There are plenty of theories out there as to the nature of the home run spike lately, and I've got another one to pull on your coat about. Juiced ball notwithstanding, there’s also a legitimate evolution in batter approach and swing plane at play today that’s at least helping do some of the heavy lifting.
The dance between pitchers and hitters, we know, is a complex, ever-evolving relationship of adjustments and counter-adjustments. As the dawn of Big Data increasingly began to confirm that ground balls are the bee’s knees for limiting damage, pitchers quite naturally began to adjust by trying to coax as many of those suckers as possible. They’ve done so by increasingly attacking the lower portions of the zone (and beyond) over the past decade, attempting to sneak under barrels with plane and by manipulating the ball to put north-south action on it.
The Situation: Manuel Margot hit the shelf with a strained calf, and the Padres will continue making good use of their catastrophic start to work another rookie into big-league experience by unleashing Franchy on the expansive Petco center field landscape. After starting to put it together with a strong performance across two levels last year, Cordero has continued to hit well at Triple-A El Paso, posting a .289/.349/.520 line across 42 games to start the season. That sound you hear in the distance is a giddy Jason Parks (#RIP) merrily frolicking along a hillside under a cool, come-hither sky.
The Background: The Padres inked Cordero to a $175,000 deal in November of the 2011 international signing period when he was 17, and he tantalized with explosive quick-twitch athleticism and projectability in the DSL the following summer before heading stateside in 2013, where he showcased more of the same. Parks said he had Role 6 potential in Spring Training of 2014, though he noted at the time that Franchy’s home would probably need to migrate from the six spot he’d occupied up until that point. He remained there through a successful short-season debut, but moved to the outfield grass in time for full-season ball in 2015. The gap between his raw present and intriguing potential future skill was on display in the Midwest League in 2015, but despite struggling with the bat he impressed the brass enough to warrant promotion to the Cal League in 2016, where he started to pick things up production-wise. He hasn’t really stopped hitting over the past calendar year, traversing three levels in the process to arrive at the doorstep of the majors.
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.
In the coffee shops that blanket the cinematic and television landscape (and presumably at least dot the real-life landscape), there are baristas and also less pretentiously named workers who learn the preferences of frequent customers and, after some repetition, whip up the regular orders without a word needing to be said. The clearer their wishes, the more likely they are to be fulfilled.
The relationship between pitchers and their regular customers is basically the polar opposite.
Is the middle season in a three-year span a baseball sandwich or a baseball hotdog?
For several years now, I have attended a screening of the Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts. This year, the offerings were quite good on the whole―headlined by Pixar’s award-winning Piper―but there was one particularly disappointing nominee, Blind Vaysha. The premise is this: the main character is a girl who sees the past out one eye and the future out the other, but is blind to the present. The film is not subtle, and the ending narration smacks you over the head with the theme while drawing all the conclusions for you.
I hold what I imagine to be a minority opinion: I suspect that Christian Bethancourt being a so-so two-way player will be less fun than him being a mediocre position player who occasionally pitches. Not that it won’t be cool that he’s trying; just less fun.
Position players pitching is perfect. It’s the rare baseball moment when every possible outcome is good. We’ve removed stakes, and absent the potential to alter how the game ends, it can only change how the game feels. It’s like staring at one of those Magic Eye 3D posters: amid what was chaos, an image of healing comes into focus, sketched out in pitcher form.
Imagine our guy fails; that’s easy, we assumed he would. We’re granted permission to enjoy his failure, to find notes of humor and self-awareness because what he’s really doing is performing a service. This is an act of care disguised as embarrassment. There is no winning in these moments, which also means there is no losing. The losing has already been done. Position players pitched 22.1 innings in 2016; they allowed 14 earned runs. Some of those were probably the result of indifferent defense, but I couldn’t be bothered to investigate which ones. Who cares?
Two different teams threw Erik Kratz out there. We’re working with different standards of success. We look on these performances and revel in the fact that they contain all the components of throwing a baseball. Our guy got the ball to the catcher’s mitt (when he doesn’t it’s funnier), and got his outs (exect when they don’t and smile knowingly), and if he gave up a few runs along the way (he often will), well, that’s part of pitching, too. Only his job isn’t to pitch, so we don’t have to be mad about it.
San Diego could use a bold strategy to get off to a good start in 2017.
There are dozens of medium-impact moves that litter the months between the playoffs and spring training, and most of them don’t give us the opportunity to see something new. For example, without much fanfare the Padres signed right-hander Trevor Cahill away from the defending champion Cubs for a relative pittance: only one year and less than $2 million.
A former top starter who washed out and then rediscovered his talent in the bullpen, Cahill may fill either of two roles for San Diego. He could bolster the team’s bullpen by pitching well in relief, as he did in Chicago, or he could roll the dice in the rotation, hoping to recapture his glory years. But what if I told you there was an innovative way that he could sort of do both?