The Dodgers’ phenom is here

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Photo DayIn 1980, an unimposing, 5-foot-11 lefthander from Mexico named Fernando Valenzuela made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 19. He didn’t allow an earned run in 17.2 innings that year and followed that up in 1981 by becoming the first player to ever win the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young awards. He began that season by posting five shutouts and allowing just two earned runs through his first seven starts. He ended it as the best player on a World Series champion. Through it all, Valenzuela was so beloved by Los Angeles’ large Latino – specifically, Mexican – community, his starts became must-see events. The craze was known as “Fernandomania.”

Thirty-five years later, there’s another 19-year-old, 5-foot-11 lefty from Mexico ready to become the Dodgers’ next phenom. And he will begin his journey tonight.

That’s Julio Urias, a pitcher whom MLB.com has listed as a top-10 prospect two years running. He will take on the Mets at Citi Field, and the Dodgers clearly believe he is ready for such high-end competition. They could have called up someone else and held Urias back until next week’s home series versus the pitiful Braves. Instead, he will be thrown into into the orange and blue flames tonight. Urias has done nothing to second-guess his preseason rankings as he has a 1.10 ERA and a 44:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 41 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City.  He threw six no-hit innings in a start earlier this month.

Urias does compare slightly to Valenzuela as a pitcher, but that doesn’t mean he will throw a bunch of shutouts right away – it’s a different era. However, Urias pitches with more power and better control. His career K-to-walk rate through more than 250 minor league innings is better than 3:1. Scouts have marveled at his feel for pitching at such a young age, and there was a belief that Urias was MLB-ready last year, at the age of 18, when he was baffling mature hitters in Double-A. Even at age 16, Urias was striking out more than 11 men per nine with a sub-2.50 ERA and a WHIP barely over 1.10. He is a player well beyond his years.

Urias has a full repertoire of pitches, too. A mid-90s fastball, an excellent changeup, a developing curveball and a slider. He can throw all of those pitches for strikes and spot them on different horizontal and vertical planes. His combination of age and stuff has led to comparisons with not so much Valenzuela, but Felix Hernandez.

Felix was the last pitcher to debut at such a young age. Bryce Harper was game’s most recent teenage hitter. Those players had a surplus of hype surrounding their first games, and it should be no different with Urias. I won’t be able to watch tonight’s game because living in Los Angeles and seeing the Dodgers on TV is not something many people can do around here. Also, I’ll be at Angel Stadium for Astros-Angels. Because who needs to watch the game’s next great arm introduce himself when you can just go see Mike Fiers battle Matt Shoemaker, right?

Anyway, I’m just giddy and glad that Urias is here. He looks like the nerdy, scrawny babyface who gets bullied by the jocks in high school. But he is about to make a bunch of grown men look stupid. I’m not sure how many starts he will make; the Dodgers will monitor his pitch and inning counts very closely and may stick him in the bullpen for this season. But for one night, everyone should want to see what he brings. Maybe he won’t produce anything close to “Fernandomania” in the long run, but if he is as good as billed, I, for one, welcome the age of “U-phoria”

Gerrit Cole goes 7 innings, throws hard, strikes out no one

gerritcole9cpsh4f-ppsmA starting pitcher making it through at least seven innings without recording a strikeout isn’t exactly rare, even though it feels like it should be. With strikeouts rising throughout the league, I was surprised to find that this has happened 20 times since the start of 2013. Colby Lewis did this just a few weeks ago. Rick Porcello threw a no-strikeout shutout less than two years ago.

Most of the names attached to these performances from the past couple of seasons are less surprising. Justin Nicolino. Brett Oberholtzer. Mike Pelfrey. 2015 R.A. Dickey. Yeah, none of those dudes are breaking radar guns. 

But Gerrit Cole? He with an easy 95-MPH fastball and with a changeup and a slider in the high-80s? Against a Colorado squad that whiffs a fair amount?

Cole threw seven innings on Thursday night and couldn’t get a third strike on any of the 28 Rockies he faced. And Cole was throwing hard. All of his average pitch velocities were higher than their season averages. He reached 98 MPH a few times and even got his changeup up to 90.

He got the win, 2-1. He got zero K luck. 

So I wanted to find out how often this happens to a starter with a career K/9 average greater than Cole’s 8.5 (minimum 500 innings pitched).Well, that’s not that easy. After some searching, my best guess is this hasn’t happened to such a strikeout pitcher since 1987. And it happened to that particular pitcher twice during the same month in ’87 .

That pitcher was Roger Clemens.

Clemens went nine innings in both of those outings and — 

Wait a minute …

ROGER CLEMENS HAD TWO COMPLETE GAMES WHERE HE DIDN’T RECORD A STRIKEOUT. 


Are you kidding me!? In case you are wondering, this never occurred with Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, the two men above Clemens on the career strikeouts list.

Anyway, on July 1 and July 21, Roger notched complete-game victories without a K. He would still strike out 256 batters that season and go on to claim his second consecutive Cy Young.

My next best guess is that Gerrit Cole will strike out somebody when he returns to the bump in five days. In the meantime, he can celebrate both his odd win and his odd tie to one of the greatest.

Presenting the last word on Rougned Odor vs. Jose Bautista

May 19, 2016 1 comment
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More action than any recent Floyd Mayweather fight

I’m so late to this party, the cake is stale and the only person left in the room is the janitor sweeping up the streamers and balloons. So let me just hit you with some bullet-point opinions about baseball’s Fight of the Century.

  • For me, seeing this type of baseball fight — a true rarity compared to those from days gone by — is sort of like passing a massive car crash on the freeway. I don’t get any intrinsic enjoyment out of the sight, yet I can’t take my eyes off of it because the curiosity is overwhelming. Baseball fights, unlike some car crashes, are wholly avoidable, and it’s rather ridiculous that the level of hatred can reach such high levels. But in the moment, that was some compelling.
  • A few Blue Jays said after the game that the Rangers acted cowardly by hitting Bautista in what was likely his final at bat of the season series between the two teams. That sounds like a lot of sour grapes. The Rangers felt the need to retaliate for what happened during last year’s postseason — All of this over a bat flip? Really? — and they did so at a time that left the Blue Jays with little to no time for payback. That’s not cowardly, that’s called picking your spots. And then Toronto lost the actual fight. The Rangers basically got the best of their playground nemesis on the last day before summer break. Smart. All Toronto could do was hit Prince Fielder in the thigh with a pitch. Ooooh, that’ll show ’em. Not like Prince has a lot of meat on his legs to cushion that blow or anything.
  • Please let these teams meet in the playoffs again. Please let these teams meet in the playoffs again. Please let this teams meet in the playoffs again …   
  • No player or team was “right” in this matter, but Rougned Odor was the No. 1 jerk by far. Not just because of his push-punch combination, but as Jose Bautista is sliding into second base, Odor clearly drops down and attempts to either nail Bautista with the ball or his fist. If you can stand to watch it again, just look at how the throw comes out of his hand. Yeah, Bautista slides in illegally, but he didn’t really contact Odor much before the throw, and that ball almost went into right field. Odor had no intentions of completing the double play.
  • With that said, Odor is a Texas Rangers legend for life (assuming he doesn’t torment the Rangers with another team or disparage the franchise in the future). Clips of that punch will be shown around Globe Life Park and the Dallas-Fort Worth area for years. He’s basically the newest personification of “Don’t Mess with Texas.” He is right up there with Nolan Ryan, Ivan Rodriguez and Cordell Walker. Who knew his first name was Cordell?
  • Major League Baseball obviously said publicly that it doesn’t condone this violence. However, if that’s completely honest, I don’t think this would have been this lead story — with numerous replays of the fight — on every show that aired on its own network for the following two days. Plus, you know that photos of this thing will find itself on MLB-licensed material in the future. Fighting is bad, mmmkay? But the league won’t turn down the extra attention.
  • I’m surprised there weren’t heavier suspensions and more in total. Bautista gets just one game while Jesse Chavez gets three? Maybe Joe Torre felt Joey Bats had taken enough punishment already. Elvis Andrus had to sit for a game while Kevin Pillar did not. And Josh Donaldson gets only a fine? That seems inconsistent with the video.
  • To anyone who thought the brawl would piss off the Blue Jays or fire up the Rangers, both of these teams were swept in their next series. Toronto got thrashed by Tampa Bay at home, and Texas had a forgetful few days in Oakland. So much for those narratives that were all over the place on Sunday and Monday.

Weird, wild, wacky stuff. Fortunately, baseball went back to normal on Tuesday when real baseball fight took place.

Look at that fake machismo and all of that wasted energy from the bullpen pitchers! That’s how you do it, boys.

The Angels were *this close* to having a Rally Cat

mlbf_688810883_th_45I am a cat person. Not to be confused with a crazy cat person, but cats are better than dogs. I grew up with a few of each, and cats, while obviously being more independent and self-sufficient, can be just as loving. If you disagree with that last sentence, you haven’t found the right cat for you, but they are out there and are absolutely the best.

On Thursday night, two of my greatest loves, cats and baseball, collided and almost formed a beautiful long-term relationship.

In the bottom of the fourth inning at Angel Stadium, a cat — I’ll call it an orange tabby, although I’m sure a true feline aficionado can correct me — dashed across the middle of the infield during the Cardinals-Angels game. And this being a 2016 Angels game, a cat on the field is the usually the most exciting non-Trout play of the night.

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But this was no ordinary night. The Cards and Angels slugged it out until a nearly four-hour affair ended in St. Louis’ favor, 12-10. The Angels’ TV broadcasters said repeatedly during the game that if the Angels were able to win this one, that cat had to become the franchise’s unofficial mascot. Which would have been fine by everyone, since the Rally Monkey’s best days occurred when “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” was nesting in your brain.

Alas, Los Angeles’ comeback attempt in the ninth fell short, and I assume this will be forgotten shortly. Maybe some PR intern will come up with a funny campaign using the cat, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The cat, which is apparently one of a few strays that live in and around the park, seems to be getting its chance at a happy ending:

I would take it in if I could, especially because you know what happens to those animals if they don’t find a home soon, right? Actually, let’s not think about that.

Viva the Cat-lifornia Angels!

Noah Syndergaard hammers two home runs

002fgrksThor does it all. As Vin Scully brought up during his Wednesday night broadcast between the Mets and Dodgers, Thor is the god of thunder, lightning, storms, strength, fertility, healing, hallowing, the protection of mankind and … oak trees? 

Baseball’s Thor, Noah Syndergaard, must have been super pissed after serving up two home runs to the Dodgers given that he had allowed just one in his previous 38.1 innings.

But that’s OK, because Syndergaard did what he usually does on the mound otherwise and must have felt compelled to do something about those home runs, so he hit two of his own. And yes, I used the spanish announcer calls because Vin Scully wasn’t available.

Obviously, using “hammers” in the headline here is a cheap pun that everyone is using today. But there was nothing cheap about either of those shots. Look at that second one again, especially. A slider on the outside half that he barrels out to left-center? Syndergaard’s pitching repetroire isn’t the only unfair aspect of his baseball talents, apparently.

Syndergaard became the first pitcher since 2007 to hit two homers in a game. That pitcher was Micah Owings, who was always a better hitter than pitcher. In 205 career MLB at-bats, he recorded nine home runs and OPS’ed .813.

The last Mets pitcher to double up with the longball? Walt Terrell in 1983. I always love it when random players who have been completely forgotten for 20-plus years pop up in these conversations.

Also, in case you’re not keeping track, the Atlanta Braves have nine home runs this season. Mets pitchers have three, all of which have come in the past week.

The man who started this power surge will be on the mound for the Mets tonight, Bartolo Colon. I’ll be at the game, and I will be so giddy if Bartolo can go deep in consecutive starts. But if he homers — or even makes solid contact — off of Clayton Kershaw … I don’t even know. Baseball is really weird, but that’s straight gonzo.

Max Scherzer: 20 Ks in dominant, efficient fashion

May 11, 2016 1 comment

What Max Scherzer did on Wednesday night, striking out 20 Detroit Tigers, was better than a no-hitter, and he’s thrown two of them. Way more rare, way more about his true abilities than the abilities of the men behind him. And just way more sexy.

 

It is. If you’re a batter, the name of the game is to hit the ball. Major league hitters ultimately failed to do that against Scherzer 20 times tonight. Sorry to dumb it down, but when something happens that has occurred only four previous times in the past century, reducing the accomplishment to its lowest form somehow makes it seem that much more special.

Of course, Scherzer joins the company of Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, the other pitchers to strike out 20 in no more than nine innings (Clemens pulled it off twice). Coincidentally enough, there were no walks in any of these five outings.

But Scherzer did a couple of things that even Johnson and Wood did not. Scherzer completed his game with a ground out from James McCann (Nationals fans so very much wanted to see Anthony Rendon throw that ball away, even if it would have meant postponing the win). His 20th K was the second out of the ninth, so only Scherzer and 1986 Clemens can say they got to 20 strikeouts in less than nine innings pitched.

Also, Max was remarkably efficient. He entered the ninth with 106 pitches. When he gave up a homer to J.D. Martinez to begin that frame and when Victor Martinez singled with one out, people on Twitter started wondering how long Dusty Baker would stick with him. First of all, it’s Dusty Baker, so if Max’s elbow is still attached, no moves were going to be made.

Secondly, this wasn’t uncharted territory for Scherzer in terms of his pitch count. This wasn’t Ross Stripling or Adam Conley. Scherzer threw 116 pitches in a game earlier this year. He reached 119 twice last season. Even in a one-run game, Scherzer would have needed to let at least one more batter reach base before Dusty had come with the hook.

But back to that pitch efficiency. Wood, Johnson and Clemens all topped the 120 mark in their performances. Clemens threw 151 pitches when he did it in 1996 (also against Detroit). How did Scherzer keep his total manageable? He threw only 23 balls, and nine of his strikeouts took three pitches. In the gif below, you can really see how Scherzer utilized his changeup to achieve an incredible amount of quick strikeouts.

 

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My favorite fact of the night came in a tweet from Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron
:

Scherzer struck out 20 batters in nine innings AND broke xFIP. That is indeed sexy.

NFL Draft: What the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles need

April 28, 2016 Leave a comment

2016nfldraftlogoThe NFL Draft gets underway in about an hour, and let me just say I can’t wait. Not because I’m such a draftnik, but because the deluge of pre-draft talk that dominates sports talk at this time of year is often nothing more than meaningless blather.

Everyone wants to make predictions about what each team is going to do in the first round, whom they are going to select. The sources behind the predictions provide a level of certainty that makes it seem like what the reporters are hearing is a done deal.

Then something happens on draft night no one expected, reducing the source’s scoop to scrap.

Case in point, recent reports surrounding what the New York Giants will do at No. 10 overall. Yesterday, sources told Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News there is a “strong chance” the Giants will draft a linebacker at that spot. Specifically, Georgia’s Leonard Floyd.

Great. The Giants undoubtedly need a linebacker. Welcome, Leonard!

Then, from a different New York Daily News reporter this morning:

Based on these reports, the Giants will probably choose a defensive back in Round 1.

If reporters from the same news outlet in the team’s backyard can’t get on the same page, why should we put stock into any of the rumors we hear during draft season? Let’s just get on with the show already.

Oh. I guess I’ve buried the lede six feet under here, but the real point of this post is to get you to read something I wrote Wednesday for the Redskins team site Breaking Burgundy. The article has very little to do with the Redskins. Rather, it’s my last-minute assumptions of what positions and players the three other teams in the NFC East will  be targeting over the next three days. There’s no actual reporting I’m swearing by. Just a lot of educated guesses.

And if you are interested in knowing what the Redskins might do during the draft, click literally any other link on Breaking Burgundy.

Enjoy the NFL Draft, if that’s your thing. If Ezekiel Elliot’s wardrobe is any clue, it should be an interesting show.

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