Do I even need an excuse to ‘write’ a post about baseball’s best bat-flippers anymore? There are so many fantastic pimp-jobs every week that it’s becoming a regular feature. Throw in the absolutely devastating Jose Fernandez news though, a loss that will take everyone, not just his fantasy owners (like me), a long time to get over, and my lack of care to celebrate baseball seriously today is a little more understandable. Without further ado then, the fourth installment detailing the contenders for the 2014 Bat-Flip Championship Belt:
How better to start than with an emphatic cut and bat-flip combination on the very first pitch of your team’s turn on offense? Obviously, we’re talking about Carlos Gomez here, Milwaukee’s leadoff irritant, who last Monday (literally hours after I posted the last Bat-Flip Royale update), swung nearly out of his shoes at Mike Bolsinger‘s opening pitch. Despite nearly losing his balance, he still managed to pump the ball deep over the fence, putting the Brewers on the board before the broadcast’s score graphic had time to finish unfurling. The violent swing ensured the inevitable bat-flip wasn’t ever going to be one of Gomez’s most artful efforts, but the 28-year-old adjusted marvelously to turn his hack into a stupendously aggressive bat-slam, missing pulverizing Miguel Montero‘s left foot all the way to China with his backswing by mere millimeters. Way to set the tone Carlos.
Now if you missed the usual embellishment from Gomez, don’t worry, because Junior Lake has your flourish-fixation covered this week. Batting with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning against Scott Carroll on Thursday night, Lake drew a 3-2 RBI walk, and promptly unveiled this baby:
That looks like at least a 720° back-flip of the bat, a one-handed effort too no less. Style points are taken back for Lake’s artistry occurring in the third freakin’ inning, but given the situation – full count, two outs, and the Cubs trying to stave off a four-game sweep at the hands of their crosstown rivals – you can’t especially blame him.
Neil Walker on the other hand, has a far better sense of timing when it comes to egregious showboating.
Walker’s extended pose and subsequent wrist action came in a far more high-leverage circumstance: down 3-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Pittsburgh home game against NL Central foes St. Louis, and with the flame-throwing Carlos Martinez on the mound, the 28-year-old second baseman crushed a curveball to deep right, driving in not simply himself but Jordy Mercer and Gaby Sanchez too, and giving the Pirates a 6-4 lead they wouldn’t squander. If Pittsburgh weren’t looking terrible so far, or this occurred later in the season, I swear Walker’s flip would have been bigger news. As it was, it was somewhat obscured by the ‘what’s wrong with the Cardinals?’ narrative – a real shame considering his fine performance. We recognize you Neil!
Still, his grandstanding still falls way short of last week’s best bat-flip effort (my apologies for the lack of GIF):
That’s Nyjer Morgan of the Cleveland Indians going on full-on Tony Plush, his fantastically outspoken alter-ego which was so well documented recently by Michael Baumann. And my goodness was it terrific. After ensuring his first homer in the big leagues since July 30, 2012 landed safely in the right field seats, first Morgan displayed the delayed bat flip, then proceeded to jog around the bases with his left arm curiously tucked to his side. When he finally reached the plate, he put his hands in the air and formed a T – referring to his alter ego Plush. In his words, it was “Just a little one. I kind of short-armed it,” but considering how his leadoff shot proved to be the winning run in the Indians’ 6-5 victory over the Rays, he probably should have been a little more emphatic. Good job he made sure to atone for his under-exuberance in his instant-classic postgame interview with WTAM of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.
T-Plush earns the weekly Bat-Flip award then, and thus entry into the end of year Royale, but that’s not the end of this week’s BFR segment. Quite simply, it wouldn’t be a recap without mentioning the 2013 champion, Yasiel Puig.
Puig has already secured his seeding for the ultimate bat-tle (he’s a no. 1, obviously), but judging by his numerous flips, the wild Cuban horse seems intent on repeating by crushing his challengers with sheer quantity. First, there was his pulling off the Carlos Gomez staple move – a solid toss away on a routine fly-ball against the Washington Nationals. No big deal, Puig does that all the time, nor was it against a divisional opponent. No controversy there. Puig’s disposing of his offensive weaponry only got more, well, offensive as the week went on though, as the Dodgers took on San Francisco.
The already-heated NL West rivalry most notably took on another edge thanks to the young right fielder’s post-jack antics on Friday. Down 3-0, Puig first irritated Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner by declining to call time because of something in his eye, and taking a called strike instead. When he took Bumgarner deep two pitches later then, issued his now customary bat-flip, and then proceeded around the bases in an extremely leisurely fashion, the pitcher was less than impressed.
The whole incident was so #PuigbeingPuig it was comical, not that it seemed to affect the man at the center of it all in any way. Only two games later, he was inflicting the same embarrassment on Tim Hudson (though rather than remaining down, this time he tied the game at one apiece). Later on too, he’d get to Sergio Romo. Hudson, thankfully, had a far more relaxed approach to it than Bumgarner:
Tim Hudson has a different opinion of Yasiel Puig’s bat flip: “He hit the piss out of it, so I probably would’ve flipped it too.” — Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) May 12, 2014
Hudson knows. This is a guy with a 28.99-second homer trot on his résumé after all. Puig only took 29.04 seconds, discussion and all, to round the bases against Bumgarner. Bumgarner’s anger in fact, disqualifies any consideration he earned for his post-grand slam showboating earlier in the season.
There’s no room for hypocrites in the Bat-Flip Royale.
As once (fictionally) remarked by Ron Burgundy, “well that escalated quickly.” Only last Tuesday did I first detail the early contenders for the 2014 Bat-Flip Belt, a post that was not only well-received (thanks!), but seems to have provoked a veritable outbreak of hot-dogging*; since Jayson Werth was awarded the early possession for his “Bat-Flip of Maximum Conquest Maximus”, several perennial heavyweights have flexed their own muscle and thrown their flip into the ring. Let’s have a look at some of their awesome efforts.
Almost as if in response to my tease last week that he had yet to build on the promise of his tremendous rookie bat-flip campaign (though more likely in order to justify Jonah Keri’s ranking of him the fifth-best flipper he’d ever seen), Wil Myers announced his candidacy for the 2014 belt with a supreme exhibition against the Yankees.
A steady stare, but not his finest bat work. We’ll let young Wil off the hook though, considering how it was his first jack of his sophomore season. That initial piece of preening was in fact, more just a shaking off of the rust in preparation for his later effort.
That is the bat-flip of pitchers’ nightmares; less prolonged staring at the plate this time, more of a callous whip on swinging flip, and a solid continued admiration going down the first base line. Sure, he loses points for the fact that his two jacks came against Ivan Nova – who is now out with a partially torn UCL, and likely headed for Tommy John surgery – but boy, that peacocking… regardless of the level of difficulty involved, the prolonged gaze of ‘yeah, I just did THAT. Hide your kids’ after every crush, will pretty much ensure Myers a strong seeding in the end of year bout.
Of course, Alfonso Soriano wasn’t going to allow Myers the series bat-flip spotlight all to himself; what we have below is a veteran drop-and-observe move. Myers would probably be at second by the time Soriano makes it out of the opposing batter’s box.
That Sori took it to David Price too – in my estimation at least, a pitcher you probably don’t want to piss off – earns him extra consideration, as does his delightfully artistic gum chew, but I’m going to need to see some more blatant obnoxiousness to be convinced he belongs in the ring with the real heavyweights. Speaking of which…
Now, you’re probably thinking ‘That doesn’t look like much.’ You’re quite correct, that doesn’t. This, on the other hand, shows the exclamatory flip Yasiel Puig applies to his tater off of the woeful Josh Collmenter in all its glory. As put by Marc Normandin on SB Nation, “I’m upset at every camera operator at the park for not properly capturing Puig’s emphatic bat flip on this shot. Puig deserves better than that. We all deserve better than that.”
Puig had himself a pretty strong week in posing actually, throwing in a sustained hold of his swing on a pop out to right field – all whilst refusing to run down the line and marching back to the dugout – in the 12th inning of the Dodgers’ game against San Francisco on Jackie Robinson Day. Puig’s strutting was rather overshadowed however, by one of his chief rivals for the belt – fellow agitator, Carlos Gomez.
I last week alluded to Gomez’s hilarious celebration of successful sacrifice flies- well, now I’ve managed to find some GIF evidence of it. I’m sure you’ll agree, such showboating is so bad it’s good.
This weekend however, Gomez perhaps took his swaggering too far. Facing Pittsburgh’s Gerritt Cole, the Milwaukee center fielder crushed a pitch out – but only in his mind. There was a gloriously contemptuous flip – a left-handed snap with all pizazz added by the wrist action – and 5 or 6 seconds of trotting in which Gomez lorded it over his vanquished foe, before realization set in.
‘It’s not going over the fence. S***. RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!’
What followed when Gomez (eventually) made it to third base has been written to death already – not that it has become any less watchable. Most notably, Cole wisely stomped off back to the mound to enjoy watching the fracas, Travis Snider waded in, a Milwaukee coach got in a very solid sucker punch, and Gomez was ejected. Discipline has not yet been handed down, but hear this; the longer the suspension, the better for the other CarGo’s final seeding in the B.F.R. He might not have smoked the home run, but Carlos Gomez has declared himself ready to drop the bat and throw down.
* There’s even been grandstanding at the college level, junior shortstop Mitch Skaggs lifting his College of Idaho Coyotes over the Menlo College Oaks by the score of 10-6 with an 11th inning walk-off grand slam – and one incredible bat flip.
A hot topic ever since his one-man assault on Kyle Kendrick and the boo-birds of Philadelphia just over a week ago, what to expect from Ryan Braun in 2014 is a true quandary for the fantasy baseball community, and one which shows no signs of being answered soon. The volatile combination of sensational past performance, a lingering injury, and his return from a 65-game PED suspension that ended his 2013 have all contributed to make the 30-year-old Braun one of the most intriguing names out there in fantasy circles this year – and an absolutely infuriating player to own (I should know – more on that later). Consider this then, frustrated owners, your Braun-primer, recapping what there is to know about Braun’s current situation, and (hopefully) helping in answering that nagging question; just what the heck do you do with Ryan Braun?!
Let’s start with some history. Pre-2013 – whether artificially aided or not – Braun was one of the most dependable first-round selections around, averaging a .312-34-109-22-105 line in his first full five seasons in the majors (2008-12), twice securing a top-3 finish on ESPN’s Player Rater. Furthermore, he played 150 games or more in every one of those five seasons – a necessary component to being a true fantasy stud.
2013 however, drastically altered the perception of Braun (in more ways than one); a thumb injury landed him on the DL for the first time in his career, and would eventually cost him 38 of the first 97 games of the Brewers’ season. Then came the unexpected hammer blow to owners everywhere – the season-ending suspension which ensured the righty slugger a final finish of 369th overall on the aforementioned Player Rater (89th among outfielders). Typically drafted third overall behind only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, there was perhaps no bigger bust than Braun (though the injury-plagued Matt Kemp and his 388th place Player Rater finish might have run him close).
The concerns over his thumb (and the presumably lost effect of the PEDs – a factor I personally never bought into*) led to his stock dropping over the winter, with many critics doubting his previously unparalleled combination of hit-for-average, hit-for-power and base-stealing ability to still be fully present. A solid spring (he launched three home runs and had a .806 slugging percentage in 16 Cactus League games), eased doubt though, the Hebrew Hammer eventually securing an average draft position of 15.3 – his ADP only .1 behind 5th-ranked outfielder Adam Jones, and considerably higher than the previously mentioned Kemp (72.0).
Which brings us to the present. Milwaukee’s no.3 hitter is currently rocking a .269-3-10-2-9 line, good for a 6.43 value and 25th place ranking on the early Player Rater; no great shakes then, the consensus second-rounder performing slightly below expected, but superficially at least (and especially when considering how young the season is – Alexei Ramirez, Dee Gordon, and Charlie Blackmon are ranked in the top 5 two weeks in) far from a disaster. The real trouble though – and the cause of the Braun dilemma – comes when you look beyond the simple 5×5 stats.
According to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, the same thumb injury that so affected his pre-suspension playing time last year (numbness in the thumb that affects his grip and in turn leads to blisters), is back. The different tactics employed by Braun and the Brewers’ medical staff (per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, padding on the bat or in his batting glove), haven’t apparently worked; his trouble not just swinging the bat effectively, but throwing the ball without issue had already kept him out of one game before it was earlier announced he would be rested for today’s tilt against the Cardinals. Throw in his slow start to0 – aside from that Philadelphia game, the Milwaukee man’s fantasy line would be just .234-0-3-2-6 – and there are very legitimate reasons for Braun owners to be worried about their investment.
Now if it weren’t for the thumb, I wouldn’t be so worried about Braun’s slow start – we’re two weeks in remember, and with a potent Milwaukee offense around him (Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy have been particularly great so far) the counting stats would almost certainly come around. But the lingering effect of that ailment, aside from likely cutting into his offensive output, will almost certainly also effect the newly-converted left fielder’s playing time – much like in 2013 – and thus dent his overall production. What with his problem sounding like a classic sort of daily-maintenance and eventual surgery injury too, the occasional off days, designated-hitter games, and likely DL stint will make Braun a fantasy nightmare for those in weekly leagues, and someone whose everyday availability will require constant surveillance in daily leagues.
It’s unclear then, whether Braun is worth the hassle. On the one hand, he might find a solid management option, play most-everyday, and provide tremendous statistical worth. More likely, at least in my opinion – I traded Braun in one of my leagues this week – he’ll be in and out of the lineup, and provide merely above-average value on a per-game basis. That’s not bad by any means, but not what you paid for, and a real pain in the proverbial. I would suggest then, that if there’s any residual buzz in your league left to be exploited from that Philly outing, you swing him – but for no less than 70 cents on the dollar.
80% of Braun is still valuable after all, no matter how frustrating he is. But if you still can, let someone else ponder that annoying fantasy thought every morning: ‘I wonder what I’ll get out of Ryan Braun today…’
*I’m no doctor, but I doubt the PEDs had much actual impact on his on-field performance, ie. I find it hard to believe Braun is actually a 15 HR guy who was merely masquerading as a power hitter. More likely, the drugs allowed him to recover quicker from the niggling injuries he naturally picked up over the long 162 game season, and possibly allowed him to push through a couple of games when he would have otherwise been unable to play. Again though, I’m no doctor – just a humble English literature student.
With my one exam of Finals Week already over (pretty awesome right?!), I’ve little else to do but watch March Madness hoops in between performing the various knee rehabilitation exercises I’ve been assigned in the wake of my ACL injury (not so awesome). Of course, I’ve also plenty of time to fret about the fate of my Cincinnati Reds. As an irrational fan, I was already worried about their NL Central chances even before Aroldis Chapman took a Salvador Perez line drive to the face yesterday (thankfully, it sounds like the Cuban Missile will be okay); in addition to losing key contributors like Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Hanigan, and Bronson Arroyo over the offseason without really replacing them (as exciting as Billy Hamilton is, I’m still on the fence regarding his value), their divisional competition seemed to be stronger than ever. Considering how the Cardinals have somehow got even deeper over the winter, Chicago having nowhere to go but up, and how the Pirates could soon add impact rookies Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco to their 94-win team of 2013, I was beginning to take solace in the mediocre Brewers at least providing Cincinnati some respite during the upcoming season. Then I realized they might just have the best outfield in the entire National League this year.
Carlos Gomez will be looking to continue where he left off in 2013, a breakout year in which the former Mets prospect was worth 7.6 WAR, hit .284/.338/.506 with 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases, and played historically good defense in center field. Ryan Braun too, returning from an injury-marred season which infamously ended with a 65-game PED suspension, still figures to be an elite offensive threat even if his numbers do slightly regress from their possibly unnatural 2008-12 peak. The player that will perhaps most contribute towards the Brewers improving on their disappointing 67-95 record from a year ago however, and either affirm or disprove my ranking of Milwaukee’s outfield as the Senior Circuit’s best, is neither Braun nor Gomez though; new left fielder Khris Davis will be the X-factor for the Brew Crew in 2014.
Selected by the Brewers in the seventh round of the 2009 amateur draft, Davis last year took the NL Central by storm with a .406 wOBA after being called up to the Majors in July. Taking over full-time left field duties when Braun was suspended, Khris mashed during the second-half, posting a .279 batting average, a .949 OPS, and by virtue of his smoking 11 home runs in only 153 plate appearances, a .316 ISO mark that ranked second in baseball amongst those with at least 100 plate appearances – behind only his near-namesake Chris Davis. Not a bad first cup of coffee for the 26-year-old, but was it legit?
Davis hit line drives 20.4% of the time with a .293 BABIP last year with the Brewers, indicating his average wasn’t especially fluky. His 22.2% strikeout rate, and 7.2% walk rate weren’t great, but were also far off his statistics in the Minors – leaving additional room for improvement in his .353 OBP number. And though Davis’ 2013 HR/FB rate (28.9%) was unsustainably high, the power of “Khrush” is real; he hit 22 home runs in the offensively-challenging Midwest League in his first full professional season with Single-A Wisconsin in 2010, 17 more at High-A and Double-A in 2011, and a further 15 in just 82 games between Double-A and Triple-A Nashville during 2012. Sure, he’s not the 35+ HR sort of player last year’s numbers indicated, but he could easily reach 20-25 given full playing time – something he’ll receive in 2014.
Evidently the Brewers believe in the Cal State Fullerton product; though they’ve been coy about naming him the outright starter, the trade of incumbent right fielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals (in exchange for lefty swingman Will Smith), and subsequent move of Braun to the open slot in right, appears to have opened up left field for Davis – and Davis alone; Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl will most likely only be reserve options for the club.
So, as written by Bryan Curley on Baseball Professor, “Essentially, we have a player with average contact skills, above average (and possibly very good) plate discipline, and a good amount of power who just so happens to be playing in a hitter’s park (Miller Park has a 108 park factor for RH HR) with a full-time job.” That’s a scary combination – and given Davis’ relative youth, one that could see him stick with his star mates Braun and Gomez as part of a formidable outfield trio for the foreseeable future. Throw into the lineup Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy, and I believe I’m more than justified in fearing Milwaukee’s offensive potential for 2014.
Not just for my Reds, but the rest of the NL Central, Khrush and the rest of the gang in Milwaukee aren’t going to be an easy out.
Welcome to Week 2 of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series! Needing to carefully word my dissertation thesis, yesterday’s look back on the train wreck also known as the 2013 Miami Marlins took on a somewhat lighter tone than usual. However, with the labeling of my exploration of counter-discursive nineteenth-century Cuban texts now complete, it’s time to plow on with all matters NL. The Milwaukee Brewers are on the clock today, as I focus on one of 2013’s breakout performers, at least during the first half of the season anyway; base running extraordinaire, Jean Segura.
I’ll get my bragging out of the way first. On April 11th last year, I picked up Jean Segura in my 14 team rotisserie fantasy league, eventually romping to the title in such a dominant manner that I can only assume the Karma Gods will smite my team down by early May this upcoming season. Not that I can say I knew what I’d be getting back then; with his ADP of 228.4, Segura was a speculative add – a player off to a hot start filling in for one of my injured middle infielders. Little did I know, I had picked up the eventual no. 1 SS per ESPN’s player rater for the 2013 season. Of course, fantasy baseball often ascribes value to players that are worth far less to their teams in reality, and vice versa. But even if Segura’s outrageous fantasy value wasn’t totally indicative of his on-field production for Milwaukee, it shouldn’t diminish what was still an outstanding season for the young Dominican. Aged 23, and in his first full season as a Brewer, Segura posted a .294/.329/.423 slash line over 623 PAs, demonstrating surprising power (12 HRs) to complement his signature speed (44 SBs). And while his final stats were certainly more than any sane Brewers fan would have predicted before the season, they were still somewhat of a disappointment come season’s end.
That’s because Segura’s performance simply fell off a cliff during the second half. Prior to the All-Star game – to which he was deservedly voted to – Segura owned a 325/.363/.487 slash line, including 11 HRs and 8 triples. With a wRC+ of 135, the Milwaukee shortstop also topped the NL in both hits (127) and stolen bases (27). From that point on however, he, well… posted the same OBP as Juan Francisco. After the break, Segura hit just .241/.268/.315, adding only 1 HR to his pre-break tally while also seeing his steal success rate plummet (27SB/5CS pre-break; 17/8 after). His wRC+ also plunged to merely 57, a mark far below the average for NL shortstops;
To what then, can we attribute such a precipitous drop-off in production? Quite probably, simple fatigue. After getting significant run in the second half of the 2012 season for Milwaukee after being the prize return in the Zack Greinke trade, Segura played – and dominated – winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic, before then accruing 620+ PAs last year. By then end of 2013 Segura’s power had all but disappeared accompanying the vanishing of his plate discipline, and weirdly, his speed – in addition to his lessened steal success rate, Segura was unable to leg out half as many infield hits despite hitting more ground balls (his IFH% fell from 16.2% down to 7.6%). Throw in the re-appearance of a nagging hamstring injury in September, and all the evidence points to Segura being run-down. Was it all that surprising then, to see the young star flame out?
By virtue of his dramatic first-half ascension, we tend to forget that 2013 was, aged just 23, Segura’s first full season in the majors. Aided by an unsustainable BABIP and power surge, Segura’s first half stats were unrealistically inflated to an extent that exaggerated his talent. His post-break line too, was unreliably skewed – just in the opposite direction – speaking more to his fatigue than simple regression. After such a Jekyll and Hyde performance in 2013, this season should hopefully bring a more consistent Jean Segura. Alongside the restored Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee’s climb back to relevancy will sit largely on their young shortstop’s shoulders, who – a year wiser and aided by an offseason of rest – seems set to bounce back from his second half slip in a big way.
You certainly won’t be picking him 228th overall again anyway.