Tag: Steven Vogt

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deGrom dominates, Andrew McCucthen homers as the N.L. makes it 3-2 in the sixth


CINCINNATI — The NL got a dominating new pitcher in the top of the sixth and began to claw back in the bottom half.

In the top of the sixth Jacob deGrom took over and, unlike Clayton Kershaw, had NO PROBLEM whatsoever. He was throwing straight nasty gas, striking out Steven Vogt on three pitches, Jason Kipnis on four pitches and Jose Iglesias on three. It was . . . impressive, to say the least.

Andrew McCutchen led off the bottom of the sixth and, on the first pitch from Chris Archer, launched a long homer to left field, bringing it to 3-2, National League. Archer was allowed to pitch to one more batter, retiring Todd Frazier, after which he was pulled for Zach Britton. Britton struck out Bryce Harper for out number two but then struggled a bit to close out the inning, allowing Paul Goldschmidt to reach when he fielded a ball and misfired, pulling Mark Texieria off the bag. Then Yadier Molina singled. Britton escaped, however, getting Troy Tulowitzki on a 4-6 grounder.

It’s the time of the game where the American League is out of its marquee pitchers and into its relatively anonymous relievers which Ned Yost chose, presumably to make this more like a real game. We’ll soon see if that pays off and if the AL can hold on.

A strange replay in Oakland reveals a big hole in the replay rule

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The Oakland A’s were put in a lose-lose situation by an umpire’s call and an instant replay decision in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. It was a play and a call which should, if anyone is paying attention, lead to an immediate tweak to the instant replay rule.

Here’s what happened: with one out in the second inning, the Blue Jays loaded the bases against Sonny Gray and the A’s. Anthony Gose hit a grounder to A’s first baseman Nate Freiman. Freiman appeared to tag Munenori Kawasaki as he ran for second base, but umpire Vic Carapazza ruled that Freiman missed the tag and Kawasaki was safe. The play is still in motion with runners heading toward every bag. Freiman fires the ball home to catcher Steven Vogt. Vogt receives the ball and steps on home plate to get the force out of Edwin Encarnacion, who was running from third. Play ends. You can watch it all here.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons comes out to challenge the call on the Freiman tag of Kawasaki. That is, he comes out in an effort to have his own base runner, who was called safe, called out. He does so because if Kawasaki was tagged, there was no force play in effect at home and Encarnacion needed to have been tagged, rather than forced out. After a four minute+ review, it is ruled that, yes, Kawasaki was tagged and that Encarnacion, since he was not tagged, was safe at home. A run was awarded to the Jays.

Which is totally freaking insane.

Vogt had absolutely no reason to tag Encarnancion. He was, quite reasonably, relying on the call that was just made in real time during an active play — that Kawasaki was safe and thus a force play was in effect — in doing what he did. By awarding the run the way it was rewarded, the umpires and replay officials were doing more than correcting a call. They were creating fictions. Bob Melvin played the rest of the game under protest. Luckily for the A’s and the league it ended up not mattering, as the A’s won the game regardless.

You can’t anticipate every eventuality when a new rule is put in place, but you can certainly move quickly to patch a hole. Major League Baseball needs to patch this hole immediately and acknowledge that the players can only act based on what they know at the time, so what is known at the time has to control. There needs to be an immediate tweak to the rule which goes something like this: if an umpire’s call on the field affects the subsequent decision-making of players on the same play, the call is not reviewable.

Rick Porcello’s 0-walk, 0-strikeout shutout was miraculous

Rick Porcello

If you go back to 1914 — which is how far back Baseball Reference’s amazing Pitching Game Finder goes back — you will find that 67 different pitchers have thrown shutouts without walking or striking out a single batter. The list includes Hall of Famers like Christy Mathewson and Eppa Rixey and Jesse Haines along with a handful pitchers you probably do not know. It has always been a rare feat — the zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutout.

But these days it’s not rare. It’s all but impossible. In fact, if you had asked me I would have said it IS impossible in today’s game. But apparently it’s not. Detroit’s Rick Porcello pulled it off Tuesday night.

How crazy was Porcello’s game? Well … crazy. Let’s put it this way: Do you know how many pitchers last year threw a complete game without striking out anybody or walking anybody — I’m not talking shutouts here I’m just talking any game with zero walks, zero Ks. Answer: 0.

2012: 0.
2011: 0.
2010: 0.
2009: 0

In fact, the only person since 2000 to throw a complete game without walking or striking out anybody was Seattle’s Joe Pineiro back in 2006. He gave up two runs. Before that, you have to go back to Pedro Astacio in 1994.

As mentioned, these zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutouts — let’s call them Porcellos to make it simple — these Porcellos used to be rare but they did happen. If you go back to 1969 — that expansion year championship series in each league — there have been nine Porcelllos pitched:

July 18, 1971: Cincinnati’s Ross Grimsley throws three-hit shutout against Padres.

June 4, 1974: Kansas City’s Al Fitzmorris throws three-hit shutout against Baltimore.

July 23, 1976: San Francisco’s Jim Barr throws four-hit shutout against Astros.

May 26, 1978: Cubs’ Dave Roberts throws seven-hit shutout against Cardinals.

June 4, 1979: Milwaukee’s Mike Caldwell scatters eight hits against White Sox.

July 20, 1986: White Sox Neil Allen throws two-hitter against Yankees.

July 21, 1987: Boston’s Roger Clemens pitches five-hit shutout against Angels.

August 21,1989: Baltimore’s Jeff Ballard gives up seven hits against Brewers.

July 1, 2014: Detroit’s Rick Porcello throws 95 pitches and gives up four hits to A’s.

Well, you can see that’s a 25-year gap between Ballard and Porcello. What did you expect? Shutouts are way down. Strikeouts are way up. Math is math. The only pitcher in the last decade to throw a shutout without a strikeout was Derek Lowe a couple of years ago — he walked four batters. You would never expect this Porcello thing to happen in today’s age.

Here’s why: If you let hitters put the ball in play in 2014, you are almost certainly going to get hurt. It’s really that simple. See, when players actually hit the ball, they are hitting it much harder than they ever have. You probably know about BABIP — Batting Average on Balls in Play — and that gets talked about a lot. It stays pretty constant. But what’s easy to forget is that BABIP does not include home runs. Home runs are not in play, so they are excluded from the average.

If you include home runs, batting averages DO NOT stay constant. The batting averages on balls hit has skyrocketed the last 20 or so years. In fact, 22 of the top 23 averages on balls hit have occurred since the 1994 strike year. The only other year to sneak on the list was 1930, which you might recall was this crazy offensive season where Bill Terry hit .400 and Hack Wilson drove in 191 RBIs and Chuck Klein hit 59 doubles and so on.

In 1989, the last time anyone threw a Porcello, batters hit .305 when they hit the ball. In 1978, when Dave Roberts had his Porcello, batters barely hit .300 when they hit the ball. My friend Al Fitzmorris, who threw a Porcello in 1974, has talked often about his approach as a pitcher which was basically: Keep the ball low and let them hit it. That year, 1974, was his best season: He struck out 53 batters ALL YEAR. Well, batters were hitting .301 when they hit the ball. You could get away with that back then.

In 2014, though — and remember, this is a year dominated by pitching — batters are hitting .324 when they hit the ball. And, of course, they are hitting with a lot more power too. So, as a pitcher, you really CAN’T let them put the ball in play. And that is a big factor in what the game has become.

Here’s a quick timeline of what I think has happened the last 20 or so years:

1. Batters started to get stronger — both through a new emphasis on working out and various performance enhancers both legal and illegal — and began swinging harder to take advantage of smaller strike zones, better bats, more home-run friendly ballparks.

2. Batters started hitting the ball much harder and setting all sorts of records.

3. Baseball began testing for PEDs, deadened the ball (I think) and expanded the strike zone through various means.

4. Pitchers (and managers) realized their one defense against these harder-swinging batters was to strike them out. So they began throwing much harder and in much shorter spurts.

5. Strikeouts went way, way up as hitters kept swinging hard and found themselves unable to adapt to the new environment.

6. Pitchers began blowing out their arms in greater numbers.

That seems to be where we are now. Strikeouts are at an all-time high. Tommy John surgeries seem to be a growth industry. And the whole “throw strikes and rely on your defense” strategy kind of went out the window.

Which brings us back to Porcello’s great shutout (his second in a row). It’s was a fascinating performance from another time — it began with four ground ball outs. He gave up a double to Jed Lowrie and a deep fly ball to Steven Vogt, but then the game settled down again. The Tigers shifted on John Jaso and that worked a couple of times. The A’s managed a couple of decently hit balls. But generally it was groundballs and pop-ups, groundballs and pop-ups. In the ninth, Jaso, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss all got the ball into the air but not deep enough and that was that. It was like something out of the 1970s. And it was pretty great.

There is a theory I’ve heard from several people working in baseball that hitting — the actual talent of hitting line drives and ground balls to all fields — is the next big commodity in baseball. Power has been the hot market for a long time — and hitters took hold of the game with their free-swinging homers. But now pitchers have taken back the game with their swing-and-miss pitches and bullpens filled with 100-mph flamethrowers. The theory is that teams will start to place big value again on hitters who are smaller and quicker guys who can hit .300, who will not strike out, who cannot be shifted against.

I don’t know if that’s really where the game is going … but I hope it goes that way at least a little bit. The Porcello game was a reminder that baseball is pretty great when there’s action, when balls are in play and fielders are moving and base runners are in motion. The game lasted two hours and 13 minutes, and it was crisp baseball. Hey, strikeouts are great. And walks are a powerful offensive weapon. But I think most fans would be just fine with just a few less of each.