As one of the bookworms in my circles of friends, I get a lot of reading material recommended to me. Some good, some bad, some in Royals territory where neither extreme applies. Some are on a whole new level of badness, to the point where I'm not sure anyone at the publishing house ever read the darn thing before it got cranked it. And some books are so enjoyable that I rip through them in an afternoon, and immediately regret having not saved more for later. Enough about my reading habits.
One of the things I consistently find, as a sports fan who reads a lot, is that sports entertainment consistently falls short of the actual games themselves. For every October 1964 (David Halberstam), which I enjoyed immensely, I can name ten unreadable baseball books, the latter of which are often penned by a sportswriter from the local paper in the name of one of the players or managers. For every Major League or The Natural, there's half a dozen mediocre sports movies that play up the "trying hard equals success" angle to ridiculously saccharine levels.
All this is to say that I got handed "Odd Man Out" by Matt McCarthy the other day, which is the sordid tale of a Yale graduate who was drafted in the 21st round by the Anaheim (or wherever they're from) Angels. I was expecting another mediocre baseball book, and instead I got basically a minor league version of Ball Four. McCarthy's story is an interesting one, that of a kid who graduates in the same class as fellow lefthander Craig Breslow, and tries to make it in rookie ball. Along the way, he discovers more than one unsavory thing about baseball culture, the most obvious of which is the huge locker room split between english and spanish speaking players. McCarthy doesn't pull any punches and, being a Yalie, is a pretty good writer. That is to say, I'm hardly recommending Jose Canseco-esque prose here.
Anyway, if you have an opportunity to grab it and give it a read, I made it through in about six hours. It's a quick, good read, and I fully recommend it. Alberto Callaspo, Ervin Santana, and Joe Saunders (tonight's Mariners starter) all make appearances in the book, among others, and it's cool to get a first hand account of what these guys were like coming up through the minors. Without further ado, though, since at this rate we'll be here all night, on to the Pitchers Ups and Downs for the last couple weeks:
James Shields - SP -
Remember that rough stretch for about a month where Shields was getting okay results from totally mediocre peripherals? Yeah, that's over, apparently. In his last three starts, Shields has flipped the switch back on, to the tune of 24 strikeouts in 21.1 innings. He recorded seven innings of work in all three games, going one out into the eighth against the Twins. Over those three starts, Shields yielded five walks, sixteen hits, and four earned runs.
Speaking of ERA and Twins! If, as we often speculate, no starter wants to come out of a game, and they will say something such as, "I don't want to come out of game," when meeting with the manager or pitching coach. Shields et al must leap into the opportunity to pitch more against the Twins. It's probably more like "no Ned...Frank--whatever your name is, seriously, I'm (expletive) fine, leave the mound so I can lower my FIP."
I'm paraphrasing here. It's a world of paraphrasing.
Ervin Santana - SP -
Ervin's reached the point where he's exceeded expectations and thus whenever he hits a minor bump in the road that balloons his ERA up a third of a run, he's going to get the down arrow. Santana's K-rate has slowly fallen below seven per nine, which is kind of surprising given his run of good pitching to start the year, but his home run rate has dropped at the same time. Coupled with a nice-but-not-necessarily-due-for-regression 76.9 LOB%, and you've got quite a nice year for Santana. He'll be a very interesting free agent case.
Santana, oddly enough, comes up in McCarthy's book as someone who had been held back in the Angels decision despite his obvious talent, and apparently there were rumblings about his make-up/work ethic back then. Having seen him pitch all year long, I can honestly say I never would've guessed. Guy seems to work his posterior off out there, even if he last start wasn't pretty.
Wade Davis - SP -
Hey, he finally got demoted to the bullpen! But I hate to break my patterns, so here's a song. Well, a Bad Lip Reading song, but a song nonetheless.
Jeremy Guthrie - SP -
He has two complete game shutouts this season and, if you look at his mlb.com page, one of them is listed in his last ten starts as being the August 5th game against the Minnesota Twins. I backtracked through his gamelogs to find his other one and it was against the White Sox. This brings me to the question of whether there's ever been two less impressive teams to shut out. Then again, to be fair to Guthrie, Luke Hochevar probably wouldn't have made it out of the fifth inning in either game. Call it a wash. Forget I said anything.
Luis Mendoza - SP -
Pitched passably well in a mop-up role. Last seen August 23rd. Taking nothing away from Mendoza (beyond the obvious), that's probably a good sign.
Louis Coleman - RP -
Cool Hand Louis allowed a run finally, so I should probably give him a down arrow. I refuse to do so until his ERA is greater than my hat size.
An up and down year for Big Timmy has been more up than down recently, which is nice to see after a few of the rough stretches he's been through where it seemed like Yost was bringing him in three times a game. Collins is always going to be on the south side of reliable due to his walk rate and the north side of fungible due to a solid strikeout rate and a decent ability to limit home runs. Dude's got good stuff, but by now you should know that he doesn't always know where it's headed when it leaves his hand.
Aaron Crow - RP -
Had a couple poor outings lately, such is the life of the inconsistent reliever. Watching Crow pitch poorly against Seattle and others made me wonder what the contingency plan is if we lose him at some point down the line. Do we have any other reliever with a bird name available? If so, will his name be easy to elongate when yelling at the TV? I can't see myself getting excited about chanting "grrreeeeaattbllluuueeherrrrooon," personally.
Kelvin Herrera - RP -
He's proven this year that he's not Superman, but honestly Batman has plenty of uses with more intrigue. The only sucky part is the struggles you have to go through to humanize the character, dating Katie Holmes, and finding a suitable Robin that isn't JGL. We're proud of you for taking on this responsibility, Kelvin.
Greg Holland - RP -
He finally blew a save! But as usual, he's been stellar. I don't compare Greg Holland to superheroes, ladies and gents, I compare superheroes to Greg Holland. And they're all found wanting.
Bruce Chen - RP -
You know you're getting desperate for fantasy league starters when you pick up Chen two weeks before the playoffs. Did I mention I really have run out of things to say about Bruce Chen other than "don't pick him up in any fantasy league that values missing bats"?
Luke Hochevar - RP -
And lo, in 2013, Luke Hochevar rose, like a phoenix from a flame, from an overpaid bad back end starter to an overpaid good back end relief pitcher. Though I guess it seems as if Frank has finally noticed that he gets people out. Grumble grumble.
Danny Duffy - SP -
Earns the up arrow despite the shaky Seattle start because of his overall positive results since being called up. If you squint hard enough, you can see how Dayton Moore was planning for this team to make a run at the playoffs. It still doesn't make sense, but at least one of the pieces of that plan is a pretty good young starter, which Duffy appears to be.
Also has pitched pretty well in limited time, including 8 Ks in 4.1 innings in relief of the man listed above him. If pitching's the currency of baseball, you would we could cash a couple of these guys in for a young right fi--no no no, I promised myself I wouldn't cry.
Once again, folks, Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy is highly recommended! The Royals continue their bid to chase the Indians, Orioles, and Yankees for the right to chase Tampa. Wil Myers continues his quest to win me my (non-RR) fantasy league! Stay tuned!