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Adam Ottavino’s Wild Day at the Office

Adam Ottavino had three wild pitches this year before Sunday’s game.

That’s one of those opening sentences that doesn’t bode well for what happened next. You can’t reduce your wild-pitch total, and it’s generally not newsworthy when someone throws just one wild pitch, regardless of how devastating the ramifications of that errant throw are. For this sort of thing to be newsworthy, Ottavino would have had to commit a particularly nasty act of self-immolation.

Well, he did. Ottavino threw four wild pitches, and runs scored on all four of them. The Rockies scored six runs. Because of the wild pitches, though, they lost. It’s not what you want if you’re a Rockies fan.

A Tommy John survivor, Ottavino’s had a much rougher time putting the ball where he wants it to go this season. He carried a 14% walk rate into Sunday, the ninth-worst mark among qualified relievers. Then he walked three of the nine batters he faced. A walk rate that high is never all that great, but it helps that Ottavino can also strike guys out. He boasts a mid-90s fastball and a slider so notorious that it has its own Twitter account. When it’s on, it’s disgusting, and that’s the state it’s usually in. When it’s not, things can get hairy. The slider wasn’t the issue yesterday. His fastball is what got him in trouble.

Tony Wolters wants the fastball away from Yasmani Grandal’s bat with the bases loaded. The fastball didn’t go away. It went in, and bored a hole to the backstop. Ottavino’s release point is all out of whack, so he’s throwing across his body far more than usual. By the time he releases the ball, it’s got nowhere left to go. Justin Turner jogs home, and it’s a one-run game.

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The Demystification of the Dinger

We live in an era of home runs. You know that. It’s been discussed ad nauseam on your favorite team’s broadcast, on your Twitter feed, and by your favorite baseball writers. We’re going to talk about it some more now.

The cause for this spike is manifold. Players are swinging up and for the fences, as you may have heard. They’re better-conditioned and better-fed. We understand the science and kinetics of hitting better than ever. The ball is quite possibly juiced. It’s a perfect storm of dingeritis that’s led to a fascinating new world where it’s not just guys like Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt who are in scoring position the very second they step into the box. Well over 100 batters have hit at least 10 home runs, and we’re not out of June yet. The list grows to more than 240 batters if you include those who have hit at least 5, which means they’ve got a fair shot of getting to double digits before the season is out.

So yeah, we’re going coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs here. Which leads to an interesting question: if this continues, if the ball really is juiced and if players are going to keep chasing fly balls when they’re in the box, if anyone can hit the ball out, doesn’t that make a home run less special? Doesn’t that make a home run less valuable? Doesn’t it alter projections for amateurs and prospects?

There’s two important lines of thought there, so we’ll tackle the inside-baseball stuff first. If you’re running a baseball team, you’re probably no longer getting worked up over a free agent with 20-homer power because of his power alone. Why dish out a two- or three-year deal for a veteran when there are kids in your minor-league system who can replicate that kind of power on the cheap? Power was one of the last remaining calling cards of free agents. Defense and speed can decrease with time, but veterans could get paid for their bats. Rookies and journeymen like Yonder Alonso are suddenly tapping into previously unrecognized reservoirs of power with wild success. Not everyone has a Cody Bellinger sitting around at Triple-A, but given the way the ball is flying around and the way hitters are structuring their swings, you may be able to scrounge up 15 bombs for a league-minimum salary.

We already saw some of this over the winter when players like Chris Carter had a hard time finding work. Power is coming even easier now. It’s becoming less of a defining tool. If everyone can hit 15-20 bombs, it then becomes a question of what else a player can do for you, and for how much. Can you field well? Can you play multiple positions? Do you walk a lot? Can you do all that for cheap?

There’s more to this than team-building and the squeezing out of veterans, too. There’s a fan’s side to this too, and it’s probably more important. We’re now witnessing home runs more often than ever. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa aren’t running around out there anymore. The word “anabolic” isn’t in the papers all that often anymore. This is more dramatic than the steroid era. Maybe we’ll one day call this the “uppercut era,” the “juiced-ball era,” or the “three-true-outcomes era.” But this is clearly a different animal. Balls that have never really gone out before are going out. Is there a saturation point?

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A World Without Mike Trout

It was just last week that we were extolling the virtues of Mike Trout. How quickly things can change. How quickly the hammer of fate can smite those who dare tempt it. How quickly things can go so very wrong.

When Trout stole second base in the fifth inning on Sunday, he came up wagging his hand and in pain. He eventually left the game, and we now know that he tore a ligament in his thumb when he accidentally jammed his hand into the bag while sliding. Trout’s elected to have surgery to repair the ligament and has a six- to eight-week timetable to return.

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Mike Leake Was Leading the National League in ERA

Let us consider, for a moment, the matter of Mike Leake.

The mental image you have of Leake is probably that of a serviceable mid-to-back-end starter. Leake doesn’t strike many guys out, and he’s perhaps walked a few too many men for comfort considering his lack of punchouts. Leake does not make your team a contender, but he makes it viable. He’s a good bowl of potato leek soup if you’ll pardon the unwitting pun: not your first choice on the menu, but one that’s hearty and comforting when done right. Teams need good bowls of soup. They’re not much if they only have superstars and super-scrubs. They need something in the middle. They need arms to throw decent innings. Mike Leake has been that man for years.

Until now, perhaps. Before Clayton Kershaw took the mound last night and threw nine innings of one-run ball, Leake had the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.03. Kershaw has now assumed his rightful place at the head of the pack with a 2.01. That would seem like a return to normalcy — that is, if Leake’s 2.03 ERA itself weren’t so abnormal.

As you might suspect, the underlying metrics don’t think Leake is pitching exactly this well. His 3.18 FIP is still quite good, while his 3.73 DRA is less enthusiastic. His ground-ball rate is identical to last year’s, while he’s allowing fewer line drives and more fly balls. Opposing batters are putting just .244 when they put the ball in play against him, which is interesting considering that the Cardinals haven’t been all that great on defense this year. He’s not creating especially soft or hard contact, either. He’s near the middle of the league in average exit velocity.

So what exactly is going on here? How does a soul-warming bowl of soup turn into a delicacy?

Let us consider, for a moment, the St. Louis rotation.

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The Preposterous Mike Trout

It’s that time again, when we provide your somewhat regularly scheduled update on the exploits of Mike Trout. When we last saw our protagonist, he was rocking a 210 wRC+ on April 24th. That was good enough for sixth best in baseball, but given that it was April 24th, we were sure to see some regression. Right?

Now it’s May 24th, and Mike Trout has a 220 wRC+. That’s the best in baseball. It means he’s been 120% better on offense than the league average. He’s twice the average offensive player and then some. Since he’s often considered to be a reincarnation of Mickey Mantle, it should be noted that Mantle never had a single season wRC+ that high, his best mark being a 217 in 1957. He was worth 11.4 WAR in 144 games.

Speaking of WAR, Trout’s accumulated a 3.3 mark so far this year. That naturally also leads the league by a fair margin and has taken Trout over the 50-win mark for his career. In doing so, he’s passed a number of all-time greats in total career value. Those players include Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Fred Lynn, David Ortiz, and Jimmy Rollins. He’s very close to passing George Sisler and Enos Slaughter. He’s still got a few months until he turns 26.

Of course, it’s not surprising to see Trout playing this well. It’s not surprising that this past Monday’s game was only the seventh 0-for he’s taken over the first 42 games he’s played this year. (He still managed to walk twice.) It’s not shocking to see Trout playing out of his mind like this, or to know that the above homer from yesterday tied him for the big league lead in homers with Aaron Judge.

And that’s because he’s Mike Trout, the guy who’s already punched his ticket as one of the best players to ever play the game. He’s the guy who’s finished first or second in MVP voting in every full season he’s played, and arguably should have won every time. He’s been the most consistently great player in the game since the second he was called up in 2012. He’s among that extremely small percentage of players who shouldn’t be discounted from being able to carry a 200 (or larger) wRC+ for a whole season, because he’s simply that talented. And by typical player aging curves, Trout hasn’t even hit his prime yet.

Trout, as good as he’s been, has never finished a season having outpaced the league by this much. It’s important to note that it is, indeed, just May 24th, but Trout’s hitting profile looks pretty similar to what he’s produced in the past. He’s just simply hitting the ball with even more power. His walk and strikeout rates are generally the same as last year, and he’s basically taken just two percentage points of ground-ball rate and put them into fly-ball rate. The only marked difference is that his soft contact rate is somehow up to 20% from 12%.

Ben Lindbergh recently noted in an excellent piece of work at The Ringer that Trout is swinging more than ever, and that he’s swinging more often at meatballs in the middle. Swinging more often can sometimes be dangerous, but Trout is pulling it off with aplomb, as Ben noted.

In his first, brief exposure to the big leagues, Trout’s selective aggression ranked in the first percentile compared with qualifying hitters. He swung at fewer than half of the pitches he saw in the strike zone and almost a third of likely balls, showing relatively little ability to differentiate between pitches he could punish and pitches even he would have a hard time driving. His ratio improved in 2012 and again in 2013 and 2014 before regressing in 2015, when he was probably playing through a wrist issue. Last year and this year, his strike zone judgment has made further strides, to the point that he’s now in the 94th percentile — one of the game’s smartest swingers

Having a strong feel for the strike zone isn’t the only ingredient of offensive success: Plenty of hitters have the ability to distinguish balls from strikes but lack the coordination and power to make the most of that skill. But when a hitter with Trout’s physical gifts adds elite discipline to the mix, pitchers can’t counter. Thus far, they’ve thrown fewer pitches in the strike zone to Trout than ever before, but he’s not biting on bad pitches. Over the course of his career, Trout has produced a .465 weighted on-base average when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone and a .250 wOBA when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. It makes perfect sense that he’d be even more potent now that he’s swinging at the former pitches more often and the latter less often.

Ben also pointed out that Trout is pouncing on first-pitch curves more than ever, which counters a previously popular method of attack against him. Trout is plugging the few tiny holes in his game, and it’s resulting in some dazzling production.

There’s probably going to be a bit of regression from the phenomenal offensive high he’s currently riding, but there isn’t reason to expect a ton of it. We’ve always wondered about the hypothetical of whether or not Trout has peaked yet, of whether or not there’s still room between his current state and the upper limit of his possible performance. That may be what we’re looking at right now. If Trout is reaching his physical peak, maybe that explains his .411 ISO, which is well above that even of the behemoth Judge.

Nothing should be surprising with Trout, except if perhaps if he took the mound and started striking people out. As I noted over the winter, he’s basically already a Hall of Famer. He’s just gotten even better now. Trout could very well come back down to his heightened version of reality at some point in the near or distant future, because it’s extremely hard to hit this well for an entire season. There have only been 32 instances of a qualified batter carrying a wRC+ of 200 or greater for a season. Many of those campaigns were had by men named Ruth, Bonds, and Williams. That’s how good Trout has been, and what kind of company he would have to keep to do this from now until October.

We shouldn’t put it past him. We shouldn’t expect him to do it, either, but we shouldn’t immediately discount it. Trout is a special player, and possibly the greatest to ever play the game. He’s the one thing keeping the Angels from being basement-dwellers.

He’s absolutely, incredibly, ridiculously great. We’re lucky to be able to watch him perform.


What You Can Reasonably Say About Chris Taylor Right Now

My first memory of Chris Taylor is of him serving as the third part of the illustrious Nick FranklinBrad Miller – Taylor line in Seattle. He was the third to come up and the third to stumble. There were some who were of a mind that Franklin and Miller would turn into long-term assets for the Mariners, and that Taylor could be the sort of everyday regular who doesn’t make headlines but steadfastly contributes.

Now, a few years later, none of them play for Seattle. Franklin is struggling for the Brewers, and Miller is on the DL after an unexpected 30-homer campaign in Tampa. Taylor is a Dodger following a midseason trade last year.

He’s amassed 1.4 WAR in 29 games so far this year, and he’s slugging .583. Just as precisely nobody expected.

Some of the old reports on Taylor said that he would be a decent enough hitter, but that he’d make his money with his glove. Nobody ever looked at Taylor and saw a serious power threat, or a player who would prove to offer real value on both sides of the ball like this year. It’s just 29 games, and indeed, just 101 plate appearances. And when you go to his stats page, that .411 BABIP stands out like a sore thumb that just suffered a paper cut and was doused in lemon juice. But there’s so much more than dumb luck going on here.

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A Joey Votto Rarity

People love experiencing rarities. We flock to see Halley’s Comet when it comes around every 75 years, and to botanical gardens to see the blossoming of a flower that smells like death. There’s a thrill to seeing — or in the case of the flower, smelling — something that few others have. It’s not a unique experience, but it’s close. We likely experience many of little moments like this every day without realizing it. We only register the major events, like comets or death flowers, or Joey Votto pop ups.

Since he first entered the big leagues in 2007, Joey Votto boasts the lowest infield-fly-ball rate among all qualified batters at 1.3%. That figure was slightly lower before yesterday’s game against the Cubs, when he did this.

That’s the first batted ball that Votto has popped up to an infielder in fair territory since September 16th, 2016 — and that previous pop up was caught on the outfield grass, what Play Index describes as being in the “Deep SS-3B hole.” In fact, every pop up to an infielder by Votto in 2016 was described as deep in the hole. To find Votto’s last pop up that was caught by an infielder in fair territory that was actually in the infield, you’d have to go all the way back to May 24th of 2015, when Trevor Bauer got him to pop up to second base.

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The Coming Red Sox-Orioles Bidding War

The Orioles and Red Sox have provided some of the season’s juiciest narrative thus far. Everyone (well, almost everyone) loves a good bit of drama, even when it’s remarkably dumb drama. And even though our postseason odds favor Boston by a considerable margin in the AL East, Baltimore has made a habit in recent years of outperforming their projections. The two teams are going to be going for the jugular against each other for the rest of the season, and it’s going to make for some great baseball.

They may find themselves directly competing off the field, as well. Both teams have dire needs on the left side of the infield. The Red Sox haven’t had a strong third-base presence in some time, and the Orioles are hurting badly at shortstop with J.J. Hardy firmly in his decline phase and contributing just a 38 wRC+ thus far. Boston’s third-base woes are particularly bad this year, given that the cast of characters who have taken the position this year have combined for -0.5 WAR. These two problems don’t initially seem to be all that related. The teams will theoretically be scouring two different trade markets, no?

Maybe, maybe not. The simplest solution for Baltimore would be to just go get a shortstop like Zack Cozart, who’s hitting well and playing for a Reds team that probably isn’t as talented as they’ve looked thus far. However, Cozart is currently the only truly attractive shortstop option on a still-evolving trade market and there are other teams who will likely prefer Cozart over someone like Freddy Galvis. The Orioles also don’t have very much prospect capital with which to work, and could easily be outbid. Therefore a more elegant solution presents itself: moving Manny Machado to short and pursuing someone to play third. Machado is one of the best all-around defenders in the game, and is a natural shortstop. He could do it in a heartbeat.

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Moving on from the Derek Jeter Era

As you may have heard, the Yankees are retiring Derek Jeter’s number on Sunday. ESPN’s coverage of the ceremony — and the subsequent game, of course — will begin at a surprisingly early 8:00 a.m. EST. The first pitch of the game between the Astros and Yankees, two of the powerhouse teams in the American League, is scheduled for 7:35 at night. Sunday Night Baseball usually kicks off at 8, but the Yankees got ESPN to agree to moving the game up to give the pre-game ceremonies (and theoretically the game itself) a larger audience and reach.

Of course, a player can’t have his number retired unless he himself is retired, and indeed, Jeter hasn’t suited up since 2014. His retirement was kind of a big deal, as you likely remember. It turned into a media bonanza that facilitated the sale of many tickets and even more merchandise. Jeter struggled that year to a -0.1 WAR and the Yankees just barely missed the playoffs. He started at shortstop in the All-Star Game. Even when he clearly had overstayed his welcome as a productive player, he still represented a massive source of revenue for the Yankees and for the sport.

MLB social media has spent the week doing a tournament of Jeter’s best moments under the #Jeets16 hashtag. Budweiser just put out an ad that uses the number retirement as its inspiration. The league, and a corporation as huge as Anheuser-Busch, wouldn’t be doing a Jeter-shaped media blitz if there wasn’t profit to be made here. And there is, of course, seeing as Jeter was the most recognizable figure in baseball, and one of the most recognizable people in all of sports, for nearly two decades.

There’s still something a little strange, though, about having this much hullabaloo about a retired player. The Sunday night game features two strong teams chock full of exciting young talent. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and George Springer will all be taking part in this game.  There’s absolutely room to celebrate both Jeter’s past and those players’ present and future. Given the pre-game focus on Jeter, it will be interesting to see how much of the game broadcast is spent discussing him and not the game itself. It could go some way to revealing ESPN’s production interests.

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The Giants Are Stuck

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Giants. A year after winning the Wild Card game, they’ve got the worst record in baseball and, as of right now, a 7% chance of making the playoffs. They’ve lost their ace to a foolish dirt-bike accident, and their starters at shortstop and center field, as well as their closer, are on the DL. They’ve scored the second-fewest runs of any team, and their run differential of -69 makes that even worse. It’s May 10th and the Giants may already be dead.

Teams this far out of the playoff picture typically make the most of it by offloading pieces to contenders in exchange for prospects. It’s much too early in the year for theoretical contenders to be pushing their chips to the center of the table just yet, but it’s not too early for them to be surveying the shape of the market. Unfortunately for both buyers and San Francisco, the Giants may not have many pieces to pick over.

Players who get moved at midseason usually don’t have much time remaining on their contracts before they hit free agency. They’re guys who may not be around when the selling team is making its next playoff run — or whom the club can otherwise afford to replace. The Giants have pretty much their entire core under contract for next year. Only Hunter Pence and possibly Denard Span (depending on how the Giants decide to handle his option) will leave for free agency following 2018’s conclusion. They’ll have Bumgarner back at full strength next year, and in the unlikely event that Johnny Cueto doesn’t opt out, he’ll be there, too. If Cueto does opt out, this upcoming free-agent class doesn’t lack for premium starting pitching, on which the Giants have repeatedly shown themselves willing to spend.

That’s all a somewhat roundabout way of saying that the Giants don’t exactly have a ton of expendable trade chips at the moment. This season doesn’t look like the start of an irreparable decline as much as it looks like a rather large bump in the road. There’s no reason the Giants can’t be competitive next year, even if they do lose Cueto. But barring a massive resurgence and excellent play from their currently injured players, the Giants aren’t going anywhere this year, and they’re not really in a position to better prepare themselves for the future.

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The Night Seth Smith Turned Into Mike Trout

One is tempted, after learning that a player has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, to discount whatever value that player has provided on the field before positive test. There’s an asterisk applied. An unspoken caveat. A bit of a good old-fashioned “well, actually.”

Facing Kyle Kendrick isn’t exactly the same thing as using PEDs. Kendrick certainly has a habit of enhancing the performances of opposition batters, but the players who hit against Kyle Kendrick aren’t technically cheating. They’re not doing anything insidious, not violating some sort of rule, written or unwritten. They’ve simply had their names penciled into the lineup on the same day that Kendrick has been asked to start for his club. No need for an asterisk. A mental note, perhaps. But bad pitching is a part of the game. In some form, there will always be a Kyle Kendrick.

Seth Smith happened to be in the lineup when Kendrick started against Baltimore on Thursday. Perhaps it’s not accurate to say that he “happened” to be in the lineup. He’s the team’s usual leadoff man against right-handed pitchers, and Kendrick does indeed throw with his right hand. So there Smith was, doing the job that the Orioles have asked him to do. He’s not a typical leadoff man, in that he’s not a speedster. But he gets on base, and that’s what matters in the quest to set up Adam Jones and Manny Machado.

Suffice to say, Smith did his job on Thursday night.

Smith went 4-for-4 with a walk and scored two runs as Baltimore walloped Boston 8-3. Kendrick went just four innings. He allowed six runs, including a moonshot by Machado. He was, in essence, Kyle Kendrick. But that simple fact, that very essential and intrinsic fact of baseball, helped Smith morph into a fearsome, exasperating monster of a player for the duration of the game. Smith entered the game hitting .222. He exited hitting .286.

There was no big, ringing hit from Smith. The closest thing to it was an opposite-field double that brought two runs home. But it was how his hits happened that made this night special. Because the things did on Thursday made him appear awfully similar to Mike Trout, who just so happens to be the best player in the game.

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Let’s Admire Marcell Ozuna’s Homer

The Ring of Power could only be destroyed by returning it to whence it came, in the fiery Cracks of Doom of the great volcano Orodruin in the land of Mordor. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee had to travel all across Middle-Earth to accomplish this, traveling a great distance and encountering many perilous places and foes. Yet as is often the case, traveling a great distance resulted in accomplishing a great thing. Frodo and Sam rid the world of the Dark Lord Sauron. Luke Skywalker traveled to what was left of Alderaan and became a galactic hero. I am a massive dweeb.

Marcell Ozuna sent a baseball on a grand and glorious journey last night. He did not destroy it to eliminate a great evil, depending on how you feel about the Rays, but he did launch the ball into a far-flung flight. He sent a baseball into a part of Tropicana Field that was hitherto unexplored, and exploration of decrepit ruins like the Trop often yields important archeological information. The ball was like a sports version of the Cassini probe, a lonely adventurer into parts unknown.

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Stop Throwing Things at Other People

Let’s say you’re in an argument with one of your colleagues. If you work in an office, maybe that comes in the form of a heated disagreement during a meeting. Maybe you work construction and you’re unhappy with the way the foreman is running things at your site. Maybe you just think the head chef at your restaurant is an ass. Regardless of what the circumstances are, your workplace disagreements — whatever form they take — likely don’t include flinging projectiles at each other at speeds in excess of 90 mph.

Baseball is far from a typical workplace, of course. For most people, work generally doesn’t require one to compete against another “team” for the amusement of the masses. Most job descriptions don’t mandate that the applicant possess elite athleticism, expertise with balls of cork and twine, or extensive experience with wooden clubs. There are rarely endorsement deals for a particularly capable account manager. Statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to be making in excess of a million dollars. Professional sports are a strange realm, and baseball may be the strangest of them all.

The politics of the beanball are as intricate as they are confusing. To hear some people discuss it, there’s a right way and a wrong way to heave a projectile at another human being. There’s a time and place for that sort of behavior. You’ve got to protect your guys.

Yet, in a vacuum, this all makes very little sense. When Matt Barnes threw a fastball at Manny Machado’s head, he got a four-game suspension. If Barnes had done the same thing anywhere but on a baseball field, the justice system would have likely gotten involved. Construction workers can’t hurl wrenches at each other without facing some form of repercussion.

Ever since Machado slid too hard into Dustin Pedroia, though — an act that players on both sides acknowledge was unintentional — the Orioles and Red Sox have been throwing at each other. As you may have seen last night, Manny’s had about enough of it. He launched into a profanity-filled tirade against the Red Sox after yesterday’s game, in the first inning of which Chris Sale threw behind him. It’s worth a listen. (Although, if you’re at work, I advise using headphones.)

Sale’s decision to throw at Machado came after Dylan Bundy hit Mookie Betts on Monday night, and was therefore likely retaliation for that. The Red Sox (or at least Sale) felt that Betts being hit was actually in retaliation for Machado being thrown at in Baltimore, and so on and so forth. It’s like a Taylor Swift song come to life. There’s nothing but bad blood here.

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Kyle Schwarber Needs to Be Himself

Consider, for a moment, Kyle Schwarber. If you saw him in street clothes and were told that he’s a professional athlete, you would assume that he’s a football player. A linebacker, perhaps. Some sort of bruiser with the job of clobbering other players.

Schwarber’s job is not to clobber other players, however, but rather to clobber baseballs. He’s quite good at that. This year, however, has been something of a struggle for the goateed one. Last night’s 0-for-4 showing sent Schwarber under the Mendoza line and dropped his batting line to an unsightly 79 wRC+. It’s early yet, and Schwarber has just 115 plate appearances to his name so far this season, but this is decidedly not what the Cubs want from their leadoff hitter and one of their biggest (literally and figuratively) sluggers.

Joe Maddon’s usage of Schwarber in the leadoff spot is predicated upon Schwarber’s theoretical ability to get on base. To be fair, he’s done an admirable job in that. Rocking a .322 OBP with a .196 average isn’t easy at all. Getting some more hits will make that OBP go up even more, though, and Schwarber (or any hitter, for that matter) is at his best when he’s crushing the ball into the next time zone.

We know Schwarber can still do that. Exhibit A:

Schwarber hasn’t had a real chance for prolonged big-league time just yet. He played in 69 games when he first came up, and then lost nearly all of last season to his devastating knee injury. Despite his talents and his exploits in the postseason, we don’t yet have an idea of what a full season’s worth of Schwarber really looks like. We’ve got 393 regular-season plate appearances with which to work, though. So let’s poke around a bit.

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The Mets Had a Bad Day

A variety of maladies were already plaguing the Mets before they met with the media on Thursday morning. Things would soon get worse, however. Reporters soon learned, for example, that in addition to the six Mets currently on the disabled list, Noah Syndergaard would not be making his start due to a bicep issue. Matt Harvey would be getting the ball that day instead. Before the day was out, Yoenis Cespedes would leave the game after further injuring a balky hamstring, and Harvey would fail to make it out of the fifth inning. They’ve now lost six straight games, and added further insults and injuries to an already large pile of both. Less than a month into the season, their playoff odds are starting to get ugly.

The Mets likely can’t be blamed for every single issue currently plaguing them. They can be blamed, however, for some of them. Too many of them, perhaps.

Prior to the start of the season, a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union was put into place. Among the new provisions within the document was a new 10-day disabled list, shortened from 15 days. It was created with the idea that teams could have more flexibility in giving time off to banged-up players. Clubs, in turn, would have more freedom to call up replacements and to avoin playing with an understaffed roster. Some teams, including the Mets, had gotten into a habit of playing a man or two down while players nursed injuries deemed too minor to merit a full 15 days on the DL. Now, teams can theoretically get players back five days earlier, and play with 25 men. Everybody wins, no?

The Mets have failed to fully embrace the possibilities afforded by a 10-day DL. Cespedes originally injured his hamstring on the 20th. He didn’t play again until Wednesday, partially due to an off day and a rainout, although he did come out on deck for a possible pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday before the Mets lost. The Mets and their training staff had decided that Cespedes didn’t need a full DL stint, just a few days off, with potentially a plate appearance off the bench mixed in.

Cespedes came up slightly lame when he hurt himself on the 20th. He needed help getting off the field yesterday. It’s not an ideal situation for a man who’s still dealing with the vestiges of a quad injury that sidelined him for part of the 2016 campaign and never really released him from its grip down the stretch.

Of course, Cespedes isn’t the only Met who has been carried along for the ride in such a fashion. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis d’Arnaud were in similar states of limbo in the past week. The clubs has done this quite a bit over the last few seasons. It now appears to have cost Cespedes at least a few weeks of action.

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Chris Coghlan Takes Flight

Seemingly ever since humans gained sentience, we’ve been obsessed with the concept of flight. How powerful birds must have seemed to ancient man, able to free themselves from the constraints of the ground. Joyous was the starling, dancing and warbling through the air. Terrifying was the hawk, diving for a kill. To fly is to move in ways unimaginable for those trapped on the surface. We stared at the sky, the last frontier to be conquered, and dreamed. We told stories of magical heroes and gods who could fly. We sought any way possible to experience it, from the Dark Ages to Da Vinci and on.

By the time we came up with hot-air balloons and gliders and airplanes and helicopters so that we could join the birds in the sky, perhaps we lost a little bit of that wonder. Generations have now grown up with intercontinental flight as a simple fact of life. We still dream of joining the birds in the skies, of flying like Superman. But we no longer wonder if it’s possible. We know that we can fly with mechanical aid. But we’ll never truly join the birds. At least not for more than a few seconds.

It’s a small stroke of genius that the gods put Chris Coghlan on a team named after a bird. And indeed, last night’s Blue Jays came in St. Louis against the Cardinals, who are also named for birds. Teams named for birds play each other all the time, of course. The Jays play in the same division as the Orioles. Almost none of those games, if none at all, have featured a moment like this.

We can’t earnestly call what Coghlan accomplishes here flight. If anything, it’s falling with style. It’s a leap and a near-perfect handspring. It’s something out of a gymnastics exhibition, except Coghlan is wearing cleats and a helmet instead of a unitard. It’s the closest anyone’s come to real, honest-to-goodness flight on a baseball field since Ben Revere achieved liftoff in 2013.

Coghlan didn’t plan on springing over the head of Yadier Molina. Like the most satisfying superhero origin stories, he didn’t know he had the power inside of him. He jumped because instinct told him to, because years upon years of baseball conditioning told him to score that run. Humans are capable of great physical feats when fueled by adrenaline and instinct. They can lift cars, run faster than they ever have before. For a few precious seconds, they can fly. If they’re lucky, they can even stick the landing, like Coghlan did.

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Madison Bumgarner Crashes His Bike and Playoff Hopes

It’s not a shock that Madison Bumgarner has never been on the disabled list before now. He’s a big horse of a man, made purely of muscle and tree sap. The only thing that’s prevented him from being sidelined is Bruce Bochy not letting him throw 400 innings in a year and, apparently, that he’s been steady on a dirt bike until now.

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The CB Bucknor Experience

Everyone has bad days at work. You’ve had them. If you read my work, you sure as heck know I’ve had them. Even Mike Trout’s theoretically had one or two. Not everyone can be on top of his or her game at every second of every minute on the clock. It’s just a simple fact of life.

CB Bucknor seems to have these nights more often than most. Any cursory poll asking for the names of the worst umpires in the big leagues will yield Bucknor’s name as one of the most popular answers. Less cursory polls have produced a similar result. He has long been at the center of some of baseball’s more frustrating officiating experiences, whether it be with his work behind the plate or on the bases. It was the former that drew the ire of just about everyone in Cobb County last night, especially that of Jayson Werth.

Werth, at this stage of his career, has fully bought into the Danny Glover-in-LethalWeapon method of thinking. He’s too old for your crap, and he’s been here long enough to tell you why you’re wrong. It’s a pretty fun thing to behold, especially when he’s had it up to here with whatever injustice has been perpetrated that day. The crap, in Werth’s estimation, began with his fourth-inning plate appearance. Here’s a graph of the pitches from same. (Note: from catcher’s perspective.)

He struck out. BrooksBaseball and PitchInfo think the third pitch was a strike, and video from last night shows that it was borderline, but not an egregious call.

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Eric Thames Is Still Mashing

We never really know what to expect when a player comes to Major League Baseball from a foreign league. The rules of the game are mostly identical over there, of course, but the competition level is different. It’s a completely different set of hitters and pitchers in a completely different set of parks. Even for truly exceptional talents, there’s no real telling how a player’s skills will translate precisely from league to league. The calculus gets even more interesting when it involves a player who started here, faltered, went elsewhere, and thrived.

April is a time of guessing and extrapolating and of the occasional hot take. We like to draw conclusions when we perhaps shouldn’t. That’s half of the fun of April baseball. And Eric Thames is one of the cool new things happening in baseball right now. Because, as we’ve been reminded, this man can hit some dingers. He just finished hitting five in one series against the Reds.

Now, the Reds play in a tiny little stadium, and they don’t have the best pitching in the world. If Ryan Braun had been the one to do this, it would be a cool little footnote, because we expect guys like Braun to stomp on subpar pitching in tiny ballparks. If Jett Bandy had done this, I’d assure you that Jett Bandy is, in fact, a real person, and that this is an aberration.

Thames is a different matter. This is Eric Thames, who left American organized ball and rather quickly became a league-wide sensation in Korea. This is Eric Thames, who got big, grew a mighty beard, donned what looks like cybernetic robot armor on his right arm, and promptly started hitting massive bombs. Thames took on a nearly mythic quality for a few years, watched from afar by those who still remembered his name and who pay attention to foreign leagues. We got our wish, and he’s back. We get to see if a man who couldn’t cut it in his first try can succeed after dominating a foreign circuit. So far, he’s doing quite well.

It’s probably too early to declare the Thames experiment a success. It’s April 17th, after all. The Brewers have played 13 games, and Thames now has just 44 plate appearances under his belt. He’s already created 1 WAR of value, and that translates to about $8 million of value, but he could just as easily create negative value in the coming weeks as a scouting report starts to form. Baseball is, of course, also not played in terms of cost-effectiveness and surplus value. Thames wants to succeed for Thames, not to make David Stearns look smart. He’s still got a long road to go.

In short, we can’t tell anything for certain from this collection of data. There’s simply not enough here. But consider this, because it is the height of April fun: the two highest single-season ISO marks of all time belong, rather predictably, to Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Bonds put up a staggering .536 in 2001; Ruth, a much-lower-but-still-quite-impressive .473 in 1920.

Eric Thames currently has a .553 ISO.

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Michael Martinez, Pitcher

Cleveland’s got a good pitching staff. It’s part of what got them to the World Series last year, and it’s what they’re hoping to ride to another playoff berth. They’re blessed with excellent arms like Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen and Danny Salazar.

Michael Martinez is not, by trade, a pitcher. He’s technically a hitter, but his career 33 wRC+ doesn’t exactly support that claim very well. The best way to describe Martinez from a job description standpoint would be to say that he’s a fielder, a utilityman, perhaps. He’s a survivor, who’s managed to stick on big league rosters in some capacity since 2011 despite being a nearly nonexistent asset at the plate. Martinez is the ultimate 25th man, who will be forever emblazoned in the visuals of history by making the out that won the Cubs their first World Series in more than a century. One of the jobs of a 25th man is to do anything that is required of him. And that means that in certain situations he’s a pitcher, too.

Cleveland was losing 10-4 to Chicago in the ninth inning last night, following a disastrous outing from Josh Tomlin. Rather than burn another reliever, Terry Francona turned to Martinez, his trusty 25th man. For the first time in his big league career, he took the mound. Martinez had somehow avoided the task until now, despite being the last man on the bench for some bad Phillies teams. The only other time he’d pitched was all the way back in A-ball in 2007, when he’d gotten into two games and totaled 1.2 innings of work. He did not allow a hit in either outing, because A-ball is a magical place.

The big leagues are not A-ball. The big leagues are full of hitters who sneeze at A-ball pitching, and one or two who hit like Michael Martinez. Everyone on the White Sox is technically a big league hitter. Yet we can all agree that there are more difficult assignments than innings composed of Carlos Sanchez, Omar Narvaez, Leury Garcia, and Tim Anderson.

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