HomeTrending MLB NewsFive Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, April 12

Five Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, April 12

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Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest story in baseball this week might be Jackson Holliday’s call-up. If it’s not that, it’s certainly the news that Ippei Mizuhara is set to be charged on allegations, which were detailed in a federal affidavit filed Thursday, that he stole more than $16 million from Shohei Ohtani. Each of those are huge topics, with impacts that will echo through the game far into the future. But a lot of other stuff happened in baseball too this week, so let’s talk about pitchers playing defense and crazy baserunning, shall we?

Welcome to another edition of Five Things, a weekly look into the most entertaining or downright weirdest stuff I saw while doing my day job: watching an ungodly amount of baseball. As always, a big shout out to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who started writing a similar column years ago and forever changed the way I watch basketball. This is a long one, so let’s get right into it.

1. Elly, Obviously
I mean, did you think anyone else was leading off here? Elly De La Cruz is the kind of player you’d create in a video game, and he was up to his usual tricks this week. You’ve heard about this one already, I’m sure, but he hit the first inside-the-park homer of the year:

If triples are the most exciting play in baseball, what does that make this? Incidentally, that play is a triple for almost everyone. It’s just that De La Cruz is so dang fast. He went home to home in less than 15 seconds, which is absolutely ridiculous. Set a 15-second timer and try to do something around the house. You probably didn’t get very far into what you were doing in the time it took Elly to get around the bases. Just watching him in motion is a joy:

In fact, De La Cruz is fourth in the majors in average sprint speed so far this year. I mean, obviously he is! Look at him go. The only guys ahead of him are true burners: Trea Turner, currently chasing the record for most consecutive steals; Victor Scott II, who stole 94 bases in the minors last year; and Bobby Witt Jr., one of the best athletes in the majors. Of course, De La Cruz has way more power than that trio, with only Witt coming anywhere near Elly’s level of power.

Oh, right. He hit a massive bomb in this game too:

That’s what 70-grade power looks like: 450 feet, dead center. And I hope the Reds have home insurance because that wall probably needs fixing now. Pitchers are challenging him more this year because he cut down on his swing rate significantly at the end of last season, and he hasn’t yet adjusted by getting aggressive in the strike zone. When he does offer at something, though, he’s making it count. I’m not sure if his approach can stick, but I’m also not sure if opposing teams are going to keep letting him hit mammoth blasts while they find out whether their plan is sustainable. It’s pretty demoralizing to throw strikes to a guy who can casually swat them out of any park in baseball.

Oh yeah, he did this a few days later:

I’m almost at a loss for words on that one. He absolutely destroyed that ball to the opposite field. Across the majors last year, there were fewer than 40 line drives hit harder the opposite way, pretty much all by household names like Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. This one was hit by the fourth-fastest man in the game. It feels vaguely unfair.

To be clear, it’s still not clear how well this will translate into long-term baseball value. De La Cruz is absolutely mashing so far this year, to the tune of a .318/.375/.659 slash line and a 171 wRC+ entering Friday, but he’s also striking out 35.4% of the time, with his line held up by a .458 BABIP. He looks worse defensively at shortstop than he did last year. But he’s only 22, and he just did all those things up above. I’m pretty excited to watch him try to put it all together.

2. Lamonte Wade, Grinding
Most of the plays that catch my eye in baseball are, by definition, eye-catching. They’re Elly at full speed, or defenders making diving stops, or anything else that makes you stop and stare for a while. But most of baseball isn’t those plays. It’s a long season, and most of it takes place without the bases juiced and the game on the line.

Monday night’s Giants-Nationals clash was one of those quiet times. The Nats put together a three-run inning early against Blake Snell and then piled on against the San Francisco bullpen. Washington took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, with LaMonte Wade Jr. due up first for the Giants. This was squarely into garbage time; per our win probability odds, the Nats had a 95% chance of hanging on.

There’s not a lot of glory to be found when you’re trailing by five runs late. It still counts, though, and Wade never takes a play off. He faced Derek Law, one of those classic “oh he plays where now?” relievers who sticks around thanks to his excellent stuff but keeps bouncing between teams because of his inability to consistently locate it.

On this particular night, Law was on. He started Wade off with the kitchen sink, a cutter/fastball/changeup combo that ran the count to 1-2 in a hurry:

That’s a tough spot for a hitter, but Wade isn’t the type to give anything up. He switched into defensive mode and fought off Law’s next offering, a surprisingly aggressive fastball:

Wade’s game is heavy on batting eye and patience, built to take advantage of lapses in command from the opposition. That paid off as Law briefly lost command of the zone:

That said, the job wasn’t done. Law regained the strike zone and started attacking the upper third again:

And again:

And again:

Fouling these pitches off matters. Even that last one was too close for comfort. If you want to draw walks and stay in counts, you have to do it. But it’s not glamorous, particularly when the pitcher is hitting his spots. Wade is a great fastball hitter, but part of being a great fastball hitter is staying alive when you don’t catch them clean. Surely, Law would eventually break. And indeed he did, on the 10th pitch of the at-bat:

Hitting is hard! Most of what you do is drudge work. No one wants to foul off a bucketful of 95 mph fastballs when their team is headed for near-certain defeat. But if you want to succeed the way Wade does, by controlling the strike zone and ambushing occasional pitches with power, you can’t take an at-bat off. Law would have beaten plenty of batters on an earlier pitch, but he eventually threw a pretty bad one, 91 mph and with far too much plate. That’ll happen when you have to throw 10 pitches to the same guy.

That at-bat didn’t affect the outcome of the game even a little bit. Law retired the next three batters in order, two via strikeout. He threw another scoreless inning after that for good measure. The Nationals won comfortably, 8-1; no Giants so much as reached second base after Wade’s double. But even though this at-bat didn’t matter in the short run, playing like this in the long run is why Wade has been so successful in the majors. When the game is on the line, he’s Late Night LaMonte. When it’s the lowest-leverage situation you can imagine – down huge to a bad team on a Monday night in April – he’s still working as hard as ever. He’s a joy to watch in good times and bad.

3. The Duality of Corbin Burnes
If you watch Corbin Burnes’ mannerisms, you’re liable to get the impression that he’s a great fielder. This smooth catch against the Red Sox last Tuesday was a great, reflexive play:

His celebration was absolutely wonderful: He completely no-sold it. “Oh, me, catching baseballs? Yeah, that’s just normal, I catch ones like that all the time.” This is the self-assured strut of someone who habitually robs hits:

Burnes is a pitcher, though. They aren’t exactly known for their elite glovework. As best as I can tell, he’s somewhere in the middle of the league defensively. Pitcher defense isn’t particularly well quantified, but he looks average by those metrics, average to my eye, and a Google search for “Corbin Burnes defense” turns up a lot of people writing defenses of his pitching and no one talking about his fielding prowess. He was a Gold Glove finalist once, but didn’t win, and I’m not exactly sure how those awards work anyway.

Does he just act cooler than he is, so to speak? That was my impression after seeing that play; maybe he was just feeling particularly good that day and wanted to have some fun with it. I chuckled a little bit at the play – pitchers, what a funny group! – and went back to watching the game without giving it much thought.

But a few innings later, the ball found Burnes again in a much funnier way. This time, it all started with what looked like an innocent popup to second:

The sun was absolutely blinding at Fenway that afternoon, however. As it turns out, Tony Kemp had been completely bamboozled. The ball was actually making a beeline for Burnes as he stood unawares at the side of the mound. Even as Ryan Mountcastle and Gunnar Henderson turned toward the mound, Burnes sat there coolly. But then the ball got too close:

There was no audible conversation on the field on either broadcast, but I like to imagine Burnes giving a yelp as he got out of the way. It’s so classic. The ball finds you when you’re trying to hide, or trying to look more comfortable than you are. The guy who snags the line drive nonchalantly is also the one ducking away from a harmless popup that he lost track of. Also, he’s maybe the best pitcher in the game. Delightful.

4. On The Other Hand…
I know that I just got finished poking fun at a pitcher’s defensive chops, but we’re going to do another pitcher defense item. Why? Because Bryce Jarvis did this on Wednesday, that’s why:

Jarvis is the very definition of an up-and-down arm. He broke into the majors last year with the Diamondbacks as a long man, throwing 23.2 innings in 11 games. He’s back for more of the same so far this year – eight innings in four appearances. He’s not a star, nor does he ever look likely to be one, despite being a first-round draft pick, ahead of both Slade Cecconi and Brandon Pfaadt on the Arizona board.

Draft picks turn into guys like that all the time. You can’t run a big league organization without the Jarvises of the world, in fact. Those innings aren’t going to fill themselves. The teams who develop C-level guys instead of D-level guys just do better in the long grind of the season.

I’m probably digressing too much, though. Jarvis’ story isn’t particularly remarkable; first-round draft picks don’t pan out as often as you’d think. His athletic talents, on the other hand? They were on full display here. Elehuris Montero’s grounder was hit so softly that Jarvis had to be on a full charge to get to the ball at all:

But getting to the ball was only part of the problem here. It’s not like Montero can fly, but he’s not the slowest runner around either. He could smell an infield hit, too; those weak-contact grounders trigger something in hitter’s brains that says, “Get down the line and claim your luck.” Jarvis had to smoothly pivot from a mad dash for the ball into a throw. Or, well, that’s the theory, at least. In practice, Jarvis ended up with what I like to call falling-backwards-shotput form:

Pitchers miss these throws all the time. They miss them more often than not. Managers would prefer pitchers to hold onto the ball there, if I had to guess. An error seems more likely than an out there, and an injury – hamstrings are tricky beasts – is definitely an option as well. Jarvis is living on the fringes of the majors, though. Every game is a chance to prove himself or be found wanting. Every out makes an extended major league career more likely. Some of them are simply more spectacular than others. And while I’m on the subject, Jarvis should probably buy Christian Walker a drink after he absolutely flattened himself receiving the ball at first base.

5. Tim Anderson, Agent of Chaos
Housing costs in Manhattan are ridiculous these days. Whether you’re looking to lease or own, you’re looking at paying double the national average or more. In price per square foot, it gets even wilder. It’s not a problem for Tim Anderson, though, because he’s living rent free in the Yankees’ heads after Wednesday night.

Anderson didn’t figure into the early parts of Miami’s offensive attack; when he came to the plate in the ninth inning, he was hitless but the team was up 4-2. He led off the inning with an innocuous single to right. Then the fun started. The Yankees decided that Anderson was going to run. He’d swiped a base early the previous night, and this was his first opportunity to double up since then. Dennis Santana checked on him almost right away:

Two pitches later, Jose Trevino followed suit:

Bryan De La Cruz flied out on the next pitch, but the Yankees were still shook. Before the first pitch to Nick Gordon, Santana threw over again:

Then Trevino faked a back-pick:

Then Santana threw over again:

Now Anderson had the upper hand, but he didn’t take off. In fact, he almost got stuck in between, with enough of a secondary lead that Trevino took yet another bite at the apple:

That was almost a disaster for the Marlins. Anderson was just hanging out pretty far off the base, and only beat the throw due to a combination of a good slide and a missed tag:

Meanwhile, Santana completely lost track of what was going on at home plate. He walked Gordon on the next pitch, an uncompetitive fastball low. To make matters worse, Anderson got such a good jump that he would have stolen second easily even if the pitch had been a strike.

Now he was feeling frisky, and started dancing off of the base in Santana’s line of sight. It nearly led to a balk:

Anderson finally got a clean jump for a steal. At first, it looked like it might not matter:

But as it turns out, Anderson’s speed drove the Yankees over the edge. Take a second and watch Anderson, and you’ll realize that he took a hard turn around third. He was thinking about more than a single base, and when Anthony Volpe didn’t look him back, he went for it:

From an overhead view, things get even clearer. When Anderson took off, Anthony Rizzo realized he had to make a phenomenal scoop and also fire the ball home in a single motion. He went for it, but failed. Anderson had essentially conjured a run out of thin air:

Anderson is off to a pretty miserable start to the season. He was downright awful last year. But wow, he’s fun to watch, whether at the plate, in the field, or on the basepaths. I hope he continues to terrify opposing defenses for years to come.

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