Pinpoint accuracy, swinging away, and shorter games

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The Philadelphia Phillies entered the past winter with an emphatic goal.

“At the outset of this offseason, we made signing Aaron Nola our top priority,” said Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. The team accomplished its mission in November, when Nola signed a seven-year, $172 million contract.

The 30-year-old pitcher has been a Phil ever since the club drafted him in 2014. He made his big-league debut a year later and is now playing his 10th season in Philadelphia. His career record (through the first four weeks of the 2024 schedule) is 94-72.

One of Nola’s greatest strengths is his control. He has struck out 782 batters and issued only 146 walks in 682 innings since the beginning of this decade. That works out to a ratio of 5.36 strikeouts per walk (SO/BB) during the period from 2020 through the fourth week of 2024.

Nola tops the SO/BB rankings of active pitchers who have worked at least 500 innings in this decade. Only three others boast ratios above 5.00.

Here’s the top 10:

Teoscar Hernandez has done some nice things for the Los Angeles Dodgers since they signed him as a free agent in January.

The right fielder hit five homers and five doubles during the first four weeks of the season, driving home 19 runs. The latter was the seventh-best RBI total in the National League.

But, my oh my, Hernandez does swing and miss with amazing frequency. He struck out 38 times in the four-week period, tying him with Jose Siri of the Tampa Bay Rays for the most strikeouts suffered by any big-league batter.

If Hernandez plays 160 games this year, as he did in 2023 for the Seattle Mariners, he’s on pace to strike out 234 times, a superhuman total.

Siri isn’t doing nearly as well in the power department as his free-swinging counterpart. Siri’s four-week totals for the Rays: one homer, four doubles, five RBIs.

Below are the 11 batters with the highest strikeout totals so far in 2024. Keep two things in mind as you scan the list: (1) Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins struck out only 34 times last year in 617 plate appearances. Nobody on 2024’s list has gone to the plate more than 113 times so far this year. (2) The 11 strikeout kings listed below were batting a collective .215 after four weeks.

Good news. Baseball games continue to get shorter.

The institution of a pitch clock and the implementation of other time-saving rules had a tremendous impact last year. They cut the average game’s length from three hours and six minutes in 2022 to 2:42 in 2023. That’s a decline of 24 minutes (or 13 percent).

The early returns for 2024 show a further cut of three minutes to 2:39 per game. If that pace holds, it will be the quickest since 1984.

This week’s graph shows the time per game (as tabulated by Baseball Reference) at 10-year intervals since 1924. The figures for 2024, of course, cover the first four weeks.

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Major-league managers are, by and large, fairly anonymous on a national scale.

Yes, everybody knows about Bruce Bochy of the Rangers and his four World Series rings. And Aaron Boone of the Yankees and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers are familiar figures. But the rest, not so much.

Ask yourself this: Who manages the Athletics? The Brewers? The Royals? The White Sox? My point is made.

Today’s quiz presents a series of managerial questions — not those in the preceding paragraph, but five others that are equally challenging. Drop to the bottom of this newsletter to see the answers.

1. Which current manager lost more games than any other National League pitcher in 1991?

2. Who was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2001 National League Championship Series?

3. Who was named to a pair of American League All-Star teams as a catcher (2015 and 2016)?

4. Who made his debut as a major-league player with the Astros in 1978?

5. Which current manager had a brother, father, and grandfather who also played in the majors?

  • A. David Bell

  • B. Aaron Boone

  • C. Both of them

  • D. Neither of them

Eleven batters have slugged at least 250 homers for the New York Yankees. Aaron Judge is the newest member of that exclusive club. He joined it last September 1 by blasting No. 250 against the Astros. (Judge’s current total stood at 261 after the first four weeks of 2024.)

It comes as no surprise, of course, that Babe Ruth is the franchise leader in homers. But his famous total of 714 isn’t the correct number here. Ruth bashed 55 homers in Boston uniforms — 49 for the Red Sox, six for the Braves — which leaves 659 for his tenure with the Yanks.

These are the top 11 sluggers for the Yankees, as tabulated by Baseball Reference:

The 1984 Detroit Tigers — rated as the greatest team in baseball’s Modern Era (1961 to the present) — just kept winning 40 years ago this week.

The Tigers began the span from April 23 to 29, 1984, by sweeping a doubleheader from the Twins, as well as a two-game series with the Rangers. Then came a rare defeat — Cleveland 8, Detroit 4 — in a 19-inning marathon, but Detroit got back on track with a pair of week-ending wins over Cleveland.

Jack Morris, a future Hall of Famer, picked up two wins during the week, pushing his personal record for 1984 to 5-0.

The Tigers had an 18-2 record on the morning of April 30, 1984, six games ahead of second-place Toronto in the American League East. Detroit News columnist Joe Falls couldn’t find the words to explain the club’s tremendous start. “I’ve never been around a team before that was 18-2,” he said.

The Mets finally broke through for the first win in franchise history on April 23, 1962, burying the Pirates, 9-1.

Three sacrifice flies plated three runs in the first two innings, which was all the Mets needed. Jay Hook pitched a five-hit complete game to secure the win.

“The way we played tonight,” laughed manager Casey Stengel, “I don’t see how we ever lost a game.” New York went 2-4 during the remainder of this week 62 years ago, which put the Mets in last place in the National League with a 3-13 record on the morning of April 30, 1962.

No spoiler alert is necessary, I think, when I remind you that the ’62 Mets would become the losingest team in the Modern Era.

1-A. (Black, who has managed the Rockies since 2017, suffered 16 losses with the Giants in 1991. Black fashioned a 121-116 record in a 15-year career as a pitcher with five clubs, primarily the Royals.)

2-B. (Counsell, who now manages the Cubs, won World Series rings as an infielder with the Marlins in 1997 and the Diamondbacks in 2001. He batted .381, 8-for-21, for Arizona in the ’01 NLCS.)

3-D. (Vogt, the new manager of the Guardians, batted a combined .256 with 32 homers and 127 RBIs for Oakland in 2015 and 2016.)

4-A. (Bochy, who directed the Rangers to last year’s World Series title, reached the majors with the other club in Texas. He spent 1978 to 1980 with the Astros, then moved on to the Mets and Padres before wrapping up his playing career in 1987.)

5-C. (David Bell, who has managed the Reds since 2019, previously played third and second base for six clubs over 12 seasons. Grandfather Gus, father Buddy, and brother Mike played in the majors, too. Aaron Boone, who has run the Yankees since 2018, also was an infielder for six teams in 12 years. Grandfather Ray, father Bob, and brother Bret made it to the big leagues, as well.)



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