No-No’s, Old Heads, and the Importance of Vibes

5 Observations from the Second Month of the MLB Season

And we’re back!  May has come and gone, leaving behind plenty of hot topics in Major League Baseball.  From an influx of no-hitters to a budding culture war and everything in between, here are five observations from the second month of the 2021 MLB season.

No-Hitters are boring.  

Hot take?  Maybe, but hear me out.  For starters, let me explain the significance of a no-hitter for my casual and clueless baseball fans out there.  It’s not trivial, the name tells you everything.  To pitch a no-hitter, a pitcher has to get all twenty-seven outs without allowing a hit.  There have been just 311 no-hitters in baseball since 1876.  That averages out to around two per year.  At most, there were seven no-hitters in a single season.  We’ve already seen six in the first two months of the 2021 season.  And you know what?  They’re not that great. 

Admittedly, I’ve never had the insufferable task of sitting through a no-hitter live, but I’ve watched them on TV and for the purpose of this article, that’s good enough!  Baseball is notoriously loaded with down time.  A game can last upwards of over three hours with what seems like only ten minutes of actual activity.  What makes a baseball game exciting is the mammoth home runs, high-contact plays on the bases, and epic diving catches.  The no-hitter has no mammoth home runs because there’s no hits.  There’s no high-contact plays on the bases because nobody is really on base.  Epic diving catches are not consistent enough on their own to retain audience attention.

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My thoughts on the no-hitter can best be summed up by a quote from comedian Daniel Tosh – “God help you if you witness a no-hitter, that’s 9 miserable innings of watching two guys play catch.”  Nobody wants to spend nearly four hours watching a pitching battle that ends 1-0.  We came for the long balls.       

As statistics continue to trend in favor of increasing spin rate and optimizing launch angles, it’s very likely no-hitters will be much more common in the future.  The strike-out rate across the MLB has gone up significantly in recent years.  The emphasis on exit velocity and launch angles has led to more line-outs and fly-outs.  Defensive shifts allow fielders to better position themselves according to the statistical trends of where a given batter hits the ball.  Put all that together and you’ve got a higher likelihood of witnessing a no-hitter.  And once they become more common, the novelty aspect is basically out of the picture.  You can no longer justify the boredom of a no-hitter by saying you’re “witnessing history” when history happens five times a year.

Shohei Ohtani is a GOD.

Need I say more?  I could go on and on about the many times we’ve heard him mentioned as “The first player since Babe Ruth to [insert accolade here].”  I wouldn’t want to bore you with stats by mentioning his .597 slugging percentage or his 2.72 earned-run average.  Instead of dissecting all the amazing things Shohei does on a nightly basis like every other media outlet, we’re gonna watch this fancam.

Shohei is Bae.  I love him.  Any Shohei Ohtani slander will be met with fisticuffs so kindly take that noise to someone else’s comments.

Tony La Russa should’ve stayed retired.

Hall of Famer Tony La Russa hasn’t shied away from speaking his mind early and often in the first few months of his second stint managing the White Sox.  The topic of unwritten rules has been a hot button issue in baseball in the past year, and La Russa has become the figurehead of the old guard.  

On May 17th, La Russa’s White Sox were taking on division rival Minnesota Twins.  The Sox were up 15-4 in the last inning, so the Twins opted to save their pitchers’ energy by bringing in catcher Willians Astudillo (aka La Tortuga) to pitch.  White Sox star rookie Yermin Mercedes swung on a 3-0 count, launching a home run to center field.  He was instantly bombarded with boos and slander.  

Now, you may be asking, “who cares?”  And you’re right!  Who f*cking cares?  Well, the old guard cares.  More specifically, Tony La Russa cares.  See, swinging on a 3-0 count is one of the “unwritten rules” of baseball.  It’s common courtesy for the batter to not swing, basically allowing the pitcher to get a free strike.  Naturally, Mercedes’ home run triggered a lot of the old guard, including his own manager.

“With that kind of a lead, that’s just sportsmanship, or respect for the game or respect for your opponent,” La Russa told reporters.  “[Mercedes] made a mistake.  There will be a consequence that he’s going to have to endure within our family.  It won’t happen again.”

Tony La Russa – Defender of the Unwritten Rules.  Who would’ve thought that a man whose career started the same year JFK was killed would have some horribly outdated takes?  La Russa mentions sportsmanship and respect for your opponent, but where is the respect from the Twins when they allow a position played to pitch against your team?  

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Also consider the player deemed to be at fault – Yermin Mercedes.  He spent eight years in the minor leagues prior to making the opening day roster this season.  He’s getting paid the major league minimum this season, and statistics are how he will be evaluated when it’s time to negotiate a new contract.  At 28 years old, it’s very likely Mercedes will only have one shot at his big payday.  He’s got every right to give 110% effort and be the best player he can be no matter the situation.  Secure the bag, Yermin!  

In the following game, Twins reliever Tyler Duffey threw a pitch behind Mercedes as “retaliation” for the home run.  Was Tony La Russa frustrated that his star player was targeted like that?  Of course not!  La Russa had “no problem with it.”  When Sox pitcher Lance Lynn pushed back against the unwritten rules, La Russa replied bluntly “Lance has a locker; I have an office.”  

The White Sox are one of the most flashy, exciting young teams in baseball.  Tony La Russa is a traditionalist who cares more about preserving bogus, outdated “rules” than defending his own players.  Despite these two conflicting ideologies, the White Sox sit atop the standings with the second best record in the American League.  How exactly is a team of diverse, young stars performing so well with such outdated, conservative leadership?  More importantly, will it last?  Who knows?  The White Sox are definitely going to be must-watch-tv both on and off the field in the coming months.  

The Rays are built for the long season.

The defending AL champion Rays are once again firing on all cylinders.  After splitting their first 38 games, the Rays have won 16 of their last 18 games.  At 35-21, the Rays have climbed to the top of the American League and are showing no signs of slowing down.  

What makes this interesting is that the Rays are not at the top of the leaderboard in any major pitching or hitting statistics.  None of their individual players are having career-defining seasons or are even so much as major award candidates.  On paper, you’d think this team is closer to their 19-19 record of three weeks ago than their current 35-21 record.  If you’re not familiar with the Rays, you might be wondering how a team of average joe’s is one of the best in baseball.

But if you are familiar with the Rays, you know that this is simply what the organization does.  The Rays have been advantageous pioneers when it comes to furthering the game.  They were one of the first teams to utilize modern stats and sabermetrics to influence their lineup and pitching situations.  They incorporated the shift regularly into their defensive schemes.  A few years back, they introduced the world to ‘the opener’ – a pitcher who specializes in getting the first three to six outs in a game.  

By using modern tactics and increasing roster versatility, the Rays have built a culture that views a team as a machine.  If one piece is not performing well, rest assured they have another serviceable substitute waiting in the wings.  By not having to rely on the performance of major stars, the Rays have put less pressure on their players.  They’ve built an authentic culture in Tampa Bay that translates directly to wins – the only stat that truly matters.  This team has the vibes to not only endure the arduous regular season, but push deep into the playoffs as well.  Speaking of vibes…

Clayton Kershaw is vibing his way to the Hall of Fame.

Is there any player with less to prove than Clayton Kershaw?  The man is a 3-time Cy Young Award winner, 8-time All-Star, and 2014 NL MVP.  His baseball reference page looks like a created player in a video game.  Prior to the 2020 season, the only knock on Kershaw was his playoff performances in pursuit of that elusive World Series championship.  He silenced all doubters last year after leading the Dodgers to their first championship since 1988.  

Ballpark cameras have caught Kershaw having fun all season long.  From trying to hold six baseballs in one hand to being his team’s biggest cheerleader in the dugout, Kershaw looks like he’s having more fun than everyone else.  This atmosphere has allowed the Dodgers to rebound from a disastrous 4-14 run through early May.  At 32-23, the Dodgers are right in the thick of a three-way race for the lead in the NL West division.  

But Kershaw isn’t just a fun-loving fan, he’s been at the heart of the Dodgers success.  Knowing your plaque is already reserved in Cooperstown has to alleviate a lot of the day-to-day stress of the regular season, right?  It’s safe to say that energy is infectious and has made the Dodgers one of the most fun and resilient teams in baseball.  

Let us know your thoughts on these hot topics in the comments section below!  If you missed the rewind of the first month of the 2021 MLB season, you can check that out here.