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MLBits: Bunting in a Perfect Game, Freeman at 3B, Thames Regression, McCutchen’s Back, More

MLB News and Rumors
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Today’s been a busy day, hasn’t it?

The Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Minor Leagues and Jason Heyward to the disabled list, while recalling Dylan Floro to bolster the bullpen and promoting Mark Zagunis to cover some reps in the outfield. They also announced a flurry of draft pick signings, to boot. Crazy day.

But, as always, there’s other news from around the league to discuss, too. So let’s step away from the Cubs (at least directly) for a minute, and see what else is going on.

  • As I’m sure you know by now, a home run surge has taken the league by storm since late 2015 up until today. While some have suggested that the spike in long balls is do to a change in the composition of the baseball itself, the league has denied this over and over. In any case, if rates continue as they have (and heat up as summer continues like they usually do), we can be staring at a 50% increase in dingers since the 2014 season. And, before you do any math, yes that would set a record for most homers in an MLB season (by about 500). Commissioner Manfred continues to deny that he has any explanation for the sudden spike in homers – including the possibility of renewed PED issues – though he’s understandably and admittedly vexed by a lack of answers.

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  • Freddie Freeman is soon returning from the disabled list after having not played in a game since May 17, but to which position will he return? In his absence, the Braves acquired first baseman Matt Adams from the Cardinals, and he’s been really good: .294/.346/.647 (148 wRC+). Apparently, Freeman is open to the possibility of switching to third base to accommodate Adam’s bat in the lineup and it sounds like it’s actually going to happen. “If I can move to third, then I’ll do that,” Freeman said. “If I can move back into the middle of the lineup with what the guys have been doing, I think we could have a pretty special last couple months.” Braves Manager Brian Snitker is reportedly on board, so get ready for a new-look Freeman at third.
  • Last night, Justin Verlander took a perfect game into the sixth inning, before it was broken up … by a bunt single with one out in a then 4-0 game. Bunting to break up no-hitters/perfect games is generally frowned upon, but Verlander (rightfully) took no issue with it: “It was a perfect bunt. That’s part of his game. I don’t think it was quite too late, given the situation, to bunt.” Bingo. While I’d understand people getting upset about, say, a two-out bunt in the ninth inning of a perfect game, there’s no reason to stop trying to win in the 6th. And, as a matter of fact, following the bunt single, Verlander walked Mike Zunino, allowed another infield hit and ultimately surrendered three runs before exiting the game. Plus, the Mariners went onto win, so, you know, it worked.
  • Mets youngster Zack Wheeler is back on the disabled list with right bicep tendinitis. In response, the team has called up Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas. But you’ll have to excuse me if I seem blunt about all this. The Mets have dealt with an almost inexplicable number of health and injury issues this year (Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Tommy Milone – and those are just some of the pitchers), and it’s getting hard to keep track. I know arms are fickle, but the Mets have to be doing something wrong (in either their development or scouting of pitchers).

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  • Brewers’ closer Corey Knebel tied a Major League record last night. He’s now earned at least one strikeout in all 37 of his appearances this season. The only other closer to start a year out like that is Aroldis Chapman. One more appearance with a K and the honor is all his.
  • Over the past couple years (2016 especially), Cubs starting pitchers made a name for themselves by allowing some of the weakest contact in all of baseball. Thanks to that (and a grade A defense), they consistently outperformed their underlying statistics, but in a meaningful, positive way. Well, Tony Blengino just released what he’s calling the 2017 Top NL Contact Survivors so far (i.e., the guys who seem to be good at managing contact), and not a single Cubs was in the top 10. Last year, by contrast, the Cubs had three of the top five (Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester). It is but another way the Cubs (as a whole) have regressed a bit in 2017.
  • Remember Eric Thames’ blisteringly hot start to the season? Of course you do, it was literally all anyone was talking about before Aaron Judge started doing terrible things to baseballs. Indeed, a 183 wRC+ through May 14 is crazy good and certainly noteworthy. But would you like to guess what his wRC+ has been since then (or rather since May 18th – he took a few days off): just 97. Yup. In the 123 plate appearances since May 18th, Thames has been a below average overall offensive contributor. Jeff Sullivan tackles his descent at FanGraphs, so head over there to find out what happened.
  • But don’t bother, because I know exactly what happened. It was some sort of reverse Space Jam. Hear me out: Before May 15, Andrew McCutchen was hitting .212/.288/.401 (82 wRC+). He had struggled mightily in 2016 and nothing seemed to change early this season. Since then, however, he’s hitting .333/.404/.600 which is good for a 162 wRC+. So, clearly, he took Eric Thames’ talent by touching a baseball at the same time, sapping him of his own skill. If you’d like a more scientific and thoughtful analysis of what’s come over McCutchen, check out Dave Cameron’s piece, “Andrew McCutchen is Back,” at FanGraphs.

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  • Villainous:

  • And we’ll close with a fun read: What if Cody Bellinger is going to hit 763 home runs and we just don’t know it yet? As you probably know by now, Cody Bellinger became the fastest player to hit 22 home runs in Major League history. So at ESPN, Sam Miller openly wonders if we’re watching the start of something special. Then, using advanced analytics and projections, he tries to figure out how likely that is to happen. I’ll save the final results for your own reading, but here’s a nice tease: SOME math suggests Bellinger has better than a one in five shot at reaching 600 home runs. Trust me, check it out.

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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.

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