In a crowded free agent market, a reliever has to get himself noticed beyond his numbers. Adam Ottavino, a free agent reliever, has definitely found a way to do that.
Ottavino, who was last with the Colorado Rockies, was recently a guest on MLB.com’s “Statcast Podcast.” During the interview he recalled an argument that he had in Triple-A about Babe Ruth in the modern game. And Ottavino may have gone just a bit too far.
“I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth’s effectiveness in today’s game. I said, ‘Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers.’
“He was like, ‘are you nuts? Babe Ruth would hit .370 with 60 homers,’ and I’m like, ‘I would strike Babe Ruth out every time.’
“I’m not trying to disrespect him, you know, rest in peace, you know, shout out to Babe Ruth. But, it was a different game, I mean the guy ate hot dogs and drank beer and did whatever he did. It was just a different game.”
You read that correctly. Adam Ottavino, 32-year-old righty reliever, believes he could strike out Babe Ruth every time.
He’s not talking about a different Babe Ruth, right?
No, he’s definitely not. There is just one Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth, part of the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame class, is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His last game was in 1935, and to this day he’s still third on the all-time home runs list (714), second on the all-time RBI list (2,214) and first on the all-time slugging percentage list (.687). He’s Babe Ruth.
Be honest: Could Adam Ottavino actually strike out Babe Ruth?
In all honestly, it’s not clear. And since Babe Ruth has been dead since 1948, we’ll never know. Ruth was a special player — his home run totals jumped before the end of the dead-ball era, when baseballs could be scuffed and rubbed up by pitchers and weren’t typically replaced after hits or home runs. That gave pitchers a tremendous advantage. Once the rules about baseball handling and replacement were changed after a hitter was killed by a pitch in the 1920 season, home runs became more common, and Ruth’s home run numbers got even higher.
Pitchers today are insane. They throw a lot faster than pitchers from the ’20s and ’30s. Pitching as both an art form and an athletic activity is different than it was 90-plus years ago. Comparing players from different eras is hard enough, and so it’s impossible to know if a player like Ruth would have been able to adjust to today’s higher velocities and more technical pitching style.
Could Ottavino have struck out Ruth once? Absolutely. Ruth was known to strike out from time to time, though never more than 100 times in a season (the closest he got was 93 strikeouts in 1923). But every time? That’s a big N-O. And until someone invents a time machine so we can settle this once and for all, Ottavino (and everyone else) will just have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing.
To be fair to Ottavino (beyond his wild pronouncement about striking out Babe Ruth every time), his numbers were pretty fantastic this past year. He bounced back from a dreadful 2017 season with a 2.43 ERA in 77.2 innings for the Rockies in 2018. And he even pitched better at home at Coors Field (2.10 ERA in 34.1 innings) than he did away (2.70 ERA in 43.1 innings).
You don’t need to be better than Babe Ruth, Adam! You’re great just the way you are!
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