OK, so before I get into some baseball talk, I did want to say that something exciting is happening here: We are closing in on 25,000 subscribers. I think we’re going to hit the big number by the end of the week.
That’s mind-blowing stuff for me. As many of you know, I started JoeBlogs about 18 months ago in the hope that I could connect directly with you as readers*, and you have made it work beyond my expectations. Thank you, all.
*While still being able to afford to put two daughters through college.
In related news, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to preview this baseball season. Last year, you might remember, I did an epic, many, many thousand-word Pozeroski Baseball Preview. I’m thinking now I’m going to try something different, but no less ambitious. I’m calling it April Madness. What I’m going to do is choose a different game every day in April (maybe I get weekends off?) and write about it. This way, we will get to all 30 teams, we’ll get to talk about all the fun players, we’ll go on any number of ridiculous sidetracks, we’ll probably end up falling into a few rabbit holes. It will be fun … for you, I hope.
I’d love for you to come along for the ride. And so, here’s what I’m doing — in honor of 25,000 subscribers, if you buy an annual subscription to JoeBlogs by Opening Day, you will be automatically entered into a drawing … and 25 winners will get a fun little WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL preview package, which I think will be quite a lot of fun. The package will include a special Zoom with me and, I hope, a special guest star.
You can also enter the drawing by buying a gift subscription or donating a subscription. Here are all those buttons. Thanks again for your support, and let’s go talk some baseball!
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt quite as connected to a player as I felt to Canadian pitcher Mitch Bratt on Monday. Mitch has an interesting story. He grew up in Newmarket, Canada — basically 30-some miles North of Toronto — but baseball was his thing, not hockey, and he was so eager to play professionally that he moved to Statesboro, Ga., to be part of the Georgia Premier Academy, which best I can tell is a bit like the sort of baseball academies they have the Dominican Republic.
Anyway, it worked. He gained some velocity on his fastball, he was drafted by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, and last year in the Carolina League — at age 18 — he struck out 99 in 80 innings and gave up just four home runs. He’s 19 now, he looks 12, and Canada decided to start him on Monday night against the U.S. in a pivotal World Baseball Classic game.
This was the lineup he faced;
Mookie Betts, rf
Mike Trout, dh
Paul Goldschmidt, 1b
Nolan Arenado, 3b
Kyle Tucker, lf
Tim Anderson, 2b
J.T. Realmuto, c
Trea Turner, ss
Cedric Mullins, cf
No, I’ve never quite connected to a player like I did to Bratt — I mean, he had NO chance. None. It didn’t help that the U.S. was coming off a crushing loss to Mexico. It didn’t help that a loss here might have ended the U.S. hopes of even getting out of the first round. But I don’t know that any of those exterior things mattered. Bratt is a young kid who has never pitched above Class A ball, going up against an All-Star lineup with nine of the best hitters on planet earth.
He had no chance.
And so, yeah, I suffered with Mitch Bratt. Maybe you did, too. His first pitch to Mookie Betts was a foot outside. Mookie drilled his next pitch to rightfield for a single.
He then threw four balls to Mike Trout, none of them close. He threw five balls to Paul Goldschmidt, only one of them close enough for the home plate umpire to give him a mercy strike. The bases were loaded, and Nolan Arenado was up next, and you know exactly what the kid was thinking, right? Gotta throw a strike. Gotta throw a strike. Get ahead of Arenado. Throw a strike.
Arenado drilled said strike down the leftfield line for a two-run double.
It didn’t get much better from there, though he did get one out — a 98.3-mph exit velocity line drive from Kyle Tucker that stayed up in the air long enough to be caught by the leftfielder. But then he walked Tim Anderson, which is a very difficult thing to do*, and gave up a single to Realmuto, and that was the end of that.
*Tim Anderson has walked 117 times in more than 3,000 plate appearances. That’s historic stuff. Only nine players since the end of World War II have walked less than once per every 28 plate appearances. They are:
Jesús Alou, 1 every 33.2 PAs
Deivi Cruz, 1 every 33.1 PAs
Dámaso Garcia, 1 every 31.7 PAs
Shawon Dunston, 1 every 30.9 PAs
Yuniesky Betancourt, 1 every 29.9 PAs
Ozzie Guillén, 1 every 29.8 PAs
Hal Lanier, 1 every 29 PAs
Tim Anderson, 1 every 28.1 PAs
Salvador Perez, 1 every 28 PAs
But Monday was the first time Tim Anderson has ever played second base — so maybe the new position brings with it some new plate discipline.
The kid looked absolutely wrecked when Ernie Whitt came to take him out of the game. Announcer John Smoltz (who, it must be said, was already in mid-season form when it came to bashing analytics) talked about how Bratt definitely will become a good pitcher, and I hope that’s true, but there’s no telling about that. The one thing we do know is that it was a rough day. We’ve all had them. You hope someday he will be able to laugh about it.
Let’s get back to the new rules
In some ways, this WBC feels poorly timed because many people were just beginning to get used to the new rules and those rules are not in place for this tournament.
But in other ways, I have to say, the WBC feels PERFECTLY timed, because I am looking at these long pauses between pitches and extreme shifts for every batter and three-hour, fifty-minute games like the one between Colombia and Great Britain, and I’m thinking: Oh yeah, I forgot how boring that is, let’s get back to the new rules.
I was talking to a friend who has an interesting take on the new rules. He’s for them, but only reluctantly. When I asked him why, he said something like this: “Because they shouldn’t be necessary. You shouldn’t need a clock to make the players speed up. Umpires should do that. And hitters should make defenses pay for shifting. You shouldn’t have to change the rules.”
I’ve heard various versions of this from other people, too … and I get it. It’s sort of a libertarian view of the game. And I certainly don’t want to get into politics, but at least as far as baseball goes, I just don’t find it a particularly good philosophy.
I can go deep into details if you like, but here’s the bottom line: For 20 years, the pace of play in baseball has gone in one direction and only one direction — slower. For a decade, batting averages have been going down, and batters, in general, have not been able to beat the shift. It’s not like umpires and players and baseball executives have not TRIED to change the dynamic; of course, they’ve tried. They can’t. Baseball’s rules are great, but they are not immutable. The world changes.
RIP, Dick Fosbury
At first, I found it a bit eerie that I mentioned Dick Fosbury in Monday’s essay, only just before it was announced that he passed away on Sunday.
And then I thought: No, it’s not eerie at all. I think about Dick Fosbury all the time.
Fosbury completely changed the way people high-jump. In the 1968 Olympics, while the other jumpers tried to jump over the bar using the straddle method, with their faces pointed downward, Fosbury sailed over the bar backward, with his back to the ground. He won the gold medal and set an Olympic record.
At the 1972 Olympics, 70% of the high jumpers used the Fosbury flop.*
*Though the gold medalist, the Soviet Union’s Juri Tarmak, did jump the old way.
In the last 40 or so years, essentially everybody uses the Fosbury flop.
I mentioned Fosbury on Monday because I was saying that Babe Ruth had a similar impact in baseball … he invented a new way of batting, and soon after, sluggers followed him. Steph Curry, I think, has had a Fosbury-like impact on the NBA. There are plenty of other smaller examples — just in baseball you have Bruce Sutter popularizing the split-fingered fastball, you have Tony La Russa popularizing the one-inning closer, you have the Rays popularizing the shift, etc.
But Fosbury’s impact in his sport is bigger, because he invented something that seems, on the surface, to be illogical — how could you possibly jump higher going backward? — and completely changed the way everybody did it. When he first started experimenting with the flop, it was basically unusable because there was no cushioning on the other side of the bar. He badly hurt his back on one jump.
The question is: Would anyone else have come up with the Fosbury flop if not for Dick Fosbury? Would high jumpers still be using the old straddle technique? I don’t know, but it’s a good reminder of the power of an individual in sports.
Happy 44th birthday, Johan Santana!
There was a little Twitter buzz on Monday revolving around the question: Should Johan Santana be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Let’s look at it this way: Through age 31, Santana was 133-69 with a 142 ERA+, two Cy Young Awards and 50.9 bWAR. Who does that put him with? I’d say it puts him in a class of maybe 10 pitchers through age 31. Here they are — the bold ones are in the Hall of Fame:
CC Sabathia, 53.1 bWAR, one Cy Young, 125 ERA+
Sandy Koufax, 53.1 bWAR, three Cy Youngs, 131 ERA+
Bret Saberhagen, 52.5 bWAR, two Cy Youngs, 126 ERA+
Jim Palmer, 52.2 WAR, three Cy Youngs, 132 ERA+
Félix Hernández, 51.9 WAR, one Cy Young, 125 ERA+
Johan Santana, 50.9 bWAR, two Cy Youngs, 142 ERA+
Lefty Grove, 50.5 bWAR, one MVP, 153 ERA+
Dave Stieb, 49.5 bWAR, zero Cy Youngs, 49.5 ERA+
Wes Ferrell, 49.1 bWAR, 117 ERA+
Zack Greinke, 48.9 bWAR, one Cy Young, 122 ERA+
I show you this list to give you an idea of JUST HOW GOOD you have to be to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I mean, every one of these pitchers was fantastic. But so far only three are in the Hall of Fame. Of those three:
Koufax was one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history.
Palmer pitched until his late 30s, twice more coming close to winning Cy Youngs.
Lefty Grove pitched on until he won 300 games.
I’m sympathetic — more than sympathetic — to the idea that because Santana was probably baseball’s best pitcher for five or so years in the mid-2000s, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He CERTAINLY should have been on the ballot for more than one year.
But I cannot deny that over the years, voters generally have not put pitchers like Santana into the Hall. I saw someone write on Twitter that Johan Santana is basically Sandy Koufax without the postseason heroics — I assume that they were writing this IN SUPPORT of Santana, but calling someone Koufax without the postseason heroics is like calling someone Madonna without the nine No. 1 albums.
Sure, I personally think Santana, King Felix, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen and David Cone are all worthy of the Hall. Unfortunately, I don’t have 75% support for it.
RIP, Joe Pepitone
We lost one of baseball’s all-time great characters on Monday — Joe Pepitone was a three-time Gold Glove-winning first baseman who hit 219 home runs, most of them for the fading New York Yankees. He came up right at the end of the Yankees dynasty years in the early 1960s — he was a rookie when the Yankees won the 1962 World Series (he didn’t play) and he played in the 1963 and ’64 World Series (the Yankees lost both).
After that, in fairly short order, Yogi was fired, Mickey retired, the Yankees went into their first lull since before Babe Ruth … and Pepitone was left as the team’s most prominent personality. He hit some long home runs, dined with Sinatra, periodically skipped games or left them early, got divorced a couple of times and was, perhaps, the first ballplayer to bring a hair dryer into the clubhouse.
He lived a troubled life in many ways, but toward the end of his life he said that he was making an effort to put things right with his family. For many baseball fans, the name Joe Pepitone marks a certain time in baseball.
So I read this story somewhere, maybe in Mickey Mantle‘s book. Pretty late in Mantle‘s career. He was facing Denny McLain. The catcher tells Mickey that Denny just wants to see how far Mickey can hit one. Fastball down the middle, Mickey takes it because he is not sure they’re on the level with him. He may take another fastball, I am not sure. after throwing those pitches McLean is putting his hands out like come on what’s going on? Then another fastball and mantle hits it a mile, the ball hits the stadium facade in the upper deck. Pepitone comes up next. Stick his hand out over the middle plate and yells out “right here”. McLain knocks him down. I always get a huge kick out of that story.
I really hope people don't make too much of winning the World Baseball Classic. It's a short series of exhibition games among teams widely varying in talent. Come on, the Czech team has ONE player with MLB experience! You cannot compare them to, for example, a team from Japan or Puerto Rico. Just enjoy the fun games and cool uniforms!