Baseball is back! I obviously don’t need to tell you that, loyal Beyond the Box Score reader, but it does mean there actual things to watch and write/read about. I always get into spring training for about a day and a half and then just can’t motivate myself to watch much longer. But Opening Weekend — Opening Weekend is about as great as it gets. I’d set the over/under for hours of baseball consumed over the first four days of the season somewhere around 40.
There was so much to take in, and while no baseball analyst worth her/his salt is going to take anything statistically significant away from a time in the season in which teams have played somewhere from two to four games, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t tons to like — and dislike — from MLB’s 2018 opening salvo.
In honor of Zach Lowe’s Ten Things He Likes and Doesn’t Like, here are five things I like and dislike, because, at best, I am half the writer Zach Lowe is.
Like: Anthony Rizzo’s Opening Day Home Run
For those who were unaware, the Cubs slugger is an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Cubs began the season with a road trip to the Sunshine State to take on the Marlins. Opening Day in his home state would have been meaningful to Rizzo regardless, but 2018 Opening Day certainly took on another level of gravity for him, as his alma mater was the site of a deadly mass shooting in February.
Both teams wore patches honoring the students who lost their lives on February 14. Now, events on a baseball field pale in comparison to what is going on in Parkland outside of baseball, but for Rizzo, he did the best thing he could do on the field for Opening Day, hitting a home run in the second inning of Chicago’s 8-4 win.
It was perhaps the most emotional home run since Dee Gordon hit one in the immediate aftermath of Jose Fernandez’s passing. Rizzo called it an out-of-body-experience, and for this viewer, it was a somewhat surreal viewing experience as well. An incredible scene on Opening Day.
Dislike: Anyone who thought the ball might not still have that extra pop
As Ben Lindbergh pointed out before the season started, if spring training stats had anything to say about the upcoming season (and the typically do in terms of league trends), there would be no slowing the march toward Three True Outcomes becoming the Only Three Outcomes.
It didn’t take long for that to sink in, as Ian Happ took the very first pitch of 2018 into the right field bleachers, and batters haven’t really slowed down from there. There were 33 home runs over 13 games (32 if you don’t want to count Eduardo Nunez’s inside-the-parker) on Opening Day, including what I was pretty sure was a fly out to left, that somehow ended up halfway up the foul pole off the bat of Yadier Molina:
The next few days saw a slight comedown from that homer-crazy Opening Day, but there have still been plenty of games like the seven-homer showdown between Washington and Cincinnati on Saturday, or the quartet of four-homer games on Sunday. The long ball is here to stay, and while that’s not the worst thing in the world, I do fashion myself more of a balls-in-play man, and I know I’m not alone in that regard.
Like (for the time being): Rays Bullpen Days
The Rays announced before the season they were going to go with a four-man rotation, with the fifth “spot” in the rotation going to a flock of relievers who would work together to topple baseball traditional ideas of “starting pitchers” and “rotations.”
For the analytically inclined, it was a very cool possibility, but the mission got a lot tougher once they lost (yet another) starting pitcher to Tommy John, and as of now, they have yet to name a replacement. The team will be attempting their second bullpen day on Monday (and likely be done with it by the time you read this).
The first bullpen day went swimmingly — the result may not have been a “W,” but the process was pretty. Andrew Kittredge got the start, going just 3.1 innings before handing things over to Ryan Yarbrough, who worked 4.0 innings before short-relievers Chaz Roe and Sergio Romo took the final five outs. Those four pitchers combined to allow just two earned runs to a solid Boston lineup.
While the team didn’t have a specific bullpen day planned for Sunday, they basically did the same thing the very next day, getting four one-run innings out of their starter (Jacob Faria), before Jose Alvarado came on for one inning. Then Yonny Chirinos came on for the final four innings, blanking the Sox over those 12 outs. All said, that’s basically two bullpen days already, and just four runs allowed to their division rivals up north.
Of course, the issue becomes how long this is actually sustainable. I would have had faith in one bullpen day, but two out of five seems reckless, and not in the fun Wreckless Eric kind of way. Just like the Gabe Kapler Experience, it’s going to be fun while it lasts, though!
Dislike: Dog Whistles in the Broadcast Booth
I’m past the point of apologizing when politics spills over to baseball writing; I am one who believes that if you have a platform, you should use it. If you don’t agree, that’s TOTALLY FINE! Just skip ahead a couple paragraphs.
With that out of the way, I found a couple of exchanges rather troubling when watching my oodles and oodles of baseball this weekend.
The first came on Opening Day, when the Mets broadcast booth dragged the tired “Carlos Martinez lacks focus” take out of the grave where I thought we’d buried it after beating it to death for the hundredth time. The broadcast showed clips from Martinez’s hilarious antics from last season, when he would imitate the batting stances of both his opponents and teammates, while the booth railed about how he could be among the game’s best if he simply had a bit more focus. (“You must sit sternly in the dugout and stare straight ahead when it isn’t your turn in the rotation, young Carlos!”)
Never mind that, as a 25-year-old in his first three full seasons, Martinez has been a top-20 pitcher in all of baseball. This is just such lazy announcing! Take a look at actual parts of his game that he may need to work on. Does his changeup need a slight change in grip? Is he standing a bit too far to the left on the mound? Trotting out the “Hispanic Player X needs more focus” trope is so overcooked at this point.
Over in the Rays broadcast booth on Sunday, it was maybe even worse. With second-year Red Sox pitcher Hector Velasquez (who hails from Ciudad Obregon, Mexico) on the mound, the Rays announcers — who are usually among the better crews in the game — had the following exchange:
For some reason, the Rays kicked off the broadcast today by questioning Hector Velazquez's age. Staats: "Well, they list him as 28, and let's assume that he is." Anderson: "Well, they say.... which probably means that you're not buying it, and you think I'm not buying it."— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) April 1, 2018
It was honestly gross to listen to, and that mindset has no place in baseball. As someone who watches a lot of Rays games for my beat over at DRaysBay, I haven’t heard too many exchanges like this from these two, so while I’m not giving it a pass, I hope and believe it may have been a one-off attempt at a really poor joke. If not, they have some explaining to do, because outdated notions like what the two were weirdly hinting at just have no place in what is a beautifully global game in 2018.
Both like and dislike: Shohei Ohtani’s eye-high sliders
In addition to being unique for his two-way play, the most interesting man in baseball appears to be unique in his approach on the mound. The 23-year-old (who was pumping 100 mph on Sunday) threw notably more high sliders than I have seen maybe ever before. Usually that is a pitch that receives a one-way ticket to the bleachers, but Ohtani can almost make it work because of the crazy speed on his fastball, as well as the sharp, sharp break his slider gets.
Shohei Ohtani Misses His Spot by 3 feet with this 84 mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 1, 2018
[He still got the K ] pic.twitter.com/LrSdrd6vQW
Now, Ohtani did get burned for one long ball in his MLB debut, and it was indeed on a slider, but that slider hung in the middle of the zone, rather than the upper tier of the zone, where he had the aforementioned rather strange success.
I’m looking forward to his upcoming starts to see if this was a one-off caused in parts by MLB debut nerves, or if the high slider is really going to be a prominent pitcher in the youngster’s repertoire.
Jim Turvey is the author of Starting IX: A Franchise-by-Franchise Breakdown of Baseball’s Best Players, a baseball history-stats fusion that is available now on Amazon. He is a regular contributor to Beyond the Box Score and DRays Bay.