I don’t remember the last time a big-ticket pitcher was booed off the mound in his home debut (not that I’ve done any research to that end), but that’s what greeted James Shields on Wednesday night in Chicago. I don’t quite find the pleasure or purpose in booing poor performance, but Shields sure didn’t leave those who are so inclined any other choice.
Two-plus innings, eight hits, seven runs (all earned), two walks, two strikeouts, three home runs and one wild pitch.
It was a long night for Shields made even longer thanks to a bevy of lengthy at-bats. Nine of the 16 hitters he faced saw at least three balls. That led to the rapid ascension of Shields’ pitch count.
He threw 32 pitches in the first inning, 47 in the second and finally five more to Anthony Rendon before he singled to open the third.
Eighty-four pitches. That’s the second-most pitches ever needed to record no more than six outs. And when I say “ever,” I mean “since no later than 1947, when pitch count data became the norm via Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool.”
Shields actually joins three other starters who spent 84 pitches to get six outs. Russ Ortiz in 1999, Steve Parris in 2000 and Chris Young in 2007 all accomplished as little with as much. The “record” belongs to 23-year-old Matt Moore, who dialed up 86 pitches in his six-out stint in 2013.
Everyone knows this marriage between Shields and the Southsiders isn’t always going to be a smooth one. Since the start of 2015, Shields has made the majority of his starts in some cavernous National League venues, including Petco Park, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park, and he allowed 42 home runs in 269.2 innings during that time. Bartolo Colon took him yard.
Now he moves to one of the game’s most homer-friendly pads. Including Wednesday’s thrashing, Shields has given up 12 homers in 74 career innings at U.S. Cellular Field. Rough outings are going to be on the menu. But the White Sox will deal with that as long as Shields eats up innings, preferably more than two per night. If there’s a silver lining to this for White Sox fans, it’s that they have probably seen the worst Shields has to offer.
A 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.
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.
Thor 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.
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.
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.