May In Noticing
Things happened and millions of people saw them.
We observe the passage of time in many ways: Children outgrowing their shoes, goldfish floating to the top of the bowl, sour cream being thrown in the trash long after its expiration date, months of baseball being recapped.
1. May In Fielding Grounders Off Bases.
This year I’m tracking every batted ball that hits a base. I haven’t yet figure out why, but nobody else tracks this anywhere, and maybe this is how I’ll give something back. I’ve learned thus far that it’s almost impossible to field a ball off a base unless you’re already standing still and directly facing the ball, and unless the ball takes a nice hop into the air and right into your tummy region. And even if these conditions are mostly met, and even when the fielder makes the play, it can lead to some overmaneuvering. Emmanuel Rivera, nice play:
Thus far I’ve logged 17 grounders that hit bases, not counting bunts and slow rollers that had merely been left to roll. I rule 13 of them “likely outs” based on how hard they were hit and whether the fielder was in position to make the play before the bag jumped up. In fact, though, only two were successfully converted into outs—the one above, and this nice play by Brandon Drury on a right-to-the-tummy bounce. Thus far, hitting a bag adds 650 points to one’s expected batting average. There just isn’t time for fielders to adjust to even minor discombobulations. Consider, for example, this one that David Villar hit to Pirates third baseman Rodolfo Castro:
The ball barely redirects, and Castro is still able to get the ball in pocket, and yet that little bit of change in spin, in velocity, in direction—little bits matter at close range, and he can’t field it cleanly. Seems nobody can.
Except Brian Anderson, who once had an entire newsletter written about the time in 2020 he fielded a ball off a base. And then this month, he did it again!
It’s not as extraordinary as the one I highlighted from 2020. It clips the back of the bag and flattens out, but it doesn’t spin him around like the other one did. And this time the baserunner is so fast that Anderson’s throw isn’t in time. But he did field it. Two balls off bases fielded cleanly. It’s time to declare that Brian Anderson has a very specific, very unusual skill. He’s king of the bags.
2. May in the A’s Chasing History/Jesús Aguilar
The Oakland A’s slaughterchart bleeds on:
Last month, I noted that the A’s pitchers had just produced the fourth-worst monthly ERA in history, and that we had to consider the slight possibility they were one-sixth of the way to breaking the all-time record for bad throws. To remind: “From this point forward, Oakland needs to have an ERA lower than 6.48 to avoid worsting those 1930 Phillies.” For a while in May they made it interesting: Their ERA in the first 10 days of the month was 6.46; midway through the game of May 16th, their monthly ERA was 6.41. Then they got things under control, their ERA for the rest of the month was 4.65, and the 1930 Phillies are safe. That’s how these things go, pretty reliably.
Of course, the A’s still went 6-23 in May, exactly as they had in April. From the day they got their pitching under control, they slugged .245 as an offense.
Midway through the month, I had tweeted this:
The fun fact wasn’t their losing record in those games; it was how few of those games they’d had. But as the A’s hitters were slugging .245, and their pitching improved a little, their losing record in those games became the fun fact: At one point, they had dropped to 2-7 when allowing three or fewer runs. The Marlins this year are 22-0 when allowing three or fewer runs. The league’s winning percentage as a whole is over .800. No team since at least 1947 has ever had a sub-.500 record while allowing three or fewer runs. The A’s have a shot—though they then won a pair against the Braves this week, and are now 4-7.
One might wonder why my brain puts so much energy into shipping the A’s + bad accomplishments. Simply, the brain craves stimulation. As long as a team is balanced over the possibility of something unprecedented, it is stimulating to watch them, just to see which way the teeter tumbles. As soon as this year’s A’s (almost inevitably) win six out of 11 and break free of the 1962 Mets’ win pace, I’ll have to find somewhere else to get my fix. It’s not personal.
Really, it’s really not personal. The A’s, as a corporate entity, might be shameful, but as a collection of players performing their lifelong dreams for our entertainment and inspiration they don’t deserve anybody rooting against them. I’ve tried to keep that in mind, mostly by focusing on Jesús Aguilar, who is (to the best of my knowledge) one of the most delightful personalities in the game. Aguilar has a long-running—bit? I guess it’s a bit, where he pretends emotions very seriously. He makes menacing faces at opponents who reach first base but really he’s pals with them. He mocks the other team’s celebration cheers, but really they love it. Earlier this month he was inserted as a pinch-hitter, was immediately intentionally walked, swatted fake-angrily at the Royals’ laughing catcher Sal Perez as he jogged past, was immediately pinch-run for, and as he jogged back to the dugout after this slightly absurd sequence—a day’s work!—he had his head turned to the ground, trying to cover up his smile. As he looked back up, he completely wiped the smile and became, in a flash, Very Serious, even shaking his head a little sadly, as though nothing could be more disappointing and frustrating than the lost opportunities he had just suffered.
Here’s the most Jesús Aguilar play of the month:
So fake-upset at not getting the call! There was nothing at all convincing about the act—and the umpire had a perfect unobstructed view of him obviously not catching it—except Aguilar’s own face, on which he maintains a look of deep disappointment that he holds just long enough for you to almost believe it. That’s the Jesús Aguilar bit: He can almost make you believe that how things are isn’t actually how they are. It’s a gift. He was, in that way, the perfect Oakland Athletic for this nightmarish season. They might have just made it through this season with enough Jesús Aguilar—but, alas, he wasn’t hitting well enough to justify blocking somebody younger, so this week he was designated for assignment.
3 & 4. Teams Hitting Zero Percent Playoff Odds/Bunts
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