MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: LAW OF AVERAGES
It always happens sooner or later. A freak hurricane stalls over one place for 2 days, dumping rain by the yard on one cursed spot until inundation is complete.
Remember that damned Hurricane Harvey that clobbered Houston a couple of years ago? 50 some odd inches it deposited upon the freeways and reservoirs of the Bayou City over a few days...and it’s happening again as I write this.
But that wasn’t even the worst deluge in this state’s history. No, that would be the famous rainstorm in Thrall, Texas, just north of Austin, in 1921, when a hurricane parked over Williamson county and proceeded to obliterate the little farming town under a record 38 inch waterfall in one 24 hour period, still the all-time record rainfall for one day in the history of the continental United States. (It supposedly rained almost 50 inches in one 24 hour period on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii in 2018.) Drowned 215 people when there weren’t that many people available to drown. Wiped out everything...houses, stores, livestock, roads...almost erased that little town from the Earth. Estimated damage of 19 million in 1921 dollars...don’t even ask me how much that would be today.
I was reminded of Thrall when I saw the pictures of the Bahamas on TV during the attack of Hurricane Dorian. Appalling, frightening devastation. But the Bahamas took the punch that was aimed at Florida and milked the life out of that Category 5 until it finally meandered away to the north, hopefully sparing the southern U.S. from the worst of its weapons.
I hope our country offers some help to the ruined islands that absorbed that punishment. It would be a good way to honor Roberto Clemente (his Day...Sept. 20) who died trying to bring emergency supplies to earthquake victims in Central America.
COMEBACKS: Baseball seems like a slightly unseemly sideshow compared to the suffering of a whole nation, but that’s the way of the world. There’s always a disaster somewhere and humanity needs something exciting and epic to remind us that we must celebrate when and whatever we can in the interludes between apocalypses.
And so I give thanks that I can occasionally turn to my favorite sport to give me surcease. So thank you Washington Nationals for coming back from a 6 run deficit in the ninth inning of your game with the Mets and winning, 11-10, overcoming such a margin for the first time in 275 baseball games played in the major leagues this year.
It’s especially notable because the Nats gave up 5 runs in the top of the ninth when their shortstop, the normally excellent Trea Turner, forgot how many outs there were in the inning and didn’t feed his second baseman for a made to order double play that would have ended the frame. Something you almost never see from a major league shortstop.
Usually when a team makes a boner like that, psychological paralysis occurs and the offending Bozos lie down and die. But not the Nats. They got collectively Smoking Hot and rattled off 7 hits, culminating in a mythic 3 run homer by Kurt Suzuki that flushed the Mets. The New Yorkers themselves have had quite a few walk-off moments this second half of the season, as they have come back from total irrelevancy, but none like this.
PHENOMS: Perhaps the most compelling event in baseball the last couple of years is the sudden arrival of the young adult ball players who look like future superstars… if they’re not superstars already. I’m talking about the under-21 set: Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis in the National League and Vlad Guerrero, Raphael Devers and Gleyber Torres in the American. This is not including some more youngsters who are definite stars in the making. Players like Yordan Alvarez in Houston (22 years old) and Bo Bichette in Toronto (21) and a whole bunch of players aged from 20-22 who are looking awfully good. And that’s just the everyday players! Not even counting the young pitchers!
So what’s going on? In the history of baseball, there have always been stars who made it to the bigs early. Mickey Mantle was 19 but it still took him about 3 years to get hot. Same with Willie Mays, who came up as a 20-year old in 1951 and didn’t really get it going until he had spent a year and a half in the army and came back to lead the league in several hitting categories in 1954.
The ultimate teenage Hall of Famer was Mel Ott of the old New York Giants. Manager John McGraw saw him as a 16 year old and kept him on the major league roster so some minor league hitting instructor wouldn’t try to change his batting style... which was revolutionary at the time.
I’m talking about the timing step that Ott developed on his own where he balanced on his back leg (he hit leftie) as the pitch was delivered and raised his right leg in the air before launching himself at the pitch. Saduhara Oh had a very similar style. It’s something you see everyday in the majors these days but Ott was the first to do it, and by the time he was 20 he was a triple crown threat and went on to lead the league in home runs 6 times as a 170 pounder!
So teenage Phenoms have always been with us, but this new crop is not only impressive….they are already leading the league in hitting categories! Kind of extraordinary, but there’s a reason.
The reason is that scouting in the information age has gotten really good at identifying future stars. The reason is that coaching at every level is taking advantage of major league norms like pitching machines, weight training and nutrition. High School teams have whirlpools and video. Players aren’t taking 5 or 6 years to learn the game and they are becoming major league ready at an earlier age.
Also, there is room for them on major league rosters with the new trend of moving middle-grade veterans off of rosters and out of the game as soon as they hit the edge of their decline phase and are earning more money. There’s a constant vacuum on 40 man rosters that can be filled with young and hungry ball players from the Caribbean, Japan, Central America and other baseball crazy cultures.
These players are well-trained and fresh and healthy and play the game well enough to insert them into starting roles right away. No more waiting til they’re seasoned 25 year olds before moving them up.
And it’s going to stay that way. MLB teams are going to keep young, controllable players on their rosters and get rid of the old Pros. Pay super stars like Torres and Guerrero the minimum as they start leading the league in various stats. When they are eligible for arbitration and free agency, let them go and pick up the draft choices and draft some more Wunderkinds. Churn the roster. Turn it over to a new generation of players every five years. Don’t wind up with a 42 year old former hero like Albert Pujols that’s collecting 30 million a year. Just keep paying Ronald Acuna $560,000 to become a 40-40 man at age 21.
Of course Acuna is pretty good so maybe dangle a long-term contract in front of him like the Braves just did...and the new Willie Mays will be a Brave until he’s 30 at least (with team options to buy him out or get rid of him if he gets hurt). What’s Ronald going to be making at age 30? 17 million a year folks. Yes, I know... sounds good. Not exactly a pitiful amount. But 17 million is chicken feed compared to the contracts older stars have regularly commanded...stars that have never come close to Acuna’s performance.
It’s the new paradigm.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION: 11 MLB franchises have set their all time record for most homers in a season this year. SO FAR!
Of the 138 MLB players who qualify for batting awards based on 3.1 plate appearances per team game...98 of them have 20 homers or more. SO FAR! That’s 2/3 of the the regular players in all of the major leagues! 28 guys have hit at least 35 taters. SO FAR!
I never thought I’d see a season where somebody who hits 25 homers would be considered anemic.
This will go down with the 1930 NL rabbit ball year and a couple of the big steroid eras seasons as the most out of the norm years in baseball history. (See last blog on the rabbit ball currently being used now that MLB owns Rawlings.)
PENNANT RACES: The Cubbies just got flatten-ated by the Cardinals in four straight 1-run defeats at Wrigley Field. First time St. Louis has swept a four game series at Wrigley since 1921. And these were ugly, bitter losses. In the game Saturday closer Craig Kimbrel came in for the Adorables and gave up two consecutive dingers. Then, on Sunday, with the relief squad depleted, Joe Maddon let Yu Darivsh start the ninth inning after throwing 100 pitches and giving up only one run. Guess who lost?
That means the Brewers are tied with Washington for the wild cards even after losing their MVP Yelich. I don’t think anybody will catch the Cardinals but baseball is whacky this year.
Look out for the Nationals in the Playoffs. Those three starters they have...all Aces...look pretty formidable in a short series. Of course their bullpen is filled with the ghosts of relievers past. But Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin are all firing the ball. That’s one more Ace than any other team has. I guess the Dodgers are close with Kershaw, Buehler and Ryu.
The Braves are fun to watch with all those great everyday players but I don’t think their starters are in the same class as the Dodgers or the Nationals.
Over in the American League the Astros have Verlander, Cole and Greinke. Those first two are the most dominant pitchers in baseball right now. That makes the Astros sort of a better hitting version of a two-headed starter- monster rotation than the Arizona Diamondbacks of 2001 had with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
The Yankees are super in the bullpen. Good thing because none of their starters except perhaps james Paxton can seem to pitch more than 5 innings per start. If it comes down to the Yanks vs. the Stros for the AL pennant I pick the Astros... but I’m watching that series!
And don’t forget about the Twins and the Oakland Athletics. Very similar teams made up of .250 hitting power boys who mash the long ball. Short on pitching, both of them...but they can crush in a short series.
October is just around the corner. It’s been a long summer and I’m ready for autumn baseball.
Best to you all!