November 4, 2013
Your New Favorite Player
You’re a bit of a flirt, you know that? It’s always a new favorite player with you. Right now it’s Koji Uehara, but before that it was Billy Hamilton, and before that it was Evan Gattis, and there was your Altuve phase, your spring fling with Yoenis Cespedes, your Romo romance, your affairin’ with Haren, your je t’aimes with Tiny Tims. You hooked up with Mike Trout and Zack Greinke before they were household names, with Kyle Blanks and Wily Mo Pena before they weren’t household names. You’ve dated defenders (Franklin Gutierrez, Peter Bourjos) and you’ve cuddled with clods (Jack Cust, Matt Stairs). You’re demanding, but you’re not particularly discerning.
You and Uehara had a good thing, and you'll never forget his 89-percent strike rate in three-ball counts. But while you’ll never stop loving him, your guys’ relationship has probably peaked. Now your mom is starting to ask you about him, and once that happens it’s time for a new squeeze, one your mom knows nothing about. Who will your favorite player be next year? A few suggestions:
One thing that has always swept you off your feet is hard stuff. You like fastballs that go right down the middle and get swinging strikes; you like fastballs that set off the TV broadcast’s little flame graphic on the velo display. You like fastballs that touch 100 to close out the seventh inning. You’re keeping an eye on Nathan Eovaldi, he of the fastest average heater from a starter, but the rest of his performance (whiff rates, K rates, FIP, etc) suggest that he’s nothing but glamour muscles. You definitely like Danny Salazar, with the highest whiff rate on heat. But you’ll probably be crushing on Wily Peralta, whose fastball was (among starters with 100 innings) the fourth fastest in the league, behind only three of your celebrity crushes: Strasburg, Harvey, Fernandez. Peralta probably sucks, but he bumped his strikeout rate by about 60 percent in the second half, and the probability of sucking is what will make you love him so much when he starts April 6-0 with 50 strikeouts. That he’s about six months away from outfatting Bartolo Colon will just make you love him more.
One thing that has always knocked your socks off is a ridiculous relief line. You’ll forgive a lot of sins if a relief line gets fancy enough: Fernando Rodney, of all people, put a plantain in your pocket, for goodness sakes. The toughest part of the pursuit is that—with the exception of past flames Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen, who you’ve moved on from—it’s practically impossible to see the fanciest relief line coming. Best bet this year: you’re going to be all over Sergio Santos. Santos does all the things you love to see in a fancy relief line: his K/BB rate of 7 in 2013 actually undersells him, as half of his walks were intentional. So, really: 28 strikeouts, two walks. From August 18th on, he was reborn as an Ueharaesque strike thrower, getting strikes on 75 percent of his pitches and allowing all of three hits over the final six weeks of the season. Somebody’s going to have a sub-1 ERA with 40 strikeouts and one walk through June, and you’re going quit your job and move across the country to be with him. Maybe it won’t be Santos, but boy oh boy, maybe it will be.
One thing that has always lit your fire is a strong personal narrative of perseverance and triumph. You loved Daniel Nava from day one, and of course we all went through our awkward Erik Kratz phase. Colabello has that: undrafted out of college, he played seven seasons in the independent leagues. Seven! Nava had just one year in the indy leagues which, in terms of time served, makes him Paris Hilton to Colabello’s Nelson Mandela. But, you’ll say, because you’re always trying to put guys like Colabello into the friend zone, Colabello got his shot in the majors and sucked. Not like Nava, who arrived banging. But, while you remember Nava’s debut, the grand slam in his hometown and the hot first week that followed it, Nava immediately afterward became terrible:
- Nava, final 55 games of rookie season: .217/.337/.301
- Colabello, 55 games in rookie season: .194/.287/.344
There’s always a moment in the movie when, after slowly but methodically overcoming obstacles, the hero hits a low that is so low you can’t imagine him coming out of it alive. Five minutes later, though, he’s outside your window with a boom box. Nava could hit, and eventually did hit, and was briefly your favorite player again. Colabello can hit. He hit .352/.427/.639 in Triple-A, leading the International League in all three of those numbers. When the Twins send out a tweet in late June reminding you to vote 25 times for Colabello to make the All-Star game, you’ll create a fake email account so you can vote 50.