High school coach cuts a pitcher who can’t field bunts. Oh, and the pitcher has two prosthetic legs.

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Reader Ben alerts me to this story: A high school sophomore pitcher who can throw 80 MPH with a “wicked curve” gets cut from his high school team because he can’t field bunts all that well.

Oh, the fact that he happens to have two prosthetic legs may have something to do with it.  And did I mention that the kid was a cover boy for an ESPN Magazine story about athletes with prosthetics? Yeah, this is a poop-storm, alright.

Where you come down on this probably correlates pretty nicely with where you believe high-pitched, winner-take-all competition in sports should begin. Is that on a varsity high school team?  Earlier? Later?  And the subject raises a host of other ethical questions:

  • Should this kid’s teammates expect only the most able athletes to go into battle with them, or is pretty darn good but flawed good enough for high school baseball?
  • Do we give this kid extra points for determination and courage that we wouldn’t give to an otherwise able-bodied pitcher who can’t field bunts because, hell, he just doesn’t have the reflexes?
  • Is it somehow unfair to the other teams that shame will prevent them from laying down bunts if this kid were pitching when they’d certainly do it if, say, a fat kid were pitching?

I’m inclined, based on the information presented, to think the coach here is a jackass and that he should have found a way to keep the kid on the team.  And that’s certainly the narrative that tends to get created in these situations.  But I don’t pretend to have all of the answers on this stuff either.  Any time you get into this subject there are unexpected advocates on either side.

There are disabled people who contend that any special treatment (i.e. letting the kid pitch even if he has trouble fielding his position) does the disabled person a disservice.  There are likewise some people who can never look past the prosthetic legs no matter what the performance. There are also some people who will ignore the unintended consequences of either course of action because paying attention to such things doesn’t jibe with their world view.

Personally, I see any argument that is grounded in a belief that an ultra-high level of competition in high school baseball should be inviolate to be a rather pathetic one.  But I’ll grant that it’s more complicated than saying “player good, coach bad!” and relying on the expected sympathies as well.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.