Spencer Strider came up in a conversation I had with Max Scherzer prior to Friday night’s game at Fenway Park. We were talking about the veteran right-hander’s evolution as a pitcher — I’d first interviewed Scherzer in 2010 — and velocity and strikeout rates were predictably among the topics that popped up. Hence the mention of the 24-year-old Atlanta Braves hurler with the high-octane heater and eye-popping 39.7% strikeout rate.
“He’s got a heck of a fastball, for sure,” Scherzer said when I mentioned Strider. “And he’s still developing. One of the things Flash Gordon told me when I was a rookie coming up with the Diamondbacks is that you don’t walk into this league as an ace. His comments were, ‘Guess what? When Pedro and Roger first got in the league, they threw five innings. They were five-and-dive guys. Then they learned how to pitch; they learned how to get guys out multiple times through the order.’ It takes time to learn to be consistent at this level.
“Applying that logic — the wisdom that I heard many, many years ago — Spencer Strider is continuing to get better,” continued Scherzer. “He’s continuing to add stuff to his game while pitching great and striking out a lot of guys out in the process. As long as he stays healthy, he’s got a lot of upside with what he’s going to be able to do with the baseball.”
Strider is 23-8 with a 3.20 ERA, a 2.88 FIP, and 391 strikeouts in 250-and-two-thirds innings. He’s surrendered just 180 hits. The idea that he could become even better is a scary proposition for hitters. My staying as much elicited a strong opinion from the former Cy Young Award winner and seven-time All-Star.
“As long as he stays healthy, he will,” said Scherzer, who has been an influential, and at times outspoken, player rep with the New York Mets. “One of the biggest negatives across the game is how many pitching injuries there are. There are a whole host of reasons, and it would have to be a whole three-hour podcast to go through that, but starting pitchers are getting hurt at alarming rates. Guys aren’t able to stay durable.
“For a starter to stay healthy his first five years… I feel like we’re seeing fewer and fewer of those guys do it without significant time on the IL. That’s a problem, in part because you’re evolving in those five years. You’re learning how to play that cat-and-mouse game with hitters, and maybe you need another pitch, but you’re only evolving if you’re actually out there pitching. From my vantage point, guys are just trying to see how hard they can throw, see which breaking pitch they can execute, and the rest is, ‘So be it. If I get hurt, I get hurt. That’s a problem.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Last Sunday’s column included Trevor May saying that facing Miguel Cabrera in his 2014 rookie season was his “Oh wow, I’m in The Show’ moment.” With that in mind, I asked New York Mets rookie right-hander Grant Hartwig what most stands out from his first 10 big-league outings (Hartwig subsequently made his 11th appearance yesterday afternoon, earning a win to run his record to 3-1 with a 2.87 ERA).
“Coming in with the bases loaded to face Fernando Tatis Jr.” said Hartwig, who did so in the second of his back-to-back outings in San Diego on July 8 and July 9. “That was my first big moment. Facing him with one out and getting a ground-ball double-play was kind of an ‘OK, here we go’ for me.”
The 25-year-old Detroit native got Tatis Jr. to roll over a sinker, the same pitch with which he’d retired him the previous night. Expecting that the Padres star would be trying to ambush that pitch, he started him off with a cutter that was fouled off. He then threw him a slider in the dirt, “trying to get him off my sinker,” before going to his ground-ball-go-to for the inning-ending DP.
All told, Hartwig faced seven hitters in the back-to-back outings and retired them all. That they included not only Tatis Jr., but also Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, and Juan Soto made the experience all the more meaningful.
“I watched those guys in college just a couple of years ago,” said Hartwig, who signed with the Mets as a non-drafted free agent in 2021 after earning a degree in microbiology and premedical studies from Oxford, Ohio’s Miami University. “ It was like, ‘Oh, god, these guys are unbelievable.’ Being able to face them and get them out is a little wild.“
His first strikeout, which came in Philadelphia, was another highlight. Making his third career appearance, he fanned former Tiger Nick Castellanos.
“He’s a guy I watched growing up in Detroit,” explained Hartwig. “I’d also been waiting for that first one, and to get the ball. After the strikeout, it got thrown down to third [to end the inning], and then [Brett Baty] threw it up into the stands. He didn’t realize. It was funny, because immediately after he threw it, everyone was like, ‘Nooo!’ He had his hands on his head, like, ‘Oh crap.’ But we got the ball back, so it was cool.”
Hartwig was first featured here at FanGraphs in March of last year.
The New York Yankees (27) and St. Louis Cardinals (11) are the franchises with the most World Series titles. Which two franchises are tied for the third-most World Series titles?
The answer can be found below.
Congrats to Pat Hughes and John Lowe, who yesterday were formally honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award, and the BBWAA Career Excellence Award, respectively. Hughes is in his 27th season broadcasting for the Chicago Cubs after a dozen with the Milwaukee Brewers. Lowe covered baseball from 1979-2014, the last 29 of those years for the Detroit Free Press.
Eddie Bressoud, an infielder who played for four teams, primarily the Red Sox and Giants, from 1956-1967, died last week at age 91. An American League All-Star with Boston in 1964, he won a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in his final big-league season.
The answer to the quiz is the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics with nine championships each. The A’s had five of their titles while the franchise was based in Philadelphia, and have added four since moving to the Bay Area.
Mike Aldrete hit his most-memorable home run on the penultimate day of the 1996 season. It was also his last. A journeyman outfielder/first baseman who went deep 41 times while seeing action with seven teams over 10 big-league seasons, Aldrete hung up his spikes after spending the following year in Triple-A.
“I was with the Yankees, and I hit it off Roger Clemens,” recalled Aldrete, who is now a coach for the Oakland Athletics. “It was in his last game in a Red Sox uniform, and it was to dead centerfield. I’ve been telling everybody for years that it was my last career hit, but apparently I pinch-hit the next day and got a hit. I should not have gotten it. I should have just struck out, so I could say that my last hit was a home run off ‘The Rocket.’”
Aldrete is correct that Clemens was pitching his final game in a Boston uniform. He was misinformed about the home run not actually being his last hit. Per Retrosheet game logs, Aldrete indeed came off the bench the next day, but he walked and grounded out in his two plate appearances. He subsequently went hitless in one post-season at-bat. Aldrete’s old story has been right all along.
The Nanum All-Star topped the Dream All-Stars 8-4 in the KBO’s All-Star game, which was held on July 15. Hanwha Eagles first baseman Eun-seong Chae wa sthe hitting star, going 2-for-3 with a home run and five RBIs.
The KBO’s Lotte Giants released Dan Straily this week. The 34-year-old former big-league right-hander was 3-5 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 starts this season.
The Pacific League won each of NPB’s All-Star games this week, beating the Central League by scores of 8-1 and 6-1. Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Chusei Mannami homered in both contests for the winning side.
Shota Imanaga is 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 87 innings for NPB’s Yokohama BayStars. Japan’s starter in this past spring’s World Cup final versus the United States, the 29-year-old left-hander is reportedly being scouted heavily by MLB teams.
Red Sox media relations stalwart Justin Long tweeted out a great stat-fact during a rain delay on Friday night. That it came with a needed caveat doesn’t make it any less fun.
The caveat: Williams had a 1.002 OPS and was 20 years old. Yoshida has an .883 OPS and turned 30 a week ago Saturday.
Those things said, chew on this for a moment:
Yoshida’s .319/.381/.502 slash line as of this morning is accompanied by a 140 wRC+. When Ichiro Suzuki won the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 2001, he slashed .350/.381/.457 with a 124 wRC+. In Hideki Matsui’s first MLB season, he slashed .287/.353/.435 with a 109 wRC+.
If Yoshida can essentially match his to-date performance in the remaining two-plus months, will he have had the second-best offensive season for a first-year Japanese hitter in MLB history? Or even the best?
Shohei Ohtani’s .285/.361/.564 with a 149 wRC+ in 2018 was arguably better, although that comes with a caveat of its own: he had just 367 plate appearances. Yoshida has 370 plate appearances and is on pace for over 500.
Curtis Mead is 25-for-58 with Triple-A Durham since returning from a two-month stint on the injured list and is now slashing .306/.370/.493 on the season (not counting his four rehab games in the Florida Complex League). The 22-year-old native of Adelaide, Australia is No. 1 on our Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospects list and No. 28 on The Board.
Eduardo Quintero is slashing .382/.486/.655 in 138 plate appearances for the Dominican Summer League’s Dodgers Bautista. The 17-year-old outfielder/catcher was signed out of Venezuela by Los Angeles this past January.
Yoeilin Cespedes is slashing .328/.371/.522 in 143 plate appearances for Boston’s Dominican Summer League entry. No. 22 on our Red Sox Top Prospects list, the 17-year-old middle infielder was signed out of the Dominican Republic in January.
Patrick Monteverde is 8-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 84-and-two-thirds innings for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos. No. 15 on our Miami Marlins Top Prospects list, the the 25-year-old left-hander was selected in the eighth round of the 2021 draft out of Texas Tech.
Nick Avila is 12-0 with one save and a 3.86 ERA in 36 relief appearances comprising 46-and-two-thirds innings for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. The 25-year-old right-hander was selected in the 26th round of the 2019 draft out of Long Beach State by the San Francisco Giants.
Chad Dallas is enjoying a stellar first full professional season in the Toronto Blue Jays system. A fourth-round pick in 2021 out of the University of Tennessee, the 23-year-old right-hander has gone 5-1 with a 3.68 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 73-and-a-third innings between High-A Vancouver and Double-A New Hampshire. He’s surrendered eight gophers, and one of them came to mind when I asked him which hitter has most earned his respect this year.
“There’s a guy from Hartford,” said Dallas. “He’s a lefty who has over 20 home runs this year. I knew that going into the game, and how he could make you pay for a mistake. I also knew where his hot zone was, and on which pitches, but I still gave him exactly what he wanted. I did pay for my mistake. He might have even put it out of the stadium. He got me good.”
How did the righty end up throwing the wrong pitch, in the wrong location, to a hitter with plus power?
“His hot zone was kind of soft, low, inside, but my hard stuff, the heater and the cutter, weren’t exactly on their A-Day,” explained Dallas. “I couldn’t put those exactly where I wanted to, so I had to go with my strength, which is my slider. He was ready for it.”
The hitter who took Dallas deep was Yanquiel Fernandez, a 20-year-old outfielder who is No. 5 on our Colorado Rockies Top Prospects list. The Havana, Cuba native is slashing .299/.347/.566 with 22 home runs and a 134 wRC+ this year among three levels.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
The New York Times’s Tyler Kepner talked to 96-year-old Carl Erskine, the last living member of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers “Boys of Summer.”
The KBO has imposed lengthy bans on three minor league players for the physical abuse of their teammates. Jee-ho Yoo has the story at the Yonhap News Agency.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
At plus-36, the Cubs are the only team in the National League Central with a positive run differential. Chicago’s North Side club is in third place, seven-and-a-half games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers who have a minus-four run differential.
Bullet Rogan went 15-2 with a 1.74 ERA for the Negro National League’s Kansas City Monarchs in 1925. He also slashed .360/.424/.592 in 139 plate appearances.
On today’s date in 2002, Nomar Garciaparra celebrated his 29th birthday by homering three times, including twice in a 10-run third inning, as the Boston Red Sox routed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 22-4 at Fenway Park. Garciaparra’s fourth-inning grand slam gave him five home runs in his last seven plate appearances, as he’d gone deep twice the previous day at Yankee Stadium.
The Pittsburgh Pirates swept a doubleheader from the Philadelphia Phillies on today’s date in 1930. The visiting Pirates won the first game 2-1 on a ninth-inning solo home run by Pie Traynor, then captured the nightcap 16-15 courtesy of Traynor’s three-run homer in the top of the 13th inning.
Players born on today’s date include Dean Look, a native of Lansing, Michigan who went hitless in six at-bats during a September cup of coffee with the Chicago White Sox in 1961. The older brother of Bruce Look, who caught for the Minnesota Twins in 1968, Dean Look appeared in one game as quarterback for the AFL’s New York Titans in 1962 before becoming a longtime NFL official.
Also born on today’s date was King Brockett, who pitched for the New York Yankees in 1907, 1909, and 1911. A right-hander from Brownsville, Illinois, Brockett logged 10 of his 13 big-league wins in the middle of his three seasons.