Baseball

Everyone knows that Justin Verlander is the best right-handed pitcher of this era. What this post presupposes is…maybe he isn’t? Either way, it’s kind of funny that the Tigers had both Verlander and Max Scherzer and contrived to not win a World Series. And it would appear the Nationals are intent on imitating that pretty closely.

Anyway, whatever category you look at, Scherzer has Verlander, aside from length of career (Verlander has pitched for three more seasons). Strikeouts per nine innings? Scherzer 10.54 to 9.02. Walks? Scherzer again, 2.44 to 2.58. WHIP? 1.09 to 1.14 for Scherzer again. ERA? 3.17 to 3.55. FIP? Scherzer 3.12 to 3.43. ERA-? 76 to 79 in favor of the DC ace.

Now, the Verlander fans (or really, the Kate Upton fans because let’s be honest) will point out that Verlander has spent every year of his career in the AL, whereas Scherzer has been in the NL the last five seasons and his first full season with Arizona. And the AL is slightly tougher on pitchers, with the DH and all. Still, Scherzer has dominated in the AL as well, and racked up one of his Cy Youngs there. They’re certainly neck and neck, though it feels like Verlander is still the #1 in a lot of experts’ minds.

If it wasn’t for injury, Scherzer would be on track for a career season this year at age 35. Which is saying something given the avalanche of home runs that pitchers have been dealing with this year. He’s striking out more hitters than he ever has, his walk rate is the second-lowest of his career, and he’s produced more grounders this season than he has since he was a Diamondback.

How has Scherzer gone about this? There doesn’t seem to be a huge change in usage or repertoire. Scherzer is using his fastball less than before, the least amount in his career in fact at just 48%. Which is a little strange, because it has even more juice on it than it did last year at 95.2 MPH. No other pitch has lost much either. And there isn’t much change in how any of his pitches move. And yet his slider and change have gotten more whiffs than before.

What gives?

It appears that Scherzer has decided to live on the hands of left-handed hitters, for one.

He’s getting a higher grounder rate against lefties than in the last five years. For righties, Scherzer is doing the opposite, going to the outside corner more and going away from righties’ hands. It’s resulted in a much higher ground-ball rate from righties for him.

The only problem Scherzer has run into this season is health. This will be the first season that Scherzer won’t collect at least 30 starts, as he’s only at 20 now and just got off the IL yesterday. Perhaps that will leave him fresher for the one frontier he hasn’t conquered, at least for the Nats, and that’s the postseason.

As strange as it sounds, Scherzer has only made three postseason starts for the Nationals. Two in the Division Series against the Dodgers in 2016, and one against the Cubs the following season when he dealt with health problems again and couldn’t appear until Game 3. And he made that one, ill-fated relief appearance in Game 5 against the Cubs. The Nats have lost all four of those postseason games, even though he was brilliant in two of them.

Verlander got to put his record straight with the Astros in 2017. Could it finally be Scherzer’s turn to match him there as well?

 

Baseball

But you knew that. He’s also a hero, because he’s dunking on David Kaplan in a second language, when Kap can’t even manage his first.

Darvish’s entire Cub career has been hard to get your arms around. His first was ruined by an injury that at first even his own team wasn’t sure was actually there, until he proved it. Remember the whole Alex Rodriguez play-acting journalist thing? The eight starts he did manage weren’t all that impressive. Then this year started, and there were flashes of everything, from brilliant to helpless to utterly confusing. It was an amazing Javy Vasquez cosplay. It was infuriating, as Darvish couldn’t seem to harness any of his pitches, nor decide which ones to throw when.

And then there’s this recent strange of what should be insane dominance. And yet it’s not, because the thread through all of this season at least has been giving up home runs. And to most people, that means there must be a problem. We’re looking for something that isn’t there, or it’s just right there in front of us and we can’t see it. I don’t know, and neither do you. But considering everything else, there can’t be a problem. There doesn’t have to be a reason in baseball. Things can just happen to happen. It’s what makes it so fascinating and frustrating, and leads to all those metaphors for life that probably drive you nuts as well.

So let’s get into it. So here’s the big number. Since July 1st, Yu Darvish has a 35.5-to-1 K/BB ratio. That’s 35.5. He’s struck out 71 hitters. He’s walked two. In August, he’s struck out 35 hitters and walked none. So in August, he has an infinity K/BB ratio, because he might not walk anyone ever again. For reference sake, since July 1, the second-best K/BB rate is Justin Verlander’s at 11.5. And 11.5 is amazingly good! Darvish is over three times that!

So when you’re striking out that many hitters, and walking literally no one, it’s really hard to argue you’re doing anything wrong. And yet there are the homers, and homers come off mistakes, so something must be wrong. But if you look at the whole picture, the homers have to be an anomaly. A ghost in the machine. Just some sort of spasm of weirdness. The ultimate punishment for being mere millimeters off where a pitch should be. It’s disproportionally punitive.

In this stretch, hitters are batting .211 against Darvish. That’s incredibly good. He’s not getting hit at all, except for last night where he was clearly off. In August, it’s .222, still really good. And yet they’re slugging .544, which isn’t. Which means every single hit he’s giving up, or close to it, is getting hit hard. So I guess you could argue his mistakes are bigger than others, because they’re just sitting there to get whacked. But if you’re striking out 35 hitters for every one you walk, you really can’t be making that many mistakes. You’re probably making barely any at all.

The number on the other side is a 24.6% HR/FB rate for the season, which is almost twice Yu’s career-average. In four August starts, it’s 44%. There’s no “method” to that, it’s just extremely bad luck. Yu would have needed simply four guys to foul a mistake straight back, a matter of an inch or two to cut that in half, and 22% would still be abnormally high for him.

So is something going on with fly balls? I mean, sort of? Yu is giving up 40% hard-contact on the fly-balls he gives up, which his high, but it’s hardly amongst the leaders. Just so you know, when giving up fly balls, Tyler Beede’s 56.2% hard-contact leads, and Yu ranks 52nd. And it’s less than two percent of an increase on his 2017 season, y’know the one that netted him this big contract. It’s not out of line from anything he’s done before, it’s just that everything keeps floating out of the park.

I suppose an argument you can make is that when you’re walking no one, hitters know you’re around the plate all the time so they’re a little more tuned in? Or maybe all of Yu’s mistakes are in the zone instead of outside? Doesn’t seem to bother Kershaw much, but Yu isn’t Kershaw. But are we really going to advocate Yu start walking more guys? How would that really help?

Maybe it’s a certain pitch or two that’s the problem. Except it isn’t. Every pitch is going for a higher slugging this season, due to that inflated HR/FB rate. But the thing is, a majority of his pitches are giving up less fly balls than his career norms–slider, curve, and cutter. The fastball and sinker are getting lifted in the air more often, but not exceedingly so. And only his cutter is getting hit for more line-drives by a significant margin. Yet they’re all going out of the park at a higher rate. The big one is that his splitter has a huge jump in home run/put-in-play rate, which I guess you could point to as the pitch he’s making more mistakes with than others. But it also has a 40% whiff rate, so would you really ask him to drop it?

Essentially, what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Yu give up two homers the rest of the season without changing a thing simply because BASEBALL. You really can’t stress enough that when you’re striking out 35 hitters for every one you walk, there’s nothing to change, no matter what Kap’s galaxy dome has to say.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: White Sox 21-24   Astros 31-16

GAMETIMES: Monday-Thursday at 7:10

TV: NBCSN Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, WGN Wednesday

SONS OF MIKE SCOTT: Crawfish Boxes

PROBABLE PITCHERS

TBD vs. Brad Peacock

Dylan Covey vs. Justin Verlander

Ivan Nova vs. Gerrit Cole

Lucas Giolito vs. Corbin Martin

PROBABLE WHITE SOX LINEUP

Leury Garcia – CF

Yoan Moncada – 3B

Jose Abreu – 1B

Yonder Alonso – DH

James McCann – C

Eloy Jimenez – LF

Tim Anderson – SS

Yolmer Sanchez – 2B

Charlie Tilson – RF

PROBABLE ASTROS LINEUP

George Springer – CF

Alex Bregman – 3B

Michael Brantley – DH

Carlos Correa – SS

Josh Reddick – RF

Yuri Gurriel – 2B

Tyler White – 1B

Robinson Chirinos – C

Jake Marisnick – LF

 

Well I’m sure it was nice for the White Sox to play at their own level for a while with the Blue Jays for seven games over the past 10 days, but it’s straight into the deep end now. The Sox travel to Houston to face that throng of frost giants who like to smash things but good, and then cross the country length-wise to face the division-leading Twins who are something of a diet version of the Astros. Good time to have a bunch of injuries on your pitching staff, huh?

To be fair to the Sox, there just might not be a pitching staff that can deal with the artillery the Astros throw at you every night. They’re second in runs in the majors, behind those previously mentioned Twins. They have the best OBP in the majors by eight points. They have the best slugging percentage. They have the best wOBA as well. Of their eight regulars, only Yuri Gurriel isn’t carrying a wRC+ well over 100, and he’s at 99. Even part-timers Aledmys Diaz and Jake Marisnick are turning baseballs into paste when they’re in the lineup. There’s no break here. Michael Brantley, who I still can’t believe the Indians just let walk out the door considering their outfield options, has an OPS of .933. That’s fourth-best on the team. There is no non-monster in this lineup right now, with the Crawford Boxes beckoning the whole night. It’s a goddamn nightmare for anyone.

But that’s ok, because they have a really strong rotation, too. You’ll know all about Verlander, who will carry a sub-3.00 ERA until he’s 52 for no reason. Gerrit Cole carries the highest K/9 in all of baseball. Wade Miley has been able to parlay the Astros’ superb defense into success (oh right, the Astros catch everything too). Brad Peacock has been just above “meh,” and Collin McHugh actually bad. But hey, no biggie, because two of their top four prospects just happen to be starters, and Corbin Martin has already arrived (though Forrest Whitley has had a rough go so far in AAA so he might not be the sure bet for this year he was before it started). So there’s no break here.

Well, maybe you can get to them in the late innings, right? Fuck you, buddy. Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna (aka ASSHOLE), are both carrying ERAs under 1.00. Will Harris is at 1.15. Hector Rondon at 2.30. McHugh and Peacock have both rotated out there in the past and this year with success. Joshua James and Chris Devenski have had their issues, but they’re on the margins, especially when they get the innings they do out of the starters and the creative use of A.J. Hinch. They might not strike out the world as some pens do, but their top four in Pressly, Osuna, Harris, and Rondon barely walk anyone and other than Osuna the other three get a ton of grounders on the contact they do give up. There’s nowhere to go here.

So the Sox having to have a bullpen day to kick this off tonight is less than ideal. Especially when it’s not a fully healthy pen. Giolito will get his biggest test of his new approach and stuff, as will everyone else. Eloy Jimenez looks poised to return as Nicky Delmonico was shipped out yesterday along with his hair care products. Good thing too, because the Sox are going to need a lot of runs to hang in there in Texas this week.