The Mets surge to the top of the wild card standings after losing Jacob deGrom, Jon Gray strikes out 16 Padres, and more from the weekend’s action.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s been a tiring and triumphant weekend for the Mets, who were promised the long-awaited return of right-hander Jacob deGrom, then weathered news of deGrom’s imminent season-ending surgery, and finally prevailed in a three-game sweep over the Twins to secure the foremost position in the National League wild card standings.
DeGrom had not pitched for New York since September 1, and after watching an elbow injury blossom out of lingering forearm tightness, the club elected to play it safe with their no. 2 starter. On Sunday, deGrom was replaced on the mound by 23-year-old rookie Gabriel Ynoa, who tossed 4 ⅔ innings against the Twins in his first career start, allowing one run, one walk, and striking out eight batters before handing the game over to the bullpen.
One of the weird things about being a parent is that your kids will do things that will confuse you. I’m not talking about the things that confuse you and make you mad, like emptying an entire bottle of soap into the bathtub. Or things that confuse you and make you laugh, like a nonsense song or an accidentally urbane joke. No, they’ll do things that seem like weird glitches, odd actions that make you wonder when the next Child Patch is coming out to clean up the bugs. It’s these confusing moments that most occupy my reflections as a parent, and none more than the incessantly repeated action.
Parents are now nodding their head, but for non-parents, here’s what I mean. My daughter, Tilly, has started to get really invested in hide-and-seek. Not weird on its face, I know, but Tilly’s version of hide-and-seek is a little strange. She’ll hide in plain sight and loudly tell you to look around the room for her. Once you “find” her, she’ll usually jump out and yell and then hop back into her hiding place and ask you to find her again. Finding her this time means repeating your previous actions exactly, even up to the words you say before she jumps out. I know this sounds farfetched, but I have the phrase “I always check the modem when I can’t find someone” indelibly marked in my memory as proof.
Okay I hear you: my daughter likes to play a weird version of hide-and-seek and has quirky 2-year-old behavior. So—you’re asking—what? What could this possibly have to do with baseball or anything that would interest anyone outside of the most doting grandparent? Well, it’s in the explanation of why she does it that we find our hook. Apparently, repeated games—these sort of maddeningly scripted, exactly replicated games—are common in the development of toddlers, a sort of cognitive checkpoint in human growth.
Now, despite what you may have heard, I am not a brain scientist, so grains of salt all around. But as far as I can tell, the cognitive purpose of this repeated game is a sort of super charged version of object permanence. Object permanence is the funny trait we have as humans wherein we know that an apple does not disappear just because someone tucks it under the table. Or, in the case of infants, that mom or dad doesn’t disappear entirely when they put up their hands and say “peekaboo!” Believe it or not, this insight is actually something learned, not innate, and it’s something that has different levels of complexity. Object permanence, I’m suggesting, isn’t just about knowing that material objects have permanence, but also that social ones do as well.
So when Tilly plays hide-and-seek, she’s repeating the performance in an experimental effort to see how permanently the game exists in the world, testing its repetitive tension: Can I reproduce the exact conditions, and if so for how long? Put this way, I think you might be able to see how baseball comes into the picture, as the game is primarily focused on an extreme attempt to repeat the conditions of play: Every at bat has a fairly limited set of outcomes, even in a per-pitch basis. And especially when we get into recognizable pitches and situational pitching, we come to expect particular outcomes. Left-handers roll over on well-placed changeups; guys being pitched in the zone will usually swing over a wipeout slider; leaving a breaking ball up is a good way to get it crushed. For as weird and mercurial a game as baseball is, these scenarios proliferate in which we already know what should happen, and we expect that outcome to repeat itself.
So when it doesn’t, when a batter misses a fat meatball and hits it just foul or someone lays off the impossible slider to get a rally-starting walk, we get angry or thrilled depending on our particular rooting situation. These are the unexpected moments in baseball, and by their very nature, they’re of course interesting and evoke emotion—they’re special and usually memorable because they change games that really matter to a particular set of teams. But they’re also special because, within the fabric of baseball’s own object permanence, they aren’t ever meant to happen. We know that sliders are strikeout pitches, that hitters hit bad pitches, and that changeups are a quick out for lefties because if we didn’t know that, baseball itself would be a totally random proposition, an unchartable mish mash of outcomes that would frustrate even the most committed fan. So long as we know, know, that, say, Aroldis Chapman is meant to strike out the side, then we can contextualize how unlikely it is when that doesn’t happen.
Does your favorite sport have a looming crisis of conscience? Might be.
In case you’re lucky enough to be wrapped up in an exciting pennant race or just such a diehard fan that you can get a lot out of tracking, say, Cody Reed’s September improvements, you probably already know that baseball’s rich and popular brother, the NFL, is back. Like it or not—and at Baseball Prospectus, I’ll just assume we do not like it—the NFL returning to its regular season schedule overshadows anything in its path, from pennant races, to playoff pushes, to prospects, to World Series champions. The impact upon the sports scene in general of the first game, and then the first Sunday of the NFL year is staggering.
But, and I’ll admit that it may be my particular echo chamber this year, the NFL has its share of distractions of late. There is of course the 49ers Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has decided to take a stand and kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality and police killings of people of color. I’ll just leave that issue by saying that I think what Kaepernick is doing is brave and worthy, and won’t bother you with more hot takery. No, the issue that I’m most interested in is the more systemic villain of the contemporary NFL: shots to the head.
The medical consensus over football has been what it has been for many years, presumably—that it is unhealthy to run into grown men at a full sprint and to be tackled constantly by enormous people onto hard ground. You can slot this insight in with other such leaps in medical science as: “throwing a baseball at 100 mph might hurt your arm” and “maybe rubbing dirt on it doesn’t cure what ails ya.” But football, increasingly, has a new problem underlying its traditional reputation as a deeply violent sport, namely that this violence follows its players into their retirement via the specter of Chronic Traumaity Encephalopathy, or CTE.
Now, despite my dashing good looks and animal magnetism while grasping a clipboard, I’m no doctor, so I won’t pretend to get into the details of CTE. Suffice it to say, football players are feeling the aftereffects of multiple concussions across their career in memory loss, loss of faculty, and even violent and uncharacteristic outbursts. And as parents see more and more players have violent, tragic, or painful ends, youth football has seen dramatic drops in participation, and the sport itself has reached a sort of crossroads. “Where,” many people are now asking themselves, “is the tipping point at which my enjoyment of the NFL is overshadowed by my pity and fear for its employees?” It’s a serious problem!
So thank goodness we talk about baseball here, right? The sport that has no real moral problems and is cool and fun and American as apple pie? Well, as usual, I have some bad news. Because while baseball may have a better reputation with concussions and injuries—your Justin Morneaus and Brandon Webbs notwithstanding—there is a Deep Shame of Baseball if we think beyond the immediate analogy of injury. CTE is the NFL’s biggest problem because it is a problem at the heart of the sport, undermining everything enjoyable about it. Baseball has a problem like that, for sure.
Take, as an example of the problem, the high-profile signing of Tim Tebow by the New York Mets, a courtship process and culmination that gripped the attention of all of your favorite talking heads. Tebow, effectively a non-prospect, was signed by a cash-strapped team, one of the only teams to actually see revenue from its minor-league affiliates, and was guaranteed the ability to pursue his broadcasting career while playing short-season ball. And for all this, Tebow walks away with a contract and a $100,000 signing bonus—effectively what a fairly promising ninth- or 10th-round talent in the Rule 4 draft might get. All for a 29-year-old who’s pursuing baseball (at best) part time.
Betances stumbles as the season reaches the finish line, the Cardinals stumble as the season reaches the finish line, and more from Thursday's action.
The Thursday Takeaway
We’re coming down to it now. The end of the season is close, oh so close now. Today is September 16th, and the playoffs begin just after the calendar turns to October. What began in April is now coming to a close.
Sometimes Ubaldo Jimenez just does this, which right now makes him the wild card in the race for the wild card -- or the division.
There are 16 games left in the Orioles’ season, and Ubaldo Jimenez might start four of them. He’s on track to do so, beginning Friday night against the Rays. If you had told an Orioles fan two months ago that this would be the outlook of the team’s push for a playoff spot, they would have been stricken. Jimenez’s career is notable for a couple stretches of dominance amid prolonged periods of either inconsistency or outright failure. He’s never had a delivery conducive to good command. Once batters realize he no longer throws in the mid-to-upper 90s and is rarely around the strike zone, they often begin waiting him out, eagerly accepting walks unless and until he makes a mistake out over the plate. Going into the All-Star break, Jimenez had an ERA north of 7.00.
There were plenty of reasons to dislike trade if you were, as I was, a Red Sox fan. Crisp was a relative unknown, Marte was a prospect stud, and I mean, why couldn’t the Sox just have resigned Johnny Damon? But my Mom found an even better reason to dislike the trade: David Riske’s name. What follows is a brief, reimagined rendition of the conversation that followed.
Mom: I don’t like this at all. They should’ve just resigned Damon. And you can’t use a reliever named Riske. That’s asking for trouble. Ben [extremely early-teensplainy voice]: That’s ridiculous! Riske was good last year! Mom: That’s not in the AL East, though. And still, his name is Riske.
In essence, at a very young age, my mother had warned me about the dangers of Reliever Name Foreshadowing, or, as I will refer to it henceforth, RNF. I’ve thought about RNF sporadically throughout the years, but was reminded of the valuable lessons it offers a few weeks ago, when I got the increasingly rare opportunity to watch most of a Red Sox game with my Mom.
Ben and Sam talk to former Sonoma Stompers pitchers Santos Saldivar and Dylan Stoops about their progress as players, meager earnings, and clubhouse experiences during their rookie seasons in affiliated ball with the Brewers and Padres, respectively.
Every night, 25ish Hall of Famers play baseball for us. How aware are we?
Bill James once wrote that, on average, there are approximately 25 future Hall of Fame players in the league in any given season. That number has fluctuated a bit throughout history, of course, and with 30 teams playing now, I’d take the over on that number today. Recently, I was thinking about which of the players from 2016 are going to be in the Hall someday, and I quickly realized that there are a lot fewer locks than I had previously imagined.
By my count, there are only five slam dunk, no doubt, no steroid concerns, could retire and plan a trip to Cooperstown players in the league right now: Albert Pujols, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, and Miguel Cabrera. You might say David Ortiz or Mike Trout and I wouldn’t disagree; I certainly think both of them will make it. But once it became clear that there are a whole lot less than 25 locks in the league, the next move was obvious: Find a buddy, draft two teams of superstars, put the results in a time capsule, and see (30 years down the line) who picked more Hall of Famers.
Fortunately, Meg Rowley was up for the challenge. Below, you’ll see the results of our draft. We used a simple snake draft method and went through 25 rounds. We figure that most of the players we took in the first 10 rounds will make it; we also imagine that we whiffed entirely on at least one guy. Ultimately though, the process revealed just how difficult it is to project which superstars will and won’t make the Hall of Fame.