Mostly MLB Notes: Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper making the leap

Max Scherzer has a ridiculous 30 Ks over 19.0 innings this season, as he’s become baseball’s premier strikeout pitcher. He finished second to Justin Verlander in the category last year, recording only eight fewer strikeouts in 50.2 fewer innings thanks to a major league leading 11.08 K/9 rate. Scherzer dealt with some shoulder issues late last season, and while cleaned up, his delivery remains somewhat violent, but he sure appears healthy now. Scherzer has allowed a 20.5 LD%, but with so few groundballs (35.9 GB%), his .385 BABIP looks especially unlucky. In fact, among the 15 starters with the lowest groundball rates this season (Scherzer’s is the 11th lowest), only two others have a BABIP above .300. Moreover, Detroit actually has the seventh best UZR (4.3) in baseball, so it hasn’t been a defense issue. Of course, we are dealing with a sample of fewer than 20.0 innings, but this highlights just how dominant Scherzer has been, as it’s not easy to post a 2.84 ERA when nearly 40 percent of your balls in play fall for hits. Over his past 90.1 innings (counting the postseason), Scherzer has a 1.89 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with a 119:20 K:BB ratio. The next step is pitching deeper into games, as he’s never reached 200.0 innings in a season. Still, it’s hard to complain about anything when it comes to Scherzer, who arguably should be viewed as a borderline top-five fantasy starter right now.

Bryce Harper entered Monday with a .369/.431/.738 line, including seven homers. What he did last year as a 19 year old suggested he’d be a future MVP candidate, and it looks like that time has already arrived. The prodigious power is obvious, but his athleticism to go along with it is what gives him so much fantasy upside. Harper has the ability to add 20+ steals, and remember, this is someone who scored 98 runs while playing fewer than 140 games as a teenager last season. That category, which is often underrated, should pick up moving forward in 2013 if Ryan Zimmerman can return to health. Dating back to last season, Harper has 19 homers over his last 225 at-bats, and he’s still developing. His current 33.3 HR/FB% is going to drop, but Harper is hitting the ball more in the air this year, and I feel like such a fool having him on none of my fantasy teams. There isn’t a player I’d rather own over the rest of 2013.

Vaseline high five prank.

This wing suit stunt is pretty legit.

After looking just about done with Seattle last year, Ichiro Suzuki was rejuvenated after getting traded to New York, batting .322 with five homers and 14 steals over 227 at-bats. Hitting in a much-improved lineup helped his counting stats, and his performance was also aided by Yankee Stadium, as he switched from the AL’s most extreme pitcher’s park to one of the league’s best hitter’s parks. Yankee Stadium has boosted home runs for LHB more than any park in baseball other than Coors Field over the past three years, according to The Bill James Handbook. So even at age 39, I was buying Ichiro in fantasy leagues after he re-signed with the Yankees during the offseason. So far, it’s been pretty disastrous, as he’s carrying an ugly .200/.250/.291 line. Ichiro’s K% and BB% aren’t drastically different than his career norms, although his 14.6 LD% is a career low. He’s yet to attempt a single stolen base, and it’s worrisome he’s already sitting against lefties thanks to the slow start. Ichiro is also hitting lower in the lineup against righties, but the Yankees’ run scoring hasn’t dropped nearly as much as many expected, and they will be getting reinforcements (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and eventually Alex Rodriguez) back soon too. It’s possible Ichiro’s done, but this is someone who cares deeply about records and history, so he’s going to do everything in his power to reach 3,000 hits. It’s no doubt been ugly, but he sure looked good down the stretch last season, and with the benefit of a strong lineup and a terrific hitter’s park for left-handed batters, I’m buying low on Ichiro.

This national anthem in response to the Boston nightmare was pretty damn awesome.

And in times like this, a little humor can’t hurt.

The first graph of this story is pretty epic.

The Dodgers certainly aren’t complaining about last year’s trade with Boston so far, as Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are both off to fantastic starts. I certainly didn’t expect Crawford to bounce back so fast, but it’s clear he’s finally healthy, posting a .427 OBP while looking very good defensively. It’s a bit odd he’s recorded just two RBI with a .338 batting average and .492 slugging, but at least it’s resulted in 15 runs scored. Crawford’s lone homer even came against a left-hander, so the early returns have been highly encouraging. As for Gonzalez, he’s hitting .385/.455/.554 with more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven). It’s come with “only” two home runs, and he very well may never be a 30-homer guy again, but he’s hitting a ton of line drives, and it’s great to see him reverse his previously declining plate discipline. Both Crawford and Gonzalez will benefit once Matt Kemp gets going too.

Something tells me a mandatory year in college might be unnecessary for this 14 year old.

And here are the top-10 dunks of the 2012/13 season.

Because of a big contract and the increasing likelihood 2009 is going to go down as a huge outlier when it comes to the power department, Joe Mauer has become a bit underappreciated. Thanks in no small part to a 33.3 LD%, he’s batting .375, and while fantasy owners would love some more homers, it’s hard to blame Mauer, as only the Oakland Coliseum has suppressed long balls for LHB more than Target Field over the past three years. A weak lineup hasn’t exactly helped either, as Mauer has just seven RBI on the season despite the gaudy batting average. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli has 25 RBI (he’s on pace to finish with 213 ribbies!) while hitting nearly 100 points worse. So while outside factors prevent Mauer from being a true fantasy star, batting average is an underrated commodity and few are surer bets in the category. I love that he’s quite a slow runner yet has a career .347 BABIP. He’s actually swinging at a higher percentage of pitches this season than he has any other during his career but one, and it appears a more aggressive Mauer could be a good thing for his fantasy owners.

The UFC card on Fox was really good Saturday, and then the Canelo Alvarez/Austin Trout fight afterward was solid as well, although the judges must have been celebrating 4/20 in a big way with how much they had Canelo winning by. He better fight Mayweather next.

As expected, the Louis C.K. special “Oh My God” was absolutely brilliant.

Song of the week: I’m not an especially avid Vampire Weekend fan, but I saw them last week in concert, and I must say they were very good live. Here’s a single from their upcoming new album, “Diane Young.”

I have no idea where Clay Buchholz’s sudden spike in strikeouts came from (his fastball velocity is actually a bit down), but since it’s been accompanied by his typically strong GB/FB ratio (1.55), the former top prospect is back as a highly intriguing option. Anyone with an ERA under 1.00 has obviously experienced some luck, so you don’t need me to tell you his LOB% (94.4) is going to drop while his BABIP (.243) and HR/FB% (4.5) are going to rise, and it’s worth noting his control remains a bit shaky (he’s walked 11 batters over 30.0 innings). Still, this is a pitcher who posted a 3.41 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the final 140.0 innings last season (I know this is cheating, but if you remove his final start of the year, it then becomes a 2.93 ERA and 0.93 WHIP). Buchholz’s painfully slow start last year can be somewhat excused since he was returning from a serious back injury, and it’s important to remember he’s still just 28 years old. Maybe this is just small sample noise, but Buchholz had a career 10.2 K/9 mark over 449.1 innings throughout the minors, so it’s not like this is unprecedented. Buchholz is currently one of only five starters in all of baseball with both a K% of at least 25.0 and a GB/FB ratio of at least 1.50. A true breakout season could very well be in store.

These news anchors can’t stop laughing after conducting an interview with Ryan Lochte.

Speaking of news anchors, this poor guy lasted all of 45 seconds before being fired (warning: language). Also, Scott Van Pelt seems like a really good guy.

Quick hits: Brandon Belt’s 30.4 LD% ranks in the top-10 among all hitters. He hasn’t hit a single pop up, and he’s hit more groundballs than fly balls. His BABIP is .239, which ranks 145th. To say he’s been unlucky would be a slight understatement…Adam Wainwright and Rick Ankiel have a combined 52:0 K:BB ratio…I must admit, I really overlooked Hisashi Iwakuma entering the year. Of course, he’s not THIS good (0.53 WHIP), but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue with the results since he joined the starting rotation last season. And here I was under the impression it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen than to start. And Iwakuma hasn’t even gotten to beat up on the Astros yet…Jaime Garcia currently has a 3.22 ERA. And a 1.57 WHIP…Last year Brandon Morrow traded fewer strikeouts for more groundballs, but so far this season the former has remained while the latter has regressed, resulting in an ugly combination. I’m not sure what to make of it, but over his last three starts, Morrow has allowed twice as many runs (14) as he’s recorded strikeouts (seven). His current 6.5 SwStr% is well below his career mark (10.7).

Longread of the week: Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Shin-Soo Choo leads baseball in OBP thanks in no small part to having already been hit by a pitch 10 times. No player has been hit that many times in a month since Craig Biggio back in 1997…The Giants are 4-0 during Tim Lincecum starts and 0-4 when Matt Cain has pitched. Meanwhile, Barry Zito has a 0.00 ERA at home and a 30.4 ERA on the road…It’s John Buck’s world, and the rest of us are just paying rent…Julio Teheran and Rick Porcello combined for a 1.98 ERA with a 56:9 K:BB ratio over 50.0 innings in spring training. They currently have a combined 9.00 ERA. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit .419 in ST. He hit .097 before getting sent to the minors once the games started counting. Aaron Hicks batted .370 with four homers in ST. He’s currently hitting .059 with 21 strikeouts over 51 ABs. This is really taking the whole spring training stats are meaningless stance to a new level…46.1 percent of Anthony Rizzo’s hits this season have been home runs…This Louie Anderson GIF represents those who’ve had the displeasure of owning Mitchell Boggs this season…Over his last 12 starts, Yu Darvish has posted a 2.14 ERA and 0.76 WHIP with a 104:18 K:BB ratio over 84.0 innings. If a draft were held today, no way he makes it out of the second round.

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