Sunday Notes: Myles Straw Got Hit By a Pitch This Week by David Laurila May 2, 2021 Myles Straw grew up a big Tampa Bay Rays fan and has been to hundreds of games at Tropicana Field. Much for that reason, he’s more than a little familiar with Brandon Guyer. Which isn’t to say that Straw emulates the recently-retired outfielder. Guyer reached base via HBP a bruise-worthy 85 times from 2014-2018, and he did so despite never getting as many as 400 plate appearances in a single season. The bulk of his plunkings came in a Rays uniform. When I talked to Straw this past Wednesday, he had played in 120 big-league games, all with the Houston Astros. He had never been hit by a pitch. “I didn’t know that,” Straw claimed when I brought up the subject. “I mean, I don’t really jump out of the way of pitches. I’ll turn, because I don’t want to get hit in the ribs. If it hits me in the back, it hits me in the back, and that’s OK; I’m willing to take my base. But I’m not going to go up there and try to get hit. You always have a chance to get hurt with how hard guys are throwing these days.” That same night, Straw was 2 for 2 with a pair of singles — one of the RBI variety — when he stepped into the box against Seattle Mariners right-hander Keynan Middleton. The second pitch he saw was a heater, well inside. Straw turned, and… you can probably guess the rest. The pitch hit him square in the back. With the caveat that he probably doesn’t want to start Conforto-ing pitches on the corner, Straw could stand to add another on-base skill to his offensive arsenal. Walks aren’t going to be easy to come by. As he’s largely bereft of power, pitchers have been — and will almost certainly continue to — challenge him with impunity. To counteract that, Straw is becoming more aggressive at the dish. “That’s something we’ve talked about,” said Straw, who has one career home run. “We had a goals meeting at the beginning of the year, and they told me they want me swinging earlier in the count. Teams are going to try to steal strikes, and because they don’t see me as a threat they’re going to pitch to me. I’m not a person they want to walk, and if I’m not walking, I’ve got to hit.” Straw hasn’t done much of that this season, although his .213 batting average and .454 OPS are somewhat misleading. Despite sporting the lowest soft-contact rate on the club, his BABIP is a hum-drum .265. That’s not to suggest he’s been hitting rockets — he hasn’t — but at the same time, balls haven’t exactly been falling for the 26-year-old Astros outfielder. Falling is a relative term. Straw also has the lowest fly-ball rate on Dusty Baker’s team. That’s actually by design. Each time the speed-burner hits a line drive in batting practice, one of his coaches will tell him, “No higher than that.” In a game where launch angle is all the rage, Straw qualifies as somewhat of a square peg in a round hole. I asked him about that. “I know the game is heading — I mean, it’s already headed — in the home runs-and-power direction,” Straw told me. “But speed still brings value to the game. It does for defense, and it’s gotten me a few hits. I’m also going to steal bases (Straw is 5 for 6 on the year, and 27 for 33 in his career) whether our team slugs a lot, or not. Plus, it’s cool to be on base and have pitchers worried about me, and see them make a mistake-pitch and give up a double or a homer. That’s something I’ve witnessed this season.” Four days ago, Astros fans witnessed something they’d never seen before. Almost as though it was scripted, Myles Straw reached base on a HBP. Somewhere, Brandon Guyer was smiling. ——— RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS Pinky May went 14 for 29 against Mace Brown. Dave May went 13 for 30 against Gaylord Perry. Carlos May went 12 for 34 against Sonny Siebert. Milt May went 11 for 28 against John Montefusco Lee May went 10 for 18 against Dick Tidrow. ——— Charlie Blackmon has faced a lot of nasty pitchers over the years. Who has he faced this season that had him walking back to the dugout thinking, ‘Man, this guy has good stuff”? I asked that question to the Colorado Rockies outfielder on Friday. “[Jacob] deGrom’s pretty good,” responded Blackmon, who then paused for a few seconds before continuing. “I don’t really like to give anybody a ton of credit, but [Anthony] DeSclafani’s ball moves more than you might think. San Francisco obviously helps, pitching there. Outside of that, everybody’s got good stuff now. You can’t pitch in the big leagues anymore unless you have good stuff. Like, how many guys are out there with finesse? You don’t see it anymore. It’s not around.” Something Blackmon said particularly piqued my interest. What did he mean by “San Francisco obviously helps”? “It’s the best pitcher’s park in baseball, in my opinion,” Blackmon replied. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the constantly moving air, or the fact that it’s right there at sea level. There’s just so much air resistance to make the ball move, compared to San Diego or L.A. It seems like balls move more there than they do anywhere else in the country. You see the same pitcher in Denver and it’s a night-and-day difference, For that reason, it’s hard to hit there [and] easier to pitch there.” ——— I asked 25-year-old Tampa Bay Rays catcher Francisco Mejía the same question I’d posed to Blackmon. “I wouldn’t say there’s one specific guy,” Mejía replied through translator Manny Navarro. “I really haven’t faced any of the so-called superstars yet. Not up until this point.” Tampa Bay Times scribe Marc Topkin proceeded to flip my question and ask Mejía which Rays pitcher is hard to catch because his stuff is so nasty. The backstop name-checked Tyler Glasnow. Acquired from the Padres as part of the Blake Snell deal, Mejia is slashing .306/.327/.490 with six doubles and a home run in 53 plate appearances. He’s gone down by way of the K seven times. ——— A quiz: Carlos Delgado is the Toronto Blue Jays franchise leader in doubles, total bases, and RBIs. Which former Blue Jays is second in all three categories? The answer can be found below. ——— NEWS NOTES Logan Morrison has signed with the Atlantic League’s High Point Rockers. Four seasons removed from a 38-home-run season with the Tampa Bay Rays, the 33-year-old “LoMo” played in nine games for the Milwaukee Brewers last year. The Society for American Baseball Research’s Philadelphia chapter, previously named for Connie Mack, will now be known as the Connie Mack-Dick Allen chapter. SABR’s Board of Directors approved the name change this week. Nicholas Badders has been named the new play-by-play voice of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. A graduate of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication., Badders has called games for the Elizabethton Twins, Sonoma Stompers, and the Australian Baseball League’s Melbourne Aces. ——— The answer to the quiz is Vernon Wells. The erstwhile Blue Jays outfielder also ranks second in franchise history in hits and singles, trailing Tony Fernandez in both categories. ——— The Pittsburgh Pirates held their proverbial heads above water in April, finishing the month with a record of 12-13. A few days earlier, with his team a game above .500, I asked manager Derek Shelton how satisfied he was with his rebuilding ball club’s performance thus far this season. “Very satisfied,” responded Shelton, whose team is projected to finish 69-93. “Obviously we got off to the 1-6 start. We didn’t do some things well fundamentally; we didn’t catch the ball as well as we could have, and should have, and we didn’t run the bases well. I’m really proud of the group. We’ve addressed some things. Obviously, we’re still going to make some mistakes, but I think one of the main components to why we’re playing better is the fact that we’re playing better fundamental baseball… As long as we continue to play good baseball, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.” ——— FIRST-MONTH NOTABLES The San Francisco Giants had the best home record in April, going 10-3 at Oracle Park. The Boston Red Sox had the best road record, going 9-2 in games played in venues other than Fenway Park. The Miami Marlins finished the month in last place in the NL East with a record of 11-14. They had a plus-11 run differential, while all four teams ahead of them in the standings had a negative run differential. The San Diego Padres led all teams with 33 stolen bases. The New York Mets had three stolen bases, the fewest of any team. The Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds both hit 38 home runs, the most of any team. The New York Mets hit 15 home runs, the fewest of any team. Ronald Acuña Jr. led all players with 25 runs scored. J.D. Martinez led all players with 25 RBIs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reached base 50 times, the most of any player. Vladdy Jr. had 28 hits, drew 20 walks, and was hit by a pitch twice. Nick Solak reached base via HBP seven times, the most of any player. Six teams had fewer than seven batters reach via HPB; the Colorado Rockies had the fewest, with three. Nick Madrigal had 84 plate appearances and struck out three times. Javier Báez had 92 plate appearances and struck out 36 times. Mike Trout had a .425 batting average and a .568 BABIP. Byron Buxton had a .426 batting average and a .467 BABIP. Matt Carpenter had a .116 batting average and a 087 BABIP. Joey Votto hit his 300th career home run on Friday. Hall of Famer Chuck Klein is the only player in history to finish his career with exactly that number. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit his 100th career home run on Friday. Nine players have finished with that number, most notably John Kruk. Kyle Gibson allowed five earned runs in one-third of an inning in his first start of the season. Since that time he’s made five starts and allowed three earned runs in 33 innings. J.P. Feyereisen pitched the most innings, 14, without being charged with an earned run. Garrett Whitlock had 13-and-a-third scoreless innings. ——— Was umpire Marty Foster’s obstruction call in Wednesday’s Brewers-Marlins game the correct call? I asked that question in a Twitter poll, and the consensus was clear. A resounding 94.7% of voters felt that it wasn’t, while only 5.3% were of the opinion that it was. Foster went on to tell a pool reporter that he stands by the call, and going strictly by the letter of the law, it might have been the proper ruling. Regardless, the call was absurd. Foster was reaching into a bag of technicalities, and the supposed obstruction had zero impact on whether the runner would have been safe or out. That’s what the first-base umpire is there for, to rule safe or out. Fortunately, Foster’s call had relatively little impact on the game itself. More than anything, it shone a spotlight on the men in blue, and that’s rarely a good thing. As for Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell’s having seen red after the ruling was made, can you blame him? Based on the poll results, he wasn’t the only one left at a loss by what had transpired. For all intents and purposes, Foster bollixed the call. ——— FOREIGN AFFAIRS The upcoming three-game series between NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines and Nippon-Ham Fighters has been postponed after a total of 10 players and staff members tested positive for Covid-19. Chiba Lotte outfielder Leonys Martín leads NPB Pacific League hitters with 10 home runs. The 33-year-old former big-leaguer is slashing .270/.364/.574 in 140 plate appearances. Rakuten Golden Eagles left-hander Yuki Matsui has seven saves and has yet to allow a run in 14 outings covering the same number of innings. Matsui has allowed four hits and fanned 20 batters. Shin-Soo Choo 추신수 is slashing .237/.379/.434 in 95 plate appearances with the KBO’s SSG Landers. The erstwhile Texas Ranger has left the yard five times. NCO Dinos outfielder Aaron Altherr 알테어 and Samsung Lions infielder/outfielder José Pirela lead the KBO in home runs, with nine apiece. The former big-leaguers also rank one-two in OPS. Daniel Mengden has appeared in five games for the KBO’s Kia Tigers and is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 28-and-two-thirds innings. Dan Straily has appeared in five games for the Lotte Marines and is 2-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 26-and-a-third innings. ——— Mark Fidrych captivated the baseball world in his 1976 rookie season. Every bit as entertaining as he was effective, “The Bird” went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games, manicuring the mound and talking to the baseball along the way. The Tigers weren’t good that year — they finished below .500 — but thanks to the eccentric right-hander it was a memorable, and in many ways magical, summer in Motown. Eight years later, Detroit started the season 35-5 and went on to celebrate a World Series championship. Fidrych — his playing days already over due to a bum shoulder — turned 30 years old that August. Had he remained healthy, he could very well have been a part of that team. It’s fun to imagine, and at the same time sad to look back at just how ephemeral his career ended up being. ——— As of Friday, nine MLB teams had reached the 85% vaccination threshold, allowing each of those clubs to ease health and safety protocols. That makes 21 to go, leaving open the possibility that some may not meet the standards set forth by the league office. Of course, one would hope that every team has enough players who will put the best interests of the game and their teammates ahead of any individual beliefs they might have. Barring the rare medical condition that might make it risky, refusing to get vaccinated is antithetical to being a team player. ——— LINKS YOU’LL LIKE Baseball-Reference has begun listing a subset of players by their given first names rather than by their nicknames; an example is the change from Chief Bender to Charles Bender. Sean Forman explained why here. The Negro Leagues had a number of talented two-way players.Anthony Castrovince told us about some them at MLB.com. Shannon Drayer broke down the Mariners’ first month of the season at ESPN Seattle. At The Los Angeles Times, Nathan Fenno took us inside the search for answers about Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ overdose death. At GV Wire, David Taub wrote about how Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Jill Gearin is bringing her voice to the subject of surviving sexual assault. The Minor League Baseball seasons starts on Tuesday, and it will do so with a number of new ballparks and team names. Benjamin Hill filled us in on the particulars at MiLB.com. ——— RANDOM FACTS AND STATS Jacob deGrom has four career starts in which his team lost 1-0. Walter Johnson had 24 career starts in which his team lost 1-0. David Justice had 305 home runs, 1,017 RBIs, a .380 wOBA, and a 130 wRC+ Tim Salmon had 299 home runs, 1,016 RBIs, a .383 wOBA, and a 130 wRC+. San Francisco Giants reliever Greg Minton went 270-and-a-third innings, from September 6, 1978 to May 2, 1982, without allowing a home run. Minton pitched in 178 games over that stretch. The Philadelphia Phillies had a worse record than the New York Yankees in every season from 1918 to 1964. (Per stat nerd Aidan Jackson-Evans.) On May 2, 1917, Chicago Cubs southpaw Hippo Vaughn and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Fred Toney took no-hitters into the 10th inning before the former surrendered a pair of singles — the second of them to legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe — and the game’s lone run. Toney then set down the Cubs one-two-three in the bottom half to notch the no-no. John Valentin and Mo Vaughn hit grand slams in back-to-back innings on today’s date in 1995, lifting the Boston Red Sox to an 8-0 win over the New York Yankees. Left-hander Vaughn Eshelman was credited with the win in his big-league debut. Players born on today’s date include Gale Staley, whose big-league career consisted of seven games with the Chicago Cubs in 1925. A second baseman, Staley went 11 for 26 (.423) with two doubles, a pair of walks, and one strikeout. Also born on today’s date was Jim Walewander, who attained cult status while playing for the Detroit Tigers in 1987 and 1988. A utility infielder who hit one career home run, Walewander was best known for a being an avid fan of the punk band The Dead Milkmen. One more, because today is a good born-on-today’s-date name day. Brick Smith played for the Seattle Mariners in 1987 and 1988, each year coming to plate 10 times, hitting one single, and scoring one run. A first baseman by trade, his given name was Brick Dudley Smith. Cuckoo Christensen came to the plate 385 times and slashed .350/.426/.438 for the Cincinnati Reds in his 1926 rookie season. Cuckoo’s OPS plummeted to .617 the following year, effectively ending his big-league career. Christened Walter Neils Christensen in 1899, the San Francisco-born outfielder had a second nickname: Seacap.