Author Archive

You Can Dream on Dylan Bundy Again

Dylan Bundy’s first four starts last season were emblematic of a few different things. They told the story of the 2019 Orioles, a team that would set records for pitching futility. They told the story of last year’s juiced ball, which helped facilitate the highest league-wide home run rate in history. And they told the story, once again, of how far Bundy’s star had fallen. Once considered a generational pitching prospect, a Tommy John surgery combined with other injuries wedged three whole years between Bundy’s first season of big league action and his second. As time passed, dreams of him becoming a bona fide ace faded, as he instead turned into something closer to an average back-end starter — from 2017-18, his first two years as a full-time starter, he had an ERA- of 110 and a FIP- of 106, below-average marks that could usually be blamed on problems with the long ball. Through four starts in 2019, those issues persisted; he threw just 17.1 innings and allowed 15 runs on 18 hits, with a whopping seven homers allowed to go with nine walks and 22 strikeouts.

It is that backdrop that has made Bundy’s first four starts of this season almost entirely unrecognizable. He’s thrown 28.2 innings and allowed just five runs on 15 hits, three walks, and two homers. He has struck out 35 hitters. Pick a pitching category right now, and Bundy, 27, is probably either leading it or trailing only a handful of guys.

Dylan Bundy Major-League Ranks, 2020
Metric Value MLB Rank
Innings 28.2 1st
K% 33.0% 7th
BB% 2.8% 6th
K-BB% 30.2% 4th
HR/9 0.63 17th
ERA 1.57 8th
FIP 2.16 6th
WAR 1.1 1st

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Freddy Galvis Is Trying Something Different

The process of coming up with article ideas often involves trying to find who’s the best at something in baseball right now. With clubs having played around 18 games at most, however, the tops of the leaderboards are still muddled with plenty of players who have gaudy (and most likely unsustainable) numbers. For example, seven technically qualified players currently have ISOs over .400. Seven also have an OBP of at least .440, while a whopping 21 pitchers have a FIP of 2.50 or below. There are potential stories to be written about all of those performances, but many of them run the risk of aging poorly with just one bad start or series.

But this article isn’t about someone who is running circles around the league right now. This article is about Freddy Galvis.

Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Galvis is having the kind of year you would probably expect him to have. He holds a .205/.314/.386 line through his first 51 plate appearances (all stats are through August 11), has hit a couple of homers, owns a 96 wRC+, and has been an above-average defender at shortstop. A below-average-but-not-terrible slash line, some pop, and a reliable glove? Yep, that’s Freddy Galvis alright. But that’s not the complete picture. The reason Galvis has been a consistently below-average hitter despite possessing a bit more power than many other shortstops is because his plate discipline numbers are typically very weak — his career walk rate is 5.5%, and his strikeout rate is 20.2%. With a BB/K ratio like that, a .260 average and 20 homers just aren’t enough to make you a league-average hitter.

Fortunately for Galvis, that ratio suddenly looks very different in 2020. Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland’s Pitching Staff Is Cruising

Sean Manaea began his start Wednesday night by allowing a home run on his first pitch of the game, and things only briefly got better. After Shin-Soo Choo’s lead-off blast, Manaea retired nine of the next 11 hitters he faced only to have trouble return again in the fourth. He gave up a single to Todd Frazier and a walk to Robinson Chirinos, followed by run-scoring hits from Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, before finally getting his first out of the inning in the form of a sacrifice fly by Rob Refsnyder. With four runs already in on six hits and a walk through 3.2 innings, Oakland manager Bob Melvin moved to his bullpen early, asking right-hander Burch Smith to get his team back on track.

“If you’re Burch Smith, you would love to be able to hand the ball off to somebody in the eighth inning,” A’s analyst Dallas Braden said on the broadcast as Smith tossed his warm-up pitches. In the moment, it sounded optimistic, maybe even a tad foolhardy. Saying something like that is a nice way to remind Oakland fans watching at home that a bad start does not mean hope is lost, and that their team is very much still in the game. But expecting any reliever to go get 11 outs when the starter could only achieve 10 is a pretty tough ask, especially when it’s a 30-year-old journeyman who owns a career ERA north of 6.00.

In reality, Braden almost got it exactly right. Smith pitched two outs into the seventh inning, retiring all 10 hitters he faced on just 33 pitches before Melvin replaced him with T.J. McFarland. McFarland gave up one hit and got two more outs, then Joakim Soria came into the game and retired the final five Rangers hitters of the night. In that time, the A’s hammered a total of four homers and came back to win the game, 6-4. The bullpen was asked to do the heavy lifting, and it did a near-perfect job at it.

That kind of performance has become the norm for the A’s over the first couple weeks of the 2020 season. Here are the most valuable ‘pens in baseball through Wednesday: Read the rest of this entry »

Braves’ Mike Soroka to Miss Rest of Season with Achilles Injury

An exciting pitching matchup on Monday between the defending National League Cy Young winner and the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up turned grim in the third inning when 23-year-old Braves right-hander Mike Soroka suffered what appeared to be a leg injury while coming off the mound on a groundball.

The injury was rather apparent in zoomed-in, slowed-down videos shared on Twitter shortly after — I won’t link them here, you can find them yourself if you really want to — and within hours, the Braves confirmed the worst. Soroka tore his achilles tendon, which will cause him to miss the rest of this season and, depending on his recovery, possibly the beginning of 2021 as well.

Losing Soroka, 23, to a serious injury like this is awful. He was second in NL Rookie of the Year voting a year ago after throwing 174.2 innings and posting a 2.68 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 4.0 WAR. That ERA was good for fourth among qualified starters, while his FIP was 14th. He didn’t get many strikeouts — he had the 14th-lowest K/9 rate in baseball last year — but instead pitched to contact, and was quite successful at it. He had the sixth-highest groundball rate among qualified starters, and according to Statcast, was in the 84th percentile in barrel rate allowed, the 65th percentile in exit velocity allowed, and the 60th percentile in expected slugging percentage. Underlying data didn’t necessarily believe he was the Cy Young contender his ERA portrayed him as, but he was still rated as a solidly above-average pitcher across the board — no small feat for someone who pitched most of the year at age 21 while attempting to buck some of the game’s most popular pitching trends.

This year, however, there was evidence he might be falling more in line with what modern pitching instructors are preaching. Soroka was a sinker baller last year, throwing the pitch 44.6% of the time, while his four-seam fastball rate was just 18.7%. In a small sample of starts this season, however, those two had converged. According to Statcast, in his first 13.2 innings, Soroka had thrown exactly 59 sinkers and 59 four-seamers. Read the rest of this entry »

Anyone Can Strike Out Nine Batters in a Row

Since he was drafted in the second round in 2015, Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander barely needs two hands to count the number of times he’s struck out nine batters in a game. There was the first time, on April 23, 2016, when he was in High-A. There were two other nine-strikeout performances in 2017, and two more in the minors in 2019, along with one occasion in the majors in just his third big league appearance. That’s six instances of at least nine strikeouts in 126 career appearances as a pro, each one coming in a game he started.

On Sunday, Alexander struck out nine batters in a row. Not over the course of six or seven innings — just one right after another. Entering as a reliever in the third inning of the first game of Detroit’s doubleheader against the Reds, Alexander set the record for consecutive strikeouts in a relief appearance, and tied the American League record for consecutive strikeouts by any pitcher. And a two-strike fastball that drilled Mike Moustakas on his left arm is all that stopped Alexander from tying Tom Seaver for MLB’s all-time record. Actually, because he struck out Eugenio Suárez immediately after plunking Moustakas, that stray heater is all that stopped Alexander from having the longest strikeout streak in baseball history.

By any definition, it will go down as one of the most dominant relief appearances of the season. Of the 55 pitches Alexander threw on Sunday, 16 were called strikes, while 22 induced swings. Of those 22 swings, 11 were whiffs, and none resulted in a ball put in play. For 3.2 innings, Alexander was untouchable. That’s unquestionably a great day for him, and to a lesser extent, it’s also a good day for every other pitcher in baseball, because Alexander’s performance shows this is probably something any pitcher in baseball could achieve.

This isn’t to take anything away from Alexander. Every pitcher on earth would love to simply strike out every hitter he faces without ever allowing the ball to be put in play — that doesn’t mean anyone ever actually accomplishes it. It’s one thing to try to strike out nine guys in a row, and another to actually do it. In order to close that gap, one would think a pitcher would need to be working with some truly elite, lights-out stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Nate Pearson Didn’t Need His Full Arsenal to Silence the Defending Champs

The nerves were easy to see in the eyes of Nate Pearson during the third batter of Wednesday’s game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. It was the 23-year-old right-hander’s major league debut, and he had just allowed the first baserunner of his career on a four-pitch walk to Adam Eaton. With the camera aimed at first base, viewers saw Eaton get a big lead, then take another step, then another. Pearson never looked his way. His eyes were straight ahead, beads of sweat already forming under his cap, as he concentrated like the only thing he could think about was making sure his next offering was a strike. It didn’t work. He bounced a slider in the dirt, then turned to see Eaton standing on second base without a throw.

By the time he finished his first career outing, those nerves appeared to be gone. Pearson showed there was no need for nervousness. He ended up throwing five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out five. The Nationals ultimately won the game anyway, 4-0, thanks to stellar pitching by their own starter — some guy named Max Scherzer — but even in a shortened season in which every game is crucial to a Toronto team on the fringes of a playoff hunt, it’s difficult to think of a reason for a Blue Jays fan to feel anything other than pure excitement over Wednesday’s game.

Pearson’s journey to a big-league mound was a bumpy one. He had a screw put in his throwing elbow in high school, and he was used mainly as a reliever at Central Florida Junior College, albeit an extremely good one. Toronto drafted him 28th overall in 2017 with the intention of stretching him out to be a starter, and he started at Advanced-A in 2018. A couple of injuries, however — an intercostal strain and a fractured arm caused by a line drive back to the mound — limited him to just 1.2 innings for the whole season.

When he finally returned in 2019, the Blue Jays challenged him, asking him to pitch across three levels of the minors. And despite only throwing 21.2 pro innings in the 22 months since he’d been drafted, he responded well, totaling 101.2 frames and allowing just 26 runs on 63 hits with 27 walks and 109 strikeouts. As he began throwing in Blue Jays camp this spring, it was obvious he had the stuff to make the Opening Day rotation, but there were quickly rumblings of the team keeping him in the minors to start the season for just long enough to delay his free agency by a year. Wednesday, as it happens, was the first day the Blue Jays could add Pearson to the roster without him getting a full year of service time in 2020. Read the rest of this entry »

Rangers Could Miss Corey Kluber For the Rest of the Season

Corey Kluber’s debut with Texas lasted just one inning. A strikeout, walk, caught stealing, and popup made for a snappy opening frame against Colorado on Sunday, and after 18 pitches, the 34-year-old right-hander’s velocity was right where it has been for years. It seemed like the start of a solid return to the mound for Kluber and an exciting first glimpse for Rangers fans at the team’s biggest offseason addition, but the good vibes faded quickly. Kluber never took the mound for the second inning, with the team quickly citing “tightness in his right shoulder” and saying there would be an update Monday.

The update came, and it wasn’t reassuring — Kluber has a Grade 2 tear of his teres major muscle, an injury that will require him to be shut down for at least four weeks. There is a chance he could miss the entire season, and if he does return at some point, he will need to pitch out of the bullpen, as there won’t be enough time to stretch him back out to handle a starter’s workload.

This is the second consecutive season the two-time Cy Young winner has missed substantial time following several years of him being one of the most durable starters in the game. Kluber threw at least 200 innings every year from 2014-18, racking up the second-highest innings total over that five-year span. That run got busted on a fluke play last spring when Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson hit a line drive that got Kluber in his right arm, causing a non-displaced fracture that ended his season after just seven starts. Read the rest of this entry »

Giancarlo Stanton Probably Already Has the Hardest Hit of the Year… Again

Once Major League Baseball made the necessary decision to dramatically shorten its 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the chances that there would be a few more statistical oddities than usual significantly increased. The potential exists for the numbers themselves to be goofy, like a player hitting .400, but the players who top leaderboards this season might also surprise. For a 60-game stretch in 2018, the batting title belonged to Scooter Gennett; for another, the home run leader was Matt Carpenter. And with this morning’s disturbing news of an outbreak in the Marlins’ clubhouse, this season could wind up being even shorter than we believed just a few days ago, cut off at a point so early that its statistics would be rendered utterly meaningless. But even if we don’t end up 60 games worth of baseball, one data point will likely hold up to historical scrutiny: Giancarlo Stanton had the hardest hit ball of 2020.

You don’t need to know any of the numbers to appreciate that home run. It’s a cool home run. It has all the aesthetics of a good Stanton dinger — a mistake pitch up in the zone, a direct, powerful swing from a truly massive human being, and then that same human being slowly strutting up the first base line while he watches an obviously crushed ball land in a place most guys can’t reach in batting practice. It’s hard to improve upon that experience, but the numbers actually do add something here. The distance of the homer was 483 feet, and the exit velocity was 121.3 mph. In 2019, just seven home runs surpassed that distance, and no batted balls of any kind matched that exit velocity. If I had to guess, none will in 2020, either.

Read the rest of this entry »

I Really Hope This All Works

After everything that led to the start of its truncated 60-game season, Major League Baseball tried its hardest to fill Opening Day with all the excitement it could. The defending World Series champion Nationals faced this offseason’s most sought-after free agent pitcher, making his debut for the league’s most storied franchise. After that, the Dodgers took the field, joined for the first time by the newest face of their franchise, to host their longtime rivals. Leading immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci — the face of the United States’ fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the suspension of sports seasons all over the world — threw out the first pitch of the season, a not-so-subtle signal to the American public that things are fine, or fine enough.

But the moment had already been soured. Hours before the first game of their season, Nationals wunderkind Juan Soto was announced to have tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing him to miss the season-opener and enter self-isolation. In addition to being scary news for Soto — who is asymptomatic — it also served as one more reminder of the dangers MLB faces as it attempts to play a season in the middle of a pandemic, and the complicated moral quandaries fans of the sport will struggle with as long as that season goes on.

Not that we needed the reminder in the first place. For four months, we’ve been absorbing as much information as possible about the virus, its potentially deadly effects, and its insidious spread through asymptomatic carriers; about the difficult ethical debates it created; about the lost jobs and the likely permanent damage dealt to already vulnerable industries and communities; about the potentially devastating hurdles and pitfalls that lurk within the return plans of various leagues; and, of course, since this is pro sports, about whether all of this might be rendered moot by the greed of ownership. After all of that, there was hope MLB’s return would be the escape we’ve all anxiously waited for. Instead, it has become its own source of anxiety — a profoundly risky gamble with thousands of lives in the balance, in which we root less for teams and players and more for the simple wish that nothing terrible happens. Read the rest of this entry »

Was Gio González Falling Behind on Purpose?

When you’re watching a baseball game, there are few things as nerve-wracking as seeing your favorite team’s pitcher consistently fall behind hitters. You know intuitively that the better the count is for the hitter, the better chance there is he’ll see a pitch he can slug. Broadcasters often love to talk about first-pitch strikes and their importance in both “setting the tone” of an at-bat and keeping pitch counts low. These are all valid notions — in 2019, the league-wide wOBA when the pitcher was behind in the count was .432. When the pitcher was ahead or the count was even, that mark was .269. That’s about the same difference as there was between Mike Trout and Orlando Arcia, the worst qualified hitter of last season.

Nearly everyone who threw at least 1,500 pitches in 2019 performed worse when behind in the count, with the exception of Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann, who was just bad regardless of the situation. But just because someone falls behind in the count doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. Even when at a disadvantage, some pitchers hold their own just fine. Here were the 10 best pitchers when throwing from behind last season.

Best Performers When Behind In Count
Name wOBA When Behind wOBA Ahead or Even Difference
Shane Bieber .331 .265 .066
Gio González .334 .285 .049
Mike Foltynewicz .337 .316 .021
Jacob deGrom .350 .212 .138
Yonny Chirinos .351 .259 .092
John Means .358 .263 .095
David Price .359 .306 .053
Zach Eflin .359 .315 .044
Mike Clevinger .361 .215 .146
Walker Buehler .361 .244 .117
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

By and large, that’s a list of good pitchers. However, there is an outlier here in Gio González. Not because he isn’t a good pitcher, mind you. The veteran lefty, who signed with the White Sox over the winter, held a 3.50 ERA (79 ERA-) and 4.04 FIP (90 FIP-) over 87.1 innings with Milwaukee last season. He doesn’t stand out because of a lack of skill level. He stands out because of how often he’s behind compared to the other pitchers on this list. Read the rest of this entry »