Steve Kornacki of Booth Newspapers was the lone writer to give Justin Verlander a first-place vote in the AL Cy Young balloting announced Tuesday. The decision didn’t cost Zack Greinke a unanimous selection — Felix Hernandez claimed two first-place votes — but it did move Verlander past CC Sabathia into third place in the voting.
Kornacki defended his decision in a blog entry, though he hardly built much of a case:
Verlander received my first-place vote because nobody was tougher on the mound with the season on the line for his team.
Verlander threw at least 120 pitches in six of his last eight outings and won his last three starts, forcing a one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins with his final victory.
He was an inspirational ‘horse,’ using Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s term for him, on a fading team.
Kornacki is never foolish enough to come out and say that Verlander was the AL’s best pitcher. He knows it’s not true. Instead, he’s trying to use the typical MVP argument for an award that is simply meant to honor the league’s top performer.
Verlander was exceptional for the Tigers down the stretch, and it is admirable that he maintained his performance with such a heavy workload. Still, it’s not a point in his favor that he has so many 120-pitch outings. Verlander just isn’t equipped to record quick outs.
So, Verlander won his last three starts. He lost the two before that. His ERA actually bottomed out in late July. He was 7-4 with a 3.94 ERA over the final two months. That’s impressive, but not exactly dominant.
Overall, Verlander finished with a 3.45 ERA in 240 innings. He had a terrific season, and the Tigers certainly wouldn’t have been in the race without him. He wasn’t, though, the AL’s best pitcher in any way, shape or form. Kornacki deserves plenty of flak for picking him.
The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.
Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.
Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.
By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.
If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:
Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.
Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.
Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”
So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.