MLB Quick Takes: Aaron Judge’s Home Run Tear, Christian Yelich's Slump, More
Another week of MLB action is behind us, which means it's time for another installment of quick takes.
The 2020 campaign has provided no shortage of storylines, and this recent run of games followed the trend. There's a slumping former MVP, an injured two-way star, a predictably subpar umpire, a slugging New York Yankee, a gaggle of scintillating rookies and much more.
Let's examine it all while we wait for the next plot twists in this odd season.
The Brewers Should Be Worried About Christian Yelich's Slump
Two things can be equally true.
First, Christian Yelich is one of the best hitters in baseball, and he's 28 years old, which means he's still in his prime. Second, the Milwaukee Brewers should be concerned about his frigid start to the 2020 season.
Eventually, the 2018 National League MVP will start raking again. There's no indication he's hurt and, again, he's at an age at which few players with his pedigree simply forget how to hit.
But he's limped out of the gate by going 3-for-34 with 16 strikeouts. Milwaukee, meanwhile, entered play Thursday with a 4-5 record. Nine contests may not seem like a lot, but in a 60-game dash, that represents 15 percent of the season.
Under normal circumstances, Yelich would have time to get himself right. But in this abnormal year, the Brewers could be sunk in a competitive division if he keeps scuffling for another week or two.
Yelich himself predicted this possibility.
"You're going to see really good players have really bad years," he told reporters before the season. "It's going to happen. Not only position-player-wise, but pitcher-wise. You don't have that large sample size for everything to even out, so if you get off to a tough start or a bad start, you're really behind the eight-ball."
It's Time for Umpire Angel Hernandez to Go
Angel Hernandez is not a good umpire. We are not alone in that assessment.
Here's a worst-hits compilation featuring some of Hernandez's most egregious calls. Here's a 2013 tweet from Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones in which he stated, "I will not watch a game, any game, officiated by Angel Hernandez! His incompetence amazes me and I'm tired of MLB doing squat about it!"
In 2018, Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez called Hernandez "as bad as there is" and said, "Major League Baseball needs to do something about Angel."
We could go on, but if you watch baseball even casually, you're probably familiar with Hernandez's work.
It was on display again Wednesday when he clearly blew a strike-three call on New York Yankees first baseman Mike Ford. It led to a tirade from Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, who was ultimately tossed by Hernandez.
Nevin's string of f-bombs earned him the ejection. But Hernandez, who has somehow been a big league umpire for almost 30 years, remains the larger issue.
Based on his performance, that's about 29 years too many.
After the Mike Soroka Injury, the Braves Need to Add an Impact SP
When right-hander Mike Soroka went down Monday night, the Atlanta Braves' playoff hopes didn't go down with him. But they took a serious hit.
The 23-year-old posted a 2.68 ERA in 174.2 innings in 2019 and appeared poised to become the Braves' undisputed ace. In his third start of 2020, however, a torn Achilles put him on the shelf for the season.
Atlanta was already without potential starting pitchers Cole Hamels (shoulder injury), Felix Hernandez (COVID-19 opt-out) and Mike Foltynewicz (designated for assignment). Max Fried has allowed four runs on nine hits in 17.2 innings. But no other healthy Braves pitcher who has started a game owns an ERA below 6.57.
Clearly, Atlanta needs to bolster its starting corps, possibly via trade. Impact arms who could be available before the Aug. 31 trade deadline include the Detroit Tigers' Matthew Boyd, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Robbie Ray and the San Francisco Giants' Johnny Cueto.
The good news for the Braves? They have a deep farm system we ranked No. 3 in the game, which means they could swing a meaningful deal without sacrificing any top-tier prospects.
Shohei Ohtani's Pitching Shutdown Is Bad for the Angels, Worse for Baseball
It's too early to call Shohei Ohtani a bust. He's still only 26 years old and was a two-way sensation who won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2018.
But it is time to ask if we'll ever get to enjoy an extended stretch of hitting and pitching dominance from the much-hyped Japanese star.
Ohtani entered 2020 on the recovery trail after not pitching at all in 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. In his first start for the Los Angeles Angels on July 26, he gave up three hits, three walks and five earned runs against the Oakland Athletics without recording an out.
He took the hill again Aug. 2 against the Houston Astros and started more promisingly, recording a 1-2-3 first inning and hitting 97.1 mph on the radar gun. Ohtani wobbled with his command in the second inning, however, and his velocity dropped into the high 80s before he was removed.
An MRI revealed an injury near his surgically repaired right elbow and led the Angels to shut down his pitching for the foreseeable future. He can still serve as the team's designated hitter, though he'll have to improve upon the .148/.179/.407 slash line he's posted through 28 plate appearances this year.
This is bad news for the Halos, who were counting on Ohtani to boost a suspect starting rotation. And it's even worse news for the game, which is simply more fun when he's dominating on the hill and in the batter's box.
The Cubs' Hot Start Might Be an Illusion
Twelve games into the 2020 season, the Chicago Cubs are 10-2. That's good enough for first place in the NL Central and ties them with the Minnesota Twins for the best record in baseball.
After missing the postseason in 2019, are the Cubbies poised for a resurgence? Not so fast.
Yes, Chicago will almost certainly be in the mix for a playoff spot with the expanded 16-team field. And there is talent on the roster, much of it left over from the club's drought-busting 2016 title run. But there are reasons to think Chicago's scalding start could be an illusion.
First, six of the Cubs' 10 wins have come against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, rebuilding teams who will likely finish last in their respective divisions.
Second, and perhaps more damningly, Chicago's bullpen ranks 29th with a 7.20 ERA. Closer Craig Kimbrel has given up four walks, four hits and six earned runs in 1.2 dreadful innings.
The Cubs could try to address their relief woes at the trade deadline. But the market for bullpen help will be crowded, and full-on sellers will be few and far between.
As Chicago faces stiffer competition going forward, its pen may be exposed. And that shiny record might take a tumble.
The Diamondbacks Look Like Impending Sellers
The Arizona Diamondbacks added key pieces this offseason, including left-hander Madison Bumgarner and outfielders Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun.
It was an admirable effort, but it might already be time for the Snakes to throw in the towel and become sellers.
Through 12 games, Arizona is 4-8. Its minus-24 run differential is the worst in the National League. And the D-backs are looking up not merely at the potent Los Angeles Dodgers but also at the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants in the NL West.
Their hitters rank 28th with a .623 OPS. Their pitchers rank 28th with a 5.71 ERA. Not much is going right.
Unless things turn around posthaste, the Diamondbacks should consider unloading expiring assets such as left-hander Robbie Ray while adding prospects and young talent and looking to the future.
The Marlins Could Be 2020's Cinderella
The Miami Marlins have had a weird start, to say the least. A rash of COVID-19 cases among players and staff interrupted their season, limiting them to only six games entering play Thursday.
So far, however, Miami is 5-1 and in first place in the NL East. Can it last?
The Marlins have a lot of emerging talent. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Fish won't be shy about giving reps to youngsters such as second baseman Isan Diaz and top prospects from their No. 5-ranked farm system, including right-hander Sixto Sanchez and outfielder Monte Harrison.
Chances are Miami is at least a year or two away from making any noise. But in the long, strange trip that is 2020, how oddly fitting would it be for a club whose season was nearly derailed by the coronavirus to blossom ahead of schedule and make a Cinderella run?
The 2020 AL Rookie Class Is Stacked
The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year race is going to be a doozy.
Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert is the early favorite with a .354/.415/.542 slash line through 53 plate appearances that also puts him in the MVP conversation.
But don't count out Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson, who struck out five in five scoreless innings during his MLB debut while displaying the stuff and confidence of a big league ace. Then there's Oakland Athletics lefty Jesus Luzardo, who owns a 2.31 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11.2 innings and threw five electric, scoreless frames in his first major league start Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Seattle Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis owns a .385 average and 1.016 OPS. Plus, toolsy Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell was recently called up and has collected two hits in his first eight at-bats.
This is the next generation of stars, and we get to watch them right now.
Aaron Judge Is on a Record-Setting HR Pace
Not sure if you've heard, but Aaron Judge is good at hitting home runs.
Through the Yankees' first 11 games, Judge has seven homers. In a 162-game season, that would put him on pace for...103 dingers.
OK, so it's silly to discuss on-pace stats after such a small sample. But we're also talking about a generational power hitter who swatted 52 home runs during his rookie season in 2017. He's still just 28 years old and is seemingly fully healthy after two injury-marred campaigns.
Could Judge be on a trajectory to break or at least challenge Barry Bonds' all-time single-season fence-clearing record of 73 when the 60-game timer goes "ding?"
If he hits 27 homers in 60 games, it would put him on track to hit almost exactly 73 over a 162-game season. That would mean he'd need to hit 20 more in New York's next 49 games.
So far, Judge has launched the equivalent of one home run in about 64 percent of the Yankees' games. Going forward, he'd need to keep that rate at about 41 percent to stay on pace for a prorated 73.
That may not happen. Quite likely, it won't. But if it does, it'll leave us all with a tantalizing and unanswerable "what if?"
All statistics current entering Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.