I believe this is the first time all the Studs and Duds from the day previous return. As all have been covered before—multiple times—there is not too much to say this time around.
Offensive stud: Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Blue Jays). Hernandez is unstoppable. Over the past week, he has hit .533/.611/.867 with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 12 runs scored, powering the Blue Jays in this most important stretch of the season. An All-Star this year and a Silver Slugger in 2020, the outfielder is hitting .307/.357/.529 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI in 126 games on the year; he ranks fifth in the American League in RBI. Since 2017, he has averaged 35 home runs, 98 RBI and 90 runs scored per 162 games. Hmm, a late-blooming power hitting outfielder in Toronto. Shades of Jose Bautista, anyone?
Offensive dud: Gio Urshela (3B, Yankees). Urshela is on fire! With two hits yesterday, he is now 4-for-18 with 8 strikeouts over the past seven days. His September batting average was raised to .192, while his mark since rejoining the Yankees in late August is up to .149. That still sounds pretty rough. And Urshela is still the Dud.
Pitching stud: Sandy Alcantara (SP, Marlins). Alcantara was so awesome lately, no one dared usurp him. And with his recent resume including a complete game, a win, 21 strikeouts, just one walk and 5 hits allowed, a 0.53 ERA and a .091 opponents’ batting average, that would’ve been hard to do. Though his record is just 9-13 this season, he owns a 133 ERA+ and a 137 mark over the past two years. That makes Alcantara a pitcher to watch. If he can ever get out of Miami and join a winning club, he could blossom into a superstar.
Honorable mention: Robbie Ray (SP, Blue Jays; 11 IP, 18 K, 2.45 ERA, 1 W).
Pitching dud: Alberto Baldonado (RP, Nationals).Baldonado pitched a scoreless inning for Washington last night, earning a hold, but it wasn’t enough for the hurler to redeem himself. It’s tough for a relief pitcher to unbury himself from a blown save, a loss, a couple walks, a couple earned runs allowed and a 10.80 ERA in the span of a week. His ERA on the year, however, is still a solid 2.84.
Dishonorable mention: Jeurys Familia (RP, Mets; 2 2/3 IP, 5 ER, 5 H, 3 HR, 1 BSV, 1 L).
In this, the fourth installment of this series, I expanded the definition of ‘great’ first full seasons to include those that were at the very least promising. Let’s take a look at some more players from the past 20 or so years who started off well, but never quite lived up to what we expected.
Former Brewers first baseman Jason Rogers’ ascension to the major leagues took a while, as he didn’t debut until he was 26 or play his first (nearly) full campaign until he was 27. The 2010 32nd-round draft pick hit .301 at Single-A in 2012, but by then he was already 24; likewise, his 22 home runs at Double-A the next year don’t look so impressive, as he was older than the average player in his league.
But the production followed him wherever he went. In his first try at Triple-A in 2014, he hit .316 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI in 57 games. The Brewers promoted him in September, but he had just one hit in eight at-bats.
Though he began 2015 with Milwaukee, he hit just .236 through June 30. The Brewers sent him to the minors for more Triple-A experience but he proved he was experienced enough—in 33 games with Colorado Springs, Rogers slashed .344/.449/.607 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI in 33 games. The production could not be denied, so Milwaukee called him back up in August.
And that month was also rough, as he hit just .235 in 17 at-bats. But an otherworldly September in which he slashed .435/.500/.630 with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 20 hits in 46 ABs saved his season … and his batting line. On the back of that killer run, he hit .296/.367/.441 in 169 at-bats over 86 games that year.
With his stock high, the Brewers traded him to Pittsburgh for outfielder Keon Broxton and minor league pitcher Trey Supak in the offseason. The change of scenery wasn’t to his benefit.
With his first hit a triple, his 2016 campaign started off promising—but from that point on, he hit .045 in 22 at-bats. He spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he hit just .263. Partway through the next year, the Pirates released him so he could play in Japan. He hit .283 with 7 home runs and 32 RBI in 49 games there.
But his performance drew no major league interest. He joined the independent ranks in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and even spent time in Australia, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Now 33, he hit .295 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI for the indy Gastonia Honey Hunters this season.
Like Rogers, former Marlins pitcher Chuck Smith was an old rookie—a really old rookie, as he debuted at 30 years of age.
Undrafted out of Indiana State University, he was signed by the Astros and began the snaillike trudge up the minor league ranks. Through 1995, he had pitched just 6 innings above Single-A; that year, he was 10-10 with a 2.69 ERA, but was also nearly 3.5 years older than the average player in his league. He was in the White Sox system by that point, having been taken in the Rule V Draft.
He reached Triple-A for the first time in 1996—for a single game—then went 0-3, 8.81 at that level in 1997. Chicago ditched him and he spent most of 1998 in indy ball, with a couple games in Taiwan and a handful in Mexico. Texas signed him for depth in 1999—when he was 29 years old—and kept him at Triple-A through the beginning of 2000.
By June 13, he was starting for Florida and through July 5, he had a 2.76 ERA in 5 starts. He finished the season by going 5-2 with a 2.71 ERA through his final 9 games. On the year, he was 6-6 with a 3.23 ERA in 19 starts; in 122 2/3 innings, he had 118 strikeouts and allowed just 6 home runs. The Marlins were 64-98 in 1999—in part because of Smith’s great pitching, they were able to improve to 79 victories in 2000. He tied Juan Pierre and Lance Berkman for sixth place in Rookie of the Year voting.
And he began 2001 equally well, tossing 8 innings of one run ball in his first start on May 6 and carrying a 3-0, 2.83 line through his first 35 innings. From that point forward, however, his mark was 5.94; on the year, he was 5-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 15 starts. That was his final big league season.
The Rockies purchased him in March 2002, then he bounced around Triple-A for a few years before playing in Korea in 2005 and Taiwan again in 2006 to wrap up his career.
Though technically still active, relief pitcher Robert Stock has yet to live up to the promise he exhibited with San Diego as a 28-year-old rookie in 2018.
Like Rogers and Smith, his trek to the majors was long and winding. Drafted as a catcher by the Cardinals in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, ahead of DJ LeMahieu and Patrick Corbin, Stock struggled at the dish in A-ball and converted to pitching. It didn’t save him—he was released by St. Louis in December 2014 and signed with Pittsburgh.
After a poor year between three teams in their system, he was let go and joined the indy ranks, where he had a 2.85 ERA and 11.0 K/9 IP ratio in 52 relief appearances for the New Jersey Jackals. The Reds signed him for 2017 but kept him in their organization for just a year.
San Diego gave Stock a shot, inking him to a contract for 2018. Now in his tenth professional season, he reached Triple-A for the first time, but he wasn’t in the minors long—the Padres promoted him and on June 24, he made his big league debut.
Though he initially had a rough go of it—he surrendered 4 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in his 5th appearance—the hurler settled down and posted a 1.50 ERA in 27 games the rest of the way; in 36 innings, he allowed just 26 hits and had 32 strikeouts. On the year, he had a 2.50 ERA and 155 ERA+ in 32 appearances. Both marks were among the best on that 66-96 team.
But he fell apart soon after. In 10 relief appearances in 2019, he had a 10.13 ERA; in 2020, his mark was 4.73 with Boston. And this year, he has posted an 0-2 record and 8.00 ERA in 3 starts between the Cubs and Mets.
And as he is currently on the 60-day injured list with hamstring issues, that might be it for Stock. His chances of returning this season are slim and whether any team takes a flier on him in 2022 is up in the air—though unlikely.
In the three years since his excellent, though abbreviated, campaign with San Diego, he has pitched for four teams and gone 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA in 23 games (3 starts). In 33 innings, he’s allowed 27 walks, 40 hits and 5 home runs. Not very inspiring.
But, then again, what do you expect. Stock, and Rogers and Smith, beat the odds by reaching the major leagues at their advanced ages. Then they beat the odds by having unexpectedly excellent seasons.
They all wilted as quickly as they bloomed. You can beat the odds only so much.
Perez ties record: The Royals Salvador Perez clobbered his 43rd home run of the season tonight, tying Javy Lopez’s 18-year-old record for most home runs in a campaign by a catcher. Perez had sat on number 42 since September 8.
Ryan Braun retires: Milwaukee Brewers legend Ryan Braun has retired after 14 seasons. The 2007 Rookie of the Year winner made six All-Star teams, won five Silver Sluggers and took home the 2011 National League MVP. He finishes with a .296/.358/.532 line, 352 home runs, 216 stolen bases and a 134 OPS+.
Silence of the Lamb: Call me optimistic, but new Blue Jays third baseman Jake Lamb has been quietly effective since joining the club on September 3, despite his .167 batting average. In seven games since September 6, the 2017 All-Star has managed 5 walks, 5 runs, 5 RBI, 2 sacrifice flies, a hit by pitch and a .360 on-base percentage. Sounds like he’s mastered small ball, since nothing else has worked for him. He’s still batting just .206 on the year.
Urias on the rise: Speaking of small ball, check out what the Orioles’ Ramon Urias has accomplished in the past month. He’s clobbered just 2 home runs and had 6 doubles, but he’s managed 11 runs, 12 RBI and a .391 on-base percentage on the backs of 21 hits and 11 walks. Quite a rebound for a man who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk in mid-May due to his anemic play.
Lopez still crushing it: Some time ago, I complimented White Sox hurler Reynaldo Lopez on his excellent campaign, but said that as it was a small sample size, it might not last. Well, he’s proven me wrong. He still holds a 2.05 ERA and 163 ERA+ on the year and has a 2.63 mark over the past month.
Don’t underestimate Floro: Marlins reliever Dylan Floro doesn’t get all the headlines, but he is an effective pitcher. Since June 19, he has a 1.93 ERA in 28 appearances; his mark is 2.89 this season and it was 2.59 in 25 games last year. In 2018, he had an ERA of 2.25. Quietly, Floro has become one of baseball’s more reliable relievers.
Stick a fork in ‘em: Well, my bipolar view of the 2021 Mets has drifted into the pessimistic, yet again. They lost a heartbreaker tonight, 7-6 in 11 innings. What a let down. But that’s just one game. What also doesn’t bode well for the club is the returns of all those players supposedly coming back from injuries keep getting pushed back. Potentially helpful cogs remain unusable. ‘Til next year.
Then again… While they haven’t activated all their hurt players, they did activate catcher Tomas Nido and reliever Jake Reed. Every little bit counts. I’m still not very hopeful.
That’s a lot of Ks: From July 8 to August 20, 2017, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge had at least one strikeout in every game he played. That’s 37 games … and a record. Pitcher Bill Stoneman also Ked at least once in that many consecutive games, from April 30, 1971 to April 21, 1972.
That’s even worse: For nine-straight games in 2016, Judge had at least two strikeouts; Michael A. Taylor, the Royals outfielder, matched that this year and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard did it in 2019.
Not the good kind of hat trick: Let’s keep going. The most consecutive games with three or more strikeouts? Five, by Jorge Soler, from August 12 to August 17, 2020. He struck out 15 times in 19 at-bats during that stretch. He’s the only player to manage such a long streak.
Ryan, Carew and … Reese? The first two individuals to have their numbers retired by the Angels were Nolan Ryan (#30) and Rod Carew (#29). The third man isn’t so well-known—it was Jimmie Reese (#50), who coached for the club for 22 years, right up until his death at 92 in 1994.
Welcome back, Chuck: In 1940, first baseman-turned-actor Chuck Connors broke his finger after just four professional games and didn’t play for nearly two full seasons; in 1941, he was placed on the voluntarily retired list. In 1942, he mounted a comeback that eventually led to a brief, 67-game major league career.
Played in the wrong era: Gary Jones spent eight seasons in the minor leagues, including two full campaigns at Triple-A. He led the league in bases on balls five times and fashioned an excellent .437 on-base percentage, but never earned a call to the major leagues as a player. He later ascended to that level as a first and third base coach for the Athletics and Cubs, respectively.
Happy birthday, Kid: Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols was born on this day. Playing from 1890 to 1901 and from 1904 to 1906, the hurler won 362 games to just 208 losses while completing 532 games. He also batted .226 with 16 home runs and 278 RBI.
I’m new, too: On October 6, 1908, hurlers Andy O’Connor of the New York Highlanders and Doc McMahon of the Boston Red Sox both started the first and only games of their careers. That is the only time in big league history that both starting pitchers made their only career appearance at the same time.
Worth the read: I would recommend the book The Innocent Man by John Grisham (2006), which details the case of former minor leaguer Ron Williamson. Following his playing career, Williamson became addicted to drugs and alcohol and suffered from mental illness. He was cited in a woman’s death and was sentenced to death himself, but after 11 years, his sentence was overturned due to new DNA evidence.
Finally got around to it: What are the odds. I just recently said it was strange that, despite knowing that former Braves catcher Hal King passed away some time ago, SABR and the baseball intelligentsia hadn’t been able to find anything to confirm it, nor had they updated their records. Well, it’s not on Baseball-Reference.com yet, but according to their most recent newsletter, they finally received the confirmation they were looking for.
Grinder passes away: Scott Grinder, who umpired in the National League in the 1980s, passed away on September 11.
Mike Devaney holds a special place in my heart, because he’s a former Mets prospect, and I, of course, am a Mets fan.
He showed great potential in the early going, posting a 5-0 mark with 1.95 ERA in 14 starts his first professional season, 2004, and going 10-4, 3.88, while averaging just 7 hits allowed per 9 innings, in his second campaign. In 2006, he was 12-5 with a 2.13 mark, an excellent year indeed, before slipping to 6-9, 4.85 in his fourth and final season.
It’s odd the Mets didn’t give him another campaign to redeem himself, with 2007 being his first real struggle. Sure, he was 24 in 2007, but that is far from old. One wonders if injuries did him I’m, of that I’m not sure. Either way, he was 33-18 with a 3.24 ERA overall, a great line for someone who never made the majors.
It was a tight battle for the Offensive Stud, but Gurriel won out.
Offensive stud: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF, Blue Jays). The outfielder is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak, adding three more knocks last night. That gives him a .444/.543/.889 line with 3 home runs (including a grand slam), 13 RBI and 10 runs scored over the past week.
Despite a weak start to 2021, Gurriel has been steady nearly all season—but he has really cranked it up since late August. In 22 games since August 22, he has hit .395/.472/.697 with 5 home runs, 28 RBI, 15 runs scored and 12 walks, while striking out only 12 times.
Could we see the first Blue Jays World Series appearance since 1993? With Gurriel, Teoscar Hernandez, Marcus Semien and all the club’s hot hitters killing it right now, there is a good possibility.
Offensive dud: Gio Urshela (3B, Yankees). Urshela is the Dud again. With another 0-fer and a strikeout last night, he is 2-for-19 with 10 Ks over the past seven days and is batting .114 since his return from the injured list in late August. He has struck out in each of the past six games. Last night, New York started DJ LeMahieu in his place—at this point, bringing Charlie Hayes back to man the position would be a better option than Urshela.
In 17 innings over his past two starts, he has allowed just one earned run on a single walk and five hits, while striking out 21 batters. His September 8 performance against the Mets was a complete game, 14 K showing, and last night, he tossed 8 innings of 1 hit, no walk, no run ball against Washington.
In his past seven starts, the 26-year-old righthander has a 1.55 mark and 64 Ks in 52 1/3 innings. And he has not yet even entered his prime. What the future holds for Alcantara is exciting.
Pitching dud: Alberto Baldonado (RP, Nationals). Baldonado’s position remains unchanged. Though he tossed just 1 1/3 innings over the past week, it was enough for opposing teams to inflict plenty of damage: He blew a save, took a loss, surrendered three walks and posted a 10.80 ERA in that brief run. The 28-year-old rookie’s ascension to the majors was rocky, as just as recently as 2018, he had a 4.88 ERA at Triple-A.
Dishonorable mention: Jose Cisnero (RP, Brewers; 2 IP, 5 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 2 BSV). His saving grace was in all that mess, he scratched out a win.
Took long enough: 2021 has not been a great year for Athletics shortstop Elvis Andrus, who has hit just .231/.278/.309 in 135 games. Every time he puts together a decent run, he enters another cold streak, ruining any progress made. Perhaps not this time: Over the past week, he has hit .353 with 6 hits in 17 at-bats. It’s not much, but he’ll take anything at this point.
Give it up for Duffy: The Cubs aren’t going anywhere this year, but infielder Matt Duffy is going places right now. After beginning the season with a .226 mark through August 1, he has hit .294 with 16 runs scored and 8 RBI since to bring his season average up to .259. He began the year with a .309 mark through May 8.
Middling Mitch: Pirates starter Mitch Keller was a second round draft pick in 2014, taken alongside the likes of Alex Verdugo and Spencer Turnbull. While they’ve begun crafting fine careers, Keller has gone in the opposite direction: He is 4-11 with a 6.29 ERA this year and 6-17, 6.07 in 35 career starts. His career ERA+ of 71 is the second-worst among active pitchers with at least 150 innings, behind Burch Smith’s 69.
Coonrod’s cooking: 2021 has been quite the rebound campaign for Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod, who had a 9.82 ERA in 18 games with San Francisco last season. In 35 appearances this year, he has a 3.68 mark and 10.6 K/9 IP ratio. Since August 28, those numbers are 1.29 and 15.4, respectively.
Almost won it: Adam Wainwright has the most Cy Young Award shares among pitchers to never actually win the award, with 1.97. He finished second and third twice each, but never took the honor home. Eddie Murray has the most MVP shares among those who never won it at 3.33. He finished in the top-five five years in a row and six times overall; he also finished second twice in a row. The active player with the most MVP shares to never win is Robinson Cano, at 2.14. He’s finished in the top-10 six times, peaking at third place.
He doubted Ichiro: Not everyone thought Ichiro Suzuki was going to be a star. When he was starting out with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Orix BlueWave in 1992 and 1993, his manager, Shozo Doi, refused to give him regular playing time. In addition to criticizing the young outfielder’s batting stance, he once said Ichiro had “come too far too fast…a player has to know hardship if he’s going to reach his full potential.” In 1994, his first full season, Suzuki hit .385 with 210 hits in 130 games at 20 years old.
Minor league home run leader: Royals prospect MJ Melendez has smashed 37 dingers in just 390 at-bats this season, his first above A-ball, to lead the affiliated minor leagues. Nine of them came in 29 Triple-A games, his first stint at that level.
Steals base Easley: Keep an eye on Rangers prospect Jayce Easley, the son of former major leaguer Damion. The speedster has swiped 69 bases in 93 Single-A games this season, and though his average is a middling .247, he has still managed a .406 on-base percentage. The former 5th-round pick has 91 stolen bases and a .255/.401/.309 line in 139 games in the low-minors.
Far from the Wurtz: Outfielder Gabe Wurtz slashed .382/.511/.588 at University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2020, then .344/.519/.811 in 33 games in 2021. After going undrafted, he promptly hit .414/.487/.841 with 22 home runs and 86 RBI in 54 games for the independent Tucson Saguaros of the high-flying Pecos League. He also spent 13 less-than-stellar games with the indy Houston Apollos, batting .382/.461/.764 with 24 dingers and 98 RBI overall.
Odd Hall of Fame choice: Shortstop Jack Wilson was elected to the Lancaster JetHawks Hall of Fame in 2006, despite never playing for the team. The closest he got was when he played with the winter league Lancaster Stealth in 1999, with whom he won a championship.
A lot of seasons, not hits: Catcher Rick Dempsey spent 24 years in the major leagues and played over 100 games in 8 of them. He had 100-plus hits just once, in 1978.
Double Crown: Pitcher Mike Birkbeck was *this* close to winning two pitching Triple Crowns … in the minor leagues. In 1984, while with the Single-A Beloit Brewers, he finished third in victories (3 behind the leader), second in strikeouts (2 behind the leader) and second in ERA (0.22 behind the leader). In 1993, with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, he paced the International League in victories and tied for the lead in strikeouts but was just 0.02 points short of the ERA title. He again got pretty close again in 1994, also with Richmond. That year, he finished two wins and 17 strikeouts short; his ERA missed by 0.31 points.
Not-so-famous first: Who was the first Latin American player in major league history? Cuban infielder Estavo B. “Steve” Bellan, who played for the Troy Haymakers and New York Mutuals in the National Association from 1871 to 1873. The next Cuban—and Latin American—didn’t appear in the majors until outfielder Chick Pedroes in 1902; some consider Luis Castro to be the second Latin American, however his birthplace is disputed. He might have been born in New York City.
He was million-to-one: One of the strangest names in baseball has to belong to 1910s minor league outfielder Ten Million, so named at the behest of his grandmother, who wanted his name to stand out. She also convinced Million to name his daughter Decillian, with the help of a $50 bribe. She went by Dixie later in life.
Stuck in Japan: In 2005, Japanese outfielder Tatsuya Ozeki was signed to a minor league contract by the Brewers but immigration issues—specifically, Milwaukee used up all its work visas—kept him from appearing stateside. He later tried out with Colorado, but they didn’t sign him.
Paul Ellis was a St. Louis Cardinals first round pick, taken 30th overall in 1990 between outfielder Midre Cummings and pitcher Brian Williams. Though he never became a recognizable face in the majors … because he didn’t reach them … he did become well-known at Double A Arkansas, spending three full seasons and two partial years there.
While he did not find much success in the affiliated ranks, he exploded in independent baseball: With the Western League’s Reno Chukars in 1997, he slashed .337/.464/.570 with 16 home runs and 75 RBI in 84 games. To that point, he had not hit higher than .255 or had more than 6 home runs in a season. That was his only year in indy ball, however, and was also his final professional campaign. Another point of interest: He did not steal a single base in 696 pro games.
We haven’t seen Teoscar Hernandez in a while; we welcome back a familiar one as the Pitching Stud.
Offensive stud: Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Blue Jays). It was a nice run for Marcus Semien, but a new face has taken his place.
Hernandez has hit .448/.556/.862 with 3 home runs, including a grand slam, 10 RBI, 13 runs scored, 2 stolen bases and 5 walks in the past week—but let’s not kid ourselves, he’s been one of the game’s hottest hitters since August. In 33 games since August 8, Hernandez has hit .323/.389/.608 with 10 home runs, 33 RBI and 31 runs scored.
And his performance couldn’t have come at a better time. With Hernandez and Semien surging, the Blue Jays currently lead in the American League wild card race, barely, and need all their cylinders firing right now. Hernandez is doing his best to make that happen.
Honorable mention: Marcus Semien (2B, Blue Jays; .364/.462/.818, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R).
Offensive dud: Gio Urshela (3B, Yankees). Despite going 1-for-4 at the plate, Urshela continued his struggles yesterday by striking out two more times and committing an error in the field. He has had two strikeouts in four of the past five games—and a single K in the fifth one—making him 3-for-21 with nine strikeouts over the past week. Since his return to the Yankees lineup in late August, he is 5-for-43 (.116) with 15 Ks and no walks.
Pitching stud: Max Scherzer (SP, Dodgers). Scherzer seems to be getting better. In 16 innings over his past two starts, he has amassed 22 strikeouts—including the 3,000th of his career—without walking a single batter. Just seven of batsmen have even managed hits off him.
Having not allowed an earned run since August 21, the hurler is now 6-0 with 72 strikeouts, 5 walks allowed and a 0.88 ERA in 51 innings since joining Los Angeles in July; he is 14-4 with 219 strikeouts, a league-leading 0.821 WHIP, a league-leading 2.17 ERA and a 186 ERA+ on the year. Baseball Reference’s similarity scores say the pitcher second-most similar to him through age 36 is Randy Johnson. Sounds about right.
Pitching dud: Alberto Baldonado (RP, Nationals). It was a rough week for the 28-year-old rookie, who debuted on September 2.
On September 10, he gave up a hit and blew a save, then on the 11th, he walked 2 and allowed 2 earned runs in one-third of an inning for the loss. For those counting at home: He has a 10.80 ERA in 1 2/3 innings over the past seven days, spread over 3 appearances.
It was the first real rough patch of the hurler’s short career, as he allowed just one walk and a hit in 4 2/3 frames over 4 appearances initially. That he is in the majors at all is pretty amazing—he was signed by the Mets in 2009 and didn’t even reach Triple-A until 2017—and he had a 6.65 ERA in 39 appearances when he did.
When Scherzer got the Padres Eric Hosmer swinging in the fifth inning yesterday, he became just the 19th pitcher with 3,000 or more career strikeouts.
And he did it quickly, in just 14 seasons.
Having developed into one of the game’s best strikeout pitchers as he entered his prime in his late 20s, he hasn’t averaged less than 10 Ks per nine innings pitched since 2012, when he was with Detroit.
Since then, he has won three strikeout titles—in 2016, 2017 and 2018—and K-ed 200-plus batters nine times and 250 or more five times—including 300 with Washington in 2018. He has thrice led the league in K/9 IP ratio and is fifth all-time in that category, with a career 10.73 mark. Because he has excellent control, having walked 70 batters in a season just once, the hurler has paced the loop in K/BB ratio four times, as well.
And his control is impeccable. He has never led the league in BB/9 IP, however he has placed in the top ten five times. He is third in the National League this year. He was second in 2015.
To say, then, that Scherzer is merely a strikeout pitcher is an insult to his body of work. He’s an artist, an expert, a workhorse and a winner. And what a winner he is. In this age of low victory totals, he’s led the league in that category four times, with as many as 21 in a season. At the doorstep of 200 with 189 for his career, he is nearing another impressive milestone, one only two active pitchers have reached. He has just 97 losses; that’s a career .661 winning percentage.
And a workhorse? Well, that might be an understatement. He’s led the league in games started, innings pitched and batters faced twice, each. Three times he has paced the loop in complete games and twice in shutouts.
But all those pitches, all those innings don’t affect his performance. They don’t hurt his ability to nibble the corners. To keep men off base. To throw with precision, pitch after pitch.
In 2,519 1/3 innings—the fifth-highest total among active hurlers—he’s surrendered just 2,053 hits, or a mere 7.3 per nine frames. He’s led the league in that category three times. And, since he doesn’t walk anyone, he’s paced the loop in WHIP five times, as well. His 1.082 mark is 15th-best ever. Better than Juan Marichal. Better than Sandy Koufax.
And fans, writers and baseball intelligentsia recognize his dominance. Selected to eight All-Star teams, he has won three Cy Young Awards—in 2013, 2016 and 2017—and finished second and third in voting once each. He finished fifth twice. In MVP balloting, usually dedicated to the very best hitters, he placed tenth three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.
Between his Cy Young campaigns of 2013 and 2016, there was 2015, a magical year in itself. In addition to striking out 276 batters and posting a 2.79 ERA, he led the league with four complete games and three shutouts.
Two of which were no-hitters. And both nearly perfect.
On June 20, facing the Pirates, Scherzer went 8 2/3 innings without allowing a man on base. To that point, he had 10 strikeouts. Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen had K-ed twice.
Just one out shy of perfection, with the crowd on its feet, Scherzer … plunked pinch hitter Jose Tabata. The next batter, Josh Harrison, flied out. So close. A no-hitter is quite the consolation prize.
Incredibly, he was coming off a one-hit, one-walk 16-strikeout shutout against Milwaukee on June 14 in which he was perfect through the first six innings. In his following start, he was perfect through his first five.
A few months later, in his last start of the season, he made history again in a performance that was greater than his near-perfect game.
Facing Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey at the rest of the New York Mets, Scherzer walked not a soul as Mets batsmen went hitless. In fact, he himself didn’t allow any baserunners. The only man to reach was gifted his chance by way of a sixth inning throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar.
And he struck out 17 Mets, including, at one point, nine in a row. Shortstop Ruben Tejada and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis whiffed three times each. Three other men K-ed twice.
He wasn’t able carry the dominance of that game into the postseason; Washington missed it, winning just 83 games on the year.
But the playoffs haven’t been elusive for Scherzer in his 14 seasons—he’s pitched in them seven times. In his first series, with Detroit back in 2011, he tossed 7 1/3 innings, K-ed 7 batters, posted a 1.23 ERA and won a game. In 2012, he made his first World Series appearance. It wasn’t his best performance—in 6 1/3 innings, he allowed 3 earned runs on 7 hits and a walk. He walked away with the no-decision, but the Tigers lost the series.
Skip to nearly a decade later, in 2019, with Washington. Scherzer won a game in the NLDS and NLCS, throwing seven innings of scoreless, one-hit, 11-strikeout ball in the latter.
Propelled to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history, Washington had Scherzer take the mound twice against Houston in that nail-biting, seven-game series. Starting Game One, he went five innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out seven Astros for the win. He didn’t pitch in Games Two through Six. But he was called upon to seal the deal in Game Seven.
By Scherzer’s standards, it was a rough outing. Granted, he again surrendered just two earned runs, but he also allowed seven hits and four walks in five innings of work. He left the game with the Nationals trailing, 2-0. The uninspiring Patrick Corbin took over and tossed 3 scoreless innings. Daniel Hudson didn’t allow a run his inning, either. The Nationals offense came alive in the seventh with two home runs. They beat Houston, 6-2 and won the World Series in seven games.
Scherzer got his ring, icing on the cake of what has become a legendary career.
But he wasn’t always a shoo-in for greatness. Though he was the Diamondbacks’ first round pick in 2006—taken in the same round as Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum—his big league career began a little … disappointingly. Despite a 151 ERA+ his first season, 2008, he was 0-4 in 56 innings. The next year, he again posted a losing record of 9-11, with a 4.12 ERA. In 2010, he was solid but not spectacular at 12-11, 3.50 and in 2011, despite winning 15 games, he had a mediocre campaign with a 4.43 ERA and 93 ERA+. By then, he was already 27 years old.
That, however, was the old Scherzer. In 2013, everything clicked and he hasn’t looked back since. In those nine years, he’s gone 137-55 with a 2.80 ERA and 150 ERA+. In 1,714 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 2,174 batters (over 11 per nine innings) and posted a tiny WHIP of 0.982.
That is the Scherzer history will remember. That is the Scherzer who will get into Cooperstown. That is the Scherzer who reached 3,000 strikeouts.
Miguel Cabrera 3,000 hits watch: With a hit yesterday and another one today, the Tigers Miguel Cabrera edges a little closer to 3,000 hits for his career and is now just 25 away. He is determined to get there: Hitting .481 this month and .326 since July 24, Cabrera is absolutely raking. He even has a .553 slugging percentage since then. What a throwback.
Another great Gordon: Twins second baseman Nick Gordon, the son of former pitcher Tom Gordon and brother of Dee Strange-Gordon, looks poised to continue the family legacy of excellence. Debuting May 6 of this year, the 2014 first round pick hit .303 through July 1 and is carrying a .357/.438/.714 line over the past week. Father Tom was a three-time All-Star and 1998 Rolaids Relief Award winner; brother Dee was twice an All-Star, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove winner.
Yu are doing fine: Though Yu Chang has never been a high-average hitter, not even in the minors (.253 mark on the farm), when he hits, he hits the ball far. The Indians infielder has a .712 slugging mark with 5 home runs and 11 RBI over the past month. Such power is reminiscent of his 2017 campaign with Double-A Akron, when he slugged 24 home runs in 440 at-bats. Not all is positive, however—he’s hitting just .220 on the year and .207 for his career.
The decline of Davies: Cubs pitcher Zach Davies was an effective, if unsung, hurler from 2016 to 2020, posting a 3.80 ERA and 114 ERA+ in that span. In 2017, he won 17 games for the Brewers; last year, he had a 2.73 ERA in 69 1/3 innings for San Diego. Quite a disappointing year 2021 has been, then, as he is just 6-11 with a 5.40 ERA and 78 ERA+ in 30 starts with Chicago. He is leading the National League in walks with 70 and has a BB/9 IP ratio of 4.4. Before this year, it was 2.6.
Finnegan is unheralded: Nationals reliever—and now closer—Kyle Finnegan has a 2.68 ERA and 150 ERA+ in 59 appearances this season; he is the team’s most-used relief pitcher and has the second-lowest ERA of anyone currently on the club (behind the equally unheralded Ryne Harper). Since July 20, he has a 0.79 ERA in 22 games and his 151 ERA+ since 2020 is the 11th-best in the majors among hurlers with at least 80 appearances.
Give it up for Yusmeiro: I’ve spent some time railing against the K culture in baseball, where everyone seems like a strikeout pitcher. Well, not everyone. The Athletics’ Yusmeiro Petit has managed a solid 2021 season with a 3.30 ERA, 127 ERA+ and 8 wins in a league-leading 70 appearances … all while averaging just 4.3 K/9 IP.
Hopeful for 2022: My love-hate attitude toward the 2021 Mets is an emotional roller coaster. But their play has me hopeful for 2022, at least. This season reminds me a bit of 2005, when they had a new star, Carlos Beltran, who underwhelmed, a closer, Braden Looper, who drove us mad, a starting rotation largely carried by one guy, Pedro Martinez, and a cruddy offense. Sounds familiar? Switch Francisco Lindor for Beltran, Edwin Diaz for Looper and Marcus Stroman (sorry Jacob) for Martinez and you have the 2021 Mets. What did the Mets do in 2006? Put it all together and reach the NLCS.
Dropped out of school: Al Schacht, who spent three years in the majors and later became the “Clown Prince of Baseball” didn’t make his high school baseball team, so he went and played semi-professional ball, instead. He later returned to the school team, but was barred from playing because of his involvement with the semi-pro club … so he dropped out of school altogether.
Doesn’t translate to the majors: It’s true what they say: Success in the minor leagues doesn’t always mean success in the majors—even if it comes at Triple-A, the level right below the big time. Consider this, for example: The last Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player to eventually reach the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was Tony Perez, who won the honor in 1964. The last International League MVP to eventually reach Cooperstown was 1993 honoree Jim Thome.
Couldn’t dodge Jaster: Pitcher Larry Jaster isn’t remembered for much. He spent 7 years in the big leagues and won 35 games. But in 1966, twirling for St. Louis, he tossed a league-leading 5 shutouts … all of which were against the pennant winning Dodgers. That is the record for most consecutive shutouts against one team in a single campaign.
Jaster answers another trivia question: Who was the first player to throw a major league regular season pitch in Canada? Larry Jaster on April 14, 1969 at the Expos’ home opener in their inaugural season.
Speaking of 5 shutouts: In 1974, the Rangers Jim Bibby tossed 5 shutouts and still finished with a middling ERA of 4.74 and an ERA+ of 75 on the season. He scratched out 19 wins, but also lost that many.
Blue Moon outdid him: If you think Bibby’s performance is bad, check out what Blue Moon Odom managed in 1964, his first campaign. He tossed 17 frames, which included a 9-inning shutout in his second start. Yet, he finished the season with a 10.06 ERA, surrendering no less than 4 earned runs and pitching no more than 4 2/3 innings in any of the other 4 starts he made that year. He lasted 1/3 of an inning in one, 1 inning in another, 2 innings in a third and 4 2/3 frames in the last. That’s the worst ERA among pitchers with campaigns with at least one shutout. More recently, Mariners pitcher Jeff Weaver tossed 2 shutouts in 2007 … and had a 6.20 ERA on the year.
Picked the wrong gig: Negro league pitcher Half Pint Allen (so-called, I imagine, because he weighed 128 pounds) was just 6-7 with a 7.20 ERA in his brief career. But at the plate, he was 11-for-28 (.393 average) with a .469 on-base percentage. In 1932, he had the worst ERA (6.95) on the Baltimore Black Sox among pitchers with more than one appearance and the best batting average (.429) among all players. Looks like he misidentified his calling card.