Well it’s been quite a week around the world of major league baseball. While the usual nonsense is afoot in some cases, the focus this week has been on some incredible performances, as well as the future of the game in this era of devastating pitching.
We’ll hit on the Tigers first, but there was a lot going on around the league to catch up on. Let’s start with the good stuff.
Father knows best
Like so many baseball players, Spencer Turnbull’s career is intricately tied to his father’s influence. Growing up in Mississippi, Jim Turnbull put countless hours into working with his son on his baseball skills. As Turnbull said in interviews after spinning his no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night, his father has caught him more than anyone else. While not a coach, sometimes it’s Dad who knows best in the end.
Of course, catching your middle schooler’s bullpens is a lot different than handling one of the nastiest repertoires in major league baseball. Jim Turnbull has caught a lot of mid-90’s fastballs off the shins and knees in recent years, with Spencer prompted to insist that his father finally invest in some catcher’s gear. Just over a week before the no-no, Jim visited Spencer in Detroit and the pair got some work in at a park in Royal Oak, and helped get him in sync after a couple of shaky starts.
Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic has the details in a fine piece that tracks the pair’s combined story. And it wasn’t always father helping son. After a divorce and a bout with tonsil cancer that is fortunately now five years in remission, it was Spencer who helped strengthen his father’s spiritual faith and provided perspective that helped Jim rebuild and become an advocate for cancer patients in his own right. As it should be, both men have leaned on each other at times, and now they’re thriving and enjoying the fruits of Spencer’s labor.
Tarik Skubal goes home again
In another example of the things that really matter in life, Tarik Skubal had extra motivation for his solid, nine strikeout performance against the Mariners on Wednesday. And it was more than trying to back up Turnbull’s no-no. Skubal played his college ball at Seattle University, which was just trying to build up a good baseball program when head coach Donny Harrel landed himself a lanky hard-throwing Arizonan.
On Wednesday, Harrel and many of Skubal’s friends and former teammates were on hand in Seattle to see him earn a victory over the Mariners.
Harold Castro is a pro in and out of the box
However we feel about the Tigers front office and ownership, the social media folks keep doing good work. With Harold Castro, noted server of hand-crafted singles, off to another solid season, the Tigers posted this fascinating tribute from a recent BP session.
DeGrom eats A-ball hitters for lunch
It’s always a bit funny when a major league ace manhandles a minor league lineup on a rehab start. Things went to a new level on Thursday, as the current best pitcher in baseball, Jacob DeGrom was assigned a rehab start…in A-ball no less. The Palm Beach Cardinals twitter account had a good time with it, despite watching their poor young hitters get utterly dominated for three innings. DeGrom hit 102 mph in the outing and struck out eight of the 10 hitters he faced. That’s not cool. At least his St. Lucie Mets got a free Chick-Fil-A spread out of it, not to mention a relaxing evening playing defense. There were presumably some daisies picked by the outfielders as they waited for a ball to be put into play.
One man Sho
Well Tigers fans, my dream of trading a starter for Los Angeles Angels prospect Brandon Marsh is looking quite unlikely. The Angels are struggling through another rough season, and now they’ve lost Mike Trout for six to eight weeks with a calf strain. With a 19-25 record, the Angels are seven games back of Houston in the AL West, but it’s going to be difficult to stay there with the game’s best player.
However, the game’s most valuable player, Shohei Ohtani continues to put up the most ridiculous season in baseball history. Currently leading all of baseball with 14 home runs, Ohtani currently holds a 155 wRC+, good for 17th best in baseball. He also holds a 2.37 ERA through six starts with a ridiculous 34.9 percent strikeout rate. The only thing holding him back from the overall lead in WAR is a 17.1 percent walk rate. Ohtani is averaging 96.1 mph on his fastball as well, if you needed another reason for your jaw to drop at the miracle of his two-way excellence. Babe Ruth eat your heart out.
C.C. Sabathia lights Tony La Russa on fire
Despite the Chicago White Sox dominance over the AL Central, their manager just can’t stop himself from being the story. And for all the wrong reasons. Back on Monday, the Sox were paddling the Minnesota Twins 15-4 and had turned to catcher-utilityman Willans Astudillo to eat the ninth inning. After three balls, Astudillo lobbed in a 47 mph pitch and White Sox slugger Yermin Mercedes obliterated it to center field.
3-0 bomb from Yermin Mercedes off of a position player!
Announcer: “I don’t like it. Up 15-4. I don’t like it”
Guess who does like it? Yermin. Yermin’s wallet. Yermin’s family who gets food put on their table by him. Fans of the Sox. Fans of baseball. pic.twitter.com/01zXiIE6dH
— Ben Verlander (@Verly32) May 18, 2021
La Russa was furious at his own player for swinging here, and it quickly set up a battle between White Sox players and their own manager. La Russa went so far as to refuse to have his players’ backs, even when the Twins threw at his own guy the next night.
And of course, because players and teams get desperately sensitive about other players continuing to play major league caliber baseball when they themselves are not, the Twins felt obliged to get stupid.
Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey ejected for throwing behind Yermin Mercedes the day after Mercedes hit a 3-0 home run off of Twins position player Willians Astudillo in the 9th inning of a 16-4 White Sox win pic.twitter.com/cVt1HcOeoP
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) May 19, 2021
We’re just so, so tired of blow out games in what is supposed to be the highest level of the sport turning into a fake, non-competitive exhibition because of the unwritten rules. If you’re really a professional, giving less than full effort anywhere shouldn’t be part of your makeup to begin with. And as Ben Verlander and others pointed out, teams value and pay hitters based on home runs. Telling a 28-year-old hitter in the midst of an incredible breakout to take a pitch there is literally asking him to give away food from his own table, and turn the game into a farce.
So it was all pretty dumb, but yes, the La Russa hire looks about as good as it did when it happened. That much we can enjoy about the White Sox. So far though, it isn’t preventing them from stomping on the whole division.
Around the horn
Devan Fink investigates the meaning and predictive nature of foul balls for FanGraphs. Carlos Marcano for Pitcher List looks at the cost of aging stars contracts and whether the big deals are still worth it in the end. Ben Clemens writes about Corey Kluber’s no-hitter on Wednesday, and whether we’re already at a point where the no-no is getting devalued by its decreasing scarcity.