Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Catching Up

WHGB11There are lots of different sporting events competing for our attention at the moment, from the World Cup to the grass-court tennis season and the summer cricket test series.

MLB adds brilliantly to the mix, but it can be more difficult at busy parts of the year to keep on top of the daily thrills and spills.

MLB.com provides lots of great video content for free to help you along the way. There are the ‘Must C’ clips showing the most exciting or bizarre moments, the game recaps giving you 3 minutes or so of highlights from any game as well as the ‘Condensed Game’ version that distills all of the innings down into a package lasting 10-15 minutes.

The latter two are especially helpful for catching up on your chosen team, yet if you want a good overview of all the day’s play across the Majors then the MLB.com Fastcast is the way to go. They are a useful daily recap and can also help you to catch up if you’ve missed anything over a few days. Take the last six days as an example. (Note that MLB.com doesn’t allow you to embed the FastCast video from the last couple of days, so click the links for those until they do become available).

Monday 9 June

The Cleveland Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall was the star of the show on Monday, going 5-for-5 at the plate against the Texas Rangers with three home runs and nine RBI. The third baseman has had an impressive start to the season and whilst he’s unlikely to keep up his current batting performance (.377 batting average, .428 on-base percentage and .594 slugging percentage) for the entire season, he does appear to have settled into life as a Big Leaguer.

Chisenhall is 25 years old and is a good example of how it came take time for a talented prospect to find their feet in the Major Leagues. He bounced down to Triple-A and back several times over the previous three seasons following his MLB debut in 2011 as a 22-year-old.

It’s understandable that we’re dazzled by the likes of Mike Trout who come in and excel quickly, yet we shouldn’t forget that the reason we are in awe of such cases is that they are the exception. We get spoiled by the quality of play in MLB at times and it’s easy to forget that mere ‘average’ Major Leaguers are very talented players on any normal scale. Chisenhall is the latest in a long, long line of talented young players who has found out how competitive it is in MLB and to his credit it appears that he’s kept working hard, learned from the knocks and now is reaping the rewards.

Tuesday 10 June

With Chisenhall’s cautionary tale in mind, what should we make of the hype surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco? He made his much-anticipated Major League debut on Tuesday and made an impression from the off by getting his first Big League hit.

Polanco’s promotion was slightly controversial as he has been held back by the Pirates to delay his service-time clock. When a team brings through a player they have him under contract for six MLB seasons. Normally the first three of those are at much reduced ‘MLB minimum’ salaries before the player becomes eligible for salary arbitration in years four to six; however the best young players, such as Polanco, can potentially gain ‘Super Two’ status and be arbitration eligible in year three.

By delaying the call-up until this point, Polanco cannot accumulate enough service time to gain ‘Super Two’ status, thereby giving the Pirates the full three years of salary control. It’s a cynical stance that simply makes business sense and hopefully when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement comes along it’s something that can be adjusted.

Wednesday 11 June

Wednesday’s action was dominated by the outstanding pitching of Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.

The disappointing return the Boston Red Sox received from their $103m investment in Daisuke Matsuzaka brought into question whether star-level pitchers in Japan could have similar levels of success in North America. Darvish and Tanaka have put those generic doubts to one side and demonstrated that Japanese pitchers can successfully adjust to the different baseball routines and culture they encounter when the make the move (Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma can be added to the argument too, even though he was picked up for a much smaller financial commitment).

Tanaka picked up his 10th pitching win of the season on Wednesday and his apparently seamless transition to New York is all-the-more impressive considering how much pressure there has been on him to perform based on the struggles much of the rest of the Yankees’ rotation have been through. Even though they gave Tanaka a seven-year, $155m contract (and his Japanese team, Rakuten Golden Eagles, the $20m posting fee) it was asking a lot to expect him to be an ace in Year One, yet that’s exactly what he’s been so far.

Thursday 12 June

The pitching theme continued on Thursday with the Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer pitching his first career complete game, the only surprising part of which was that he hadn’t achieved the feat already.

You could add him to the MLB maturity theme referenced above with Chisenhall. Scherzer always had the talent and the pitching weapons, it just took him several years of competing in the Majors before he started to put everything together as he gained more experience.

The reigning Cy Young winner has shown impeccable timing with the way he has developed into one of the best pitchers in the game over the past couple of years just as he heads onto the free agent market at the end of this season. Scherzer turned down a reported seven-year, $144m contract offer from the Tigers prior to this season and Sports Illustrated quoted him recently in revealing that he has taken out an insurance policy just in case an injury comes along and scuppers his chance of receiving even more lucrative offers when he becomes a free agent.

Friday 13 June

Gregory Polanco stole the headlines again on Friday as he hit his first MLB home run in a five-for-seven night at the plate against the Marlins. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton went three-for-five and also hit a longball, his 18th of the season, in a game that perfectly illustrated how two of the lower-revenue teams in the Majors are able to draft and develop exciting young players.

The New York Mets provide an interesting contrast. They are being run as a lower-revenue team despite being in one of the biggest markets in North America (and in the world). Poor performances on the field alongside losing established players through free agency and trades in recent years has allowed them to accrue a good collection of young talent that is gradually making its way through the Minor Leagues, and yet on Friday night fans at Citi Field saw their team win largely on the back of two roly-poly retreads in their forties, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Abreu.

Saturday 14 June

Saturday’s lead story came at Citizens Bank Park where Jimmy Rollins became the all-time leader in hits for the Philadelphia Phillies with 2,235, passing Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt.

It was a great moment for Rollins to enjoy in front of his home crowd, especially with Schmidt on hand to celebrate with the shortstop. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, it’s the only thing they’ve had to celebrate of late and talk is already turning to which players may be shopped before the trade deadline at the end of July despite the team being only 5.5 games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.

 

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