Random autograph of the day: Jason LaRue

Jason LaRue was a Reds fixture for many years, spending eight of his 12 major league seasons with the club; He spent 12 of his 16 professional campaigns in their system.

Though blessed with some pop—he hit as many as 16 home runs in a campaign —LaRue was a defense-first backstop. Leading the league in caught stealing percentage and runners caught stealing in 2001, with 60.9 and 42, respectively, his .991 career fielding percentage ranks 88th all-time among catchers, and he four times finished in the top 10 in catcher assists. Twice he was among the top 10 in double plays turned. But he wasn’t without his pitfalls back there— he paced the loop in passed balls thrice and finished second once and third once in errors committed.

He had some defensive versatility, too: He played 8 games at first, 5 in the outfield and 4 at third base; among those 17 non-catcher appearances, 4 were starts. He wrapped up his career with the Cardinals in 2010.

Aroldis Chapman saves 300th game.

Aroldis Chapman‘s 300th save ties him with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and Jason Isringhausen for 29th all-time. (Wikipedia).

In this whirlwind season of milestones, with Miguel Cabrera walloping his 500th home run and nearing 3,000 hits, with Max Scherzer nearing 3,000 Ks and Jon Lester drawing closer and closer to 200 wins, a pretty incredible feat slipped by and I didn’t even note it.

On August 26, fireballing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman earned his 300th career save.

Against the Athletics that night, with less than 9,000 fans in attendance, Chapman faced four batters and, after a few hiccups, managed to sit the necessary three of them down to preserve a 7-6 victory.

Number nine hitter Elvis Andrus flew out to start the bottom of the ninth inning, then Mark Canha whiffed. How apropos, Chapman K-ing someone in this historic game. Starling Marte singled, then stole second. It became a little dicey, as Matt Olson, a Most Valuable Player candidate, was the next man up. No worries, he grounded out to second base.

The crowd thundered uproariously at Chapman’s majestic feat—in his dreams that night, I imagine—as he joined a club of now 31 men, headed by the likes of Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

It was a milestone that Chapman seemed almost destined to reach from the day he defected from Cuba in 2009. As far as defections go, it was pretty bland. Playing in the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, he walked out the front door of his team’s hotel into a waiting car—and away he went.

Hardly an unknown, he had wowed the baseball world during his years under communist rule and fetched a pretty penny once major league teams came knocking. The Reds inked him to a contract worth more than $30 million; his bonuses alone totaled more than $10 million.

And from there, it was gravy. Before even playing a professional game, Baseball America ranked him the sport’s 22nd-best prospect going into the 2010 season. The Reds sent him straight to Triple A—as a starter—and he responded by striking out 125 batters in 95 2/3 innings. By year’s end, he was in the majors as a reliever, striking out 19 batters in 13 1/3 frames.

Going into 2011, Baseball America elevated him to #7 on their top prospects list—ahead of Manny Machado, Chris Sale, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado and fellow future star finisher Craig Kimbrel.  

With Francisco Cordero holding down the closer’s job, Chapman made 54 relief appearances in 2011, surrendering just 24 hits and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings. That K rate would be his lowest total until 2017.

On April 11, he threw a pitch of 106 miles per hour. Aroldis Chapman had arrived.

Seizing the closing role in 2012, Chapman embarked on a—dare I say—legendary run that lasted until 2016. Saving 181 games, he had a 1.84 ERA and 217 ERA+ in those five years. In 313 2/3 innings, he allowed just 168 hits—and had 546 strikeouts. That’s 15.7 per nine innings. In 2014 alone, he averaged nearly two per frame. He was an All-Star each year from 2012 to 2015; in 2012, he finished 8th in Cy Young voting and earned MVP support.

2015 was his final season with Cincinnati. On December 28, they traded him to the Yankees for infielder Eric Jagielo (never reached the majors), pitcher Caleb Cotham (7.40 ERA with the Reds), pitcher Rookie Davis (8.63 ERA with the Reds) and utilityman Tony Renda (.183 average with the Reds).

Cincinnati has been around since the dawn of major league baseball; that still has to be one of the worst trades they ever made.

He wasn’t long for New York, spending about half a season there before being shipped to the Cubs on July 25 to help in Chicago’s playoff push and eventual World Series run. And boy did he help—in 28 regular season games, he had a 1.01 ERA and 418 ERA+, then he had 22 Ks in 15 2/3 postseason innings.

The Yankees re-signed Chapman on December 15, 2016, thereby recouping their losses from the trade to Chicago (with infielder Gleyber Torres to show for it, as well, as he was part of the initial deal).

Since rejoining New York, Chapman has stepped down from superhuman to merely superb. Admittedly, his numbers have taken a dip.

But it’s kind of like a fire dropping from 10,000 degrees to 8,000 degrees—it’s still really freakin’ hot.

From 2017 to 2020, he posted a 2.64 ERA and a 168 ERA+, making two more All-Star teams and averaging over 14 strikeouts per nine innings.

Even this year, with his walk rate double what it was in 2020 and his ERA sitting at 3.77, his numbers are still downright killer. 15.1 K/9 IP. 6.3 H/9 IP. Through May 21—that’s 18 games—he hadn’t allowed a single run. He was stung by three particularly abhorrent appearances, two of which he surrendered 4 and 3 runs, respectively, without recording a single out. Since his last bad showing on July 6, his ERA is 1.88. Remove those three appearances, in which he allowed a combined 11 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning, and his season mark is 1.48.

And it is his hot pitching, not just for most of this year but for his whole career, that has gotten Chapman to the 300 save mark.

He joins a club that now has 31 members—one less than the 3,000 hit club, just three more than the 500 home run club, and seven more than the 300 win club.

But it’s not as illustrious as it sounds. The evolution of the game was such that the conditions for 300-save closers to even exist didn’t begin coalescing until the late 1970s and early 1980s.

So, once every season or two, a new member is added. Kenley Jansen joined in 2019, Craig Kimbrel in 2018, Fernando Rodney in 2017.

While the other clubs are represented by only the very best, Chapman’s less distinguished group contains among the legends and the greats some goods, some decents, a couple mediocres.

Yes, Chapman now stands among Rivera and Hoffman, Fingers and Gossage and Sutter, Wilhelm and Eckersley and Smith. But right there with him, as well, are Jason Isringhausen and Jose Mesa, Todd Jones and his former teammate, Francisco Cordero.

But Chapman is no Isringhausen.

When all is said and done, his face might be carved into a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. He has a way to go—it’s hard to get behind someone with less than 600 career innings pitched—but if he keeps throwing gas and closing games and K-ing batters at rates we might never see again, who knows.

Chapman, that flamethrowing kid who walked out of a hotel into superstardom, might one day, after he retires, get to hear his name called once more.

Not to the mound, but to the Hall of Fame.

***

Chapman might be the last man to reach 300 saves for a few years. Mark Melancon is the next closest at 239, but he is 36 and coming off a decent but underwhelming 2017-2020 run. Joakim Soria (229) and Greg Holland (219) haven’t managed a 20 save season since 2015 and 2017, respectively, so their chances are slim. Edwin Diaz is fourth-closest at 167, and though he’s just 27, he’s been wildly inconsistent since his breakout 2018 campaign. Who knows what the future holds for him.

The next closest are Zach Britton (154 saves), Alex Colome (147), John Axford (144), Wade Davis (141), David Robertson (137) and Sergio Romo (135).

Random autograph of the day: Amer Abhugerir

Abugherir is not an oft-found name in baseball — heck, the pitcher is one of only three known professional players with a surname beginning with “Abu.” Equally unique as his surname was the trajectory of his playing career: It spanned 1988 to 1999, though he played stateside in only three of those campaigns. He had a 7.30 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Reds of the Cincinnati Reds system in 1988, then resurfaced with the independent Duluth-Superior Dukes in 1993, going 0-2 with a 8.31 ERA. He then disappeared for a spell, only to return in 1999 with the independent Atlantic City Surf in 1999, going 5-0 with a 6.88 ERA. The Colombia native also coached in the minors. 

Studs and duds: August 22 – August 28

Salvador Perez has already topped his previous high of 27 home runs. (Wikipedia).

Salvador Perez’s power barrage continues and Sandy Alcantara shows he might be breaking out as one of the game’s top young stars.

Offensive stud: Salvador Perez (C, Royals). Perez keeps cranking in what has been a historic season for the star catcher, as he hit another home run last night to bring him to 5 in the past week, 11 in August and 37 on the year. The slugger—more a slugger now than any time in his career—also has 12 RBI and 5 walks, giving him a .382 on-base percentage over the past seven days.

This power surge has been accompanied by a rise in production in other departments, as well.  He has already set career highs in runs scored (62, previous high: 57) and RBI (92, 80), and is on pace to best his previous mark in walks (not a great accomplishment, as he still might not break 30 for the year). His career slugging mark has jumped 11 points because of this season alone.

Honorable mention: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals; .387 BA, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI).

Offensive dud: Jose Barrero (IF, Reds). Barrero reclaims his title, going 0-for-6 with 4 strikeouts and an error in a rough showing. The speedy middle infielder is young and still working out the kinks, but his future might be brighter than his recent performance suggests: Baseball America ranked him the number 79 prospect going into 2021, and the 23-year-old has hit over .300 in the minors this year. And that’s where the Reds just sent him, back to Triple A to get him some more conditioning.

Dishonorable mention: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds; 0-for-11, 7 K).

Shows how bad the Marlins are: In his All-Star 2019 season, Sandy Alcantara led the league with 14 losses. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Sandy Alcantara (SP, Marlins). If the Marlins have any reason to believe brighter days are ahead, Alcantara is it. The hurler tossed 14 innings his past two starts, posting a 1.93 ERA while allowing just 3 runs and 3 walks, and striking out 23 batters.  There’s something about that number 3. Outside of a terrible 10 run game on August 6, he hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in an appearance since July 27, and has a 1.24 mark since that rough outing.

Still only 25 years old, Alcantara already has an All-Star selection under his belt and owns a career 118 ERA+—and he has yet to reach his prime. The Marlins acquired him with three other decent names in a deal with St. Louis, surrendering only outfielder Marcell Ozuna to get them. Ozuna had two ho-hum seasons with the Cardinals; Alcantara is making the transaction look like a steal for Miami.

Honorable mention: Adam Wainwright (SP, Cardinals; 2-0 W-L, 15 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB).

Pitching dud: Daniel Bard (RP, Rockies). Bard returned to the majors last year after not pitching there since 2013, and in that stunted campaign with Colorado, he did pretty well. In 23 appearances, he posted a 3.65 ERA and 143 ERA+—shades of his glory days with Boston, when he had a 2.88 mark in 192 games from 2009 to 2011. He had an All-Star worthy 2010, posting a 1.93 ERA and 227 ERA+ in 73 games.

Well, this year, things have not been so sunny. His season-long struggles, which saw his ERA hover into the mid-4s as recently as August 16, culminated in an atrocious line of 1 2/3 innings pitched and 8 earned runs allowed—that’s an ERA of 43.20—over the past week. He blew a save, lost two games and saw his season ERA rise nearly a point, to 5.61. Over his last four appearances, he surrendered less than 2 earned runs just once and didn’t manage a single out in his last go-round against the Dodgers on August 28. It was nice having you back, Daniel, I hope you enjoyed your stay—because it won’t be too much longer.

Dishonorable mention: Jake Petricka (RP, Angels; 1 IP, 5 ER, 1 L, 1 BSV, 45.00 ERA).