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.
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 5! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Milwaukee Brewers (4-3 last week, 21-9 overall) ↑ As so succinctly put by Jonah Keri, “The lineup the Milwaukee Brewers fielded against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night looked like it belonged in a split-squad spring training game.” Everyone’s favorite Canadian wasn’t wrong either – behind Joey Votto‘s All-Star nemesis (Carlos Gomez) in the leadoff spot, the Brew Crew trotted out the following order; Elian Herrera (1 career HR), Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis (.257 OBP this year), Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds (both of whom are first basemen, and could well be playing in Japan), Jeff Bianchi (career backup, .222 hitter), and Martin Maldonado (a part-time pitcher now). Naturally, they won – and now stand a full 6 games clear of the Cardinals in the NL Central race. With Ryan Braun now on the DL and their paper-thin lineup already exposed, the load will continue to be on their pitching staff to keep up the pace, but with a surprisingly stocked rotation, and shutdown relief corps, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they did. It’s shaping up to be just that kind of year in Milwaukee*.
- San Francisco Giants (5-1, 18-11) ↑ Worryingly thin in terms of starting pitch depth by the end of last season, the Giants went out and grabbed the 38-year-old Tim Hudson from the injury scrapheap (a nasty fractured ankle had needed his 2013 season), signing the veteran to a two-year, $23 million contract in the hope of landing some solid back-end production. So far, the move is looking like a steal; after completing his first month in the Giants’ rotation with a 2.17 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 31:2 K:BB across 45.2 innings, Hudson clearly has plenty left in the tank, and has already contributed 1.1 WAR to the club. He’ll unfortunately miss pitching against his former Atlanta mates this weekend, but will have a nice opportunity to bump his stats further on Tuesday, when he is scheduled to face the anemic Pirates. An NL West showdown with the Dodgers will round out the week.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 17-11) ↓ After being swept by a combined score of 23-7 this week, Aaron Harang and manager Fredi Gonzalez hilariously voiced suspicion that the Marlins’ offensive explosion could only have been caused by them stealing signs. Sure, it’s a tad odd that after striking out 11 times against him last week, Miami this time touched up Harang for 10 hits and a career-high nine runs, but how about this: it’s not cameras, the bullpen, or sneaky men lingering around the center-field sculpture in red hats – Harang, who entered the game with the best ERA in the major leagues at 0.85, but the owned a career mark of 4.28, simply (finally) turned back into a pumpkin. Or an orangutan, whatever. The April shine is off either way.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 17-13) →
- Washington Nationals (4-1, 17-12) ↑ Bryce Harper hustles his way to third, tears the UCL in his thumb, and is now out until July. I wonder how #smrtbaseball proponent Matt Williams feels about this outcome, after sitting his star 21-year-old, one of the most intense players in recent memory, for his effort in a what looked like misguiding attempt to establish some new managerial authority.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 15-15) ↓
- Colorado Rockies (5-2, 18-13) ↑ Meet the major leagues’ best offense. Ranking first in runs (174), batting average (.297), slugging percentage (.484), and second in on-base percentage (.346), the Rox offense and their 115 OPS+ are legit. Troy Tulowitzki has been his usual top-five-player-in-baseball-when-not-injured self (1.217 OPS), and big contributions from Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon have more than made up for Carlos Gonzalez‘s sluggish start (CarGo is apparently battling a finger injury), but it’s perhaps been the continued emergence of Nolan Arenado in his second year that has most impacted Colorado’s early season success. As per usual, the California native has been an absolute vacuum at the hot corner (teaming up with defensive player of the month Tulowitzki to form the most impenetrable left side of an infield in the bigs), but has also stood out at the dish in so far in 2014; the 23-year-old is working on a 22-game hitting streak, and is hitting .309 with four home runs and 16 RBI entering today’s games. Though he still can’t take a walk (having an 86% contact rate does offset the problem somewhat), if Arenado can continue to give Colorado the production of a third offensive star, perhaps we’ll see Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray a little sooner than expected, as the Rockies push for the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Reds (2-4, 13-16) ↓ Aroldis Chapman reportedly clocked in at 101mph during his first minor league rehab start. I won’t say anything too positive though, after I apparently cursed Billy Hamilton on Thursday.
- New York Mets (2-3, 15-13) →
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 15-14) ↑ It’s incredible how different this team is at home compared to on the road. In front of approximately no one, the Marlins are 13-4, and have scored 105 runs while allowing only 54. Meanwhile, on the road, the Fish are 2-10, and have a -26 run differential.
- Philadelphia Phillies (2-2, 13-14) → For one glorious moment this week, the entire NL East were all above .500. Of course, the Phillies had to go and wreck the feel-good story by dropping their next two games, but still… who would have seen that statistic coming at the start of the season in a division that featured the Mets, Marlins, and a team employing Ryan Howard?
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 11-18) ↓
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 13-17) ↓ If you ever wondered what happens when the league’s worst offense meets the worst defense, well, you got your depressing answer on Friday night: San Diego (70 OPS+**) fell to Arizona (72 ERA+) 2-0, notching only three hits against Bronson Arroyo. After many (including this guy) thought the Friars would challenge for a Wild-Card berth this season, their woeful offense looks set to doom them to yet another disappointing year; the club ranks last among Senior Circuit teams in all three traditional slash line categories – batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.266), and slugging (.320) – and have managed to score 20 fewer runs (77) than the 14th-ranked Braves despite playing two more games. Literally no one is hitting; Jedd Gyorko is bordering on unplayable (.155/.222/.216), Will Venable has predictably regressed after his unsustainable FB/HR rate of last year (.190/.229/.260, with no homers), Yonder Alonso has failed to build upon any of the positive signs he once offered (.172/.202/.232, -0.7 WAR in 103 PAs)… The list goes on and on. Maybe the imminent return of Carlos Quentin will boost the floundering offe… Ha.
- Chicago Cubs (3-2, 10-17) ↑ Hired with an aim to resurrect the careers of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, Rick Renteria has done just that. Rizzo is currently hitting .295/.419/.495 and Castro .306/.336/.463 (the latter being on pace for a 198-hit season). As the only two projected holdovers of this team when the top prospects eventually arrive, the Cubs long-term plan is looking good right now.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (2-4, 10-22) ↓ I’m so sick of these guys.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 5!
* For more on the Brewers, I have to recommend Thursday’s excellent Effectively Wild Podcast from Baseball Prospectus, in which Ben and Sam speak with J.P. Breen about Milwaukee’s hot start.
** OPS+ is adjusted for ballparks too, so the Padres can’t even blame their struggles on the admittedly pitcher-friendly Petco Park.