SoSH Weekly Baseball Notebook: September 23, 2016

While impact rookies, lackadaisical runners, and farm animals on the loose require their own articles, lots of things happen in baseball every week. SoSH Baseball typically doles out expert analyses, but we also try to cover the joy of baseball – the rules, the terms, the strange, the historic, and the just plain weird. Dave McCullough has no GMs on speed dial or anonymous quotes, but he does have a love for the old-timey baseball notes column.

From One Extreme To Another

After leading the National League all season, the Chicago Cubs are now setting up their postseason pitching rotation. Meanwhile, their fellow co-habitants of the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, are still trying to avoid finishing with the worst record in the division – and the senior circuit. The Reds can take solace in knowing they will not finish with the worst record in Major League Baseball – even an epic losing streak at this point wouldn’t let them catch the Minnesota Twins.

These two NL Central clubs have achieved their positions in the standings, in part, through the quality – or lack thereof – of their pitching staffs. The Cubs have posted a team ERA of 3.09 thus far on the season, while the Reds have struggled to a 14th of 15 teams performance, with a 4.93. Like their record, the Reds would need a titanically bad final few appearances to overtake the “leader” Arizona, who’ve puked up a 5.19 mark thus far.

It would be neat and tidy if the Cubs and Reds were truly the yin-and-yang of great-and-awful pitching statistics, but things rarely work out that quaintly. However, the two teams relative success can be seen through the number of categories in which the Cubs lead and the Reds… bleed? Yeah, let’s go with bleed instead of suck. It sounds more lyrical.

Anyway, the Cubs pitching strength can be seen through various measures – OPS against, runs allowed, batting average against – and fewest balks. Chicago is on pace to yield zero – that’s 0 – balks this season. A team committing zero balks in a season is not terribly unique – the 2015 Baltimore Orioles did it. But while the achievement is a bit of esoteric trivia that belies the quality of the Cubs pitching staff, it is nonetheless a fascinating lens through which to view the northsiders dominance of the mound this season. Not only are they the best by many different measures, they’ve also managed to (possibly) master a fundamental technique over the course of a full season.

Meanwhile, as reported here several times in previous months, the Reds have also managed to set a (dubious) mark that will go down in the annals of baseball history. Last week, they set the record for most home runs allowed by a bullpen, and this week they set the mark for most round trippers coughed up by a team – 244 (and counting).  The aforementioned atrocious Twins are in a distant second, having given up 33 fewer taters. In the process, the Reds managed to excise the execrable 2003 Detroit Tigers from the record book. No worries, Tigers fans – that ‘03 team will live in infamy for other reasons, but the 2016 Cincinnati Reds earned their way to the top of the pig pile fair and square – they have been terrible all season, and they’ve given up gopher balls to the opposition like it was their job. Many of the players responsible for this “record” will earn an end-of-season bonus – and they’ll probably be back in AAA or off to the independent leagues to collect.

Fire Up The Carousel

While the focus of the baseball world will soon turn to the playoffs and its month-long celebration of the best the game has to offer, most teams will be packing up and heading home when the final game of the regular season comes to a halt. With the close of the season comes an end to many managers’ big league dreams. Firing season has not yet begun, but – like Winter – it is coming. More than a few skippers will find themselves out of a job in the first week of October. And more than a few coaches will find themselves jockeying for position – and interviews  – to become the next man up.

One of the hottest names on the market figures to be Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. The 51-year old acquitted himself quite well last season while Boston’s embattled skipper John Farrell took leave for health reasons. With the Red Sox headed for a division crown and a playoff berth, Farrell’s job seems safe, despite an impatient fan base that has tired of his laid-back style and curious bullpen management techniques.

That said, Lovullo signed an extension in Boston last winter that put him squarely in line to succeed Farrell, had the incumbent stumbled this season or seen a relapse of his health problems. However, neither came to pass and Lovullo is unlikely to remain in the second-seat another season – not when he will certainly be sought after for many soon-to-be-open jobs.

Another highly-regarded bench coach of a playoff team – Davey Martinez of the Chicago Cubs – figures to draw heavy interest from clubs looking to fill a vacancy. Martinez has been Joe Maddon’s right-hand-man since the duo were in Tampa, but it may be time for Martinez to cash-in on his burgeoning reputation as an in-game strategist and a deft clubhouse presence, especially with younger players. While Martinez has turned down opportunities in the past, if he (and the Cubs) reach the top of the mountain this fall and win a World Series, Martinez figures to be the most lusted-after name on the market.

Finally, former San Diego Padres skipper – and highly regarded pitching coach / guru – Bud Black will likely be in the mix for many managerial openings. Black rose to prominence as a renowned pitching expert with the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants before his eight-plus seasons in charge of the Padres. While his career W-L record leaves much to be desired, any competent baseball executive will recognize that Black is not solely responsible for the Padres’ lack of success. His background as a former MLB pitcher and pitching coach makes him a very attractive target for a club that has, or will be, developing young pitching prospects at or near the big league level.

This Week In Tweeting

Speaking of San Diego, they figure to be among the clubs jumping aboard the carousel – both for a manager and for a new general manager. However, they do have one building block with which to rely upon next season, as Wil Myers has finally broken out and is seemingly on track to reach his potential as one of the best hitters in baseball:

Another young player who has broken through into the “best players in baseball” conversation is Boston’s precocious right fielder, Markus Mookie Betts, who has racked up some very impressive statistics this season as part of his MVP candidacy:

No situation presents more opportunity to a batter than a bases-loaded at-bat. And no players have capitalized in such situations better than these guys:

No pitcher has helped his own cause more this year than the St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright, who has done something not seen very often in the DH era:

Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw is back from the disabled list and, thankfully, back to his dominant self. Here is one illustration of just how great he is:

Baseball’s all-time leader boards are always a fun topic, especially when they change. Albert Pujols figures to do quite a bit of rearranging the order of legends in the next few seasons:

The 2016 Philadelphia Phillies have had a forgettable season but they have managed to make their mark in the team record book:

The Toronto Blue Jays are fighting for a Wild Card berth, but by one peculiar measure, they’ve already had a season for the ages:

Finally, all baseball fans will soon mourn the end of Vin Scully’s incomparable career. There are precious few chances remaining to hear him call a game:

The GIFs and Videos Of The Week

This week, we have a tie for nastiest pitch of the week. Up first, is this absolutely filthy curveball from Cory Rasmus, which makes Troy Tulowitzki weak in the knees – twice:

Meanwhile, this slider from Chris Sale starts on the outside edge, finishes on the inside edge, and in between, cut the plate in two:

The defensive play of the week is also a tie this week. Dansby Swanson’s dive is too good to ignore:

And this astounding reaction from the Texas Rangers’ Nick Martinez is as good as it gets – as evidenced by the reactions of the Angels manager Mike Scoscia and Rangers teammate Adrian Beltre:

no words.. Just brutal…. 

Speaking of our favorite player, Beltre makes his weekly appearance in this section after doubling – and then sacking the shortstop:

However, Beltre’s aggressiveness does not win the baserunning feat of the week. That honor goes to the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis, who apparently could have been an award-winning ballet dancer if this baseball thing hadn’t worked out for him:

Without the minor leagues, and with slim pickings from foreign leagues this week, the weirdest play of the week was a tough find. However, Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners tripling off the knee of the second baseman qualifies:

Finally, the joy of baseball is so rarely encapsulated in one short clip. However, this week saw a (soon-to-be-retiring) 40-year-old man running around and flapping his arms like a little leaguer as David Ortiz reacted to Hanley Ramirez’s walk-off blast versus the New York Yankees:

Big Papi celebrates Hanley’s Walk Off Homer!

News, Notes, and Nuggets of Information

  • Every week, SoSH Baseball publishes a review of the best baseball writing on the web. We try to keep it diverse and not to favor the best site for thoughtful baseball writing, Fangraphs.com, over others but it is hard to avoid. This week, Corinne Landrey, had a look at the the Golden Age For Shortstops currently sweeping MLB. It is a great time to be a baseball fan – and it’s always a good time to check out Fangraphs. Once you’ve read everything here, of course. 🙂
  • One of the reasons the Cleveland Indians are going to the postseason is their remarkable consistency. While a strong offense, competitive pitching staff, and a fundamentally sound defensive team deserves the lion’s share of credit, manager Terry Francona has also played a major role. The Tribe have avoided a losing streak of more than four games all season – an accomplishment in a long season that is filled with hot and cold streaks that even the best teams cannot avoid.
  • The MVP races are coming to a close and the debate is raging – especially in the American League. The question of whether Mike Trout can be the most valuable player on a losing team is a fascinating discussion for a certain type of baseball “nerd.” I’ve already weighed in on this, opining that Trout is unquestionably the best player in the AL regardless of what his teammates have done. Unlike last season, where the stats were close, Trout owns a significant edge in all the relevant categories and the difference between him and the next-best player by most measures is a massive gulf. Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and Mookie Betts have all had outstanding seasons – but so have their teammates. Trout has carried the awful Angels further than any one player could have – and isn’t that the definition of “valuable”?
  • Great players sometimes have terrible seasons buried in the midst of an otherwise Hall of Fame-worthy career. David Ortiz’s 2009 may well be the best example of this phenomenon, as the man Boston calls Big Papi suffered through a year in which he posted career worst marks in almost every relevant statistical category. In 2016, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is making a run at Big Papi’s lowlight. The Pirates’ centerfielder has suffered in the field as well as at the plate, but the numbers really tell the story. He is on track to record his fewest hits since his rookie season, has already set a career-high in strikeouts, and the worst batting-average and on-base percentage of his career. After four consecutive seasons with MVP votes, no one will be considering McCutchen this season.
  • On September 16, 1960 Braves southpaw Warren Spahn twirls a no-hitter at the age of 39. On September 18, 1996, Roger Clemens records his final victory in a Boston Red Sox uniform while striking out 20 Detroit Tigers. On September 19, 1931 Lefty Grove wins his 30th game of the season – en route to 31 victories – a mark tied by Denny McClain in 1968 but not approached before or since. On September 20, 1907, Nick Maddox becomes the 2nd rookie to throw a no-hitter. On the same day, Ol’ Pete “Grover Cleveland” Alexander records his 300th major league victory. On September 21, 1934, Paul “Daffy” Dean hurls a no-hitter in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader, causing his older brother – and Game 1 starter Dizzy Dean to quip – “Had I known he was gonna throw one, I’d thrown one, too.” On the same date in 1970, Vida Blue becomes the 11th rookie to toss a no-no. Dean was the 5th. On September 22, 1911 Cy Young recorded his 511th (and final) major league victory. On the same date in 1977, Bert Blyleven of the Twins tosses a no-hitter against the Angels.

Follow us on Twitter @SoSHBaseball.

LEAVE A REPLY