On Monday, July 1, 2019, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away at just 27 years old.
As I write this, no cause of death has been determined. According to the Southlake Police Department in Texas, Skaggs was found unresponsive in his hotel room at 2:18 p.m. CT on Monday and was pronounced dead on the scene.
No foul play is suspected, and according to a Southlake Police spokesperson, suicide “is not suspected” either.
But if you’re reading this, you probably already know all that. That’s not what this article is for. This article is to remember Tyler Skaggs—the wonderful pitcher, and human being, that he was.
A Look at Tyler Skaggs
Skaggs was selected with the 40th pick as a supplemental selection in the 2009 MLB Draft. He was selected in a pretty powerful draft class for the Angels, alongside Mike Trout, Randal Grichuk, and Garrett Richards.
In 2010, Skaggs was traded along with Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Dan Haren, and Skaggs was sent to the D’Backs’ minor league system, eventually working his way to the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, alongside Paul Goldschmidt.
It was with the Diamondbacks that Skaggs made his major league debut, pitching in an August 22, 2012 game against the Miami Marlins, throwing 6.2 innings of three-hit ball with four strikeouts. He ended up starting six games in Arizona in 2012 without much success, and seven games in Arizona in 2013.
Then, on December 10, 2013, Skaggs was part of a three-team trade that saw the Angels receive him and Hector Santiago, while the Chicago White Sox got Adam Eaton and the Diamondbacks got Mark Trumbo and two players to be named later.
Unfortunately, in August of that following season, Skaggs ended up needing Tommy John surgery after starting 18 games with 113 innings pitched, a 4.30 ERA, and a 3.55 FIP. That surgery led him to miss the entirety of the 2015 season and to start just 10 games of the 2016 season.
Since then, Skaggs had struggled with injuries here and there but looked pretty impressive at times, posting a 4.02 ERA that came with a 3.63 FIP, 3.86 SIERA, and 24.2% strikeout rate in 2018.
And let’s not forget that, for all intents and purposes, Tyler Skaggs was a great teammate, a leader in the clubhouse, and a great human being, according to his teammates.
In May, he joined some of his teammates in visiting children at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, California:
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) May 23, 2019
Skaggs is survived by his wife, Carli, whom he married this past offseason.
Skaggs mainly threw three pitches. First, there was his fastball:
It was a solid pitch, not one that was going to wow you with velocity (it averaged just 92.1 MPH over his career), but he generally controlled it well and it induced some weak contact. This year, his fastball posted a .335 wOBA against, and last year, it was even better at .302.
Skaggs did make mistakes with the pitch sometimes, though, as the pitch had a career .191 ISO against it. Still, those mistakes were getting less frequent as time went on, as his ISO against the pitch dropped from .208 in 2017, to .168 last year and .164 this year.
While Skaggs mainly threw a four-seam fastball, he did toy around with a sinker in 2014 and last year, though he didn’t throw it often and it got knocked around a bit.
Skaggs also threw a pretty decent changeup:
It wasn’t his primary breaking pitch (I’m saving that for last), but it generally worked pretty well, posting a career 13% SwStr rate and a 29.6% chase rate. Not elite numbers, but solid numbers for a third offering.
Last year, Skaggs’ changeup looked about as good as it ever had, posting a 30.7% chase rate and a 14.5% SwStr rate, as well as a .313 wOBA against.
But what made Skaggs so much fun to watch was his curveball.
Seriously, just look at this pitch.
In fact, why not watch a whole compilation (shoutout to Nick for putting this together) of how beautiful this curveball was?
It was a serious 12-6 curveball, with almost twice as much drop on it as your traditional curveball. On his career, the pitch produced a 35.9% chase rate, 40.4% zone rate, 11.8% SwStr rate, and a .257 wOBA against.
Hitters didn’t make contact with it much, and when they did, they didn’t do much with it. If there was a pitch to be excited about with Skaggs, it was this curveball. It was, in my opinion, one of the prettiest in the league, and this year, it was looking especially good, as opposing hitters had just a .238 wOBA and .088 ISO against the pitch.
A Little Bit About Death
I don’t like talking about death. I doubt many people do, I doubt that you do. I’m not particularly good at talking about death to be honest, but I think talking about death is important.
To quote Ram Dass (an author and spiritual teacher I’d recommend looking up), “The way we regard death is critical to the way we experience life. When your fear of death changes, the way you live your life changes.”
I don’t know how you feel when someone famous dies, but I can tell you how I feel. At first, I feel grief for this person, for their family, for the loss to the sport (or the art form, or whatever it is they were famous for).
But then, almost immediately, I feel a sense of shame too. I didn’t know Tyler Skaggs. I never met him. I only knew him as a pitcher; a guy I owned in some fantasy leagues; a guy I liked making GIFs of and watching pitch.
What right do I have to have feelings of grief about this person I’ve never met? What right do I have to say I’ve been personally affected by this death when so many people who actually, truly knew this man are feeling unimaginable pain? How selfish of me to feel this way.
But it’s not selfish. I’m not going to pretend like the death of Tyler Skaggs, or any other famous person I’ve never met, affects me in the same way that the death of, say, my parents or a close friend would make me feel. But it’s still difficult to think about, perhaps because it forces me to realize how delicate life is, how easily I could end up the same way, leaving my wife and two children without a husband and a father.
But the fragility of life is something important to remember. Ram Dass tells a story of a tombstone that reads, “Remember friend, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare yourself to follow me.”
We have to prepare ourselves for death—both our own death and the deaths of our loved ones. And at the same time, we need to remember that death doesn’t have to be so terrifying. It’s like taking off a tight shoe, Ram Dass says.
He also tells a story that’s had one of the most profound impacts on my view of death. A great Indian saint, Ramana Maharshi, was dying of cancer, and when his devotees wanted him to treat his disease, Ramana Maharshi said, “No, it is time to drop this body.”
His followers cried and said, “Don’t leave us!” and Ramana Maharshi looked at them and said, “Don’t be silly. Where could I possibly go?”
Where could I possibly go?
I’m not going to end this by telling you to make sure you hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight, or something like that. Plenty of other people have said that. They’re right, and I think you already know you should do that.
Instead, I want to tell you to do something else. Be present.
What does that look like? It means when you’re with your loved ones—whether it’s playing with your kids, spending time with your significant other, or whatever it may be—not thinking about whatever else is going on in your life, what’s happening later today, what’s happening tomorrow.
In “Bull Durham” (my favorite baseball movie), Kevin Costner’s character says to Tim Robbins’ character (who’s a pitcher), “Don’t think. You can only hurt the ball club.” I think I often could use that advice myself. Don’t think, don’t let your thoughts distract you, just let them pass, give them a wave, say “thank you, but I’m good,” and just be here.
Be here with the people you love. There’s no greater gift you could give them, or yourself.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter).