Ballplayers: paid to hit and pitch, but they talk to the media anyway

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We’re in the middle of the NL player availabilities right now. The AL players will be made available in a few minutes. Somewhere right now there is a press conference about the Home Run Derby about to start. I’m not going to it because no one will be honest and say “Well, I’m just gonna try to hit the ball really far and see what happens.” Who needs it?

These events are really for the folks who live on player quotes. We, obviously, don’t live on player quotes here at HBT. Unless they’re funny or controversial, of course. Then we go to town. But hearing and repeating that it’s an honor to be selected to the All-Star game and that they’re soaking it all in and they’d like to thank the fans who voted for them, well, that doesn’t do a ton for us. And I’ve never been the fan of “ask the ballplayer the off-the-wall question!” school of journalism. Let’s leave that to gimmicky NFL people on the Super Bowl media day. Baseball and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog don’t mix that well.

Still, I went down and talked to some NL players and will talk to some AL players later because, heck, maybe someone would say something funny or controversial. No one did to me (we’ll have to wait for stories from other reporters before we know for sure). I talked to Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Andrew McCutchen. I was in a giant scrum around David Wright. I listened in on about a dozen other players being interviewed by other reporters. Among the highlights:

  • Jim Leyland had said earlier that, no surprise, Mariano Rivera will close the game out if necessary for the AL. I asked Kimbrel if Bruce Bochy had given any indication of the closer pecking order for the NL. I told him that he can answer quietly so Jason Grilli, sitting nearby, wouldn’t hear. Kimbrel said that he had no idea as he landed in New York about ten minutes ago and that I was like the fourth person he saw. When asked (by someone else) what his favorite park to pitch in was, he said “the big ones.”
  • Freeman is disappointed by the fact that a day or two after he won the Final Vote thing he got hurt and now isn’t able to play. I almost think winning the vote for him was the most fun part about it, though. He figured he’d get killed by Puig in the voting and thinks his family back in Orange County stuffed the ballot box like crazy. I told him 19 million people voted for him. He laughed and said “well, they helped.”
  • Jason Grilli is honored to be here. He also is unaware of any closer pecking order for the NL. Nor does he know if he’s the pitcher that Bruce Bochy has chosen to hold out of the game in case it goes 16 innings or something. I said that that’d probably be a starter. He said “yeah.”
  • Unsurprisingly, Andrew McCutchen does not think the Pirates are going to collapse this year. I asked him if that question bugs him. He added that it’s way better to be asked about a team collapsing than never having the team be good enough to inspire that question in the first place. He didn’t put it quite like that — he sort of got to that point after many words — but that was the idea. I feel like it was one of those things that, back in the day before tape recorders and media scrums, one single sports writer — a Damon Runyon type — would craft it into a more pointed and witty quote and attribute it to McCutchen all the same.

Sometimes I’m kinda sad we don’t live in those days, actually. I like to think of ballplayers as witty raconteur-types. But they aren’t. They’re ballplayers and they’re paid to crush baseballs, not say witty things to sweaty reporters. And therein lies my basic issue with the game of player quotes.

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.