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Did you know ...
The Braves will be in New York for two games with the Yankees in April but won’t meet the Mets at Citi Field – five miles from Yankee Stadium – for another month . . .
The Baltimore Orioles are banking heavily on has-beens: Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez . . .
A way with words: Red Barber’s mother and daughter were English professors . . .
Newly-signed Atlanta starter Charlie Morton has gone 47-18 with a 3.24 ERA in 97 starts over the last four seasons, with 646 strikeouts in 546 1/3 innings . . .
The Five-Inning Starting Pitcher
By Ray Kuhn
Last year gave us a baseball season like none other. It was something no one saw coming, and even in our wildest dreams, it wasn’t something that we could have planned for or forecast. We were all just flying blind out there and it didn’t matter who we were.
Whether it was as a player, fan, broadcaster, writer, team personnel, or fantasy player, it simply didn’t matter. We were all just making educated guesses at times on our best days thanks to the great equalizer.
I know we can’t be so lucky. Far from it, in fact, as COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere and it’s not something we should just shove to the back of the cabinet even if we want to.
But enough about that. Regardless of where we are as a country, sports are here for us as a diversion and maybe we can pretend for three hours a day that nothing else matters. And with pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective camps this week, this should be a time of optimism.
Well maybe for everyone except for those of us who yearn for the days of pitchers throwing complete games with boring regularity. While we were once used to taking that for granted, route-going efforts are now an utter rarity. At this point, seeing a starting pitcher throw seven or eight innings is considered to be a great day as most pitchers are lucky to make it through the batting order a third time.
To make matters worse, no one really pitched much last year anyway, thanks to the virus-shortened 60-game season.
At this point, spitting back the statistics that show how starting pitchers exit earlier and earlier is just old news. We know all about the Verducci Effect and what happens when pitchers exceed their prior-year totals by more than 30 innings but this year we don’t have to worry about that with anybody. Next year, the complete opposite will be true but the same logic applies.
After barely throwing last season, how can we count on pitchers to pitch deep into games with effectiveness on a consistent basis in 2021?
The quick answer is that we cannot.
The longer answer is not to worry about the aces and veterans, but the majority of pitchers should benefit from entering the season healthy as they are without the wear and tear that a full 2020 season would have brought. On the other side of the equation though, it will have been quite a while since these pitchers were really stretched out — and for young pitchers who didn’t have the benefit of a minor-league season even longer since they pitched competitively against true opponents.
Ultimately, that means pitchers have to be treated with even more of the kid gloves that they have become accustomed to. But how much further can things really go?
As it is, we are dealing with openers, eight- or nine-man bullpens, 100 pitches serving as a pretty hard cap, and most starters being lifted before they can go through the batting order a third time. That is far from the pitching philosophy of 30 or 40 years ago. And we will never be going back there either. So hard as it may be, let’s embrace it.
We haven’t even gotten to the first full-squad workout of the spring season, but already there is talk swirling of more openers being used this season as well as multiple teams looking to use six-man rotations. As unnatural as it may feel, we need to accept it. It may seem unnatural but it is better than nothing. Even more importantly, it is better than seeing starting pitchers parade to the Injured List because too much was asked of them.
There is no such thing as too much pitching, and that will ring true this year more than in any other. Let teams do whatever it is they want this season as they manage their staff in any way possible. That will look different for every team and will likely be evolving throughout the year, but it is the least of our concerns.
And trust me, I am not a fan of endless pitching changes and losing starting pitchers after five innings. Previously, pitchers would have laughed at a quality start requiring six innings of work at a minimum, but now we will be lucky to get even that. But as long as our starting pitchers make it through a 162-game season, that is quite all right with me.
Ray Kuhn currently writes and talks about the game from a fantasy angle at Friends With Fantasy Benefits after previously covering the Houston Astros as part of the FanSided network at Climbing Tal’s Hill. Reach him at @ray_kuhn_28 or email@example.com as he is always interested in talking or writing about our great game.
Braves Still Beasts Of The East When Compared Position-By-Position Against Mets
By Dan Schlossberg
Living in Northern New Jersey, the daily papers I read feed readers an endless diet of local news – including sports pages so crammed with Mets and Yankees stories that there’s no room for the other 28 teams in the major leagues.
That’s why I love MLB.com, MLB Network, MLB Radio on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and publications like USA TODAY Sports Weekly – especially the spring training and pre-season issues.
Now that pitchers and catchers have reported and most of the major free agents have signed, it’s prediction time.
Fans of the Mets, buoyed by the billions in the bank account of new owner Steve Cohen, are understandably delirious. The team didn’t land any of its three biggest targets – catcher J.T. Realmuto, centerfielder George Springer, or Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer – but did land more than its share of other useful pieces.
The off-season haul included All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, catcher James McCann, and relief pitcher Trevor May while also retaining Marcus Stroman, who accepted the club’s qualifying offer.
As a result, Mets fans believe the club can close the nine-game gap that separated it from the front-running Atlanta Braves at the end of the virus-shortened, 60-game season of 2020.
But let’s take a closer look, comparing the clubs on a position-by-position basis:
Catcher – Though McCann’s batting average has gone up in each of the last three years, he’s still a .249 lifetime hitter who played second fiddle to Yasmani Grandal with the White Sox last year. Ex-Met Travis d’Arnaud may be a year older at 32 but he’s a much better hitter (.321 with nine homers in 44 games last year and good enough to hit cleanup in the playoffs) and no worse defensively. Plus he has extra incentive entering the walk year of his two-year contract. Edge: Braves
First base – If Pete Alonso produces something between his 2019 rookie numbers (53 home runs) and 2020 sophomore jinx (.231, 16 homers in 208 at-bats), the Mets will be happy. But his only advantage over Freddie Freeman, beyond his Polar Bear nickname, is youth (Alonso is five years younger). Freeman won all but two of the 30 votes for National League MVP after hitting .341, posting a .462 on-base percentage, and slugging .640. He scored a league-high 51 runs in 60 games, led the NL with 23 doubles, and was the most feared hitter in the league – after starting the spring with a severe case of Covid-19. He’s also a Gold Glove winner. Big edge: Braves
Second base – With aging Robinson Cano sidelined by a season-long steroids suspension, Jeff McNeil returns from third base. A .319 career hitter, he showed surprising power (23 homers) in 2019. But Ozzie Albies is younger, faster, and a better fielder. He led the NL with 189 hits in 2019, the last full season, and twice hit 24 homers – not bad for the shortest guy in the league (5'8"). A strong candidate for a 20/20 season, he could become a .300 hitter now that Chipper Jones has joined the Braves as a special hitting coach for home games. Slight edge: Braves
Shortstop – Landing the 27-year-old Francisco Lindor so cheaply was a masterstroke by the Mets, who need to sign him to an extension before he walks this fall. A slugger who once hit 70 homers over a two-year span, he’s also a strong fielder and good base-runner. Dansby Swanson is the same age but that’s where the comparison stops. His average has risen three straight years but he’s no Lindor. Big edge: Mets
Third base – Two years ago, J.D. Davis hit .307 with 22 homers in 140 games. At 28, he’s four years older than Atlanta’s Austin Riley, who has light-tower power – when he connects. Riley is a better fielder at the hot corner but, like Davis, can also play left field or first base. He could wind up in a platoon with lefty-hitting Jake Lamb, just signed by Atlanta. Both teams spent the winter looking to acquire upgrades at this key position. Slight edge: Mets
Right field – Ronald Acuña Jr. announced last spring that he wanted to become the first man in baseball history to hit 50 homers and steal 50 bases in the same season. He led the NL with 127 runs scored and 37 stolen bases in 2019, when he also hit 41 homers and knocked in 101 runs while batting leadoff! Plus he has a cannon for a throwing arm. Michael Conforto, at 28, is five years older. He’s a good player who had 33 homers in ‘19 but he’s no Acuña. Big edge: Braves
Centerfield – Brandon Nimmo has a reputation as “the happiest man in baseball.” But he’d be a lot happier if the Mets found a way to improve his defense in this vital position – or if they could move him to a corner, where he’s much more comfortable. At 28, he’s entering his sixth year but he’s a .258 lifetime hitter who has reached double digits in homers only once. Atlanta rookie Cristian Pache, who hit his first big-league homer in the NL Championship Series, has a chance to do much better. Plus he’s the best defensive player – at any position – coming up from the minors. Edge: Even
Left field – After leading the NL in home runs and RBI last year, when he also made a run at a rare Triple Crown, Marcell Ozuna has a new contract that could last five years and bring him $80 million if a club option is exercised. His surgically-repaired shoulder hampers his throwing but he’ll revert to DH the minute the rule returns to the National League. Dom Smith, much better in the field at first base, isn’t nearly as good a hitter, lacks Ozuna’s power, and is part of an all-lefty outfield. Big edge: Braves
Bench – Fleet Jonathan Villar, a switch-hitter who signed late, should see lots of action for the 2021 Mets as a jack-of-all-trades. So will Luis Guillorme and newcomers Jose Martinez and Albert Almora Jr. Atlanta’s bench includes versatile Jason Kipnis, Johan Camargo, former World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, and good-field, no-hit Ender Inciarte, whose Gold Glove defense the Mets could use in center field. Rookie William Contreras, younger brother of Willson, will back d’Arnaud. Slight edge: Mets
Rotation – With his two recent Cy Youngs, Jacob deGrom stands head and shoulders above any pitcher in the NL East. The rest of the rotation is solid with Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, and lefties David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi – and Noah Syndergaard due back from Tommy John surgery in June. Atlanta added veterans Charlie Morton, a righty, and southpaw Drew Smyly to a young corps led by lefty Max Fried, who idolizes Sandy Koufax; comeback candidate Mike Soroka, due back from a torn Achilles; and late-season find Ian Anderson, a former No. 1 draft pick who had a 1.95 ERA in six starts and was even better in the playoffs. Morton, 37, is the only man in baseball history to win four Game 7s. Edge: Even
Relief – Edwin Diaz, who saved 51 games in 61 tries in 2019, looked like his old self last summer after an awful first year in the NL. The Mets have other potential closers in Jeurys Familiar and Dellin Betances as well as free agent signees Trevor May, whom the Braves also wanted, and Tommy Hunter. Newcomer Aaron Loup is the leading lefty. Atlanta lost veterans Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day, making 31-year-old former All-Star Will Smith the closer, backed by fellow lefties A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Sean Newcomb. No other team has four lefties in their pen. The best righty in the Braves bullpen bunch is control artist Chris Martin. Edge: Even
Manager – Organization man Brian Snitker, at 65, is not only 20 years older than Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos but the oldest manager in the NL. A Bobby Cox disciple who has embraced analytics, the college-educated Snitker managed or coached many Braves players before they reached the majors. Luis Rojas, in his second year with the Mets, is on a tightrope because he was inherited by Mets team president Sandy Alderson. Big Edge: Braves
HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also writes baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. His latest book is The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists and Legends From Our National Pastime. Contact Dan via e.mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw once asked, “Who is Babe Ruth and what does she do?”
Salary wars killed the Federal League, with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops losing $800,000 in 1915 and the Buffalo and Kansas City teams totally bankrupt . . .
The now-disgraced Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a federal judge appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt before he became Commissioner of Baseball . . .
As the Yankee Stadium scoreboard listed deceased Yankees prior to an Old Timers Day game, Yogi Berra looked at Whitey Ford and said, “Boy, I hope I never see my name up there!”
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.