Hello, friends, and welcome to Nine Innings. Some readers may remember last season we ran a weekly piece called with the same name that provided a smorgasbord of baseball takes, factoids, and other such stuff. Well, it’s back for 2019, albeit in a different form: Instead of several writers coming together like Voltron to discuss a variety of topics, you’ll have me riffing on what’s fun, cool and somewhat stupid around the league. So replace the venerable Tom Verducci weighing in on the latest big thing in the sport with me making forced Simpsons references in a totally fair trade-off.
This column will evolve throughout the season. Some sections will stay, others will disappear and there’ll be plenty of ideas that may or may not work. If you have any feedback, questions or angry rants to send my way, please don’t hesitate to hit me up via email (email@example.com) or Twitter.
Leading Off: This Week in … The Unwritten Rules!
Congrats, everyone: Sunday’s matinee between the Reds and Pirates provided fans with the one trillionth instance of a player—in this case, Pittsburgh starter Chris Archer—getting far too heated about another player—Cincinnati utility infielder and brick wall Derek Dietrich—doing something outside the boundaries of baseball’s unspoken code of conduct. Here, it was Dietrich spending a smidge too long, in Archer’s estimation, watching a home run he hit the absolute snot out of.
Archer didn’t take too kindly to that admiration, so next time up, he buzzed a fastball behind Dietrich’s back, setting off a benches-clearing incident that featured Yasiel Puig trying to fight an entire team and also becoming art.
Punches were thrown, folks were ejected (though somehow not Archer, who started the whole thing), and suspensions are almost certainly coming. Dietrich, at least, got some measure of revenge by launching a second home run later that game—one where he would’ve been entirely justified in grabbing a canvas and paint brush from the dugout and taking the time to draw a detailed, loving portrait of his homer in flight before sauntering around the bases. (Though Pittsburgh got the last laugh, as it were, by winning to cap a four-game sweep.)
Regardless, 2019’s first instance of Unwritten Rules Enforcement is just as dumb as all previous instances, made even more so by the league’s own determined promotion of an ad campaign focused entirely on its young and exciting players more or less throwing said unwritten rules in the garbage. “Let the kids play,” MLB insists, and yet here we’ve got the same old red-ass policing of joy.
To some degree, it’s understandable why Archer is miffed. Bat flips and fist pumps are one thing, but watching a homer the way Dietrich did tends to cross most players’ invisible red line into showing up your opponent—the last frontier in baseball emotions. But when the result is Archer parsing intent down to the millisecond to determine exactly when Dietrich went from “dude enjoying the fruit of his labor” to “criminal who must be punished,” it becomes absurd, especially coming from a guy who does plenty of his own celebrating after big strikeouts. Let Dietrich have his fun.
On the plus side for Pittsburgh, though, at least Archer wasn’t the face of the team’s own recent attempt at showing that fun, excitement and emotion is something that he and other players should be allowed to express without reservation.
Ah! Well, nevertheless.
This Week In … Movable Objects Versus Stoppable Forces!
Chris Davis is in a historically bad stretch. After going 0 for 5 on Monday, the Orioles’ first baseman is hitless in his first 28 at-bats of the year—and, dating back to last season, 49 straight trips to the plate. He surpassed Eugenio Velez's record of 46 consecutive at-bats without a hit.
Trevor Rosenthal is also off to one of the worst starts in MLB history. The Nationals’ reliever has faced nine batters and retired none of them, allowing seven runs on four hits, four walks, a hit batter, and two wild pitches. He doesn’t even have an ERA at the moment; his next (and first) out, assuming it comes without a run scoring first, will give him an unsightly 189.02 mark.
In Davis and Rosenthal, we get a nice snapshot of what it would look like if you or I played in a big league game. But here’s what I want: the two of them facing off, in a collision of matter and anti-matter that could blow the universe apart. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t smash the Orioles and Nationals together until mid-July, by which point both players will hopefully be off the schneid. So I beseech Rob Manfred to make them play now, to see if Rosenthal can throw a pitch so bad that even Davis could hit it.
This Week In … Pitchers Who Rake!
Pitchers hitting: it’s an affront to God and nature. But every now and then, you get a hurler who knows how to swing the stick. Over the first week of the season, there were three such instances, as Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom all blasted impressive homers.
Here’s Bumgarner, punctuating his dinger with an impressive bat drop.
(Keep in mind that Bumgarner the pitcher would’ve drilled Bumgarner the hitter for daring to enjoy that home run.)
Here’s Greinke one-upping Bumgarner by drilling two homers (and getting the silent treatment after the first).
And here’s deGrom proving that he can literally do it all by demolishing a ball in Miami.
“Long live the NL letting the pitcher hit,” some will cry after seeing those homers. As for me, I chuckle at the dingers while wishing fervently that the designated hitter would become the law of the land in the Senior Circuit, freeing us from regularly having to watch dudes who can’t hit try to hit.
This Week In … Minor League Player Names!
Over the weekend, the fine young men behind the Cespedes Family BBQ Twitter account compiled a list of their 100 favorite minor league player names for 2019. It’s a strong collection of regional spelling variations, adjectives masquerading as first names, and a dude called Tony Police. But it’s also a compendium of guys who could easily pass for tertiary characters in a Thomas Pynchon novel—so much so that I’ve decided to create a little quiz. Can you tell which of these names you’re more likely to find in a Triple A lineup or in the pages of Gravity’s Rainbow?
1. Maverik Buffo
2. Lars Nootbaar
3. Dewey Gland
4. Edmond Americaan
5. Genghis Cohen
6. Riggs Warbling
7. Narciso Crook
8. Roony Windsome
9. Obie Ricumstrict
10. Roger Mexico
11. Darling Florentino
12. Orveo Saint
13. Ernie De La Trinidad
Scroll down to the bottom of the article for the answer key (and also for some probably ridiculous Outbrain links).
This Week In … Craig Kimbrel!
Every week until he’s signed, I’ll take a look at which teams need free agent Craig Kimbrel, one of the best relievers in baseball, the most, and declare one the “winner.”
I know what you’re thinking here: the Cubs. How can any team need a reliever more than one whose bullpen right now is such a grisly mess that it’s currently being turned into a true crime podcast? But the Nationals, man: Their bullpen has an ERA of 10.80 (!), and bespectacled closer Sean Doolittle is the only man that Dave Martinez can remotely trust. Again, they have a dude who has literally gotten zero people out, and he was supposed to be one of their top relievers. When they jumped out to a 12–1 lead on the Mets on Sunday, the only question was how many runs the bullpen would give up before it ended. (The answer was eight, and Doolittle was eventually forced to pitch in a game his team was winning by 11 runs.)
Kimbrel won’t fix all those issues, but he certainly can’t hurt. Then again, Washington’s front office has made a lot of noise about staying under the luxury tax, and there’s zero way to add Kimbrel while doing that. Ah well, I guess Nationals fans will just have to hope that Future Financial Roster Flexibility can get out of a late-innings jam in a playoff series instead.
Also receiving votes: Cubs, Braves, Mets, Dodgers, Mariners, Phillies
This Week In … The Best Stories of the Week!
• The annotated guide to Xander Bogaerts' heartfelt extension press conference | By Chad Jennings, The Athletic Boston
Most athlete press conferences are deathly dull, full of cliches and boilerplate expressions of gratitude. So Jennings did a smart thing and foot-noted Bogaerts' comments after he signed an extension, diving deep and finding the extra meaning behind the taciturn shortstop's otherwise non-newsworthy remarks.
• A-Rod on Doping, Getting Therapy and No Longer Being the Villain | By David Marchese, The New York Times Magazine
The doofy goober that is Alex Rodriguez remains a fascinating person amid his post-playing career reinvention. He provides plenty of weirdness here—the highlight is him describing his zeal to write down, at 2 AM, a nugget of brilliance from his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, that amounted to "Mariano Rivera was a good dude"—though this article is worth it just for the lead photo of A-Rod wearing an Elizabeth Holmes-style black turtleneck and doing his best "Blue Steel" look.
• Ranking today's MLB stars by their Griffey Factor | By Jeff Passan and David Schoenfield, ESPN
Thirty years after his debut, Ken Griffey Jr. is a dream that MLB has chased ever since: the crossover national superstar. Can any current player approach his heights on the field and off? Passan and Schoenfield break down a lot of candidates, both expected (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge) and less so (Cody Bellinger is a somewhat inspired comparison), to see who ranks closest to the Kid.
This Week In … Rays Nonsense!
The Rays, while good, aren’t so much a baseball team as they are a weird combination of dollar store, improv skit and the Lifehacker site. To wit: In the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Giants, Tampa gave us the newest entry in “Screwing around with the pitcher to preserve a platoon advantage” by putting lefty reliever Adam Kolarek at first base for a batter so that righty Chaz Roe could face a righthanded hitter, then putting Kolarek back on the mound to face lefty-hitting Brandon Belt.
Here’s what that bit of chicanery looks like in a box score:
And here’s how the fans in San Francisco felt about Kevin Cash, who used Diego Castillo along with Kolarek and Roe to get through the seventh, turning the inning into that kind of mess.
The gambit worked, and the Rays won to improve to 7–3. More important, though, is what do we call this tactic? My colleague Emma Baccellieri had some suggestions (I’m partial to the Cash Return), but there’s room for something special here.
This Week In … Non-Functioning Essential Websites!
You may have noticed, if you've visited MLB.com since the start of the season, that it's become impossible to find videos via search, which appears to be broken. That's not ideal for a league that wants you to consume its highlights regularly (though one that isn't keen on you disseminating or creating said highlights, at least not via non-official GIFs and YouTube links). It's also not intentional.
Per a league source, the search function is "currently not available as part of the site's on-going migration to an entirely new platform." How long that will take is unclear, but MLB's tech folks are apparently working to fix the issue as soon as possible. In the interim, you'll have to make do with the league's YouTube page or GIF hub as a workaround. Regardless, it's poor timing for MLB and a serious annoyance to fans who want to watch dingers or the latest cool Mike Trout thing (not to mention those of us who are writing multi-section columns with several videos). Before anyone talks about fixing MLB, let's start with MLB.com.
This Week In … Old Baseball Cards!
Each week, I’ll pluck a random baseball card out of a pile of old 1980s, 90s and 2000s cards I have at my work desk, then write a quick little take on the player in question. This week’s entry: Mark Parent, catcher, San Diego Padres (Donruss 1991).
The back-of-the-card bio for Parent—who spent 13 years in the majors on seven different teams—notes that he had the “unenviable task of backing up durable Benito Santiago in ’88, ’89 and ’90.” (Durability is in the eye of the beholder, apparently: Santiago played just 100 games in that last year.) To which I say: How is that unenviable? Being a backup catcher seems like MLB’s cushiest gig: You don’t have to play too often, you draw a major league salary, and as long as you can catch and throw decently, you’ll hang around forever. Maybe Mark Parent hoped for a brighter spotlight when he was drafted—his face on the card certainly suggests a bone-deep impatience, or at least some kind of dream deferred—but a decade and change spent chilling on a bench most days doesn’t strike me as anything unpleasant. I hope he cashed his checks with a smile on his face.
*“Minor Leaguer Or Pynchon Character” Quiz Key: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12 and 13 are all real-life players. Narciso Crook!