HACKING MASS, as you surely know, is fantasy baseball flipped on its head. The goal, unlike conventional fantasy, is to pick the worst players in the league and the catch is that the players can’t just be bad—they have to be both bad and in the major leagues, accumulating playing time. The rules make assembling a winning roster a balancing act between finding glove-first guys, aging veterans with big contracts, and long-leashed youngsters on bad teams.
How a cycling equipment company splashed color onto every baseball broadcast.
You may have noticed a trend of major-league players using brightly colored bat grips in recent seasons. Bats that were once adorned only by pine tar buildup and cleat marks were now wrapped with a rubber-like material that was only seen on metal or composite bats to that point. What was once reserved for Little League had made its way to the highest level of the sport.
Behind this transformation in brightly colored grip tapes was a company who first made hay in the cycling industry. Their vision and, frankly, good fortune, have made images like the one below commonplace across the majors. Lizard Skins, a company who saw an opportunity to improve the feel players have with their bats, is now a big player in the baseball world.
There's the obvious, the non-obvious, and the ominous.
When the Astros acquired Ken Giles back in December, it felt like a logical next step for a team on the rise. Houston’s built a powerhouse around good drafting and developing—young stars Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel might even be better than advertised—and getting Giles from Philadelphia represented a win-now approach for an organization shedding the habits of its slow-burn rebuild.
The expectation was that Giles would take over the closer role from the soon-to-be 32-year-old Luke Gregerson, demoting the former ‘Stros closer back to a familiar setup role while making the bullpen that much stronger. That expectation was curiously not met when the Astros announced earlier this month that Gregerson would remain the closer, with Giles being used in “a more versatile role that can help [the Astros] win the most games.” What are the Astros thinking?
Three middle infielders are hitting all the home runs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
In 1941, Boston Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr started off the season by hitting a homer in each of Boston’s first three games. For 75 years, that was the benchmark for hot-hitting second basemen, until Robinson Cano decided that it was time to meet that benchmark. Cano slugged two homers on Wednesday afternoon against the Rangers—one in the first inning, and another in the top of the ninth inning to cap a five-run comeback that powered the Seattle Mariners to a 9-5 victory over Texas.
The Astros pitching coach talks about tutoring in Europe, translating Ground Control printouts to the dugout, and why he believes objective is better than subjective.
The story of how Brent Strom came to be the pitching coach for the Houston Astros begins with a cartoonist for the New Yorker named Mike Witte. Witte had played high school ball with some of the St. Louis Cardinals owners, and as an adult studied the pitching motion until he was qualified to serve as a consultant to major-league teams on pitching deliveries. During Jeff Luhnow’s first year as farm director in St. Louis, Witte told Luhnow that of all the pitching coaches he had observed, Brent Strom had the best feel for the principles Witte was discovering in his research.
The Mets finally won another one against Kansas City, the new slide rule has a second consecutive controversial day, and Carlos Correa makes a highlight.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Since last October, the pairing of Noah Syndergaard and Alcides Escobar has stood in for all sorts of weighty questions on the concept of revenge and unwritten rules and where we draw the lines of safety through the code of convention. On Tuesday, though, the pairing signified something more simple again—a pitcher, a batter, the start of a baseball game.
The question of cultural competence is one of the struggles that will define the next generation of Sabermetrics.
"The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I'll tell you what has happened, these guys played Rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f--- they went and they thought they figured the f---ing game out. They don't know s---.” –Goose Gossage, March 11, 2016.
Finding a place in today's game for one of the great baseball gambits.
I love the Belanger Gambit. It is, perhaps, my all-time favorite baseball thing, the thing I would pick first if I were drafting baseball things. For those who don’t know, here’s how the Gambit goes. Back in the 1970s, Earl Weaver loved having the sparkling glove of shortstop Mark Belanger in the lineup every day for his Baltimore Orioles. When Weaver preached “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer,” Belanger was a huge pillar of that second tenet. On the other hand, and much to the chagrin of his manager, Belanger couldn’t hit a lick. His glove work at shortstop was usually more than enough to outpace his problems at the plate, but he usually put a dent in his team’s offense. His .231 career True Average is (to the delight of baseball history nerds!) the same as that of Aurelio Rodriguez, but also (more helpfully, to you who want to get a sense of who he was as a hitter with some familiar context) halfway between those of Ozzie Guillen and Royce Clayton.
Mark Belanger, Offensive, Defensive, and Value Statistics, Prime Seasons
Arizona and A.J. Pollock aren't on an extension path, while Cespedes is a possibility in Houston--or, at least, an unlikely possibility.
D’backs table extension talks with A.J. Pollock
Few players did better for themselves heading into their first tour of arbitration than A.J. Pollock, who delivered a 5.4 WARP campaign on the strength of 39 doubles, 20 homers, and 39 stolen bags. The 28-year-old bloomed late but has established himself as a star-level contributor, the sort of player teams are eager to lock up as free agency draws nearer. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, while they’ve accomplished a lot this offseason, locking Pollock up long term may have to wait.