Baseball actually happened. And it'll happen tomorrow too. That puts a little tingle in my jingle. Or something like that.
Sure, COVID-19 is evidently trying to derail the beginning for the Reds and Marlins, which creates this lingering feeling of doom no one really wants to address. And I don't want to address each team having just 56 or 57 remaining games. But... BASEBALL. Some opening weekend observations brought to you in part by Statcast and Pinthouse Brewery:
As 2019 progressed, Sandy Alcantara added spin to all his pitches while maintaining similar velocity and movement. In August and September the average spin rate for his pitches was about 200 RPM, give or take, higher.
ERA/WHIP March-July: 4.46/1.46
ERA/WHIP Aug-Sept: 2.78/1.05
At Philadelphia to open the year, Alcantara threw 87 efficient, quality pitches over 6.2 innings with seven strikeouts. He gave up just one earned run on three hits and two walks thanks in part to a four-seam fastball that touched 98.8 MPH and a heavy sinker at 98.4 MPH. Of the 38 sinkers the big righty threw, 20 were either swinging strikes, called strikes, or fouled. His changeup racked up six swings and misses out of 16 offerings, and although he didn't have his best slider, he used it effectively.
It's early. Remind yourself of that when reading or watching anything. But Alcantara seems to be picking up right where he left off.
Let's talk about the star of the Mariners who is smashing the baseball... J.P. Crawford.
Oh, you thought this would be about Kyle Lewis, who I tabbed before the season. Don't worry. I'll get to Lewis. But I can't believe how intrigued I am with what Crawford did at Houston to open the weekend. On the surface, it might not seem like much. But dig deep and you'll see the following exit velocities: 95.3 MPH, 101.2 MPH, 106.3 MPH, and 110.1 MPH.
Keep in mind this was against the likes of Verlander, Greinke, and McCullers Jr. Last year, Crawford's highest exit velocity was 108.6 MPH. The number one goal for the young shortstop this offseason was to add strength. Based on a small sample size from opening weekend, it seems he did. Over 396 plate appearances last season, Crawford hit a ball 100 MPH or harder 36 times and he finished in the bottom three percent of average exit velocity.
Okay, enough waiting to discuss the MVP candidate. Kidding. Kind of. Lewis is finally healthy and reminding people why he was a first-round pick and a top prospect. When he hammered homers during Summer Training, after finishing 2019 with a .560 xwOBACON, some speculated it was because of the pitching he was facing. Well, Lewis began 2020 with a rocket into the Crawford Boxes off Verlander, hit a homer the next day off McCullers, and then hit the go-ahead two-RBI single in Sunday's game.
Yeah, he's going to strike out a lot. But he's also going to play everyday, hit in the middle in the lineup, and has some serious juice to all parts of the yard.
After the All-Star break last season, Tyler Chatwood posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. And during the month of September, he was dominant thanks to increased curve usage which posted a whiff% of 43.8%.
Chatwood punched out eight against the Brewers Sunday, and he had 11 swinging strikes with 15 called strikes. His curve usage, about 15%, wasn't as high as his September rate, but it's higher than it was in every other month besides September last season. Chatwood's always had good stuff - both the curve and cutter posted whiff%s of 46% or better in 2019 - and impressive spin (average curve spin rate was 3144 RPM in September last year). Up next: Pirates and Royals.
Pitcher usage is as fickle as even the most pessimistic predicted. A bunch of top SP picks were either scratched, bombed or didn't throw more than five innings in their first starts. While top position players fared better, despite slow starts from Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and more, even they all couldn't avoid an early day off already, like Xander Bogaerts getting a rest day the second game of the season.
If you're scouting just the box score, you probably thought Mitch Keller was pretty good picking up the win over five innings with just one earned run at St. Louis. However, the righty's starter was... perplexing. On one hand, he competed very well, made enough pitches to escape jams, and grew up on the mound. On the other hand, his highest fastball of the day, after throwing much harder last season, was 93.8 MPH, he lacked control of his slider and curve all game, and his control and command overall were not good.
For a pitcher with his stuff, just five swings and misses from Keller is very disappointing, and many of her called strikes weren't in good spots. That said, he generated quality results without his quality stuff and command, and although his fastball velocity was mysteriously lower, my hypothesis is its spin rate and efficiency were much better. Even with Cardinals hitters often sitting heater - 49 of his 87 pitches were fastballs - because he couldn't throw his slider and curve for a strike for much of the outing, Keller's fastball missed a lot of barrels and played up.
If you're a glass half-full guy, you'll like the results without the stuff and control, and a clear plan of throwing up with the fastball and down with the breaking stuff. Shit, the slider and curve control can't get worse. Literally. If you're a glass half-empty guy, you'll throw up the red flag about the velocity and poor swings and misses and bail. I'll stick in the former category for now.
Remember months ago when Eric Hosmer was working on lifting the ball more in Spring Training and was actually doing so? He's opened the year with two homers in three games, and a dramatically different launch angle. Yes, as with anything, we're talking about a small sample. But remember when Hosmer was a prospect he was one of the top pure young hitters in professional baseball with elite bat-to-ball ability; he's more than talented enough to make the change permanently to hit the ball in the air more.
All photos courtesy AP images