Craig Calcaterra

Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper win the Hank Aaron Award

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NEW YORK — Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper are the winners of the Hank Aaron Award for their respective leagues, Major League Baseball has just announced. The award is given to the best offensive player in each league. It is voted on by a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron, with a fan voting component added on as well.

Harper led the National League in homers, On-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and runs, with a line of .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers. Donaldson led the AL in hits, RBI and total bases and had a line of .297/.371/.568 with 41 homers and 123 RBI. Both Harper and Donaldson are likely to win their respective leagues’ MVP Award.

Donaldson’s choice as the MVP is defensible and likely appropriate given his outstanding defensive contributions, but from a purely offensive perspective it’s a pretty close call between he and Mike Trout. Trout had a higher average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Trout walked more and the same number of homers. Donaldson was a better base runner this year and had more plate appearances. Harper, however, was head and shoulders above everyone in the NL offensively speaking.

Of course, given the electorate involved and the presence of a fan vote, it’s not reasonable to assume a straight statistical analysis to decide the matter.

Ned Yost: ‘We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve, too’

Ned Yost
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NEW YORK — Last night, before Noah Syndergaard buzzed Alcides Escobar‘s tower, he teased it by saying he had “a trick up his sleeve.” Then came the pitch and the beefing and all of that.

Ned Yost met the press just now before Game 4 and, when asked about the Syndergaard pitch, Yost said “we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve, too.” When asked specifically if that meant that a Royals pitcher would throw at a Mets hitter tonight, Yost said “no.” Which is exactly what he’d say even if they had plans to do that, but never mind. I’d make sure you have your TV on for the first pitch of this game all the same.

Expanding on the pitch to Escobar, Yost kept referring to it as Syndergaard throwing “under his chin.” Which, as we discussed last night, seems exaggerated. It was inside, but it wasn’t even in the batter’s box. “There’s a lot of different places you could throw that ball if you didn’t want to throw a first-pitch strike,” Yost said. When asked where Yost thinks it is appropriate to throw a pitch in such a way to keep a hitter off balance he talked about moving a batter’s feet, throwing inside but not up high, as throwing at someone’s head could seriously hurt someone or end his career.

And Yost is right about that. But a day later I still don’t think that Syndergaard’s pitch was out of bounds, even if his postgame bravado laid it on a bit thick. He had a first pitch fastball dude at the plate and he threw a pitch that made him think. Not under threat of violence, but under the distinct possibility that the pitch may not be hittable.

Heck, I hope Steven Matz throws an eephus pitch to Escobar to lead things off tonight. Or throws it at those temporary VIP boxes on either side of the plate. Hitting Joe Torre? Now THAT would send a message. Not sure what the message would be, but it would certainly send one.

Noah Syndergaard’s first pitch riles up the Royals

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NEW YORK — We had a perfectly good World Series Game on Friday night. One which featured the Mets’ bats coming to life and the Royals’ bullpen and defense coming undone. All of which are things that happen in any given baseball game. Unfortunately, we also had a good bit of nonsense that will likely steal the headlines in the morning.

In the first inning, on the very first pitch of the game, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard sailed a fastball up over his catcher’s head and back to the backstop. It was quite intentional. Syndergaard intimated to reporters before the game that he may do something special early — he mentioned “tricks up his sleeve” to combat Alcides Escobar‘s habit of jumping on first pitch fastballs — and, if there was any doubt about that being the special thing he planned, he put those doubts to rest with his postgame comments about it:

Q. You were asked about Escobar and how he’d swing at anything, you said you’d have a few tricks up your sleeve. Is that first pitch a little bit of a statement or how do you explain what happened there?

SYNDERGAARD: Yeah, I mean my first words I said to Travis [d’Arnaud] when we walked in the clubhouse today is, ‘How do you feel about high and tight for the first pitch and then a curveball for the second one?’ So I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off, that you guys can’t dig in and get too aggressive because I’ll come in there.

“In there” is a relative term, of course. It didn’t come too far inside. It tailed in towards Escobar, but it was really just a super high pitch that didn’t actually enter the batters box:

The pitch nonetheless angered the Royals a good deal — read Mike Moustakas‘ lips in that video clip — and, after the game, several of them told reporters that they didn’t care for the pitch. Escobar called it “stupid.” Moustakas, claiming to speak for the entire Royals team, said “25 guys” thought there was an intent on Syndergaard’s part to throw at Escobar’s head. Syndergaard’s response:

I mean, I certainly wasn’t trying to hit the guy, that’s for sure. I just didn’t want him getting too comfortable. If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away. I’ve got no problem with that.

I guess he wants the Royals to fight him or something, which is a strange thing to want. Either way, in the wake of those comments there were a lot of folks and reporters trying to make hay out if it all. Saying that Syndergaard “sent a message” or “set the tone.”

Which is total retrospective bunk.

Syndergaard’s pitch may have angered the Royals, but it did nothing to set a tone or even change anything in the game. If it did, the Royals would not have taken a 1-0 lead that inning. And they would not have come back to take a 3-2 lead after two innings. And Escobar would not have come right back in the second inning and knocked a single off of Syndergaard. And, perhaps, at some point in the game someone would’ve thrown at a Mets hitter in retaliation. Maybe even Noah Syndergaard who batted twice in the game and never saw an inside pitch.

All of which is to say that, sure, the pitch was interesting and after a dispiriting loss the Royals beefed about it, probably because it was an easy thing to beef about. It also, fortuitously, gave the Royals an excuse to talk about coming together as a team in response to it despite the fact that they looked like a mess during the game. Never underestimate the propensity for athletes to adopt an “us against the world” attitude whether the world is against them or not.

It did little if anything, however, to throw the Royals off their game. Their own pitchers did that for them. It likewise did nothing to make Syndergaard any more formidable in the game. He was good. Not great. Not intimidating. He was good and gave the Mets a chance to win the game and they took him up on it.

All of which should be good enough. But apparently we’re going to be talking about this pitch on Saturday leading up to and during the game. And we may see Chris Young throw at a Mets hitter despite the fact that his stuff isn’t all that scary and that he would not do himself any favors by putting any extra Mets hitters on base. All of this from a pitch which even a bleedin’ heart pacifist like me who is adamantly opposed to pitchers throwing at hitters doesn’t really think was that big a deal.

But hey, if it gives people who can’t enjoy baseball without dramatic narratives grafted on top of the actual games something to talk about more people are happy, right?