The Situation: The All-Star break has come and gone, and we’ll start to see teams in contention begin to bring in reinforcements internally and externally. One of those teams is the White Sox. One of those players is Carson Fulmer. You can probably see where this is going, but just in case it didn’t smack you in the face, Fulmer is coming up to help the White Sox and their not-so-great bullpen.
Background: Fulmer was a potential top 100 pick coming out of All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, Florida, and the Red Sox made a run at signing him after taking him in the 15th round of the 2012 draft. His stock soared upon entering Vanderbilt, helping lead the Commodores to a College World Series title in 2014 and finishing second in his junior year. The White Sox took him eighth in the 2015 draft. He dominated hitters in High-A Winston-Salem upon signing, but he had his share of struggles this spring, as seen in his 4.76 ERA at Double-A Birmingham. He has given up just two runs his his last 20 innings, however, and after an impressive showing at the Futures Game this Sunday, the White Sox believe he’s ready to contribute to the big-league staff.
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The White Sox hit seven home runs, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Carrasco toss four-hitters, and Jose Altuve goes for the cycle.
The Weekend Takeaway
There are no givens in baseball. A 10-run lead can evaporate under the misdirection of a tired bullpen, a no-hitter can be lost on a misplayed fly ball, and a ninth-inning tie can be broken on a walk-off balk. Still, there are certain markers which, once they are passed, provide a feeling of security.
Notable pitching performances this year from Chris Sale, Matt Shoemaker and CC Sabathia.
Sale altered his approach this season, aiming for more efficient at-bats by trimming the strikeouts and gunning for weak contact early in the count. Everything was going swimmingly for the first two months of his new style. Sale posted a 1.58 ERA through his first nine starts with just 39 hits allowed and a modest 62 strikeouts against 10 walks in 68 1/3 innings, while averaging a robust 7.6 innings per turn, including three complete games. He then coughed up six runs in just 3 1/3 frames against the Indians, and though he has exceeded six innings in each of the four starts since, he has also given up three or more runs in each of his last three turns.
The archetype of the slugging first baseman is over. After trending downward, this year's cold corner is the worst it's been in at least six decades.
It started, like most things in my life do, with an argument about Joe Mauer.
In trying to figure out the Twins’ best (or perhaps more accurately least-worst) option to be the mandatory All-Star rep for a last-place team I noticed that Mauer ranks third among American League first basemen in OPS+ and fourth in WARP despite a modest-looking .281/.388/.409 line in 56 games. Basically, only Miguel Cabrera and Eric Hosmer have clearly been better than Mauer this season.
I never pass up a chance to paint Mauer in a positive light, but that surprised me. He’s having a good, solid season—and taking a big step in the right direction after back-to-back rough years following a career-altering concussion—but the notion of a first baseman with a .409 slugging percentage and sub-.800 OPS ranking among the league’s best is hard for my brain to comprehend.
The small move that went so, so bad in a season that is sliding in that direction.
The Braves aren’t playing Tyler Flowers all that much, which is smart. The entire plan in Atlanta this season is to lose games, after all, and Flowers poses a threat to that mission. In 115 plate appearances thus far, Flowers has a .260 TAv, and he’s been his usual (very good) framing self behind the plate. He’s been worth 0.8 WARP already, despite his part-time role, but A.J. Pierzynski has saved the team from disaster with his .185 TAv and -0.8 WARP. The best news for the Braves, though, is that their two backstops make just $5 million combined this season. To take up two roster spots, keep the team replacement-level or worse, and leave so much money in the pockets of corporate owners is about as much as the team could ask from a catching tandem. Every nickel not spent on payroll is another nickel the team can spend on the effort to get their next new stadium built with other people’s money.
Let’s say that you weren’t the Braves, though. Let’s say you’re a team that wants to win games this season. If you were such a team, you probably wouldn’t want Pierzynski and Flowers for your catching duo. At the very least, you might seek to play Flowers more often, and Pierzynski less, so that you would get at least the half a win or so above replacement that $5 million usually buys in free agency. Really, though, it’s a pretty unappealing catching situation. It’s hard to imagine a contender who would envy it. There is one, though, and here’s the funny part: It's the only other team that has employed this exact pair in the past.