Jose Fernandez steps out on to the mound to begin the fifth inning. It hadn't been the best start for him, as he pitched four innings, allowing two runs, striking out four. But that fifth inning changed everything for Fernandez and was the inning that swung his career in dramatic fashion.
Fernandez had been a fan favorite in the Major Leagues. He is just 21 years old, had been to the 2013 All Star Game, won the Rookie of the Year award, and finished third in the National League Cy Young award voting. He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts in 2013. On May 9, however, Fernandez's career had taken a turn for the worse.
During his start, Fernandez's fourseam fastball reached an even 98.46 miles per hour in the fourth inning. Then, in the fifth inning, his fourseam fastball fell nearly 10 miles per hour, to just 89.85 miles per hour. Fernandez retired the side in order, but based on the freak fall in velocity, Fernandez definitely injured his arm in the fifth inning. Although his velocity made a minimal rebound in the sixth inning, he allowed two singles, walked Yasmani Grandal, and gave up a grand slam to Jedd Gyorko before being replaced by Brad Hand.
Fernandez tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow. He needed season-ending surgery. Tommy John had the first UCL surgery back in 1974. Since that time, the procedure, known as "Tommy John surgery," has become more common in the Major Leagues. Prior to Fernandez's injury, 17 major league pitchers had to have the surgery this season, including big-time names such as Matt Moore, Jarrod Parker, and Patrick Corbin. The similarity between all of them? They all had velocity drops like Jose Fernandez did on May 9.
The question becomes: How can pitchers avoid Tommy John surgery into the future? Due to the epidemic this season, many have asked the question, and given a wide range of answers. But, they don't know where it really starts. It starts when these pitchers are young; when their arms of developing. And being 13, I have firsthand experience of what goes on with our pitchers and their throwing regimens.
The human arm is not built to throw a ball 95 miles per hour. But, many pitchers have found a way to get their fastballs into the 90s and even into the triple-digits. It's the only way to make the major leagues. For instance, JB Bukauskas, a 17-year-old pitcher from Stone Bridge High School in Virginia, can pitch into the mid to high 90s, and has touched 100. Will he need Tommy John surgery eventually? I don't know. But I do know it's not healthy for pitchers to be doing this.
In the 20th century, baseball was a spring sport only, and pitchers would use the rest of the year to rest their arms for, well, the spring. Now, in most of the United States, baseball can be played in three, and in some places, all four of the seasons. Pitchers can use the off season to take indoor classes, working on their mechanics and bringing their velocity up. They are throwing pitch after pitch, day after day, and even though they are not being injured immediately, the long-term effects can be staggering.
Yes, there are pitch counts. But they can only go so far. If you play on two baseball teams, and the pitch limit is 70 pitches with five days of rest, you can throw 70 pitches one day and come back the next day throwing 70 more pitches. How is this possible? If you are playing on two teams, in different leagues, one team "doesn't know about" the pitches you threw the day before for your other team, thus they can pitch you. And if you're not feeling any pain, why turn down the opportunity to pitch? You wouldn't.
My answer to the "Tommy John question" is plain and simple: people are putting too much stress on their arms when they are young, basically ruining their elbows at a young age. And if/when they make the major leagues, their arms cannot handle what is given to them, causing a tear in their UCL, and leading to what has been a horror for many lately, Tommy John surgery.
We should call him Mr. Metrics. Josh Donaldson is the perfect example of what Billy Beane has done in Oakland. But he does not get enough credit for it.
Over his past 207 games (all of 2013 and the beginning of 2014), Donaldson has a 11.7 WAR. Over his last 205 games, center fielder Mike Trout has a 12 WAR. Does this mean that Josh Donaldson is just as good as Mike Trout. Why doesn't he get the fame that Trout has, or the money? Josh Donaldson is the most underrated player in the major leagues, hands down. And, I'm here to prove that case.
Donaldson has a 150 wRC+ (weighted runs created; 100 is league average) this season which ranks 17th in the major leagues. That is ahead of the likes of Miguel Cabrera (145 wRC+), Joey Votto (143), and Jose Abreu just to name a few players. Of the third baseman, Donaldson ranks first in this category.
Although it is a good stat to measure how well a batter produces runs, wRC+ does not include the rest of Donaldson's game. A great statistic used to determine how well a player plays above his replacement is called WAR (Wins Above Replacement). There are two types of WAR, Baseball Reference's version of WAR (also known as bWAR) and FanGraph's version of WAR (also known as fWAR). Donaldson ranks first in the American League (second in the majors) in bWAR with a 3.9 mark and second in the American League in fWAR with a 2.9 mark.
So why does Josh Donaldson not get more credit for what he does? Although Donaldson is a stud in advanced metrics, his "traditional stats" are not atop the American League. His .276 average sits in 29th in the American League, his .370 on-base percentage is 14th, and his .523 slugging percentage is 10th. He has 12 home runs (5th) and 38 runs batted in (7th). Without metrics, Donaldson looks like a good player, but not one that is just as deserving of the American League MVP as Mike Trout.
We have known for a long time that advanced metrics are outweighed by traditional stats by the people that vote for the Hall of Fame, the league awards, and more. Josh Donaldson needs to be the player that changes that. He's among the best players in the American League, and yet I see players like Edwin Encarnacion, Robinson Cano, and Albert Pujols talked about more.
Let me tell you: Josh Donaldson is not the least bit lucky. He has a .303 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Hitters are considered to have a .300 BABIP as average, meaning that 30% of the balls they put in play should fall for hits. For Donaldson, 30.3% of balls put in play are hits. The statistic is used a lot of times as a luck factor; how lucky each individual hitter is at getting base hits on balls put into play. And when .300 is considered average, Josh Donaldson's .303 BABIP is not at all lucky.
So the next time you're going to tweet about Albert Pujols or write an article about Mike Trout, remember that Oakland's third baseman is right there with them, as one of the best hitters, in not only the American League, but in Major league Baseball overall.
Dominant, fantastic, and brilliant were all words to describe Justin Verlander not too long ago. He's been to six All Star games, won the 2011 American League Cy Young award, along with the MVP that same year. Just for good measure, Verlander was the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year.
In 2014, Verlander is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.514 WHIP, and a 3.45 FIP. He's allowed 32 earned runs in 71.1 innings pitched, striking out just 50 hitters. Where did Justin go? Let us take a look into his disappearance from dominance.
Back in 2009, when Verlander went 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA in 240 (!!!) innings pitched, he threw his fastest average fastball of his career at 95.6 miles per hour. His fastest fastball from that season was clocked at 101.0 miles per hour. During that season, Verlander had the highest strikeout rate of his career, striking out 10.1 hitters per nine innings, while posting the third lowest walk rate of his career, walking just 2.4 batters per nine innings. I'm going to refer to this season as his "peak."
Since Verlander's peak, his fastball velocity has fallen noticeably, especially this season. His average velocity this season has been 93.1 miles per hour, leading to the second worst strikeout rate (6.3) and second worst walk rate (3.8) of his career (excluding his 2005 season when he pitched 11.1 innings pitched). These numbers are at his age 31 season, when Verlander should still be good.
Of his 1,228 pitches to start this season, 35.1% have been fastballs. During Verlander's peak season, he threw 67.5% of his pitches as fastballs. It looks like he's not willing to throw the fastball much anymore. It almost looks like Verlander is scared to throw his fastball like he used to.
For the first time in his career, Verlander's fastball has walked more hitters than struck out. This season, when throwing the heater, Verlander has walked an astounding 13.5% of hitters, compared to just striking out 9%. In 2009, the results were exactly the opposite. Verlander walked just 7.9% of hitters with the fastball, and struck out a fantastic 21.7%. Not only has his fastball lost the velocity it once had, but he cannot seem to throw it when he needs to, with two strikes or deep into counts.
Hitters have adjusted to Verlander as well. In 2009, hitters swung at 37% of fastballs outside the strike zone against Verlander, while just swinging at fastballs inside the zone 65.8% of the time. This season, hitters swung at only 30.3% of fastballs outside the strike zone and 71.2% of fastballs inside the strike zone. They're willing to wait for some of Verlander's mediocre off speed pitches before swinging the bat.
It does not look like it'll get much better for Verlander at this pace. The "former" ace needs to be able to locate his fastball and fine-tune his off speed pitches to turn into more of a pitcher than a thrower. It's the only way for Verlander to return to form as the fantastic pitcher he once was.
Manny Ramirez is back in baseball.
The Chicago Cubs have signed the outfielder to be a player-coach at their Triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. Although Manny has not played in the major leagues since 2011, he won't be looking to get back there. He'll be helping other players get to the show instead.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein made it clear that Ramirez won't be playing for the Cubs this season.
"While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs major league roster, we do think at this stage of his life he’s a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization,” Epstein said in the press release. “Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects. If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the major leagues and help another team, but that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference.”
Manny, who turns 42 this week, will be coaching some of the best minor league prospects in all of baseball. One by the name of Javier Baez, who has been struggling so far this season, posting just a .203 average and a .272 on-base percentage in 158 trips to the plate. He was ranked the 5th best prospect by Baseball America prior to this season.
Ramirez hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2011, when he played 5 games with the Tampa Bay Rays at the age of 39. He has, however, played in Triple-A in both 2012 and 2013, with the Athletics and Rangers organizations, respectively. He totaled 47 hits in 47 games in both seasons combined.
Over his career, Manny Ramirez has been one of the best hitters of our time. He has totaled 555 home runs, 1831 runs batted in, and a .585 slugging percentage over his 19 seasons in the Major Leagues. However, he had been tested positive for performance enhancing drugs twice late in his career.
"The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers," Ramirez said. "I am passionate about baseball and about hitting, and I have a lot to offer. While I would love to return to the major leagues, I leave that in God's hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don't make the same mistakes I made, and helping the team any way I can."
30. Chicago Cubs (16-27)*
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija is second in the National League in ERA, but has yet to earn a win, going 0-4 in his nine starts. Since 1914, only Whitey Ford and he have gone nine starts, each allowing three or less runs, without getting a win. That goes to show how hard it is for the Cubs to score some runs and win ballgames consistently.
29. Houston Astros (17-29)*
Offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler has been the main cog in the offensive attack for the Astros, leading the team in OPS+, on base percentage, and runs scored. Overall, the Astros rank second-to-last in the American League in batting average, last in runs scored, and fourth-to-last in OPS. It's been a tough season all the way around for Houston.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (18-26)*
The Pittsburgh Pirates cannot find that same spark that took them all the way to the postseason last year. Part of the reason could be the play from outfielder Starling Marte, who's OPS+ took a big hit, from 121 to 108. There is reason for hope in Pittsburgh. Their team batting average has gone up 22 points since the beginning of May, but their pitching staff has brought it's ERA up too. Losing five of their last seven does not help, either.
27. Philadelphia Phillies (20-22)*
The Phillies are seeing on-and-off play from third baseman Cody Asche so far this season. He has 16 hits and a .333 batting average in the month of May, but seven of those 16 hits have come in the last three games. Without those at bats and hits, Asche would be batting just .250. The Phillies offense has been just like Asche, inconsistent. The Phillies have been shut out five times in May, but have averaged 3.8 runs a game, higher than their April mark of 3.7.
26. Tampa Bay Rays (19-27)*
I am not really sure what has gone wrong with the Rays to begin this season. They have scored an adequate amount of runs, have an average American League ERA of 4.20, but are sitting at the bottom of the American League East at 19-26. Injuries seem to be the main issue. Matt Moore is going to miss the entire season, Ben Zobrist has a dislocated thumb, and Jeremy Hellickson recently had right elbow surgery. It does not get much worse than that.
25. Chicago White Sox (23-24)*
Jose Abreu is now on the disabled list. He leads the American League in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases. He has been the heart and sole of the White Sox. Without him, it looks like they could be falling down this list, and fast. But for now, they are holding their own at number 25, despite losing six of their last eight games.
24. San Diego Padres (21-25)*
I expected more from the San Diego Padres going into this season. They really have not been meeting expectations, and injuries have slowed them more than ever. Like the Rays, many of their stars are currently hurt and on the disabled list, including Andrew Cashner and Josh Johnson. In order for the Padres to make a move, their offense has to pick up the pace. They rank second-to-last in the National League in runs scored, but rank second in ERA.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks (18-29)*
The Arizona Diamondbacks made a fantastic hire in Tony LaRussa to lead their baseball operations. They have been able to string some wins together in May, going 9-6 thus far, scoring 0.6 more runs per game this month than they have all season. The light is finally starting to be seen at the end of this long dark tunnel. Their pitching is starting to figure it out as well, posting a 3.81 ERA in the month.
22. Cleveland Indians (21-25)*
Lonnie Chisenhall has been the Indians best producer this season, posting a .912 OPS, 162 OPS+, and a .364 batting average, all leading the team. Chisenhall has played in only three games against a left-handed pitcher, compared to 31 against righties, causing much uproar across the web. Over his career, Chisenhall has just a .205 batting average against lefties.
21. Texas Rangers (21-24)*
Prince Fielder has a herniated disk in his neck, which is just even more great news for Rangers fans. They have 13 players on the disabled list to begin the season, and even Fielder, who had played in 547 straight games, is now going to be on the sidelines, adding yet another player to the lengthy list of names of Rangers that are injured (although Fielder will not be going on the disabled list).