Jose Berrios' slight adjustments have had big payoffs, as 23-year-old thrives in Minnesota's rotation.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Jose Berrios entered 2017 with his career arc somewhat in doubt. Formerly a top prospect, he’d struggled—no, he had outright failed—in his first extended look in the majors, and despite his youth and his raw stuff, even his most enthusiastic supporters were forced to admit that big changes were needed if he was going to turn himself into a valuable big-league hurler.
The lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf, with the Yankees starring as the lion.
We talk a lot about the fundamental challenges faced by low-payroll or small-market teams trying to compete with the big boys. This goes back to the times of Branch Rickey and Ed Barrow, but it became a fashionable conversation once Moneyballturned baseball inside-out. The A’s might have been the first team to realize that speed was overvalued and that on-base percentage was undervalued, but the Red Sox and Yankees were among the first five, and that closed Oakland’s margin for error fast.
Ever since, MLB has been reenacting the fable of the lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf. See, all four animals went hunting together, and they killed a stag. The lion took his place, and he told the others to quarter the kill. They did, cut it up nice and evenly, and then the lion said, “I get one quarter because I’m king, and another because I’m the arbiter, and another because I took part in the chase. Now, who wants to lay a paw on the last quarter?”
One change, and a little more trust in his dominant raw stuff, could take James Paxton even higher.
Something about Mariners left-hander James Paxton makes people grab the nearest hyperbole and fire it at the wall with gusto.
Over the winter, Mariners manager Scott Servaissaid that Paxton’s slider “grades out better than [Clayton] Kershaw’s,” an eye-popping bit of exaggeration made all the more odd by the fact that what Paxton throws is much more cutter than slider. Jeff Sullivan (God bless him, because without him you’d just have to take my word for it that this happens often) recently called Paxton the AL’s best left-handed pitcher—implicitly pushing him past Chris Sale on that list.
Hitters like Miguel Sano, Marcell Ozuna, and Starlin Castro refuse to make things easy on pitchers.
We are, inarguably, living in the Golden Age Of Offensive Platitudes. Russell A. Carleton tossed out several of them in one recent column: “Sit fastball. Swing hard. Strikeouts don’t matter.” The Pirates say “OPS is in the air,” which is really just the Cubs’ “there’s no slug on the ground,” but stood on its head. Josh Donaldson wants you to “just say no to ground balls,” which is unimaginative but clear enough.
Modern offense comes down to launch angle and exit velocity, and to maximizing extra-base power (especially home runs) in order to make up for an unabating upshoot in strikeout rate. To be a great hitter in the modern game is nowhere near easy, but it’s fairly simple. Most teams, and many individual players, have dedicated themselves to breaking down hitting to the simplest set of basic ideas possible, so that batters can adapt to the unprecedented velocity and sheer stuff of modern pitchers as deftly as possible.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Did the Astros right-hander stumble into a breakout season?
Friday night was the rockiest game of the season for Astros right-hander Brad Peacock. From the jump, it was clear that he didn’t have good command, and he limped through four innings of what turned into an ugly loss for the Astros. His transition from short relief to a starting role has been slow and uneven. He’s still yet to crack 90 pitches in any start, and has two good and two bad outings as a starter.
Cardinals teammates Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham provide two sides to the same story.
Things are grim for the Cardinals right now. They’ve been disappointing, and worse, they’ve been frustrating. They cough up leads, they make mistakes on the bases and in the field, and the offense is really stuck in neutral. Coming into the season, they had a clear offensive core: Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty. Two months in, Molina looks too old; Diaz looks too young; Grichuk is in the Florida State League for some reason; and Fowler, Carpenter, and Piscotty simply aren’t producing at a level that might allow them to make up for that.
Defensive positions need not be as they have always been.
The Angels and Twins played a four-game series over the weekend. It was a matchup of two teams with plenty in common—low preseason expectations, a good positional corps somewhat wasted by too-thin pitching, and yet surprising (if modest) early-season success. In one small and strange way, however, it was also a meeting of two teams at opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum.
With left-handed batters at the plate, the Angels’ second basemen play deeper (on average) than those of all but one other team (the Mariners). The Twins’ second basemen (we’re talking mostly about Brian Dozier here) play the shallowest against lefties.
Keynan Middleton vs. Byron Buxton, and the camera angles that showed it.
The Angels and Twins were tied 1-1 after six innings on Thursday night. Jorge Polanco led off the top of the seventh inning with a single, knocking Angels starter (and former Twins prospect) Alex Meyer out of the game. Eddie Rosario greeted rookie reliever Keynan Middleton with a well-struck fly ball to center field, but Shane Robinson made a good read and a rolling catch, sending Polanco back to first base.
On May 24, Michael Conforto had a very good game. It wasn’t quite as good as the game he had the night before, when he launched two home runs and had three total hits, but he did have two singles and two walks. (Facing the Padres is going to make a lot of very good hitters look superhuman, before the year is out.)
There’s even better news, if you’re a Conforto fan: one of those singles really had no business being just a single.
How does the best pitcher of this era stack up against the greats from the previous three decades?
It’s important, if you want to speak intelligently about baseball in the past or the present, that the past and present don’t stand on equal footing. In absolute terms, baseball players have gotten better over time, and not by any small margin. Even in relative terms, they’ve gotten better: players and the people who support them understand the game better than ever, including the crucial area of anticipating and strategizing against an opponent’s choices and actions.
If you could make every player in baseball history their best selves and have them all play against each other for a year, the WAR leaderboards would include very, very few guys whose career began before JFK was shot. In every way, baseball is better (maybe not as beautiful or as purely enjoyable, at times, but better) than ever. Of course, that kind of thinking can be taken too far.
Is the dominant Jake Arrieta from 2015 and part of 2016 still lurking, underneath an ugly ERA?
It’s been a grotesquely uneven start to the season for Jake Arrieta. From mid-2014 through the end of last season, few pitchers were as consistently tough to hit as Arrieta. The Cubs could send him to the mound knowing he would work deep into the game, miss bats (or at least the barrels of them), and put the team in a position to win, even if he lacked the sharp command that made him (for a year or so) one of the most brilliant pitchers the game has ever seen.
This year, though, he’s having problems he hasn’t had in years. There are pitches elevated in a way they haven’t been, first within the strike zone, then into the bleachers. There are far fewer swings and misses, which is leading to long at-bats and short outings. This isn’t happening every time, and indeed, he got more ground balls in his latest outing—an easy win over the Brewers in which he surrendered just one unearned run over six innings, with six strikeouts and one walk. However, even then he threw 111 pitches in order to get through those six frames.