Zach Duke is no Jack Morris

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Not that Jack Morris was really Jack Morris anyway. The myth that Morris racked up his big win totals by pitching to the score is mostly just that, a myth.
Zach Duke, though, will never be accused of pitching to the score, at least not in 2009. The 26-year-old left-hander has turned his career around by going 11-15 with a respectable 3.94 ERA for a bad Pirates team. That’s a .423 winning percentage for a club that’s at .381 overall. However, the truth is that he could have been far better had he divvied up some of those RAs differently.
Remarkably, just once all year has Duke won a game in which the Pirates scored fewer than seven runs. That came on June 2, when he outdueled Johan Santana and beat a punchless Mets team 3-1. The Pirates have totaled 97 runs and allowed 26 in his 11 victories. That’s an average score of 9-2. The Pirates have played 144 other games this season. In those, they’ve scored 520 runs and allowed 719. That’s 3.6 runs scored per game and 5.0 allowed.
So, yeah, the Pirates are bad. But it’s still amazing that they’ve somehow managed to go 1-20 when Duke starts and they don’t score at least seven runs. Duke actually receives the best run support on the staff. It’s a little inconsistent, but it’s there. He’s gotten 4.6 runs per nine innings, just a bit ahead of Ross Ohlendorf at 4.4. Compare that to Paul Maholm, who has gotten 3.6 runs, yet has still gone 8-9 with a 4.44 ERA that’s substantially higher than Duke’s. Ohlendorf has the same ERA as Duke and is 11-10.
To lay it all out:
The Pirates are 11-20 in Duke’s starts. They score 4.6 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 3.94 ERA.
The Pirates are 15-16 in Maholm’s starts. They score 3.6 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 4.44 ERA.
The Pirates are 14-15 in Ohlendorf’s starts. They score 4.4 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 3.92 ERA.
I chalk it up to luck, mostly. But Duke hasn’t done his best work in close contests, and since wins and losses are the name of the game, he just hasn’t helped the Pirates as much his numbers indicate. It’s not something I’d hold against him going forward, but it will be worth watching for, just in case it starts to happen again next year.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.