Three Base Hit — deCy, Spitting the Bit in PA and AZ, and Ex-Marlins in the Outfield

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I’m officially on the Jacob deGrom bandwagon for the Cy Young Award.

Not surprising, you say? Hang on there just a minute. As much of an admitted Mets homer as I may be, I’m a baseball fan and a traditionalist first. I get confused and dismayed by the proliferation of advanced stats spouted today by far too many pundits. To put it short, a pitcher’s wins and losses matter to me.

As a result, for the better part of this year I’ve supported Max Scherzer as the likely Cy Young winner in the NL, because he’s having yet another awesome season. His team is unquestionably average, yet he’s remained brilliant, chalking up nearly 20 wins, over 300 (300!) K’s, and the guy cuts such a dominant and intimidating figure when he’s on the mound, that it takes me back to the Big Unit era, or going even further, the days when Bob Gibson used to stomp around glaring away at enemy hitters.

So my about face isn’t a vote against Mad Max. It is a vote for otherworldly performance, and from season’s start until last night, that’s been the word to describe Jake deGrom — otherworldly.

Plus, he’s delivered these insane performances playing for a far inferior team to Scherzer’s, with a just plain terrible defense behind him, and zero clutch hitting. It’s been so bad that as a fan we actually think deGrom with a bat in his hand gives us the best shot at scoring a runner from second or third! And then there’s the bullpen…if I didn’t know better I’d have to think that they all secretly hate Jake, and have a pool going involving big money for the reliever that torches the most deGrom gems in 2018.

Yet he got win number 10 last night. Does 10 really matter that much versus say nine or eight? Yeah, actually it does, as our society gravitates to nice round numbers, and it inches him justcloseenough to precedent (King Felix’s 13 wins that were enough for Cy voters in 2010) to no longer make his low wins total a reason not to vote for him.

Instead we’ll look at the facts —

*Like that he didn’t have ONE GAME where he gave up more than three runs this year. Whaaaa??

*His league-best (by a mile) 1.70 ERA (that stat is still okay, isn’t it?).

*The Seaver-like 260+ strikeouts.

*And the 24 consecutive quality starts.

And because the offense has been so anemic behind him, it has seemed like every inning and every pitch he’s authored this year has been of the high stress variety.

I turned it on late in the game last night because I was on the road, and it sure seemed like I’d tuned into every one of his other 2018 starts. It was the 7th inning and deGrom  was up 1-0. He was facing a first place team still with something to play for, as surely the Braves would like to begin the NLDS at home.

A superior lineup on the other side, no margin for error, and a house of horrors manning the field behind him and waiting in the pen. Yup, that’s been deGrom’s year in a nutshell.

He ended that seventh inning with a dominant strikeout (and yes, I love the fist pump we get in these key moments from the heroically stoic star). I mentioned to AtticWife, who was patiently listening to me extoll the virtues of deGrom for the umpteenth time this year (a pitcher, by the way, she can no longer pick out of a lineup since he cut his hair), that the only way Jake would actually earn that 10th victory was if he went the distance.

Our table was ready and I had to rely on Yahoo!Sports for the happy recap (hello, Murph!), which shocked me to no end when I saw that Jake had been lifted after 8 and yet the Mets still held on for the victory (thanks in large part to a heretofore unheard of two insurance runs in the 8th, followed by a clean ninth from Seth Lugo).

Game, set, match.

Jacob deGrom will be a deserving National League Cy Young Award recipient this winter. And while I feel a tinge of sadness that it will give the stat heads reason to celebrate the demise of another meaningful statistic that has only been relevant for over 100 years, it’s for Jake, so I’ll just have to take the good with the bad.

Speaking of the National League, has there ever been a season where not one, but two seemingly legit contenders totally spit the bit and flat out gave up during the season’s final month? I know I’ve seen Mets collapses of this magnitude back in 2007 and 2008, but there were reasons for those, like an entire bullpen getting sore arms at once, and well, Willie Randolph. But I digress. We have two clubs this 2018 season that seem to have dead-ass quit.

What we are seeing from both the Phillies and the Diamondbacks right now is bordering on the absurd. This isn’t just a white flag being raised, these are two teams that appear to have quit so badly that they aren’t trying anymore.

On the morning of September 1st, the Diamondbacks woke up in first place, leading the Dodgers by one game in the NL West with a record of 74-61. On that same morning, the Phils woke up very much in the thick of a pennant race, trailing the first place Braves by two games in the NL East, with a record of 72-62.

Now fast forward to today, three-plus weeks later. In the season’s most important month for contenders, the Phils have gone 6-18, seeing their deficit to the only slightly above-average Braves swell to 8.5 games. Not to be outdone, the D’backs have gone 7-17 in that same timeframe. They have fallen deep into third place, a distant 7.5 games back, having coughed up 8.5 games in the standings in the season’s penultimate month.

Yeesh. I’m already on record as having Gabe Kapler ID’d as the manager most likely to get fired first in 2019, but Torey Lovullo has to warrant some serious consideration. Just last night, the Phillies lost by two touchdowns to the Rockies out in Colorado, while the D’backs shocked everyone with their second consecutive road victory over the Dodgers, which I chalk up more to the Dodgers inability to handle prosperity in 2018 than anything that Arizona has left in the tank.

In fact, if not for their surprising two-game upswing, the Diamondbacks would have been underperforming even their hapless City of Brotherly Love brethren. Get this, in the month of September, Arizona baseball is the proud father of losses by the scores of 6-2, 9-5, 13-2, 10-3, 10-4, 9-1, 6-2 and 5-1 (twice). Meanwhile, it really does seem like the Phils lose big every night. Keep up the fair work, boys!

Let’s just have them forfeit the remainders of their schedules and save the players from risk of injury and refund the fans their ticket money. The product on display from these two former contenders is not of major league caliber.

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Meanwhile down in Miami...

A lot has been written about the dismantling of the Marlins by Derek Jeter and the new ownership group down in Miami. We won’t know the real answer as to whether this was the correct path or not for several years, but we do know a couple of things — the Marlins were going nowhere with their “stars” in place in 2017, and Miami has been a much tougher out on the 2018 schedule as they throw their young talent into the fire ready or not, than most had imagined heading into this season.

This point isn’t about the Miami strategy, though. This is about the curious occurrence of career years and misguided expectations pertaining to their recently departed outfield trio of Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton.

Let’s begin with Ozuna and Yelich. As 2018 winds down, both are clearly premium outfielders in the National League. Yelich has inserted himself into the MVP conversation (favorite, maybe?) on the heals of a torrid stretch run, and currently finds himself in the mix for all three Triple Crown stat categories, as he leads the Brewers toward hosting the Wild Card matchup versus Ozuna and the Cardinals. Not surprisingly, you’ll see as we dig into the numbers, Yelich was also the former-Marlin with the least expected of him as 2018 began.

Ozuna had far greater expectations placed upon him coming into 2018, because for one, he looks like a complete masher every time he steps up to the plate, and number two, he was coming off a career year in 2017, under the cover of relative anonymity in Miami, playing second fiddle to Stanton’s MVP production.

Here’s what I find fascinating about the two former teammates. If you juxtapose their 2017 and 2018 statistics, they are nearly identical. Take a look:

Ozuna 2017 — .312 batting average, 37 homers, 124 RBI’s

Yelich 2018 (through last night) — .321 batting average, 33 homers and 104 RBI’s (and a few games to go, don’t forget)

Ozuna 2018 — .279 batting average with 23 homers and 87 RBI’s (with a few games to go)

Yelich 2017 — .282 batting average with 18 homers and 81 RBI’s

Here’s my question based on these statistical anomalies: Is Yelich about to break into the superstardom stratosphere based on his incredible 2018 (like everyone assumed Ozuna was about to do a year ago), or is this just one of those out of nowhere years where it all falls into place, to be followed by stats settling back to career norms in subsequent seasons?

And…is Ozuna really having an off year in 2018? If you look at his 2018 in plain statistical terms, anyone would sign up for those kind of numbers in the middle of the order. His performance is only less exciting when viewed in the context of comparisons with his 2017 career year. Except try telling that to Cardinals fans, who were expecting some sort of Lou Brock/Stan Musial cyborg combination when Ozuna arrived in town.

For more context on this topic, let’s take a look at Stanton, the third outfielder in Miami back in 2017. Before coming to the Bronx, Stanton was last seen taking home 2017 NL MVP honors for his off the charts power display.

However, for much of 2018, Stanton has straddled that precarious line between boo bird target and matinee idol, with most Yankees fans remaining uncertain to this day (but methinks leaning more toward dislike). He’s had a ton of strikeouts (not a big surprise, really) and the general consensus is that he’s somehow fallen short of expectations. Let’s take a look at this one more closely.

Stanton 2017 — .281 batting average with 59 homers and 132 RBI’s — MVP numbers for sure.

Stanton 2018 — .258 average along with 35 homers and 95 RBI’s (with a few games to go)

In a vacuum, most fans (certainly Mets fans, anyway) would gladly insert Stanton’s 2018 numbers into the cleanup slot in their lineup. But what did the impatient Yankees fans expect? They wanted a repeat of Stanton’s MVP 2017 season, which if you look at the entirety of his career, was completely unrealistic.

Stanton Career (as an everyday player, not including the 2017 MVP year)

*Batting average in the .260/.270 range (sorry, didn’t feel like doing the actual math, but he has a lifetime average of .267 that includes 2017).

*32 round-trippers

*85 RBI’s

*And no, I didn’t count his 2015 season that was shortened by the beaning.

In other words, Stanton’s 2018 is actually exceeding career averages based on a body of work approaching 10 years, but the Marlins selling him at the top of the market to the Bombers created an impossible mountain of expectations that followed him up north.

Not to mention, the Yankees already had a gigantic, home run slugging outfielder. And Aaron Judge is both homegrown and eminently likable, and also happens to play the same position as Stanton, forcing the NL MVP to relocate defensively while trying to learn a new league and live up to these impossible expectations. And yeah, there’s a few more reporters to apply pressure in the Big Apple than what he was used to down in Miami.

The conclusion to all this is to point out that in the span of two years, we’ve seen all three members of the 2017 Marlins outfield get traded just before (Yelich) or after (Ozuna, Stanton) a career year. Has there ever been an instance in baseball history where three members of the same outfield even posted career years in a two-year span? Just sayin’ it’s interesting, that’s all.

And I’m still going with Baez as my NL MVP.

 

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