Mr. Stats Notes: White Sox vs Red Sox makes for Mother’s Day treat

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Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good afternoon to you, wherever you may be.

As a lifelong baseball fanatic and long-time member of NBC’s baseball coverage (more on me later), I learned about baseball by listening to Vin Scully, with a radio in my ear at bedtime to hear his calls of Dodger games. Then, not even 15 years later, I found myself in the NBC booth with him and Joe Garagiola, feeding the Frick Award winners stats, stories and information well before the computer age.

I’ve been called “Mr. Stats” and throughout the course of this MLB Sunday Leadoff on Peacock and NBC, I look forward to using this column to tell some stories about the players, the team and the sport itself through the thing I know best: the numbers.

But first, I want to talk about reservations. You know, for Mother’s Day.  See, on Sunday, May 8 — Mother’s Day — the Chicago White Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first pitch is scheduled for 11:35 am eastern. With major league games averaging 3:05 in April, that means the game should end around 2:45 pm. That leaves plenty of time to schedule an early Mother’s Day dinner on the east, or a Mother’s Day brunch out west.

Now, the White Sox and Red Sox haven’t gotten out of the gate quickly in 2022 — that would be an understatement — but the track is long and there is more than enough time to make up ground. Chicago manager Tony La Russa managed the Cardinals in 2011, when they came from 10.5 games back in late August to edge Atlanta for a wild-card berth on the last day of the season. And that year the Cards won the World Series. Chicago has suffered a ton of injuries, but they should remain in the hunt all season. They might need patience more than anything else.

The White Sox troubles really can, in large part, be explained by injuries to starter Lance Lynn and 3B Yoan Moncada and outfielder Eloy Jimenez. The Red Sox can’t use injuries as an excuse. Yes, they are missing ace starter Chris Sale — and there is no timetable for his return. But really, this team just hasn’t hit.

In 2021, Boston scored 829 runs (5.1 per game) and had an OPS of .777. In 2022, through May 3, the Red Sox were scoring just 3.5 runs per game, with an OPS of .631. This team will hit, eventually.  (Boston also has to find a reliable closer, but first things, first. Start hitting).

What I want to look at in this game are the shortstops. This is an era of marvelous shortstops. The best of the bunch may be San Diego’s 23-years old Fernando Tatis, Jr. who hasn’t played yet this season, recovering from a fractured wrist. There’s Tampa Bay’s 21-year old Wander Franco, and Toronto’s Bo Bichette is only 24. Francisco Lindor is an early MVP candidate, playing shortstop for the Mets. Trea Turner is in the middle of a powerful Dodgers lineup.  Former Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is starting to heat up for the Rangers; and former Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is getting hot for the Twins.

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There’s a Crawford that had a career season with the Giants last year (35-years old Brandon) and a 27-years old Crawford coming into his own with the Mariners (J.P.).

But two of the best shortstops—actually, three of the best if you count Trevor Story, currently playing second base for Boston—will be in Sunday morning’s White Sox/Red Sox game.

Xander Bogaerts has the right to opt-out of his contract after this season, and is playing like he deserves a big raise, whether in Boston or somewhere else.  He’s been among the league leaders in batting all season. And Xander is leading the majors in BAPIP (batting average on balls in play).

Both Bogaerts and Tim Anderson are ranked high in wRC+ (a rate statistic which attempts to credit a hitter for the value of each outcome, rather than treat all hits or times on base equally).

Tim Anderson is batting .313 with a .855 OPS.

Now, here’s the thing with Anderson. He’s near the top of the league in O-Swing%. He swings at everything. And he’s been connecting.

In his first 21 games, or 86 plate appearances, he has walked exactly…once. His BB% is just 1.2% (the MLB average is about 8.5%).

For that matter, Bogaerts walked just seven times in his first 95 plate appearances. And teammate Rafael Devers walked just two times in his first 103 plate appearances.

Which is why the Red Sox and White Sox have walked the fewest amount of times in major league baseball this year. The White Sox have walked only 51 times in their first 24 games.

Which is one reason this could be what I call a “Gary U.S. Bonds” game. It could be over by “A Quarter to Three” And on Mother’s Day, that’s not a bad thing at all.

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Elliott’s Note of the Week

The New York Mets are off to their best start since 2006. It’s also one of their best starts since 1986, the last time they won the World Series. But I have questions about whether their starting pitching will hold up. Max Scherzer is 37, Carlos Carrasco is 35, Chris Bassett is 33, Jacob deGrom when he comes back is 33, even Taijuan Walker is 29.

1986 Mets rotation:

Dwight Gooden 21
Ron Darling 25
Sid Fernandez 23
Bob Ojeda 28
Rick Aguilera 24

When the Mets went to the World Series in 2015, they had another set of babies in the rotation (Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and deGrom, anchored by 41-years old Bartolo Colon).

Philadelphia Phillies v. New York Mets

That being said, I can’t wait till Jacob deGrom comes back and shares the top of the rotation with Scherzer.  I know you’re thinking Mets manager Buck Showalter has never had a pair of Aces in his hand like this, but remember in 2000, Buck managed Arizona.  Showalter had 36-year old Randy Johnson and 33-year old Curt Schilling.

A Long Distance Lyle-er

Jordan Lyles pitches for the Baltimore Orioles, one of the worst teams in baseball. At one point in his career, Lyles was the youngest player in the major leagues. Unlike his contemporaries that have had long, illustrious careers dotted with All-Star Game appearances, postseason game heroics, or bold-typed league-leading numbers, Lyles takes the ball for also-rans.

In his first three seasons with the Astros, his teams lost 106, 107, and 111 games. If I remember correctly, the television ratings of the cable network broadcasting the Astros games those years were like the grade point average of the Delta House fraternity in Animal House: 0.0. But then, after the 2013 season, the 23-years old Lyles was traded to the Rockies for outfielder Dexter Fowler. I caught up with Walt Weiss recently, who managed Colorado at the time, and told me: “I was excited to get him, we needed him, we were thirsting for pitching…and he started out 5-0 before he got hurt.”

Weiss’ memory is pretty damn good. He was 5-0, and after two months his record was 5-1, 3.46 ERA pitching at Coors Field. After Lyles’ first three seasons in Houston (14-29, 5.35 ERA, and an ERA+ of 74—meaning he was 26% “worse” than a league average pitcher), it appeared he was on his way to stardom. And then he got hurt, came back two months later, and wasn’t effective. And the Rockies lost 96 games. Two more losing seasons in Colorado, and Jordan went to San Diego, where the team lost 91 games. Selected off waivers in 2018 by the Brewers from the Padres, Jordan pitched well in relief down the stretch but was left off the playoff roster. With a bad Pirates team in 2019, he was once again acquired by the Brewers for a stretch run. This time he was brilliant (7-1, 2.45 ERA in 11 starts), but the team lost a Wild Card game and his only postseason experience lasted less than three hours. The Brewers lost a late lead as Trent Grisham couldn’t make a play in the outfield, and Lyles didn’t get in the game.

Jordan signed with Texas, and pitched for bad teams in the shortened 2020 season and then a 102-loss team last year. In March, Lyles signed with Baltimore, for another, inevitable last place finish.

The only thing Jordan Lyles has ever led the league in is…Earned Runs Allowed (twice) and Home Runs Allowed (once). If you retired his jersey numbers, there wouldn’t be enough numbers left to field a team (he has worn uniform numbers 41, 18, 24, 27, 25, 31, 23, 24, and now 28.

Jordan Lyles has a career mark of 56-81, 5.19 ERA in nearly 1,200 innings of work.

That’s tough to do. It’s incredibly hard to make it to the Show. It’s even harder to stick around and stay in the Show. In 2021, following the Rangers’ loss to the White Sox, the team and staff honored Lyles for reaching 10 full years of major league service time. According to the MLB Players Association, fewer than 10% of players in baseball history have played for a decade or more.

One might wonder: how does he remain in the game? His career ERA is 5.19. His career ERA+ is 82, meaning he is 18% worse than an average player. Surely, teams want younger. Surely by now, teams want cheaper.

“I’m so proud of him. It’s hard — so, so hard, to be a pitcher in this game for as long as he’s done it,” said his former manager Weiss. Imagine Jordan Lyles — lasting longer than probably 95% of all pitchers — and doing it without great results. What an inspiration — staying in the game as long as you can.

Talking to Walt Weiss around the Braves batting cage, where Weiss serves as Brian Snitker’s bench coach, I reminded Walt of his rookie season of 1988. I told him it was my first season doing the World Series for NBC, and Joe Garagiola had told me to take it all in. Joe said he played in the World Series when he was a rookie in 1946 and thought he would make it back every year. Of course, he never did make it back. It was a lesson he preached to rookies on every World Series he covered as a broadcaster, and I asked Weiss about it. “I do remember Joe telling me that. It’s hard when you’re that young to have perspective. I was so spoiled, making it to the World Series my first three years. But boy did I learn. I hadn’t been on a World Series winner since 1989 until this past one with Atlanta.”

I love baseball, and people that spend their lives captivated by it. Maybe that’s why I root so hard for Jordan Lyles to keep hanging around. Lyles once played in the 2010 Futures Game, a game that featured Mike Trout among others.

Hey, it’s not like I don’t root for Mike Trout. But it’s easy to root for superstars. Sometimes, I root for the other guys fighting to keep their spot, fighting to stave off the inevitable to remain in the game as long as possible.

As Vin once said “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an old-timer’s game.”

About the Author
I’m Elliott Kalb, and I’ve been a part of NBC’s baseball coverage for a long time, now. I travelled with NBC’s Game of the Week in the 1980s; I was part of the postseason coverage in the late 1990s, working with Bob Costas, Joe Morgan, and Bob Uecker. I produced the Baseball venue from several Summer Olympics, including the coverage of Team USA’s gold medal win from Sydney, Australia in 2000.

In any case, you can’t tell the history of NBC Sports and their baseball coverage without me. Don’t believe me? Check out the history section of NBC’s website, which details the storytelling and iconic moments of NBC Sports. There’s a picture of me giving information to Tom Seaver before the last game of the 1989 NLCS, which served as the final game of NBC’s MLB contract, ending 42 consecutive years of baseball on NBC.

I never completely left NBC Sports—even in my years covering baseball for other entities, mostly MLB Network. Which is why I’m—forgive me—proud as a peacock to be connected to NBC Sports and their baseball package in 2022. Going home is important in real life, as well as in baseball.