Discover more from THE BATFLIP
Stray Thoughts... - You mean Cerberus?
On the Hound, the stupid Rangers and Mariners, playoff scenarios, Brandon Belt, noise, the pitch clock, Matt Chapman, Cam Eden, Ricky Tiedemann, pre-game reads, Jonathan Demme, and more!
Chris Bassitt was superb for the Blue Jays against the Yankees on Thursday night. The Texas Rangers’ bullpen could learn a thing or two.
Bassitt reached the 200 inning mark—a plateau that gets rarer for pitchers every year—on the back of 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball, giving up five hits and just one walk, while striking out 12.
“It’s been my goal forever,” he said after the game—his voice cracking, per Ethan Diamandas of SI—which took the Jays’ magic number over the Seattle Mariners down to two. And you can understand why.
Old school types—looking at you, Buck!—love to lament the days when someone like Dave Stieb could toss 265 innings—on his way to ruining his arm so badly he needed two years to recover and was still functionally done as an elite pitcher by age 32—yet only finish seven places behind Bert Blyleven (293 2/3) for the most in the majors. But there’s rarely reason anymore to push pitchers like that, or even close to it.
There have only been 16 seasons of 200-plus innings in the last three years, as better injury-prevention, expanded bullpens, and more awareness of the third-time-through-the-order penalty have combined to limit how deep most starters can go into ballgames. Starters averaged 5.97 innings per game as recently as 2014, whereas this year that number is down to 5.16. Some of that is due to the increased use of openers, but there's no question that getting to 200 innings is a much greater accomplishment than ever before—and it was always an accomplishment.
Bassitt got there by bucking those trends in the game. He's been outstandingly durable, despite dealing with a back issue in April, a sinus infection, a trip to the paternity list, and I swear he also talked about not being quite right at some point around the All-Star break (though I can't actually find any evidence of this). He also has a ton of different weapons, making it harder for hitters to get a good read on any one pitch over the course of a game.
In theory that should help him be able to face batters multiple times, but in practice that wasn’t the case in the first half of the season. Bassitt headed into the All-Star break with a 6.04 ERA when facing batters a third time. Opponents were slugging .468 off of him the third time through, and his strikeout rate was down at just 16%, compared to 22.5% for the season as a whole. His ERA overall was 4.19.
But then everything changed.
Bassitt is nothing if not a battler. We see that in the way he wears his frustrations on his sleeve during starts, and we know it because it’s incredible that he’s even able to step onto a mound after the deeply scary on-field incident in 2021 when, as a member of the Oakland A’s, he was struck in the face by a 101.1 mph comebacker. And while, in part because of his many weapons, it’s difficult to pinpoint with statistics or Statcast data why things improved for him so much in the second half of this season, we can certainly see that they did.
Bassitt’s overall ERA dropped to 2.89 in the second half, and his third-time-through ERA is below even that: a 2.81 mark that ranks sixth out of 42 pitchers with at least 70 third-time-through batters faced. He’s earned the trust of John Schneider and Pete Walker, who've allowed him to face 101 third-time-through batters in the second half, trailing only Framber Valdez (5.63 ERA) and Justin Verlander (4.44) for most in MLB. And, of course, they allowed him to go back out there in the eighth inning of a must-win game on Thursday to reach the 200 inning milestone.
It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround considering the inauspicious beginning of his Jays career. Bassitt was tagged for nine runs (all earned) on 10 hits, including four homers, during his first start of the season in St. Louis—a game that alone inflates his ERA by more than a third of a run. He's had a 3.25 mark since then, which is good for ninth among 52 pitchers with at least 150 IP, and slightly ahead of teammate Kevin Gausman (3.27).
But, for me, what really drives home just how sensational this season has been for Bassitt is looking at something I noted when he was first signed back in December. Admittedly this wasn't the greatest comparison, because Bassitt was three-or-four years older than these other guys, the average annual value of his contract was higher, and he had declined a qualifying offer from the Mets that meant whichever team signed him would forfeit their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 worth of international bonus pool money. However:
• The Phillies signed Taijuan Walker for four years and $72 million. So far he has made 30 starts and has a 4.35 ERA and 4.46 FIP. He's been worth 2.5 fWAR, 2.5 rWAR, and has a 99 ERA+.
• The Cubs signed Jameson Taillon for four years and $68 million. So far he has made 29 starts and has a 4.97 ERA and a 4.66 FIP. He's been worth 1.5 fWAR, -0.4 rWAR, and has a 90 ERA+.
• The Blue Jays signed Bassitt for three years and $63 million. So far he has made 33 starts and has a 3.60 ERA and a 4.28 FIP. He's been worth 2.7 fWAR, 2.4 rWAR, and has a 117 ERA+.
Bassitt's deal looked like a much better one to me then, and it certainly does now. He’s pitched like a front-end starter, but very much was not brought in to be that. Jonah probably sums it up most succinctly:
He joined another pretty exclusive club on Thursday night, too.
You love to see it.
Here are today’s stray thoughts…
Before we get into the meat of the post, let me be honest with you for a second here, friends.
This site keeps the lights on for me, but it isn’t a cash cow. And I could live a lot more comfortably than I do right now if I was willing to put some or all of my work behind a paywall and push a bunch readers who are on the fence into becoming paid subscribers.
The thing is, I know that times are tough for a lot of people and I really don’t want to become inaccessible to anyone who enjoys reading and couldn’t or wouldn’t pay.
But please, if you can afford it, and you value what I do and aren’t already a paid subscriber, I’d ask that you consider upgrading your free subscription to a paid one.
Thanks. — Stoeten
Don’t bring me down, Bruce
You live by the Rangers bullpen, you die by the Rangers bullpen. Texas fans have known that for a while now. Jays fans unfortunate enough to allow themselves to get emotionally invested in Thursday night's Rangers-Mariners game got to learn it the hard way.
Heed the lessons of futilely cheering on the Nationals' tire fire bullpen in 2021, I say!
And speaking of tire fires, Rangers closer and all-around not-very-good-guy Aroldis Chapman has been one this year when being asked to pitch in back-to-back games.
So what did managerial super genius Bruce Bochy do in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s game, with his team up 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth? For the second day in a row he summoned his closer, Chapman, to try to finish things off.
But that’s not all he did. Bringing in Chapman meant taking out José Leclerc— a pitcher who has not only been the team’s best reliever in the second half of the season, he’s been particularly outstanding in September, and in the eighth inning had breezed through three Mariners on just nine pitches.
It did not go well.
Chapman gave up two singles, uncorked a wild pitch, then issued a four-pitch walk. He was lifted for Jonathan Hernández, who came within an out of cleaning up the mess, but surrendered a two-run double off of the bat of JP Crawford (aka Crockman) that scored a pair and kept the Mariners’ season (aka murder season) alive.
The Rangers blowing it obviously did the Blue Jays no favours, but worse still is the fact that Leclerc was also pitching for the second straight day. So, now, neither of the Rangers two best relievers is likely to be available here on Friday. Or, if they are, they’re not likely to be effective.
You’re killing me, Boch! It really is gonna be murder season if the Mariners keep winning!! HEYO!
Fortunately, Jays fans can at least feel pretty good about the possibility of the Rangers putting up a bunch of runs here on Friday.
Nathan Eovaldi gets the ball tonight for Texas. Probables for the rest of the series for both teams are TBD.
The playoff math continues to get simpler for the Jays, though the simplest thing of all would be to just keep winning. That will be tough with Aaron Civale on the hill for the Rays tonight, but we can at least hope that knowing they’re certain to end up with the top wild card spot will mitigate some urgency for them—both on the field and in terms of reliever usage.
Here’s what needs to happen with the AL West clubs:
• With three games left the Rangers (89-70) haven't yet secured the AL West crown, so they're still playing every game as if it matters. Houston (87-72) is two games back, but they hold the tiebreaker over Texas. So Texas needs to win one more to ensure they'll avoid the wild card round, and that will have to come at the expense of the Mariners (86-73).
• That, of course, is great news for the Blue Jays (88-71), because one more Mariners loss means that they'll only be able to get to 88 wins. Seattle holds the tiebreaker, so the Jays' magic number is at two—they could clinch tonight with a win and an M's loss.
• Even if it goes sideways for the Jays in their own games, and in the Seattle-Texas series, they’ll still have a path to the playoffs by way of the Astros (87-72). The Jays could go 1-2 against Tampa and still get in with one measly Diamondbacks win over Houston.
• Arizona (84-75) could still be caught for the second NL wild card spot by Miami (82-76), and with the Marlins in Pittsburgh there's a good chance of them keeping that pressure on.
• Cheer for: Blue Jays, Rangers, Diamondbacks
• Same lineup for the Jays here on Friday as they used on Thursday night. Brandon Belt remains in the two-spot.
• Belt sure gave fans a reason to shower him with the noise he was asking for earlier in the week, didn’t he? Or… uh… maybe Zach McAllister did.
• Your “wow a Blue Jays hitter actually turned on middle-middle at 92” jokes last night were appreciated.
• Speaking of Belt and noise, I’ve written a bunch of words about all that recently, but as usual I think the great @matttomic truly nailed it.
• Crispy boys…
• Turns out!
• A very interesting question! (Answer: MLB doesn’t care about its own rules when it involves exploiting Latin American teens—and rather openly at that).
• Going back to Thursday night’s game for a second, it was certainly nice to see Matt Chapman hit a home run—his first since August 4th—wasn’t it?
Well, yes. Especially considering it was a must-win game and things had been going so poorly for him that yesterday I was suggesting Santiago Espinal should steal his job. But on the other hand… won’t this just encourage the team to keep him in the lineup? Food for thought!
• And semi-lastly, speaking of food for thought, here are some pre-game reads worth checking out:
Nick Ashbourne has one for Sportsnet in which he eschews what various Blue Jays players' full-season stat lines indicate and gives us his best sense of who is most likely to over- or under-perform compared to their yearly numbers as the season heads into its final series and, hopefully, October.
Also for Sportsnet, Ben Nicholson-Smith takes a look at the case for Cam Eden, who certainly could be a very useful part of the Jays' playoff roster as a pinch-running specialist—the Dalton Pompey role!—though there's really only room to carry two of Eden, Espinal, and Davis Schneider. (Unless, I suppose, the club was actually willing to use Daulton Varsho as the backup catcher).
Thirdly, over at theScore, Travis Sawchik looks at the AL and NL Cy Young races from different angles—specifically, if we're judging what did happen, versus judging players on the talent they displayed (i.e. what should have happened). Kevin Gausman has a strong case when it comes to the latter view (he's FanGraphs' WAR leader among AL pitchers), but unfortunately for him that's not really what it's all about.
Nigel Clarke of Jays Journal gives us some classic Toronto-centric Rolling Stones lore while telling us that the band will be releasing variations of their upcoming album, Hackney Diamonds, featuring each MLB team. (Ask your parents, kids.)
And finally, Tess Tarukin of FanGraphs goes in depth on what 21-year-old San Francisco Giants lefty Kyle Harrison, and his less-than-great MLB debut so far, can tell us about the Jays' own highly touted young left-hander, Ricky Tiedemann.
• NOW JUST WIN THIS STUPID GAME AND CLINCH THIS THING ALREADY SO I CAN GO WATCH STOP MAKING SENSE ON SUNDAY, PLEASE BLUE JAYS.
⚾ Be sure to follow me on Twitter // Follow the Batflip on Facebook // Want to support without going through Substack? You could always send cash to firstname.lastname@example.org on Paypal or via Interac e-Transfer. I assure you I won’t say no. ⚾