The Baseball Ten
Ten thoughts about the baseballs season.
Thought 1: I cannot BELIEVE how bad the Nationals are.
At the moment, the Washington Nationals have the second-worst record in the National League -- or the worst record in the league if you prefer, as I do, to simply exclude the Miami Marlins until they decide to join the world again.
This is simply astonishing. I don't think enough attention was paid last year to just how badly the Nationals underachieved. You have a team with stars like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Sean Doolittle, a 19-year-old phenom in Juan Soto, a nice collection of helpful players like Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Tanner Roark, Matt Grace, Jeremy Hellickson ... I don't see how it's possible for that team to never even hint at contending.
But that's what happened. The Nationals' pythag won-loss record was 90-72, which seems to me about the worst imaginable win total for that collection of players. But, in fact, the Nationals actually went 82-80. It was one of the great underachievements of recent baseball memory, I think.
And this year -- the Nationals are simply terrible. Their top three pitchers -- Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin -- should match up with anybody. Rendon is still Rendon. Soto has struggled a bit, but he's awfully good and will only get better. The useful players are all over this roster. And they can't win a game.
At this point, Dave Martinez is simply a fraying Band-Aid that the Nationals stubbornly (and temporarily) refuse to tear off. He will get fired at some point, that's inevitable now (Tom Boswell just wrote the "he's a nice guy but it's time to go" column that marks the official end) and the longer this goes on, the more you wonder if GM Mike Rizzo will even try to save the season. His hold on his own job gets more tenuous all the time.
In the end, it comes to this: The Nationals caught one of the great breaks in baseball history when, in back-to-back seasons, they had the No. 1 pick in the draft, and those two players were Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. What did they do with that astonishing bit of fortune? They made the playoffs four times, but lost all four playoff series. They created some excitement but also hired five different managers -- soon to be six -- and now find themselves here, adrift, directionless and losing nightly.
Thought 2: This Baltimore homer thing is getting freaky.
David Hess is a 25-year-old pitcher from Tullahoma, Tennessee. Well, he's not the most famous David Hess -- that's David Hess after the actor, singer, songwriter who recorded the original version of the song "All Shook Up" and was also the bad guy in various movies including Swamp Thing.
Then there's David Hess who is in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. And David Hess the 18th-century Swiss cartoonist.
But David Hess the pitcher from Tullahoma is charting his own path. He has pitched 45 innings this year ... and he has allowed SEVENTEEN home runs. That's something special. He has allowed just 46 hits this season ... and 17 of them are bombs.
That's tough to do.
Hess is the lead singer of an AMAZING Orioles pitching staff that has allowed an almost impossible to believe 105 home runs in 49 games. The record for home runs allowed in a season is 236, set by the Cincinnati Reds in 2016. At this rate -- and yes, we know all the mathematical issues with talking about expecting things to stay "at this rate" -- the Orioles would break that record by more than 100 home runs.
You look up and down the Orioles pitching staff and it seems like an optical illusion. Dan Straily has given up 14 homers in 34 innings. Before Alex Cobb went on the disabled list, he gave up nine homers in 12 innings (what??).
Would you believe me if I told you that twenty-two different Orioles pitchers (including Chris Davis) have ALREADY given up a home run? You only have to go back to the 1970s and 1980s to regularly find teams that USED 11 or 12 pitchers the whole season.
The Orioles are hardly alone in the home run frenzy -- Seattle could allow 300 home runs this year too and plenty of teams could approach the Reds total. But this Orioles pitching staff is charting its own course for adventure.
Thought 3: I loathe this Yankees team with the power of a thousand suns.
Will go into much greater detail when the PosCast returns with Mike Schur -- Mike and I will nightly grumble via text until he is freed up for PosCast duty -- but let's just say that the names Urshela, Estrada, LeMahieu and Gleyber are breaking us. The Yankees are playing 100-win baseball and they don't even have Giancarlo, Judge, Andujar, Paxson, etc.
These are dark times for Yankee loathers.*
*Domingo German? Really?
Thought 4: Combining thoughts 2 and 3.
Gleyber Torres has 10 home runs in 11 games against the Orioles.
You cannot imagine this happening in Major League Baseball ... or any other place in baseball.
Gary Sanchez, by the way, only has eight home runs against Baltimore, but to be fair to him he has only played in 10 of the 11 games.
Thought 5: Joey Gallo's BABIP is a wondrous mathematical thing.
So you know about BABIP, Batting Average on Balls in Play. You can use BABIP for a lot of fun analysis -- you can use it o gauge how hard a batter is hitting the ball, how lucky the hitter is, how well the defense positions, etc.
Joey Gallo's BABIP is an insane 406. That means, even against the crazy shifts that every team uses against him, when he hits the ball in play, he's basically Ted Williams. Well, he's actually BETTER than Ted Williams in the BABIP way.
Gallo's BABIP in 2019: .406
Williams' BABIP the year he hit .406: .378
I'm sure you know this instinctively -- the reason Williams' BABIP is lower than his batting average is that BABIP doesn't include home runs. It's only balls IN PLAY. Williams hit 37 home runs in 1941 to raise his overall batting average to .406.
Well, Gallo has hit 15 home runs this year. As such, when you count homers he's actally hitting .518 when he connects. That's right. When Joey Gallo's bat connects with ball (not counting fouls out of play), he's getting a hit more than 50 percent of the time. This is sheer lunacy.
But here's the best part: Even with all that, Gallo's actual batting average is (drumroll please) .293.
Yep. The guy's got the most insane BABIP imaginable, he's crushed 15 home runs already, and he's still not hitting .300. What in the world would it take for Joey Gallo to hit .300?
Well, that's what strikeouts do.
Gallo's strikeout pace in 2019: 229 Ks.
Williams' strikeouts in 1941: 27 Ks.
Thought 6: It's Jorge Polanco's world ...
People have been talking forever about the Twins amazing young talent, and every year it seemed we waited for Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano to arrive and turn Minnesota baseball upside down. Buxton and Berrios are really good. But it's the shortstop who has changed the entire dynamic there for the Twins.
A full Jorge Polanco post is coming.
Thought 7: Hell yes, I want Cody Bellinger to chase .400.
Look, it won't happen. It can't happen in today's game. Plus we all know that batting average is a wildly overrated (and often arbitrary) statistic.
But, yeah, of course I want to see Cody Bellinger chase .400.
There's something so fun about the chase for .400. I've gone back many times to write about George Brett's run in 1980. The thing that makes me most bitter about the way the 1994 season ended -- and there are MANY reasons to be bitter about it -- is that we didn't get to see Tony Gwynn chase .400. A .400 chase so engrossing to follow because it makes you look at the boxscore every day and root for a player you might not normally care about to do something that in a weird way lifts us all up. It's the closest thing we have in sports today, I think, to the four-minute mile.
We all know the reasons why Bellinger CAN'T hit .400. Pitchers throw so much harder. Fresh relievers come at you in waves. Defenders are better and even batter faces a designer defensive alignment. Bellinger in his first two years was a 150-a-year strikeout guy -- and with 150 strikeouts, you need to get 220 or so hits in 400 or so chances. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm saying it's almost impossible.
But how COULD Bellinger hit .400? Well, he has REALLY cut down his strikeouts. If he could get his whiffs down to, say, 100 -- that's about what he's on pace for now -- then he would get 450 chances for those 220 hits. That's better.
He's also walking more -- that helps. If he could walk 100 times, he wouldn't need to get 220 hits. He'd only need to get, maybe, 210.
Is 210 hits in 450 plate appearances possible? Yes. It's hard. But considering Bellinger's power -- and his established pattern of going into stretches where he hits homers in bunches -- it's at least possible.
Bellinger dropped below .400 Wednesday for the first time since April 1 with an 0-for-4 performance. You can certainly picture a scenario where the dream is over and that he will be hitting a still great but not awe-inspiring .343 in three weeks. But I choose to believe he gets back in the game.
Thought 8: Zack
On Opening Day, Zack Greinke gave every indication of being in big trouble. Velocity down. Home runs flying out. Seemed helpless.
Since Opening Day: 6-1 (team is 7-3), 68 innings, 2.12 ERA, .192 batting average against, 64 Ks, 7 walks, 0.779 WHIP.
Since Opening Day: Batting .333/385/.750 with five extra-base hits including a triple.
So, no, he's not helpless.
Thought 9: Is Mike Minor the best pitcher in baseball so far?
Mike Minor looked like he might become a star. He was the seventh pick in 2009 -- the second college pitcher taken after Stephen Strasburg -- and he moved toward the top of all the prospects list. In 2013, for a really good Braves team, he anchored a promising young rotation along with Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Alex Wood to go with a super bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel. Minor pitched 200 innings, struck out 181, and seemed like he would be the next star.
And then ... well, you know how it goes. Shoulder problems. Command problems. He was out of baseball for two years. He signed with the Royals, who gave him a chance to market himself as a reliever. He did well in 2017 -- he struck out 88 in 77 innings, had a 1.017 WHIP and even saved six games. He was in demand as a lefty reliever. He wanted to start.
The Rangers gave him that chance. Minor was pretty good in 2018, even if nobody really cared. A terrible Rangers team won 14 of his 28 starts. He had a better than league-average ERA. He was fine.
This year, though, he so far leads American League pitchers in bWAR (3.3 bWAR compared to Justin Verlander's 2.6 and German Marquez's 2.5). And he leads the American League in fWAR.
It's absolutely true that he has been good -- 5-3, 2.64 ERA, 67 Ks in 64 innings -- but does that bWAR fairly reflect his true value? I don't mean to downplay Minor's season because he has been terrific. But in my view the bWAR number is pretty wildly inflated by the defensive adjustment -- the Rangers' have a poorly rated defense and, as such, Minor is getting much more credit for his performance than someone like Verlander, whose Astros defense is rated very high. I really don't like that bWAR defensive adjustment.
And as for fWAR, yes, Minor leads the AL with 1.9 but there are actually three other pitchers with a 1.9 fWAR (Frankie Montas, Matthew Boyd and Tyler Glasnow) and a pitcher with a 1.8 and one with a 1.7 and two with a 1.6 and three with a 1.5 -- point being that Minor is pitching well and and is in the group of best pitchers in the league. That's a pretty good accomplishment in itself.
Thought 10: Mike Trout leads the AL in WAR.
This is just a reminder that Mike Trout is a unicorn and a meteor and a force of nature and a phenomenon. Human beings go up and down, have good days and bad, have killer seasons and disappointing ones. Mike Trout does not do these things. Mike Trout is Mike Trout is Mike Trout.
From 2003-2009, Albert Pujols was the most consistent player I've ever seen. He just did the same amazing things every single season, he always hit .330, always hit 40 homers, always scored and drove in 120 runs, he always played superior defense and he always found a way to be a good base runner even though he lacked speed.
In those seven years, Pujols posted a remarkable 61.7 bWAR.
In Mike Trout's first seven years, he posted 63.8 bWAR.
And he's leading the AL in WAR again. Because ... Mike Trout.