Month: February 2019

Yankees lock up underrated Aaron Hicks with a 7-year extension

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Aaron Hicks is probably better than you think.

Ten days after extending ace Luis Severino, the New York Yankees made sure another valuable young star won’t reach free agency for several years. Aaron Hicks, 29, has signed a 7-year, $70 million contract with a club option for an eighth, meaning the Bombers have Hicks through his age-35 season.

Hicks has become one of the league’s more underrated players, overshadowed by his home run bashing outfield brethren (Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton) and the popular young infielders on the team. Make no mistake, other than Judge, Stanton and maybe a rejuvenated Gary Sanchez, no Yankees position player is as valuable on the field today as Hicks. His 4.9 fWAR finished just behind his fellow Aaron last season, not including pitchers.

The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins does everything you want from a centerfielder. He handles his position without issue, gets on-base at an above-average clip (.372 in ’17, .366 in ’18), hits for power (27 homers in ’18) and makes good choices on the basepaths. The issue with Hicks isn’t the grades but the attendance; his career high in games played was last season’s 137. Given the price (more on that later) it’s a risk worth taking for the Yankees.

Here are your 2018 OBP leaders for outfielders with at least 550 plate appearances:

Outfielder OBP
Mike Trout .460
Mookie Betts .438
Christian Yelich .402
J.D. Martinez .402
Lorenzo Cain .395
Bryce Harper .393
Shin-Soo Choo .377
Andrew McCutchen .368
Tommy Pham .367
Aaron Hicks .366

From that same crop of outfielders, here is the full list of batters with a better walk rate in 2018:

Outfielder BB %
Mike Trout 20.1%
Bryce Harper 18.7%

I’ll spare you yet another table, but again from that crop of outfielders established above, only McCutchen and Betts did a better job of not swinging outside the zone than Hicks last season.

Consider too that underlying metrics suggest his power uptick in 2018 could be for real. From 2017 to 2018, he put barrel to ball more often (7.5% became 8.8%), saw his exit velocity increase nearly 4 mph (85.7 to 88.9) and his launch angle tick up nearly two degrees (10.6 to 12.5).

In laymen’s terms? He hit the ball a lot harder last year. That’s a good thing.

So what are the risks?

Well, the injury issue for one. Fortunately, Hicks hasn’t been plagued by the same injury over and over; it’s been a hamstring here, an oblique there, etc. It all adds up, though, and if you told me Hicks never plays more than, say, 120 games in any season during this contract I wouldn’t exactly be shocked. 0

The contract length also is a smidge uncomfortable. Hicks is 29 and the Yankees are paying for a healthy chunk of his mid-30s. Sure, there are the usual concerns about decline, but the average annual value of the contract is so absurdly low ($10 million is a smooth bargain for the Yankees) that it hardly matters. It’s less than half of what Jacoby Ellsbury’s Milk Carton makes right now. Seriously.

Bottom line: if Hicks falls below replacement level in year four or whatever, the salary won’t prevent the Yankees from making a move.

From the player’s perspective, given how free agency has played out and with the ever-present threat of labor turmoil on the horizon, Hicks took security over potential. Can’t say I blame him. It keeps him on a winning team with guaranteed checks coming.

 

 

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2019 MLB Preview: Trevor Bauer and his ever-changing arsenal

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Trevor Bauer had a fantastic 2018 for Cleveland.

Before we dig into what the future might hold for Cleveland Indians righty Trevor Bauer, a bit of housekeeping. I’ll be doing a lot of preview content for the 2019 Major League Baseball season, including division by division breakdowns as Spring Training rolls on. You’ll get award and playoff predictions, too.

Every Monday, I’m also going to spotlight some individual players I find interesting. The reasons will vary and each post will explain further, but I think this will make for a nice break from the usual stuff we all digest each spring. Baseball is fun, so let’s have fun.

Opening Day is on the way …

***

Oh, Trevor Bauer. When he’s not making waves for his Twitter … personality (Feel free to do your own Googling), he’s probably researching new ways to increase his spin rates or break ground in some other way. From a performance standpoint, Bauer is one of the game’s more intriguing creatures; deeply analytical, he spends each offseason tooling around with the Driveline guys in their magical cave.

The stuff is just incredible, as you surely already know.  His fastball is hard and comes with truly elite spin, ranking in the 83rd percentile last season. Give a pitcher a fastball this good and you’ve set him well onto the path of excellence. Last year, Bauer broke into that class of pitcher; he finished with 6.1 fWAR (sixth best in baseball) and struck out 30.8% (also sixth best) of the batters he faced.

Suddenly the Cleveland Indians had a triumvirate of aces, coupling Bauer with two-time AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber and the incredibly underrated Carlos Carrasco. Plus, Mike Clevinger — another, shall we say, eccentric personality — developed into a really nice back of the rotation starter too.

But is Bauer’s growth sustainable or a blip?

I think it’s sustainable. Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and a highly-touted prospect as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Indians, so the pedigree is hardly an issue here. He’s been around and steadily improving, but in 2018 he became great.

There’s nothing terribly fluky about his 2018 season, either — the BABIP is normal and while he gave up fewer home runs, he also developed some of his other offerings enough to mitigate the bounce-back concern. He’ll give up more bombs in 2019, but it won’t kneecap his value. The strikeout rate saw a healthy bounce, but might that also be explained by improved pitches?

Year to year, the slider is what really changed. By Fangraphs’ pitch value metric, his slider was essentially average or right around that every year in his career except 2018 when it suddenly became a really good pitch. The story here is pretty amusing, by the way. Bauer decided last offseason he didn’t like his slider (and it shows — he barely threw it in 2017), so he spent a lot of time studying pitchers who did it better, namely Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Bauer selected Stroman’s slider, because he considers it one of the elite breaking balls in baseball based on the pitch’s results on balls in play and in generating swings and misses. Although Bauer is listed as five inches taller than Stroman, he thought their arm angles were similar enough for it to work.

“I diagrammed that out in my head, how it has to spin in order to accomplish that,” Bauer said. “I went to video and checked to make sure I had a theory lined up with the actual [results]. I tried to get as much slow-mo video of [Stroman’s slider] as I could, there’s not a lot of it. I looked at what I could, and then I went in the lab and started using high-speed video of myself just iterating the axis that I wanted. Then it was pretty much about commanding it.”

First off, wow. See what I mean about Bauer and being analytical? It worked, by the way. Let’s have some fun with how hitters fared against Bauer’s new and improved slider last season:

  • Batters swung and missed 41.8% of the time against it
  • Batters produced a paltry .123 wOBA and a .171 xSLG, which for you non-stats folks means they did nothing against it

And, of course, the visual evidence:

Bauer slider

Pretty nasty. Bauer relied on the fastball (36.9%) and curve (26.7%) more, but perhaps that will change. Both remain above-average pitches, and the rising tide lifts all boats.

We’d be doing him a disservice to not mention the growth in his changeup, too. While perhaps not as dramatic as the slider, the changeup improved by leaps and bounds:

Stat 2017 2018
Pitch % 7.7 7.0
wOBA .370 .153
Whiff % 25.4 36.0
Avg Spin Rate 1646 1852
Pitch Value -4.6 4.0

So he used it a bit less — remember, the slider stole reps from most of Bauer’s arsenal — but it was a considerably better pitch year over year. That difference in wOBA is incredible. Whether he continues to develop it or not, I can’t say, but again considering Bauer’s aptitude I suspect he’s well aware.

If Bauer, 29, expands upon the improvements he made in 2018, I think he’s certainly capable of establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the world. He’s young enough to still be considered in his peak and injuries aren’t a major concern (he’s thrown at least 175 innings the last four seasons — a good example of how times have changed when that’s considered more than acceptable).

Then again, if the slider and changeup don’t hold their newfound performance, maybe that leads to a strikeout and home run rate more in line with his 2017 record. He’d still be valuable, but not necessarily excellent. Maybe he ends up throwing less than 150 innings. There’s certainly some volatility with Bauer — that’s kind of why he’s so interesting to me.

Ode to a Pitcher: Patrick Corbin and his truly incredible slider

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Patrick Corbin’s slider flummoxed hitters and opened the Washington Nationals’ checkbook.

How much is one pitch worth?

If you ask the Washington Nationals: about $140 million. They told us so when the club signed pitcher Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal at that figure, all on the brilliance of his slider, which itself only really became brilliant last season.

And brilliant it is: according to Fangraphs’ pitch value metric, it was the fourth most valuable offering in all of baseball. Let me just rattle off some numbers about that slider:

  • Corbin threw it 40.9% of the time
  • Corbin struck out 198 (!!!) batters off that pitch alone; his other offerings produced 51 punchouts
  • Hitters slugged a meager .243 off it
  • Hitters missed 53.6% of the time they swung at it

Corbin’s slider is tunneled neatly with his fastball and boasts a long, slurve-y break that’s hard to make contact with. It’s quite a breaking ball. Compared to other hurlers profiled in this series (Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, Mike Mussina and Jacob deGrom), Corbin’s repertoire is relatively slim. His fastballs are slightly above average by pitch value; his changeup is below average and his curveball just barely above.

Said differently: Years removed from Tommy John surgery, Corbin has become a really good pitcher — 6.3 fWAR, 2.61 xFIP — because he has a really good pitch. Singular. Pitch. The slider carries the water. And as such, his entire approach is to rely on it to both setup hitters and to finish them, sprinkling in a fastball here or a curveball there as essentially change-of-pace offerings.

Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers. Very early in the 2018 season, the boys in blue headed over to Chase Field to face Corbin. It didn’t go well — especially not for Enrique Hernandez, Yasmani Grandal and Matt Kemp.

***

The Dodgers erstwhile utility man stepped up to face Corbin to open the second inning.

Kike Pitch 1 K 2Seam Away.gif

Corbin stands tall on the mound and has a pleasing delivery, nice and smooth. His fastball isn’t particularly hard (this game takes place in April — his velocity averaged a few ticks south of 94 for the season), but it doesn’t have to be — the slider keeps hitters off balance.

Kike Pitch 2 K Slider DownIn.gif

Corbin draws a bit of a flinch from Hernandez here — a good example of how hard it is to pick up the slider. Note that a two-strike count against Corbin means you’ll probably see the slider — he threw it more than 65% of the time in such situations. Oh, and if you do, you’ll probably produce an out.

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Catcher Jeff Mathis set up inside but Corbin missed. It’s a good take from Hernandez nonetheless.

Kike Pitch 4 TwoSeam DownAway STRIKEOUT.gif

Even though the slider missed, it still served a purpose. Corbin proved to Hernandez he’d work both sides of the plate which helped draw the half-swing on a fastball clearly in the zone. The utilityman is the first punchout of the inning.

Grandal Pitch 1 BB Crv Down Away.gif

There was some discussion on this broadcast (available in the MLB.TV archives) about whether Corbin’s curveball is really a curveball or simply a slider thrown intentionally softer. The release above looks like a curve to me.

Grandal Pitch 2 TwoSeam Down Away.gif

Corbin comes back with another fastball away that just misses for ball two. We’ll notice a theme with Corbin’s work to the Dodgers today. He wants to establish the fastball away to righties to setup the slider down and in. Corbin more or less finagles his way to two strikes so he can finish you with the slider, even if everyone in the ballpark knows it’s coming.

But to get there with Grandal, Corbin has a lot of ground to make up.

Grandal Pitch 3 Crv UpAway.gif

Instead of offering another fastball, Corbin goes with a high-and-away breaking ball that the Dodgers catcher watches for a called strike. It’s kind of a ballsy choice — you miss with that over the plate and Grandal has enough pop to make you pay. Corbin does miss high, but not enough to tempt a swing.

Grandal Pitch 4 Change Middle.gif

This is the pitch Corbin can’t make. I’m not sure if Grandal was expecting slider — then again, facing Corbin, you probably are always expecting it. Either way, he let a meatball go here. Maybe Grandal misread it, maybe the slider kept him weary, who knows. Somehow, Corbin is right where needs to be. It’s a two-strike count.

Whatcha bet he throws?

Grandal Pitch 5 Slider Down In.gif

That’s the money pitch folks. Corbin’s smooth delivery hides any intent and Grandal swings helplessly over it.

Take a look at how pretty this thing is:

Grandal Slider K Slomo.gif

Nationals fans will be seeing a lot of that over the next six years.

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Matt Kemp steps up and Corbin starts him away too, missing with a breaking ball.

Kemp Pitch 2 Fastball DownAway.gif

He comes back with a nice sinking fastball away that draws a miss from the Dodgers outfielder.

Kemp Pitch 3 Fastball away.gif

Corbin comes back with another fastball, also away, for a ball. Corbin loves to pinpoint that outside corner and work it raw.

Kemp Pitch 4 Curve Down In.gif

Corbin flashes another breaking ball — maybe a slower version of the slider, but don’t hold me to that — but it misses low.

I find this situation particularly interesting. Corbin probably doesn’t want to go back to the slider here for fear of missing and giving Kemp first base. On the same token, Kemp can’t just sit fastball because if gets the slider, he doesn’t have much of a chance to make contact.

Kemp Pitch 5 Fastball away.gif

Corbin gives him the fastball and Kemp swings, but it’s just enough off the plate to draw weak contact. That’s a heck of a pitch. Kemp probably wanted the fastball and couldn’t resist, but the spot meant he had little chance of doing damage. If that fastball runs over the plate Kemp might crush it. But it doesn’t.

Now the paradigm flips. Corbin has that ever-valuable second strike. Another fastball located in the same spot probably draws weak contact again. Maybe Kemp lays off and you give him first base, though.

Hmm.

Or, you know. Corbin can do that other thing.

Kemp Pitch 6 Slider Down Mid.gif

Folks, that’s a brilliant example of tunneling and sequencing. Again, because Corbin’s delivery is so smooth it’s very hard to tell that previous fastball and this slider apart. Kemp tries to adjust and fend the breaking pitch off, but it’s too good. Major League pitchers, man. Science, art and voodoo.

Down goes the side. Fear the slider.

***

Patrick Corbin was an interesting gamble for the Nationals. He’s 29 and coming off easily his best season. As we examined, his value is tied up entirely in one pitch — not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes me wonder how many more times he produces a season like 2018.  One could easily argue that he’s just rounding into form after Tommy John surgery, meaning 2018 wasn’t necessarily a fluke. Corbin developing into the pitcher he is after such an injury is a testament to his skill and work ethic.

The Nats don’t need him to be their best pitcher — or second best, even — and in that case, he makes for a solid fit. I think he’s a safe bet to spin a lot of awesome sliders for years to come.

***

This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.

Content like this is available to all because of the support of my Patrons. Wish to join them? For as little as $3 a month, you will get early access to content like Ode to a Pitcher sent to your email in advance. Sign up today and support great baseball writing.

Manny Machado agrees to 10-year deal with San Diego Padres

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Manny Machado’s surprisingly long free agency is over. He’s a San Diego Padre.

Finally.

Half of America’s long, national nightmare is over; Manny Machado has agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal to join the San Diego Padres. The signing comes after months of speculation about where the prized infielder might go, and whether the tepid response to both him and his fellow free agent, Bryce Harper, foretold labor issues to come.

Some of that is a conversation for a different day. For today, the Padres landed an established All-Star to pair with their list of stellar prospects, in particular, Fernando Tatis Jr., the best shortstop prospect in baseball. One would expect Machado to play third and Tatis to occupy short in the bigs, forming a dynamic pair that in time could rival what the Indians have on the left side of their infield.

The key phrase there is “in time.” Right now, the Padres aren’t great. Last year not one single Padres position player and only one pitcher produced more than 2 fWAR. Machado will surely break that barrier next year. Tatis and some others might too.

That’s why I love this move for the Padres. It sets them up wonderfully for when the prospects start to blossom — and make no mistake, that could be soon, probably in 2020. Machado projects to be great for several more years, possibly even deep into the latter half of the pact should he stay in Southern California. Note that he can opt-out of the contract after the fifth year.

The Padres probably aren’t contenders next season, but chances are the Dodgers and Rockies start to feel the heat soon after.

So, what are the Pads getting?

Manny Machado is among the game’s elite infielders. He hits for power, gets on base and has shown flashes of above-average defense (predominately at third base). There’s a reason he signed for this kind of money. He’s young and awesome.

Here are his last few seasons (note that with wRC+, 100 is average):

Season wRC+ WAR
2016 131 6.3
2017 103 2.6
2018 141 6.2

Machado’s bat drives most of his value. He hits for a lot of power, ranking 22nd in all of baseball in isolated power for 2018 and second among shortstops, only a bit behind Francisco Lindor. His wRC+ was first among all shortstops and 9th in all of baseball. He’s a complete hitter, and his 2018 excellence is only a bit better than what we’ve seen in the past. Encouraging, given he’s only 26.

That’s a big part of the puzzle here. Not only is the Manny Machado of the here and now an upper-echelon player, but he’s arguably not even the best he’ll be yet. If we believe that a player’s prime normally rests somewhere in his age 27-31 seasons, Machado is only now turning into the stretch drive of his best years.

With Tatis on the way, Machado gets to slide back over to third base. He reportedly wanted to play shortstop again last season and did so to mixed results in Baltimore and Los Angeles. I’m not sure he was a good long-term bet there. He’s a better fit at third and signing with the Padres presumably removes the question altogether.

I guess we have to talk about the hustle comments, right?

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen,” Machado said to The Athletic. “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

It became a big story. Typically I dismiss these kinds of headlines, but considering the commitment in years and cash going Machado’s way, I understand it. Machado isn’t the only player who hasn’t run out each groundball, however. You know who else didn’t at one point this season? Bryce Harper.

Things happen. A groundball isn’t the issue — it’s whether the player gave a team reason to believe he wasn’t worth the huge financial commitment. Clearly that wasn’t the case here.

Credit to the Padres for investing in their team, too. After a disastrous signing last winter — hey, turns out Eric Hosmer isn’t great, who knew? — the team opened the checkbook again to land an actual star knowing the cavalry is on the way — Tatis and Luis Arias and Chris Paddack, etc.

It’s a great move and the right time to do it.

Blue Jays shouldn’t play games with Vlad Guerrero Jr’s debut

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Come on, Blue Jays. Let the kid rake in the bigs.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the most exciting prospects in recent baseball history. His name alone breeds excitement — his father is a Hall of Famer and one of the brightest stars the sport had in the last few decades. But his son, who turns 20 in less than a month, is hardly riding coattails; he’s obliterated every level of competition he’s faced so far in his young career.

By any objective measure, Baby Vlad is ready for the bigs. ESPN.com’s Keith Law ($) said his ceiling might be “right-handed David Ortiz.” His personality and his prodigious blasts certainly remind folks of Big Papi.

Just look what he did a year ago in the Blue Jays’ final Spring Training game:

The sport needs him. Not only is Baby Vlad ready to play, but the fans are ready to separate themselves from their cash to see it happen. He’s a marketing dream. Young, charismatic and an extremely dynamic hitter. Homers sell, dudes.

Blue Jays fans are excited. Heck, baseball fans are excited. Baby Vlad’s arrival in the bigs has been unfortunately delayed by some service time machinations, but surely that’s all over now. I mean, he pulverized the minors last season, slugging over 600 percent and getting on-base at a Votto-ian clip. Surely he’s coming up on Opening Day!

You know, I bet the team is getting some cool merchandise ready right now for his —

I’m sorry, hold on. What’s that? Oh. I’m just now getting word that the Blue Jays are not doing that.

“There’s no firm timeline on when he arrives or when he is playing in Toronto for the first time, but we want to make sure he’s the best possible third baseman and the best possible hitter he can be,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told Keegan Matheson of BaseballToronto.com.

What?

First off, Atkins is lying. He’s lying and he knows he’s lying. There isn’t a credible person alive who thinks Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a single thing he needs to learn in the minor leagues. He’s burned it all to ash. There’s nothing left to study. It’s like telling Genghis Khan he should go back and study how to sack Baghdad again.

Anything less than Major League pitching stunts Guerrero Jr.’s growth and potentially reduces his ceiling. He can’t become the best hitter he can be without hitting Major League pitching.

Yes — the defense is a problem. He’s huge and shows no signs of shrinking. Big deal. If he hits like Frank Thomas it simply doesn’t matter. That’s absolutely no reason to do what the Jays are suggesting.

Atkins lied because telling the truth is untenable. The truth is, the Blue Jays are going to delay calling up Baby Vlad — who will undeniably help the team win games now and sell tickets now — because if they delay his debut far enough into the season, the club pushes his free agency back a year. This happens every year and it absolutely, positively sucks. It hurts the game.

From a contract perspective, sure it makes sense. The Jays get to keep their young budding superstar around for an extra year at far, far below market value. But it breeds discontentment with your fans and that budding superstar. Plus, you know, if your goal is to actually win, having your best players on the field for all 162 games seems like a good idea? But what do I or the countless other writers and players saying the same thing know?

Is service time manipulation worth it? The answer is no. It’s wrong and the teams know it.

Consider what Vernon Wells had to say:

Astros pitcher Collin McHugh chimed in, too:

The Blue Jays are not alone in doing this. The New York Yankees did it with Gleyber Torres last year; the Cincinnati Reds might do it with Nick Senzel this year. It’s a common practice and it should be done away with because it hurts the game.

Also, owners? You might want to start paying attention to the discontent brewing amongst your players. The absurdly frigid free agent market plus the poor treatment of minor leaguers on top of antics like with Baby Vlad are mixing up a cocktail that no one wants to drink.

Bad winds are blowing, folks. The word strike has been thrown around more than once. We could be in for a rough go of it once it comes time to discuss a new CBA in 2021.

As for the Jays, they might sense the temperature in the room and bring up Vlad Jr. to open the season. I hope they do. It’s the right thing for the team, the player, the fans and the sport overall. Make the right choice.

Yankees extend Luis Severino, signing him through 2023 season

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Luis Severino has 40 million more reasons to shout.

The New York Yankees announced today they avoided arbitration with pitcher Luis Severino, agreeing to a 4-year, $40 million contract extension. A club option for a fifth year could keep the young hurler in pinstripes through the 2023 season.

Severino has been one of the best pitchers in the American League the last two seasons, ranking third in Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, fifth in innings pitched, fifth in xFIP and sixth in strikeout percentage. He’s also the hardest throwing starter in the entire sport, averaging 97.6 on his fastball. Bottom line: he’s young (he turns 25 in a few days), durable and dominant.

There’s a lot to like here. Severino gets the security of guaranteed money coming in and the Yankees get an ace in his peak seasons for decidedly less than ace money. Patrick Corbin, who’s close to as good as Severino, just signed a 6-year, $140 million deal before his age-29 season that carries him into his mid-thirties. Barring disaster, Severino just signed away that age-29 season.

Given how stingy teams have become, that could prove a costly decision for him once his free agency dawns. But, pitchers get hurt. They get hurt a lot. No matter what happens, Luis Severino has $40 million coming to him. He’s worth much more, but that kind of money changes lives.

The question for the Yankees might be just how good Severino can be. Last season was the tale of two halves:

Half xFIP K% BB% HR/FB
First 3.13 28.7% 6.4% 9.3%
Second 3.06 27.3% 5.3% 15.3%

Looks similar, right? The home run rate spiked in the second half, but the strikeouts and walks aren’t much different and the xFIP even dropped. Well, the ERAs were, um, not so similar: 2.31 vs 5.57.

What gives? Some of it could just be bad luck on balls in play; his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) jumped about one hundred points from .278 to .378. Typically that kind of jump is fluky — it’s baseball, stuff happens.

But can we find anything further under the hood? Severino was hit harder in the second half — less soft contact, more hard-hit contact. Further, if we examine his spin rate numbers for the year, it’s mostly consistent aside from some weirdness with his slider, again in the second half:

Severino Spin Rate

I’m not qualified to say whether that means a whole lot, but could it mean a mechanical problem or an injury?

There was an awful lot of smoke about tipping pitches, and frankly, the evidence is pretty compelling. Pitchers with stuff like Severino shouldn’t get beaten like a drum, but make no mistake, Game 3 of the ALDS was a butt kicking.

Severino’s friend and mentor Pedro Martinez said on the air he had been pitching through an injury. Severino denied it. I suppose only the Yankees and their ace know for sure, but he didn’t go on the injured list.

He was probably tipping his pitches, perhaps in response to an injury or something else. I don’t know for sure. Regardless, he’s one of the best pitchers in the sport and the Yankees just locked up what should be the best years of his career for far, far below market value. If Severino stays even close to how good he’s been so far, it’s a big win for the Bombers.

Ode to a Pitcher: Jacob deGrom dismantles the Diamondbacks

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You try hitting off this dude.

Here’s a fun fact about Jacob deGrom. By Fangraphs’ pitch value metric, three of the 2018 NL Cy Young winner’s offerings were among the best in the sport. He threw the fourth-best fastball, sixth-best slider and second-best changeup; so you can imagine the fun we’ll have today.

So far in this series, we’ve covered three pitchers of yesteryear: Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Mike Mussina, but today we leap to May 2018 to examine one ridiculous inning from the only player bringing joy to tortured Mets fans. deGrom was off to an incredible start, boasting a 1.83 ERA in 44.1 innings with a sizzling 56 strikeouts to only 14 walks before the Arizona Diamondbacks visited Citi Field.

We’ll be focusing on the top of the fourth inning. Due up for the Snakes are the 2-3-4 hitters; right fielder Steven Souza, third baseman Jake Lamb and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

A recurring theme in this inning and all season is the dominance of deGrom’s fastball. Averaging nearly 97 MPH and registering in the 75th percentile in spin rate, he pounds batters with it over and over, betting they’ll struggle to make solid contact. That combination of velocity and spin rate make the pitch lethal. Why? Higher velocities pose obvious problems for hitters, but higher spin rates correlate to swinging strikes and flyballs. In a related note, deGrom punched out 269 last season.

Facing deGrom is no picnic. Just ask the Diamondbacks.

***

Souza’s fun begins with a slider away.

Souza 1 slider away.gif

deGrom comes back with another slider, a tad higher, for a called strike.

Souza 2 fastball away.gif

Now we get our first fastball of the evening. Take note of the consistent locations deGrom and catcher Devin Mesoraco are working.

Souza 3 fastball foul away.gif

Souza is not in a good place here. The count is 1-2 and you just fought off a low-and-away 96 MPH fastball after seeing two sliders in the same spot. The rest of the plate is wide open.

Souza 4 fastball foul away.gif

deGrom leaves the fastball up in the zone and Souza flicks it away foul. From the broadcast, it’s clear deGrom wanted it higher, so in a sense, we can consider this a mild mistake. This is the burden of battling an ace, though — the mistakes aren’t exactly easy to punish. That fastball is no picnic by itself, but then consider the sequencing and tunneling (you notice how deGrom easily repeats his delivery no matter what he’s throwing?) and suddenly it’s impressive Souza didn’t miss, lower than desired or not.

Souza 5 fastball away ball.gif

The Mets ace comes with his third consecutive fastball, this one again outside but lower. It just misses outside. Five straight pitches all around the outside corner. Hmm.

Souza 6 change inside K.gif

Dear God. That is an absolutely nuclear changeup, out of the exact same release point as those beefy fastballs but about 12 MPH slower and diving toward Souza’s feet. Because Souza couldn’t do anything with the heat, he was completely vulnerable to a change of speed. This is the terrible fate of facing an ace like deGrom.

Take note of Mesoraco’s relaxed flip to third base. Oh, another day, another punchout. We’ll be seeing more of that.

Up next is the lefty Jake Lamb. Lamb showed some serious pop in 2016 and 2017, hitting 29 and 30 homers but also striking out a boatload. For our purposes, that’s a delightful combination. deGrom starts him with a slider away for a called strike one.

Lamb 1 slider away called strike.gif

Again deGrom works down-and-away, establishing the outside corner with a breaking pitch. He does so for a very specific reason and I promise we’re getting to it, but before you scroll down, just take a moment. Breathe.

Because what you are about to see is just flat-out unconscionable.

Ready?

Okay.

Lamb 2 fastball swinging.gif

Oh dear God. I mean, what can poor Jake Lamb do with that? deGrom flashes a nasty slider and then pulverizes him with a high fastball. I mean seriously, what can you even do with that?

Lamb 3 fastball up and in K

Alright, I think we all need a drink after that. Right? Give me a second.

Lamb 3 fastball behind catcher view

You’re right, Mr. deGrom, two drinks. Just a moment.

I went with a Tullamore Dew. That camera angle is a national treasure, by the way. Also, did you enjoy our second nonchalant toss to third base by Mesoraco? I sure did.

We’re two outs into the fourth inning and deGrom has thrown nine pitches, five of them fastballs and punched out both hitters in particularly electric fashion.

Up next is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The D-Backs star was scuffling up to this point in the 2018 season, particularly against fastballs. Later in the year, he’d return to form, but at this point, he wasn’t himself. I’m sure the fastball thing won’t be a big problem.

deGrom starts the third hitter of the inning with a slider.

Gold 1 slider ball.gif

Look at the intensity. The wonderful Rob Friedman — aka PitchingNinja on Twitter — loves to spotlight what he calls “pitching with intent.” For me, that calls to mind Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens; perhaps in today’s game, Max Scherzer or deGrom. Pitchers with the stuff and precision of the Mets ace tend to exude this kind of “controlled aggression,” if you will. They want outs and they want them quick. If you are so generous as to ground out weakly, fine. If not, you can go the route of Lamb and punchout on three pitches.

They want to dominate. Look at deGrom in the above gif. He wants to tear the Diamondbacks apart; he’s insulted they’d dare step into the box against him.

The slaying continues with another slider away, but it also misses to run the count 2-0.

Gold 2 fastball away.gif

Notice how deGrom lingers just a moment, staring at the pitch. Even the umpire isn’t exempt from the look.

Gold 3 fastball swinging strike.gif

See what I mean? That’s unadulterated dominance. A pitcher powering a fastball past a batter is king of the jungle stuff, and deGrom, in a hitter’s count, just tore a hole through one of the best first basemen in the sport. Remember what we said about velocity and spin rate? There ya go.

Gold 4 fastball foul.gif

deGrom again works away, forcing the first baseman to flick a ball foul. Because of that slider and changeup, Goldschmidt has to be careful.

Gold 5 fastball foul.gif

Another hard and heavy fastball, this one snaking back to touch the outside corner. Goldschmidt barely makes contact, but in a sense, that’s a victory on its own. deGrom is incredible but not infallible; keep the at-bat alive and he’s capable of grooving a fastball or hanging a slider. Goldschmidt is a skilled hitter, not just a slugger, and keeping himself in the at-bat is proof.

Gold 6 ch away K.gif

Yeah but then that happens.

***

Jacob deGrom finished the night with a whopping 13 strikeouts in seven innings, allowing just one run (Lamb, believe it or not, doubled off him in his next at-bat). The Mets offense cobbled together three runs, enough to give the future Cy Young award winner his fourth win on the season.

Indulge me for a moment while I share some fun deGrom stats:

  • deGrom started 32 games last season and struck out at least ten hitters in 11 of them
  • He generated at least 15 swinging strikes in 18 of his 32 starts
  • He produced the highest percentage of soft contact of any starter in baseball (25.2%)

deGrom’s dominance was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season in Queens. After a busy winter full of upgrades, perhaps we’ll be so fortunate as to see him pitching in October again.

***

This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.

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