July 15, 2024

Analyzing Paul Skenes’ rapid rookie rise, plus a brewing hot dog war

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Good morning! Someone get me a hot dog.

Hype, Realized: The rookie is already really, really good

In 2024, when the term “analytics” has become commonplace and the movie “Moneyball” is a classic, it’s funny when a player stops you dead with the eye test rather than a statistic. Pittsburgh’s Paul Skenes, a 6-foot-6 100-mph hurler from my beloved alma mater, does just that. 

Before we get into the stats, I want to start with moments: 

  • The 22-year-old’s second start fully announced his presence. He’d flashed talent in his first outing, but in his second — facing the Cubs for the second straight time — Skenes struck out 11 over six scoreless innings. Against a team that had already seen him! Absurd. He even got in a little trash talk before backing it up.
  • In his fifth MLB start, facing Shohei Ohtani (recently compared to Babe Ruth by his peers), Skenes blew three straight 100-mph fastballs by the best hitter in baseball. When Ohtani later sent another 100-mph pitch over the center field fence, it was great theater — part of a duel, not a comeuppance. A guy drafted 11 months prior clearly belonged on the field with the world’s great batsman.
  • And then there was last night, Skenes’ sixth career MLB start, which saw him fan eight Cardinals and get a standing ovation from the St. Louis crowd after throwing another six scoreless innings.

Skenes’ stat line through six starts: 3-0, 33.1 innings pitched, 46 strikeouts and nine earned runs allowed. He hasn’t thrown enough to qualify in major statistical categories yet, but if his 2.43 ERA were eligible, it’d rank 10th in the majors. His 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings would rank first. 

It is difficult to think of a great comparison thus far. The easiest grab is Stephen Strasburg, another No. 1 overall pick who lived up to the hype early and had an eerily similar start through six outings. I even polled Windup writer Levi Weaver to help with some names, and this is all we could come up with: 

  • Last year, young Eury Pérez was electric through six starts, but was not the strikeout pitcher Skenes is.
  • 2013 José Fernández came close. Same goes for 2015 Noah Syndegaard.
  • You have to go back all the way to the early 2000s for better comps. Roy Oswalt was great through his first six starts back in 2001, but he’d thrown eight relief appearances beforehand. Brandon Webb’s 2003 debut stretch falls into the category, too. 

We are witnessing a wonderful start for a generational prospect. Don’t assume this run continues, but the fact that he’s already a legitimately good MLB starter is breathtaking nonetheless. 

Skenes is good enough to make us wonder if the Pirates might actually buy at the trade deadline. Whew. Moving on:

News to Know

Rodgers a no-show
Aaron Rodgers is not at Jets mandatory minicamp, coach Robert Saleh said yesterday, adding that — while Saleh is not mad at Rodgers — the absence is unexcused. Rodgers was attending an “event that’s important to him,” per the coach. Hmm. New defensive lineman Haason Reddick is also missing due to what appears to be a contract dispute.

Rahm out at U.S. Open
Jon Rahm’s tough year continues, as the two-time major winner withdrew from the U.S. Open yesterday due to an infected lesion between his toes. Yikes. Rahm has not impressed at this year’s majors, tying for 45th at the Masters and missing the cut at the PGA Championship. Of course this all comes after his shocking move to LIV Golf in December.

Ten Hag keeps his job
Erik ten Hag will return to Manchester United next season, The Athletic’s David Ornstein reported yesterday, a surprising turn after many assumed the sides would part ways after a disappointing year. And yet the manager led United to a shocking FA Cup win, beating juggernaut rival Manchester City in the final. See our full report here.

More news

Pulse Polls: The plant-based hot dog beef we needed

Barry Bank / Getty Images

The news still feels unreal: Joey Chestnut has been banished from the 2024 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. What malady can we blame for this universal injustice? Lab-grown hot dogs, apparently. 

A quick primer: 

  • Chestnut, who is synonymous with the event at this point, has won 16 of the last 17 contests. He inhaled 62 soggy sausages in 10 minutes last year, which is somehow 14 shy of his own record: 76, set in 2021.
  • Chestnut, according to a New York Post report, recently partnered with Impossible Foods, which is making a plant-based version. Major League Eating, which runs the contest, says its rules prevent participants from making deals with non-Nathan’s hot dog brands. Thus he is ineligible to defend his title.
  • In a tweet, Chestnut says MLE and Nathan’s are changing the rule from previous years. MLE claims that’s not true. A contract dispute with MLE also led to former superstar Takeru Kobayashi’s 2010 banishment from the Nathan’s contest, too. 

Before we opine on the matter, I want to get your take. Time for our next Pulse Poll: Does Chestnut deserve banishment? Or is MLE out of line? Two potential answers I see: 

  • Chestnut, like Kobayashi before him, is the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Keeping him out of it because he signed a promotional deal is absurd.
  • He knew this partnership could jeopardize his spot and did it anyway. This is the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, not some goofy sideshow. 

Make your voice heard here. We’ll publish the results tomorrow.

Watch This Game

MLB: Guardians at Reds
7:10 p.m. ET on ESPN+
Cleveland remains great, but Cincy is my draw here. This team is still fun and has sneaked into second place in the NL Central despite a record under .500 (32-35). They are 7-3 in their last 10. This is a good game. 

NBA: Celtics at Mavericks
8:30 p.m. ET on ABC
It probably comes down to this. I don’t think Dallas can survive a 3-0 hole. Can anyone besides Luka Dončić pierce the Boston defense? 

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

You probably know what a 50/50 raffle is. But did you know the best one is in Toronto? Kaitlyn McGrath has a great story on the Blue Jays’ “eye-popping” raffle, which gives out millions to charities every year — and to lucky fans. Someone buy me a ticket. 

Don’t miss Brendan Quinn’s story on Angela Moser, who’s overseeing the construction of Pinehurst No. 10 — yes, 10 — which could be the most impressive course yet for the U.S. Open host property

We’ll have plenty more U.S. Open content tomorrow. For now, read our shiny new Big Board, which deftly stacks up everyone else against massive favorite Scottie Scheffler

Thirty years later, “Above the Rim,” still considered a classic, paints a much different picture. Jason Jones explains how. 

I thought the latest episode of The Athletic NBA Show with Jovan Buha was interesting on the state of the Lakers’ coaching search. 

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: The 2007 New York Times report on Billy Donovan’s weeklong tenure as Orlando Magic coach. Love a throwback. 

Most-read on the website yesterday: Our latest MLB Power Rankings. Giants on the upswing.

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(Photo: Jeff Curry / USA Today Sports)