Midseason MLB — The Start of Something Historic?

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With all due respect to Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Clemens, Kershaw and any other pitcher you want to throw out there who has been overwhelmingly dominant for a full MLB season, the two greatest pitching campaigns I’ve ever witnessed were authored by Ron Guidry in 1978 and Dwight Gooden (he wasn’t Doc yet) in 1985.

I got to thinking about this while watching ESPN’s Sunday feature game the other night between the Yankees and Red Sox. Forgetting for a minute the complete no-show by David Price and the pounding Aaron Hicks (Hicks? C’mon, this is just getting unfair at this point) and the rest of the Bombers put on the Sawx to take the rubber game of the series, I’ve gotta spend a minute on Luis Severino.

This next topic is going to be hard for me, so I ask for your patience. First, I’m still trying to shower off the shameless flow of rose petals heading Severino’s way from that disastrous threesome in the announcers box that ESPN chooses to torture me with weekly.

I know that it’s tough filling air time during a blow out, but someone please tell A-Rod to shut up. Jessica Mendoza is the only marginally tolerable one in the booth, and it is getting increasingly painful to hear A-Rod talk over her, repeating points Mendoza’s made only seconds earlier, with his statistical minutiae that’s clearly being fed into his ear piece by some 22-year-old intern in the studio. One more time, shut up A-Rod! Take the booth down to two and send A-Rod packing. The viewer’s experience would improve exponentially.

But I digress, as I procrastinate in leading up to my painful admission. Here’s the hard part. As much as I want to dislike and dismiss Luis Severino, I’m becoming more and more concerned we are watching something special take shape. The kid improved to 13-2 the other night, lowering his ERA in the process to 1.98 and raising his strikeout total to 138.

We are roughly at the midpoint of the 2018 baseball season, which allows me the joy of “annualizing” results and drawing conclusions. Based on the simple mathematical calculation of “times 2” (simple math is the only kind I can stomach, and after the midpoint of the season passes, the annualization of stats gets much more complex for those of us who prefer words to numbers). So take a look at what Severino could be in the process of producing in a projected full 2018:

I see 25-26 wins. 250-300 K’s. A sub-2 ERA. Oh yeah, and he’s barely 24. Add to that the fact that he seems to have a stopper’s makeup and the classic Seaver-esque build (look at that lower body and how he derives effortless power from his legs) and we could be seeing the beginning of an all-time great career.

(I need to pause a moment to compose myself here.  After all, do you have any idea how many years I impatiently waited for Mariano Rivera to lose it the way all relievers eventually do? And of course he never did.  TODAY he could come out of retirement and be the best arm in the Mets bullpen. And waited for that damn Jeter to retire? And now I’ve got Judge and Torres and Andujar and Severino and and and… — it really isn’t fair, I tell you!)

Back to Severino and those two all-time campaigns I saw up close as a kid/young adult.

Let’s start with Guidry. He went 25-3 in 1978. He had a 1.74 ERA and 248 K’s. He threw  273 innings (the most of his career) at the age of 28 (it had taken him a lot longer than Gooden or Severino to harness his stuff in the minors). Plus, he was an absolute stopper, single-handedly keeping the Yanks within spitting distance of what appeared to be an unstoppable, juggernaut of a Red Sox team destined to run away with the division, while the rest of the Yankees staff battled injuries and ineffectiveness.

If you use the annualization exercise, Severino is tracking toward this type of Guidry-’78 season.  And the scary part is the kid seems to be getting better as this season progresses. But perhaps the better comparison for Luis in 2018 is Gooden’s incredible 1985 season at the tender age of 21.

Dwight (not Doc) was 24-4 that year, with a 1.53 ERA and 268 K’s over 276 innings. His motion was effortless and as hard as he threw his heater, we all loved the way he broke off that devastating 12-to-6 curveball even more. He didn’t lead the Mets to a title that year the way Guidry had in ’78, but that had more to do with a young and not quite ready Mets staff as well as a Cardinals team playing impeccable ball wire to wire than anything to do with Gooden’s other worldly performance.

Again, swallowing hard, I have to consider what 2018 looks like for Severino if he actually keeps getting better in the second half.  It is difficult to imagine how he will lose another game this year, what with that lineup around him and the lockdown pen waiting in the wings. Is it crazy to think 30 wins if he runs the table? Yeah, probably, but that is the fun of this time of year and the “what if” games we can play.

As much as I hope the Yanks finish second (by a game) to Boston this year (and have to spend Severino in the season’s second to last match up — earning his 29th win in my fantasy world of midseason annualization) and then bow out in the one-and-done AL Wild Card game (to the A’s perhaps? More on that later, too), it will be a blast watching Severino’s numbers pile up as he continues to construct his legend.

By the way, I do know how dangerous it is to bet on the sustained excellence of young pitchers.  Both Guidry and Gooden never repeated the magic of ’78 and ’85, for vastly different reasons.  In Guidry’s case, his late start in the bigs, coupled with his small stature, violent left-handed motion and heavy workload in the late-’70’s, ultimately took it’s toll. He still won 20 twice more in his career, plus campaigns of 18 and 17 wins along the way, but ’78 was his gold standard. It won’t soon be forgotten by those of us who remember that awesome summer.

Gooden never would get to the 20-win mark again for all the tragic reasons that have been so well chronicled through the years.  He did enjoy seasons of 19, 18 and 17 wins as he battled his demons in future years, but never came close to that sustained magic of 1985. He ultimately would retire with 194 lifetime wins, a total that all of us who imagined what was possible in his early years consider a massive disappointment and underachievement.

Other observations from the boxscores and standings at the season’s midway point:

Surprises

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*Can someone tell me where the aliens have stashed the “real” Nick Markakis? You want to understand how the Braves are in first place, start with a quick look at his video game-like statistics.  As of right now, Markakis is on track for 208 hits and 112 RBI’s. And he’s hitting .326 for gosh sakes! This is a guy I had categorized as one of those solid, middle of the lineup bats that populate the rosters of also-rans. Not so fast.  He’s enjoyed a terrific career to date, with over 2100 hits and a couple of 100+ RBI seasons early on with the O’s. He’s a true pro, but he’s never been an All Star, going to be 35 in November, and appeared to have left his best days behind him.  I simply don’t see how he doesn’t taper off as the effects of August’s dog days take hold. Stay tuned.

*Are the A’s really on track for 90 wins? Quick, name three players on their roster. Thought so. Credit to Billy Beane, but he may have been too good with his usual offseason, bargain basement pickups when he constructed this season’s squad.  Beane is the best in the business at putting together the type of team that is just good enough to keep fans coming to the park without ever teasing at contention. Normally he’d be looking to fleece his colleagues of young talent at the trade deadline right about now, as he unloaded roster spots that could help some contender. This year though, he’s the contender.  What will they do? I really have no clue on this one, but it will be fascinating to watch. Meaningful baseball in Oakland this summer? I’ll take it! While we are on the subject of the A’s and young stars, take a look at Matt Olson.  Between 2017 and now he’s played 144 games and has hit 42 dingers. The kid has real power. Look for him to be one of the keepers as Beane figures out how he can make these guys contenders next year.

*As surprising as it is to see the A’s on track to approach 90 wins (not a misprint), it may be even a greater shock to see the Tampa Bay Rays hovering around .500. It seems like they run out some young reliever I’ve never heard of every night as the game’s starting pitcher.  There is absolutely zero star power in the everyday lineup. But they, along with the Reds and maybe even the Marlins, will be tough late-season matchups for those clubs fighting to sneak into the postseason.

*Who is Eugenio Suarez? At the beginning of the year it looked like the Reds were headed for demotion to Triple-A. Now they seem to be playing aggressive, winning ball with absolutely nothing to lose, while beating up on all the big kids in the National League.  I’m looking at their box score the other day and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never even noticed Suarez.  And all he’s doing is annualizing at .300+ with 30 dings and 120+ RBI’s. Hmmm. He had good, but basically unremarkable years in 2016 and 2017 (thank you baseballreference.com) and apparently is now putting it all together in front of a smattering of diehard fans in Cincy.  Will Suarez revert to the mean or keep it up? Don’t know, but right now the Reds definitely look like one of those teams that could really mess up a contender’s September (be careful, Brewers, I’m thinking of you).

*How do the Padres have a closer on track for nearly 50 saves?  Can they even win that many games in total this year? Yes, they are improved, and they have the up and down NL West to pad some wins for them, but Brad Hand is quietly putting up terrific save stats and is another one I never hear about. Could he be in Houston by August 1? To me, bullpen depth is the only thing that could derail the ‘Stros from an ALCS showdown with the Yanks, so let’s make a deal.

*On the subject of closers, another unfamiliar name doing even more than Hand is Seattle’s Edwin Diaz.  He’s on track for 60+ saves for crying out loud! Want to know how the heck the Mariners are staying in the Wild Card hunt with Robbie Cano suspended, look no further. K-Rod’s record of 62 saves from back in ’08 could be in real jeopardy here if the M’s can keep up their winning pace in the second half (doubtful IMO, but just sayin’).

Not A Surprise But Pretty Cool Anyway

*Okay, I guess Jose Ramirez is for real. Tracking at 48 homers and 110 RBI’s right now for the puzzling, inconsistent Indians. We talk a lot about Jose Altuve and the pop he has for a “little guy,” but hey, Ramirez is listed at 5’9 and 165.  And he’s only 25, too.  Has there ever been a time in MLB history when there has been so much talent across the league age 25 and under? Good times.

*Is the 300 strikeout season coming back into vogue? If you use my patented “times 2” approach, currently there are four starters tracking for 300 K’s this year.  Scherzer and Sale could both approach 325, and it’s certainly no surprise to see them atop the leader board, but number three and four are Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer.  Both could top the 300 K mark based on their first half trajectory, and I wouldn’t have put either of them in this company when the season began. Will it last?  My hunch is both of those guys come back to earth, hard, in the second half.

*By the way, two stats not returning to the forefront of MLB any time soon are the shutout and the complete game.  Currently the MLB clubhouse leader for shutouts at the midway point has exactly 1. Two CG’s paces both leagues as the babying of starting pitchers continues.  I know it’s a different time, but still… Another lost art is the stolen base. There isn’t a player on track for even 50 this year, which seems to me to be a missed opportunity given the athleticism of the players trotting out there every day.

*Let’s give J.D. Martinez his due.  Annualized at 50 HR’s and 130 ribbies, he actually has a legit shot at the Triple Crown. He’ll need teammate Mookie Betts to cool down at some point this year, which by the looks of it is unlikely, but ya never know. And the Sox almost didn’t sign J.D. if I recall correctly? Wow.

Two Final Footnotes

*I made it down to Tampa back at the end of March for the second game of the season. It was the final stop for me to complete my goal of seeing at least one game at every major league ballpark (that goal will become incomplete again next year when the Rangers move into their new park, but for now I’m kind of digging the accomplishment). However, the interesting thing to me from that night was the pitching matchup of David Price versus Blake Snell.

I was psyched to see Price, as I was curious to get a sense of what he had left. I didn’t know much about the other lefty that night, Snell. Price actually pitched well enough that evening under the dome (albeit against what appeared to me to be one of those “Quadruple A” lineups thrown together by the rebuilding Rays), but the real story was Snell. Yet another guy I’d only read about as having a “good arm” and “potential.”

I came away from that night believing that Snell belongs at the front of a contender’s rotation, and he’s kept it up, currently tracking at 20 wins (again, for that shocking .500 club in Tampa, whose manager, the one and only Kevin Cash, would get my midyear vote for Manager of the Year) with a 2.24 ERA. We all know the Yanks are going to pick up a starter before August 1st. Here’s hoping that the Rays avoid the dreaded inter-division trade and either hold onto Snell or package him to someone that can take down the Bombers come October (Indians, anyone?).

*Last and most certainly least.  Today’s New York Post online has an article speculating that the Reds are about to consummate “Part 2” of their strategy pertaining to Matt Harvey.  Part 1 was giving up spare part, oft-injured, back up catcher Devin Mesoraco to the Mets to acquire Harvey (although I must say I like Mesoraco and hope the Mets hang onto him). Part 2 was to “fix Harvey” and repackage him in a deadline deal for superior prospects.  Harvey has alarmingly begun to turn things around in his last few starts and now it appears the Reds are sitting pretty with him as a trade asset heading into July. In the Post article, they speculated on Washington being the likely trade partner for the Reds when the time comes.

Here’s the question for my fellow Mets fans — which would hurt more, seeing Harvey winning multiple postseason starts for the Yankees or the Nationals?

We all know it’s coming, right? Heck, he may even throw a playoff no-hitter to rub a little more salt in our collective Mets-fan wounds. Personally, as much as I’d hate seeing him help the Nats, I simply can’t stomach the idea of him becoming the answer to Brian Cashman’s rotation dilemma in the Bronx. Thoughts?

Happy 4th of July to all! I’ll be enjoying the holiday watching the A’s in Oakland — bring on the Yankees in that wild card game!

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