MLBits: Cheating the Shift, Senga So Far, Rays Historic Start, New Cubs Hashtag, More

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MLBits: Cheating the Shift, Senga So Far, Rays Historic Start, New Cubs Hashtag, More

Chicago Cubs

It’s funny. When the Chicago Cubs (5-4) are playing winning baseball, I find it a little easier to read about other teams in the league. I think winning just makes baseball (in general) more fun. Or maybe it just allows me to enjoy the other positive stories out there without angst and FOMO.

At a minimum, walk-off wins certainly grease the wheels of fan-acceptance on stuff like, say … Wrigley Field light shows. And kudos to Joe from Obvious Shirts for absolutely nailing the hashtag I’ll be using all season.

So, now that we’re happy, let’s look around the league at some of the other things going on …

Cheating the Shift

You can always count on the Royals, Rays, or A’s to try something new. They’re the teams most often in need of every possible competitive advantage given their financial limitations. So I’m not surprised that the Royals are among the first teams to attempt alternative, legal versions of the shift, now that the familiar effort has been outlawed.

Here’s a look at how they’ve gone about it, and some of the results so far:

In short, the Royals pinched in their right fielder and moved the left and center fielder to left-center and right-center respectively. And as Tom Tango points out, that particular shift wasn’t used against only Joey Gallo this season. In fact, the Royals have already done it 19 times. FanGraphs has a good article on the effectiveness of that shift, though it may be too early to tell.

It’s also entirely possible (hopeful, even?) that if it *is* too effective, the league will just shut it down with additional rules for outfielder starting placement. After all, what the Royals are doing is legal, but certainly in conflict with the spirit of the rule. And even more to the point, we already know the league has alternate versions of the shift restrictions, including the vastly superior, but certainly more dramatic, pie-slice rule.

All that said, so far, it’s not been enough to say whether this modified shift is working yet. The Cubs talked in Spring Training about when they might try it, but we haven’t seen it from them.

How’s Kodai Senga Performed So Far?

Maybe the Cubs never had a shot to sign Kodai Senga this winter. Maybe they did and picked Jameson Taillon over him anyway. In either case, I’m interested to track how he’s doing in his debut season, because he’s a big deal “rookie” starting pitcher on a team with World Series aspirations. So we’re two starts in, how’s it been going?

@MIA: 5.1 IP, 3H, 1ER, 3BB, 8K
vsMIA: 6.0, 3H, 1ER, 3B, 6K

That’s good for a 1.59 ERA over his first 11.1 IP. You like the 31.1% strikeout rate and .154 batting average against, you hate the 13.3% walk rate and 92.9 MPH average exit velocity. And, of course, this is all an unusually small sample not only because it’s just two games, but because both starts came against the same, poor offensive Miami Marlins (82 wRC+, 26th in MLB).

In any case, that famous Ghost Forkball we heard so much about over the offseason is as good as advertised:

FanGraphs wrote up the early stats on the pitch and they’re expectedly impressive:

Senga turned to his bread and butter 26 times in his first start, and it generated nine whiffs on 14 swings despite just a 27% zone rate. Every one of his eight Ks came on the fork….Senga stymied the Marlins again in his second start Saturday. The ghost fork wasn’t quite as dominant but it was still solid, generating three whiffs on six swings across 16 total offerings. Naturally, it won’t net a 34.6% swinging strike rate in every start, but it has certainly looked like a major league out-pitch.

If you want the full breakdown of the pitch and its effectiveness, check out the deep dive right here. The short version is this Ghost Fork really does move in very different ways than the assortment of other common pitches out there. In other words, it has very different characteristics than what batters are usually seeing and that can make it particularly effective.

Rays Historic Start

Arguably the biggest early-season story so far is the Tampa Bay Rays, who’ve begun the year an impressive 10-0, with an even more impressive +58 run differential. Yes, that’s record-breaking at this point in the season.

Playing three games against each of the Tigers, Nationals, and A’s (and one against the Red Sox) obviously makes life a little easier. But still. It’s not the 10-0 that’s catching our attention, it’s the absolute POUNDING they’re dealing out.

Rays opponents have scored more than two runs just twice in their first 10 games while they have scored five runs or more in 9 of their 10 games, and over ten runs in four of them. The Athletic credits health, power, and the rotation, but they’re pretty much clicking on all levels.

Odds and Ends

  • No surprises here, but Shohei Ohtani throws one of the best sweepers in MLB. According to, it has elite movement (18 inches of horizontal break) and as much velocity as any sweeper out there: “Ohtani’s sweeper sits around 84-85 mph, and he can dial it up into the upper 80s. That might not seem “fast,” but it’s fast for a sweeper. The league average sweeper velocity is in the 81-82 mph range.
  • A fun note for Cubs fans, though? Michael Fulmer’s sweeper (+4 inches vs average sweeper) actually moves slightly more than Ohtani’s (+3.8 inches). And he throws his at an average velocity of 83.4 MPH. Not bad, Fulmer, especially for a pitch he just added this offseason!
  • What would you pick as the *one* most positive trend for the Cubs to start the year? Would it be Justin Steele’s performance? How about Dansby Swanson’s defense? Ian Happ’s absurd OBP? Patrick Wisdom looking legit? Eric Hosmer’s surprising offensive contributions? The staff at The Athletic picked one positive, early-season trend for each team. And for the Cubs, it was none of the above. (Think Marcus Stroman.)
  • The Dong Bong is the Orioles new home run celebration and I can’t get enough of it:
  • This is such a nasty, nasty two-seamer from Adam Ottavino. Rob Friedman has it a 94 MPH with 20 inches of run. Just wanted to share:
  • This, by contrast, was a very silly pitch by Clayton Kershaw:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami