Month: February 2019

Ode to a Pitcher: Jacob deGrom dismantles the Diamondbacks

Image result for jacob degrom
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.

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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.

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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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Yankees appear content with Tulowitzki until Didi can return

Image result for didi gregorius
Didi Gregorius is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The New York Yankees are headed into Spring Training apparently content with their options at shortstop, be it Troy Tulowitzki or another in-house option until Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery. Manny Machado still hasn’t signed anywhere, but the Yankees hardly appear the favorite at this point.

So, Tulowitzki. I’ll spare you the “boy, this would be great in 2014” jokes, but man there’s not much here. Take a look at the last three years for the former Rockies All-Star:

Season Games wRC+ WAR
2016 131 104 3.0
2017 66 79 0.1
2018 0 0 0

Uh, great! If Machado wasn’t a serious pursuit, I don’t understand why the Yankees didn’t just re-sign Adeiny Hechavarria (or someone similar) to man shortstop until Gregorious is back. No, Hechavarria can’t hit at all, but he’s a slick defender and unlike Tulowitzki, not made of glass.

It’s not Tulowitzki’s fault he’s had such terrible problems with his heel, but the reality remains. The Yankees spent almost nothing to add him and if he breaks, he breaks; they release him and move on. But then you’re right back to square one but with fewer options.

Maybe I’m overrating Hechavarria, but at least you know he’ll be healthy and can handle short. The odds are Tulowitzki doesn’t make it through Spring Training without an injury, and even if he does, what are the odds he’s actually better than Hechavarria? I’m not optimistic. I think assuming Tulowitzki is a Major League shortstop in 2019 is probably absurd.

The other option, beyond the obvious, is to slide second baseman Gleyber Torres over to short. Torres came up through the minors as a shortstop and it’s within the realm of possibility he ends up there again. I don’t get the sense that’s an appealing option for the Yankees, though. This would be a better question for someone like Keith Law or Eric Longenhagen, but perhaps moving Torres off second temporarily would impede his development there? I don’t know.

If the Yankees insist on not adding Machado, they’re accepting below-par performance somewhere in the infield until Gregorious is healthy. I’m uncomfortable with that risk given the talent level across the Yankees’ roster; it’s time to push for a World Series, boys. But the brain trust in the Bronx believes this team can claim the elusive 28th championship, with or without Machado (or Bryce Harper).

Given how competitive the AL East is expected to be, a few wins left on the table because of weakness at shortstop could be the difference between a division title and the wild card and consequently a harder road to the Fall Classic.

None of this matters once the incumbent is back, and thus far Gregorius is doing well in his rehab, according to the New York Daily News. Sir Didi is already taking groundballs at shortstop and participating in light throwing drills, a big step in the recovery from Tommy John surgery.

“It felt pretty good,” Gregorius told the Daily News after a recent workout. “Pretty good.”

Gregorius, a vital part of this new Yankees core and a fan favorite, will turn 29 in a few weeks. He can become a free agent after this season, a curious time for him. If the year goes well, he’s probably still in line for a lengthy contract, but given the current market, who knows?

Kyler Murray took the expedient path, but why did the A’s pick him?

Brief thoughts on Kyler Murray’s decision to pursue football fulltime:

ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reported that Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner and the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, will return $1.29 million of the $1.5 million he was already paid by the Oakland Athletics. In addition, he is forfeiting the remaining $3 million he was owed with this choice.

It’s a healthy chunk of change for anyone, but Murray — with good reason — is betting on his NFL future being lucrative.

I want to focus on two aspects of this story. First, Murray’s future and second, why the heck did the A’s draft him ninth overall?

Murray made the expedient choice, not necessarily the best one

Murray went with the NFL because his odds of superstardom are higher in football than baseball. We know what he is capable of on the gridiron. He’s an incredibly athletic and dynamic quarterback, generally makes good decisions with the football and has a pretty high ceiling.

The NFL is moving in the direction of Kyler Murray. Yes, he’s small. No, there aren’t many great NFL quarterbacks who stood below 6 feet. But the sport is moving, even if only slowly, in the direction of the Baker Mayfields and Lamar Jacksons. Murray in the right situation could be quite a show. Whether he lands in the right situation is a different story. After all, like Bill Walsh once said, there are only eight smart teams in the league.

The far bigger concern is what choosing football means to Murray’s long-term health. Playing football is unquestionably dangerous. It’s a risk Murray was willing to take, but the consequences could be severe. Let’s not gloss over this. Baseball is considerably safer.

The quickest path to significant riches and fame is the NFL, however. It takes years to break into Major League Baseball for anyone but the true superstars, and so in that sense, it’s understandable for Murray to do this. Plus, he’s almost definitely a better football player, especially given how little we know of him with a bat and glove.

What the heck were the Athletics thinking?

If I’ve missed it, please someone tell me, but I’m not finding a lot of people asking this question. Why would Oakland draft Murray with the ninth overall pick? It’s not as if he was this consensus can’t miss guy — MLB.com ranked him 36th before the draft — and his potential football aspirations were always known and documented.

Set aside the football issue and taking Murray ninth is already a bit of a stretch. Out of high school, he was a potential first overall pick in great part because of his athleticism and the potential to grow. Problem is, he didn’t play college baseball at all until 2017 (he wasn’t good) and 2018 (he was pretty good).

Murray lost those critical years of development. So what were the A’s drafting? A hyper-athletic lottery ticket who might or might not turn into a baseball player. He flashed a lot of pop but struggled with pitch recognition, as you’d expect from a player who just hasn’t played. Despite being faster than lightning, his defense in centerfield was only okay because he struggled with reads (again, lack of reps) and showed a weaker than expected arm.

The pitch recognition and outfield reads could have been fixed with professional coaching and game action, all the more so when dealing with an athlete as gifted as Murray. It’s not like he was a terrible bet, but he’s way behind the development curve and closing that gap would be challenging.

ESPN.com’s Keith Law put it like this: Murray’s ceiling is an occasional MLB All-Star and his floor is never cracking the majors.

Murray is hardly alone in that description, but then you remember he was about to go play major college football. There could be things I’m not privy to that led to Oakland selecting Murray, but I struggle to see why it was worth the gamble. Once Murray signed, the draft pick was forever gone, and that hurts the A’s more than the money.

Maybe Oakland was convinced they could sign Murray and steer him toward baseball. Okay, fine. But as a prospect, it’s hard for me to understand why he was worth the risk. In a sense, the selection in retrospect feels like a stunt.

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