Archive for Daily Graphings

Behold a Genuinely Outstanding Pitch

Someone submitted something to my chat last Friday:

CapnZippers: Seth Lugo’s curveball averaged 3300 RPM last night. That spin rate is almost 10% higher than the next guy. Holy Moly! Mets maybe found a gem?

The same day, Mike Petriello sent out a relevant tweet:

I made a note to do some digging. To be honest, I don’t have a lot to add. As has been measured, Seth Lugo has thrown an outstanding curveball, in terms of its spin rate. It’s outstanding not because it’s amazing; it’s outstanding because it stands out. The average spin rate is way higher than anyone else’s. As a different way to demonstrate that, I pulled up all the individual games with the highest-spin curveballs, from Baseball Savant. Lugo, in the majors, has appeared in 10 games in which he’s thrown at least one curve. A leaderboard:


Lugo dominates the spin charts in the way that Aroldis Chapman dominates the velocity charts. This isn’t a one-off fluke — Lugo has an exceptional breaking ball. The question is whether Lugo himself will become a quality pitcher, but this should at least get you to raise your eyebrows.

It’s really too soon to say how much this means. It’s not an easy thing to analyze an individual pitch, and Lugo won’t go anywhere if his other pitches don’t play well, too. Everything works together. There is some evidence that high spin is correlated to reduced slugging. And there’s evidence that high spin is correlated to increased whiffing. The evidence isn’t strong, but it makes sense intuitively, and again, this is all complex. It’s fair to say that Lugo’s curveball is interesting, without going any further. I don’t know how interesting this should make Lugo as a player, but I know that now I’ll keep my eye on him. I didn’t have any reason to think about him before.

By velocity and movement, the best comparison for Lugo’s curve in the PITCHf/x era is Brett Myers‘ curve. Myers threw a phenomenal curve for an entire decade. Garrett Richards has another comparable curve, but he’s never thrown it much. Jake Arrieta‘s curve also compares well, so that’s promising. Lugo’s curve appears to be a major-league pitch. A major-league out pitch, even. We’ll see about the other pitches.

Lugo picked up his first-ever big-league strikeout on a curve. It’s with a clip of that curve that I’ll leave you today.

How interesting an arm is Seth Lugo? I don’t know. “More” would be one answer.

Ivan Nova Is Getting Happed

A year ago, when the Pirates were alive in the playoff race, they made what felt like a fairly uninspiring deadline trade for J.A. Happ. Happ was almost a giveaway, and no one really batted an eyelash about the Pirates’ tiny upgrade, but then they made some very minor tweaks and Happ pitched the rest of the season like one of the better starters in the league. There was, at one point, an actual conversation about whether Happ should start the one-game playoff opposite Jake Arrieta. Things were weird.

This year, with the Pirates alive in the playoff race, they made what felt like a fairly uninspiring deadline trade for Ivan Nova. As I recall, news broke after the actual deadline had passed, and it was a small story because Nova didn’t have a lot of value. Nova, also, was almost a giveaway. The move drew criticism, with many saying the Pirates weren’t doing enough. Ivan Nova, after all, is no Chris Sale.

Guess what? Nova has started five games for Pittsburgh, and in those games the Pirates are 5-0. He’s run a sub-3 ERA, and while his strikeouts haven’t spiked, he’s sitting on one walk. One walk, out of 121 batters faced. Nova walked three of 23 batters in his final start with New York. All of a sudden, the Pirates have turned Ivan Nova into a strike machine, and it’s funny what happens when you have a pitcher who consistently gets ahead. The batters, you see, do worse.

As with Happ, the Pirates haven’t had to do anything drastic. Nova’s repertoire looks mostly the same. Nova’s delivery looks mostly the same. Ray Searage himself has said that Nova’s been easy to work with because there’s just not much to do. If the Pirates have done anything, it’s just encourage Nova to pitch with more confidence. Through July of this year, Nova ranked in the 15th percentile of all pitchers in rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. In August, Nova ranks in the 88th percentile. Where he was consistently behind, now he’s consistently ahead. This is all very fundamental.

We can look at Nova’s rolling zone rate over time:


The Pirates have Nova working in the zone more often. As for a rolling-average plot of first-pitch-strike rate:


First-pitch strikes more often. And the differences here aren’t huge. I’m going to show you pitch-location heat maps, comparing Nova through July to Nova in August. You can tell that the heat maps are, I don’t know, siblings? They’re just definitely not twins.


The Pirates have Nova working up a little more, and they’ve shifted him a bit, over the plate. Where Nova, previously, was a nibbler with his fastball, now he’s less focused on trying to stay on the edges. Very generally, Nova still has a familiar-looking pitch pattern, but there’s just more confidence there, so there’s more aggressiveness, too. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, and he’s not going to be a strikeout pitcher, but there’s nothing wrong with a low-walk pitcher who can work in the 90s. The Pirates can generate outs behind him.

The explanation might be obvious. Nova no longer is pitching in the American League, and he’s no longer working in AL East ballparks. PNC Park is very forgiving, and maybe Nova just needed to believe that not every fly ball is a threat. This doesn’t necessarily have to be Ray Searage magic. Maybe the Pirates simply identified the right guy to add. Nova hardly cost them anything. Now he’s working to cost some other team a potential playoff spot.

Scouting Julio Teheran, Major-League Starter

Leading up to the trade deadline, there was quite a bit of discussion at this website about Atlanta RHP Julio Teheran regarding his value and whether or not it was prudent for the Braves to move him at this juncture. I was often asked in chats about what I thought about the situation, Teheran’s value, etc. I responded that, going forward, I thought Teheran was a league-average starter, a No. 4 worth around two wins annually. There was some adverse reaction to that, which is understandable given that Teheran has made two All-Star teams before turning 26 and had already contributed about 2 WAR this season when I opined. Conversely, he’s also got a career FIP approaching 4.00 and has seen a drop in his average fastball velocity this year.

The Braves came through Arizona for a four-game set with the Diamondbacks last week and I was in attendance for Teheran’s start on Wednesday to get an in-person look at an arm that has undergone a substantial metamorphosis since his days as a prospect and one that will likely be on the market this winter. I try to hit a major-league game every now and then, just to remind myself for what I’m supposed to be looking in the prospects I see. I thought evaluating Teheran would make for an interesting piece, so I did it.

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The Padres Are Running Towards History

A few weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan wrote about the Padres spectacu2lar baserunning this year. I didn’t see that post, because I was in Oregon shopping for a house when he published it. So this morning, I started writing about the Padres spectacular baserunning, and then Jeff tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that my post was redundant. 2016 has gone so badly for the Padres that even when we try to write about them, even that gets messed up.

But thankfully, I’ve noticed something that wasn’t true when Jeff wrote his post on August 11th that is still interesting enough to justify this post. His post focused on the Padres overall baserunning success, looking at every factor involved in a team’s aggressiveness and success on the bases. I want to point out the Padres insane success at taking bases after contact. To illustrate their success, here’s a graph of the top 10 team UBRs for 2016, which measures the runs added or lost by a team through non-stolen base baserunning, so things like going first-to-third or second-to-home.

2016 Non-SB Baserunning

The Padres are #1, at almost +16 runs; the Indians are second, at +10 runs. The Padres are six runs better than the next best team at this on the year; only four other teams are even six runs better than average by UBR this year. This is an area where the Padres are an island to themselves; no one is even close to being as good as they are this.

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Here Is a Powered-Up Addison Russell

My hunch is that it’s easier for pitchers to make adjustments on the fly than hitters. In part this is because pitchers are simply more in control — they can aim for different areas, while hitters simply have to respond. Pitchers also get more and longer breaks between appearances, and sometimes a pitch can just click. Everybody everywhere is always tweaking something, and I’m no authority, but I’d guess that hitters make their biggest changes over offseasons. That’s when they have the best opportunity to identify a flaw and get to overwriting the old muscle memory.

Yet you do see midseason adjustments. Some players are just better at adjusting than others. Some players are more aware of themselves than others. Some adjustments stick, and some adjustments fade away. Muscle memory is a fickle thing. I can tell you that Addison Russell has changed on the fly. For a while, it seemed like he’d need to either improve his contact or improve his power. His power now is trending up. He is 22 years old.

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Rich Hill Truly Curveballs Like No One Else

As if Rich Hill needs another way to be unique. How many other pitchers experience their career breakout at 35 and become one of the best in the league? How many other pitchers throw their curveball half the time? How many other pitchers who typically throw overhand freeze batters by occasionally dropping to sidearm? How many other pitchers speak fluently about their pitch axis, perceptual velocity, vertical and horizontal planes, and name drop DRA in interviews? Hell, how many other pitchers develop blisters on their fingers which require more than a month to heal? Rich Hill doesn’t need another thing to make him unique, and yet here we are.

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Kevin Newman on Hitting (His Way to Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they were getting a good hitter when they made Kevin Newman the 19th-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Not only did he hit .337 in his three seasons at the University of Arizona, he won a pair of Cape Cod League batting titles along the way. There wasn’t much power — just two home runs as a Wildcat — but he fanned a grand total of 48 times in over 700 plate appearances.

Newman is still putting his bat on the baseball. In 95 games between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, the 23-year-old shortstop is slashing .328/.391/.435. He’s even showing a little pop. On the season, he has 21 doubles, a pair of triples, and five home runs.

Newman talked about his line-drive approach prior to a recent game in Portland, Maine.


Newman on his hitting approach: “I try to hit low line drives all over the field. I know myself as a hitter — I’m a singles-doubles sort of guy — and I want to stick to my strengths. My swing plane is short and level through the zone. I try to hit a line drive over the second baseman, a line drive over the shortstop. Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat 8/29

Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side. Read the rest of this entry »

Jose Abreu Should Be Embarrassed

Here is one of my favorite clips of the season:

That’s Ronald Torreyes, attempting a delayed and perfunctory swing at a pitch-out to try to protect the running Aaron Hicks, who ends up in a heap on the ground after getting jarred in the marbles. Torreyes swings for no reason other than he’s always been told to swing in these situations, so the decision was entirely out of his hands. You can see that he’s temporarily overruled by his own brain, which properly identified that a swing would come with no upside. But then the training kicked in, and Torreyes whispered the bat in a vaguely forward direction while Hicks sprinted like the dickens, unaware the situation would end with teammates discussing his sterility.

Pretty obviously, no swing has been attempted this season at a more-outside pitch. Yet I don’t know if that should really “count,” since Torreyes didn’t swing because he wanted to. The swing was mandated by the hit-and-run play. So let’s take that off the table. Now the most-outside swing attempt of the season belongs to Jose Abreu, as of Thursday night. Abreu should probably be ashamed of himself.

Though I looked at everyone, the swings at the very most-outside pitches have been attempted by righties. Allow me to read off to you the top three:

  1. Ronald Torreyes, June 30, swinging pitch-out
  2. Jose Abreu, August 25, swinging strike
  3. Jose Iglesias, May 24, swinging pitch-out

The only worse swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing at a non-pitch-out was at a pitch more than five inches closer to the plate. That swing was also with two strikes, attempted by Javier Baez. Baez will do that sometimes. So, evidently, will Abreu.


Exclaimed Mariners announcer Dave Sims, after Abreu’s strikeout with runners in scoring position:

Swing and a miss, he got him! What a big pitch.

It’s easy to get fooled on the fly. Strikeouts are strikeouts, and when the batter swings, that implies a pitch could have been only so bad. Abreu chased this slider from Steve Cishek; therefore, it must have been a good slider from Steve Cishek. Yet it’s not hard to see how that could have been a disastrous slider from Steve Cishek. You don’t want a pitch in that situation to get away. And Abreu had never before swung like this. I went to Baseball Savant. I plotted all of Abreu’s career swings. The swing above is highlighted below.


I mean-

Eleven inches. The difference between that pitch and the next-most-outside pitch Abreu had chased is 11 inches. Nearly a whole damn foot. There’s really no excuse for that kind of swing. The easy explanation is “Abreu was trying to do too much,” but trying to do anything with that pitch is trying to do too much. It’s a brain fart. It has to be a brain fart. I don’t know what else it would be unless, as of Thursday night, in the seventh inning, Jose Abreu suddenly became, on camera, the single worst hitter in Major League Baseball.

By the way, the Baez swing? The one that’s the next-worst of the season?


That swing was also against a Steve Cishek slider. It’s probably just a coincidence. But, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Major League Baseball’s Streakiest Team

Streaks can be maddening or joyful, depending on which side of the coin your allegiance happens to lie. When it happens to players, we say the player is hot or in a slump. He might be performing better or worse for a particular reason — like good health or lack thereof — but, often, it’s just the product random variation over a long season.

For teams, the situation is a bit different. If a player goes 2-for-4, that’s good and potentially part of a hot streak. A team, however, can record only a win or a loss. Long winning or losing streaks are fairly rare. Only the Indians and Cubs have managed winning streaks of at least 10 games this season — and the only double-digit losing streaks this season have come from the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Tampa Bay Rays. Good teams tend to rack up winning streaks; bad teams, losing streaks. If you want to get somebody who can do both, however, look no further than the Detroit Tigers.

That win streaks translate to season-long success is probably not news. As the graph below confirms, going on win streaks leads to a lot of wins in general. (Data from Baseball Reference.)

Team Win Streaks in 2016

That’s a rough look at the standings, although Detroit might be a bit higher than their wins suggest and the Mets and Marlins have had difficulty pulling off a run despite solid overall records. And poor San Diego: the Padres have yet to pull off a single four-game win streak all season.

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Khris Davis and Others Who Have Pressed Before

Khris Davis has maintained excellent exit velocity all year, and has 33 home runs to his name, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t pressed at times with his new team. His walk rate is less than half what it used to be, and his swinging-strike rate is up nearly 20%.

The Oakland outfielder admitted that his decision on when to swing hasn’t been at its finest this year. “I was putting pressure on myself in a new environment,” he told me recently before a game against the Indians. “It was mental. Just kinda settled down.”

It’s something we can easily see in his swing percentages — but, perhaps more importantly, it’s totally normal and has happened very often to other big bats changing teams.

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Surprise, the Royals Have a New Relief Weapon

The Kansas City Royals, like any team would, have missed Wade Davis in his absence, but they haven’t really missed Wade Davis. Davis, of course, would make any bullpen better. But since Kansas City’s star closer last pitched nearly a month ago to the day, the Royals bullpen has performed as well as it has all season. Over the last 30 days, the unit’s run a league-best 1.95 ERA, good for a league-best 2.8 RA9-WAR, and the same group has run a league-best 3.15 FIP, good for a league-best 1.5 FIP-WAR. As the Royals have surged back into the fringe of the playoff discussion, the bullpen’s been a big reason why, and it’s done so without its centerpiece.

Part of it’s been de facto closer Kelvin Herrera. He’s recorded a 2.77 ERA and a 2.99 FIP in Davis’ absence, and gone 8-for-8 in save chances. Joakim Soria‘s played a big role, too. He’s seemingly corrected his early-season woes and posted a 2.03 ERA and 2.85 FIP in the last month. Peter Moylan‘s pitched well, and Chris Young hasn’t given up a run since July 26. But neither Herrera nor Soria nor Moylan nor Young’s been the biggest part of Kansas City’s bullpen since Davis went down. No, the most important reliever in Kansas City since Davis hit the disabled list is the guy who only got called up because Davis hit the disabled list.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.26.26 AM

Matt Strahm, over the last month, has put up a 0.84 ERA and 0.43 FIP in the first 10.2 innings of his big-league career. The 24-year-old lefty, drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, has struck out 19 of the 40 batters he’s faced and walked three. Six hits, no homers, one run.

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Another Year with Joe Blanton, Great Reliever

The price of relief pitching is on the rise. Baseball die hards are currently having a fierce debate about reliever valuation, but it’s relatively clear that teams are willing to pony up for quality back of the bullpen arms. The recent deals for Ken Giles, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Will Smith demonstrate as much. Clubs want good relievers (who can blame them!) and they are allocating more resources toward their acquisition.

I’m not an economist, but I imagine teams would rather acquire a high-quality reliever who isn’t expensive than one who is. Unfortunately, market forces tend to get in the way and you wind up trading lots of prospects for a couple seasons of reliever help. Unless you’re the Dodgers. If you’re the Dodgers, you take a gamble on Joe Blanton‘s 2015 season and get a setup man at utility-infielder prices.

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The One Problem With Kris Bryant’s MVP Case

Kris Bryant is everything you could want in an MVP candidate. He hits, he runs, he plays defense, he moves around, he’s in there every day — Bryant is an outstanding player on an outstanding team. You don’t have to worry about the Cubs wasting him, and not going to the playoffs. If Bryant’s teammates are doing him any harm, it could be because there are too many good ones — even without Bryant, the Cubs would be fine. It speaks to the roster’s strength, but Bryant is the best regular. He’s maybe, or probably, the best all-around player in the National League.

There’s more than a month left to go, so various leaderboards are going to change. Performances will change, and perceptions will go along with them. That being said, Kris Bryant has to be thought of as the NL MVP front-runner. By which I mean, I assume he has the most support. And, what a player to throw your support behind! In so many ways, Bryant would be deserving. There’s just one little problem. That one little problem is basically the entire counter-argument.

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One of Baseball’s Best Pitches Is Missing

There’s a sense that Jake Arrieta isn’t quite what he’s been before. It’s not entirely untrue — a season ago, Arrieta put together a historic campaign. He set the bar so high for himself that it would be next to impossible to meet the updated expectations. But, you know, Arrieta’s still been terrific. Last year, opponents batted .185. This year they’ve batted .183. He ranks fourth among qualified starting pitchers in ERA, and even since his ERA dipped under 1 around the beginning of May, it’s been just a little over 3. Last year’s National League Cy Young came down to Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s hurt. Greinke’s already allowed 19 more runs than he did a season ago. Arrieta is doing just fine.

He simply seems a wee bit less automatic. From the perspective of an observer, he’s made it more difficult to take outs for granted. From the perspective of an analyst, Arrieta’s command has wobbled. And what’s maybe most interesting here: Arrieta apparently doesn’t have a feel for his slider. Or cutter. Or whatever. You know what I mean. Arrieta has managed a low ERA while, underneath, he’s had trouble finding what had been one of the truly elite pitches in the game.

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An Early Look at the Catchers in the 2017 Draft

We’re continuing a series of scouting reports on 2017 draft-eligible high-school players. I’ve already filed reports on left-handed pitchers, which you can find here. Today we’re discussing catchers.

High-school catching is often one of the draft’s most fruitless positions and 2017 looks like an average group.

M.J. Melendez, C, Saint James School (AL)

Height: 6’, Weight: 160, Commitment: Florida International

Melendez’s father, Mervyl, Sr., is the head baseball coach at Florida International and indeed that is where M.J. (Mervyl, Jr.) is committed to play ball in college. At this point, it’s unclear to scouts whether or not that will have any impact on Melendez’s signability.

This is the best prep catcher I saw this summer but it’s hard to glean anything from a statement like that because depth at premium positions (especially among high schoolers) is very volatile, draft to draft.. Melendez has special defensive traits. He is lithe, loose and twitchy with uncommon athleticism and movement skills for a catcher, as well as an average receiver with plus raw arm strength. I had pop times as low as 1.94 to second base and 1.5 flat to third. Melendez also has some potential with the bat (which I’ll get into later) but he’s very raw offensively and is going to be drafted primarily because of his defensive ability. So where are catching prospects like this typically selected? Here’s a brief rundown of early-round high-school catchers from recent years:

2016: Cooper Johnson is the best defensive prep catcher in the class but falls due to weird signability issues. Of the 30 catchers taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft, only five of them are high schoolers and all of them (Andy Yerzy, Ben Rortvedt, Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry, Sam Huff) are bat-first prospects.

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Money Is Buying Wins Again in 2016

If the playoffs started today, the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals would be in the playoffs on the National League side. The top-five payrolls in the NL belong to those same five teams. Over in the American League, the Cleveland Indians seem likely to make the playoffs while the New York Yankees likely will not — and the Los Angeles Angels aren’t anywhere near the playoffs, but these are merely exceptions to the rule. Anecdotally it certainly seems like money matters this year after several years of parity. Digging into the numbers of the relationship between money and wins, the numbers indicate that a team’s payroll really is more important now than at any other time in the last decade.

There are 15 teams this season whose opening-day payrolls exceeded $130 million. Among those 15 teams, only the Los Angeles Angels possessed a losing record through Tuesday’s games, and if the playoffs started today, the top half of teams by payroll would claim nine of the 10 available playoff spots. Of that bottom 15, the only teams with a winning record are the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, and Cleveland Indians. Cleveland would represent the only team among that group to qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. If this seems unusual, it is. And it isn’t.

Last season at around this time, I looked at the relationship between wins and payroll and found that there was nothing significant. The correlation coefficient between wins and payroll was .17, and that number had been part of a decline that had been occurring over the previous decade. As Brian MacPherson pointed out when he researched the issue the year prior, the relationship between wins and payroll had been declining since the start of this decade. At the end of last season, the correlation coefficient for wins and payroll in 2015 was a very low .22, but in discussing the issue last year, I pointed to two causes for concern (if a lack of parity is concerning).

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A Very Mike Trout Home Run

Last night, Mike Trout went 3-for-6 with a double, a homer, two runs, and an RBI. The Angels won, 8-2, over the Blue Jays, but let’s get back to that home run. Here’s what Mike Trout’s body looked like just moments before making contact with a pitch that went over the left field fence:

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 1.32.46 PM

We all know what a typical home run swing looks like, and it sure doesn’t look like that. We also know what a normal baseball player looks like, and it sure doesn’t look like Mike Trout.

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Joey Votto’s Most Joey Votto Game

Excuse me there. May I have just a minute of your time? Maybe five. I know there’s a playoff race going on. I know Gary Sanchez is hitting all of the home runs and Rich Hill is back. I know the Royals are surging and the Giants are freefalling, and that’s all well and good, but would you mind if I spent some time this afternoon talking about a game played by a last-place team three weeks ago? I’m bringing it up now because I’m afraid we all missed it when it happened, and I can’t let that go on any longer. You see, since the start of June, Joey Votto‘s been safe more than he’s been out, and in the midst of this ridiculous run, he had what may be the most Joey Votto game of all the Joey Votto games, and that seems like the sort of thing of which we should all take note. I’m glad I have your attention. Let’s begin.

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