Monday, April 30, 2012

A Running Diary For Yu


It's the Monday Night ESPN Game! Blue Jays! Rangers! I can only assume this game is on so the world can see the prize of the Roy Halladay trade, Kyle Drabek.

Sorry, what's that? Ahhh, it's Yuuuuuuuu time. So for the phenom's first visit to Canada I'm trying out this running diary thing. The Rangers come into the game on an absolute tear. They have the best record and run differential in the AL and they haven't exactly been playing fluff opponents. The Jays come in on a two game winning streak but there's some worry about Jose Bautista's cold streak to start the year and the recent sweep at the hands of the Orioles. But it's a fresh series now, so let's play ball!

Top 1 - I've decided to go with the ESPN feed for tonight's game. Not that I'm getting tired of Buck and Pat, but I'm just curious to see how this booth does. The three man booth seems crowded in the NFL, so it'll be interesting to see if these guys can fit in 1.5 times the platitudes of the average booth. I'm giving ESPN a chance to redeem themselves after their website featured today top female athletes of all time and a soccer match. I'm not exactly sure who they think goes to ESPN.com but I'm guessing there isn't a lot of overlap between that group and people who enjoy soccer and women's sports. As for the actual game, Drabek's control was a little off to start but that was a gorgeous curve to get Young to strikeout. Yu time!

Bottom 1, Darvish/Escobar - I love how Yu's hair is dyed but not his beard. The contrast amuses me. Nasty slider K's Yunel, if he keeps this up it's going to be a bad night for the Jays.

Bottom 1, Darvish/Johnson - Looks like his curveball is working too.

End 1 - Another ugly at bat for Bautista. I want to see him get back to pulling the ball hard, although tonight may not be the night to get that plan in action. Solid first inning from Darvish. First pitch balls to two batters is going to run up the pitch count but his slider looked unhittable.

Top 2, Drabek/Beltre - Drabek has been missing WIDE outside going for the low outside corner to the righties all night. Not surprising then that he gets himself into a bad count and gives up a double opposite way to Beltre. Beltre tags to go to third on the next at bat and runs like he has a hernia. Definitely a Rangers concern going forward.

Top 2, Drabek/Cruz - Dear Kyle Drabek, a curveball is supposed to curve. Nelson misses a homerun by a few inches as Beltre crawls across the plate.

Middle 2 - Good analysis by the ESPN guys on Drabek's follow through. He's been off tonight and the fastball has been missing by a lot. We've seen glimpses of what he could be earlier this season but he needs to work on his consistency, it hasn't been good so far this game. Onto our clean-up hitter Adam Lind. Let's just say I'm not enthused. At least Farrell can look across the field and be thankful his first baseman isn't Mitch Moreland.

Bottom 2, Drabek/Encarnacion - I don't know what Edwin's been eating but he's been an absolute stud so far this season. One of Bill James' original findings was that Frank Thomas batted 70 points higher when he played first base than when he DH'd. Most players generally say they feel more involved and do better when they play the field during the game. Edwin was never a good fielder so now that he's focusing just on his hitting we're starting to see a real hitter and not just E5. Edwin gets absolutely nailed by Darvish, which is starting to be a regular occurance. Doesn't seem intentional by Darvish, just some poor control to start the inning.

End 2 - Darvish escapes the jam by getting a slider past Lawrie and a curve past Rasmus. The slider has been devastating so far, not sure why he isn't throwing it every pitch. Four strikeouts for Darvish so far and both pitchers are at 35 pitches through 2 innings.

Top 3, Drabek/Gentry - It's not just that the Rangers only have two weak spots in their lineup (usually only one when Hamilton plays), but it's that the rest of the roster is just so chalked full of power. Every other guy could be top 5 at their position in the league. Gentry plays his role and goes down on three straight fastballs.

Top 3, Drabek/Andrus - What happens when you can't hit the outside corner? You're forced to try and power your fastball past people. This is tough when your fastball tops out at 93. Andrus doubles off the wall the opposite way to score Kinsler. Can't win if you let guys like Andrus smack the ball all over the park.

Middle 3 - Drabek gets out with only one run allowed, but even the outs were hit hard. If Andrus and Cruz had another few feet on their hits this game would be a blowout right now. Drabek's BA against goes from .132 to .333 after the 45th pitch. Too early in the game for a stat like that. Hopefully the top of the Jays lineup can add some support and break up the no-hitter.

Bottom 3, Darvish/Arencibia - The ESPN booth is praising Farrell for the Jays .500 season last year. Clearly they don't get Jays games in Bristol. The slider gets JP.

End 3 - Well that was a fast inning. Two more strikeouts on swings that weren't even close. Only 11 pitches for Darvish that inning. Forget getting a hit tonight, if Darvish keeps throwing those breaking balls the Jays will be lucky just to make contact.

Middle 4 - Drabek showed me. Counters Darvish's fast inning by striking out the side. He wasn't missing his pitches and his cutter looked good. If he keeps this up he could definitely get 7 innings.

Bottom 4, Darvish/Bautista - Looks like Bautista is trying to break the slump with one giant swing. I'm usually up for that but against Darvish's high cutter it's just not going to work, and doesn't.

Bottom 4, Darvish/Encarnacion - Tim Kurkjian says Michael Young is the glue of the Rangers clubhouse. Who knew? On a different note, BOOM. First homerun against Darvish in the majors. The lesson here, don't hit Edwin, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Bottom 4, Darvish/Lawrie - Back-to-back hits as Thames singles, can we get some more two-out runs here? Lawrie's grounder to short says no.

Top 5, Drabek/Kinsler - Up to 5 straight strikeouts now for Drabek, although the last two were against Moreland and Gentry, maybe it shouldn't count. Drabek follows up the success by throwing above Kinsler's head. We'll chalk that one up to his early control issues. Maybe the current control issues too as Drabek misses his spots after throwing at Kinsler.

Top 5, Drabek/Young - Tough play before for Yunel on a hard hit grounder to his right. With Andrus' speed that play is nearly impossible. ESPN reminds everyone that Michael Young was in the Jays minor league system. Any Jays fan who ever watched Russ Adams is quite familiar with this fact.

Middle 5 - Drabek gets Young to ground out. He may have struck out 5 of his last 6 outs but they haven't been particularly impressive strikeouts. He's up to 90 pitches now and I'm guessing he's only got one more ininng. Hopefully he makes quick work of it and doesn't need a call to the bullpen until the 7th. Hopefully Edwin let the team in on a few secrets to beat Darvish.

Bottom 5, Darvish/Rasmus - Guess so, Rasmus starts the inning with a lead off single to left. Seems like Edwin's hit has been the only pulled ball tonight.

Bottom 5, Darvish/Arencibia - You are a slow man JP Arencibia. Those were not easy throws for that double play. Your best bud Lawrie would have beat that one out. Tonight you get second choice at the bar.

End 5 - Darvish missed his spot a few times and goes to a full count against Escobar. Ends it with a nasty cutter though for his 8th K. He's at 68 pitches and still going strong.

Top 6, Drabek/Murphy - Nice defensive play by Lawrie as he runs in on a poorly hit ball. I love seeing his cannon, and it's always a bonus when he fields a ball cleanly.

Middle 6 - Napoli takes Drabek out to the warning track but Rasmus settles under hit. I'm hoping that this is hit for Drabek. He's at 104 pitches and has not been particularly effective. He had a nice stretch of strikeouts in the 4th and 5th innings but even in that he was missing his target. The low outside corner was just not his friend tonight. Not a bad outing though as he keeps his run of only allowing 2 ER or less in a start going. I feel like it could have been worse, but the damage was somewhat minimized by Drabek keeping the walks down to only two. Now the heart of the lineup for the Jays as they try to solve Darvish.

End 6 - Darvish has thrown first pitch strikes to 17 of the last 18 batters as he takes down Johnson, Bautista, and Lind on 12 pitches. Johnson's lineout was decent contact, but Bautista and Lind couldn't get more than routine grounders. Someone's living up to the hype. If Farrell sends Drabek out for another inning something in this room is getting smashed. As good as the Rangers have looked it's still a one run game and it looks like Drabek's running out of steam.

Top 7, Crawford/Moreland - Farrell eases my anguish by sending in Evan Crawford who immidietely throws his first pitch around Mitch Moreland's head. He follows this up by giving up a homerun. To opposite field. To Mitch Moreland. To opposite field. To Mitch Moreland. I thought if I wrote that twice I'd understand how it happened. Nope. Maybe I was wrong about Drabek's time to go?

Top 7, Crawford/Gentry - Are you fucking kidding me? A hanging ball to Craig Gentry?!? He of the career now TWO homeruns. You just know the Jays are going to sit down the top of the Rangers lineup with ease now. Frasor comes in to do that job.

Top 7, Frasor/Kinsler - Hindsight may be 20/20 but I wonder why Frasor wasn't brought in originally. He's the better pitcher and Crawford was used yesterday. Was Frasor being saved for the save since Cordero was used yesterday? I guess this is why I'm not a baseball manager. I was right about the top of the lineup as Kinsler goes down on strikes.

Top 7, Frasor/Beltre - Forget what I said about Frasor shutting down the top of the inning. Beltre may not have his legs under him but he has been hitting great tonight. If he can stay healthy he'll be an MVP candidate in this lineup.

Middle 7 - Frasor not getting much help from the umpires with the last two batters but he gets a big K from Cruz with the bases loaded. A long rest from Darvish but at the rate he's going I doubt that will come into play. Those back-to-back homeruns look like they sealed the Jays fate as they've gotten almost nothing off Yu. Unless Edwin can bat at least three more times the rest of this game is beginning to seem like a formality.

Bottom 7, Darvish/Encarnacion - I don't know whether it was the rest or just Edwin's continued roll but Encarnacion starts the inning off with a single up the middle. I just got one of the thrills I was hoping for while watching ESPN. When talking about the success, or lack thereof, of the other Toronto sports teams we were treated to the gem "I hear the Argonauts aren't very good either". This was said a little more quiet than the rest of the comments as I assume none of them have any idea who the Argonauts are and they had to draw straws for who was forces to say that line fed to them from the producer.

Bottom 7, Darvish/Lawrie - ESPN is now telling us that Lawrie may not even be the best athlete in his family as his sister is a softball Olympian. Yup, that sounds about right. Darvish looks a little rusty as he walks Lawrie on 4 pitches.

Bottom 7, Darvish/Arencibia - Darvish gets Rasmus on a nasty curve and Arencibia decides that if he isn't going to put the ball in play he might as well get his bat on the field. Darvish induces a popup to get out of the inning. 96 pitches and looking good on the last couple batters, I assume we'll see him in the 8th.

Top 8, Perez/Napoli - Perez throws a few nice sliders before getting, as ESPN just referred to him, "Former Blue Jay" Mike Napoli to fly out to Rasmus. Napoli is a former Jay the same way Mike Sirotka is a former Jay.

End 8 - Nice double play to get out of the inning. The story of the moment though is Darvish coming out of the game. He was a bit sluggish to start last inning, so the Rangers aren't playing around with a 3 run lead. Yu was everything I was hoping he'd be. Wide variety of pitches that could all be thrown for a strike. The slider was absolutely filthy and looked completely unhittable. He exits with 9 Ks and really only gave up one hard hit ball to Edwin. More outings like this and the money thrown down for him in the offseason is going to seem like a major bargain.

Bottom 8, Adams/Johnson - Nice diving stop from Kinsler. Hate guys who can hit and play defense. Well mostly just when the play for other teams.

End 8 - Nice line drive by Bautista. Looked good off the bat but right to Gentry. The way he's been hitting he's got to feel a little bit good about at least getting contact like that. One more shot for the Jays, hopefully they can hold the deficit here. Too bad Encarnacion can't bat with two men on in the 9th.

Middle 9 - Perez escapes the inning as Lawrie relearns how to navigate around the infield. Joe Nathan coming in for the 9th. Decent start to the year so far with over a K/IP. Let's see if he rediscovers his Minnesota self.

Top 9, Nathan/Lind - Weak contact as Lind grounds out up the middle. In other news water is wet.

Top 9, Nathan/Encarnacion - Big swing, big miss from Edwin. All on Thames now. Shit.

Game Over - Rangers 4, Jays 1 - Thames grounds out to second as Nathan picks up the save without breaking a sweat. The story of this game was a pretty simple one. Darvish was great and the Jays were not. The good guys put up only 4 hits and if it wasn't for the outfield fences being in the way the scoring gap would have been a lot bigger. When the Rangers are getting big runs from the bottom of their lineup they're nearly impossible to beat. Hopefully Hutchinson can put up some zeros tomorrow and the Jays bats can come alive. Until next time, Shine on Yu Crazy Diamond.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Philip Who?


Two years ago I was forced to consider the question if Dallas Braden was the worst pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. This weekend the exact same thought came up with regards to Philip Humber. Humber is a career 12-10 pitcher with a 3.90 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 7 seasons, not exactly spectacular numbers. I guess that does make him slightly better than Braden, who owns a 26-36 record, 4.16 ERA, and 1.32 WHIP. So I guess we settled the case of Braden v. Humber, but each of them has such a limited resume that it's difficult to put much stock in the result. The lack of history and shining moments for pitchers like Humber makes it really hard for me to care that he just threw a perfect game.

We like to idealize the perfect game. It's a career defining moment that comes around only a few times in a generation. Well except for right now. In the last three seasons we've seen Humber, Braden, and almost Armando Galarraga pitch perfect games. If it wasn't for the masterful performance of Roy Halladay sandwiched in there, this achievement would begin to be associated with a rather pedestrian list of names. These players are starting to devalue the magic of the perfect game. When we think of the greatest game that could possibly be pitched we like to think of names such as Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, and Randy Johnson. Those are names that define great pitchers, the player that kids pretend they are when playing catch in the park. Although already legends, the perfect games sealed their fates as some of the greatest of all time. Roger Clemens never threw a perfect game, neither did Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Steve Carlton, or Tom Seaver. Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters but always allowed at least one man to reach base. As these legends sit on their couches drinking over their few missed opportunities, it can't be comforting to know that they were beaten into the pantheon by the likes of Philip Humber.

I want pitchers in the exclusive perfect game club to be more than just a footnote in baseball history. I think it's this quest for perfection that makes the perfect game so appealing to the fan. The idea of knowing that a great pitcher such has Halladay could kick it up a notch and get those one or two extra batters that he always seems to miss each game. Using his 2010 stats, the odds of Halladay throwing a perfect game were 0.02%. By comparison, using his career numbers the odds for Phillip Humber are 0.006%. It's only about a three times difference but it's that difference that makes us tune into all of Doc's starts and few of Humber's.  With Doc you always get the feeling that his next start might be something special. We should probably applaud Humber for beating the odds much more so than Halladay but beating the odds just isn't enough. The odds of Halladay throwing a perfect game are the same as a .241 hitter going 6/6 in a game. A 6/6 game is a story for a night though1 while a perfect game lives on forever. It's not just the long odds, but the mystique behind the perfect game and the kind of pitcher who throws it that makes the occurrence so special.

I don't mean to discount Philip Humber's game. It was an exceptional performance (even if it was against the Mariners) that most pitchers could only dream of throwing. I know I should be excited about it, but I just can't find the will to care. In the context of history, the perfect game just doesn't seem as perfect anymore. I was actually happy when Jim Joyce blew the final call for Galarraga, it would have been one more name to taint the list. I'm hoping we have to wait a long time for the next perfect game and the pitcher who throws it would have had a Hall of Fame career with or without the game. It can be something he holds over everyone at the next meeting of Cy Young winning pitchers2. The underdog story is fun, but at midnight Philip Humber turns back into a pumpkin and Halladay's accomplishment seems a little less impressive.


1Ian Kinsler batted .253 in 2009 when he had a 6/6 night. Does anyone outside of Texas remember this?
2I assume this is a real thing.