HomeTrending MLB NewsFive Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, April 26

Five Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, April 26

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another edition of Five Things, my weekly column that highlights strange and often delightful happenings from the last week of baseball. My own baseball watching was a bit stilted this week, for the best possible reason. I went to three Giants games, an exciting event made possible by cheap ticket deals, a friend’s birthday, and some last minute cancellations of non-baseball weekend plans. Two of those games were pretty awful; Blake Snell got shelled Friday night, and then Blake Snell’s replacements got shelled Wednesday afternoon.

The good news is, there’s still *so much* good baseball going on all the time that I had plenty in the tank to write about. You don’t have to look too far to find things to like about baseball these days. We’ve got new holidays, old AL Central rivals, stadium gimmicks, and pure unadulterated velocity. As always, this column is inspired by Zach Lowe’s basketball column, Ten Things (Zach inspired Will Leitch to start his own Five Things column over at MLB.com, in fact).

1. Jared Jones Day
There’s a new holiday making the rounds. It happens every five days or so. Maybe you haven’t heard of it, in which case I’m very pleased to introduce it to you. It’s called Jared Jones Day, and I hope you’ll start celebrating with me.

The customs of Jared Jones Day are quite simple. When Pirates rookie Jared Jones pitches, we turn on the opposing team’s broadcast. Then we watch the admiration, disbelief, and general chaos that ensues as he makes lineups full of professional athletes look like uncoordinated rubes.

This holiday began in earnest for me when the Pirates visited the Mets last week. I turned on the Mets broadcast because it’s one of my favorites, and all three broadcasters were gobsmacked by Jones’s arsenal and approach. Keith Hernandez was reduced to giggling at one particularly nasty slider. Jones went five one-hit innings, striking out seven, and left destruction in his wake. The Mets looked every bit as impressed as the broadcasters sounded.

It’s so fun to watch Jones that I can’t blame these guys. His fastball defies gravity. He challenges hitters rather than wasting pitches or giving up on at-bats. When he walks someone, it’s despite his best efforts, and it means the hitter got to swing at a center-cut fastball somewhere in the equation. His slider, on the other hand, is a surgical tool, slicing off the corners of the strike zone at 90 miles an hour.

This week’s observation of JJDay came on Monday against the Brewers. Milwaukee’s announcers aren’t as quick to compliment opponents as the Mets crew, but even still, they couldn’t keep the admiration out of their voice as he blew William Contreras away with a 99-mph fastball located perfectly on the upper edge of the zone. And of course, there was the piece de resistance, this pitch that Brice Turang will never ever live down:

Jones wasn’t perfect by any means in his start against the Brewers. He gave up a Rhys Hoskins solo shot – throw 100 up in the zone, and you’re gonna give up some bombs – and allowed six total baserunners. But he went six innings with seven strikeouts and only that single earned run, and made believers out of another announcing crew. By the third inning, they’d gone from reading his stats dispassionately to inventing a hypothetical advance scouting report: “nastiest pitcher possible right now.”

Eventually, all the teams in the league will have seen this guy and it’ll be less fun. But for now, I’m having a blast seeing a new group of knowledgeable baseball people encounter his incandescent talent for the first time and struggle to find words to describe the majesty. And one more time for the road:

2. Power on Power
Monday afternoon in the Bronx, the A’s clung to a tight 2-0 lead. They’d taken that lead only moments before, in the top of the ninth inning, on a Zack Gelof home run. But the Yankees lineup was ideally positioned to mount a comeback: Anthony Volpe, Juan Soto, and Aaron Judge were due up. That’s not the toughest lineup you could face in this position – the Dodgers would like a word – but it has to be close.

Luckily for Oakland, their best player happens to be their closer. Mason Miller is ridiculous. I’m not sure I’m selling it enough by saying that, even. He throws 103 with movement, goes max effort on every pitch, and looks like a football player who took up baseball as a hobby. You’ve never seen a man so hulking throw so hard.

Miller quickly dispensed with Volpe, tossing a few sliders that Volpe fouled off before blowing the doors off with 103 up and away:

Sorry, Anthony, thanks for playing. Next time, maybe you’ll have time for a full swing against that heat-seeking missile.

Soto was next up, and you can’t fool around with him. He’s not the kind of guy to fall for the old in-zone spin trick. Perhaps earlier in his career, that would have fooled him, but you can’t throw soft in-zone stuff to someone seeing the ball as well as Soto is right now. So Miller went after him. First, he missed with one. Then, he came back in the zone and got the party started:

1-1? Sounds like a fastball count:

1-2? Sounds like a 103-mph fastball count:

Hey, like I said, there’s really no fooling Soto right now. The only option is to show him your best and see what he can do about it. The thing is, Miller’s best is really good.

Judge is mired in a slump right now, but he’s still Aaron freaking Judge. Miller was still all jacked up on fastballs after barreling through Soto. He started Judge off with some heat as well:

Man, Judge looked bad on that second one. That’s the power of 102 with good shape; it turns hitters into pretzels even when they’re looking for a fastball. Miller probably counted on bending Judge inside out with a slider after that in a classic fast-then-slow plan. But Judge is no dummy, and Miller’s sliders couldn’t get the job done:

That last one could have been a problem if the A’s were only up one run. Center cut 88-mph pitches are not what you should throw to the single-season AL home run record holder. But Judge only fouled it off, and that meant we got to see what everyone wanted. Strength against strength. The best fastball in baseball against the pre-eminent power hitter:

Ah, delightful. Miller is a blast. I especially like watching him against good hitters; no one wants to see Tucker Barnhart try to hit 103, but Soto trying to hit it is gripping television. The A’s are better than expected this year, and more watchable too. Miller is a lot of the reason why.

A quick note: Miller got the top of the Yankee order again on Thursday evening, after the part above was already written. He acquitted himself well – 1.1 innings, three strikeouts, one frustrated Soto bat slam – I just don’t have any video for you.

3. City By The Bai-Ley
The Giants haven’t had the best farm system in baseball in recent years. Recent graduates like Luis Matos, Casey Schmitt, Joey Bart, and David Villar have been somewhere in between role players and journeymen. But it hasn’t been all bad. Patrick Bailey, the team’s first draft pick in 2020, looks like the next great homegrown Giant. Last Saturday, I happened to be at the park for a nice afternoon of baseball. The Giants celebrated Bailey with a bobblehead, and he had himself a day worthy of the festivities.

Bailey’s better known for his defense than his offense, but Saturday was an exception. In the first, he dumped a soft liner to center against Zac Gallen. In the third, he extended the lead with a bloop double. That’s the kind of hitter he was in 2023; good bat control but below average power meant he was hitting his fair share of line drives, but not cashing many of them in for homers.

The Diamondbacks tied the game in the fourth, but Bailey must have heard me, because he supplied all the power you can ask for in the fifth:

Splash hits are a beloved part of Giants fan culture. I have a Lou Seal splash hit counter bobblehead in my office, and the counter actually works; the team and its fans make a big deal out of them. This one was absolutely crushed, too; it’s a good thing he didn’t hit it two feet longer or that kayak might have started taking on water. A splash hit on your bobblehead day? That’s the kind of thing that makes you a fan favorite out here.

Bailey wasn’t done, though. He cracked a ground-rule double to left his next time up for a true line-to-line power display and finished the day 4-for-4 with nine total bases. All the while, Bailey-centered segments played on the Jumbotron. There was “Patrick Bailey answers search engine auto-complete questions,” a staple this year. “Does Patrick Bailey have an old truck? If so does it run good?” probably isn’t actually an auto-complete phrase, but he gamely answered. If you’re curious, he has a new truck, but he did confirm that it runs good.

Think that’s a little bit too self-centered of a segment for the big tech capital of America? You’d love the next segment: “Patrick Bailey reads AI poetry written about Patrick Bailey.” It was about as tortured as you’d expect, with a forced rhyme scheme and plenty of over-the-top descriptions of how Bailey makes the Giants better. The Giants were kind enough to provide me a copy of the script; let’s just say that the AI that came up with “In the squat he’s a fortress, solid and stout/Guiding his pitchers with a whisper, no doubt” is probably not going to become the poet laureate anytime soon. He kept a straight face through it all, though, and drew some laughs from the crowd as a result. That kind of stage presence will pay off when he’s inevitably doing ad reads for local businesses for the next decade.

He plays the right position – Buster Posey started a tradition of great catchers and Bailey gets to draft off of his fan favorite status — and he plays it well; his electric throwing arm is a staple of Giants highlight packages already. He can hit. He has enough comic timing to delight, or at least amuse, the friendly crowd despite the gimmicky segments. The love affair between SF and Bailey is just starting, and if I had to guess, he’s going to be the next generationally adored Giant. “That time he smacked one into the cove on his bobblehead day” is the kind of story that people tell years after it happened.

4. Elite Bat Control Used Ridiculously
Francisco Lindor is one of the best players of the last decade, and it’s not just because of his defense. He’s a spectacular shortstop, and he’s also 17% better than league average offensively. That’s not because of his gaudy raw power or his spectacular control of the strike zone. It’s because he has elite bat control. He rarely swings and misses, and he seems to get the barrel of the bat to everything even when he’s fooled.

Monday night, Lindor went above and beyond “normal” bat control. Want an example of how Lindor doesn’t have elite strike zone recognition? He swung at this thing:

That yellow line shows the trajectory of the pitch that Camilo Doval threw Lindor in the ninth inning on Monday night. You can see from the faint outlines of other pitches that there was something weird about this one. It bounced feet, not inches, in front of the plate, and it was never close to being a strike. You shouldn’t swing at pitches like these.

Why, then, is Lindor so good? He still put that ball in play:

I don’t really know what to say about that one. That isn’t normal. That pitch bounced, and it wasn’t some huge curveball that started at eye height and just fooled him. It was a sinker, with slight positive movement relative to spinless flight. Out of Doval’s hand, that ball looked like it was going to hit the plate, and it didn’t even get that far. There weren’t two strikes or anything. Lindor just had something in his brain tell him to swing, and he’s so freaking good at making contact that he went full cricket and made it work.

I’m not saying everyone should do this. In fact, probably no one should do this. Lindor reached base, but only because Doval dropped a flip from Wilmer Flores that there was in plenty of time. Maybe the Giants were driven to distraction by thinking about how Lindor could possibly have put that ball into play. I know I was.

5. Salvy Smashes
Salvador Perez is a surprisingly controversial player. I think that’s the case because he’s good at one part of catching defense – controlling the running game – and poor at framing, which is harder to see on any given play. We think he’s been worth only 16.6 WAR in his career, while Baseball Reference’s calculation, which omits framing, has him at 34.3. That makes him a stats-versus-eye-test lightning rod.

That kind of sucks, to be honest, because it takes away from what we should be focusing on: I love watching him work at the plate. Out Of The Park Baseball features quotes about old baseball players in its loading screen, and one about Vladimir Guerrero always stuck with me: “From his nose to his toes, that’s how Vladdy goes.” He had a voracious appetite for pitches to drive, and Perez is kind of the same. He swings at half the balls he sees and three quarters of the strikes. He doesn’t take pitches. He doesn’t hit grounders. He’s up there trying to put one in the seats, every pitch, every at-bat.

Sometimes, that leads to abysmal slumps. He basically never walks, and if things aren’t clicking, that means a lot of empty trips to the plate. Last year was the worst season of his career offensively, and our harsh grading of his baserunning and defense left him below replacement level. But I never got the sense that he was nearing the end of the road, and he’s come roaring back so far in 2024, never more so than in the last week, when he hit .435/.519/.783 for a 264 wRC+.

Those are just numbers. Watching it is a lot more fun. You’re not supposed to do this to Corbin Burnes when he dots the corner with a sinker:

You’re not supposed to pull a pitch on the far outer reaches of the plate down the left field line, against Kevin Gausman no less:

And I had to go back before this week for this one, but c’mon, this is outrageous:

When the broadcast cut back to Luis Severino, he looked bemused. “That one? OK.” That’s the Salvy effect. He’s up there trying to make highlights for us. When he does, it’s tremendously fun to watch. May he continue his wild-hacking, homer-hunting ways for years to come.

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