Grown women don’t need to have a “best friend”

If “best friendship” is on the rise, what does it mean?

Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha.
Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha.

Emily Gould wrote her new novel, Friendship, in part because she wanted to “address … a lack of depictions of best friendship” in books and movies, she told me over the phone. If this is something we were previously missing, a lot has changed – even since Gould started working on Friendship in 2010. Portrayals of intense, co-dependent, adult female best-friend pairs are everywhere: Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha, Leslie and Ann on “Parks and Recreation”, Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffmann in Obvious Child, Maggie and Emma on “Playing House”. We don’t have to infer that these women consider each other besties; they make it explicit, taking pride in their exclusivity, declaring each other “best friends”. Are anxious millennials, lacking the security that might come from steady jobs or relationships, clinging to the childhood ideal of the “best friend” as they postpone adulthood? 

Gould’s novel, Friendship, follows a best-friend pair through a turbulent period of break-ups and bad jobs in their late twenties and early thirties. After Amy and Bev meet as editorial assistants at a New York publishing house, Bev “start[s] making friendship advances toward Amy”, going out of her way to engage her in conversation. One day, she invites her to a concert after work; they start to take their lunch breaks together. One thing leads to another, and while eating sushi and drinking wine on a roof in Brooklyn, they make it official. Bev confesses that she considers Amy her “best friend”. Amy says the feeling is mutual. Over the next several years, their friendship becomes the primary bond in both of their lives. They rely on each other to fill basically all of their emotional needs. Gould explicitly intended her novel to celebrate best-friendship. “The relationship dynamic is exactly like what I have with my best friend,” she said. Even the “defining the relationship” conversation is drawn from her real life. 

But the real-life-ness of the fictional “best friend” boom might not be all that widespread. Most of the adults I know – as well as most of the people I spoke to for this article – have a handful of people they’d call their “best friend”; the intensity of the friendships fluctuates along with everyone’s changing geographic and romantic circumstances. “I have a high-school bestie, a college bestie, a bestie from my DC days, etc. that all make up my ‘bestie tier’,” said journalist Ann Friedman, who has referred to various people as “my best friend” in writing. “I think of it as concentric circles – a small number of people are my core support/friend group, the centre of my social/emotional world, and I call them all ‘my best friend’ or besties,” she told me over email. In a 2004 study published in American Sociological Review, Americans reported having an average of two close confidants. In a 2011 survey of 2,000 adults, participants said they’d discussed “important matters” with an average of two people in the previous six month-period.

Data on “best-friendship” is hard to come by; it’s only recently that friendship has become a serious topic of inquiry for sociologists, who traditionally focused more on romantic and familial ties. And, as Jan Yager, a sociologist who has been studying friendship since the 1970s, points out, many friendship studies fail to distinguish among degrees of friendship, conflating casual acquaintances and best friends in a single category. Yager’s own research can offer some statistics: for her 1980 doctoral dissertation, “Friendship Patterns Among Young Urban Single Women”, Yager interviewed 27 single women who lived alone on a single block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Nearly all of them – 24 – had at least one “close friend”, but just five could name one “best friend”. Eleven admitted they had no “best friends”; the same number said they had more than one. Yager has continued collecting data on friendship through a Survey Monkey quiz, and says that over the last ten years, even as she’s seen an increase in the number of “casual” friends people claim, the number of “best” and “close” friends has remained constant: On average, people say they have around one or two “best” and four to six “close” friends.

Regardless of whether a numerical uptick in the declaration of “best friendship” is taking place, anxieties about best-friendship are regularly being airedIn an xoJane confessional titled “It Happened to Me: I Don’t Have a Best Friend”, a grown woman agonizes over what she sees as a failure: even though she’s lucky enough to have “a litany” of friends both “good” and “great,” she feels inadequate for not having one to call “best”. In a 2011 book, MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel Bertsche documents what sounds like an exhausting quest to fill her need for a new best friend after following her boyfriend to Chicago. Some best friends, according to the Daily Mailget couples counselling when they hit a rough patch. 

The pressure to single out one friend as the best falls disproportionately on women. “The BFF (or “[same sex] Best Friend Forever”) seems to be a peculiarly female thing,” Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar wrote in an email. Men in heterosexual relationships, on the other hand, are comfortable naming their wife or girlfriend as their “best friend”. “Men, once they couple off, prefer their best friend to be their romantic partner,” said Yager. “I would say, ‘I have a best friend – well, other than my husband, who can’t technically be my best friend because he’s my husband.’ A man would say, ‘My best friend is my wife,’ and wouldn’t feel the need to qualify it.”

Sociologists confirm that women often do maintain more intense friendships than men. “Women have ‘face-to-face’ relationships where they confide in each other,” said Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of several books on friendship, including Placing Friendship in Context. “Men tend to have more ‘side-by-side’ relationships where they do activities together. They tend not to talk about things that reveal their weaknesses. That makes men less worthy candidates for close friendship. Men tend to open up and confide more to women than to other men.”

If “best friendship” – even just rhetorically – is on the rise, what does it mean? Psychologists across the board agree that relying on one person to fulfil all your emotional needs is unhealthy; social scientists are even growing sceptical that the ideal of a lifelong monogamous romantic relationship is realistic or healthy. Labelling one friend as “the best” seems to combine the pressure and commitment of a monogamous relationship with few of the benefits. Because these relationships are very intense (in a non-sexual way), they are also very fragile,” said Dunbar. “When they bust, they bust forever and acrimoniously.” 

Having one all-consuming best friend may be more appropriate for children, who don’t have the distraction of adult responsibilities and haven’t had many opportunities to meet a range of people, than for adults. But psychologists have begun to re-examine the assumption that it’s A-OK even for kids to have a best friend, and other childcare professionals seem to agree. “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” Timber Lake Camp director Jay Jacobs told the New York Times in 2010. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.” Last year, the headmaster of a London prep school told parents to discourage their children from seeking “best friends”. He explained his stance to the Daily Telegraph: “It is much easier if they share friendships and have a wide range of good friends rather than obsessing too much about who their best friend is.”

The potential dangers of “best friendship” don’t seem to bother Emily Gould. She told me over the phone she’d never considered whether it’s psychologically healthy for an adult woman to have one friend she identifies as closer than all the others. “That relationship dynamic was something I wanted to be really careful to depict accurately,” she said. She’s glad there are more portrayals of best-friendship lately, but she hasn’t seen Frances Ha: Her best friend told her she wouldn’t like it.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Grown women don’t need to have a “best friend”

If “best friendship” is on the rise, what does it mean?

Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha.
Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha.

Emily Gould wrote her new novel, Friendship, in part because she wanted to “address … a lack of depictions of best friendship” in books and movies, she told me over the phone. If this is something we were previously missing, a lot has changed – even since Gould started working on Friendship in 2010. Portrayals of intense, co-dependent, adult female best-friend pairs are everywhere: Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in Frances Ha, Leslie and Ann on “Parks and Recreation”, Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffmann in Obvious Child, Maggie and Emma on “Playing House”. We don’t have to infer that these women consider each other besties; they make it explicit, taking pride in their exclusivity, declaring each other “best friends”. Are anxious millennials, lacking the security that might come from steady jobs or relationships, clinging to the childhood ideal of the “best friend” as they postpone adulthood? 

Gould’s novel, Friendship, follows a best-friend pair through a turbulent period of break-ups and bad jobs in their late twenties and early thirties. After Amy and Bev meet as editorial assistants at a New York publishing house, Bev “start[s] making friendship advances toward Amy”, going out of her way to engage her in conversation. One day, she invites her to a concert after work; they start to take their lunch breaks together. One thing leads to another, and while eating sushi and drinking wine on a roof in Brooklyn, they make it official. Bev confesses that she considers Amy her “best friend”. Amy says the feeling is mutual. Over the next several years, their friendship becomes the primary bond in both of their lives. They rely on each other to fill basically all of their emotional needs. Gould explicitly intended her novel to celebrate best-friendship. “The relationship dynamic is exactly like what I have with my best friend,” she said. Even the “defining the relationship” conversation is drawn from her real life. 

But the real-life-ness of the fictional “best friend” boom might not be all that widespread. Most of the adults I know – as well as most of the people I spoke to for this article – have a handful of people they’d call their “best friend”; the intensity of the friendships fluctuates along with everyone’s changing geographic and romantic circumstances. “I have a high-school bestie, a college bestie, a bestie from my DC days, etc. that all make up my ‘bestie tier’,” said journalist Ann Friedman, who has referred to various people as “my best friend” in writing. “I think of it as concentric circles – a small number of people are my core support/friend group, the centre of my social/emotional world, and I call them all ‘my best friend’ or besties,” she told me over email. In a 2004 study published in American Sociological Review, Americans reported having an average of two close confidants. In a 2011 survey of 2,000 adults, participants said they’d discussed “important matters” with an average of two people in the previous six month-period.

Data on “best-friendship” is hard to come by; it’s only recently that friendship has become a serious topic of inquiry for sociologists, who traditionally focused more on romantic and familial ties. And, as Jan Yager, a sociologist who has been studying friendship since the 1970s, points out, many friendship studies fail to distinguish among degrees of friendship, conflating casual acquaintances and best friends in a single category. Yager’s own research can offer some statistics: for her 1980 doctoral dissertation, “Friendship Patterns Among Young Urban Single Women”, Yager interviewed 27 single women who lived alone on a single block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Nearly all of them – 24 – had at least one “close friend”, but just five could name one “best friend”. Eleven admitted they had no “best friends”; the same number said they had more than one. Yager has continued collecting data on friendship through a Survey Monkey quiz, and says that over the last ten years, even as she’s seen an increase in the number of “casual” friends people claim, the number of “best” and “close” friends has remained constant: On average, people say they have around one or two “best” and four to six “close” friends.

Regardless of whether a numerical uptick in the declaration of “best friendship” is taking place, anxieties about best-friendship are regularly being airedIn an xoJane confessional titled “It Happened to Me: I Don’t Have a Best Friend”, a grown woman agonizes over what she sees as a failure: even though she’s lucky enough to have “a litany” of friends both “good” and “great,” she feels inadequate for not having one to call “best”. In a 2011 book, MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel Bertsche documents what sounds like an exhausting quest to fill her need for a new best friend after following her boyfriend to Chicago. Some best friends, according to the Daily Mailget couples counselling when they hit a rough patch. 

The pressure to single out one friend as the best falls disproportionately on women. “The BFF (or “[same sex] Best Friend Forever”) seems to be a peculiarly female thing,” Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar wrote in an email. Men in heterosexual relationships, on the other hand, are comfortable naming their wife or girlfriend as their “best friend”. “Men, once they couple off, prefer their best friend to be their romantic partner,” said Yager. “I would say, ‘I have a best friend – well, other than my husband, who can’t technically be my best friend because he’s my husband.’ A man would say, ‘My best friend is my wife,’ and wouldn’t feel the need to qualify it.”

Sociologists confirm that women often do maintain more intense friendships than men. “Women have ‘face-to-face’ relationships where they confide in each other,” said Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of several books on friendship, including Placing Friendship in Context. “Men tend to have more ‘side-by-side’ relationships where they do activities together. They tend not to talk about things that reveal their weaknesses. That makes men less worthy candidates for close friendship. Men tend to open up and confide more to women than to other men.”

If “best friendship” – even just rhetorically – is on the rise, what does it mean? Psychologists across the board agree that relying on one person to fulfil all your emotional needs is unhealthy; social scientists are even growing sceptical that the ideal of a lifelong monogamous romantic relationship is realistic or healthy. Labelling one friend as “the best” seems to combine the pressure and commitment of a monogamous relationship with few of the benefits. Because these relationships are very intense (in a non-sexual way), they are also very fragile,” said Dunbar. “When they bust, they bust forever and acrimoniously.” 

Having one all-consuming best friend may be more appropriate for children, who don’t have the distraction of adult responsibilities and haven’t had many opportunities to meet a range of people, than for adults. But psychologists have begun to re-examine the assumption that it’s A-OK even for kids to have a best friend, and other childcare professionals seem to agree. “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” Timber Lake Camp director Jay Jacobs told the New York Times in 2010. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.” Last year, the headmaster of a London prep school told parents to discourage their children from seeking “best friends”. He explained his stance to the Daily Telegraph: “It is much easier if they share friendships and have a wide range of good friends rather than obsessing too much about who their best friend is.”

The potential dangers of “best friendship” don’t seem to bother Emily Gould. She told me over the phone she’d never considered whether it’s psychologically healthy for an adult woman to have one friend she identifies as closer than all the others. “That relationship dynamic was something I wanted to be really careful to depict accurately,” she said. She’s glad there are more portrayals of best-friendship lately, but she hasn’t seen Frances Ha: Her best friend told her she wouldn’t like it.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Scouting Reports for Boston Red Sox Prospects in the 2014 Futures Game

On Sunday July 13, the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game will be held at Minnesota's Target Field.  The contest pits top MLB prospects from the U.S. against their international counterparts.  

Originally, two Boston Red Sox minor leaguers were chosen to play in the exhibition—Mookie Betts and Henry Owens, a left-handed pitcher for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.  Betts' promotion to the majors made him ineligible for the game, and his roster spot was given to Sea Dogs infielder Sean Coyle.

Puerto Rican catcher Christian Vazquez was named as a replacement on the World team when the Atlanta Braves called up Christian Bethancourt. But now that Vazquez is in Boston, he won't be able to participate either.

Owens and Coyle are each putting together exceptional seasons in Portland, and both are well-deserving of their selections.  Here are brief scouting reports on the two Red Sox prospects headed to Minneapolis.

 

Henry Owens

Owens is a 6'6" lefty out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California, who was taken by Boston with the 36th pick in the first round of the 2011 draft.  MLB.com rates him the No. 1 overall prospect in the Red Sox organization.  Owens throws his fastball in the low 90s, but he is best known for his devastating changeup.  He's still just 21 years old and will turn 22 later this month.

In 17 starts for Portland this season, Owens has compiled a 12-3 record, along with a 2.21 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.  He's struck out 111 batters in 105.2 innings while allowing just 40 walks.  Owens has also held opposing hitters to a .183 batting average.

His gaudy numbers have become even more impressive recently—Owens has earned a victory in each of his last eight starts while giving up a total of only eight runs in that span.  In his last outing on July 6, Owens went eight innings, surrendered three hits, one walk and one run, and struck out 11.

Owens was recently named to Baseball America's midseason top 50 prospects list and was also chosen for the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 14, the day after the Futures Game.

Via an article last week by Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe, Owens said:

I try my hardest to stay humble. Sometimes it’s tough with guys coming to interview me and telling you how you're doing compared to last year and what people expect you to do this year and how you're exceeding expectations, but I think the main focus in my head is there's still development here in the minor leagues.

I'm not in The Show yet and the end goal is to help however I can to win games for Boston and eventually win the World Series.

So I just know that every day I come in the ballpark there’s still something I can do to get better.

 

Sean Coyle

Coyle is a 5'8" right-handed second baseman from Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania who the Red Sox selected in the third round of the 2010 draft.  The 22-year-old is currently ranked as the 13th-best prospect in Boston's farm system by SoxProspects.com.  Despite his small size, Coyle is very well built.  He has a compact swing, a quick bat and good power for a middle infielder.

After hitting below .250 in each of his first three years in the minors, Coyle is tearing the cover off the ball for the Sea Dogs this season.

Through 63 games, he's batting .336, with a .411 on-base percentage and a .584 slugging percentage.  Coyle also has 11 home runs, 18 doubles and 47 RBI in just 214 at-bats.  In addition to his excellent numbers at the plate, Coyle has stolen 12 bases to this point as well.  He's also hitting a spectacular .375 with runners in scoring position.

In June, Coyle posted stat lines of .348/.450/.652, which were good enough to earn him Eastern League Player of the Month honors.  Like Owens, Coyle also earned a spot in the Eastern League All-Star Game.

From WEEI.com's Alex Speier and Katie Morrison:

Coyle’s power potential is underscored by his ability to drive the ball out without pulling the ball. Three of his 11 homers this year have been to center or right-center; five of his 16 homers in 2013 went out to center or right-center.

While Coyle is clearly making great strides at the plate this season, there may also be a fair bit of luck involved in his torrid first half.  On July 4, Morrison wrote:

Certainly there appears to be greater consistency of hard contact as well — but probably not enough to explain the shift in Coyle's batting average on balls in play, which is at an astounding .435 this year compared to .284 a year ago. In other words, while there has been improvement in Coyle's at-bat management, there also appears to have been some favorable fortune to his standout year.

 

Statistics via Milb.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Scouting Reports for San Francisco Giants Prospects in the 2014 Futures Game

The All-Star Futures Game is a unique and fun matchup that pits the top minor league prospects from the United States against those from other areas of the world. The Futures Game will be played as part of the 2014 All-Star Game festivities.

This will be the 16th year the game has been played. In the previous contests, the United States has won nine times, with the World team winning six. In the 2013 game, the World team blanked the United States by a score of 7-0.

With a total of 57 players named to one of the two squads, the Giants have just one player who will be playing in the game. This underscores the lack of rising talent the Giants have in their minor league system.

Starting pitcher Edwin Escobar is the only player from the Giants organization to be on either roster. Escobar, a left-hander from Venezuela, will be pitching for the World team.

Escobar pitched well in spring training and opened some eyes. He has a live arm and showed good stuff.

Escobar had a chance to make the Giants' Opening Day roster, but he was ultimately sent down to Fresno, their Triple-A affiliate. The hope was for Escobar to hone his skills and get more seasoning.

In 2013, Escobar was very effective. He began the season at High-A San Jose, then was promoted to Double-A Richmond. 

In 128.2 cumulative innings of work, Escobar allowed 112 hits and 30 walks while striking out 146. Opposing hitters were batting just .228 against him, and he fashioned an ERA of 2.80 and WHIP of 1.10.

The 2014 season has been a mixed bag for Escobar. He has not had near the success he did in 2013. Overall, his numbers do not warrant a major league promotion at this time.

This year, in 105 innings, Escobar has allowed 122 hits and 34 walks while striking out 93. His ERA is 5.06, to go along with a WHIP of 1.49. His 3-8 record is poor, and opposing hitters are batting a robust .288 off of him.

A major concern has been Escobar's propensity to give up the home run. He has allowed 15 homers in those 105 innings of work.

The Giants have high hopes that Escobar will be ready to join the starting rotation in 2015. However, he must do a lot better than he has this year if that is to become a reality.

As reported by Mike Rosenbaum, MLB Prospects Lead Writer for BleacherReport.com, Escobar has a fastball that typically ranges from 88-92 mph and tops out around 94 mph. Escobar has a good curveball that is a key strikeout pitch for him. His changeup has been inconsistent and needs refinement.

Escobar's mediocre numbers may be due to pitching in the PCL, to some degree. This is a hitter's league and several teams play in hot, dry, elevated locations.

These arid and elevated climates take some of the bite off the breaking pitches, which undoubtedly has hurt Escobar. The ball travels a lot farther at altitude than at sea level, as well.

Nevertheless, Escobar needs to develop more command of his pitches, especially in the strike zone. He has made too many mistakes and has been hit hard over the course of the year.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Blue Jays’ Melky Cabrera Has Significantly Raised His Value with Resurgent Year

Amidst the Toronto Blue Jays’ latest struggles and piling injuries, it’s easy to forget how good a season outfielder Melky Cabrera is having.

Usually batting second in Toronto’s lineup, Cabrera has hit .301/.348/.459 with 11 home runs, 44 RBI and 56 runs scored in 92 games played this season.

With several of the team’s other stars such as Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie all having missed time with injuries already, Cabrera is one of the only regulars who has stayed healthy and consistently contributed throughout the season.

Ironically, Cabrera was arguably the most injury-prone player on the team last year. He was limited to just 88 games in 2013 mainly due to a benign tumor in his spine. That tumor sapped all the strength from the left fielder’s lower body and left him unable to run.

Following offseason surgery to remove the tumor, it was obvious that the Dominican had regained his strength and mobility. He came into 2014 spring training in great shape and proceeded to hit .405 in 23 grapefruit league games.

With Cabrera in the second year of a two-year, $16 million contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, the Blue Jays will soon have an important decision to make.

It’s worth noting that Cabrera was set to cash in big during the 2012 season when he hit .346/.390/.516 in 113 games for the San Francisco Giants. But a positive test for synthetic testosterone earned him a 50-game suspension from MLB and effectively ended his season. That’s the main reason Toronto was able snag him for cheap after all.

Based on his numbers so far this season, Cabrera has proven that he can be an impact player in the league without relying on PEDs. This means that he’ll likely draw large multi-year offers on the open market. Teams like the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox could all use outfield help and might make a play for the 29-year-old.

There haven’t been any indications that Cabrera wouldn’t want to re-sign with the Blue Jays. The team is a good fit for him with its large contingent of Dominican players and plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

But, at the same time, it’s hard to imagine the switch-hitter giving Toronto a huge discount in order to remain with the team. He missed out on a big payday two years ago and this free agency will likely be the final chance of his career to land a long-term contract.

If the Blue Jays are interested in retaining Cabrera’s services beyond this season, they’ll have to pay market value in order to keep him.

 

*All stats are from baseball-reference.com

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Even Without Scoreless Streak, Clayton Kershaw Is Still Having a Historic Season

For Clayton Kershaw, a home run off the bat of Chase Headley ruined everything.

And nothing. It broke up an incredible streak, but it did not break up an incredible season.

If you missed it, yes, Kershaw's run of consecutive scoreless innings finally ended Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers' ace lefty allowed nothing to the San Diego Padres through five and two-thirds to run his scoreless streak to 41.2 innings, but then Headley sent one over the left-center field wall for a solo homer.

Thus did Kershaw's scoreless streak end before he was even 17 innings within reach of Orel Hershiser's record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

Oh well. Kershaw soldiered on as...well, basically as he's been soldiering on.

He didn't allow anything the rest of the game, ultimately completing a 2-1 Dodgers win on his own. He threw 115 pitches, allowing just three hits and one walk. He struck out 11.

As for the scoreless streak ending, it sounds like Kershaw wasn't and won't be shedding any tears. Here's Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register:

And even if he did finally give up a run, Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com noted that Kershaw still authored the third-longest scoreless streak since Hershiser's in 1988. Only Brandon Webb (42 innings in 2007) and R.A. Dickey (44 innings in 2012) have done better.

Also, the Dodgers reminded everyone that Kershaw is still on one hell of a run even without the scoreless streak:

When Kershaw suffered an upper-back injury in March that sidelined him for all of April, you couldn't help but think that maybe 2014 wasn't going to be his year. But 14 starts in, he's now sitting on a 1.78 ERA.

That's even better than the 1.83 ERA he had in 2013. And now that FanGraphs says Kershaw has enough innings to qualify, his 1.78 ERA makes him the new MLB leader in that category.

Which is nice, but focusing on Kershaw's ERA is focusing on only half the story. And against all odds, the other half makes him look even better.

Let me take a moment to introduce the statistics we're about to discuss:

  • K%: This is strikeouts per batters faced, which is a better measure than K/9.
  • BB%: This is walks per batters faced, which is more accurate than BB/9.
  • K%-BB%: This is a new one at FanGraphs, and it's supposedly more accurate than K/BB ratio.
  • FIP: This is fielding independent pitching, which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be by focusing on strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home runs.
  • xFIP: This is expected fielding independent pitching, which does FIP's job except with an estimate for how many home runs should be on a pitcher's record based on his fly-ball rate.
  • SIERA: This is skill-interactive ERA, which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be by focusing on strikeouts, walks and ground balls.

Why focus on these stats? Mainly because they're better indicators of a pitcher's dominance than his ERA, which can be influenced by all sorts of things outside of a pitcher's control. Looking past ERA at the stats above allows us to see through the noise, so to speak.

Anyway, behold a comparison of what Kershaw is doing this year to what he did between 2011 and 2013 (via FanGraphs):

Relative to what he was doing before, Kershaw isn't just striking out more batters. He's striking out way more batters. Likewise, he's almost cut his already impressive walk rate in half, and his K%-BB% towers over the mark he racked up between 2011 and 2013.

Then there are those last three columns. Not only do they agree that Kershaw really deserves to have an ERA under 2.00, they also agree that his 1.78 ERA might actually be too high.

So how good has Kershaw been this season? Good enough to put the 2011-2013 version of Kershaw to shame. And that, as they say, is saying something.

Amazingly, it gets better. The kind of pitching we're seeing from Kershaw this season is the kind of pitching that we just don't see that often.

You know that strikeout percentage of 34.4? Here's a list of qualified starters who have posted a mark like that in a season: Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000, and Randy Johnson in 2000 and 2001.

Yeah, them. And only them. 

Oh, and Kershaw's walk percentage of 3.6? Yeah, neither Martinez nor Johnson was able to go that low.

In fact, it's only because of Pedro's insane 37.5 strikeout percentage in 1999 that he was able to post a 33.1 K%-BB% rate. That's the only K%-BB% in recorded history bigger than the 30.9 mark Kershaw is working on.

Then there are those ERA metrics.

Because batted-ball data only goes back to 2002, xFIP and SIERA data only goes back that far. But since then, Curt Schilling's 2002 season holds the records for the lowest xFIP (2.21) and the lowest SIERA (2.18).

Yeah, Kershaw's on track to shatter those marks. No contest, so let's move on to FIP.

Kershaw is...not on track to shatter the all-time record for FIP, sadly. It's good enough, however, that his 1.58 FIP would put him in some elite company:

Yup. According to FIP, we are witnessing the 11th-most dominant pitching season ever.

However, we must adjust for eras. Because those old-timers were pitching in an even more pitching-friendly environment than the one in which Kershaw is pitching, it's not fair to compare him to them.

So let's turn to FIP-, which is FIP adjusted for park factors and league averages. A score of 100 is average, and anything below 100 is better than average. The lower a FIP- goes, the better it is.

As of now, Kershaw's FIP- is 44. Here's where that would rank among the all-time great FIP- seasons:

Yup. There. Second. Behind only Pedro's epic 1999 season, which is arguably (or not at all) the single greatest pitching season in the history of mankind and (likely) alienkind.

Now, sure, here's where we have to be real for a second and admit this: Kershaw's 2014 season is a long way from being over. He has many more starts still to go. Who knows what'll happen?

But now that we've been real for a second, know that you can at least go and tell people that the dominance we've seen from Kershaw to this point is the likes of which we've only seen a handful of times before in major league history. Heck, maybe only one other time in major league history.

And besides, would anybody even be surprised if Kershaw kept it going?

I wouldn't. He was the best pitcher on the planet coming into the season, he's clearly gotten even better, and the dude is only a couple months past his 26th birthday. And assuming he doesn't make another trip to and from Australia, I feel good betting on his health holding up just fine.

I also feel comfortable offering this bit of advice: Enjoy it, folks. This could be the last time we see pitching like this for a long time.

In fact, forget advice. That's an order. Enjoy it. 

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Scouting Reports for Texas Rangers’ Prospects in 2014 Futures Game

The 2014 Futures Game is July 15 and features some of the brightest young talents in the minors.

The Texas Rangers will have two players representing the organization this season. They are both rated in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list and would have played in the game’s 2013 version if it weren’t for injuries.

Those two players are third baseman Joey Gallo and catcher Jorge Alfaro.

Both players are having great seasons with Gallo earning a promotion to Double-A Frisco and Alfaro leading most statistical categories among Carolina League catchers. Having missed out on last year’s contest, the two stars will be looking to show the world what they didn’t get to see last season.

Here are the scouting reports for both Gallo and Alfaro. Their organizational rank is based off of a prospect ranking I put together before the start of spring training, and stats will be as of July 10.

Begin Slideshow

Scouting Reports for Cincinnati Reds Prospects in the 2014 Futures Game

Cincinnati Reds fans will have plenty to root for during this season's All-Star break. The Reds are well represented with four All-Star selections and even have Todd Frazier to cheer for in the Home Run Derby.

Before all the MLB excitement kicks off, the Reds also have two participants in the All-Star Futures Game.

The annual All-Star Futures Game kicks off the July 13 All-Star festivities at 5 p.m. ET. This game brings in the game's top prospects in a battle of the U.S. Team against the World Team. 

Top prospects Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winkler were given the honor of representing Team USA this year. Here is what these great prospects bring to the table.   

 

Robert Stephenson

Stephenson's inclusion in the game comes as no surprise. Major League Baseball could have penciled in his name before the season began. 

According to Baseball America, Stephenson entered this season ranked as the Reds' top prospect and 19th-best prospect overall. 

His one-two punch is made up of an electric mid- to upper 90s fastball, which he complements nicely with an above-average curveball. The 21-year-old pitcher will also mix in a changeup occasionally, but relies mostly on the curve and fastball.

He has nasty stuff, as displayed by his ability to strike out batters. Stephenson has averaged over a strikeout an inning throughout his minor league career. (Check out his stuff above.)

Stephenson has not been as dominant this season, as he has struggled with his control—allowing 48 walks in 93 innings.

With the Reds' crowded rotation, there is no need to push him into the majors this year. He will likely be battling for a spot in the rotation during spring training next year and should just focus on controlling his pitches this season.

According to an interview with MiLB.com's Sam Dykstra, here is how far away from the majors Stephenson thought he was before the season:

Obviously, I don't expect to be break(ing) camp with the big club. That being said, I think they want me to be ready at some point this season in case I am moved up. I want to be ready at every turn, so I'm prepared when I do get that call.

Once Stephenson is able to fully command his pitches, he is projected to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

 

2014 Stats

IP W L ERA WHIP K BAA
93.0 4 6 3.97 1.31 93 .216

 

Jesse Winker

Winker was not even listed on Baseball America's prospect list entering this season. However, he has been the best hitting prospect in the Reds organization and has already been promoted this year.

The 20-year-old outfielder has played his way onto Baseball America's midseason Top 50 prospect rankings. He currently sits at No. 29, not bad for someone who was not even mentioned coming into the season.

Winker was looked at as a line-drive hitter before the season, but his power numbers have really taken off this season. He has hit 15 home runs and also has 20 doubles this year. 

The lefty possesses a nice compact swing and has displayed great patience at the plate (You can check out his swing above.) Unlike a lot of other young hitters, Winker rarely chases bad pitches and will take his walks. It looks like he has the Joey Votto mindset in that sense. 

According to an interview with RedsMinorLeagues.com's Doug Gray, here is what Winker had to say about his approach:

I just try to hunt pitches and hunt the pitch I want to hit in every at bat.  If the pitcher is not going to give that to me I try not to cave in and give away at bats, I think that is what ties into my patience.  I don’t try to give away one at bat all year.  It is a goal I have every year.  With that and having a good eye and the umpire obviously being solid as well plays into a patient hitter’s game plan.

 

2014 Stats

Level AB H 2B HR RBI R BA OBP SLG
High-A 205 65 15 13 49 42 .317 .426 .580
Double-A 71 16 5 2 8 15 .225 .341 .380

 

**All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise

 

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Want This: R-Kaid-R is a Portable Arcade Machine

-Kaid-R arcade

Arcade machines are big and bulky, and they only let you play one game per machine. Regardless of that fact, they’re still all sorts of awesome and most people would sell an arm and a leg to get the machine for their favorite game. That is, if they had the space for it after coughing up the dough for it.

An alternative? The R-Kaid-R portable arcade machine. While it’s not really lighter on the wallet, it’s definitely way more compact than a typical machine.

The R-Kaid-R is the handiwork of DIYer Love Hulten. It comes in a vintage case, with an 8-inch screen, built-in speakers, and an 8-way joystick. The highlight is in the games that you can play using it, as it supports various consoles, from Mame and Atari 8000 to Game Boy Advance, Nintendo, Doom, and PlayStation 1.

Hulten is offering the R-Kaid-R for sale with various choices in case material. The downside? The €2,499.00 (that’s aboyt US $3411+) price tag.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Damn Geeky ]

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Clayton Kershaw’s Consecutive Scoreless Innings Streak Ends at 41 vs. Padres

The most impressive streak of the 2014 MLB season has finally come to an end. With a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning, Padres third baseman Chase Headley halted Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's scoreless innings streak at 41.

Headley hit the solo shot with two outs in the sixth, tying the clash between NL West foes at 1-1. Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, had gone through his last four starts scoreless and was carrying a 36-inning streak heading into Thursday night.

SportsCenter eventually provided Kershaw's final line:

For his first 5.2 innings, Kershaw looked every bit like he was continuing his charge toward Orel Hershiser's record of 59 straight scoreless. He'd given up only one hit, a single to Alexi Amarista in the third inning. Continuing to improve on his career-best strikeout numbers, Kershaw had also struck out seven before Headley's fateful at bat.

While the Dodger Stadium faithful were disappointed to see the streak end, it's hard to say Headley didn't earn it. Down 1-2 after swinging and missing at two consecutive pitches, he fouled off three straight before sending a towering drive over the centerfield fence.

The homer comes as a bit of a surprise given Headley's less-than-stellar history against Kershaw. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Padres star was 10-for-48 without a home run for his career entering the game. Headley has also been mired in a season-long slump, his batting average hovering around the Mendoza line and his power splits still not close to his 2012 numbers.

The home run was just the seventh of his season.

As for Kershaw, his streak will still go down in the record books regardless. Only Hershiser and Don Drysdale have longer scoreless strings in Dodgers history, a somewhat bad luck of the draw given how many franchises for which Kershaw would have set a record. His is the 15th longest streak in history.

"He's just really good," manager Don Mattingly told reporters last week. "It's been like that for a few years now. He had a really good month, but for those of us that get to see him every day, or a lot, it's not a lot different. It's maybe just a little better."

As noted by Matt Snyder of CBS Sports, Brandon Webb (2007) and R.A. Dickey (2012) are the only two pitchers since Hershiser to have longer streaks than Kershaw. The period of dormancy between those long streaks included baseball's artificially enhanced offensive boom.

With run production dropping for the third straight season, we may start seeing a higher frequency of these situations. At 4.13 runs per game, MLB scoring is the lowest it's been since 1992, per Baseball-Reference. In the last seven years alone, run production has dropped by more than a half-run. As teams continue struggling to adjust to a new and improved pitching era, maybe Kershaw's streak won't feel as special in a couple of years.

For now, it's merely the latest indicator of how dominant the game's best pitcher can be. Had it not been for an early-season injury, Kershaw would again be the runaway Cy Young favorite. He came into Thursday night with a 1.85 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, numbers right in line with his remarkable 2013 campaign. Factoring in his uptick in strikeouts, one might even argue he's been better this season.

Who knows? The next person with a Kershaw-like streak might be Kershaw himself. Let's just appreciate this one for what it was.

 

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Feels Like You’re Lounging on Grass: Taer Grass Field Hammock

Taer Grass Field Hammock

Remember the days when you used to lie on a bed of grass, staring at the sky with not a care in the world? Large patches of unoccupied grass might be harder to come across these days, especially if you tend to get lazy with the gardening. You could go to the park, but then you’d have to share your little patch of heaven with the rest of the world.

So here’s an alternative: the Taer Grass field hammock. It’s covered in a ynthetic polyamide material that mimics the color and feel of actual grass. Of course, nothing’s quite like the original, but this is probably the next best thing to actual grass. The hammock is water and UV resistant and you can hang it indoors or outdoors, depending on your preferences and available space.

The Taer Grass hammock retails for €365 (about $500).

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Gear Hungry ]

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Wine or Coffee? Friends Fun Wine Lets You Have Both–At the Same Time

Friends Beverage Group Coffee Wine

 

Can’t decide if you’d like to unwind with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee? Friends Fun Wine is well aware of that fact, which is why they’ve come up with two new flavors that incorporate wine’s velvet smoothness with coffee’s distinct aroma that’ll give you a quick pick-me-up for sure: Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino.

The coolest part about it? There’s zero caffeine and very little alcohol in the mix, plus it’s low on calories. As for the taste, well, that’s an entirely different story, but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

VIA [ Incredible Things ]

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Coming Soon: An App That Lets You Measure Stuff Using Your Phone

Smart Picture Technologies Measuring Tape

Smartphones have replaced cameras, MP3 players, pedometers, remote controls, and even notebooks. Whatever you want to do, there’s probably already an app for that. And with Smart Picture Technologies’ up-and-coming app, you can now toss that old roll of measuring tape because you can use your phone (and their app) instead.

To measure the length of an object, just take a picture of it and the app will do the rest. The app works by generating a “smart picture” of the object once you take a picture of it. You can then choose any two points in the picture (in this case, you should choose the start and end of the object) and the app will give you the distance between those two points.

Other apps have promised to do the same, but this seems to be the real deal. The app is slated for release next year.

VIA [ Walyou ]

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Emojli is a Social Network That Only Uses Emoji

Emojli

What’s the world coming to? Or rather, what’s the online world coming to? Facebook is still in the lead when it comes to social networks, but that’s not stopping new ones like Emojli from cropping up. The name gives a lot away as to how the network will be operating. If you guessed emojis, then you’re spot on, because emojis are the center of the social network. In fact, it’s what Emojli is all about, because it’s apparently an “emoji-only” network.

That should be self-explanatory. All status updates will be comprised of emoji and that’s what its creators are counting on to bolster their claims of zero spam because, well, how else can you spam people using emojis only? (Notably, there’s an emoji for poop so, you know, there’s that.)

Interested? You can reserve your username on Emojli here. It has to be in emoji though, so maybe that’ll complicate things when you’re trying to find your friends on the network.

VIA [ Geek ]

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Rocked by Masahiro Tanaka Injury, What Options Are There for Yankees in 2014?

Standout rookie Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn UCL, and while the news could have been worse and there's a chance he'll avoid surgery, it's still a significant blow to the New York Yankees' playoff hopes.

Tanaka met with three different doctors, each providing the same diagnosis, and he has opted to try rehabbing the injury, a process that will sideline him for at least six weeks.

That according to a pair of tweets from Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, with a number of others verifying the report.

As Hoch points out, Tommy John surgery is still a possibility if rehab doesn't work, as Matt Harvey took a similar route to surgery last year.

Either way, the Yankees will be without their best starter and the one reliable arm in their rotation until roughly September.

The team already acquired Brandon McCarthy in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was expected to at least kick the tires on adding another starter.

This could expedite that process, as New York's current staff does not have the look of a legitimate contender.

Picking up McCarthy was a nice move by the front office, as his peripheral numbers suggested he was pitching far better this season than his 3-10 record and 5.01 ERA during his time with the Diamondbacks indicated.

He went 6.2 innings in his Yankees debut, allowing nine hits and four runs (one earned) to come away with a no-decision. If he can pitch to his 2011-12 A's form (3.29 ERA in 43 starts), the Yankees will be much better off.

Hiroki Kuroda is not a Cy Young candidate like he was midway through last season, but he remains capable of going deep into games. He's turned in 10 quality starts in his 18 outings and is averaging just over six innings per start.

David Phelps has also been a viable option since moving to the rotation, going 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in his 12 starts, though he is best-suited as a fifth starter.

Then there are the two rookies Chase Whitley and Shane Greene, who have done admirably considering nothing was expected of them at the big league level this season. However, relying on them every fifth day during a second-half playoff push is probably asking too much.

So basically, New York is currently working with what would constitute three-fifths of most contenders' rotations and a pair of unknown commodities.

It would appear the Yankees can approach the days and weeks to come in three different ways.

  • They go all-in and try to land a frontline starter to replace Tanaka.
  • They go after a mid-level starter or two to try to put a Band-Aid on things.
  • They stand pat, hope Tanaka returns, and accept their fate if he doesn't.

The first option would be ideal, if the Yankees had the chips to move and there were an abundance of front-of-the-rotation arms on the trade market.

David Price is the biggest name that could wind up available, but there is no chance the Tampa Bay Rays would trade him in-division, and the Yankees don't have the chips to acquire him anyway.

Beyond Price, the list of frontline guys that could be available seems to begin and end with Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's currently sidelined with a forearm strain and may not return until after the deadline.

Injury issues aside, the Phillies seem set in their stance that they will only move him if someone takes on most or all of the $37.5 million remaining on his contract (which doesn't include the rest of this year's salary) and parts with a significant package of prospects.

So let's go ahead and say:

  • They go all-in and try to land a frontline starter to replace Tanaka.

After spending nearly $500 million on free agents this offseason in an effort to revamp the roster and avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1992-93, it's hard to see the Bronx Bombers simply standing pat and hoping for the best.

As of writing this, they sit just 3.5 games back in the AL East, and with no runaway best team right now, the division is up for grabs.

With that in mind, we can also probably say: 

  • They stand pat, hope Tanaka returns, and accept their fate if he doesn't

That just leaves the second option of them going after a mid-level arm or two between now and the trade deadline, and there are a number of intriguing options of varying ability and price to be had.

Here is a quick overview of pitchers who could be made available in July, all of whom the Yankees are capable of acquiring given their tradable assets.

The two names that stand out have both worn pinstripes before: Bartolo Colon and Ian Kennedy.

After sitting out the 2010 season, Colon made his comeback with the Yankees in 2011. He was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 games (26 starts) that season, helping what was also an injury-plagued Yankees staff turn things around.

He's coming off a solid month of June, in which he posted a 2.57 ERA in six starts. With what figures to be an abundance of starting pitchers vying for rotation spots next season, the Mets could be motivated to move him.

The 41-year-old is due $11 million next season, so picking him up would represent a fairly large commitment beyond this season, but he could come relatively cheap.

Kennedy may be the most intriguing name of the group, though, as he's capable of providing the Yankees with the frontline arm they need if he can pitch to his capabilities.

The Yankees took Kennedy with their first-round pick back in 2006 but shipped him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-team blockbuster in 2009 that also included Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and others.

Everything came together for him in 2011, as he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting, emerging as one of the top starters in all of baseball during his age-26 season.

He fell back to earth in 2012, though, going 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA, and things got even worse for him last season.

With a 5.23 ERA through 21 starts, the Diamondbacks opted to make him available at the deadline, despite the fact that they were still in the hunt for a playoff sport.

The San Diego Padres jumped at the chance to buy low, swapping lefty reliever Joe Thatcher for him, and he's turned things around in a big way during the first half of this season.

His 2.93 FIP ranks 14th among all qualified starters, and while pitching in Petco Park has certainly helped, he actually has a lower ERA on the road (3.49) than he does at home (3.92) so far.

This is all just speculation, and the Yankees could indeed opt to hope for the best and try to ride things out while Tanaka attempts to rehab his elbow.

One thing is for sure: The loss of Tanaka is a serious blow for the Yankees and for baseball fans everywhere. He was in the midst of a special rookie season and had become must-see TV every time he took the mound.

Here's hoping the rehab works and he's back pitching again in the estimated six weeks. History says the odds of that happening are fairly slim, but crazier things have happened.

 

Note: Stats up to date through games on July 9.

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Top Electric Toothbrushes Worth Considering in 2014

Every weekday, our friends at Faveable compile a list of awesome gadgets and gear that men would love to discover.

oral-b-electric-toothbrush

If you have been contemplating to switch from a regular toothbrush to an electric one, this compilation of best electric toothbrushes from the Faveable team would just be the thing to help you decide which model is right for your needs. Although these electronic toothbrushes are not exactly cheap, but they will definitely help you save thousands of dollars in dental bills if you use them properly. Hit the link below to check our top 10 recommendations. Feature image above is of the Oral-B Precision 5000 Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush which can pulsate to break up plaque and oscillates to sweep plaque away.

Check out: 10 Best Electronic Toothbrushes for 2014

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For Masahiro Tanaka, Injury Is About His Mechanics, Not His Splitter

Masahiro Tanaka may have been a high-priced addition to the New York Yankees last offseason, but he's been an invaluable pitcher through the first half of the season. With CC Sabathia out for this season with knee problems and losing several others to injury, Tanaka has carried the team on his unhittable splitter. Now, his arm has come up sore and perhaps broken under the load.

The Yankees' team physician reviewed the images and examined Tanaka in Seattle on Thursday, finding a small sprain of the UCL, as noted by Sweeny Murty of WFAN. My sources tell me that the tear is very small, under 10 percent, which is below the normal threshold for surgery, which is somewhere between 25 and 33 percent. Tanaka also had some small osteophytes in his elbow, which is common.

No sprain is good, but this is far from the worst case. Tanaka will have a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection and rest for a time before starting a rehab throwing program.

If the tear does not heal or gets worse, Tanaka would be a candidate for Tommy John surgery. The UCL does often repair itself from small tears, so catching this early can be considered a positive. He is definitely going to be high risk for the near future and will have to be handled carefully. One option the team will have is to do regular checks on the area, either with MRIs or with diagnostic ultrasounds. 

There is no clear timeline for his return. The Yankees are likely to be conservative, but without Tanaka and CC Sabathia, the Yankees pitching is very thin.

Tanaka himself will likely drive the return date based on milestones in the rehab process. As he passes certain milestones, such as long toss and throwing from a mound, responding without setbacks, he'll be allowed to push forward. He could miss as little as 15 days, but it is more likely that this could go four to six weeks. 

One of the major questions was why Tanaka was sent to Seattle rather than back to New York. Dr. Chris Ahmad, the Yankees' team physician, was in Seattle to attend the annual AOSSM convention. Dr. Ahmad is a board member and has made major presentations in the past, such as performing a shoulder labrum repair live for attendees at last year's meeting. (He was live; the shoulder was not, as you can see in the attached picture.)

Rather than wait or sending Tanaka to another surgeon, it was simpler to send Tanaka to Seattle. Many of the other top surgeons in sports are present at this conference, so if a second opinion is requested, it could likely be handled quickly.

One of the main questions that will be asked about Tanaka's arm injury is whether changes to his workouts and frequency of outings caused problems. It is well-known that Japanese pitchers throw less often, usually once a week, and have extensive between-start routines. They also tend to throw more pitches. 

Daisuke Matsuzaka had difficulty adjusting to the American style and injured his elbow, with many blaming the changes for his problems. Yu Darvish has been more successful, but the Rangers have eliminated several of the pitches he featured in Japan, though he will occasionally bring them out in situations. Tanaka has a more limited repertoire, being far more reliant on his dominant splitter both in Japan and in his time with the Yankees.

Japanese workouts are often as inexplicable as their musical tastes. (That band, Momoiro Clover Z, is Tanaka's favorite.) Pitchers will regularly throw in the bullpen in between innings and will often go to the pen for work after they are removed from starts, especially in unsuccessful starts. 

Tanaka did, like many pitchers, have an extensive workload in Japan when he was young. He was pitching for Rakuten at the age of 18 after a celebrated high school career.

While Japanese pitchers make less starts, they tend to throw more pitches. Tanaka wasn't injury-free in Japan, having a couple episodes of shoulder fatigue that cost him starts, especially in 2009 and 2010. He came back well after these problems and was dominant in 2013. 

Research that I did with Nate Silver in 2004 showed that pitchers under the age of 24 were more likely to be injured, so this is a bit worrisome, though the Yankees surely understood this when they purchased him. 

Another question that the Yankees and Tanaka are going to have to determine is how damaging his splitter is. The pitch has long been thought to have a higher cost than other pitches, but the entire idea of pitch cost has largely been reduced by current research.

Chris O'Leary, a top researcher, does a good job debunking this theory in this thread. I asked him what he thought about Tanaka's splitter and overall. He told me:

"Some will point to Tanaka's use of the splitter as a red flag. However, I've yet to see convincing evidence of a correlation between arm problems and the splitter. If you look at Tanaka's mechanics, you can see evidence of the timing problem that you tend to see in high pitching elbow guys and that eventually overloads the elbow and the shoulder."

As stated earlier, Tanaka used the same pitch repertoire in Japan for years without injury, so it's difficult to say that this should have suddenly become a problem unless it's one of wear-down. That means there's no easy answer as to why he has suddenly hit the disabled list.

It's not Tanaka's pitches. It's not that he's Japanese. Instead, it's as simple as it is for so many other pitchers: poor mechanics. It appears that he is just another injured pitcher on the long list we have of those in 2014. As dominant as he has shown he can be, he and the Yankees will have to figure out how to keep him healthy enough to use it.

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Benches Clear During Reds-Cubs with Aroldis Chapman on the Mound

Benches cleared during the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs' showdown after two Aroldis Chapman pitches upset the Cubs dugout.

Facing Chicago's Nate Schierholtz, Chapman threw two fastballs up and in near the Cubs hitter's head. 

Chapman would go on to strike out Schierholtz, and as he walked off the rubber to prepare for his next batter, Chicago's Anthony Rizzo yelled at him from the dugout. To add fuel to the fire, Chapman waved to the Cubs dugout following the third out of the inning, and when Rizzo took the field, he continued to express his dismay. Once Rizzo threw his hat and glove on the ground, the argument had reached its boiling point. 

Umpires eventually got the disagreement under control with no punches thrown. Chicago won 6-4 in 12 innings. 

[MLB, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Yadier Molina, Brandon Phillips Injuries Totally Shake Up NL Playoff Picture

The National League Central is shaping up to once again be the most competitive division in Major League Baseball, as four of the five clubs are over .500 and fighting for playoff berths. Alas, that landscape took a pair of hits on Wednesday night when two big-name playersYadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals and Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Redssuffered long-term injuries.

Not only are Molina and Phillips similar in that they're up-the-middle players known for two things—defense and durability—but both also will be out several weeks with nearly identical thumb injuries.

Here's how the absences of Molina and Phillips could impact their respective teams, as well as the NL Central race and NL postseason picture.

 

Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals

After leaving Wednesday night's game early upon injuring his right thumb on this play in the second inning, Molina was diagnosed with a torn ligament and is expected to miss 8-12 weeks, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.

That's about as damaging a loss as could possibly happen to any team in baseball, as Molina is the best defensive catcher around, one of the better offensive players at his position and a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse for the Cardinals. All of that makes him a six-time defending Gold Glover and perennial MVP candidate.

Granted, the soon-to-be 32-year-old isn't having his finest season with the stick in 2014—his triple slash stats of .287/.341/.409 each represent Molina's lowest since 2010—but St. Louis' offense has been its biggest problem all year long, and now it's only going to get worse. To wit, the Cards rank third-to-last in the majors in runs scored—and that was with Molina in the lineup most every day.

Beyond that, there's bound to be an impact in the club's defense and pitching, as Molina's ability to work with pitchers, call games and generally know everything about his batterymates is unparalleled. Given all of the pitching injuries St. Louis has suffered—from Michael Wacha to Jaime Garcia to Joe Kelly—Molina's thumb injury hurts a heck of a lot more than just him.

In short, replacing all of the above isn't going to happen. General manager John Mozeliak said as much to Langosch:"I think from a standpoint of trying to replace [Molina], that’s not even a logical question."

Considering that the Cardinals haven't performed up to expectations thus far but are still very much in the NL Central race and NL playoff picture as a whole, they have to worry about at least finding some way to cover the position with a capable catcher.

Otherwise, everything could fall apart for a team that most people expected to win the division and have a great shot at getting back to the World Series.

 

Who Replaces Molina?

In the immediate short term, backup Tony Cruz will take over catching duties. Thing is, he is a backup not only because he's behind Molina—who has caught the most games (622) and squatted for the most innings (5,267.2) in baseball over the past five years, both by wide margins—but also because he's not capable of being an everyday catcher.

The 27-year-old Cruz has been in the bigs since 2011, and the most games he's played at catcher is 47 in 2012. In terms of games started behind the dish? Try 28 in 2012 and 2013.

He better be ready to set new career highs.

The other in-house candidate for the Cardinals is Audry Perez, a 25-year-old at Triple-A who is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and was recalled Thursday. Perez has exactly two games in the majors, both from last September, on his resume.

"We need to find a stopgap," Mozeliak said, via Langosch. "We have a lot of confidence in Cruz, that’s why he is our backup. Now he’s going to get an opportunity to play every day. But in the meantime, we’re also going to look out and see if there is something in that can help balance it out in the short term."

As far as backstops who are available via trade, there's 37-year-old veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who would come cheap because he's fresh off being designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox.

For some other options on the trade front, here are a few from Jim Bowden of ESPN:

The tricky aspect here is that Molina's defense is so superior to just about every other catcher—and certainly any semi-available one—that the Cardinals will feel that loss badly. But if they try to focus purely on a defense-only backstop, then their offense—the club's biggest problem all season long—will continue to suffer.

 

Brandon Phillips and the Cincinnati Reds

This is going to sound familiar: After leaving Wednesday night's game early upon injuring his left thumb on this play while diving to snare a ground ball hit in the hole between first and second base, Phillips was diagnosed with a torn ligament and will be out at least six weeks, according to Manny Randhawa of MLB.com.

Like Molina, Phillips is slated for surgery on Friday. Also like Molina, this injury is going to put an abrupt end to a string of good health. Phillips, a 13-year veteran and four-time Gold Glove winner, has played at least 140 games each season since 2006—eight years and no longer counting—and 150 or more in four of the past five.

That's a remarkable run, especially for a middle-of-the-diamond player who is so often in the thick of the action.

Phillips' injury comes at a time not long after the Reds had finally started to get healthy, only to have first baseman Joey Votto go back on the disabled list earlier this week with another quad injury, followed by leadoff hitter and center fielder Billy Hamilton fighting a tight left hamstring and now right-hander Homer Bailey leaving his start Thursday due to pain in his right knee.

While Phillips is not the indispensable player that Molina is or quite the impact player he once was now that he's 33 years old and on the downside of his career, the Reds will miss his defense and occasional pop at the plate. He had hit 18 home runs each of the past four years and set a career best with 103 RBI in 2013 while hitting behind on-base mavens Votto and Shin-Soo Choo (now with the Texas Rangers).

Even adding Phillips' extended absence to all the injuries the Reds have endured, the club managed to hang around the outskirts of contention early on and has climbed over .500 and right into the NL Central chase in recent weeks.

That may be a sign that the Reds just might find a way to get over losing Phillips until perhaps September.

 

Who Replaces Phillips? 

The Reds are a little better positioned to cover for the loss of Phillips than the Cardinals are for Molina. Cincinnati can turn to Skip Schumaker and Ramon Santiago, a pair of longtime veteran utility players who have combined for 23 seasons and 789 career games at the keystone.

The just-recalled Kristopher Negron also has some experience at second in the minor leagues.

Looking outside the organization, there are some potentially available second basemen, including Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Gordon Beckham of the Chicago White Sox. Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies are possible pry-aways, too, but at a steeper cost.

As with Molina, there are factors that make finding a fill-in for Phillips more challenging, namely that he's still under contract through 2017 and is owed more than $40 million. The small-market Reds won't be going after any second baseman who is signed to a long-term deal or has a lot of money coming to him—they can't afford it and wouldn't have the room for both players beyond 2014.

That makes Utley (owed $10 million in 2015 with vesting options through 2018) and Hill ($24 million from 2015-16) unlikely fits. If the Reds want to go cheap, they could take a look at the Chicago Cubs' Darwin Barney, who is all glove and no bat.

Otherwise, some combination of Schumaker and Santiago falls under the "won't hurt" category.

 

Which NL Central Contender Is Hurt More by the Injury?

To wrap up, let's hit on the above question. The answer, obviously, is the Cardinals, who haven't put it all together yet this season and now will have a harder time doing so in just about every facet of the game.

Besides, given the dearth of good catchers in the sport and the very nature of the position—they're involved in every single pitch from their team—backstops are harder to replace.

For their part, the Reds are losing a key up-the-middle player too, and one who has been a big part of the franchise's run in recent seasons with three trips to the postseason in four years. With Phillips being added to the laundry list of injuries in Cincinnati, that string of success could be in jeopardy.

Ultimately, though, if one of these two long-term injuries is going to determine how the ubercompetitive NL Central plays out over the second half—and which team could get left out of October—it will be Molina's.

 

Statistics are accurate through July 9 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yadier Molina, Brandon Phillips Injuries Totally Shake Up N.L. Playoff Picture

The National League Central is shaping up to once again be the most competitive division in Major League Baseball, as four of the five clubs are over .500 and fighting for playoff berths. Alas, that landscape took a pair of hits on Wednesday night when two big-name playersYadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals and Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Redssuffered long-term injuries.

Not only are Molina and Phillips similar in that they're up-the-middle players known for two things—defense and durability—but both also will be out several weeks with nearly identical thumb injuries.

Here's how the absences of Molina and Phillips could impact their respective teams, as well as the NL Central race and NL postseason picture.

 

Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals

After leaving Wednesday night's game early upon injuring his right thumb on this play in the second inning, Molina was diagnosed with a torn ligament and is expected to miss something in the range of eight to 12 weeks, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.

That's about as damaging a loss as could possibly happen to any team in baseball, as Molina is the best defensive catcher around, one of the better offensive players at his position and a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse for the Cardinals. All of that makes him a six-time defending Gold Glover and perennial MVP candidate.

Granted, the soon-to-be 32-year-old isn't having his finest season with the stick in 2014—his triple slash stats of .287/.341/.409 each represent Molina's lowest since 2010—but St. Louis' offense has been its biggest problem all year long, and now it's only going to get worse. To wit, the Cards rank third-to-last in the majors in runs scored—and that was with Molina in the lineup most every day.

Beyond that, there's bound to be an impact in the club's defense and pitching, as Molina's ability to work with pitchers, call games and generally know everything about his batterymates is unparalleled. Given all of the pitching injuries St. Louis has suffered—from Michael Wacha to Jaime Garcia to Joe Kelly—Molina's thumb injury hurts a heck of a lot more than just him.

In short, replacing all of the above isn't going to happen. General manager John Mozeliak said as much to Langosch:"I think from a standpoint of trying to replace [Molina], that’s not even a logical question."

Considering that the Cardinals haven't performed up to expectations thus far but are still very much in the NL Central race and NL playoff picture as a whole, they have to worry about at least finding some way to cover the position with a capable catcher.

Otherwise, everything could fall apart for a team that most people expected to win the division and have a great shot at getting back to the World Series.

 

Who Replaces Molina?

In the immediate short term, backup Tony Cruz will take over catching duties. Thing is, he is a backup not only because he's behind Molina—who has caught the most games (632) and squatted for the most innings (5,267.2) in baseball over the past five years, both by wide margins—but also because he's not capable of being an everyday catcher.

The 27-year-old Cruz has been in the bigs since 2011, and the most games he's played at catcher is 47 in 2012. In terms of games started behind the dish? Try 28 in 2012 and 2013.

He better be ready to set new career highs.

The other in-house candidate for the Cardinals is Audry Perez, a 25-year-old at Triple-A who is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and was recalled Thursday. Perez has exactly two games in the majors, both from last September, on his resume.

"We need to find a stopgap," Mozeliak said, via Langosch. "We have a lot of confidence in Cruz, that’s why he is our backup. Now he’s going to get an opportunity to play every day. But in the meantime, we’re also going to look out and see if there is something in that can help balance it out in the short term."

As far as backstops who are available via trade, there's 37-year-old veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who would come cheap because he's fresh off being designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox.

For some other options on the trade front, here are a few from Jim Bowden of ESPN:

The tricky aspect here is that Molina's defense is so superior to just about every other catcher—and certainly any semi-available one—that the Cardinals will feel that loss badly. But if they try to focus purely on a defense-only backstop, then their offense—the club's biggest problem all season long—will continue to suffer.

 

Brandon Phillips and the Cincinnati Reds

This is going to sound familiar: After leaving Wednesday night's game early upon injuring his left thumb on this play while diving to snare a ground ball hit in the hole between first and second base, Phillips was diagnosed with a torn ligament and will be out at least six weeks, according to Manny Randhawa of MLB.com.

Like Molina, Phillips is slated for surgery on Friday. Also like Molina, this injury is going to put an abrupt end to a string of good health. Phillips, a 13-year veteran and four-time Gold Glove winner, has played at least 140 games each season since 2006—eight years and no longer counting—and 150 or more in four of the past five.

That's a remarkable run, especially for a middle-of-the-diamond player who is so often in the thick of the action. The same can be said of Molina.

Phillips' injury comes at a time not long after the Reds had finally started to get healthy, only to have first baseman Joey Votto go back on the disabled list earlier this week with another quad injury, followed by leadoff hitter and center fielder Billy Hamilton fighting a tight left hamstring and now right-hander Homer Bailey leaving his start Thursday due to pain in his right knee.

While Phillips is not the indispensable player that Molina is or quite the impact player he once was now that he's 33 years old and on the downside of his career, the Reds will miss his defense and occasional pop at the plate. He had hit 18 home runs each of the past four years and set a career best with 103 RBI in 2013 while hitting behind on-base mavens Votto and Shin-Soo Choo (now with the Texas Rangers).

Even adding Phillips' extended absence to all the injuries the Reds have endured, the club managed to hang around the outskirts of contention early on and has climbed over .500 and right into the NL Central chase in recent weeks.

That may be a sign that the Reds just might find a way to get over losing Phillips until perhaps September.

 

Who Replaces Phillips? 

The Reds are a little better positioned to cover for the loss of Phillips than the Cardinals are for Molina. Cincinnati can turn to Skip Schumaker and Ramon Santiago, a pair of longtime veteran utility players who have combined for 23 seasons and 789 career games at the keystone.

The just-recalled Kristopher Negron also has some experience at second in the minor leagues.

Looking outside the organization, there are some potentially available second basemen, including Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Gordon Beckham of the Chicago White Sox. Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies are possible pry-aways, too, but at steeper cost.

As with Molina, there are factors that make finding a fill-in for Phillips more challenging, namely that he's still under contract through 2017 and is owed more than $40 million. The small-market Reds won't be going after any second baseman who is signed to a long-term deal or has a lot of money coming to him—they can't afford it and wouldn't have the room for both players beyond 2014.

That makes Utley (owed $10 million in 2015 with vesting options through 2018) and Hill ($24 million across 2014-15) unlikely fits. If the Reds want to go cheap, they could take a look at the Chicago Cubs' Darwin Barney, who is all glove and no bat.

Otherwise, some combination of Schumaker and Santiago falls under the won't-hurt category.

 

Which NL Central Contender Is Hurt More by the Injury?

To wrap up, let's hit on the above question. The answer, obviously, is the Cardinals, who haven't put it all together yet this season and now will have a harder time doing so in just about every facet of the game.

Besides, given the dearth of good catchers in the sport and the very nature of the position—they're involved in every single pitch of a game—backstops are harder to replace.

For their part, the Reds are losing a key up-the-middle player too, and one who has been a big part of the franchise's run in recent seasons with three trips to the postseason in four years. With Phillips being added to the laundry list of injuries in Cincinnati, that string of success could be in jeopardy.

Ultimately, though, if one of these two long-term injuries is going to determine how the ubercompetitive NL Central plays out over the second half—and which team could get left out of October—it will be Molina's.

 

Statistics are accurate through July 9 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com