Ever play Army when you were a kid? In the big field behind my childhood home, my friends and I chased each other with plastic M-16’s, negotiating our own Geneva Conventions as we went. We built forts and traps in stands of oak and poplar. A lookout tower in the form of an old willow tree down by the creek. The world’s oldest and most dangerous enterprise, played for sport by kids immune from reality.
Baseball is exactly the opposite. An elaborated children’s game of tag. The ancient art of hitting something with a stick. Combine these elements, add millions of dollars and millions of eyes, and the stakes elevate something fun and fanciful into a referendum on the physical gifts and character of thousands of young men.
Look into Daniel Norris’ eyes after another short, brutish outing for the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night. Are we having fun yet?
This is a 24 year old pitcher, still working through the normal struggles of even the most talented young players and prospects. Less than two years after arriving in Detroit, we’ve seen multiple minor injuries, a scary bout with thyroid cancer, bursts of excellence that led many to predict a stellar, post-breakout season, and now a three month long battle with command and consistency. Norris now has 217 innings under his belt, and a FIP of 4.32. That’s really quite good.
If that last statement seems a bit jarring, you’re in for a long couple of seasons. Just a few seasons back, Norris was the 25th ranked prospect in the game. The Tigers would be thrilled to land just one player of that caliber during the month of trades to come. But while each year seems to bring half a team’s worth of young studs like Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger, tearing the cover off the ball from almost the moment they arrive in the majors, they remain far from the norm.
Ahead of Norris on that 2014 prospect ranking are names like Julio Urias, Carlos Rodon, Archie Bradley and Andrew Heaney, who’ve all been cut down with injuries already. Urias recently underwent a major shoulder surgery of the sort that pitchers often can’t recover from. Byron Buxton, a perennial top overall prospect in the game for several years, continues to struggle mightily with the bat for the Minnesota Twins. These are the elite prospects, right alongside guys like Noah Syndergaard and Corey Seager.
We’re all likely to get a thorough education in the fickleness of young talent in the years to come. Daniel Norris is generally pretty close to the best case scenario from any prospect. Fortunately, he’s still very young in the game, and immensely talented, but his struggles represent something much more common than a fanbase in win-now mode for a decade may have the patience for. The same advice that applies to Norris, is going to be applicable for all of us Tigers’ fans going forward. Process over results. At least until we get the ship turned around.
We already lucked out with Michael Fulmer, people. Please Lord, may we have another.
On the other side from Norris, is a young starting pitcher coming into the organization off the peak of his amateur career as a College World Series MVP for the victorious University of Florida. The Tigers’ top pick in the 2017 draft, Alex Faedo, came to Detroit to sign his contract on Wednesday. He was a breath of fresh air for a team dealing with a premature end to their hopes this season.
Bombs and blisters
Debates over who should be selected to the All-Star Game are apparently old hat. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Logan Morrison has moved on to complaining about a snub to the Home Run Derby. Morrison complained that he should’ve had the spot handed to the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. Sanchez basically eye-rolled at this, while writers had a field day with Morrison’s case. Frankly, Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger and Giancarlo Stanton are going to be there, and that’s all we need to know.
Marcus Stroman, meanwhile, is upset at the rash of blisters breaking out among pitchers this season, alleging that the juiced ball is also causing a blister epidemic among pitchers. In Stroman’s defense, it seems everyone but power hitters are upset with the baseball at the moment. Bill Shaikin, of the Los Angeles Times, wonders if this is the cause of Rich Hill’s blister problem. Stroman’s teammate, Aaron Sanchez, has missed substantial time with blister issues this season as well. Noah Syndergaard had an issue back in April.
It’s hard to know if there’s any fire here. Blisters among pitchers do feel like something that tend to crop up in bunches, and then we don’t hear about them again for a season or two. Is that the composition of the baseball? While the fine folks at the Ringer have done quite a bit of investigative work on their theory that lower seams are producing more home runs, there’s been little to suggest that the cover on the ball is any different.
That may change eventually. Baseball does have plans to move to a ball with a tackier cover within a few years. The tacky stuff is apparently sprayed on, leading to concerns that it may wear off during a game. A concern which seems odd in that you rarely see a baseball last for more than a few pitches, let alone multiple innings. Ostensibly, this is to eliminate the need for pitchers to apply any foreign substances on the ball. The current choice for grip is Bullfrog sunscreen and rosin, liberally applied. Pine tar is far less common, and far more obvious.
We’ll have to see how a tackier surface affects home runs, but in the meantime, perhaps pitchers won’t have to grip the ball quite so firmly, which may reduce blistering. Or it may increase it. Who knows? Maybe Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud just isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps a bad batch of the New Jersey muck occasionally causes a plague of blisters. Either way, MLB has a bit of a rebellion going on in the ranks of players at the moment. And the ball is the central issue.
Around the horn
Ben Lindbergh of the Ringer takes a look at the decidedly unclutch career of Houston Astros outfielder, Josh Reddick. Ah, we had some good times in the 2012-2013 ALDS, didn’t we Josh? Josh? Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Jose Ramirez is a blooming star without a position. Yeah. Tough gig.
Jeff Sullivan makes my points about why a Justin Verlander trade is still pretty unlikely, despite the rumors that will no doubt continue in the coming weeks. John Paschal at the Hardball Times investigates the shortest cups of coffee in baseball history. Matthew Trueblood at Baseball Prospectus wonders if Kyle Schwarber’s days as an outfielder are already over. And our own Grant Brisbee sings a song of praise—and marketing—for his natural rival, Clayton Kershaw.
We should all get to meet Miggy
Oh, and long live the Eephus!