• Effectively Wild Episode 1421: A Game of Inches

    Posted sometime

    Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about beer and the mercy rule, a 12-minute game finish at Fenway, whether baseball players have high job satisfaction, compelling playoff races and especially lucky and unlucky contending teams, robot ump implications (including measuring player heights, determining the shape of the zone, and preserving receivers’ sense of self-worth), and the Angels’ unorthodox rotation and the future of pitching staffs and Shohei Ohtani.

    Audio intro: The Beths, "Happy Unhappy"
    Audio outro: Derek and the Dominos, "Tell the Truth"

    Link to Freaks and Geeks beer scene
    Link to happiness study
    Link to cluster luck rankings
    Link to USA Today Atlantic League article
    Link to Baseball America Atlantic League article
    Link to Baseball Prospectus Atlantic League article
    Link to info on online dating and height
    Link to study on sock height and the strike zone
    Link to Ben on Kratz and catchers making noise
    Link to order The MVP Machine

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     Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com

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  • Drive-Buy Tucker

    Posted 3 hours ago

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    At 22 years old, Kyle Tucker is nearly a 30/30 guy in Triple-A. There’s some other problems with baseball, but this should be the number one thing that is fixed. This is just about everything that’s wrong with baseball. No one should go 30/30 in the minor leagues. The last player to do that (who I remember) was Joc Pederson in 2014. The reason why it’s so rare and should be extinct? If you’re going 30/30 in the minor leagues, you should be in the major leagues! I don’t have a solution. I’m a problem spotter, not a problem solver. How many titles you want me to hold? Imagine another sport where one of your best players was artificially held down in an instructional league for a year or more. You can’t and it’s not a failure of imagination. Though, still fantasizing about an 18-year-old Alyssa Milano could lead one to that conclusion. The Astros have said Tucker will be called up in September. Will he play? Not 100% sure, but I’d guess he will most days because the Astros have room to play him over Reddick and will clinch a playoff berth. Now is the time to stash him in all leagues. Yes, the Astros will be going from a Reddick to a Tucker like Jame Gamb. Anyway, here’s some more players to Buy or Sell this week in fantasy baseball:

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  • Rafael Devers has officially broken out

    Posted 4 hours ago

    Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    This season Rafael Devers has demonstrated how far he has come as a hitter, but did the Red Sox miss their best chance to extend him on a team-friendly deal? 

    2019 may be a lost season for Boston. The Red Sox are in a distant third place in the AL East, with less than a two percent chance to make the playoffs. Making matters even worse, the Yankees are running away with the division— injuries and bad starting pitching be damned.

    Boston started the year terribly. They never got the starting pitching and number of quality starts they expected, and now their ace starter, Chris Sale, is on the injured list, potentially sidelined for the rest of the season. For a team that won 108 games in 2018, 2019 has been a shockingly sudden return back to earth.

    Despite Boston very likely missing the playoffs, all is not lost in Beantown, as third baseman Rafael Devers has emerged as one of the best players in the American League.

    The 22-year-old third baseman entered the season a question mark for the Red Sox. A young international signee that ascended to the big leagues quickly, but had serious defensive troubles at third base, and no clear advanced skill at the plate. In nearly-500 plate appearances last season, Devers managed a 90 wRC+, and struck out nearly a quarter of the time he was up.

    With a sub-.300 on base percentage, few thought the Red Sox found a long-term solution at third base, a position that has been difficult for Boston to nail down since the retirement of Kevin Youkilis.

    Devers committed to keeping his weight in check this past offseason, and started using video to analyze upcoming opposing pitchers. One of his 2019 goals was to strike out less often, which showed itself earlier in the season. The issue in April and May, however, was that it looked like he traded away power for striking out less often, hardly a trade most players make, especially in today’s game.

    Through the first two months-plus of the season, Devers struck out only 38 times in 239 plate appearances (15.8 percent strikeout rate), and hit 15 doubles and eight home runs in that time. Things really started to click in May, when his exit velocity rose to the standards he saw last season, and he continued to keep his strikeout rate down due to some identifiable changes in his approach and stance. Devers opened his stance more, and maintained more of a balanced approach at the plate, which helped his exit velocity and allowed him to stay steady while ripping the ball to all fields.

    The new stance, the advanced preparation, and the reps in the majors helped propel Devers to a year at the plate of potentially historic proportions. He has 77 extra base hits this season, including a remarkable 47 doubles, with over a month to go. No player since 1936 has amassed 60 doubles in a season. Devers is effectively tied with Alex Bregman for the most fWAR this season among MLB third basemen.

    So far this season, Devers is averaging an exit velocity 92.7 miles per hour, compared to 90.7 mph last season. His hard-hit percentage is up from 41.7 percent in 2018 to 48.8 percent this season.

    On top of the remarked improvement at the plate, Devers is unquestionably playing better in the field as well. Though defensive metrics are challenging in small samples, Devers posted a negative 3 DEF per FanGraphs last season, and a positive 3 DEF this season. The trend per Baseball Reference’s metrics match. Even though they still view Devers as somewhat of a defensive liability, it’s trending in the right direction — his’ Total Zone rating improved from -14 all of last year, to -7 so far this season; not great, but definitely better than last season.

    It’s clear that Devers has improved on both sides of the ball in 2019, particularly at the plate, so did the Red Sox miss out by not signing him to a contract extension?

    Boston undoubtedly was more focused on perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts after having inked Xander Bogaerts to an extension through at least the 2022 season (when he has an opt-out), and possibly through 2026.

    Luckily for the Red Sox, Devers is still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’ll likely see a modest increase to his $615,000 salary this season. For a team that seems to be constantly staring the luxury tax threshold in the face, Devers’ breakout and subsequent increase in salary will play a role.

    His numbers this season bode well for his 2021 arbitration as today’s arb process tends to value more ‘classic’ statistics more than the current ones more favored by front offices. He’s going to accumulate a significant number of home runs (who isn’t in today’s game) and runs batted in this season, if he does it again next year he’ll be well-positioned for a decent payout (as well-positioned as any arb-player can be).

    The Red Sox can still lock him up and buy-out some of his free agency years. Under current terms, Devers earliest free agency is 2024. The Red Sox should look hard at the material changes he’s made and potentially make a decision as to whether they want to go all-in on Devers, though they likely will wait to see what happens with Mookie Betts after 2020.

    2019 has not gone as planned, but 2020 could see the Red Sox end up somewhere in-between the magical 2018 World Series ride, and a 2019 season in which every game was a struggle.

    ***

    Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano

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  • FanDuel: Trust the Projections

    Posted 6 hours ago

    We’re almost at the end of August and I’m here to remind you that projections are still more important than what a player has done so far this year. MGL did a study a few years ago and found that a “hot” player, after 5 months, can have his projection bumped up a few points of wOBA, but a “cold” player hits what the projection says he’ll hit. Obviously if you’re reading this you’re statistically inclined, but even the best of us can weight the current season too much, especially for players who are in a big time slump. And in DFS when salary moves based on streaks and people get fearful after cold streaks, you should jump all over these guys.

    On to the picks…

    New to FanDuel? Scared of feeling like a small fish in a big pond? Well, be sure to read our content and subscribe to the DFSBot for your daily baseball plays. Just remember to sign up through us before jumping into the fray. It’s how we know you care!

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  • Let’s Take a Look at Mike Tauchman’s Breakout

    Posted 12 hours ago

    Earlier this month, Jake Mailhot looked at one of the Yankees’ big breakout stories, Gio Urshela. Today, we’ll examine another. If you told many Yankees fans before the season that the majority of Miguel Andújar and Giancarlo Stanton’s playing time would be occupied by Urshela and Mike Tauchman, a lot of them would have thrown in the towel. Of course, that’s when you’d have looked deeper into our crystal ball, and informed them that by August 23, the Yankees would have an 83-43 record with near-certain playoff odds while Urshela and Tauchman have combined for a 5.7 WAR.

    It’s no secret that we at FanGraphs like Tauchman; our own Alex Chamberlain has had eyes on the former Rockies outfielder for awhile. Tauchman displayed unique power-contact skills in the high minors similar to those of hitters like Rhys Hoskins and Daniel Vogelbach. But Tauchman is 28 years old, too advanced in age to be considered a bona fide prospect. Prior to 2019, he struggled in his brief major league cameos. Between 2017 and 2018, he hit for a paltry .153/.265/.203 with no home runs in 69 plate appearances. With Colorado grooming younger outfielders like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia for the future, and with Charlie Blackmon solidly entrenched in a starting spot (not to mention Ian Desmond), Tauchman didn’t seem to have a future with the Rockies.

    On March 24, the Yankees came calling for Tauchman’s services, acquiring the outfielder for left-handed pitcher Phillip Diehl. Tauchman got a roster spot with New York almost immediately and not too long after, he found himself in the starting lineup thanks to a series of injuries to those ahead of him on the depth chart. For the first three months of the season, Tauchman struggled, posting a modest .687 OPS and an 81 wRC+ by the end of June. But after the All-Star break, things started to look up. Here are Tauchamn’s pre- and post-All-Star break offensive splits (all post-All-Star break stats are through August 18):

    Mike Tauchman’s 2019 Hitting Statistics
    AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
    Pre-All-Star break .228 .318 .404 .721 .175 .310 90 11.6% 30.2%
    Post-All-Star break .361 .431 .711 1.143 .351 .464 195 11.0% 19.3%

    What propelled this breakout? One answer may be that he’s gained a better familiarity with major league pitchers. It may be a blip, it could be progress, but it is typical for good high-minors hitters to take some time to settle in and do well against major league pitching. Not everyone can be Aristides Aquino.

    One major difference I found when examining Tauchman’s progress is that he’s been increasingly able to lift the ball into the air. Here’s how Tauchman’s batted ball launch angle has trended this season:

    His average 2019 launch angle stands at 12.0 degrees, which is just above the league-wide average of 11.1. While he only had 35 batted ball events prior to 2019, he only managed a 7.1 and -2.8 launch angles, respectively, in his previous two seasons, so this boost is pretty encouraging. His batted ball profile reflects this change as well: his groundball rate has trended below league average while his fly ball and line drive rates have gone way above it. That’s often a recipe for success.

    Is this the real Mike Tauchman? Can he keep it up? He has shown a rather high strikeout rate (25.2%) coupled with a high BABIP (.353), which usually indicates that he’s either gotten lucky with batted balls or hits the heck out of balls enough to warrant such a BABIP, or some mix of both. To diagnose what’s going on, let’s look at his Statcast batting profile versus his actual statistics:

    Mike Tauchman’s 2019 Statcast Numbers
    Exit Velocity BA xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
    88.5 .289 .241 .545 .407 .389 .323
    SOURCE: Statcast

    This isn’t that promising. While Tauchman’s wOBA is a very healthy .389, his xwOBA suggests that there may have been some luck involved with his batted balls. His 88.5 mph average exit velocity isn’t so great as to confidently expect him to maintain a .353 BABIP. The good news is that despite these statistics, Tauchman may actually have been one of the unluckiest hitters this year. Chamberlain wrote a few weeks ago that Tauchman has one of the biggest gaps between his actual strikeout rate and his “deserved” strikeout rate.

    According to Chamberlain’s calculation, which involves both typical plate discipline components and swings and misses/non-swings on pitches in the zone, Tauchman ranks as the eighth and 16th unluckiest hitter among position players with 150 plate appearances or more. At the time of Chamberlain’s writing, Tauchman had a 27.8% strikeout rate. His xK%1 came out to be 21.8% and his xK%2 was 21.4%. Both differed by more than 5% to his actual strikeout rate. (Tauchman’s strikeout rate has since lowered to 25.2% as of August 18, nine days after Chamberlain published the article.)

    However, as Chamberlain acknowledged in the post, some players consistently over- or under-achieve their “deserved” rate, so it might be hasty to declare that Tauchman’s strikeout rate will lower meaningfully over the rest of his career. At the same time, it’s something to monitor as Tauchman continues to receive consistent playing time in majors. With the sample size we have, Tauchman’s plate discipline suggests he has been one of the unluckiest hitters by measure of “deserved” strikeout rate, which could suggest Tauchman’s high BABIP may not be a fluke.

    And as good as he’s been hitting the ball, Tauchman has also been a very good outfielder – perhaps one of the American League’s best. The usual small sample defensive caveats apply here, but despite playing about the half as much as full-time outfielders, Tauchman has racked up impressive defensive statistics. Here is how he ranks in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) among AL outfielders with 240 minimum plate appearances:

    AL OF DRS Top 10 (Minimum 240 PAs)
    Player Innings DRS
    1. Kevin Kiermaier 849.1 15
    2. Mike Tauchman 567.2 14
    3. Mookie Betts 1078.1 11
    4. Aaron Judge 536.1 11
    5. Billy Hamilton 716.1 10
    6. Byron Buxton 686.0 10
    7. Brett Gardner 897.0 8
    8. Chad Pinder 375.0 8
    9. Max Kepler 979.0 7
    10. Greg Allen 397.2 7

    And here’s how he ranks in UZR/150, which helps put Tauchman’s performance in broader perspective:

    AL OF UZR/150 Top 10 (Minimum 240 PAs)
    Player Innings UZR/150
    1. Aaron Judge 536.1 26.1
    2. Billy Hamilton 716.1 18.3
    3. Mike Tauchman 567.2 17.4
    4. Max Kepler 979.0 16.3
    5. Chad Pinder 375.0 15.5
    6. Byron Buxton 686.0 15.2
    7. Tyler Naquin 592.0 14.8
    8. Greg Allen 397.2 12.4
    9. Joey Gallo 551.1 11.3
    10. Mookie Betts 1078.1 10.0

    Over at Sports Info Solutions, Mark Simon examined some of Tauchman’s best plays. “Tauchman is good at reading the low line drive and closing ground on it quickly,” Simon wrote, citing catches like this one against Cavan Biggio of the Blue Jays.

    Outfielders who can hit .300/.378/553 with top-tier defense don’t grow on trees. And while Tauchman’s performance should be taken with some grain of salt, as he’s amassed fewer than 250 plate appearances in 2019, with guys like Stanton and Hicks shelved on the IL, he offers an excellent option for a fourth outfielder who is now getting penciled into the lineup every day. for everyday opportunity. There are numbers that indicate what he’s doing may not be sustainable, but there are also encouraging trends. Mike Tauchman may not have had the shortest road to get where he is, but as far as the Yankees are concerned, he arrived right on time.

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  • Max Kepler is pulling the ball with aggression

    Posted 14 hours ago

    Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Twins outfielder is enjoying a breakout season.

    Max Kepler has been a solid player for a couple of years now. He’s always drawn walks and avoided strikeouts better than the average hitter. He’s a good defender in the outfield. He just hasn’t had a ton of power for a fly ball hitter. He put up 2.6 fWAR last season, but his wRC+ was just 97, or just a smidge below average.

    This year, he’s already blown by last year’s WAR total at 3.9. He’s hit 34 home runs, brought his slash line up to .254/.334/.532, and his wRC+ is 122.

    He’s more or less the same hitter. His strikeout and walk rates haven’t moved. Kepler hasn’t increased his hard-hit rate by much, at least not enough to explain this jump in his numbers. Kepler’s average and max exit velocity is the same. He’s hitting the same number of line drives, ground balls, and flies.

    There isn’t a player in the majors that has improved his pull percentage more than Max Kepler. Per FanGraphs, Kepler’s pull rate has risen from 43.1 percent to 55.3 percent. As a fly ball hitter, that’s translated to an increase in power. Kepler, who just broke the record for home runs by a European born player, is at career bests in homers, ISO, and slugging.

    Kepler is pulling a larger percentage of his fly balls, and it’s remarkable that he’s done this while maintaining his contact ability. It’s easy to see how that improved the results. Pulling nearly half of his fly balls has pumped his ISO on fly balls nearly .200 points.

    That’s consistent with the league-wide trend. Slugging on pulled fly balls in 2019 is 1.936. Straightaway it’s just .763, and to the opposite field it’s just .570. Getting the ball in the air to the pull side is obviously the best outcome.

    Kepler is pulling more and more balls in the air, so that makes his breakout look for real. It’s always important to be wary of changes in pulled fly ball rates. Nick Gerli at Pitcher List found that the year-to-year correlation for pulling balls in the air isn’t strong. This makes sense. Even for a heavy fly ball hitter, they might not get a large sample of fly balls over a season.

    Kepler might not carry this part of his game over to 2020. We’ve already seen Kepler’s pull rate on flies drop this season. In the second half, Kepler’s pull rate on fly balls is 38.3 which is closer to his career average. If a year of fly balls is a small sample, then a month and a half is teeny tiny. We could see this rebound to his first half numbers by the end of the season. We could just as easily see them fall again.

    He has made slight adjustments to his approach, however. He’s been far more aggressive at the plate. His z-swing has risen by 10 percentage points from 65.3 to 75.5 percent, and he’s concentrating more of those swings on pitches over the heart of the plate.

    Here’s Kepler’s zone profile from 2018. Note how low is swing rate on pitches middle-middle.


    FanGraphs

    Here’s his zone profile again but in 2019. Only rarely is he allowing pitches down the pipe to go by.


    FanGraphs

    Per Baseball Savant, Kepler’s swing percentage on meatballs rose from 68.9 percent to 85 percent. He went from very politely letting pitchers make mistakes to crushing them without mercy. He’s also been far more aggressive on the first pitch when he’s most likely to get a fastball. His first pitch swing percentage is 40.9 and MLB average is just 28.2 percent.

    This aggression might have been the cause of his increased fly ball pull rate. If that’s the case, we might expect a similar season from Kepler next year and down the stretch as his Twins fight for the NL Central.


    Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.

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  • Patrick Corbin Slows the Tempo

    Posted 15 hours ago

    In my mind, Patrick Corbin is an archetype. He’s the idealized sinker/slider guy, pairing the two pitches so masterfully that batters can’t figure out which one is coming until it’s too late. His breakout in 2018 was foreshadowed by a solid 2017, when he upped the percentage of sliders he threw from 26.5% to 38%, and he hasn’t looked back since. After signing with the Nationals as a free agent, he’s delivered another solid season, sinking and sliding his opponents into oblivion, with a few four-seamers thrown in to keep batters honest.

    That’s not all he does, though. That’s the business side of Patrick Corbin’s pitching, but sometimes he likes to goof around. Take a look at this ludicrous curveball he threw Manny Machado in June:

    That is absolutely nothing like every other pitch Corbin throws. Machado’s not even mad; he’s impressed:

    Yes, Patrick Corbin has a slow curve, and it’s a joy to watch.

    The slow curve is an endangered species these days. Modern baseball prioritizes faster, sharper breaking balls. As recently as 2008, there were 6,470 breaking balls below 70 mph thrown in the major leagues. Last year, there were only 1,112. This year there have been 1,001, which puts us on pace for 1,276. That would be the second-lowest number of slow curves thrown since we have velocity data.

    Despite that decline, some pitchers are slow curve devotees. Corbin’s former teammate Zack Greinke has thrown a slow curve since he came into the majors, averaging 77 a year since 2008. Mark Buehrle went to a slow curve throughout his career. If you learn the pitch young, you might be tempted to stick with it in the bigs.

    Patrick Corbin is emphatically not that. He’s pitched in the major leagues since 2012, and the first pitch he threw below 70 mph was in 2018. It wasn’t a planned thing, even — he just decided to do it one day. “I think I made up a pitch today, just threw a pitch at 65 (mph),” he told reporters after a mid-April start. “I’ve never done that. I’m not sure where that came from.”

    In that start, he mostly threw the slow curveball out of the zone. Batters weren’t ready for it, and often ended up looking silly:

    As Jeff Sullivan pointed out last offseason, the pitch is more of a slow slider than a true curveball — it has nearly the same horizontal and vertical break before gravity as his slider does. The differentiating factor is the speed — with more time to fall, the curve fell 10 inches more than the slider in 2018, and is falling 17 inches more so far in 2019.

    Where have the extra seven inches of drop come from? The curveball has slowed down even more this year. Last year’s pitch averaged 72.8 mph, and some of the fastest curves blended with the slowest sliders in a kind of velocity soup. Here are the first thousand breaking balls Corbin threw last year, the most I could throw into our graphing tool:

    There was some cross-classification in the middle — how could there not be given how seamlessly the pitches blend? This year, though, Corbin has differentiated the two. His average curve velocity has fallen to 68.2 mph, and the 70-80 mph range is much less cluttered:

    Which is better from a pitching standpoint? I honestly don’t know. There’s something to be said for throwing a great big blend of pitches that overlap, constantly messing with timing and location and making life confusing for the batter. Félix Hernández was one of the best pitchers in baseball for years by blending everything, and Greinke succeeds today using that method.

    From a viewing perspective, though, the separated pitches are far better. I don’t want to see Corbin take a tick off of his slider and tuck the ball just past where the batter thought it was headed. I want hilarious, mind-bending hooks that look like they’re headed for the upper deck before dipping into the zone. I want it to look like Bugs Bunny is out there on the mound. I want this:

    That’s Pablo Sandoval, one of the freest swingers in baseball. 67 mph right down main street? He still can’t bring himself to swing, because how could that ball fall so much?

    When a slow curve is working, it’s like magic. It’s not the kind of pitch a pitcher can break out frequently, though: the reason it works so well is because batters are gearing up for sliders and fastballs. When they see this pitch, they either think slider and swing too early and too high, or get confused and don’t even swing. When batters know what’s coming, or simply time it up right, it turns from comedy to tragedy:

    Corbin seems to understand this well. He’s thrown the curve sparingly this year, only 4% of the time. He never throws it on two strike counts, when batters are primed to swing. This isn’t a hyperbolic never, either — he only uses it in 0-0, 0-1, 1-0, or 1-1 counts.

    You might think that the pitch can’t be that valuable if it never strikes anyone out and almost never gets used. You’d be right — by pitch values, it’s added almost no value this year. It gets a called strike, swinging strike, or foul ball about half of the time, which is solid, but it’s certainly not what’s driving Corbin’s excellent season.

    That doesn’t mean it doesn’t help, though. The next pitch to Sandoval induced a lazy fly ball on a fastball Sandoval was clearly late on. Machado? He topped a fastball into the ground for an easy out. We don’t yet have a great way of describing how pitches combine together, and we may never fully quantify it, but throwing a slow curveball like Corbin’s seem to do something to batters.

    Batters swing 66% of the time the pitch after a slow curve, 44% of the time at pitches out of the zone. That beats his normal chase rate, both overall and after adjusting for the count. They’ve recorded only three hits, two singles and a double, out of 48 swings, and 14 outs. It’s hard to prove value in these things, but it certainly seems like batters perform worse in the pitch following one of these great sweeping hooks.

    That’s all well and good, and we could go on theorizing exactly how much value Corbin gets out of the pitch, but the truth is that I don’t really care. As long as Corbin feels like throwing the pitch, I’m a winner. You don’t need advanced metrics or complex analytics to laugh when this happens:

    How ludicrous is that break? If you account for the effects of gravity, Corbin’s slow curve falls 40 inches more than his average fastball. We’re approximating a little, but it’s easy to find strike zone top and bottom measurements for Whit Merrifield, and it’s 21 inches tall, which means that a fastball thrown on the same initial trajectory would have ended up roughly here:

    At the end of the day, I can’t say conclusively whether Corbin’s slow curveball adds any value for him. I can say, however, that it’s added a lot of value for me. When I watch a Corbin start, I get to see what a star starting pitcher looks like, and then four or five times a game I also get to see a parlor trick designed to delight and amuse.

    What’s Patrick Corbin’s ERA this year? I didn’t know the exact number until looking it up — an excellent 3.17. Was he an All-Star? I had to look that up too — he wasn’t, though not for lack of merit. My point is that we won’t remember the exact details of Corbin’s 2019 in a few years, barring some postseason heroics. I’ll remember the slow curve, though. Baseball could use more questionably effective but aesthetically beautiful pitches.

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