Thor Nystrom

Week That Was

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The Kershank Redemption

Sunday, June 22, 2014


It was an ordinary Wednesday night. I was watching a North Korean propaganda film entitled, “Propaganda,” which argues that American citizens are manipulated into buying consumer products they don’t need to produce tax money the government spends on military invasions.

           

I’m fascinated by propaganda, and this is why I’ve always been interested in the reclusive DPRK. This “documentary” had me thinking, in the short break between my NFL Draft and MLB news shifts, about the idea of definition. Propaganda works by removing the ideological premise of a conversation and replacing it with simple questions impossible to disagree with like, “Would you like to change?” or statements like, “We can do it, together.”

           

The only way to inoculate yourself from the seduction of language, then, I was musing on Wednesday, is to have certainty in the fact of things, and to make your own definitions—to refuse to accept them from the outside. I started thinking about how few objective facts we’re presented with during the day. Mostly we get, “I think that...” or “I hated when...” or “Didn’t you love...?” The footlong subs we’re served at Subway aren’t actually 12 inches. This is what Ayn Rand wrote about in Atlas Shrugged: Facts are dying as people’s interest in them wanes.

           

Suddenly, as I tumbled down a rabbit hole, a message on my iPad grabbed me by the neck and pulled me back: CLAYTON KERSHAW HAS A PERFECT GAME THROUGH SIX INNINGS. That statement, my friends, was fact: A definition of perfection that fit the action. In eight words, MLB.com had successfully conveyed that a man in California had secured 18 consecutives outs to begin a game. I watched the game in my mind, saw Kershaw pumping fastballs, buckling knees with a Bugs Bunny curveball, freezing biceps with a gotchya slider. I knew my mind wasn’t producing fact, so I fired up MLB.TV and lived the reality of it.

           

Kershaw, you’ve heard, didn’t finish off the perfecto, but that was due to Hanley Ramirez’s tender right hand short hopping a routine 6-3 throw on a Corey Dickerson grounder in the seventh. Dickerson was lucky to put bat to ball: Fifteen of his teammates were told by home plate umpire Greg Gibson that they’d reached Strike Three. Fourteen of 15 met their demise on breaking pitches—we saw eight deaths by slider and six by curve. All had an air of cruelty: Kershaw was a malevolent king capable of seeing all and giving nothing. According to Bill James’ Game Score metric, Kershaw’s no-hitter was the second-greatest pitching performance in the history of baseball with 102 points, trailing only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998 (105).

           

When I played baseball in junior high, our team always viewed it as cosmically unfair if the opposing pitcher had figured out how to throw a rudimentary breaking pitch: How the hell could we be expected to square up a fastball when a change or curve 15 mph slower might be coming? If the kid could locate, forget it. This is why Clayton Kershaw terrifies me: The 26-year-old left-hander breathes a 96 mph heater, pulls back with a changeup, turns eyes into almonds of horror with a mid-80s slider, and disconnects prefrontal cortexes and flips on flight-or-flight responses with a mid-70s curveball. He’ll throw any in every conceivable scenario and pitch count. He doesn’t care. Kershaw has no conscience, and his pitch sequencing is a piece of artistic genius so unorthodoxly beautiful that I haven’t read a coherent explanation about how he decides which notes will comprise the couplets that become symphonies. 

 

  • Two of Kershaw’s fellow MLB aces heading in opposite trajectories took the mound on Saturday under disparate circumstances. Adam Wainwright hurled eight innings of one-run ball versus Philadelphia, improving to 10-3. Further west, Justin Verlander, who came into the game 6-7 with a 4.98 ERA, was just trying to keep his head above water against the Indians. He gave up two runs (one earned) over seven innings, striking out eight.

 

Wainwright, who missed his previous outing due to discomfort in his right elbow, was cleared to start Saturday after an MRI revealed no ligament damage. Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak said Wainwright was dealing with “tennis elbow” unrelated to his Tommy John surgery in 2011. You’ll recall that Wainwright worked over 275 innings—playoffs included—last year, so he’s already proved the UCL’s soundness. The 32-year-old is having another Cy Young caliber year with a 2.08 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 98/21 K/BB ratio in 108 1/3 innings.

 

The obvious suspect for the source of Verlander’s struggles has already been acquitted with a passable alibi: Verlander’s average 94.2 mph fastball is 2.3 mph less than his career best in 2009, but its rapidity of movement has him zooming around league average Ford Taurus’ in a Lambo. Instead, fastball command has arguably been the biggest difference between this year and his Cy Young domination of the past. Verlander is getting himself into bad counts, walking more batters (3.8 BB/9, the second worst rate of his career) and serving up cookies a foot from where he wanted it to the tune of a career worst 10.2 H/9.

 

People smarter than me have postulated that minor mechanical flaws are throwing off Verlander’s delivery by the fraction of a second that determines whether a pitch will stay true to the pitcher’s intentions or book travel plans on its own. Cleaning up mechanics is a fixable problem, but we’re missing too much information about the man himself to have an accurate idea of when—or if—Verlander will do so. Verlander figured it out by the playoffs last year—will he get around to it sooner this time around? I’m not sure, but I’ll repeat what I wrote a week or two ago: I wouldn’t sell low on Verlander if I owned him, and I won’t be sending trade offers to his owners. Underperforming veterans with explainable struggles are one of fantasy baseball’s few untradeable assets. Hold and pray.

 

 

  • Before we run through league minutiae, let’s talk prospects: Andrew Heaney held the Mets to three hits and one run over six innings in his big league debut on Thursday. One of the game’s best pitching prospects posted a combined 7-2 record and 2.47 ERA between Double- and Triple-A earlier this season and needs to be owned in all formats (he has a two-start week against the Phillies and A’s coming up). Kris Bryant, however, doesn’t. The Cubs bumped him to Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday after a .355/.458/.702 slash line with 22 home runs and 58 RBI in 68 games at Double-A Tennessee. He won’t get called up soon enough to help fantasy owners this year (if at all). Taijuan Walker finally strung together a pair of consecutive strong starts at Triple-A. The 21-year-old right-hander is precariously close to his big league debut and should be owned in all leagues. And last but not least: Gregory Polanco has hit safely in his first 11 games. He blew by Roberto Clemente for the team record last week. I have a crush on him.

 

  • Did you know Jake Arrieta has a 1.98 ERA and 55/15 K/BB ratio in 50 innings through nine starts, and a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts since coming to the Cubs from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade last year? You do if you read my colleagues, who’ve been banging the drum demanding more mixed league respect for the former top prospect. Arrieta is owned in only 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Allow me to join the chorus: Snap him up.

 

  • Colby Rasmus returned from the disabled list Wednesday after missing time with a hamstring injury.

 

  • Drew Pomeranz was placed on the disabled list with a broken hand after he lost a fight to a dugout chair following Monday’s nightmare (8 runs, 7 ER) against the Rangers.

 

  • Bronson Arroyo was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and might undergo Tommy John surgery.

 

  • Matt Wieters underwent a Tommy John surgery of his own on Tuesday. He’s expected to miss nine months, a timetable that would allow for a mid-March return to the field. ESPN’s Stephania Bell reported that 17-percent of MLB TJ surgeries are performed on position players. Pitchers (12-16 months) are typically expected to miss four more months than hitters (8-12). Since Rotoworld is a part of the NBC conglomeration, imagine the “More you Know” music playing right now.

 

  • Gavin Floyd suffered a fractured olecranon bone in his right elbow Thursday night against the Nationals. The Braves haven’t offered a timetable for the right-hander's return, but his season is probably over. Alex Wood, who posted a 3.00 ERA across seven starts with the Braves earlier this season, will be recalled to take his place in the rotation. Wood will start Wednesday against the Astros and should be owned in all formats.

 

 

  • The Cardinals placed Kolten Wong on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder injury on Saturday.  The 23-year-old is hitting a disappointing .228/.282/.304 in 45 games this season. Mark Ellis will take over until Wong mends himself.

 

  • Michael Morse exited Saturday's game against the Diamondbacks early with a back injury. No word on his prognosis when this week’s WTW edition went to press.


Thor Nystrom is a Rotoworld contributor on the MLB and NFL Draft sections. Follow him on Twitter @thorku.
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