Jered Weaver, the surprise strikeout king

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Jered Weaver notched just four strikeouts over seven innings against the Rangers last night, however they were just enough to give him the major league lead in strikeouts (233) over Tim Lincecum (231) and Felix Hernandez (232).

Armed with a fastball that averages around 90 mph, Weaver entered the season averaging 7.3 K/9 over his first four seasons in the major leagues. This year he has fanned 233 batters over 224 1/3 innings, good enough for 9.3 K/9, fifth among qualified starters.

According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Weaver could be the first Angels pitcher to lead the majors in strikeouts since Nolan Ryan struck out 341 in 1977.

“Changing speeds with every pitch has been a key,” Weaver said.
“Anything you can do to keep the hitters off-balance is good. When you
throw 91, you have to figure out ways to get people out.”

It’s a pretty simple way of describing his success, but not far off. I mentioned his early strikeout prowess way back in June and as the season has continued, we have seen that he has relied on his curveball more than ever before. The pitch has been nine runs above average this season according to Fangraphs, easily a career-high. This alteration in his repertoire has made his fastball — which had negative value over the past two seasons — a much more effective pitch.

You know, we have spent a lot of time lavishing praise on Felix Hernandez, and rightfully so, but the 27-year-old Weaver is another prominent example of a pitcher who is having a Cy Young-type season without the shiny win-loss record to match. By the way, he’s also 13-12, like King Felix.

Note: There’s still a chance that Weaver won’t lead the majors in strikeouts. If the Giants are forced to play a tiebreaker game on Monday, Lincecum would likely get the start. At the very least, Weaver has clinched the AL lead in strikeouts. 

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.