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.
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Teams have smartened up about sacrifice bunts, but every once in a while managers just can't help themselves.
We don’t really do this kind of thing very much anymore. Saber-slanted baseball writing used to consist largely of criticizing poor strategic choices made by teams, either within games or over the course of a season. We won that war, though. Teams are so much smarter these days that kvetching about a bad sacrifice bunt or intentional walk here or there feels a bit like hosting a Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure.
Here’s the thing: it is good to be reminded, now and then, that rabies is still out there. If you pretend the disease has been permanently eliminated, or that it doesn’t pose a real public danger, you end up with anti-vaxxer movements among people who call themselves “dog parents." With that in mind, I want to talk about two bunts laid down last Tuesday night, why they were misguided, and why it matters.
Since when does Colorado have too many capable pitchers?
The Rockies played their 40th game of the season Tuesday night in Minnesota, and did so under an unusual circumstance: win or lose, they knew they would go to bed in first place. For the Rockies, that’s newsworthy. In the club’s 25-year history, they’ve only been in first place at least this far into a season seven times. Not since 1995 have they spent as much time in first place as they almost surely will this year—as they already have.
Having Nolan Arenado around is nice. He’s the best part of a surprisingly good infield. The Rockies were one of the last teams to aggressively adopt infield shifting as a run-prevention strategy, but this year they’re doing a better job of turning ground balls into outs while shifting dramatically less often. For the most part, though, credit for the strong start goes to the pitching staff, and especially to one of the league’s most interesting, youngest rotations.
After plenty of ups and downs, the Marlins outfielder is setting himself free.
We live in a Golden Age of player development. Teams understand their players—and especially their young, talented players—far better than they used to understand them. Just as importantly, though, players understand themselves far better than they used to. In this era dominated by strikeouts, defensive innovations, and so many home runs, with all the technological and instructional resources available, there is no good reason (other than wanting makeup, the kind that prevents one from taking full advantage of those resources) for a team to give up on a talented player.
Stardom is always one turned corner away, and there are more intersections at which to make such a turn than ever. For Marcell Ozuna, there have been a few wrong turns. He came up way back in 2013, and has shown flashes of brilliance in every season since. He’s a fine defensive outfielder, though better suited to a corner spot than to center field. He possesses a strong arm, and he pairs his natural power at the plate with a good enough instinctual approach to get by. He’s battled inconsistency, insufficient contact, and a vulnerability to right-handed pitching, but the talent has always been obvious.
Thinking about bat sizes, by way of the great Roger Angell.
I often recommend The Roger Angell Baseball Collection for iBooks. It’s a digital compilation of Angell’s three most widely acclaimed collections of baseball essays (The Summer Game, Five Seasons, Season Ticket) that you can get for $20. I bought it last fall, and am just closing in on finishing it. (Having three kids under the age of four does not permit one to read for pleasure as much as one might wish.)
Strung together, the books trace baseball history from the dawn of the expansion era to almost the end of the 1980s, and because of the way Angell observes and relates the game (as a passionate fan, but an interested, educated, and engaged one, with no aspect of the action or the off-field shenanigans unworthy of his examination), the collection offers a fascinating look into the rhythm of baseball history—where it repeats itself, and where something wholly and honestly new develops.
Cincinnati views the rookie left-hander as a long-term building block, but maybe he's in the wrong role.
The Reds are treating Amir Garrett like a central part of their rebuild, and perhaps a part of their very long-term future. After his start on Saturday, Garrett was optioned to Triple-A, a move the Reds say will allow them to manage his innings and keep him on the mound well into September—an important consideration, if you’re willing to make a certain set of assumptions, because the team leads the NL Central at the moment.
Of course, a more cynical person might point out that the Reds are unlikely to be contending by the time Labor Day comes, so Garrett could just as easily be shut down then to protect him from accumulating an undue workload for the full season. That person might also observe that the demotion will probably last long enough to keep Garrett from accruing a full season of service time this year, thus delaying his potential free agency by a year. If that person were a real bulldog, they might also say that Garrett turned 25 years old last week, has faced between 550 and 600 batters in each of the past three seasons while in the minors, and might not really need this kind of protection.
Ryan Schimpf has 28 homers in 366 at-bats and barely anyone has noticed, maybe because the ball is juiced everywhere.
Ryan Schimpf hit a home run against Clayton Kershaw this weekend. A 28-year-old rookie last year, the Padres infielder has now cracked 28 bombs (and 51 total extra-base hits) in under 450 career plate appearances. He’s drawn 62 walks and struck out 141 times in that short period. He’s an adequate fielder, so although all he really has at the plate is a powerful uppercut swing and the willingness to reserve it for pitches he can hit, he’s been worth an impressive 3.9 WARP.
As more and more teams go heavy into catcher framing, improvements are obvious and the margins are shrinking.
A fistful of teams are off to surprising starts this season. The Orioles are better than they have any right to be, for the sixth year in a row. The White Sox tried to trade all of their good players this winter, couldn’t get rid of a few of them, have fixed the coding error in Avisail Garcia’s Miguel Cabrera emulator, and somehow stand above .500. Both of those teams will eventually come back to earth, though. (Sure, Trueblood, go ahead, dismiss the Orioles again. It’ll totally work out this time.)
Three other teams that have also overachieved early are, to my eye, more likely to keep up that performance going forward, and it’s for one common reason: they’ve finally caught the catching wave.
Rockies rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela is a lot more interesting than the raw numbers would suggest.
The cruelest month is over, and although most breakouts still aren’t real and most bad teams still have time to turn things around, we can finally say that anything going on in baseball has lasted for the full first month of the season. We also have a chance to survey the various leaderboards (we have so many leaderboards now! This is The Golden Age of Leaderboards) to see if anything really leaps out at us.
The way baseball is played has changed, so it's time to change the way we treat beanballs.
In his postgame remarks Sunday, Matt Barnes swore up and down that he didn’t mean to throw at Manny Machado. That was a fairly transparent lie, and also a fairly blameless and understandable one. Admitting to intentionally throwing at any batter roughly doubles the suspension a pitcher can expect. Barnes was just saying what he needed to say, in order to lose as little of his paycheck as possible.
He did say one thing that seemed eminently sincere, though: that he didn’t mean to put the ball anywhere near Machado’s head. I have no trouble believing that. In fact, I actively accept it. Most players acknowledge the role of beanball wars and even (unfortunately) embrace that form of vigilantism. They believe their judicious, tactical firing of baseballs at one another keeps the scales of justice balanced and prevents all-out brawls of the kind we saw more often 30 years ago. However, nearly every player also acknowledges that hitting a player anywhere near the head is a dangerous and damnable error, whether intentional or not.
Maybe The Wizard has some magical ways to make baseball more appealing.
Everything in baseball divides itself into threes. There are three strikes in an out, three outs in an inning, three fundamental dimensions of the game (offense, pitching, and fielding), and three broad constituencies who constantly fight for control of the game, both on and off the field: owners, players, and fans.
Of late, though, each of those triads have become a bit problematic. The rate at which those three strikes get racked up has skyrocketed, and that trend is only increasing. The three outs per inning are taking a bit too long to accrue, not because outs have actually become harder to get, but because the action that begets those outs is unfolding more slowly. The game is spinning on an increasingly bipolar axis, as hitters and pitchers take center stage and defense becomes a smaller piece of the puzzle.
In the middle of his start, a struggling Adam Wainwright began switching sides of the pitching rubber.
The Cardinals’ season is off to a disastrous start. On Monday night, they got shelled by the Nationals, falling to 2-5. Things are going wrong everywhere, from a generally anemic offense to a bullpen that looks (surprisingly) like one of the NL’s worst. They also haven’t gotten many good innings from their starting pitchers, and on Monday night Adam Wainwright got knocked around by a good Washington offense. He left after facing three batters in the fifth inning, but without retiring any of them and with four Nationals runs already on the board.
If anything, the outing was worse than that brief summary sounds. For most of the night, Wainwright was unable to command his curveball to the third-base side of home plate, and unable to command his cutter to the first-base side. He struggled to create the angles that would allow him to miss bats, especially against the Nationals’ excellent left-handed hitters: Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Stephen Drew, and Matt Wieters.