Pace of play? The Diamondbacks and Rockies hold the longest 9-inning game in National League history
You don’t hear about pace of play this season as much as you did when the new rules to speed up baseball games were instituted in 2015. But don’t be mistaken; it remains one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s top initiatives. And frankly, he’s fighting a losing battle right now.
Game times are up in 2016, surpassing the dreaded three-hour mark as of mid-May. The biggest culprit? There’s just more of stuff. More pitches, more walks, more strikeouts and more balls staying out of play. Those add up, and you had the perfect storm Friday night when the Rockies hosted the Diamondbacks.
It took 4 fours and 30 minutes for the D’Backs to pull off the 10-9 comeback victory. The game time bested a 15-year National League record for longest nine-inning game by 3 minutes. The previous record-holder was a Dodgers-Giants tilt from 2001.
This one had all the ingredients for a extraordinarily long game: 19 runs; 30 hits; 13 walks; 16 strikeouts (eh, that’s not too bad); six mid-inning pitching changes (serenity now!).
As pointed out by the Rockies’ SB Nation blog, Purple Row, the teams combined for 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That is pretty amazing to fathom but easy to understand when you see that there were 12 doubles (tied for the most in a game this year), six stolen bases, five errors, three wild pitches, two balks and all of those damn walks. There were actually 60 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and imagine how much longer this game would have lasted if the teams had hit better than .196 in those RISP situations.
I never want to complain about game times; my life is always better at the ballpark. But it’s games like this one that make Manfred tear out what’s remaining of his hair. Moreover, there’s really nothing he can do to stop these types of games from occurring. For all of his rules and suggestions, he can’t force pitchers to throw strikes. He can’t stop fielders from booting balls. He can’t stop hitters from taking so many pitches. Like the fans, he just has to sit there and wait for the game to, at some point, end.
Yankees fans won’t have Stephen Drew to kick around any more.
The Cubs’ acquisition of Ben Zobrist on Tuesday night necessitated a trade as Chicago had to address its excess at second base with Zobrist and Starlin Castro. The Yankees, with more of an abscess at second base, made for the perfect partner. Thus, an interesting swap of young, affordable, team-controlled and possible undervalued players was born.
To get Castro, the Yankees had to part with jack-of-all-trades pitcher Adam Warren. He was the Band-Aid for their staff in 2015. When they needed him to start during the first half of the year, he posted a 3.59 ERA through 14 turns. As the rotation got healthier in the second half (and as Luis Severino cemented his starting role), Warren was moved back to the bullpen, a place where he had thrived in 2014. His K per 9 rate shot back over 9.0 and, for the year, he limited hitters to a .208/.271/.333 slash line.* He’s got a four-pitch mix and is under team control through 2018. Warren, 28, was a unheralded luxury, and the Yankees will miss him once some part of their fragile starting rotation inevitably breaks again.
*And along with the trade of Justin Wilson on Wednesday, New York now has to answer the question of who is going to fill those sixth and seventh innings out of the pen.
But everyone knew the Yankees had to fix their handicap at second base someway, somehow. That group finished 2015 with a -1.1 WAR and the sixth-lowest wOBA (.286) among all teams at 2B.
That latter stat would have been worse if not for the 24 homers supplied by the combination of Drew, Rob Refsnyder, Dustin Ackley and Jose Pirela. Seventeen of those HRs came off of Drew’s bat, but those hits provided little pause to the vitriol and blame J.D.’s younger brother took from the Bronx faithful last year. Of course, the rest of Drew’s numbers weren’t going to win him many fans no matter where he played. His .274 on-base percentage was fifth-worst among hitters who saw at least 400 plate appearances. When you combine his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, his OPS+ of 66 put him ahead of only such luminaries as Alexi Amarista, Eric Sogard and Omar Infante (min. 600 PAs).
Drew, who turns 33 in March, is a free agent, so his days with the team were done well before Tuesday’s trade was completed. But now it is official: Starlin Castro is the Yankees’ new everyday second baseman.
Now, do you wanna see something scary if you’re a supporter of the Pinstripes?
2015 slash lines through Aug. 11:
That’s not what the Yankees are paying for. They traded a valuable, versatile pitcher (and Brendan Ryan) and decided to take on Castro’s four-year, $38 million contract for what he did after AFTER Aug. 11, the first day of Castro’s transition from shortstop to full-time second baseman.
Castro slashed .353/.374/.594 through his final 44 games of the regular season. He was one of 13 players to record an OPS better than 1.000 in September and October (min. 80 ABs). Who were the 12 other players?
David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Kendrys Morales, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo and Nolan Arenado. OK.
Castro’s power during this time was most likely a fluke; he hit five home runs during that span but has yet to clear 15 homers in any of his six MLB seasons. And no one’s expecting him to be that much of a stud at the plate with the Yankees. However, there are reasons to expect him to be significantly better than that guy who was hitting in the mid-.230s during the season’s dog days.
Although Castro is only 25 years old, he’s a three-time All-Star with a 200-hit season on his resume. He already has nearly 1,000 career base hits. His total output has been up and down for the past few years, but if his BAbip normalizes (.298 last year; .321 career average) in connection with some of his batted-ball rates (career-high 54.1 percent ground ball and career-low 17 percent line drive rates last year), Castro should be a league-average player if not a bit better in terms of OPS+. That doesn’t sound very enticing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than someone putting up a 66 OPS+. Furthermore, Castro’s defense improved once he was moved to the right side of the diamond last year.
This deal isn’t a franchise-changer, and Castro’s persistent lack of plate discipline makes it hard to watch him at times. Yet, he also possesses many of the attributes that Brian Cashman and the Yankees are looking for in players while they do their Christmas shopping:
Young? Check. Under team control? Check. Provides defensive flexibility? Check. Provides some athleticism? Check. Relatively inexpensive? The Yankees will pay Castro $19 million less than the Cubs will pay 34-year-old Ben Zobrist over the same four-year period. So … check.
And probably most crucial for Yankees fans: Not Stephen Drew? Check.
A friend texted me on Friday night.
“My condolences on your boy.”
I thought he was talking about Scott Weiland, the former frontman of Stone Temple Pilots, one of my favorite bands from my childhood; I remember buying their debut album when I was 8 years old. Weiland’s voice and tone were unmistakable and fantastic. It is kind of surprising that he even made it to 48 years of age, but I was still left feeling stunned when I heard the news of his death on Thursday. STP had a bunch of hits, yet combing back through their song catalog that night, even I had forgotten just how many great songs that band churned out. STP, from 1992-96, were something really special.
Alas, my friend’s message was actually in regards to someone whom I readily do call “my boy”: Zack Greinke. As I’ve said many times on this blog, he is my favorite player, seven years running now. Having him pitching just 40 minutes up the road in Dodger Stadium for the past three seasons has been Wonderful. It is a little saddening that’s no longer the case, but at least I and the rest of Los Angles will get to see Greinke on TV much more often.
More importantly, signing Zack, if nothing else, should help the Diamondbacks Creep up in the NL West and make that division more competitive. According to Katie Sharp, Greinke compiled a 5.9 FanGraphs WAR last season. That number matches the total WAR of the D-Backs’ entire starting rotation in 2015.
That’s not to say Arizona is bereft of pitching. Robbie Ray looks like a worthwhile starter. Archie Bradley still has loads of upside, and Patrick Corbin showed flashes this past summer of the guy who was an All-Star in 2013 before Tommy John surgery shelved him for all of 2014. There are pieces to work with there, but Greinke fills the Big Empty space that Arizona had for a proven ace to head the group. With the offense being provided by, notably, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, this team has a solid Core with which to compete in a division that saw only the now-weakened Dodgers finish with more than 85 wins.
Chase Field doesn’t offer the friendly, vast confines of Dodger Stadium, but over the past three years while with L.A., Greinke allowed a total of three earned runs through 41.1 innings while in Arizona. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 41:7.
For the 2015 season, Greinke led all pitchers in b-WAR (9.8). His final marks in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP all ranked among the top six by a starting pitcher in the expansion era. Since 1961, the only starters to record a better ERA+ than Greinke’s most recent 225: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux (twice), Bob Gibson in 1968 and Doc Gooden in 1985.
Is that worth $206 million over six years (which is really 11 years when you include the period during which the contract’s deferred money will be doled out)? That’s quite a Pretty Penny, and handing any starting pitcher such a lucrative, long-term pact Still Remains risky given the inherent volatility of the position. But it’s not like there are a lot of red flags in Greinke’s profile.
Excluding the one season during which he had an on-field run-in with a maniacal Carlos Quentin, Greinke has made at least 28 starts in each season since the start of 2008. Through the past three years, he’s registered a 4.3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That he doesn’t rely on pure velocity makes it more likely that he’ll age better during the latter stages of this contract — and also makes me question why the Dodgers, who were reportedly OK with living with Greinke through his age-36 season, turned away from him when he wanted to be paid one extra year. There is no doubt in my mind that Greinke would have re-signed if the Dodgers’ brass had agreed to a six-year deal, because this really was all about the cash for Zack, and the Dodgers have
MLB’s deepest pockets.
Even if this Plush arrangement does take a turn for the worse by 2020, I like this move by Arizona. For at least a few seasons, the Diamondbacks will be able to send one of the sport’s best pitchers Between The Lines every fifth day and give him the support of a young, dangerous offense that scored the second-most runs in the NL last year. If Corbin can rediscover his 2013 form and if one or two young arms meet their expectations, the Diamondbacks are going to be a fun watch and a tough beat. However, with him no longer in Los Angeles, I’m left to express my adoration for Greinke in an Interstate Love Song.
You did a lot of great things while you were here, sir. You will definitely be missed. Greinke too.
“What’s wrong with Corey Kluber?”
Eighteen strikeouts in eight innings against the best team in baseball? I think he’s fine now.
Kluber came into Wednesday’s start versus the Cardinals having already allowed nearly 40 percent of the earned run total from his Cy Young Award-winning 2014 season. Sure, he had been a little unlucky with a .373 BABIP according to Baseball-Reference, but that didn’t really matter to most baseball enthusiasts. Kluber’s rough start had people questioning his meteoric rise from league-average pitcher to one of the league’s best. I’m sure the “F” word was thrown around over the past couple of weeks.
And then: Eight innings, one hit, no runs, no walks … 18 strikeouts.
Maybe those snickering will take notice now that Kluber has thrown perhaps the best eight-inning start in Major League Baseball history.
That’s not hyperbole. If you go by game score, Kluber’s score of 98 is the highest from any pitcher in a start that went less than nine innings. The previous high belonged to Yu Darvish, who compiled a score of 96 during his near-perfect game against the Astros a couple of years ago. But at least he got a couple of outs in the ninth that evening. The previous high game score for a pitcher who was pulled after the eighth inning was Johan Santana’s 95 in 2007.
The irrational fan in me definitely wanted to see Kluber come out for the ninth inning. 20 strikeouts? 21?? This could be history! Just skip his next start! Give him nine days to recover!
Alas, after 113 pitches and not allowing the Cardinals to get a runner to second base all night long, the rational call was made. The job was certainly done well.
The 18 strikeouts are notable by themselves, other than the obvious fact that someone was able to strike out major league hitters 18 times in 24 chances.
Those 18 Ks are the most from any American League pitcher since Roger Clemens did the same in 1998 (Ben Sheets had been the most recent pitcher in either league to reach 18 strikeouts; he did that in 2004). The day after Roger’s outing, Kerry Wood struck out 16, and Randy Johnson K’d 16 two days after that.
With Michael Pineda’s 16-strikeout performance from Sunday, he and Kluber are the first pitchers to strike out at least 16 batters within a week’s span since that trio 17 years ago. Maybe another overwhelming pitching performance that creates a lot of wind energy is just a few sunrises away?
Regardless, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with Corey Kluber, other than what he just did to the St. Louis Cardinals.
I’ve always been told that you’ll see something special every time you go to a baseball game.
My father dispensed that fanciful adage upon me many times while I was young. But it was definitely true on Wednesday as we watched from Infield Reserve Section 6, seats 1 and 2 in Dodger Stadium as Clayton Kershaw no-hit the Colorado Rockies in one of the best pitching performances of the past 20 years.
It was an exciting moment for everyone in attendance. Well, almost everyone. In true Dodger Stadium fashion, I watched as some fans picked up their stuff and headed for the exits in the seventh inning. I’m not sure what’s going on in their lives, but that was a poor choice.
Anyway, what happened Wednesday night was historic. More importantly, it was the fulfillment of a life-long dream for my father.
At least I had already witnessed what was technically a no-hitter. It was a combined no-hitter at the college level, which is like watching “Gravity” on your tablet; you saw it, but you didn’t get to feel the full experience. Worst yet, I forgot to score that game at the University of Central Florida. I score 99 percent of the baseball games I attend but accidentally left my scorebook behind in my dorm that night. That further lessens its legitimacy to me.
But my father, a life-long Yankees fan who later created a life-long Yankees fan, had never seen a no-hitter. And while I estimate that I have seen between 400-500 baseball games in my life, he has attended more than 1,000.
He was born in 1950 and grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in a family that wasn’t fond of baseball. So he would hitch rides to Yankee Stadium with the neighbors or friends’ parents.
When he moved out to California in 1976, he loaded up his van with my mother, a cat, the money in his pocket and all of the beer that van could hold. As the Yankees and the Dodgers would meet three times in the World Series over the next handful of seasons, he grew to hate Blue with a passion while living in Los Angeles. That emotion was something else he passed on to me.
If you haven’t noticed already, I am very easily influenced, especially when it comes to sports.
My parents did their best to make ends meet in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She was a waitress, and he played music in any dive bar in Southern California that could fit a piano. On his off days, Sundays and Mondays, you could find both of them at a baseball game. They went to either Dodger Stadium or Anaheim Stadium when it hosted the correctly named California Angels.
And they scored each game. Or at least they scored each game as well as they could for as long as they could see. You have to be aware that this was well before our current climate, when beer sales weren’t halted in the bottom of the seventh inning.
My father guesses he and my mother attended at least 40 games per season during this time. Then I came along in
1984, seven weeks earlier than expected. But that didn’t stop my parents from acclimating me to Major League Baseball very early on. My dad says I attended my first game about three weeks after my birth. I was small enough for him to hold a beer, score the game, and cradle me with his forearm.
I don’t remember that first one, but many of the games remain vivid and almost all of them spent with my father.
Going to Dodgers games in the early-to-mid 1990s, sitting in the Loge section down the left-field line, receiving behind-the-back passes from Roger, “The Peanut Man.” That’s at least 20 games per year.
Going to Angels games in the late ’90 and into the new millennium while I was in high school, sitting in the upper deck between home plate and third base. Thirty games per year.
When I went off to UCF, I would return to California in the summer, and we would go to Dodgers games every Sunday and sit in the same section from which we watch the game today. You can’t beat it with a ticket price of $15 per person.
My father and I don’t have what I think most would call the typical father-son relationship. We are much less father-son and much more best friends. We are rarely serious. We tease each about anything. And we bond through baseball like nothing else. Our perfect day probably contains tickets to a game, opening a box of baseball cards, and then returning home to watch the Yankees win on TV.
When he dies, my dad has very clear and firm guidelines for what to do with all of his ashes: Scatter them around areas of the new Yankee Stadium. And some of them must make it on to the field. That must happen. If I get arrested in the process, so be it, but every speck of ash better be a part of that stadium, dammit.
We have plenty of baseball games in our future, but he had resigned that he would never see a no-hitter. This is something we talked about often. My father had grown playfully bitter of all of the people who had seen no-hitters, probably because he has not been without his share of close calls.
— He was invited to fly back to New York for Independence Day weekend and had tickets already purchased for him for the Yankees’ July 4, 1983 game versus the Red Sox. Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter. He couldn’t make the trip out for reasons he doesn’t remember.
— He gave away tickets to the Dodgers’ game on July 28, 1991 to his boss. On that afternoon, the Expos’ Dennis Martinez was perfect.
— My dad and I were all set to attend a Dodgers game on July 14, 1995. One problem: July 14 is my mother’s birthday. There’s no way we were making that game. You can guess the rest: Ramon Martinez threw a no-hitter.
— The closest either of us ever came to witnessing an MLB no-no in person occurred on May 24, 1995. Jack McDowell was pitching for the Yankees in Anaheim. By the fifth inning, McDowell had yet to allow a hit, and so my dad and I went into our usual mode of silence. Yes, we are those types of people who don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening. Our only code word for it is “special.” If a guy has a no-hitter in the works, he’s got “something special going on.” A perfect game is “very special.” It’s stupid, I know, but it’s part of our superstitions. More on that in a minute.
McDowell made it to the top of the eighth before Chili Davis reached on a seeing-eye infield single to break it up. Then the roof caved in; McDowell allowed three runs in the eighth, and the Yankees lost, 3-1.
Since then, we haven’t seen a pitcher even make it through the fourth with a no-no. But at every game, without fail, my father would always mention when the opposing pitchers had allowed their first hit. It didn’t matter if it was the top of the first, he still said, “There goes the no-hitter.” It’s like he has to hear himself say the words to make it real. I don’t know whom else he’s talking to; I know full well what a hit looks like, dad.
But he had to say it. Every time.
The fact that he had never seen a no-hitter was going to be at the top of his “Things You Regret” list when it came time for him to rest on his deathbed.
Then came this past Wednesday.
Originally, he was upset when I told him Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers. He is certainly amazing to watch, but we do see Kershaw relatively often, and his presence meant that another Dodgers win was pretty much inevitable. That’s the last thing my father wants to see.
Sure enough, it’s already the third inning, and the Dodgers are ahead, 7-0. Looks like we’ve got a throwaway game on our hands.
But we were also well aware that Kershaw had gone nine up, nine down through the first three innings. Dan, one of my dad’s employees whom we brought to the game, was unaware of our code. He wanted so eagerly to talk about what we might be watching. So my father gently told him, “If you want to sit somewhere else and talk about it, go ahead.” Or maybe it wasn’t that gentle.
Once Kershaw made it through five innings, the crowd was immersed, and my father and I had figured out, almost telepathically, what superstitious routine we were going to carry out until the end of the no-hitter or the end of the game, whichever came first.
He would score the top half of the innings. I would score the bottom half.
He had to leave his seat before every inning to go somewhere. Even after the beer stands had closed, he had to get out of his seat and go … somewhere. I don’t know where he went, but he made sure to return before first pitch.
At the top of every inning after the fifth, my father would say, “Let’s get some runs.” That’s what he would like to see the visitors do against the Dodgers, but now that statement was spoken only to continue what had been working for us.
Never mind the fact that Kershaw’s change-up was diving into the dirt like a jack-hammer, his curveball was coming from out of the heavens, and the Rockies’ lineup was extremely shorthanded due to injuries … my father was certain this no-hitter wasn’t going to continue without that same chain of events, repeated over and over and over again.
Now it’s the top of the ninth. Two outs.
The crowd is on its feet and at full volume. I look over at my dad to see if he can at least crack a smile. This is what he’s always wanted. Does he want to hold hands as we take in this moment?
Nope. He looks straight ahead, as stoic as ever. In that last at-bat, the only three people in the stadium are Clayton Kershaw, Corey Dickerson and Tom Murphy.
I take out my phone and start to film just before Kershaw strikes out Dickerson to record his 15th K of the night, and the 12th no-hitter in Los Angeles Dodgers history. I quickly spin the camera around to my father.
I have never seen him more excited. Not when we were present for the Yankees’ World Series-clinching game in San Diego in 1998.
Not when Scott Norwood’s kick went wide right and he jumped for joy out of his chair — and then sat right back down in agony as had undergone hernia surgery just days prior.
Not when Jim Leyritz went deep off of Mark Wohlers in 1996. Not when Derek Fisher nailed that shot with 0.4 seconds left versus the Spurs.
Not when I graduated from college, twice.
He pumped his right fist five times as if he was beating up the railing in front of us. He then looked up and raised his arms to the sky as if he was thanking God. It should be mentioned that he is an atheist.
He then turns to me and screams with glee, “SON OF A BITCH! I’VE FINALLY SEEN ONE!”
He can die a happy man.
We didn’t leave the stadium for another 40 minutes. We couldn’t leave. We had both just scratched a major item off of our bucket lists. We must have said “amazing” 100 times collectively that night. We could find no other words. However, I think “stunned” was thrown in there a good 50-60 times, too. My father has never been nor will never be so pleased for a Dodgers victory
When we arrived home, we had to watch the highlights. And then we watched them again an hour later. My father and I did what we usually do during the months of April through October: We sat at the kitchen table and watched baseball.
We spent hours reminiscing about what we had just seen and that, yes, it did happen. And we were there, soaking in baseball history together, right next to each other just as we have been for 30 years.
That is why you go to baseball games: You never know when something special will happen.
Four years ago, the World Baseball Classic served as a welcome distraction during a long spring training. With the WBC’s help, February and March flew by. Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast became real; he must not have seen his shadow in 2009, because spring arrived mighty early. It was MLB Opening Day after a couple of blinks.
Or maybe that was all a dream? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I spent all of March 2009 attending spring training and WBC games in Florida made the days pass quickly. I don’t have a good explanation, because this spring dragged on like a filibuster, and the World Baseball Classic actually made it seem even longer. It’s been torturous. However, the Rangers and Astros played a game that actually mattered tonight, and we are now mere hours outside of baseball salvation known as Opening Day. So, it’s time to roll out everybody’s favorite dart-throwing contest: season predictions.
I usually put a lot of thought into this exercise, but now I view it much like composing a March Madness bracket: You can do all the research you want, but you are still going to be very, very wrong. So with zero abandon for what lies ahead, I closed my eyes and jotted down season standings, award winners and postseason results. Let’s see what my idle hands came up with.
American League East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Yes, this division could go a thousand different ways (Actually, it could go 120 ways, mathematically speaking. But let’s not get caught up in the details). I’m not worried about chemistry or “learning how to win” or playing in a historically stout division. This team is loaded. When you have Josh Johnson as your fourth starter, you’ve got a pretty damn good squad.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Here is my first Wild Card winner. I’m expecting a big step forward from Seth MacFarlane, errrrr, I mean, Matt Moore. News flash: It would really help if Evan Longoria could stay healthy.
3. Boston Red Sox:
You know the AL East is crazy when the Blue Jays and the Rays are the steadiest teams in the division, without question. There are a whole lot more questions than answers after those two. The Red Sox may have the most issues of any team in this division as they are filled with injury-prone hitters, and pitchers looking to rebound. But if everything breaks right, they’ll be good enough to barely miss the playoffs.
4. New York Yankees
It’s a long season, but how many bad omens and big injuries can one franchise stand? If Robinson Cano gets hurt … mother of God.
5. Baltimore Orioles
I picked the O’s to finish fifth last year. Look at how well that turned out. Seriously, there is no way that pitching staff, especially the relievers, can be that good again.
There is something romantic about the phrase “pitchers and catchers.” Every team in every sport has opening day and training camp. But in baseball, those unique-but-not-really-unique words truly signify — at least for me — the start of another season. Pitchers and catchers gets me excited. It gets me turned on.
Yep, that’s the good stuff.
Mmm-hmmm. Stretch. Mmmmmmmmmm …
Oh, that’s so hot.
OK, that’s enough. I’m getting a little sweaty.
All in all, it’s just a few players throwing around on a field out of uniform. But dude, it’s baseball! And it’s freaking back!
I just know I’m going tear up watching the first pitch on opening day (again).