Throughout the 2018 MLB season, Charlie will be highlighting five of the biggest stories of the past MLB week. This week, a record is broken, Shohtime arrives, Gabe Kapler has an interesting week, the Rockies extend a key player and the Brewers lose their closer to injury.
1. Adrian Beltre Breaks The Hits Record By A Latin American Player
On the 5th April, Adrian Beltre collected his 3,054th career hit off Daniel Mengden of the Oakland Athletics. This hit broke a tie with Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
This is important because Latin American Baseball players have been a huge part of MLB since the debut of Lou Castro for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.
The MLB Hall of fame currently includes Latin players such as Roberto Alomar, Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Tony Perez, Ivan Rodriguez and Roberto Clemente. Hall of Famers who played in the negro leagues but never in MLB include Martin Dihigo, Jose Mendez and Cristobal Torriente
Current well known Latin stars are the likes of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Luis Severino, Jonny Cueto, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Yoennis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Felix Hernandez and Hanley Ramirez.
Also from a business perspective, the Latin American fan market is very important for MLB, as Latino Americans are going to be one of the fastest growing demographics of the US population over the next twenty years or so.
On his accomplishment, Beltre stated, “It means a lot, obviously. We grew up watching those guys play in the big leagues. I never thought I would be mentioned with those guys (Rod Carew and Rickey Henderson). Obviously, for me it is humbling. Hard to believe because I grew up with those guys. Obviously, it’s because I have been playing a long time and I have been lucky enough to stay on the field.”
“I don’t know how long I will stay up there. There are a lot of guys coming up behind me. But to get that is something I am proud of.”
2. It’s Shohtime.
If you happened to see, any of spring training, you may have seen the struggles of Shohei Ohtani. In week one that was quickly forgotten about.
In his second pitching start, he threw a seven-inning gem which featured 12 strikeouts, against only one hit and a walk. This meant he became only the second pitcher in history to accumulate 12 strikeouts in one of his first two games. Ohtani also became only the third player in league history to accrue two pitching wins whilst hitting three home runs for his team.
He is also only the third player in history to record a home run in three games in a row while striking out more than ten hitters in a game in a season. One of the other two players was Babe Ruth.
It’s been an exhilarating start for the Japanese phenomenon. At the moment he does not hit, the day before or the day after a pitching start. If he continues to put up gaudy numbers at the plate, that may motivate the Angels to give him more playing time.
Shohei’s tremendous week also made him MLB’s AL Player of the week for week one.
3. Gabe Kapler’s Horrible Week
The game has become very analytics-driven the past few years. Nobody has taken more of a metrics driven approach than the new Phillies Manager Gabe Kapler.
Before a pitch had even been thrown in anger, Kapler had already made one controversial decision. He decided to bench one of the Phillies most important players in centre fielder Odubel Herrera, for opening day. The reason for this was that, Herrera’s career numbers against Braves opening day starter Julio Teheran had been historically bad.
As for the game itself, Kapler then pulled Aaron Nola after five and one-third innings, despite Nola only having thrown 68 pitches, allowing three hits, one earned run and a walk.He also held a 5-0 lead at the time. Following this, was a dramatic bullpen collapse that culminated in the Braves recovering to win by a final score of 8-5.
Later in the same series, Gabe called for a pitching change, and chose to bring in Hoby Milner. Â The only issue being, Milner had not had a chance to warm up in the bullpen. The umpire then decided to give Milner extra time to warm up on the mound, drawing the ire of Braves manager Brian Snitker who was then tossed from the game.
After the game MLB issued the Phillies with a formal warning. Worse was to follow for Kapler, as he was roundly booed, by the Phillies home faithful at their home opener.
At one point, in week one, the Phillies even used 21 pitchers in 28 innings and outfielder Nick Williams further added fuel to the fire by stating he felt that computer was picking the team.
As they say, though ‘winning cures everything’, Kapler will be hoping things turn around quickly, to relieve the pressure and five straight has helped his cause no end.
4. The Rockies Extend Charlie Blackmon
In my previous offseason highlights column, I highlighted the uniqueness of the free agency market this past offseason. Charlie Blackmon signed an extension for essentially $116million over six years presuming all options are exercised and incentives are met.
For Blackmon, it is all about security. He could have been a free agent this year but after what happened to Mike Moustakas and others this past offseason, I think it’s understandable he took the security of a guaranteed extension. For this season he gets paid $12million, followed by $21million per year between 2019 – 2021. He then has a player option for 2022 that would pay him $22million and another option for 2023 that would pay $10million. The escalators and incentives also kick in, in 2023 meaning he could make a maximum of $18million that year. Even if Blackmon opted out and went to free agency after 2021, he would have made $75million over four years. By current baseball standards, Blackmon is arguably towards the end of his prime years, being 31 years old. With 30 years old now being the new 40 in Baseball, teams are seemingly becoming more gun shy about offering extensions to players who are/or soon to be 30 years old+, one can see why this deal is a good one for Charlie.
For the Rockies, Blackmon is one of their two key franchise cornerstones alongside Nolan Arenado. An average year of Blackmon equates to, a slash line of .305/.360/.498, which translates to a .858 OPS and 116 OPS+, as well as 24 home runs, 76 RBI and 103 runs scored. He is coming off a career year in which he had a slash line of .331/.399/.601 which meant an OPS of 1.000 and OPS+ of 142 with 37 home runs, 104 RBI and 137 runs scored which also garnered him a fifth-place finish in NL MVP voting. Of note, out of the Rockies still on the team from last season, only Blackmon and Arenado posted an OPS+ of 100 or better. What makes these numbers all the more remarkable is he usually hits lead off. Other than George Springer, no other leadoff hitter in the game may have the power threat that Blackmon does in that spot. While some may worry about regression, the Rockies will be confident that by playing half his games at the very offensively-biased Coors Field, Blackmon should still be a productive player for a few more years to come.
5. Corey Knebel Injured
On Thursday 5th March, Brewer’s closer Corey Knebel collapsed in agony on the mound during a game against the Cubs. Knebel is expected to miss a maximum of six weeks due to a hamstring injury. The Brewers do have in-house options in the form of Jacob Barnes, Jeremy Jeffress, Dan Jennings, and lefty Josh Hader. Knebel however, will be a big miss. Â He had a career year in 2017, saving 39 games (six blown saves) with a 1.78 ERA, 40 walks, 126 strikeouts and a 2.58 FiP, 248 ERA+.
In a race as close as the wild card race is likely to be with multiple teams including the Mets, Cardinals, Phillies, Rockies, Diamondbacks all vying to make it. An injury to a key player on any team can make a difference. A closer is important because it gives a team confidence and belief to know that if they take a lead into the ninth inning, they will very likely win that game. In the past, relievers have also preferred to have a defined role, so moving a setup reliever into the closer’s role could backfire. Also while Knebel is injured, the Brewers might have blown saves in games which Knebel could/would have saved. Those blown saves (presuming that some may lead to a loss) could possibly even affect the Brewers chance of making the postseason.