May 25, 2024

The Brewers base stealer who can’t be caught; how the Royals got their closer

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The under-the-radar transaction that landed the Royals their closer, recapping an interesting week for the New York teams and we now have two streaks worth mentioning. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Catch Brice Turang if you can

We’ve been keeping you updated on Steven Kwan’s streak of plate appearances without a strikeout (more on that below), but there’s another streak I’m starting to keep an eye on: The Brewers’ Brice Turang currently ranks second in baseball with 14 stolen bases — four behind Elly De La Cruz. But while De La Cruz has been caught stealing three times, Turang hasn’t been caught once.

In fact, the last time Turang was caught stealing was last July 4 against the Cubs. That means he’s stolen his last 31 bases at a 100 percent success rate.

He still has a long way to go to hit Vince Coleman’s record of 50, set back in 1987. In fact, he’s still 10 away from the longest mark this season — Trea Turner’s streak of 41 ended on April 24, and was the third-longest streak in history. (More on that in Jayson Stark’s Weird & Wild column.)

So, maybe it’s not special-special just yet. In fact, with the league’s new rules encouraging steals, maybe it’s not that special at all? But it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Meanwhile, Turang isn’t just Billy Hamilton-ing it in Milwaukee. He’s hitting .309 (.803 OPS), and while he’s not a huge power threat (two home runs), he’s doing one thing better than most: Per Baseball Savant, his Whiff% is 12.9 percent, which puts him in the upper 98th percentile in the sport (his 13.9 percent strikeout rate is 21st-best in the league).

Depending on which version of WAR you prefer, he either has 1.5 (Baseball Reference) or 1.3 (FanGraphs). Either way, he’s been the third-most valuable player on a team that has surprised a lot of prognosticators by going 19-11 in their first 30 games; they lead the Cubs by one game in the NL Central.

Ken’s Notebook: How the Royals got their closer

From my latest notes column:

The transaction was the kind fans barely notice. One year ago today, the Kansas City Royals acquired right-hander James McArthur from the Phillies for minor-league outfielder Junior Marin and the $100,000 waiver price. Little did the Royals know, they were getting their future closer.

Actually, the Royals’ pitching brain trust — pitching coach Brian Sweeney, assistant pitching coach Zach Bove and bullpen coach Mitch Stetter — had an inkling of what McArthur could do. General manager J.J Picollo, who also had recommendations from his scouts to acquire McArthur, decided to trust his coaches, all of whom were in their first year with the club.

“This was our first chance with new people, different ideas,” Picollo said. “I thought, you know what? I’m going to pursue this. It was a little bit of an experiment from a front-office perspective. It was the first time our pitching coaches were as adamant, saying, ‘Get this guy.’”

McArthur, the Phillies’ 12th-round pick in 2018, was available on waivers after the team designated him for assignment. Picollo could have simply lodged a claim, taking the chance that every team with a worse record would pass on McArthur. But to separate the Royals from other potential suitors, Picollo also offered Marin, a 20-year-old outfielder in rookie ball.

Picollo said the Royals’ coaches specifically thought they could help McArthur by changing the shape of his breaking ball. McArthur, 27, reported to Triple A and started to make adjustments. The Royals promoted him on June 28. In his first outing, against the Cleveland Guardians, he gave up seven runs in one inning. Back to Triple A he went.

Gradually, things started to click. Paul Gibson, the Royals’ director of pitching performance, told Picollo, “This is starting to look a lot different.” McArthur returned in August and posted a 2.01 ERA the rest of the way, completing his season with 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

The Royals didn’t intend for him to be their closer, signing free agent Will Smith to fill that role. But when Smith faltered, they switched to McArthur, with spectacular results. Since April 5, McArthur is 7-for-7 in save opportunities with 12 strikeouts and two walks in 10 2/3 scoreless innings. He is throwing his curveball about 35 percent of the time, nearly as often as his sinker.

Picollo said McArthur’s success has made him more likely to act on the suggestion of his pitching coaches.

“They’re not all going to work out,” Picollo said of such additions. “But if you can get one every year or two, it makes you a lot better.”

The week that was for the Mets and Yankees

Brett Baty and Harrison Bader celebrate after Francisco Lindor’s walk-off single gives the Mets a split against the Cubs. (John Jones / USA Today)

I can’t decide which New York team played a more compelling series this week. Both were interesting, so let’s take a little look at each one.

The Mets split a 4-game series with the Cubs this week, and check out this list of occurrences:

• Monday: Luis Severino takes a no-hitter into the eighth, but the Mets lose the game 3-1 after a Christopher Morel home run in the ninth inning.

• Tuesday: Shortly after making a decision to keep DJ Stewart over infielder Zack Short when in order to add J.D. Martinez to the roster, Stewart’s three-run home run was the difference in a 4-2 win.

• Wednesday: The Mets thought they had scored the game-tying run, since Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya had set up on the plate before tagging Pete Alonso on a play at home. That’s blocking, right? Nope. Alonso was out, and the game was over: Cubs 1, Mets 0. MLB later clarified that they had learned some lessons from a similar play last year.

• Thursday: After trailing 4-0 and 5-2 and 6-5, the game went to extras. Starling Marte threw out runners at home plate in the 10th and 11th inning, then Francisco Lindor walked it off with a two-run single in the 11th for a 7-6 win.

There’s no replicating October baseball, but the level of drama from that series sure felt like a dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Yankees/Orioles series had less game-by-game intrigue, though Juan Soto’s Eutaw Street blast was impressive, and Kyle Bradish’s grand return from the IL was a success. But it was still compelling, for two reasons:

• The last season in which the Yankees had a losing record at Camden Yards was 2016. Since then, they’ve gone a combined 30-20 in Baltimore (including a 10-0 record in 2019) as the Orioles slogged through a brutal tank-and-rebuild process. After this week’s 1-3 series, the only way the Yankees can keep that streak alive is to sweep the three-game series on July 12-14 (they only play seven games there thanks to last year’s schedule revision; it used to be 10).

• By winning three out of four, the Orioles overtook the Yankees for first place in the AL East. That’s not particularly shocking — they won the division last year with an AL-best 101-61 record — but given the Yankees’ strong start, it was definitely a statement series to overtake them in head-to-head competition.

More OriolesGrayson Rodriguez is on the IL with right shoulder inflammation. The Orioles are calling up John Means to replace him.

More Yankees: Brendan Kuty asks how the Yankees might spark a slumping Aaron Judge.

No-strikeout streak update

Steven Kwan went 0-for-4 with a walk in an 8-2 loss to the Astros, but he did not strike out. His streak is now 67 plate appearances.

For those who are curious, here are some notable strikeout-less streaks:

  • Record: Joe Sewell (Cleveland) — 514 (1929)
  • Expansion-era record: Dave Cash (Philadelphia) — 223 (1976)
  • 21st-century record: Juan Pierre (Florida) — 147 (2004)

Baseball Card of the Week

This is a 1950 Bowman Del Ennis card. Here’s a free shout-out for SportLots, where I’ve bought old cards for relatively cheap in years past. Ennis’ SABR Bio page includes my new favorite baseball history paragraph:

In the spring of 1942 Phillies scout Jocko Collins took a 15-cent trolley ride from Shibe Park to Olney High School; he was anxious to see how a young pitcher named Dick McTough could handle a husky outfielder who played for Olney.

Things did not go well for Dick McTough. Ennis hit three home runs and a bases-loaded double, per SABR, and the scout shifted his attention to Ennis, who played 14 years in the big leagues and made three All-Star teams.

Handshakes and High Fives

Tyler Kepner’s “Sliders” column focuses on what Erick Fedde figured out during his year in Korea, but of course, there’s so much more, including when Bob Costas interviewed “Sam Malone” at Cheers.

This week’s Weird & Wild column by Jayson Stark has something new: an opening monologue by Eric Stengel, former head writer for David Letterman.

Jim Bowden offers optimism (and pessimism) for all 30 teams.

Mike Tauchman is out to prove that his breakout 2023 with the Cubs was no fluke, says Sahadev Sharma.

Cody Stavenhagen tells us why Riley Greene is once again looking like one of baseball’s best young stars.

Zack Meisel fills us in on what he’s learned about new Guardians manager Stephen Vogt after the skipper’s first month-plus on the job.

Amidst all the RSN chaos, Andrew Marchand tells us that MLB is deep in talks to make Roku the new home of Sunday Morning Baseball.

Chad Jennings gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics of the Red Sox making 16 roster moves in five days.

You can buy tickets to every MLB game here.

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(Top photo of Brice Turang from April 2023: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)