Friday, July 30, 2021


If you have the gut(s) to read the back pages of this rag, you will know that we are enamored of obscure, overweight pitchers. You know: the stocky, portly types who look like their uniforms are going to burst at the seams if they make the wrong move at just the right time. 

These are the guys who clearly have sub-standard "stuff" in an world where the burgeoning variants of Ye Olde Big Unit are malevolently prevalent, capable of casting shadows over home plate while standing on the pitching mound. These fellas struggle to make the cut even in the "disposable diaper culture" of interchangeable "last men" who scratch and claw for the twelfth (or even thirteenth) slot on a pitching staff, clinging to life by a hangnail. 

They are all about 5'10" or 5'11" and weigh in between 215-230 lbs. Most of their major league careers are perilously short and self-liquidating, since that body shape doesn't (shall we say...) inspire confidence. Many are Latino, and we risk charges of stereotyping when we tell you that in their street clothes they are indistinguishable from the guys driving all those gardeners' trucks in the verdant suburbs of the increasingly clotted "land of the free." 

Yes, all of these guys have guts--but they have the guts of cat-burglars. It goes with the territory, for they know that if things go belly-up, they have an excellent chance of actually driving around in those gardeners' trucks sooner than later. And you can't blame them for wanting to postpone that for as long as possible...

Some time ago we rhapsodized (briefly, for the reasons stated above...) about two of these wobbly warriors: Erasmo Ramirez and Vidal Nuño. That was back in 2016--and a few things happened to intervene with ongoing coverage of these two and their lo-fi high-wire act. Both men are still pitching; Erasmo is still in the big leagues, with the Tigers--the fourth team he's been with since we wrote about him in 2016. 

Vidal--as is often the case for penny-wise/pound-foolish pitchers--had his best year in 2018 with the Rays, and hasn't been back to the big leagues since: he's been on the lam to Mexico at least once in the intervening years, and currently has an unsightly bulge of an ERA while surfing on a hangnail with the Dodgers' AAA farm team in Oklahoma City. 

We wish them well, but wishing and hoping is probably not going to cut it for this duo. But fear not: we've located a new duo with all the defining characteristics of this raggedy archetype, including the happy congruence of a lefty-righty combo. And these two estimable avatars of avoirdupois are--as of this writing, at least--actually starting for their two teams, as was the case for Ramirez and Nuño back in the day.

The lefty is Nestor Cortes Jr., pitching for the Yankees. Nestor is sort of the Benny Profane of the Yankees, their version of a human yo-yo, who keeps coming and going and coming back again, having made side trips to the O's and M's only to wind up back in the Bronx. A slop artist with a series of tricky delivery points, and a toe-tapping delay tactic that must be seen to be believed, Nestor has parlayed his entire arsenal of chicanery into a (tenuous) slot in the Yankees' starting rotation, where he currently has a 1.93 ERA.

Nestor is 26, and while one can legitimately surmise that he's overachieving, he is a bonafide prospect (his lifetime minor league ERA, including several stops at AAA, is 2.57). Things are less certain for our new-but-old righty, 34-year old Paolo Espino. Here is the more typical story that applies to one of these chunky fireplug guys: it took ten years for Espino to make it to the big leagues, doing so only after two teams (the Indians and the Nationals) gave up on him. Ineffective for two teams (Brewers and Rangers) in his 2017 debut, he bounced around some more, finally hooking back up with the Nats, where a series of injuries to big-name (and much, much taller) pitchers opened a path for Espino in 2021.

Paolo is a good bit more susceptible to the long ball than Nestor (he gave up three HRs in a recent start against the Orioles, of all people) but overall he has pitched well for the Nats, posting a very solid 3.08 ERA. It must be said that his best outings as a starter (8 GS thus far) have been against the weakest hitting teams in the NL (Pirates, Mets, Marlins); but with Max Scherzer now in Los Angeles, it appears that he'll at least be given enough rope over the remainder of the '21 campaign. 

We'll be rooting for him--and for Nestor, too: it's what we do. (And so should you.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2021


The topic of players whose height is 69 inches or less is one we've touched upon briefly in the past; a full-scale study would be useful and entertaining, but it would not refute the common wisdom that small players face an increasingly uphill battle, even in baseball. We limit ourselves in what follows to position players--pitchers who are 5'9" or shorter are scarcer than those proverbial hen's teeth that writers seem compelled to bring up whenever they confront anything that appears to be dwindling.

So we'll focus on the present-day here, with a light dusting of historical data, leaving the 100+ page essay with its recondite rediscoveries for a later time. We'd noted previously that shorter-stature players were making a comeback from what looked like a road to extinction in 2012-13: the emergence of 5'9" Mookie Betts and his (still singular) season of radiance in 2018, along with the continuing presence of 5'6" Jose Altuve, has made the "not very tall" observation made by the impossibly leggy Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep a bit less pejorative in these otherwise parlous times.

Betts and Altuve have been joined in by Cleveland's Jose Ramirez as a troika of pint-sized competence; all three are continuing to perform creditably thus far in '21, where they've been joined by seven other short-stature players whose OPS+ currently exceeds league average.

Among those seven other smallfry is Cedric Mullins, who has become a consistent bright spot for the otherwise dismal Baltimore Orioles (28-57 as of this writing) by adding power to his speed-and-defense skills. Mullins just completed one of the finest monthly performances in recent memory, hitting .380 in June with a .720 SLG: while he was overshadowed by the 13 HR-fueled 1.300+ OPS of 6'4" Shohei Ohtani, it's not impossible to argue that Mullins actually had a better month, given his defense (a series of highlight-reel catches in CF) and speed (7-for-7 in SB). While Ohtani foregrounds his pure physical skills and his unique two-way excellence, one can argue that Mullins is currently the more well-rounded player--and all of this in someone who stands just 5'8".

If Mullins can sustain a solidly above-average offensive performance in the second half of '21, he could become just the 158th "smallfry hitter" since 1901 to achieve a seasonal adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 140 or higher. He'd join another smallfry Oriole centerfielder, Al Bumbry, who achieved this feat back in 1973. (Bumbry, however, did it as a platoon player, amassing just 395 plate appearances that year: Mullins is within striking distance of that number in early July and figures to be an everyday player on a team that needs every at-bat they can get him.)

As the historical chart (presented in our patented "decade-year"-style table) demonstrates, "smallfry excellence" (if not "smallfry-ism" itself) became endangered a long time ago and has remained a rare occurrence since the mid-1930s. With Mullins, Ramirez, Altuve and Betts (who, somewhat surprisingly, has only had one season--2018--where he's exceeded a 140+ OPS) all in the running, this could be the biggest year for "not very tall" hitters since 1953, when Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Hank Thompson and Gene Woodling all had OPS+ values higher than 140. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished...

Monday, July 5, 2021


So...we have shameless generated a month-by-month log of run scoring per game per team, summed up into each league, that goes back to 1901--it's interesting data, though semi-vulnerable to the slangy arrows of feckless young quants (following the lead of flatulent old quants who should've been forced to do something else for a living...) sullenly alluding to "sample size issues." Don't let that deter you from perusing it anyway, as it provides fascinating topographic perspective of run scoring, its range of fluctuation, and--perhaps most intriguingly--the oscillating differences between the two leagues as captured in many snapshots (a total of over seven hundred on the full chart, in fact).

Now naturally we're not going to print that whole darned chart here--the BBB blog format is more than a bit unforgiving with such visual excess--but we'll give you a slice that portrays the last fifteen years. (That's what they used to call a "free sample" before everything became "bait and switch.") Here 'tis:

Now what you have here are R/G by month for each league, plus the difference between the leagues for those monthly values, from the tail end of the long offensive explosion that ran from 1993-2009 all the way up to this year. 

All monthly R/G values of 5.00 or more are shown in bold type; those monthly values under 4.00 are shown in red. The highest monthly R/G value for each year in each league has a bold box around it.

This is, as our friends in the cereal industry like to say, a more granular level of run scoring data, showing fluctuations and some patterns for each league year as it plays out. The color-coding tells us that the NL had the most serious run-scoring downturn in the past fifteen years, with that situation becoming chronic from late 2012 through mid-2015. 

What the figures in blue show, however, is not a lot of real difference in R/G between the leagues over recent years. (You will have to trust us for now when we say that this was less the case in other periods of baseball history--the 1920s, 1930s, and 1980s, for example.) We've bolded the differentials of three-fifths of a run (0.60) or more; until we ran into some kind of buzzsaw last month (that's June '21 for those of you keeping score at home...), we had not had a league differential that high since 2011. (Note that the darker shade of blue indicates when the NL had the higher R/G value: eyeballing that pattern will indicate that this is a relatively rare occurrence.)

In 2019, the egregious "homer explosion year" (hopefully an all-time record that will never be seriously approached again) did not produce serious run differentials (four of the six months showing a difference of less than a tenth of a run either way). And that was representative of what we'd seen since September 2011.

But in 2021, as noted, something shifted last month. After two months of relative run-scoring parity, we had a notably divergent June thanks to an AL homer surge (1.39 HR/G) pushing them back over 5.00 R/G, while the NL languished at its same lower-than-historical lifetime run-scoring rate, with its HR/G rate remaining steady at around 1.1 . That run-scoring delta (0.67) could be a transient phenomenon: they often are. The very early numbers in July, however, seem to suggest an even bigger separation (those figures shown in grey).

In our most recent post we suggested that the game be overhauled into three leagues based on run scoring levels; for the moment, at least, it looks as though baseball is trying to take us up on at least a portion of that idea. (We still think breaking up the leagues is the best approach for the game in the long run, but performing such upheaval on such an essentially conservative entity such as baseball is a long shot.) 

How long will this run divergence last? There is a tendency for this phenomenon to persist once it manifests itself: a look at the full chart (as noted above) shows such a pattern as recently as the 1990s. Another era of bifurcation may well be upon us--stay tuned...