Strike-throwing machine shut down for surgery

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No, not this strike-throwing machine.

Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey is scheduled for season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his wrist, which is bad news because a) he’s a good pitcher, b) Minnesota is short on rotation depth, and c) he’s an awful lot of fun to watch.

Drafted out of tiny Winthrop University in 2005, Slowey drew lots of
skepticism as a prospect because his high-80s fastball and lack of
secondary offerings didn’t match the insane numbers that he posted in
the minors.

He never blew anyone away, yet managed a 1.94 ERA and 361 strikeouts
versus just 52 walks in 367 innings as a minor leaguer, including a
1.95 ERA and 116/20 K/BB ratio in 139 innings at Triple-A. While the
Bob Gibson-like ERAs haven’t quite transferred to the majors, Slowey is
26-15 with a 4.39 ERA over 318 innings in the big leagues and has
continued to post ridiculously good strikeout-to-walk ratios.

In fact, with 245 strikeouts and just 50 walks in 318 frames Slowey has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio and the best walk rate of the past 75 years among pitchers with 300-plus innings through the age of 25. Thanks to the miracle of Baseball-Reference.com, here’s a look at the all-time leaders in both categories through age 25.

                     BB/9                             K/BB
KEVIN SLOWEY 1.42 KEVIN SLOWEY 4.90
Atlee Hammaker 1.68 Roy Oswalt 4.00
Bret Saberhagen 1.75 James Shields 3.89
Andy Sonnanstine 1.75 Cole Hamels 3.72
Scott McGregor 1.76 Jose Lima 3.68
Jose Lima 1.78 Huston Street 3.63
Lary Sorensen 1.80 Ben Sheets 3.55
Jim Merritt 1.88 Roger Clemens 3.54
Fritz Peterson 1.88 Andy Sonnanstine 3.51
Paul Dean 1.88 Jim Merritt 3.42

Not only does Slowey sit atop both lists, he blows away the
competition by being 15 percent better than second place Atlee Hammaker
in walk rate and 23 percent better than second place Roy Oswalt in
strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not bad for a guy who averages
just 89.6 miles per hour with his fastball and throws the pitch
two-thirds of the time. Velocity and stuff are nice, but being smart
and throwing strikes helps too.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.