Johnny Hellweg posts worst K/BB ratio in over 30 years

7 Comments

Brewers right-hander Johnny Hellweg actually finished his season on a high note Thursday against the Mets. Despite throwing just 37 of his 80 pitches for strikes, he allowed only one run in four innings. Plus, he actually managed three strikeouts to go along with his four walks, improving his K/BB ratio from 6/22 to 9/26.

Too bad that 9/26 mark is still the worst by any pitcher, min. 30 innings, in over 30 years.

The last to go over Hellweg’s 2.89 walks for every strikeout was Oakland’s Mike Morgan in 1979. Morgan, pitching in the majors at the tender age of 19, posted a 17/50 K/BB ratio in 77 1/3 innings that year.

Before that, the Pirates’ Steve Blass had an 27/84 K/BB ratio in 88 2/3 innings in 1973. His sudden inability to throw the ball over the plate resulted in a “disease” being named after him.

Hellweg probably won’t emulate either Morgan or Blass going forward. Morgan ended up pitching in the majors until age 42 and setting a record by playing for 12 teams (later broken by Matt Stairs). Blass, on the other hand, made just one more appearance after 1973, walking seven in five innings. He later found a home in the Pirates’ broadcast booth.

The 24-year-old Hellweg never even should have been brought to the majors this year after he walked 81 and hit 14 batters in 125 2/3 innings in Triple-A, though he was 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA even with all of the wildness. Both the Angels and Brewers have tried tightening up his mechanics with limited success. He does have the arm to be of use as a third starter or a late-game reliever if he ever figures it out, but the Brewers risked injury to to every hitter he faced when they put him on the mound this season.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
16 Comments

Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.