Rather than providing a Bat-Flip Royale update yesterday, like I eventually did, I was initially planning on explaining a hunch. I had the first sentence all ready to go, but for some reason or other, held off on typing. As it turned out, avoiding proclaiming “tonight will be the night a pitcher records a hit for the New York Mets” was a good decision; once again, the historically bad group failed to notch a hit.
If you think that’s harsh, I’m sorry, but it’s true. New York’s pitchers – though proficient on the mound, even without nominal ace Matt Harvey and wunderkid prospect Noah Syndergaard among their ranks – are now setting records for ineptitude at the plate.
Entering Saturday’s tilt with the Colorado Rockies at (the very hitter-friendly) Coors Field, the Mets staff had been tied in terms of futility with the 1914 St. Louis Browns, whose pitchers went hitless in their first 45 ABs of the season*. When Jenrry Mejia grounded out to end the third inning though, the title was theirs alone – the not-so-Amazins’ pitchers were then officially off to the worst offensive start for the position since modern-era (from 1900 onward) scorekeeping began.
As the above table shows, the situation is all sorts of ugly. The aforementioned Mejia has been an unvarying offender, as he’s gone 0-for-15 on the year with six strikeouts. His one career hit came over four years ago, so there’s not much hope for drastic improvement there. Bartolo Colon‘s forays at the plate, despite having warmed many a heart with some of the GIFs of the year thus far, might somehow inspire even less optimism than Mejia; the 40-year-old has incredibly struck out in 66.7% of his at-bats so far this season, and hasn’t gotten a regular-season hit since June 10, 2005. He has 1o total in 17 major-league seasons. Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee have both drawn a walk and secured two sacrifice hits, but done nothing else aside from kill (rare) Mets rallies.
Which brings me to Jon Niese, the principal cause for my optimism yesterday – the starter who I was ready to dub the chosen one, who would finally end the barren streak. Heading into Mondays matchup against Nathan Eovaldi and the Marlins, the 27-year-old had somehow drawn walks in four of his eight trips to the plate, and boasted a career .161/.251/.189 triple slash line. Surely, surely, he had it in him to finally scratch a hit and halt the record continuing on?
Nope. Instead Niese struck out twice in his three at-bats, lowering his 2014 OBP to .364, and pushed the collective failure to a stunning 54 at-bats. Yordano Ventura for goodness sakes, he of an AL team, has single-handedly logged more hits than Mets pitchers this season thanks to his hit against San Diego yesterday. It almost goes without saying that the group are still firmly rooted to the bottom of the National League positional splits table**.
Yes, the pitchers aren’t the only Mets struggling at the dish – Travis d’Arnaud (.195 batting average), Curtis Granderson (.185), Ruben Tejada (.195), and Eric Young (.214) are actually all paid to hit believe it or not) – but with such anemic offensive production elsewhere in the lineup, the Mets can ill afford to literally make an automatic out every time through the lineup. The fact of the matter is, hits from pitchers do often matter: Three of the top four NL teams in pitcher batting average last season—Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Atlanta—made the playoffs, something Mets GM Sandy Alderson surely must have been hoping for when he told staff before the season he expected 90 wins. They need to get on the board, and soon, but with Mejia due up again tonight, and the team’s best hope Niese facing Cole Hamels on Sunday too, it might be a while yet until the pitchers get off the schneid.
Good job I held off on making my bold prediction eh?
* The Atlanta Braves’ pitchers came closest in recent times, having started 0-for-39 in both 2008 and 2011.
** Which is slightly surprising in itself; I did not expect a team employing Tim Lincecum to be at the summit, though the Giants are almost exclusively there thanks to Madison Bumgarner‘s April grand slam. Meanwhile, I would have guessed the Dodgers, with the handy Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and when he returns, Clayton Kershaw, would have been nearer the top. Instead, they’re languishing in 11th, at least in terms of hitting for average.
It’s only May 5th, but believe it or not, this post marks the third installment already in which I’m having to detail the contenders vying for a coveted spot in the end-of-year Bat-Flip Royale – there’s just been that many early season efforts worthy of attention. Don’t get me wrong, the sheer quantity is certainly appreciated, but for all you MLB players out there, don’t forget a single instance of quality can get you a shot at the belt. You don’t have to do all your outrageous pimping before Memorial Day. That said, you can do some – I’m looking at you in particular Bartolo Colon…
I understand that you’re new to this whole ‘pitchers have to bat too in the National League’ lark, but Bartolo: generally you drop the bat even if you’re just running out a routine grounder. You don’t need any extra weight to be carrying down the first base line, nor will you running off with the lumber mean you won’t have to bat again. Teams have plenty of bats to share.
I’d like to use this opportunity to throw some further shade too, and call out the otherwise-sensational Jose Abreu. As I detailed last week, the Cuban rookie has got off to a tremendous start at the dish, setting records left, right, and center by virtue off his blasting home runs, well, to left, right, and center field. But despite having 11 jacks and considerable reason for some swagger, this is the best flip we’ve seen from Chicago’s new first baseman:
Step it up already Jose – some guys are putting in work when they don’t even hit it out after all.
It seems every time Tampa Bay and the Yankees meet, old bat-flip hand Alfonso Soriano gets jealous of the glorious, youthful peacocking of Wil Myers. In the last Bat-Flip Royale update, he responded nicely to Myers’ first two outrageously languid tosses of the bat of the year, cranking out one of his own like he was back in his noughties heyday. But flipping so brazenly, when all you’ve done really is fly out to Desmond Jennings in center, missing even scraping the wall by a full five feet – what was that Sori?!
Lost respect is what – the same of which can’t be said for Myers. Like Soriano, the Rays sophomore didn’t hit C.C. Sabathia‘s offering (far from a terrible pitch by the way) out into the Yankee Stadium cheap seats (because such things don’t exist -ha!), but boy did he make up for it with his peripheral showboating stats; After the customarily bored-looking flip – Myers has just about mastered the ‘been there, done that’ disdain already – he proceed to cruise down to first, thinking it was gone.
Not so much. The ball hit off both the wall and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Carlos Beltran simply stood watching in right field, and Myers turned on the jets to bag himself an inside the park home run. Unlike with most inside the parkers, Myers made it round so easily in fact, that he pretty much strolled into home, thus finishing his afternoon jaunt in the same graceful ease with which he started his trot.
It’s a pleasure to see Myers’ laid-back style leading the next generation of bat-flippers, but he does sometimes lack a certain aggressive obnoxiousness. For that reason then, Starling Marte‘s walk-off shot and subsequent showboating vaults the fellow second year player ahead of Myers in this installment of BFR consideration. Sure, his jack was a legitimate game winner, capping off a Sergio Santos-centric Blue Jays bullpen implosion (the Jays were up two heading into the bottom of the ninth before a Pedro Alvarez homer tied it, and Marte finished the job), but the throwdown work was the real show stopper – a solid 65 on the scouting 20-80 scale according to Jonah Keri. Thrown in some solid preening at the plate too though, and I’m forced to bump it to a 70 grade (75 future).
Unfortunately for Marte’s celebration party however, the 2013 champion answered back with a grand riposte only the day after – a three-run, 452-foot monster of a shot off Marlins right-hander Jacob Turner that was a no-doubter from the moment it left the bat. And then there was the flip.
I have little idea what must be running through Yasiel Puig‘s brain when he steps up to bat. Maybe he ponders what I imagine the rich and famous do often – what sort of fast car he will buy (and not recklessly speed) next. Sometimes perhaps his thoughts wander back to being smuggled into America by a Mexican drug cartel, and the subsequent death threats. Who knows, occasionally he might even think back to a scouting report that was passed to him before the game. But when he makes juicy contact with a hanging breaking ball, straightens up, and unleashes that amazing flip, I can only assume Yasiel Puig has one song playing in his head.
Just stop it you detractors out there – Tony Cingrani is legit. I may be an ardent Cincinnati Reds fan, but such an opinion isn’t bias; given the amount of time he’s been doing so, it’s time to recognize the big lefty’s dominance. His performance can no longer be considered a small sample size fluke, nor merely passed off as a high-wire act. I prefer to call it effectively simple.
As noted by Mike Holian, “In 2013, Cingrani made 18 starts. Over the course of those outings, the third-round pick in the 2011 draft (did someone say absolute steal?) led the majors with 10.1 K/9 rate while allowing more than three runs in just one of those trips to the hill.” More than simply that though, the Rice product didn’t even allow more than five hits in any of those starts, let alone three runs – a mind-blowing fact considering his limited repertoire.
Three starts into 2014 then, and the streak lives on – making a little bit of history in the process: his current run of 21 starts without more than five hits allowed hasn’t been done, according to Sean Lahman, in 100 years. Not that he’s benefited from being pulled early (and no, that is not some sub-shade being thrown at old manger Dusty Baker‘s tendencies); the 24-year-old has gone at least five innings in 16 of his 21 starts, meaning opposing hitters have had plenty of chances to ‘figure out’ Cingrani. Such opportunity hasn’t benefited them in the least so far – over 127 innings, Cingrani has a 2.83 ERA and 149 strikeouts, and with every start is looking more and more like a potential ace.
So why then, do some people still consider Cincinnati’s sophomore a fluke?
Admittedly, the former college closer is rather a one-trick pony, or in Jerry Crasnick’s words, a “one-man Baskin-Robbins franchise,” but what a hell of a trick it is; last year, according to FanGraphs, he threw his fastball 81.5 percent of the time – a figure surpassed only by Bartolo Colon’s 85.5 percent among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings (for comparison’s sake, his mark would have been the 18th highest fastball percentage amongst all ML pitchers if the qualifier was limited to 10 innings). Mike Podhorzer additionally pointed out “What’s even more incredible is how Cingrani has such a strong history of high strikeout rates, yet the average fastball induces the lowest rate of swings and misses among all pitch types.” While the aforementioned Colon’s strikeout rate has sat around 14% to 15% in three of the last four seasons, Cingrani last year posted a 28.6% rate in the majors, that after putting up a ridiculous mark of 41.9% in Triple-A.
Despite knowing what’s coming then, due in part to his hiding the ball extremely effectively, and also helped by his lanky limbs and deceiving arm slot, opposing hitters have so far been unable to catch up to Cingrani* – his 93mph gas often looking more like 97 or 98. So while Cingrani does possess a 79mph slider and a 86mph changeup (and even threw a couple of cutters and curveballs last year, which are yet to be seen in 2014), he just doesn’t throw them often. No, in his words, it’s all about that four seam offering – “I don’t even think about it. I just throw it… There’s literally no thought process. It just goes. That’s all it is.”
Cingrani does apparently recognize that a quality starting pitcher will typically need a larger repertoire of serviceable pitches at his disposal than what he currently possesses – “To be the best, I say you have to have three really good pitches” – but seems to be getting by just fine anyhow in the meantime**. If those secondary offerings he’s been working on do begin to catch up however – as they looked to have done a little during his Sunday outing against the Tampa Bay Rays – then the Reds’ divisional foes best look out; while Cingrani may currently still be somewhat of a curiosity, albeit a dominant one, he could soon be a worst nightmare to face.
* Not only has he been hell on fellow southpaws, but Cingrani has also limited righties to a .193 average.
** With Mat Latos reportedly out a while longer too, the Reds will need Cingrani to continue on his current path if they’re to compete in the highly-competitive (hello Milwaukee all of a sudden!) NL Central.
After making his comedic debut at the plate last week, Bartolo Colon took it to a whole new level earlier today.
The Mets dugout will never be the same… Never stop being you Bartolo! #TeamBFBC
Listed at a ludicrous 285 pounds, besides a short stint as a Montreal Expo, Bartolo Colon has spent nearly his entire 17-year career in the American League, garnering 10 hits over 106 career plate appearances during that time. Thanks to the Mets somehow reaching out of the Wilpon Financial Quagmire of Despair (S/O to Jonah Keri) though – the team dangerously handing Colon a two-year $20 million deal to pitch in a city known for it’s cheesecake – the jolly fellow who Tristan H. Cockcroft alleges to steal from the buffet will be forced to come to the plate every fifth day now he’s finally in the NL.
Last night the 40-year-old made his Mets debut against the Washington Nationals. On the boring side of the Bartolo Colon Experience, he allowed three runs on nine hits in six innings in a 5-1 loss to an impressive Washington squad*. The real fun would occur when his spot in the lineup came up – in BFBC’s first trip to the dish at Citi Field, this happened:
One at-bat into his Senior Circuit tenure, and a tremendous Colon meme was spawned; there was the simple Tee Ball photoshop, Colon the fisherman/swimmer, and Bartolo at the Oscars. Naturally too, there were more lewd incarnations.
— MLB Memes (@MLBMeme) April 3, 2014
Unfortunately his debut plate appearance as a Met would ultimately end in a broken bat liner straight to Nats second baseman Anthony Rendon, who calmly threw to first for the 4-3 putout – not that he especially had to hurry. Colon running out grounders might be even more amusing than his taking a ball; Bartolo laughed his way up the first base line, wobbling all the way.
It almost goes without saying that Colon struck out in his only other at bat of the night.
While it remains to be seen if the 5’11 round mound of (Biogenesis tainted) Colon can be a decent substitute for Matt Harvey, a de facto ace of staff while Noah Syndergaard starts the year in the minors and Zack Wheeler cuts his teeth at the ML level, Colon’s hacks will provide ample entertainment in what could be another long year for the Mets.
And when he finally sneaks a ball through into the outfield, you can be sure there will be a post celebrating the occasion.
*including a home run to his opponent on the mound, Gio Gonzalez.
With Opening Day II only one sleep away, it’s time to bid adieu to Spring Training. As always it started out a pleasure, then dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, but we’ve made finally it; only today’s slate remains before we can settle down for the halcyon days of an 162-game summer. Continuing on from Part I yesterday, let us send off Spring Training in style, and celebrate the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous, in the manner I have arbitrarily deemed best – a GIF review.
Picking up where Part I left off, the 2014 edition of Spring Training provided the accustomed quota of oddities. If it wasn’t Hank the dog signing a contract with Milwaukee (and scoring his own bobblehead night), it was mascots gobbling up foul balls.
Bartolo Colon was seen hustling up to first base to score a hit in his first at-bat as a Met. A bee attack halted a Red Sox vs Yankees match-up – providing some excellent reaction shots. Jake Peavy nearly cut his finger off in a fishing knife accident. Los Angeles Angels infielder Ian Stewart was forced to sit out after his four-year-old daughter innocently head butted him while they were playing. Absurdity was everywhere!
Unfortunately, not every pre-season moment was so amusingly wacky. If this spring will be remembered for anything, it will be the rash of serious pitching injuries which occurred; Texas will be missing their three top starters come Opening Day (Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Yu Darvish), though they are all expected to return sooner rather than later. The same can’t be said for Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin, two young staff anchors who will be out for the year after both undergoing Tommy John surgery. And spare a thought for Braves pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, who went down within days of each other – both will be hitting the operating table for a second time, and are out for the season (Medlen’s post-injury interview was particularly saddening).
The hits just kept on coming elsewhere too – and in horrifying fashion. After protective caps for pitchers were widely panned before Spring Training opened, in a sickening incident, Aroldis Chapman caught a Salvador Perez line drive with his face. The Cincinnati closer had a metal plate inserted after sustaining multiple facial fractures, his ordeal catching the attention of several fellow throwers, José Fernández in particular. Thankfully the Cuban Missile should be okay, and has been tentatively scheduled to return at some point in late May/early June.
On a more positive injury-related note, Grady Sizemore has managed to stay healthy for over a month! Lured to the reigning champion Red Sox by a one year, $750,000 major league deal, the 31-year-old Sizemore has officially beaten out Jackie Bradley Jr. for Boston’s Opening Day center field role on the back of his eye-opening spring display; tomorrow he’ll be making his first appearance in an MLB game since Sept. 22, 2011.
If the healthy return of Sizemore was one of the biggest surprises of the spring, Giancarlo Stanton’s continued crushing of baseballs was altogether predictable. That he will start the season on yet another crappy Marlins team – despite the optimism of some scouts – doesn’t make the biggest power in the game any less entertaining; here’s to hoping we have a full season of ludicrous Stanton bombs ahead, even if a change in zip codes is part of it.
Going nowhere for the foreseeable future, Miguel Cabrera punished pre-season pitching as if it were any regular June game – his .352/.439/.611 spring line pretty much in line with his pre-injury pace of 2013. Miggy’s signing of an 8 year, $248 million extension topped off a pretty wonky offseason for Detroit, but if the crushing that he laid on poor Aaron Harang a few days back is anything to go by, the Tigers are primed for another long postseason run on the back of their newly-minted superstar.
And finally, as the game’s brightest stars should always do during spring (unless you’re Clayton Kershaw that is), Mike Trout shone. My baseball crush did nothing but, well… crush, laying waste to anyone who dared pitch him; on his way to a .407/.458/.796 triple slash line, no. 27 on the Angels led AL players in HRs (5), including smashing a grand slam the day after signing his one-year, $1 million record contract.
Of course, Trout has since (last night actually) agreed to an extension of his own, buying out his first three years of arbitration eligibility and the following three of his free agency; he’ll now be an Angel through 2020, and will hit the market again before his age-30 season. For now though, let’s just enjoy his astounding talents and not worry about the money – not everyone can so casually drill a ball over a hedge after all. Bring on the regular season, and meaningful baseball brilliance!
Yesterday, my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series devolved into a subtle form of 29 other teams’ favorite sport; Yankee bashing. But then again, it’s hard to deny that despite their free-spending ways, the New York infield has become a hospice of sorts. The Oakland Athletics on the other hand, have no such problems – routinely extracting immensely valuable contributions from young players and lesser names alike. 2013 was no exception; despite a lack of big names on the roster, the A’s went 96-66 and won the AL West once again, only to be bested in the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers for the second consecutive year. After two high-profile postseason duels with none other than Justin Verlander though, the name of Sonny Gray might soon alter Oakland’s relative lack of star status.
Ahead of Game 5 of the 2013 ALDS, Athletics manager Bob Melvin had a decision to make regarding his choice of starting pitcher; on the one hand, there was his nominal staff ace Bartolo Colon, who after a unexpectedly brilliant regular season had been hit around a little too easily by the Detroit Tigers in Game 1. On the other, there was the rookie Sonny Gray, whom despite having made only 10 starts at the big league level during the season, had out-dueled then-reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in Game 2, throwing eight frames of scoreless ball, and striking out nine. With Oakland’s season on the line, the former Vanderbilt Commodore was selected to take the mound; unfortunately, Miguel Cabrera cared not for the narrative.
That Melvin went with Gray in Oakland’s most important game in 2013 should surprise no one. That Gray threw an obvious mistake – a belt-high, middle-in fastball to Cabrera – at the worst possible time, should. Because up until that point, the 18th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft had been dominant, his 10 starts down the stretch yielding a 2.85 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 24.8 K%, and 8.1 BB%. Furthermore, his SIERA (3.21) placed him 12th among pitchers who had thrown at least 60 innings, nestling him nicely in between some young aces you may have heard of – Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez. Yes, Sonny Gray is that good.
You’d be forgiven for doubting him heading into 2013 however. Even his manager recently admitted to doubts: “If you would have asked me, sitting right here (a year ago), if he would be pitching for us in the playoffs I would have said that’s a stretch. So when you look back, sure, it’s surprising.” After throwing just 22 innings after being drafted in 2011, the 5’11 Gray had a 4.14 ERA (with just a 5.90 K/9, and 1.70 K/BB ratio) at Double A Midland in 2012, causing him to fall off both Baseball America’s and MLB.com’s top 100 prospects lists. Promoted to begin 2013 at Triple A regardless of his prior issues, Gray flipped the switch; when Dan Straily started struggling, his 3.42 ERA, 2.74 FIP and 118 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings (20 GS) earned him a call up to The Show.
He never looked back, his impressive raw statistics backed up by a 2.70 FIP and 2.97 xFIP, suggesting his excellence wasn’t just a product of O.co Coliseum’s favorable dimensions. Per Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x data, Gray threw exactly 1200 pitches for the Athletics in his time up (including postseason), relying on his 93mph four seam fastball to generate a 53.6 GB%, and a filthy 80mph curveball to put batters away. The curve in fact, according to Fangraphs pitch values, ranked as most valuable in the game amongst starters with 60+ innings – besting Clayton Kershaw by 0.79 runs per hundred pitches – and induced a startling whiff rate of 15.31% from opposing batters. Just to keep hitters off balance, Gray mixed in a change 7.2% of the time too (though he can also turn to the sinker, cutter, and slider to form a six pitch arsenal – but used them very sparingly). With his control under… ahem, control – a future ace had officially emerged by seasons end.
As Melvin testified of the now 24 year old, “He did some amazing things in a short period of time.” Now it’s time for Gray to lead a deep Athletics pitching staff for a full season; he will presumably join Jarrod Parker and newly acquired Scott Kazmir at the top of the Athletics rotation, with A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Drew Pomeranz, and Tommy Milone competing for the remaining two spots. If all goes to plan, the young righty will be the first to take the ball for Oakland in the 2014 playoffs, and push them past their ALDS hump.
Maybe then, the public will finally recognize a name on the A’s roster as a true star.