and that plan will change as the situation changes, but I really try to establish my fastball right away and get my command established.”
And how does the process deviate when Kramer’s opponents are onto his game plan?
“I realize that if they are going to try to come after my fastball right off then I need to adjust what I am doing. I’ll come back to the dugout, talk with my catcher and go out with a different game plan.”
That may sound like an easy process to most, but one must understand that nine players, a coaching staff, scouts, and other advisors have spent days planning on how to best attack the left-hander and get him off of his game plan. To Kramer, baseball has become the ultimate contest of wits.
“This is a chess match. I need to think three steps ahead of where they are if I am going to succeed. My goal is to get them to think I am going to throw one pitch while I throw another. I have to win this game more than just with my pitches. I need to get them off their game so I can be better with mine.”
Outwitting twenty some odd people would be a challenge for any player, but what makes Sneed so good at it is that he is a sponge looking to absorb every piece of information he can garner. This is not a guy who thinks he has all the answers. The algorithm demands input from the outside for him to reach his most optimal level of success, and the left-hander is not ashamed (nor should he be) to admit that he will gladly take advice from anyone who will offer it.
“I try to take a little bit from every person I have played the game with, to try to improve my skills,” Kramer explains. That has been no truer than this year, when he has got to benefit from the outstanding other starters that join him in the Saints rotation.
“We really bounce ideas off of each other, and share what we have learned about different hitters and different teams. Each of these guys is so good at what they do, and I gain a lot of insight out of the things they say. The great thing is that you know you can trust their information because of what they do on the field.”
The wonderful thing about the Sneed Algorithm is that it has a series of variable statements that sends him to gather information from the person who is most suited to give him the information he needs to succeed. For example, when Kramer wants to improve an aspect of the mechanics of his game…
“I have been very lucky to have Dustin Crenshaw as one my roommates, and he is so good with the mechanical talk about his delivery, and his mechanical delivery is so repeatable. I have taught him a lot of stuff about things to tinker with, and we just bounce ideas off one another.”
Or when he is looking to get information from someone who best understands his style of pitching…
“Pedro (Hernandez) is so good as well, because he has so much experience and knowledge, and anything I ask he is so good at providing information, and will always give me a straight answer. Me and him can talk more about pitches, because we are both left-handers and we both throw cutters and sliders, and we can talk about what we see as hitters. The same thing is true with Dustin because I take my cutter as his splitter, and we can kind of use stuff like that.”
How about when he is looking to find out more about the successes of others…
“Jeff Shields and I have really been talking recently about what we’re doing well. What things that each of us are doing well against teams and different hitters.”
And when a glitch has occurred in the process and he needs to get back in the algorithm…
“Ligty (St. Paul Saints pitching coach Kerry Ligtenberg) is a great calming influence. He has a great calming tone in his voice that helps me get back in sync with my catcher.”
It is in this area that Sneed admits that he is most likely to see the wheels fall of his well-designed algorithm. “I am a little more intense at times than I should be. If I am struggling on the mound at times I will show it a little too much and I am trying to control that.”
His goal when he pitches is clear. “I want to have a steely-eyed mentality on the mound, because you never want the opponent to know when you’re hurting or when you’re doing well. You want to stay the same even keeled guy throughout the game, but that is easier said than done.”
So, Kramer has a process that gets him from point A to point B in this area as well. “It is really about simplifying things and taking a deep breath. When you struggle the game kind of speeds up on you a bit, and when that happens it seems like all the wrong things start to go on in my head, and so I just try to focus on just one good pitch.”
Don’t misunderstand at all. Kramer Sneed is not some kind of computer running on diodes and Pentium chips. He is just a guy who understands that if he is going to succeed on the field or anywhere in life he needs to put together a good plan, implement that plan properly, and make adjustments as they become necessary.
To be successful with such a strategy, the left-hander understands that it takes a lot of good people to make this plan work to perfection, and none have been more important to him than his family. Kramer’s older brother helped to inspire his passion for the game, and he got to enjoy those two seasons at Barton College throwing to his brother in each of his starts. “My older brother really influenced me in the way that he played the game and the way he loved the game of baseball. That just pushed me along, and keeps me going now.”
His older brother was his confidante early on, but now his younger one has come to fill that role. “It’s my little brother and me that are best friends now, and he is a psychology major in college so I run stuff by him if I am having some struggles mentally or just with the game. He’s pretty awesome about giving me some feedback.”
His greatest support comes from the two people that have had the greatest impact on his life, a point he recognizes well. “My parents are some of the best people I know. They have such big hearts and they have done everything for me and my siblings to give us every opportunity to pursue our dreams. I am really thankful for that.”
And how are they about watching their son pitch now?
“My mom gets so nervous that she can’t watch the games live on TV. She has to just listen and pace around the house. I try to tell her, ‘I’m not going to pitch forever, so you better sit down and watch every now and then.’ My father follows every game religiously. He usually has a few suggestions for me as well, which is very nice. My dad is the one who will get mad at the umpires. They always have great things to say to me no matter how the game went.”
It’s been an amazing year in St. Paul this season as the Saints have rolled to a huge lead in the North Division of the American Association. The club has taken a very business-like approach in how they have performed this season, never getting too excited about their successes or too down about their failings (when there have actually been some). They have been a true model of how a club can take the personality of its manager and excel.
Kramer Sneed has learned to fit into that personality as well. He has been a leader and coach on and off the field. The St. Paul Saints starter has been a teacher and a student. The left-hander has been a listener and great teammate. He has been a great role model and citizen for the team and the city of St. Paul. Kramer Sneed has been all those things and much more. Good thing that algorithm was built to expand so much.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA