Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any.
In one way, it’s depressing that Salvador Perez has become a much better hitter this season. It’s depressing, because he’s done it in the most conventional and unoriginal way possible. Baseball is a pretty rich tapestry of unique approaches and adjustments and mechanics, really, and for people like us (who spend so much time with the sport, who look at it and see some oblique reflections of our own lives, our own approaches and adjustments and mechanics), there’s great joy in every discovery of another new way in which someone out there is succeeding. It’s probably particularly satisfying for those of us still lost in our mid-20s, to see people develop new skills, carve their own niche, blaze a new trail, and on, and on. If one reason we watch this game is to find hope that our seemingly narrow or rocky path to whatever we call happiness is ultimately a viable one, there are plenty of stories that affirm that.
Salvador Perez’s story isn’t one of them, though. The Royals’ gigantic catcher burst onto the scene in 2011, a mostly unheralded prospect in the most famous farm system ever, and spent his first two-plus seasons in the big leagues showing off a plus hit tool and enough power to more than make it play at catcher—not to mention a great arm and solid defensive reputation. Precisely as his team has ascended, though, Perez has declined. His aggressiveness at the plate morphed slowly from an asset into a liability, as huge innings totals behind the plate took a toll on his body, slowed him down, thickened him, stiffened his swing, took the sting out of his contact. He managed to crack enough extra-base hits to maintain some offensive value over the last two years, but just barely. Coupled with miserable framing numbers, his regression at the plate made him hardly more than a replacement-level player and a reputation for leadership.
On Josh Donaldson, Wade Davis, the Chicago Cubs, and the beautiful regenerative power of mistakes.
I’ve been living in Chicago since 2010, so when people ask me about the Cubs’ current run of success, it’s less because I’m a baseball fan and more because I’m the closest they have to an on-the-ground correspondent. It’s as if Anderson Cooper is breathlessly questioning me about The Baseball Spring: “After all this time, can it be true? Is the old regime truly gone? Can you comment on the peoples’ reactions to this new dawn?”
And while the Cardinals and Pirates wait in the wings to potentially shock this triumphant narrative back into the dreary everyday, they're a healthy 8 1/2 and nine games back, and there is a level of palpable optimism and confidence that I’ll admit I didn’t see for five years living, say, a block and a half from Wrigley. So when people ask, I tell them, yeah—people are really, really excited. It’s been a long time coming.
The long time coming, not the Cubs, is what I want to interrogate a bit today. Because throughout the long rebuilding process in Chicago, Cubs fans often loathed that long time and questioned it, Moses in the Desert style. It’s no fun to wander for 40 days and 40 nights, especially if that involves watching blowouts in the 42 degree Chicago spring. People on the radio questioned Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer—“I thought this was supposed to be a three-year process!” “Theo’s plan makes it a 10-year process, we’re never gonna see a pennant!”—and around, say, 2013, there was widespread pessimism. How long, the average fan asked, can I handle a 65-win team?
The answer to that question is a bit murky, if only because it’s beyond my pay grade to psychoanalyze the thousands of Cubs fans I waded through to get to my apartment or the El. But a related question we might more fruitfully pose is how many 65-win seasons can a team, or a player handle? In the era of the pre-planned tank in baseball, this is a fairly crucial question boiling down to, if you are an owner, the calculus of balancing your diminishing on-field returns with your financial bottom line. How bad, in other words, is too bad? When does failure start to cost more than it’s worth?
It seems to me there are two ways to look at this: practically and theoretically. The practical side of things is a little difficult. We all know that the “player who doesn’t have the fire of the postseason” cliché about young players on losing teams is silly. Starlin Castro has played just fine in New York; Felix Hernandez, despite being on a perpetually snakebitten M’s team remains sublime; I’m sure if Sam Miller put his prodigious play indexing abilities to work, he could find a number of tremendous, high WARP players who never had a shot on a winning team. Good players play well regardless of locale.
It also is true, at least anecdotally, that losing streaks rarely prompt the dissolution or relocation of an entire team. The Montreal Expos were, yes, abysmal through much of their later pre-Nationals tenure, but two of the three seasons prior to the move (2002 and 2003), they were above 500 and would’ve probably been in the hunt in the two-wild-card era. And many teams have suffered through monstrous losing streaks, from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays first 10 years to the 20 years of losing baseball that are finally in the Pirates’ rearview mirror, and while they have led to firings, they have rarely prompted total organizational failure. Without being able to see the actual books of MLB teams, we may never know if losing streaks really truly do put teams in jeopardy of going belly up, but my guess is that, no, simply losing for a while cannot destroy a franchise.
Danny Duffy has been a promising prospect, a tantalizing but frustrating starter and an effective reliever. With injuries to the Royals' rotation, he aspires to remove "but frustrating" from that resume.
Kansas City's slow start, plus: Yes to Trayce Thompson, yay J.A. Happ, and way to be Dae-Ho Lee
The Tuesday Takeaway Close your eyes and think of the Royals. There has perhaps been no more unique team over the past two years. They’ve won in a way that was at first foreign, and—seemingly, at times—illogical. The long ball isn’t the weapon of choice here; rather, they wield defense, a never-ending procession of elite relievers, and Ned Yost’s gut. Close your eyes and think of the Royals. You see Wade Davis. You see Alcides Escobar and his sub-.300 OBP leading off. You see Salvador Perez poking the ball under Josh Donaldson’s glove down the left field line. You see Omar Infante running rampant in the All-Star voting. It feels unconventional, but it feels right. There’s something magical about what they have done and what they have been. Something that makes the corners of your mouth curl up and forces a chuckle out of your throat.
A sketch of the missing bunts for us to put on our Missing Bunts fliers.
Here’s a very brief history of the sacrifice bunt: From around 1960 through around 1981, teams bunted around .45 times per game. There was such a powerful instinct guiding managers to this number that even the introduction of the DH didn’t budge it. In 1982, sacrifices dropped under .4/game for the first time, but hung in around .38 or so until the end of the century. Since then, bunts have been steadily dropping, at the rate of just under one-hundredth of a bunt per game per year. Put another way, a decline of around 3 percent per game per year. Last year, there were .25 bunts per game.