May 25, 2024

The lowdown on new hitting stats; how the Padres kept the Dodgers at bay

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The Dads are pitching, Paul Goldschmidt is scuffling, we have new metrics and a recap of the big Paul Skenes debut. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Will bat speed numbers change the game again?

We live in an era of watching new statistics come to light as technology advances at light speed. You don’t have to be a grandparent to remember a time when the best data we had was pop time, pitch velocity and home run distance.

Now, we have spin rate, xwOBA, spin efficiency, exit velocity … the list goes on, and it just got a little longer, with the release of the Bat Tracking Leaderboard over on Baseball Savant. Here’s a visual from their site:

Who better to explain — both the stats and their potential ramifications — than our resident data wrestler Eno Sarris? Eno provides context in his story today, pointing out that as each new measurement has been introduced, that skill has begun to be valued, scouted and developed.

But, as Eno points out, ramifications are lurking. Namely, we’re already seeing an increase in oblique injuries among hitters. Based on the quotes from players and coaches, it’s evident that this isn’t a simple high-is-good stat: Swing accuracy matters a whole lot, too.

Here’s another fun visual:

See that little dot on the top left? That’s Luis Arraez, who swings slower than anyone, but squares up the ball at an absurdly high rate. See the one on the far right, swinging harder than anyone else in baseball? That’s Giancarlo Stanton. And the outlier up top, middle-right who swings hard and squares the ball up? That’s Juan Soto.

This tells me that as new as these stats are, they definitely have some correlation with the eye test. Those are exactly the players I would expect to be in those positions.

Swing length (on the leaderboard, not pictured) feels pretty on-point as well: the longest swing in the league is Javier Báez (8.7 feet; Stanton is second at 8.4) and the shortest is Arraez (5.9, Brice Turang is second at 6.0).

More bat speed: Good news, Giants fans: Matt Chapman’s bat speed is fine.

Ken’s Notebook: Paul Goldschmidt’s woes at the plate

From my story today with Katie Woo about the struggles of Goldschmidt:

Before Saturday’s game, Paul Goldschmidt sounded lost. During the game, he looked lost, striking out in his first four at-bats to extend his slump to 0-for-32.

Perhaps that was the worst of it. Goldschmidt avoided the first five-strikeout game of his career with a 103.3 mph single, then produced three more hard-hit balls Sunday, including a home run and game-tying single.

So, is Goldschmidt, 36, finally turning it around, or was his performance Sunday in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers merely another brief glimpse of what he once was in a season of fits and starts?

Not even he can say for sure.

Goldschmidt has shown flashes at other times this season, going 2-for-5 with a two-run double at Citi Field on April 27, and producing a four-hit game in Detroit three days later. But his overall numbers — a .197 batting average, three home runs and a .559 OPS that is far below his career .900 mark — tell a grim story.

Before each of the three night games in Milwaukee, Goldschmidt was on the field five hours before first pitch, taking extra batting practice. Cardinals manager Oli Marmol gave the seven-time All-Star his first day off of the season in the opener of the four-game series. Rather than take a mental break, Goldschmidt continued searching for answers.

Marmol said Goldschmidt was not happy with his load, the gathering of momentum on his backside as he prepared to unleash his swing. Goldschmidt, according to Marmol, said he had never experienced the rhythm of his hands and hips being so out of sync, explaining to his manager, “It’s hard to find a solution for something that has never been a problem.”

Informed of Marmol’s interpretation, Goldschmidt said, “I mean, I think there are a lot of different ways to describe it. That would probably be the easiest way.”

And this is a new issue?

“Ah, I mean, I’ve always had times when I’ve struggled,” the 14-year veteran continued. “This, whether it’s longer or worse or it happens to be the first 40 games instead of the middle 40 … I can’t predict, but hopefully if I start playing better I’ll be able to give you a better answer. If I knew exactly what was going on … I can see on video, that’s not what I want to do. But sometimes it’s a little harder to figure out what’s causing that.”

Padres pitching on point against Dodgers

The Dodgers spent the offseason acquiring more stars than a rogue black hole. The Padres spent theirs jettisoning the biggest one they had. And yet, while San Diego still trails Los Angeles by a league-high 5 1/2 games in the NL West, the head-to-head contests have defied convention. After a series win this weekend, the Padres lead the Dodgers 5-3 in the season series.

This weekend’s series highlighted something the Padres are doing exceptionally well: pitching. Each team scored just six runs over the weekend, but the Padres sandwiched a 5-0 loss with wins of 2-1 and 4-0 — against the league’s most potent offense.

Friday night was a pitching clinic, as Michael King and Tyler Glasnow became the first opposing starting pitchers since at least 1893 to both go at least seven innings with two or fewer hits and 10+ strikeouts, per Elias Sports Bureau. The Padres won it on a walk-off single by newest Padre Luis Arraez.

Saturday, the Dodgers struck back, as James Paxton continued his strong 2024 season with six shutout innings. Then yesterday, Yu Darvish retired the first 14 batters he faced in the rubber game.

We’re not yet at the point of being concerned for the Dodgers — the second-largest division lead is by Philadelphia (two games over Atlanta). But it’s still meaningful for the Padres, who haven’t won a season series against the Dodgers since 2010. From 2011 to 2023, they went 72-153 against their biggest division rival.

They have five more head-to-head games  — July 30-31 in San Diego, and Sept. 24-26 in Los Angeles.

More Padres: Closer Robert Suarez’s ERA is 0.49. He’s done it while throwing fastballs about 90 percent of the time.

More Dodgers: Shohei Ohtani was out of the lineup Sunday with lower back tightness. It’s “precautionary” thus far, but something to keep an eye on.

Paul Skenes debuts, chaos ensues

We got what we were looking for (and a whole lot more) in Paul Skenes’ big-league debut on Saturday.

Skenes, the first pick of last year’s draft, was called up to start against the Cubs and had a good (though not overwhelming) day. Wearing No. 30 on his back, the 21-year-old threw a first-pitch ball to Mike Tauchman at 101 mph, the same speed as strike three, five pitches later.

Skenes threw 17 of his 84 pitches in triple digits, finishing the day after four-plus innings, allowing six hits, striking out seven and walking two. He also allowed three runs, but that’s a bit misleading, given how they scored. Skenes allowed two singles to start the fifth, giving way to reliever Kyle Nicolas with a 6-1 lead.

But after getting two quick strikeouts, Nicolas lost the handle. Here’s how the rest of the inning went:

  • Hit-by-pitch
  • Walk (RBI)
  • Walk (RBI)
  • Walk (RBI)
  • Pitching change: Josh Fleming
  • Walk (RBI)
  • Infield single (RBI)
  • Rain delay (2:20)
  • Pitching change: Colin Holderman
  • Walk (RBI)
  • The Pirates’ broadcast losing the K-zone on the broadcast, leading the Pirates’ play-by-play broadcaster Greg Brown to say, without a hint of irony: “Obviously, we’ve lost the strike zone.” Yes, Greg, I believe you’re right.
  • … Walk (RBI)
  • Lineout to center

All told, the top of the fifth inning lasted 2:46 (the average length of a baseball game this year, as of a couple weeks ago, was 2:36).

When it was done, the Cubs led 7-6, a lead which would last until … the bottom of the inning, when Yasmani Grandal hit a three-run home run. The Pirates won 10-9. Whew. Chris Strauss has more here, including what we know about the Pirates’ plans for Skenes.

Handshakes and High Fives

The 2024 Angels are playing “Remember Some Guys” in real time.

Darryl Strawberry, who will have his number retired by the Mets on June 1, was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1983. Two years earlier, he almost quit baseball. Tim Britton has the story.

Sean Burroughs, Padres first-round pick in 1998 and son of Jeff Burroughs, has passed away. He was 43.

The Cleveland Guardians are the latest team to reveal their City Connect uniforms.

Cats and squirrels are so blasé. Now we have turtles and pelicans invading the outfield.

The Giants’ injuries just keep coming: Jung Hoo Lee dislocated his shoulder after colliding with the wall. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Dansby Swanson is on the IL, trading places with Seiya Suzuki.

Max Fried nearly ended the Braves’ 30-year no-hitter drought, but it was spoiled in the ninth inning. I, however, want to show you this play from that game, where Jeff McNeil’s glove was knocked off, but he stuck with it: 

Give him the Gold, uh … Hand?

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(Top photo of Yu Darvish: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)