Welcome to the 21st edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
The San Francisco Giants entered the season largely with the intent to rebuild. They kept some familiar faces, including those with tethered contracts such as Johnny Cueto, Evan Longoria, and Jeff Samardzija, or homegrown heroes who played pivotal roles during their dynasty such as Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and until recently, Joe Panik. However, it was largely assumed that Bumgarner would get traded at the deadline, as would closer Will Smith. After all, on June 21, the Giants were 31-42, seemingly destined to finish in last place in the NL West, if not the National League, before selling off any and all usable assets for prospects.
That’s when something changed. The team brought in gritty outfielder Kevin Pillar and acquired another outfielder whom we will get to in a moment.
Keep in mind Pillar was not a conventional acquisition for President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi. Guys with a sub-.300 OBP don’t typically catch the eye of someone like Zaidi, who comes from the Dodgers and would figure to espouse the Dodgers’ organizational philosophy when it comes to player development. Nonetheless, Zaidi added Pillar for his speed and power—essentially, he wanted to add athleticism to an aging core of Giants who lacked any speed or power whatsoever. Pillar has delivered with 17 home runs and 63 RBI (both career highs) to go along with 10 stolen bases and highlight-reel play in center field.
Nightly highlight play from Kevin Pillar ✅ pic.twitter.com/24ekiQHkAX
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 16, 2019
Zaidi didn’t stop there in his quest to remake one of baseball’s worst outfields. And believe me when I say it was one of the worst.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) May 21, 2019
Zaidi went digging around the dumpster that is the Baltimore Orioles and waded through a few signed Chris Davis jerseys, some half-eaten chicken wings, a few beer-covered schedule magnets, and a tear-stained “There’s No Crying in Baseball” T-shirt to find Mike Yazstremski curled up in the fetal position, shivering and grunting while gnashing his teeth like a feral animal the way most guys who spend the better part of six years in the Orioles’ minor league system without a call-up are wont to do.
Since then, the Giants have gone 32-19 and find themselves just 3.5 games back in the Wild Card standings as the month of August winds down.
There is a strong case to be made that the Giants lack the talent to hang with the Mets, Phillies, Brewers, and Cubs—all the teams ahead of them for the second Wild Card spot. Then again, take a look at how the Giants have stacked up against each of those teams thus far:
|vs NYM||vs PHI||vs MIL||vs CHC|
The Giants play the Cubs three more times (this week, in fact), but they will not see Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or New York again this season unless they meet in the playoffs. The biggest difference between San Francisco and those other teams, and arguably the biggest reason most don’t think they have a legitimate shot to stick around? Run differential.
Not that run differential tells the whole story, especially when you consider that Arizona (+61) and Cincinnati (+23) are 1.5 and 4.5 games back of the Giants, respectively. Yet, a deeper dive into positional WAR further reveals how the Giants are an outlier when it comes to contenders this season, which makes sense given they were not built, nor ever expected, to contend this year.
Nonetheless, there they are 3.5 games back, believing they are contenders. Adding a gamer such as Pillar to the clubhouse can have that effect. He’s known for his passion and competitive fire. And he’d make for a fine story himself if not for Yazstremski.
According to Baseball Almanac, there have only been 21 instances of a grandfather and grandson both playing in the big leagues. Here’s what makes Yastrzemski unique:
Mike Yastrzemski matches his grandfather with a 3-HR game https://t.co/ScZDKZ9scc
— 铁屁股 Will 李 – 蘋果粉丝 (@blcsfo) August 18, 2019
Yes, it took Mike 72 games to do what it took his grandfather 15 years to accomplish. However, before we get carried away here …
Number of pitches seen with a juiced ball:
Carl Yastrzemski – 0
Mike Yastrzemski – 1,052
— TripleShy (@BB_Ben29) August 17, 2019
Let’s also not forget that one is in the Hall of Fame while the other is a 28-year-old career minor leaguer. Still, you can’t take anything away from what the younger Yaz has accomplished this season, at least. He’s slashing .278/.328/.547 in 71 games. If nothing else, he’s done his part to make the Giants a respectable squad in a season where many expected them to be anything but. Plus, if you have kids, there’s the added bonus that comes with asking them to say his name out loud.
On a separate note, can announcers please always say Mike Yastrzemski the same way Boo says Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc?
— Adam Bangtson (@AdamBangtson) August 18, 2019
Yeah, exactly. That is why we watch, people. It’s the little things, really. It’s always in the little things.
Anyway, back to that three-homer game though.
— 49ers/Warriors/Giants Fan Art (@TheCityGFX) August 17, 2019
If you’re still denying that the ball is different, I don’t know what else it’s going to take. Yastrzemski is not the only rookie to hit three home runs in a single game this year, let alone this week!
Mike Yastrzemski of the @SFGiants is the third rookie in the last WEEK to hit 3 home runs in a game (Houston's Yordan Alvarez & Cincinnati's Aristides Aquino).
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 17, 2019
We’re seeing an unprecedented display of power in the game today, and it’s notable how this will affect scouting moving forward. Grip-it-and-rip-it with a healthy dose of plate discipline seems to be all the rage these days, and it’s changing the way MLB teams draft players out of high school and college as well as how they view talent on the international market.
The Giants acquired Yastrzemski for Triple-A pitcher Tyler Herb, a deal that at the time seemed more than fair given it took Yastrzemski more than 700 MiLB plate appearances and until he was approaching 30 to hit his first big league home run. Looking back now, it would appear the Giants unearthed a gem, but I can’t help but wonder who Yastrzemski was all these years and why Baltimore never saw the player San Francisco currently does. His BABIP (.311) is hardly an outlier. He hits the ball hard (42.1% hard-hit rate) despite the underwhelming exit velocity (38th percentile). Yastrzemski also plays solid defense and can fill in at all three outfield spots. He can even run a little. Sounds like a well-rounded ballplayer to me.
More than anything, players such as Yastrzemski are proving that there truly is no move too small in baseball anymore. Not when the ball is jumping off the bat like this, arms are pumping high 90s on the regular, and a few hitting drills with Tony freakin’ Kemp to keep the bat in the zone a bit longer and working to drive the ball are all it takes to change a career.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
So, this happened this week:
Bill Walton is a National Treasure… but sometimes you have to play the outro music just to get him to stop speaking 😂 pic.twitter.com/w9AgfuHLsT
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) August 17, 2019
Honestly, I don’t know if that’s pure joy or lunacy, but I couldn’t look away. There’s definitely some latent instability there, but there’s also an element of wonder. Enough so that you’re probably wondering what more of that looked like. So here you go …
THIS IS REAL LIFE pic.twitter.com/87ITex8TVW
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 17, 2019
OK, it’s pure lunacy. But I don’t care. This is what the era of the rabbit ball needs.
For a minute, I couldn’t figure out where I had seen that before. And then, suddenly, it came back to me:
F’n A, Cotton. F’n AAAAAA. You know, before Mike Yastrzemski was in San Francisco, the Giants got a taste of that action as well.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
Hate to break it to you, but this just won’t stop:
— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) August 8, 2019
Two things come to mind here: First, that call was utterly ridiculous. Second, what’s going through the ump’s mind when he realizes the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher because that pitch was so clearly a ball and the call was egregious? I’m running out of things to say about how terrible the umpiring has become on a regular basis. There’s really only one solution to this problem.
Just replace “square” with “strike” and you see what I mean.
Lastly, for those wondering, here’s the opposite of Bill Walton:
Guess what Keith did after that display of brilliance …
1987 game Mets keith hernandez enjoys dugout cigarette ! pic.twitter.com/fkqgUajzT9
— Trish (@Trish3D) October 28, 2015
I’d love to see Batting Stance Guy do this kid:
This kid is bringing a whole new batting stance to the LLWS 😆
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) August 17, 2019
Nevermind, Yasiel Puig‘s got it covered:
Puig our imitator. 😂 pic.twitter.com/VKcVJK9HFb
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) August 18, 2019
That’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire)