Sunday, April 8, 2018

Staking a Claim To Failure

Any baseball person concedes that you can't tell much from the first ten days of the season. You do spot some things, like the starting lineups and pitching rotations, a few notable debuts, some happy returns, but nothing terribly conclusive. Every player is "on a pace" to do something miraculously spectacular or spectacularly horrible, and since performance tends to regress toward the mean, it's tempting to downplay ten-day trends.

However, I have identified one such trend that is likely to have a permanent place in the 2018 season. In four of the six divisions, the consensus worst team has already staked a claim to failure. Look at the three tail-enders in the National League: my Reds are 2-5, the Marlins are 2-6, and the Padres are 2-7. Does anybody want to bet on the chances that any of those three disasters-in-waiting escapes the cellar by October? Ditto for Tampa Bay in the AL East, already trailing the Red Sox by 6 games. In the other AL divisions, teams are tied for last, leaving plenty of candidates for the inevitable tumbles.

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One team doing better than expected is the 6-3 Angels, thanks to Shohei Ohtani, who so far looks like the second coming of Babe Ruth. I started this paragraph before he took to the mound today in Anaheim to face Oakland. He struck out the side in the first inning and again in the fifth. He retired the first 19 A's before allowing a hit, and he wound up logging seven innings of one-hit ball--with a dozen strikeouts. Okay, that makes him Yu Darvish. Meanwhile, as a designated hitter, he homered in three straight games, driving in seven runs, and starting play today had the fourth-highest OPS in the majors, trailing only Didi Gregorius, Bryce Harper, and Adam Eaton. That makes him not quite Harper--plus a 2-0 pitching record and a 2.08 ERA. All that, and he uses up only one roster spot! Already, I have found myself switching channels to watch him bat, and it's going to be fun to watch him engage in the tug-of-war by which pitchers and hitters figure each other out.

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Another player I'm going to keep an eye on this season is Bartolo Colon. Last week I mentioned the aged wonder, Ichiro Suzuki, but the fact is that when Ichiro was a little baby. . .Bartolo Colon was already a baby. He's almost five months older than Ichiro and will turn 45 next month. In his first start for the Rangers, he allowed just one run in six innings. He struggled to a 7-14 record last season after being jettisoned by the Mets, for whom he won 44 games in three seasons and became one of the most popular Mets ever. The fans were taken with his nonchalance, his good-humored flailings at the plate, and his flair, epitomized the day when he fielded a roller near the first-base line and flipped the ball 40 feet behind his back to nip the runner. When he belted his first career home run in 2016, he cemented his grip on Mets fans' hearts. Here was a man clearly happy to be in the major leagues at his age, and the home run represented any 43-year-old connecting with a softball at a company picnic. We were disappointed when the Mets let him go after 2016, and we'd take him back in a heartbeat.

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Despite the increasing rash of home runs, there have been plenty of low-scoring games already this season. In fact, we've already seen nine 1-0 finals, including two remarkable ones to start the season between the Giants and Dodgers. Joe Panik won both games with home runs, first off Clayton Kershaw, then Kenley Jansen. Pretty snazzy! In fact, midway through their fifth game of the season, the Giants had scored a measly three runs on the season, all Panik homers. Diversify that offense! In the nine 1-0 games, no winning starter has gone more than seven innings, and on average, the winning managers have used 24 relievers to secure those shutouts.

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I haven't seen enough to know for certain, but my impression so far is that the restriction on mound visits is helping the pace of play quite a bit. It had become my pet peeve in recent years, the constant chats between catchers and pitchers. I've seen catchers go out there with an 0-2 count, on consecutive pitches, and three times in one at-bat. Shortening the time between innings is fine, but I found that the repeated delays in the middle of an inning were dissipating my anticipation of what might happen next. Too often, I wasn't thinking that I might be about to see a double play or an extra-base hit, but rather about the simple desire to see another pitch in my lifetime. I've noticed quite a few games going less than three hours. Just for fun, I'm going to check the time of game for those nine 1-0 finals.

When I was a kid, shortly (as my friend Freddy Berowski likes to remind me) after the invention of fire, a 1-0 game would seldom take much more than two hours. These days, I'll put the over-under at 2:45, and I'll cautiously bet the under. . . .And the winner is: the fans. Average time for the nine games is 2:40. Only one lasted over three hours, a ten-inning, 3:27 game in Houston the other night that included eight pitching changes. Six of the nine games took less than 2:40, and three less than 2:30. This is a good sign. Let me press my luck. I'm going to look at 1-0 games from last season, and we'll see about those times. The over-under? 2:50. I'll bet the over.

Remember when Yogi said "You can observe a lot by watching"? You also see a lot if you look. I just looked, and I saw that there were 28 final scores of 1-0 in the major leagues in 2017, just over one per week. We're already one-third of the way there in a week and a half this season. So this bears watching. As for the average time from 2017, I'll omit the three duels which lasted an aggregate 37 innings and averaged a whopping 3:50 (it took 4:27 to complete a 13-inning 1-0 game). For the other 25 gems, the average time was 2:48. So 1-0 games have been ten minutes faster so far this year.

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Those are a few of the things that have caught my attention so far. I had more in my notes, but it's time to watch the Mets trying to sweep the Nats on ESPN. Stop by next Sunday and see what's up. Will Shohei Ohtani pitch that no-hitter with four home runs? Or will we have to wait another week? 

1 comment:

Jim said...

The end of that 1-0 game in Houston yesterday was appalling. Anthony Rendon says nothing but gets ejected for "showing up the umpire." No Blue, Rendon didn't show you up. You showed yourself up by missing the call, as was clearly shown on replay. By throwing him out, all you showed is that you are a thin-skinned asshole.