There's something about big-league debuts in baseball that makes them different than first games in any sport. Maybe it's the anticipation built up through years of minor league toil. Maybe it's the wide range of possible outcomes, from no-hitters to Golden Sombreros. From Junior to Strasmas, baseball fans know to drop everything when a big-time rookie finally gets the call.
The promotions of Wil Myers and Zack Wheeler garnered a tiny fraction of the buzz reserved for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Ken Griffey Jr. — rightfully so. But with both players getting their first taste of the show on the same day, there was no way we weren't going to watch.
Hitters swing at more bad pitches as the season goes on, and a group of scientists at Vanderbilt University believe it's because they're not sleeping long enough or well enough.
After finding a spike in swings outside the strike zone throughout the 2006 to 2011 seasons using FanGraphs' O-Swing Percentage stat, Vanderbilt's neurology and biostatistics departments replicated that research for the 2012 season. The study showed 24 of 30 MLB teams posting higher O-Swing rates in September than in April. Combining results for all 30 teams produced an average O-Swing rate of 31.4 percent in September versus 29.2 percent in April.
That plate-discipline erosion over the course of the season, the researchers say, stems from fatigue.
Today is a good day to be a Mets fan. Not in the sense that the Mets are good right now; they’re pretty awful this season and don’t look to contend for another year or two. But today? Today, the Mets start not one, but two potential ace starting pitchers in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves.
The afternoon starter you probably know by now. Matt Harvey, 24, is already one of the most effective and exciting starting pitchers in the National League, striking out more than five batters for every one he walks thanks to a 96 mph fastball, a backbreaking slider, and enough swagger that you expect him, after his pregame warm-ups, to emerge from the bullpen through saloon doors with spurs on the heels of his cleats.
Like the man at no. 10 during the Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl, let's jump right into the fray.
10. Yasiel Puig, the Cienfuegos Slammer (LAD-PIR)
I left Puig off the list last week, and certain factions were upset. So here he is, in all his shiny glory. But a word of warning: Sure, the guy has been playing well, but it's a small sample size. He's due to regress. (Last sentence intended exclusively for the desk of Jay Caspian Kang.)
For baseball fans, nothing is more heartbreaking, more infuriating than a blown save. Your team spends the better part of an afternoon or evening mounting rallies, pushing all the right buttons, getting out of jams, and building a lead. Your closer trots in for the ninth inning. A few pitches later, three hours of hard work have been flushed down the toilet.
It's enough to drive people mad
@jonahkeri right now I will trade verlander and Cabrera for Mariano Rivera, so you know.Sincerely, Tigers fan.
mad enough to want to trade arguably the best hitter and best pitcher on the planet for a 43-year-old reliever a few months away from retirement, because the current closer's serving up a nightly buffet of trash casseroles.
In his glory years with the Cardinals, Albert Pujols had few leaguemates he could truly call peers. In his first few seasons, there was Barry Bonds, then there was Pujols, followed by the rest of the league. When Bonds left the game, Pujols vied for hardware with the likes of Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, and Prince Fielder. By 2009 he was the undisputed best player in baseball, taking home his second straight MVP award and leaving even stars like Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera in the dust.
Pujols keeps different company these days. On a park- and league-adjusted basis, his 2013 numbers are in line with those put up by Michael Brantley and Yunel Escobar. He’s 33 years old and in his third straight year of sharp decline, with more than eight years and $220 million left on his contract and full no-trade protection. He’s been a replacement-level player through his first 63 games this season, one of the biggest reasons the Angels own the second-worst record in the American League.
Have we seen the last of Albert Pujols, baseball superstar? And if we have, what could that mean for the future of gigantic free-agent contracts?
The only thing that makes me feel good about Major League Baseball’s recent public resurrection of the Biogenesis affair is that the public face of the 20-odd targets of the investigation (if you can call it that) seems to be Ryan Braun. That’s not because I think Braun deserves to have his name dragged through the mud again — as someone who enjoys watching the most skilled players in the game do what they do best, I certainly don’t want Braun to sit out for 50 or 100 games, and while I’m all for suspending athletes who break the rules, I don’t think it’s fair to throw out those rules whenever they deliver an outcome you don’t like. I like Braun a lot, and I hope his name is cleared.
But I’m just glad this isn’t only about Alex Rodriguez. Because I’m tired of one of the greatest players of all time being turned into a punch line.
Welcome to this new series, in which we anticipate one excellent matchup per week and diarize it to learn something about the art of pitching. In the process, we also discover meaningful things about ourselves and our lives through the lens of baseball. There is always a lesson at the end. Each pitchers' duel receives an official 1-10 rating on the Marichal-Spahn Scale, named after the greatest pitchers' duel ever.
This Week's Pitchers' Duel
Dallas "Houston" Keuchel (HOU) vs. Hisashi "Tacoma" Iwakuma (SEA)
Last week, I ran down no. 36 through no. 21 on my rundown of favorite ballparks. Note that these rankings are highly and in some cases ludicrously subjective. Though the list does come with some objective criteria (covered in Part 1), your interaction with a stadium can vary wildly based on plenty of purely personal preferences. There are days when a stadium experience will deliver everything you could've ever imagined, and others where through nothing but happenstance, you have as bad a time as one can possibly have while watching three hours of baseball, eating, drinking, and sitting with friends.
I love baseball, so it wouldn't be true to say I've been faking the funk so far in the 2013 season. But there comes a point every year when the game pierces the thick mental hide of my winter hibernation, and my fandom rises to near-obsessive levels. That happened this week. I don't know why; maybe it was the onset of June. Or the near end of basketball and hockey. Or getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. In any case, I've shed the last remnants of the spring doldrums, and I'm ready to be your weekend spirit guide. Let's resume the adventure.
10. Is Matt Harvey Pitching? YES. (Friday, MIA-NYM)
You may notice that the "Is Matt Harvey Pitching?" category dropped to 10th this week, while the "Is Matt Moore Pitching?" category has dropped off entirely. Moore's FIP numbers have been screaming REGRESSION! all year, but I never expected it would happen in the span of one truly awful performance against Detroit. He has to fight his way back on; no more handouts. Harvey had his worst outing of the year against Miami last Sunday, but he still maintains a 2.17 ERA and a top-10 strikeout rate, so we're giving him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't hurt that he plays in New York and represents the last hope of a desperate, dying franchise. Watching Mets fans cheer when Harvey pitches is a little like watching Tom Hanks talk to a volleyball in Cast Away — touching, but with the semi-psychotic undertone of the damned.
With the second overall pick of the Major League Baseball draft on Thursday, the Chicago Cubs picked corner infield prospect Kris Bryant out of the University of San Diego. In the coming days, given the Cubs' history, I imagine we will be treated to a number of pieces about whether Bryant will be capable of turning around a franchise looking for its first World Series since the election of William Howard Taft. And maybe he will. He seems to be a can't-miss prospect, with power that should translate quickly and easily to the big league level. But since I feel like I have already lived this story and had my heart broken, let me briefly tell the tale of a second overall pick, Dustin Ackley. Ackley was once the best college hitter in the land, who came to Seattle to turn around a franchise that has never won a World Series, and today finds himself rebuilding his swing in AAA Tacoma. The story of Ackley, who was sent down to AAA Tacoma over Memorial Day weekend, begins at the end of a disastrous 2008 Seattle Mariners campaign. Buoyed by a rare stellar pitching performance from future Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey (who was a curiosity then, showing little indication of what was to come), the Mariners won their final three games of the season, allowing the Washington Nationals to claim the worst record in baseball and the right to draft Stephen Strasburg. I remember the series both for the weird sense that no one cared that Raul Ibanez was likely playing his final games in Seattle (apparently everyone else knew he was coming back years later as the 41-year-old reincarnation of Richie Sexson) and the sense that of course. Of course the Mariners would fail to lose. All they had to do to get the best pitching prospect of a generation was not sweep the A's. Of course, they swept the A's.
The Mariners haven't been good in a long time. The franchise hasn't made the postseason since 2001, when a phenomenally good team that had shed three surefire Hall of Famers over the three previous seasons in Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez (Rodriguez's since-soured reputation notwithstanding) equaled the Major League record for wins in a season. After that came an inglorious decline phase as the roster aged, and the team, while still good, missed the postseason in back-to-back years. Then the floor fell away like muscle mass off of Bret Boone's biceps.
Welcome to this new series, in which we anticipate one excellent matchup per week and diarize it to learn something about the art of pitching. In the process, we also discover wonderful things about ourselves and our lives through the lens of baseball. There is always a lesson at the end. Each pitchers' duel receives an official 1-10 rating on the Marichal-Spahn Scale, named after the greatest pitchers' duel ever.
This Week's Pitchers' Duel
Alex "Ty" Cobb (TBR) vs. Doug "Joke Redacted" Fister (DET)
I’ve long been of the opinion that only boring people like athletes and teams just because they’re good. If you’re going to spend precious words praising Mike Trout, come up with something better than “He’s the best player in the game.” Praise him for the joie de vivre with which he plays. Praise him for his exciting brand of baseball — that unique combination of power, speed, and defense. Praise him for having a neck that is thicker than his head. Whatever. But if the best reason you can come up with for liking a player is that he’s good, well, that shows a startling lack of imagination.
Thursday night, professional baseball will welcome into its ranks the next generation of potential stars and the next generation of homegrown players that fans will overrate and annoy the bejesus out of Keith Law on social media by arguing about. But again, just talking about how good these players are or will be isn’t that much fun. So let’s find some nontraditional reasons to like some of the players who might go in the first round.
Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville High School, Ginger
A couple weeks back, Jerry Crasnick wrote a cover story for Baseball America on why there are so few redheads in baseball. In his story, Crasnick explored, with great aplomb and a straighter face than I could manage in his situation, whether there was anything to the idea that redheads are ill-suited for professional sports. It’s a bizarre claim that was made not only about Frazier but about then-TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, and in a triumph of Occam’s Razor, Crasnick offered the theory that redheads are rare in American sports because they are rare in the American population.
You should read that story, because it’s a fun and interesting read. Then you should go watch A Christmas Story, because it’s an indispensable piece of Americana. Then you should cheer enthusiastically for Clint Frazier, because he looks like Scut Farkus.
Major League Baseball has reportedly compelled former Biogenesis proprietor Tony Bosch to testify in the league's case against roughly 20 players accused of performance-enhancing drug use. The list of accused players includes Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colon, and Jhonny Peralta.
The report from ESPN's Outside the Lines marks the latest development in a scandal first reported by the Miami New Times in January. The New Times wrote that Rodriguez, Cabrera, Colon, and Yasmani Grandal headed the list of players who allegedly bought PEDs from Biogenesis. All four of those players had either admitted to using PEDs in the past (Rodriguez) or been suspended for PED use (Cabrera, Colon, and Grandal) when the report came out. Two other major league players not previously linked to PED use, Gio Gonzalez and Cruz, were also named in the report.
It started with Charlie Pierce's excellent piece on PNC Park in Pittsburgh, a post that only deepened my sense of shame and sadness for having not yet seen a game there. This started a wide-ranging Twitter discussion. Which ballparks are the best? Worst? And for the analytical crowd … what makes a ballpark great (or not so great) anyway?
With summer road trip season upon us, we figured this would be a good time to offer a top current ballparks guide, with some historical rankings thrown in for good measure. Because this is my own, extremely subjective list, here are my own, extremely subjective criteria for the best ballpark experiences: