I’ve been thinking about distance a lot lately. The space we must keep from each other, the proximity of the most turbulent election of our lifetimes, and how the former often exacerbates the stress of the latter.
Baseball cannot provide a complete escape, of course, and the specter of distance loomed again prior to the start of Game 3. Just before first pitch, I couldn’t help but wince as the camera panned around a not particularly distanced crowd under the roof of Globe Life Field. Responsible countries with far fewer cases have maintained much stricter attendance measures at sporting events. Here in the U.S., there may be good reasons to allow 11,447 people into a big league ballpark right now, but they evade me.
To add another uncomfortable variable, a rainy forecast prompted the powers that be to close Globe Life Park’s retractable roof. I’m not really sure whether the closure made the stadium any more dangerous, but it certainly couldn’t have helped. At least one writer stayed away from the pressbox, though the roof did nothing to diminish gatherings down the first and third base lines. With cases spiking around the country — up 21% in Texas over the past week — Tom Verducci’s hasty declaration that the league had concluded fans were no less safe with the roof closed didn’t inspire much confidence. Read the rest of this entry »
Well that got out of hand quickly, eh?
It took all of two pitches for the Dodgers to stake an early lead in Wednesday’s NLCS Game 3. Mookie Betts legged out an infield single (replay correctly overturned a bang-bang play at first) and then Corey Seager continued his torrid hitting with a double in the left center field gap to plate the leadoff man. After two quick outs, it looked like Braves starter Kyle Wright would be able to wriggle out of the inning with minimal damage.
Then the barrage began in earnest: A double and a walk preceded back-to-back jacks from Joc Pederson and Edwin Ríos. Another walk chased Wright, but all Grant Dayton could do was throw more fuel on the fire: Walk, double, HBP, grand slam. Just like that, the Dodgers — who were an overturned call at first from getting nothing in the frame — had an 11-0 lead, and a new record for runs in a single postseason inning.
From there, it was academic. Los Angeles added in the second and third and Atlanta managed a few runs of their own. The only real remaining highlight was Cristian Pache’s first major league home run, a no-doubter that stayed just fair on its way past the foul pole.
The obvious parallel here is Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS, when St. Louis’s 10-run first inning explosion all but ended Atlanta’s season eight and a half innings before it became official. But tonight’s lopsided contest actually reminds me of a game from all the way back in 2001. Read the rest of this entry »
As you’re probably aware, the Yankees took the first game of their ALDS series against Tampa Bay by a score of 9-3. A five-run ninth inning made a laugher out of what had been a very competitive game, one that had swung back and forth several times in the middle innings.
The ninth inning was not short on substance. The Yankees were up 4-3 at the outset of the frame, and rookie John Curtiss came in to keep things close. Instead, the Yankees walked three times and notched five hits. Giancarlo Stanton, finally healthy, put the finishing touches on the rally with a grand slam to center. All told, the Yankees spent more than half an hour at the plate. Things got so out of hand that Kevin Cash felt comfortable bringing Shane McClanahan in for his debut. For his part, McClanahan managed to record his first out and get tackled by Brandon Lowe while trying to field a grounder.
Although it’s nice to see Stanton healthy and smacking dingers again, I found New York’s execution against Blake Snell far more compelling than their late rally. Indeed, the beating they gave Tampa Bay’s ace looks representative of a scary new normal for this group, and reinforces the sense that the Yankees mighty lineup is peaking at the perfect time.
If you graded pitchers simply on the crispness and overall quality of their stuff, separate and apart from command, sequencing or anything else, Snell would have to be among the top five pitchers in baseball.
Aside from James Paxton, he’s just about the hardest throwing left-handed starter the game has ever seen. Nobody touches his slider, and hitters fare even worse against his curve. His change isn’t quite of the same caliber, but it still induces a whiff 15% of the time he throws the pitch, and it’s a very effective weapon against righties. Since his debut in 2016, no starter has allowed a lower contact rate than Snell. Read the rest of this entry »
The Miami Marlins haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and coming into the year, there was every reason to think that the club’s playoff drought would eventually extend into a second decade. But with an expanded field, key contributions from rookies, and unexpectedly solid play around the infield, Miami slipped past the velvet ropes for the first time in 17 years.
Amusingly, the Marlins are the only franchise in baseball to never lose a playoff series. After a 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the Wild Card round, they’re just one win from extending their perfect record.
The importance of any one playoff game underscores how differently most of us watch them than regular season fare. Granular events — a single at-bat, a pitch even — take on much more resonance. In the regular season, a failure to execute in the early innings will be forgotten minutes later. Watching closely though, you recognize how missed opportunities shape a game every bit as much as the highlights shown on SportsCenter. Viewed under the microscope, baseball becomes a game of chances taken and chances missed.
For the Marlins, the early part of the game was dominated by the latter. Take Garrett Cooper’s at-bat in the fourth. With one out and a runner on third, Cooper had a great opportunity to plate the game’s first run. On a windy day, against a pitcher with below-average strikeout numbers, this was an opportunity to hunt for a ball he could hit in the air. Instead, he swung at the first pitch and grounded to third. Jesús Aguilar couldn’t advance, and was ultimately stranded after another ground out.
An inning later, the Marlins spurned another chance. With two on and nobody out, light-hitting Chad Wallach was ordered to bunt. The run expectancy table suggests swinging away is the better option here, but it’s very close, and given Wallach’s weak bat and the quality of his opponent, the bunt seemed like a reasonable option. He couldn’t get it down though, and eventually tapped into a rally-killing double play. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s grimly fitting that San Diego’s playoff drought would end in a year like this. After nearly 15 years of baseball as forgettable as the half-dozen jerseys they cycled through in that time, of course the Padres snapped their October skid in such an exciting matter — and in such killer threads — right when nobody could come watch them do it. Par for the course for arguably the country’s most luckless sports city.
But for any Friars fan who can overcome the first half of “bittersweet,” the deck is actually stacked pretty well for them here. While any fair bracket would slot them in the two-seed most years, this season’s weird format actually plays to their advantage. Anything can happen in a short series but at least this set isn’t as short as it would have been normally: Were this any of the past eight seasons, San Diego would have suffered the misfortune of posting the league’s second-best record and getting a trip to the coin-flip round for their trouble.
Instead, they’ll live to fight another day if Game 1 goes south, an extra benefit given their opponent. Few clubs would be at a significant disadvantage in a best of three, but if you were looking to tip the scales toward one side, you’d have their foe limp into the series physically and mentally drained. Such is the case here, where the Padres battle the beleaguered St. Louis Cardinals, who are still catching their breath from playing 10 double headers over the past 45 days.
A baseball season is said to be a marathon, not a sprint; for St. Louis in 2020, it was arguably both. Given their daunting schedule, the Redbirds can be slightly forgiven for mediocre underlying metrics. I’ll buy the idea that they’re a little better than they played. Read the rest of this entry »
First of all, thank you for continuing to make FanGraphs a part of your day in this difficult time. In an ideal world, or really just a normal one, you’d be diving into a Positional Power Rankings post, or reading a few notes from the field, or perusing something else to get you jazzed for would have been Opening Day on Thursday. Eleven days ago, I had plenty of ideas for that type of content. Suffice it to say, an article about an old ballgame I found on YouTube wasn’t one of them. Still, you’re here, and you’re probably seeking some small semblance of normalcy; I want nothing more than to do the sorts of routine, mundane things I normally wouldn’t have given a second thought. Something like a mid-June baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the Miami Marlins. That’s some normal, forgettable stuff right there.
So let’s make the best of it. Let’s climb on the way-back machine and travel to a simpler time: June 11, 2015. You remember all the way back then? The ball hadn’t yet been juiced. The Royals were the best team in the American League. Donald Trump was still a few days away from riding down his golden escalator. Matt Harvey was one of the best pitchers in baseball. An age, and just five years, ago.
On that night, the Rockies visited the Marlins. There is nothing remarkable about this game. These were two bad teams already buried in the standings. David Phelps and Chris Rusin were the starting pitchers. There were something like 500 people in the crowd, each going through the motions of a typical early summer evening at the park.
A big part of the fun when you watch an old game is the disorienting collision between what we know now and what we knew then. This game was played the year after Giancarlo Stanton had his face fractured by an up and in fastball. I remember the incident well, as you might. I also knew, but had totally forgotten, that for a time, he wore a personalized helmet with a wire flap in the shape of a “G” meant to protect his jaw. A very slim fraction of the baseball-playing population could pull that off without looking like a dork, but Stanton happens to be just such a player. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday night, the day before MLB shuttered spring training and delayed the start to its season, I was texting with a baseball operations employee in a National League front office. We discussed the likelihood of cancellations, the chaos that would inevitably follow, and the repercussions for players and teams. At one point in the conversation he speculated, “minor leaguers will be absolutely shafted.”
It appears that he was right. With one notable exception, minor leaguers, already unpaid during spring training and the offseason, will not collect paychecks for any games missed due to the spread of COVID-19. So far only one team, the Tampa Bay Rays, has announced plans to pay their minor league players during the delay. While not covering anyone’s salary directly, the club plans to give everyone $800 to help with expenses while they’re unable to play ball. It’s a step in the right direction, even if $800 is considerably less than the monthly salaries these players were set to earn before the disruption.
Still, it’s money that players elsewhere around the league would love to have. Most minor leaguers were just weeks away from solidifying their in-season accommodations, and now find themselves without a place to go or a buck to pay for it once they arrive. The situation has caused affected players considerable distress.
“It sucks,” says one pitcher in a National League farm system who, like other players interviewed for this piece, preferred to remain anonymous. “I’m fortunate enough that I can come home and live with my parents and not pay any rent. But I have a lot of teammates who either have a kid or are married and don’t have the opportunity to go home and have their parents pay for everything.” Read the rest of this entry »
Wednesday was not the first time that COVID-19 cracked the headlines, but it was the day the disease made its most significant impact yet on American culture. Early that morning, Washington governor Jay Inslee banned gatherings of more than 250 people in the state’s three most affected counties, urging citizens to practice social distancing in an effort to limit the virus’ spread and, by extension, all but ensuring that the Seattle Mariners season opener will not be played as scheduled. By day’s end, the federal government had implemented significant travel restrictions, Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19, the NCAA announced plans to restrict attendance at its events, and the NBA suspended its season. Finally, belatedly, the novel coronavirus hit the sports world.
COVID-19 is a deadly disease. The latest estimates project that more than 120,000 people have contracted the virus, and that nearly 4,500 of those infected have died. For a variety of reasons, we don’t know what the precise fatality rate is, but the World Health Organization recently trotted out 3-4% as a crude mortality ratio estimate. That’s a very high number, particularly considering how easily this coronavirus spreads. The virus is transmitted by fluid-to-fluid contact, and it’s a resilient bug, capable of living on metal surfaces — the kinds we touch on buses and in elevators and stadium handrails — for hours, or possibly days. Worse, people who do have it are contagious for long periods of time, and have ample opportunity to pass it off even after they’ve started feeling better.
Sporting events are prime places for the virus to thrive. Because the disease gives some carriers very mild symptoms, you can bet that plenty of sick people will shrug off what they perceive as a routine cold to support their team in person. Once at the game, they’ll eat, drink, shout, and share space with thousands of other people. In these dense quarters, COVID-19 will inevitably spread. Read the rest of this entry »
March 8: Kansas City vs. Chicago
Kris Bubic is a 22-year-old lefty with prototypical starter size, who snuck onto the back end of Eric’s 50 FV tier after a strong year in High-A.
On Monday, Bubic worked up to 93 with the fastball, but sat lower and was in the upper-80s at times. He also mixed in a cutter, a roundhouse 11-5 curve with long but sharp break, and a fading changeup. Against one of the best lineups he’s ever seen, Bubic wasn’t sharp and paid the price. He nibbled a bit with the fastball and fell behind in counts too often. His change and curve had hitters on their front foot when in the zone, but didn’t miss any bats even when they were located well. He had trouble getting a feel for his change early, throwing four of his first five low and well outside to righties. At their best, both offerings were above average.
We shouldn’t make too many judgements from one spring start, particularly a game where Bubic didn’t catch a lot of breaks: He was charged with a questionable balk and gave up a couple of hits on slow bouncing grounders that went to the wrong places, which extended innings and fluffed up his pitch count. That said, he’ll need to find a way to miss a few bats, and if nothing else, this game helped illustrate why he’ll have to battle finer margins than most hurlers on our Top 100. Read the rest of this entry »
“We feel like we’ve got starting pitching depth, we have impactful championship caliber players at every position that will allow us to compete for multiple championships.” — Marlins president Michael Hill
This isn’t a bad time for Marlins fans. There aren’t many organizations you could credibly make that claim about following a 105-loss campaign and consecutive last place finishes, but this is Miami, where the standards are comparatively low.
Much of the positivity stems from an absence of negatives: Jeffrey Loria isn’t the owner, there’s no fire sale in progress or on the horizon, no scam contract extension on the books, no stars desperate for greener pastures, no silly stories about management bilking fans out of their premium parking spaces. This franchise usually trades in disappointment, and there are comparatively few sources of it right now.
There are also a few actively good signs. The club has cobbled together a functional pitching staff from spare parts, and have turned Brian Anderson and Sandy Alcantara into, if not building blocks, then at least the kind of productive players who wouldn’t look out of place in a contender’s lineup. The farm system itself seems rejuvenated: The Fish landed seven prospects on our most recent Top 100 list, most of whom already have Double-A experience. The organization as a whole is teeming with depth for the first time in ages, and they’ll add more impact talent in June’s draft. Read the rest of this entry »