Tuesday Night Observations

Typically I blurt out random observations during games on Twitter, and never end up putting it out there in one place. Moreover, those observations are often truncated because of the nature of the medium. There’s still value to me in going to Twitter first – it’s easier to generate a conversation, with immediate responses. For a handful of reasons, we don’t allow comments on the blog, so there’s less interaction.

However, the blog will allow me to formulate a few more thoughts on various topics that I might not dive into as much on Twitter. I can’t/won’t stop Tweeting (wow, that’s not a self-flattering statement, but … I love being on Twitter when live sports are on), but I’m going to try to write more here on a regular basis. Writing is a tool that can atrophy if you don’t keep using it, and I’ve definitely written less frequently than I used to. Some of that is due to having less time, but some of that is also a casualty of social media and even more is due to inertia.

Ok, that’s enough preamble. Here are some thoughts about tonight’s games:

  • Patrick Corbin has to be the lead story. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Giants and pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing just one infield single by Brandon Belt. This didn’t come out of the blue. Corbin was fantastic in his previous starts, though he tired in the sixth inning in his last time out against the Giants. This comes on the heels of a fantastic second half of 2017, where he posted a 3.26 ERA after the All-Star break. Normally I don’t like citing selective endpoints, but as Jeff Sullivan pointed out in Fangraphs, something has changed with Corbin. He’s throwing his excellent slider – well, two different excellent sliders, one much slower when he’s throwing it for strikes – considerably more often, and throwing his fastball far less. In the past, his fastball hasn’t been nearly as effective, so it naturally makes sense to throw it less often.
    As Sullivan discusses, the natural comparison is to the Astros’ Lance McCullers, who has notably thrown more curveballs. In fact, both the Astros and Indians have encouraged their pitchers to throw fewer fastballs, turning conventional baseball wisdom on its ear – yet again. I’m really looking forward to hearing grizzled ex-ballplayer announcers (or sycophant non-player commentators who also aim to preserve the status quo) start pointing out when these starters get beat occasionally on non-fastballs. Yes, I’m still on that hobby horse – announcer criticism. If you’re tired of me complaining about it, it’s not going to stop.
    How much do you believe in Corbin’s resurgence? I think he’s a “buy-high” guy – Chris Liss & I discussed him with that concept on SiriusXM on Tuesday morning’s broadcast. I wish I advocated more forcefully on Corbin’s behalf, and in the concept generally – the clip I linked to is only a portion of our discussion on it, though. If you redrafted today, where would you rank Corbin? Where would he go? I might be jumping the gun, but I think I would take Corbin over Dallas Keuchel right now – to give you a ballpark estimate on how much I value him.
    My only concern is health – how much strain is he putting on his elbow by throwing that slider so often? He’s already had Tommy John surgery once, and we’ve seen plenty of instances where a pitcher will need a second TJS procedure. This folds in well with the news that teammate Taijuan Walker has a UCL injury and is going to New York to get a second opinion – that almost never bodes well.
    He deserves more than a footnote in this game, but Johnny Cueto was pretty great coming off the DL in this start opposite Corbin. He threw seven shutout innings and struck out 11, walking none. His ERA is down to 0.65 after three starts.
  • If Corbin is the “1A” story, then Kenley Jansen’s blown save has to be the “1B” story. He blew another save Tuesday night, and it was gruesome. A leadoff homer by Eric Hosmer on an 89mph¬†cutter; Chris Taylor had to rob Christian Villanueva (we need to talk about him in more detail soon) of a homer on a 90 mph cutter in center field; Franchy Cordero – who came into the game with no walks and seven strikeouts – spit on two 94 mph fastballs that were above the strike zone, but usually get chased, en route to a walk and a game-tying run; and the final indignity was Chase Headley, he of the .074/.242/.111 line, turning on him for a game-tying double.
    Jansen’s average fastball (in this case, cutter) is down to 91.2 mph – from 93.3 mph last year. Spare Us the Cutter (unless it’s Mariano Rivera’s cutter). I don’t want to speculate on the cause, but that the velocity decline is real and hasn’t gone away yet. The Dodgers don’t have a clear line of succession. I’m picking up Josh Fields where I can and Scott Alexander where I can’t, but Pedro Baez has to be considered a live play too. He struck out all four batters he faced tonight to lower his ERA to 0.92 with a 1.04 WHIP.
    In that same game, I faded Alex Wood in DFS despite a great matchup against the Padres in Petco because I’m not very smart, and easily swayed by recent events. Don’t be me.
  • If Albert Pujols gets ejected in a game where he’s the DH, can the Angels just swap in Shohei Ohtani as his replacement DH? No, he’s not two separate players? Liss is right – we have to get that fixed for next season on commish services.
  • Byron Buxton missed Tuesday night’s game with a migraine headache – that in and of itself is pretty bad, but this could be worse. I didn’t realize he had a significant history of migraines and needs regular medication for them.
  • I overheard a brief conversation during the Mariners’ broadcast discussing the interaction between analytics and managers, and how old-school managers wouldn’t put up with that, specifically Lou Piniellla. To paraphrase their hypothetical conversation:”What do you think would happen if some stats guy came down and asked Lou ‘… why didn’t you bring in the left-hander in the 7th, when the stats show that you should?…'”
    “That would be the end of the conversation right there, and there wouldn’t be any more like it. Ha, ha, ha….”Time-and-again, that’s been a running theme of broadcasts, on television and on the radio, both locally and nationally. My bias on this is obvious, so maybe I listen for it more acutely. But I’m pretty sure there’s been more pushback this year than ever.
    I will ask this – who comes off looking worse in this hypothetical conversation (besides the M’s broadcasters, of course) – stereotypical stats guy, or Caricatured Version of Piniella? On one hand, you have someone who is presumably intelligent but might not have a background as a player, and perhaps is somewhat socially awkward to boot, you know, for laughs… And on the other hand – and keep in mind, this is the broadcaster hypothetical version of Piniella, not necessarily reflective of the views of the *actual* Piniella – you have a grizzled, respected long-time manager, who isn’t going to find new ways of analysis of any use.
    That’s not how this works, I’m almost certain of it. Read Travis Sawchik’s excellent book, Big Data Baseball. Sawchik does a great job of illustrating how the front office got Clint Hurdle and company to buy into using data to improve the Pirates. It’s a cooperative effort – how you introduce certain concepts are vitally important to get that buy-in. But buy-in Hurdle did – and he was considered to be as grizzled as the caricatured version of Piniella was.
  • After Tuesday night, Ken Giles has one save, Chris Devenski has two. Devenski got the ninth with a three-run lead – it wasn’t as if he had hung around from the eighth, or came into a tight spot. Yeah, if I were a Giles owner, I’d be worried too.
  • Shohei¬†Ohtani gave up three runs in two innings against the Red Sox and left with a blister on his pitching hand. There were some rumblings this spring that he’d struggle with a different ball used in the major leagues than what was used in Japan – those rumblings will get some play this week, for sure. I don’t know the answer, but it seems like a disconnect that the ball could be the source of problems tonight when it was a non-factor in his first two starts.
  • Umpires matter:CJ (aka TheSiege) was fading the Rays’ Yonny Chirinos in what appeared to be a choice matchup at home against the Rangers. Chirinos was bargain basement priced on Draft Kings despite three great outings to begin the season. Marquez was the home plate umpire in this game, and of the home plate umps on the slate, he had the lowest K/9 rate, at 14.81.
    While being careful not to conflate correlation with causation, Chirinos had a bad outing – giving up six runs over 5.2 innings, walking three batters and often falling behind in the count. There were a combined 13 strikeouts in the game, lowering Marquez’s K/9 rate as the home plate umpire over the last three years down to 14.78.
    We list the home plate umpires on our Daily Lineups page on RotoWire as soon as the information becomes available, and we also track various metrics with them as the home plate umpire on our Umpire Stats page. Comb through there when you get a chance and see what sort of nuggets you can unearth.

Those were some of the topics that jumped out to me while watching games tonight. What caught your eye? Hit me up on Twitter (@Jeff_Erickson) and let me know – I’ll try to cover these and more during Wednesday’s show.