Mike Trout, When It’s All Said And Done.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The week leading up to Opening Day 2014 turned out to be quite historic, with the clear two best players in the game locked into long-term contracts guaranteeing them nearly a cool half-billion. Obviously, the prognosis for the respective long-term efficacy of the two deals varies dramatically, with Cabrera’s extension locking up his age 33-40 seasons, compared to Trout’s doing the same to his age 23-28 campaigns. This week, let’s take a step back and put these two greats into some sort of historical perspective, then use that perspective to research their aging curves in order make some educated judgments regarding the Tigers’ and Angels’ investments. Today, let’s look at Mike Trout.
As we did in the Cabrera piece, let’s first look at how Mike Trout gets it done offensively. Trout has superior complementary skills, but in both cases, the main driver behind the big payday is the bat. Below is a grid of Trout’s percentile ranks indicating the respective frequency of each of the six key plate appearance outcomes – K’s, BB’s, popups, fly balls, line drives and ground balls – in his first two seasons as a regular. Batted ball authority is not taken into account at all here, but these numbers alone – from 1, indicating lowest in the majors, to 99, indicating the highest – paint a very accurate portrait of a hitter qualitatively. They’re his technical merit scores, if you will.
Trout PCT K PCT BB PCT POP PCT FLY PCT LD PCT GB
2012 73 81 20 42 94 53
2013 60 98 17 68 85 36
It might not be quite Cabrera quality, but it’s still pretty special. The K rate is still high, but it’s trending downward. The BB rate is already at the top of the scale. The line drive percentile ranks of 94 and 85 indicate a true skill – that kind of line drive tendency, combined with his speed, low popup rate and a continued decline in his K rate could put some scary batting average levels within range. Like Cabrera, he combines a high fly ball rate with a low popup rate – these are rare hitters that don’t give away free outs in the pursuit of power. Later, we’ll take a quick look at his batted ball authority and direction data and see why Trout has a chance to become materially better in the near term – an almost unthinkable prospect.
Trout is clearly an elite hitter already, at age 22. There is certainly no reason, on the surface, to question whether he’ll be worth his recent six-year, $144.5M extension that will carry him through his age 28 season. Still, let’s look into the game’s past and try to identify his peer group. Does he even have one? How did they age, when did they peak, and what might the future hold for Mike Trout, and for the Angels’ investment in him?
As we did with Cabrera, we’ll utilize my database of MLB regulars going back to 1901. More specifically, let’s look at the cumulative number of standard deviations above or below league average OBP and SLG for some of these regulars at various stages throughout their careers. For well above average players, it is a useful method of tracking development of on-base and slugging skills, independent of one another. Trout is already 360th on the all-time list in this statistic in just two years as a regular, with 5.28 cumulative standard deviations above league average OBP and 4.27 cumulative standard deviations above league average SLG (9.55 combined). This amazingly already ranks him 34th among active players.
The start to Trout’s career is almost unparalleled in modern baseball history. He ranks fourth on the all-time list of players with the most cumulative standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG in their first two years as a regular, behind Babe Ruth, Joe Jackson and Frank Thomas – who were all three years older and more physically mature than Trout when they completed their second seasons as regulars. Yup, he was younger at the end of his second year as a regular than they all were at the beginning of their first. Their specifics appear below, along with those of a handful of other players who ranked closely behind them, and were no older than 22 in their second season as regulars.
1ST 2 YRS YRS AGE REL OBP REL SLG REL TOT 2-YR OPS+
Ruth 18-19 23-24 4.54 7.21 11.75 207
J.Jackson 11-12 23-24 4.95 5.63 10.58 192
F.Thomas 91-92 23-24 6.08 4.42 10.50 177
Trout 12-13 20-21 5.28 4.27 9.55 174
Musial 42-43 21-22 4.07 5.04 9.11 166
Hornsby 16-17 20-21 3.80 4.62 8.42 160
T.Williams 39-40 20-21 3.80 3.97 7.77 160
Foxx 28-29 20-21 3.74 3.68 7.42 162
Speaker 09-10 21-22 3.10 3.99 7.09 161
Cobb 06-07 19-20 2.93 4.14 7.07 154
This is pretty staggering stuff, actually, that pretty much places Trout on a plane unto himself in baseball history. For players at or near his age, he stands on top, by a fairly sizeable margin. It’s also difficult to cite any of the others as clear comps when projecting Trout’s future performance. The two guys at the bottom of the above list – Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb – come closest to matching Trout in age, speed and defensive value, in addition to their fairly similar offensive dominance. Let’s start the comp list with those two, even though their respective “Trout phases” were over a hundred years ago.
Next, let’s look at a list of the 10 players with the most cumulative standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG through age 21 – Trout ranks second on this list.
THRU 21 QUAL YRS REL OBP REL SLG REL TOT OPS+ FINAL RK
Cobb 3 4.63 7.23 11.86 160 4
Trout 2 5.28 4.27 9.55 174 360
Ott 3 4.53 4.20 8.73 153 10
Hornsby 2 3.80 4.62 8.42 160 6
T.Williams 2 3.80 3.97 7.77 160 2
Foxx 2 3.74 3.68 7.42 162 15
Mantle 3 2.57 3.92 6.49 145 8
Griffey 3 2.62 3.46 6.08 135 47
T.Conigliaro 3 1.26 4.61 5.87 130 379
F.Robinson 2 2.39 2.89 5.28 139 11
First, just take a look at the names on this list, and consider that the beginning of Trout’s career likely outshines that of all the others. Half of the players on this list, including Cobb, the one guy ahead of Trout, played an extra season as a regular by age 21. Trout has the highest relative OBP component of the group, and the fourth highest relative SLG component. Seven of the names of this list wound up among the 15 best offensive players in the history of the game. Of course, we can’t overlook the tragic shortening of the career of Tony Conigliaro, who was on his way to an excellent career before the tragic beaning at age 22 that effectively ended it.
Adding to Trout’s core comp list remains a dicey proposition. The only two additional players on the above list who combine comparable offensive performance at the same age with Trout-level speed, athleticism and defensive ability are Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mickey Mantle – who, ironically is the player comp I used for Trout when I scouted him in the Midwest League in his first professional season.
That leaves us with four comps – Speaker, Cobb, Mantle and Griffey. As with Cabrera, no Hank Aaron or Willie Mays on the comp list. As a frame of reference, consider that Aaron didn’t clear Trout’s current 9.55 score until after his fifth full season, at age 24, and Mays didn’t do so until after his fourth full season, at age 25. (Mays did lose two seasons to military service before then.) Trout is running with pretty fast company here. For the four comp players, let’s look closely at their performance between ages 22-28, both on its own merits and in comparison to their final cumulative career total of standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG.
COMPS PEAK AGE 21 OBP 21 SLG 22-28 OBP 22-28 SLG 22-28 OPS+ TOT OBP TOT SLG % THRU 28 LAST QUAL TOT YRS FINAL RK
Speaker 24-26 1.13 1.91 15.53 15.27 173 36.08 32.77 49.2% 39 19 7
Cobb 22-24 4.63 7.23 20.16 20.26 195 47.02 46.03 56.2% 41 22 4
Mantle 24-26 2.57 3.92 14.91 16.88 181 34.55 33.27 56.4% 36 17 8
Griffey 22-24 2.62 3.46 6.61 15.18 157 11.39 25.16 76.3% 39 19 47
All four players put up simply massive numbers between ages 22-28, averaging a 176 OPS+ and almost 4.50 combined standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG per player season. Yes, the AVERAGE season is basically MVP-caliber, and the age range encompasses the entirety of all of these four greats’ three-year peak periods. Yes, it is going to get even better for Mike Trout.
Between ages 22-28, Speaker was a regular black ink guy, even as a peer of a still-in-his-prime Cobb. His lowest OPS+ over this span was 151, and he led the AL in average once, OBP twice, SLG once, hits twice, and doubles twice. He led in OPS+ once, with a 186 mark at age 28 in 1916. He averaged a 173 OPS+ over this seven-year span.
Cobb was arguably as good as any player ever has been between ages 22-28. He basically led the AL in just about everything, every year. He won the Triple Crown at age 22 in 1909, also leading the league in OBP, SLG, OPS+, runs scored, hits and steals that same year. Oh, and he exceeded that season’s OPS+ in each of the next four seasons. Between ages 22-28, he won the batting title every season, led in OBP five times, SLG five times, and in OPS+ all seven seasons. Wow. His average OPS+ figure over this span was 195.
Mantle also won a Triple Crown in his age 22-28 range, at age 24 in 1956. He led in OPS+ in five of those seven years, though he didn’t in 1957, at age 25, when he posted his career best mark of 221. This also encompassed the maximum durability phase of Mantle’s career – he never played less than 144 games in a season between ages 22 and 28. His average OPS+ over this span was 181.
Griffey didn’t record nearly the amount of black ink as the others (led in homers three times, RBI once, SLG once, runs scored once between ages 22-28), for a number of reasons. First, the leagues were much larger, and the respective talent pools much deeper. Second, he never embraced the base on balls, never walking even 100 times in a season, holding his OBP component score much lower than the other players in this group. He also is the only one of the four to miss any length of time due to injury in their age 22-28 window, as he was limited to 72 games by a broken wrist at age 25 in 1995. If you throw out that one injury-shortened season, his lowest OPS+ over that span was 150 – he just lacked the ridiculous upsides above that level possessed by the others due to his relative OBP shortfall. Even with his subpar, injury-shortened 1995 included, his average OPS+ over this span was 157.
There was plenty of damage still to be done by these players following their age 28 seasons. All but Griffey, in fact, had close to half of their career total of cumulative standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG ahead of them. The four of them combined accumulated 59.5% of their total cumulative career scores through age 28. Griffey, however, had only a quarter of his career total ahead of him, due largely to an increasing frequency of nagging injuries and a gradual thickening of his frame. If Trout still has 40.5% of his career offensive value ahead of him after his age 28 season, he might even have a chance to pay off his next huge free agent payday.
Where might Trout go from here? Obviously, the absolute floor is a Conigliaro situation, a sudden, career-ending impact, which really could happen to anyone. Barring that fairly remote possibility, Trout’s floor is about as high as they come. If he performs as Ken Griffey, Jr., did from age 22 through the end of his career – and Griffey is by far his weakest comp – he’ll rack up 21.79 standard deviations between 22 and 28, and then another 23.7% of total career value afterward, for a total career score of 41.07 – good for 36th on the all-time list. That’s his “floor”. If he hits his ceiling, and posts a Cobb-like 40.42 score from 22 to 28, and then ages like Speaker, accumulating 50.8% of his career value from age 29 onward, that would put him in the mix with the top three of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth for best hitter of all time honors. If he hits the midpoint of those two tracks, he would rank seventh on the all-time list, behind those three plus Cobb, Stan Musial and Rogers Hornsby. Pretty heady stuff.
Based on the peak-period ages of his peer group, Trout most likely has yet to reach his, but will do so fairly soon. Where on earth is there actually room for improvement in Trout’s repertoire? It’s actually pretty easy to find. Let’s first take a look at Trout’s 2013 production by BIP type as a point of reference.
Trout AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.362 1.080 191 187
LD 0.645 0.944 106 121
GB 0.356 0.391 228 126
ALL BIP 0.410 0.711 178 162
ALL PA 0.317 0.423 0.549 183 170
If you read the companion article on Miguel Cabrera earlier this week, you might recall that Cabrera’s actual production on fly balls far outpaced Trout’s figure above – prior to the aggravation of his hip injury last August 28, Cabrera hit .521-1.672 on fly balls, for a 391 ADJ PRD (relative to MLB average, scaled to 100, adjusted for context), that more than doubles Trout’s very solid 187 mark. Trout hit “just” .362-1.080 on fly balls – not even in the same league as Cabrera. The difference between the two is almost solely in their respective abilities at this stage in their careers to selectively turn on the ball and pull it in the air for distance.
In 2013, Cabrera hit 22 fly balls to LF (field split into five sectors – LF-LCF-CF-RCF-RF), and an amazing 18 of them went over the fence. Mike Trout hit only six fly balls to LF all season, three of them for homers. Trout will soon learn to selectively pull in the air for distance more often, most likely without negatively affecting other aspects of his offensive game. There are more homers – lot of them, in fact – coming. In the next few seasons, we will witness the intersection of his capacity to hit for an extremely high average (very high LD rate, low popup rate, overperformance on grounders because of his speed premium – see his 228 actual REL PRD on grounders in 2013) and his capacity to reach his peak power production due to increased fly ball pulling. The result will be a historically prodigious career peak – in fact, I’d bet on a Triple Crown, or even two – if he can pull off the RBI component, which is mostly out of his control – an unprecedented individual achievement.
Mike Trout is a historic talent. As hard as it was to piece together a peer group for Miguel Cabrera, it was significantly harder to do so for Trout. The residual effects of becoming such a highly compensated player at such a young age are impossible to predict – we’re truly in uncharted waters here. If precedent comes even close to holding, however, Trout will go down as an inner, inner circle Hall of Famer. When your “floor” scenario contains references to Ken Griffey, Jr., you’re something else. History says that the Angels should get quite a deal on Trout’s contract extension. He’s good enough, and young enough, that we might able to go through this exercise with his next big contract, and come up with a somewhat similar conclusion.
Mercer and Barmes: Defensive Difference in Pittsburgh.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Jordy Mercer is the new starting shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clint Barmes is now a moving part, an accomplished glove man on call at multiple infield positions. The shift will have an impact on both sides of the ball.
From an offensive standpoint, the changing of the guard makes perfect sense. The 35-year-old Barmes is a .246/.294/.383 hitter in 1,040 big-league games and has been trending in the wrong direction. The 27-year-old Mercer has less of a track record — just 145 games — but has hit a solid .273/.325/.425.
Mercer will supply more bang for the Bucs, but he won’t replicate Barmes in the field. The 6-foot-3 Mercer isn’t a defensive liability, but he came up through the system as an offense-first shortstop who dabbled at second base and at third base. The player he’s replacing is a pitcher’s best friend.
“Clint Barmes is one of the best defensive players in baseball,” Scott Spratt, of Baseball Info Solutions, said. “Since 2010, only Brendan Ryan (73) and Andrelton Simmons (60) have more Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop than Barmes’ 50. He has tremendous range and has been an above-average contributor on balls to his left (+28 plays), straight on (+23 plays) and to his right (+8 plays).
“Jordy Mercer is still a bit of an unknown,” Spratt added. “He falls just short of 700 career MLB innings at shortstop, where we estimate he has cost the Pirates one run with his defense. With the caveat that the small sample could have an impact on this, Mercer’s biggest weakness appears to be his throwing arm. He has made eight bad-throw Defensive Misplays and Errors (DMEs) in his limited innings. That is approximately one bad throw per 87 innings at the position, which is the sixth-worst rate of the 51 shortstops who have 500 or more innings since 2012. Barmes has just 13 bad throw DMEs over that time in nearly 2,000 innings, which is one per 151 innings.”
Mercer merits a chance to show those numbers can be thrown out the window. He knows he’s not Barmes, but he’s not short on confidence. When I caught up to him in spring training, he fielded questions about his defense ability with self-assured honesty.
“I’m happy with my defense,” Mercer told me. “I’ve always considered it one of my strong suits. I’m not worried about that at all. Everybody is going to say, ‘He needs to improve, he needs to improve.’ Well, of course I need to improve. But I’m not going to stress about it. I’m going to do my job and continue to try to get better.”
Mercer has a good mentor. He also has the luxury of playing for a team that will optimize his opportunities to make plays.
“I’ve worked with Clint ever since I’ve been up here,” said Mercer, who debuted with the Pirates in 2012. “He’s taught me about different angles on balls, how to position guys, reads off the bat, pretty much everything. A lot goes into being at the right spot at the right time, and that‘s something he‘s really good at.
“Positioning is huge,” he added. “A batter will hit a ball where it might normally be a base hit, and you‘re right there. Instead of it being something you maybe can’t get to, you moved over a few steps and made the play.”
Mercer’s comment on positioning is especially pertinent. The number of balls he and Barmes get to aren’t solely a product of their individual skills. SABR president Vince Gennaro addressed the subject in a more general sense at last month’s SABR Analytics Conference: Does having better data on positioning reduce the premium we put on a fielder’s range and increase the premium we put on sure-handedness? In the opinion of ESPN’s Jon Sciambi, the answer is probably yes. Sciambi pointed to the Pirates infield as an example, saying last year’s team had three guys with average to below-average range — Barmes being the exception — yet played plus defense.
Barmes is on board with his team‘s probability-driven approach to defense, but cautions that data points only go so far.
“It’s safe to say positioning is what gives you range,” Barmes told me in Bradenton. “Putting yourself within a step or two of where the ball is going to be hit is the goal. It’s the key to making as many plays as possible.
“We have the percentages on each hitter and will position accordingly. But as the game goes on, things can change. Maybe the pitcher doesn’t have his command and is missing his spots. When guys are missing toward the heart of the plate, professional hitters are going to hit holes a lot easier. That makes it more difficult for us, as infielders, to know where to be on certain pitches.”
Jeff Locke knows the value of experience. He also has full confidence in Mercer.
“Barmes is so educated at playing his position,” the Pirates left-hander said. “He’s played a lot of games there, so his anticipation is really good. But Jordy isn’t much different. He’s just a younger version.”
I asked Locke to elaborate on the similarities between Barmes and Mercer.
“I can’t really say how they play individually, but I can collectively,” Locke said. “They’re both going to give us great defense every time out. Last year Jordy spent a lot of time mirroring, and learning from, Barmes.”
After pausing for a moment, the lefty continued.
“One thing I love about Barmes is that he’s not one of those guys where if there’s a slow runner it’s ‘pump, pump, I’ve got time.’ He likes to get the ball and get rid of it. I played with Jordy throughout the minor leagues and he’s not really any different. We don’t have much flash on this team. You’re not going to see glove flips and behind-the-back tosses. Our guys get the ball and make the out.”
I asked the two shortstops how their styles compare.
“There are some similarities, but there are some differences as well,” Mercer said. “The similarities are the way we take angles and how we position ourselves. The difference is — and he’ll tell you this, too — is that he’s an unorthodox fielder. I’m a more-traditional fielder.”
Barmes agreed: “I’ve heard the word ‘unorthodox’ a lot. I could probably sit here all day and come up with things I do a little differently as far as technique goes. Over the years, I’ve become comfortable doing things in a way a lot of guys may not teach.”
I asked Barmes for examples.
“More than anything, it’s probably my footwork and how I set up on a routine ground ball,” he said. “For most guys, the left foot is half a step in front of the right when they go down to field the ball. That ties me up, so I go the opposite. I like my right foot to be maybe half a step in front of my left foot. It frees up everything and I can watch the ball into my glove better. If it takes a hop, I’m able to react a little quicker.
“Another thing that’s helped my career is the backhand. That’s something I’ve worked with Jordy on. Instead of worrying about trying to get around balls — fighting to get myself in that position — when in doubt I’ll go to my backhand, The more I worked on it, the more confident I got. Then it became throwing on the run, putting my body in a good position to make a strong throw on a ball that’s going away from first base. But as for comparing Jordy and me, he has his footwork and way of throwing the ball, and I have mine.”
Clint Hurdle’s assessment of the two?
“They spent the entire season together last year and it’s been a work-in-progress — a learning-in-progress — for Jordy,” Hurdle told me. “Barmes has been there to offer advice, and Jordy has learned a lot by watching Clint play. But the skill sets are similar — the ability to throw on the run, the ability to backhand the ball across the body, the throws. Probably the biggest thing Barmes has helped Jordy with is establishing good angles and routes to ground balls. I’d say Jordy has a similar skill set on the defensive side of the ball than Barmes.”
Would the Pirates manager place Mercer on the same tier of defensive excellence as Barmes?
“No, it’s going to take time,” Hurdle said. “He has to get games under his belt and make plays.”
Barring the unforeseen, Mercer is going to get a lot of games under his belt on a team with World Series aspirations. There’s a high likelihood he’ll out-hit his predecessor — perhaps by a meaningful margin — but Pirates pitchers are used to elite defense in the middle of the diamond. How much Mercer contributes with his glove may go a long way in determining whether Pittsburgh returns to the postseason.
2014 in Opening Day First Pitches.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Brandon McCarthy isn’t our boss, nor is he anywhere on the FanGraphs payroll, but similar to how one would act around a boss, we’re willing to do what McCarthy asks us to do. There’s nothing better than being handed an idea, and a year ago, McCarthy handed over an idea that we get to write about on an annual basis! The old tweet in question:
? for my stat enthusiast followers- in last 5 years, has any team’s opening day starter started the season with an off-speed pitch?
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) March 19, 2013
This was written about on March 20, 2013. Based on the evidence, it was pretty much fastballs all the way down, with one or two potential question marks. But now we can put together an update, because as of the beginning of Tuesday’s game between the Yankees and Astros, everyone’s 2014 opening-day game is complete. So what’d we get in terms of opening-day first pitches? Was it all fastballs, or were there breaking balls and changeups to be found? Please consult the following big giant table.
Team Pitcher Batter Pitch Result
Angels Jered Weaver Abraham Almonte Fastball Called Strike
Astros Scott Feldman Jacoby Ellsbury Fastball In Play
Athletics Sonny Gray Nyjer Morgan Fastball Ball
Blue Jays R.A. Dickey David DeJesus Knuckleball Called Strike
Braves Julio Teheran Carlos Gomez Fastball In Play
Brewers Yovani Gallardo Jason Heyward Fastball Ball
Cardinals Adam Wainwright Billy Hamilton Fastball Called Strike
Cubs Jeff Samardzija Starling Marte Fastball Called Strike
Diamondbacks Wade Miley Yasiel Puig Fastball Called Strike
Dodgers Clayton Kershaw A.J. Pollock Fastball Called Strike
Giants Madison Bumgarner A.J. Pollock Fastball Called Strike
Indians Justin Masterson Coco Crisp Fastball Ball*
Mariners Felix Hernandez Kole Calhoun Fastball Ball
Marlins Jose Fernandez Charlie Blackmon Fastball Ball
Mets Dillon Gee Denard Span Fastball Ball
Nationals Stephen Strasburg Eric Young Jr. Fastball Called Strike
Orioles Chris Tillman Daniel Nava Fastball Called Strike
Padres Andrew Cashner Carl Crawford Fastball Ball
Phillies Cliff Lee Shin-Soo Choo Fastball Foul
Pirates Francisco Liriano Emilio Bonifacio Fastball Called Strike
Rangers Tanner Scheppers Ben Revere Fastball Ball
Rays David Price Jose Reyes Fastball Called Strike
Red Sox Jon Lester Nick Markakis Fastball Called Strike
Reds Johnny Cueto Matt Carpenter Fastball Called Strike
Rockies Jorge De La Rosa Christian Yelich Fastball Called Strike
Royals James Shields Ian Kinsler Fastball Called Strike
Tigers Justin Verlander Norichika Aoki Fastball Called Strike
Twins Ricky Nolasco Adam Eaton Fastball Called Strike
White Sox Chris Sale Brian Dozier Fastball Ball
Yankees CC Sabathia Dexter Fowler Fastball Ball
In there, 30 first pitches, from 30 different pitchers, to 29 different hitters. And, we’ve got 29 fastballs and one obvious knuckleball, which counts as an exception. McCarthy was asking about pitchers besides Dickey. Besides Dickey, this year, it was all heaters. Here’s that knuckler, for the hell of it:
Now, of those fastballs, 26 were taken. Of those taken fastballs, 16 were taken for strikes. It’s clear that these aren’t just fastballs grooved down the middle, but you also think that maybe hitters can take advantage of this predictability and try to punish the first pitch they see. Historically, they haven’t done that, and maybe the hitters aren’t quite ready to swing, before they see a single live pitch. But just because swings this year were infrequent doesn’t mean they didn’t happen at all.
First, you’ll notice there’s an asterisk in that table, by the pitch from Masterson to Crisp. That’s because, while Crisp took the fastball for a ball, he at least threatened to bunt before pulling back:
The Rangers signed Choo in large part because they love his approach and his ability to post a sky-high OBP. Choo swung at literally the first pitch he saw in a meaningful game in a Texas uniform. I suppose, against a pitcher like Lee, it’s a good bet you’re going to get a strike, so you might as well not fall behind if you don’t have to:
Ellsbury did Choo one better, or perhaps one worse. Tuesday, against Feldman, Ellsbury was ready for a first-pitch fastball, and he put the ball in play, lifting it to left-center:
Yet the big winner was also the big loser. Last season, Freddie Freeman was second in baseball at 46.4% first-pitch swings. Carlos Gomez was first in baseball at 52.3% first-pitch swings. More often than not, Gomez went after the first pitch of a plate appearance, and it didn’t matter to him that Monday’s game was the first of the 2014 regular season. He’d seen enough pitches in spring training. Maybe he hadn’t done enough baserunning in spring training:
On the first pitch to a Brewer in 2014, Gomez singled against Julio Teheran. He aggressively advanced to second on an error. Then he ran himself right into an out at third for seemingly no reason. What you don’t see is how casually the ball was returned to the infield with Gomez breaking for third. The Braves weren’t even in a rush. That’s not something Gomez was taking advantage of — that’s just how easily Gomez was retired. I’m not sure we’ve had a more eventful first pitch in a long long time.
In all: 29 fastballs, with one knuckler that doesn’t really count as a non-fastball. The knuckler was taken for a strike, and 16 of the fastballs were taken for strikes. Three first pitches were swung at, and another was almost bunted in the direction of new third baseman Carlos Santana. There’s something to be done, probably, about the pitchers’ predictability, here. But this only seems like kind of a big deal now. Ultimately, it’s one pitch, and we don’t even know how ready the hitters are to hit before they see anything thrown in their direction. Carlos Gomez was ready the other day, but he seemed ready for just about anything. I don’t know if Gomez is a coffee drinker, but that would be a legal explanation.